Facilitating the Voice of Softer Conscience
Posted December 11, 2010
I would like to thank and applaud Sri Nandanandana prabhu for his vital and relevant message in regard to our lack of facility for women. Maybe part of that reluctance to provide facility is due to seeing women as sense objects to be avoided, ignoring the fact that they are inherently an important and irreplaceable part of ISKCON. They provide the motherly aspect, the softer, caring side that is so necessary for devotees to remain loyal and committed in the long-term. Archetypically at least, they are forgiving, as exemplified by Draupadi, who pardoned the murderer of her own children… in contradiction to Bhima, who only wanted to enact justice. In that pastime, Krsna indicated to Arjuna to do something to satisfy both the feminine tendency to forgive, and the masculine tendency to enact unforgiving justice. He wanted a balance of religious principles, not fanatical adherence to one side or the other, for religious principles, especially forgiveness and justice, are often contradictory.
We are devotees, or lovers of the Lord and His devotees, but even love is contradictory, being of two types- unconditional and conditional. Both are love, but unconditional love assures us of never being abandoned, whereas conditional love aspires us to prove ourselves worthy of being loved, it inspires us to growth, evolution, metamorphosis. Unconditional (motherly) love seeks to rid us of struggle and problems, whereas conditional (fatherly) love, seeks to evoke the same for the sake of growth and independence. Our women or mothers, should therefore not only be a part of every temple, to provide a necessary balance of emotions, and diversity of vision, but they should be part of decision-making, as Draupadi was, at Krsna’s request.
At present we have a plethora of laws in ISKCON which prescribe various punishments for transgressions, but no motherly forgiving figures to provide a balance and thus enable the law to serve the interests of people, instead of people, the law. The spirit of the law must be honored by our Draupadis, as well as the letter or detail of it, by our Bhimas. The spirit of the law is this- ISKCON is created for people to become Krsna conscious. The letter of the law is this- if they fall from the standard, (which includes not only the four principles, but obedience to the GBC) they are necessarily, by law, rejected. Then, how can the spirit of the law be honored? How can they become Krsna conscious, without having the required residence in a holy place, sadhu sanga and seva?
In this situation, mother figures, be they men or women, find what is at the heart of the transgression- they seek to understand the whole situation, rather than blindly enact justice to the detriment of the offender. Thus, Draupadi, understanding that Asvatthama’s wife would suffer from his death, insisted he not be killed. Understanding the whole situation, we may similarly perceive that disobedience to the GBC may have some cause other than blind rebellion, or we may understand that behind the inability to serve the four regulative principles, is a heart that desperately wants to serve the Lord, nonetheless.
For this latter reason, arguably for both reasons, Srila Prabhupada wanted varnashrama. He wanted it so that sincere souls falling from the regulative principles could still remain in ISKCON and have the facility of a holy place to live, sadhu sanga, and seva. This is clear from his conversations, such as the following:
Hari-sauri: Where will we introduce the varnashram system, then?
Prabhupada: In our society, amongst our members.
Hari-sauri: But then if everybody's being raised to the brahminical platform...
Prabhupada: That is... Everybody is being raised, but they're falling down….Not that a shudra man is by force become a brahmana…. At the present moment the idea is: if one remains a shudra, then he cannot get perfection. No. Even a shudra can get perfection provided he does the work of a shudra perfectly.
That he wanted varnashrama to facilitate occasional necessary disobedience to ISKCON law, is given by the fact that brahmanas can always object to the status quo, to laws passed by the ksatriyas, on the basis of spiritual principles, which include forgiveness, mercy. (of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada: )“There must always be individual responsibility…not that one should dominate…” (of varnashrama, SB 4.14.7-12, PP:) Saintly persons are always anxious to see how people can be made happy, both materially and spiritually…. They are not interested in political matters, yet they are always thinking of the welfare of the people in general. Consequently, they sometimes have to come down to the political field and take steps to correct the …government”
Merging the governing and guiding roles of ksatriya and brahmana in the body of the GBC precludes such possibility of saintly correction, and thus laws may be passed that are detrimental to the overall welfare of the movement or for individuals in it. Separating those roles means that any truthful person can speak his mind for the benefit of all, or for someone in particular, even in criticism of ISKCON law or its enactment, or local law, and it will never result in rejection- it will be honored, for in varnashrama, truth is honored as a brahminical guiding principle… as words from the mouth of the Lord.
Draupadi, a woman, had as her duty to be submissive to her husbands, but she was not afraid to challenge and contradict Bhima, her powerful husband, on the basis of the principle of mercy- and Krsna was pleased. This proves that anyone under the duty of submission may give it up when his conscience or knowledge of religious principles dictates, and such will please the Lord. Another obvious example is the gopis, who to honor their attraction to the Lord, the ultimate religious principle, deliberately disobeyed their husbands. Similarly, in varnashrama among devotees, not only brahmanas, but anyone, including the sudras, can contradict those to whom they are normally required to be submissive, when their “inner voice” dictates it. There is no ejection, no rejection.
If we instead have a culture where others are seen as threats- either through the attraction of their bodily forms- or through their different points of view, then we will necessarily remain small, dogmatic and cultish. When a prominent sannyasi, disliking the grhasthas’ independent views and their attractive wives, wanted them all to be relocated to Australia, Srila Prabhupada was appalled. His focus was to be merciful, regardless of gender or viewpoint. Indeed he wanted ISKCON to be a society of independent thinkers, not conformists… leaders, not followers. “The Krsna consciousness movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful” And he certainly wanted women in all his temples- the more the better. He even said that if the women were to leave, so would the brahmacaris. We assumed that this was because the brahmacaris were attracted, but could it not be also true that they simply needed something like soft-heartedness? Why everything is assumed to be sexual?
Sri Nandanandana wrote: If ISKCON is serious about establishing varnashrama or self-sufficient communities, they will never succeed unless they know how to incorporate women to do their part in it. Varnashrama cannot be done by men alone. It requires whole families, which means we need the women to do their part, or varnashrama is merely an endeavor in discussion only, and maybe a few small projects here and there, most of which come and go.
Varnashrama is essentially about honoring diversity, not seeing in terms of important and not important. For example Krsna’s legs, the sudras, are no less important than His head, the brahmanas:
Srila Prabhupada:“The same example: Just like head is as important as my leg. It is not that because it is leg, it is less important than my head.”
When we honor all living entities as part of the Lord’s body, knowing they serve the Whole in some way, we have the vision of the Vedas, and when we all act according to that vision, we have the society of the Vedas, we have varnashrama. When we see in terms of higher and lower, we have the mundane vision that characterizes modern society and is hardly compensated by its so-called constitution declaring equality. We have seen how some “equal” bosses treat their “equal” employees- it is a farce, generally speaking. But recognizing that all living entities form the body of the Complete Whole Personality of Godhead and are His dear servitors, we recognize and honor their differences, and respect them all. If instead the head rejects the legs as insignificant for not thinking, or the legs reject the head for not providing locomotion, there will be chaos in the social body- varnashrama is about cooperation, gratitude for each others services, and appreciation of difference. As the differentiation of organs in our physical bodies allows the whole body to function properly, so it is with the organs of the social body.
Varnashrama recognizes difference- between genders, and psychophysical natures, these are the acquired guna of the soul, and through appropriate karma, the varnashrama dynamic channels those natural qualities for the good of the social body. This dynamic does not fight, exclude or denigrate difference, be it of form or of mind. It channels such diversities to provide a balance of service so that no being suffers in any way, so that women’s soft-heartedness is allowed to flourish and benefit everyone, through including women in all essential decision-making, and so that the naturally truthful non-conformists are not excluded but allowed also to give valuable feedback.
A practical undesirable outcome of not having varnashrama is evidenced by Sri Nandanandana’s observation, as well as the experiences of Daniel Lutz as recounted in his book “My Karma, My Fault” - no shelter and facility for the most vulnerable members of our society, the women, children and the elderly. The title of Daniel Lutz’s book indicates that he was told that whatever he was suffering at the hands of his teachers, was his fault, his karma. Yet, in a varnashrama society, the ksatriya’s duty is to protect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, from any kind of distress, regardless of the fact it is their karma. This is described in the story of Arjuna rescuing the brahmana’s sons- he was prepared to enter fire if he could not deliver them. He never made gross misuse of the concept of karma: “sorry my dear brahmana, the loss of your sons is your karma, your fault, nothing to do with me” Yet when the cow in Canto One was being abused by Kali, she took it to be her karma. The observant Pariksit was not in agreement- he was prepared to behead the offender. Thus the concept of karma and justified suffering can only be used upon oneself- never others.
If we had qualified ksatriyas in our movement, not only would every one of our temples have a women’s ashrama, in preference to a men’s ashrama if there were no room for both, but any abusers of children would be beheaded, or at the very least, given up to the full force of law. Any ksatriya would be ropable, or unropable with fury to see such horrible abuse of power over innocents: their fury would hardly be containable. Instead of being given up to the full force of the law, such abusers are still in the ranks of respected leaders. In addition to Dhanurdhara Swami and Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, we have Lokanatha Swami- these are all respected leaders who have shamelessly abused children, traumatizing them for life, and they are honored as respectable sannyasis.
Such is only possible in a society where shoe-lickers are prominent, where compassion and soft-heartedness are seen as sentimentality, and truthfulness is seen as rebellion against authority. In such a society, both genuine ksatriyas and brahmanas are conspicuous by their absence. Women, children and Truth itself, are some of the casualties of this sorry social experiment, and the softer voice of conscience is drowned out by the ideas and makers of Big and Important Projects….
(More on varnashrama as a positive alternative to ISKCON bureaucracy can be read in my book, contact me at: email@example.com)
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