Vanity thought #1154. Alarming dilemma

Lord Nityānanda’s marriage will have to wait, something else has come up and I want to write it down before it escapes into recesses of my mind.

I mean the eternal struggle between “liberals” and “conservatives” in our movement. These labels cannot be mapped to ISKCON directly, however, I’m just using familiar words to denote an intractable conflict, the twains that shall never meet.

Thinking of it this way we might accept this struggle not as a problem, not as a “bug” but as a “feature” of the material world. It’s probably how its inherent duality eventually manifests itself, there’s no point of fighting it, it will never go away, it has no solution, just like birth, death, old age, and disease.

The only solution, as we’ve been told, is Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but even that is not entirely correct – it stops the perception of those problems as “ours”, it doesn’t stop material world from continuing its eternal cycle. Birth, death, old age, and disease will always be there, as well as the never ending conflict between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, old and new, Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas.

That last one has been solved, however – with Kṛṣṇa’s help Kauravas lost. Maybe it wasn’t fair to mention it here but it wouldn’t be the first time Kṛṣṇa took sides in material world disputes. He always comes on the side of the demigods in their eternal quest for the control of the universe against the demons, for example. That last bit is very important – all our conflicts are for the sake of control of the material energy. We want things to go as we want them to, according to our plans and visions, and we don’t like the opponents getting in our way. Ideally, Kṛṣṇa should stay above the fracas but He doesn’t, He helps some people even if He is an eternal friend of everyone.

Similarly, Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to solve our conflicts and he inevitably took sides. Problem is, he took different sides at different times, therefore the conflicts go on with authoritative statements supporting both lines of arguments.

The example that has drawn my attention today was about preaching and book distribution. Everyone in our movement want to see preaching going on but we cannot agree on how to do it best. At the root of it, some people say that end justifies the means while others say that it’s the process that is more important, that properly executing one’s duties is more important than achieving results.

First of all, as long as everyone wants to preach all our differences are immaterial, pun intended. They might grow from our material designations and our material desires for control but they don’t really matter because we all make serving Kṛṣṇa as our goal.

We should always keep that in mind because in the heat of the debate some things might be said that do not show proper respect to the vaiṣṇavas on the opposing party. Whatever it is we want to achieve, offenses should never be acceptable, that’s where we should all draw the line and we should never ever cross it.

Once the differences of opinions emerge, people naturally stop cooperating. Śrīla Prabhupāda had always stressed that we must cooperate above everything else, which practically means cooperate under the umbrella of ISKCON, which means cooperate under the authority of the GBC.

What to do if GBC takes side of one warring party, however? It rarely acts as a neutral moderator, and the sad reality of life is that people want to use the authority of the GBC to force their opponents to submit and surrender. GBC is not a Utopian agent of Supreme Justice, it’s made of real life people and with a bit of an effort it can be swayed to support any particular side. Then it becomes a matter of politics, of pushing “your” people in GBC decision making positions.

That’s what probably stopped female guru approval a couple of years ago, the side that was pushing for it came a bit short of securing control over GBC vote. So far the issue remains unresolved even though the female guru proponents might feel like they’ve been defeated. As it stands, there’s a way for qualified female devotees to become initiating gurus but in the current political climate it probably won’t happen until our rule book sees some serious changes.

If FDG proponents had managed to secure a favorable outcome they would have had GBC authority on their side and cooperation in this case would have meant FDG opponents accepting defeat. It’s a ridiculous definition of cooperation to say the least and it wouldn’t persuade FDG opponents in any way, they’d never accept the current set of underlying arguments even if they formally submit to GBC power.

One of the first examples of such split happened when Śrīla Prabhupāda was still with us and despite his best attempts the rift has never been healed. I’m talking about the case of Siddha Svarūpa. His people were never brought back but, interestingly, they gave us the first US congressman of Hare Kṛṣṇa extraction – Tulsi Gabbard. Congresswoman, to be exact.

There are different opinions on what cased Siddha Svarūpa’s split from ISKCON. Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t too kind to his causes anyway. He expressed his desires rather clearly but Siddha Svarūpa never listened and that led Prabhupāda to conclude that Siddha Svarūpa never really surrendered to his guru.

In the end he let Siddha Svarūpa’s people do whatever they want – chant, dance, worship the deities, preach, eat prasādam, but not in his name. If they wanted to be his disciples they should have followed his orders, one of which was to accept the authority of the GBC. Siddha Svarūpa, however, saw GBC not as an umbrella for cooperation but as a party to the conflict, so it didn’t work.

Once Śrīla Prabhupāda had made his mind, all Siddha Svarūpa’s arguments were doomed. There was no way he could have framed them to become acceptable to Prabhupāda. They’d be rejected before they were even made, just because.

That’s why I don’t think we should read too much into what Prabhupāda said about them, those particular instructions were conditioned by the context and had one particular goal in mind – to prove Siddha Svarūpa wrong. I don’t think we can legitimately transfer them to all other situations and cite them in all other conflicts.

This might not sound right – Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words must be taken as absolute and we can’t see him as being partial or prejudiced when he specifically presented himself as a well wisher and when he dealt with his initiated disciples, but the goal of proving Siddha Svarūpa wrong was a worthy one. No one can rebel against his spiritual master and get away with it. That principle must be defended at all costs, never mind the danger that the same arguments might be reused elsewhere for dubious purposes.

Actually, Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t very hostile to Siddha Svarūpa, he left the possibility that Kṛṣṇa would still be pleased by Siddha Svarūpa’s service, he just said that he would have nothing to do with it.

Kṛṣṇa is the Lord of everyone and everyone is His servant. Nothing can ever change this fact. Whether we have accepted our guru or rejected him, we are still Kṛṣṇa’s servants, we still can claim our right to serve Him, it could never be taken away.

Having said that, we’d rather serve Kṛṣṇa through His devotees, not on our own. In the material world we don’t even have a choice because Kṛṣṇa isn’t here – He manifests Himself only through His devotees. Even the Holy Name and the Deity must be brought to us by His devotees. We can’t serve Him directly, we can only abuse the opportunities given to us by our guru (in case we reject him).

That’s why Siddha Svarūpa’s choice was legitimate but not very intelligent. What stopped him, however? Could he have forced himself to accept GBC’s authority? What were his grievances? Were they legitimate?

I’m afraid I can’t go into these details now. It’s a fascinating case study because it covers a lot of stuff that still causes conflicts in our society, long after Siddha Svarūpa himself has left the scene. I’m not sure I am qualified to speak about the details but I have an argument to get around my lack of authority, too. Maybe tomorrow.


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