A review of the book ‘Woman Diksha Guru’

In the following exchange between Krishna Kirti Prabhu and Kaunteya Prabhu that took place on the GBC conference, we see that the Feminist party in ISKCON represented in this case by Kaunteya has to go to the enemies of our Sampradaya to gain support for their objective of establishing female diksha gurus.

The object of discussion is a book, Did Srila Prabhupada Want Women Diksa-gurus? written by Kaunteya dasa. Urmila devi dasi comments, “What an incredible book. I believe this answers just about everything and considers every angle about women being gurus.”

Urmila dd is so blinded by the ambition of being a diksha guru that she would risk the integrity of our Sampradaya in order to achieve it. Yet she is a senior member of the SAC. Can we have any faith in a person who puts their own ambition before that of Lord Caitanya’s mission?

What to speak of Kaunteya Prabhu. He is co-Minister of ISKCON Congregational Development Ministry, and a member of both the GBC Organizational Development Committee and the GBC Strategic Planning committee.

We cannot have people who openly side with the enemies of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada to have any position of responsibility in ISKCON. We implore the GBC to remove these people from positions of responsibility in ISKCON.

From: Krishna Kirti Das ( krishnakirti@gmail.com)
Date: Sat, Feb 23, 2013 at 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: Unethical use of my name
To: Kaunteya Das ( kaunteya.jps@gmail.com)
Cc: [extensive distribution]

Dear Kaunteya Prabhu,

You wrote that you think my statements “were presented accurately” by you and that my “lengthy text did not change that impression”. The only reason my text was lengthy was that the sheer amount of text you cut from my text was lengthy. You cut out more than 50 lines of my own text just to sandwich together those two pieces of text to create a paragraph, and you think that’s “ethical”? It is not.

So we are not going to merely “agree to disagree on this one.” Since you are determined not to understand my position on this, what remains in this message is not meant for you. Henceforeward don’t reply to this message if you do not want to be included on it.

To the other Maharaja’s and Prabhus, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

There are deep problems with Kaunteya Prabhu’s presentation. Even if you sympathize with his advocacy, you should be against the way he has gone about pursuing it in his book. His method is no different from other methods used by ritvikists and others, who present speculative ideas in Srila Prabhupada’s name. Here are some glaring examples in Kaunteya Prabhu’s text:

  • A lengthy appendix advocating the legitimacy of women wearing the sacred thread, including pictures of ancient statues of women wearing them. But Srila Prabhupada opposed this: “Even you’ll find in the picture of Ramacandra and Sita, Ramacandra has got sacred thread but Sita hasn’t got. That is the system. So this is Vedic system, that woman is given the mantra but not the sacred thread. Even she’s born of a brahmana father, there is no such system.” (Lecture, May 21, 1968, Boston). Moreover, Srila Prabhupada was always consistent on this point. Yet here we find Kaunteya working to contradict this.

 

  • An attempt to establish the legitimacy of the the line of Bipin Bihari Goswami within ISKCON. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura did not give credence to the disciplic succession coming through Bipin Bihari Goswami. It was for this reason that Lalit Prasad criticized him, and scholars like Jagatananda and Nitai (the one rejected by Srila Prabhupada) continue to criticize both Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. So now for the sake of finding legitimate examples of female diksha-gurus, Kaunteya is now siding with the enemies of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Srila Prabhupada. It is deeply troubling that someone so close to ISKCON’s GBC is making making this argument.

 

  • An attempt to show that Srila Prabhupada generally approved of women in positions of leadership. Kaunteya writes that “the idea that Çréla Prabhupäda wasn’t expecting ISKCON women to take leadership roles appears unsubstantiated by the historical record” and that ” and that Srila Prabhupada approved of it in principle. But not only does the “historical record” not include any instances of there being temple presidents or GBCs under Srila Prabhupada, but Srila Prabhupada also opposed women leaders in principle. In the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes in SB 10.4.5, “As we learn from the history of the Mahabharata, or ‘Greater India,’ the wives and daughters of the ruling class, the kshatriyas, knew the political game, but we never find that a woman was given the post of chief executive.

This is in accordance with the injunctions of Manu-samhita, but unfortunately Manu-samhita is now being insulted, and the Aryans, the members of Vedic society, cannot do anything.” As cited by Kaunteya, Srila Prabhupada’s expressed approval for women temple presidents, or gurus for that matter, was as an exception, not as a general rule. It is therefore incorrect to say that Srila Prabhupada approved of female temple presidents or other leadership positions in society when he is on record as having stated otherwise and in practice did not implement.

These major problems in Kaunteya Prabhu’s presention are examples of what is called specious resaoning. “Specious” means that some argument looks credible on its face but in actuallity it is faulty or actually unacceptable. Ritvikists are well known for their ability to cull statements from the body of Srila Prabhupada’s literature to put forward some imaginary idea of what Srila Prabhupada wanted. But specious reasoning of this kind or magnitude is not at all limited to ritvikists. It is all too common within our ISKCON society.

Such devotees start with their own idea of what they think Srila Prabhupada said or wanted, and then they go about selecting Srila Prabhupada’s statements that support their idea and leave aside others that do not support it. In religious studies, such selective emphasis of scripture or tradition is called “revisionism”, and people who pursue such motivated scholarship are called “revisionists.”

The effect is that revisionism’s discursive, selective approach to scholarship produces biased, usually erroneous notions, of what is supposed to accurately represent some original, religious principle or ideal. As the above cited examples show, Prabhu Kaunteya’s book is an study in such revisionism. He has adopted the same methodology that ritvikists have used in creating their own philosophy: it is highly discursive, it makes little if any distinction in the relative authority of different paramanas, save and except their utility in supporting his thesis. The consequence, as described above, is that in trying to prove that women may become diksha-gurus without reservation, he has to entertain conclusions on other related matters that should disturb any right-thinking devotee.

The means do not justify the ends–even in the application of discussion of siddhantas. As we have seen with the ritviks, their intent was to rectify the problems of so many gurus falling down and the consequences of that. But because they proceeded by an incorrect method they came to wrong conclusions and created so many disturbances. In the same way, we have also seen that Kaunteya Prabhu by employing a similar approach has produced many highly questionable conclusions on related matters. Therefore even if you sympathize with Kaunteya Prabhu’s final conclusion, you should oppose the way that he has arrived at that conclusion.

Your servant, Krishna-kirti das

In any case the receivers of these texts can form their own opinion and take their own decision on the matter by studying the book.

You wrote: “you think of us as non-devotees”; I don’t see why you came to this conclusion. I, for one, certainly consider you as a devotee. We might have differences of opinion and I might disagree with some of the things you wrote, but certainly it never crossed my mind to consider you as a non-devotee. I apologize if I have given you or anyone else that impression.

In any case, please remove me from this thread.

Your servant, Kaunteya das

 

On Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 2:58 PM, Krishna Kirti Das wrote:

Dear Kaunteya Prabhu and others, Hare Krishna.

I have noted that you have only addressed my objection to your unethical use of my name, not my objection of your misuse of my statements themselves.

But here is my brief response to your reply. Firstly, from your book, no one who is not already familiar with the original content by the anonymously cited authors or intimately familiar with the authors themselves can verify that what you have cited is accurate. The general readership is at a loss to detect inadvertent mistakes or intentional fabrications. If you are a liberated soul who cannot commit mistakes, this policy makes sense. But that is probably not that case. It’s as if you don’t want your readers to fact-check your work. (How come?)

Secondly, you are being disingenous when you say that “We don’t doubt anyone’s good motivations; we believe that all Vaiñëavas involved in this discussion have the benefit of ISKCON at heart and we offer our prostrated obeisances to all of them, begging forgiveness for any offence we might commit during this writing.” This is BS. If that were true, then you should have had no reservation about citing by name authors you object to–especially if their texts are public–because if, as devotees, they have all the honorable intentions that you ascribe to your own selves, then they would have no objection to you criticizing their statements, just as you would have no objection to their criticizing yours. But you say like this because you think of us as non-devotees, like the demons who unintentionally praise Krishna by their criticism.

Thirdly, this says more about you than your opponents: “the publishers chose not to attribute those statements to their authors to prevent their public embarrassment.” It’s as if it never occurred to you that you yourself, or your publishers, are capable of making the kinds of big errors that would give rise to public embarrasment, for making statements that are “inappropriate or illogical”. You can, and do, make those kinds of big mistakes.

For example, what follows is a statement synthesized from excerpts of things I have written and which you and your colleagues have attributed to some anonymous author. When we compare your hack job and what I had actually written, we see very different things being said: you say that this statement suggests that we “dismiss all of Srila Prabhupada’s recorded teachings” on this matter. But this is not what I (the author of the sentences you borrowed) had said–not even close.

As we shall see, I never said, or inferred, that we dismiss all of Srila Prabhupada’s recorded teachings. I did not even infer that we should dismiss any of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. Instead, the straightforward intent of the unchanged text was that Srila Prabhupada’s intentions on this matter are liable to be misunderstood and, in such cases, requires that we appeal to the tradition he represents in order to properly understand his intentions. This is exactly what the GBC did in the face of the rtvik controversy. (And as we have seen before, the ritviks accused the GBC of “Jumping over” Srila Prabhupada to invalidate his statements, exactly as you have accused me.)

The text elided from my statement produces a different understanding than what is found in the unchanged text. In other words, you have fabricated some statement from bits and pieces of my text, and then you have attributed them to some anonymous author. Devotees who are familiar with my style and author’s voice will be misled by you to think I said such a thing, and devotees unfamiliar with my style will think someone had actually written it. In both cases they would be wrong, and it would be because you and your colleagues willfully misled them.

— QUOTE: your synthesis —

An important point to keep in mind in all of this is that the sheer volume of Srila Prabhupada’s recorded teachings along with a burgeoning secondary literature of personal reminiscences of Srila Prabhupada allow anyone with the wherewithal and a small investment in technology to easily gather as many of Srila Prabhupada’s statements as he likes to support whatever cause strikes his fancy. . . . So, given the wide range of speculation possible by extensively quoting Srila Prabhupada to support any agenda, however questionable, this present controversy over what Srila Prabhupada intended his society to become will have to be decided by appealing to the tradition Srila Prabhupada himself represents. I do not believe another way is open to us.

– Email dated 15 November 2012, PAMHO text 24353847

— END QUOTE —

And this is your reading of the above statement:

— QUOTE: page 108 —

In other words, the suggestion is that, in discussing if women can become dékñä-gurus, we should dismiss all of “Çréla Prabhupäda’s recorded teachings” and instead independently look for answers in the “tradition Çréla Prabhupäda himself represents.” This devotee recommends that we jump over the Founder- Äcärya – ignoring all his written and spoken instructions – and try to ascertain the path forward for ISKCON by digging around whatever books, oral folklore or archeological relics we feel best embody the “tradition.” In other words, Çréla Prabhupäda was incapable of communicating the message and values of the tradition he represented; he was unable to give clear directions to his followers.

— end quote —

Here is what I actually wrote (content excluded by Kaunteya bolded, or between asterisks):

— QUOTE —

An important point to keep in mind in all of this is that the sheer volume of Srila Prabhupada’s recorded teachings along with a burgeoning secondary literature of personal reminiscences of Srila Prabhupada allow anyone with the wherewithal and a small investment in technology to easily gather as many of Srila Prabhupada’s statements as he likes to support whatever cause strikes his fancy. *An effect of this has been that we are highly susceptible to speculative interpretations of Srila Prabhupada’s intentions that turn out to be unmoored from the tradition he represents.*

— END QUOTE —

This only the beginning of Kaunteya et al’s gross misrepresentation and misuse of my statements. As we see when the content he elided is restored, a different point emerges: Srila Prabhupada’s own statements are succeptible to speculative interpretations that are not in line with our parampara understanding. Nowhere have I inferred that Srila Prabhupada’s statements should be abandoned. Therefore eliding text for the sake of brevity (which is sometimes warranted) is unwarranted in this case because doing so produces a substantially different meaning.

Continuing on, in the original text a further exposition of what is meant by “speculative interpretations of Srila Prabhupada’s intentions” is given (the lower-case quote/end-quote markers are part of my original text under discussion):

— QUOTE —

For example, here is one devotee’s recent remarks regarding what he believes is Srila Prabhupada’s desire to have women as diksha-gurus:

— quote —

After studying carefully all the Stree Dharma emphasis quotes and all the Preaching Dharma quotes it becomes apparent that Srila Prabhupada’s genius of ‘adding Preaching Dharma’ to Stree Dharma can easily be implemented harmoniously throughout ISKCON as he intended with enormous preaching advantages.

— end quote —

But notice how closely this statement resembles the form and substance of the next one, which is by someone who is much reviled throughout ISKCON:

— quote —

“The important point is that although the ritvik system may be totally unique, . . . it does not violate higher order sastric principles. It is testament to Srila Prabhupada’s genius that he was able to mercifully apply such sastric principles in new and novel ways according to time, place, and circumstance.” (The Final Order page 31)

— end quote —

Both authors attribute to Srila Prabhupada the creation of something new. Each also attribute the new creation to Srila Prabhupada’s “genius.” And each presumes that lack of precedent is irrelevant. What this shows is that in practice all kinds of far-out, fantastic ideas devotees come up with are attributed to Srila Prabhupada. And in practice the deciding factor is usually one’s own disposition, which is very subjective.
— END QUOTE —

The last two sentences in the above quotation of what I had actually written make crystal clear that the intent of my text is that all kinds of speculative ideas are ascribed to Srila Prabhupada using Srila Prabhupada’s own words. Indeed, it is pointing out how wrong this folio-scholarship is, and how in the name of Srila Prabhupada such specious, technologically-aided scholarship is misleading devotees. This has nothing to do at all with abandoning Srila Prabhupada’s statements, as Kaunteya Prabhu has asserted.

So, now to the last part of my complete correspondence. All the text between the previous set of QUOTE/END QUOTE markers had been elided by Kaunteya. And this next and final excerpt from my original text underscores the point we have been making throughout this analysis: the argument of my original text is very different from the one that Kaunteya fabricates from my text. (Elided portion in bold or between asterisks.)

— QUOTE —

*In this way, Srila Prabhupada’s body of literature becomes an instrumental means to some other end. It is something like a Gita commentary whose main purpose is to help businessmen better organize their lives so they can earn more money. But that is not why Krishna spoke the Gita. He had some other purpose. In the same way there are many devotees who use the vast body of Srila Prabhupada literature to put forward ideas that he would have likely disapproved of. Srila Prabhupada called this Mayavada-bhashya.*

So, given the wide range of speculation possible by extensively quoting Srila Prabhupada to support any agenda, however questionable, this present controversy over what Srila Prabhupada intended his society to become will have to be decided by appealing to the tradition Srila Prabhupada himself represents. I do not believe another way is open to us.

— END QUOTE —

So the actual meaning of the conclusion to my text is made evident by the elided paragraph: SP’s words can and have been used in specious arguments to advance some idea SP never endorsed. It means understanding SP’s words within the tradition he represents, not outside of it. There is no idea expressed directly or indirectly in the text to abandon Srila Prabhupada’s teachings for some other purvacharya’s teachings that is more to our liking.

To say that Kaunteya’s revision and my original are not so different is to confuse author’s voice and style with the content of the message. Yes, Kaunteya and his colleagues have partially quoted some things I have said, and he has put them together in a manner of his own choosing and has produced a “Krishna-kirti-ish”-looking statement. But that is where the resemblance ends. The essence, or self-evident meanings of both statements, are different.

The difference is something the art produced by an avant garde artist who finds car parts in a junk yard and assembles them into a car-like piece of art. Although the new exhibit uses car parts and has a car-ish appearance, it is not, in essence, a car. That is Kaunteya et. al’s misrepresentation of my statements and their misrepresentations of many others.

So, yes. I deeply object to having my statements misrepresented like this and used in ways to convey ideas I had never intended.

Sincerely,

Your servant, Krishna Kirti Das

 

On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 8:14 AM, Kaunteya Das wrote:

Thank you very much Krishna Kirti Prabhu for providing an opportunity for clarification. Please share my answer with whoever might share a similar impression as yours.

Although Badrinarayan Prabhu has already briefly – but accurately – explained the situation, I perhaps should say a few more words.

You wrote, about the WDG book: “in that book my name has been cited as a contributor”

Yes, your name has been cited in the “Acknowlegments” section (together with the name of more than forty other devotees) with the specific prelude:

“Directly or indirectly; in bigger or smaller ways; knowingly or unknowingly; by writing, by editing, by giving feedback or by taking part in the dialogue; the following devotees have contributed to the realization of this book. Many, many thanks to all of them”

You have certainly taken “part in the dialogue” by vigorously sharing your views and your opinions in a variety of mediums; let me take the opportunity to thank you personally, on behalf of the Eye of the Storm publishing house.

Again: You are not being thanked for supporting the conclusions of the WDG book, but for participating in churning the topic and for bringing to the attention of the publishers various aspects of the dialogue. As mentioned at page 229, in the “Conclusion” section:

“In one sense we are very grateful to those who have expressed their reservations, because they inspired us to dive deeper into the ocean of Çréla Prabhupäda’s instructions to extract luminous gems that dispel doubt and clarify the subject.”

As far as what you wrote regarding the “number of statements of mine, for which the authors have neither given me proper attribution”:

There are at least three reasons why at the Eye of the Storm we consciously adopted this editorial policy regarding yours and other devotees’ statements. The first reason is explained at page 30:

“We don’t doubt anyone’s good motivations; we believe that all Vaiñëavas involved in this discussion have the benefit of ISKCON at heart and we offer our prostrated obeisances to all of them, begging forgiveness for any offence we might commit during this writing. Our addressing of their opinions should not be taken as a personal attack, and therefore we won’t mention their names, only what they say.”

In other words, the publishers chose to avoid connecting certain individuals with their views and instead chose to present their opinions so that the reader could evaluate the worth of their ideas without being influenced by who expressed them.

The second reason is that, frankly speaking, some of the objections appeared quite inappropriate and illogical. The publishers chose not to attribute those statements to their authors to prevent their public embarrassment.

The third reason is that the publishers didn’t want to create the impression that a particular devotee is permanently “married” to a particular view; we believe that people have the capacity – once offered higher knowledge and better arguments – to change their minds. We didn’t want to publicly (and permanently) associate some devotees with ideas they might change in the future.

I hope this clarifies the situation and addresses your concerns.

Your servant, Kaunteya das

 

On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 6:00 PM, Krishna Kirti Das wrote:

Dear Maharajas and Prabhus, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

A devotee named Kaunteya Prabhu is distributing a book amongst you titled *Did Srila Prabhupada Want Women Diksa-gurus?,* and in that book my name has been cited as a contributor without stating my position anywhere whatsover on the matter.

By doing this, the authors of this book, and Kaunteya by enthusiastically distributing it, are misrepresenting me as a supporter of their thesis (I do not support it), and they have similarly misused a number of statements of mine, for which the authors have neither given me proper attribution nor have contacted me about them.

This gross misrepresentation of my name and misuse of my statements is unethical and against our personalist ethos.

If anyone has any questions about my position on the matter, which is by now being circulated in a paper jointly composed with Sri Basu Ghosh Prabhu and written on behalf of the India RGB, I would be happy to answer them in a personal email or phone call.

Your servant, Krishna Kirti Das

p.s. It is also the case that the authors of this book have similarly cited many other devotees who are known to stand against their thesis without properly attributing their statements or stating anywhere their position on the matter.

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