Still on the recent North American GBC letter. It’s been almost two weeks and there’s silence on the Sun itself as if people either don’t know what to say or don’t think it’s important. Maybe it isn’t but I think it’s a fascinating case study into the nature of our debates.
At this point I’ve already made my mind that this letter is a sloppy piece of work which does not deserve to be associated with GBC. There are grammatical errors, sentences with unclear meaning, inconsistent formatting, contrasting styles of the presentation, texting like abbreviations, absurd numbering, sample correspondence without an actual sample, and it’s unsigned.
There are two ways for me to move forward here – continue addressing objections point by point or look at the bigger picture. Both are attractive propositions but I’ll start with the second.
In the era of information overload we develop a skill to weed out data before analyzing it. One look at the author, a subject of an email, a name of the blog, a highlighted paragraph etc. and we know whether to continue reading or it will be a waste of time. We know that if we step into author’s shoes and look at the issue from his perspective then his writing would make sense. North Korean proclamations make sense to North Koreans, Trump’s bold promises make sense to Trump’s supporters, Bernie Sanders’ promises make sense to Bernie’s followers etc etc. We know it’s possible to cherry pick facts and construct a seemingly convincing argument for almost anything under the sun and we don’t have time for deconstruction, we just shrug our shoulders and move on.
“We are not like them,” we say to ourselves, “our paths diverged a long time ago on much deeper issues and so we are not going to accept anything they say or waste our time trying to untangle their web of untruths.” It’s a defensive mechanism for us and we absolutely need to deploy it to keep our sanity.
So, what makes the author of this letter say things that are said there? If we know where the author is coming from we can agree to accept it, agree to possibly consider it, dismiss the letter completely, or use is as a material to deride the opposition. The actual content doesn’t matter – we can twist it to suit our decision on how to deal with it in general. That decision precedes our response and we should be always aware of it – we should know how our own mind works to learn to control it and step beyond the mental platform.
In this case there are several possible explanations – the author is sober and unbiased, the author is driven by the pain of his/her own ego, the author relies on personal experiences which might differ from my understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and so on. I’d go with the most obvious one – it’s a knee jerk reaction to being accused of feminism.
Take the issue with the cover, for example. The book contrasts to opposite choices for modern women. On one hand they know they are physically built for procreation and motherhood, on the other they want to build their own lives and their own careers, too. I suspect every single woman in the world is torn between these two choices and everyone one of them eventually settles on some kind of balance. No woman is capable of completely abandoning hope of becoming a mother and no woman can completely abandon her own aspirations either. The contrast should help them find the right balance in their own lives, very few would identify themselves one hundred percent with either of the options, not even disciples of Bhakti Vikāsa Svami, I suspect.
Why would any of them be offended by these two contrasting options? Only if one happens to see herself as a “master”, as the target of the criticism, as an archetypal feminist. If that’s the case then the portrayal of a “master” as a female soldier brandishing a gun would be unjust and therefore offensive because vast majority of feminists are not like that at all. Otherwise a woman would think “it’s not me and so I don’t care how that master is made to look”.
The declaration that there’s no personal agenda behind this letter is telling, too. On one hand it’s nice that the need to be free from bias is acknowledged and the effort was probably made but since it’s a GBC letter it shouldn’t be written by a person widely acknowledged as the target of the book’s criticism. No effort is going to be enough to dispel the suspicion that it’s just a bruised ego talking and even if one does step up to defend himself he or she shouldn’t wield a power of the GBC while doing so.
As it stands now it looks as if the author could get her hands on GBC letterheads but Bhakti Vikāsa Svami couldn’t, so she wins. Also Mahārāja should be given the opportunity to defend his book, too, and respond to accusations against him point by point if he thinks they are unfair. That didn’t happen and it once again points out to a bruised ego taking its revenge. To me it does nothing but strengthen the stereotype that women are generally less intelligent. Less intelligent in a sense they are not able to control their emotions as well as men.
There’s another possible source behind this letter – the author’s personal experience and understanding of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is very different from Mahārāja’s. Mātājī Mālati and her close friends are from the very first generation of Prabhupāda’s disciples, from the days when he wasn’t even Prabhupāda. They were very close to him personally and they learned from him before there were books to read from. I guess they think that those were the best years of their lives and they naturally feel that Prabhupāda’s teachings as they were presented then should be a golden standard for modern ISKCON, too. For them Prabhupāda was first, books came second.
For us, and to a degree for Bhakti Vikāsa Svami, too, books come first because personal association was either scarce or impossible. Ideally, there should be no difference between what Prabhupāda taught in 1967-1968 and what he later wrote in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but in practice differences are there, especially regarding position of women in our movement and Vedic society in general. There’s no way he was going to say to his female disciples that they had only half the brains, in fact he said just the opposite, but according to Bhāgavatam women ARE called less intelligent.
In the early days of our movement women were as powerful preachers as men and were equal to men in all respects, they got pushed back only in the seventies with the rise of male sannyāsīs and when visiting India, too. When that happened Śrīla Prabhupāda did stand on their side against aggressive male disciples and he did make it known that it’s Indian customs that needed to be respected, not that he loved his female disciples any less when in India.
Female devotees who grew up in those times were not feminist, it would be a spurious accusation and I don’t think Bhakti Vikāsa Svami ever made it but they do happen to lead “feminist” movement in ISKCON now and they take it very personally. Perhaps the problem lies in this confusion between what is actually being attacked as feminism and these devotees’ personal experiences of Śrīla Prabhupāda. They think that all they do now comes from Prabhupāda but it’s not how it’s seen to outsiders – see the examples of “wounded ego” behavior above.
Take that reference to numerous “OMG” statements in the book – why would there be any “OMG” reactions to the book at all? So far all Mahārāja’s statements are supported by quotes from Prabhupāda and there are plenty of devotees all around the world who fully agree with them. The most probable reason for “OMG” here is that one got used to hanging out with a closed community of friends, purposely filtering out all opposing views and needing that community’s emotional support when one eventually gets challenged. Who else is this “OMG” going to impress? Is it for the book’s author? Nope. Is it for the casual reader? Nope, it’s a cry for support and attention from his/her own circle, nothing else. I would also add that no man would ever use “OMG” in his writing unless in jest, so another stereotype is confirmed and it has nothing to do with Prabhupāda.
Maybe there are other explanations why there’s such a strong reaction with a demand to ban the book and call Mahārāja practically a deviant but nothing comes to my mind so far, sorry.