From: Krishna Kirti Das <>
Date: Sun, Aug 7, 2022 at 9:01 PM
Subject: A formal challenge to the SAC for a sastrartha
To: Urmila devi dasi/Dr. Edith Best <>
Dear Urmila Mata Ji, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The ISKCON India Scholars Board formally challenges the Sastric Advisory Council to a public sastrartha, refereed and judged by learned scholars agreeable to both sides, with regard to the adhikara of women to become acarya (“diksha-guru”).
As Narayani (ACBSP) Mata Ji’s approval by the GBC is considered imminent (and perhaps that of your own self and some other women as well), and because Narayani Mata Ji herself is a member of the SAC, and you are also the SAC’s Chairperson, it would be improper of her and any other women to become diksha-guru without you, Narayani Mata Ji and the SAC first defending her adhikara to become diksha-guru in a public debate.
As the matter is one of great importance for all devotees around the world, and for the welfare of society in general, it is most important that this matter be settled once and for all. The objective of the public debate is to remove all doubts as to whether the GBC’s action is in line with the teachings of our disciplic succession, or not. Removing doubt on this matter will lift a great burden on the society.
The traditional way that such controversies have been settled is through a sastrartha, which is a public debate held among learned scholars and refereed and judged by similarly learned and neutral scholars. A well-known example of this, which you all give reference to in the SAC’s own hermeneutics course materials, is the famous sastrartha held to settle the parakiyavad/svakiyvad controversy in our own parampara. The result of that debate was the svakiyavadis renounced their creed and gave all of their followers and disciples to the parakiyavadis. And, of course, the controversy disappeared.
The preliminary conditions are:
- The GBC must honour a moratorium on approving any women for becoming diksha-guru prior to the outcome of the debate.
- Members of both the SAC and IISB must pledge to honour and abide by the decision of the judges, regardless of whether the GBC honours it. (Though the GBC should honour it, since such an undertaking is to be done as per sastra and our parampara.)
If the decision goes against the IISB, then our side, both the institution and us members as individuals, can never oppose women for becoming diksha-guru, and we will have to retract or renounce our published opposition to women becoming diksa-guru. We would have to do that because that is what the truth would demand of us. To do otherwise would be dishonourable.
But if the judgment is against your side, then you should also abide by the truth. That would mean that you, Narayani Mata Ji, and any other women associated with the SAC must never become diksha-guru—even if the GBC takes the ill-advised action of ignoring the outcome. Nor can the SAC as an institution or its individual members continue to promote the idea. The SAC and individual members would have to retract or renounce their published papers and opinions on the matter, just like we would in the case that we lost. That is what the truth would dictate.
And the whole purpose of having the sastrartha is to establish beyond any reasonable doubt what is the truth—and not just for us alone but for everyone. The risk to us personally may be very high, but does this purpose not justify the risk? We think it does. It also affords you the opportunity to silence your opposition for good and to establish your own independent authority beyond any reasonable doubt. We therefore believe that it is in your own best interest and the interest of the greater society for the SAC to accept our challenge.
If these terms are agreeable to you, we can begin discussion about selecting mutually acceptable referees (madhyasthas) and other necessary details for implementing the sastrartha.
But if you ignore or refuse to accept our challenge to debate us publicly, then you will do grave, irreparable harm not only to your own reputations but to the GBC and SAC as institutions as well.
A refusal to participate in a sastrartha will show that your own self, Narayani Mata Ji, and other women, despite claiming an adhikara to be diksha-guru, and for some of you also being members of the SAC and therefore presenting yourselves as scholars, are nonetheless incapable of defending that adhikara in the presence of other neutral and learned scholars. It would be something like claiming to have earned a PhD without having defended your doctoral thesis in the presence of other established PhDs.
If the GBC itself refuses to honour our challenge, it will demonstrate that the GBC has no confidence that the SAC or women aspiring to become diksha-guru are capable of defending themselves in public and in the presence of neutral, qualified scholars.
It will furthermore show that when faced with substantial philosophical and theological objections to any particular agenda, the GBC and SAC both prefer to settle the matter through politics rather than the philosophical methods taught in Srila Prabhupada’s books.
In fact, some past events suggest this is has already been the case. One of the SAC’s founding members resigned during the production of the SAC’s 2013 paper on the topic of women’s adhikara to become diksha-guru. He felt that his objections were either misrepresented or ignored entirely. On account of this he resigned from the SAC.
It should also be noted that the SAC has not been held accountable either by itself or by the GBC for deficiencies in its own scholarship. For example, in both its 2005 and 2013 papers on women as diksha-gurus, SAC scholars had claimed that there is no prohibition in pancharatrika literature to women acting as diksha-guru. But this is in fact untrue. The Narada-pancharatra/Bharadvaj-samhita (1.42 – 44) does in fact contain such a prohibition, and that other acaryas such as Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana (his commentary to SB 1.13.15) explicitly quote these shlokas and comment on them (the translation and source is available at the IISB website). Yet neither the SAC nor GBC have ever acknowledged this positive evidence in favour of the opposition.
So, it is for reasons like these and others that a public sastrartha, or debate, should be held between the IISB and SAC and honoured by the GBC. By doing this, we can reach an unbiased consensus among the opposing parties that the final outcome, whether for or against the GBC’s idea of women’s adhikara for becoming diksha-guru, represents the unified intent of the sastras, previous acaryas and Srila Prabhupada.
Sastrarthas are a bona fide means of settling such controversies within our own parampara. And if conducted properly, the outcome will rectify any past faults on either side and remove a heavy burden of doubt that has sapped much energy from other endeavours, like preaching.
It may be questioned whether a sastrartha usurps the GBC’s role as Ultimate Managing Authority. If a sastrartha is to be moderated by outsider experts, does that not supersede the GBC’s adhikara given by Srila Prabhupada to take final decisions on all matters in ISKCON? It does not, because the sastrartha is a method employed by our acaryas to resolve such matters, and the methods used by our acaryas should always be an option.
For example, Vedanta-desika (Visistadvaita, Sri Vaisnava) was accepted as the umpire between Aksobhya Tīrtha (Dvaita, the same Aksobhya in our own guru-parampara) and Vidyaranya (Advaita). The reason both Aksobhya Tirtha and Vidyaranya together selected Vedanta-desika is that he was known as thoroughly learned in the Mimamsa principles of interpretation and was therefore fit to referee and judge the debate.
A properly conducted sastrartha makes clear the unified understanding of guru-sadhu-sastra on any matter, and if that unified understanding provides options, the GBC as Ultimate Managing Authority has the adhikara to choose from among them. The sastrartha does not intrude on the GBC’s adhikara as ISKCON’s Ultimate Managing Authority.
And finally, we believe that Srila Prabhupada himself would support the purpose and form of our challenge to you. Please consider these statements from Srila Prabhupada.
So far the impersonalist rascal, you may simply challenge him by asking “what is your philosophy.” It is not very difficult to defeat these persons, because they haven’t got any substance, simply big words. But we have got our books, Bhagavad-gita—if you engage him in public debate, politely handle his statements with a cool head and reply from the authority of our books, that’s all. Krishna will give you all help to expose his lack of knowledge and his faulty understanding.
(Letter to: Sri Galim — Bombay 17 December, 1971)
Prabhupada: A demon does not believe in God. Defies God that is demon.
Guest: I can’t quite understand why consciousness can be transferred, can be communicated in debatable argument. You can try it, communicate consciousness, or assume that people have different consciousness.
Prabhupada: So what is your idea? To change the consciousness?
Guest: You seem to be anxious to change the consciousness, or impose.
Prabhupada: Everything is changed by debate and argument.
Guest: I don’t go there.
Prabhupada: Yes, why do you go to the Parliament?
Guest: I don’t go.
Prabhupada: You don’t go but your father goes.
Revatinandana: So that you will not discuss. [indistinct], the [indistinct]…. one man.
Guest: [indistinct] Prabhupāda: Yes, discussion, human reasoning’s are there, philosophies are there, so you can establish the truth by discussion but if you are not after truth that is a different thing, that is a different thing. But if you are after truth, the truth must be established by bona-fide discussion.
Guest: I thought that the truth is, is, the truth of consciousness is that it is inside one, and it is alive and conscious. Not something that can be established with an objective truth. External to be.
Prabhupada: No, objective truth, truth is true. Just like God is truth, so we are not establishing God by discussion. God is there already we have to understand God by discussion, that’s it. Truth is already there.
Guest: We seem to be in a situation of hostility here which is totally unnecessary.
Prabhupada: No, why unnecessary? All preacher did it, eh? Lord Jesus Christ he preached and because people did not agree with him he was crucified. So discussion is always there, you cannot avoid it. Why he was crucified? What was his fault? Because people did not agree with Him. That’s all.
(Room Conversation with John Papworth and Schumacher, Aug 4, 1973, London)
We feel that these statements from Srila Prabhupada—and there are many more like them—support having a debate such as we have proposed.
So, we hope that the SAC and GBC agree to accept our challenge and join us, the IISB, in a sastrartha.
Sincerely, on behalf of the ISKCON India Scholars Board, whose members have each personally reviewed this letter and have assented to it,
Krishna Kirti Das
Convenor, ISKCON India Scholars Board
p.s. The membership list of the ISKCON India Scholars Board can be accessed here: https://iisb.co.in/members
Also, we will soon be announcing our challenge to you on our website and in other public venues.
cc. SAC members, GBC members.
And Mother Urmila’s reply:
Dear Krishna Kirti Prabhu,
Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
I acknowledge receipt of your invitation to the SAC for its members to participate in a debate on women giving diksa. According to the official SAC protocol and by-laws, only the GBC body or the GBC EC can request SAC for service. And, SAC, even with a request from the EC or the whole GBC body, can decline. The SAC does not consider service requests (or challenges to a debate!) from any individual GBC member, from any ISKCON body other than the GBC (including the deputies, SABHA, a GBC ministry, continental board, etc.), or from any individual ISKCON member.
Of course, individual SAC members may also write, publish, teach, and debate completely in their capacity as an individual member of ISKCON, working under the authority of their spiritual masters and local or international ISKCON leadership. Such research, writing, public speaking, and so forth of individual SAC members, acting outside of SAC service, does not represent SAC, and has no greater or lesser effect on GBC policy and ISKCON management as compared to any other member of ISKCON in good standing.
I hope this meets you in good health and blissful Krishna consciousness.
Your servant, Urmila devi dasi