In the mid 1980s when talk of Bhaktividya Purna Swami and child abuse first surfaced I made a point to ask him about it on my next visit to Mayapura. Which I did. He explained to me that in the early days of the Mayapura gurukula he had no control over which boys were admitted and that many parents sent difficult cases, children who they could not control. And that the only way to keep some kind of order in the school was via argumentum ad baculam.
Did he go too far? Seems so, according to CPO reports. Although until the advent of liberal values throughout the world, in most countries corporal punishment—even to quite a severe degree—in homes and schools was generally considered normal and proper, and some quotes from Srila Prabhupada (cited in a previous article) indicate that he also felt the same way.
Western devotees who did not serve in India in the 1970s have no idea how difficult it was in many ways. That could be the subject of another article. The specific difficulties that Bhaktividya Purna Swami went through in sticking to his gurukula service could be the subject of a small book. Why did he do it? I guess that he felt a calling to serve Srila Prabhupada’s gurukula mission within Mayapura dhama, to which he is strongly attached.
I have spoken with some of the ex-students from that time and my impression is that most of them are chiefly grateful for what they got. Gurukula was tough, but for many of them who were from poor families, life would have been tougher outside gurukula. They acknowledge that both materially and spiritually they are far better off than had they not been in gurukula.
Anyway, Bhaktividya Purna Swami was convicted by the quasilegal body that is the CPO, and banned for life from initiating and from child education within ISKCON. Resultantly, the gurukula he oversaw closed. In the following few years he worked with several disciples to plan re-opening a gurukula, analyzing what went wrong and writing curricula (a huge job). Eventually the gurukula re-opened, with systems for the vetting and gradual induction of students, and for dealing with misbehavior. Bhaktividya Purna Swami skirted the CPO edict by not accepting any official position and by working through his disciples. The overall result, according to feedback from parents, current students, and alumni, has been very positive. Although, obviously, not without faults.
What else could he have done? He could have quit education and done another service. But he stuck to his duty, even if it was performed imperfectly. Indeed, all endeavors in this world have some kind of fault. (See Bhagavad-gita 18.47–48).
Still the call is out to remove Bhaktividya Purna Swami. Which is understandable, for in most cases of reported child abuse the most effective way to address the problem is to permanently remove the accused. Another way, the path that Bhaktividya Purna Swami took, is to examine, “Things went wrong, but I want to do it right for Srila Prabhupada.” To carry on, despite defamation. Isn’t it better that instead of giving up or being dismissed, one works hard to do things better? Does the Krishna consciousness movement not allow any possibility of reform?
To those who say, “What about happened thirty years ago?” can be responded “What about what is happening now?”
Again there is much subjectivity on concerning various facets of this topic, as discussed in my previous article. A rider to that article: obviously devotees should not employ corporal punishment in countries where it is illegal. And a correction to that article: I stated that corporal punishment seems to be an issue specifically within ISKCON. I was wrong. See:
I do not necessarily endorse everything that Bhaktividya Purna Swami does or stands for. But I strongly feel that devotees who have performed outstanding service over many years should not be wholesale condemned. Serious anomalies should be addressed but give credit where it is due and don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
There are further important points to be discussed, including the more recent accusations against Bhaktividya Purna Swami. Coming soon.
[First published at the Sampradaya Sun (www.harekrsna.com/sun) on 11 May 2017]