Accept gay devotees and their non-ISKCON marriages
Posted January 22, 2005
This letter is my response to several articles posted on Chakra within the last 30 days by H.H. Hridayananda das Goswami (19th Dec. 2004 and 3rd Jan. 2005), Iccha-dhari dasi, Bhaktin Erica and Bhaktavatsala das.
Let me declare at the outset a) that I am definitely not a gay person, and b) that I am Iccha-dhari's friend, and therefore aware of what she and her former husband were going through in the last chapter of their married life. I would like to thank Hridayananda Maharaj and Erica prabhu for their compassionate sympathy and understanding of those ISKCON devotees who a) are trying their best to give up sense gratification and advance in Krishna consciousness, b) are homosexual, and c) are unable at this point to completely renounce.
With Iccha-dhari prabhu's permission, I'd like to remind readers of her unfortunate story. She had been married for three years to a gay husband, a very nice and sincere devotee. He didn't want to marry, but was 'encouraged' by his godbrothers, who wanted to help him to become 'a real man'. (His spiritual master approved of this without telling anything to Iccha-dhari.)
She was chosen as a 'sacrificial lamb' who was supposed to mysteriously transform her husband's sexual preference, while knowing nothing of this in advance of the wedding. He entered the marriage and was forced to conceal his real emotions (by hiding them under his 'psychological carpet'.) He was externally very successful playing somebody he was not; however, acting all the time against his nature made him emotionally exhausted, which affected Iccha-dhari dasi too.
Homosexuality exists since time immemorial. There is a story about it in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. When Lord Brahma was creating the material world, it somehow happened (Krishna's arrangement?) that homosexual persons (tritiya-prakrti) were created. Though in the minority, we can conclude that they play a role in the material world, as they exist from the very beginning of material creation.
Occasionally reading articles about this topic on this website, I have got the impression that conservative Vaishnavas are quite fanatical, stubborn and unrelenting, due to their black-and-white outlook. I am pretty sure that they wouldn't be so fanatical if their sons and daughters were homosexual. There is no doubt that homosexuality (as much as material heterosexuality) is a serious anartha that keeps spiritual practitioners firmly anchored to the material world and prevents them from redeveloping their eternal love for the Divine Couple. Homosexuality and material heterosexuality are actually the same anartha, which manifests in two different ways.
When I propose that we in ISKCON should accept every person as they are, I don't mean to say that we should sentimentally support somebody's anarthas and encourage their false ego. No. I mean to say that all sincere people who show interest for Krishna consciousness should be given an equal chance to work on the eradication of their anarthas. But this requires mutual encouragement and love.
Obviously, this is not the case in ISKCON today (with some rare exceptions), because some Vaishnavas have higher status (so-called 'normal persons'), whereas some have lower status (so-called 'abnormal persons'.) Some homosexual Vaishnavas voluntarily get married to a person from the opposite gender, not because somebody is directly 'encouraging' them (as in Iccha-dhari's husband's case), neither because they really want it, but because in that way they could be properly accepted (without any prejudices) in the ISKCON society. (This, however, seldom works in the long run.) This is certainly a great sacrifice on their side, which has its roots in indirect social pressure. Such a social pressure is nothing else but a psychological violence on somebody's spiritual and private life.
In the middle ages, Christians had inquisitions for killing 'witches'; similarly, we in ISKCON today have inquisitions for killing somebody's emotions. The Christian inquisition functioned on a gross level (incinerating witches), whereas ISKCON's inquisition functions on a little subtler level. That is, by social pressure and lack of proper understanding of philosophy it forces some Vaishnavas to commit suicide or to go somewhere else.
Inability to understand the psychological phenomenon of homosexuality in ISKCON leads to inevitable alienation of many (if not all) homosexual Vaishnavas. That alienation and segregation sometimes results in suicides. This is a very serious thing. What is ISKCON losing by its conservative attitude? First of all, it loses a fairly large number of Vaishnavas who a) are forced (directly or indirectly) to go to other spiritual organisations, b) spiritually fall down, being "fried" with impersonalism in ISKCON, or c) kill themselves.
From a philosophical viewpoint, maltreatment of homosexual Vaishnavas is a serious Vaishnava-aparadha, not because they are homosexual, but because they are sincere Vaishnavas. Didn't Srila Prabhupada build a house in which the whole world can live?
Naturally, a question arises: What could be a possible solution for the problem? I believe there is a compromise solution for all ISKCON Vaishnavas in this regard. On one hand, gay marriages within ISKCON are out of the question because it's definitely not in line either with Vedic or Vaishnava tradition. In addition, it would be introducing something that Srila Prabhupada had never introduced and approved. On the other hand, we shouldn't be narrow-minded fools and simply ignore this social problem by not acting in accordance with time, place and circumstances. Times are changing, and to be successful preachers, we should go in pace with it.
Here is my proposal: permit gay couples to marry (if secular law allows it), but of course, not in a Vedic way. In that case, they would have to live outside of any ISKCON premises and declare publicly that they had done so without approval of ISKCON authorities (to avoid damaging ISKCON's reputation). In that way, they would have their desire fulfilled and still could be active ISKCON members. ,p> I know. This is exactly where the problem kicks in. Some gay Vaishnavas might be disturbed by this proposal, as it would seem as if they didn't have the same rights within the ISKCON family. But if they truly want to support the Sankirtana mission and contribute to spreading Srila Prabhupada's teachings, they should consider this: I am taking the liberty to say that ISKCON cannot sanction gay marriages within the institution for the following reasons.
- Srila Prabhuphada was aghast by gay marriage, and that's why he never introduced it in ISKCON. There is a veritable ocean of quotes of Srila Prabhupada's talks on the subject, (from his conversations, letters, lectures and so on.) But for this letter I will mention only two of occasions, as reported in room conversations at the end of February 1972 in Mayapura and on May 25 of the same year in Los Angeles. Srila Prabhupada twice criticized clergymen who had, according to a Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publication of the time, agreed to same-sex marriages.
- It's not in line with either the Vedic or the Vaishnava tradition and philosophy.
- The existence and efficiency of the Sankirtana mission would be seriously endangered due to social pressure in the conservative/traditional countries where much of the public is disgusted even about a mere thought of gay marriages. For that reason, ISKCON would be labelled as a heretical movement, which could in turn put ISKCON members and property at risk.
- A certain number of homosexuals would join ISKCON for the single purpose of legal marriage, and not for their genuine interest in Krishna consciousness. This could lead to severe social and institutional problems.
Bhaktavatsala prabhu writes: "There is no question of any such [mundane sex] business in the spiritual world ever, nor in brahminical/spiritual society and culture". Does this mean that all the gay Vaishnavas should be beaten to the ground because they are not pure in their heart yet, still being attached to their body and the desires that arise from it? Does it mean that gay Vaishnavas cannot return back to Godhead unless they are first reborn as heterosexual Vaishnavas? (This reminds me of the story of little Dhruva who was told by his stepmother that he should be reborn from HER womb to be able to sit on his father's lap.)
I think that my compromise solution is a viable option. I am not a
prophet, but I can predict the following: If all ISKCON members don't
have mutual understanding based on trust and spiritual love, a section
of devotees will always be alienated and frustrated, which will result
in an exodus of Vaishnavas from ISKCON society, in which case other
spiritual organisations will reap the fruits sown by Srila Prabhupada
(that is exactly what has already been going on for a while.) I doubt
that Srila Prabhupada would be happy about that.