Why ISKCON’s GBC Bashes BVKS’s WMM

The only problem the GBC seems to have with Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja’s book Women: Masters or Mothers? (now Mothers and Masters) is that he wrote a book that says our social vision should be guided by statements in Srila Prabhupada’s books that some devotees are uncomfortable with. And that raises a doubt as to whether their objections are actually to what Srila Prabhupada has said and are just disguised as objections to Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja. It’s much easier for them to bash Maharaja for whatever they really want to bash Srila Prabhupada for, isn’t it? They should thank him profusely for the convenience.

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Some thoughts on Dhanurdhara Swami’s Reaction to BVKS’s Women: Masters or Mothers?

I’ve been following Jonathan Haidt since about 2013, when I saw David Blankenhorn interview him at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hszgWVXTziI, which was just after Blankenhorn had just come out in favor of gay marriage (he was officially against up to 2012).
Regarding Haidt, he seems to be mining Indian scriptural texts for ideas on moral philosophy. One of his big ideas, as he expresses it, is “the elephant drives the mahout”. By this he means that someone first has a conviction or a strong feeling for a particular moral position, and then he defends it with his rational faculties. That is, reason does not drive faith but faith drives reason. This closely corresponds with Lord Krishna’s declaration that one develops a particular faith according to the modes of nature one has acquired (BG 17.3). And a more recent article in the Atlantic featured a picture of Haidt with some pictures of Ganesha in the background. This causes me to think there is some connection between India and Haidt. (I had tried writing him to ask him about it, but he did not respond.)
So, on the point of Haidt and Dhanurdhara Maharaja’s attempt to analyze through Haidt’s perspective Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s book “Women: Masters or Mothers?” (WMM)–and more generally the controversy in ISKCON regarding traditionalist and liberal perspectives with respect to women–if Haidt’s ideas draw at least in part from Vedic literature, why rely on Haidt at all to explain the controversy when we can rely on Vedic literature like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam to explain it? One of the notable characteristics of Maharaja’s essay is that he relies extensively on Haidt’s philosophical lens (and the magic words “time, place, and circumstance”) and little if any on sastra or Srila Prabhupada commentaries.
To see why this is a problem, take for example a perspective expressed by a senior GBC man who opposes WMM. He said that the following passage from WMM is offensive to ISKCON’s traveling women preachers. Here is the passage (from WMM 1st edition):
“Yet unfortunately by their being independent, itinerant, and female, ISKCON’s traveling women preachers embody the feministic ideal: that the biggest women are out in the world, doing what the men do, with no family connections or responsibilities” (164 – 165).
My response to the GBC man (I was face-to-face with him) was that these women preachers, if bona fide, would not only agree with Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja’s assessment that it is indeed bad that there are itinerant, independent female preachers but that they would also preach the same thing as well. I explained that according to the Bhagavatam, in a time of emergency anyone except kshatriyas can perform the occupational duties of another (see SB 7.11.17), so an itinerant, independent, female preacher would explain that the present time is indeed in a state of emergency and would also preach and give suitable instruction how to take society from an emergency to normal. The point here is that one must perform the hard work of trying to understand Srila Prabhupada in a way that is in line with the shastras and acharyas, not out of line with them.
And this work cannot be avoided without adverse consequence. Just waving the magic words, “time, place, circumstance” and then acribing to Srila Prabhupada’s name all manner of speculation is a great disservice to him, for it not only portrays Srila Prabhupada as someone who on occasion breaks with the parampara but it misguides people on the path back to Godhead.
Non-compliance with this principle of trying to understand how whatever Srila Prabhupada said or did is in line with shastra has created trouble for Maharaja’s analysis. As per him, a “careful book review addressing in depth the various issues and arguments raised” would have required him to not only “deal elaborately with each, or many, of the book’s points, either defending them or refuting them,” he would have also risked “getting drawn into a long and fruitless debate with people entrenched in their views,” an exercise he “definitely had no interest in or time to initiate.” Hence, he decided that “it would be better to just highlight the core issue and address the controversy in a more general way.” Maharaja very graciously wants to do good to all sides of the controversy.
But the problem he is trying to avoid necessarily arises on account of attempting to avoid it in the first place. That is, by trying to address the controversy “in a more general way,” he avoids the very work that must be undertaken in order to understand the controversy clearly at all.
And even more troublesome for his analysis is that he relies heavily on a non-devotee’s philosophical perspective rather than relying heavily on shastra. Although there is sometimes actual truth to be found in speculative philosophies, the truth presented is at best partial–a mixture of truth and “anti-truth”, jnanam and ajanam. Hence, Srila Prabhupada in his debate with Professor Staal noted that “only the incomplete views of various parties apart from the bona fide Vedic lines give a rupturous appearance to the Bhagavad-gita.” In the same way, on account of relying on the perspective of a speculative philosopher, Maharaja’s analysis ends up giving a “rupturous” appearance to Srila Prabhuapda’s teachings.
For example, Maharaja says,
“So, what about all the direct quotes by Śrīla Prabhupāda describing varṇāśrama and its traditionalist values? If that’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted, then by all means his followers should take up the service to implement it and show others its value—but only as long as they don’t, in trying to implement it, lose their heart and kick too many good, sincere, Kṛṣṇa conscious women aside—women who can be good mothers with love and respect for tradition but who also need to be reasonably empowered according to their natures and karmic situations.”
What does he mean by “if that’s what Srila Prabhupada wanted”? Of course it’s what Srila Prabhupada wanted. It’s what Lord Krishna and the acharyas want. That’s why it is taught in the Gita and Bhagavatam, which were spoken specifically for the people of this age. “People who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana,” that’s still good, right?
The problem is not that Bhakti Vikasa Swami has written a mean-spirited book that will “kick too many good, sincere, Krsna conscious women aside.” Indeed, many “good, sincere, and Krsna conscious women” have praised the book. The problem is that Dhanurdhara Maharaja has his own doubts about “all the direct quotes by Srila Prabhupada describing varnasrama and its traditionalist values.” If all those varnasrama and traditionalist values really aren’t suitable for the present day life in Kali-yuga, then what are they doing in scriptures and purports to those scriptures that say of themselves that they are for the present day?
I don’t think Maharaja has a good answer for this. But one thing is for sure: no one–even one of Maharaja’s high calibre of austerity–is going to come to the correct conclusion, the parampara siddhanta, except by way of doing the hard work of debating these matters in depth. Therefore Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami has said: siddhAnta baliyA citte nA kara alasa, iha ha-ite kRSNe lage sudrdha mAnasa, “A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krishna” (CC Adi 2.117).

What about Srila Prabhupada’s Books?

A parampara critique of “Women in ISKCON in Prabhupada’s Times”

The importance of this paper is that for the first time in ISKCON, the mistreatment experienced by some of ISKCON’s women since ISKCON’s beginning is explained primarily in terms of the teachings found in Srila Prabhupada’s books. All other works before this have attempted to explain their mistreatment primarily in terms of what they remember of their personal dealings with Srila Prabhupada, with little to no input from his books, and Jyotirmayi’s paper “Women in ISKCON in Prabhupada’s Times” is an outstanding example of this. It is found that on topics related to women, emphasizing the authority of people’s memories of their unrecorded encounters with Srila Prabhupada at the expense of the authority of Srila Prabhupada’s books is motivated by a deep attachment to Western ideas of gender equality, which in turn leads to a faithlessness that results in the complete repudiation of the authority of shastra and Srila Prabhupada. The distinct advantage of an explanation based on Srila Prabhupada’s books is that it avoids the problem of becoming faithless, because the causal explanation closely conforms to shastra and Srila Prabhupada’s purports. Moreover, it offers practical guidance that has application not only for ISKCON’s members but for the people suffering in the world at large.[1]

[1] For further discussion of these matters, please see Sri Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s book Women, Masters or Mothers. More information about the book can be found at:<http://www.bvks.com/books/women_masters_or_mothers>.

Steps to Take in Detoxifying ISKCON

On Facebook in a conversation which recently took place and about which I had no prior knowledge of or interest in, one of the participants felt compelled to make a public display of contempt towards Bhakti Vikas Swami, Basu Ghosh Prabhu, and me, by name, in order to convince a group of people with their own suspicions that Srila Prabhupada was a male chauvinist sexist that it is not Srila Prabhupada but his defenders (specifically, Bhakti Vikasa Swami, Basu Ghosh Prabhu, and me) who make him appear like a sexist. That is, we’re the sexists, not Srila Prabhupada. At least that’s the gist of Prabhu Akruranatha’s innuendo.

So, here is brief sample of Prabhu Akruranath’s “Two Minute Hate” and starting point for the rest of whatever I have to say here. He writes:

— quote —

But when conservative devotees like Bhakti Vikas Swami or Basu Ghosh Das or Krishna Kirti Das tell me that the liberal devotees and “feminists” in ISKCON actually reject Srila Prabhupada and the teachings of his books, I tell them, “No. You have misunderstood them. They just want us to be lenient with social rules and understand the true purpose behind them, as Srila Prabhupada did. They want to address the spirit soul of those not trained in higher Aryan moral values.”

— end quote —

As a principle, we say that consistency is an essential property of correct understanding. The best understanding of what Srila Prabhupada meant is that it can be supported from a comprehensive range not only of his other statements but also of shastra and the statements of prior acharyas. Cherry-picking statements from the Vedabase according to one’s personal tastes, as is the common fashion, is unacceptable.

This principle of consistency is followed by Srila Prabhupada himself. In his Gita commentary to verse 2.12, he writes,

— quote —

The Mayavadi may argue that the individuality spoken of by Krsna is not spiritual, but material. Even accepting the argument that the individuality is material, then how can one distinguish Krsna’s individuality? Krsna affirms His individuality in the past and confirms His individuality in the future also. He has confirmed His individuality in many ways, and impersonal Brahman has been declared to be subordinate to Him. Krsna has maintained spiritual individuality all along; if He is accepted as an ordinary conditioned soul in individual consciousness, then His Bhagavad-gita has no value as authoritative scripture. A common man with all the four defects of human frailty is unable to teach that which is worth hearing. The Gita is above such literature. No mundane book compares with the Bhagavad-gita. When one accepts Krsna as an ordinary man, the Gita loses all importance.

— end quote —

Srila Prabhupada rejects the Mayavadi argument on the grounds of it being inconsistent with other precepts supported by shastra. This mode of argument is typical of Vaishnava acharyas in our parampara or in others we consider authoritative. We say that to understand Srila Prabhupada’s properly we must approach in the same way whatever he wrote or said. Conversely, a good indication that someone has misunderstood Srila Prabhupada is when that person’s statements are inconsistent with whatever else Srila Prabhupada, previous acharyas and shastra have said.

The virtue of this approach is that it is measurable. We can understand when some idea attributed to Srila Prabhupada is correct or incorrect in just the same way Srila Prabhupada demonstrated the fallacy of the Mayavada understanding.

As a contemporary example, in Mother Jyotirmayi’s widely acclaimed essay “Women in ISKCON in Srila Prabhupada’s Time,” she writes,

— quote —

He made the necessary adjustment of womanhood to modern Western situations, as he saw that following the traditional Vedic definition would be completely anachronistic and impede our movement.

— end quote —

But if the traditional Vedic definition of womanhood is “completely anachronistic”, then why did Srila Prabhupada often criticize modern society on the basis of this definition? See for example Bhagavad-gita As It Is http://www.vedabase.com/en/bg/16/1-3 and especially http://www.vedabase.com/en/bg/16/7.

Thus while we can all widely agree that Srila Prabhupada did in fact loosen some standards for the sake of preaching to a people unfamiliar with Vedic culture and precepts, where we disagree is on the intent and permanency of those changes being ascribed to Srila Prabhupada. Much of what Srila Prabhupada says specifically about the subject of womanhood has to be rendered irrelevant or untenable just to uphold Jyotirmayi’s interpretation of Srila Prabhupada’s words. Moreover, calling the Vedas, or literature in pursuance of the Vedic version, “completely anachronistic” also happens to be an offense against the holy name — sruti shastra nindanam.

So when there is such a gulf of difference between what they say Srila Prabhupada meant and what he actually meant, a lot of things go on in the name of Srila Prabhupada that aren’t really genuinely Krishna conscious. People mimic him without proper understanding and then expect the same results, not unlike how people in a cargo-cult go through the motions of building airstrips and wooden props resembling radios and other electronic equipment with the expectation that airplains and “cargo” would be the result of their attempts at sympathetic magic.

As per the Wikipedia entry for “Cargo cult”,

— quote —

With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised to bestow on their followers deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or other sources, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses

— end quote —

In the same way, the cargo-cult adjuster thinks if he imitates Srila Prabhupada and continues to adjust ISKCON until–surprise! time, place and circumstance, Prabhu!–it resembles any one of the innumerable modern, socially and politically leftist, Western unitarian churches, then we will become powerful and influential like the West and dominate the world. Instead, they imitate Srila Prabhupada without adequate depth, and they always somehow end up getting a contrary result.

When Akruranatha says (in this case, to me, in public), “No. You have misunderstood them [the liberal and ‘feminist’ devotees]. They just want us to be lenient with social rules and understand the true purpose behind them, as Srila Prabhupada did,” he’s making a big, and unwarranted, leap of faith in the critical judgment of “liberal and ‘feminist’ devotees”. Do they really know what Srila Prabhupada’s intentions are? If so, then why is it that the “liberal and ‘feminist'” crowd is the only demographic in ISKCON that is known for criticizing him publicly? No other group does this. Really.

Here is an excerpt from a report produced by a group of women convened by the GBC women’s ministry to discuss ICC (ISKCON Continental Committee)’s reservations of the 2000 Women in ISKCON resolutions passed by the GBC.

— BEGIN QUOTE —

Meeting of Senior Vaisnavis, February 18th, 2004
Sridhama Mayapura:

Present: Malati dasi ( GBC, New Vrindavana ), Subuddhi dasi ( Temple President, ISKCON Toronto), Gaurangi dasi ( India and France ), Ali Krishna
( Italy ) dasi, Urvasi dasi ( Ohai praching center, USA), Visaka dasi ( Saranagati Farm, Canada ) , Sudamani dasi ( Philadelphia , USA ), Prasanta dasi ( India ), Acintya Rupa dasi ( Australia ), Praharana dasi ( Toronto), Rupa Manjari dasi Radha Desh, Belgium), Vishnu Priya dasi ( Italy ), Arcana dasi ( Bolivia ), Racitambhara dasi ( Vancouver, Canada, lived in Mayapura for many years ),
Paurnamasi dasi, Toronto, Canada), Saranga dasi ( Bombay and Vrindavana )

Seventeen senior Vaisnavis met to discuss the issues raised by the non-compliance of the ICC regarding GBC Resolutions 501 and 618, passed in 2000.

There was discussion regarding the need to define the role of women in ISKCON which was established as a preaching movement by Srila Prabhupada. The definition needs to be determined by sastra, by the instructions and example of Srila Prabhupada, by looking at the social environment where we preach in India and abroad, and by 35 years of practical experience of devotees within ISKCON.

There was acknowledgement that there will be diversity within ISKCON as devotees determine for themselves what particular path brings them further along the path of devotional service. Unity in diversity is certainly relevant in the definition of the roles of both men and women as servants of Lord Caitanya. The extreme views of some men and women regarding a Vaishnavi’s role as restricted to family activities are seen NOT to be a women’s issue, but rather an authority issue, relevant to all thoughtful devotees.

The group did not in anyway minimize the role of women as wives and mothers within the family structure. This is the top priority for a married woman. However women were acknowledged to be effective in many other devotional capacities as well, during all periods of their lives. Tolerance, respect and appreciation is necessary because variations are valid and should be valued. We as a Society can choose to have an international society of devotees or we can develop into a Balkan type of institution with many entrenched camps and little unity or cooperation.

Vedic life, as extolled in our scriptures, is highly interpretive. Understanding what is truly Vedic is elusive. Srila Prabhupada, taught us about Vedic society and the role of varnashrama in elevating society, but he did not practically speaking, engage his spiritual daughters within such a system. They were active preachers, pujaris, cooks, etc. Srila Prabhupada in fact, introduced a new model with new standards; one based on preaching. He had Yamuna dasi perform Abhisehka in Jaipura when the Radha Govinda Deities were installed in 1972 before thousands of Indian pilgrims. He had Malati dasi speak before a large crowd including Gaudiya Matha in Mayapura after the laying of the corner stone in 1972. He was proud to showcase his competent daughters to his god-brothers.

. . .

— END QUOTE —

Got that?

Just in case your liberal or “feminist” eyeballs “accidentally” skipped over that last paragraph, or perhaps found its meaning “truly elusive”, here’s a recap:

These senior women, who are supposed to be the advanced among the advanced women in our society, are on record for declaring that Srila Prabhupada “introduced a new model with new standards” and that somehow all the old-fashioned Vedic stuff about womanhood, values and standards that Srila Prabhuapda criticizes modern Western civilization with are now irrelevant.

Why? Because “Understanding what is truly Vedic is elusive.” Even though he referred to Vedic culture and Vedic civilization and Vedic principles in his books and in person on innumerable occasions, whatever he meant by what he said is incomprehensible.

The fact that these women are supposed to be advanced devotees means they don’t get a pass for being naive. It is not the case that they don’t understand “what is truly Vedic” or that they believe that understanding it is “elusive.” They know very well what it is. It’s just that they don’t like it. That is why they are so dismissive of it.

And the reason they don’t like it is because they want to be welcome in the company of others who are non-devotees–asuras, demons, people who are envious of Krishna. To be pleasing to them, they not only have to say things like this but also end up believing them, too.

A case in point is the Facebook post by Prabhu Akruranath that occasioned this response. In order to appeal to a group of people who tend to be liberal and feminist in their social values and are sometimes outspokenly critical of Srila Prabhupada, he has to show his solidarity with them by disparaging others who have a track record of defending Srila Prabhupada. He is trying to say, “Hey, I’m on your side, not on theirs.”

Moreover, to show his comrades that he really, most truly is a faithful party member, Prabhu Akruranath stages a very brief “Two Minutes Hate” against me and two others as token Emmanuel Goldsteins. He neither quotes us nor describes with any reasonable standard of accuracy a specific idea that any of us have articulated over the years. His message to his distressed Facebook friends are clear enough: he and his friends are with the good guys, and we are the bad guys. Really, what can you say to that?

You can’t say anything, because the motivation is fundamentally irrational. In this case and more generally it’s like arguing with someone about his preference for a color. “You like the color pink for the wrong reason!” “But I *like* pink.” That’s the nature of the disagreement. It cannot be rationally discussed.

But the fact that our differences are fundamentally irrational does not mean they are trivial or unimportant. They are very important because our convictions about these matters arise from our association with (or transcendence of) the modes of nature. The siddhanta, or conclusion, is that our reasoning begins with the modes of nature and naturally proceeds from there. Sattvanarupa sarvasya shraddha bhavati bharata, shraddha mayo yam purusho yo yac chraddha sa eva sah, “According to one’s existence under the three modes of material nature, one acquires a particular kind of faith. One is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.” (Gita 17.3) The differences arise because within our society there are deep disparities in terms of the modes of nature, which is to say that our social issues are fundamentally driven by widespread contamination of the lower modes.

This contamination has specific sources: initiated devotees taking up jobs in the workforce, children of devotees going to public schools, keeping friends at work or in the school, or elsewhere, that are not devotees, spending years in universities to acquire advanced training and credentials (often giving the excuse of doing it for preaching) and thereby coming into the association of non-devotees, and so forth. Naturally, by spending so much time with them, you make friends with them and want to be more like them. The common thread in all this is that ISKCON’s members, whether great or small, maintain extensive association with non-devotees not simply for the sake of preaching to them but for their friendship or professional association. This is where the contamination is coming from. That has to be corrected before any meaningful dialog can take place.

Hence, nothing can be gained in discussion with the interlocutors of the Facebook thread that occasioned this piece. I’m not posting the full response there–only a link just because I said I would respond. But after spending some time organizing my thoughts somewhat on this matter, I thought it would be of some benefit to share them with the people on my side, “the good guys.” :-). At least “good” in terms of fidelity to the corpus of Vedic literature in general and Srila Prabhupada’s teachings specifically. That in connection with Krishna consciousness is a virtue worth fighting for.

Rachel Lu: “Why I Avoid Same-Sex Marriage Debates”

This is why I’ve lately grown more inclined to avoid debating same-sex marriage in open discussion forums. I haven’t declared an unbreakable personal moratorium. I’ll happily explain the Christian position to a good-faith questioner over coffee. But I don’t want to act as though the marriage issue is just another open question that we’re all free to consider. I’m not willing to pretend anymore that rational debate has anything to do with what is happening in America today (and indeed, throughout the Western world). Christians are not losing the cultural battle because they’ve lost the argument. Their arguments are as compelling as ever, but in most “decent company” they are no longer permitted to explain them, and are often subject to censure and other penalties if they try.

Rachel Lu, “Why I Avoid Same-Sex Marriage Debates” 8 Jun 2015, Ricochet 16 Aug. 2015 < https://ricochet.com/avoid-sex-marriage-debates/ >

The Western Countries are Filled with Impersonalism and Voidism

Says Lord of the Rings actor John Rhys-Davies about the Western response to ISIS:

‘But it’s all relevant, it’s all equally relative. We’re all the same. And God and the devil, they’re the same, aren’t they, really? Right and wrong? It’s really just two faces of the same coin.
‘We have lost our moral compass completely, and unless we find it, we’re going to lose our civilization.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3197450/Lord-Rings-actor-fears-lost-moral-compass-completely-fears-end-Western-European-Christian-civilization.html#ixzz3is8GPiyA

That is what impersonalism does: it destroys one’s sense of right and wrong because no culture is supposed to be better than another.