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Women and Gender Roles

Page history last edited by Malati Manjari 12 years, 4 months ago

New Vrindavan, date unknown 

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

 

Darshan about gender specific roles and activities, treating women as mothers, how Srila Prabhupada wanted women to be protected and women in Vedic Culture

 

Whenever we quote Prabhupada we should always keep in mind that Prabhupada usually made many statements on the same topic. We find letters from Prabhupada in which he encouraged women who, because of circumstances, were not going to get married. Another point is that Prabhupada’s statements are more descriptive than normative. A descriptive statement means that you simply describe something, like “the sky is blue” or “There are many hills in West Virginia”. A normative statement means the way something should be, like “there should be hills in WV.” So even if there aren’t hills, there should be, which implies that there is something morally wrong with not having hills there. Another example: If I tell you that you should get up early in the morning, that’s a normative statement. But if I say “you do get up early in the morning”, it doesn’t attach any value to it, it is just a descriptive statement. In saying, “in general girls get married”, on one level Prabhupada is probably just describing the way the world is.

 

 

I read an article, there was one phenomenon where a lot of girls in their twenties were feminists, saying, “we don’t have to get married because we don’t need that.” When they got to their 30ties they literally started panicking. And I have known many women like that. They started to panic because the ideology didn’t give them a kick any more. The thrill of ideology wore off and their nature kicked in. They started panicking and became desperate because they realized that they passed their child bearing age. That was a whole social phenomenon in America. I read another article that talked about a major shift in the whole feminist movement. Of course anything as broad as the feminist movement has many different manifestations and is very complex, but still there is a center and mainstream, just like in the Hare Krishna movement.

 

 

If you look at it in the 60ies and 70ies, it tended to reflect the social climate in those times. It was very ideological, making all kind of almost neo Marxist arguments about equality and relationships of domination and subordination. Then it shifted because at a certain point a lot of women didn’t really care about ideology and concluded that real power lies in sexiness. Because the sexier or attractive you are the more power you have over men. So there was a whole wave. It was a major shift for many people, but obviously not all women.

 

 

The whole topic of gender, some people concluded that because of the traditional notions of male and female roles that it lead to exploitation and abuse – which is probably true – and that therefore the very notion that men and women are different or that there is any type of subordination in a relationship was just an invitation to abuse and to exploit, and therefore to evil. Therefore it became an ideological necessity to deny anything like that in order to achieve what some people perceive to be a morally desirable situation. Also there is a lot of vanity and pride on all sides.

 

 

Vedic Culture has a lot of universal elements and also a lot of flexible elements. We find an example of this in the Bible where there are laws how to treat your camel. Does that mean that in order to be a Jew or Christian you have to own a camel so that you can follow those laws? We know for a fact that even in the Bhagavatam or the Gita there are many injunctions like going to a lonely place, putting down a mat, practicing yoga and things that we don’t do. So clearly some of the statements in the scriptures are limited to certain times and places, they are not universal. In other words it is not an absolute principle of Vedic Culture that you have to go off alone in the forest, put down a mat and stare at the tip of your nose until you are cross-eyed. That is not an eternal injunction; whereas the fact that you have to surrender to God is an eternal injunction. That you are not you body is an eternal fact. In our attempt to reproduce or manifest Vedic Culture in a way which is appropriate to time and place we have to understand that some things are flexible, and they have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be relevant.

 

 

So if we talk about the roles of male and female humans in Vedic Culture we have to discuss what is required and what is flexible. That whole discussion is going on in a highly politically charged environment in the sense that in all the highly developed countries it is an extremely controversial topic. For us in the new Hare Krishna movement where we are trying to be relevant and sensitive to the environment we live in and not just trample on the foot of people we are trying to safe, we are having these discussions about gender roles, but in a larger environment (in the sense of quantity) these topics are extremely volatile and it can be intimidating. Some people react to what can be an intimidating social climate in terms of gender roles by becoming male chauvinists - like they say: Don’t try to be more catholic than the pope. Some people react to what they see as an intimidating pressure by just saying that there are no gender roles.  Some people go to the other extreme and say, never mind what Vedic Culture is, we just have to do what is popular and what people like to hear. So we have to hold the line, be sensitive and relevant and at the same time be Vedic.

 

 

One thing I have to say which is true and relevant: If you study nature you find that gender roles are hierarchical, in other words, it is common in nature that there are relationships of subordination and superiority along gender lines among many kinds of creatures. The reason I bring this up is because especially liberal ideological thinking tends to come from highly urbanized intellectuals. Liberal ideology itself seems to be alienated because it comes from people that live in artificial pseudo intellectual environments where they don’t sit out on the porch of their farm house and see what real creatures do. Marx i.e. lived in London and not out in a farm somewhere.

 

 

I personally wouldn’t want to go totally native. I wouldn’t want to live in an ant hill or go Tarzan. I think with a greater scheme of things, within nature itself, there is an appropriate natural way for humans to fit in. When they do that human artifacts and things that human being make including social structures can be as natural as ant hills and bird nests. For a human being to build a house is as natural as for a bird building a nest.

 

 

Passionate thinkers always go to the other extreme, thesis and antithesis. The thesis is that human beings disrespect nature, devastate everything and thrash the earth. Then you get the equal and opposite reaction where human beings are just intrinsically a pollution of the earth and we should just tip toe lightly around the planet and have as little contact and impact upon the world as possible, which is even reflected in architecture which I find boring. I am also not into things like Manhattan. In Pennsylvania you see this very appropriate level of human impact upon the environment like beautiful farm houses.

 

 

One time devotees took Prabhupada on a walk in the central park of Philadelphia where they kept this green belt around the river. The devotees asked Prabhupada how he liked it and he said, “it is just a jungle.” In other words, it is natural for human beings to improve things. It is not natural to exploit and trash things. There are things like a cultivated forest and a park land. Obviously for environmental reasons you cannot turn the whole world literally into a park. I found the traditional architecture of an old college town quite charming. Just walking around the town created in me a higher state consciousness; it made me philosophical and evoked deep thoughts about life.

 

 

Gender specific activities are not automatically unnatural. Krishna says in the Gita that your duty comes from your nature; it is not the other way round. If a woman is good at carpentry she is welcome to come to my house to do some carpentry.

 

 

I had an interesting experience when I was at UCLA one time at a philosophy class several years ago. The discussion started about gender roles. Some of the men said that the gender roles are all conditioning and not real (probably to impress the women and thus conform to their gender roles), and then a girl interrupted and disagreed. She was an attractive, intelligent girl who was brought up by very liberal parents who were determined to free her from gender stereotypes. “Therefore”, she said, “every toy I ever played with was a gender free toy.” Now she was 23 year old and she said, “I like being a woman and I like women’s things.” She thought that all the ideological stuff her parents were doing was totally artificial and she couldn’t relate to it at all. She liked doing girl’s things traditionally understood. That gets us back to the original point that to a great extent people may take Prabhupada’s statements as normative, that he is saying what should be, while he is just saying what is.

 

 

In terms of your vocation I think it really comes from your nature and everyone should do what they can do well. In general – with enough exceptions – girls and boys tend to do certain things. I reject the notion that this is simply because of a systematic manipulation of people. Many little boys just like to fight no matter what their parents do. I bet I could go to a three year old girl and ask her to beat my hand and usually they just look at me and say, “Why should I hit you?” Many tens of millions of parents that have children realize that they never taught their kid this, but the kid just likes that. (What is the use) to try to make girls boys or boys girls or to degender both – the real solution is Krishna Consciousness.

 

 

Women not only enrich the world, they are part of the world. When the feminine influence is not there things can get really weird. There is a sense in being a mother – either physically or psychologically – that is exalting. If the goal of life is selfless love then among other things, a woman’s capacity to love – either her own child or others - is a gift from nature because it is an easy way for women to achieve a very high state of consciousness in which they become selfless. It is not my experience that when a woman is acting as a conjugal lover that she is necessarily going to have that same state of selfless love. It is often very vane and selfish, just as men.

 

 

There is this ideological rejection of seeing women as mothers – of course they are not just mothers – but still, the rejection of that is actually short-sighted because it is one of the ways in which women achieve a very exalted position most easily. I grew up having the greatest respect for my mother and for motherhood in general, and I was not just indoctrinated. That makes it very easy to be a sannyasi because if a man thinks he can be celibate by despising women he is a prime candidate for multi marriages. He will get married because it is such an obvious overcompensation for lust, and multi marriages because by having this negative attitude I am sure no woman will be able to stand it for very long. That’s something we learn in the movement, that the way to be a good renunciate is by having reverence for women as mothers.

 

 

Another thing about motherhood is that just as it is one of the easiest ways for a woman to achieve an exalted consciousness of selfless love, it is also probably the easiest way for a man to have a satisfying affectionate relationship with a woman and not just start slobbering over her and turn into a wild beast. We want a society where men have affection for women because otherwise how is it a community? It seems on one hand men – and basically everyone - are insatiably lusty, and it is also proven scientifically that men are aroused visually.

 

 

One day on campus I saw a girl who was wearing a mini skirt. I thought, “It is 30 degrees out and you just think we want to see your legs”. She was doing everything within her power to transform herself in maya, into an object of sense gratification.

 

 

I was born in a male body and live in this part of society, and I think it is very important that I am chaste in my mind, at the same time I think it would be bizarre if you don’t like the people that you are around and you don’t have friendly relationships with them.

 

 

When I see a sannyasi comes in and averts his eyes and treats you like some kind of radio-active material, I can’t image living like that, it is so bizarre. When I was young I had to avert my eyes because of my fragile condition, but ultimately you have to grow up. How can you be in a society where half of the members are radio active, Vedic kryptonite or something? On the other hand it is a fact that there is so much potential for pollution because of our background and the nature of the world. Therefore the Vedic principle, that if you are not married to a woman you should see her as a mother – with obvious footnotes, say if you are 50 and the girl is 17, there is obviously also paternal affection and affection for a sister – you tab into the sense of reverence, respect and sacredness that you learn to feel for your own mother. We don’t kill cows because they are our mother. Why would you honor human mothers less then four-legged mothers? Sure you see some women as sisters, daughters and mothers but in all those relationships the reverence is there. It is that reverence which protects you and keeps your mind pure. It creates the possibility of pure intimacy. This is the only way I can practically imagine where you can have normal men and women who really like each other, work together and cooperate with each other and don’t develop inappropriate desires and attachments.

 

 

There are some very great women in the Hare Krishna movement and you can learn to appreciate them. For all of us preaching is a higher taste. If you don’t go for the higher taste you go for the lower taste because everyone in this world has to “go for the gusto”. Therefore it is very dangerous for this movement not to encourage women to preach. If they don’t get a higher taste they will get attached to a lower taste and since most the men will get married you will have most of the men being dragged into a lower taste by their wives who don’t have a higher taste. So you will get materialistic families and parents whose main concern is that their kid goes to a good college, and also it would nice if he chants Hare Krishna. And as far as preaching that may not be practical for little Krishna das. Since women are half of the Krishna Conscious society and will get married to the men and bear children, to systematically discourage women from developing a higher taste is extremely dangerous. It is unfair to the women and it is going to ruin the men. So I strongly encourage women to become great preachers.

 

 

Satsvarupa Maharaja once told me this story about Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada was a master of the one liners.  He was the greatest counter puncher I ever saw. Prabhupada was in London in Bhaktivedanta Manor one time and devotees would always bring these famous people to see Prabhupada. One time they brought a world race car champion with his wife. So he started talking about all the races he won. Prabhupada just sat there and then he said, “Actually there is one race that nobody ever won.” “Really?” “Yes, that is the race against death.” Then Prabhupada started talking about spiritual topics.

After some time Prabhupada turned to his wife and asked “So what do you do?” She was apparently a humble homemaker type. She said, “I just try to serve my husband and take care of the home”. Satsvarupa Maharaja told me that he thought that Prabhupada was going to give her points for that and praise her because it is Vedic, but Prabhupada looked at her and said, “Really? Is that all that you do? Don’t you do anything else?”

 

 

When I was in charge of Latin America I brought Prabhupada to Mexico. We also wanted to bring prominent people to Prabhupada to preach to, so we brought Miss Mexico. I don’t know how we brought her, the local devotees made the arrangements. So they brought Miss Mexico with her male guardians. She thought it was one of these events; she goes to twelve a day or something, so she went into her spiel. I was translating (imitates her voice): “I am so happy to be here with all of you, it was a very lovely program. I hope to come back in the future ….” Prabhupada just looked at her and said, “why are you happy to be here and why do you want to come back?” She said, “Because it is nice.” “What do you think is nice?” She couldn’t answer. Prabhupada turned to the wall with all the books and said, “Please study my books and then you will know if you want to come back.”

 

 

So the real Prabhupada was dynamic. There are innumerable stories where he had his female disciples address audiences of tens of thousand of people in India, even one time having one of the leading sannyasis holding the microphone for his godsister because the microphone stand was broken.

 

 

One lady was telling that they were traveling from one Indian city to another. They were going on a train which was not very comfortable in India and Prabhupada had a nice car – by Indian standard. He sent all the men, leaders and sannyasis on the train and told the women to come in his car because he wanted to make sure that they are protected.

 

 

Prabhupada taught that women should be protected, but what does it mean?  It doesn’t mean to shove them out of the way and take the good stuff for yourself. Some men are protecting women from any type of distinction or facility, but that is just exploitation.

 

 

Let’s say you are protecting your children, like normal parents, would you stick your child in the back and go to the front or do you put the child in the front and you stand behind? How do you treat your children? Do you eat first and then let the children eat or are you first concerned to see your children eat?

 

 

The actual Vedic Culture was quite elegant. In a sense the women had the best of both worlds. In Vedic Culture on the one hand the women did have opportunities, but on the other hand they were protected and given nice facilities. As far as stereotyped gender roles, it is mentioned in Mahabharata that one of the abilities which Lady Subhadra acquired, she was very proficient in driving a war chariot – which she somehow learned in between knitting. So the actual Vedic Culture was quite interesting and elegant.

 

 

In the Bhagavatam it is stated that after the battle of Kurukshetra when all the surviving royal families were going down the Ganges to perform the funeral ceremonies they placed the women in front. It is Prabhupada’s teachings that men should protect women but that doesn’t mean to suffocate or stifle them, it means to facilitate. One of the most important ways to protect someone is to encourage them to preach. If you can induce someone to get a higher taste by preaching, that goes a long way toward protecting them. Any devotee who has a taste for preaching is going to be highly motivated to be Krishna Conscious, to remain a devotee and no matter how much they are battered by their destiny, they somehow stick it out.

 

 

It is perfectly valid for a young brahmacari to have a strict brahmacari training, not based on despising women but despising his own lust und realizing that he is in a particular stage in your life and it is appropriate to be very strict. As you get older and more mature you become an elder member of society and naturally you will talk to women and encourage men and women. When I was a young sannyasi one time we were walking with Prabhupada in Cheviot Hills Park. It used to be called Rancho Park, that’s were Prabhupada used to walk every other day and where I used to play base ball and tennis. Giriraja Swami’s mother, who was very favorable towards the movement, had flown to Los Angeles to see her son and also to see Prabhupada. So we were walking and at some point someone said, “Giriraja’s mother is here.” So Prabhupada turned around and naturally all the little ducklings, we turned around exactly in the same way he turned around. She was walking towards Prabhupada and he put out his hands and shook hands with her. And I was shocked. I thought, “This is far out! Prabhupada is a sannyasi and she shook hands with this woman”. I now understand that it was appropriate what Prabhupada did. I accepted it, I didn’t think there was anything wrong in what he did, I was just amazed. It was a new chapter for me understanding Vedic Culture. I must admit that when I was a young brahmacari I did not go around shaking hands with women. So there are different phase phases in your life.

 

 

Historically ISKCON previously had kind of an involuntary historical frontal lobotomy, which means part of your brain is cut off. There was a time when the younger devotees who had to avert their eyes were also the older devotees. So history had cut off the head of the society. Prabhupada was the only mature adult in the entire society of Krishna Consciousness. When we were 24 years old we were the leaders .In our humility we understood that we were great devotees and that, “whatever I am feeling and experiencing now at the age of 24 is pristine Vedic Culture.” So therefore we thought it was completely appropriate to establish as eternal standards at least for 10.000 years to institutionalize our own agitation. That was basically the situation. You had an unnatural situation which no one could avoid because we were the ones that joined the movement.

 

 

It would have been wonderful if Prabhupada’s godbrothers would have helped him. It would have been wonderful if older, mature people would have joined this movement. When I was 21, 22 years old what I really would have loved to do was not just by default become one of the senior leaders of the movement. I would have loved to have gone to a Vaishnava seminary and studied and become a Vaishnava scholar and also preach. But it was a frontier society, there were no seminaries. I think I would have loved to work under senior people but there were no senior people. So therefore we were the leaders and we institutionalized what we saw as Vedic Culture. There was no elder person to call me aside and say, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but … “, and then tell me the facts of life how to treat people. I was sent to Latin America at the age of 25 and was put in charge of all the men, women, children and cats and dogs that somehow entered our community. I had a certain level of maturity. But now that we are older and we realize that we have to be more mature we also have to continue to respect that for young people there may be appropriate training where they do learn to be very strict. Their ability to be good husbands and fathers to a great extent depends upon their ability to purify themselves.

 

 

Prabhupada once wrote to me and said, “Read my books and explain them in your own words.” He also said, “I have given you the frame work. Now fill it in.” In the preface of the Bhagavatam he apologizes for the fact that he is writing in a foreign language. I would say, to some extent it was a foreign culture. In India you could say certain things and everyone understands what you mean because you have the culture. If you say, “you should avoid association of women”, everyone knows that of course you have to offer all respect to a woman and be kind. They take the essence of it. It means that you should avoid in an enjoying spirit trying to be around women. As much as English for him is a foreign language it is also a foreign culture. For Westerners if you push certain buttons all kinds of flags, impressions and images go up. It was Prabhupada’s stated intention (in my case) that we study his books and explain them to our fellow barbarians. He expected us to understand what he meant and then explain it. Sometimes just by the surface grammar people do misunderstand Prabhupada and get the wrong impression. He apologized for that in the Bhagavatam, even though I don’t think he owes us an apology. When he says, “Please forgive me, I am presenting this in a foreign language”, I don’t think he meant just some technical grammatical things because language is culture and culture is language. There are patterns where people in America regularly get the wrong impression. I don’t think it is Prabhupada’s fault, but it is our fault because we have to become much more active in explaining what the real intention is. That is our service. Prabhupada gave us the Absolute Truth and now it is our responsibility.

 

 

Spiritually, if we think in this way we will survive and flourish. If we develop negative feelings towards Prabhupada there is no question in my mind that we will spiritually perish – not just because we will be locked out of Hare Krishna temples, but just internally. That is clear evidence to me that Krishna is rejecting that attitude. Therefore if a particular attitude is not accepted by Krishna it is extremely in my self interest to adjust my thinking. So it is not just a little story I tell myself to get by in the movement, it goes much deeper. I think it is the way Krishna sees it. There are also some things people in India misunderstand chronically.

 

 

The interesting thing is that despite those statements which tend to be misunderstood and therefore tend to be discouraging, there is a consistent and almost unvarying testimony from the senior women in this movement who are very intelligent and have very strong character and who want more facilities for women, that they were totally satisfied with the way Prabhupada treated them. They were very enlivened by Prabhupada’s relationship with them. So whatever Prabhupada said in English, what he meant was something that women found very encouraging. Therefore when I try to encourage women - which I think is one of my important duties, because they are half of ISKCON - I am confident that I am properly representing Prabhupada because the result is the same.

 

 

I read a scientific study where they studied the IQ of people and found out that men had the highest and lowest IQs. Women tend to be in the middle.

 

 

I think Prabhupada’s main concern about women – because he loved them as he loved all human being – he wanted to see them protected and not exploited. It actually pained him very much to see how they were being exploited and abused in the name of all these other things.

 

 

I often had to work with freethinking, intelligent women who were very gutsy. Almost invariably these women over a period of time either thought in the beginning or came to think by themselves that they would rather be in a situation where there was a man that would help to facilitate them. That is just my own life experience.

 

 

In the young zealous Hare Krishna culture we were not at all pushing women to be homey and just sew, nit and clean. We were the opposite. We were pleading with the women to go on sankirtan, to travel around, to preach and sell book, just to go out and be warriors for Krishna. For us if a woman didn’t want to do that she was almost like a traitor. There was this heavy pressure even to an extent which I would consider inappropriate now. There was pressure for the women not to become domesticated and to be revolutionary. So even in that environment they preferred to get married. We had so many women who spat at the notion of marrying but practically inevitable over time they changed.

 

 

One problem of being young is that you haven’t seen the whole flight path. It is almost like if you throw something into the air and you walk away while it is still going up, and you figure, “I’ll come back in an hour and it will already be half way to the moon.” Over a period of time when you see hundreds of people with a certain attitude you start to develop a certain confidence based on your experience that this seems to be human nature and it is not ideology.

 

 

In traditional Vedic Culture the boys would go off and the girls would be at home. They were educated. When you read the Bhagavatam when Krishna is coming to Hastinapur or even Dvaraka the scriptures often focus on the women. There are women on the roofs of the building because there is a big commotion on the street which wasn’t considered appropriate for respected women, and they offered prayers to Krishna. Everybody offered prayers to Krishna, but still the author of the Bhagavatam has given us the women’s voice. An other interesting thing is that these prayers are very intellectually sophisticated. If we take the Bhagavatam seriously we know that there were many women who were highly educated.  You get injunctions that women should always obey their husbands, and then you get all these stories in the scriptures where the men get it wrong and the women get it right. Why are these stories there?

 

 

For example, when Krishna’s cowherd boyfriends were hungry, He sent them over to ask these very sophisticated Brahmans. It is not by chance that the most intellectual members of society who were males (they didn’t have all the qualifications because they were not white males). So Krishna sent them over to ask these most prestigious members of society for some prasadam and they wouldn’t give it. They cited some technical reasons and were very arrogant about it. So Krishna said, “ok, these guys are kind of jerks, go ask their wives now.” They went back to ask their wives and the wives immediately emptied out their kitchens and brought everything to Krishna. At the end of the story the men admitted publicly and for all time that they were fools and ignorant and that their wives understood everything.

 

 

Why put that story in the scriptures if you want to create a culture in which in every case men are more intelligent than women? Krishna did dozens of things every day. We only have much less than one percent of Krishna’s pastimes in the Bhagavatam. So there was a very strict selection process. Sukadeva Goswami selected only a tiny fraction of the pastimes to put in. Therefore the ones he chose must be extremely important. If the intention of the Bhagavatam is to convince everyone that in all cases men are more intelligent, why put in so many stories where the women are more intelligent? If women should always obey their husbands, why put in so many stories where the women first have to explain to their husbands what the proper order is and tell them what to say, and then the men do it. So if you look at Vedic Culture and the scriptures, it is not so simple.

 

 

Some men feel that they have discovered something where they can dovetail all their previously unsatisfied desires to be male chauvinists and because of their own immaturity and because they have personal desires to lord it over women, they interpret Vedic Culture that way. It is definitely Vedic Culture that men protect women but if you see what that actually means – sometimes protecting women means learning from them what is proper to be done in a particular case. That means being instructed by a woman. It is a sophisticated elegant culture, not something that resembles what you now find in Afghanistan and it is quite satisfying for men and women.

 

 

As I get older, relationships between men and women tend to be just natural and not ideological. I find when men and women just act themselves and are natural and no one is trying to take advantage of the other or trying to push their ideology, just having a good time together in Krishna consciousness – it just ends up the way it is supposed to be.

 

 

Prabhupada created the ashrams for women and he encouraged women who wanted to do their things for him. You find statements from Prabhupada that women don’t need so much education, they can just cook and sew. You also find statements that women should get PhDs at good universities and teach at university level. So to understand Prabhupada you have to be a complex thinker. It requires tremendous intellectual depth and agility and it is not just philosophical chaos. What has to be done by certain devotees who are qualified is to systematize Prabhupada’s teachings. You take all the statements on one topic, put them all together and try to figure out what it all means and how all these statements are true. If you assume that certain statements are not true you eliminate yourself from one intellectual activity. If you accept that all the statements are true, it forces you to think about it in all kinds of creative ways you might not think about it otherwise.  They easiest way would be to say that Prabhupada contradicted himself – which is what Vallabhacarya said about Sridhara Swami – or that some statements are not true, so it isn’t a problem.  To me it is a very exciting intellectual task to figure out how all these statements are true – like the statements that women are less intelligent and the stories which Prabhupada presented that women are more intelligent.

 

 

If you really get into gender thinking and were uptight about being a male – which people are in general – you might notice that in Prabhupada’s books most of the heavy statements about hogs and dogs are about men. Most of the statements of the scriptures talking about stupidity, foolishness and sin use the male gender – and that might bother you.

 

 

All of us have tolerated a lot of stuff because we are in a frontier society. There is a certain excitement in pioneer societies because whatever you do is history. To be a pioneer means that there is a certain cutting edge excitement and there is a certain crudeness, and we have definitely both. To join the Hare Krishna movement is certainly the right decision but you agree to be a pioneer. Even if you live in a nice house, you are a social pioneer because we live in an age where the relationships are somewhat crude and this is certainly also true in the way how women are treated. It has improved tremendously.

 

 

All the senior women who wrote articles about their experiences agree that in the beginning it was nice – and that is my own experience. I joined 1969. It was like a family, we saw the women as our sisters, and we weren’t lusty, it was just nice. You can see pictures of this, all the devotees in the sankirtan van – which of course in those days had no windows because that would have been shameless sense gratification – and there is not a men’s or women’s place. Women were not in the back as you would expect nowadays. Everyone is just all over the place and is happy and smiling. People weren’t falling down. There was a certain innocence.

 

 

Then we got the high performance sannyasis who wanted to bend everything so that it was comfortable for them and things got bent out of shape. Now we are kind of fixing it. We have to accept that our agitation is our agitation.

 

 

This is probably a crude, mundane example, but I remember when I was teenager I was socially very active. Boys and girls were together. We were certainly romantic and there were things that were inappropriate, but there was no gender consciousness as a political issue. Certainly boys and girls were attracted to each other. In general in our social circle people were really happy and friendly and there was genuine affection. In a sense that is lost. Everyone liked everyone else, but there was no consciousness of gender rules. We didn’t even have the terminology to talk about it. I guess I fall back on that experience – as bizarre as it may sound – to get some idea of what would be nice in ISKCON – at least in the Western countries. I don’t mean that everyone should start dating, but when I think back to the time of my youth there were many relationships which weren’t sexual, they were just friendship. So from my experience as a devotee and even as a non-devotee it is possible at a certain level of maturity for men and women just to be nice and encouraging to each other, and people go into the roles which are natural for them. It is not because of ideology and no one is getting bashed into a particular social space. Everyone does what is natural for them and it ends up looking like Vedic Culture, and everyone is happy.

 

 

There is an obsession with race and ethnicity here. You cannot just see people as people. If you get your information from normal news sources, you are not allowed to see any aspect of contemporary life except in racial and ethnic categories. You are trained to think of everything in racial and ethnic categories.

 

 

I was a brahmacari in Boston, about 21 years old, and every day we would go and chant out in the Boston Commons and approach all the people out of whom a tiny percentage would stop and buy our magazines. We were dressed like this and would say: “Take one of these! Hare Krishna!” The exception was Giriraja Swami. He was a genius at selling magazines. We would come back with ten Dollars and he would have a hundred Dollars. One day someone approached us, representing a catholic girl school and said that they wanted someone to speak about the movement at their school. I was elected to go and someone had to go with me. There were not many people there, and in those days things were more liberal in ISKCON. So they sent Bhn. Elaine, who was a nice young girl, about 17. It was a really nice program and I was just thinking of Krishna and nothing else, and several months later I married Bhn. Elaine. So she became my wife in Krishna Consciousness.

 

 

Looking back on it now I probably wouldn’t send a brahmacari with a young brahmacarini to do a program. In this case we were both very serious about Krishna Consciousness and we were very innocent. If I had been sent with Bhn. Elaine not just to do a program for one hour or two in a Catholic school downtown Boston but on a traveling sankirtan party for some time and we hadn’t been that serious and fixed up I can see how those types of situations can lead to different types of attachment. It seems that we have to find a balance. It is a judgment call, what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.