1. The Book Ban: What’s At Stake

    By Bhakti Vikasa Swami

    The very title (“Harmonizing Our Preaching Efforts”) sets the tenor of the resolution (http://www.dandavats.com/?p=28016) by its striking euphemism. Harmonize means “to bring into consonance or accord,” but there was no attempt on the part of the GBC to reach accord with me, despite my repeated pleas for discussion. What the GBC resolution calls harmonization is rather an attempt to crush a voice that it doesn’t like—in this case, as many devotees have noted, a voice that harmonizes with the thrust of Srila Prabhupada’s social teachings. In other words, the GBC resolution uses doublespeak that implements a distinctly political agenda. (Granted, not every GBC member voted for or approved of this resolution. But as with every resolution, whatever is praiseworthy or otherwise within it reflects on the whole body, which as an institution speaks with one voice.)

    Further comments on the resolution follow.

    Whereas the GBC Body accepts that many different understandings of the teachings of Srila Prabhupada and sastra, and many different understandings of what constitutes effective preaching, exist amongst ISKCON devotees, and this, in general, is a healthy situation;

    Whereas when one ISKCON devotee's preaching efforts, however well-meaning, are seen to work at cross purposes with the preaching efforts of others, it is the responsibility of ISKCON's leadership to step in and take regulative action that it considers will be most favorable for the fulfillment of the objectives of ISKCON;

    The resolution seeks to suppress a book that points out the increasing secularization of ISKCON and our need to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s mandate for a varnasrama-based society instead. It appears that without directly stating it, the GBC has redefined the socio-religious objectives of ISKCON to be quite different from what Srila Prabhupäda repeatedly stated.

    Whereas when publications are sold or promoted on ISKCON premises it gives the impression that ISKCON as a whole is endorsing the contents of such publications;

    According to this statement, many questionable books thus have the indirect imprimatur of the GBC. More about this in another posting.

    Whereas the book, "Women: Masters or Mothers" by Bhakti Vikasa Swami, has been seen to cause misunderstanding of Srila Prabhupada's instructions,

    What are the concrete examples of this? What exactly is the correct understanding of Srila Prabhupada's instructions that the GBC infers that it knows, and how does WMM violate that? The resolution should substantiate its statements by specifying exactly what misunderstandings WMM has caused. Otherwise it remains just a list of allegations.

    Please let the GBC define the proper understanding, especially in regard to its statement: “many different understandings of the teachings of Srila Prabhupada and sastra… exist amongst ISKCON devotees, and this, in general, is a healthy situation”. In presenting the supposedly right understanding from which they insist WMM deviates, the GBC will have to refute the dozens of quotes from Srila Prabhupada given in WMM. But in doing that, the resolution itself, and not WMM, would most certainly cause tremendous misunderstanding.

    … alienation and polarization of many devotees, and it has the potential to create even more disruptions to many aspects of ISKCON's preaching work in the future;

    Ironically, banning this book has itself caused alienation and polarization of many devotees, probably much more than if the GBC had not attempted to ban this book.

    Whereas the book contains statements advocating practices that are illegal in the majority of countries in the world, notably polygamy, child marriage and child labor:

    These points have been dealt with by others elsewhere, but in short, Srila Prabhupada himself advocated all these practices. WMM advocates, as does Srila Prabhupada, vocational training for children within the family—NOT child labor as an exploitive practice. The use of the term “child labor” within this resolution is undeniably misleading and inflammatory.

    The opinions expressed by Bhakti Vikasa Swami in his book "Women: Masters or Mothers" are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and practices of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), or its Founder-Acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

    Stating this is unnecessary, and overkill. ISKCON has no imprimatur system, so any book authored by an ISKCON devotee can be understood to not officially represent ISKCON—unless it is an official publication.

    Via this resolution, the GBC tacitly declares to the members of ISKCON that I have deviated from properly understanding and representing Srila Prabhupada; thus, it implies, I am a heretic, unfit even for discussion before being publicly shamed. But actually, this resolution will simply reinforce in the minds of many the conviction that the GBC itself is making a very sorry show of representing Srila Prabhupada.

    I am certainly not alone in noting that, rather than focusing on the spiritual master’s order that has been neglected for nearly forty years, the direction from the top of ISKCON seems to be one of secularizing ISKCON, of trying to fit it into contemporary Western society rather than providing the social alternative that Srila Prabhupada wanted, of simple living/high thinking, varnasrama communities.

    Let’s be clear what is at stake here. This book ban has nothing to do with harmonizing. It is realpolitik, a clear sign that activist elements within the GBC are determined to continue steering ISKCON away from the socio-religious norms that Srila Prabhupada repeatedly instructed for his society. WMM clearly demonstrates those ideals in Srila Prabhupada’s own words. If this ban succeeds, it will be a victory for the forces behind ISKCON’s currently increasing secularization. It will mark the end of hope, for the foreseeable future, of the GBC leading ISKCON toward where Srila Prabhupada said he wanted it to be.

    I therefore call on the responsible members of the GBC to take very seriously the need to reassess ISKCON’s current trajectory, in light of Srila Prabhupada’s numerous instructions in this regard, and to “do the needful” in “this momentous hour of need.”

    Trying to serve the Vaisnavas,

    Bhakti Vikasa Swami