The “Women: Masters or Mothers” saga is drawing to a close, at least for me. Earlier this week Bhakti Vikāsa Swāmī put up more stuff related to it on his website – videos of his lectures addressing the criticism of the book, reactions from various devotees, and, finally, his own thoughts on the whole thing. Much of that revolves around his email communication with GBC that was disclosed there previously.
I say the issue has been settled because GBC is not going to reverse their “ban” and the public is not going to change their minds about it. There’s nothing more to add to this discussion.
There’s an argument from the author of that GBC resolution 313 at the bottom that it’s not really a ban because devotees are not prohibited from reading the book and it’s not declared “heretical” the way rittvik or no-jiva fall literature is.
That didn’t go well with the commentariat and with Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī himself and they immediately whipped up a list of questionable books that are allowed to be sold on ISKCON premises while WMM isn’t. Personally, I can’t find any faults with this criticism – if the book might confuse non-devotees then why ban it in Vṛndāvana where this all banning business started, for example? There’s no “imprimatur” system in ISKCON either where everything sold at our shops is automatically assumed to be GBC’s official position. Some pointed out at literature on all kinds of “eastern” subjects written by god knows who available in Bhaktivedanta Manor which clearly doesn’t have GBC’s stamp of approval, and yet it’s not banned while books expounding on quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda is.
It all looks very bad for the resolution. I haven’t seen arguments FOR it yet, maybe because they don’t exist, but, in any case, it turned out into a PR disaster, though our PR department is outward looking, it doesn’t seem to care about our internal reactions so they can say it has nothing to do with them. No one wants to be left holding this bag, it’s bad news.
On the other hand, there are no good reasons to reverse the resolution either because it would expose people’s mistakes, both of the person who authored the resolution and those who voted for it, plus those who didn’t give Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī a chance to present his defense. And all these people are GBCs, our ultimate managing and spiritual authorities – they can’t be ever wrong, nor can they be seen as mistakenly banning book of expanded quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda.
I’ve said it twice now – “expanded quotes” – because that’s how I see it. I haven’t read it but I’ve listened to more than enough lectures by Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī to know his position on the issues covered in the book – he only takes what Śrīla Prabhupāda said on the matter and runs with it, there are no other sources for his ideas and convictions. There are might be OTHER sides to Prabhupāda’s preaching, the ones deemed as more important by those against the book, but that is another issue which doesn’t take anything away from Maharājā’s purity.
I’ve watched his lengthy video reply to objections raised against his book and he is perfectly aware that those other sides exist and they have their own place in our movement. He is not imposing his understanding of varṇāśrama on anyone and against anyone’s will. He sets it as a long term goal requiring many compromises on the way, thus allowing plenty of space for devotees with “other sides” in mind.
So, as I said, GBC can’t be seen as admitting what it is accused of – banning Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own preaching on marriage, strī dharma, raising children and so on. For one thing that’s not what they did – this accusation, even though it looks fair, is too ridiculous to entertain seriously. Equally, GBC can’t be seen as admitting feminism penetrating their ranks. “Fascist feminists” are the words actually used by “defenders” of the book in their submissions to Sampradaya Sun. With this kind of friends Mahārāja doesn’t need any enemies.
However justified the attack on GBC might look to those railing against it GBC can’t give in as a matter of principle. What they probably need is to communicate their correct understanding of the issue. What was formulated in the resolution itself is clearly not enough. GBC isn’t an always switched on body either, if we are awaiting a response from it right now there’s no one minding the shop – the full body won’t meet until next Māyāpura festival and until then no one can speak on behalf of the whole committee. Individual opinions of GBC members expressed now won’t count until they are properly authorized. Mātājī Urmila Prabhu, for example, was appalled at how communications between Mahārāja and GBC played out and she was probably the one who voted for or against the ban, but it’s out of her hands now.
Unless one understands and respects how GBC works he shouldn’t expect any favorable reaction at the moment so asking GBC for this or that only serves one’s own desire to speak. All the articles, including mine, are just noise now.
Even if no one can articulate GBC position at this point I sort of understand their dilemma – ban the book and face the backlash from devotees, let the book be sold and risk alienating the congregation. I’ve said it before – when a GBC member says that “ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised” he is probably not kidding. This should be the case of threading the path very carefully, as advocated by Bhakti Vikāsa Swami himself. We can blame the GBC for letting ISKCON existence to become dependent on such untrustworthy congregation but blaming people won’t change the fact that there are certain things we can’t say in public anymore.
There’s a simple explanation for that – in our fifty year old history we have been training people to advance in their spiritual lives and we hope they have not only became qualified brāhmaṇas but even proper vaiṣṇavas. The society we live in, however, has been progressing in the opposite direction. The gap has become unreachable on so many issues – women’s roles, attitudes to marriage, education, homosexuality, every year they seem to come up with something new and something they accept as axiomatic. From our standpoint it’s all nonsense but this is the society we operate in and we have to be mindful of what we say there. We can’t use uniform language all across ISKCON strata. What we say among the best of our devotees should be different from what we say on the streets, and now it should be different from what we say to our congregation, too. The way ISKCON and the rest of the world are going it’s simply unavoidable.
I think if GBC explained it this way most of the devotees would understand the necessity of the “ban”. And it’s still not a “ban” in a full sense of the word – whoever wants the book can easily buy it online, Kindle edition cost less than half the paperback, so not having it on display at ISKCON stores isn’t that big of an obstacle. Perhaps it’s a challenge to those who promote Mahārāja’s ideas to personally seek and approach people who would appreciate this kind of talk and who are ready to read this book. I don’t think there would be anything wrong with that and it’s not prohibited by the GBC resolution either. This is what they will probably do anyway.
Arguing any further about the resolution is not going to improve anything, imo, and therefore I think these are my last words on the matter.