I appreciate the well-intended concerns of the author, Kaunteya Prabhu, expressed throughout his book. However, after reading it, I find a few observations that need to be addressed in order to truly comprehend Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings. I request the author and other respected devotees to kindly consider the following remarks by my humble self.
Some people might consider Śrīla Prabhupāda to be prone to human imperfection. However, we must always remember that as an ācārya in the Gauḍīya-paramparā, he is a perfect representative of Vedic wisdom. Whatever information of modern science or history he referred to during his conversations has to be taken as subservient to the Vedic teachings he presented during his preaching campaign, for he never claimed anything based on modern science or history exclusively. He did not call women (in general) as less intelligent only because their brain size is less than men’s. The primary source for women (in general) being considered less intelligent was the Vedic scriptures (SB 1.8.20): “Women in general are unable to speculate like philosophers…”. And we may ask what the source for this statement is. The answer is: Śrīdhara Svāmī commentating on SB (1.8.20) glosses “parama-haṁsānām“ as “ātma-anātma-vivekinām,” or those who are able to discriminate between what is spirit and what is matter. He glosses “munīnām” as “manana-śīlānām” or who are thoughtful (or philosophers). [At my gurukula I teach Vaiṣṇava Ācārya commentaries in Sanskrit. I have studied and taught thousands of such examples from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books to my students.]
In other words, we may not speculate as to why Śrīla Prabhupāda said one thing or another on the basis of mundane information that may or may not be flawless, for he was acting neither as a mundane scientist nor as a mundane historian. On the contrary, the author, Kaunteya Prabhu, hailing from a psychology background, seems to rely primarily on mundane parameters such a modern science and history, as is evident from his comments on page 540 of his book: “Is Indian tradition prejudiced, blind to the real facts?” He cites from psychology and other sources of modern medicine to challenge Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement about women being nine-fold lustier than men. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not a psychologist per se; however, he substantiates his statement with evidence from Cāṇakya Paṇḍita’s Nīti-śāstra. Should we accept modern psychology and modern medicine as flawless authorities even on mundane platform? Modern Science has a history of changes. How can anyone in ISKCON be blind to this fact?
Regarding homophobic behavior, the author erroneously concludes that Śrīla Prabhupāda made an error in attributing homosexual behavior to the demons that were produced from the buttocks of Lord Brahmā. Kindly see the following purport on SB (3.20.26). Although Śrīla Prabhupāda says,
“It appears here that the homosexual appetite of males for each other is created in this episode of the creation of the demons by Brahmā. In other words, the homosexual appetite of a man for another man is demoniac and is not for any sane male in the ordinary course of life.”
The author, Kaunteya Prabhu, conversely argues in the following words on page 242 of his book:“Vaisnava scholars have analyzed the Sanskrit, suggesting that these would-be rapists were actually attracted to the feminine aspect of Brahma’s form.” Also on page 243, he comments: “His [Śrīla Prabhupāda’s] words go beyond the specific description of Brahma’s misadventure with these naughty, butt-born ogres.” However, the fact is different. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura comments on SB (3.20.26) says, “Although I (Lord Brahmā) am a male, these demons want to have sex with me” (yabhituṁ pumāṁsaṁ mām api sambhoktum). Another Vaiṣṇava commentator, Śrīpāda Vallabhācārya, comments on SB (3.20.23) that although “kāma” or lust primarily consists of male having sex with female, there is the possibility of sex even between males. “As sex with one’s mother is prohibited, so as with one’s father, too. However, due to a strong appetite for sex, (though I am their father) they (demons) acted in that way.”
How does Śrīla Prabhupāda’s description of homosexual behavior of the demons go beyond Lord Brahmā’s misadventure with his “naughty butt-born ogres”? And what is the reference for the claim “…these would-be rapists were actually attracted to the feminine aspect of Brahma’s form.” None! When Lord Brahmā was approached by his demonic sons, he prayed to the Lord, and the Supreme Lord asked him to give up his “mentality,” which took the form of evening twilight and appeared as a woman. And then those demons were attracted to her. Thus, it is undeniable that demons created by Lord Brahmā in the beginning of the creation did show homosexual behavior towards their father Lord Brahmā, and Śrīla Prabhupāda addressed it.
Also, the author argues in favor of homosexual marriages even though both śāstra and Śrīla Prabhupāda prohibit it:
“Prabhupāda: Sanctioning. They are allowing homosex. And there was report that man and man was married by the priest. In New York there is a paper, Watchtower. That is a Christian paper. I have seen in that paper. They are condemning, that priest is allowing man-to-man marriage. And they are passing resolution, homosex is passed, “All right.” And in Perth you said that the students are discussing about homosex, in favor of homosex. So where is the ideal character? If you want something tangible business, train some people to become ideal character. That is this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.” [Room Conversation with Director of Research of the Department of Social Welfare, May 21, 1975, Melbourne]
Elsewhere Śrīla Prabhupāda compares homosexuality with illicit sex:
“You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise, your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil. Show Krishna you are serious, if you are.” [Letter to: Lalitananda, Hawaii, 26 May, 1975]
Also, Manu-saṁhitā (11.67, 124, 173-174) describes that sexual intercourse with a man leads to loss of caste (jāti-bhraṁśa-karam), and therefore the atonement called “sāntapana-kṛccha” has been ordained. In that atonement, one has to consume cow urine, cow dung, milk, curd, ghee and kuśa grass water for one day and, on the next day, one has to fast completely. Yājnavalkya-smṛti (Prāyaścitta adhyāya 221-225) mentions that those sinful persons who do not undergo atonement for greater or lesser sins go to hellish planets.
The fact that scriptures like Manu-saṁhitā, Yājnavalkya-smṛti, and other scriptures order atonement for having sexual relations with a man is more than sufficient to establish that the homosexual sex act is a sin, no matter greater or lesser, and it cannot be performed as a “vidhi” or injunction of the sacred scriptures. One may argue that many gṛhasthas are not able to keep the vow of having sex only for begetting children, and hence it is illicit sex, then why do we not also allow homosexual marriages? The answer is: If some gṛhasthas are not able to keep to the standard, then they will have to suffer for illicit sex if they commit it wilfully. Homosexuality promotes committing such a sin wilfully.
Also, No one can make law on his own. The sacred laws have been given by Lord Kṛṣṇa, “dharmaṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītam.” We cannot pass a law for gays by instituting gay-marriages, which have never been supported by the dharma-śāstras. It does not mean that we should reject homosexuals by not giving them the opportunity to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as kindly demonstrated by Śrīla Prabhupāda toward his gay disciples.
The author, however, on page 282 of his book advocates homosexual marriages by arguing that Śrīla Prabhupāda instituted that sannyāsīs could also serve as GBCs, though initially he did not want them to do so on consideration of their traditional varṇāśrama role as sannyāsīs. Similarly, the author argues, Śrīla Prabhupāda would also have considered allowing same-sex marriage though some fifty years back he objected to it.
The author’s argument, however, is pure speculation. Can we extend this logic to each and every decision made by Śrīla Prabhupāda some fifty years back? Obviously not. Would Śrīla Prabhupāda have agreed to grant initiations to those presently committing gross illicit sex, which he strongly objected to fifty years ago? If yes, then on what basis? Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in SB (1.17.16, purport):
“In the Bhagavad-gītā (18.48) it is advised that one should not give up his occupational prescribed duties, even if they are not always flawless. Such sva-dharma might be violated in cases of emergency, if one is forced by circumstances, but they cannot be violated in ordinary times.”
We may have to compromise some dharmas if we are forced by circumstances. For example, Śrīla Prabhupāda engaged his female disciples in public book distribution, a task that has not been sanctioned by the varṇāśrama-dharma institution for women. But because it was not possible to change the free mixing scenario of the Western countries overnight, Śrīla Prabhupāda made a concession for it. However, by writing and preaching about strī-dharma, he did want his female disciples to gradually take up traditional roles of strī-dharma. Sannyāsīs’ role in the management can be reverted back to the traditional system (no sannyāsīs in management) whereas “same-sex marriage” cannot, and therefore, it cannot be accommodated under emergency situations.
About racism. I appreciate Kaunteya Prabhu for keeping a decent approach by upholding Śrīla Prabhupāda’s transcendental and all-accommodating personality. However, I would say that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s comments about Blacks, Negros or Africans during his conversations should not be considered over-generalizations, for he used these words within the context of the society at that time. We may not use those words, as we are living in a different context. People should be educated about reading the context of the society.
Moreover, no sane person will argue that Śrīla Prabhupāda was a racist, for his International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is the starkest example of his all-accommodative personality. There is absolutely no need to edit or dissociate ourselves from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words either in his books or in his conversations, letters or lectures. Also, it is our moral responsibility to not change anything from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s literatures in his physical absence. If someone like the author, Kaunteya Prabhu, faces potential danger of dislike from a general audience, then he can kindly provide the context of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings in order to illuminate his greatness.
It is interesting to note that the author (page 424) warns his readers to be wary of snippets of quotes that might leave the actual “punch line,” but he himself also engages in selectively quoting on multiple occasions.
Here are some examples:
On page 530 (“All Women Should Marry. . . Or Not”), the author makes the mistake of selectively quoting Śrīla Prabhupāda to show that women devotees can also be protected by ISKCON temples like nuns in Christian churches. The cited quote of Śrīla Prabhupāda (from Letter to Madhukara, 4 Jan 1973) in the book is this:
“The women must have a husband to give protection. Of course, if the women can remain unmarried, and if there is suitable arrangement for the temple to protect them, just like in the Christian Church there is nunnery for systematic program of engaging the ladies and protecting them, that is also nice”
Now, it leaves the impression that Śrīla Prabhupāda is endorsing the program of sheltering devotee women in ISKCON temples. However, the next lines clarify Śrīla Prabhupāda’s concluding remarks:
“But if there is sex desire, how to control it? Women are normally very lusty, more lusty than men, and they are weaker sex, it is difficult for them to make spiritual advancement without the help of husband. For so many reasons, our women must have husband.”
One more example, it is interesting to note how Śrīla Prabhupāda reacted to Śrīmatī Sumati Morarji’s letter regarding the Vallabhācārya issue published in Back to Godhead magazine (Vol. 10, No. 8, 1975). Let us see how Kaunteya Prabhu portrayed the whole incidence on page 624 as follows:
“He said, ‘I think that one who does not recognize the svami [husband] is a prostitute.’ In other words, ‘If you do not recognize Sridhara Svami, then you are a prostitute. How can I hear from a prostitute?’“ (Back to Godhead magazine, Vol. 10, No. 8, 1975) The article had created disturbance within the large community of Vallabhācārya’s followers, which included Sumati Morarjee, owner of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, the lady who had provided Srila Prabhupada a free passage to America by ship. He wrote her: “I am sorry to learn that you have become a little agitated regarding the publication of an article in our Back to Godhead magazine. It is certainly unpleasant, but the officers who publish the magazine do not know satyam bruyat priyam bruyat, in this material world only palatable truth should be spoken. Unpalatable truth should be carefully avoided.” (Letter to Sumati Morarjee, 9 [sic] Aug 1976) What did the BTG editors do wrong? They simply published what their spiritual master said in a lecture. In fact, the same episode had been reported in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Antya-lila, Ch. 7) But Srila Prabhupada wanted that in the future the BTG editors would avoid unnecessarily agitating the public. Today, 47 years later, even if Srila Prabhupada is not there to write us letters saying: “Kindly avoid comments such as these in future publications,” his instruction is more relevant than ever.”
After reading the above quote, we may get an impression that Śrīla Prabhupāda did want his editors to make changes into his future publications (including his books) that cause public agitation. However, that is a wrong conclusion. Let me show you.
Kindly look at Śrīla Prabhupāda’s concluding remarks at the end of his letter to Sumati Morarjee, Valencay, France 7 August, 1976:
“Everything will become clear if you kindly read this chapter with attention. For example, we see that two lawyers in the courtroom may fight vigorously about a law point, but upon returning to the law library, they talk and embrace like friends. So you should always remember that we have no ill feelings towards Vallabha Bhattacarya. We have full respect for him, so there is no harm if these facts are discussed in the society of devotees. Devotees always humbly offer respect to everyone, but when there is a discussion on a point of sastra, they do not observe the usual etiquette, satyam bruyat priyam bruyat. They speak only the satyam, although it may not necessarily be priyam.”
In other words, Śrīla Prabhupāda, as per the general etiquette, did reprimand his editors in a letter dated 28 August, 1976, New Delhi for speaking the truth about the Vallabhācārya issue in an unpalatable way. And he perfectly demonstrated how to present truth in a palatable way, as per his letter to Sumati Morarjee, dated 7th August, 1976. However, in conclusion, he establishes the principle that in discussions on śāstra, the usual etiquette of speaking only the palatable truth may not be followed, for speaking the truth is the highest principle. For the full letter, kindly visit the following link:
Thus, there is no need to edit Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books or anything he said for fear of public agitation. I request the author to desist from selectively quoting Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words, as it leads to misrepresenting him on almost anything he said. If Śrīla Prabhupāda really believed in avoiding unpalatable truth, then why did he speak about the Vallabhācārya incident in a public lecture in the first place, as kindly noted by Kaunteya Prabhu? For the public lecture, kindly visit the following link:
Conclusion: There is no trace of racism, sexism or “homophobia” in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings. He did condemn homosexual behavior only for the upliftment of his disciples in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He is the best example of contrary qualities: compassion and condemnation. The author also seems to agree to it on multiple occasions. However, I suggest the author and the readers to kindly consider the above points.
Jaya Nityananda Dasa
(“Nandagrama” Varnasrama Community Project)