Discard All This Quibbling

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By Chris Fici

You may have noticed two things in recent days. The election of Barack Obama, the first African-American to become the President of the United States, and nationwide protests to the passing of Proposition 8 in California of all places, which strictly defines marriage as being between a man and a women, leaving out people of same-sex relationships from this social status and benefit.

The people of America, our friends and family, find themselves once again staring into the face of the question of equality, as they attempt to define and re-define the seemingly essential part of the mission of this nation, which is to give equal rights and opportunities to every person, regardless of their race, sexual preference, or any other physical category.

Abraham Lincoln said to a group of Chicago abolitionists in 1858 that we should “Discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”

Nelson Mandela wrote in his book Long Walk to Freedom that “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Only the hardest heart would disagree with the sentiments behind these statements, and behind the drive and urge to create and live by these ideals, but as devotees, we can understand that unless one adds the true platform of equality, the spirit soul, to the equation, then all efforts, however sincere, may end up being eternally frustrated.

In our college programs here at the University of Pittsburgh, we are surrounded by warm-hearted students who really want to make a difference, and what we try to share with them is that the real way to change, to hope, is to rise up… to the spiritual platform, opening one’s eyes to the Absolute Truth.

We are doing this by revealing the timeless wisdom and lessons of Vedic culture passed down to us by the greatest acaryas. The ideal Vedic system, represented by daivi-varnasrama, brings to life a real system of equality for the ultimate benefit, which is the understanding and practical realization that we are the eternal, blissful servants of the Supreme Person, Krsna.

Vedic culture, properly applied, takes into account the inevitable differences in physical form and mental makeup and proplerly applies these differences in a way to put each and every individual living entity in the best position for the highest self-realization.

There were and are no such things as racism, sexism, and bigotry in properly applied Vedic cultural values. Everyone is seen as they are, as eternal spirit soul, and from their unique individual makeups are placed in the proper order and asrama that will give them the best chance to realize their true, eternal constitutional position.

In his purport to the 2nd verse of the Nectar of Instruction, Srila Prabhupada writes that the mahatma, or greatly realized spiritual personality “refers to those who are broadminded, not cripple-minded. Cripple-minded persons, always engaged in satisfying their senses, sometimes expand their activities in order to do good for others through some “ism” like nationalism, humanitarianism or altruism. They may reject personal sense gratification for the sense gratification of others, like the members of their family, community or society — either national or international. Actually all this is extended sense gratification, from personal to communal to social. This may all be very good from the material point of view, but such activities have no spiritual value. The basis of such activity is sense gratification, either personal or extended. Only when a person gratifies the senses of the Supreme Lord can he be called a maha-tma-, or broadminded person.”

Where our modern-day seekers of justice may be missing the point is in trying to force everyone onto artificial platforms of social and economic equality, which tries to vainly erase all differences, but diversity is essential to the human condition. Our differences cannot be erased, but only considered and applied in such a way that ignorant discrimination, based on the bodily platform, does not rear its ugly, ugly head.

It is our duty as devotees to make active these timeless principles of Vedic culture. We shouldn’t go into fundamentalist mode and blindly condemn the efforts of progressive peoples worldwide to get their voice heard, and even to preserve their lives.

After all, we can admire the rare goodness in their hearts in this fragile, chaotic world. Let us unite with them in their efforts, in a respectful, active dialogue, and bring about real, spiritual equality in the here and now.

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1 Unregistered

I most certainly do not believe that people should be abused for their political, racial or sensual orientation. In fact, I’m not even curious about what others may do “behind closed doors” between consenting adults. But I’m tired of having it constantly shoved in our faces by the media and pop-”culture.” Nonetheless, I was wondering how the issue of same-sex “matrimony” has anything at all to do with real spiritual life, the Vedic conception or Varanashrama-dharma (or any other kind of dharma)?

Comment posted by jagabandhu dasa on November 20th, 2008
2 Akruranatha

I did not get that the author was specifically talking about same-sex marriage (except as an example of quibbling), but Jagabandhu raises an important point.

In the daivi-varnasrama system Chris describes, what is the role of gays, lesbians and transgendered?

For that matter, how does the system deal with people who want to unrestrictedly eat beef, or commit other sins?

I like the article very much. Our desire to provide love and good will and justice to all living beings (not only to humans!) leads us to search out the truth of equality on the spiritual platform, and to want to do something about it. But the actual varnasrama society seems a long way off.

Young people today want to change the world and make it a better place, but they also tend to be preoccupied with sexual enjoyment and keeping people happy on the material platform. How do we convince them that strict regulation of the senses and abandonment of illicit sex is the only way forward to spiritually sane civilization? How did Prabhupada convince us? (I guess the Holy Name and Prasadam are powerfully endowed with Lord Caitanya’s mercy in this fallen age, or there would be no hope)

Anyway, back to the first two questions, I do not know the answers. It does seem there was a role for “eunuchs” in old Vedic civilization (I don’t pretend to understand it), but mainly our Vaisnava ideal of society does not have much to offer our gay and lesbian friends in terms of sexual gratification and family life. Even devotees who favor some sort of acceptance of same-sex monogamy* do so only as a kind of booby prize, in recognition that many people in society (regardless of “orientation”) will not be able to follow even the basic rules.

Beef eaters will have to wait until cows die of natural causes. I hope this is not such a deep-grained propensity that it cannot be easily given up. However, economic forces seem to compel farmers in this age to kill cows, and pious government will have to curb such miscreants down by force (maybe combined with incentives?)

In today’s reality, though, cow slaughter, illicit sex, intoxication, are rampant with no end in sight. We just have to perform sankirtan until the population of devotees reaches a critical mass.

Meanwhile we cannot be cruel and uncompassionate to the weak and confused.

*(Many politicians like Obama try to walk the line of extending same-sex unions full civil rights but stopping short of calling it “marriage.”)

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 20th, 2008
3 Akruranatha

If we appear cruel or uncompassionate, even on the material platform, the idealistic college students will reject us.

If we appear sexist or homophobic or racist (and yes, a system of castes tends to sound racist because there is usually some connotation of inheriting ones caste by birth), the idealistic young people will sniff out these defects and disregard us.

I remember one time starting a Hare Krishna club at U.C. Berkeley and a hippie couple who were going to be founding members dropped out because they discovered ISKCON was “homophobic”. I tried my best to convince them otherwise, but it was hopeless. I think the girl had friends who had met some devotees who had made some very homophobic statements. (I easily found other founding members, but I was sorry to lose them.)

We can chalk this all up to their illusion and conditioning, but I have a feeling we can learn from them also. We really may still have some rough edges of cruelty and lack of compassion that actually will not serve us well in building a varnasrama utopia, or even in building today’s devotional communities and congregations.

Not that the daivi varnasrama ideal looks in any way like the typical liberal college student’s idea of materialistic democratic utopia. We have a very different social vision, based on satisfying everyone’s basic natural needs while calling forth self-control and austerity and sacrifice and spiritual study to pull them along the progressive path to spiritual enlightenment. (And beyond that, to the life of devotional service free of jnana and karma).

We should not in the name of “compassion” condone those activities which are really terribly detrimental to the progressive spiritual well being of the people.

However, we really have to embody that love and compassion for all beings we preach about, and temper our love of righteousness with a sense of understanding and tolerance and mercy for the actual position of the people to whom we are trying to give the Holy Names. People can tell when we don’t.

Often, the self-righteous religionists who push measures like Prop. 8 in the political arena are less likely to become devotees of Krishna. It may be that they are already plugged into a belief system like Christianity or Judaism, but also they are being conditioned by a sense of superiority. We do not want to be like them. Nor do such political measures really further the cause of Krishna culture, IMHO.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 20th, 2008
4 pustakrishna

Keep it simple, gentlepeople. We did not create Krishna consciousness, and we should not try to invent a process. The guru-parampara system dictates that we should not be too clever. We simply need to hear from Guru-Vaishnava and present that clearly without adulteration. Sometimes it seems that bhaktas may get bored, and feel that they need to do something novel or even to jump over the instruction of Sri Gurudeva. It is not necessary and it is not even recommended. Otherwise, yoga-nastha, the chain is broken, the potency is lost, it descends to the mental platform of mere jnana. While it is nice to be compassionate, we need to clearly understand what violence, compassion, truly represent. We used to hear the expression, that if one tries to help a drowning man by saving the clothes and letting the person drown, then what is the use. We may want to “make nice” and not hurt anyone’s feelings, but there is no material formula to solve the problems of material consciousness, samsara. The Guru delivers transcendental knowledge that opens the spiritual eyes of the aspirant. It cannot be realized by mental speculation.
The proposition has been raised that one should join with the “progressive” people of the world in order to bring about spiritual equality in the here and now. Such spiritual equality already exists, not only amongst humans but amongst all living creatures. Sama sarvesu bhutesu. However, to see or acknowledge such equality is not brought about by mental adjustments. It is a stage of freedom beyond the purview of matter. Then genuine compassion arises naturally. Prahlad Maharaj’s expression of feeling sadness for the suffering of others, para dukha dukhi. The ultimate destination for the soul is to enter into the world of Krishna-rasa, wherein all relationships of taste and loving exchange occur with Krishna, Krishna consciousness. We must be cautious to avoid making a ’spiritual society’ which forgets Krishna as the Center of everything. Try to understand what is Krishna. One psychiatrist in the 60’s, RD Laing,wrote one book, The Politics of Experience. Therein he wisely says that if a squadron of airplanes is headed in the wrong direction, then the airplane which desires to head in the correct direction will have to leave the squadron. A lonely proposition, as it always has been for seekers, but one that emphasizes that there is no solace in mass delusion. We need Sri Gurudeva to illuminate the path. Pusta Krishna

Comment posted by pustakrishna on November 21st, 2008
5 Akruranatha

It seems there are two contradictory principles at work in Vedic tradition. The pravrtti path channels people’s enjoying propensity into legal behavior which helps society run well without disturbance and allows them to be gradually elevated to progressively higher material modes. However, the proponents of pure devotional service like Narada Muni (and the whole Srimad Bhagavatam) condemn even that noble path as vastly inferior to complete dedication to satisfying Krishna’s desires.

At University of Maryland I met another kind of “Moonie” (a member of Rev. Moon’s Unification Church) who was very sincere and dedicated to preaching about the importance of family life. (I do not know much about the Moonies’ theology, which they keep kind of confidential, but it involves themes of forming perfect spiritual families). When I told her about the Vedic ideals of vanaprastha and ultimately sannyasa, she was flabbergasted. It just did not compute for her, so much of her ideology being wrapped up in the ideal of creating perfect, holy spiritual families.

The whole purpose of sex and sex drive is to produce offspring, and our bodies are endowed with a “pleasure coating” (whatever that means) to encourage us to have families. Real sexual fulfilment cannot be divorced from having a satisfying family life with a brood of children, and hopefully increasing economic development (such as expanding lands and herds).

Sexual intimacy helps “bond” a couple into a family unit who will protect and nurture their own children and property. This is a great civilizing influence which prevents the social fiasco of infidelity and promiscuity and allows human society to function. It is rightly lauded by many religionists as an important building block of civilization.

But in Srimad Bhagavatam this “bonding” is described as a tightening of a hard knot in the heart that prevents people from becoming enlightened mahatmas. Our loving propensity should not be directed only to our own senses, family, community, or nation, but should properly be directed to all sentient beings, which is accomplished by reposing it in Krishna, our original and true lost love. Watering the root of the tree will satisfy all leaves and branches.

The basic idea of varnasrama civilization is to minimize sex desire and sexual activity as far as possible. In the beginning we have to at least avoid doing anything against the laws of karma, but the goal is jnana karmady anavrttam.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on November 21st, 2008
6 Amara_dasa

Hare Krsna! This is an interesting discussion and I’m glad it is being raised. Srila Prabhupada mentions in many places that all members of society must be respected, cared for and appropriately engaged. There is an especially nice quote in “Krsna Book”:

“In all communities in human society–including the brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaishyas, sudras, candalas, etc.–and in the animal kingdom–including the cows, dogs, goats, etc.–everyone has his part to play. Each is to work in cooperation for the total benefit of all society, which includes not only animate objects but also inanimate objects like hills and land….Another hint we get from this statement is that the candalas, or the untouchables, are also not to be neglected by the higher classes and should be given necessary protection. Everyone is important, but some are directly responsible for the advancement of human society, and some are only indirectly responsible. However, when Krsna consciousness is there, then eveyone’s total benefit is taken care of.”
(”Krsna Book,” Vol I, pp. 245-246)

There is also a nice Srimad Bhagavatam purport (SB 1.11.19) wherein Srila Prabhupada states that even “prostitutes are necessary for the proper upkeep of society” and that they should be “maintained.” Thus we see that Vedic civilization was accommodating of all types of people whether fallen or renounced, outcaste or brahmana, etc.

One statement I do not agree with from the original posting concerns that made by Nelson Mandela, wherein he states that no one is born hating and that people must be taught to hate. Rather, we see that as soon as small children become aware of the world around them they immediately begin to pick on the “different” kids–the fat kid, the effeminate boy, the lone black kid in the class, etc. Hatred, envy, intolerance, prejudice, cruelty, etc. are all natural animal instincts that every conditioned soul is born with to various degrees. What needs to be taught–particularly by social leaders and religious groups–are the higher qualities of love, self-sacrifice, acceptance, fairness, spiritual vision, kindness and so on. Without the strong propagation of these higher principles in human society there will always be discord, even among those who are otherwise apparently religious.

Comment posted by Amara_dasa on November 21st, 2008
7 Unregistered

Very nice answers by Sripad Pusta Krishna, Akruranath and Amara Prabhus! Dear Sirs: all of you are most certainly a credit to your spiritual master and it’s a great honor to hear your mature insights so kindly expressed for everyone’s real benefit! May Srila Prabhupada kindly bless you more and more!

Possibly we might harmonize by considering that mundane sense gratification of all diversity is specifically discouraged and service to Guru, the Saints and God are particularly encouraged for those who are truly devoted in their hopefully sincere attempt to practice positive spiritual life eternal, without hatred towards anyone. For anything.

Comment posted by jagabandhu dasa on November 22nd, 2008
8 tulasi-priya

Amara prabhu writes

What needs to be taught–particularly by social leaders and religious groups–are the higher qualities of love, self-sacrifice, acceptance, fairness, spiritual vision, kindness and so on. Without the strong propagation of these higher principles in human society there will always be discord, even among those who are otherwise apparently religious.

Society and society’s leaders have been trying to teach those values for thousands of years, to no avail. The material world is, and will remain, a toilet. Such re-education programs, minus the inculcation of the theory and practice of bhakti-seva, are like bandaids on a case of advanced leprosy. But those who advocate and promote such programs become prominent in the public eye and are worshiped by those for whom they advocate. Nice work if you can get it.

Comment posted by tulasi-priya on November 24th, 2008
9 Amara_dasa

Hare Krishna! No one is suggesting teaching higher qualities such as love, self-sacrifice, kindness, etc. without bhakti-seva. They must go hand in hand. But if bhakti-seva is executed without any human kindness, love or respect, then what kind of bhakti-seva is that? Devotees are only fooling themselves if they think they can execute bhakti-yoga while at the same time being cruel, unkind, unaccepting or neglectful toward others.

Srila Prabhupada actually demonstrated for us how to practice both devotional service and basic human kindness simultaneously. He was both a great devotee and perfect gentleman, always devoted in his service to Krsna but never failing to show other people love, kindness, respect and friendship–even when he had philosophical disagreements with them. He taught by example, which is the best kind of teaching and especially important for impressionable young children and new devotees to receive.

Comment posted by Amara_dasa on November 24th, 2008

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