Vanity thought #1411. “Supreme” Justice 12

The second dissenting opinion is, perhaps, also the most quoted one. It also belongs to a judge who is accused of flip flopping in his judicial approach from one case to another. I don’t even want to check if there’s truth to these allegations, I’m simply reading it for pleasure.

Ideally we shouldn’t, of course, but this judge undeniably has a way with words, sometimes missing the mark but never failing to impress. I guess it could be classified as sundarīṁ kavitāṁ mentioned in the śikṣāṣṭaka.

Hmm, that sundarīṁ kavitāṁ is a slightly controversial issue. Usually we accept it to mean “beautiful women” but kavitāṁ is poetry, not women, and our official translation in Caitanya Caritāmṛita says “a beautiful wife or fruitive activities described in flowery language”. Notice “or” and not “and”. Since both words are there it should be “and”, but, as I understand it, we have to take it as a phrase, “sundarīṁ kavitāṁ”, which would mean “beautiful poetry”, but then “women” would be excluded from the translation altogether, which Prabhupāda never did, afaik.

A couple of years ago I wrote about that and, iirc, the conclusion was that for the benefit of his western disciples Śrīla Prabhupāda specifically mentioned “I do not want beautiful women” there instead of “beautiful poetry”, which was rather irrelevant to the situation. It doesn’t mean that women are not included in śikṣāṣṭaka, they fall under janam, which Prabhupāda translated as “followers” but other meanings include “family”.

In Lord Caitanya’s time kavitāṁ was relatively more important to avoid but as time goes by other attachments take center stage. For us “beautiful women” means any random girl on the street, at the office, on advertising boards, in magazines, on TV or on the internet. We are tempted by them all the time and they present themselves as easily available, attraction to our wives is far easier to manage than dealing with these unexpected and intrusive she-devils.

They aren’t even real most of the time but those who present them to us know very well how to play on our fantasies and spark our desires. By “not real” I mean both that the images are heavily photoshopped and that these women are unattainable. What is real is lusty urges they provoke in us and false hopes they plant in our hearts. “I want that” is a very real feeling and it might not even be about the woman in the ad but whatever her presence adds to the advertised object, be it a car or a house or a boat. The car doesn’t come with the girl, but our desire for it does link them together.

I can’t imagine if five hundred years ago in India they had anything like that at all, so it wasn’t explicitly mentioned in śikṣāṣṭaka. Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, brought it up by stressing other meanings in the translation, just like Lord Caitanya had a hundred ways to translate ātmārāma verse.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to worry about the original sundarīṁ kavitāṁ, it’s probably a trap awaiting us in the future, when we purify our consciousness enough to appreciate the beauty of skillful expressions. Lord Caitanya’s spend almost a decade playing with words, we might not appreciate their attraction now but if it was interesting enough for Him we can assume it would be interesting for us, too.

Even without knowledge of Sanskrit I sometimes catch myself being fascinated and invigorated by clever use of language, I want to hear and read more of it, it’s a natural reaction I can’t really stop, only ignore and redirect my mind elsewhere.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, the dissent. Basically, it repeats the same argument that marriage is a matter for the people and for the States to decide through never ending process of legislation. The SCOTUS has no authority there and the Fourteenth’s Amendment doesn’t provide it either.

The dissent illustrates this point in a variety of ways, from quoting earlier opinions by the majority judge stating that marriage questions should be answered by States to analyzing SCOTUS composition as unrepresentative of the people. It also says that according to this ruling every State had been violating the Constitution for 135 years since passing the Fourteenth Amendment and until SSM was allowed in Massachusetts in 2003. They were all driven by ignorance and bigotry but now the court has seen the error of their ways.

The dissent pokes fun at ruling’s statement that “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” Constitution doesn’t protect freedom of intimacy or spirituality. Freedom of expression is protected but the dissent notes cheekily that in marriage one must voluntaryly restrict this freedom and learn limits of what he can prudently say. Freedom of intimacy is also rather restricted by marriage, limited to monogamous relationship, one person for life.

It’s at this point that “ask the nearest hippie” was written. Hippies have been extinct for decades, the judge must be stuck in some other era, disconnected from today’s reality, or unable to find a fitting example from contemporary society. Everyone picked on this but they chose to ignore the main point – contrary to what the majority ruled, marriage restricts freedom of intimacy, not promotes it.

The dissent then lays into language used by the majority, highlighting its imprecision and vagueness that, in the end, means whatever the majority wants it to mean. It can probably be compared to Lord Caitanya’s complaints about māyāvādīs’ fanciful explanations of otherwise clear cut ślokas. They appear to be learned and complicated but in reality they only cloud the meaning.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain where such explanations go wrong. Not impossible but hard, given how many right and wrong steps we need to take back to find the root of the fallacy. No one is usually prepared to dig that far, and, if they want to contest each and every step, the whole thing quickly snowballs out of control.

Personally, I don’t know what to do in such cases. Most of the time I just sigh and change the subject, it’s hopeless to argue about it, especially if people are stubborn and defensive. I have no idea how someone can preach in these situations, probably only with the help of Lord Caitanya and the Supersoul who can put just the right words in our mouths.

Maybe the solution here is not to untangle the knot of ignorance but to decisively cut it. No arguments can stand against Lord’s mercy, and no arguments can substitute for it either. If people don’t have this mercy then their attraction to sense gratification and their egoism will always prevail. What we need to do is to invoke this mercy on people we preach to, if we fail in attracting it we won’t save ourselves by arguments either.

And this mercy comes only at behest of those who are pure in their devotion and absolute in their surrender. That was the conclusion of our saṅkīrtana devotees when discussing best ways to distribute books and it still stands.

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