A few days ago I mentioned minutes of GBC annual meetings and how they ended with a section banning Bhakti Vikāśa’s Svāmī’s book “Women: Masters or Mothers”. This topic somehow got stuck in my head and I can’t let it go. Everyday I check if there are reactions to it but so far there’s nothing. Mahārāja himself is traveling in India at the moment, judging by the schedule on his website, so there’s no reaction from him either.
I’ve tried to submit a comment on Dandavats but it’s “awaiting moderation” for more than a day now. Since Dandavats is run on wordpress platform now they must have been notified of all new comments submitted and simply decided to ignore it. It’s possible that mine isn’t the only one suspended in this limbo and if other comments content looks like it could lead to a heated discussion it’s probably better to ignore them all rather than approve some of them selectively and risk even bigger backlash.
I don’t know what the reaction of Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī’s disciples and supporters is. They probably have far more questions to GBC than I do, plus we also have a militant wing in our movement that would shred to pieces anyone who is seen as deviating from the “pure path”, and if they decided to comment on that article then we’d have a war on our hands. Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī complained about Dandavats editorial policies a long time ago and the good thing that could have come out of it is that his followers and disciples decided not to get involved with Dandavats ever again. They post their “appreciations” for the book as well crticism of that NA GBC letter on Sampradaya Sun now, not on Dandavats. It spares us a comment battle but exposes deeper underlying issues of mistrust, too.
First of all, no matter how much respect I have for Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī, GBC is still our ultimate authority. Whatever I think is right or wrong is inconsequential because I’m just a tiny conditioned soul but GBC, even if they make mistakes, are controlled by the Lord Himself. Whatever they decide must be accepted regardless of our opinions. That is what surrender means – giving up our own power of discrimination when our authorities make clear decisions. Most of the time we are left alone so we can practice our own intelligence freely but when it comes to direct contradiction with Kṛṣṇa empowered authorities our own exercises must stop.
I know it’s a very unpopular position these days and most people, including devotees, would say that you must be right and GBC/guru/temple president must be wrong and therefore they should be rejected. People would say that by acting against dharma these authorities disqualify themselves and Kṛṣṇa no longer speaks through them.
The assumption in all these situation is that we have more knowledge than out authorities and the possibility that we might not see the whole picture is purged from our minds. It becomes my way or highway, and GBC is told to take a hike. Well, GBC will cease to be authorized by Kṛṣṇa when they cease to be GBC, ditto for guru and temple presidents. If Kṛṣṇa keeps then in that position means that they are still doing their jobs and it’s acceptable to the Lord. Who are we to argue?
There are cases, however, when our authorities are clearly wrong, like that infamous story of feeding deities fish in New York in the seventies. Afaik, it was canned spaghetti sauce that contained oysters as one of the ingredients but it was still clearly wrong and Prabhupāda chastised devotees for not exercising their judgement. There are different ways we can deal with cases like that and they all require certain maturity and, most importantly, certain level of intelligence – much above the ability to simply spot the wrong thing.
In some cases it could be Lord’s līlā to teach all of us valuable lessons – it’s what the New York incident looks like now, forty plus years later. In other cases one might ignore executing wrongful orders and risk punishment from the authorities instead of openly denying them. If we are afraid of what might happen to us it shows that our own bhakti is immature and so we shouldn’t trust our own judgment anyway – it would always be biased towards our own safety. Each situation requires its own approach but bottom line should be this – we all must have explicit faith that by surrendering to Kṛṣṇa, and that means His authorized representatives as well, everything will work out alright. Kṛṣṇa is always in control, at every step of our lives, and so we should accept His power rather than declare that on this one occasios Kṛṣṇa went to sleep and we are on our own, and we have better ideas how to run things.
In this particular case GBC banned selling the book on ISKCON premises and ISKCON supported programs. It did not ban buying, reading it, holding the same views or expressing them in public. It might seem like an oversight and not a well thought out policy covering all potential problems but if, at the end of the day, it works as intended than it should be judged as successful and appropriate.
If GBC’s main concern here is “polarization and alienation of many devotees” then this particular group should be pacified by the ban. One could say that supporters of Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī might become alienated themselves but I, personally, think they can handle it and will never leave the shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda, they can take one for the team, so to speak.
If we are concerned that views expressed in this book do not represent those of Śrīla Prabhupāda then it would make us examine them even more closely. Apparently, Mahārāja himself said that the book contains “many generalizations and personal views” and so it becomes our duty to separate those from practical solutions and Prabhupāda’s intent. We should know when Mahārāja speaks for himself and for his given situation and not for the whole of ISKCON.
Another concern could be a contradiction in our preaching efforts – because, as GBC rightly pointed out, some of the practices advocated in the book are illegal in most parts of the world. There are thousands of devotees who try to actually implement Prabhupāda’s teachings and they must cooperate with authorities. We cannot be seen as cooperating and advocating what authorities consider child labor, child abuse, or statutory rape at the same time, no one will trust us. That’s an important consideration – the book must not undermine preaching efforts of thousands of others.
We do not need to sell this book on ISKCON premises to know that it’s right and that’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda ultimately wanted, and the gesture would seem as a step in the right direction by those who can create serious obstacles for our society. Potential child abuse is too serious a matter, we’ve learned it a hard way already.
In a big scheme of things this one book is just a small cog in a huge preaching machine, we can’t let it grind the entire mission to a halt or undermine our own service, too. We can’t entertain thoughts of rejecting GBC or leaving ISKCON just because of it. People usually leave because we ALLOWED child abuse, not because GBC banned advocating it.
The book has been banned, let’s get over it and move on, there’s much bigger fish to fry.