From time to time, the Indian press exposes some respected godman or sadhu for serious misbehavior, such as sexual impropriety. For a renunciant sadhu, any sexual activity is an impropriety. In some cases, there are accusations of murder and sometimes in fighting within the organizations of such sadhus. The incident becomes a big issue, and several repercussions follow. People get angry with the so called sadhu, many of his followers leave him, followers also become targets of public abuse; sometimes the asrams of such sadhus are attacked. Further, the so called rationalists or atheists take the opportunity to inform everyone that actually all sadhus are bogus: they are all cheating and such exposures prove this. The insinuation is that some sadhus are found out but probably most, if not all, are doing something that they should not be doing.


The root cause of the entire problem is the lack of sincerity in the people to seek genuine spiritual guidance. The people in general are not very thoughtful; otherwise they would have realized that these so called sadhus were bogus, even before they were exposed as bogus. They are not bogus particularly because of their sexual misdemeanor or any other misdemeanor, but they are simply cheating the public by presenting themselves as spiritual leaders while they do not give the actual teachings of shastra, nor the spiritual knowledge of Bhagavad gita. Instead of promoting Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which is the only and ultimate spiritual truth, and the only knowledge that can help people, they talk nonsense and take the money of their followers. Even if they dont indulge in impropriety or gross immoral acts, the very fact that they are posing as spiritual leaders when they have nothing of spiritual benefit to offer is the worst immorality. Yet this is going on because in truth most people want to have a nice feeling of being somewhat spiritual and religious, but in fact they are totally materialistic. Therefore, they like the cheating sadhus who give blessings to their followers but never tell them to alter their consciousness and come out from the materialistic way of thinking and understand that everything in this world is temporary.

When these cheaters are exposed, people end up categorizing ISKCON devotees as being in the same league as the bogus sadhus who are now exposed. To be a member of ISKCON, one has to follow the four basic tenets of not eating meat, fish or egg; not gambling; not taking intoxication; and not indulging in illicit sexual connections. An ISKCON member has to follow a rigid sadhana of rising early and following many spiritual practices. So it is quite illogical for people to categorize ISKCON devotees with these charlatans.

Unfortunately, most people do not know what sadhus are actually meant to be. They manufacture a stereotype of what they expect from a sadhu he should be nice, he should smile, give blessing, tell you to be good, and make you feel good and there are many cheating sadhus who like to fit into this category. People think this is spiritual. But a real sadhu is one who tells you that material life is not good and simply being so called good or even simply giving up tobacco and alcohol, is not in and of itself actual spiritual life. Spiritual life means to give up all material desires and completely surrender to Krishna.These comments on bogus sadhus are not meant as a sectarian diatribe, but should be understood in light of the teachings of Bhagavad gita As It Is, which unfortunately for the people of the world, and  particularly so for Hindus, who should know it, is very little studied and even less followed. The Krishna consciousness movement recognizes that there are many pious sadhus who are not grossly cheating others or making a personality cult around themselves. The derogatory comments in this article are not specifically directed against them.


Sometimes members of the Krishna consciousness movement, including some of its prominent leaders, are also exposed for acts unbecoming of sadhus. However, a devotee of Krishna, particularly one who is seriously striving to surrender fully to Krishna, is always in a better position than anyone else including those sadhus who are not exclusively focused on Krishna yet rigidly adhere to moral principles. This may seem like a hypocritical statement, but it is not, because it is the statement of Sri Krishna Himself in Bhagavad gita, 9.30:

api cet su duracaro
bhajate mam ananya bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah

 Even if engaged in most abominable activities, one who is desirous of fully surrendering to Me, who has no other object in life, is certainly to be considered a sadhu. How is it possible that one who is fully focused on Krishna as the goal of life could indulge in most abominable activities? It is possible because of previous bad habits, that a devotee, even a serious devotee, might circumstantially slip.  But a sincere practitioner would regret the lapse and immediately attempt to rectify his situation by continuing to serve Krishna with determination and enthusiasm.

Of course, this does not exonerate habitually bad activities in the name of bhakti nor give a license for using the banner of bhakti to cheat others, even within the realm of devotion to Krishna. Cheaters should be distinguished from genuine saints.


Who is a real sadhu? A real sadhu is one who follows Bhagavad gita as it is, who understands the difference between matter and spirit, who is not interested in material sense gratification, who lives in this world for the benefit of others without any personal desire, simply to serve Krishna, who he understands from all the scriptures to be the Supreme Absolute Truth. No one else can properly be termed as a sadhu. Real sadhu means vaco vegam manasah krodha vegam, jihva vegam udaropastha vegam: “A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the minds demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world. (Nectar of Instruction, Sloka 1) People should study this verse and the purport given by Srila Prabhupada.

So our call to the people is tamaso ma jyotir gamaya: Come out of the darkness and come in to the light. Krishna surya sama; maya haya andhakara yahan Krishna, tahan nahi mayara adhikara: “Krishna is just like the sun, and maya is just like darkness. If the sun is present, there is no question of darkness. Similarly, wherever Krishna is present, there is no possibility of maya’s influence. (Caitanya caritamrta Madhya 22.31) Utthisthata jagrata prapta varan nibodhata: “Get up, wake up and attain the boon of human life. (Katha Upanisad 1.3.14)) How many people are ready for that? Do you want the truth or do you want to be cheated? The choice is yours.

Bhakti Vikasa Swami is a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada and an ISKCON guru. He is author of numerous books on Krishna consciousness including a three volume biography of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.