By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
As innocent as you or me: I am writing to express extreme displeasure at your recent unnecessarily biased and negative article about the Hare Krishna community here in Dallas ("Tortured Souls," December 6).
The abuse suffered by these women was truly horrifying, and I don't mean to dismiss it. But the fact remains that the people of the present-day Hare Krishna community did not perpetrate these hideous crimes. The devotees there are as innocent as you or me, and they are vocal in their conviction that the criminals who performed these acts should be tried and punished.
Yet Mark Donald chooses to portray these innocent devotees in the worst possible light, exaggerating and writing misleading statements about their beliefs and their way of life. ISKCON members do not worship Prabhupada as a god. Prabhupada himself said on many well-documented occasions that he is not God, nor even a servant of God, but a servant of the servant of God. He held nothing but contempt for "gurus" who presented themselves as supreme beings or displayed "magic" powers.
Especially misleading is a caption that reads, "The Hare Krishna movement still employs the Sunday feast--this one, in the Dallas temple--to recruit devotees." This was certainly meant to invoke the image of devotees preying on unsuspecting guests like a swarm of locusts. The Sunday program is not a scam to entice innocent people into the temple to be "recruited" any more than it could be said that any church service can be used for recruitment. The Sunday program presents the philosophy and main practices of the tradition, such as congregational chanting of the holy names of Krishna and Sanskrit prayers in the temple, and anyone who chooses may attend any part of the program they like--or simply eat in the restaurant and not attend the program at all. Guests are not followed; no dossiers are compiled; devotees are not assigned to round up unsuspecting victims.
My aim is not to refute the article point by point, but to defend people who I have counted as friends for many years. I've been visiting the Dallas temple since 1985. There have been various problems with the organization, and people are not always perfect. But the devotees I know are kind, intelligent and generous to a fault. They truly dedicate their lives to a higher purpose and sacrifice many of the luxuries most of us take as birthrights. They have never failed to welcome my friends and me or to offer us hospitality, no matter how long I'd been away. For most of my life, devotees have been closer to me and taken better care of me than most of my own family. These are the devotees I know, and these are the devotees your readers might have known if the Dallas Observer had given them half a chance to be heard.
Warm glow of sanctity: Thanks for Mark Donald's "Tortured Souls," an exposé of child abuse within the Hare Krishna movement. George Harrison's death has been the occasion for much positive reflection on his sincerity as a God-seeker, and that reflection has tended to cast a warm glow of sanctity over the Hare Krishna religion. It is worth recalling how sinister that movement was during many of the years when Mr. Harrison was its most visible apologist.
While any organization might be implicated in child abuse, the peculiar nature of Hindu systems creates environments especially conducive to such crimes. Nor is this a new problem. Early in the 20th century, Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary, described the theological basis for this kind of abuse in Things As They Are, a book in which she discussed this aspect of Hinduism. I write with some knowledge of the subject. Ms. Carmichael opened an orphanage to rescue Indian children from the temples where they were exploited and corrupted by the Brahmans in whose care they had been entrusted. My wife is one of Ms. Carmichael's adopted children.
Stay away from my PTA: In reference to the letter from Richard J. Bacon (December 6): If it's true that Dallas schools suck, then Mr. Bacon and parents like him are perched proudly at the top of the list of reasons why.
Mr. Bacon wouldn't know a quality education if it bit him on the ass. The only way he could make such ridiculous statements would be if he never once set foot on Withers' campus. If he had, he would have found that our kids are greeted cheerfully by teachers who know their names and are glad to see them.
He would find tremendous parental involvement, which is something I assume Mr. Bacon eschews because of his lack of valid information about our schools. He would find many awards and commendations for the programs and innovations at our schools. He would find highly qualified and experienced teachers who any high-tuition private school would be lucky to have.
They're not here for prestige, Mr. Bacon. They're here because they have character, vision and sense enough to know that simply because money's tight you don't abandon the school. You find ways to make things better. This doesn't require an act of the school board. It has to do with civic responsibility.