Before resuming commentary on Vedic Cosmology I just want to acknowledge the developments with the ban of another book – “Women: Masters or Mothers”.
Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī recently posted an “article” on his site, which is just e-mail correspondence between him and the GBC with a cover paragraph on the front page (but not the article itself) promising to comment on this correspondence in a few days.
I don’t think there’s a need to comment on those e-mails, though. GBC had made a decision and they were not going to backtrack even if Mahārāja’s requests were reasonable. The discussion he wanted should have happened before GBC meetings and we can’t go back in time and undo it. They were all very nice to each other, as vaiṣṇavas should be, but it was an ultimatum and GBC carried it through, there was never going to be any other outcome.
There are some comments under that article but what can be done here? We all have to abide by GBC resolutions and criticizing them is not going to do any good to anyone. This ship has sailed. There could be another round of discussions about this book and topics raised there but it all depends on Mahārāja’s reaction now and whether he’d be able to persuade the GBC to revisit this topic. It won’t bring the book back but we do need to know what part of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings GBC is going to put on a back burner and why. And for how long, and whether it will be worldwide or geographically restricted, and how are they going to justify it. It’s not a can of worms yet but there plenty of questions there.
On that matter, during the debate on female dīkṣā guru there was a moment when Indian GBC or whatever body is responsible there said that there were not going to accept it and so ISKCON could potentially have two “siddhāntas” – one for the west and one for India and any other place that doesn’t feel like promoting feminism. This is, basically, the same issue here – from the e-mail correspondence we learned that one of the GBCs said that if the book was allowed to be sold at ISKCON temples and be seen as an official position then “ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised”.
I’m pretty sure it was not an exaggeration – if they talked about the UK or Sweden, for example. Sad to say, but there are plenty of places in the world where telling women to accept their varṇāśrama prescribed duties will be severely sanctioned by the people. Our preachers used to mind their language in Muslim countries but now we can’t freely preach in supposedly liberal West. Or can we?
In Islamic countries we could suffer physical harm, either from the people or from the authorities. There’s no such danger in the West, of course, so why is it that we can’t repeat what Prabhupāda said about varṇāśrama and women’s role in it? Because we lose our congregation and our income? Is it really a solid reason? I guess it is if you invested years and decades into building this rapport but we shouldn’t compromise our philosophy either. Now it’s too late, I guess, we are too dependent on the mercy of feminists, vegans, PETA activists and whoever else tells us to be good boys and conform. I guess it’s inevitable and once you step on this path and want to be liked there’s no turning back, it sucks you in like quicksand. Our philosophy now is shaped not by our ācāryas but by local Hindus and all other kinds of “well-wishers”.
On the other hand, chanting is the yuga dharma, not varṇāśrama. If it’s the choice between the two we got to choose people chanting the holy name. Of course that has to be carefully judged whether they really come to chant or just for the food. Prabhupāda never encouraged freeloaders and if people are not going to respect our philosophy then we shouldn’t worry about them dropping out.
Purity is the force, that principle has never been outlawed. Without purity we can’t preach, it just won’t happen, and if we want to preach we have to make sacrifices and stay pure. If we are not going to make sacrifices because people won’t like what we have to say then our preaching will have no potency behind it.
Another reason could be application of “utility is the principle” rule to justify hiding parts of our teachings from general public. Śrīla Prabhupāda had never had kind words to say about Ramakrishna, for example, but he would severely chastise devotees who’d antagonize Ramakrishna’s followers helping our movement, too. It was not for the sake of good relationships, though, but for the sake of promoting our mission. How exactly these various do-gooders help us now? I’m not sure.
Of course it’s up to the local management to decide and I don’t know what’s going on at Bhaktivedanta Manor but England is not known as a hot preaching area in our society. They get tons of Hindus, they conduct marriages, they’ve become accepted in the larger society, but they’ve got nothing memorable to show in terms of preaching. They are not known for book distribution or for making new devotees. Taxing my memory I think of several cases where devotees were preaching all alone, sitting there, waiting for someone to take interest in them, and even conducting one man harināmas. Those memories do not project the image of success.
From that perspective – ISKCON has nothing to lose in those countries but our own comfortable lives and sources of income.
Taking a clue form another era – it’s deja-vu all over again. Back in Gauḍiyā Maṭha days their preaching program in the UK failed because devotees tried to fit in and learned from the Britishers how to conduct themselves – how to wear suits, how to use forks and knives, but, most importantly, how to be “gentlemen”. It’s a very very important aspect of relationships – they came not as teachers but as students and even if they learned their lessons well they were not going to be taken seriously. Ever. All that was good in them was seen as being taught by British and so British were not going to take lessons from these upstarts who didn’t know their cutlery just a few months ago.
The same thing is happening now, too, except this time they allow us our cultural idiosyncrasy, how merciful of them, but they still tell us what to say and how to behave to be accepted. We are still pupils and not teachers. They teach us how to treat our women, they teach us hot to treat our authorities, they teach us not to drink milk, they teach us to take our vitamins, they teach us how to be politically correct – they are not going to take any lessons back, certainly not on these topics.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success is attributed to him standing his ground and not making any compromises – he came to the West to teach, not to learn. Right now, in some parts of the world, we are doing the opposite. It’s not all black and white, though, because his books are still there, the four regs are still there, and chanting is still there. Societal roles are important but not THAT important and so ISKCON is not going to fall apart just because we do not talk about varṇāśrama. It’s not what Prabhupāda would have wanted but it is what it is, our devotees are doing their best. We can’t blame them for not being pure paramahaṁsas. The fate of this movement is in Lord Caitanya’s hands, not ours and not theirs, so we should be careful with passing blame.