Chakra Discussions

Galva's Position On 'illicit Sex' And Renunciation

by Amara dasa

Posted May 19, 2006

The following statements issued by the ISKCON Governing Body Commission regarding "illicit sex" nicely express the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association's (GALVA's) exact same position:

The GBC Body wishes to clarify that according to Srila Prabhupada's teachings, sex life according to religious principles followed by Gaudiya Vaishnavas is for the propagation of children, not for any other purpose, and that the responsibility of the parents is then to make their offspring Krishna conscious. As stated in the Fifth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, "Sex is allowed only for the begetting of children, not for enjoyment. One can indulge in sex to beget a good child for the benefit of the family, society and world. Otherwise, sex is against the rules and regulations of religious life." (SB 5.14.9)

While Srila Prabhupada's definition of illicit sex is clear, it is also clear that some devotees have difficulty maintaining this initiation vow. The GBC recognizes this, and suggests that rather than trying to adjust Srila Prabhupada's definition we should go on with devotional service and humbly and sincerely keep endeavoring to reach the proper standard. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada writes, "In the beginning of Krishna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krishna consciousness." (BG 3.32, purport)

It is also said in Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20.27-28, "Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glory, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities."

(ISKCON GBC Resolution 303, Annual Meeting in Mayapura, India, 2/7-19/2001)

Sexuality is problematic in Vaishnavism since achieving liberation requires the abandonment of all material desires and attachments. While the above standard of "sex for procreation only" may seem extreme or even impossible to many aspiring devotees, it should not be taken as a cause for discouragement. In Krsna consciousness and "daiva-varnasrama" in general, there is a place for everyone whether they are renounced, fallen, or anywhere in between, and it is recognized that some devotees will be able to adopt the above standard immediately whereas others attain it gradually after years of devotional practice and purification.

GALVA has always encouraged its members to engage in devotional service and renounce material desires as far as possible, according to their ability and nature. This is best executed from either a celibate status or in something analogous to a heterosexual monogamous situation. While many of our members practice strict celibacy, others find the latter situation more helpful and realistic for their advancement in Krsna consciousness. Same-sex couples centering their household on Krsna and practicing celibacy together surely fall in line with the above-mentioned standard. Similarly, any couple--gay or straight--having sex for purposes other than procreation is considered in breach of the standard. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, such persons should continue in their service to Krsna despite "not fully discharging the injunctions of the Lord" or "sometimes engaging in sense enjoyment." By keeping the ultimate goal of complete renunciation in mind and continuing on with devotional service to the best of their ability, the sincere couple will gradually be promoted to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness.

GALVA believes that householder life and marriage are crucial components of Krsna consciousness that should not be denied to anyone. In the Seventh Chapter of his book, "Jaiva Dharma," Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that all living entities have the right to practice Vaishnavism and live as householders, even if they are outside of the ordinary "varnasrama" system. He also describes how marriage is primarily for Krsna conscious partnership: "One should not enter marriage with a desire to beget children, or to worship the forefathers and Prajapatis. It is favorable to bhakti to think, 'I am only accepting this servant of Krsna so that we can assist each other in Krsna's service and establish Krsna-centered family life together.'" Bodily considerations such as gender or whether or not a couple will have children and sex are less important than the two principles stated above. In ISKCON, for example, people who are sterile or beyond childbearing age are not prohibited from marriage, and neither are marriages terminated if they are childless or less than ideal in terms of sex. GALVA believes that the same understanding and tolerance should be extended toward gay and lesbian devotees--their need for marital companionship in Krsna consciousness should be recognized and they can adopt children, etc. This will be more helpful to their spiritual advancement than excluding them from marriage, encouraging artificial renunciation, or forcing them into unhappy and unnatural opposite-sex marital arrangements. As the same-sex couple matures both physically and spiritually they can gradually transcend all mundane sexuality and attachment, just as other couples do.

GALVA acknowledges the reservations some devotees have about same-sex marriage based upon Srila Prabhupada's initial reaction to the subject in the 1970s. At the same time, it should be pointed out that Srila Prabhupada never discussed this issue in any detail with his gay and lesbian disciples. We are reminded of when Srila Prabhupada first told his disciples to chant sixty-four rounds daily, but then later amended this to sixteen after listening to their feedback; or when he first granted brahminical initiation to men only, but then changed his mind and agreed to include women after hearing the pleas of his female disciples. GALVA hopes the Vaishnava community will similarly consider same-sex marriage carefully, on a personal level, and do what is best. There are also local considerations of custom and law. In some countries, temples find it needful to acknowledge same-sex unions, at least on a congregational level, whereas in others they are obliged to deny them. Similarly, some Gaudiya Vaishnava groups are favorable to same-sex marriage while others remain opposed or undecided. GALVA therefore advises its members requiring same-sex marriage and householder life to seek out the most conducive environment and Vaishnava support possible.

Below are a few guidelines compiled by GALVA to help our members in their cultivation of Krsna consciousness and renunciation:

*1. Find Your Place*: Everyone has a place in Krsna consciousness and finding the most conducive environment for spiritual life is very important. For some, this may involve living in the temple as a celibate and doing full time devotional service; for others, it may be within a marital situation outside the temple, owning a home, raising a family, going to work, etc. In any case, the cultivation of bhakti and renunciation is best executed from a position where one is most peaceful, happily engaged, and surrounded by supportive friends and well-wishers.

*2. Stress the Positive*: In Krsna consciousness, there are both positive instructions (chanting, studying scripture, associating with devotees, etc.) and negative ones (refraining from meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, illicit sex, and so on). While both are important, the positive instructions should always be given precedence over the negative. For instance, people should begin hearing and chanting about Krsna even if they cannot follow all of the prohibitions. It is not that one must first give up all bad habits, and then after that he or she may begin Krsna consciousness. Rather, by immediately adopting the positive practices of bhakti-yoga, a person will gradually become inspired to follow the various prohibitions.

*3. Keep Balanced*: Srila Rupa Goswami advises us to neither over-emphasize nor neglect the various rules and regulations of spiritual life. Religious fundamentalists ("smarta-brahmanas") overstress scriptural regulations and indiscriminately impose them in a harsh manner that is dispiriting to others. Religious sentimentalists, on the other hand (known as "sahajiyas"), casually neglect or omit the various rules and regulations to their own spiritual detriment. In reality, there must be a fine balance between these two extremes. Regulations should be adopted when they are helpful and realistic, but rejected when they are counterproductive or unrealistic.

*4. Seek Proper Guidance*: GALVA cautions its members to avoid the fundamentalist and "sahajiya" types of devotees mentioned above. In particular, fundamentalists are often hateful toward gays and their bad association can be very discouraging in spiritual life. Members should instead seek out the thoughtful, pure-hearted souls who view everyone equally and are expert at engaging all types of people in Krsna consciousness. Such good and inspiring association is the most important secret for achieving spiritual success.

*5. Be Honest*: Honesty and straightforwardness are important Vaishnava principles that everyone should adhere to. Devotees should be truthful about who they are and where they stand spiritually. GALVA advises its members to be straightforward about their psychophysical selves as gay, bisexual, or whatever. They should not lie about this or pretend to be something they are not. If a person is dishonest and pretentious in spiritual life, all sorts of problems and obstacles will ensue: "O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"

*6. Know Where You Stand*: Devotees should truthfully assess their own capabilities in terms of renunciation and move forward from there. Srila Prabhupada often stated that it is better to be an honest sweeper in the street than a highly positioned charlatan or hypocrite. It is not possible to make progress in Krsna consciousness if we do not confront our actual position and deal with it realistically. In this regard, Swami B.V. Tripurari has stated: " 'Daiva-varnasrama' refers to the importance of situating devotees in consideration of their psychological and physiological makeup so that they can gradually tread the topmost path of pure bhakti by eliminating the danger of artificial renunciation. False renunciation ('phalgu vairagya') involves not only artificially leaving one's family, but more so, being out of touch with the reality of one's material identity. One thereby ignores or denies much that one has to work through to attain freedom from the karmic realm and develop love of God. False renunciation does not mean to merely artificially accept a renounced formal posture. It involves misunderstanding one's actual standing in bhakti and avoiding the difficult task of dealing with one's material responsibilities and shortcomings through appropriate means, even when those means appear to be outside of the realm of bhakti proper."

*7. Never Offend Others*: In our practice of Krsna consciousness and renunciation it is important never to offend other living entities. In particular, offending fellow Vaishnavas is the foremost of all prohibitions and is even more detrimental to one's spiritual life than engaging in "illicit sex" or other restrictions. Sometimes it is seen that devotees become agitated due to false renunciation and, obsessed with the behavior of others, continuously criticize and offend them. Such a demeanor is highly detrimental in spiritual life and needs to be checked immediately. Devotees should peacefully focus on their own bhakti alone and learn to see only the good qualities in others.

*8. Remain Humble and Hopeful*: Devotees should always remain humble and hopeful that they will one day attain Krsna's mercy despite their shortcomings. Srila Rupa Goswami expresses this attitude in the following prayer: "I have no love for Krsna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krsna--namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti-yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krsna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don't see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must pray to You, Gopijana-vallabha. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life." ("The Nectar of Devotion," p. 137)

"GALVA's Position On 'Illicit Sex' and Renunciation"