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Swami Prakashanand and the Sins of Society
Birendra (Barry) Nirmal Tiwary
Swami Prakashanand who is the founder of Barsana Dham temple, near Austin Texas was indicted in April 2008 for child molestation. After three years the trial finally took place in March of 2011. A jury of 12 men and women took two hours to find Swami Ji guilty of 20 count of child molestation.
The charges were based on allegations of two women, Shyama Rose and Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, now 30 and 27 years old, respectively, whose families lived at the 200-acre ashram in Driftwood. They said the guru kissed and fondled them on numerous occasions over the course of several years, beginning when they were as young as 12. A third woman, Kate Tonnessen, now 31, also claimed the holy man had kissed and groped her during the same period. Each of the charge carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.
Swami Prakashanda is known to his followers as Shri Swami jee. His guru is Jagat Guru Kripalu (JKP) Maharaj. (1)
It is difficult for this author to know the truth as it is known only to the accuser, the accused and God. Therefore it is impossible for this author to decide whether respected Swami ji is guilty or not. In this essay we will explore the issues surrounding the case.
The U.S. authorities are quite serious in prosecuting adults who engage in sexual acts with minors. They enforce the law to the fullest extent which is commendable. In the past few years and decades, many priests belonging to the Roman Catholic Church have been prosecuted and sent to jail for lengthy periods for committing sex crimes with minors. (2)
Punishing the guilty is an important aspect of maintaining law and order but would it not be better if we could eliminate the source of the crime itself? Is it not true that the media in the U.S. is saturated with sex talk? Almost every TV program especially the popular talk shows has sex talk. Just yesterday and today this author watched a few TV programs including Two and a Half Men and the conversations between the actors invariably had sex in them. It is a well known fact that sex is used by the media to attract or hold viewers attention. The most popular video website YouTube owned by Google is full of videos that have sexual content.
When the kids and adults alike have such easy access to porn via the Internet is it surprising that the minds of people are full of sexual ideas. The moral fabric of society is being destroyed. Even though on our currency, we read “In God We Trust”, the schools in the U.S. are turning the students into atheists. The majority of those graduating from high schools have little regard for or faith in God. The reason is that the schools emphasize the teaching of math, natural science, English, social sciences and the sports, while completely ignoring the teaching of spiritual and religious values. The excuse given is that the secular nature of curriculum prevent the schools from teaching any one religion. The teaching of religion is left to the churches, temples and mosques who do not even agree on basic concepts like the nature of God and the definition of spirituality. Can we not ask the schools to teach religion and spirituality and their role in the life of man, without mentioning the teachings of any one particular religion?
If the authorities and people make efforts and eliminate porn from the Internet, it would go a long way towards strengthening the moral fabric of society. The media has a great role to play in this but the government has to force the media to eliminate immoral themes and sex talk from their programs and publications. But the government will not do this unless the people rise up and demand such a course of action from the politicians they elect and who have the power to pass the necessary laws.
Prakashanand and the segregation of the sexes
The Barsana Dham temple near Austin, Texas was founded by Swami Prakashanand who turned it into one of largest and most successful of the Hindu temples in the U.S. This temple adored Srimati Radha Ranee, the consort of Lord Krishna. This adoration of Srimati Radha Ranee earned this temple many women followers. In fact many of the eloquent preachers from this temple were women. It seems that Swami Prakashanand was surrounded by women devotees.
One important teaching of the Hindu religion is to prohibit excessive intermingling between men and women. This teaching applies most forcefully to those who call themselves the teachers of the Hindu religion. For example about Lord Chaitanya, who was a great saint of the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, the following has been said.
"Chaitanya was extremely dispassionate. He abandoned all sorts of sensual pleasures as poison. He was very strict in observing the rules of Sanyasa. He declined to grant an interview to Raja Pratap Rudra of Orissa, because it is a great sin for a Sanyasin to see a king. It is as sinful as looking at a woman. If a Sanyasin sees a Raja or a king, gradually he will be attached to the Raja. As the mind has the habit of imitating, the Sanyasin also will begin to lead a life of luxury and have a downfall eventually. That is the reason why a Sanyasin is prohibited from seeing a Raja. Gauranga never saw a woman in the face. He did not allow any woman to approach him. He slept on the ground with bare body." (3)
It is not too difficult to understand why Lord Chaitanya considered it a sin to look at women or to meet with kings. Man and woman are like wood and fire. If you bring wood closer to fire, the result will be the burning of the wood. This is why all religions emphasize modesty and for preservation of purity and character, they prohibit excessive intermingling between men and women. Islam is most strict in this regard and this author finds great merit in this attitude of Islam. In fact Lord Buddha taught also that man and woman must be careful not to intermingle too much. The following quotations from Swami Vivekananda about the duties towards wife and duties towards husband are worth noting.
Swami Vivekananda on Duties towards One's Wife:
"No man should scold his wife, and he must always maintain her as if she were his own mother. And even when he is in the greatest difficulties and troubles, he must not show anger to his wife. He who thinks of another woman, besides his wife, if he touches her even with his mind, that man goes to dark hell. Before women he must not talk improper language, and never brag of his powers. He must not say, "I have done this, and I have done that." The householder must always please his wife with money, clothes, love, faith, and words like nectar, and never do anything to disturb her. The man who has succeeded in getting the love of a chaste wife has succeeded in his religion and has all the virtues." (4)
Swami Vivekananda on Duties towards One's Husband:
“Chastity is the first virtue in man or woman, and the man, who, however he may be strayed away, cannot be brought to the right path by a gently and loving and chaste wife is indeed very rare. The world is not yet as bad as that. We hear much about brutal husbands all over the world and about the impurity of man. But is it not true that there are quite as many brutal and impure women? If this was not the case, I am perfectly satisfied that there would not be one impure man in the world. What brutality is there which purity and chastity cannot conquer? “(5)
So, in my opinion, Hindu religious teachers should appreciate the great dangers of developing intimacy with people of opposite sex and should exercise extreme caution when dealing with members of opposite sex, especially when the latter are minors. In fact this author likes the fact that most Hindu priests are married. Marriage is not sinful. What is most sinful is to claim to be a sanyasi (i.e. ascetic) and engage in sexual relations with anyone. Divorce is not sinful. What is sinful is to remain married and engage in extra-marital relations.