Vanity thought #1797. Tulasi Krishna Preyasi

I feel it’s time to revive this blog after a long break. I’m not sure I can keep up with the usual schedule of writing a new, thousand word article everyday but, hopefully, it will come through trying. A few words first.

Just before New Year I opened a Facebook account, to discuss cosmology. It didn’t work out, however. I think I’ll discuss reasons for it some other day. Once you are on Facebook, however, you’ll get drawn in by friend requests and new content being suggested all the time. FB knows what you read and god forbid you ever clicked “like” on something because then it will start feeding you stories you’ll have hard time to ignore. One thing leads to another, you participate in conversations, and pretty soon you become part of a community. It’s not a bad thing in itself but it forces you to behave in a certain way, say certain things, click certain likes. For every debate there are certain established positions and you are expected to fit into one of those. Life will never be the same.

One such aspect is the “depth” of content there. No one posts a thousand words tractates there and no one reads them. Content has to be short and to the point, it should be scrollable and people should decide to “like” it after reading the title or at most a paragraph. It’s not meant for deep engagement and careful deliberation. There’s one popular devotee there who puts up dozens of old paintings depicting various līlās and sometimes he asks people to identify them for him. One commenter complained that he sees no point in spending time hunting for the stories and reading up on details to come back and find that the poster has long moved on to something else and has neither interest nor time to discuss it anymore. “Take one story and learn from it as much as you can,” he exclaimed (paraphrasing here).

This is not how I used to write for this blog and I miss the good old days. It’s not to say that this way is better, and I don’t even consider the matter of publicity. These are “vanity thoughts”, after all. These are things that occupy my mind and I somehow find them clever and worth sharing – not because they have value but because I want to feel that way about myself. By connecting these thoughts to the Lord I hope to purify myself from these motivations. After a three month break my attitude could have changed already, let’s see how it goes.

Facebook will never run out of controversial material to feel oneself clever about, I will give them that, so let’s take one topic I haven’t considered yet – Tulsi Gabbard. She is often in the news, and I mean vaiṣṇava news, and she’s invariably covered in good light. She was invited here, appeared there, got sworn on Bhagavad Gītā etc. etc. This favorable coverage doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any detractors and critics, however. Recently I listened to this class by Bhakti Vikāsa Swami and even if he didn’t mention her by name this lecture was about her.

To be honest, I don’t know why he didn’t say the name when it was so clear who he was talking about – she is not some “you know who” who cannot be mentioned but that’s how it was. Main thrust of his argument was against her support for abortion and gay rights and I don’t see how even his critics could disagree with him on this. His position is objectively correct. There’s however, a way to see a bit more of a picture while remaining in agreement with everything he said as well.

First, he didn’t really consider the argument that pro-abortion and pro-LGBT statements on her website are positions of her party. She is Congressman (-woman) from a Democratic Party and from Hawaii – these conditions dictate a lot of what she can and cannot say in public and are not necessarily indicative of her personal convictions. This doesn’t make her free from blame but we should consider shades of her guilt, too.

We ourselves, when going to work, pay government taxes and so support current government policies on abortion and gay marriage, too. It obviously varies from country to country or form state to state in the US but some share is always there. Likewise, by becoming members of a team we offer moral and emotional support to fellow team members and it includes sharing in their happiness of having a hot cup of morning coffee even if we don’t drink it ourselves, or anticipation of Friday night drinks at the bar we have no experience of. At least we are not expected to vocally object and denigrate these activities, which reads as tacit approval. Who among us barges into any of these office conversations with an offer to surrender to the Lord, chant His holy name, and abandon all sinful activities? So let us not hurry to throw stones just yet.

There’s also a matter of indifference. I don’t feel anything about abortions myself, for example. As far as my consciousness goes they don’t exist. Sure I know what they are and I used to know a girl when I was young who had an abortion herself, but I don’t remember her name, only that she was sad and regretful about her decision even if it didn’t stop her from her promiscuous ways. Otherwise – I don’t have any emotional reactions to abortions, or to gay marriage, for that matter – it’s not a part of my life and doesn’t affect me in any way. If I was a baker asked to make cakes for gay weddings I would surely have felt differently, but I’m not a baker, and neither is Tulsi Gabbard. As far as I know she just has this obligatory statement on her obligatory website and that’s it. It doesn’t mean she passionately promotes it, which would be clearly undevotional.

Regardless of this, however, she has the guts to go on stage in Washington hotel, give a speech, and then sing her heart out in kīrtana. I’ve found only a short version of it but there’s a longer one somewhere where you can see all the dressed up Washington people in tuxedos and cocktail dresses. It’s not like an ISKCON sannyāsī going on the same stage who has no connection to these people and nothing to lose. To me, this requires bravery and devotion, and these qualities should be appreciated:

A few words about devotees who make her into some sort of a saint who has done more for spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness than the rest of us together – they might not say it, but I think it’s obvious is that they appreciate her high position rather than her actual level of devotion or impact of her preaching. They didn’t care about her before she got elected to Congress. Now she is a leader and Kṛṣṇa says that whatever a great leader does others naturally follow, but we shouldn’t be those “others”, we have our own spiritual leaders and so we should appreciate Tulsi’s achievements but not give her the status of an ācārya just yet. She is certainly dear to Kṛṣṇa and we should contemplate how she could turn out that way even when growing in a sect splintered from ISKCON before she was even born while her father became a Christian minister. Was it her mother who protected her seed of devotion from all these deviations? I have no definitive answer but I’d like to this so.

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Vanity thought #874. Abortion and gay rights

There was one item in the news recently that touched on the topic I haven’t addressed before. It’s about “our” Tulsi Gabbard, first devotee in US Congress. She was elected a while ago and this latest article is about her visit to India on the occasion of Gita Jayanti.

It sounds all very innocent but it also prompted HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami to call on GBC to disavow this article and to “police” the “aberrant” new.iskcon.org. What’s the problem?

It’s Tulsi’s stance on gay rights and abortion/contraception issues.

A bit of history first – she is a daughter of Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Siddha Swarupa right hand man, Krishna Katha Prabhu, Mike Gabbard, who has eventually converted to Catholicism. Her mother Devahuti, however, remained a devotee, afaik. Siddha Swarupa had eagerly embraced vaisnavism and was very successful in preaching in Hawaii but later fell out with ISKCON and GBC. According to Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diaries at one point Srila Prabhupada even commented that despite being a devotee he has never surrendered. So, Tulsi is not exactly an ISKCON devotee even though she also belongs to Srila Prabhupada’s family.

She doesn’t chant a regular number of rounds or anything like that but her spiritual home is Vrindavana, where she visits very often, and, as far as politicians go, you can’t ask for anything more.

Siddha Swarupa once run in elections in Hawaii but it was Mike Gabbard who became successful politician as Hawaii Senator, and now Tulsi got elected, too. Good for them.

Now, the issues.

Mike Habbard has always been a conservative and he made a name for himself as anti-gay, anti-abortion campaigner, a position expected from devotees who grew up on Srila Prabhupada’s books. Naturally, Tulsi followed his steps but now she is part of a Democrat party and her stance on gay rights has changed, which is not surprising, and this is what provoked Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s protest.

Her position on abortion is murkier, she doesn’t publicly commit herself one way or another but she supports women’s right to contraception. If push comes to shove she might vote for pro-abortion bills but I’m sure she’ll disguise it in such a way as not to offend her conservative supporters.

Tulsi being a politician, I thought it would be easy to find her position on these issues but actually it’s not. There are organizations dedicated to tracking down voting history etc and they churn up a lot of data but one thing is still elusive there – a definitive answer. They just elect this wall of garbage that passes off as information and I bet it’s designed to give a wiggle room for future policy reversals. Never mind, it’s not important.

I’m sure Tulsi does not support abortion as a rule, I don’t think she has changed direction of her moral compass on this, but there exceptions to each rule, too. Duryodhana wasn’t particularly welcome to this world, for example, so in Vedic times killing unwanted demoniac progeny wasn’t completely out of the question.

I don’t know what to do with rape victims either. I can’t imagine they’d ever love the child conceived that way. The specter of rape will always hang over them and it’s not something I have a clear opinion on. Did Srila Prabhupada ever forced raped women to carry their children? If not, I’d rather leave room for doubt on this one.

Gay rights are easier and it’s a good reason to doubt Tulsi’s dedication to sanatana dharma, as she puts the name of her religion herself. Having said that, I don’t actually have a problem with gay marriage. The more I think about it the clearer it becomes – gays should better stay in monogamous relationships. They are not going to live with women, that’s just not happening anymore, so being “married” is the next best thing, from varnashrama perspective.

If by marriage they mean having the same tax breaks as actually married couples I can’t care less what they legally call it. Should they be allowed to adopt children? As long as we have orphans who need to be looked after it’s not easy to argue why not. Would these orphans be better off as orphans or as children who grew up with gay parents?

The only downside is the effect on these children’s understanding of what sex is and what it is for but people get wrong ideas about it without being raised by gays, so that might not have a big effect after all. Who will have a better chance of becoming a devotee – an orphan or a gay parents’ adopted kid? I don’t know, there are too many variables, and so altogether I don’t see many reasons to object to gay adoptions.

Gays in ISKCON, however, is a completely different story. Out there they can live whatever perverted life they create for themselves but to be a devotee one must give up sex as means of enjoyment, which is impossible for gays. They should either become celibate and forget about their sexual orientation altogether or they should marry a woman (or a man, for lesbians) and raise Krishna conscious children.

Would that be against their gay nature? I bet it would, but devotees should live for the pleasure of Krishna, not for themselves. There’s a reason why human life on this planet is so special – it gives one the opportunity to develop his Krishna consciousness. If being gay is not suitable for devotional service – tough luck, dogs and cats have it even worse.

We can’t save everyone, Sivananda Sena once saved a dog that followed his party to Jagannatha Puri and Lord Chaitanya saved lots of wild animals in Jarikhanda forest but our abilities are limited. If we can’t save gays then we can’t do it, period.

Gay people can chant, they can read books, they can preach, they can do tons of service, they can beget children, but engaging in gay sex isn’t one of the options. They should accept this limitation just as western devotees accept not being allowed to enter temple of Lord Jagannatha.

Should they be given initiation? Why not, as long as they follow the fourth regulative principle just as straight devotees do – sex only for procreation. If they can’t commit themselves to that – tough luck. Having formal initiation and being accepted by Krishna as a servant of His servants are not one and the same thing anyway. Not having diksa is a big loss but it’s not fatal.

So, as long as Tulsi doesn’t promote homosexuality among devotees I don’t have a problem with her gay rights stance, I think Bhakti Vikasa Swami has overreacted somewhat her, though his objection was against new.iskcon.org, not against Tulsi herself, and that is a whole other topic.