“So far Ksirodakasayi is concerned, or anyone else who is newcomer, [he] should be allowed some concession. And after some time when he is accustomed to our principle, then we can make the screw tight. I think this point will be sufficient hint to deal with him.” – Letter to Tamala Krishna, 20 February 1970, Los Angeles
One of the reasons my last post took so long to prepare was the time involved in gathering the links appended to the text. So many of those links deserve more attention, but there’s one in particular I’d like to highlight here. It’s a short essay posted (perhaps re-posted?) on a site called “ISKCON Media Vedic Library.” The title of the post is direct enough – “Please Stop Misusing Srila Prabhupada’s Quotes” – though the logic of the post is rather muddled.
The post’s author, Amara dasa – who I assume from a detail given in the text itself is Amara Das Wilhem, founder of GALVA, the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association – is upset because some of his fellow devotees are using the well-documented statements of ISKCON’s “founder-acarya” to publically advance the backward notions those statements clearly express.
(People like Amara say these statements have been misinterpreted. I say, As ACBS himself said, “…There is no need for interpretation. Interpretation is necessary if things are not clear. But here the meaning is clear.” That’s another conversation.)
What Amara has to say fits into four short paragraphs, and I encourage you to take a moment to read them all. While it may appear he’s well intentioned, Amara’s approach exemplifies a type of dishonest and unethical behavior endemic to the followers of “Srila Prabhupada.” Amara writes:
“There are some quotes from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that are commonly misused to discriminate against women and minorities. These quotes concern relative social and bodily issues that have nothing to do with the spiritual nature of the soul. They are frequently taken completely out of context and delivered in a fashion that is both mean-spirited and ill motivated. The result has been that many sincere people and prospective devotees are completely turned off to the Krsna consciousness movement and given a poor impression of Srila Prabhupada.”
Later in his essay Amara writes, almost as an aside, “I normally do not take interest in these types of quotes, in fact, I would rather they were not even made public.” (And yet Amara’s plea is, perplexingly enough, followed by a very limited selection of the sort of quotes he “would rather…were not even made public.”)
(In Amara’s defense, Bhaktivedanta Swami too thought his bigotry should remain in house: “Certainly we are not going to say these things about the negro people publicly…” I suppose it’s possible that instruction applies only to his bigotry toward black people. After all, he often spoke publicly – freely and to journalists – about his deeply held conviction that women were inferior. The same could be said of his disdain for “homosex.”)
But why would Amara rather these statements were not made public? Let’s read the last sentence of the first paragraph again:
“The result [of such quotes being publicly available] has been that many sincere people and prospective devotees are completely turned off to the Krsna consciousness movement and given a poor impression of Srila Prabhupada.”
So, in order to prevent these sincere people from not wanting to have anything to do with “Srila Prabhupada,” Amara suggests that what Prabhupada said should be selectively concealed from view, hidden away and ignored.
I’d like to suggest an alternative: Stop pretending these quotes don’t exist, that ACBS didn’t profess some thoroughly objectionable opinions you’d think a genuinely spiritual person could never, ever even entertain. Instead, allow those sincere people to decide for themselves – before they’ve had their heads filled with propaganda – what sort of person your “Srila Prabhupada” must have been. My guess is that, given the opportunity, they’ll decide he was something quite different from what you’d hoped.
Let’s be honest. Those sincere people are really only important to Amara and his colleagues – to ISKCON and the other organizations that seek to represent Bhaktivedanta Swami – because, as Amara says in practically the next breath, those sincere people are also “prospective devotees.” No one’s upset that those sincere people might get a bad impression of ACBS, or that they might miss out on the opportunity to adopt his version of “spiritual life.” Not really. What’s really upsetting is that those sincere people won’t be sticking around to swell the ranks of ACBS’s ostensibly spiritual movement, to wash the pots and fill the hundi and pack those kirtans with bodies. Even more upsetting is the thought they won’t help bolster the collective delusion Bhaktivedanta Swami was someone special, someone “transcendental.”
Normal people, people who have not been exposed to ISKCON’s special brand of groupthink, have no trouble understanding that Bhaktivedanta Swami’s more “controversial” statements are not controversial at all. They’re just hateful – proof that ACBS, just like everyone else, was a product of his time and culture. That is, fallible and mundane. It’s no wonder that those whose primary goal in life is to “make devotees” would prefer that the public image of Bhaktivedanta is carefully controlled.
Perhaps ACBS said it best himself: “It is said that a fool is undiscovered as long as he does not speak…but as soon as he speaks, he reveals himself at once.” So, better speak for him by selectively presenting his teachings. Or don’t let him speak at all.
And lest you think Amara is alone in his approach to this very real problem for Bhaktivedanta’s legacy and the longevity of ISKCON, consider Krishna West.
Krishna West is Hridayananda Swami’s last-ditch attempt to save ISKCON North America from itself (and to earn bragging rights, if he’s successful). Those sympathetic to Krishna West agree that Bhaktivedanta’s misogyny and racism and homophobia are problematic, at least insofar as the audience among “Westerners” for kirtan and Hindu-ish-ism consists of left- (often far-left-)leaning yogis, hippies, environmentalists, and New Age types. Their approach to that problem is different in form but, as ACBS would say, non-different in substance from what ISKCON generally does. Hridayananda and his followers separate the teachings of ACBS into two categories: “spiritual” and “material.” According to them, the spiritual teachings are essential, whereas the material teachings are dispensable. Care to guess which category the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic stuff gets relegated to?
It’s not a stupid approach. It is, however, indefensible for the very simple reason that it contradicts what ACBS said about himself and how his followers should regard him.
Meanwhile, the very existence of Krishna West has caused friction within ISKCON at large, where the party line is still very much to accept everything Bhaktivedanta ever said as unimpeachable truth. After some protracted passive-aggressive conflict (on- and offline), ISKCON released this statement.
Take note of point 8.
“If questions arise regarding Hridayananda das Goswami’s preaching or Krishna West, concerned parties should first contact Hridayananda dasa Goswami directly, or Bir Krishna Goswami, and then, if necessary, the GBC Executive Committee, rather than air issues or grievances in unproductive ways, such as on the internet.”
That is, keep your mouths shut about it, because airing dirty laundry in public is bad for business – it drives the customers away. Also, please note: ISKCON is not, never was, and likely never will be a democratic society that values free speech, free press, free expression, and other wonderful things that begin with the word “free.” (Except of course for free lunch.) But none of this should come as a surprise, certainly not to “sold out” ISKCON members. Their so-called founder-acarya was not a fan of democracy.
“I like this position, dictatorship. Personally I like this.” – Room conversation, 21 August 1975, Bombay
Or, more directly:
Prabhupada: If you can introduce this system, varnasrama, then it will establish. No more change. This is a rascal’s government, this democracy.
Tamala Krishna: “Demoncracy.”
Prabhupada: “Demon-crazy.” (laughter) Demon and crazy. Not only demon… There are demons whose brain is all right, but they are crazy also.
Tamala Krishna: (laughing) Demon-crazy.
Prabhupada: And introduce books in the school, colleges, libraries, so nice books. There is no doubt about it. There is no such literature throughout the world.
Tamala Krishna: Gradually some of the people are beginning to understand what you’re up to, Srila Prabhupada. Some of these big demons in America especially, they are beginning to understand that you are the most dangerous personality in the world to them.
Prabhupada: To kill “demon-crazy,” LSD. (laughs) Yes, that is my mission. That is Krishna’s mission, paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam [BG 4.8], to kill all these demons, crazy demons. I have no such power; otherwise I would have killed them. Either establish Krishna conscious government or kill them – bas, finish. I would have done that, violence.
Neither was he an advocate of free speech:
Ramesvara: But now, suppose there is some businessman, and he knows that everybody is wanting this sex. So he is making movie or writing a book describing these things.
Prabhupada: These things were formerly restricted-censor board.
Ramesvara: So there must be censorship…
Ramesvara: …in a Krishna conscious…
Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
But the people ISKCON is hoping (against hope) will become its next generation of loyal members are generally in favor of democracy and free speech – and against the sort of backward social notions Bhaktivedanta all too frequently espoused – that is, at least until someone manages to convince those sincere people it’s somehow “spiritual” to think otherwise. They should know that, despite what their handlers insist, the process of making them into devotees is not a process based on rational inquiry, or even on rational persuasion. They should also know that those who, posing as their “well wishers,” attempt to bring them into the fold are anything but transparent about their founder, his teachings, and a host of other things “sincere people and prospective devotees” expected to give their lives to ISKCON should be well informed about.