Constant Practice and Detachment

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By Phalini devi dasi

Twenty-five years ago today, Sriman Haripada dasa and I ascended the steps of the Orange County Courthouse. I don’t know about him, but I had butterflies in my stomach. We arrived at the marriage license window just as it opened. We were very shy to exchange rings, as we had never touched before. But after a couple of deep breaths, we somehow managed to awkwardly slip those gold bands onto each other’s fingers, and from that moment until today, we have been together through thick and thin.

Our fire sacrifice a year later marked the happiest day of my life. My husband had bought me a red silk sari embroidered with gold and silver, and my girlfriends helped me decorate my hair with flowers. The temple room was filled with well-wishing friends who had come to offer us their blessings. Ramesvara Swami officiated at our ceremony, my Dad had flown in from Cheyenne, Wyoming to give me away, and in front of Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisa, we pronounced our vows.

Since then, my husband and I have experienced the ups and downs of married life as even aspiring Vaisnava grhasthas must endure in the unfriendly atmosphere of this Age of Kali. Although there have been periods of peace and even pleasure, they have been invariably followed by equal periods of distress and turbulence. After all, this is the world of dualities. Sometimes sukha, sometimes dhukha, up and down, back and forth, like a teeter-totter at a children’s playground. During times of happiness, when the teeter-totter is up, we experience a kind of euphoria. We sort of relax a bit and almost, almost start to think that everything is okay. Then the dhukha hits, and we bump! hit the ground with a dose of reality. “Oh, yeah. We almost forgot. We’re in the material world!” We again remember clearly that we don’t belong in this place.

Because we are endeavoring to return back home to eternally serve at the lotus feet of our Lord Sri Krsna, we are grateful for those times of distress. They remind us that there really is no continual happiness in this material world, and they make us want to return back home, back to Krsna’s lotus feet. “None of us wants calamities, yet when they come they may serve as an impetus to surrender to Lord Krsna.” (Mukunda-mala Stotra, 11, Purport)

The happiness we seek is the uninterrupted kind that we’re used to in the spiritual world. We want loving relationships here, but the taste of love that we hanker for in our heart of hearts can only be relished when we reestablish our eternal relationship with Lord Sri Krsna and His loving devotees in the effulgent, spiritual realm from which we originally came. Those times of displeasure which we experience here in this material world help us to long and pine for that eternal sweetness which we can taste only by resuming our eternal service to the Lord. “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Queen Kunti, S.B. 1.8.25)..

Sometimes people ask me how my hubby and I have managed to stay together and maintain at least a semblance of peace in our household. My first answer to them is always this: I don’t argue with my husband. Oh sure, sometimes we disagree, but we don’t have the kind of knock-down, drag-out fights that our parents used to have. Both my husband and I suffered anguish as kids whenever our parents fought. Neither of their marriages lasted—my husband’s parents divorced when he was ten, my parents divorced after I left home—and I vowed twenty-five years ago that whatever it took, I would never fight with my husband. I didn’t want my kids to suffer the same way my husband and I did when our parents fought. Granted, everybody has to suffer, including our kids, but at least I didn’t want them to have to suffer that way.

Of course we’ve made mistakes raising our kids. Every Kali-yuga parent has. But we tried our best, given the information we had at our disposal, the sincerity of our hearts, and the circumstances we found ourselves in. I hope that despite our shortcomings, at least our children will take into their own marriages the practice of avoiding quarrels with their spouses.

Along with not wanting my kids to hear us quarreling, I also had positive reasons for choosing not to fight with my husband. Srila Prabhupada quotes Canakya Pandita’s Niti-shastra: “Where there is no fighting between husband and wife, the Goddess of Fortune comes to live in that home.” When I first read that quote, I was thrilled and inspired to imagine that Srimati Laksmi devi Herself would be willing to come live in a couple’s home just because they refrain from fighting. I thought, I can do it, if You help me, Srimati Laksmi devi. Please help me to serve my husband nicely and refrain from fighting with him! We really want You to come live in our home! The tactic which works best for me is this: whenever I feel the urge to argue with my husband, I instead hold my tongue and pray to Krsna to find a solution to our disagreement. I have seen over the years that the more I practice this principle, the more we are rewarded. The more I depend on Krsna for solutions to our problems, the more we feel His mercy and the mercy of Srimati Laksmi devi in our lives and in our home.

Another reason why we try so hard to make our marriage work, which my husband often mentions in his talks with other devotees, is that we are both inspired to try to please Srila Prabhupada by keeping our marriage intact. We are saddened to recall how disappointed Srila Prabhupada was when he heard of so many marital break-ups in our Movement, and we want to do our little part to help establish a legacy of successful ISKCON marriages, even if staying together requires detaching ourselves from the false ego which always wants to be right. Successful marriage requires the utmost sacrifice, patience, determination, and prayer. After all, Vivaha-yajna is just that. A yajna. A sacrifice. And human life is meant for sacrifice. If we sacrifice our false ego to stay with our Vaisnava spouse, even if it’s not all hunky-dory, then that alone can be a source of pleasure to our spiritual master.

Beyond the fact that Laksmi devi Herself comes to live in your home, and the fact that Srila Prabhupada and Krsna are pleased when you hang in there and make your marriage work, there are also tangible rewards when you practice seeing the good qualities of your spouse and focusing on his positive attributes instead of on his shortcomings. I learned a little trick from a friend of mine who has a successful marriage. She suggested that I draw an outline of a man, then draw a line down the center of the image. She told me to list the positive qualities of my husband—things I like and admire about him—on one side of the vertical line and his negative qualities on the other side. Next, she said, fold the paper on the line, dividing the man in half. Fold back the negative qualities and look at the good qualities. You’re aware of his negative qualities, she said, but you don’t focus on them. You focus on his good qualities. So I followed her advice, and this little trick helps me to focus on my husband’s redeeming features whenever my false ego flares up and I find myself dwelling too much on his shortcomings.

The Vedas say that the husband is pati-guru. Srila Prabhupada once revealed an important principle in the relationship between guru and disciple. He said, “Arjuna accepting Krsna as spiritual master…means after accepting spiritual master he’ll not argue. He’ll simply accept whatever He says. That is the technique…Krsna was talking something and he was replying…So that argument has no end. But when he accepts Him as spiritual master, there is no more argument. One has to accept whatever He says. Therefore he’s accepting as spiritual master. After this, Arjuna will never say, “This is wrong…” or “I don’t agree.” No. He’ll accept. So acceptance of spiritual master means to accept anything, whatever he says.” (Conversation, 11/25/68, L.A.) Referring to her husband, Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to one of my Godsisters: “He is your spiritual master.” (Letter to Sucharya,10/23/72) So if the husband is the spiritual master of the wife, and a disciple is never to argue with the spiritual master, we can safely conclude that it is not acceptable for a wife to argue with her husband. There are other ways to communicate which are appropriate and pleasing to both one’s pati-guru and to the Lord. One way that works well for me is to hold my tongue and instead of “beating a dead horse” as my husband calls it (he grew up in Texas), talk to Krsna instead about the matter.

Over the years, I have had lots of chances to practice the art of holding my tongue and praying to Krsna to find solutions to our disagreements instead of resorting to screaming matches, which never result in anything good anyway. I heard someone say once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?” I noticed that even if I’m right and my husband’s wrong about some topic of contention, he won’t listen to my point of view if I’m screaming. He just won’t. After all, I have found that Krsna is better than I am at convincing my husband of my point of view.

Lord Sri Krsna is also good at helping me to see my husband’s point of view, eventually, after my false ego calms down a bit. (I have a mega-plus-size false ego. Among the four animal propensities, in my personal dictionary, the definition of “defending” primarily refers to defending my very large false ego.) Vrtrasura told Indra that only Krsna is always victorious, so I have decided to let Krsna do the fighting. I leave all my battles in His capable hands. And it is Krsna who always takes the prize for being the most expert at finding solutions to our marital disagreements.

The more I practice depending on Krsna to help my husband and me see eye-to-eye, the more we feel the presence of Laksmi devi in our home and in our hearts. I am reminded of the phrase “constant practice and detachment.” A good Krsna conscious marriage requires constant practice of the principles given to us by our spiritual master, and detachment from the propensity to defend the false ego. By Srila Prabhupada’s and Lord Krsna’s grace, we are learning that the rewards of having Srimati Laksmi devi agree to come stay in one’s home are worth fighting for. I’m not saying all this to toot my horn, just reporting the results we’ve experienced by trying to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions for a peaceful, Krsna conscious marriage.

Dear Vaisnavas around the world, I offer my humble obeisances to all of you. I hope and pray that those of you who are married or planning to marry will be determined to keep your vows and that you will experience ever-increasing realizations in Krsna consciousness as you help each other along on your paths back to Godhead. I pray this meets you all in good health and blessed with the presence of Laksmi devi in your homes.

Please pray for my husband and me that we may be blessed with the determination and the ability to keep our vows, and to continue offering every moment of the rest of our lives with love and enthusiasm in humble service at the lotus feet of our beloved spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

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1 Unregistered

Dear Mother Phalini,
PAMHO !
Thank you so much for the wonderful article ‘Constant practice & Detachment’.
your article has inspired me to look at my marriage life in a more mature way & at the same time completely depend on the Almighty Lord for his mercy.
I would like to suggest that it would be so inspiring for the second generation of devotee couples,if senior grihasthas would write articles about their realisations on grihastha ashram.This is really needed.
Thank you again.
Your servant,
subhdrapriya dd

Comment posted by subhadrapriyarns on October 29th, 2006
2 Unregistered

Such a sugary-sweet picture of domestic bliss you portray. Where do wife-beating and domestic violence, chronic problems in ISKCON, fit in?

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on October 31st, 2006
3 Suresh das

My wife, Ujjvala Prada devi dasi, and I celebrated our 30th Anniversary in our ISKCON arranged-marriage last summer. Both of us spent the first six years of our Krishna Conscious lives as Brahmacari and Brahmacarini. We never knew each other before marrying, so it was a big leap of faith for both of us when we were combined. Whenever non-devotees hear how long we have been married they can hardly believe their ears, because it is so uncommon by today’s standards. The true reason we have stayed together though, is not as importantly because of physical attraction, but because we share the same spiritual path in our service to Srila Prabhupada and Radha Krishna.

One of the things which have worked for us is constant compromise. Every moment two people are together is a negotiation. My wife is very patient, understanding, practical and intelligent. It is not easy to pull the wool over her eyes. I realized as soon as I was married that I was with someone special, so I would have to treat her with care. Personality-wise, we are both executives, so we don’t give into each other very easily. I often take long walks alone and talk out all the things which bother me; although I rarely unleash all the feelings I have when I get back. We have had many fiery arguments over the years. I probably inherited screaming and yelling from my father. It is a style to throw adult temper tantrums to get your way. It works, so I do it over and over. I am just not a patient person (double Scorpio-Dragon).

There were many times over the years when we almost broke apart, but ultimately we both realized that since Lord Jagannath had combined us, how could we hope to please Him by breaking apart. Also, there have been many temptations for me over the years. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. I stayed with my wife though, because ultimately how I could I ever feel happy with another person who is unable to bow down to Lord Krishna. It is very difficult to find someone who cares about you in this world, so knowing that I am loved and cared for has contributed deeply as well to staying in my relationship, in spite of many problems and misunderstandings over the years.

Comment posted by Suresh das on November 1st, 2006
4 Unregistered

Thank you mataji. Very inspiring. We need such role models as yourself and your good husband if our hopes for varnashrama are ever to be realised. Family is the very basis of society and, as Arjuna pointed out in the Gita, when it is destroyed then everything goes to hell.

One thing I would add from my own 22 years in blissful grhastha ashrama is that having a daily sadhana program together is most helpful. The family that prays together stays together, as they say. Srila Prabhupada says:

“The best process for making the home pleasant is Krsna consciousness. If one is in full Krsna consciousness, he can make his home very happy, because this process of Krsna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krsna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four things will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If one can mold his family life in this way to develop Krsna consciousness, following these four principles, then there is no need to change from family life to renounced life.” Bg 13.8-12

Hearing and chanting together spiritualises the relationship and keeps Krishna in the centre, as well as giving us the spiritual intelligence (dadami buddhi yogam..) to work through our issues. I think this, more than anything, has kept my wife and me (almost) sane as we struggled to raise our three wonderful children, and at the same time run a small preaching centre in the middle of nowhere, with no other association. Our teenage children are also grateful now that we included them in our home program, although at the time it was difficult for both them and us.

Sri Krishna sankirtana ki jaya!

Comment posted by Krishna Dharma on November 1st, 2006
5 Unregistered

Dear Phalini devi dasi,

Excellent letter. I know how hard both you and your husband have worked at your wonderful marriage. You both are exemplary householders and disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Those who would see this letter in any other light are simply flies, and Srila Prabhupada has taught us to be like the honey bees. I was personally in Srila Prabhupada’s room in October 1977 when he was very ill and he spoke the following, “There is nothing that has caused me more pain during my preaching then the fact that the householders have not stayed together in Krsna Consciousness.”

To encourage the world of devotees, both old and new, to follow the science of a spiritual Krsna Conscious marriage and family life, is GREAT service to Srila Prabhupada. There is no doubt this is pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. Thank you for removing some of the pain from the heart of our beloved Srila Prabhupada by your dedication to each other and your dedication to our Guru Maharaja.

Your servant,
Udayananda dasa

Comment posted by Udayananda dasa on November 1st, 2006
6 Phalini devi dasi

Thank you, Suresh Prabhu, for your very honest and inspiring letter. You wrote, “…Since Lord Jagannath had combined us, how could we hope to please Him by breaking apart?” That is exactly our feeling. Naturally, married couples will disagree and sometimes fiery emotions will brew. But that urge to please our Lord, who did put us together, can be the rope that pulls us through the hardest of times, if we just hang on for dear life. My hubby and I always experience increased blessings when we make it through another of Maya’s trials, don’t you guys?
Mata Phalini

Comment posted by Phalini devi dasi on November 2nd, 2006
7 Phalini devi dasi

Dear Lalita-Madhava,
Thank you for your very piercing question, “Where do wife-beating and domestic violence, chronic problems in ISKCON, fit in?” It is very sad that these things do exist. What I advise my girlfriends who have problems dealing with their husbands is this: Do your best to be an ideal wife according to the examples given in the Bhagavatam, and pray, pray, pray for your husband that he can be blessed by the mercy of Lord Nityananda Prabhu.
Here are a few thoughts that rolled through my mind as I contemplated your question:
In regard to learning how to tame an unruly husband, there is an ancient Chinese story about a woman who tamed a tiger. Have you heard it? It is very instructive: Once a woman came to the hermitage of an old wise man. She complained that her husband had gone away to war, and ever since he returned, he had been nasty, cruel, and mean. She asked the old wise man what she should do. He replied, “Go and get a whisker from a tiger and bring it to me.” She proceeded to do just that.
One night, she crept out of her house with a bowl of meat. She approached a tiger who lived in a cave some distance from the village. She set the bowl of meat down on the ground several hundred yards from the mouth of the cave. She went back to her house and went to bed.
The next morning, she retrieved the empty bowl. That night, she again set out with the bowl filled with meat for the tiger. This time she set the bowl down closer to the tiger’s cave. She stood there for a moment looking toward the mouth of the cave. Then she left and spent the night in her house.
The next morning, she went to retrieve the bowl. Again, it was empty. The tiger was eating the meat, so she was encouraged. That night, she left the bowl of meat even closer to the tiger’s cave. Again and again she repeated her ritual, moving closer and closer every night to the mouth of the cave. At last, she placed the bowl right in front of the cave. The tiger came out and looked at her. He had grown accustomed to seeing her there and had come to feel indebted to her. He asked her, “Oh lady, what do you want?”
She replied, “Oh tiger, I want a whisker from your face.”
The tiger said, “All right, you may take a whisker.” She reached out, pulled a whisker from his face, turned quickly and ran, leaving the bowl of meat, never to return.
She ran all the way to the wise man’s hermitage. The old sage always kept a small sacrificial fire burning nearby as he meditated. She bowed down and waited, watching him meditate as the light of the fire danced on his wrinkled, old face. His meditation broke and he opened his eyes. “Oh, you have returned!”
“Yes, sir. I have brought you a whisker from a tiger.” She held out the whisker. The old man took it from her hand, and without a moment’s hesitation, immediately threw it into the fire.
She was surprised. “Why did you throw the whisker into the fire?” she gasped. She had worked so hard and exercised so much patience to get that whisker!
The sage replied, “If you can tame a tiger, then you can tame a man. Go now, and with the same patience and cleverness you used to tame the tiger, tame your husband.”
This story may or may not be true, but the moral of the proverb can be understood easily if one studies Srila Prabhupada’s books, especially the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada has given us wonderful stories and instructions from Vedic times–histories (which actually means they are true)–to guide us through life’s twists and turns. By reading the wonderful accounts of how noble ladies like Gandhari, Mandodari, and Sukanya behaved in the presence of their less-than-perfect husbands, we can get inspiration and guidance how to deal with our own situations. Consulting Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, which contain “personal letters” to his disciples on every page, can give us daily strength to handle the most difficult problems.
There is a great art how men and women can live together peacefully, and if we study Srila Prabhupada’s teachings regarding the proper behavior of married couples, and try very hard to always follow those instructions and teach our children to follow them, each generation of devotees will learn more about how to implement that art.
Still, there will naturally be problems because this is the material world, and the atmosphere of Kali-yuga is permeated with the urge to quarrel at the slightest provocation.
We also know that whatever sufferings we have undergone are due to our past misdeeds, and if we go on tolerating our difficulties, always remembering the Lord within the core of our hearts, we will “surely achieve liberation, for it has become our rightful claim.”
One consolation is that because we are trying to be devotees, Krsna is minimizing our miseries. I don’t know about you, but due to some horrendous sins in the past, in this life, I was born into a family that eats beef, and I committed many sins before coming to Krsna consciousness. Sometimes when I am struggling with a problem, I try to imagine how much torture I actually deserve, having been so very, very sinful not only in past lives but also in this lifetime! Krsna is so kind to reduce my sufferings, and if we stop and think, we can all appreciate how merciful He is to us, no matter how yucky things get in our life.
One more thought is that Srila Prabhupada said that it is not necessary for a woman to remain with a man who is fallen. He defines fallen as being attached to the four pillars of sinful life. But she should not go away from him and then marry again.
As long as a man is trying to become a devotee, though, that alone is reason to stay with him, keep tolerating his misbehavior, encouraging him, obeying him, and praying for his advancement!
Last thought is that nothing can really stop us from being Krsna conscious. There is no real excuse for forgetting Krsna, not even the excuse of a tiger-like husband. Granted, it can be very, very difficult if we are living with a man who has a mean temper, or who is lazy, or grumpy. But we can remember the wonderfully inspiring stories of great sadhvis found in the Bhagavatam, and find strength to continue on the path followed by the noblest of ladies: Srimati Radharani, Srimati Sita devi, Srimati Rukmini devi, Srimati Devaki devi, Srimati Jahnava devi, Srimati Subhadra devi, Srimati Gandhari devi, Srimati Kunti devi, Sukanya, Devahuti, Draupadi, Kausalya, Sumitra, Urmila, Mandodari, Satarupa, Barhismati, Aditi, Yasoda devi, Rohini devi, Parvati devi, thankfully the list goes on and on!
Thank you again for your tough question, and I hope this reply meets you in good health and inspired to carry on enthusiastically in the footsteps of the sadhvis!
Hare Krsna.
Your servant,
Phalini dd

Comment posted by Phalini devi dasi on November 2nd, 2006
8 Phalini devi dasi

Dear Subhadra priya,
Pranams. Hare Krsna. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and his sincere followers. Thank you for your encouraging note.
This is a very good idea you proposed: that older, successful grhasthas write about their experiences so that the newer couples can learn from them.
Here is the most important piece of advice I can give you: I strongly recommend that you study Srila Prabhupada’s teachings regarding the proper roles of husband and wife. My husband and I have both found invaluable gems in Srila Prabhupada’s books, lectures, and conversations that have continued to inspire us and guide us throughout our life together as aspiring Vaisnavas.
I wish you all happiness and success in your marriage and in your life! Haribol!
YS,
Phalini dd

Comment posted by Phalini devi dasi on November 2nd, 2006
9 Unregistered

Regarding post #7, I cannot emphasize enough the detrimental effects that staying in an abusive relationship can have on a woman’s physical, emotional AND spiritual life. Working in a counseling agency I see this way too often. Especially vulnerable are women who’s culture emphasizes the right of a man to control women; very similar to some devotees’ KC “cultural” preaching.

If anyone knows of women (or men) in such relationships, please advise them to seek help. Often times it is very difficult for people in abusive relationships to seek help because the abuse has stolen their will to act for their self-betterment. PLEASE, don’t contemplate “how much more distress you deserve” because of a sinful past. Do not fall prey to this dysfunctional preaching. This is 100% the wrong advice to help psychologically fragile people. Accuse me of being modern, I happily accept that label. Preaching about “cultural” norms that are outdated and contrary to everything we experience in the predominant culture creates alienated people who are unsure of how to live in this world as devotees. I appreciate the sharing of one persons marriage experience, but lets please be careful in what message we give people. Their lives, physical and spiritual are at stake.

Here is a good message to take away: You can still pray for a person who is abusive while they are in prison!

Comment posted by Narottama on November 2nd, 2006
10 krishna-kirti

Dear Mother Phalini, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Your piece is a much needed reminder that as devotees, we have to reform ourselves according to shastra, not reform shastra to make it comfortable with our impious lives. Your essay reminded me of this particular verse from the Bhagavatam:

“My dear boy Dhruva, please surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the ultimate goal of the progress of the world. Everyone, including the demigods headed by Lord Brahmä, is working under His control, just as a bull, prompted by a rope in its nose, is controlled by its owner.” (SB 4.11.27 trans)

In the purport, Srila Prabhupada says,

The material disease is to declare independence from the supreme controller. Factually, our material existence begins when we forget the supreme controller and wish to lord it over material nature. Everyone in the material world is trying his best to become the supreme controller—individually, nationally, socially and in many other ways. Dhruva Mahäräja was advised to stop fighting by his grandfather, who was concerned that Dhruva was adhering to a personal ambition to fight to annihilate the whole race of Yakñas. In this verse, therefore, Sväyambhuva Manu seeks to eradicate the last tinge of false ambition in Dhruva by explaining the position of the supreme controller.

I hope to see more of your writing.

Your servant, Krishna-kirti das

p.s. My obeisances to your good husband, Haripad Prabhu.

Comment posted by krishna-kirti on November 3rd, 2006
11 Suresh das

There have been many good relationship books written recently which might be very helpful for male and female devotees to understand each other better such as “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. These books might have a use as practical guides to help men and women understand the difference in their natures, personalities and needs in marital relationships.

Comment posted by Suresh das on November 3rd, 2006
12 Unregistered

Dear Phalini,

Thank you for your reply to my question. Unfortunately, the quaint, eupemistic adjectives, “mean-tempered” and “grumpy,” you used to describe sick and degraded men who are violent abusers of women left me absolutely incredulous. And your statement that, “as long as a man is trying to become a devotee, though, that alone is reason to stay with him, keep tolerating his misbehavior, encouraging him, obeying him, and praying for his advancement!” was truly disturbing. “Keep tolerating his misbehavior”???

I find your approach to this issue to be an example of a phenomenon I described in an earlier exchange on this website and which I feel compelled to reiterate: many principles of our gracious and refined Vedic culture, when misapplied (such as, in this case, a woman’s submissiveness toward a so-called “pati guru” who is a violent abuser of his dependents) in an inappropriate way, become completely and frighteningly dysfuntional. This is a glaring example of that phenomenon. What you suggest is not Krishna consciousness, it is utter dysfunction.

Perhaps instead of relating the parable of the tiger’s whisker, you would do better to advise women who are victims of domestic violence to call the police, have their abusive husbands arrested, and to seek intensive counseling themselves. That would be the best example they could set for their children.

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 3rd, 2006
13 Gaurav Mittal

Narottama Das makes very important statement in #7. When we use bhakti as shield for abuse, then we do great disservice to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna.

Tolerance, understand, letting go of others faults and mistakes, accepting one’s spouse as imperfect etc. are very important qualities in relationship.

But acceptance of abuse should never be encouraged.

Regards,
Gaurav

Comment posted by Gaurav Mittal on November 4th, 2006
14 Phalini devi dasi

Dear Lalita-Madhava,

Thank you for pointing out the potential problems that a dysfunctional relationship can be fraught with. My husband has never hit me in all the years of our marriage, so I have no direct experience of how traumatizing this can be, although I can just imagine. I see now that I didn’t think deeply enough about that before replying to your first comment. Being a soft-hearted Vaisnavi, it traumatizes me just to think of the pain of abused women.

Also, in the ten years we have lived in Prabhupada Village, I have only encountered one incident of a husband hitting his wife. So I am pretty green about this subject.

I consulted my husband about how to answer your posts. We read all the comments together, and we discussed them. He advised me that because I have not been in close company with abusive men and I am not really educated how to handle abusive situations, I am not actually qualified to address this subject. Srila Prabhupada said that devotee men should not beat their wives. It should just be understood that no one should be hitting Vaisnavis.

In my article, I was addressing devotees who are in functional marriages like my own.
My husband has counseled me to stick to what I have experience in, and that is really all I can do.

Thanks so much for conversing with me. Hare Krsna.

YS,

Phalini dd

Comment posted by Phalini devi dasi on November 5th, 2006
15 Akruranatha

It is truly shocking to hear that wife-beating and domestic violence are chronic problems in ISKCON. This is not the first time I have heard it, however (my wife Jagarini told me that in Alachua local government agencies report that ISKCON has a significantly higher rate of domestic violence than in the rest of the local population).

I am happy to say I have not seen much of it in my own 30-years in and around ISKCON, but perhaps I have lived a sheltered existence and I do not doubt it is a real problem. We need to work together to fix it.

I have to agree with Lalita Madhava that there is a big difference between men who are simply lazy, grumpy, or even mean tempered, and men who terrorize their wives with regular physical violence and emotional abuse. The former may have some very bad qualities, but the latter are, as she rightly says, sick and degraded.

The character of a true Vaisnava is that he or she will not unnecessarily hurt even an insect. Although Mrgari was formerly torturing poor animals (and I can imagine if there was a Mrs. Mrgari he might have abused her as well), after he became a devotee he did not want to even hurt an ant. Ideal devotees are more tolerant than a tree, humbler than the grass, ready to offer all respect to others and expecting none in return, and they constantly chant Hare Krishna.

So much for the ideal. While we still are novices with so many anarthas (speaking for myself, of course) we have to live practically in the world with those around us. Mother Phalini’s message reminded us that devotees have to work day by day on being humble and tolerant, especially with other devotees and with those in our own family who are familar enough to really get under our skin.

While Mother Phalini spoke of Vedic ideals of chaste wives, I am glad some men spoke up and acknowledged that we husbands share the responsibility of keeping peace and harmony at home, and yes it often requires sacrifice and compromise and kindness and caring on our parts, too. Lord Rsabhadeva warns, we should not become husbands, fathers or gurus unless we can deliver our dependents from material bondage. We cannot do that while remaining self-centered materialists, much less degraded wife-beaters. We have some very high ideals to live up to.

I am sure Mother Phalini was not originally intending to write about actual violent, abusive marriages. She reminded us that even in more genteel devotee households, there will be some challenges and sacrifices required. ISKCON should be a society with ideal marriages that the rest of the world looks up to. We should all feel that, if our chanting and hearing are really being effective, the world will see how we are becoming men and women of ideal character, with controlled senses and peaceful minds. Then they will really want to read our books and join in our kirtans.

That is part of our preaching and book distribution, too. Purity is the force. If we can make our lives perfect we can do the highest welfare for others. An “acarya” teaches by exemplary behavior.

We cannot just talk about ideal Vedic society, sanatan dharma, “vasudeva paro dharmo.” We must take these messages through our ears and into our hearts (bhaktya sruti grhitaya). We have to embody that Krishna dharma in our own lives and character. If we actually do everything for pleasing guru and Krishna, it will be impossible for us to mistreat our spouses and children, or even our friends and neighbors. The six goswamis were popular with both the gentle and the ruffians because they were not envious of anyone.

Srila Prabhupada so mercifully extended the opportunity to join Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement, even to very low-grade people like me. Mlecchas, hippies, drug addicts and worse became saintly under his influence. Now we have to remain under his influence, and help influence others on his order. This is the razor’s edge we must walk every day.

I shudder to think that in presenting the Srimad Bhagavatam’s teachings regarding Vedic social organization (which differs so dramatically from the materialistic, liberal ideals Americans are suckled on), we may be giving low class and degraded men a tool they can misuse to justify and rationalize mistreating and beating their wives and kids. I hope that is not happening. If it is, our leaders must do something about it. Our teachers and lecturers must be careful to really understand and explain our glorious bhakti sastras in the correct way so they won’t be misused.

Varnashram dharma was never meant as a means of stronger, privileged sectors of society exploiting the weak for sense gratification (as atheists like Engels have asserted). On the contrary, it is an ideal method of social organization created by Krishna Himself for the establishment of real justice and spiritual progress for all, with all elements of the social body working together under proper spiritual guidance to please Lord Krishna.

In kali yuga the system became corrupt, with krpanas occupying the position of brahmanas, with hoarding of gold, and illicit sex, intoxication, meat eating and gambling becoming prominent. How we can now properly rearrange things and live according to these “isavasyam” principles of spiritual communism takes a lot of wisdom and insight and spiritual strength.

I am sure Srila Prabhupada will give our sincere leaders that strength and insight. Meanwhile, all devotees should be exemplary people with good moral qualities. We know that the true devotees exhibit all good qualities of the demigods, whereas nondevotees, on the mental chariot, cannot have any good qualities.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 6th, 2006
16 Unregistered

All I can say regarding post #15 by Akruranatha Prabhu is: I can scarcely imagine it being spoken any more nicely. Sadhu! Sadhu!

Comment posted by Haripada dasa on November 6th, 2006
17 Unregistered

Regarding the comments of Lalita Madhava dasi it seems that she is disappointed that Mother Phalini has had a happy marriage. It is almost as if she is saying: “How dare Mother Phalini tell us what a wonderful marriage she has had with her husband, it ruins the picture we are trying to create of all men being monsters.”

For whatever reason a woman (or man) may be in a relationship with a certifiable nut case. Krsna’s Vedic culture does not force a woman to stay in such a relationship. Rather in consultation with mature Brahmanas who know the sastra she can leave the husband and take shelter with her relatives. In the Amoghalila, because Amogha had blasphemed the Lord Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya advised his daughter to leave her husband and again live with him as a widow but not remarry.

Narottama’s text #9 was equally unhelpful. Extreme situations are used to attack Krsna’s Vedic culture. We are just learning how to apply Vedic culture. Because we do not know how to apply it properly does not mean it should be scrapped. Rather a deeper study in how to apply needs to be done.

Extreme cases of wife beating as proposed by Lalita Madhava and Narrotama is a serious crime in Manu Samhita and dealt with very harshly (mutilation is the minimum punishment given to the offender). Again the wife need not stay in such a relationship but can go to the father’s house or away from the husband as circumstances demand if she has no other shelter.

The subtext that I am reading in the comments of these two people is that of frustration, even antagonism toward Lord Krsna’s Vedic civilization. They seem very disappointed and upset that Mother Phalini has been able to apply Srila Prabhupada’s teachings successfully. Krsna’s Vedic culture is eternal, it is not outmoded or against experience as Narottama would have us believe, because obviously Mother Phalini and her husband are living it today as are several other couples that I know of. In actuality few men have such abusive mentality, they do not make up the norm. I know of very few such cases.

And if such a person is misbehaving then there are mechanisms in Krsna’s Vedic culture for dealing with them. I recall one Indian devotee telling me how one of his uncles was a drunkard. While the grandfather was alive the drunkard behaved himself. But after the death of the grandfather the drunkard began to beat his wife (seems that a bottle is often at the middle of such domestic violence which brings in the question of how strictly are the so-called devotee men who allegedly beat their wives following their sadhana?). The beaten wife would naturally share her experiences with her sisters-in-law who were married to the brothers of the wife beater. The brothers got on his case and told him to stop drinking and beating his wife. He ignored the warning. When he again beat his wife his brothers ganged up on him and beat him senseless and from that day onward he never touched a drop nor did he beat his wife.

In the end the shrill statements, loaded with emotionally charged words of Phalini’s critics leave me with an uneasy feeling that there is something not quite right here. They actually attack Mother Phalini for sharing how she was able to have a happy married life as if that were a crime. Rather it is something laudable but they made it sound dirty and something to be ashamed of. They sound disappointed that she is not a victim of domestic violence.

Phalini was speaking to women with normal husbands, while her critics want to speak of only the exceptions and make them the rule and then blame Phalini for encouraging behavior which empowers abusers.

Criminals take advantage of honest people. Phalini’s critics would advise that parents who encourage their children to be honest are just helping criminals. The real solution is to follow the advice of Jesus Christ who instructed his disciples: “to be as cunning as a serpent but as innocent as a dove.” One has to have the discrimination to be able to understand with whom one is dealing with; to be able to guard against evil people without becoming evil oneself.

Marriages in Krsna’s vedic culture were arraigned specifically to avoid being united to an unqualified person. In ISKCON we are just learning how to do that. It will take a few generations; we are pioneers in this endeavor. It should be noted that just as an abusive male can make a woman’s life hell an unqualified woman can do the same to a man.

Obviously Mother Phalini’s text was meant for women married to normal men, not sociopaths. Perhaps she should revise her article to make that clear and hence avoid the negative feminist commentary.

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 6th, 2006
18 Babhru

As I have elsewhere, I thank Phalini for sharing her insights with regard to cultivating successful Krishna-conscious marriages. This is about as important a topic as we can discuss, aside, perhaps, from direct discussion of saranagati proper. Although I believe that there may be a great variety of ways a good Krishna-conscious marriage may look from the outside, I believe that the core is mutual commitment to each other’s spiritual and material welfare; mutual encouragement in saranagati; mutual commitment to service to the vaishnavas and Mahaprabhu’s mission; mutual dedication to pleasing our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada; and real affection for each other. My own marriage of almost 34 years no doubt looks quite different on the surface from Phalini and Haripada’s, but at its core are the same commitment to service and sadhana that I think we’d find when we examine any strong, Krishna-conscious marriage.

I would like to respond a little more specifically, though, to one point Phalini made in one of her comments. She writes, “As long as a man is trying to become a devotee, though, that alone is reason to stay with him, keep tolerating his misbehavior, encouraging him, obeying him, and praying for his advancement!” I think this is a useful approach for spiritual life. However, like Narottama, I’d like to qualify it somewhat. If there is abuse to the extent that the situation is dangerous to the wife or the children, you should get out of the house (or get the abusive husband out of the house) immediately. Using, as Gaurav says, ostensible bhakti as a shield, or excuse, for abuse, helps no one, spiritually or materially. Our families and our communities should eventually become strong enough that any thought of such behavior in devotee marriages would be so rare as to be shocking.

My thanks to all participants for their comments.

Comment posted by Babhru on November 7th, 2006
19 Unregistered

Sugriva Prabhu, thank you for pointing out some of the checks and balances in Vedic and Indian culture which protect women from abuse. These examples are heartening and, for the most part, I think you are right. (Your use of the word “feminist,” as if it was a dirty word, is a bit troubling, though. )

You have, however, dramatically misunderstood my mood and intent. There are a number of aspects of this situation that you seem not to be aware of. I have responded to you privately and requested Dandavats to forward the email to you.

Your servant,
Lalita Madhava d.d.

(I welcome correspondence from all Dandavats readers at lalitamadhava@juno.com)

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 9th, 2006
20 Unregistered

P.S. (To Sugriva Prabhu, Comment #17): I have been a loyal member of ISKCON and a follower of Srila Prabhupada for nearly 30 years and both of my children have been raised as followers of Srila Prabhupada, having Krishna Book read to them aloud almost every single night of their entire lives. I am not “antagonistic toward Lord Krishna’s Vedic civilization” and I think that was a very rude thing for you to say.

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 9th, 2006
21 krishna-kirti

When someone writes an essay about a successful marriage, especially if it advocates a more traditional approach, someone else usually responds with a “yes but…”. Usually, the yes-but takes the form of “Yes, but what do you do when the husband beats the hell out of his wife?” It raises this question: Is advice like that of Mother Phalini’s relevant to the “wife-beating” marriages?

Anyone who has persisted in a marriage knows that marriage means conflict. If you are married and haven’t had a spat, then you are a newlywed. Violence within a marriage is conflict that has gotten out of hand. Domestic violence is therefore not a difference in kind but one of degree.

If it is a matter of degree, not of kind, then strategies such as those suggested by Mother Phalini, if adopted, will most likely reduce the incidence of domestic violence overall. Of course, in society we cannot make domestic violence go away–that is utopian–but we can minimize it. Mother Phalini’s advice is therefore generally applicable–even to marriages that are at a higher risk of domestic violence.

Comment posted by krishna-kirti on November 9th, 2006
22 Akruranatha

I have to respectfully disagree with Krishna Kirti.

Physical violence is a different kind of conflict than a verbal spat in which there can be some give and take. It is a way of stopping all reasoning, of dominating another’s will and enslaving someone simply because she is physically weaker or psychologically less aggressive.

A man who beats up his wife and children when he becomes angry with them, who physically torments those who cannot defend themselves, is a bully and a criminal. If he cannot check his anger and stop short of criminal behavior, he needs to be curbed.

The proper use of physical violence is to protect the innocent from the criminals. King Parikshit drew his sword to protect the innocent earth and dharma from being tormented by a low-class bully (Kali yuga personified) dressed as a king. I expect good government should similarly protect innocent women and children from such low class criminal behavior.

Here in California if police respond to a domestic violence call and there is any sign of physical injury, the perpetrator will be arrested, even if the victim declines to press charges or tries to deny anything happened. The convicted wife beater will generally be forced to attend some sort of domestic violence/anger management training as part of his sentence. I agree with this system and believe it is doing some good (but it is never going to solve the whole problem).

I hate to think that devotees of Krishna need such a system. I would expect the devotees generally to be more gentle, noble people. In fact, I would like to believe that spreading Krishna consciousness would be a way to address and reduce criminal behavior in society. (Didn’t someone write on Dandavats a while ago about how sankirtan had tamed some unruly slum neighborhood in South Africa? It was so enlivening to read that article!)

I do not pretend to be an expert on domestic violence, but I agree with Sugriva that it seems to often be linked to alcohol and drug abuse and other mode of ignorance influences. It would seem that the chanting of Hare Krishna should directly mitigate the influence of the lower modes that gives rise to wife beating.

I also agree with Sugriva that it is important to be selective about whom we marry. Whether or not we actually get to arrange marriage for our dependents, we can play an important role in helping our friends and family decide whom to marry, or how to deal with a violent, abusive husband (or difficult wife). I hope my granddaughters when they are old enough will find nice husbands who will respect them and help them in Krishna consciousness.

I would be hesitant to ever counsel a woman I cared about to stay in a dangerous, physically abusive relationship. I agree with Narottama and Gaurav and others who advise, get help immediately. Do not endanger yourself and your children. Krishna consciousness does not demand that of you.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 10th, 2006
23 Unregistered

Thank you, Phalini dd, for this nice article and for inspiring this discussion. The title, “Constant Practice and Detachment”, applies to all devotional service. Controlling the tongue (urge to argue), sacrifice, patience, determination, and prayer, is thoughtful advice to help sustain a Krsna Conscious marriage for BOTH husband and wife.

As Akruranatha prabhu mentioned, it is necessary that the husband shares equally in the responsibility to create a safe, peaceful environment where the Goddess of fortune resides. Communication and respect are essential. In the best devotee marriages I know, the couples are sensitive to each others feelings and value each others opinions. For these couples I can’t imagine “yelling” ever becoming a temptation. A mere look of disappointment is sufficient to induce a resolution. If a couple cares about and respects each other, they will want to please each other. If not, why be together?

I wanted to be married to share a life in devotional service to Srila Prabhupada with a companion, a best friend. Someone I could trust. I find it very depressing that the discussions regarding marriage in our society of devotees usually digress to discussions about domestic violence. And to make it worse, there are always a few devotees that endorse (or minimize) it on some level. I don’t understand it. Srila Prabhupada would NEVER condone devotees physically hurting each other. He taught us to never cause distress to any living entity.

Jagarini dd

Comment posted by Jagarini dd on November 11th, 2006
24 krishna-kirti

The assertion in comment #23, which is an assertion that the difference between a dispute that does not become physically violent and a dispute that becomes physically violent represents the way most of ISKCON’s core members think about this. If that is true, that it is representative of reality, then it means there is something fundamentally different between someone who in an argument becomes violent and someone who does not.

It also suggests that we really can’t do anything about it, except make sure that such people never get married. It’s something like gasoline waiting for a lighted match. You can’t change the gasoline (nor the match), so they must be kept separate.

The trouble with that position is that there is no place in it for good people who circumstantially do bad things. Can a person who is ordinarily a good person sucumb to provacative circumstances? (Ever try living for more than a few days with someone who watches TV all the time? Sangat sanjayate kama.) Some of you reading this may be thinking, “I would never do such a thing as beat my wife.” Fine, all glories to you. However, you may not be the marginal case. Others are more marginal than you are, and that has everything to do with a) the modes of nature they operate under, and b) their spiritual advancement, or ability to transcend those modes.

In the last chapter of the Gita, the “five causes for the accomplishment of all action” are particularly relevant. The gist of this is that in whatever we attempt to do, we are not independent, and that necessarily includes attempts to control anger. Those attempts don’t always succeed, and these five factors explain why. If that is true, then there are things we can do to reduce the number of marginal cases, or potential for domestic violence. Therefore, an important social objective is to institute a normative culture, a way of life, that increases the potential for success in controlling one’s senses.

Comment posted by krishna-kirti on November 11th, 2006
25 Unregistered

Regarding comment #19

Dear respected Mataji,

Please accept my humble obeisance. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Over the millennia Krsna’s Vedic civilization has had to face many challenges: Buddhism, Advaitavada, Islam, and in more recent times, Communism, Capitalism, Consumerism and Feminism.

Feminism is diametrically opposed to Krsna’s Vedic culture, it is thus an enemy of Krsna’s Vedic civilization and hence it is a dirty word. Srila Prabhupada was a staunch opponent of feminism as can readily be seen from numerous conversations and dialogs. He NEVER changed his stance even when directly confronted by feminist reporters in Chicago in the summer of 1975. Because of Srila Prabhupada’s obvious and correct opposition of feminism, feminism is such a dirty word that ISKCON feminists go to great pains to distance themselves from that word while all the while still advocating feminist agenda and policies. They do not want to be known as feminists for obvious reasons – feminism is odious. To avoid the stigma of feminism they avoid the word but act the part. They are like the cow who says “I am not a cow. I am a four legged, two horned, grass eating, bovine animal, that moos, and delivers milk. But I am not a cow.” No one is fooled.

I have received and answered your private text and I think that you now know why I answered as I did. I am indeed aware of the other aspects that you allude too. We can work out the details in our private correspondence.

I can sense from your private letter that you are indeed sincere and concerned and I hope that my response was suitable. I will be happy to be of service in clearing up your doubts on the points that you raised privately. It is always a pleasure to deal with devotees who sincerely try to follow the precepts of our acaryas.

Your humble servant

Sugriva das

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 12th, 2006
26 Unregistered

Regarding comment #20

Dear respected Mataji,

Please accept my humble obeisance. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I am sorry if you found my comment rude. I was just responding to your pointed comment to Mother Phalini. I do not know you, just as you do not know Mother Phalini and her husband Haripada Prabhu. I do know them and their family very well.

Most likely you wrote this comment before our private exchange of correspondence. I hope that you now understand the reason for my response.

Your humble servant

Sugriva das

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 12th, 2006
27 krishna-kirti

Sugrivji, Hare Krishna. You may be interested in this essay, titled “Language, Ideology, and the Women’s Movement in ISKCON”. Here is the introduction:

Although it is widely acknowledged within and without ISKCON that ISKCON has an influential women’s movement, the degree to which it resembles other women’s movements outside of ISKCON, particularly in the West, has been hotly debated. Rather, it is more correct to say that debate on this issue has generally been suppressed. In response to concerns that feminism was being promoted in ISKCON, one member of ISKCON’s women’s movement flatly countered, “I . . . strongly object to being labeled a ‘feminist’”{1} The possibility would not be entertained, no further discussion ensued. But because ISKCON’s membership is largely composed of people who are culturally Western and because ISKCON exists within Western Civilization and interacts with it, to foreclose discussion on the extent to which Western culture influences ISKCON is perhaps a disingenuous response to a legitimate concern.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, women’s movements have been very influential in the West. At the onset of the 21st century, ISKCON has also been significantly transformed from the inside by its own women’s movement, which has actively and determinedly asserted economic, social, legal and political rights for women in ISKCON. Compared with its Western counterparts, ISKCON’s women’s movement is still a new thing. So exploring their differences and their similarities could provide valuable clues as to the ideas, motivations, and conditions that gives impetus to the women’s movement in ISKCON. Such an exploration may also help us understand how the women’s movement may shape ISKCON’s future.

In order to facilitate honest and open discussion on the question of the Western influence in ISKCON and especially the influence of the women’s movement in ISKCON, this essay analyzes the ideas and methods of ISKCON’s women’s movement and explores the similarities and differences it has with its counterparts outside of ISKCON.

“Language, Ideology, and the Women’s Movement in ISKCON” 23 Feb 2005.

Comment posted by krishna-kirti on November 12th, 2006
28 Akruranatha

I am not sure I understood everything Krishna Kirti said in post #25.

I did not say in post #23 that wife beaters cannot be reformed. I said that a criminal justice system that requires counseling and training for convicted wife beaters is somewhat effective, but that Krishna consciousness should be most effective.

Even terrible sinners like Jagai and Madhai can be reformed through Krishna consciousness, so we can too. If we chant Hare Krishna our life will be sublime, but we have to chant without offenses. That requires practice.

Marital discord is less than sublime. Domestic violence is hellish and disgusting.

I agree with Krishna Kirti that good people can be impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly. As we learn in the end of the Third Chapter of the Gita, all conditioned souls are covered by different degrees of lust, which has occupied positions in their senses, mind and intelligence. Thus Lord Krishna advises us to regulate the senses from the very beginning, and also to understand how the soul is transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence.

For those who won’t regulate their senses sufficiently, civil society requires an effective police force. We can still pray for those in prison, as Narottama said in post #9, and those in prison should also pray and study Bhagavad Gita and chant Hare Krishna. However, as long as they cannot conform their behavior to minimum social norms, they need to be controlled by an outside force, such as the cops, courts, and correctional institutions.

I agree with Krishna Kirti that a normative culture which increases the potential for success in controlling one’s senses is an important social objective. (We should, however, condemn false interpretations of “Vedic culture” and “varnashrama dharma” which serve as excuses for injustice, exploitation and oppression.) A better society would put more value on spiritual knowledge, renunciation, sacrifice, and devotion to Krishna, and would condemn materialism, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling, among other things.

In the mean time, we have to live and preach in whatever culture we’ve got. Culture is not easily or quickly changed. Book distribution and the Holy Names will eventually produce effects. Fortunately, with respect to wife beating at least, most cultures still condemn and punish it.

In ISKCON we have a separate cultural enclave within the larger local culture. People should see that in ISKCON we have higher standards of morality, happier marriages, less crime, more cleanliness, truthfulness, tolerance and mercy. If we have that reputation it will attract people to chanting and reading Srila Prabhupada’s books.

While it is true that chanting Hare Krishna should automatically bring about these higher standards, we need to be realistic about our shortfalls and improve where necessary. We can and should actively train our members in good manners and morals, and set appropriate minimum standards of tolerable behavior.

Apparently, in some communities at least, ISKCON has higher levels of domestic violence and divorce than society at large. This is not the fault of Krishna consciousness, but outsiders are unfortunately going to see it like that. We need to make an effort to address those problems through whatever training, education, counseling or other methods may be effective, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because successful preaching depends on it.

We already have the most effective medicine for all social ills: “Although it is especially meant for the paramahamsas, or those who are totally engaged in self-realization, [Srimad Bhagavatam] works into the depths of the hearts of those who may be worldly men.” (S.B. 1.7.8, purport)

Meanwhile, in addition to our daily doses of Srimad Bhagavatam, harinama and Krishna prasadam, our householders should use whatever other medicine is necessary so that we can act as decent, law abiding, exemplary citizens. Thanks again to Mother Phalini for raising this important topic of Krishna conscious marriage.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 12th, 2006
29 Akruranatha

Thanks, Haripada, for encouraging me. I am afraid I tend to babble on like a Dutch uncle.

It is nice to hear from you and your good wife. In another thread on Dandavats recently I was reminiscing about when you were the men’s SKP leader in L.A. (in 1979) and you used to have us get up at 2:30 so we could finish our rounds early and chant chapters together (Brahma Samhita, Prahlada Maharaja, Lord Rsabhadeva) before Bhagavatam class. That was a great program.

I still remember the ecstatic midnight Janmasthami kirtan Phalini led at Berkeley temple in (I think it was) 1992.

Jagarini and I have been living in the Santa Cruz mountains for the last 11 or 12 years. Jagarini tells me this was your old stompin’ ground in the early or mid-1970s.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 12th, 2006
30 Unregistered

Before discussion on the points made by Sugriva Prabhu in Comment #26 goes any further, I think it is imperative that we make sure all participants are in agreement as to the definition of the word “feminist.” Webster’s Dictionary defintes “feminist” as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Is it that definition, that concept, that you intended to describe as “odious,” Sugriva Prabhu?

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 12th, 2006
31 Suresh das

One difficulty in our ISKCON-arranged marriage comes from the fact that we didn’t choose each other, and didn’t even know each other before we married. In the material world, especially in animal society, as well as human society, there is a gauntlet that a male must pass through in which he fights for his bride. The best man, who wins the competition amongst all other males, wins the woman. Generally a woman chooses her mate, from amongst the best choice of males, who are vying for her.

This was true especially in former times when the ksatriyas held regular pitted-battles in the syamvara ceremonies to pick their bride, and the bride to pick her groom. At the end of the competition, the winning male would smear the blood of his competitors in the hair of his bride (the kunkum now used as an ordinary dye was formerly blood).

Because we never chose each other, it took many years for us to grow together. There is always some part of me which is still looking somewhere else. Ultimately I chose to surrender myself to the decision of the Deity. But still, because I am not perfect, I often think about what might have been, and feel a great deal of frustration because of it.

Because our ISKCON society is against all sex life except for producing children, this may be what contributes to the frustration on the part of men towards women, resulting in domestic abuse and violence. If a man knows he can never touch his wife, or physically love her, what incentive does he have for not hitting her, in the inevitable disputes which arise between men and women, if he knows he will never enjoy sex life?

There were many misconceptions and even lies which were taught to me by temple authorities when I was a Brahmacari to turn me against women, and to make me hate and fear women. Ultimately, the true purpose I believe behind the propaganda of hatred of women, designed to keep me in the Brahmacari Ashram, was so that I would continually stay a money-collector.

Comment posted by Suresh das on November 12th, 2006
32 Akruranatha

I sympathize with Sugriva’s anger at those he supposes to be blasphemers against the Vedic scriptures and against Krishna, but I think he was wrong to so quickly assume the worst about Lalita Madhava d.d.

It is easy get tempted to “flame” on the internet but we are all devotees here and we should be charitable to each other. All these devotees have so many good qualities and insights, we should try to be very respectful to each other (though I am probably as guilty as anyone in this regard).

Some “feminists” may attack Vedic culture or Krishna consciousness, others may be generally favorably disposed, but most of them probably don’t know anything about Krishna or the Vedas at all. We might be giving them a good or bad first impression.

Srila Prabhupada did not much bother going around attacking feminism per se, although he ridiculed a lot of foolish ideas that were dear to some feminists. Certain foolish feminists tried to attack or ridicule him, and they were indeed “odious”.

However, we should recognize that feminism, like nationalism or socialism, can be inspired by noble sentiments, although it inevitably falls short of real Krishna bhakti:

“An ordinary man works for his own sense enjoyment, and when this principle of sense enjoyment is extended to include his society, nation or humanity in general, it assumes various attractive names such as altruism, socialism, communism, nationalism and humanitarianism. These ‘isms’ are certainly very attractive forms of karma-bandhana (karmic bondage), but the Vedic instruction of Sri Isopanishad is that if one actually wants to live for any of the above ‘isms’, he should make them God-centered.” (Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 2, purport).

I am sure we could also imagine a God-centered feminism, if we try.

I have had the experience of being confronted on Sankirtan by people who have heard or believe that women in ISKCON (or in Hinduism) are mistreated. I’ll spare you the anecdotes, but I have a lot of them. I am sure everyone else does.

I want these people to be able to take a book or render some favorable service, but often they are too unfortunate. Their own notions of justice or human rights interfere with their ability to get Lord Caitanya’s mercy.

At these times I think that if they only knew the real truth about Krishna consciousness they would see that this sankirtan movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large. I want them to taste the nectar for which we are always anxious. I wish I could crack through their prejudices and make them see somehow. It pains me that it is often the more educated and influential segment of our society who have these particular impediments. (We need to devise methods for them to get Lord Caitanya’s mercy)

It always embarrasses me when this happens, because I know that in a lot of instances women really *have* been mistreated in ISKCON, sometimes very seriously, sometimes with the approval or at least the callous indifference of ISKCON authorities. If we clean our own house, especially regarding how we treat devotees, our preaching will become much more effective and we will reach more people.

Many devotees try to address misunderstandings that have caused mistreatment of women in ISKCON. I attended one large seminar in L.A. (probably circa 1998), in which a lot of senior women and some senior men (including notably H.H. Hrdayananda Maharaja) addressed some of these issues. Some of these devotees may identify themselves as “feminists”, but what they were doing was undoubtedly important devotional service.

So, to say “feminism is odious”, etc. is an overgeneralization, is too harsh, and probably is a lousy preaching strategy as well, in my humble opinion. (But I am sure there are better devotees than I am who would disagree with me).

As for “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” it is pretty obvious that our scriptures and acaryas do reject that theory. The living entities are equal on the spiritual platform, but they play different roles in society based on the different gross and subtle bodies nature has awarded them. The sexes obviously are not equal, as Cinmayi pointed out in post # 22, nor should we waste energy in trying artificially to make them equal.

However, they equally may take advantage of devotional service:

“By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings, and who is all pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work. It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.” (B.G. 18. 46-47)

Then again, we also know the ultimate instruction:

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (B.G. 18.66)

Moreover: “Being situated in his original Krishna conscious position, a pure devotee does not identify with the body. Such a devotee should not be seen from a materialistic point of view. Indeed, one should overlook a devotee’s having a body born in a low family, a body with a bad complexion, a deformed body, or a diseased or infirm body . . . ” (NOI, Text Six)

Of course, many of the greatest devotees are female: Mother Yasoda, the wives of the brahmanas, the gopis, the queens in Dwaraka, etc. etc. Being female is obviously no impediment to devotional service.

Mainly, I can suggest that as a society we have to work on being kind and caring about the well being of all the devotees and not to be indifferent to their suffering or their material and spiritual needs.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 13th, 2006
33 Unregistered

regarding comment #30

There are several definitions of feminism by feminists themselves, the definitions being more or less radical. But the definition that you have provided is acceptable as the starting point for most feminist view points. However, some have pointed out that when feminists say they want equality in fact they are striving for superiority.

Such tactics are often used in material dealings and usually successful for a time. But while it it may garner material rewards it will never grant one love of God.

Having agreed on a basic definition I am however not inclined to pursue this topic on this thread. If you want to write a separate article on your views of feminism and publish it on Dandavatas and then ask for comments that would be a better forum. This comment thread is in relation to Mother Phalini’s article and I really don’t want to digress much. It is bad enough that it has now strayed into the area of abuse. This is ironic because I believe Mother Phalini’s article was actually intended as a guide on how to decrease friction in a marriage and hence pre-empt an abusive situation from developing. The mood of the home situation is greatly controlled and influenced by the wife. Harmony in the family is very important and as explained in SB 4.4.3 the happiness in the family will be dependent on the wife’s nature and the efforts she puts forward.

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 13th, 2006
34 Unregistered

In text 31 Akruranatha states:

“I sympathize with Sugriva’s anger at those he supposes to be blasphemers against the Vedic scriptures and against Krishna, but I think he was wrong to so quickly assume the worst about Lalita Madhava d.d.”

What was I assuming about her? She was not the only one who commented negatively, the other #9 was worse. Please re-read that one. The author tells us that Krsna’s eternal Vedic culture is “out dated” etc and implies that in its stead we should accept the modern ethos. And what would that be?

And it is a fact that historically it has been feminists who use this type of language and it is feminists who try to discourage women from having happy marriages and find ways of implying that if she is happy in her marriage she must be so totally controlled and dominated and possibly brutalized by her husband that she is afraid to tell people she is actually miserable and only pretending to be happy. And even when the wife insists that she is happy and content this just adds fuel to the feminists supposition that the girl is really brainwashed. The more the wife insists she is happy the more it proves to the feminists that she is not and just following orders from her husband to mouth those lies.

I will restrain myself from any more comments about feminism until after Mataji writes her own seperate article on teh subject and posts it on Dandavatas.

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 13th, 2006
35 Unregistered

Dear Sugriva Prabhu, regarding comment # 32, I think it is the nature of interactive weblogs, such as this one, for the exchange to organically evolve. It seems to me that the position of women, including how one defines “feminism,” is at the heart of this whole issue. I do not think people are “digressing” here, just exploring facets of the subject at hand.

And, Akruranatha Prabhu, thank you for your many insightful points during this discussion and for your kind words. In Comment #31 you said, “As for “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” it is pretty obvious that our scriptures and acaryas do reject that theory. The living entities are equal on the spiritual platform, but they play different roles in society based on the different gross and subtle bodies nature has awarded them. The sexes obviously are not equal, as Cinmayi pointed out in post # 22, nor should we waste energy in trying artificially to make them equal. ”

This is such a complex point, and, unfortunately, once again I find myself with 5 minutes to attempt to ask a question before I have to leave for work for the day. Is it not that the sexes are, in fact, “equal,” they just have different roles? “Equal but different”? Women are not “inferior” or “less” in any way, they simply “play different roles insociety based on the different gross and subtle bodies nature has awarded them” as you said?

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 13th, 2006
36 Akruranatha

I agree we seem to have hijacked this thread. Mea culpa. I am probably too enthusiastic to write about these “cultural” issues, which are current (and perennial) hot topics among devotees.

I am cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of these electronic istagosthis. My only fear is devotees will not listen to each other and will unnecessarily criticize and become angry with each other instead of appreciating the insights different devotees have to offer.

If Sugriva or Lalita Madhava are not going to write a separate article perhaps I will. However, my law practice is busy at the moment, and I have to go out of town this weekend and again for the Thanksgiving holiday.

In my separate article I would like to expand the discussion beyond even “feminism” to cover the entire vast range of modern cultural, social and political discourse. We need to discuss not only how our varnasrama ideals differ from those of contemporary liberal secular democratic society, but how we should best understand and approach these differences, in our practical lives and in our preaching. I would like to hear the realizations of advanced devotees on these topics.

Sugriva, please don’t be angry with me, but I actually appreciated Narottama’s post #9 very much. I did not understand him to be speaking faithlessly against the sacred scriptures, but giving practical advice as someone who works in domestic violence counseling and therefore has useful experience in this serious subject.

However, if the “disconnect” between modern and ancient values sometimes undermines the faith of sincere devotees or causes them to make seemingly faithless statements, that is all the more reason we need to approach these topics thoughtfully and sensitively. We need to be able to explain Krishna consciousness to the general public in an attractive and relevant way, and to help those who are already devotees when the clash of cultures causes them philosophical or practical problems.

We should understand the superiority of Vedic civilization while appreciating the history and conflicts and practical concerns that have shaped modern values. ISKCON is not a movement of reactionary fundamentalists, like the radical Islamists. Devotees are broad minded mahatmas, who can extract the essence like swans who can separate milk from water.

We do not have to declare actual war on all aspects of modern civilization. We can undermine what is rotten about atheistic, materialistic civilization while embracing whatever is not contrary to devotional service in a spirit of yukta vairagya. We can live and work as decent, respectable people in contemporary society while at the same time getting great satisfaction and benefit from devotional service, and sharing it with others. And we should be cautious not to allign ourselves too closely with cultural conservatives who are not devotees of Lord Caitanya: they have agendas and values quite different from ours.

To answer Lalita Madhava’s question briefly here, I would say that the varnashram approach views the entire society as one social “body” with brahmanas as the head, ksatriyas as the arms, etc. Everyone is equal in the sense that they are all part of one body, but they are not materially equal in social rank, political power or economic strength.

Women in the varnashram system are always supposed to be protected by men: in their childhood by their father, then by their husband, then by their grown-up sons. Ideal women are chaste and submissive to their husbands, but that gives them great power (at least over civilized men). Women’s social rank derives in large part from the men in their lives.

It is undeniably a patriarchal system. Not surprisingly, this will not be very palatable to most modern feminists, at least not at first blush. Maybe you shouldn’t bring this stuff up until they have at least had some prasadam and a little kirtan. ;-)

When preaching or distributing books I tend to emphasize equality on the spiritual platform. I often show the picture in the Gita of the humble sage who sees with equal vision the dog, the elephant, the brahmana, the cow and the dog eater. I say that by seeing the soul and God in everyone’s heart, we can treat all people and even animals with proper respect and dignity.

The ideals of equality and “equal rights” are very deeply respected in America as elsewhere in the world. These concepts and the rhetoric people use in describing them have their own history and we should be sensitive to them, even while being aware of how they do not exactly fit in Vedic civilization.

When I show people the back of the Gita where it has quotes from Emerson, Thoreau and Gandhi, I often add Martin Luther King, Jr. in my list of famous people who have read and appreciated the Gita. This is not simply “salesmanship,” but stems from an honest recognition that what people are really looking for, the highest ideals of truth and justice and equality and freedom and brotherhood (and sisterhood) and peace and prosperity and love and harmony and unity and true kindness for all jivas can really all be found (and only be found) in Krishna consciousness.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 14th, 2006
37 Unregistered

Akruranatha Prabhu, please do by all means write a separate article. You have many excellent ideas and I feel certain that you are far more qualified than I am to write such an article.

I have to say that, both from personal experience and from my observations of others, I see both sides of the “feminism” issue. While many women (myself included, by the way) might prefer a “traditional role” where they are in a protected situation and can stay at home and cultivate a nurturing Krishna conscious household, they simply do not have that luxury.

So for you to suggest to educated, capable women who are running their own businesses or otherwise working full-time (forced by circumstances into a traditionally male role) that they are not entitled to the same social rank, political power or economic strength as men, or that their social rank derives from the men in their lives is, indeed, quite an unpalatable idea. (One that, I am sorry to say, no amount of prasada or kirtana will make less so!)

Also, you state that ideal women are meant to be “submissive” to their husbands. This is a standard that is frequently cited by men, but in 30 years I have yet to hear one single man ever preach at all, what to speak of with the same enthusiasm, about the qualifications and ideal behavior of husbands which would entitle them to demand or deserve the corresponding ideal standard from their wives.

As we have seen over the years, many outmoded ideas from the culture of 19th and early 20th century India have been mistaken for some absolute ideal to be aspired to by ISKCON devotees. But all that is “Hindu” and all that is “Indian” does not necessarily represent the essence of our pure philosophy or respresent something which we should aspire to as followers of Srila Prabhupada. I suspect some of these antiquated ideas about the position of women are in that category.

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 14th, 2006
38 Akruranatha

Dear Lalita Madhava:

I would not suggest to an independent businesswoman or politician (or really anybody) that they should be relegated to a lower social rank. They should be encouraged and guided to properly use whatever they have in devotional service, not discouraged (phalgu vairagya) by rigid cultural notions imperfectly applied. If you think I was trying to impose artificial limits on people in today’s society, I probably did not make myself clear.

Generally I approach these “cultural” topics in terms of explaining a great ancient civilization that was based on a deep spiritual and psycological understanding. In that ideal civilization there were different social positions and disctinct moral instructions for people with different qualities, including specific dharma for women, sudras, brahmanas, etc. Sudras were lower socially than brahmanas, but pure vaisnavas from whatever position should be accepted as better than brahmanas.

We should learn these things carefully from Srila Prabhupada’s books. If we love studying Srila Prabhupada’s books (as I am sure you do) we cannot avoid hearing about all these things, which are elaborately and beautifully explained. Even though that Vedic culture is somewhat foreign to us, it appears very intelligent, satisfying and wholesome to me. Don’t you also experience that? If not, I can only hope the discussion here helps somewhat.

Obviously, the society we live and work in in the U.S. (I am assuming you are American, too) is in many ways quite different from ancient Vedic society and culture we read about in Srila Prabhupada’s books. Americans tend to despise the notion of social rank altogether (although we have not been able to entirely suppress it). We pride ourselves on having rejected feudal systems based on social status (which were abused when unqualified people occupied privileged posts), and we have a dominant ideology based on egalitarianism and robust commercial competition. (Everyone can grow up to be President, or at least some version of Donald Trump — yuk)

American women are known the world over for their strength, courage, intelligence and independence. Alexis De Toqueville wrote about this phenomenon in the 1830s, but this trait has not diminished and probably has been amplified in the 175 years since then. De Toqueville’s analysis focused on the (then novel) democratic system, but the immigrant experience also undoubtedly has had a lot to do with it.

We Americans have no tradition of courtly nobility, nor do we have a tradition of elaborate customary unwritten rules (as many societies do). We share the ugly, painful history of Negro slavery and segregation, and the partial triumph of the civil rights movement in the later 20th century. We have a pluralistic society based on minimal rules for keeping public order and facilitating commerce, relagating higher moral and spiritual aspirations to a private sphere where it can be (and often is) simply ignored. (But on the bright side that gives us freedom to preach Krishna consciousness without government interference). We also tend to be emotionally isolated from those around us, even from our own families, and generally do not have a lot of spontaneous, community-based relationships (the curse of a highly segmented, interdependent economy).

We also tend to be a little insensitive or even ignorant of other cultures, and at times we jingoistically try to impose our notions of democracy and social equality in other countries (although this may just be a convenient excuse for achieving other military and economic objectives).

We should be careful not to let our American cultural biases impede our appreciation of ideal Vedic civilization as described in Srila Prabhupada’s books.

Not just in the U.S., but throughout the world today the ideology of bourgeois liberalism is in the ascendancy, and has been for two or three centuries. My point (I am sorry if I have not been able to make it clear), is that although Srila Prabhupada expertly pointed out the inferiority of this ideology, we should not ignore its historical origins (people really have had to liberate themselves from various forms of oppression through epic historical struggles), or be insensitive to the deep hold it has in much of the public psyche.

However, my understanding is that it is a temporary aberration spawned by Kali yuga conditions, even though it may last for thousands of years. Varnasrama is the natural condition of human society, (but today’s animalistic population may not be quite human enough for it). Srila Prabhupada would many times note, however, that in every society there are people who do play different roles as intellectuals, administrators, producers of food and other commodities, and laborers, so in that sense the varnas are still existing.

We should try to deeply understand the Vedic civilization (if only as an ideal from a more enlightened, distant past), and also be sensitive to the values of the society we live and preach in.

In ISKCON we have tried to incorporate aspects of varnasrama dharma in our own lives and communities (mostly more on the asrama side than on the varna side), sometimes with more success and sometimes less. In doing this, we should always be careful not to mistreat or discourage sincere devotees. It should be done in such a way that everyone is attracted to it.

How to apply your own understanding of ancient Vedic culture in your life is something you need to figure out for yourself, with the help of trusted friends, wise spiritual authorities and lots of hearing and chanting. Reading between the lines somewhat, it sounds to me like you have tried but to some extent were disappointed. Like Cinmayi said, ultimately we all “fly our own airplanes,” but there is no substitute for chanting good rounds and regularly attending good Bhagavatam classes in the association of congenial devotees, if possible.

I hope you do not think I was trying to put you or anybody else “in their place.” I do not presume to wield that kind of authority. (I do need to write that separate article, though. Hopefully I can be a little more clear than I have been so far.)

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 14th, 2006
39 Unregistered

Akruranatha said:
“Sugriva, please don’t be angry with me, but I actually appreciated Narottama’s post #9 very much. I did not understand him to be speaking faithlessly against the sacred scriptures, but giving practical advice as someone who works in domestic violence counseling and therefore has useful experience in this serious subject.”

I hope you don’t interpret my response as anger. The net is not very good when it comes to non-verbals. Maybe I should throw in a pile of smileys before I start (-:

Phalini’s article was not about domestic violence but how to have a happy marriage free of abuse by following eternal principles and creating a situation which preempts abuse. Medical practitioners and the like are so accustomed to seeing sick people they think everyone is sick and they do not know how to talk about health and they bring everything back to what they know best—sickness. What does Narottama know about creating a happy Krsna Conscious family life free of abuse? And we note that his so-called advice was but a medium to disparage Vedic culture, but more on that later.

Mother Phalini was sharing some good news, but others only want to hear the bad news. There are plenty of sources out there on domestic violence but how much is there especially in ISKCON for how to have a happy marriage? So I didn’t appreciate his take at all, it was completely inappropriate especially in light of his view point which I will presently get to.

Akruranatha said:
“However, if the “disconnect” between modern and ancient values sometimes undermines the faith of sincere devotees or causes them to make seemingly faithless statements, that is all the more reason we need to approach these topics thoughtfully and sensitively. We need to be able to explain Krishna consciousness to the general public in an attractive and relevant way, and to help those who are already devotees when the clash of cultures causes them philosophical or practical problems.”

He didn’t say “ancient” values. Please re-read his text. His exact words were:

“Accuse me of being modern, I happily accept that label. Preaching about ‘cultural’ norms that are outdated and contrary to everything we experience in the predominant culture creates alienated people who are unsure of how to live in this world as devotees.”

What he actually said is that they are “outdated.” According to the OED “outdated” means: “trans. To put out of date, make (a thing) out of date or obsolete.”

Krsna’s Vedic culture is not obsolete! It is eternal. Its values were true in the past, they are true in the present and they will be true in the future. That is the meaning of eternal. Whereas “modern” implies what is transpiring today, an ephemeral position at best. For what is modern today is indeed outdated and obsolete tomorrow.

As said in the Gita we must “see with the vision of eternity” the problems that concerned people 10 million years ago are the same that concern us today and are the same that will concern us 10 million years from now. Those problems are: birth, death, old age, and disease. The problems have not changed, nor have the solutions. If we change the solutions we are lost and doomed to continue in samsara.

We must first perfectly understand the principles of Krsna’s Vedic culture, then and only then can we know how to apply them in different situations according to time, place and circumstance. Just like if you know the Pythagorean Theorem you will know how to apply it in all settings, not that you change the theorem because it is no longer 600 BC, the time of Pythagoras, and rework the formula to appease modernists or post-modernists. No, that is not how it works. Similarly with Krsna’s Vedic civilization the principles are eternal and can not be changed even one iota, but rather skillfully applied according to kala-desha-patra: time, place and circumstance. That was the whole point of Mother Phalini’s article–how to apply the eternal principles in a modern setting. This is what Haripada Prabhu recently wrote in a private letter to someone else, it was shared with me by the receiver:

“I [Haripada] have been following the thread that has developed from the
article written by my wife, Phalini dasi, and I must say that I do agree
wholeheartedly with post #32 by Sugriva Prabhu. Phalini’s intent is to
share with others the beneficial results that can come from putting into
practice the Vedic principles mercifully delivered to us all by our
beloved Srila Prabhupada. Specifically, she and I have been attempting to
apply Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on proper social interaction in the
area of Krsna conscious family life for our entire marriage. We have
studied his instructions thoroughly and by applying them in our daily life
have seen very positive results. Our two adult children have witnessed
these efforts and the good results produced by them. They are inclined to
live their lives as devotees and we hope that they will choose to follow
these liberating principles as well.”

But today we find that in the name of “Time, place and circumstance” people who never studied the principles deeply, or have no faith in Srila Prabhupada, or the Sastras, or Sri Krsna or some combination of the above; want to change the principles themselves to make them more “relevant” to modern times and values. For them Krsna’s Vedic culture is “outdated” (obsolete) because it conflicts with modern values. Modern values are great for staying in the material world in fact that is why Mayadevi is busy making them (she has a whole factory cranking them out), but if you want to go back to Krsna’s eternal world you have go on His terms and His [eternal] values.

This idea that Krsna’s eternal and perfect Vedic culture is outdated is not new. There have always been those who have tried to subvert or “improve” on Krsna’s system for we see that even Manu (and others) mention this fact:

“All those traditions and those despicable systems of philosophy, which are not based on the Veda, produce no reward after death; for they are declared to be founded on Darkness. All those (doctrines), differing from the (Veda), which spring up and (soon) perish, are worthless and false, because they are of modern date.” Manu Smriti 12.95-96

And just so that you don’t think I am angry with you I am throwing in another smiley (-:

Comment posted by Sugriva das on November 15th, 2006
40 Unregistered

So ,why do we marry in the first place ?
and when the time comes will we be able to separate ?
then what constitutes a successful marriage ?
ys mvdas

Comment posted by mahavidya das on November 15th, 2006
41 Unregistered

Both post #36 by our Vaisnava barrister, Akruranath Prabhu, and post #37 by Sugriva Prabhu were, in my humble opinion, filled with many wonderful nuggets of truth.

Akruranath Prabhu’s statement, “We should be careful not to let our American cultural biases impede our appreciation of ideal Vedic civilization as described in Srila Prabhupada’s books” was one such gem. It would be a difficult task indeed for one to open-mindedly study Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and not be convinced that he wanted his followers to establish and exemplify the liberating principles of Vedic culture as far as possible. Srila Prabhupada was not one of the streamlined swamis who came with a watered-down Indian philosophy designed to attract wealthy benefactors. He boldly chanted the holy name in public and preached the straighforward message of Bhagavad-gita to anyone who would listen. It was never his strategy to dilute the Lord’s transcendental message to make it more palatable to his audiences. He said that when one is selling diamonds one cannot expect so many customers. Few will be willing to pay the high price. Objectively, we can easily see that he was the strongest and most widely traveled advocate of Vedic culture this world has ever seen. And the results he got were extraordinary. His incredible potency to effect change in the hearts of those of us who fell at his lotus feet was primarily due to his unflinching faith in the Vedas and the eternal spiritual culture described in those transcendental literatures.

Upon his arrival on the shores of America Srila Prabhupada prayed to be empowered to uplift the fallen souls he would soon encounter who were steeped in the modes of passion and ignorance. His tools were a pair of karatals and his Srimad- Bhagavatams. And his plan was to give us the Holy Name and introduce us to a transcendental culture that would protect us from our strong tendencies for sense gratification.

Once Srila Prabhupada was asked:

Virabhadra: Are you in this world?
Prabhupada: I am?
Virabhadra: Are you in this world? I mean you, are you…?
Prabhupada: I’m not in this world, yes.
Virabhadra: You’re not in this world.
Prabhupada: No.
Jaya-gopala: I thought I heard it said that you are in this world without being a part of it. You are in the world without being a part of it, being a part of it, like the lotus flower which floats on the water.
Prabhupada: Yes, that is the way. That is the way of understanding. Just like I am in America. It is very easy to understand. I am not adopting any ways of life as the Americans do. So I am not in America. Not only myself, all my disciples who are following me, they are also not Americans. They’re different from American behavior, American ways of life. In that sense I’m not in America. I am in Vrndavana because wherever I go in my apartment or in my temple I live with Krsna and Krsna consciousness. I don’t accept any consciousness of America. And I teach my disciples also to take to that consciousness. So one who takes to that consciousness, he is also not in America, not in this world.

Srila Prabhupada’s behavior was different from American behavior, American ways of life, as he personally stated above. And he wanted us, his followers, to behave differently from the American ways of life. He wanted us to imbibe the values of Vedic culture and apply those principles and superior patterns of behavior in our lives for our own purification and as an example to others.

The following three sentences by Akruranathji were my very favorite of all that he wrote in his post. “We should learn these things carefully from Srila Prabhupada’s books. If we love studying Srila Prabhupada’s books (as I am sure you do) we cannot avoid hearing about all these things, which are elaborately and beautifully explained. Even though that Vedic culture is somewhat foreign to us, it appears very intelligent, satisfying and wholesome to me.”

May we all take to heart his encouraging words above and work together to help establish Lord Krsna’s culture in every town and village in the world.

In post #37 our Sugriva Prabhu made the following poignant comment, “There are plenty of sources out there on domestic violence but how much is there especially in ISKCON for how to have a happy marriage?” I believe that this point is critically important. Sastra and Srila Prabhupada’s teachings are filled with examples of ideal marriages and instructions on how to live an ideal family life. These things are not spoken of nearly enough and often little if any practical guidance is given to devotee couples. Worse yet, in some quarters, Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on these matters are dismissed as impractical or even fanciful. Of course, we can expect that it will take time for those of us raised here in the West to learn these things. Probably several generations, as mentioned by Sugriva Prabhu in a previous post on this thread. Yet I am personally encouraged in several ways regarding this issue. One, by the positive experiences Phalini and I have had in attempting to apply Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in our marriage. Secondly, by the experience of arranging the marriage of our daughter, Kamalini dasi, to a very nice devotee, Krsna Nam dasa, and watching them practice these Vedic principles. And thirdly, I have recently heard of several new projects which have been started by other devotees who are seeing a need to emphasize these teachings for the benefit of our devotional society.

Another statement by Sugriva Prabhu was equally important. He said, “Krsna’s Vedic culture is not obsolete! It is eternal. Its values were true in the past, they are true in the present and they will be true in the future. That is the meaning of eternal.” This is critical to understand and emphasize as well. No one makes this very point better than Srila Prabhupada himself wherein he states:

“So sometimes people say, the modern age… Modern age and past time or future, past, present and future, the real principles of life, they are the same. It does not change. Millions of years ago, the past and present and future as they were, at the present moment also, the same past present and future are there. So there is no question of modern age or past age, the nature’s law is the same. Millions of years ago the sun was rising early in the morning, and it is rising early in the morning at present moment. There is no change. Millions of years ago all living entities were interested in eating, sleeping, mating and defending; the same thing is going on. There is no change.
So Krsna spoke all these words five thousand years ago. Apart from taking account of millions of years, because nature’s law is the same, so even in those days, five thousand years ago, you’ll find the demonic people as they are now. These words about the demons… There were demons like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu, Kamsa. So many demons there were, historical demons. But their process of life was the same as the modern demons. There is no change. Therefore sastra means it is for all the time, not that sastra was meant in the past for something else, and now something else. That is not the fact. That is, means, sastra, that it does not change. The time, place and atmosphere, according to that, everything is the same.” (Bg. Lecture, 2/7/75)

Of course, the Vedic sastras are voluminous. My personal method is to stick with and advocate that which was given to us by Srila Prabhupada. Many thanks to Akruranath Prabhu, Sugriva Prabhu and all of the faithful followers of Srila Prabhupada who share their valuable insights for the benefit of all.

Comment posted by Haripada dasa on November 16th, 2006
42 Akruranatha

Sugriva Prabhu,

Thank you for well-written post #37 (and thanks for all the smilies). :-)

I will write a separate article on Vedic dharma and modernity. For now I would like to respond to your post.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that “We must first perfectly understand the principles of Krsna’s Vedic culture, then and only then can we know how to apply them in different situations according to time, place and circumstance.”

I have to admit I don’t perfectly understand, and I am always eager to hear the views of those with deep realizations, and be enlightened by them.

Still, I can’t help thinking there must be a reason why we can’t even talk about happy Vedic marriages in ISKCON without someone (usually a woman) bringing up the subject of mistreatment and even violent spousal abuse. We cannot seriously think this is just the result of feminist propaganda. I suspect it is because many devotee women have really experienced serious problems.

We should not blame the messenger. While we might be tempted to hush up the subject of unhappy ISKCON marriages, it is far too late to ignore the elephant in the room. I am optimistic that thoughtful, respectful public discussion by sincere devotees will produce salutary effects. Real enlightenment and unity is needed. Party spirit is the enemy of truth.

Some of our marriage problems may have arisen because we did not embrace Vedic culture fully enough. Others may well have arisen from immature, ham-fisted efforts to adopt aspects of Vedic culture in a non-Vedic cultural environment. At least we should all agree that applying Vedic ideals of marriage in modern American families can be challenging, and that clumsy attempts have sometimes produced horrible results.

Your concern seems to be that demonic feminist ideology is making inroads. I would respond that ideologies against the principles of religion could not gain any traction or get any nourishment in ISKCON if we were not already making serious mistakes. I am always happy to see the faults of rascal philosophies exposed. However, I honestly feel everyone who has been contributing here (and elsewhere on Dandavats) are sincere devotees who are prepared to accept the authority of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, properly applied.

As for Narottama’s specific remarks, of course he can speak for himself, but when he said “outdated and contrary to everything we experience in the predominant culture,” I did not take him to be attacking the eternal ideals of Vedic dharma. I understood him to be expressing frustration at the difficulty (seeming impossibility?) of applying them correctly in the modern milieu. Perhaps he was also upset with what he perceived as bad results of misguided attempts to apply them.

The issue Narottama was specifically addressing (what advice to give a battered woman) was a serious practical issue, and he was warning that misapplication of Vedic theory in an impractical way could result in great harm. Sure, doctors see the sick cases. Lalita Madhava had asked about the sick cases, and Narottama works with the sick cases, so I appreciated his insights.

I strongly agree that in these discussions we should all try to follow the etiquette of not making faithless or blasphemous statements, and also not casting personal aspersions. In our sadhu sanga generally only the faithful and gentle are invited.

However, for the sake of preaching we take the risk of going out and facing all kinds of opposition, just in the hope that someone may take a book, give a donation, or at least say “Hare Krishna.”

Those people who not only took a book but surrendered their life, got initiated, and made all kinds of other sacrifices, are more deserving of our patience and attention than the general public. They are our spiritual family members, through thick and thin. Even if they say something in frustration that may seem a little disillusioned or challenging, we should be good enough preachers to sincerely do whatever we can to give authoritative answers to remove all their doubts.

I am sure Srila Prabhupada instructed his girl disciples to be submissive to their husbands mainly so they and their families could become happy and peaceful in Krishna consciousness. If they are not becoming happy we must be doing something wrong.

The instructions about marriage should not be something we use to beat up sincere devotee women with, even figuratively. We should be honest and introspective enough to recognize that Srila Prabhupada’s books contain many high ideals that most of us, men and women, have not lived up to.

Of course, many devotees are becoming happy, and there are lots of successful Krishna conscious marriages. I do appreciate Mother Phalini’s approach of emphasizing the positive. However, there seem to have been enough problems in this area that we also need to acknowledge the negative, seeking solutions and praying for guidance from Krishna and Srila Prabhupada.

While we have as a secondary goal the education of society about ideal Vedic culture, about material dharma and the different kinds of reactions to pious and sinful work, our primary duty is to spread Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness is normally only available to pious people (jana sukrtina, jananam punya karmanam), but Lord Caitanya is distributing it to unworthy candidates like me, who have little connection with Vedic culture.

We are on the nivrtti path, and material piety is not our primary concern. All the material dharmas in terms of varna and asrama are ultimately meant for satisfying Krishna. If we do our material duties perfectly but do not become attracted to Krishna consciousness, it is useless labor. Generally we expect material piety and devotional service to go hand in hand, but Narada Muni emphasized exclusively pure devotional service. He says that if you give up pious material occupations for the sake of pure devotional service, even if you fall down in an immature stage, you have not lost anything, whereas if you perform all material pious duties perfectly without achieving devotional service, what have you gained?

To the extent we need to focus on material piety in our practical modern lives, we seem to still need work on the very basic moral instructions. It is bad to lie, steal, cheat, drink, commit adultery, be cruel or unnecessarily violent, overeat, or be lazy. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These simple ABC moral rules seem more relevant than trying to understanding our material Vedic sva-dharma in terms of where we would fit in in ancient Aryan society.

Srila Prabhupada basically gave us simple injunctions: four regs, 16 rounds, regular classes, keep clean, wear tilak, simple Deity worship, eat prasadam, things like that. Other details could be adjusted. He also gave us a wealth of detailed knowledge about the workings of material and spiritual nature in his books, as you note. Mainly he wanted us to take up Krishna consciousness according to our capacity, and be happy.

To be sure, he also sometimes spoke approvingly about aspects of Indian culture that were still extant in early 20th century Calcutta: His mother going in a palanquin even to visit next door, the anxiety of parents if their daughters were not married before puberty, etc. Apparently he wanted to preserve those values (which seem “old fashioned” even in modern India), but he did not impose them as rigid rules on his western disciples.

He was aware that he was transplanting Krishna bhakti culture in foreign soil, that it was a work in progress, and the details would continue to evolve over time. Just how that evolution can and should progress, and what we should be doing now to help it along, is a big, important and controversial subject, even among very learned and advanced devotees.

We should not be too surprised or indignant if our modern American wives do not take easily to the idea of being “submissive.” For one thing, the material world is the realm where we are all competing for false dominance, and modern American culture has a strong emphasis on equality, independence, self determination, materialism and sense enjoyment.

Also, when many American women devotees bristle at the instruction that they should be “submissive” (as many really do), they may well be reacting to our own misunderstanding of what that instruction means, or how we misuse it in our interpersonal relations. If even some of our own senior devotee women are finding this cultural preaching unpalatable, we can just imagine how it bombs with the general public. We can afford to soft-pedal it, because it is not really our main message.

It is a rare good quality of pious women that they are naturally submissive and soft-hearted and “pativrata”. We should appreciate and encourage it in them, but we should not ungratefully demand it. I agree that husbands have to earn the love and natural feminine submission of their wives, just as the wives’ feminine virtues inspire their husbands to make a living, care for the family, and all that other “menschkeit”.

We all have our own faults and we should generally try to see the good qualities in others and tolerate their shortcomings. This goes double for those we are married to and share family life with. We should think: “Am I such a prince that my wife should be a perfect princess?” We have to be realistic and committed to making our marriages work, no matter what.

I apologize fror my long-windedness but I want to repeat that what I appreciate most about your message Sugriva is that we should focus the discussion on Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental instructions and try to understand them deeply and apply them perfectly. I look forward to hearing more about them and their proper application according to time, place and circumstance.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 16th, 2006
43 Akruranatha

Wow, thanks Haripada for such a beautiful post #39!

When we are reminded of Srila Prabhupada, his qualities and his specific instructions, the entire atmosphere becomes purified.

Thank you especially for reminding us Srila Prabhupada did not want his disciples to remain Americans, but to become transcendental like he was. He bragged that his disciples did not go to cinemas, and had no interest in material enjoyment.

(Elsewhere Srila Prabhupada did say he wanted us to be known as American Krishna-ites. Sometimes he said things like (paraphrasing), “If you cannot do something big and wonderful, what is the use of your being Americans?” He wanted us to use our American talents, money, and reputation in Krishna’s service. But he wanted us to give up all detrimental American cultural baggage and become fully Krishna-ized)

If we are still in many ways exhibiting unattractive American cultural characteristics rather than pure Krishna culture, in our marriages and elsewhere, it is a sure sign we are not living up to the highest ideals Srila Prabhupada gave us. In my case I know that is true (e.g., I do go to cinemas — that is my misfortune), but I recognize many godbrothers and godsisters who are living up to the highest ideals.

Even if we are not living up to the ideal, we cannot afford to be so discouraged that we just give up. There really is nowhere else to go. As Indradyumna Swami told the gypsy devotee (didn’t we all read that recent Dandavats article?), we are in a prison with four walls of birth, death, disease and old age.

As Cinmayi said, we have to “fly our own airplane,” meaning each of us will ultimately enjoy or suffer the results of our own practice, and in the final analysis, if we do not become successful in Krishna consciousness we will have to take birth again and continue to suffer. We all have to do the best we can, from wherever we are and in whatever position our past karma has landed us or Krishna has placed us.

The good news is, rest assured, the advanced devotees will show us mercy if we are sincere. We aspire for their foot dust. They are not self-righteous moralists, like the so-called brahmana who criticized the prostitute (you all know the story). Devotees are by nature very merciful and they dedicate their lives to spreading Krishna consciousness and helping the sincere spiritual aspirants.

Lalita Madhava made a good point, that there are many women who would prefer to live in a nice protected situation with a good husband, but are “forced by circumstance” into traditional male roles in the American economy. (The saintly prostitute in the aforementioned story was “forced by circumstances” into even that abominable profession).

Somehow we have been born in this time and place with an economy and social system that is different in many respects from what we see in the Ramayana or Mahabharata. The demons are still there, the essential principles are still there, but the atmosphere has changed. (Isn’t it said in the Mahabharata: “In Satya yuga the demons and devas lived on different planets, in Treta yuga they lived in different countries, in Dvapara yuga they lived in the same country and in Kali yuga they live inside the same people, i.e. in our own bodies”?)

Circumstance, the modes of nature, are forcing all of us who are not yet perfect in bhakti yoga to work in various ways. “sarvaih prakrti jair gunaih” Krishna therefore recommends regulation of the senses from the very beginning through karma yoga (preliminary bhakti yoga). “What can repression accomplish?”

And even those who have become perfect (like Janaka and other saintly kings) continue to work so as to set a proper example so that society goes on working right.

I guess this is where we start in answering Mahavidya’s questions. The Third Chapter of Bhagavad Gita is very pertinent: For most of us, if we tried to go off in a secluded place to chant like Haridas Thakur, we would just be charlatans who never stopped thinking about sense enjoyment. We cannot do it. We are being forced to work by material nature, so we must regulate our senses by working according to the rules of morality (varnasrama dharma), which involve participating in . . . sacrifice.

For us in this time and place, that means sankirtan yajna, preaching through congregational glorifying of Krishna. Srila Prabhupada did not train us in doing daily fire yajnas like householders in other ages — he engaged us to distribute his books and study and discuss them together and chant the maha mantra.

So that is why we get married. It is our moral duty, born of our own material nature. Raising nice children in Krishna consciousness to help the sankirtan movement is a great yajna just suited for the overwhelming majority of our population, and if we can really do that well that is the perfection of our human life.

Hardly any of us are paramahamsas. We are not going to be celibate. Nature is forcing us. So we have to at least follow the authorized duties for pious householders, as ordained by God (bhagavat pranitam). Otherwise we will commit sins. We should realistically engage in Krishna conscious society as moral dharmic people according to our actual position. Getting married should not be considered a “fall down” or the “booby prize” (as aspiring lifelong brahmacaris used to think), because there is nothing superior or glorious about being a phony sannyasi or “pretender” (mithyacara). We have to do our own duty according to our actual nature.

Gradually, by the time we are 50 or so (and a lot of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have now entered their sixth or even seventh decade), if we have been serious and we are fortunate, the householder couple should be ready for the vanaprastha stage. (I expect to see a real development of the Vanaprastha ashram in ISKCON, which should be booming, starting any day now).

To address Mahavidya’s second question then, those who are qualified may separate, with the men taking sannyas, but ISKCON is wisely being cautious not to give sannyas initiation out too freely. Not every man will be able to take sannyas, but hopefully most couples will be able to retire and focus more on spiritual life in the Vanaprastha stage once their kids are grown and no longer financially dependent.

And again, if we are not qualified to do that, we should do whatever we can. We should at least try to chant, associate with devotees, worship the Deities, read the books (these magnificent books!) and distribute them to others, give money to help the preaching mission, honor prasadam. To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, “I’m the one whose got to die when its time for me to die, so let me live my life the way Krishna wants me to.”

I want to hear others answer Mahavidya’s questions, but I would say this in response to his third question: A successful marriage, first and foremost, is one which pleases Srila Prabhupada.

The very nature of householder life means entanglement in worldly affairs (was in in Paris that Srila Prabhupada noticed the householders had slept in and said, “That is their position”?) It is unsuccessful and becomes grhamedhi life if we become so absorbed in economic development and sense gratification that we stop our sadhana. Ideally all family members will participate together in Krishna consciousness and will make advancement. Householders are supposed to donate 50% of their income (another ideal that most of us do not live up to), and a successful married couple should assist ISKCON economically and in many other ways.

There is great scope for householders to be preachers. All over the world, people generally are married (or, increasingly, illicitly mingling with the opposite sex outside of marriage). They are not going to be brahmacaris and sannyasis. They need to see happy, Krishna conscious householders, raising happy Krishna conscious children, and going happily into Krishna conscious retirement. That will give them an example of a practical way of life they can truly embrace.

Gradually, we hope that Srila Prabhupada’s books and followers will transform the larger society into something resembling much more what we see in the sastras as the ideal human society. Maybe we will some day again have government by saintly kings, guided by enlightened brahmanas. (Or maybe not, during Kali yuga.)

In the mean time we should at least try to develop ideal behavior in our ISKCON microcosm.

Many ISKCON members today live and work in the larger society. That was not always the case. (In 1976, when my nondevotee brother was getting married in Florida, the St. Louis temple president would not let me attend. He was afraid if I went to a social gathering of “karmis”, I might just give up Krishna consciousness and never come back. And I was so green and new then, he might have been right!)

I had a lawyer boss one time who said that it would be impossible to establish a real Hare Krishna society (as if he knew what that meant) in an industrial economy. Materialist social philosophers think like that (”materialist” in the sense of seeing material causes for historical and cultural developments — not that they have materialistic values, but they usually do). But I know there is a power in these divine books that can do anything. “Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.”

Still, economic factors are inevitably an integral part of how varnasrama society works. Krishna created the four varnas according to the different gunas and different types of work. I work as a solo practitioner lawyer in California. I do not know what my varna is, but lots of my work is far from brahminical. Hopefully my wife and I will be able to reduce our economic development soon to spend more of our time in direct service and study and preaching as retirees.

Apparently, ISKCON does not have its own internal economy sufficient to supply enough money to its householders. Maybe some day we could, but I do not think it is that important. It could be part of Lord Caitanya’s plan.

I am inspired that many devotees are now working in mainstream society. The danger is that they will become too contaminated by mundane association. The hope is that they will have a purifying influence wherever they go. Time magazine articles and others may ridicule and say we are naive, but my faith is that good families like Haripada and Phalini’s could eventually change the face of American culture and make it resemble a real dharmic civilization like we read about in ancient times.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 17th, 2006
44 Unregistered

Akruranatha Prabhu’s articulate commentaries are insightful, balanced, inspiring and refreshing. He is a visionary and a gifted writer (I particularly enjoyed the adjective “ham-fisted”!) and we look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Comment posted by Lalita Madhava d.d. on November 18th, 2006
45 Akruranatha

Aw shucks, thanks Lalita Madhava. I am afraid I cannot shut up, so you will be hearing more from me whether you like it or not.

I appreciate your writing too, and I promise that eventually (it might be a couple of weeks) I will write separate articles about women’s issues and Varnashram Dharma and will be counting on your participation.

I think your point about being careful not to defend all “Hindu” and “Indian” ideas because many may be corruptions of Vedic ideals is important and bears serious, careful consideration. (But we have to be very careful here: we need to hew very closely to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions about what the corruptions were and what real piety is, lest we fall in with mundaners and blasphemers.)

Srila Prabhupada did warn us about corruption in the name of Hindu society (caste injustice based on birth), which in turn provided grist for mayavadi reformers and materialistic activists who felt free to undermine or reject the actual purport of the scriptures as revealed in the Vaisnava parampara.

So, we have to be careful not to take sides either as defenders of the corruptions or as misguided reformers.

One project I have in mind, sitting on the back burner, is to write a review of Deepa Mehta’s controversial film “Water.” It portays a very corrupt widow’s ashram in which the leader, Madhumati, smokes ganja and sends the pretty young widows out as prostitutes to make the money the ashram needs for bare survival. The whole system of child marriage and young widows (the film is told through the eyes of a small girl who was married to an old man when she was an infant) is presented so as to highlight the social injustice and make the audience revolted at the inhumanity of the system, and Hindu apologists (as well as pure devotees) are likely to feel affronted by the film’s more or less direct attack on the sacred Manu Smrti.

(I have to admit that part of me was attracted by the simplicity of the lifestyle of the widows. I get nostalgiac about the simplicity of my youth as a brahmacarin in ISKCON. I remember once describing with pride and joy to my grandfather how we slept on the floor, ten to a room, took freezing cold showers at 4 in the morning, ate only when prasadam was served, and had no property or even our own clothes. He told me it sounded horrible, like being in prison, or worse, but it was really the happiest time of my life).

What bothered me most about the film was not the feminist concern for the suffering of these widows (who wouldn’t be moved by their plight?), but the underlying mayavadi or atheist message. The critical moment comes when Mahatma Gandhi appears as a kind of deus ex machina and provides a solution for the film’s strong moral protagonist — an intelligent, pious widow named Shakuntala — so she can overcome her religious faith enough to save the little girl from an obviously terrible fate.

Gandhi’s words which transform Shakuntala are: “I used to think God was Truth, but now I realize that Truth is God.” Atheists!! They want us to forget Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His divine instructions, and replace Him with something abstract and impersonal.

As the film unwittingly illustrates, the social dislocations caused by corruption of greedy and ignorant leaders in the name of Vedic dharma have provided the basis for weaning Indians away from their natural faith in Krishna consciousness and the real validity of Vedic scriptures.

I have often wondered why Suta Goswami in the First Canto tells the story of the punishment of Asvatthama, the dvija bandhu. Of course, it is part of the historical narrative of how Maharaja Parikshit saw Krishna in the womb and later went on to hear the Srimad Bhagavatam from Sukadeva, which the sages headed by Saunaka had asked about. But the elaborate discription of Arjuna’s dilemma in having to simultaneously kill and not kill the son of Dronacarya seems to be a detour or digression that has some specific, undisclosed purpose.

I wonder if it has something to do more broadly with the problems facing us in Kali yuga when the brahmanas, who are supposed to be the recepticals and teachers of Vedic culture for the benefit of the whole society, are replaced by unqualified sons of brahmanas, who do irreligious deeds like murdering Draupadi’s sons in their sleep. We have to completely reject their nonsense without failing to give due respect to brahminical culture.

I do not want to speculate, and I know the literal instruction is that capital punishment is not permitted for those born in brahman families even though they may lack the qualities of true brahmanas. But I sense Suta Goswami was giving a deeper instruction about preserving the principles of religion in the age of Kali.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 18th, 2006
46 Akruranatha

I do not think I have to write a separate article now that Sriman Praghosa Prabhu has raised the issue in such an excellent way in his lead editorial.

I may write something on varnas and the modern American legal system and political and social and moral philosophy. :-)

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 21st, 2006

Comments are closed. Please check back later.

 
 
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