Tag: Misogyny

Expert at Rape

“Although rape is not legally allowed, it is a fact that a woman likes a man who is very expert at rape.” – A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami; Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.25.41, purport

Since the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012, much of India has been in an uproar over the “Delhi gang rape” and over sexual violence against women in general. During that same time ISKCON pundits have weighed in on the causes of rape and sexual assault, in nearly all cases by regurgitating the same old predictable, inane rhetoric – something, something, lust…something, something degraded material society…something, something Bollywood. More recently, sexual violence in India has even breached the cult bubble and affected victims within ISKCON itself, causing waves of outrage in addition to the regular pontification.

(For the record, sexual abuse has long been part of ISKCON. But perhaps it’s only recently that anyone wearing a dhoti has gotten publicly upset about it.)

In all this online clamor I have yet to see any of the followers of “Srila Prabhupada” present the so-called founder-acarya’s own views on rape. I wonder why? It’s certainly not because those views are obscure. The above quote from one of Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam purports is well known. If you stick around ISKCON long enough, you’re bound to be exposed to it.

Of course, ISKCON apologists are duty bound to deny how clearly reprehensible it is, and so they attempt to explain it away by saying that in this instance Prabhupada’s use of the word “rape” is meant to employ not the primary definition but rather a secondary, archaic definition. In the words of one defender of the faith, Prabhupada employed a definition “little used, or even considered obsolete.” Devotees of this ilk contend that what Prabhupada really meant to say was that women like to be seduced by aggressive men, “manly” men, and that when Prabhupada says “rape” he really means something like “romantic aggression.” It’s a convenient (though still not benign) interpretation, particularly if you want to defend the notion Prabhupada was perfect and completely transcendental.

But, aside from being convenient, this interpretation is illogical.

The first half of the offending sentence – “Although rape is not legally allowed…” – should be enough to make that clear. Seduction is not illegal. Sexual assault is.

Moreover, cross-referencing Prabhupada’s books and recorded statements tells us he used the word “rape” a total of thirty-two times. Setting aside the three times it’s used in the purport in question, that leaves twenty-nine. In every single one of those twenty-nine instances he used the word to mean precisely what you and I think of whenever we hear it: sexual assault. What are the chances that in this one instance he employed the “little used…obsolete” definition?

If for some reason you’re still not convinced, Prabhupada has provided us with his very own, very concise definition of the word: “Rape means without consent, sex.”

Let’s see his definition in context.

“Yes, that is law always. Rape means without consent, sex. Otherwise there is no rape. There was a rape case in Calcutta, and the lawyer was very intelligent. He some way or other made the woman admit, ‘Yes, I felt happiness.’ So he was released. ‘Here is consent.’ And that’s a fact. Because after all, sex – rape or no rape – they will feel some pleasure. So the lawyer by hook and crook made the woman agree, ‘Yes, I felt some pleasure.’ ‘Now, there is consent.’ So he was released. After all, it is an itching sensation. So either by force or by willingly, if there is itching, everyone feels relieved itching it. That’s a psychology. It is not that the women do not like rape. They like sometimes. They willingly. That is the psychology. Outwardly they show some displeasure, but inwardly they do not. This is the psychology.” – Morning walk, 11 May 1975, Perth

It’s indisputable. Prabhupada said women enjoy being raped. They find it pleasurable. They may protest, they may say No – they may fight for their lives – but they really like it.

“It is not that the women do not like rape. They like sometimes. They willingly. That is the psychology. Outwardly they show some displeasure, but inwardly they do not.”

And though the particular Bhagavatam purport at the start of this post tends to get the most attention, it’s not the only purport in which Prabhupada expresses the same sentiment. In the purport to the very next verse there’s this:

“When a husbandless woman is attacked by an aggressive man, she takes his action to be mercy.” – SB 4.25.42, purport

And in the next chapter we find this:

“Generally when a woman is attacked by a man – whether her husband or some other man – she enjoys the attack, being too lusty.” – SB 4.26.26, purport

(Remember, Prabhupada was also of the opinion that “the sexual appetite of a woman is nine times greater than that of a man.”)

Whenever quotes like these enter the public forum without being qualified or explained away but are instead left to be interpreted in the most literal, most obvious way, devotees will insist they’ve been “taken out of context.” This is another lazy defense of things clearly indefensible. (For one thing, what sort of context could possibly redeem statements like these?) To devotees, “in context” generally means presenting the entire paragraph or chapter or book or lecture or conversation that contains whatever offensive statement is being singled out. Like producing the haystack with the needle, it seems the hope is that in combing through the “context” we might be sufficiently distracted from what we’d objected to in the first place. Whatever the intention, the only “context” acceptable to followers of Prabhupada is whatever absolves him completely, of even the most obvious guilt. Real context is not at all their concern. As we’ve so far seen in this case, context only makes things worse.

In the interest of providing context, here are a few more things to consider.

In 1972, at the time this volume of Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam was published, marital rape was not considered a crime practically anywhere in the world. In fact, spousal rape was not outlawed in all fifty US states until 1993. And in England and Wales there existed a legal exemption for marital rape until that exemption was abolished in 1991. Sadly, spousal rape is still not considered a crime in many parts of the world, including the one place perhaps most relevant to this discussion: India.

I hope the pertinence of these facts is self-evident. If not, here’s more context.

On the strength of Prabhupada’s personal statements, his married male disciples have at times considered it permissible, even necessary, to use violence against their wives.

“Pet, like that. Dhol gunar sudra pasu and nari. Nari means woman. (laughs) Just see. He has classified the nari amongst these class, dhol, gunar, sudra, pasu, nari. Ihe sab sasan ke adhikari. Sasan ke adhikari means all these are subjected for punishment.” – Room conversation, 12 April 1969, New York

“So sasan ke adhikari means they should be punished. (laughs) Punished means, just like dhol [drum], when the, I mean to say, sound is not very hard, dag-dag, if you beat it on the border, then it comes to be nice tune. Similarly, pasu, animals, if you request ‘My dear dog, please do not go there.’ Hut! (laughter) ‘No, my dear dog. Hut!’ This is the way. Similarly, woman. If you become lenient, then she will be troublesome. So in India still, in villages, whenever there is some quarrel between husband wife, the husband beats and she is tamed.” – Room conversation, 12 April 1969, New York

Considering this, and considering again that during Prabhupada’s time it was not criminal for a husband to rape his wife, it’s only reasonable to doubt the harmlessness of Prabhupada’s statements about rape. Is it really any less reasonable to wonder if Prabhupada’s male disciples and grand-disciples have at any time taken their guru’s statements as license to force themselves on their wives (or even on other women)?

ISKCON devotees will insist that their founder was impeccably moral, that he repeatedly preached against “illicit sex,” and that he regarded all sex as illicit save sexual intercourse for “producing Krishna conscious children.” How, they wonder, could someone possibly misconstrue what should otherwise be perfectly clear?

Here’s some more context.

Chaitanya Charan Das, a celibate monk who for some reason feels it necessary to offer advice on sex, recounts the following story:

“At one time there was a devotee who came to Mayapur and then in Mayapur that devotee went to some local society girl over there, and the news spread among the devotee community and then they told Prabhupada. And then Prabhupada called the devotee and Prabhupada asked him, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘I couldn’t control myself. I was too much tormented by lust.’ And Prabhupada said, ‘But you are married! Why did you have to go to a prostitute!?’ He said, ‘No Prabhupada, my wife wanted to follow the principle of no illicit sex so she refused and I didn’t want to force her.’”

Chaitanya Charan offers no source for this anecdote. Like so many un-documented stories that circulate about Prabhupada, there’s not much hope of knowing for sure whether or not this one is apocryphal. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume it’s true. It is after all within the realm of possibility, even plausibility; Prabhupada often referred to marriage in his society as a “license for sense gratification.” And though the publicized standard for an ISKCON marriage is to “engage in sex only for the purpose of procreation,” it should be obvious to anyone connected to reality that this standard is not met in all cases (perhaps not even in most cases). In this case Prabhupada is suggesting that his disciple not follow that standard. And he is doing so in spite of the desires of the man’s wife. Though he doesn’t explicitly instruct the husband to force his wife to have sex against her will, the implication is there, given the context.

Once again, isn’t it reasonable to imagine Prabhupada would allow his married male disciples to follow a cultural standard apparently so ingrained in Indian life that even quite recently India’s minister of Home Affairs has declined to take steps to criminalize marital rape, citing “the mindset of [Indian] society”? Though ISKCON devotees are loathe to admit it, their “Srila Prabhupada” was indisputably a product of his time and culture.

And his culture considered – and still considers – marital rape as being less than criminal.

But let’s speak more generally. When “Prabhupada was present” misogyny was on a global scale far more widespread, being in many cases and in many places socially acceptable. Prabhupada’s views on women were at that time not at all the exception to this general rule, despite his followers’ insistence he was in every way exceptional. Though ISKCON devotees refuse to see Prabhupada as a misogynist, they do so despite an outrageous number of misogynistic statements in his books and in his recorded statements (to say nothing of the example of his own life).

How did Prabhupada feel about women? The following is only a sample of what he had to say on the subject:

“As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Chanakya Pandit, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy.” – BG 1.40, purport

“Now, in the Manu-samhita it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men.” – BG 16.7, purport

“To understand Brahman is not the business of tiny brain. Alpha-medhasam. There are two Sanskrit words, alpa-medhasa and su-medhasa. Alpa-medhasa means having little brain substance. Physiologically, within the brain there are brain substance. It is found that the brain substance in man is found up to 64 ounce. They are very highly intellectual persons. And in woman the brain substance is not found more than 34 ounce. You’ll find, therefore, that there is no very great scientist, mathematician, philosopher, among women. You’ll never find because their brain substance cannot go. Artificially do not try to become equal with men. That is not allowed in the Vedic sastra. Na striyam svatantratam arhati. That is called sastra. You have to understand that woman is never given to be independence.” – Lecture on BG 16.7, 3 February 1975, Hawaii

“One American woman, was…She was speaking that ‘In India the woman are treated as slave. We don’t want.’ So I told her that it is better to become slave of one person than to slave of become hundreds. (laughter) The woman must become a slave. So instead of becoming slaves of so many persons, it is better to remain satisfied, a slave of one person…And our Vedic civilization says, nari-rupam pati-vratam: ‘The woman is beautiful when she remains as a slave to the husband.’ That is the beauty, not the personal beauty. How much she has learned to remain as a slave to the husband, that is Vedic civilization.” – Morning walk, 19 March 1976, Mayapur

Prabhupada: So far gurukula is concerned, that also, I have given program. They have given the name of “girls.” We are not going to do that.
Tamala Krishna: What is that?
Prabhupada: Girls. Boys and girls. That is dangerous.
Tamala Krishna: Gurukula.
Prabhupada: In that article.
Tamala Krishna: Oh, oh, oh.
Prabhupada: Girls should be completely separated from the very beginning. They are very dangerous.
Tamala Krishna: So we’re… I thought there were girls in Vrindavana now. They said that they’re going to have the girls’ gurukula behind the boys’ gurukula. Gopala was talking about that.
Prabhupada: No, no, no. No girls.
Tamala Krishna: It should be in another city or somewhere else.
Prabhupada: Yes. They should be taught how to sweep, how to stitch…
Tamala Krishna: Clean.
Prabhupada: …clean, cook, to be faithful to the husband.
Tamala Krishna: They don’t require a big school.
Prabhupada: No, no. That is mistake. They should be taught how to become obedient to the husband.                      – Morning conversation, 29 April 1977, Bombay

“People have become so degraded in this age that on the one hand they restrict polygamy and on the other hand they hunt for women in so many ways. Many business concerns publicly advertise that topless girls are available in this club or in that shop. Thus women have become instruments of sense enjoyment in modern society. The Vedas enjoin, however, that if a man has the propensity to enjoy more than one wife — as is sometimes the propensity for men in the higher social order, such as the brahmanas, kshatriyas and vaisyas, and even sometimes the sudras — he is allowed to marry more than one wife. Marriage means taking complete charge of a woman and living peacefully without debauchery. At the present moment, however, debauchery is unrestricted. Nonetheless, society makes a law that one should not marry more than one wife. This is typical of a demoniac society.” – SB 4.26.6, purport

“And it is recommended they should be married at very early age, then the wife will remain always chaste and devoted to her husband. At such young age, from the first night onwards, she can never for a moment forget him, being still child and unspoiled, therefore she becomes the perfect chaste wife, and in those times the wife was so much devoted to her husband that she would voluntarily die in the fire of his cremation, unable to live without him. Myself, I was very young when I got married, and my wife was 11 years only.” – Letter to Mr. Loy, 7 November 1972, Vrindavan

“Yes. That is psychological. They develop…Sex life, sex urge is there as soon as twelve years, thirteen years old, especially women. So therefore early marriage was sanctioned in India. Early marriage. Boy fifteen years, sixteen years, and girl twelve years. Not twelve years, ten years. I was married, my wife was eleven years. I was 22 years. She did not know what is sex, eleven years’ girl. Because Indian girls, they have no such opportunity of mixing with others. But after the first menstruation, the husband is ready. This is the system, Indian system.” – Room conversation, 15 August 1971, London

So, to summarize, in Prabhupada’s opinion women are “less intelligent,” owing in part to their anatomically inferior “brain substance.” They are “not trustworthy” and “should not be given freedom,” for a woman “is beautiful when she remains as a slave to the husband.” To that end, the education of women is a “mistake.” Instead they “should be taught to sweep, how to stitch, clean, cook, [and] be faithful to the husband.” The husband, meanwhile, can have as many wives as he likes, and those wives should be married to him at “ten years” or older, because “after the first menstruation, the husband is ready.”

By and large, present day defenders of ISKCON would prefer not to acknowledge their founder ever said (or did) any of these things. (Some devotees even insist Prabhupada was a sort of feminist – in the case of one devotee, the greatest feminist.)

As with all blemishes on the ISKCON body, the tendency in the society is to deny Prabhupada has anything to do with those blemishes – despite the constant declaration that Prabhupada himself said, “ISKCON is my body” – meanwhile insisting things like misogyny and child abuse are safely in the distant past.

Though there are far more safeguards in place in ISKCON now than there were in Prabhupada’s time, child abuse still rears its ugly head within the society from time to time. Misogyny, at least, is alive and well.

Some members of ISKCON are perfectly comfortable with their guru’s hatred of women, while others even celebrate it. Some of Prabhupada’s followers, on the strength of Prabhupada’s instructions and personal example, even publicly advocate for polygamy and child marriage. More “mainstream” ISKCON members will probably tell you that these other devotees are outliers. Maybe so, but then their founder too is on the fringe. In truth, ISKCON itself is an organization with deep-seated hatred for women. How else can you explain that the leaders of ISKCON have been arguing, unsuccessfully, for years over whether or not those devotees who happen to have a vagina instead of a penis could possibly be spiritually advanced enough to become gurus? Or that a significant number of the society’s members – leaders and rank-and-file alike – behave as if the world might end if it ever became commonplace to refer to female devotees as “prabhu,” master?

Meanwhile, in the real world outside of ISKCON’s alternate universe, public figures who express clearly offensive and illogical ideas about women and rape face real consequences. In 2013, an Israeli court judge, Nissim Yeshaya, resigned amidst outrage over his statement that some girls “enjoy being raped.” And in 2012, two political hopefuls trying to win seats in the US Senate had their campaigns obliterated with acts of verbal self-sabotage that consisted of separate but equally idiotic comments about rape. Todd Akin opined that victims of “legitimate rape” very rarely become pregnant, claiming that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” And Richard Mourdock inadvertently made god himself a rapist when he said, “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

Fortunately for women everywhere, Mourdock is not ISKCON’s founder-acarya. Unfortunately for Mourdock – and Akin and Yeshaya for that matter – he is not ISKCON’s founder-acarya. If he were, he would be worshiped “as good as God” and lauded as the savior of the world, despite his reprehensible rhetoric. (Nonetheless, it’s still doubtful he could win an election in America.)

To know even a fraction of what “Srila Prabhupada” said about women and yet to maintain he’s a saint is, to be charitable, a bit of a paradox. The willingness to do so is easy enough to understand, though the capacity to do it is often baffling.


The Nectar of Not-So-Transcendental Book Distribution

In this blog’s most recent post I tried to make the case that the shiny-happy ISKCON of the present day is not exactly what the movement’s founder-acarya had in mind.

“When he was alive Prabhupada’s desires simply did not include the 24-hour kirtans, weekend chanting festivals, and japa retreats so popular these days. During Prabhupada’s time the importance of the maha-mantra paled in comparison to another ISKCON-approved mantra: ‘Work now, samadhi later.’ During ISKCON’s heyday, Prabhupada’s (and thus ISKCON’s) top priority was selling books, plain and simple. (No one who was there at that time would dispute this. As Prabhupada said, many different times in many different ways, ‘Distribution of books and magazines is our most important activity.’) However, as I’ve already mentioned, that old-time book distribution wasn’t so spiritual.”

Having joined ISKCON some time after the fall of the Zonal Acaryas, I was brought up with a false narrative: I was led to believe, by devotees who were there and knew better, that in the physical presence of “Srila Prabhupada” ISKCON was an indomitable extension of Lord Caitanya’s mercy, a dynamic preaching movement faultlessly devoted to spreading Krishna’s message through the fully spiritual activity of sankirtana, either in the form of “book distribution” or “chanting the holy names.” I was taught to revere sankirtana and its limitless potential for spiritual transformation and cultural revolution. And when I’d been around long enough to find out that sankirtana had at one time devolved into something less than spiritual – something materialistic, hardly more respectable than panhandling and not far removed from a scam – I was encouraged to adopt the delusion that that unfortunate episode had occurred after ISKCON’s golden years, after Prabhupada’s departure.

Sadly, that’s not true. Paul Ford, initiated by Prabhupada as Pujana Dasa, writes about sankirtana in the seventies in his book Mad After Krishna. He gives a refreshingly un-sanitized account of what it was like to be a devotee in ISKCON’s golden days. I’ll reproduce an excerpt below but urge you to read the rest of the chapter from which the excerpt comes as well as the rest of the book in its entirety.

“Selling books was a bit like stage performance. Successful sankirtan devotees looked good. We shined our shoes, and made sure our clothes and wigs fit properly. We learned our lines, especially our opening lines. We also learned how to ad lib as the situation required. We invented and memorized a repertoire of lines, come-ons, and responses for various situations…

“Prabhupada said that we were to collect Lakshmi ‘by hook or by crook.’ One hook was establishing a rapport with the karmis. If, for example, they said they were from Kansas, we would say something like, ‘I’ve got a brother back that way.’ Some experienced devotees tried to create the feeling of an old friendship. If they succeeded, a request for a donation would seem like asking an old friend for a small loan…

“Another hook was to induce them to answer ‘yes’ to a series of innocuous but loaded questions. Then a ‘yes’ to a request for a donation would come more easily. For example, a devotee selling records to a young karmi might begin with, ‘Do you have a turntable?’ Nearly everyone owned a turntable. For another example, sometimes a devotee said, ‘We’re doing a survey.’ Then he asked a few questions and said, ‘We have a special deal only for the people we’re interviewing today.’ Sometimes a clipboard-carrying devotee in an airport or bus station firmly addressed the servicemen as ‘Soldier!’ and then ordered them to take a book and give money.

“Another successful hook was the come-on to the opposite sex. For example, the women sometimes approached a karmi man, pinned a flower or button on his lapel, told him how big and ‘dangerous’ he was, sometimes even kissed him, and then asked for a donation. Vrindavan Vilasini was a top female sankirtan devotee. Well spoken and convinced of the philosophy, she also had a pretty face and an attractive figure. Mulaprakriti, another top scorer, was less beautiful but was intelligent, strong-willed, hardworking, and highly skilled at sankirtan. The men sometimes accused the women of using their physical attractiveness to their advantage, and the women accurately returned the same charge.

“We often said that to sell to a karmi couple, one first needed to persuade the woman. In private, we laughed at karmi men who appeared to be under the control of their wives or girlfriends. In contrast, women devotees knew their place — subordinate and submissive to the men.

“Sometimes a householder devotee took a child, not necessarily his own, with him on sankirtan. By all reports, cute children were worth their weight in gold in donations. By about the age of fourteen or fifteen, they were ready to go out and collect Lakshmi on their own.

“Besides increasing the amount of money we collected, the cultivation of a tough, unshakeable attitude ‘dovetailed’ well with our philosophy. We had all knowledge; the spiritually covered karmis were incapable of understanding the truth. It was natural, then, to try to entice or trick them into buying into Krishna consciousness.

“The ‘crooks’ Prabhupada referred to were techniques ranging from mild deception to full-fledged transcendental trickery. We tried to give the impression that we were a part of what the public was supposed to experience at that particular time and place — especially if it were an illegal location. For example, in store parking lots we sometimes announced, ‘The manager asked us to come here today.’

“When a karmi asked, ‘Is this Krishna?’ in a hostile tone, we replied, ‘No.’ We answered questions according to how they were asked. For example, if someone asked, ‘What’s this for?’ I would give an indirect, vague answer, never mentioning Krishna. If, however, we hit them up hard enough, they would not even ask. They would give Lakshmi or not, and we would move on to the next karmi.

“Some devotees collected Lakshmi for Vietnam War-era MIA’s (Missing In Action) and POW’s (Prisoners Of War). Others said they were collecting for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) or the Red Cross. Other standard lines included, ‘I’m from Apple records’ (the Beatles’ record label) or ‘I’m George Harrison’s secretary.’ Or, ‘This book is about chemistry [or sociology, or political science].’ A book was about whatever we thought might interest that particular karmi. After all, the Hindu scriptures contained all knowledge on all subjects…

“Some sankirtan devotees had perfected a technique known to its detractors within the Movement as ‘shortchanging.’ Gopa, for example, would tell a karmi, ‘I’ve got a bunch of ones I’m trying to get rid of. Do you have a twenty?’ He would take the karmi’s twenty-dollar bill and slowly give him back one-dollar bills, one at a time. As he did so, he would continue to pitch the book. This technique was effective, because karmis often got tired of waiting for their change and gave up, leaving the devotee with a greater-than-intended donation.

“Sometimes, after inducing a karmi to take out his wallet, a devotee pointed to or touched a bill he wanted, say a ten or twenty-dollar bill. I heard that some devotees simply grabbed the money and ran.

“Some women devotees dressed up in attractive karmi clothes and sold flowers in bars. If a devotee got roughed up in a bar, it was because of her lack of faith. Devotees always trusted that Krishna would protect them on sankirtan. In addition, the women distributed books on military bases, especially on military payday. The services were then almost entirely male.

“Nevertheless, a devotee needed to use subterfuge when dealing with people whose intelligence was at the animal level. Karmis were simply too sinful to understand what we were doing. We accepted no legal, moral, or ethical authority other than our own, because God’s law was higher than man’s ‘concocted’ laws. The police and the courts were agents of the ruling class of atheists and materialists. Their job was to keep people ignorant of God and keep the present government in power.

“When we did obey others’ rules and laws, it was with the attitude that for now they were in charge, but that circumstances would be different later. A devotee once told me, ‘When we take over, we’ll demand money at gunpoint.’ Another devotee named Tarun Krishna called sankirtan a cross between sport and war. Tripurari declared sankirtan a holy war. Prabhupada himself said that book distribution was the equivalent of ‘dropping bombs on the laps of the conditioned souls.’”

It’s only natural that an ISKCON devotee “in good standing” will be skeptical of this account. Perhaps a devotee might be willing to believe these practices were adopted by some but not all, certainly not by the majority. Whatever the case, all devotees will insist that Prabhupada knew nothing about this (despite his being in direct communication with Krishna) and that even if he did he would have never under any circumstances condoned such practices. The prevailing narrative – that everything good comes from Prabhupada, whereas everything bad is due to the shortcomings of his followers – is a powerful one, despite the fact it’s not true.

In March of 1977 Prabhupada met in Mayapur with his “GBC men” to discuss their resolutions for that year. One of the things they discussed was the illegal practices devotees were using while on sankirtana. Prabhupada’s response was, in short, “Real point is if we can introduce book, there is nothing illegal. Everything is legal. Now, to save us from so-called legal complication, we must be legal. Otherwise there is nothing illegal, what we do for Krishna.”

Satsvarupa: We made resolutions regarding book distribution techniques. Any illegal techniques for book distribution, that is, illegal according to law, should be banned, including… And then a comprehensive list will follow, mainly supplied by Ramesvara Maharaja. They will include some things like outright illegal techniques.

Prabhupada: Real point is if we can introduce book, there is nothing illegal. Everything is legal. Now, to save us from so-called legal complication, we must be legal. Otherwise there is nothing illegal, what we do for Krishna.

Ramesvara: That was our conclusion, Prabhupada, that there are just a few practices…

Prabhupada: But we have to take care of the public.

Satsvarupa: Things… Some of them mentioned were to imitate a deaf and dumb man and ask for charity, imitating that… (laughter)

Prabhupada: That’s not bad. (laughter)

Kirtanananda: Some boys were arrested for that, Srila Prabhupada. They will arrest you in the United States if they catch you. They have done that.

Brahmananda: That is considered fraud.

Ramesvara: Prabhupada, the points that we are proposing to ban will not decrease book distribution, so they can be eliminated and book distribution will not be decreased.

Prabhupada: Yes. So the real legal thing is: some way or other, introduce books.

Later in the conversation they discuss the practice of dressing up in costumes – in particular, dressing up as Santa Claus, which Paul Ford also mentions in his book – and Prabhupada gives his response:

Satsvarupa: Yes. Also for book distribution techniques, the use of the Santa Claus uniform and other theatrical costumes is banned, not to be done.

Prabhupada: Is there any legal objection?

Satsvarupa: No.

Prabhupada: Then why?

Kirtanananda: They’re legal.

Hrdayananda: There was a great deal of negative publicity.

Kirtanananda: They are legal…

Prabhupada: So if it is legal, why shall they be…?

Ramesvara: The reason it was decided is that even though it is legal in America, in foreign countries there is bad reaction. The Americans do not mind as much as the foreign countries. So we are concerned for the international image of our movement.

Jayatirtha: It was published in practically every newspaper in the world, a picture of Santa Claus being arrested by a policeman in America. We got a lot of questions. Also the President of the United States questioned one boy in a Santa Claus outfit.

Ramesvara: We felt that it would not seriously decrease the book distribution if we stopped this.

Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Then it is all right.

So, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. If it won’t significantly decrease the amount of money coming in, then it’s all right. I don’t know about you, but when I imagined the heroic book distributors of yore I never imagined them in Santa suits passing out candy canes. That idea doesn’t really resonate with the image of sankirtana we get from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes, does it? It has less to do with spiritual revolution than it does with panhandlers dressed up as cartoon characters in Times Square. It’s certainly no more dignified. It’s a scam.

Unfortunately, an army of begging Santas was not the worst of it. As the conversation continues, Prabhupada and his leaders discuss something far more troubling and far more consequential to the lives of ISKCON’s devotees.

First, some background: As recounted in Monkey On a Stick and by Nori Muster in her essay “Life as a Woman on Watseka Avenue,” at some point in the seventies it had become commonplace for women’s sankirtana parties to be led by a single male devotee who “lived with and slept with” the women under his care. These men preached to their subordinates that they were their “eternal husband and protector” and then took advantage of this status to satisfy their own sexual desires with the rationalization that this was inspiring the victims in their service, because “It is understood that the sexual appetite of a woman is nine times greater than that of a man.”

I think you’ll agree this is troubling. Even more troubling is Prabhupada’s reaction:

Satsvarupa: …One of the popular means to distribute books is by women’s party. A party of women will travel under the care of a man devotee. But in taking care of the women, we have noted that some of these parties have been preaching a false philosophy of the relationship of the man who’s taking care of the women, and that philosophy is that the sankirtana leader is the eternal husband and protector of the women in the party. We want that this philosophy should be rejected. If a man is taking care of a number of women in a sankirtana party, he should be regarded as the son as well as a representative of the spiritual master, of Srila Prabhupada, and not the husband of these women.

Prabhupada: Husband, but why he does not marry them? (laughter)

Satsvarupa: Well, sometimes there may be as many as twenty women in a party.

Kirtanananda: They would like to.

Prabhupada: We have no objection if one marries more than one wife. That I have stated. But law does not allow it. So do the needful.

In comparison to Prabhupada, the approach offered by the GBC is more reasonable. (And what, pray tell, is “the needful” in this situation?) At least Prabhupada’s dsciples seem to show concern, if not for the women being exploited at least for the effect that exploitation might have on the Hare Krishna movement and the way it’s perceived by outsiders. And if you’re shocked by Prabhupada’s attitude about polygamy, please don’t suppress that reaction with knee-jerk veneration for the “founder-acarya.Prabhupada made comments in favor of polygamy throughout his tenure in ISKCON, even though that fact is not talked about in his society today. Like his comments on rape and spousal abuse, they don’t get much attention because that would upset the prevailing narrative. It’s a shame more devotees aren’t upset that the prevailing narrative is the only one they are able to accept.

#YesAllWomen, ISKCON Edition

The hashtag #YesAllWomen is currently trending on twitter, in response it seems to the most recent mass shooting in the US. The shooter left behind a manifesto and several YouTube videos to make it clear that his killing spree was inspired by his hatred for women. If you’re a man who has yet to accept the radical notion that women are people, try reading some of these tweets and see what sort of world we are creating for our wives, mothers, daughters, and female friends. For men in ISKCON (and women in ISKCON still struggling to accept the “spiritual wisdom” that they are “less intelligent” than their male counterparts), I’ve written some of my own ISKCON-centric tweets in this vein. Re-tweet them if you like, or add your own.

#YesAllWomen #ISKCON Because you can’t tell a woman “you’re not that body” and then make her stand at the back of the temple.

#YesAllWomen #ISKCON Because “protection” doesn’t mean teaching your daughter that she has to cover her head.

#YesAllWomen #ISKCON The “law books for the next 10,000 years” shouldn’t contain the words “a woman likes a man who is very expert at rape.”

#YesAllWomen #ISKCON Because a pure devotee doesn’t hold a press conference to say that women’s brains are anatomically inferior to men’s. (Chicago; 7/9/75)

#YesAllWomen #ISKCON Because “mataji” is not a magic word that excuses your participation in a culture that subjugates and demonizes women.

More Cult than Cult Classic

Details, a popular American men’s magazine, has published an article about ISKCON: The Return of a Cult Classic—The Hare Krishnas are Back. What follows is the comment I left below the article:

This sort of calculated misinformation used to be reviled as propaganda, now it’s celebrated as good marketing, if anyone notices it at all. DETAILS should be ashamed to have any part in ISKCON’s “re-branding.”

Forget this new-agey whitewash. Here’s what you need to know about ISKCON, because no Hare Krishna will tell you willingly: Their founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami “Prabhupada,” made an embarrassing, and embarrassingly long, list of statements that this article’s target demographic would undoubtedly consider racist, sexist, and homophobic, statements that would easily put him in the company of Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, and the like. Don’t believe me? Give a Hare Krishna a $10 “donation” for a copy of their Bhagavad-gita, in which you’ll find the timeless spiritual wisdom that “women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy,” that they “should not be given freedom” because “they are like children,” and that they are categorically of “lower birth.” That’s just one example. Regarding “negroes,” Bhaktivedanta Swami remarked that it was “best to keep them under control as slaves.” And he referred to homosexuality as “demoniac” and “not for any sane male,” to him a clear sign of the degradation of human society. These are just a few out of a disturbing number of examples.

Aside from his outright bigotry, Bhaktivedanta Swami was anti-family, anti-education, and distinctly anti-science. He repeatedly denied that we had, or ever would, land on the moon. He believed that the sun was the only source of light in the universe. And he enlisted his disciples in a crusade to “debunk” evolution. Like all good cult leaders, he also erroneously predicted the imminent end of the world, in his case via nuclear armageddon.

The liberals in ISKCON would like to think these things are anomalies, overshadowed by the valuable and altruistic gifts their leader supposedly gave the world. At most they’ll refer to their guru’s back-catalog of backward views as “controversial” or “problematic.” Meanwhile, the conservatives in ISKCON embrace the same claptrap as divine. But the real trouble is that neither faction will ever denounce or even significantly question Prabhupada. They all worship him as infallible and, even when conscience tells them not to, consider everything he wrote and said and did to be flawless, inspired by god directly.

So, buyer beware! Read the volumes of fine print appended to this product. It’s way more cult than “cult classic.” All that stuff about vegetarianism and reincarnation and blissing out on mantra meditation may sound nice, but it comes at a high price. And despite this article’s intimations of cafeteria Hinduism and it’s guarantee that “with Hare Krishna…there is no commitment”—sure, they’re happy to have you volunteer your time, and they sure as hell will take your money if you offer it, without expecting too much else—if you want them to consider you one of them, you will absolutely have to revere Prabhupada “as good as god,” no a la carte option available.