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Comments Posted By visnu das

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Dear Ekendra Prabhu,
Thank you for your comments and realizations. I hope to imbibe the spirit of everything you have said and become more humble.

I would also like to apologize to anyone,, who I may have offended in this discussion, especially Braja Sevaki.

» Posted By visnu das On Sep 5, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

Dear Braja Sevaki Mataji,
Thank you for your insights. I agree with you in spirit.
It is unfortunate if someone feels uncomfortable with hugging members of the opposite sex but also feels expected to participate in such behavior. This is a conflict of acculturation that is not easily resolved. I don’t normally initiate hugging, partly because I find many devotees to be unsure about it but also because I’m not really attached to it. It arises spontaneously in some relationships and I rarely give it a second thought. I’m sorry you do.

I am not writing in defense of hugging. I am trying to point out a serious problem that has plagued ISKCON for decades: devotees are often overly critical of one another and try to dictate every aspect of each other’s lives, based on an erroneous vision of how things ‘should be’ or speculative interpretations of how things were thousands of years ago. Here is the solution to this problem: devotees should use the intelligence God has given to interact healthily with the world as it is, rather than trying to make everything fit into a utopian vision of how things should be. Not long ago a prominent ISKCON sanyasi wrote an article condemning Alachua for having a temple in which no devotees actually live. Denying the reality of the dire need for a new temple model in North America, this writer basically asserted that Srila Prabhupada didn’t establish temples without residents so it should not be done. But in Srila Prabhupada’s life time, there had not been the institutional failures that many of the Aluchua residents have experienced. Basically, just as you are doing Braja Sevaki, the aforementioned sanyasi claimed we should imitate people of the past rather than making our own decisions today. Such behavior contradicts the spirit of a living spiritual tradition. Srila Prabhupada has given us a lot, but if we do not combine it with what we have actually learned in the world, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. We must put Krishna Consciousness into practice in a manner that makes sense according to this time, place and circumstance.

Convoluted cultural engineering is not going to be fruitful. For a glimpse of the result it will produce, look at Sri Lanka, a country devastated by the effects of people who thought they knew exactly how real Buddhist culture should look, based on a religious idea of how things were in the remote past. It is Maya Prabhu. We must let devotion reign and stop trying to be the controllers.

If varnashrama dharma is a natural part of healthy human society, as ISKCON asserts, then it will arise on its own as we purify ourselves. Whether we shake hands, prostrate ourselves on the ground, or hug when greeting one another is really irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is what takes place in our hearts. It is similar to using a different sort of drum in kirtan. The associates of Lord Chaitanya used a mrdanga but kirtan accompanied by djembe is no less efficacious. My japa is no better when I wear pants than when I wear a dhoti. You may argue that a clay mrdanga is more bona fide and perhaps you are right, but I’m not going to allow the fact that clay mrdangas are hard to come by and don’t last in the North American climate divert me from having kirtan. In fact, I don’t even pay attention. My djembe is fine. It is what I have and it is not obstructing anything. If you find the deep bass too sensual I’m sorry. Perhaps you shouldn’t come to my home program.

Srila Prabhupada let women worship on the altar because he knew that they hold a different sort of social position in Western society than they do in India. He understood that he had to respect the cultural environment in which he had entered, especially if he wanted to offer any protection to women. I am conditioned to see women as my equals, and I think it is a healthy conditioning. It is certainly much better than the situation for women in India right now. According to a recent report by the United Nations Conference on Human rights, “In India, an average of five women a day are burned in dowry-related disputes — and many more cases are never reported.” Such behavior is a direct result of patriarchy and an unhealthy seperation of the sexes, seeing women as inferior to men and as mere objects for sexual enjoyment.

Hugging is a wonderful way of interacting. It does not represent a form of American cultural hegemony. It’s a fairly universal phenomenon. In fact, some Hindus practice it as a form of devotion. Physicality is a legitimate way of being communicative and comforting to fellow human beings. There is much more involved than sex or bodily attachment. In fact, I would say that anyone who can’t hug is probably just a little uptight and overly attached to the bodily platform. Again, my argument should not be construed as simply a discussion of hugging but as a general critique of the so-called conservative position. What I’m saying is that many times we have undervalued the nature of our humanity and discounted Krishna’s words. The Lord says, “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” Such souls don’t need me to tell them how to interact with one another. Krishna will guide them from within. We just need to have faith. In the name of conservatism, maintaining a status quo that never actually existed, we are denying the fact that the Lord will guide surrendered souls to behave in the proper way. Intelligence is something in an individual’s mind, not something in an essay. We have no right to say that the devotees who hug are not surrendered, and thus we have no right to say that Krishna has not guided them to take shelter of a loving embrace. Some of the coldest people I have ever met are devotees. An obsession with non-attachment and rules and regulations can strangle relationships. Perhaps, there is no mention of men and women hugging in the Bhagavatam, but the world described therein is no where near as sad and sick as the world today. If you want to know the absolute truth, I need a hug.

I find it somewhat ironic that you deem same-sex hugging acceptable. After all, some of the biggest issues facing Gaudiya Vaishnavas today are gender issues. I am friends with many homosexual and bisexual devotees. (I find a higher percentage of non-heterosexuals in ISKCON than in society at large.) I wonder if you think it better for me, a male, to hug a lesbian rather than a homosexual male. Personally, I like to hug everyone but given the current state of the world, perhaps you might like to change your position and say no one should hug anyone. (?) The reason I point this out is because I recognize that many people agree with you, Braja Sevaki; and I think your opinion is indicative of an unhealthy desire to control, to dictate the way bhakti is manifest in the world. Bhakti is spontaneous and its effects will purify our actions. There is no need to judge everyone else’s relationships and how they express affection and devotion.

I am tired of devotees saying, “Please accept my obeisances,” and then condemning one another, constantly claiming moral superiority over the rest of the world. These attitudes simply drive the intelligent class of people away from our movement, which I suspect is one of the reasons we find so many devotees burnt-out after five years. May the cultish mentality perish with the rest of our anarthas! Let us focus on encouraging one another, meditating on the Lotus Feet of the Lord, and raising loving families. Let’s stop being concerned with whether some mataji wears too much make-up or hugs her god-brother. For God’s sake, we belong to a spiritual institution that has offered no definitive response to the Bush regime’s demonic War on Terror and here we are debating such ridiculous topics as this. Where is our relevancy to what is happening in the world?
Jiv Jago Prabhu!

Srila Prabhupada and Mahaprabhu have some extremely provocative things to contribute to all facets of political and social thought, but I must point out that they especially have something to say about sexuality and gender issues. This is an entire religious tradition premised on the idea that everyone in the world is actually a feminine being meant to engage in serving the Eros of the one Supreme Male. All our relevant acharyas have envisioned themselves as young pre-pubescent girls, but now we are conservative?@?@@??!#!?! How can we be so rigid as to actually comment on people hugging?

Braja Sevaki, you and I disagree on some fundamental issues and I would like to take this discussion to a deeper level but commenting on something you said:

“I think it’s clear to anyone what Srila Prabhupada’s view on this would be: it just requires that we sit down and honestly ask ourselves what Srila Prabhupada would say if he saw the men and women in Alachua hugging each other on greeting… it really doesn’t require much more discussion or “defense” than that.”

Personally, I am always surprised by the way Srila Prabhupada reacted in any given situation. Sometimes he was much more ‘conservative’ than I would have expected and other times he was more ‘liberal’ than I would have guessed. For instance, in the first Canto he says that an ideal ruler should create and protect a place for prostitutes, because that is a normal part of human society at this time. Perhaps prostitution is not ideal, but Srila Prabhupada recognized it as inevitable and implied that it should be done in a sane way to prevent disturbance, disease, etc. When I read this I was shocked. Srila Prabhupada always surprises me. Furthermore, I have learned that all devotees have their own relationship with him. We all have a different vision of him. You assume that you know what he would say today, but there are many of us who don’t think you are right. I suggest we stop speculating about it.

I have seen devotees prove anything they wanted by quoting Srila Prabhupada’s books–but none of that was vijnana. It wasn’t realized knowledge–it was legalistic wrangling. If someone thinks they know what Srila Prabhupada would say that’s great, but I don’t believe it. Therefore, I don’t speculate about ‘what Srila Prabhupada would say.’ Instead, I take what I have learned from him and put it into practice in my own life. Then I make decisions based on my own feelings and opinion, receiving guidance and input from Senior Vaishnava’s and other elevated souls. Lets face it, Srila Prabhupada was a dynamic person, who reacted differently based on the circumstances. He was not afraid to learn and grow. He adjusted his tactics of preaching based on what was effective and what was not so effective. In my relationship with him I have learned that the best way to please him is to think for myself. None of us knows what he would say today because we do not have his vani at this time.

The Gurukula system is great example of this reality. Surely we can assume that Srila Prabhupada was completely unaware that some of the devotees running ISKCON schools had tendencies toward pedophilia. I am sure that if he had learned of the actual situation he would have altered his policy; but I don’t have the slightest idea of what his remedy would have been. Would he have closed the Gurukulas down? Would he have tried to start day schools? Would he have authorized psychological evaluations for all the teachers? Who knows? No one. All we can do is our best, based on what we have learned. We must use our intelligence; not by guessing what a man whose mortal frame is now dust would have done, but by following his teachings and looking in our own hearts for the answers to the questions facing us today.
We must strive to please Srila Prabhupada by honoring our own consciences. In other words, we should explore our own hearts, which have been informed by sastra. Anyone can find a quote from Prabhupada’s books to support almost anything, but again, that is not vijnana. We must nurture realized knowledge and not be allured by the tendency to become smarta brahmanas, caught in the letter of the laws without understanding their import.

Given the way ISKCON has grown and stagnated, struggled and survived, winding its way through the past 39 years, I think anyone who says they know what Srila Prabhupada would do right now is illusioned and presumptuous. The actions of a pure devotee are unpredictable, especially in conditions that are completely different from the ones he or she actually faced.

Can anyone actually say that Srila Prabhupada would frown on the behavior of the glorious community in Alachua, which is providing a devotional home for devotees of all different levels of development?

If you think you can then I am at a complete loss for words. I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous.

» Posted By visnu das On Sep 4, 2006 @ 11:30 am

Dear Braja Sevka Mataji,

First let me offer you my respectful obeisances. I hope you will forgive me if my last post was somewhat curt. I was at work, on break, and did not have much time. I thoroughly respect the fact that you have written this article as an attempt to serve the devotees and do not want you to feel attacked. I disagree with you, but I honor you within my heart. I hope that this discourse can represent a form of loving exchange more than a debate or argument. I believe that dialog is a form of service, especially in a public forum like this. Although I still wish you were milder in spirit, I beg you to forgive me for not saying so in a more respectful way. Thank you for participating and giving me the opportunity to hear your devotional thoughts.

The next thing I need to do is clarify my comments. When I made a comparison between ‘liberals’ and conservatives, I did so thinking of the more broad society in which ISKCON is situated. Obviously you misunderstood me. Vaishnavism is not an independent ‘culture,’ especially in the West. It is a sub-culture. That is to say, there are norms and mores specific to ISKCON but these are related to and are in a dialectic relationship with the cultural milieu that surrounds this small organization. In fact, many of the things that have hurt ISKCON in the past have been reactionary responses to the prevailing society rather than healthy manifestations of Vaishnava etiquette. This reality has long been denied within the movement and has only hurt us.

I posit that the Vaishnava etiquette described in books such as Jaiva Dharma, has very little to do with the externals of how we greet one another. ( I would like to refer readers to the first chapter of this text for a simple description of how devotees should treat one another.)

A platonic hug is innocuous. As I said, I respect and honor you Braja Sevaka but at this time I must break the backbone of your entire argument. You assert that hugging represents “the anomaly of behaving in a manner dictated by the gross material senses and maintaining one’s attachment to the demands of the ‘body culture’,” but in fact you present no evidence that hugs are motivated by lusty desire. In fact, in this instance it is only the conservative element that is nurturing the so-called “body culture’ by being obsessed with other people’s bodily activities. I am 32 years old and have dedicated my life to following a spiritual path that requires I diminish my lusty desires. When I hug a female friend only I can gauge my feelings. If my lusty desires were excited in any way, I would not do it. In reality, sex is the farthest thing from my mind when I see an old friend at Ratha Yatra or say goodbye to someone. I am not the pervert your article implies.

Your motives are clear and full of devotion: you hope to affect social change based on the fear that “what may appear to be a harmless hug can actually bind one further to the material platform in subtle ways.” This concern is even supported by sastric conclusions, which you articulate well when you point out, “The attraction between men and women is powerful and is only increased by engaging the senses, one by one.” Nonetheless, you have failed to adequately demonstrate to me that hugging is somehow impacting my consciousness in a manner that I am not aware of. You are not condemning watching Britney Spears gyrate on TV, which is undoubtedly antithetical to celibacy. Rather you seem to think that adults do not know when they are sexual aroused or that there is a widespread tendency to covertly engage in illicit sexual activity, in public, at ISKCON festivals. In truth, hugging is simply a harmless part of the prevailing culture.

If hugging disturbs you, don’t engage in it. If witnessing others hugging arouses sexual desire in devotees, then I would like to hear about that. In other words, if seeing men and women hug disturbs your mind, then perhaps you should just say that. I am more than willing to discuss making accommodations if a significant number of devotees feel sexual agitation when I hug a female friend. However, you did not say that in your article but instead chose to comment on my feelings as a hugger, which you obviously know little about. I suspect that you are not going to write an article describing your own agitation when you see men and women embrace, and thus I feel that you are being condescending, prudish, and rude by telling me how I feel. Please, forgive me if this sounds offensive. I am simply revealing my mind in the hope that you will be more self-reflective. I suggest that this dialog will be greatly enhanced if all of us talk more about our own feelings, rather than projecting speculative ideas about what we think others are experiencing.

The problem before us in this discussion is how to adapt the bhakti-yoga process to an existing culture. Srila Prabhupada was an expert at this and his general mood should be examined. My interpretation of our Founding Archarya’s views in this regard has been profoundly shaped by HG Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu (RSVP), although I confess that I have no evidence that his conclusions regarding hugging are consistent with mine. RSVP, an elevated disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has pointed out on more than one occasion that essentially Srila Prabhupada was not interested in learning about or reacting to Western society or culture, but that does not mean he was not concerned with or denied its relevant affect on ISKCON. Rather, the tactic adopted by our (param) guru was essentially, “Just add Krsna.” He recognized that the externals of Vaishnava behavior might change but that the important thing was the spirit of our behavior. (Actually that is the key to Bhakti Yoga: devotees eat, sleep, mate, and defend just like everyone else, but they do so with a particular mentality that is distinct from non-devotees.) I am not convinced that hugging represents an insidious ‘liberal’ agenda. Lalita Madhava’s comments above are evidence that hugging can be a part of a healthy devotional community. The Sankirtan movement has come to the west and it may look a little different here, but it is still alive and well.

(PS I like to hug trees, too.)

» Posted By visnu das On Sep 2, 2006 @ 7:40 pm

Geez. I really ENJOY hugging my 75 year old god-sister. This article condemns a rare and irrelevant hypothetical situation. If this is intended as some sort of admonishment to teenagers, perhaps it might be considered a miniscule part of a valuable discourse; otherwise it seems like yet another over-zealous prudish attempt to create more fanatacism.

In the Nectar of Devotion, Rupa Goswami describes being ‘liberal’ as the 36th quality of the Lord. This is elaborated upon thus:

35. Liberal
Any person who is by his natural behavior very mild is called liberal.
A statement by Uddhava after the Syamantaka jewel plundering confirms that
Krsna is so kind and favorable that if a servitor is accused even of great
offenses, Krsna does not take this into consideration. He simply considers the
service that is rendered by His devotee.

I posit that liberality is a quality that devotees should emulate, which should be differentiated from imitatation. Cetainly the so-called ‘liberals’ of our society have more in common with pure devotees than the so-called ‘conservatives.’ After all, ‘liberals’ are the ones calling for better education, compassion for the weak, respect of the Lord’s resources (ecology), etc. This condemnation of ‘liberality’ is antithetical to devotion and smacks of the sort of mentality condemned by our archaryas, namely that of the smarta brahmins.

Rather than condemning the activities of thoughtful, consenting, adult vaishnavas, Braja Sevaka should strive to become more mild. Hugging among friends is largely a cultural phenomenon, with few detrimental effects. (Is this really turning anyone into a sex crazed maniac? If it is; there are more profound forces at play.) Contrived social engineering has only hurt ISKCON and Mahaprabhu’s movement. I don’t know who ‘proposed’ this topic be written, but I suggest that devotees have much better things to do than critiquing such trivialities.

» Posted By visnu das On Sep 1, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

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