See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya: Unworthy Vessel of the Dharma (and Total Asshole)

2014 was a year of cleansing, growth and transition for me.  Having an urgent need to dispense with some nasty personal habits manifest in the early part of the year, I found the need to address and petition for the relief of my defects of character, a personal God.  At first, I purposefully urged that God to remain nameless, but gradually the image of that God began to manifest as Krishna.

A few words of backstory, only, in the interest of brevity.  Having long been deceived, frustrated by yet drawn back in my lack of understanding and a better option, to the deceptive egotism of Buddhism, I had after some longer periods of meditation in the previous decade been drawn to my sense of my more basic, ancestral self, and discovered Asatru, of which I still am a follower.  However, being also frustrated by what I perceived as a lack of a higher dimension of spiritual practice in that faith - and having discovered through the study of Tradition the integral kinship of Asatru and the lore of the Indo-Europeans, with the Vedas, their oldest extant tradition  - I found myself drawn back to those Vedas, and to the modern expression of their truth through what is known as Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma.

Being drawn back to Sanatana Dharma, which was after all my first spiritual love, from my teen years, I sought its expression in my contemporary environment, and became frustrated.  There is in fact a gulf between ethnic Hindus and the people who are sometimes called Neo-Hindus; westerners drawn to the aesthetic and dimly perceived practices of that faith's practices, but without an ethnic grounding.  Having studied Sanskrit for a few years, sporadically and on my own, with some effort I made a connection to the local Hindu temple, Sri Ganesha, in Nashville, and began attending a Bhagavad Gita discussion group on most Sunday mornings.  Persisting in my interest, over time I felt I had gained some measure of acceptance by that group and have in fact found a teacher who has been quite helpful to me in expanding my awareness of Sanatana Dharma's scriptures and languages.

On the other side of this chasm stand the Neo-Hindus; practictioners of westernized Yoga for the most part, subject to its false prophets and practices.  And I came more and more to understand the difficulty for these people, who were for the most part willing to make the most extensive physical efforts that gained them little spiritual reward, to make a connection to the authentic source of the light to which they were intuitively drawn.

I resolved to help bridge that gap if I could.

If you seek Buddhism, you will find it, in every New Agey corner of our decomposed culture; the same with "Yoga".  But to find the truth of the Vedas, it would help to have a teacher who could bridge that gap; and I realized that not many would be willing to make the effort I had made; for earning the trust of people of another culture is not easy.

I discovered on Facebook and YouTube the videos of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, founder and leader of the International Sanatana Dharma Society, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.   I was initially repulsed by the proselytizing nature of his posts; my first impression was that they were geared toward that Neo-Hindu, Yoga mat culture I was both trying to avoid and to help.   And yet, as I was further inundated by his postings (because he makes Facebook a full-time job, which was another red flag, to be sure),  I came to detect a hint of Tradition in his words, and to discover a side of his teaching tended toward compatibility with Folkish Asatru, and thus in my perception toward a deeper truth than that of the Neos.

I came in time into discussion, several time on Skype, with Acharyaji.  He disclosed to me that he was in fact in great sympathy with Asatru, and he told me that at times he wore a Thor's Hammer beneath his Hindu robes.  I also discovered that he had written a book called The Dharma Manifesto, which laid out (though in extremely vague terms) the desire for a society based on Dharma principles, which as he expresses them are the principles of Tradition.    Based on my conversations with him, I committed to and did in fact attend what was apparently the second Conference of the ISDS in August, 2014, in Omaha, where I was delighted to discover a couple of acquaintance of mine from the Asatru Folk Assembly, evidently checking out the Acharya for Stephen McNallen, a man I have met a couple of times and for whom my admiration grows as goes, apparently, his own practice (a rare gift to perceive in a teacher).

At any rate, the ISDS conference was enjoyable, and brief; I met a lot of nice people, who mostly were a combination of the more benign Yoga types and the kind of vague spiritual aspirants with whom I had become all too familiar in my years of westernized Buddhist practice.   Some great hearts in those people, but with a couple of exceptions, not a lot of deep knowledge, either of the Vedas or the other texts of Hindu Dharma, nor of practice.  In short, a New-Ageish group folowing of a teacher who avowedly despises the New Age.

At that Conference, I was initiated into the ISDS, took certain limited vows and was given the Dharma name of Vasudeva (which I consigned to the vault of unused titles; my Buddhist name had been Kozan, which I abandoned when I deliberately renounced Buddhist vows somewhere around 2010).  I was given beads and a basic practice, for which I was most grateful (most of which came from one of his little booklets).    Wanting to share this simple introduction to Sanatana Dharma, I discussed with the Acharya the possibility of having here, in my home area surrounding Nashville, TN, a branch of the ISDS, which although headquartered in Omaha, had and has a strong branch in Austin, TX.    He encouraged this and immediately upon my return, began pushing for me to create an event to bring him to Nashville in 2015; which was a bit ahead of my schedule, but I was willing to accommodate.

At this point the first red flag appeared - an omen which I chose to ignore of what I have since discovered to be a pattern of practice of this paranoid Acharya - the rejection of, and attack upon, prior students.  There was at the Conference a man named Craig, who was apparently a practitioner of Ayurveda (a science from which I have had some benefit and in which I maintain an interest), as well as some Gnostic arts which indicated a left-hand path practice, which I had trouble connecting to the Acharya's Hindu Dharma (note: the man claimed by Acharyaji as his guru and spiritual preceptor was a brother-monk to Prahupada, the founder of that most right-hand of sects, the Hare Krishnas).  Craig spoke most eloquently and displayed an admirable grasp and mastery of his subject matter; he said he had been asked by David Frawley to support Acharyaji.  He also posted a lot of pictures of himself on Facebook drinking in bars, another issue with the tea-totalling, vegetarian nature of the Krishna-folk.

Immediately after the Conference, something exploded.  I don't know the full story; Acharyaji accused Craig of some sort of sexual misconduct with students, in Austin I assume, and Craig was stripped of any Hindu titles the Acharyaji had awarded him; the Acharya renounced the introduction he had written for Craig's book.  Now I have seen implosions in religious sects before, most notably at the conference of the Rune Gild years earlier, and had some resignation to that kind of infighting; but I was rather astonished at the vitriol heaped upon Craig by the Acharya.   As an ex-lawyer, I'm pretty sure it amounted to defamation.  And I have no idea exactly what Craig was accused of doing, or whether he really did it.  But the fact that the Acharya couldn't let it alone stuck with me, and reinforced what had grown in my awareness, against my will - the awareness of the massive egotism of Sri Dharma.

To organize the event Sri Dharma wanted for the spring, I at first upon his suggestion tried contacting several Yoga studio, with which I had some contact, both from my own Yoga practice since 2000 and from my Buddhist organizational days.  I did have some experience and some remaining connections from years of organizing events for the Nashville Zen Center and the Nashville Buddhist Festival.  Having failed with the studios, who were not interested (although some good people did help me very much to promote, later), also at Sri Dharma's advice I contacted Unity of Nashville, formerly the Unity Church, with whom I still had contacts (the NZC used to rent from them).   With the help of my excellent friend there I set up an event for Sri Dharma both to give the Sunday sermon, and to conduct a paid workshop later that same day, which was to be June 14, 2015 (as I write, next Sunday).

Bear in mind that this was all on my own effort; I had no local organization.  The ISDS (notably the wonderful Tulasi, who probably will never be my friend again after reading this, but for whom I have the utmost respect and gratitude) supplied some promotional graphics and text, but other than that I was on my own.  Aiding me I had Unity with all its resources (their own website and apparently large membership), and some friends, who had connections with the Yoga community but also an interest int the deeper aspects of the Vedic teaching.

To organize a successful event for a "Hindu" teacher who is basically unknown in the area, particularly near the buckle of the Bible Belt, would not be easy.   What made it worse was that I had unknowingly chosen or accepted for the time of the event, the weekend (and in fact the final day) not only of the Country Music Association Festival in Nashville, but also of Bonnaroo.  The CMA Festival bring in about 70,000 people to Nashville, a metro area of about a million; but Bonnaroo brings in 80,000 to a town of about 13,000, about an hour from Nashville - and in Manchester, where I happen to live.  The traffic, airport, transportations and logistics were mind-boggling.

So what effort had I put into all this as of last month, when the Acharyaji, in a fit of mind-boggling paranoia, insanity and massive rudeness, suddenly shut it down? Mostly I had worried a lot.  I'd made the basic arrangements for the venue, posted a lot on Facebook, talked to a lot of people and talked some into helping me put up posters (which I had printed at my own minimal expense).  Right now I would have been frantically worried and busy, had not the Acharyaji pulled the plug.  So really, I'm grateful.  But the way the Acharyaji not only expressed massive contempt for me and for all the people who had been helping to promote, but also indicated his own arrogance, basic lack of mental health, and unworthiness to be vehicle of the most profound Dharma.  He was in fact a total asshole.

I really don't know what had occurred in his paranoid little mind.   As a part of my efforts to broadcast the message of the event as widely as possible, I had sent invitations to pretty much everybody on my Facebook friends list.   Given that my own political inclinations are outside of the normal range, this included a lot of people who hold views more extreme and varying from my own, but whom I find interesting.   Some of them (mostly in other countries who couldn't possibly attend), to be supportive, accepted.   Sri Dharma, who I think spends all his time sitting on Facebook, noticed this, and expressed a concern, wanting to be clear that there would be no political activity at the events at Unity (that most universalist of venues!).  I acknowledge that of course this would be the case; he was insecure enough to ask about it again, and I rather incredulously assured him again.

I was in the midst - literally in the middle of a Facebook Message - of discussing motel and travel accommodations for him and for my friend who was coming in from out of state, when everything shut down.  The Nashville Event was announced Cancelled on Facebook.  I was unfriended and blocked by the Acharya on Facebook.   He refused to answer my emails about what was happening.  He was just gone.  He did not communicate with Unity (with whom he had/has a written contract), and did not respond to them.  He just abandoned us all, in what appears to have been a massive fit of paranoia.

So with some embarrassment I asked my friends to discontinue their efforts and the whole thing rolled to a shuddering stop.  Yeah, I was humiliated, but I learned what I needed to learn. One of the major ironies here is that one of Sri Dharma's main themes is the importance in Santana Dharma of finding a true Guru, who is the living example of all the virtues and practices he espouses.  It's pretty clear in Sri Dharma's writings and speeches, that that Guru is supposed to be himself.   Yet by his own childish, petty, cowardly and dishonest behavior, he shows that he is an avatar not of any Vedic virtues, but of only the crassest spiritual materialism and egotism.  And probably mental illness as well.

There's more I could add; the egotistic demands I had to negotiate between Sri Dharma and my Unity contact, who according to Sri Dharma was unaware of Sri Dharma's true value.  He saw through the whole Guru Baby schtick while I was still willfully blinded.  But what's the point?

Want another example of someone who's had similar disappointing experiences with Sri Dharma? Try this blog, which I had stumbled upon earlier, but of which I realized the essential truth and relevance, too late.

So what have I learned? There are no short cuts.  And trust your instincts.  A teacher who seems fake, probably is.  And someone who can't even behave responsibly as a human being is no teacher.  So I guess this is all down to me and the gods and God, after all.