Children of the Ashrama
Raghunatha (ex Swami (!)) was speaking to me last week and somehow you came up in the conversation and he said "You remind me so much of him (Raghunatha Anudasa) -- you have the same sense of humor!" He's said it before actually. He's got a lovely baby boy now called Krsna Shakti and he seems to have calmed down a lot. For one thing, I don't feel like running and hiding every time I see him like I used to!
Raghu's reply: Children of the Ashrama
It is good to hear about Raghunatha's re-transformation as a nice guy. When he first went to Vrindavan gurukula, he was on e of the more favored teachers among the kids. He was fun. He was an excellent story teller -- reading from Time mags. With his little purport lectures and great stories from movies, or personal experiences, etc. His powerful, muscular, six foot one inch frame and strong personality, naturally made him a very commanding kind of guy -- especially to a kid of only thirteen, fourteen, or even fifteen years old -- which I was in our first encounter. He seemed in many ways more attentive to and demanding about the kids needs then others like Dhanudhara (now Swami), the principle at that time.
He could also be a real charmer, something that surprised me. He was seemingly one of the most serious, first class, and meanest (as tough) brahmacaris I had met. But my, when he got around the kids mothers, he was the nicest guy in the world. He would have them in smiles or just laughing and all. What amazed me even more was how he could soothe resentments and dismiss all allegations about the gurukula. He could usually even handle the terribly incriminating accusations made against him. Between him and the rest of the teachers, they always managed to convince the parents or devotees that the few excessive isolated incidents of abusive treatment were over and done with.
On occasions though, if charm did not settle the matter, Raghunatha was sometimes known to resolve his differences by showing off what those eight years of Marine training had done for his build and arms. He was massive by devotee standards -- what to speak of India's. Though allowed to witness his dazzling displays of charm and see the great guy that he is, I did not originally get to know him as such.
We first met upon my third return to Vrindavan, India, while there for some last schooling. The trip was part of my desperate and fading hopes to overcome an adolescence of illiteracy. Raghunatha had already been there for about 4 months. Kids sometimes wishingly recalled what a nice guy he first was, but by the time we met; he had already been fully mutated. According to Raghunatha Prabhu's most recent accounts, it was Dhanudara and the rest of the pack of teachers who skillfully crafted him into one of the most brutal, teacher-terrorist ever to bless the harsh history of ISKCON's Gurukulas.
While he was in gurukula, he blamed the misbehaved students for having brought about his monstrous transformation. I personally believe it was both teachers and students, plus a great number of other elements of the situation: the common attitudes of the movement and Vrindavan in those days which certainly seemed to attract, welcome and encourage abusive marine-reject like people; to many students per teacher; lack of privacy for students and teachers alike; the hardships of India for most Westerners; too many demands on many levels - fourteen hour days with the kids, etc - for the teachers and students; and of course; Raghunatha's own unforgivable, outrageous, beastly outburst, etc. That "son-of-a-" marine sergeant is also most certainly responsible too.
I clearly remember that second day of my arrival while comfortably (by a great contrast to the gurukula) staying in the Krsna - Balarama Guest house. (I later found out, that some teachers considered my four day, guest house stay to be a rather contemptuous show of independence to the guru kula.) A daring friend sneaked out of the gurukula building (punishable by detention) just to worn me of sorts about this other Raghunatha Prabhu, or Big Raghunatha. Of course, I was concerned by this friends report, but I was desperate for an education. Vrindavan was my only option. Public Karmi school still as yet had not even cross my mind as an option - not until I was eighteen.
Before making this journey, I had also convinced myself, not to worry about my sever spells of terror/excitement from the culture shock and disorientation. These spells were always multiplied by my oppressively despairing sense of loneliness and helplessness. This was further exaggerated because mother was at best, hardly less than a months communication away. Then there was the common physical stress of India's harsh settings topped with sickness for most any visiting Westerner. It would all so splendidly gang-up together and clobber me like a whole bunch of jumbo sized, tidal waves. I made a valiant try not to worry about these things - ha ha ha, ho ho, hi hi, yeah right.
And now that I look back upon it, Vrindavan gurukula teachers always seemed to have immensely enriched these purifying tribulations of my India stay. As my friend talked, I tried to pacify my fears and justify the wisdom of this bold decision. It was only made in my grandest illusions of being some stalwart devotee. I retreated into my fast, diminishing image as this tough, daring, experienced brahmacari kid. I was gurukuli, ready for any hardships, austerities and adventure. This was a seasoned response. This is how I dealt with such occasions when desperately stumbling around for some sense of personal resourcefulness in confronting life's endless adversities.
Besides, what is there that I could not handle. I have seen the worst of it or so I thought. I had been through five years of Dallas gurukula, plus two trips and three years of Vrindavan, India already. I was a seasoned devotee and survivor of gurukula, ISKCON and ready to confront any last tribulations that my karma could ceremoniously surprise me with. (The wisdom of youth at its best - rush right on in no matter what you have heard and know about the person, place or thing.) Hopefully and mistakenly, I thought I was therefore now tough enough for anything. I was not simply a spoiled American boy, but a hardened Vrindavan gurukula veteran seasoned by my experience from Dallas and the two previous trips to Vrindavan. I have learned since then not to bother daring Fate to test my manhood.
[Editor's note: To continue the discussion of the teacher Raghunatha, click here.]
Dallas was traumatic from the very first minute and remained dramatic until the very last minute when finally leaving for Vrindavana [India]. My welcoming party was twenty-five or so brats from ages five to twelve. Ironically enough, I would soon come to hold them as my very dearest friends in life. They gathered around as a teacher went through my belongings and ridiculed this seven year old's stained, karmi underwear, long hippie hair (which it was - about two feet actually), and my karmi photos of family and pets. Within days, lewd, exaggerated features started appearing on the photos. I am today sure that it was Vrindavan's [a friend's] creative work.
It was even worse when the photos started missing simply to show-up circulated among the girls. The teachers saved me from any further harassment for my peculiar belongings and fashion. In a public assembly, they first confiscated most everything. For the most part they then re-distributed it or threw it away. It concluded with a generous offer to shave me up.
I made it quite clear I was not going to stand for any such "crew cut" with some freakish, wild-bush of hair exploding off the top of my head. The sikas in those days were really wild. Well, Hiranyagarbha didn't seem convinced and so I went and hid. They found me, thirsty, starved and terrified, a day and a half later in the corner of the book room, which had also served as my restroom.
I was freaked. It took four men to wrestle me out and down the stairs to the ashram. Once there, each grabbed a limb. A fifth man (Hiranyagarba) proceeded to shave me after firmly vicing me into a headlock. My loud screams only served as an emergency welcoming call for the entire temple of two hundred kids and adults to come running on down for the fun. It was the most pitiful and comically embarrassing, spectacle ever made out of a hair-cutting ceremony.
The brahmacaris finally let go when the job was about half done. In classic dramatic crescendo, I turned over on my tummy, clenched my hair in a crying fit of rage and wailed out: "Oh, my beautiful hair." The concerned and bewildered crowd of devotees and kids finally broke out into uncontrollable laughter. It took years before friends finally stopped teasing me about it. I tried to use the incident to show off how tough I was, "Yeah, well it still took five guys to hold me down."
To my complete horror, I had become one of them. With that buzz-up went my own sense of identity and superior to the rest of those skin heads, as I called them. After that, like a student in any school and society, it was simply accepting and getting oriented to the lifestyle and rules of discipline. The discipline went through very short spells of easy going standards, to sudden radical measures of punishments. It was usually dependent upon the teachers of the time. One of the most notable undertakings was the smarana (which means "to remember" in Sanskrit) board. The smarana board treatment was a fanny walloping (as Devz put it) from a one inch thick, two feet long, one foot wide board. It came complete with three holes to allow for easy passage of air and handsomely architected with a handle for a teacher's firm grip.
The smarana board was introduced with a very impressive demerit system. It could also be counteracted by the later introduced (by some thoughtful teacher) "merits." It was something that went like: one whack per ten demerits. My God, could I scramble up those demerit "browny points" in a hurry. The teachers all had their own ideas of what made up "nonsense" or "offensive" behavior and how many demerits it was worth. In Bhagavad-gita class, one could get demerits for talking with another friend, forgetting to chant along in recital, which eventually ended up taking about an hour as we recited three or four chapters on the average; or failing to bring one's Bhagavad-gita.
I especially hated when they started experimenting with a monitor system. They did this by rotating some of the older kids to stare over the rest of us. These young teens were to decide when we were not chanting or something. They always picked a kid who really enjoyed awarding me with all sorts of those little checkmarks.
In another class, one would get demerits for fighting in class, something I was always doing; having to use the bathroom before break; not finishing some homework assignment or "spacing-out." Spacing out was a broad term. It could include anything from drawing pictures in one's notebooks to playing with some frantic, friendly, momma-size, cockroach who decided to crawl on up in their day's field trip or scurrying for shelter under our saris or dhotis [religious pants]. They had thousands of those "flying dates" exploring our place.
Of course, the ashram teacher was not going to be left out. They established their own terms as well: getting out of line, being late for mangal-arotik [4:30 a.m. worship service], playing with the girls (usually in some trivial way), sleeping - nodding-out during japa [chanting] or Srimad-Bhagavatam class, leaving one's shelf a mess (which really had to be quite messy. There was an extremely simple if not sloppy standard of neatness), not finishing all of one's prasadam [food], spending too much time in or at the shower (should one have the rare chance for a hot shower - anything not freezing cold. The hot water boiler was usually empty), not showering after taking an "unloading" in the "stool room," or wetting the bed.
Actually it was sheets not beds. We slept in sheets on the tiled, cement floor in the basement. Some brilliant and caring mataji [woman] decided on sewing the three sides of the sheets to keep us from rolling out. And boy did we have some real steam rolling, rollers. Several kids were known to regularly journey over two or three friends in a single night of their restful sleeping. Every morning, most ended up at least one or two squares away from the three by four foot painted and numbered boxes that designated our twenty or so sleeping spaces on the floor.
To keep a uniform standard, sheets replaced the sleeping bags. Sleeping bags seemed too expensive to buy for all the students. Also, we had so many pee-ers. They kept water-logging their sleeping bags. These guys literally flooded their areas so much that it also pee-logged those of their fortunate friends sleeping nearby. Sheets were just much more practical for regularly washing. As unbelievable as it may seem today, I can't remember ever being cold or uncomfortable while sleeping under these rather simple sleeping arrangements.
Every day offered new revelations to several more of the hoards of deviations that could translate into demerits for our stockings of punishment. It must have worked because I went from forty to fifty a week, to about ten. Rarely, did any of the teachers really give everyone a point each time they stepped out of line. Rather, a system had finally been worked out. It allowed a broad range of activities for a teacher to choose from when they felt a kids' attitude needed to be rectified. Of course, there were those nerd-balls that would mark all the little mistakes. The stress was not so much how many swats we got. It was the paranoia that it created in many of us so much of the time.
This merit and demerit system introduced by Hiranyagarba and Dayananda (I think?) was one of the best discipline systems that I can remember Dallas ever having. It took the immediate punishing out of the teachers' hands, which in retrospect seemed to have been quite valuable in many ways. It checked many cases of those (sometimes understandable) outbursts of frustration by requiring a lapse of time before the punishment was given. It then had to meet with the principal's approval, since he was the one doing the whacking. The punishments were much less personal because it was the principal and not the disgruntled teacher swinging the rugby bat.
The principal could also better understand just how stringent was a teacher's discipline. This was a great extra precaution for monitoring the teachers - a substantial safeguard if the principal happened to be even half sane. It also allowed the students discipline to be dealt with as a one unit factor. This was better than having some hyper kid (not to mention myself) getting pounded on by every teacher they happened to upset. Such discipline cases could then get special attention. Once in a while, this merit/demerit system really proved a very meaningful system of checks and balances in great contrast to the other faces of discipline that have shown up in gurukula's history.
Before and after this system, punishments assumed a variety of creative measures. For example, Hiranyagarbha's constant and really hard, free for all batting with the stick, which were really mini-boards. There was another teacher who locked kids upstairs with "monsters" in the pitch black and "haunted" attic. This I know was being done on occasion with Bhavatsastra. I will save the ghost stories for later. Sometimes it was under the stairs--lid-locked in one of those big, plastic, trash barrels for those who were "really bad." Not to worry, they put a few nail holes in it for air.
I remember seeing Krsna-kumari put this little boy over her lap. It was in front of the co-ed class of at least ten if not fifteen or more kids. She pulled-up the dhoti of this five or six year old and repeatedly slapped his naked behind. He had a naked behind except of course for the brahmin underwear strap that ran his fanny checks. What made it so outstanding in my mind was this great little kid's sense of pride. He was too proud to cry in front of the girls even though he was such a young boy. Of course, she kept on slapping away until he just finally broke down into tears.
In the very early days, there are such reports as [this student's]: made to go through the day's activities with a dead cockroach pasted to his nose, crowned with a paper hat and signs posted on his chest and back that read something like: "I am a dog, a fool, and a liar." It was supposedly a Dinatarine d.d. [one of the teachers] special.
One teacher was to have made a kid lick up his own urine for failing to hold it until the end of class, though warned to do so. Raghunatha (the teacher from Dallas who was last staying in New Vrindaban and married to Sulochan's wife), would beat the kids until they had bruises that would last for many days, if not weeks. It seems I remember that Visvareta was known to do the same.
One very resented requirement was the mandatory diet. For lunch, that meant everyone had to "honor" at least two cups of dahl, a ladleful each of rice and subji, plus two chapatis. How seemingly yummy it may not have been was hardly an excuse for failing to honor it. Also, one had to be really careful not to take too much. Not finishing every grain meant saving it for the next meal. We had three meals a day. There was breakfast in the morning which was usually the favored: oatmeal or some kind of hot cereal. Lunch at one p.m., grossed out some number of us everyday, for some it was the sweet potatoes for example. For the evening we had hot milk and oranges, a real tummy settler. I remember one time when, Dwarkanath made me fast for almost three days until I finally gave into finishing this horrible, gross, disgusting dahl.
My most hated punishment from Mandaleswara were his long running favorite: snapping the knuckles with a cut broom handle, or cupping the hand for slapping the ear. These two were generously given on a daily basis to at least a couple students. It took a few times before getting less worried he was not really breaking the knuckles or hand. It does seem there was one case of a child ending up with some broken bones. The ear slapping terrified me. One time he cup-slapped me so hard with his wet hand that my ear actually went numb. It was deaf for several days. I think that really shook him up, at least enough to fade his cup-slapping out of his usual repertoire for disciplining. He moved his slaps to the cheeks. It seemed he did have a genuine appreciation of me as a devotee. That meant a lot to me and was a great contrast to one of the more heavy handed teachers from my Dallas experience - Jitaparan.
Srila Prabhupada [ISKCON's founder and guru] had come through Dallas for a second or third time and once again put a stop to their barbaric punishments. With it, went the smarana board. Well, the older boys (Jagaman, Jagadananda, Katyayana, Markamangala, Stavya, etc.) managed to hide, destroy or throw-away some ten of them smaran boards. Prabhupada's instructions had finally put a stop to it. Prabhupada recommended that all a teacher should really have to do is simply show the stick, a small bamboo rod. If it required much more, it was probably a sign a child was not engaged properly.
As Prabhupada saw it, it probably meant it was the wrong environment of studies instead of working with animals or working at some business or something more suited to the child's own propensities. Out went the smarana board, in came the bamboo rod. Expectedly, it was used for more than simply showing off. And so once again, the older-boys went to work hiding, destroying etc., the rod(s) of chastisement. Bamboo was not conveniently replaced in the U.S. Not to be left empty handed, cut broom handles substituted.
Jitaparana was in no way sparing with his broom handle. Nor did he bother wasting time as other teachers did, trying to home in on the fanny or back. It could be a tricky feat since the kids would gyrate through these impressive and sometimes amusing modern dancing displays. These little dances of terror came complete with their own songs of pain and fancy foot work.
Jitaparana was not even shy about flying this witch handle around in public. One thing of great importance to him was that we sat completely straight at all times. He would insist on this policy even during Bhagavatam class by pounding away on our spines when we hunched over. Finally, Jagadish (now Maharaja and then minister of education) found the constant dull thud and resentful sighs of pain too distracting for class. He took the bold step of telling Jitaparan to stop it.
In Dallas gurukula, Jitaparan was a hot drummer on the mrdanga and soon realized that a few slaps of his hands alone could effectively do a stick's job. It would also get him in less trouble than a stick. Deplorably, each and every time he went to slap my cheeks, my damn shoulders would get in the way. I couldn't help it. It was like trying not to blink or something. Having my dear, stupid friends think that it was pretty funny, didn't help the situation any. Instead, it turned into a spectacle as he wrestled me to the floor, sat on my chest, finally pinning my shoulders down and out of the way. And about getting that slap, well he decided to throw in a few extra.
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