Dear Maharajas and Prabhus, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada
Kalakantha Prabhu (and probably some others) have been circulating a paper titled “Suniti’s Ineligibility in ISKCON”, dated 11 January, which is saved and edited by someone named Anuttama.IC as per the document properties. Their paper explains why they think Suniti was ineligible to become Dhruva Maharaja’s diksa-guru on account of being a mother only and not because of being a woman. Their paper, however, has numerous flaws, many of which substantially discredit their stance.
There is, however, one argument they make that stands out as being spectacularly flawed in terms of both specious use of propositional logic and contempt for basic English grammar. In their paper, they say:
“In simpler terms, the Suniti Statement cannot be taken as an indicator of disqualification of Suniti simply due to her womanhood, because the statement itself has an additional proposition connected by the logical connector AND. In order to take the Suniti statement and apply it in other contexts, one will have to take both logical propositions along with the propositional connector AND. One cannot remove a single proposition or the AND connector from the statement.”
The first problem is that they completely nullify “woman” as a prohibited category, despite the fact that Srila Prabhuapda said “being a woman.” In their misapplication of propositional logic, they have overlooked the fact that a “mother” is a “woman”. If you are a mother, then you are also a woman, and “woman” becomes a redundant term. And if you are a woman but not a mother, then according to their logic there is no prohibition at all. That means only “mother” is the prohibited category, and “woman” need never be considered.
The actual propositional logic is as follows: If B is a subset of A, then A AND B = B. In the same way “Woman” AND “Mother” = “Mother”. “Woman” as a term is completely unnecessary. (See attached graphic for illustration or Word document for further discussion.)
But in order for this result to stand, they have to believe that Srila Prabhupada himself made a mistake in his own purport by mentioning “woman”. Srila Prabhupada says, “Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja’s diksa-guru.” But according to Anuttama.IC, “being a woman” has nothing to do with Suniti’s ineligibility. If we accept their logic, then we must also accept that Srila Prabhupada made a mistake in saying “woman” and not just “mother.” Their conclusion depends on believing Srila Prabhupada, a pure devotee, made a mistake in his own Bhaktivedanta Purport.
The basic grammatical fault is that they read the phrase “being a woman, and specifically his mother” in the same way you would read the phrase “peanut butter and jelly.” Mother is a kind of woman, but peanut butter is not a kind of jelly, nor is jelly a kind of peanut butter. That is why peanut butter AND jelly both restrict a sandwich to a particular kind of sandwich. And this is how they read Srila Prabhupada’s statement.
But this is not the way to read it, and the plain grammar used in the text actually tells us so. In the statement “Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhurva Maharaja’s diksa-guru,” the comma between “being a woman” and “and specifically his mother” cannot be read as a serial comma, which separates list items as in “France, Spain, and Italy”. This last comma between “Spain” and “and” is also called the Oxford Comma. It is optional in lists of three or more items in a series and is never used for two items (we never say “peanut butter, and jelly” or “mac, and cheese”). So, “being a woman” and “and specifically his mother” are only two phrases, not three. That means the comma between them cannot be read as a serial comma.
The correct way to read the comma is as a part of what are called “parenthetical” commas, and whatever is between parenthetical commas is just given for further information about some word or phrase without restricting it. For example, “Krishna Das, my only brother, came home after a long trip.” Because Krishna Das is a particular person, the phrase “my only brother” gives further information about him but does not restrict or modify the term it is connected to. That is how the phrase “and specifically his mother” has to be read in relation to “being a woman”.
The pair of commas enclosing “and specifically his mother” are parenthetical, and the Chicago Manual of Style (used by the BBT) and other style manuals and grammars are in agreement that parenthetical commas (or pairs of dashes or actual parentheses) generally indicate that a phrase is only intended to give us further information about the term it is subordinate to, without modifying it. Similarly, “and specifically his mother” is subordinate to “being a woman” and does not modify it; it is given only for our further information. Therefore, in Srila Prabhupada’s statement, Suniti’s being a woman is the only criterion that needs to be considered, since the grammar indicates that being a mother is not restrictive. (Please see the attached document for citations from the Chicago Manual of Style, etc. for further evidence.)
So, what happened to the argument in the paper written by Anuttama.IC and others is a case of “garbage in, garbage out.” They didn’t pay enough attention to basic grammar, so they misunderstood the relationship between the terms “woman” and “mother” that Srila Prabhupada intended. And then their misunderstanding became the basis of their logical reasoning, which also produced a too-good-to-be-true conclusion (for them) that necessarily requires also having to believe that Srila Prabhupada himself, not anyone else, in his own Bhaktivedanta Purports has spoken in error. This is not merely “garbage out” but quite troubling.
The bottom line is that standing by the conclusion reached by Anuttama.IG and others necessarily requires a reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books that is not in line with the grammar used, and not just for this particular passage. If grammar employed in Srila Prabhupada’s books, according to his order, can be so easily and frequently dispensed with, whether by readers or others, in pursuit of some fad or agenda, then does that not indicate that we don’t have so much love for Srila Prabhupada’s life work after all? Is that our future?
I hope not,
p.s. Attached files: graphic and PDF file and MS Word version.
Dear Krishna-kirti Prabhu,
Things seem to be simpler if we take unedited transcription from manuscript of Srila Prabhupada’s commentary of SB 4.12.32:
“Suniti, however, being in family relationship with Dhruva, his mother, and also a woman, could not become the diksa guru of Dhruva Maharaja“.
This shows that Srila Prabhupada meant as disqualification of being diksa-guru any type of family relationship between guru and disciple, not just motherhood. Relationship “mother-child” between Suniti and Dhruva is just a particular case of family relationship. In this regard a sex of guru or disciple, related with family relationship, does not matter. (Bhaktivinoda Thakura did not give diksa to his son Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, being in family relationship with him, his father, not his mother).
If so, then the words “and also a woman” become independent cause which made Suniti unable to initiate Dhruva. That is family relationship is a sufficient cause to disqualify a person to be a diksa-guru, and also womanhood is a sufficient cause to disqualify a person to be a diksa-guru.
AND connector in this phrase means merely that in the particular case of Suniti both causes (family relationship and womanhood) were present.
Just an example of the similar construction: “Bhakta Burfi is a devotee of Krishna and also has no free time, that’s why he can not watch the cricket match tomorrow”. This phrase also has AND indicator between the two causes independent from each other, just because both causes are present in the particular case of bhakta Burfi. And it would be strange to interpret it in such a way that only a devotee who has no free time cannot watch the cricket match – no, any devotee cannot watch the cricket match and any person having no free time also cannot watch the cricket match.