ISKCON’s big, annoying, un-bonafide rockstar kirtaniya cultureBhakta Ashish (Anonymous writer)
Ok let’s establish some Vaishnava epistemology: Kirtan is a sacrifice of one’s time and energy that is meant only for the pleasure of Krishna. Ideally, the motivation to do kirtan should be purely for the pleasure of Guru and Krishna, but we all have material desires and false egos too, I get it. However one should not knowingly exploit Krishna, whether in the form of His Names, Deity, etc. For example in India, we find caste “goswamis” making a living by showing the Deities installed in their family temple and taking payment for darshan in the form of donations from pilgrims. Thus the temple becomes their personal storefront and the Deities are like zoo animals that they show off to the public for a fee (Krishna forgive me for even repeating such an offensive thing). These “caste goswamis” may be devotees, however, we can presume by their grossly exploitive attitude toward Krishna that they are neophyte devotees, or “mundane religionists” as Srila Prabhupada called these types of people.
In India there are also professional Bhagavatam reciters and professional kirtaniyas. We understand them to be bogus. Wikipedia tells us that estimates of the number of Vaishnavas in India range from around 200 million to over 600 million. So as there are hundreds of millions of Vaishnavas in India we can reasonably conclude, I think, that some of the professional Bhagavatam reciters and kirtaniyas are probably devotees, but again they are likely neophyte devotees, and they are unfortunately exploiting and offending the Holy Names and the Bhagavatam.
Now in 21rst century Iskcon we find serious devotees tolerating this somewhat flamboyant and obnoxious rockstar kirtaniya culture of traveling celebrity professional kirtaniyas. Yes we have all seen them. The mundane hair styles and facial hair, the wooden earrings, the flamboyantly large and opulent Tulsi jewelry, the fancy dhotis and so forth. How can any self respecting Iskcon kirtan rockstar not dress in the Iskcon equivalent of the tight jeans and black leather jacket of karmi rockstars? How will they impress the chicks, I mean matajis?
I don’t want to lump all well known Iskcon kirtaniyas together though. For example, I have a great deal of respect for HG Vyasaki prabhu, both as a kirtaniya and an author. However there are some famous kirtaniyas in Iskcon who are deviating in apparently subtle, but none the less serious ways. And many of these deviant kirtaniyas are role models in our society, which is not appropriate. I believe that it is important to point out this discrepancy. After all Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita that whatever “great men do” others will follow.
Now let’s see what Srila Prabhupad had to say on the topic of professional kirtaniyas:
We have to hear the sankirtan not from professional men. That will not be… If you hear sankirtana from the professional men… Professional men = who makes sankirtana as the means of livelihood. Just like people do some business or work to get money to maintain the life, similarly, if somebody takes the sankirtana as the means of livelihood, that will not help you. (Lecture Aug 9, 1974)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja has also remarked that professional spiritual masters, professional Bhagavatam reciters, professional kirtan performers and those engaged in devotional service according to their own mental concoctions cannot be accepted. (Teachings of Lord Chaitanya Ch 29, page 309)
Yes. My Guru Maharaja used to say that don’t accept spiritual life for living. Just like we are sending the sankirtana party. If we take it, “Oh, it is very easy method for living without working. We are getting money for our livelihood,” this is not wanted. If your spiritual life is for… Just like there are so many professional chanter. Not here; in India. Their business is, because people like chanting, so they have made this chanting business……….This is not good. You should not take Krishna’s activities, Krishna consciousness, professionally, for livelihood. That is danger. Your life should be sacrifice for Krishna. That is wanted. Otherwise you shall be pretender. (Lecture Dec 23, 1968)
Ok moving right along, Sri Hari Bhakti Vilasa by Srila Sanatana Goswami is an enormous research project that is a compilation of verses from all throughout the Vedas. The book is sort of an encyclopedia of topics related to devotional service (it’s nectar). Here is a verse relevant to this discussion from the section of Hari Bhakti Vilasa that discusses kirtan:
For the pleasure of the Supreme Lord and his devotees, one should sing the glories of the Lord and dance in a joyful mood. However, one should never do this simply for the purpose of earning his livelihood. A person who does so incurs sin. (Volume two Eighth Vilasa Text 265)
I will let this verse speak for itself. This verse is stated to be from somewhere in the smrti shastra, but Sanatana Goswami doesn’t name a specific Vedic text or give a verse number. In fact, Sanatan Goswami doesn’t give specific verse numbers for any of the many verses he cites in Hari Bhakti Vilasa; he just names the books where the verses are from, or like in the case of this verse, doesn’t even name the book. Many of the other Goswamis also simply cited the Vedic texts where the particular reference was from in their writings, and not the exact verse number.
We do not wish to be blind followers (that’s why we are reading articles on this website) and so we should have a good understanding of Vaishnava epistemology (the logical progression of evidence of how we know what we know) and pramana, which means the various evidences we use to establish our epistemology. The various pramanas are things we can see, touch, smell, taste, and/or hear directly, conclusions we can logically come to, etc. However the Vedas in general, and the Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, have been established by our acharyas as the supreme pramana, or evidence by which we establish our understanding of the world. We also understand that the words of a mahabhagavata Vaishnava are also to be taken as supreme evidence. Therefore Srila Sanatana Goswami did not have to cite exact verse references. If he says the verse is there, then that is good enough for any serious Vaisnava. Similarly Srila Prabhupad’s words should be taken as supreme pramana. Also Prabhupad’s books and teachings are our lens by which we can access and understand the previous acharyas’ and the Vedas’ words. By me citing the words of the previous acharyas and the Vedas I am showing that Srila Prabhupad is not concocting, but he is acting as a transparent medium by which Vedic knowledge and mercy are being transmitted to us through our ancient parampara.
I believe it is important for us to understand this because sometimes people offensively suggest that Srila Prabhupad was conditioned by his Victorian era Bengali upbringing and British education. Thus these persons offensively opine that Prabhupad’s statements about women, for example, are merely nonsense Victorian chauvinism. However we of course find that Prabhupad’s statements are always confirmed in many places in shastra. These are some points on Vaishnava epistemology. Anyhow, I digress…
Now many of the big names in the Iskcon kirtan scene travel around the world and do kirtan performances for money. Here is some proof:
(Soles are Peruvian currency)
So someone reading this article may say in protest: “Alas, how can you say such things? These devotees are preaching. I dare say that you are a grave offender sir. I challenge you to a duel! Pistols at dawn! (you never know in modern-day Iskcon…yikes)
However, why not just get a job, buy/rent a house, start a family, and do Harinam sankirtana on the street a few times a week? (for free) Feeling too fired up for that? Then say goodbye to your wife (or girlfriend), move into the New York Harinam ashram, and you can just do kirtan all day for the rest of your life, then go back to Godhead, and then come back as an acharya and save me. Doing acts of bhakti for pay weakens our humble, selfless, unconditional service attitude. It also sends the wrong message to the public; that you have to pay for bhakti/self-realization.
It is clear from Prabhupada, the previous acharyas and the Vedas that this Iskcon professional rockstar kirtaniya scene is not only annoying but is also not bonafide.
This is no laughing matter
Next, during the course of our investigation into the matter, we have noted that many of these big name professional Iskcon kirtaniyas also put un-bonafide mantra tracks on their albums, such as demigod mantra “kirtans”. Here is some proof:
So the Mayapuris have a Shiva mantra track on their album and Prema Hara has two albums with Shiva mantra tracks. If you look closely at the back cover of the Prema Hara album that’s blue (directly above) you will notice that this album actually contains two Shiva mantra tracks.
Next, we have a screenshot of a portion of the Wikipedia page that gives track details about Gaura Vani’s album “Ten Million Moons”:
Track 8 is a rendition of a poem by the famous Sufi poet Amir Khusrau. The only small problem that my wicked fault-finding mind can detect with this is that…well let’s have Srila Prabhupad say it:
There is one Muslim sampradaya known as the Sufis. The Sufis accept impersonalism, believing in the oneness of the living entity with the Absolute Truth. Their supreme slogan is “analahak”. The Sufi sampradaya was certainly derived from Shankaracharya’s impersonalists. (Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya 18.190 purport)
Yoga student: The Sufis find love in these figures… For example, the Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, through of the face of a beautiful woman…
Prabhupāda: Through the face of beautiful woman?
Yoga student: Yes.
Prabhupāda: So there the materialists also find.
Yoga student: That is the material aspect, absolutely.
Prabhupāda: Therefore in Islam religion the form is rejected because it will come to that. As soon as they think of form, they think of this material form, beautiful face of woman. That is degradation. Therefore you are strict not to conceive material form. That is Vedic conception. (Conversation Mar 14, 1975)
So we can see that the Sufis are impersonalists and that they are “derived from Shankaracharya’s impersonalists” as Prabhupada says. It is therefore not bonafide for a Vaishnava to sing the so-called kirtan of a sufi-mayavadi impersonalist.
Now the Mayapuris, Prema Hara and Gaura Vani all chose to have un-bonafide “kirtan” tracks on their albums. These individuals can produce unlimited nonsense tracks millennium after millennium if that is their desire. Krishna gives all jivas that freedom and I have no right to demand that they give up all nonsense and surrender to Krishna. I also should give up all nonsense and surrender to Krishna. However once again we find ourselves disappointed with our leaders in Iskcon as the GBC has promoted these deviant kirtan groups again and again. I showed in a recent article I wrote how the GBC is even promoting outright neo-mayavadi impersonalists, such as Jai Uttal, on Iskconnews.org, which is the official GBC approved Iskcon news agency. I also showed in the same article how the GBC chose to put a photo of Vishvambar Sheth of the Mayapuris on the cover of the official Iskcon 50th anniversary magazine to represent the modern Hare Krishna. The promoting of Gaura Vani and the Mayapuris is particularly bad as these individuals are well known associates of neo-mayavadi kirtaniyas such as Jai Uttal and Shiva Rea. I also showed in my recent article that both Vishvambar Sheth and Gaura Vani worked on Jai Uttal’s latest hodgepodge demigod “kirtan” album, and this album by a known non-devotee impersonalist was promoted on Iskcon News. Why?
So here is proof of my statements about Iskcon News and the GBC. Here is the link to the Iskcon News article that promotes the Prema Hara album that contains a Shiva mantra track:
Here is the link to the article promoting Jai Uttal’s album:
Here is the link to the article promoting Gaura Vani’s album that contains the Sufi poem track:
Here is a link to an article promoting the Mayapuris:
Now in Prema Hara’s defense it is stated in the article promoting their album that they only put the Shiva mantra tracks on their album to attract new agers, hippies, etc. It is also stated that at the beginning of their concerts they explain proper Vaishnava siddhanta in regards to the relationship of the demigods with Krishna. Maybe this is true. But I’m a little sceptical because if they really told the truth it seems that all the new agers in the audience would get up and leave. I used to be a fallen new ager myself. Now I am a fallen devotee. Anyway, in my experience your standard new ager does not like the idea that we are not God and never will be, and they tend to be very fanatical about the idea that one doesn’t need a guru because you are your own guru my brothers and sisters. Oh and they also tend to be fanatical about the idea that you can chant any demigod mantra you want, because everything is one my brothers and sisters. Now breathe into your heart chakra…
Also I have a question: If we choose an “indirect” preaching method, at what point do we tell people that actually one should not chant demigod mantras. At what point do we tell people that actually you should not listen to Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, etc. because even if they chant the Maha Mantra, they are actually atheistic impersonalists and you will be contaminated by their sound vibrations that are actually deep expressions of envy for God? At what point do we tell them that actually you are not God and I am not God but we are eternal servants of God? At what point do we tell our fellow brother and sister jivas the truth; that you do actually need a living guru?
Now Jai Uttal’s guru is Mr. Neem Karoli Baba, whom we demonstrated to be a mayavadi by citing Prabhupad’s own words about him in the article previously mentioned. This mayavada stuff is practically all pervading in India and much of the rest of the world, as well as in the mundane yoga and kirtan world. Here are some relevant quotes from the book Harinam Cintamani by Srila Bhakti Vinode Thakur regarding mayavadis:
A soul who carefully avoids associating with mayavadis, and who with his service pleases a pure devotee attached to pure chanting (suddha-nama) of the holy name, and who follows Your commands, O Sri Krishna Caitanya, is very fortunate. A soul who does not follow Your commands is worthless rubbish. (Ch 3 page 26)
The mayavadis say that the individual souls, Lord Krishna’s form, and service to Lord Krishna are all imaginary and are not eternal. In this way I count the mayavada philosophy among the offenses to the holy name. From the mayavada philosophy all calamities come. (Ch 3 page 25)
By accepting a Krsna-mantra from a mayavadi one does not attain the greatest treasure. (Ch 6 page 47)
Persons who in their worship of the demigods and offering sraddha to the pitas follow the ideas of the mayavadis perish because of their offense. Thinking the demigods are independent of Lord Visnu, they commit an offense to the holy name. By that offense their progress in devotional service is blocked. Persons who think that the demigods headed by Siva are controllers independent of Lord Visnu commit a fearful offense. (Ch 5 page 39)
Now Jai Uttal and these other new agey kirtaniyas are mostly not traditional mayavadis (they are not intelligent or sense controlled enough for that). I call them neo-mayavadis, though I didn’t come up with the term. A neo-mayavadi is more of a wishy washy, overly sentimental, non-philosophical, hodgepodge pseudo-spiritualist who incorporates the basics of traditional mayavadi philosophy into his/her hodgepodge medley of concocted notions. This usually translates as the standard “Everything is one my brother” and don’t even think about making any distinctions or judgements about anyone or anything at anytime. You are only allowed to speak in a soft voice, say soothing pseudo-philosophical nonsense, and make our heads hurt when we try to talk sense to you. But this difference between traditional mayavada and neo-mayavada is somewhat of a detail. The point is mayavada=bad.
Finally here is a quote from the Iskcon News article promoting the Gaura Vani album that confirms that the band members are rockstars:
When kirtan band As Kindred Spirits-featuring second-gen Krishna devotees Gauravani Buchwald, Acyuta Gopi Dasi, and a host of other talented musicians-wanted to celebrate the launch of their new CD Ten Million Moons in style, they did what rock stars have been doing for ages: they threw a party.
Lol. So please don’t get mad at poor Bhakta Ashish. Iskcon News said they are rockstars. I am just humbly trying to repeat what I have heard.
So what is thou conclusion in the matter my dear sir?
So why is the GBC run Iskcon News promoting these people? The most blatant nonsense out of all these examples is the promoting of Jai Uttal’s album. At least these other kirtaniyas I mentioned in this article are devotees. But Jai Uttal is not even a devotee! Hello, anyone awake there at Iskcon News?
I also noticed that three of the four Iskcon News articles that I have provided links for in this article were written by one Madhava Smullen. Perhaps the GBC can introduce a written test for any devotees who apply for a job at Iskcon News to see if they actually know the philosophy. It seems more logical to me to have staff at Iskcon News who know the philosophy, rather than have staff who don’t know the philosophy. However I am an open minded kinda guy, and if you can prove to me with sastric evidence that it is better to have staff that don’t know the philosophy, I will be glad to listen. Ok, that’s enough envious fault finding for today. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.