The brainwashing project in Iskcon and GM orgs is set up mostly unconsciously, but partly also consciously by the leadership, and it inlcudes all facets that form the daily life in a temple. Remember: When an Indian becomes a member of a traditional Gaudiya line, nothing much changes in his life-style, or only moderate changes occur. For a Westerner however everything changes dramatically, and traumatically. A western person is stepping out of accepted society, takes on a different identity, different eating habits, sleeping patterns with severe sleep-depravation, different modes of communication, learns different non-verbal communication habits, and all this is getting ingrained into the system, interiorized in the form of a guilt-consciousness, if what is forced on is refused, questioned or altered.
An excellent observation, Nabadip! (and welcome to Gaudiya Repercussions!
I, too, think that much of it is not consciously set up as a technique of influence.
A good essay on brainwashing:
"Reflections on 'Brainwashing' by Geri-Ann Galanti, in: Langone, Michael (ed.) (1993) Recovery From Cults
This lady, affiliated with the American Family Foundation (an anticult organization), signed up for a weekend retreat organized by the Moonies to observe their brainwashing techniques. She was quite impressed by the people, their openness, the camaraderie at the camp, and she had a great time. There were some behaviors that she considered weird but also charming, since they were obviously sincere. She returns after two days and says to the friend picking her up, "I had a great time. Remind me again what's so bad about the Moonies." Only back at home, she can start reflecting back and seeing patterns. And still, even then she doesn't think the Moonies she met were scheming or insincere.
She concludes her article:
"Mind control is a heavily loaded term, evoking images of men reaching long fingers into our brains, controlling us like helpless puppets. in reality, it refers to the use of manipulative techniques that are for the most part extremely effective in influencing the behavior of others. They are not easily recognized because they are techniques utilized by all cultures -- directly and imdirectly -- to socialize children and acculturate immigrants. ... The confusion surrounding the brainwashing process stems from the fact that most people are looking for something overt and foreign ... when it most surely is not. I went to Camp K looking for something big and evil; what I found was very subtle and friendly, thus I didn't recognize its power."
I once tried to "dissect" my own experience joining ISKCON, and my own preaching:
I don’t remember making a clear-cut decision to convert. It happened beyond me, even against a part of me. I attended devotee gatherings for the sake of the people and the music. Singing sessions were usually followed by a lecture. So I listened to them talk about God or reincarnation -- all too good to be true -- and sneered to myself, "This they will never make me believe!" Several weeks later, I happened to be filling in a questionnaire some senior students passed out. "Do you believe in God?" read one of the questions. Mechanically, I was about to cross No, when I realized my usual answer no longer felt right. I wasn't a nonbeliever anymore. The life I had just discovered seemed to point to a God. What I had was not belief in God, rather hope for a God. But some of the questions life asks of us allow only for a Yes/No answer.
It wouldn't be difficult to use the above to make a case for "cultic manipulation": lots of positive attention, a flood of new impressions, new activities, people around constantly repeating the message, et caetera. And I would agree, provided a distinction was kept between mechanisms of influence and conscious, purposeful use of these mechanisms.
I knew my loneliness was playing in. I realized that participating in the meetings, "doing the Krishna things," could lead to a cognitive dissonance and an attitude change. But to my mind, once God was the issue, nothing else should matter. Adding the transcendent God to the equation was like adding the infinity; it changed the relevance of all the other values. If the awareness of my emotional neediness made me hesitate before seeking up the devotees, it was not because I feared being pitied or manipulated (although I did fear both), rather because I felt that spiritual people should be approached for spiritual reasons, not to get some strokes. The same conviction had prevented me, seven years earlier, from joining a youth Christian movement. But this time, I decided, I did have a spiritual reason and this was all that mattered. Similarly, whether acting in accordance with the Krishnaite teachings would make me more inclined to allow the possibility of Krishna's existence was beside the point. The point was, did he exist or not? I was going to find out. I felt confident. A God that wouldn't reciprocate with an endeavoring seeker made sense neither to me, nor to the Krishnaite theology.
I am convinced that the devotees around me were not out to psychologically manipulate anyone or exploit their vulnerabilities. They tried to share their spiritual "goods," but their idea of how it worked had little to do with psychology. To their mind, if offering a guest spiritualized food had effect, it was not because of cognitive dissonance or the reciprocity principle, but because such food was charged with a spiritual energy, automatically purifying the eater. Similarly, the wisdom of inviting a guest to take part in singing Hare Krishna had little to do with the social dimension of the act, and everything to do with God turning his attention to the person calling his name.
In time I, too, learned how to take care of guests and inquirers. We were manipulative, but not in the subtle ways cult critics speak about. We had ways of getting our apprehensive family members to taste food offered to Krishna without telling them it was offered; we liked to trick the skeptics into saying "Hare Krishna," and we followed Srila Prabhupada's urging to distribute his books "by hook or by crook." Our idea of how it worked was as lofty as it was mechanistic. Some of us even believed that putting a person in touch with spiritualized items was worth upsetting or offending the person. Only gradually -- and painfully -- did ISKCON learn not to underestimate the "mundane" sociopsychological dimension.
If we understood, back then, the psychological strings we pulled and how these influenced our new converts’ beliefs, we would be less authentic in our endeavors and thus less convincing. Besides, how would we have avoided questioning the nature of our own faith?