Tulsi Gabbard: Living The Gita, Beyond The Photo Op

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By Venkata Bhatta dasa (Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life, Princeton University)

As a general rule, Hindu-Americans love milestones and photo opportunities. When photogenic Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to U.S. Congress, is sworn in to office with her right hand resting on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, we will get both. But we will also get something far more valuable: a congresswoman who reads and bases her life around the Gita. I hope that amid all the coverage of the historic swearing in, this won’t be lost.

I don’t mean to take away from the symbolic importance of Tulsi’s decision to swear in on the Gita, or to dismiss the genuine joy that many Hindu-Americans feel about it. It is a formality, to be sure, but it is an important formality. Swearing over a copy of sacred text is a venerable tradition; the book serves as a sort of three-dimensional symbol of truth itself. And if the book is accepted as legitimate, then it follows that the faith that reveres the book is legitimate as well. For a Hindu-American community that has had to endure Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley — both born into Dharmic faiths, both converts to Christianity as young adults — Tulsi Gabbard and her Gita are affirmation that our faith is finally taking a seat at the table. That alone is worth celebrating.

Still, I think that if we stop there we sell ourselves short. To me, the more interesting and important questions revolve around how the Gita will play into Tulsi’s job in the days that follow her being sworn into office. How will she engage with the text in making the tough decisions her new role will present to her?

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1 Akruranatha

I am trying to grasp the significance of the fact that while many of us on Dandavats are preoccupied with endless, sterile debates about whether women can serve as initiating gurus in ISKCON, the first of Srila Prabhupada’s followers to serve in the U.S. Congress will be a woman.

We seem to be divorced from the world around us somehow.

There seem to be these different approaches or tendencies. One approach is to try to create a separate Hare Krishna world which has very little to do with the rest of the people around us (except as a sounce of money and potential new recruits).

Another approach is to “mainstream” and show the world how the family next door can be Hare Krishnas and be happy, successful, peaceful and wise.

I am not saying one approach is valid and the other isn’t. I would have to admit that the Hare Krishna movement I grew up with in the 1970s was more like the former. We were a self-contained world, inviting people to leave the mainstream world and join ours. We were determined to show that we had a better way of doing everything, and we had all the answers.

I sense, though, that there was something limiting and short-sighted, even arrogant and fanatical, in that approach. We didn’t have all the answers (though perhaps we had the answers that mattered, answers to the bigger and more important questions). We could not even retain most of our people. The lifestyle was too demanding, economically unsustainable, and socially unnatural.

I do not know how everything will play out, but I have to say I am very happy to see that there are devotees like Tulsi Gabbard out there who can be respectable, successful people in the larger, American society and still identify themselves as Vaisnavas and followers of Srila Prabhupada.

If there weren’t, it would make me feel insecure, as if our reality did not live up to our ideology.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on December 11th, 2012
2 Paramananda das

Akruranath Prabhu you have failed to carefully study Srila Prabhupadas teachings, Srila Prabhupada had a different role for women though that may seem old fashioned, and that is for temples and ISKCON, I humbly advise you to study for example Sb 7 canto that describes the role of women

Comment posted by Paramananda das on December 19th, 2012
3 Paramananda das

ISKCON is a Patriarchy where men are supposed to take the leading roles, and modern society is more and more Matriarchy ,because so many nonsense men are not responsible in family life, and due to men not controlling their senses they are becoming womanizers and controlled by women ,and thus divorce is huge .Of course many women also divorce their husbands neither is very good. Srila Prabhupada said if there is divorce there should be no remarriage. Women can certainly be siksa Gurus, and behind every great man there is a great woman ,vedic culture is not woman hating ,but a question of protecting women

Comment posted by Paramananda das on December 20th, 2012
4 Unregistered

In a healthy, ideal social situation undoubtedly it will be comparatively easy to experience a natural balance in gender relations. But even in so-called ideal situations described in sastric literature, you still find examples of phenomenally powerful women.

Besides that point, is not clear what T Gabbard’s election to the US Congress has to do with dysfunctional marriage relations, whether past or present.

I would also question if SP’s priority was obsessing on transitory gender roles with which our current identification is only nominally “real,” as compared to facilitating the conditional souls with an opportunity to take up devotional life.

Comment posted by sdmuni108 on January 13th, 2013

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