Same Old Brave New “ISKCON”

Article Two, Section One: Existentialism and the “ISKCON” Dragons

Third of a Six-Part Series

by Kailäsa Candra däsa

çruti-småti-puräëädi-païcarätra-vidhià vinä
aikäntiké harer bhaktir utpätäyaiva kalpate

“Unauthorized devotional service to Hari, not sanctioned by the direction of the Upaniñads, Vedänta-sütra, the Puräëas, corollary literatures and the Närada-païcarätra, is an unnecessary disturbance to civilized humanity.” Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, 1.2.101

Disciple: This desire to be being-in-itself is the desire to be God, which Sartre maintains is man’s fundamental desire.
Çréla Prabhupäda: This is more or less Mäyävädé philosophy.
– Critique of Sartre

As mentioned in Part One, it is our perspective that the first-echelon leaders of so-called “ISKCON”, in terms of individual egotistical identifications they brought with them into the movement, are shot through with a latter day equivalent of existentialism. They developed this in their formative years, but the disease has now metastasized into something on another devolutionary level. In Parts Three and Four, we are going to discuss this hypothesis; along with related evidence, we shall later present the tenets of existentialism. Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether or not you consider these “bhakti”cult leaders to be covert existentialists.

All emphases added for your personal edification and realization

“Any system we accept must be supported by evidences of çruti, småti, the Puräëas, and Païcarätra. That which is not proved by these pramäëas is a disturbance.”
– Conversation with Professor Kotovsky, Moscow University, 1971

The process of yoga is all about purification of character. Surrender to genuine spiritual authority is required for this to actually transpire. The tapasya, the penances and austerities performed by engagement in bhajana and kriyä, will automatically empower the devotee’s state of being, whatever it may be. In other words, extraneous qualities not conducive to authorized Kåñëa consciousness, qualities which philosophically impede pure consciousness, developed in word and deed, have to be uprooted near the very beginning of bhakti sädhana. If not culled out, the watering process of hearing and chanting will also nourish those weeds along with the bhakti creeper. Eventually, the weeds will grow most luxuriantly, in due course strangling the creeper of devotional service.

Secular or atheistic existentialism does not dovetail itself at all well to the process of buddhi-yoga. Instead, the man in that particular false ego—if he remains an existentialist–will eventually become a Mäyävädé, but that is not the only possibility. He may, in due course of time, become a Mäyävädé engaged in his own peculiar form of tantra; he may become a witch or a warlock. If such an individual is apparently in the sannyäsa order, then he is but a warlock with a danda.

“According to the empirical philosophers, simply by adopting sannyäsa or retiring from fruitive activities, one at once becomes as good as Näräyaëa, but Lord Kåñëa does not approve this principle. Without purification of heart, sannyäsa is simply a disturbance to the social order.” – Bhagavad-gita, 3.4, purport

Eyes Wide Shut

“Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position. Its intention is not in the least that of plunging men into despair. . . what man needs is to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God. In this sense, existentialism is optimistic. It is a doctrine of action, and it is only by self-deception, by confusing their own despair with ours, that Christians can describe us as without hope.”
– Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

“Like a dog without a bone, an actor out alone, riders on the storm.”
– Jim Morrison of The Doors

It is said that existentialism does not possess a specific set of tenets or doctrines, that it is not a school of thought, and that it is comprised of several contradictory revolts against traditional philosophy. Still, despite its perfervid individualism, there is an underlying agreement by all existentialists on some fundamentals in this line of thought–and the corresponding words and actions that act upon those fundamentals.

A condensed timeline will be discussed in this Section, as those fundamentals are going to be delineated in Part Four, in conjunction with their application to what is allegedly Kåñëa Consciousness at this time in the West. The issue is not agreement of disparate individuals who have believed in and lived the philosophy of existentialism. The issue that now confronts us is that the most powerful leaders of “ISKCON” have taken their own existentialism to a different level, both individually and collectively. History has shown quite indisputably that all previous influential existentialists were unable to unite, that they had no real desire to unify, and that they seldom backed or even reassured one another. The covert existentialists who have become first-echelon leaders of the fabricated, so-called “ISKCON” have, for the most part, been able to hold that centrifugal momentum in check.

There are reasons for this. One is that there are vikarmic reactions waiting to spring forth, now held in abeyance by these men. As they “cooperate” in keeping the current small leaks from splitting the dike; they sense that, if they don’t hang together and keep the thing from being internally dismantled, they’ll all probably hang separately. Secondly, even the shadow or simulacrum of Kåñëa consciousness must still contain remnants of its spiritual features, at least to some extent. A very ill man maintains and functions through a subtle yet inherently imbalanced method of internal compensation; at a certain point, if he engaged in any radical treatment to effectively cure his disease, such an act would kill him. He thus plugs on, because he has learned to adapt and make adjustments.

Similarly, Kåñëa consciousness, especially when manifested on the organizational level, is highly centripetal; it is constitutionally authoritarian. All of us who joined in the late Sixties and early-to-mid-Seventies remember this very well—unless deep delusion has set in since then. Prior to the emergence of “ISKCON,” other existentialists were not at all centripetal in their interactions with one another or with the world at large. However, the unique kind of existentialism manifested by the egotistical “ISKCON” leaders has managed to maintain in place a remnant of centralization and authoritarianism–centered, of course, on their very selves in the form of the controlling node, the vitiated GBC.

Near the beginning of the modern era, Kierkegaard introduced (in Denmark) the basic lexicon of existentialism, as well as some of what would become its fundamental philosophy and process. However, if he is thus considered the precursor of today’s existentialism, that’s a misconception. Kierkegaard was theistic, a rebel with a cause.

Existentialism has been described aptly by one of its most aggressive promulgators, Sartre, in the quote tendered above: It is thoroughly atheistic. A conception of theistic existentialism is still there, but, at this time, almost nobody studies that, and few live it or preach it (except for genuine Kåñëa bhaktas). Nor was that prevalent on the campuses back in the day. In the theistic concept, conditional existence comes before revelation of a spirit soul’s essential being or self. This idea is completely rejected by all secular existentialists and should not be used to describe any current faction of mainstream existentialism. Theism is a component of yoga and real religious practice; it has no relation to existentialism as we know it.

“Man is a being who wants to be God . . . But (since) the idea of God is contradictory . . . man is a useless passion.”
– Sartre, L’entre et le neant

Existentialists believe that they confront the reality of existence, they are for real and authentic in their conduct and lifestyle, radicals who have overcome all self-delusion, including the abject ignorance of organized religion. This philosophy went through various stages before it really broke out in the West in the mid-Twentieth Century. Its true precursor was not Kierkegaard but Friedrich Nietzsche. Due to his formulation of the ubermensch, as well as his belief in eternal recurrence, this man was not solely an existentialist. However, his presentation both attacked, and, for all practical purposes destroyed, Plato’s doctrines. Nietzsche replaced Plato’s system, the previous foundation of Western thought, with his own philosophy.

The Western intelligentsia and academics of Europe were soon won over by Nietzsche. He wrote that, outside of his own self, man cannot find any sure ground in the absurd world in which he lives. Only his own self, which is now existential, can provide satisfaction and completion for him. To achieve this, he works with it to create his essence. Man must seek his own answers; he is the basic decision-maker in his life. He is limited and faces a world that confronts and opposes him at every step, one which cannot provide him the answers he seeks or solutions to his problems. As such, he must himself become his own solution through a self-created essence.

This view appears to be hard-core realism. One who holds it apparently takes on the world of things, beings, and other humans with a hardened and keen vision. However, in point of fact, this philosophy closes the gates of not only transcendental realization but even cosmic revelation. Vaiñëavism teaches that the self is already perfect; he always has been, and he always will be. This self is not incomplete, but he is now covered.

The anxiety of the existentialist is centered on a dread of perpetual incompleteness—the gap of what he knows he now is and what he knows he should be. However, existentialism, along with the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teachings (which also became disseminated during the period of existentialism’s greatest influence), proclaim that the essential self does not exist but has to be created. This idea can make one crazy, and Nietzsche indeed succumbed to insanity during the last decade of his life.

Martin Heidegger, a fellow German, completely dismissed Kierkegaard but deeply appreciated Nietzsche. Heidegger, although he promulgated phenomenology, also became an author and proponent of what would eventually be called existentialism. Like Jaspers, he believed that all knowledge is interpretation. We find this idea also manifested in “ISKCON,” where its big guns have come up with their own interpretation of the teachings of the spiritual master—to the point that they have even had the audacity to challenge his authority. 1

France soon superseded Germany as the locus standi of existentialism. After Heidegger, there were Sartre and Camus. Sartre appreciated Heidegger and, at least once, quoted him as authority. Camus was both an existentialist and an absurdist. These two writers were friends for awhile, but then they became enemies. A feminine counterpart to Sartre, who was also his lover, combined French feminism with existentialism. None of these three completely agreed with one another, but that predictable lack of concurrence between proponents of existentialism was integral to it.

The nihilism intrinsic to this philosophy got a big boost in Europe after World War II, but it had little influence in the United States until the Fifties. Arguably, existentialism was at first introduced to the American public in the form of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye; the hero (or anti-hero), viz., Holden Caulfield, was a highly existential character. Along with the art of Jackson Pollock, other works followed, such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsburg’s Howl! These men and their art constituted the leading edge of the Beat Generation. In the late Fifties, the beatniks became a known (and sometimes ridiculed) off-shoot counterculture that intrigued more than a few Americans.

As confirmed by Sartre, existentialism is atheistic. It rejects the concept of theism, as well as (and especially) all organized religion. It rejects pantheism, rationalism, idealism, romanticism, pragmatism, objectivism, and hedonism, as well. 2 It rejects occultism as imagination. It considers these ideas and lifestyles to be inauthentic, loaded with self-deception. It accepts evolution only if that is interpreted to mean that a man or a woman evolves to the point of realizing and living the existentialist lifestyle. Psycho-therapy must be self-administered, as everything outside the self—especially consultation with non-existentialist therapists—can only be contradictory, absurd–serving to make a person more neurotic (or even psychotic) then he was before falling victim to such guidance or advice.

We shall focus on what was espoused by Sartre, the leading and most influential proponent of existentialism in its heyday. That peak influence has particular bearing on the theme of this and the next Section. In the United States, existentialism flourished during the Sixties. Almost all the popular rock groups incorporated existential lyrics into their songs. James Dean, along with the films of Ingmar Bergman (and later, Woody Allen), typified charismatic personalities and works presenting hard-core existentialism. In the person of many such artists–and in art, film, or the written word–existentialism was, more often than not, rarely mentioned directly. Nevertheless, the patrons, viewers, listeners, and readers of this milieu were all affected by it, at least subconsciously.

Existentialists had developed a powerful momentum in the late Fifties and early-to-mid Sixties, especially in lofty academic settings at American universities, as well as amongst the hippies who often hung out at the campus scene. However, in the Sixties, something unexpectedly intruded, and that transformed existentialism.

Time Changes Things: The Mystic Trip

“The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end six thousand years is true, as I have heard from hell. The whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy, whereas it now appears finite and corrupt. This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.” William Blake

“Do what thou wilt.”

Anton LaVey, founder, The Church of Satan

Western philosophy, implicated in mental speculation, is subject to certain change over time. Since secular existentialism has only a limited connection to truth and is ultimately a mental speculation with no scriptural authority to stand on, it is subject to major transformations. The existentialists, prior to the emergence of the hippie religion, had an intrinsic affiliation with the empiricists. Although they did not accept positivism, existentialists certainly were closer to it then they were to the German idealists. Indeed, existentialism was, at root, a revolt against Hegel’s dialectic, as well as the hyper-complicated intellectual trip of Kant’s treatises.

As such, the very idea of an a prior truth was utterly invalid to the existentialist–up to the mid-Sixties, that is. As existentialism gained its greatest notoriety, then, at its very peak, the philosophy became invultuated. This took place when psychedelics, in combination with rock message music, took up the existential cudgel, adding something new to it. Modern (and now, post-modern) Western philosophy is always intrigued by whatever appears to be new. Indeed, Prabhupäda, in his first years in the West, was considered to be bringing in something new, particularly by poets such as Alan Ginsberg and other vanguards of the hippie weltanschauung:

“There are some movements like the Beatles or hippies among the younger generation, by realizing the negation of matter. Their attempt is to forget matter by some hallucination or mental concoction, with the help of some deluding matter. So, their attempt is nice, but there is no guide.”
– Letter to Mario Windisch, 2-25-68

“It is so pleasing that more and more boys are joining the Krishna Consciousness movement, and I wish that the whole group known as the hippies may take advantage of this movement and make their life (sic) very successful.” Letter to Jayänanda, 8-22-68

The hippies became the best customers of the early Kåñëa consciousness movement, and Prabhupäda directly cultivated them in his presentation. Many of them were suffering grievously, and he recruited those who were especially sincere and fortunate amongst these, relieving a great deal of their distress in the process. However, many if not most of them had various seeds of philosophies, beliefs, shibboleths, and processes injected into them during the period of their dedication to the hippie religion, and one of the more prominent of these was existentialism.

It was, by that time, a different kind of existentialism, no longer empirical in operation. Transformed through some combination of hallucinogens and message music, it can more accurately be now termed occult existentialism. The gods of this were William Blake, Nietzsche (from a new perspective), Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and others. The lyrics of this new way of thought and action came almost entirely from the other prominent gods, viz., the rock stars. The experience—and existentialism is always heavy on experience—mostly came from the drugs such as marijuana, hash, mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin, although mantras also entered.

When the “gurus” from India arrived amongst the counter-culture, particularly in America, they brought with them the concept that, upon the removal of illusion, a person realizes that he himself is God. This dovetailed with esoteric existentialism, and these gurus also became guides to the hippies, although, in most cases, they did not supplant the influence of rock with its psychedelic lyrics and music. The art of that era emphasized the contradictions of Western materialism.

A kind of ethic, heavily steeped in humanism (consider, as above-mentioned, Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism title) developed a magnetic hold upon many young people of the era. And, as could only be expected, witchcraft and satanism insidiously worked their way into this mindset. This version of mysticism emphasized human manipulation of lesser gods on the astral plane through a pantheism of control over “the other.”

The seed of occult existentialism did not always degrade into solipsism for the hippies affected by it, but it did generate vikarmic reactions that, in due course, became quite severe for some. When bewilderment reached a certain stage, these men became seriously ill, at least mentally. In a state of despair or controlled panic, many of them came to Prabhupäda for shelter. They had to serve him to get that shelter, and they did serve him (for a while). However, those existential seeds did not always disappear.

Deceptions of Occult Existentialism

“The Mäyävädé philosophers try to explain the equality of master and servant in terms of quantity, but they fail to explain why, if the master and servant are equal, the servant falls victim to mäyä. They try to explain that when the servant, the living entity, is out of the clutches of mäyä, he immediately becomes the so-called master again. Such an explanation is never satisfactory. Being unlimited, the master cannot become a victim of mäyä, for in such a case His unlimitedness would be crippled or limited. Thus the Mäyäväda explanation is not correct.”
Caitanya-caritämåta, Madhya Lélä, 11.189, purport

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” – The Wizard of Oz

“You’re good, kid—real good, but as long as I’m around, you’ll always be second-best. So you might as well get used to it.”
– Lancey Howard, The Cincinnati Kid

We have posted previously that the advertising of so-called spontaneous or ecstatic devotional service, by someone who falsely believes spiritual advancement is proved in that way, is a chief symptom of the sahajiyä.3 We have also quoted His Divine Grace (from TLC) to the effect that sahajiyäs intentionally misunderstand spiritual masters and devotees, considering them to be mental speculators; due to this offensive mentality, they eventually become Mäyävädés.4 At the top of this Section, we have excerpted Sartre’s contention, as per secular existentialism, that man’s fundamental desire is to be God. Accordingly, Çréla Prabhupäda responded that his (Sartre’s) philosophy is more or less Mäyäväda.

Thus, we get a hint about an interrelationship that is integral to existentialism. Furthermore, we are provided evidence as to why determined individuals (who may have once been devotees, but, before that even, were occult existentialists) had already had the seed of Mäyäväda sown within the heart of hearts before coming to Çréla Prabhupäda’s Hare Kåñëa movement of Kåñëa consciousness. It should not be too difficult to put the pieces of the puzzle together here. The most effective way to become God, to perfect the Mäyävädé premise, would be to develop a covert way of life through an occult process: To become a so-called devotee, then to become a sahajiyä, and then to realize the fullness of Mäyäväda in all of its “power and glory.” Such pretenders could not outwardly declare what they were all about, for that would curtail the effectiveness of the whole scheme.

As such, all of this would remain hidden, behind a curtain of mystique. The so-called Vaiñëava spiritual master controls his chelas, followers, sycophants, patrons, and admirers through intricate devices and methodologies, but his dazzling road leads nowhere. To be more precise, it will lead unfortunate disciples to themselves become expert in a subtle trick of mini-mastery, to become, in due course, little Mäyävädés themselves.

Both the existentialist and the Mäyävädé looks down on everyone else, as he considers himself to be the best man. He takes pleasure in manipulating all those who have not yet realized what he has (allegedly) attained. He employs love-bombing to seduce people or intimidation tactics to cower them. After all, he has supposedly realized himself as the supreme controller, so he considers that all of his acts must be rightly done. He may even praise the follower, encouraging him that he may is on the verge of realization, but this is nothing but back-handed flattery. He polishes the disciple’s apple with such faint praise, but, between the lines—though sometimes egregiously—he lets the misguided disciple know that he’s forever going to be the bogus master’s servant, always second-best.

This is a hellish predicament for the foolish chelas of Kali-yuga who have fallen victim to it, and it is going on—very subtly, but nevertheless, very effectively—in the fabricated, so-called “ISKCON” institution. They have their own way of understanding what they now believe is the Absolute Truth, and the overview of where that’s coming from has been provided nicely by His Divine Grace:

“In the Mahäbhärata, Udyoga-parva, Forty-third Chapter, these five kinds of ignorance are described. They are: (1) accepting the body to be the self, (2) making material sense gratification one’s standard of enjoyment, (3) being anxious due to material identification, (4) lamenting, and (5) thinking that there is anything beyond the Absolute Truth.
Caitanya-caritamåta, Ädi Lélä, 1.102, purport

Although both existentialism and Mäyäväda are illogical, and although, through the bridge of sahajiyism, they are prone to be readily affiliated, this is not seen by those who have been victimized. Both the lords and their vassals do not accept the Absolute Truth, because they think that they know something beyond the straightforward Vaiñëava path. When speculation such as this is ingrained into an institution (such as the “ISKCON” confederation), it becomes very firm, serving as mortar for the bricks constituting a wall of ignorance in the particular cult.

This has all come down because the leaders, who are dragons disguised as sädhus, never jettisoned their previous identification with secular esoteric existentialism. The song remains the same: It’s still there within each man’s character, and it’s not going away anytime soon. At least materially, it’s paying off big-time for them, so where is the incentive to give it up?

Sartre’s most advertised statement, made back at the dawn of the hippie era, is now interwoven into the fabric of secular existentialism, viz., “Hell is other people.” Sartre died in 1980, and there is no readily available historical record that he ever contacted the leaders of “ISKCON.” However, if he had, then he would have actually experienced the direct and ultimate meaning of his well-known misanthropic aphorism.


1 In the form of changing the books of His Divine Grace Çréla Prabhupäda.

2 This should not be interpreted to mean that existentialism encourages sense abnegation. Sartre and his paramour, another writer representing this philosophy, were unabashedly engaged in an active, sexual relationship. The existentialist rejects the aesthetic stage of life; he or she does not live for sensual gratification alone, and the person who lives his or her life according to classic existentialism is also supposed to remain aware of the inevitability of death. However, after choosing how he or she is going to create his or her alleged essence, if, in the process of that creation, sense gratification is deemed to be helpful–at any time and in any way—then engagement in such sensual pleasure is considered conducive to the process. In classic, secular existentialism, there are no rules and regulations to restrict sense gratification. As such, it can never be considered either Eastern or stoic.

3 “The transcendental symptoms of ecstasy certainly are auspicious, but they are not for advertising to others. One should not advertise, directly or indirectly, that one is feeling like this; they should be checked. Otherwise, one will gradually become sahajiyä or one who takes spiritual advancement as something materially manifest.” – Letter to Makhanläl, 6-3-70

4 “The präkåta-sahajiyäs misunderstand the pure devotees and Vaiñëava Äcäryas as being mental speculators or fruitive actors. As a result of such a conclusion, they themselves become Mäyävädé and leave the service of the Supreme Lord.”
Teachings of Lord Caitanya, “Conversations with Prakäçänanda”

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