Q&A: ecstasy rolls
15 March 2009

March 14 2009

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The true bliss of kirtana

Here’s a question I just got from my godsister Urmila dasi:

I just got a letter from a devotee as follows and wondered if you had any experience of this happening in Prabhupada’s presence and, if so, how he reacted.

Your servant, Urmila devi dasi

Here is the letter
Question – was leading bh’jan Gaura P. night someone went weird – he started making bharat natyam ish poses, made pranams, fell on floor, started to to shake. got back up carried on in similar way. i arranged for him to be taken out side. they tried to communicate but he was in own world.
Next day spoke to him- he said he sat down for while then went to friends house embarrased.
Its happened few times here with him – says especially when he focuses deeply on H. Name
I asked if if he had ever seen any senior devotee do that – or S.P. – no of course.
He says he feel it start but can usually control. i said if u feel start – MUST leave temp room.
and told him to ask a senior dev about it.
I hated it mother it messed up the mood of the kirtan I felt I had to stop the Kirtan, we were on web cam. lots of the Mataji’s felt very awkward. it was I felt really uneasy and annoyed. when confronted him bout it I wanted to smash him – “what d’you think your doin your just taking ecstacy and being an idiot but did’nt feel confident I was100% correct so we just had a friendly caring but serious talk.
I definately want to stamp this out if it is maya so how should I proceed from here?

My answer:

Hm. Definitely something to be wary of.

I do remember an incident when I was temple commander in Vrndavana, around Janmastami time 1975. There was one American devotee who was part of the temple–let’s call him ‘Krishna Das’. One night a large group of villagers came. Remember that at that time the Krishna Balaram mandir had only just been opened some months before so most people didn’t know us, nor did we get large crowds.

During the Janmastami period we started getting large groups of people from various villages coming and checking us out. So evening aratis were usually very ecstatic, almost all the devotees were western and we would really rack it up during Gaura arati. It was a big attraction for the local villagers.

So this particular night, one young village man in his early 20s, started dancing with us. He got more and more exhuberant, starting spinning around on the spot and finally fell to the floor in a dead faint (apparently). We had never seen anything like it before and didn’t really know how to deal with it. So we just shrugged and kept on with the kirtan, figuring eventually he would just get up when he realized noone was taking any notice of him, and go on his way.

Good old Krishna Das however had different ideas. He steps forward to the prostrate body of the boy, peers right over his face, steps back — and kicks him right in the head! — several times! Then he grabs the boy by the arm and starts dragging him out the temple through the door just next to the altars, on the guest house side.

Riot. All the several hundred villagers he came with had fits. They grabbed his feet, Krishna Das had hold of his arm, the boy was straddling the doorway, and they were having a tug of war. Some of the villagers got really, really angry and couldn’t figure out why these foreigners would do such a thing as to kick a young man who was obviously in the highest ecstasy from their kirtan.

Anyway, somehow or another the devotees got Krishna Das out of the mess he had created and managed to pacify the villagers without them burning down the temple or smashing all the windows etc.

The matter was reported to Srila Prabhupada, who was in residence in his quarters. He was most upset.

Krishna Das’ excuse was that Srila Prabhupada had previously spoken about fake shows of ecstasy, and that the way to check if it was genuine or not was to give them a kick in the head; then you would see if it was real or not. Of course, he was being sarcastic and he didn’t mean this to be taken literally. Krishna Das unfortunately thought he did. Srila Prabhupada couldn’t understand how he could be so stupid and he ordered Krishna Das out of Vrndavana immediately.

After that, whenever we encountered someone rolling around in ecstasy, we just ignored them and kept on chanting and they would just get up and go their way after being ignored for a while.

Of course, having one of our own devotees doing it is pretty bizarre. I would call him in and have a talk and explain that even if you feel like this, you cannot display it in public because advanced devotees always check their ecstatic symptoms in public and externally they always behave like a neophyte even if internally they are experiencing the highest ecstasy. If he persists then I would ban him, otherwise you are likely to end up with a whole sahajiya group following his lead.

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa

4 Comments
1. tamal
March 20th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

My Question: Are there no pure devotees is ISKCON at all?

“even if you feel like this, you cannot display it in public because advanced devotees always check their ecstatic symptoms in public and externally they always behave like a neophyte even if internally they are experiencing the highest ecstasy.”

On one hand this statement gives some credence to the fact that the person MIGHT be advanced but then says, “Well, you’re not because you can’t check your symptoms.”

I am not saying this person is a pure devotee, but playing devil’s advocate, is there not a possibility that he could be the least bit sincere? Just a bit?

I think it’s a bit difficult because people automatically think a person is faking because of the things that Prabhupada said about fraudulent devotion. I do think it’s a little strange only because nobody typically behaves this way. Although Srila Prabhupada warned about phony devotion and called people on it, we still have no idea where this devotee’s heart is, based on this action.

It’s hard to accept that the only person in our whole movement that might be pure or be able to sincerely have transcendental ecstacy might be Srila Prabhupada–which is what I have often heard from people in and outside of ISKCON. It’s a little discouraging.

I think banning the person from the temple is a bit harsh and a knee-jerk response to a situation that is outside our normal realm of thinking or doing things.


2. Hari-sauri dasa
April 8th, 2009 at 7:21 am

Dear Tamal
I don’t think it is a question of whether there are pure devotees in ISKCON or not. There are many pure devotees in ISKCON. Why should that be related to someone rolling on the ground and other kinds of extreme external behavior?

The point is that our acaryas have warned against such displays because in Kali-yuga especially, people are quite prone and quick to imitate. Therefore advanced devotees, especially those who are preaching, are careful about what they say and do in public.

Srila Prabhupada was very cautious about his own behavior and warned us also about shows of devotional fervor. In Bengal there is a saying ati bhakti corera laksana: “Too much devotion is a symptom of a thief.” In other words, a great show of devotion may have subtle (or gross) motivations for profit, distinction and adoration.

Unless one is completely free from all material desires it is not possible to show the symptoms of genuine bhava. Therefore one has to be very cautious otherwise the whole thing becomes a cheap show by imitators. In Bengal Bhaktivinoda Thakura compiled a list of at least thirteen different apa-sampradayas, or apparent devotional groups, whose practices are in fact against the genuine devotional principles.

As for banning someone from the temple if their behavior persistently disturbs other devotees, and especially if such behavior is symptomatic of sahajiyaism, this was recommended by Srila Prabhupada when dealing with the “gopi bhava club” in Los Angeles in 1976. You can read about this in Transcendental Diary Vol 2, especially the entry from June 7.

Your humble servant, Hari-sauri dasa


3. Tamal Krsna dasa
April 14th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Thanks for your response. I guess the question is not whether or not one is a pure devotee, but perhaps you can clarify what the criteria is when determining whether a devotee is sincere or whether his motives are fraudulent. It seems like we as a society can be quick to elevate one to “holier than thou” status or cast them off as a “deviant miscreant.” In the initial letter, the devotee “did’nt feel confident I was100% correct”.

It seems like shaky ground when we are attempting to play judge and jury. I am not referring to obvious transgressions etiquette and behavior. It doesn’t seem like this person was trying to be obnoxious judging by his reaction below:

“Next day spoke to him- he said he sat down for while then went to friends house embarrassed.”

I understand your overall points, as they are 100% valid–I am just attempting to try to give a small benefit of doubt.


4. Hari-sauri dasa
April 16th, 2009 at 9:57 am

Dear Tamal

Yes, I agree one has to be very careful about making judgements about devotees’ behavior. If we make a mistake then we commit vaisnava aparadha. At the same time we cannot be ‘liberal’ and allow anything and everything to go on in the name of ecstasy.

The solution is to talk to the person involved and explain what is and is not acceptable behaviour. If they are sincere they will take the steps to comply. If they ignore all good advice, a manager is justified in taking stronger steps, including restriction of access if the inappropriate behaviour continues.

Your humble servant,
Hari-sauri dasa


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