Home > Reader > Women: Masters or Mothers? — A book by HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami > Reactions to the Ban
His Grace Nrsimhananda Prabhu (ACBSP)
Posted on June 14, 2016
If the Krsna book was just published, I wonder if it, too, might be banned for being "less suitable for others." Krsna cavorting with the naked gopis, stealing their clothes, Krsna kidnapping Rukmini, marrying the five queens and having thousands of wives, etc. How suitable is that for the feminists of today? Perhaps some devotees think that such pastimes are acceptable to the public because they will be seen as "fanciful." Nothing could be further from the truth than seeing Krsna's pastimes as mythological. Prabhupada boldly presented the Vedic version without compromise to public perception; so should we as his faithful disciples and followers.
In all spiritual traditions, scriptural injunction often has been at odds with the human experience. In the Bible, a patriarchal society was the standard beginning from Abraham onward. Men had many wives; women were considered chattel. Jesus exemplified and preached a more spiritual relationship with women, but he didn't change their status. Yet, countless millions of women profess to believe in the Bible/New Testament's teachings. They see no contradiction in the gender practices of the Hebrews/Early Christians and the core beliefs of their doctrine. They are contemporary examples of how each individual must reconcile the dogma of their faith with the world in which they live. Srila Prabhupada adhered closely to the ancient Vedic injunctions, and he adjusted to time, place, and circumstances. Prabhupada said that a man should not be in a room alone even with his own mother, yet he would sometimes be alone with Yamuna or other mataji's. I've spent a lot of time alone with my beloved mother. The risk was well worth time spent. :) However, the vast majority of the time, Srila Prabhupada followed and preached the Vedic prescriptions regarding the roles of men and women. The GBC has been put between a rock and a hard place in that they have to walk the line between Srila Prabhupada's teachings and his apparent contradictory examples. Conditioned souls are attempting to do what a pure devotee does naturally. No wonder that there is controversy among themselves, and, as expected, the congregation. We need to have some compassion for the dilemma in which the leadership finds itself. They are each doing what they think Prabhupada wants. There are no "bad guys."
Sometimes Prabhupada banned his disciples from reading any other books than his, and, at the same time, he gave Jivananda ('67) an entire box filled with books by his godbrothers. "But, Prabhupada, you told us only to read your books!" "Yes," Srila Prabhupada replied, "but you are very intelligent. You can read." In the West, book banning is a "no-no" - akin to book burning by religious and political zealots. It is impractical anyway in the age of communication; the internet (so far) has been leveling the playing field in so many arenas. I can understand that the GBC doesn't want the public to see ISKCON as sexist, but banning a book from being sold in temple stores cannot prevent anyone from seeing the movement in that way. Prabhupada's teachings are full of instructions regarding stri-dharma, feminine qualities, and a woman's "place." I've always been an admirer of Vaisnava women because many of them have to "get passed" the dogma in order to imbibe the essence of Vaisnava philosophy. I don't think that I could do it if the shoe were on the other foot.
Which brings us back to "faith." The truths expressed by our guru and predecessor acaryas, sadhus, etc. are so much more powerful that the details of etiquette, roles, and social conventions in whatever age. That is why a gay person can be a devout Catholic or a woman can practice Judaism despite the history of that religion. (I don't know enough about Islam to give examples, but it is derived from the Judaic/Christian practice.) Sraddha is transcendental, so it is independent of hierarchies, varnas, ashrams, etc. Each individual, male or female, has to resonate with the essential core beliefs of their spiritual paths. HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami has done a tremendous service by highlighting a contentious issue by examining Srila Prabhupada's teachings in one convenient volume. It should be treasured, not disparaged, as part of an ongoing "search for meaning and relevance" in each individual's human experience. Dissonance is a sign of a healthy society where various points of view are aired and discussed. A leadership that is secure in its mission should welcome such studious studies of the Founder-acarya's intentions. At the same time, devotees can empathize with the task of the GBC members and not think ill of any one of them despite their sometimes opposite views. We may, like Arjuna, have to fight our friends and relatives, but never with any malice or attachment and always with great respect - as I have seen HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami do despite the arrows being directed at him.