I want to continue with the recent North American GBC letter to all temples in their zone regarding HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svami’s book Women: Masters or Mothers. There are about half a hundred objections raised in that letter but before I dive right in a few words must be said to set the right state of mind.
Typically, when seeing such a controversial issue one would take a side, defend it, and demonize the opposition. We can’t do so if we want to remain vaiṣṇavas, however. We absolutely must see both sides as having a legitimate argument and we should never blame devotees even if we happen to disagree with them.
How can the opposing argument be legitimate if it’s so clearly wrong? Good question, but I’m talking in an absolute sense – even if it’s material energy, ie māyā talking, it would still do so under the direction of the Lord. How can we say it’s illegitimate? In yet another sense nothing happens without a reason, there’s a law of karma for that, so whatever it is that people are saying that appears downright stupid to us cannot possibly be said in any other way from those people point of view and their experience because they do not make things up out of thin air – the law of karma wouldn’t allow it.
If the opposing side happen to be devotees then we should immediately realize that every aspect of their lives is directly controlled by the Lord for their ultimate benefit and the Lord does not forget us either – they are saying things for our ultimate benefit, too. We should always keep this in mind and never react in a disparaging and disrespectful way.
Above the immediate squabble one of our more important goals is to try and see Lord’s hand in every aspect of His creation, even in the movements of our sworn enemies, what to speak of vaiṣṇavas who wish us all only Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. It’s easy to forget this goal in the heat of the battle but it’s the only way to seeing every living entity equally and, more importantly, to being seen as everybody’s friend. If they see us as enemies it means we are doing something wrong and our consciousness is contaminated. I’m not the one to teach purity, however, but every time I face opposition I think it’s my failure to be Lord Caitanya’s servant because no living entity can resist His mercy when it’s presented properly.
Let’s look at the objections, however. At number three there’s a poignant observation that appreciation in support of the book was given by women in professional positions, not cooks and cleaners as advocated in the book itself. I haven’t read it but I seriously doubt that it actually demands all female devotees to abandon their professional lives. I’d expect it to discourage devotees from starting careers and seeking jobs and training when they have none, which was Prabhupāda’s position in a lot of cases, but forcing people back to cooking and cleaning is not going to work no matter how many books are written about it. Conversely, if all the words of support come from cooks and cleaners then devotees in professional positions won’t take them seriously – hearing from their peers should carry a lot more weight instead. So one could raise an objection here no matter what kind of support is offered.
At number four we have “OMG” moment that I couldn’t resist and chose as a post title. You can’t seriously use “OMG” in official GBC papers where nearly every paragraph starts with “whereas”. It’s just another symptom that we are looking at an opinion influenced by modern culture rather than by grave deliberation of the words of our ācāryas. The full quote is this:
“While there are numerous “OMG” statements in the book, I will only present those that are can cause harmful to the movement and it’s members as well as misguiding innocent readers by presenting a questionable image of Srila Prabhupada as an elderly irrelevant Indian from another century;”
“I will only present those that are can cause harmful..”? Is this letter a joke? Is it a deliberate forgery? Was it typed by a teenager on his/her phone? Are there any emoticons printed there as well?
The ending of that paragraph is unexpected, too – it’s usually the “modernists” in our movement who dismiss some of Prabhupāda’s statements as products of his age and the society he grew up in. Here it’s our “conservative” devotee who is accused of the same instead. Quite often it’s a strategy employed by skillful internet trolls – accuse your opponents of what you are guilty of yourself so that they can’t use the same attack against you anymore. I don’t think there’s particular malice behind it but it’s a natural defensive mechanism that comes to people without much thinking. It might look like an attack but it’s still defensive in nature and it betrays what they themselves perceive as their own weak points. Maybe this is not the case here but it’s a good thing that the writer of this letter realizes that we can’t look at Prabhupāda as a generic Indian teaching us Indian things. At least on that we all agree.
Point five reads as follows:
“5. Whereas beginning on page 15 it is stated:
“But a major objective of Srila Prabhupada’s misson was to, as far as possible, reestablish pristine Vedic culture-including early marriage), polygamy and a non-egalitarian social system. (*which he later establishes as age five years for female children);”
Why is there an asterisk at the end of the paragraph? Perhaps it’s the end of the printed page and that would explain why counting resumes from number one instead of going to six. I also don’t understand what is the objection here. What’s wrong with stating that Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to re-establish , as far as possible, a pristine Vedic culture? Is it the age of eligibility for early marriage? The quoted sentence does not establish it until “later”, so why quote it here? There are numerous references in Prabhupāda’s books in defense of early marriage itself, this part is indisputable. Is it an objection for the sake of objection?
Next we have:
“1. Whereas it is cavalierly stated on page 27 that “And women should become wives before becoming mothers—not the other way around.” No dispute, but no mention that men should also follow the same rule and become husbands before becoming fathers;”
Italics preserved. This again looks like an email back and forth with quotes and comments rather than official GBC announcement. The objection about men being held to a different standard is what is known as “whataboutism”, a quite common fallacy. The book is not about male devotees and their choices in life but about women and so changing the subject and demanding response to some other issue is unwarranted. It is also indisputable fact that the subject of chastity is never brought up in relation to men in our literature. Maybe it’s not fair but it’s a fact. We also have plenty of Vedic characters fathering children out of wedlock – that’s how we got Vyāsadeva, for example.
Next we have a disagreement over why exactly Śrīla Prabhupāda brought devotees to India. On one hand the book says that it was to introduce western devotees to a culture where Kṛṣṇa consciousness can grow naturally, on the other there’s a reference to an aerogram that it was to begin a “World Sankirtan Party”. Why can’t it be both? I don’t know what an aerogram is but the first part is indisputable – no one can count how many times Prabhupāda taught us about superiority of traditional Indian culture for the cultivation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Next we have some unclear story about Mātājī Yamunā. The details are not given, I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment. It is quite possible that in private Śrīla Prabhupāda was not as strict about rules who should sit where but in public – and they mention Kumba Mela, he didn’t want his female disciples to appear uncultured and sit in front of male devotees or wherever it was that Yamunā was sitting.
Last point on the page (the numbering reverts to one again) is this:
“4. Whereas on page 31, he says “Muslim women still cover their head (if not their whole body)in public, which some people think is inhumanly restrictive; but a chaste women appreciates this as being cultured and dignified (in other words, implying covered heads by a married devotee lady are not up to the standard of chastity represented by Muslims);”
Here there are no italics to separate the comment so formatting is different from the one used earlier – another example of sloppiness. And I don’t understand the objection either – Muslims do have high standards of chastity, it’s indisputable, too. I don’t think our western devotees with their multiple marriages and partnerships would object, we might only be marginally better than fellow westerners and that’s all. In any case, you can’t ban a book because it implied there’s a higher level of chastity in Islam. I think one could find quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda himself expressing similar appreciation, probably during his visits to Iran or from his comments on covering heads. There’s a school of thought that says Indians started covering their heads and valuing chastity after being occupied by Muslims but before that they didn’t bother not only to cover heads but breasts as well. It’s probably nonsense but it does say something about Islamic standards of chastity.
I’ll stop here and continue tomorrow.
PS. I might make many mistakes and appear sloppy myself but my posts here are not official GBC orders so I spend only minimum time on proofreading, which ideally should be done by another person and not by the author himself. I don’t have and I don’t need that luxury, but we all should expect higher standards from official GBC communications.