The situation with addressing female devotees as Prabhu or Mātājī is a complicated one and I have another source in mind so I’ll get to it later, when I’m done with the rest of NA GBC letter. Now I’m going through the longest stretch of points, counting up to 18 before resetting back to 1 for no rhyme or reason.
A lot of these objections are somewhat pointless and it’s hard to talk about them without the actual book at hand. We are accustomed to defeating the opposing point of view very easily, with modifiers like “even if” to underline how insanely absurd the opposition is, but it’s not always the case and this is perhaps the time to admit that there might be some substance to the allegations.
Without the book to clarify the context these points can be stretched both ways, mind you. They could be stretched in defense of the author and they could be stretched to make the book look truly ridiculous, which what the letter does. Speaking for the book and against the letter I’m tempted to stretch it into my preferred direction but I admit that the opposite is perfectly possible, too. In any case, my reaction is mostly “so what?” Let’s see what I mean. At #3 we have this:
“Whereas on page 68, sri dharma is mentioned as integral to ISKCON; (count the times it was mentioned by Srila Prabhupda as integral to ISKCOIN preaching and expansion);”
I believe they meant “stri” dharma, not “sri” dharma, and it’s ISKCON, not ISKCOIN, but another complaint about bad proof-reading won’t prove anything anymore. More interesting is the challenge to count how many times stri dharma was mentioned as integral to ISKCON.
In the entire body of Prabhupāda’s work – books, lectures, letters, conversations etc, the word “integral” appears only a dozen times plus a couple more when it was used by someone else – Google search. Obviously, Bhakti Vikāsa Svami didn’t mean that Śrīla Prabhupāda literally said “strī dharma is integral to ISKCON” but if we are talking about women’s qualities and duties then they are integral to varṇāśrama which is integral to the success of our mission. Of course if one thinks that varṇāśrama is not nearly as important as preaching then the objection is valid – Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t start ISKCON to teach women how to treat their husbands.
OTOH, Prabhupāda didn’t disagree with Arjuna either when Arjuna warned Kṛṣṇa about maintaining proper strī dharma in the first chapter of Bhagavad Gīta (BG 1.40). In fact, here is what Prabhupāda had to say in the purport to that verse:
- Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. The varṇāśrama religion’s principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community. Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood…
It’s one of the first positive things we learn from the Gītā, before Kṛṣṇa gets to talk about the soul, so how can one say that chastity and faithfulness of women are not integral to spiritual progress of our community? They absolutely are and it’s certainly not the only time Prabhupāda asserted this.
This is an example how an objection can be stretched both ways depending on which side one wants to argue for – no, Prabhupāda never said strī dharma is integral to ISKCON, but yes, he said what means basically the same. What are we arguing about? It’s pointless. Next we have:
“4. Whereas on page 71 the latest line of thought (sic, propounded by Devaki dasi and others, presumably some on the GBC body who has signed their names to her separate from ISKCON organization) is expounded wherein the early teaching of Srila Prabhupada are dismissed as only intended for time, place, circumstance, and by now we should moved on;”
Teaching are dismissed? Should moved on? Has anybody even tried to proofread this before sending it to all North American temples? I miss tons of my own mistakes but this letter is beyond redemption, grammar wise.
I don’t know what organization is mentioned here and whether it’s really separate from ISKCON or whether there’s something nefarious going on there so I can’t comment on the content of this argument. I believe if it was a proper trial it would be ruled inadmissible and ordered stricken from the record. The second part, however, is interesting and it again can be interpreted both ways.
On one hand we can never dismiss any teachings by Śrīla Prabhupāda, not earlier nor the later ones, and whatever final position we take we should always keep in mind that at times Prabhupāda perhaps taught differently. If he addressed his female disciples as “Prabhu” we can’t strike it from the record, for example. Shame on Bhakti Vikāsa Svami? Not so fast.
First of all, I don’t believe that Bhakti Vikāsa Mahārāja really dismissed early teachings by Prabhupāda. He could have given them relatively less weight than to the later ones or the ones given in our books, which is the usually approach taken by GBC, too. Secondly, the early days of our movement WERE special, a sort of an emergency, and Prabhupāda taught us that in emergencies ordinary rules do not apply – it’s time for āpad-dharma. See the purport to SB 1.17.16, which, again, was one of the first books available to our devotees – even before Bhagavad Gītā:
- ..sva-dharma might be violated in cases of emergency, if one is forced by circumstances, but they cannot be violated in ordinary times.
There’s more in that purport on this topic, even excusing meat eating if absolutely necessary. I think everyone would agree that the first days of our movement required special rules to keep all our ex-hippies on board. I can never forget reading how a devotee was smoking and keeping an ashtray on the head of the Jagannātha deity he was carving in preparation for our first Ratha Yātrā. This episode is not in the current version of Līlāmṛita, though, but I swear I didn’t make it up, even though the details in my head might be hazy. The point is – we can’t seriously expect our society use the same rules that applied in 1967. In fact – ordinary rules “cannot be violated in ordinary times”. Bhakti Vikāsa Svami is right about this.
So, once again – this argument is pointless. It can be turned in any way you want and it doesn’t prove anything. Even if Mahārāja is wrong it’s not a reason to ban his book or to declare that his conclusions are contrary to the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda as the letter tries to prove.
“5. Whereas on page 75 we are informed that educated person, esp women, are more likely to engage in infidelity;”
It only sounds outrageous but also happens to be true – they don’t learn chastity and monogamy in modern schools and colleges. Anyone who went through that system is conditioned to have multiple sex partners in his life, who would argue with that? Wikipedia’s article on infidelity also mentions positive correlation with education several times. Why is this even being argued?
Is this dismissive one liner a standard response to the accusation that feminism breeds adultery? I admit it’s rather effective – it doesn’t acknowledge the allegation but appeals to strong emotional “it can’t be true” response in the reader. When it’s just one out of fifty objections one is likely to skip thinking and get to the next point before realizing that he’d been played.
At this stage I’m afraid of two things – that I will project arguments raised in this letter on someone else who I might have a discussion with in the future, that I will develop a strong bias and it won’t be fair to would be opponents. Secondly, I’m afraid that the rest of the eighteen point list shows the same tactic – quick one liners eliciting OMG reactions without giving the reader the opportunity to understand what exactly was found objectionable. I’ll try to deal with those tomorrow.