Still on the NA GBC letter and I think it’s time to address actual objections to HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svami’s Women: Masters or Mothers. It’s not the letter so much that is interesting but that these objections are typical and they crop up in every discussion on the subject of womanhood and its perception in ISKCON so it won’t be a waste of time and I hope I’m not driven by the desire to glee at someone’s misery.
It just occurred to me that the strange numbering in that letter is probably because someone thought it would be a good idea to apply “numbered list” format to every page in a Word document without thinking that these little digits in front of each paragraph are supposed to mean something and are not there for decoration or to make the paper look more professional than it really is. Anyway, it looks like last time I got to the bottom of some unnumbered page and so I’ll continue from there.
The fifth number 1 switches from third person used earlier to the first person “I” and says:
“1. From here onward, I will simply indicate the page number and a gist of the statements to save typing time:”
If there was any logic to it the next paragraph should start with another “1.” but it goes to “2.” instead. Call me a sexist all you want but this letter looks like it was composed by a woman. They just can’t help themselves and make relatively more silly errors like that and would probably defend themselves if it was pointed out.
At number 2 the complaint is that some official GBC page does not mention varṇāśrama. The link is given but the address next to it is messed up – it’s “htt;:/gbc.iskcon.org/” instead of http:// and it’s a landing page anyway. If you search the site varṇāśrama does come up several times, you just have to try different spellings. It’s hard to say what is alleged in the book exactly but the point is that the author should have contacted GBC itself rather than put it in the book. Why?
Absence of varṇāśrama on our official site is being used as an example of relatively less importance being given to this topic. Adding it on one page will not change this fact but only hide it from view. Last time GBC needed an official resolution issued at the annual meeting to oblige our temples to put Śrīla Prabhupāda’s name on their sites so going through the official channel (to mask the real problem) to add varṇāśrama was probably not an obvious choice for Bhakti Vikāsa Svami and I don’t see how it could be his fault – mostly because GBC itself forgot to put it there, he just pointed out the omission.
Next we have another number 1:
“1. Whereas on page 40 he applauds what he admits is technically child labor (kids as young as eight years avoiding education beyond what is learned from working with their family businness;”
On this I wish I had a book to see the exact wording but we can guess what it says from the comment – the part that starts with opening parenthesis and ends with a semicolon instead of a closing one. “Business” is misspelled, too, which should have come up in a Word document.
I suppose Mahārāja was talking about usefulness of modern education and contrasting it with traditional Vedic culture. There’s an argument to be made that children in rural families are taught things that take them away from their families and drive them to the cities where they are expected to make careers in modern occupations. As a result no one is left to work on the farms and farmers have to manage with less manpower but more innovations and fertilizers. Instead of living off the land and feeding the rest of the society they’ve become totally dependent on machinery and chemicals, and now on patented seeds as well. It does not help in promoting agriculture based varṇāśrama at all and if we tried to build such a society there would be no need to teach rural kids physics, mathematics, or foreign languages for that matter.
Of course in the modern society such a proposition would be a blasphemy but from Kṛṣṇa consciousness point of view that’s what Prabhupāda wanted, too. I bet the book has supporting quotes from Prabhupāda on what should be taught in our gurukulas. Literally the first google result gave me this page which among other things prescribes the following (emphasis is mine):
All the children should learn to read and write very nicely, and a little mathematics, so that they will be able to read our books. Cooking, sewing, things like that do not require schooling, they are learned simply by association. There is no question of academic education for either boys or girls–simply a little mathematics and being able to read and write well, that’s all, no universities. Their higher education they will get from our books, and other things they will get from experience, like preaching, SKP, etc.
What actually provoked the strong response in the letter was the idea that young children should help with their family business and it’s technically a child labor. That’s a very modern take on children’s rights that does not have support in our books. This “child labor” exists in all traditional societies, not just in India, and only western social justice warriors consider it an issue. Yes, when Adidas factories in Pakistan employ children to stitch footballs for pennies it IS child labor but when kids are helping parents on their farms it isn’t. By modern standards Kṛṣṇa Himself would be considered a victim, too – He had to go into the forest unsupervised and stay out whole day herding livestock instead of going to school and learning algebra. Just imagine what changes proponents of such views would institute in Vṛndāvana when they get there.
“2. Whereas on page he the sole controversy in ISKCON preaching is boiled down to VDG & calling Vaishnavi’s prabhu, as was done early on by the instruction of Srila Prabhupada (no comment required);”
Part of the sentence is missing here and “vaishnavi’s” does not need an apostrophe. VDG is “vaiṣṇavī dīkṣa guru” and I’d be surprised if Bhakti Vikāsa Svami called it a sole controversy in ISKCON preaching but even if he did there’s nothing wrong with him having this opinion. As for Prabhupāda instructing devotees address women as “prabhu” there are rather clear instructions that they should be addressed as “mātājī” and there’s a GBC resolution calling for Śāstric Advisory Committee for their opinion. The letter says that no comment is needed but then we have SAC working on it for nearly two years now. I think this issue needs to be addressed separately so I’ll stop here for now and will continue tomorrow.