Vanity thought #1742. WMM – final words

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.

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Vanity thought #1734. Changing roles

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.

Vanity thought #1729. Why we should accept

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.

Vanity thought #1726. In memoriam

For some reason it’s not often that I see something inspiring on Dandavats. There are plenty of inspirational articles there, this cannot be denied, but I often fail to resonate with them. Sometimes it’s the sheer volume of information that makes me skip reading this or that and I postpone it for another day. The entire “Daily Meditation” series is a case in point – you either read them every day or wait until you have time to go through them all. I hope they won’t disappear from the Internet.

These recollections of Śrīla Prabhupāda pastimes are priceless and there must be something like a hundred posts in the series already, I read maybe the first thirty. I also have another ninety e-mails in my mail box with another series of posts about Prabhupāda, they arrive almost every day and I can barely keep this ever growing number under a hundred. I also have two more books about Prabhupāda on my must read list and I would also like to read Līlāmṛta again. And that is just about Prabhupāda, not counting all other books in our ever growing library, which all comes on top of reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books as part of our daily sādhana.

Maybe this explains why I’m not so excited about a dozen or so posts that pop up on Dandavats every day. Each one of them deserves special consideration, each one of them is beneficial for the development of our devotion, but I just haven’t got the time. This past week, however a couple of posts stood out. One is the minutes of annual GBC meeting.

A lot of it is a trivial stuff – who was appointed to do what, what ministries do we have, what resolve we must show, what programs GBC supports this year, zonal assignments, candidates for sannyāsa and so on. They saved the best for the last, however. There’s a section on Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī and a section on Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī’s book “Women: Masters or Mothers”. One is a good news and one is bad.

Earlier GBC sent emissaries to talk to Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī about his Krishna West program (no diacritics in Krishna here because it goes kinda against his philosophy of making things easier for westerners). People on Samparadaya Sun have nothing but condemnation for his preaching, which I see rather as a badge of honor. Not a proof that his preaching method is legitimate but that his efforts are noticeable and provoke rage in our enemies. Pretty much like Prabhupāda relished fighting de-programming lawsuits in the US in the seventies because to him it was proof that we ARE making change in people’s lives. Of course, devotees on Sampradaya Sun are not our enemies per se but they do love to criticize those who preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness and they do love to tell us how wrong we are.

Personally, I don’t understand Krishna West very well, I’ve seen the website but I don’t know what it looks like in practice, whether it works, and what kind of devotees it produces. I don’t understand why it has to be called a separate thing because wearing karmī clothes and slightly longer hair for preaching has been around since Prabhupāda’s time. There are pros an cons to this, some would wear a very visible tilaka while others will leave only a faint mark so as not to scare people away. I don’t see Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī proposing anything new here.

The meeting he had with representatives of GBC was not about substance of his program, which I see as proof that there are no principal objections to it, but about two sticky points – his criticism of GBC and his personal behavior as a sannyāsī. GBC is right to be concerned about sowing seeds of animosity between GBC and Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī’s followers and Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī was right to promise that he would stop doing it. GBC is still our ultimate authority and it’s still our collective representative of Śrīla Prabhupāda. This undisputed position, however, gives us a reason to grouch and grumble before finally admitting that they are right and we are ought to follow them. Nothing was mentioned in GBC minutes about Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī’s personal behavior and whether he agreed to modify his lifestyle. It’s not healthy when people put up pictures of him being close with women even if nothing untoward happened, it’s not a good example for the rest of us.

That was the good news – Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī wasn’t excommunicated, his preaching programs wasn’t ordered to stop, and the brewing conflict has been largely resolved, I don’t think either of the sides will escalate it in the future. The bad news is that “Women: Masters or Mothers” has been banned. Maybe GBC will produce another paper justifying its decision but for now they just said that it reflects personal views o Bhakit Vikāśa Svāmī and propagates practices illegal in many countries, and it leads to conflict between ISKCON devotees.

I haven’t read the book but only an infamous NA GBC letter with a list of objections (extensively covered in this series of posts). All those objections were against views indisputably supported by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, I didn’t see anything personal from Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī there but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t add his own perspectives at all. What is clear is that not all of ISKCON concurs with those views at the present moment so it shouldn’t purport to speak for our whole society. From this POV I can see how GBC might think it’s better to ban it altogether. This doesn’t answer the question why GBC and parts of ISKCON are uncomfortable with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statements on these topics, however. I also don’t see how banning the book will help bridge the divide between those who support and object to it. This isn’t the most reconciliatory message GBC could have sent to Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī, his disciples, and those who agree with him on this. There were two sections in GBC meetings about reconciliation with those who either left ISKCON or no longer involved with it but then they end with telling our active members to cease and desist. It looks like a clash between their desired PR image and the reality of their actions and attitudes.

As our ultimate authority they have the right to this dissonance as well. What can I say? I know the book is right, I’m not the one selling it, I do sympathize with those who do, but I have no choice but to accept the ruling and hope that it will all turn out alright. It’s just a book of quotes from Prabhupāda anyway, it doesn’t tell anything new and it doesn’t fill any gaps in knowledge, and GBC has nothing substantial to add on the matter either. It’s just politics, it’s unavoidable and GBC, as a managing authority, is almost entitled to practicing it.

What we should all remember here is that the only real value in our lives is the mercy that comes down to us from Śrīla Prabhupāda and through his disciples. Material nature will add twists and turns to this mercy and it will make us fight one another but none of that should be taken seriously. He said, she said – it’s all only foam on the surface of the ocean of mercy, it will always be there, and it’s actually my main point today – the video dedicated to departed disciples of Śrīla Prabupāda that appeared on Dandavats as well:

Right now I’m not in the mood to properly address what is shown there, but I don’t think it needs any commentary either, it’s pretty much self-evident.

Vanity thought #1651. Temptation

Devotees over at the Sun finally offered their perspective on the ban of Women: Masters or Mothers and their reaction was predictable – GBC bad, feminists bad, stalwart followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda like HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svami are unfairly prosecuted and so on.

This article was written by Krishna Dasa but at the end it starts the paragraph with “We are proposing…” which means the author is speaking not only for himself but representing a group, or it might be a royal We, or it might be “we” as “me acting under the direction of my guru and paramparā” but most likely he is just speaking after consultation with like minded individuals and Sun’s editorial team.

The proposal itself is clearly made on behalf of the Sun itself promising to publish articles on a certain topic, and any individual devotee would not be able to make such a promise so it’s clearly backed by Sun editors. It’s this proposal that is tempting – I wrote so many posts on NA GBC response to that book that I should have no problem with content and I clearly want something to say.

That streak ended two weeks ago, however, and by now I’m all talked out. Should I still respond to the request and try to write a critique of that letter in a suitable format? It’s tempting, or rather it was tempting for the first five minutes but by now I’ve decided against it.

The problem is with the Sun itself – I don’t want to be seen in the company of their serial offenders. I don’t think I’ll ever get over their endless posts heavily criticizing Prabhupāda Līlāmṛta, for example. Whatever imperfections they might have seen in that book they should never be an excuse to denigrate a huge devotional effort of HH Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī. This was mean an unbecoming a vaiṣṇava.

Right now they are onto BBC edits and it’s another topic where they place no restrains on themselves at all. The way they present these attacks should make any devotee cringe and run for cover. Of course the relentless criticism is written by a devotee, too, and published by devotees as well, but that only speaks for the quality of saṅga on that site. I don’t want to be there.

It’s a dilemma, though – they are asking for help in what I see as a legitimate case, and over a month has passed without any relevant submissions. They feel the matter is important enough to publicly ask for articles and promise to put them on their site. No matter what else they did, a call for help cannot be ignored. What should I do?

First thing is to curb my ego. I might have typed many posts on the subject but that does not qualify me to be published elsewhere. They’d probably look at my submission and decide it’s not worth it, never mind the promises. No one should be sending submissions with the hope of getting name recognition, too. I should have no personal agenda whatsoever and this is my issue that I have to honestly address first.

Secondly, even if one does not have any personal ambitions it’s still not a permission to write something – we should act only on the orders of the guru. In this case, as in many others, there aren’t any direct orders and so we have to interpret general instructions. So far I’m not sure that submitting articles to the Sun would be approved, it’s far safer to avoid that site altogether.

Otoh, there are many respected devotees who get published there, including Bhakti Vikāsa Svami himself. That happens on rare occasions, however, and only when the matter is urgent and needs to reach a wide audience. Sometimes devotees turn to the Sun when they want to discuss topics usually unwelcome on Dandavats, too. Precedents are there but I’m still not convinced that this case warrants sending a submission to the Sun.

Knowing their readers whatever is said in opposition to GBC could be picked up and trumpeted on all internet corners, what would one do if his words were used in most vicious attacks on our spiritual authorities even if that was never his intention? Once the arguments are out there anyone can reuse them and I don’t want to be mentioned as a source in some nasty attacks on other vaiṣṇavas.

Having thought about it I came up with an idea for a submission – “we should treat women as mothers”.

Criticizing that particular letter is easy, I’ve done it myself, and I think any devotee can see huge holes in reasoning for that ban if he puts his mind to it. Right now I hope that no one refuted it so far not because people have nothing to say but because this is a case where you’d better say nothing at all. We all know the score already, the challenge is to keep our minds under control and not say things we’d eventually regret.

This letter was written by one of the seniormost devotees in our movement whose allegiance to Śrīla Prabhupāda and our mission is unquestionable. It was also written by a woman and responding to a woman in the same way we’d respond to a man would be, well, feminist. That would go against the very principle we/I want to uphold – we should treat women as mothers, not as equals.

In everyone’s life there are plenty of moments when his or her mother does or says something embarrassing. Usually mothers embarrass us, not themselves, but it’s the same thing – it needs to be overlooked and forgiven. Mothers are always right and if they are wrong we just have to close our mouths and wait it out. Speaking against our mothers would be inappropriate even by material standards and as aspiring devotees we should know better than that.

You just don’t tell your mother how outdated or ignorant she is, and you certainly don’t tell these things about your mother to others, it’s that simple.

After all said and done, Mātājī Malatī has only our best interests at heart, she would never willingly jeopardize our mission, and we should remember this first and foremost. All other things like confused mind, wounded ego, sloppy presentation, unclear thoughts, unjustified attacks etc should be tolerated. It’s not worth offending your mother over such trivialities.

If I send a submission like this to the Sun it would not be what they expect, however, so I won’t bother. It just won’t jive with the usual content on that site. It would also make me look saintlier than their celebrated regulars and I don’t want that either. Of course I’m not saintlier and not more mature than them, and that’s why I suspect that their regulars avoid this topic for the same reason – do not say anything bad about your mother in public, or even to her face, it’s just not cool.

And that, I hope, is my last thought on this matter.

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Vanity thought #1641. Victims of circumstance

The turmoil in Māyāpura still hasn’t been resolved but there’s a lot of good stuff going on their right now so the conflict between TOVP fund raisers looks like an unwelcome distraction. There are more letters and opinions coming out but I don’t want to keep up with the news, let’s talk the bigger picture instead.

While on the surface it appears that it’s one devotee’s ego clashing with another’s but that’s just a symptom, not the disease. It’s not about only one man getting what is perceived as an unfair treatment but a lot of other grievances that have been collected over a long time. One way to look at it is as if it was a conflict between Bengalis and Americans in our movement, and not only Bengalis but Indians in general, too.

ISKCON is undeniably an American import, it’s been built by American and other western devotees, it captured the hearts of Americans and other westerners and only then was brought to India, its spiritual home. In the 70s it looked like a CIA project to some, as “dancing white elephants” to others, yet others thought it was only “cute”, and there were also those who saw an opportunity for personal advancement. I’m not talking the spiritual component yet, just the materialistic perception.

It was white people showing Indians how to do Kṛṣṇa consciousness right and building huge temples with white people’s money. In the 70s Indian devotees were still scarce and haven’t contributed anything substantial yet. Over the years, however, Indians have proven themselves just as capable and in many areas even better than westerners. Since the 90s ISKCON India has been growing exponentially and what is even more important it’s been doing so entirely on its own, without any western input.

Now it’s Indians who built temples with funds collected in India while westerners import pūjārīs because they have no one to worship the deities, and if there’s any success still left in the West it’s on the back of Indian community. At this point Indians have taken ownership of their mission. They might not have been there in Prabhupāda’s time but they have two generations of devotees who’ve managed entirely on their own and do not feel obliged to westerners in any way.

In places like Delhi and Mumbai westerners have no say whatsoever but in Māyāpura it’s different because it’s our HQ and our GBC is still mostly white. To our western devotees Māyāpura is “theirs”. They have been here from the start when there were no Indians yet, the temple was built on donations collected by westerners, they’ve been coming there every year for the festivals, they have a western money behind TOVP, too. They feel like they own the place, they feel entitled.

It’s not something we would ever say in public or even admit thinking but it’s how our material egos see the situation, we can’t change it, we can only try to keep these thoughts out of our consciousness. I don’t mean myself as part of “we” that owns the Māyāpura but all of us stuck in the material world with bodily conception of life, because Indians have their own “we” and their own rival claims and also feel entitled.

White devotees might feel entitled due to history, which they think they inherited, but it was the Bengalis who have been managing the temple for a long long time now, especially disciples of Jayapatāka Svāmī. They feel they inherited their master’s life project and they feel fully invested in it, too. If recent fund raising claims are true they, the Indians, have been huge contributors to TOVP as well, even if they have been collecting in the west (probably in Indian communities anyway). They feel ownership of Māyāpura by the dint of being Bengalis, too – Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is a sort of their birth right.

White people, on the other hand, don’t even know their names, they still behave like sahibs from colonial times, just slightly more respectful of dark skinned servants who make things happen for them. There’s a perception of racism and disdain there, even if totally unjustified.

Take the Navadvīpa parikramā, for example. Most of the devotees taking part in it are white, all the speakers are speaking in English with translations in other white people’s languages. Many of the speakers are Indian but there’s a clear distinction between their celebrity status and unnamed, faceless Bengalis who cook food, arrange accommodations and facilities, transport luggage, and generally make parikramā a well organized, flawless experience. Visiting western devotees come in contact with them only when they are receiving service, that’s the sole basis of their interactions, all through the annual Māyāpura festival, year after year after year.

Well, for these Bengalis ISKCON Māyāpura is their life and soul, they know nothing else, and western devotees are guests, however distinguished. “We” come to “their” place, that’s how it’s seen from their perspective, and if we come with the sense of entitlement and if some of us behave like Bengalis are there only to serve then sooner or later clashes of egos will be there.

Philosophical differences on the role of women and varṇāśrama in general are not helping either. Indians are not going to accept being seen as culturally backward or spiritually immature, which is how traditionalists are described by our liberals. If Indian devotees rally behind varṇāśrama and proper strī dharma in particular then outright ban on Women: Masters or Mothers is not going to be seen favorably but as a sign of corruption. If devotees issuing such bans are seen as snubbing Indians in India itself there’s little surprise that Indians demand resignations.

I’m not saying that this one book is the straw that broke the camel’s back but there must have been tons of similar contributions we’ve never heard of. It’s the attitude that rubs them the wrong way, it’s not important how exactly and where it manifests itself.

Our only hope is that our spiritual training, both for Indians and for westerners, will prevent us from making serious mistakes and acting on our materialistic impulses. If we keep to our sādhana, which includes proper relationships with fellow vaiṣṇavas, then this little corruption can surely be overcome just as we overcome all other defects brought by Kali yuga. It would also help if we all saw ourselves as unworthy servants of Lord Caitanya, eternally in debt to all the devotees in our lives regardless of their bodily origin. If this realization is not there yet then our hope is sādhana and mind control, nothing else.

Vanity thought #1638. Prabhu for all

In yesterday’s post I just got to the point where general discussion on gender roles in Kṛṣṇa consciousness turned to the long standing Prabhu vs Mātājī debate. To reiterate, on fresh reading the discourse participants barely listened to each other and instead valiantly fought for what they thought was right, ascribing their desired features to their opponents instead of trying to hear what they actually say.

It’s typical of exchanges in Kali yuga, on or off the internet, and it’s sad to see that devotees are not immune either. We are trying to make sense of the world we want to control and we are trying to make sense of Kṛṣṇa consciousness at the same time. We expect everything to be logical and we expect to feel safe in our knowledge. We also know that spiritual knowledge must be right and must always prevail so when we conflate it with impressions in our intelligence we become very defensive. Instead of spiritual knowledge being right we assume that whatever we have in our heads must be protected at all costs. Not standing up for our own interpretations is considered false humility, and so off we go telling others that they are wrong.

Sometimes they are, sometimes it’s us who are at fault, but it doesn’t matter because we are protecting our own desire to be in control and acting on this desire will always bring trouble, being right or wrong will not stop karma from working. Imagine what position we put Kṛṣṇa in by our constant appeals. He has to satisfy everybody who takes shelter in Him regardless of their misconceptions. He also has to uphold dharma. How does He manage keeping His devotees happy and content even when they are dead wrong? How does He stop falsehoods from affecting the innocents? I don’t know, that’s why He is God. How many lifetimes does it take for us to become mature and stop creating unnecessary disturbances for everybody? Kṛṣṇa is obviously very patient, too.

So, it was Govinda Dāsī herself who brought the subject of Prabhu vs Mātājī, and, in the heat of the moment, she didn’t do it very diplomatically. She said that this chapter in the book (Women: Masters or Mothers) was all wrong, Hari Śauri Prabhu, whose statement is quoted in support of “Mātājī”, wasn’t around in the early days and didn’t know much himself. If she’d just found the way to be less assertive, less dismissive and less offensive maybe the discourse would have reached an amicable resolution. As it was, however, people reacted with equal force and reconciliation had become impossible.

Devotees quickly rolled out quotes where Prabhupāda tells that women should be seen as mātājīs but Govinda Dāsī wasn’t finished. She referred to a 1968 meeting where it was decided to upgrade “Svamiji” to “Prabhupāda” for the first time because he was the chief Prabhu among many. This was defining moment as far as Govinda Dāsī’s memory is concerned. She was there and she remembers clearly that devotees were all Prabhu to one another and Prabhupāda was the one for all Prabhus to take shelter of. It wasn’t about being male or female, it was about our relationships with Prabhupāda, she said. We are all prabhus and he is our shelter Prabhu. “Mātājī” came later, Hari Śauri came later, and so he shouldn’t talk about something he wasn’t a witness to.

It so happens that we don’t have records of that actual meeting to check Govinda Dāsī’s recollection. I, personally, think that Prabhupāda was speaking of humanity as men, and women were included as a subset that didn’t deserve a separate consideration at the moment. No one thought of gender etiquette at the time and, besides, technically Govinda Dāsī’s interpretation is correct – we are all Prabhus and we all should treat each other as Prabhus. We should all see ourselves as servants and all other devotees as our masters.

I would also add that spiritually we don’t know what our gender are and male or female are only external forms. Externalities aside, we are all trying to be masters in this world and so we are all “Prabhus” in our delusion. It doesn’t matter what type of body we posses, we try to control the world in puruṣa bhāva all the same. So, either materially or spiritually, we all appear as masters either to ourselves or to others.

However, material considerations need to be observed, too, if only because we don’t see anything but material forms and material hierarchies, and material etiquette taught by Prabhupāda later on was that we should see all women except our wives as mothers. I don’t think he ever said that daughters should also be seen as daughters but it’s just common sense. You can’t look at your daughter as your mother, that would be crazy. The idea behind seeing women as mothers is to look at them as our masters rather than our subordinates or objects of our enjoyment. When we address women as Mātājī we accept her superiority and declare ourselves her eternally obliged servants. It’s the same as addressing them as Prabhus but with a suitable gender word.

I thought these things are pretty obvious but no one raised them on either side of the debate. It was all about whether books should be more important or whether we should respect the opinion of a senior female devotee (I’m not sure Govinda Dāsī would accept calling her Mātājī). Whether it’s about Indian culture or spiritual relationships, whether Prabhupāda meant what he said or just went alone with his disciples without disturbing their nascent devotion. I don’t think anyone actually changed his mind, that’s how these debates usually go.

What I want to stress once again is that there’s no end goal for either side in this argument. What do those who insist on Prabhu being legitimate address for a woman want? For all the ink spilled arguing about this I have been unable to find a clear statement of what is it they plan to achieve. They just go straight to proving themselves right instead.

Do they want all women to be addressed only as Prabhus? But there are clear instructions in our books that Mātājī is acceptable and desirable. Devotees who use Mātājī are not doing anything wrong. I haven’t seen anyone being chastised for using Mātājī either, so what’s the problem? Likewise, those who insist on using Mātājī only miss the occasions when Prabhupāda himself addressed his female disciples as Prabhus. So, if, for example, Mālati used to be called Prabhu by Prabhupāda himself, how can we tell her that she is wrong?

Just go and have a look at what appears to be an official ISKCON site – Srila Prabhupada on the Use of the Address “Prabhu”. There IS a precedent for it, we can’t ignore it and nothing good will come out of trying to ram our way through and declare a total defeat of the other position.

What’s interesting on that page is the concluding paragraph taken from one of Prabhupāda’s lectures. It’s meant to conclusively prove that we should all address each other as Prabhu regardless of gender. I suppose it’s meant to prove that, nowhere on the page it is clearly stated what they want, as I said earlier. Anyway, right in the middle of that “conclusive” paragraph there’s this declaration:

    Therefore our system is to call another Vaishnava as prabhu. “Sir, you are prabhu, you are master.”

I don’t know what women who put that page together were thinking but, far from being genderless, there’s “SIR” right in that sentence. Prabhupāda was clearly talking about men there, not women. If our female devotees of the highest caliber couldn’t spot this “Sir” in their key evidence I don’t think we should give a lot of weight to the recollection from 1968 that Prabhupāda he didn’t mean “Prabhu” as an address for men but for women, too. It is just general practice to talk about humanity as “mankind” and do not separate women into a special category so that the speaker doesn’t get bogged in details and in selecting pronouns, or in that he/she nonsense demanded by modern PC culture.

Oh, and by the way – according to letters available online Prabhupāda never ever addressed his female disciples as mātājīs. This title was almost exclusively reserved for Indian benefactors of our movement. Only once or twice did Prabhupāda use “mataji” and only when referring to a third person, both times to Hansadutta’s wife. Here and here, both letters written on the same day. I don’t know if it changes anything but it’s an interesting tidbit anyway.

Vanity thought #1637. Mataji or Prabhu?

This is another popular debate related to women issues. I thought about addressing it for such long time that I forgot what I wanted to say or why it even matters. Well, one thing I remember – there seem to be no point to this debate at all.

Who started it and for what purpose? What do these people want? Nothing in particular, they just want to argue and feel the rash of the online battle. I’m speaking about both sides now. Of course they might answer exactly what they want if you ask them directly but after wading through hundreds and hundreds of opinions I came to the conclusion that they are not “goal oriented”, so to speak, they just want to talk about it.

When I started writing about Women: Masters or Mothers I read the Sun article with a Facebook review of it that quickly turned into “Prabhu or Mātājī” exchange and that was my starting point. It feels like a month has passed, I’ve read maybe a dozen of similar articles arguing for both sides, but that first one is probably the best case study of all. So, let’s see what it’s all about.

Here it is as it appeared on the Sun. The original can be looked up on Facebook, too, and it has slightly more comments, but Sun’s version is easier to read because Facebook requires you to click to unfold comment trees. Nothing substantial is missing, as far as I remember. It starts with a favorable review. “Govinda Dāsī” was the first to comment and for a while it wasn’t clear what she wanted to say exactly – she was just pulling the rank reminding the author, Phalinī Devi Dāsī, of her seniority and telling her that she is too young to know what it was really like in Prabhupāda’s time. That’s not a good start by any measure.

Govinda Dāsī’s second comment made it clearer – women turned to feminism in the 70s because men were abandoning them and couldn’t or didn’t want to support them. Young girls were consequently encouraged to get education because depending on their husbands was no longer a certainty. Women need safety, if it doesn’t come from men they’ll make their own arrangements, as I understand. Hard to argue with that because this was probably the biggest reason behind rise of feminism. The problem, however, is that every action in this world has its reasons, even Hitler had his reasons, but that doesn’t mean that all actions are beneficial. It’s useful to remember these reasons when assigning the blame but not very useful when contemplating our own choices in life.

Somebody jumped in with statistics that most divorces are initiated by women and many of them are “no fault” cases – when there’s nothing to blame the husband for but a woman simply says “I don’t want to be married to him any longer”. The stats were questioned initially but they are apparently correct, plus Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said that it’s women who are responsible for divorces. I remember reading it but I’m too lazy to look it up. Eventually everybody accepted it and someone moved on – by starting a personal attack on Govinda Dāsī. She said she wasn’t a feminist but some said that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…

Govinda Dāsī kept her temper and said that women in ISKCON had the same problems – being left on their own without support and therefore needing to make their own arrangement. I’m sure it was very true in many cases but, as above, having reasons doesn’t make an action into a beneficial one. We should rather remember that in Kali yuga frictions appears out of the blue with no particular cause so blaming anyone in particular won’t be helpful.

The chatter then went on about this and that and Govinda Dāsī kept her cool. All she talked about was how everyone was preaching in whatever body they had and out of their love for Prabhupāda. Discrimination between men and women was introduced later when we got a number of sannyāsīs who suddenly couldn’t associate with female devotees anymore. I can understand why women didn’t welcome this development but what could have been done? Free mingling of men and women for the sake of preaching was not sustainable anyway.

Then a devotee (who publicly ditched his guru and continues criticizing him) came in and questioned Govinda Dāsī qualifications and told her straight that she is misrepresenting Śrīla Prabhupāda. Telling others how they don’t know philosophy is apparently his thing now. That’s when the hell starting breaking loose. Some said this was uncalled for, others took his side, and the post owner threatened to remove a woman who defended Govinda Dāsī from discussion. Suddenly it was assumed that Govinda Dāsī was against varṇāśrama. She said that in ten years of service in Prabhupāda’s presence there was absolutely not talk of women being fit only for cooking, cleaning, and making flower garlands and they all were encouraged to preach but the target was already painted – she was against varṇāśrama.

Preaching is more important than varṇāśrama, there’s nothing to argue with here, but it was too late and everyone opposing her transferred all his assumptions on her already. The post owner mentioned that Prabhupāda always sent women to preach along with their husbands as couples, not as traveling single females, but, as Govinda Dāsī said – when men left their wives women continued to preach as best as they could. What else could have happened? They didn’t have any choice, did they? If they had kids they had to raise on their own it still wouldn’t be a valid reason not to preach (and men’s fault). This set of female devotees didn’t start new careers, didn’t start businesses, didn’t join the army, didn’t do any of the things we reject feminism for. Too late, no one in that discussion listened.

These women didn’t know varṇāśrama, they didn’t grow in varṇāśrama, they lived in the western world where their first service to guru and Kṛṣṇa was preaching. The fact that we can read about ideal society in the books doesn’t change their reality. The critics somehow think that it should but all they want to is to hear their own voice. It’s nice and easy to pontificate on the importance of varṇāśrama but these female devotees had their lives to live and service to perform. Even from varṇāśrama’s own perspective it’s not women’s responsibility to set it up. It’s the men who failed to make proper arrangements, for their own valid reasons, but it’s the women who get all the blame for not living as ideal wives in an ideal society that doesn’t even exist.

As battle went on things were said and picked on. Someone said that female devotees taking on projects, meaning preaching projects, or leadership positions in ISKCON is against varṇāśrama and desires of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Seriously? Does it mean women can’t write books, arrange festivals or meetings, can’t speak to the public, can’t have male devotees as subordinates? I suppose it’s a very narrow reading of what women can and cannot do under varṇāśrama, especially if they are clearly capable.

On the other hand, Tulsi Gabbard is not an example of perfect preaching either. She is from a family of devotees but they were from a splinter group and her father publicly turned to Christianity since. In her public service she has to act as a congresswoman first and that means supporting issues like abortion if that’s what’s politically expedient. Apart from paying occasional tributes to Kṛṣṇa or Prabhupāda in her spare time there’s nothing that distinguishes her from her colleagues. By all counts she shouldn’t even be considered a preacher, just a politician who happens to be a devotee.

They talked a little more about Tulsi and Govinda Dāsī was forced to retreat to the safety of saṅkīrtana to diffuse tensions but it wasn’t accepted. Apparently the “house is on fire, put it out first, then take care of everything else” concept does not work anymore. Someone basically said that we can’t preach until we get varṇāśrama going. Hmm, just as yesterday the other side said they can’t preach until they get female gurus.

These are not real obstacles to preaching, of course, but everyone refers to it because it’s still the most common denominator in our society, the golden standard everyone accepts but hardly anyone follows. As I said, people just want to prove themselves right by any means necessary.

And what about Prabhu vs Mātājī? This was the point where this matter was finally brought up but I’m going to leave it for tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1633. Indians are on it, too

Feminism is traditionally a western invention but it’s on the rise in India, too, albeit in their own peculiar forms. Perhaps we can’t cite India as an example of proper attitudes to various female related issues any longer.

It was only a couple of years ago when Indian GBC strongly opposed female dīkṣa guru decision by Śāstric Advisory Committee. They practically threatened to ignore implementation of this particular rule in their zone. I don’t know how much effect their opposition had in the end, every year we can expect some new announcements from Māyāpura meetings but so far it has been quiet on FDG front. Maybe they’ll spring a surprise for us this time, who knows, there’s a new push for it I wanted to address separately.

Indian GBC might be strong in their convictions but not the Indian public. The most popular guru there at the moment is a woman, I’ve heard, the one that gives free hugs, so if we do have female gurus in ISKCON it won’t be seen as something outrageous by the public at large. We are obviously are not going to judge our decisions by public reactions but we can’t appeal to Indian masses any more either.

India is undergoing one of the biggest transformations in its history, perhaps on par with getting used to be part of a British Empire. They’ve been modernizing themselves for over a century but this is the first time when India is getting truly plugged into the global economy and global way of life. Up until twenty years or so ago they modernized at their own pace, they had their own industry, their own cars, their own entertainment etc. To westerners it all looked clownish, from their Ambassador cars to their obsession with “Number 1” proclamations in their advertising. Then came the internet and Windows 95, and the rest is history.

They had no western brands or supermarkets or shopping malls at all. No McDonalds, no Toyotas, only Coca-Cola and SevenUp. With the internet and with Indians getting thousands of jobs at western software companies they suddenly learned what they have been missing, government eased related regulations and westernization began in earnest, and with it came western values of rights and freedoms.

Newly minted middle class credit western attitudes as much as western economical model for their prosperity. If one wants to work in a multinational company, for example, one has to project a fitting image, has to have proper aspirations, pursue proper goals, share proper values, and, generally, appear non-different from job applicants in the west. If one plays the ball he gets rewards and so naturally feels validated in his beliefs so now we have half a billion people who think they are middle class and so have to stand by middle class values. The actual number of middle income people is about 2% there but I’m talking about self-perception and self-identification which is more important for my case.

Gender equality is one of the most fundamental of those values and “middle class” women there see their roles and duties differently from the tradition we in ISKCON expect from Indians. Nope, they want education, they want career opportunities, they want to be professionally successful, they want it all. I don’t want to look up stats on birth rates or marriage rates, they might not look so bad yet but the point is that women have become very assertive there.

Then we had a couple of bad rape stories that agitated public not only in India but around the world and women there thought they had to assert themselves even more. They demand safety, which should be provided, of course, but the problem is that they demand it and they demand it not from their traditional protectors – fathers and husbands, but from the government, from the society, from random men on the streets, or that it should simply be there. They demonstrate with banners, march up and down the streets, stage PR events, protest, make noise – all the kinds of things we’d expect from politicized western public pushing for their democratic rights. There’s nothing traditional about it at all. We can’t say “in India women…” any more. Maybe on some issues they still keep traditional attitudes but not on the issue of their power.

They tasted it, it tasted good and they want more of it, there’s no turning back. Everything they do is right and everything they want is righteous. Whoever or whatever gets in their sights needs to comply or cease and desist.

Just like with adopting western business models and western science they adopt western atheism, too. I mean they value their rational thinking and logic above śāstra and tradition even though they still go to the temples. That’s their peculiarity – they are too afraid to give up their “superstitions” but at the same time they want to be all rational about them.

A year ago I wrote several posts on the move PK, which I think is still the most popular Indian movie of all times, and the main message of that movie was that we should rationally re-examine our gurus and sādhus and weed out “wrong number” ones. Who would argue against expunging cheaters from the temples and positions of religious authorities they so clearly don’t deserve?

However noble goal that is, they are going about it the wrong way – on the basis of their own speculations of what “right” religion should be, not on the basis of śāstra or tradition. Driven by the mode of passion they will never achieve satisfactory results, however. In the beginning it feels great but only because they get what they want, not because what they want works.

BBC just gifted us this little gem of Indian feminism gone unhinged – they are demanding entrance to the temples that are traditionally closed to women. I don’t know the exact reasons why it is so, there must be more than cited in the article, but even a simple “This deity is a brahmacārī and He does not associate with women” should be enough to put restriction on what female worshipers can and cannot do in that temple. Some demanding the right to touch the deity, for example. Just look at their arguments:

“Ms Desai – who describes herself as a “practising, believing Hindu” – says it is her “constitutional right” to enter any temple and blames patriarchy for keeping women out.
“These are man-made traditions. God does not differentiate between man and woman. He was born of a woman too,” she says.”

Seriously? Constitutional right to enter any temple? What about that particular deity’s right not to allow women inside? Does the constitution cover that right, too? At least it’s put in quotation marks so this Ms Desai might no be really serious about constitution.

The rant about man-made traditions is incomprehensible, too. How does she know and why does she think that her current demand is what God wanted all along and not her man-made concoction. Oh, wait, maybe she means man-made as opposite to woman-made. In any case, whatever she wants is right and whoever stands in her way is wrong.

They want to worship God, okay, but they do not believe God had communicated the way He should be worshiped or that He controls His servants, or that He has His representatives, or that it’s God who ultimately enforces His rules. It’s atheism pure and simple, never mind that they want to practice it while going to the temples.

Sadly, we are losing an important ally in trying to either build varṇāśrama or preserve whatever is left of it. It looks like if anything will ever get better in this regard it will get a lot worse first.

Vanity thought #1632. Deciphering Prabhupada

Sometimes it’s difficult. We can hear a cohesive account of what Śrīla Prabhupāda said and what he meant but it’s just one person’s impression. Other people hearing the same conversation might walk away with different conclusions and recollect it differently.

Sometimes we have recordings and transcriptions and it seems pretty straightforward on the surface but only if we don’t pay attention to details and general atmosphere. We have to be especially careful about this when we take quotes out of context. Take this straightforward question followed by a straightforward answer (Lecture):

Devotee: When you address a woman do you use the word “Mātājī”? Is that the right, proper word for her?
Prabhupāda: Mātājī. Yes, very good. “Mother.” All right. Chant. (end)

If you think about it a little, however, it doesn’t address our current dispute on the use of prabhu or mātājī at all. I mean it failed to convince proponents of “prabhu” which means some people do not see it as very clear. For one thing, it doesn’t prohibit use of “prabhu” when addressing women. It also doesn’t explain why Prabhupāda himself used “prabhu” when referring to his female disciples.

What is worth noting in today’s context is that this question came right at the end of the lecture and was a follow up on a previous question by Brahmānanda on how women should see men which, in turn, was a follow up on the quote from Cāṇakya Paṇḍita used in the lecture itself. Prabhupāda just spent a few minutes explaining how sannyāsīs should be treated by the society in general and on the proper attitude of those collecting alms. When considering this whole dynamic it becomes clear that for Prabhupāda the question about mātājī was a bit out of line and, considering all he has said before, he couldn’t give any other answer and couldn’t be bothered to pursue this any further. The class was over and the same topic was raised for a third time.

So yes, there’s an instruction to address female devotees as mātājī, everybody knows that already, but it doesn’t answer the arguments brought in favor of using prabhu either. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong, Prabhupāda didn’t say, he had no time and no reason to discuss it any further and his mind was probably on the next thing on his schedule already.

Maybe my interpretation of his mental state is wrong but it’s possible. I’m not going to solve this dispute today, I’m just pointing out how even simple quotes can be seen in a different light and different conclusions drawn.

There was one occasion when Prabhupāda was giving send off insructions to Lokanātha, now Svāmī, on how to preach to Indian villagers. If I ever come back to the topic of “pristine Vedic culture” there was a lot said about it. What interests me today is the earlier conversation on the same day involving Harikeśa Svāmī. I read it in Hari Śauri’s Transcendental Diary and it’s often quoted on the internet.

In Hari Śauri’s book Harikeśa Svāmī read out letters to Prabhupāda and to himself about preaching in Eastern Europe and how excited newly made devotees there were. Śrīla Prabhupāda was very appreciative and dictated replies to those letters. This is where the quote usually starts from but it’s the ending that draws everyone’s attention. Source.

    Harikesa began to explain that, apart from the risks involved, a big obstacle was a lack of funding. He said that even something as basic as finding something to eat was a major difficulty.

    “So if there is nothing else, you can eat meat if you have to,” Srila Prabhupada told him matter-of-factly.

    Harikesa’s mouth dropped open a little bit and his eyes widened. Not knowing if Prabhupada was serious or not, he tried to ignore what he had just heard and continued to say that even if he had money, there was nothing to buy.

    Completely serious, Prabhupada again told him, “So if there is difficulty, you can take meat.”

    Harikesa stopped. He appeared dazed as he contemplated the possible implications. “But Prabhupada, what about my consciousness?”

    Damn your consciousness,” Prabhupada replied. “You must go on preaching.

So much for varṇāśrama when preaching is at stake – damn you consciousness, damn your varṇāśrama, you must go on preaching.

Pretty straightforward, but it’s not how the same conversation is remembered by Harikeśa, now not Svāmī, himself. Here is his recollection of how it went. Source.

He was trying to get into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s circle of trust but failing again and again. He was jealous of Hari Śauri who joined Prabhupāda’s party later than him but quickly became Prabhupāda’s confidant. He was jealous or Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī and Brahmānanda who had long, personal, and very warm conversations with him while Harikeśa got only beatings, figuratively, of course. When he took sannyāsa he was sent away to Eastern Europe but rejoined Prabhupāda’s party in France and then followed it to Vṛndāvana where Prabhupāda again insisted that he stopped hanging out with him and went preaching instead.

Harikeṣa Svāmī was pretty edgy by that time and tried to find all sorts of excuses not to go but stay and transcribe Prabhupāda’s lectures and conversations and it’s at this moment where the dialog about eating meat took place. Prabhupāda would have said anything to get rid of him by then and so he did – if you say there’s nothing to eat there than you should go and eat meat, but preaching must go on. His final words were:

    Make my books. Distribute my books. Preach. That’s all. Don’t come back here crawling on the floor, wanting to sit in front of me and wave your fingers.

This line wasn’t reported by Hari Śauri at all, and the whole conversation in not on vanisource. Is it because of the controversial “eat meat” injunction? Or is it because it wasn’t recorded? We will never know, I guess.

My point is that the same talk looks very different to two people who where there, and Prabhupāda himself might have had a third opinion, too, and it’s pretty hard to guess what it was. Personally, I don’t think it could be used to justify eating meat for the sake of preaching at all. When Prabhupāda went to the US for the first time and later to Russia he was afraid there’d be no vegetables to eat there but he never said he’d eat meat himself. Here it was said for the sake of the argument to make his obstinate disciple finally agree to go and preach instead of seeking personal association.

In the end Harikeśa Svāmī went to Eastern Europe and made it into the most prosperous ISKCON zone in the eighties, all based on printing and distributing books, and then brought the Hare Kṛṣṇa revolution in former USSR. We should never underestimate the importance of following guru’s orders over our personal conceptions of what service we should do.