Indradyumna Maharaja: Uncommon kindness – by Sri Prahlada Das
I write concerning Indradyumna Maharaja who has come under criticism for his kindness towards children which some have interpreted as grooming or at least as inappropriate. I write as someone who was one of those children, and who has benefited immensely from Indradyumna Maharaja’s uncommon kindness.
I first met Indradyumna Maharaja when I was fifteen. I was just out of Gurukula and Maharaja invited me to travel with him around the world. Initially I declined his offer as I already had travel plans of my own: I had recently purchased an around the world ticket to visit India, the US and Europe and learn talents that would help me develop as a preacher. Maharaja responded to my refusal by inviting me to travel with him for a few days, that turned into a few weeks, and then into a month, to all the ISKCON temples in Australia and New Zealand. My services included helping set up Maharaja’s puja paraphernalia each morning, washing his clothes, serving prasadam, and playing mrdanga for him during his lively kirtans. Sometimes he would ask me to also sing for a little while when he led kirtan. At the end of this Australasian tour, I had realised that Maharaja was Krishna’s answer to my prayers for a mentor, and that Maharaja’s kind invitation to travel with him was my best opportunity to learn and grow as a preacher. I shared this with Maharaja, and we re-routed my ticket to correspond with his schedule. In the end, I travelled with him for 18 years, and I continue to spend time with him each year.
When I started with Maharaja in 1989, I was somewhat jaded and sceptical of gurus, sannyasis and general human kindness. The guru whom I had worshiped as my eternal guide since the age of five had recently left Krishna Consciousness, with what seemed a stream of other sannyasis and gurus. My scepticism concerning human kindness was on account of teachings I had learned from preachers throughout my childhood about the importance of renunciation, the superiority of knowledge and duty over sentiment, and the inevitability of suffering in relationships. I had also experienced being groomed and later sexually abused by an elder boy while in the Vrndavana gurukula, and later by an adult while in the gurukula in Murwillumbah Australia. These experiences made me generally distrustful, cynical and detached, with no expectation or hope of material happiness or love in life. I considered my rejection of sentiment and attachment as indicative of spiritual advancement. All my possessions fit within a plastic shopping bag. I would wash my single dhoti and kurta each night and wear them again in the morning. I was proud of this detachment, which I now recognise was a defence mechanism I had developed to protect myself from further disappointment and hurt.
Initially I too was sceptical of Maharaja’s kindness, particularly when he gave me an expensive cashmere sweater as a gift after I had served him for just a few days. The gift seemed extravagant, and I decided to be watchful. In time, I saw Maharaja offered the same kindness to countless others, and not just children. He loves giving gifts and making other people happy, be they godbrothers, disciples of other gurus, his own disciples, children, someone attending one his festivals, or a sadhu doing bhajan in the cold Vrndavan winter. Because I travelled with Maharaja for so many years, most people assume I am his initiated disciple. The fact is that I was aspiring to Hrdayananda Maharaja before I met Indradyumna Maharaja. When Hrdanayanda Maharaja granted me diksha at the Los Angeles temple in 1990, Indradyumna Maharaja enthusiastically acted as the purohit and performed my initiation yajna. Many devotees serve with Maharaja on the Polish Tour are not initiated by him but he treats them with the same love and affection as his own disciples. Indradyumna Maharaja is rarely ever alone and treasures the association of devotees, particularly his godbrothers. Over the years he has invited numerous godbrothers (some gurus, others not) to join him at festivals in the USA, Vrndavan, Poland or Russia and he has enjoyed receiving them with kirtan, flowers, obeisances, an honoured seat, and many gifts. He also loves celebrating people’s birthdays: including a non-devotee visitor to Vrndavana he met on the parikrama path one year for whom he organised a surprise birthday party and who later joined the Soho St temple in London. Maharaja lives and presents Krishna Consciousness as a festival, and everyone around him is invited to join his eternal celebration of devotional service. Some of Maharaja’s festivals are large, like the Polish Festival Tour, including Woodstock, where hundreds of thousands of people receive prasadam, hear philosophy and join in kirtan. Other celebrations are small, like the festival of kirtan and a feast he would organise each year for the African workers (grounds people and maids) when visiting the Radha Radhanatha Temple in Durban South Africa. Indradyumna Maharaja’s kindness is uncommon because it is not transactional.
Generally, in this world, if someone offers kindness it is with an expectation of some type of return. Indradyumna Maharaja’s kindness mostly outweighs any possible return or reciprocation on the part of the receiver, which makes some people suspicious of an ulterior motive. Many of the recipients of Indradyumna Maharaja’s kindness, including many children, become better devotees. In other cases, even this is clearly not Maharaja’s aim. Recently, when Indradyumna Maharaja visited Cyprus, he purchased an expensive antique Christian icon to give the parents of a devotee in Poland, to encourage them in their own faith. True kindness does not need to have a reason, it justifies itself.
The first person I saw taking child abuse seriously was Indradyumna Maharaja. While on a padayatra festival tour in New Zealand in the early 2000s one of the younger devotees Maharaja had invited on the tour from Australia confided in him a fear of returning home due to a stepparent’s ongoing sexual abuse. Indradyumna Maharaja took swift action in calling the Australian ISKCON leaders and demanding that the abuse be reported to the police. He also spoke with the perpetrator’s partner, the victim’s biological parent, who refused to accept the allegations. The perpetrator, a senior respected Prabhupada disciple, was reported to the police, lost all positions and, as far as I am aware, ended up spending time in jail.
To those who accuse Indradyumna Maharaja of grooming children to later exploit them, please consider my testimony: in the 18 years I travelled with him, in his company almost constantly, and in all the years that have followed, I have never seen him act in a sexual manner towards anyone. I am strongly of the view is that all child abuse must be immediately reported to the police and ruled on by a judge in a court of law. With Indradyumna Maharaja, neither has there ever been any allegations by a victim, nor has there been a case raised against him for a specific incident. For the most part, I note that those insinuating or alleging impropriety by Maharaja, are those observing him from a distance. I acknowledge that it is difficult to fathom that someone can be so kind and affectionate without the intention of getting anything in return.
Critics may apply the logic of “where there is smoke there must be fire” suggesting that if observers feel discomfort with Indradyumna Maharaja’s investing attention and energy in children, something must be wrong. These critics allege that that giving attention to children is inappropriate for a sanyasi. This logic can also be applied to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu with offensive conclusions. Careful reading of Caitanya Charitamrita reveals that Lord Caitanya invested energy into the children of his disciples. Young Puri Dasa, the son of Sivananda Sen, sucked Sri Chaitanya’s toe (Antya 12.50), and later, as a seven-year-old, Sri Caitanya empowered him to extraneously compose verse glorifying Krishna. In time Puri Das became the celebrated Vaisnava poet Kavi Karnapura (Antya 16.65-76). Maharaja Prataparudra’s son would visit Sri Caitanya daily and remind him of Krishna even as Sri Caitanya refused to see his father the king (Madhya 12.54-68). Raghunath Bhatta, the son of Tappan Mishra, twice visited Sri Caitanya in Puri for eight months at a time, before Sri Caitanya sent him to Vrndavan to join Rupa and Sanatana, becoming one of the six goswamis (CC Antya 13.88-124).
Interestingly, some felt uncomfortable about Sri Caitanya’s dealings with children and Damodara Pandit famously rebuked Sri Caitanya on this account (Adi 9.31; Madhya 1.259). Damodara Pandit appealed to Sri Caitanya not to see a particular boy, the Brahmana son of a widow, saying Sri Caitanya’s affection towards the boy was inappropriate and that people would talk (Antya 3.3-18). Sometime later, Sri Caitanya said he would not take Damodara Pandit with him to South India, as his affection also made him too controlling (Madhya 7.25-26). Sri Caitanya eventually found a way to engage Damodara Pandit’s critical nature, sending him away to take care of Sri Caitannya’s mother Sachi Devi on the basis that Damodara was so strict no one would dare mistreat her (or Vishnu Priya) or have grounds to criticise her in any way (Adi 9. 32; Antya 3.19-42). This line of thinking has come to me after reflecting on a statement Srila Prabhupada made when a disciple complained about other devotees criticising him. Srila Prabhupada replied: “They criticized Lord Caitanya and Krishna… So what to speak of you and I?” (Nara Narayana Das, https://srilaprabhupadalila.org/read/6428).
I am writing this statement on a computer Indradyumna Maharaja purchased for me several years ago. He saw that all the keys had worn away on the computer I was using, and it kept shutting down. It was the same computer I had used to complete my PhD, and it was no longer fully functional. At the time I couldn’t personally afford to purchase a new one as it was prior to my wife’s graduating as a medical doctor. All the money I was earning was going towards her post-graduate medical studies. Maharaja bought me the new computer with the cash donations he had received the week prior (Maharaja does not have a personal bank account). Selflessly, he spent everything on me.
Over the years in Indradyumna Maharaja’s association, now more than three decades, my heart has gradually opened: I have developed trust in humanity, along with love, compassion and forgiveness towards devotees and non-devotees alike. My PhD, submitted in 2013, was on compassion in organizations. I am considered an authority on this topic within academia, where I have been promoted up the ranks to the position of a tenured Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management. My academic work supports my continued sharing of Krishna Consciousness with others, including by leading a fledgeling devotee community in Cyprus that my wife and I helped to start, as well as my kirtan outreach in the yoga community. Like many others, I attribute my spiritual and material growth to Indradyumna Maharaja’s uncommon kindness; in my case, initially given to a confused 15-year-old boy, whom he adopted and loved, becoming my second spiritual master, father, well-wisher, and dearest friend.