Chakra Discussions

Vedic authoritarians lose sight of big picture

by Shiva das

Posted June 8, 2004

I have seen for some time the charges of insubordination aimed at Chakra for allowing people who express views like those of Ananda das to be publicized. I see no fault in allowing an open forum for respectful sharing of opinions, even if the opinions may seem to be insubordinate towards Srila Prabhupada by those who wish to be the culturally correct police for all things Srila Prabhupada and Vedic philosophy.

I cannot judge harshly this Ananda das. He is probably sincere in his beliefs and not trying to be offensive even though some of his views are not my cup of tea. I think he is trying to bridge the gap between acceptability in the western world for religious teachings and the emphasis in the ISKCON preaching mood of the value of social restrictions for women or various other seemingly incorrect Vedic ideas, e.g., cosmology.

There are those who find that their preaching is hampered by the seemingly eccentric views of the Vedic literature deemed politically incorrect; this has to with the values of the varnasrama system and the role of women for the most part, and of racial bigotry as well. In my opinion, we should not stress the importance of the seemingly repressive or seemingly intolerant aspects of various texts like the Manu-samhita.

After all, the mission of Sri Caitanya is to distribute the transcendental version of the Vedic conclusions. The parts of the Vedic milieu that include socially or racially based concepts of race or gender are not essential or a part of what Sri Caitanya taught; in fact, He rejected varnasrama and the rigid adherence to the "law," much like Christians like to venerate Jesus and his repudiation of the Jewish "law."

Are these topics of necessity in the mission of Sri Caitanya? If they are hampering the distribution of the holy names and the message of the Bhagavad-gita, they should not be utilized or made a cause célèbre in the name of "authenticity." What value does it serve if, by defining ourselves and our message, we alienate the people we are trying to reach?

The Vedic society indulged in many things that, if emphasized in the name of authenticity, would hamper the mission to spread the message of Sri Krishna and the holy names. Why don't we start preaching about sati, or slavery? These were both part of Vedic culture.

The insistence on trying to explain away culturally incorrect ancient Vedic views as being a necessary and authentic part of Sri Caitanya's mission violates the basic premise of His mission: magnanimity. What good will come of dredging up obscure, irrelevant aspects of Vedic societal norms? It can only "turn people off;" who will find these concepts to be acceptable?

Is it our business to be the culturally correct enforcers of the entire Vedic paradigm? Rather, I believe it is to bring a specific vision of daivi-varnasrama, where everybody is seen as equals, and where there is no distinction between races or genders, because everyone has transcended the bodily concepts of life. Anyway, we teach that, in Kali Yuga, everyone is equally fallen.

What about the things Srila Prabhupada said? We need to understand the purpose of what he was doing: in order to distribute the daivi-varnasrama of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Prabhupada needed to straddle a line between appealing to strict old-line Vedic authoritarians in India and western societal acceptability. Accordingly, he gave out the traditional Vedic views, and then qualified them by saying in this day and age everyone is fallen to the lowest position. By becoming Krsna conscious, men, women, Blacks, Chinese, etc. all become equals.

If we stress the culturally incorrect vision as the authentic Vedic paradigm, we will cause people to be dismissive of the heart and soul of the message of Sri Caitanya. If they think we are misogynists and bigots, why will they care to find out the message of Sri Krishna Caitanya?

Time, place and circumstance -- these are what we should utilize for spreading the message of Godhead. If we become some kind of smarta brahmana in the name of authenticity, we are fooling ourselves and serving our own desires to be seen as authentic. Prabhupada stressed that we are not presenting "Hinduism." This is because we present daivi-varnasrama instead of the Vedic norms of clear-cut distinctions between genders and races.

This should be stressed as Prabhupada's contribution: what he wrote and spoke about ending the current model of Vedic society and casteism and transforming society to daivi or transcendental culture, where everyone is treated as a Vaisnava and respected as such. This is our mission; not that we should become culturally correct enforcers of something we want no part of in the first place.