(VT) When we published Satyanarayana Das Babji’s confession, we knew and anticipated what was coming because we’ve read an indispensable book for any spiritual aspirant called The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power.
Vrindavan Today and its principle editor Alexander Shenkar are committed to educating the spiritual community on the dangers resulting from authoritarian power hierarchy. We are committed to using scandals to bring to public’s attention how authoritarian power employs human nature to create safe-haven ripe for predators. We are committed to factual, accurate information, and questioning devotional tenants that lead to human exploitation.
Authoritarian cult dynamics in light of Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s confession:
The confession article wasn’t simply about Satyanarayana Das Babaji; it was mainly about every person who relates to Satyanarayana Das Babaji as a disciple. If the character of the guru is in question, then that casts a shadow of doubt on the means by which the guru’s disciples aspire to make spiritual progress. Thus the article’s main relevance is its impact on Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s disciples.
The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power describes the importance of the guru/disciple relationship relationship as such:
The message is that to be a really serious student, spiritual realization must be the primary concern. Therefore one’s relationship with the guru must, in time, become one’s prime emotional bond, with all others viewed as secondary. In fact, typically other relationships are pejoratively referred to as “attachments.”
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (pp. 49-50). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
This sentiment of attachment to guru as a requirement for spiritual salvation reverberates in the devotional literature that proclaims the “guru” to be “as good as God:”
Why guru is accepted as God Himself? Does it mean Mayavada philosophy? No. This is not Mayavada. Because he is most confidential servant of God — kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya — therefore he’s as good as God. He is very, very dear to God. Why? Because he does not speak anything nonsense what his master does not say, that’s all. That is the qualification. Still, “No, I see that his son addresses him ‘father.’ He is the father, considering him as ordinary man. And still he’s as good as God?” Yes. Still he’s as good. Why? Because he does not speak anything nonsense except what he has heard from God. That is the qualification.
(Ref. VedaBase => Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 20.104 — July 10, 1976, New York)
But the idealized form of a guru revered in the scripture falls short of the practical reality of being a guru. The internet is replete with websites showing how so-called gurus are ordinary people with wants and desires just like any other person. The observed reality is that no person can live up to the romanticized ideal of not having any self-interest:
The guru/disciple relationship contains an essential assumption that makes it particularly susceptible to abuse: namely, that it is possible for a person to be totally immune from the corruptions of power. What this must also mean is that such a person is totally free of all self-interest, for self-interest necessarily entails the possibility of corruption. Our perspective is that no one, no matter how exalted in awareness and understanding, can totally escape the psychological fact that self-interest is an element in being human, and is also a necessary element in staying alive.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 42). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
Considering the confession presented troubling admissions on behalf of Satyanarayana Das Babaji, Vrindavan Today expected that some disciples would deny the content of the letter because it undermines the basis of their spiritual faith and practice.
Vrindavan Today is not perturbed by strong criticism because we understand how cult members trapped in authoritarian power hierarchy respond to information of guru’s wrongdoing. The must-read book for any spiritual aspirant, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, describes exactly what follows:
When abuses are publicly exposed the leader either denies or justifies the behaviors by saying that “enemies of the truth” or “the forces of evil” are trying to subvert his true message. Core members of the group have a huge vested interest in believing him, as their identity is wrapped up in believing in his righteousness. Those who begin to doubt him at first become confused and depressed, and later feel betrayed and angry. The ways people deny and justify are similar: Since supposedly no one who is not enlightened can truly understand the motives of one who is, any criticism can be discounted as a limited perspective.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 52). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition)
Vrindavan Today deems it a vital public service to bring awareness to potential abuse in an environment that shelters people considered to be “totally immune from the corruptions of power”.
Vrindavan Today understands and accepts that in pursuit of its goal of bringing awareness to the spiritual community, we will be accused of vaishnava ninda, and that these accusations will be supported by scriptural verses like this:
nāścaryam etad yad asatsu sarvadā
mahad-vinindā kuṇapātma-vādiṣu |
nirasta-tejaḥsu tad eva śobhanam ||
It is not so surprising that those who have accepted the transient material body as the self engage constantly in enviously deriding great souls. Such people are diminished in power by the dust of the feet of great personalities, and that alone is good and proper.
Vrindavan Today and its editors will not be afraid to cover controversial topics because we understand that Vaishnava aparadha & nindi are simply fear tactics deployed to maintain authoritarian power hierarchies:
A number of gurus have made statements to the effect that disobedience or disrespect of the guru has more severe negative spiritual consequences than other forms of morally unacceptable behaviors. One even said that such disrespect can bring thousands of lifetimes of pain and suffering. Whatever else is involved, it should be obvious that fear and threats are being used here for control. As the guru’s power is dependent on the disciples’ surrender, he does what is necessary to maintain that state.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 67). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
Vrindavan Today will continue to reach for the Truth because we believe The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Truth Himself:
Everyone is searching after the truth. That is the philosophical way of life. The demigods give information that the Supreme Absolute Truth is Krsna. One who becomes fully Krsna conscious can attain the Absolute Truth. Krsna is the Absolute Truth because, unlike relative truth, He is Truth in all the three phases of eternal time. Time is divided into past, present and future. Krsna is Truth always — past, present and future.
(Ref. VedaBase => KB 2: Prayers by the Demigods for Lord Krsna in the Womb)
Response from Readers:
In response, our readers found many creative ways to explain Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s confession. Some readers questioned whether Satyanarayana Das Babaji even wrote the confession letter, remarking on the letter’s odd sentence construction as proof that the confession was forged. Others claimed that Satyanarayana Das Babaji was tricked or coerced into writing the confession. Still, others saw the confession as proof of Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s pure and exalted status. We understand these reasons to fall into this category of thinking:
By holding gurus as perfect and thus beyond ordinary explanations, their presumed specialness can be used to justify anything. Some deeper, occult reason can always be ascribed to anything a guru does: The guru is said to take on the karma of others, and that is why his body has whatever problems it has. The guru is obese or unhealthy because he is too kind to turn down offerings; besides, he gives so much that a little excess is understandable. He punishes those who disobey him not out of anger but out of necessity, as a good father would. He uses sex to teach about energy and detachment. He lives an opulent life to break people’s simplistic preconceptions of what ego-loss should look like; it also shows how detached and unconcerned he is about what others think. For after all, “Once enlightened, one can do anything.” Believing this dictum makes any action justifiable.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 52). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
In short, the pitfall of authoritarian guru/disciple relationship most evident by our reader’s responses can be stated as such:
The guru/disciple relationship, which is inherently authoritarian, cuts off the necessary flow of information for both, creating a feedback-proof system.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 58). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
Example responses from Readers:
Here are some examples of reader feedback that bring ideas from “The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power” to real life:
Anyone who ascribes mundane venality or perversity onto Satyanarayana Dasaji will never find a friend in me. Anyone who thinks I have any unholy motivation in seeking his association are the blindest fools.
If anyone values my word or my character, then the instant you hear blasphemy of Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji, cover your ears and run from the spiritual disease that threatens to infest you. The very worst of asat-sanga is the one who revels in speaking Vaishnava ninda..
Babaji Satyanarayan Das is a saint of the highest quality.
Some ill motivated, envious, and incompetent people like Bhrigu Nath Mishra have made it their life’s mission to defame Babaji. This idiot Bhrigu is nowhere near in purity and intelligence as Babaji.
More I know Sri Babaji, more I realize what a treasure, how deep, loving and tender this beautiful devotee is. Everything around Babaji prospers. Who can write so many incredible, priceless books, give so many lectures of wisdom? It would be impossible for one, who’s mind was busy with egoistic motives. Not even a pinch of Babaji matches the man, inclined to become a successor of Sri Maharaji. And this letter and all this story just highlights Babaji’s beauty by contrasting it.
this so prolonged painful story and aspersing article again gave me an opportunity to see the greatness and purity of Sri Babaji. Even enmity against Krsna or His devotees eventually become their servant by showing Their greatness. It is so incredible!
Babajis confession is an act of devotion and surrender to his Guru. Those who know him are not bewildered. Those who don’t know him,or those who don’t want to know him, or those who pretend to to know him are are confused and baffled.
The other side of the Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s confession | Part 1:
After the confession post went viral, we were contacted by Malati devi dasi from the Jiva Institute, a long time personal assistant to Satyanarayana Das Babaji. She thought the article was one-sided and wanted to present the other side. But Malati had this dilemma: On the one hand, she wanted to present to the public a full 16-page explanation of the confession. On the other hand, she recognized that by presenting “the other side” she would add fuel to Satynarayana Das Babaji’s public relations fire. She was in a tough spot of needing to decide on whether to present relevant context for readers to better understand the confession, or to stay quiet hoping the story will subside and be forgotten.
In my mind, thinking from Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s perspective, I understood his dilemma to be as such:
Dealing awarely with power involves guarding against its corruptions, instead of denying that one is corruptible. The standards of purity necessary for the role of guru must bring unconscious repression and filtering mechanisms that ensure deceit and hypocrisy around self-interest.
Anyone who denies having an unconscious stops an essential process of awareness which involves being very alert to the workings of one’s own filtering mechanisms. This denial can only increase the power of the unconscious. Because a spiritual authority cannot compete well from a position of fallibility, gurus are caught on the horns of a dilemma: by denying the unconscious they become more unconscious; but if they acknowledge its possibility in themselves, they can no longer be infallible.
(Kramer, Joel. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (p. 106). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.)
I empathized with Malati’s dilemma. I let her know that I’m open and willing to present relevant information, and asked her to let me know if there is anything I can do to help her make the Satyanarayana Das Babaji confession story more complete. To follow up, I sent her the following questions which focused on verifying the accuracy of statements made in the confession:
- Satyanarayana Babaji is very intelligent and a highly educated person who even has a degree in law, so how could Babaji be “tricked” or coerced into writing something that is not accurate? Speaking for myself, I know that unless I was physically threatened, I could not write false things about myself and then send them to my guru and devotee community.
- In the confession, Satyanarayana Babaji writes about hiring servants to break into the property of Subal, Champakalata and Ajita and then filing a “legal suit against Subal and Champakalata to be recognized as the President of the trust.” He continues “Because the defendants were not present I got an ex-parte decision in my favor.” Is this accurate?
- In the confession, Satyanarayana Babaji writes “I instigated Kamala to go and manhandle Bhrigunatha Mishra right in Sri Gurudeva’s Ashrama.” Is it true that Bhrigunatha Mishra was physically assaulted under the direction of Satyanarayana Babaji?
- In the confession, Satyanarayana Babaji writes “My elder brother Rishipal threatened to file a defamation case against Bhrigunatha Mishra and Guruji Maharaja Sri and thus directly attacked Sri Gurudeva.” Is this accurate?
The other side of the Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s confession | Part 2:
Although my conversation with Malati was friendly and amicable, I knew she was concerned about my intentions and my journalistic integrity in deciding to publish Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s confession. So a few days after I spoke with Malati over the phone, I received this question from her:
Alexander, I have a question. I all your comments you are bonding with Bhrigu. Why did you write the following when you never had any direct contact with Babaji? Is this serious journalism?
“Yes, in all my communication with babaji his has done nothing but criticize me. I think its because he was intelligent enough to understand that I posed a threat to his criminal enterprise.”
The truth is that I did have reasons for making the cited comment, and so I replied to Malati presenting those reasons:
I’ve never met Babaji in person, but I did have communication with him. You were a part of some of those communications.
I’ve also had communication from Babaji through Jagadananda, particularly when I was redesigning Vrindavan Today in which Babaji wasn’t happy with the design and attributed my design choice to my lack of elementary understanding of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
Here are examples where you can find the communication in comments:
I found Babaji’s answers to be condescending, and instead of focusing on the answer, Babji switched to questioning me, saying I can see anything I want in the scripture, and questioning why I’d even want to worship Krishna. I found the answers belittling and offensive.
Excerpts from Satyanarayana’s Das Babaji’s answers:
Shastra is kalpataru, a wishful-filling tree. You can see in it what you would like to see. You can also see what it wants you to see.
Otherwise, I can ask you, why chant even Krishna’s name? Why not use some western names? Why is it that you question only the clothes and musical instruments?
First of all, I do not understand why you would worship Krishna. Why bother about Krishna?
Here are screenshots from the questions and answers:
Malati forwards Satyanarayna Das Babaji’s response:
A few days later Malati Devi Dasi sent me a reply containing Satyanarayna Das Babaji’s response. The response didn’t contain the 16-page explanation and there were no answers to the four questions presented to Malati. It also talked about the topic of Vrindavan Today ownership which I’ve already covered in an earlier post.
However out of interest to be inclusive and welcoming of all perspective, we are publishing Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s response to the confession in full:
(All text in bold highlighted by Alexander Shenkar.)
Satyanarayana Das Babaji’s response to confession and Alexander:
Jai Sri Radhe.
Thank you for communicating with Malati and being willing to post my rejoinder to the confession letter you published on your Vrindavan Today.
I personally am not inclined to reply because I do not want to get into a lengthy dialogue with people who are opposing me and who would like to refute my reply. If I do respond to them, I will end up in the same situation as at present. I do not see an end to it because I know some people like Bhrigu will never give up. Frankly speaking, I do not have the time or the heart to get into such discussions. My use of social media is very limited, primarily to jiva.org. It is not my cup of tea.
This confession letter was written in 2009 under very special circumstances, on the recommendation of Bhrigu, and with a very specific purpose. It will be very difficult for me to explain to others and for others to understand it. So I refrain from it. Let people derive their own conclusions by reading it. For me, it is old news.
I am also not inclined to respond because I was the main supporter of the Vrindavan Today website for many years. I did a lot to sustain it, besides giving financial support. Now to see the domain owner of Vrindavan Today use it to defame the very person who supplied life to it does not feel very good. I have no desire to defend myself on the very VT that I nurtured like a baby.
I understand that you are very upset with me for my comments to Jagadananda in 2014 regarding the VT website you redesigned. It was insensitive on Jagat’s part to send you my comments without informing me, let alone taking my permission. I certainly did not mean to insult you, although this is how you have taken it. In any case, I apologize to you for that.
As for my reply to your question on Jiva.org regarding dress, etc., I would like to say that on my blog I am not professing that one must wear Indian dress. I am only explaining the cultural aspect in which Krishna exists. I am sure you are aware that if you have to do Lila-smarana, part of manasi-seva, you have to adapt to the Vraja culture. Basically, that is what I am hinting at. I did not say that you cannot be a devotee if you wear western dress or eat western food or live a western lifestyle. You considered my answer as condescending but I also considered your question very challenging when you gave the example of chariot and cars. My question to you was why even worship Krishna if you have so much dislike just for the dress which He and His associate wear? I have many students from the west and I travel and teach in the west. I do not advocate Indian/Vedic dress. From your questions, it appeared to me that you were just irritated by my replies in the main body of the blog and thus were challenging me.
Finally, I would say that it seems that you have taken much pleasure in posting my confession with wonderful photoshopping. Surely you have spent much time and effort to present it. So I do not want to take away the pleasure of those who dislike me, by replying. By your grace, the article went viral on social media. You have been successful in your goal of destroying my image and probably feel the satisfaction of getting even with me. You have my good wishes to bask in your success. I do not think I can repair my image by giving any amount or replies/refutations. It is like destroying a statue and throwing it all over the planet from a plane. You can never pick up the parts and reassemble it. So I do not want to invest my time in an endeavor that will not be successful.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reply.