When Devotion to a political Leader is valued more than old Friendships – 15 Feb 15

I would like to write about an issue which I have seen in my life for quite a while. Last week, I told you of a former friend who has a problem with my non-religiosity. A very different issue which I have had to face is that some people have cancelled our friendship even due to politics!

In the past year I have made this experience twice with quite old friends. One was a friend of my father of over 50 years who used to come to our Ashram whenever he came to Vrindavan. The other one was a friend of mine whom I had known for over 20 years. I sometimes talked on phone with him and his family and we visited each other’s houses. In both cases, these friends got upset about what I wrote about politics, and specifically about India’s current Prime Minister Modi, on social media.

Yes, I lost friends, long-time friends, because we have different political opinions.

I was shocked. I really didn’t expect that this could happen with someone whom I personally know, with whom there is a bond of love, a relation that has lasted for many years, even decades! Over politics! Because they are in favour of a party and especially this particular political leader and I am not at all.

I am not a political person. I have always thought politics to be too much drama, too much of a farce. Politicians change parties whenever it suits their own career, success and benefit. They promise one thing if it gets them elected and do another once they are on power. And they always appear very insensitive, not acting with their heart.

That doesn’t mean however that I am not interested in what is happening in my country! I take interested, am informed and also form my opinion. I am not in favour of any one party though – and that’s how I write my comments about each party’s and politician’s funny actions and words on social media, as my blog is read by many non-Indians who don’t know and also would not care about the details. Online, you can filter. Read what you want to read, ignore what you don’t like.

Why do you get upset about a statement of a friend, whose opinion you anyway probably already know? Because he criticizes your ideal, the politician you don’t only support but to whom you are devoted. A worship-like relationship has been established – and ironically it is exactly that which I most often criticize. That you should not worship a person, be it a religious leader or a political one! That you should not be a blind follower, excusing your guru’s faults and mistakes in any way you can. I know you don’t like to hear the word ‘devotee’ and would rather call yourself an ‘admirer’. By getting upset and breaking a friendship however, you prove that you are exactly that, a devotee.

I am in favour of opening your eyes and seeing the truth. Guruism has cost me friends – due to religion and now also due to politics! It is best to let such people go and not get too upset about it. Their devotion is stronger than the love of a friendship!

I still have many more thoughts on this topic and so I will continue writing about it tomorrow.

Chanting for Money, not for Devotion – 7 Apr 14

We have completed the new admissions for our school already. We started on 1st April and already the next day we had enough children to fill our new smallest pre-school class as well as some new admission in the higher classes. From the day after, we had to start a waiting list and tell parents that we were already full. On the first day already, Ramona and Purnendu started visiting the new children at their homes to see how they are living and get an impression of their financial situation. Obviously they daily have a lot of interesting experiences and I would like to share some of these with you today and the next days.

None of the parents of our school children earns a lot. They are not in great jobs, often don’t have a steady income and usually struggle to earn enough for their monthly expenses. Those whom we see struggle the most are interestingly those who do religious work.

When you ask them what they do for a living, they answer that they are priests or that they do kirtan, chanting, in temples in the surrounding. Those who perform ceremonies for people in their homes or who assist priests, bringing the items they need for their poojas, never know when they will have work again. It is unstable and especially in this town, there are thousands of people doing exactly this. They do it because it is easy and you may find pilgrims and religious people who give higher donations – or even gift a TV or refrigerator, as we have seen in some homes.

Those who earn their money by chanting kirtans in temples or Ashrams are often employed on a more regular basis. They go to sing daily to the same place, for example from seven to eight in the morning. One hour of singing every day for approximately 13 US-Dollar per month.

So you see, when you come into our town – as a pilgrim or a tourist – and are amazed by the devotion of those people whom you see sitting in the temple the whole day long, singing and praising god, you now know what is behind that: not devotion but money. The need to earn a living! The real amount of love for what they do can often be heard on loudspeakers when they rattle off their kirtans in a bored tone, monotonously and without any enthusiasm.

Someone argued how nice it was that they had a job because of religion. I believe it is a waste of human resources. The people I am talking about are grown, strong men but instead of contributing to the development of this country or this society, he sits there and sings. He doesn’t even do anything for himself in this way! He is not meditating or finding inner peace through this – he just sits there because he gets that little money and this is an easy way for him to earn it!

There are many parents who work hard to earn their money, carrying bricks and cement from one place on a construction site to another. At the end of the day, they have been part of building a house. Religion makes those other parents sit and sing into a microphone, annoying the neighbourhood and fooling walkers-by into believing the singers were great devotees.

No, I am really not too fond of religion – and these thoughts don’t help changing my mind!

The tempting Offer of Gurus to free you of any Responsibility – 3 Apr 13

Yesterday I wrote about the responsibility that both writers and readers have and should take for their lives and their actions. Everybody should be aware of his responsibility and take it in his hands. While this is something that most people would accept as how it should be, Hinduism and the common Guruism unfortunately teach something else: you can and should give all your responsibility to your guru.

Yes, this is what is written in the highest scriptures and this is what gurus have been preaching for centuries and what followers try to achieve. The idea is that you devote yourself complete to a guru. You surrender yourself, all your bad Karma but also your good Karma to your guru and do what he says without expecting anything for yourself. Then you will reach the point that you don’t have any Karma for yourself anymore and thus will reach heaven after your death.

This concept is actually the key-point with which guruism is running at all. Gurus invite people: Come, give me all your karma, do what I tell you and you don’t need to worry about your life or even your afterlife. Devote yourself and surrender, I will take care of you in this incarnation and later on.

Isn’t that a wonderful concept? A tempting offer for any innocent, normal, religious-minded person! Every Hindu who grew up in this religion will believe that this is the right way and anybody else can understand how inviting it sounds: Sit in my boat, I will row and take you to the other side! You don’t need to think or worry, you will reach there safely. You cannot upset the boat, you cannot be carried away by the current of the river, you won’t drown – you won’t even get wet!

They surrender. It is easy and it is even seen as something good in society! They proudly say ‘I have surrendered, I am devoted, I am a follower and only do what my guru says. I am nothing’. This humbleness is exactly what is expected of them. ‘Finish your ego’ is what they are told, otherwise the guru cannot take over. He will take care of your Karma account so you have to give him all rights to it.

For this service you obviously also have to pay a certain fee. Some gurus don’t take this fee directly. Some are like banks where you have to have a certain insurance plan with them before you get special services. But you have to pay, directly or indirectly.

Extracting big amounts of money is not the only advantage that gurus take of this attitude. They have many people who are so devoted that they would do anything, whatever they say. This power, given to them by their devotees, paves the way to sexual abuse. Many former female disciples of gurus have told me that they just thought of their guru as god. They fully surrendered and trusted that they would be saved through him and by doing whatever he asks for. When they were asked to serve him in his private bedroom, to massage his genitals and even have sex with him, many of them did! There are so many cases of gurus who abuse women because they innocently believe it is what they are supposed to do.

So you see the extent of the problem when people don’t want to take their own responsibility and rather take the easy way out – handing it over to someone else. It is never right to do this. Take your responsibility, for your actions and the consequences, and realize that you don’t need a guru to be happy in life.

How harmful can devotion be? – 12 Sep 12

Yesterday I wrote that religion manipulates your mind and thus makes you do crazy things that you would never do if you were in your right’s mind. People spends lots of money, go on pilgrimages and take pains to see so-called holy places and then there are even those who become terrorists because of religion. But maybe it is not actually religion that makes this manipulation, maybe it is devotion.

What is the difference, you ask? Well, actually I think devotion does not only have to be religious.

You can devote yourself to religion, to God, to a certain belief and all the rules and ideas that come with it, I agree. Devotion is when you not only love your God but dedicate your each and everything to him and put yourself into his hands. That may not harm anybody by itself – but if religion comes with its religious leaders, controversial advice in scriptures and outdated ideas on how you should live and how others should live, you get into that area where devotion becomes dangerous.

I have read first-hand experiences of women who were fully devoted to their guru and were thus exploited, humiliated and even sexually abused. Because they believed their guru to be God, divine and the one whom they should follow. They did whatever he said. And they regretted it once their devotion stopped.

Such danger exists with devotion not only if it is for something religious. Just look at someone who devotes himself to alcohol. He will get addicted and forget all sense and reason. He will harm first himself and maybe also those around him.

If you object now, saying that alcohol is a substance that anyway makes you addicted and behave in crazy ways, I can give you another example: people who devote themselves to work are not less harmful. Someone who is devoted to his work has only work to think about. He won’t hear the call of his body for rest and a proper meal. He will become a workaholic, he will be his work instead of himself – and harm himself and his family through this.

The only thing that I now believe you should be devoted to is love. Devote yourself to positivity, to being in love and spreading love. I don’t think you can do wrong here. You don’t need someone in between though, no master or guru. Devote yourself direct to love and not to a certain person of whom you think you learn to love.

What about devoting yourself to your partner though? I believe that this devotion has to be mutual. You have to devote yourself to each other because you have to be equal in your relationship. If only one of you devotes himself, one will be the master and the other one the follower. The follower will always be lower, less important and not able to take decisions. The master on the other hand will have too much responsibility. A partner may feel that the other one is too attached, too humble, not a personality by himself but completely dependent on him. No, a relationship needs devotion but it has to be mutual.

Only then, when you lose yourself in your devotion to love or your mutual devotion with your partner, you are able to keep reason and logic intact. You can turn crazy in love – but your partner will keep you from any harm.

How the subtle Manipulation of Religion makes you crazy – 11 Sep 12

Every evening we do a little walk in our Ashram where we have a wonderful way from the house to the gate. With Apra on the arm we go and sometimes stop at the gate to look outside. Apra loves watching the cars, bicycles and motorbikes drive by, the people come home from work or the pilgrims doing their rounds on the Parikrama Marg, the pilgrimage way around our town. Pilgrims and many local people do this walk daily, with bare feet and often reciting mantras. Some of them do even more: they lie down on the floor, get up, walk three steps and lie down again. In this way they do the complete Parikrama of about ten kilometers.

A few days ago we were standing there and watching traffic as usual when we saw one of those pilgrims lie down on the way, then get up, make a little dance and lie down again, obviously fully happy in his devotion. Ramona turned to me with the words ‘You get a bit crazy when doing this, don’t you?’ After a moment I answered ‘No, you have to be a bit crazy to do this!’

Before a storm of Hindu believers now rushes to the defense of this practice and before any of my friends shout ‘But you did it yourself!’, let me tell you that yes, I have done the Parikrama in this way and yes, my wife knows about this.

I know myself what my state of mind was in that time, just before entering the cave. From today’s point of view, if I met the man who I was in that time, I might easily call him crazy.

It is simply incredible what religious belief and a belief in God can do to your mind. There is just so much devotion and the conviction that this kind of action is good not only for you but for the world, that you don’t think rationally about it. In which way does it benefit your God if you spend two or three days on a road, lying down and getting up, hardly getting forward? They call it devotion but I would say it is a manipulation of the mind. When devotion gets to this level, it makes you blind. You don’t feel pain and you don’t think, it gets more and more crazy.

While I believe that this is a bit crazy, there are much crazier things that religion makes people do. It is the same feeling, the same manipulation by religion when a person believes it is something good to spend his last penny until a certain day on which he thinks the world is going to end. Or drink a deathly poison together with others of the same state of mind. It is also the same religious manipulation that makes someone strap a bomb around his waist and blow himself up in a busy subway, killing himself and dozens of other people. Or highjack a plane and crash it into a tower, causing grief to thousands of people who lost loved ones.

It is craziness. It is religion. Some of the effects are less harmful, some are more. You can tolerate it if someone does not cause damage or harm to others and no obvious harm to himself. Call him a little bit crazy. But in the end, it is religion that manipulated this mind into this devotional act.

Devotion or Lack of Devotion responsible for Success or Failure of Relationships – 6 Jul 11

In the last weeks, while working all over Germany, I have given a lot of individual sessions. There were two sessions that I felt I would especially like to tell you about in one of my blog entries. They took place one after the other.

At first, a woman came to me who told me she is now a bit older than 60 years. She was determined to make a change in her life at that age. She did not come for counseling to ask me whether she should or should not make this change but already had decided that she definitely would change. She came because she had a bad conscience and felt guilty. She wants to separate from her husband, who is 80 years old. They have been together for 40 years and have two adult children. She said now she would like to do something for herself.

Just right after that, a young couple, both in their thirties, came to meet me. They have been in a relationship for three and a half years but as they live quite some distance apart from each other, they could only meet on weekends. Sometimes he came to her town, sometimes she visited him. Five months ago, the young man fell down from the roof of his house where he was working. He broke his spine and is now in a wheelchair. He is still being treated in the hospital and she picked him up to come to me together. They now make plans how they will go on living their lives with this change. They decided to move together, close to where she works and are happy that they can now make this step.

If you have read the two paragraphs above and came until here, I think I don’t need to tell you much about what was going on in my mind. It is the same that you are feeling now. These two stories are about the same topic but the persons go in completely different directions. The topic in common is clear: devotion. To both couples something happened that nobody could prevent. For the older couple, it is simply age. Everybody gets older. For the young couple it was an accident, something that can happen to anybody and at any time. In one story there is no devotion, even after spending this much time together. There doesn’t need to be a proper reason for separation, the lack of devotion is enough for the wish to leave. In the other story there is a lot of devotion. It shows the commitment, strengthens love and gives a nice feeling to the couple and to whoever hears this story.

Philosophical Fiction of religious Scriptures is not the only Truth – 27 May 11

I got a lot of response for yesterday’s diary and among those emails there was one, asking me about my point of view on scriptures.

First of all I want to mention that I respect any scripture from any religion. The Vedas, Gita, Ramayan, Puranas, Upanishads but also the Bible and the Quran. What I love about scriptures is that there is always something for everyone. There is so much philosophy in those scriptures, that you really can get some ideas on how to behave differently or change your pattern of thinking. Many people who study scriptures thus realize a lot about their own behavior and develop further, which in general a good thing.

So you see, I am not against the philosophy of the scriptures but I don’t agree on making one scripture your only truth. There are many people who believe that whatever is written in one particular scripture is the universal truth for all human beings on earth. There it is written what is right and what is wrong. With such a person you cannot have a healthy discussion because it will always end with them telling you that in their opinion something is a fact because it was written in the scripture.

This is when I believe the use of scriptures is wrong. You need to think about whether that, which you follow, is right for you or not. If I give you an example, we can have a look at the Bhagavad Gita. I love its philosophy and I still sometimes use a shloka or a mantra of the Gita in some talk or lecture. I believe that there is a lot of wisdom in it. There are however parts that I don’t agree with. Here is one of those shlokas, the 24th and last Shloka of the 16th chapter of the Gita:

Tasmac chastram pramanam te karyakarya-vyavasthitau |
Jnatva shastra-vidhanoktam karma kartum iharhasi ||

The translation of this shloka could be:

"One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may gradually be elevated."

I don’t agree with this. The rules and regulations written in scriptures were written more than a thousand years ago! Times have changed, how can they be applied today? But many people insist that this is what the scripture says and it has to be done as it is written there.

This reminded me of a comment that another friend, Annan Boodram from America, wrote to me, quite some time ago:

”To be honest I question the concept of avatar. If one analyzes the lives of Rama and Krishna one sees many things that are incongruent with god. For example, Krishna kidnapped a woman about to married. And he dallied with hosts of married women. Both Rama and Krishna supported the inhumane caste system and the subjugation of women to men. Both advocated violence as a means of solving problems. And one can go on….On the other hand the God I accept is all compassionate, all merciful, all loving, absolutely embodies non-violence, does not tolerate inequities and inequalities et al. Anything less cannot be God.”

I absolutely agree and say again that a scripture is not a proof and should not be read with the thought that whatever is written there is 100% correct and relevant for this time. And this is something that is true for all religions, not only Hinduism.

I have not done much academic education but have invested thirty years of my life in studying scriptures. My personal opinion is today that these stories which are written in the scriptures may be nice but are still fiction, nice stories and no proof. Who knows if Krishna did that? Who knows who Rama really was? There is a lot of controversy in those stories. The different scriptures and sometimes even different versions of the same scripture contradict each other. This shows how things were added and changed in the course of time. If someone comes today and says that a certain action is right, because Krishna also acted like that, I see it as an excuse for doing wrong.

There is no scientific proof for those stories and they are nice to read with devotion. I want to request intellectual people, too, to read them in this way. Don’t read those scriptures from an intellectual point of view, trying to prove its contents in a scientific way. They are stories.

These scriptures were written by people like you and me, normal men. It was their experience, the experience of those who have written in that time. It was okay and right for them but that doesn’t mean that it is accurate for today. You don’t know in what situation they were and in which time they wrote it. When time changes, definitions change, our surrounding changes and we need to progress with it. Why should you make the same experience as that person who lived 1000 years ago? Times have changed and you make your own experiences. If your experience is different than from what the Bible or the Gita tells you, why don’t you believe in yourself? Why don’t you trust your experience?

What we read today is anyway mostly only an interpretation. Everybody can have his own view on things and I know that there are thousands different interpretations of the Gita. Again, don’t trust another person’s interpretation, trust your own feeling. You can take the positive aspects of every scripture and use them for you. Leave away what does not fit to you, what you don’t experience and what you feel is wrong.

My concept of God is just love, which is in all of us. We do not need to search God in scriptures or religions. This is how for me the concept of Avatar, a God reincarnated among us here on earth, does not make sense. It is just fiction. But unfortunately with this idea, people claim that they are God and others worship them as if they really were Gods. This is why I always say I am against human worship. It is just not real.

My whole life long I have preached from the scriptures, worshipping them and creating a full ritual out of such a lecture on the scriptures. I told about this in the category ‘My Life’ in my blog.

Today I don’t preach scriptures in ritualistic way anymore. Now all those scriptures have melted down to four letters: LOVE

This is my only philosophy. You don’t need to understand a lot of complicated philsophy, just learn how to love!

ISKCON and Rape, Murder, Child Abuse and Prostitution in Vrindavan – 25 Feb 11

I have been writing about ISKCON in the last days and I assume some of my readers expected yesterday already to read some more about the controversies that surround the sect.

There are actually quite a few of those. There have been murder cases connected with devotees of the sect. Even more cases have included rape, sexual abuse and more.
One of the main rules of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is ‘Illicit Sex is forbidden’. Illicit can be different for different people. In general it means that you are only allowed to have sex with your wife and not with any other woman or before you are married. For certain people – those who want to live a life even more pure than that – it means even having sex with your wife only once a month, in the time when the woman can conceive and of course only with the purpose of conceiving to have children. I have extensively written about such religious ideas of sex and ‘purity’.

Whenever I hear about these rules I wonder how there are so many stories of sex scandals in ISKCON? They have been accused of abusing children in their organization’s branches in different countries. There have been many charges for child abuse and they managed to declare those branches bankrupt and pay a minimal sum to those victims and their families. There will be many more people and children who have been abused and didn’t go public because of shame or similar reasons.

Everybody knows however that in this sect, where sex is nearly forbidden, people have most sex. There have been a lot of rumors about homosexuality among devotees, both lower and higher in their hierarchy. Lately there has been a lot of talk about prostitution among members of the organization, especially here in Vrindavan.

Many of the sect’s devotees have come to India from former countries of the Soviet Union where the economic situation is bad, where they don’t find a job and cannot earn their living. They have joined the Hare Krishna movement as they can do chanting and service there in exchange for food and sometimes board. With the cover of spirituality and religiosity, they come to Vrindavan, show themselves as devotees and soon find another quick and easy way to earn money: prostitution.

We have heard from local people that this is the situation of many female devotees. Some rich Indian people who are looking for paid sex like women with fair skin and don’t mind to pay a bit more for having sex with foreigners. And many guesthouses and Ashrams are available on rent to provide place for some hours for a low amount of rupees.

You can have really funny conversations with such devotees. Ask them what they do.
‘I do Bhakti’, which means as much as doing service or having devotion.
But what do you live from, how do you survive?
‘The universe provides!’
So which activities does this Bhakti include?
‘We are doing social work’.
Okay, social work! And of what kind?
‘We just try to make others happy and fulfill their wishes’.
It is really a virtue, wanting to keep others happy. And if you earn some money by fulfilling other peoples’ wishes, everybody is happy!

It is not any wonder that the sect tells everybody to cut their ties with their family and friends because they might oppose such a development of one of their loved ones.

Unfortunately this is what is going on now in our Vrindavan. It is sad to see but it is what is connected with sects such as this one. And there are several organizations with different names but the same rules. They are founded by former members of ISKCON who either did not like the bad name ISKCON got with all their ‘social work’ or who became ambitious and wanted to be a guru of their own with their own sect. They are like small ISKCON groups with the same principles, only with different names and gurus.

I can only warn people of joining this sect and advise everyone to stay away from any organization similar to this one.

Modern Version of Religious Rituals – 13 Oct 10

It is Navratri right now, a Hindu festival of nine days. Hindus worship the Goddess Durga all over India but different regions of the country celebrate in different ways, with different traditions and ways of worship. This worshipping includes fasting, different ceremonies, rituals, dance and music.

Of course Vrindavan, as one of the most popular pilgrimage places, is also fully involved in the celebrations and many people do fasting here for the course of nine days. There are certain food types that people don’t eat and food prepared in certain ways which is then called fasting food. Unfortunately however nowadays they do it in the modern way: fasting food has become fast food! The original idea was to give your body a break, to make it feel light. Nowadays companies sell and make so many different fasting dishes and sell them like fast food!

I see how people here sometimes have a strange idea about this nine day celebration, when they suddenly turn religious for this length of time. Then they go to temples and worship and do fast. Normally they don’t care about religion, they even eat chicken and other meat during the year although Hinduism generally propagates vegetarianism. However for those nine days these people do their fast, they eat no meat of course and only fasting food. It doesn’t matter what they eat during the whole year, if they just manage to keep their fast for these nine days, the Goddess will be happy with them. Yes, I can see, they are some of the most religious people out there!

It is also usual and traditional that people go to do a certain dance in these nine days which is called ‘Garba’. Normally this is a dance in which you get high in your devotion and love. Nowadays people like to drink alcohol before they go to dance and think they have more fun like this. If you ask them if alcohol is not forbidden in fasting time, they say that it is anyway only fruit juice, wine made from grapes! So nothing wrong in that, it would be allowed during the fast.

Another news is that in this time the sales of condoms have increased very much! You can imagine how nicely and religiously people are fasting and full of devotion, full of love and full of alcohol they spread their love but at least they take care not to spread any sexually transmitted diseases along with it.

I anyway do not believe in any of these religious celebrations. If you want to do something good for your body sometime and decide to eat less or only fruit, it makes sense and is good. If you want to celebrate, you don’t need alcohol or a religious reason for it. However if you are following any tradition, please keep its value.

Cheating while being Honest is not Possible – 1 May 10

I met a man here in Germany once and I knew that he had a wife and children in India. When I saw him here getting intimate and not only with one but with several different women at different times, I asked him: ‘What happened and what are you doing? Don’t you have a wife and children waiting for you at home?’

He said oh, yes, but what to do, I have been away from there for so long. I also have feelings but I don’t do anything. I am fully honest, I only enjoy from the outside. I only hug and touch and rub, I never take off my clothes or penetrate. And you don’t need to, you can enjoy fully and have an orgasm like this. So you see: I do not cheat my wife and I am fully honest.

Do you understand now what I wrote about in day before yesterday’s diary entry? Cheating is not only the physical act of sexual intercourse.

I received a mail of a friend who said something true, she said that cheating already starts in the head. Who wishes and imagines to be touched by another person is already cheating. It is true, that person is certainly not in full love and devotion with his or her partner.