Mayapur Miffs

With annual GBC meetings upon us, all the big guns are converging on Mayapur. Will GBC cave in to Indian RGB demand to withdraw FDG resolution? What are they going to do? How will the conflict be resolved? Will there be any actual female gurus approved and will they conduct initiations right there and then? There might be come other serious issues discussed as well but regional appointments reshuffles do not excite devotees nearly as much.

This week Mayapur authorities arranged for two consecutive Bhagavatam classes to be given by two most visible figures in pro- and anti-FDG camps. First was Anuttama Prabhu, ISKCON Minister of Communications, who tirelessly campaigned for FDG adoption and even rushed to IRGB meetings to make his case before Indians only to see IRGB to accept anti-FDG resolution. Next up was Basu Ghosh Prabhu, temple president in Baroda and either the IRGB chairman or some other big title like that. How did this battle turn out? Not well, in my not so humble opinion.

They were coming from the opposite corners but I was surprised how much they were actually alike. Both didn’t prepare for the class and quickly changed the topic from Bhagavatam text to their favorite subjects. Both didn’t know how to recite their verses, which is especially disappointing for Basu Ghosh Prabhu, who promotes learning Sanskrit on every occasion. Both quickly turned to promoting their stance on FDG and both used scare tactics to present themselves as the only potential saviors. Both avoided mentioning FDG directly, even it was clearly on both of their minds. Both relied on unnamed sources and hearsay in support of their stances. Both argued that we, the devotees, are not transcendental in our behavior and so have to learn a thing or two about culture first. Both appealed to Srila Prabhupada’s authority to make their cases. Both relied on some historical precedents. The only difference was in “which culture” and in “what scares you the most”.

For Anuttama Prabhu, what I liked most was that he didn’t cite Christian sources once during the class. At the same stage last year – public lectures before GBC meetings, he and then his wife talked about Mother Teresa, Saint Francis and quoted some truly humble Christian girl. It’s all nice but we have our own tradition to support any moral idea like humility or tolerance or seeing all souls as equal. I don’t expect Anuttama Prabhu to quote Bhagavatam in Bhagavatam classes – he is clearly not a scholar, but no Christian quotes was a major achievement for me.

On the other hand, for every case he cited I immediately thought of opposing examples from exactly the same sources. Lord Caitanya didn’t discriminate in who He gave His mercy to? Yes, unless you are a king of Puri and there’s no chance you get to meet Him. There was no discrimination if you passed Swarupa Damodara’s quality control, too. Otherwise you couldn’t present your poetry or shastric treatises to the Lord. Mahaprabhu didn’t tolerate any nonsense – one whiff of mayavada and you are out. Even Advaita Acharya got the business end if His mercy, though that was Advaita Acharya’s plan all along. In early ISKCON history there were devotees who cheated the public and collected donations in the name of non-existing charities, that’s true, but Srila Prabhupada also defended “by hook or by crook” book distribution on several occasions – that’s just history, and it’s not as black and white as we have been presented. I’ll given an example later.

For Basu Ghosh Prabhu, given that he knows Sanskrit, one could have expected delving into commentaries by other acharyas on these verses and pastimes. Jiva Goswami’s Gopala Champu, which is already translated, would have been a possible choice to start, but, as I said, he also didn’t know how to recite his given verse. Granted, it’s not an easy one (SB 10.8.31), but even I figured it out after looking at it for a few minutes, and I don’t know what any of these words mean. I do know where to look for examples, though. Anyway, Basu Ghosh Prabhu quickly steered the class to a Bhagavad Gita quote and, as is usual among our lecturers, never returned to Bhagavatam again. He did cite verse after verse from the Gita, which is a plus, but when will we have devotees who can find Bhagavatam support for Bhagavatam classes? Everything said in Bhagavad Gita is in Bhagavatam, too. Or look at Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu or Jiva Goswami Sandarbhas – there are tons and tons of quotes from Bhagavatam to support this or that assertion but I can’t remember a single one from Bhagavad Gita. In our classes it’s the other way around because our devotees study only the Gita and that’s what they know how to talk about. The real challenge in Bhagavatam classes then becomes how to quickly and transparently steer the discussion towards what they know from Gita. The taste for Bhagavatam itself has obviously not developed yet.

Predictably, the need to learn Sanskrit came up pretty quickly, too. I’m all for it, but at the end of the class one devotee in the audience asked a simple question – we don’t need to learn Sanskrit to understand Srila Prabhupada, who wrote in English for us, so why should we spend time on it? Traditionally, it takes twelve years to master Sanskrit – for the young people. Older ones, like me, are hopeless by comparison, and for what? India is full of Sanskrit “scholars” who totally miss the point of everything and even our ISKCON had a fair share of Sanskritologists who dropped out and went into different directions. Personally, I’d like to see more devotees in the way of Bhakti Vijnana Swami who doesn’t freely read Sanskrit, afaik, but who can give multiple explanations and shades of meaning for every word in every verse. This really helps to understand what the shastra is talking about and what different acharyas chose to highlight and why. So it’s a simple test – if knowing Sanskrit doesn’t help one better understand and appreciate Srimad Bhagavatam – what’s the point? I’ve yet to hear Basu Ghosh Prabhu make his Sanskrit useful in this way. “Skanda Ten, Adyaya Eight” is nice, but doesn’t add anything to our understanding. Neither is forcing everyone to repeat “pada-pataha”, which means “word for word translation”.

As for FDG case, I’d rather avoid discussing it here. I think Basu Ghosh Prabhu missed a chance at the end of the class when one of the female devotees objected “we [women] don’t want to be like men, we just want equal opportunities”. This is a common argument – we don’t want equality, we want equal opportunities. Do they even hear themselves when they say things like that?

On us being not transcendental – I don’t know how FDG support can be derived from here. To me it rather means we have to act according to shastric injunctions. I missed how Anuttama Prabhu constructed his argument there but I’d rather disagree with the premise itself. Yes, we are obviously not transcendental, but when we are fully engaged in spreading Lord Caitanya’s mission then our personal inadequacies as devotees fade away. We are always, always under His control and protection, even when we act less transcendentally than expected. And if the sad reality is that we are not engaged in the preaching mission and do not feel Lord Caitanya’s protection then following varnashrama won’t save us and neither will female gurus and equal opportunities. I mean it’s sad that our movement has come to this now when I still remember devotees riding waves of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and there was no question of these sankirtana pastimes not being transcendental. If our society can’t offer that – real connection to Lord Caitanya’s mercy, then what is the point of even having it?

Srila Prabhupada Lila app today gave a story of Vaikunthananta Prabhu cheating people at the airport, pretending that he was five dollars short for  his plane ticket and asking everyone for a spare buck. Actually, he collected to pay rent for the temple and Srila Prabhupada totally appreciated him saving the temple this way. There was no question of “this is material and not transcendental” – when the motive is pure a devotee is not constrained by notions of mundane morality. There are tons and tons of examples in our short history of that, just as there are examples when cheating has done some serious damage to the preaching mission, but the answer to this is not “no more cheating” but “do something for Prabhupada”. Mundane morality or even following varnashrama will not endear us to Lord Caitanya when we are not interested in selfless service and unconditional surrender. We HAD it, the opportunity was presented to everyone of us just a few decades ago, and now it’s absent even in the speeches of our leaders.

In any case, please forgive me my little rant. I’m obviously not going to comment on both lectures sentence by sentence and I’m obviously disappointed when this is what our leaders, for the either side, can present on such an important occasion. They are very senior vaishnavas and I shouldn’t speak about them in this way, but I hope, if they see this, they understand my plea here even if sounds uncomfortable at times.

Here are the videos:



2 comments on “Mayapur Miffs

  1. Thank you for your follow up on the bhagavatam classes. Both these positions of FDG are maya. They are only relevant because there is a body of people trying to tell others who they should or should not take initiation from.

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