Letter From Hridayananda Maharaja
Posted February 6, 2009
Jaya Srila Prabhupada. A letter of blessings that I sent to a gay couple has caused an extraordinary amount of controversy, and so I am writing here to clarify my understanding of this issue, and the intention of my letter.
In the Bhagavad-gita 17.15, Lord Krishna states that "Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others..."
I have clearly failed to some extent in this duty as prescribed by Lord Krishna, given the bitter and insulting nature of some responses. I sincerely apologize to the devotees for this evident failure.
I have been accused of harboring thinly veiled political motives, or of seeking to impose upon ISKCON a new and de facto social reality regarding homosexual relations. To the devotees, even to the incredulous, I state here that none of this was my intention. In my letter, as I will later explain in detail, I sought, and apparently failed, to strike a balance that would not convulse ISKCON. The great agitation produced by my letter shows that I failed in my intent, for which I again apologize.
I am keenly aware that I do not have the right within ISKCON to unilaterally establish policy on this matter, and my intention was not to preempt, nor to pressure or coerce, a GBC decision on the issue.
Ironically, my own views on homosexuality are seen by the world in general as rather conservative and indeed those views often disappoint gay rights activists. As stated in an earlier paper I wrote on this topic:
1. I do not advocate, nor perform, gay marriage. I accept the view of Srila Prabhupada, (and, by the way, of the well-known gay musician, Elton John) that marriage historically has been, and should remain, a heterosexual institution.
2. Although science proves that a segment of the population is born with a homosexual orientation, and although homosexuality is thus natural for that group, I do not believe that what is natural for an individual or a group of individuals, is necessarily natural for society. Therefore I seek a balance that respects the genetically, unavoidably homosexual nature of an individual, as well as the natural right of society as a whole to privilege heterosexuality as its social norm.
In my letter, which was addressed to educated non-devotees, I began by saying:
"Our love for each other is a reflection of God's love for us. Thus, the perfection of every relationship is to see God in each other."
Since Krishna's love for us is pure, I believed that serious devotees would understand, from the beginning of my statement, that I was speaking of spiritual love, rather than mundane, bodily lust. I believed they would see that I was encouraging the persons involved to see Krishna within each other, and thus fully transcend the bodily concept of life. I then stated:
"May God bless [these] devoted souls, as they commit themselves to each other in the spirit of God's love for them. May [they] always please God through true love for each other."
Clearly we please Krishna by renouncing all sinful activities and selfish desires, and I made this very clear to both parties in private conversations. In other words I offered blessings not for their sense gratification, but for the exact opposite: the giving up of any activity not pleasing to Krishna. I referred to them as "devoted souls" because I do not believe that a person genetically wired for homosexuality is necessarily "bestial" or "demonic" as some apparently feel.
Irrefutable history shows us that many sincere souls born with a homosexual orientation have struggled sincerely to serve Srila Prabhupada's mission, and to awaken their dormant love for Krishna, despite an often heavy private and social burden. I cannot see such souls, as some apparently do, as disgusting freaks, willfully and obscenely offending God and nature by their genetic makeup. I am well aware of Srila Prabhupada's statements on this matter and I am confident that a mature, thorough knowledge of Prabhupada's preaching content and style makes possible a more moderate interpretation of those statements. I feel that I am well prepared to logically defend this view though I will not belabor it here.
I also do not go to the other extreme of denying that homosexuality, in some ways, is problematic within a spiritual society. The special burden of devotees born with this condition can only be fully eliminated by their own spiritual enlightenment.
In the last paragraph of my letter, I said: "By such true spiritual love, may they always be, each for the other, a source of spiritual inspiration and happiness. May their relationship lead them, patiently and steadily, back to our real home in the spiritual world, where all relationships become eternal and perfect."
I believed that devotees would recognize the language of true spiritual love as referring to pure Krishna consciousness, far beyond the bodily concept of life, far above any form of sexuality. And clearly a relationship that leads people back to the spiritual world must be a relationship which, through genuine devotion and sacrifice, has become fully pleasing to Krishna.
Not a word in my letter addresses current social or political issues related to homosexuality. Not a word in my letter claims a legal status for homosexual couples, be it marriage or civil union. As a Vaishnava teacher, not as a political operative, nor as a renegade policy maker, I prayed to Krishna that He guide two sincere souls to His lotus feet.
That I expressed this sincere wish in a manner that was not sufficiently sensitive to the concerns of other sincere Vaishnavas, I admit. I truly regret this failing on my part. However, that I acted with political motives, I vehemently deny.
Let us take this situation as an opportunity to earnestly discuss how we may best preserve our sacred principles: both our moral rigor as well as our deep compassion.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami