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).

America as a Post-Christian Nation

Their loss can be our gain, if enough of us survive the attempt by some in our ranks to secularize the rest of us.

Recent polls confirm the increasing secularization of our people, especially the young. A poll by the Pew Foundation shows that the number of Americans describing themselves as Christian has declined by about 10% between 2007-2014. Meanwhile, those professing no religion grew by 50% in that same time frame. Fewer than 6 in 10 millennials (ages 18-33) affiliate with any branch of Christianity. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 66% of those age 65 and over believe being Christian is an important part of being American, while only 35% of those ages18-29 agree. These numbers are changing remarkably quickly as Americans are seemingly losing their faith and becoming more like secular Europeans.

David Davenport, “Elites And Courts Push America Into A Post-Christian Era”, 29 Jul. 2015, Forbes, 3 Sep. 2015 < http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2015/07/29/elites-and-courts-push-america-into-a-post-christian-era/ >

More discussion here at the 0:31:00 minute mark at this link.

How other religious institutions in the U.S. are reacting to Obergefell v. Hodges

Money quote:

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

“Supreme Court Decision On Marriage ‘A Tragic Error’ Says President Of Catholic Bishops’ Conference” 26 Jun 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 15 Jul 2015 <http://www.usccb.org/news/2015/15-103.cfm >

Meanwhile, back in our own backyard alleged followers of Srila Prabhupada associated with the Krishna West project are saying stuff like this:

So, big discussion with a couple of devotees about gay people in the movement, they are so adamant and so hateful that it makes me believe they are defending some personal cause, like not disguising they are gay themselves, not sure what to think, so sorry to see hate issues so strong among ourselves~if we do no understand we all are spirit souls, then what are we doing? :>(, they forget what Prabhupada did, accepted ALL and everyone~there was no distinction, we did not have a line at the door, to check who was who, /, if they really want to follow Prabhupada or Mahaprabhu, compassion is the key~

This was after a discussion in which the alleged devotee was politely asked to explain the difference between “gay monogamy” and “gay marriage”. An explanation, of course, was not forthcoming.

Nonetheless, the below letter from Srila Prabhupada has been recently shown many times already. There are by now many ISKCON insiders, including “leaders”, who believe Srila Prabhupada was such a hate-filled person.

Letter to: Lalitananda
—
Hawaii
26 May, 1975
75-05-26

My Dear Lalitananda dasa,

Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated
May 13rd, 1975 and have noted the contents. I am very sorry that you
have taken to homosex. It will not help you advance in your attempt
for spiritual life. In fact, it will only hamper your advancement.
I do not know why you have taken to such abominable activities. What
can I say? Anyway, try to render whatever service you can to Krishna.
Even though you are in a very degraded condition Krishna, being pleased
with your service attitude, can pick you up from your fallen state. 
You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise,
your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil. Show Krishna you
are serious, if you are.

I hope this meets you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Offering Foreign Foodstuffs to Lord Krishna

Some believe that stripping our current practice of Krishna consciousness in order to present the essence to people who are not from India is the best means to preach. For example, if in a particular part of the world outside of India, if people are more comfortable eating pizza than pakoras, then by all means offer pizza to Krishna instead of pakoras. But here is the conundrum – if the standard of what Krishna likes is defined by whatever someone else likes, where is the devotion to Krishna? What about the foods what Krishna likes? Obviously, the Lord wants people to come to Him, but pleasing Him is the point, which means that the Lord has His preferences apart from our own. Our standard of devotion is that we know what some of the Lord’s preferences are. That fact guides us in what to do and not to do in the name of preaching.

In some ways serving the Lord is much like serving anyone else: if a guest comes to your home, you serve him the best of what you have to offer. It may not be exactly according to his tastes, but typically a sincere effort is usually well received, the food and reception are welcomed. But when a guest stays for a long time, and if you want him to stay, then you try to make him “feel at home”, you try to supply things that make him feel at home.

Subuddhi Raya used to spend his savings to supply yogurt to Bengali Vaisnavas who came to Mathura. He also gave them cooked rice and oil massages. When he saw a poverty-stricken Vaisnava, he would use his money to feed him.

Purport:

There is a special reference for the maintenance of Bengali Vaisnavas. A Gaudiya Vaisnava is a Bengali Vaisnava. Most of the devotees of Lord Caitanya at that time were Gaudiyas and Oriyas, inhabitants of Bengal and Orissa. There are still many hundreds of thousands of His followers in Bengal and Orissa. Bengalis are habituated to eating cooked rice as their staple food. When they went to Mathura in the north, they found that the people generally ate chapatis or rotis made of wheat. The Bengalis could not digest this food because they were used to cooked rice. Therefore as soon as Subuddhi Raya saw a Bengali Vaisnava arriving in Mathura, he would try to supply him with cooked rice. Bengalis are also accustomed to taking a massage with mustard oil. In any case, Subuddhi Raya wanted to serve the Vaisnavas according to their needs. Therefore he would supply yogurt to ease the digestion of food eaten in Mathura, particularly the chapatis and rotis made with wheat.

CC Madhya 25.206

A similar consideration should be there for the Lord Himself. It is appropriate to offer the best of what a particular country or locality has to offer, and which can be offered to the Lord, but like us, the Lord has His own desires, His own likes and dislikes, with regard to food, clothing, residence, mannerisms (Vaishnava etiquette), etc. And by shastra and by tradition (aithiya), we know what some of those are. Therefore while it is perfectly fine (and desirable) to offer the Lord the best of the local cuisine, most of the foodstuffs offered to Him should be the kind offered in India, because that is the land that the Lord Himself was pleased to personally appear in.

Of course, within India itself there are many kinds of cuisines, North Indian, South Indian, etc, so a question may arise, “Which cuisine does Krishna prefer?” Lord Krishna resides in Vridavan, so the kinds of foods offered to the Lord there should be offered to Him. Devotees should learn how to make those preparations to satisfy Lord Krishna. However, the Lord also travelled throughout India and visited many, many places, which commemorate His visit at famous temples and holy places.

The most important place of pilgrimage in southern India, or Dravida, is Venkatacala, commonly known as Balaji. After visiting this place Lord Balarama proceeded toward Visnukañci, and from there He proceeded on the bank of the Kaveri. While going to Visnukañci, He visited Sivakañci. Lord Balarama took His bath in the river Kaveri; then He gradually reached Rangaksetra. The biggest Visnu temple in the world is in Rangaksetra, and the Visnu Deity there is celebrated as Ranganatha. There is a similar temple of Ranganatha in Vrndavana. Although not as big as the temple in Rangaksetra, it is the biggest in Vrndavana.

Krishna Book, Chapter 79

The Lord personally visited these places, so He certainly enjoyed the local cuisine offered to Him in those places, too. To this end, the departed Mother Yamuna spent much time visiting famous temples in India to compile recipes for her book Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking”. This is a great service to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna Mother Yamuna has done. By recording these traditions she has done much to preserve them and, hence, propagate Krishna consciousness throughout the world.

Richard A. Epstein, “Hard Questions on Same-Sex Marriage”

Richard A. Epstein at the Hoover Institution writes,

The hard question is how Justice Kennedy—now the swing vote on all matters “fundamental”—thinks about this issue. Here the evidence is decidedly mixed. To be sure, his opinion in Obergefell talks about the importance of letting religions “teach” the central principles of their faith. But as Justice Thomas’s dissent points out, a religion that is allowed to teach its beliefs may be forced to give up its tax-exempt status if it puts those beliefs into practice, and its adherents can be hounded by the state if they decide to run their personal lives in accordance with their religion. We thus face a serious risk in the aftermath of Obergefell: liberty in gay rights will turn out to be a one-way street. Some liberties will be guaranteed for some people while other liberties will be squashed for others. As I write, the gay rights movement is gearing up to expand the scope of the antidiscrimination laws in housing and labor markets.

Richard A. Epstein, “Hard Questions on Same-Sex Marriage” 29 Jun 2015, Hoover Institution, 3 Jul 2015 <http://www.hoover.org/research/hard-questions-same-sex-marriage>

The article and accompanying podcast, which goes into greater depth, can be accessed here.

Seven theses on the establishment of a varṇāśrama civilization

[From an email dated 27 November 2013 addressed to a group of devotees discussing the agenda for an upcoming meeting on various varnasrama and gurukula projects. Subsequently Sri Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja addresses these points in a lecture titled Varnasrama: The Big Picture.]

Dear Maharaja, and Prabhus, please accept my humble obeisances at your feet. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I feel it is important to start out with a big-picture vision because it gives direction to the small-scale, practical local efforts. To this end, these are some brief thoughts of mine with regard to the “big picture” of gurukula education and varnasrama projects. I do not claim they are infallible but offer them up only as points to consider.

Your servant, Krishna-kirti das

Some points on the establishment of Varnasrama civilization

  1. The form of a future varnasrama civilization follows from the simple fact that the present state and direction of modern science and technology confer upon its bearers a decisive military advantage. Present and future conflicts throughout the world will not be fought with chariots, bows and arrows but with machine guns, tanks, planes, and nuclear missiles. Protecting and advancing the spiritual, agrarian culture of varnasrama for the foreseeable future therefore necessarily requires the co-advancement of science, technology, and industry.
  2. The economy of a future varnasrama civilization at best must necessarily be a hybrid of agrarian, industrial, and knowledge-based technical economies.
    1. The system of education for such a society must necessarily teach all subjects required for both spiritual and material advancement.
  3. The social structure of a varnasrama civilization depends upon the avoidance of creating varnasankara, unwanted population, and the creation of good population, which has a temperament better suited to making spiritual advancement.
    1. Society must be stratified according to varnasrama divisions with the primary, societal aim of regulating sexual reproduction.
    2. Varnasrama principles to this end must be inculcated as far as possible for both rural and urban subpopulations.
  4. To maintain such a civilization, it is imperative to create and perpetuate a class of brahmanas who can preside over all of the most important knowledge-areas of society—be they humanistic or technical—in order to maintain the spiritual focus of society.
  5. To establish a modern varnasrama civilization, a class of brahmana preachers must be established to wage a “culture war” against all opposing doctrines and opposing social institutions and their champions.
  6. Founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is the present, and historic, institution to promote and lead the effort of reestablishing the spiritual direction of human society.
  7. To preserve ISKCON’s purpose and mission, which is Srila Prabhupada’s purpose and mission, there is an immediate need to train brahmana preachers to defend ISKCON against opposing impersonal and voidist doctrines and advance Vedic civilization.
    1. Such training will be the basis of a “Counter-reformation” within ISKCON.
    2. This training will be instrumental not only in protecting and strengthening ISKCON against opposing cultural influences but will be useful in meeting the organization’s preaching objectives.
    3. The first doctrines that must be opposed are those that are popular within
      1. Society at large and which have become influential within ISKCON.
      2. Dominant perspectives in the social and psychological sciences and which have been advanced within ISKCON by those with advanced degrees in these areas.
    4. Varnasrama will be the social doctrine that will be advanced in opposition to all other social doctrines presently advanced within and outside of ISKCON.