In times where so many face disillusion and disappointment, a lecture from Srila Prabhupada from 2nd of August 1970, given in Los Angeles, may be a constant source of inspiration.
In the spring of 2014 a discussion amongst friends centered on how we would go about starting a rural community in the United States if a large sum of money happened to fall into our laps. We thought about the need for intentional design and considered the logistical reasons as to why community development has not yet happened successfully for ISKCON in America.
When, in the fall, devotees from an urban temple expressed their desire to start an ISKCON rural community someday, my thoughts precipitated as a four-page letter which was meant to express my initial, rough understanding as to why ISKCON in America, due to limitations inherent in its federal tax-exempt church status, could not be the entity to establish such communities. I also shared information about an alternative legal structure which potentially could work—one referred to by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as “501(d),” or tax-exempt “Religious or Apostolic Association,” which, according to the Internal Revenue Manual, is for the purpose of operating a “religious community where the members live a communal life following the tenets and teachings of the organization.”
I later met devotees in several places who fortuitously engaged me in conversations about rural community development. I found, however, that when I tried to explain my thoughts and understandings regarding the 501(d) legal structure, many responded with blank stares, doubts or objections. I realize now that before someone can accept the 501(d) model as being worthy of consideration, one needs background information concerning the need for, the purpose of and the nature of community—particularly, the type of rural Kṛṣṇa conscious communities that Śrīla Prabhupāda asked for, which he referred to as “our farms.” Thus, after further research, that original four-page letter has evolved into the form of this paper.
There is a wave of incrimination in the United States against powerful men in politics and the entertainment industry and who are being publicly accused in very large numbers of being raped and molested.
But then something that no one could have predicted happened. It was a pre-Twitter, pre-internet, highly analog version of #MeToo. To the surprise of millions of men, the nation turned out to be full of women—of all political stripes and socioeconomic backgrounds—who’d had to put up with Hell at work. Mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends, wives—millions of women shared the experience of having to wait tables, draw blood, argue cases, make sales, all while fending off the groping, the joking, the sexual pressuring, and the threatening of male bosses. They were liberal and conservative; white collar and pink collar; black and white and Hispanic and Asian. Their common experience was not political, economic, or racial. Their common experience was female.
Caitlin Flanagan, “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning”, 13 Nov. 2017, The Atlantic, 14 Nov. 2017 <https://www.theatlantic.com/. . .>
As followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda, we have been taught that service to the instructions of the guru (vāṇī) are given more importance than service to the form of the guru (vapuḥ). All of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers know this. However, sometimes according to personal taste or circumstance, we may focus more on one or the other.
This year in Vṛndāvana on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance day, there was an occasion to see this. In the morning during the ceremony in honor of His Divine Grace, various disciples of his were called upon to glorify their eternal spiritual master and share some remembrance of him with the rest of us. Many told personal stories of some pastime of his they personally witnessed or had the great fortune to be a part of.
It was noted that some devotees tended to give special emphasis to his instructions or tried to explain their experience with him with reference to śāstra. These were classified as vāṇī presentations. Others tended to focus on some interaction he had with him, how he dealt with them, how they were encouraged by him, and so forth. These were classified as vapuḥ presentations.
In the world outside of ISKCON, the controversy over the firing of a Google engineer for distributing an allegedly sexist manifesto can be seen from another non-spiritual perspective: competitive chess. In 2015, a similar firestorm within the sport arose when Nigel Short, a U.K. Grandmaster said that “we should ‘gracefully accept it as a fact’ that men possess different skills to women that make them better able to play chess at a high level.” The reaction was widespread and brutal yet irrational.
For example, many, including many women international grand masters, pointed out that former women’s world champion Judith Polgar had formerly trounced Short in a series of games and held this up as proof that he was wrong. “Judith Polgar, the former women’s world champion, beat Nigel Short eight classical games to three in total with five draws, said Amanda Ross, who runs the Casual Chess Club of London. “She must have brought her man brain. Let’s just hope Nigel didn’t crash his car on those days, trying to park it. At least this resolves the age-old debate as to whether there’s a direct link between chess-playing ability and intelligence. Clearly not.”
But to such criticisms, Short noted that outlier events do not invalidate the general case. “The fact that I have one bad score against an individual doesn’t prove anything” he said. “I’m talking about averages here . . . statistically women don’t [compete] in the same numbers. The average gap is pretty large and that is down to sex differences . . . Those differences exist.”
So, there is a lot of discussion in the news about a Google engineer who posted a 10-page internal memo at Google about improving work-place gender diversity without resorting to the usual affirmative action policies and who subsequently (and very quickly) got fired for it. Many have characterized the engineer’s manifesto as a heresy, most condemning it and others lauding it, one even comparing it to Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 Theses to the wall of the Roman Catholic Church.
But the most interesting part of this open discussion so far has been what some experts in the field of psychology have been saying. For the most part, the experts seem to agree with the engineer.
In an article titled “The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond,” (archived version here) one of the scientists, Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico, praises the memo for its adherence to science. He says, “Graded fairly, his memo would get at least an A- in any masters’ level psychology course.” He thinks it’s spot on in terms of the current understanding of science, even though it is diametrically opposed to prevailing attitudes and trends about gender equality. The rest of the scientists in the article are between somewhat to generally supportive of the memo.
“I am so much disgusted by this troublesome business of marriage, because nearly every day I receive some complaint from husband or wife, and practically this is not my business as sannyasi to be marriage counsellor, so henceforward I am not sanctioning any more marriages. . .
From a talk by Tamal Krishna Goswami
I will give you some instances to show you that Prabhupada was not equal to women. I was sitting with Prabhupada at 7 Bury Place, our first temple in London. He told me that if Jamuna Devi who was the wife of the temple president, had been a man, it would have been she that would have been the temple president. In other words, she was more qualified than her husband. But because she was a woman, he could not make her the temple president.
Later on, I was handed three slips of paper in which the names of different persons were listed when Prabhupada was preparing to form his first GBC. They finally found these three pieces of papers in the archives. They are in Prabhupada’s own handwriting on backs of envelopes and on the first two he lists, on one of them he lists three women, on one he lists two women and in the third list that I got, he lists only eleven men. And when he formed the GBC, there were no women. Now he wouldn’t allow women to be temple president, so how could he allow women to be GBC? I am just showing you how he was not equal.
Another way he was not equal is after a while, very rarely did women accompany him on a walk. Now the women claim that this is because of the sannyasis. I don’t know which sannyasis they are talking about, but some of the sannyasis, they say, were really pushing the women away and not letting them have an equal right. There may be some truth to that but Prabhupada allowed it. Prabhupada was not so unaware of the fact that there were no women on the walk. He could have said, “Where is so and so, where is so and so?” and he did used to say, “Where is so and so, where is so and so?” but that so and so was always a sannyasi or a senior man. So I don’t think that Prabhupada was equal to all.
In these matters woman is more than intelligent – she is brilliant! She so surpasses man in this regard it isn’t a contest! And it is only when man seeks to delight in her company and swim in the bountiful praise and glorification which she is so eager to shower upon him, does he also find meaning or purpose and indeed pleasure in sharing her vision of a permanent home in this miserable and so very temporary material world!
Though I was not in constant contact with Brahmananda Prabhu I always had great affection for him and Gargamuni Prabhu, the “love brothers” because of their unflinching faith in and pure unalloyed love for Srila Prabhupada. Brahmananda Prabhu was archetypal of what it meant to be a “Prabhupada man.” He would take a bullet for Srila Prabhupada and be happy to have had the opportunity.
For several months I had the urge to contact him but didn’t as something else would come up and now I am deeply regretting that I didn’t. I should have listened to that little voice like I did when I went to Vrndavana in 2008. I was having darshan of the Deities and was trying to make appropriate prayers to Them but I realized that in reality I don’t have a direct connection with Them. That it is Srila Prabhupada who is my direct connection to Sri-Sri Radha-Shyamasundara, Sri-Sri Krsna-Balarama, and Sri-Sri Gaura-Nitai, so I needed to focus on him and get his blessings. Shortly after this that little voice told me “go find Brahmananda and Gargamuni.” So I went to find the “Love Brothers,” the name they called themselves when they toured the US in the 1990s distributing Prabhupada mercy wherever they went. When I arrived at their domicile they very graciously welcomed me and it felt as if I had just returned after stepping out for a moment rather than it being more than ten years since last seeing Brahmananda and even longer for Gargamuni. We then spent several sweet hours discussing about Srila Prabhupada. The time I spent with the “brothers” was the highlight of my visit. I then realized why that little voice told me to find them. So I was very sad to hear of Brahmananda’s sudden departure and basically the rest of the week I was in mourning and watching videos of Brahmananda Prabhu on YouTube. If I felt terrible I cannot even comprehend how Gargamuni Prabhu is feeling and my sincere condolences to him who has lost not only a brother and god-brother but also his vartma-pradarsaka guru, who brought him to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada.
I don’t recall the first time that I met Brahmananda Prabhu but I do recall the first time I sensed that he had a very special connection with Srila Prabhupada. It was sometime between 1978-80 in Mayapura when he was giving Bhagavatam class. As he gave the class somehow the topic turned to Srila Prabhupada, Brahmananda’s voice started to choke up, I could see that he was struggling hard to control his emotions and continue with the lecture, but eventually he lost the struggle and began to openly weep and that was the apparent end of the class – but a very deep lesson for me. He was not putting on some cheap sahajiya exhibition but had very deep love and affection for Srila Prabhupada, a love that was palpable despite his efforts to hide it. And over the years the more I got to know Brahmananda Prabhu the more I appreciated that he was like the personification of love for Srila Prabhupada. And, though he was very senior to me in every possible way he always treated me with affection and respect. I never once felt that he was patronizing, arrogant, pulling rank or had a sense of superiority, importance or entitlement. In fact I found him to be learned on various topics but humble and kind, a quality we can all emulate with profit.