The International Society for Krishna Consciousness as an Addictive Organization |
by Nori J. Muster
Western Oregon University, Winter Quarter, 1990
Drug and Alcohol Treatment, CCYW 578
Updated in 1999
I was a full-time member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), or Hare Krishna Movement, for ten years. ISKCON represents an ancient branch of Hinduism called Gaudiya Vaishnavism, primarily concerned with worship of Krishna and his incarnations. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a lifelong Vaishnava born in Calcutta, brought the religion to the West at the request of his guru. Prabhupada came to America in 1965 at the age of seventy-two and attracted a following. He opened the first temple 1966 in New York's lower east side, and at the time of his death eleven years later, ISKCON listed more than a hundred temples in twenty-five countries around the world.
I joined ISKCON in 1977, just when Prabhupada died. At that time, eleven senior disciples named themselves as gurus and legislated themselves into power. Although Prabhupada had formed a twenty-four man board of directors (the Governing Body Commission or GBC) that was supposed to be in charge, the eleven gurus became the only men in the GBC with real power. The gurus divided the world into eleven zones, taking control of the temples within their zones. New people joining ISKCON took initiation from whichever guru controlled the temple in their geographical area.
I would like to take a few pages to explain the dynamics that were at work in ISKCON. There was something going on under the surface that kept me in a dependent state. Rather than brainwashing (if labels must be used), I would more accurately call it codependence to a system that I loved and hoped would work. Psychologists and popular authors banter about words like codependent, dysfunctional, and addictive, as if their meanings were standard knowledge. But used on their own, without explanation, they mean little to most people. Therefore, before I explain why ISKCON was a dysfunctional organization, let me define a few terms.
Dysfunctional is usually applied to families, but also describe anything from a broken washing machine to society at large. To qualify as dysfunctional, obviously the thing in question has ceased to function, or perhaps never functioned in the first place. A family cannot function if the individual members don't communicate their ideas, feelings, needs, and desires. Lack of communication is usually embraced and reinforced by a stringent set of unspoken family rules. For example, an implied rule may be that no one is allowed to talk about Father's gambling, even if everyone feels its negative financial effects. Thus, bound by shame and fear, family members allow the father to continue his addiction to gambling. Codependence is when family members comply with an addict, allowing, even helping, him or her carry out an addiction. Addiction may be defined as an out-of-control obsession that has negative consequences. Usually addicts and codependents deny there is a problem.
Two researchers, Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, have shown how the traits of dysfunctional families operate in organizations, in their book, The Addictive Organization. Their theories explain a great deal about the way ISKCON functioned, at least during the years of its decline.
While the precepts and practices of Krishna consciousness are benevolent, the organization (at least in North America) had spiritual psychological trouble. In his book, Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield criticized groups like ISKCON, saying that
When Eastern spirituality in America began to be popular in the 1960s and 1970s, its practice was initially idealistic and romantic. People tried to use spirituality to get high and to experience extraordinary states of consciousness. There was a belief in perfect gurus and complete and wonderful teachings that if followed would lead to our full enlightenment and change the world. These were the imitative and self-absorbed qualities that Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism. By undertaking the rituals, the costumes, and the philosophy of spiritual traditions, people tried to escape their ordinary lives and become more spiritual beings.Kornfield proposes that superficial idealism is to blame in unsuccessful Eastern group. After living as a member of a spiritual group that became material, I believe the problems go deeper. ISKCON's weaknesses mirror the weaknesses of dysfunctional families, as happens in many modern organizations. The Addictive Organization, by A.W. Schaef, explains this dynamic and in this paper I will use Schaef's model to examine American temple life in ISKCON.
Schaef's Model of Addictive Organizations
Systemic addiction theory explains why addicts and their families fight and fall into dysfunctional modes. In The Addictive Organization, Schaef says there's "a generic addiction process that underlies all the various addictions." She takes addiction beyond the family and states that treatment must involve the addictive workplace, since that is where people spend most of their time. Thus she identifies addictive organizations as the infrastructure of the addictive society and as the glue that perpetuates addiction at a societal level.
Schaef observes that addictive organizations exhibit the characteristics of addicts and usually have addictive employees. She explains, "Individuals function the same way as the organization they inhabit." Once the addictive process is in motion, however, the organization perpetuates its own addiction, even though individuals may come and go.
Addictive people working in addictive organizations include addicts, codependents, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). Each has their own characteristics, with some of the characteristics overlapping between addictive types. Addicts are those who abuse substances like alcohol, drugs, or food; or processes like work, sex, money, gambling, or relationships. Codependents are those who try to protect the addicts from suffering the effects of their addiction. They generally have low self-esteem and may be addicted to work and to pleasing authority figures. ACOAs are also codependent, although they may resent the authority figures they try to please. Because ACOAs come from broken or dysfunctional homes, they are attracted to organizations that portray themselves as surrogate families.
Schaef identifies four ways the disease of addiction may afflict an organization. First, one of the key people may be an addict. Second, the organization may have many addicts, codependents, and ACOAs who bring dysfunctional behavior into the workplace. Third, the organization itself may be the addictive substance. And finally, the organization itself may be the addict. These states form a downward spiral and organizations at the bottom of the spectrum abuse the workers and clients they try to serve. In 1989, when I left ISKCON, it exhibited symptoms in each of these categories.
ISKCON Leaders as Addicts
Addicts tend to make faulty decisions, exhibit paranoid or schizoid behavior, and perpetuate dishonesty and confusion. Having an addict in a key position can lead an organization to disaster.
Of the 11 men who assumed control of ISKCON in 1977, several were later exposed as addicts. Addiction means a habit that is impossible to break, even with evidence that the habit is causing problems in one's life. ISKCON members (including leaders) are sworn to follow spiritual principals of no intoxication, no meat eating, no gambling, and no illicit sex. Of the 11 gurus, six were expelled for breaking the principles and failing to meditate, among other reasons.
Schaef explains that organizational addicts cannot remain in power unless they are surrounded by codependents. Without the codependents covering up, the key person's addiction would be exposed. Thus, the organization enters a state of denial to cover up for and protect the addict. This happened in ISKCON, as I explained in my book. Schaef says that one way an addictive organizations may deal with a key-person-as-addict is by trying to exert control over the addict. According to Schaef, this makes the problem worse: "Focusing on control puts the company into the same addictive system as the addict, that is, a system operating out of the illusion of control." Schaef says this method almost always results in crisis.
ISKCON gurus tried unsuccessfully for years to control one guru's problem with hallucinogens. As good codependents, they kept the problem a secret, hoping they could reform him before it got out of hand. The guru exhibited bizarre behavior, such as going into trance and chanting for hours at a time. He would sometimes scream or exhibit other symptoms of hysteria under the influence of LSD. None of his disciples were aware of his drug problem, so they were left confused about his behavior. Jayathirtha led them to believe that he was exhibiting the ecstatic symptoms of an enlightened soul. After years of trying different plans to reform this guru, the GBC expelled him. This caused a split among his disciples—some followed Jayatirtha and some remained in ISKCON. Jayatirtha started his own group; a mixture of Krishna consciousness, Christianity, and LSD. In 1986 he was stabbed to death and decapitated in London by a drug-crazed disciple, a former ISKCON member.
Schaef explains that key addicts sometimes con others into excusing their behavior, or their irrational behavior is overlooked simply because they are the boss. This was the case in ISKCON. Even though the gurus' problems were widely known in 1980, the GBC didn't take action to expel gurus until the mid-1980s.
It is interesting that more than half of the 11 gurus were expelled for breaking the rules of celibacy. Schaef explains that the duality of good and bad, right and wrong, can create a repressive-addictive system. In the case of ISKCON, the celibate gurus became overly concerned about the sexual habits of their disciples. There was a tragic problem with child abuse in the ISKCON school system. As psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe observes, organizations like the Catholic Church (and ISKCON) demand celibacy but do not train for it. One ISKCON member accused of child molestation tried to defend himself in court by saying that the sexual repression in ISKCON drove him to molest children. It may be true, however the judge sentenced him to jail anyway.
Taking Your Disease With You
Schaef explains that organizations become more addictive when addictive people replicate their dysfunctional behaviors at the workplace. She says that for addicts, codependents, and ACOAs, "A person not involved in active recovery is probably part of the problem." The organization becomes a crisis clinic, with everyone pouring their own fears and dysfunctions into the tumult.
Some ISKCON members were addicts, ACOAs, and codependents before joining the organization. Many abused drugs and many had a troubled adolescence. Some could be called social dropouts, but such behavior was typical of 1960s and early 1970s culture when ISKCON had its greatest influx of new members. (Despite its addictive structure, ISKCON has had a positive effect on many people who joined. However, this is a separate subject.)
Schaef defines codependents as "servers, volunteers, and people who set aside their own needs to serve the needs of others." ISKCON encourages its members to think of themselves as servants of God and servants of the guru. This is a tenet of the ancient philosophy, but in the context of a spiritual organization that has become materialistic, being a servant means being codependent. The disciples had to overlook a guru who cannot even follow the basic principles.
Schaef identifies specific behavioral difficulties for the ACOA and the codependent at work. ACOAs may become obsessed with perfectionism, self-criticism, workaholism, and rigidity in thinking. Codependents may exhibit symptoms similar to an enabler spouse, who protects the addict or covers up when their performance is questioned. I found this to be true in my own case. Whenever I heard rumors about my guru or another authority figure, I tried to ignore or defuse the rumor. Our office gave official statements to the media, to officially deny allegations. As editors of the ISKCON newspaper, my husband and I routinely whitewashed corruption or deviation. The newspaper voluntarily carried the party line until 1986, when we tried to develop editorial independence, publishing interviews, editorials, and news stories about ISKCON's problems.
ISKCON as an Addictive Substance
Schaef explains that an organization may be more than just a setting where addictive behavior takes place. The organization can become the addictive substance itself. Like a drug, work can take over a workaholic's entire life. Schaef describes work as the fix that helps the workaholic to get ahead, be successful, avoid feeling, and ultimately avoid living. Workaholics tend to lose touch with other aspects of their lives and may give up all that they previously knew, felt, and believed.
Just like the workaholic, devotees are praised for letting the organization become everything in their lives. Like the workaholic, devotees may also give up previously-held beliefs. Critics accuse ISKCON and other cults of brainwashing members and turning them into zombies. But Schaef offers what may be a more logical explanation. The new devotee may be an ACOA or codependent predisposed to addictive systems. Rejection of family members and old friends may be due to the person's decision to fully embrace the new system.
In 1984, a Ph.D. dissertation published by A.S. Weiss showed that ISKCON devotees' hallmark trait is compulsivity. His findings contradict the stereotypical image of cult members as empty-headed robots. Rather, his findings agree with Schaef's diagnosis of ACOAs and codependents in the workplace. According to the theories of Schaef and Weiss, devotees would be better understood as hard working, intelligent people, who are caught up in an addictive system that promotes workaholism.
Schaef explains that another way organizations become addictive is by promising things members did not get from their families: approval, caring, and a sense of belonging. For organizations that appear to be one big, happy family, the best-adjusted members are those who come from dysfunctional families.
ISKCON members refer to their organization as the ISKCON family. Everyone is either a godbrother or a godsister, and Prabhupada is referred to as the spiritual father of all ISKCON devotees. GBC leaders use the analogy of the ISKCON family to reinforce the concept of unity. This became a form of denial as the organization disintegrated in Prabhupada's absence. The idealized concept of the ISKCON Family was much better than the reality.
Unfortunately, as Schaef explains, an addictive organization cannot fulfill the role of a family. She said,
It is a family in which membership is dependent on playing by rather rigid rules and behaving according to established norms. This kind of corporation is a family whose main mode of operating is control. Thus, acceptance in the family is won by learning the right thing to do and doing it (just as in the addictive family). The main thing learned about family from the promise of the organization is that membership is conditional upon not being oneself and following one's own path. The other lesson learned is to keep attuned outside oneself and to be constantly vigilant about those things one needs to do to stay in the company's good graces and win approval.Control and conformity were requirements for membership in the ISKCON family. The family had rigid expectations for every aspect of life, including attendance of temple services and functions, participation in temple jobs, giving up outside activities, standards for child rearing, what to wear, how to eat, and even recommendations of what to think and how to pray. Non-participation and non-compliance could be punished or simply disapproved. That disapproval often came in the form of chastisement, or correction from a more tenured devotee. Some had financial assistance cut off, others were physically or emotionally abused; one man was murdered for his dissidence. To say the least, members who were unable to meet an organization's codes found themselves living in an inhospitable and unloving environment.
Schaef offers an explanation of how the organization-as-addictive substance makes itself attractive to potential addicts. The Promise is the illusion that "directs us eagerly to the future, to some hoped-for reward, while keeping us out of touch with the present." In a commercial organization, the promise may consist of power, money, and influence. In ISKCON, the promise is translated into religious terms: liberation from birth and death, relationship with God, and suffering transcended. Another aspect of the promise is the organization's statement of its mission and goals. The mission gives the organization purpose and propels it forward.
A list of ISKCON's goals printed in Back to Godhead magazine includes unity and peace in the world. Admirable, but hard to achieve. Other organizational goals (not published, but nonetheless widely espoused by members) include bringing about an age of enlightenment, introducing Krishna consciousness into government circles and gaining political power, a devotee elected president of the United States, opening temples in every city in the world, establishing Krishna consciousness as the most prominent world religion, and ultimately, saving the world.
Schaef explains that the addictive organization is rarely able to fulfill its promises. The goals are usually exaggerated to the point of grandiosity; grandiosity that gives gross self-importance to the group, while keeping the goals lofty and unattainable.
After Prabhupada died, many ISKCON leaders believed that a third world war would soon destroy everything. When the debris cleared, devotees would emerge as the only survivors and start a new world order. This vision of holocaust is symptomatic of frustration over the grandiosity of the stated goals. It is similar to the evangelic Christian belief that the world will be saved after the Apocalypse. In Schaef's terms, fixation on Apocalypse is how members of an addictive organization may deal with feelings of pain and frustration when they don't see any tangible progress toward their stated goals.
Schaef explains the grandiosity of the mission as a fix or con that reassures members they are doing important work. She explains that no matter how poorly the organization performs, everything will be all right as long as the mission remains in its shrine as a household god. In ISKCON, the mission is revered like a god; ISKCON is even referred to as the body of Prabhupada or an incarnation of Krishna. The BBT, the book publishing branch, is referred to as Prabhupada's heart. Dedicated followers used scriptural quotes to validate ISKCON's mission and goals. By quoting scripture, they hoped to convince others that the mission was still intact, even as it become progressively more dysfunctional.
In 1988 in a discussion about ISKCON's problems, a member asked whether all the problems in ISKCON would ever be rectified. The speaker, a representative of the GBC, used a "Prabhupada said" cliché to convince the questioner that ISKCON's mission and goals were still intact:
Question: You make the point that things have been rectified, but . . . it took eight years. If something else goes wrong it could take another eight years—I may be dead by the time you solve all the problems. Reply: Fine, but at least things are being rectified . . . Prabhupada gave us a very simple formula: Chant and be happy. Who can stop us from chanting? Did anyone ever stop you from chanting? Did anyone ever say that you can't chant Hare Krishna, and can't be happy from chanting? I mean, where does our real happiness lie? It lies in our Krishna consciousness. Our Krishna consciousness is actually our real concern, and no one can stop us from becoming Krishna conscious. When we become devotees, then automatically all the problems will be adjusted.Schaef explains that the addictive process is in motion whenever the promise of the mission is used to cover up for problems and shortcomings in the organization. In this case, the ISKCON leader used a concept that has great integrity for the devotees, but turned it into an addictive substance.
Another aspect of the con is that as the organization becomes increasingly self-centered and immoral, the goals become distorted. The organization develops ulterior motives, which Schaef calls unstated goals. Schaef finds "an inverse correlation between the loftiness of the mission and the congruence between stated and unstated goals." While fixing everyone's attention on the grandiose stated mission, the addictive organization pursues its unstated goals. When discrepancies appear, the addictive organization enters a state of denial.
Among ISKCON's unstated goals were the pursuit of money and property. When the 11 gurus divided ISKCON in 1977, they competed to see who could get the most money by sending disciples to airports and parking lots. They called it transcendental competition and said they were doing it for God. The money paid for properties, including castles and chateaus in Europe. Each guru had to buy a rural retreat for the impending Apocalypse. Another mark of accomplishment for a guru was to attract rich or famous followers. Our newspaper regularly printed articles about actors and actresses, models, rock stars, scholars, and government officials who endorsed Krishna consciousness.
Schaef explains that workers become discouraged when they realize how much time they spend working on unstated goals. In fact, Schaef said this duality can cause an individual to lose touch with their own sense of morality and spirituality. In Alcoholics Anonymous it is called moral deterioration. Often in ISKCON, members became discouraged when they had to work for long hours to collect money. Sometimes leaders told them to conceal their identity as ISKCON members, since what they were doing was illegal, or at least deceptive. Still, the organization condoned these activities; leaders told the members that fundraising was a form of preaching. These preachers often dropped out of ISKCON because they couldn't reconcile deceptive fundraising practices with the stated spiritual goals of the organization.
Schaef says that addiction is a spiritual disease. She writes, "Indeed, whenever we confuse religion with spirituality, we are opting for the structure, control, and rules of an addictive system. This reliance on religion may remove us from the inner search only we can do from the depths of our own being."
ISKCON as an Addict
In her examination of addictive organizations, Schaef proposes that sometimes the organization itself becomes an addict. It exhibits all the symptoms of an addict: it becomes powerless over its problems; its disease grows progressively worse; it loses its sense of values and morality; it functions primarily out of self-centeredness, the illusion of control, dualism, and isolation; it exhibits confused, obsessive, and paranoid thinking processes; and it exerts progressively more control over its members.
Denial and dishonesty are important aspects of an organization as addict. Schaef explains that an organization, like an individual, is in denial when it refuses to acknowledge what is really happening. Making others believe a denial-ridden assessment is an example of dishonesty. Denial and dishonesty have been important factors in ISKCON's addiction process. The public affairs office's main job was to convince the members and outside world that everything was okay when it wasn't okay. But it wasn't just the P.R. office; other ISKCON leaders engaged in denial and dishonesty.
Much denial surrounded ISKCON's main crisis, which started in 1985. At that time, several hundred ISKCON members led a revolt against the GBC. In a special meeting, the members challenged the GBC for its policy of allowing several gurus to hold all the power. In response to the uprising, the GBC expelled four of the 11 gurus and accepted 30 new men to be gurus. Several gurus also agreed to diminish the amount of worship and respect they received from their disciples. This was known as the Guru Reform Movement. A period of turmoil, in-fighting, and confusion followed. In 1988, a GBC spokesman gave the following assessment to a group of devotees:
In 1986 [ISKCON] reached a very critical point—the optimum point of crisis. And last year, in 1987, it seemed that everything was going to fall apart. No one really knew how the Society could be saved, but somehow by Krishna's mercy, ISKCON has been saved. And now, in 1988, we see that actually things are improving. And I'm sure now we will see that everything will be improving with time. The spirit is high, although we lost a lot of our assets; we lost a lot of our properties; a lot of our devotees. But still, those who are left—they have become very, very strong. Their conviction has become very, very profound. I am quite positive that things will be improving. Things are improving and will be improving in future.Schaef says that when dishonesty and denial are the norm, members believe that the organization would not survive if it were honest. This explains why certain leaders did not want us to publish honest information in the ISKCON newspaper. In 1988, shortly before I resigned, the chairman of the GBC called me a "crusading, exposé, get-all-the-dirt-out" journalist. He said the GBC could not tolerate this in the official ISKCON newspaper.
Schaef explains that dishonesty is the result of perfectionism. The illusion that everything is perfect cannot be maintained unless questionable information is withheld. Thus, leaders in an addictive organization may become obsessed with denial and dishonesty, even in matters that are inconsequential, since they want everything to appear perfect.
Members of an addictive organization tend to experience anxiety and pressure. However, they easily lose touch with what they feel because there are no facilities for expressing feelings. When ISKCON members say they are unhappy, leaders may tell them to read scripture or chant. Oft cited in this regard is a verse in the scriptures that promotes "revealing one's mind in confidence," but leaders leave it up to individuals to find a way to carry out that instruction. ISKCON members would benefit from meetings structured similar to 12-step meetings, where they could learn to express thoughts and feelings.
One of the main features of an organization as addict is its confused communications processes. Instead of direct and honest communication, there are gossip and secrets. This goes on in ISKCON, beginning with the people at the top. The men in the GBC are very secretive about what goes on in their meetings. They discuss the organization's secrets, but then suppress the information. Their meetings are exclusive—they rarely allow observers and do not circulate their minutes. Only people who have a friend in the GBC can read the minutes. Even then, several resolutions simply appear with the word "unpublished." Thus, no one can learn the intimate secrets of the GBC.
Instituting a more honest editorial policy in the ISKCON newspaper was a personal attempt to clear up the secrets and gossip. We wanted to interview GBC members, but they were reluctant. We tried to publish results of their meetings, but they discouraged us. The resistance we faced shows that the GBC body did not want their secrets exposed in an open forum. It also leads me to believe that they want the organization to remain in a state of confusion.
Schaef explains that addict organizations do not permit straight talk, honesty, or directness. This was true for the newspaper and also true for individuals. Good devotees are not supposed to say anything blasphemous about the organization or its leaders.
Crisis is another characteristic of an addictive organization. When the system is confused, deceptive, and unable to deal with situations in a straightforward manner, every problem is allowed to continue to the point of crisis. For example, an electric bill is not a crisis until the utility company turns off the power. Schaef explains that ACOAs are adept at dealing with crises, since they have been doing so all their lives in their dysfunctional homes. Many in an addictive system believe that crisis is natural, since they have never known anything else.
The history of the ISKCON public affairs office has been one crisis after another. The Jonestown tragedy happened two months after I joined. ISKCON's image as a cult had long been denied and ignored, so ISKCON became a target in the backlash against all cults. After Jonestown, a Life magazine photographer wanted to do a photo story about ISKCON's educational system. We panicked because we knew the school's reputation was questionable; the main school in Dallas had been closed down after a negative media reports. The public affairs minister had to make an emergency trip to New York to work out an agreement with Life magazine's attorneys. Next, airport managers tried to evict devotee fundraisers—a crisis, since ISKCON had no other means of finance. Then, another media crisis started in northern California, after a guru's arsenal was exposed. The next crisis was a large hashish bust in Laguna Beach. ISKCON leaders had long denied the problem of drug dealing within the organization, so when former members were arrested with drugs, it became a crisis. The next media crisis was in relation to a court case where ISKCON was sued for brainwashing.
All these events happened between 1978 and 1983. The years before and after are similar. Even though the organization faced several media crises every year, the leaders were only willing to spend between $1,000 and $2,000 a month to support our public affairs activities. Often, the local guru blamed us for the crises and threatened to take away our support altogether if we didn't do a better job. Thus, an attitude of denial left ISKCON with no solid public relations plan.
Another aspect of addictive thinking is projection. Schaef defines this as the process of taking something that is inside and placing it outside. In ISKCON, this happens when someone leaves the group. Those inside say the former member is a fool, has lost his spirituality, has made a mistake, or simply lacks piety. Another example of projection is when someone inside ISKCON characterizes the outside world as dishonest, sinful, or degraded. Schaef explains that the organization as addict always blames others, being unwilling to look at itself. Devotees dismiss bad media coverage as demons trying to discredit ISKCON.
Dualism, another aspect of addict systems, is also present in ISKCON. Members of the organization are taught to think in terms of us and them. According to Schaef, this sets up sides and creates enemies. It serves the purpose of the addict, though, because it simplifies all decisions. Everything becomes black or white, with no room for subtlety or ambiguity. In ISKCON's case, dualism prevents the organization from establishing coalitions within the host society. We tried for several years to foster relationships with animal rights and vegetarian groups by inviting them to submit news items for the newspaper. Unfortunately, a vocal faction of readers complained about our printing animal rights articles. They said those people have no place in ISKCON's newspaper.
Along with projection and dualism comes judgmentalism. This involves making a judgment that something is bad, simply because one disagrees with it. People outside of ISKCON are not just different, they are judged bad and inferior. People outside ISKCON are referred to as karmis (people who engage in karma, as opposed to yoga). Devotees within ISKCON who cannot measure up to the strict codes of behavior are also judged bad. They are often referred to as fringies (people on the fringe).
ISKCON's judgmental attitude toward the outside world is one factor that prevents the temples from attracting a wider congregation. Blinded by judgmental attitudes, full-time devotees send out a condescending message to anyone who will not give up everything and live full time in the temple. This judgmental, condescending outlook has also alienated former full-time members who would otherwise find a place in the congregation. Schaef says that judgmentalism stunts growth, limits creativity, and turns people in the organization against one another. Unfortunately, ISKCON's addictive attitudes toward the outside world have left the organization isolated and without friends. In Schaef's words, "It allows one to stay stuck."
Schaef recommends that religious and spiritual organizations focus on spirituality within the group before preaching to others. I agree. Because ISKCON's stated purpose is to spread spiritual teachings, the organization ought to have high spiritual standards. Unfortunately, leaders of the organization do not see that as a priority. As one ISKCON leader said, "It's easy to assume that there are problems in ISKCON, but there are problems in every organization. Who's to say that in these other groups they don't have any problems?" This is like saying, "Well, ISKCON may be an addictive, sick organization, but some organizations are worse." By maintaining an addictive system, ISKCON is actually cheating sincere religious seekers who join the organization.
Schaef also notes that addictive organizations tend to drive away their best employees. This has been one of the effects of the addictive system in ISKCON. Unless the organization heals itself, it will cease to exist. Even now, most people who remain are there because they derive some benefit in terms of money or admiration. Ordinary members are being driven out by economic necessity, while leaders still derive financial support from the temples or from their supporters. There is a common joke among ISKCON's critics that the old leaders are dinosaurs who are running out of watering holes. It is true, the organization is gradually going bankrupt, struggling to hold onto members and real property. [Editor's note. This was written in 1990 before ISKCON settled the George vs. ISKCON case. Mark Twain said, "Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated," and so it is with ISKCON. The organization has lived to face its next big challenge, Children of ISKCON vs. ISKCON, filed June 12, 2000.]
My personal feelings about the demise of this organization are a mixture of resentment, regret, and resign. I sincerely believed in the mission and goals of ISKCON at one time. Hoping to see the mission succeed, I allowed myself to become a codependent puppet of the leaders. I resent being used in that way. But even more important, I regret that Prabhupada's work of bringing an ancient religion to the West has been spoiled by an addictive organization that still refuses to own up to its abuses. I have also resigned to the possibility that without Prabhupada, the organization was destined to fail. It is possible that an addictive system naturally follows the untimely and tragic death of a charismatic leader. It is even more likely to fall into disarray if someone murders the leader to take over his organization. Tape recorded conversations and other evidence point to the allegation that the inheritor gurus of ISKCON poisoned Srila Prabhupada in order to take over his legacy. It has never been proven, but it would explain the level of dysfunction in the years following Srila Prabhupada's death.
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The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss and Perpetuate Sick Organizations by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel.
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