Without reason or justice
(A response to a question posted to www.vaisnavi.com)
Posted August 5, 2003
Question: In my opinion the behavior of a qualified Vaisnava is based on in his/her personal inspiration. One Vaisnava may feel that preaching about adhering to strict Vedic principles as far as possible in this age of Kali is the way, while another may feel that he/she must harmonize and adapt Krishna Consciousness to fit modern society. In the first case, one may feel his/her role is to conserve and protect Vedic values, which are rapidly vanishing from the face of this earth, but this type of preaching will not satisfy modern ladies very much. In the second case, the preacher might be able to enter certain circles and make Krishna consciousness more popular in modern society and with the ladies as well, but this might make the preacher unpopular in the more conservative Gaudiya Vaisnava world. In either case how one proceeds in regard to preaching is a personal choice which depends in many ways on the preaching field. It also seems to me that a Vaisnavi will someday become a guru but that she might need to be qualified to a higher degree than a male counterpart would in order to be accepted. A female guru would have to possess a demeanor that would conflict with the natural feminine qualities that are so attractive in a Vaisnavi and that task would be greatly demanding.
My question is should we conclude that a devotee who exhibits elements of sexism is not qualified to be guru and what should we think about a guru who appears to be accommodating the views of modern women for the purpose of preaching?
Answer: Dear dasi, Your question to www.vaisnavi.com was forwarded to me. I hope that the following reply will in some way be helpful to you.
In prophetic words Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami said that the question of lady acharyas in the Krishna consciousness movement would someday arise and that whoever was qualified should be accepted as acharya. See editorial: http://www.vnn.org/editorials/ET0206/ET07-7375.html.
The designation acharya indicates a sincere person of devotion who has assimilated scriptural texts and has the ability to inspire others to devotion by presenting their essential precepts. The prerequisite for becoming an acharya is not the absence of feminine qualities. On the contrary in Vaisnavism as well as in secular culture the feminine nurturing qualities are admired and respected and it is apparent to many that these qualities could serve well as assets to preaching in the modern world. It is also becoming more apparent that sexism by definition is detrimental to ones personal spiritual development as well as ones ability to make a relevant presentation of Krishna consciousness to those outside the ranks of the movement.
The word sexism is defined in the dictionary (Funk and Wagnalls) as sexual prejudice against women. Furthermore the word prejudice is defined as a judgment formed beforehand without due examination or a mental decision based on grounds other than reason or justice. Thus the dictionary definitions of sexism and prejudice lends to the understanding that these words indicate the absence of reason or justice and refer to negative qualities that do not aid in the development of God conscious kindness and empathy. Bhaktivinode Thakura taught that chanting the holy name along with kindness and empathy toward others was in simple terms the essence of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In his book The Bhagavata, Bhaktivinode writes, "Oh! What a trouble to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!"
However what is thought of as sexism or prejudice changes with time and the feeling indicated by these words today may be different than what is referred to by the word bias. Everyone has bias, which is a neutral word that can denote prejudice or predilection (a favorable disposition) depending on how it is used. Bhaktivinode recognized cultural bias in scripture and encouraged others to do so when he explained that even great sages sometimes inserted their own cultural bias into scriptural texts. Citing the cultural bias that is apparent in sections of the Visnu Purana he wrote, "It is an obvious fact that a man is devoted to his homeland and even great sages were somewhat influenced by this tendency."
Ultimately every Krishna conscious teacher is forced to address a myriad of relative social issues and Bhaktivinode taught that preaching on temporal and relative issues will be influenced to a certain degree by ones cultural bias. For example, regarding the social role of women in Krishna consciousness we might see a tendency among preachers born in India to be more conservative than preachers born in the west. In any case the way one teacher as opposed to another addresses social issues or presents the philosophy in general will be based on utility and personal inspiration and should be considered in Srila Prabhupada's words, a detail, and not an absolute or essential principle of Krishna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada who many might now think of as extremely conservative sometimes had to respond to those in Gaudiya Vaisnavism who considered him much too liberal on practical issues. Here is a sampling of what Prabhupada wrote or said in response to various types of criticism that had be directed toward him.
"I am pushing on this Krsna consciousness movement, I am doing so many things which sometimes my Godbrothers out of envy criticize. But I know what is the circumstances how to do it. They do not know it. I know my business. So that is their fault." (Conversation 5-4-72)
"Because I am making brahmanas from Europe and America. They are against me. But don't care, we don't care for them. Neither any reasonable man will care for them. But there is propaganda against me. Even amongst my Godbrothers, they are making... Because they cannot do it, so find out some fault." (lecture 4-12-73)
"So in Shankara-sampradaya, strictly, unless one is born in brahmana family, he's not offered sannyasa. He's not given sannyasa. So far we are concerned, we also offer sannyasa to the brahmana, not to the sudras. But according to quality we create brahmana, not that we are offering sannyasa to the sudras, No. The principle is sannyasa can be offered only to the brahmanas. So one may not mistake that we are offering sannyasa to the mlecchas, yavanas, as they complain. Some of my Godbrothers, they criticize like that, that I am offering sannyasa to the mlecchas, yavanas. This is wrong idea. This is naraka-buddhi. Actually, a Vaisnava is above this varnasrama-dharma." (lecture 10-21-74)
"When our members change their dress to meet the public or to introduce our books, they are not breaking the devotional principles. The real principle is to spread this Krsna consciousness movement, and if one has to change into regular Western dress for this purpose, there should be no objection." (Madhya 14.6)
"Sometimes jealous persons criticize the Krsna consciousness movement because it engages equally both boys and girls in distributing love of Godhead. Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticize the boys and girls in Krsna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community's social customs." (Adi 7.33)
"My Godbrothers criticize that "You keep women in the temple." I tell them, "I cannot reject."I cannot reject anyone╔..I cannot deny. I cannot deny. I cannot say, "You are woman. You are condemned. I cannot." (conversation 1-9-77)
"Sometimes my godbrother criticizes that I am sannyasi, I am taking part in marriage. So I have got very good difficulties. Here, when I come to India, they say that I am spoiling Hindu system of religion. And when I go there, the Christian says that, "You are the greatest enemy." (laughter) This is my position. You see. If I go ahead, then... And if I go behind, then... So what can be done?" (lecture 10-16-72)
Indeed, not much can be done about criticism fueled by envy, but differences of opinion that arise among sincere devotees regarding philosophy or practical issues are inevitable and acceptable if done properly. When need arises those differences should be addressed with respect for one another as Prabhupada asked his disciples and followers to "try to be sympathetic with any person even if they differ". Here are a few things Prabhupada wrote about difference of opinion between Godbrothers and devotees in general.
"Among Vaisnavas there may be some difference of opinion due to everyone's personal identity, but despite all personal differences, the cult of Krsna consciousness must go on. We can see that under the instructions of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Gosvami Maharaja began preaching the Krsna consciousness movement in an organized way within the past hundred years. The disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja are all Godbrothers, and although there are some differences of opinion, and although we are not acting conjointly, every one of us is spreading this Krsna consciousness movement according to his own capacity and producing many disciples to spread it all over the world." (Bhagavatam 4: 28:31)
"Disunity between individual souls is so strong within this material world that even in a society of Krsna consciousness, members sometimes appear disunited due to their having different opinions and leaning toward material things. Actually, in Krsna consciousness there cannot be two opinions. There is only one goal: to serve Krsna to one's best ability. If there is some disagreement over service, such disagreement is to be taken as spiritual. Those who are actually engaged in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot be disunited in any circumstance." (Bhagavatam 4.30.10)
"Provocation and misunderstanding may remain between one man and another. But our staunch faith in Krishna Consciousness may not allow any material disruption. Please therefore try to be sympathetic with any person even if they differ. The only qualification we have to scrutinize is if one is acting in Krishna Consciousness as far as one is able to do it. This personal grudge is not inhuman and as I have told many times, that individualism is the cause of personal misunderstanding. When such individualism is employed in the center of Krishna there is no harm even if there is personal misunderstanding. Personal misunderstanding exists even in the higher levels. There is competition of loving Krishna even in the party of Srimati Radharani." (letter 67-11-18)
Difference of opinion among devotees should be accommodated if done respectfully but still it should be clear by now to everyone that preaching that condemns women does not serve well in our time to spread Krishna consciousness to others. Criticism of women as a class can sometimes be found in scripture and this may superficially serve as a negative impetus for the practice of spirituality by certain materially attached men. However this type of negative impetus is preliminary at best and sexist rhetoric especially if it is directed toward Vaisnavis will certainly impede ones advancement beyond the neophyte stages of Krishna consciousness.
Essential Krishna consciousness is without mundane prejudice and only flourishes in an atmosphere surcharged with God conscious empathy for others. This is true regardless of whether one is referring to people by gender, race, nationality, or any other or classification of humanity that one may have somehow or other learned to hate. Krishna consciousness is about love, love for all and love for devotees of Krishna in particular. Sexism and prejudice, which by definition are without reason or justice, are the antithesis of the love we seek.