I suspect that there are many members of ISKCON who aren’t aware of an alarming decision made at this year’s Mayapur meetings by the GBC. The entire list of resolutions was released on their website Dandavats.com. Buried in the lengthy formal parliamentary legalese was Resolution 311:
Whereas some of Srila Prabhupada’s books contain sentences such as the following, which when taken in isolation may be considered derogatory to and offensive against women:
Although rape is not legally allowed, it is a fact that a woman likes a man who is very expert at rape. (SB 4.25.41, p.)
When a husbandless woman is attacked by an aggressive man, she takes his action to be mercy. (SB 4.25.42, p.)
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, p.)
Whereas some ISKCON devotees may have used these statements out of context as an excuse to offend, neglect and abuse women;
Whereas some people who read such statements may consider them to be derogatory or offensive, may misunderstand what Srila Prabhupada actually means, and may not want to further read those books, notwithstanding the many other beneficial statements in them;
RESOLVED: That the GBC Body recommends to the BBT Trustees that the above quotes, and other such statements as determined by the BBT, be explained in endnotes or in appendices.
So here we have justifications and a decision made that will affect the future of ISKCON in ways which may not be apparent at first glance. I’m not happy with this. I expect more foresight from those who expect my support and reverence.
I’d like to address these official justifications in the subtle-as-a-brick approach that those who know me personally have probably come to expect.
Look the issue in the eye and deal with it.
I read one devotee’s well-meant attempt to rationalize Srila Prabhupada’s use of the word ‘rape’. He explained that what he meant was different from how we interpret ‘rape’. According to his explanation, Srila Prabhupada’s idea of ‘rape’ was simply passionate intercourse. Due to a linguistic shift from British colonial English to contemporary English the semantics attached to the word ‘rape’ have changed.
This explanation isn’t consistent with what Srila Prabhupada said in a morning walk May 11, 1975, in Perth, Australia (bolding and underline added):
Devotee (1): They said that the man cannot be convicted of rape if he honestly believes that the woman consented to his raping her.
Prabhupada: 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 woman 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.
Devotee (1): So what this law means is that anybody can rape anybody.
Prabhupada: There is no law; it is all lusty desire. All law or no law, these are all nonsense. The sastra has… It is lusty desire, that’s all. Everyone wants to fulfill a lusty desires. So unless one is not in the modes of goodness or transcendental, everyone will like.
I included the rest of the selection so that the statement can be read in context. In no way is Srila Prabhupada condoning the act of rape. To take that meaning from this passage or his purports is cheating. Who would want to anyway? Unfortunately, I’ve heard that some supposed members of ISKCON have used such passages to justify horrendous acts to women.
After reading this passage it seems clear to me that when Srila Prabhupada wrote the word ‘rape’ he meant sex without consent and he also meant to inform us that some women enjoy it, provided that the man is expert.
Certainly, there is something in such a claim that doesn’t sit well with me but it is hard to dismiss outright considering the authority of the person who made it. Here, the person responsible for bringing me the most valuable knowledge I’ve ever been exposed to is pointing something out that I’ve never considered. It would be impudent of me, who claim to be his student, to not carefully deliberate over his explanation. Outright rejection of this statement may win the approval of others, but that’s not the goal of my life.
Personally, I don’t have any experience with rape. I’ve never done it and I never intend to. I have known a few women that have been through the experience and none of them claim to have enjoyed it. I don’t doubt them either.
Correcting Srila Prabhupada’s ‘incorrectness’
Is explaining these statements away with an endnote the way to resolve heterogeneous views? I don’t think so. I do think that education is, in general, a good way to approach controversy, but to attempt to educate right alongside what Srila Prabhupada wrote sets a precedent that may have repercussions that echo long after we are all dead and gone. The GBC, by Resolution 311, are giving license for anyone in the future to interrupt Srila Prabhupada’s tried and proven delivery of the disciplic message.
Imagine Srila Prabhupada sitting in front of you giving you instructions. All of a sudden someone interrupts and says “What Srila Prabhupada really means to say here is ….”. I’d prefer if we allowed Srila Prabhupada to speak for himself. After everything he has done, shouldn’t we have that much confidence in him?
No need to think. We’ve done that for you. Shut up and eat your halava.
This GBC Resolution 311 is insidious. I’m very surprised that, on the one hand, I’m expected to see the GBC as the proverbial ‘hand of God’ and live with such a decision and, on the other, risk being marginalized by expressing a contrary opinion. This is the only post that I’m aware of for which the GBC site Dandavats.com, in a totalitarian gesture, closed down comments. On their site we are welcome to waffle on and on about whether or not it’s ok to hug someone of the opposite gender, accept a wage or eat chocolate; but on an issue that has such widespread and deep repercussions as this we are unceremoniously hushed.
Some may think that compliance to this type of hierarchical control is inherent in the consciousness of a Vaishnava. They may feel that remaining quiet and obedient is tantamount to maintaining the respect for authority necessary for sane existence in this world. Although this principle is sattvik, it is subject to circumstances. In other words, as we pine for a utopian situation where all of our leaders are infallible we should also be aware of the vast amount of evidence that shows otherwise. Besides, Vaishnava culture has a vibrant intellectual history – its not just about shutting up and eating your halava. We can respectfully disagree.
Why does this issue exist?
Some of the individuals pushing the hardest to allow annotations have much more on their agenda to upgrade our society from one that submissively hears from Srila Prabhupada and accepts his teachings to something that sheepishly acquiesces to contemporary thinking. This is exactly the opposite of parampara.
The reasons I’m giving here against this resolution are the very reasons they will give in support of it. I’m saying that this decision sets the precedent that anyone can change Srila Prabhupada’s publications and their response is “Great! There’s lots more in his purports that need changed.”
The future according to Ekendra Dasa
Although I don’t claim to be a social visionary, I think the future is obvious. ISKCON, like so many other religious organizations, will gradually and naturally develop into fairly distinct denominations over these types of polemics. The issue here not being that one group supports rape and the other doesn’t, rather, one views Srila Prabhupada’s teachings as absolute and the other sees them as relative. Personally I don’t think that these diametric views can be reconciled within the same organization and that different social structures will eventuate to support both types of adherents.
If you don’t believe me – just look at Christianity. When I was a child, my mother used to take us to a denomination known as ‘The Church of Christ’ – emphasis on the word ‘The’. To get there we had to drive across town. Directly across the street from our home was a small church building with a sign out front that read ‘The Church of Christ’. I couldn’t understand why we just didn’t walk across the street on Sunday. As far as I could see, it was the same religion. When I grew up I learned that there were some minor differences in doctrine and practice and that I should pray for them to come around and see the light. Is it any wonder I began a search for a higher understanding?
I’m very grateful that my search for truth lead me to the teachings of His Divine Grace. I can’t claim to understand everything written within his books; but, as a practicing and contributing member of ISKCON, I do hope that our society is healthy enough to allow me to voice disagreement with those who, however well-meaning, are intent to tamper with them.
Any comments? Please don’t do it up like an Oprah Winfrey talkback session. Keep it respectful.