Thoughts On 311
Posted May 14, 2008
I would like to encourage the GBC on their plan to footnote the controversial comments regarding woman that are in the Bhagavatam and elsewhere. I also would concur with Amara prabhu's point that the footnoting should extend to the comments about minorities and other religions.
The main problem with these comments is that they are contradictory to the way Prabhupada treated his disciples. Early on, he sent female devotees to lecture in India. And he awarded sanyasa to people of different races, nationalities and sexual orientations. Consequently, It seems strange to me that these quotes exist when Prabhupada's actions showed that he clearly believed in equality. The fact that he lived in India most of his life, where there were no non-Indian minorities implies that these statements were a reflection of some of his disciples' state of mind.
Unfortunately, these quotes have been used to foster hate, mysogeny, racism and anti-Semitism-leading to the mistreatment of some devotees. Growing up in gurukula I heard these comments endlessly repeated in a loop, by some of the teachers. Some of the former leaders of ISKCON have used these comments to suppress woman and minorities. Even worse, devotees actually believed that they were inferior to everybody, due to their race. In one of our last conversations, Bhaktitirtha Maharaja and I discussed this issue and he told me of the corrosive effects that this mentality has had in ISKCON and how it has affected him.
One of the things that attracted my parents to the movement after meeting Prabhupada, was that it preached equality of the soul. Intellectuals will not be attracted to a movement that on one hand preaches you are not this body, but then has derogatory remarks in its scripture. Women have been heads of state for decades, even in India. Next year, according to the polls there is a 50% chance that the next President of the US will be a woman or a minority. Devotees have traditionally distributed books to world leaders. What would happen if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama actually bothered to open the book and read these quotes?
It is important that whatever the footnote is, it addresses the issue properly. The explanation that I received from some is, "yes woman are less intelligent and blacks are lower, but because they became devotees, all of this no longer matter". This is not a good explanation; this will not address the issue, and will just throw gasoline on the fire. The footnotes need to make it clear the ISKCON believes that all are equal, even the people who decided not to become devotees.
I commend the GBC for taking these steps, and believe that these efforts will enhance the preaching efforts of future generations.