Archive for May, 2003

Are Women Less Intelligent?

May 31st, 2003

Note: The following is a letter I wrote entitled “Are Women Less Intelligent?” Because this is a controversial subject, I sent it out to a few devotees for feedback. One thoughtful lady wrote back in response. Over the next week, we will be sending our back and forth correspondence on this subject.

March 31, 2003
Saratoga Springs, NY

I saw some newer people at our monthly Sunday program. After prasadam, I found one young lady sitting alone. I thought I remembered her from a previous program. I greeted her like I would any visitor, especially if no one else was sitting with them.

“Thank you for coming again.”

“Thank you, but this is the first time I’ve come.”

“How did you like our program?”

“Very much. I’m a Hare Krishna.”

“Where did you meet the devotees?”

“I never have. This is the first time and it’s wonderful!”

“How did you become a devotee if this is the first time you’ve ever met the devotees?”

“Nine years ago, when I was 12, I got a book, Sri Isopanisad, on the streets of Boston. Even then I was an avid reader, but I never read anything like that before. It had such an impact.”

“How did you not come to meet any devotees after becoming a Hare Krishna?”

“Well, I’m from a very strict family of Irish and French Catholics. My grandparents are especially religious. My father warned me how disappointed they would be, so I kept things pretty much to myself.”

“Did you ever order books from the BBT?”

“No. But my friends would find books about Krishna. They weren’t interested, so they would give them to me.”

“How did you find us here?”

“Oh, I work for Kurt [Kirtan Rasa, the devotee who hosted the program]. I’m studying law nearby at Russell Sage. He hired me part-time for his law firm. One day, during a break, I was listening to George Harrison. He came over to me and casually mentioned that George Harrison was a Hare Krishna. I said, ‘Yes,I know. That’s why I’m listening to him.’ When Kurt told me that he, too, was a Hare Krishna, I spontaneously responded in amazement, ‘No way!’ To say the least, I was pleasantly shocked.”

“By the way, what is your name?”

“Victoria.”

“Victoria, what do you think now that you’ve met the devotees?”

“It’s so wonderful. I’m at a loss for words.”

“Do you have any questions?”

She thought very deeply for some time. “They are so clear, Prabhupada’s books.”

“Are you sure? Anything?”

“Well, one thing. In Prabhupada’s books women seem almost like a caste. I’ve read somewhere that that’s been adjusted now, but I’m not sure I understand the basis of it.”

I spoke with Victoria for quite some time about Srila Prabhupada’s teachings concerning the role of women and why I felt his teachings were misunderstood. She was satisfied with my answers. Our discussion brought up an interesting perspective on a sensitive controversy that I felt could be helpful in understanding it. After all, it is an issue that comes up again and again with intelligent women in relation to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, and as such, it often poses an obstacle toward their full embrace of his instructions. That evening, I tried to record several of the points that came up in our conversation, to the best of my recollection, and compiled the following essay:

Are Women Less Intelligent?

Often, in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about the position of women in society, he strongly stressed their more domestic and subordinate role. At the same time, Srila Prabhupada did not limit a woman’s initiative in devotional service. This apparent contradiction is resolved by understanding the mode of expression of the acarya, but before considering this, it’s important to understand why Srila Prabhupada unequivocally emphasized the more traditional roles of a lady.

A mother has the most important role in society. Unless children are nurtured properly they will not likely develop into stable citizens. Instead, they may tend to grow up resentful and anxiety-ridden. I’m sure most people are grateful for a loving mother at home. Since a mentally healthy citizenship is so dependent on how its children are nurtured, and the body and mentality of women are more suited for motherhood, the domestic and subordinate role of women is promoted in a proper culture. In contrast, due to their more analytical temperament, it would be more difficult for the man to adopt this important and demanding task as the primary nurturer of young children.

Because of a woman’s more emotional and affectionate nature, they also require protection from a qualified husband. This is especially important so that their feminine nature is not exploited by men to satisfy their own lust–an injustice which also has great social implications. Since one’s nature is primarily determined by the consciousness of the parents at the time of conception, if children are produced irresponsibly out of passion, unwanted and problem children will likely be born. The chastity and submissiveness of women is therefore promoted to ensure that children are reared in families where the parents have committed, not casual, relationships, and where children are wanted and cared for properly.

The mother is also the first guru of the child. Her submissiveness to her husband, who is generally senior to her and cultured to be protective, also teaches the children a healthy respect for authority and specifically for the father, which is especially important as the father becomes more of the child’s guru as they grow older.

Every institution requires some system of effective decision-making. This is especially important in the institution of marriage because children require a peaceful home life for their development. A qualified and protective husband with a chaste and cooperative wife has proven to be an efficient means of family decision-making. Of course, any hierarchical system is susceptible to abuse, and this does raise serious questions about the feasibility of such a system when transplanted in a society that has lost its culture. However, this does not discount the fact that there is a need for consultation and consideration in the decision-making process, and that there may be adjustments necessary considering the nature and strengths of each partner.

Finally, the need to express affection, nuture children, and to be protected, is also very much part of a woman’s nature. A system that promotes the motherly side of a woman, and thus encourages her faithfulness to a responsible husband, is also a system that satisfies their essential needs. For these reasons, the Vedic culture actively promotes the more dependent and domestic role of a women, and Srila Prabhupada followed suit. After all, he grew up in that system and saw enough of its success to be confident that this family model was as good as any in the world, and certainly superior to that of the modern family.

To understand deeply, however, what Srila Prabhupada said about women, I think it is also essential to understand the difference in the mode of expression between the Eastern and Western mind. The Eastern-oriented mind, especially those of powerful spiritual teachers, tend to express themselves in what I call “contextual relevance.” In other words, both the speaker and hearer of Eastern orientation tend to assume that strong statements refer to a specific context, even when that context is not specifically stated, whereas the Western mind tends to assume all statements are universal and literally applied. Thus when Srila Prabhupada, the acarya, says that women are less intelligent, it was not a blanket condemnation of their intellectual abilities, but a statement that referred more to the context of practical decision-making, where the more detached and analytical mind of a man has somewhat of an advantage over women of equal stature. Seen in the light of “contextual relevance,” there is no contradiction in Srila Prabhupada calling women less intelligent and referring to Bhagavad-gita, where intelligence is specifically listed as a feminine opulence. Nor is there any contradiction in Caitanya-caritamrita, where the author, Krishna dasa Kaviraja, describes the great lady devotee Madhavi-devi as ardha-jana (half a person) and parama-vaisnavi (the topmost devotee) in the very same paragraph.

Because the Eastern-oriented mind is more likely to interpret things in contextual relevance, strong statements about women by a person of an Eastern mind does not necessarily lead them to limiting a women’s place in society by disregarding their individual needs and abilities. For example, even though Srila Prabhupada spoke of a woman’s subordination and domesticity, he still treated them with basic equality–giving them the gayatri-mantra, honoring them as top preachers, and even ordaining them as priests (pujaris). Similarly, in this regard, despite the strong cultural mores of domesticity, Indian-influenced countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have all raised qualified women to the heads of their country, where, ironically, America has not.

I think it is worth investigating if the inherent tendency of Srila Prabhupada’s Western disciples to interpret his statements literally, and perhaps beyond his intended application, is at the root of the misunderstanding of the role of women in ISKCON–both by those who are inflexible in ascribing women rigid traditional roles, and those who overly minimize it. In other words, have those who unbendingly professed rigid traditional roles for women applied Srila Prabhupada’s teachings beyond their context, where they might stifle a woman’s social and occupational needs, in contrast to Srila Prabhupada who accepted them in the ashram and made them preachers? Similarly, have those who profess innate equality in the sexes also skewed Srila Prabhupada’s teachings by extending his teachings on women to a place he never intended, making his instructions look impractical and even oppressive?

My firm belief is that if we understand Srila Prabhupada’s teachings on the role of women through the context he intended, we will appreciate, just as he did, both the glory of a woman’s dharma and the limitations of its application. And we will understand his mode of thinking as the acarya, and thus strongly promote the glory of a woman’s dharma without stifling the individual needs of women to work and perform devotional service according to their abilities.

[The above essay is a paraphrase of my answer to Victoria’s question that will hopefully raise new perspectives in viewing Srila Prabhupada’s position on the role of women in ISKCON. This subject, however, is a very sensitive–especially since Srila Prabhupada’s teachings have often been exploited and abused–and deserves a more comprehensive analysis to deal with the subject in all its complexities. Hopefully, we have added important insight for that study.]

Are Women Less Intelligent? Pt. 2

Dear Dhanurdhara Swami,

Dandavats. Glories to Prabhupada.

First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to analyze and offer an interesting perspective on this thorny issue.

However, I think I’m not the right person to offer comments on this topic, since our grha is, and always has been, pretty atypical. Nevertheless, I’ve read and reread your paper carefully, and I’ll try to offer my insights, for whatever they’re worth.

You write:

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Domestic role, yes. That is natural and comes with the body. But subordinate in what sense? Does the psychological effect of subordination ever result in anything positive? If one starts with the premise of subordination it will stifle women that have the potential to go further.

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The implication here is that there is no level of analysis required in child-rearing. Having gained some experience in this area, I would say it involves decision-making on a minute-by-minute basis. The mental gymnastics in trying to appease and not kowtow to a child are intense. Hey, maybe men would be better suited to child-rearing, since they are so analytical. If by analytical, you mean more inclined to philosophical, scholarly pursuits, how many men, even in our movement, would fit into that category?

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What about promoting the chastity of men? It couldn’t hurt. Also, I don’t think a relationship depends on submissiveness for commitment.

<<...which is especially important as the father becomes more of the child's guru as they grow older.>>

I don’t think that’s necessarily or generally the case from what I’ve seen.

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Wouldn’t two chaste, qualified, and cooperative individuals “prove to be an efficient means of family decision-making”? Maybe we have lost our culture, but I think we have to work with the reality of what is, instead of hearkening to some idealized and impractical state that will never be.

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To me, this is the crux and the resolution of the issue, in a nutshell. Mutual consideration and consultation are the key, as well as not being bound by the idealized dictates of what a man and woman should be, but the realistic analysis of what each individual is, and each afforded opportunities accordingly. I don’t think we should join this point with subordination as you did earlier.

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I like the concept of contextual relevance and it needs to be applied more often in issues in ISKCON, but how it applies here is confusing to me. What is the context that Prabhupada is speaking of when he says that women are less intelligent? Are you saying it applies solely to women’s decision-making abilities? I don’t see how that can be validated. Does Prabhupada define it as such? Also, when you say ” women of an equal stature,” what do you mean? If a man and a woman are equal in intellectual abilities, a woman, by virtue of her gender, somehow has less acumen in decision-making? It’s no wonder then that women are not considered guru or GBC worthy.

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What context did Prabhupada intend and what context did the rigid definers go beyond? Is contextual relevance another way of saying “time, place, and circumstance”? We start with some very general principles regarding the differences between men and women but in our interrelating we should look to the individual and not the gender as the basis for our actions.

Forgive me for being so negative. It’s a touchy subject, and one that I feel I’ll never be satisfied with. Thanks for trying.

YS,
Bhakti-devi

Are Women Less Intelligent? Part 3

Note: This is my response to Bhakti-devi’s thoughtful letter in response to my article.

Dear Bhakti-devi,

Hare Krishna. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Thank you for responding. As you know this point comes up again and again in our preaching so we must deal with it.

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You are the proper person to answer because you know how frustrating the application of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings on the role of women has been for intelligent women.

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I see how the word “subordinate” does nothing to add to my essay and likely distracts the reader at this point. Thank you for pointing that out. The mood of subordination does have many positive effects in the relation of students toward teachers, children toward parents, citizens toward a righteous government, and living entities toward God. Perhaps the problem is that authoritarian dynamics (the tendency to abuse power) is so prevalent, especially in a dysfunctional culture, that the word has taken on a negative connotation in the same way as the word ” surrender.” I am using the term subordinate in the sense of submission to authority. Isn’t it good for a student to be submissive to his teacher, a child to his parents, and the living entities toward God? The question, however, is if there is any benefit in a wife following the authority of her husband. Srila Prabhupada thought there was, but the principle needs to be carefully applied in modern culture and perhaps in many circumstances today it is not applicable at all. It’s a given that ISKCON has been plagued by authoritarian dynamics. My paper was meant to show why Srila Prabhupada stressed the traditional role of women and how it was misunderstood in the West–not to support its abuse. By stressing the traditonal role, one doesn’t necessarily have to wind up stifling women. From there, one can show how it has to be applied according to time, place, and circumstance.

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That’s not the implication I was making. My point was that men are generally more analytical–not that women are not analytical. It does take a lot of thoughtfulness to raise a child. Maybe I used the wrong word. This is what I meant and where I got the idea:

“By nature women are soft-hearted, kind, tolerant, and affectionate. The human brain has basically two aspects: the logical and analytical aspect, and the emotive, affectionate side. The general tendency is that men are more logical and women more affectionate. God has designed women like this so they will be able
to care for their children.

“The father only gives the seed, but the mother has to carry, nurture, and raise the child. If women were ruled strictly by logic, they would not be able to perform that tremendous task properly. They would think, ?What is the use of carrying this burden? What will I gain from this for myself?? and probably decide not to have children. Thus women are naturally ruled more by affection so they can tolerate the burden of child rearing. The word “mother” signifies loving sentiment. It is a very difficult task for a man to raise children because they generally do not possess this deeply affectionate nature.” (Yoga of Dejection, by Satyanarayan dasa)

Don’t men and women have different natures that are generally more suitable to different services? I did not mean to say that men are more scholarly, since obviously there are different types of men. Women definitely have a more domestic nature. Men have a more…?

(A side point.) In terms of the knowledge of child-rearing, in a proper culture where a child is raised in an extended family and a real community, the proper psychology and principles of child-rearing are automatically imbibed. It’s not that the parent has to raise the child by being a deeply analytical person.

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The faithfulness of men is also certainly promoted. I guess your question asks why there is so much stress on the women’s responsibility and not the man’s. I think there is plenty of stress on the man’s respect for women and their adherence to duty in sastra, but the point here is that because of a woman’s more emotional side they can be exploited by men. Do you think that is true? I’ve found that many of the younger women I have preached to have come to Krishna
consciousness in part because of exploitation by men. Unfortunately, for many, the same thing happened in ISKCON. I am surprised by that, but it makes me believe that there is some truth to what Prabhupada said about women in general needing protection. I agree with you that, in ISKCON, there was almost an exclusive emphasis on the woman’s duty and not the man’s responsibility. Did I imply that submissiveness is necessary for commitment? It’s not, but adherence
to authority is certainly a factor in maintaining commitments. In fact, that’s why Arjuna was reluctant to go to war. He saw that if the elders were gone, the youth would become less committed and whimsical.

<< You wrote: "which is especially important as the father assumes more of the role of guide as the child grows older." I don't think that's necessarily or generally the case from what I've seen.>>

I think the family structure in the West is very much broken and the children are thus growing up with many anxiety disorders. I think if we look to the West for the norm, we may not be viewing the ideal. I think we have to first settle the point of whether men and women in general have different natures and are generally suited for different roles before we can deal with this point.

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My point was about what Srila Prabhupada said and why he said it. I don’t remember ever promoting any system. First let’s decide on whether what he promoted is the ideal and then we can decide how it is to be practically applied–or whether it is worth applying today at all. My observation of “the two chaste, qualified, and cooperative individuals” is that the husband and wife fight like cats and dogs in front of the children until the stronger one wins. I think the Indian family structure that has practical guidelines for decision-making is much more effective. I agree that this structure may be practically impossible to implement in the West, but that doesn’t make it ineffective in a proper culture where the man is taught to respect women and to apply the principles of his authority carefully and practically. And I’m not sure that we can’t learn something from it.

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The question the girl asked was why Srila Prabhupada promoted the traditional role of women and not how ISKCON should resolve the issue. I think the point of the value of nurturing mothers at home is a powerful one that intelligent Western women can also understand as long as it is applied with consideration for their individual abilities. I don’t agree that because the principle was misapplied and abused that we should discount it. Rather, we should think of its proper application. In other words, the ideal should be a consideration in the equation, as should mutual consideration and consultation. I think the most mature adults would discuss amongst themselves how the principles that Srila Prabhupada taught can be applied to their family considering that in a Western culture the women have been reared differently, the marriages were not arranged where the man was older and at least from an equal or higher class, and that in many marriages, the woman is in many ways more qualified. To make my paper more effective I can just use the example of the domestic role and leave out the part of
submission to authority if this is such a sensitive point that it prevents some of the readers from going further.

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I am trying to write this paper knowing that two very emotionally charged sides will be reading it. I admit that this is a weak part of the paper because Srila Prabhupada seemed to talk about women’s inferior intelligence beyond the range of just decision-making, but I do feel that he made his point in a more contained context than we apply it. I think I made a good case for that. Any suggestions?

By the term, “women of an equal stature,” I was trying to show that all women are not less intelligent than all men, but that the comparison is made between men and women that are from the same culture and class. I think there is something to the point that, by virtue of gender, the brains of women and men generally think differently along the lines that Satyanarayan spoke of in the reference I gave in the beginning of my response. What do you think? Does gender have any effect on the way one thinks and views the world? For example, would a woman generally be more suited to child-rearing than a man of equal stature? What would a man be more suited by virtue of his gender?

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Is there no role for gender at all? Again I agree with you that in the present structure of society we have to look almost singularly at the individual and not the gender, but I agree with Srila Prabhupada that the difference in gender is an important factor in social organization and that problems arise when we neglect it.

From your input I think that perhaps I need to stress somewhere that, considering the present nature of society, organizing it on the basis of gender in many or most cases brings up more problems than it solves. Can we proceed in our reasoning from there that it must be neglected totally for all people in all cultures? That’s what you seem to imply.

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Thank you for your input and I welcome more.

In the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Dhanurdhara Swami

Are Women Less Intelligent? Part 4

Note: Below is Bhakti Devi’s response to my letter yesterday.

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I agree with the above in totality.

<<"By nature women are soft-hearted, kind, tolerant, and affectionate. The human brain has basically two aspects: the logical and analytical aspect, and the emotive, affectionate side. The general tendency is that men are more logical and women more affectionate. God has designed women like this so they will be able to care for their children. "The father only gives the seed, but the mother has to carry, nurture, and raise the child. If women were ruled strictly by logic, they would not be able to perform that tremendous task properly. They would think, 'What is the use of carrying this burden? What will I gain from this for myself?' and probably decide not to have children. Thus women are naturally ruled more by affection so they can tolerate the burden of child rearing. The word "mother" signifies loving sentiment. It is a very difficult task for a man to raise children because they generally do not possess this deeply affectionate nature." (Yoga of Dejection, by Satyanarayan dasa) Don't men and women have different natures that are generally more suitable to different services? I did not mean to say that men are more scholarly, since obviously there are different types of men. Women definitely have a more domestic nature. Men have a more...? (A side point.) In terms of the knowledge of child-rearing, in a proper culture where a child is raised in an extended family and a real community, the proper psychology and principles of child-rearing are automatically imbibed. It's not that the parent has to raise the child by being a deeply analytical person.>>

I agree with all of the above. I think it would be wise to incorporate Satyanarayana’s comments into your paper.

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The above is certainly true.

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Good points. They should be included in your paper.

You misunderstand me. Maybe I came off a bit strident but I would never say we should discount the ideal. It’s there to use as a gauge. It’s all a question of emphasis. Don’t you agree?

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I don’t know if it should be left out, it just needs to be worded carefully.

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Of course gender has an effect on the way one views the world, but so does family, class, environment, education, and so on. Why do we emphasize gender? If you can show why gender should be more of a focus than these other things, your case would be stronger.

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Absolutely true.

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No. Why is this a necessary consequence of the prior statement? I am not saying to totally neglect gender considerations, I am simply saying they should be de-emphasized. There are other similar considerations that should be de-emphasized as well. For example, if a person joins a temple and they are poor, are they banned from certain services? Is a person from a wealthy background not allowed to wash pots? Clearly, while social status cannot be totally neglected, and does affect a person to some degree, bhakti helps one transcend such material limitations. This philosophical point, I believe, would also apply to gender. We’ve made too much of it.

In conclusion, I think what you’re trying to do is really important and I’m honored that you’re allowing me to vent, no, I mean discuss this important issue.

YS,
Bhakti-devi

Are Women Less Intelligent? Part 5

Note: My response to Bhakti-devi and her final response to me?

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My case is that Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on women were in a context and not to be universally applied. I think it is a valid question to ask why it seems that everything else but gender was more or less considered transcended by Krishna consciousness in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada not only gave women the gayatri mantras, but the brahma-gayatri mantra, which no other Gaudiya Math gives to ladies.

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Absolutely true.>>

I am now going to extend my paper and see how these points can be worked in.

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No. Why is this a necessary consequence of the prior statement? I am not saying to totally neglect gender considerations, I am simply saying they should be de-emphasized. There are other similar considerations that should be de-emphasized as well. For example, if a person joins a temple and they are poor, are they banned from certain services? Is a person from a wealthy background not allowed to wash pots? Clearly, while social status cannot be totally neglected, and does affect a person to some degree, bhakti helps one transcend such material limitations. This philosophical point, I believe, would also apply to gender. We’ve made too much of it.>>

My observation is that gender considerations have now been de-emphasized in ISKCON. Of course, I am not sure that this is for me to say as I am not a woman. The point of my paper was–considering that the application of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings regarding women had to be adjusted–how do we understand his original statements regarding women? My point was that they are valid in context and are still relevant if carefully applied according to time, place, and circumstance. Your point, I believe, is that the traditional role of women is such a sensitive issue, and one that has been so abused, that one can not discuss its validity without making clear the limits of its application based on the history of ISKCON. I thought I did that, but I can see that this will have to be brought out more to make my paper more effective.

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My journal is about sharing my realizations as a preacher and practitioner as they naturally arise in my life. Although you say you “vented” your feelings, as a thoughtful lady in ISKCON, your strong emotions about this issue are a reality and communicate to me a lot about the depth of the mistakes ISKCON has made in dealing with women. At the same time, your points made me consider more deeply the role of women’s dharma in modern society. For example, today I shared our discussion with the family I am staying with. The husband made a very interesting point about how the nuclear family just doesn’t work, especially in regards to this issue. There is already so much pressure on the relationship of a husband and wife divorced from an extended family to share their lives and emotions that the artificially imposition of a traditional hierarchical structure is almost certain to cause more pressure on the relationship–unless, of course, that type of relationship is natural and mutually accepted.

My purpose in writing the article was to protect the glories of sastra as Srila Prabhupada presented it, and in this case, the glory of a woman’s dahrma. If to do that I need to bring out more clearly the problems that misinterpretation have caused, that endeavor is certainly worth the effort.

In the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Dhanurdhara Swami

***

Maharaja,

Obeisances. Jai Prabhupada.

I think our back and forth has some valuable points that should be added to your article. I particularly like this new point about the nuclear family. It is relevant to the issue and important for your paper.

I enjoyed our discussion and would like to encourage you to pursue the fine tuning of your paper–it is an important subject that needs clarification.

YS,
Bhakti-devi

Are Women less Intelligent? ? Concluding Remarks

I did not write about this to speak on a controversial topic. My journal is to just share my realizations as they naturally arise in my preaching. I never before, however, got so much feedback on any other journal entry. I want to share that feedback with the readers. As I have not asked the contributors permission to do so, I have maintained their confidentiality:

Respondent 1:
I very much appreciate the comments about the intelligence of women. They have a different intelligence than men. Different does not necessarily mean inferior. In my experience, women have a different kind of “emotional intelligence” which is often of more use than the way a man generally thinks in certain situations.

From a male perspective, sometimes women are crazy. From a female perspective, men can be crazy. They are both right. Humans are nuts. It is a wonder that the world goes on.

Govinda dasi (Prabhupada’s Govinda dasi) once told me a story. She and Jadurani were talking to Prabhupada and they asked if it was true that women were less intelligent. Prabhupada said that if they thought that they were women, they were less intelligent. I believe that the same is true for men.

Respondent 2 :
Hari Bol. Interesting topic. My understanding has been that as we are in Kali yuga most of these bodily and social designations go out the window. A good point was made not to look at a person as merely what they appear to be on the outside, i.e. man, woman, bhakta, sannyasi, etc.

Another thing would be to clearly define limitations. A limitation has its counter part in a qualification. Although someone may be limited in one aspect, it is almost certain that they are qualified in others.

Am I wrong here?

Respondent 3:
Women issue…. is it worthy of discussion anymore? In any context, Eastern or Western, the statement is irrelevant. A particular man can be less intelligent and a particular woman can be less intelligent. But generalizing to such a degree, in this highly personal philosophy? Why?

Saying that every women is less intelligent…Less intelligent than who? What is the goal of such a statement?

And than we try to “smoothen it out” and explain that this is what he meant, that it is old English (e.g. women like to be raped) etc.

Let’s make it simple, Srila Prabhupada meant what he said. And God gave me independence (Thank you, Krishna), so I keep a right not to agree with it.

Respondent 4:
I’m afraid I’m not certain about the proper, respectful, or at least, expected, way to greet you, so I’m going to begin by introducing myself. My name is ????. I was, until recently, in a relationship with ???, and therefore am under the impression you have heard about me, or at least recognize my name. If not, this is far more foreign than I intended and I sincerely apologize for my assumptions and my rudeness. I do not mean to be so.

In any case, ??? has been forwarding me the e-mails concerning your paper “Are Women Less Intelligent?” He has been doing so because he understands how immediate this topic is in my life, and the undeniable role it plays in keeping me just outside the temple doors. I hope you do not mind his sharing with me your words and those of the devotees you are corresponding with. I have read each letter and response closely and repeatedly. Under normal circumstances I would take my reactions, my questions and concerns to ???, hoping for a discussion that would put me one step closer to being comfortable with the subject, with the teachings of the religion, and with the devotees themselves. But after reading the letters and responses, and given the fragile turn my relationship with ??? has taken, I would like to put forward my questions and concerns to you.

I hope this is not too forward. I honestly don’t want to impose, or make mistakes I am blind to and end up coming across as anything less than respectful, deeply appreciative, and open to learning more about that which I know so little of at this point in time. If this is the case, I apologize for any offenses I have committed and please do not take the time to write back. However, if you wouldn’t mind answering even one of my inquiries, please let me know. I would be very grateful.

Respondent 5:
I like your article. The issues needs definitely more investigation, and I like the ” contextual evidence” principle that you mentioned. I also think that what Prabhupada said in certain circumstances assumed some fundamental cultural values about gender roles on the part of the listener which are absent or not very developed in the Western mind.

This is a very nice way to bring the issue on the table in a sensitive and clear fashion. It is required in order to clarify the issue especially for the congregational members and the public. Keep up the good work.

Respondent 6:
I have read them all in advance and think that they make some very good points. I am sure that any woman who has issues with the position of women would have their mind put “more” to ease. The reason I write “more” is that some women will just never be totally satisfied with the explanation…

I was thinking about why that is the case. Why some women are more hung up on it than others? I thought that maybe since I was not preoccupied with the whole issue that maybe I was a “sell out” to the female cause. I mean, I considered myself quite a vocal feminist in my early years.

There was not one certain explanation regarding women’s position in ISKCON that made me feel okay about how women were viewed. I just think that I gained faith in Srila Prabhupada and knew that since he valued his female disciples (and even told some of his godbrothers that he would give up his life for one in particular…I believe it was Malati.), I inherently felt comfortable with being a Vaisnavi.

Everyone has his or her attachments. For some devotees or aspiring devotees, I believe some are more overly attached to the gender they were assigned. But, that’s just my opinion.

Are Vaisnavas Democrats or Republicans? Part I

May 31st, 2003

After reading my article on “women,” people came up to me and said, in earnestness, “I really don’t like Bhakti-devi.” Others told me, “I really like Bhakti-devi.” Some even called to voice strong opinions, only to admit they really never read the article, but just the title. In dealing with controversies like the women’s issue or the war on Iraq, it dawned on me how prone we are to pre-judge subjects based on a particular political mindset, as if truth was exclusively conservative or liberal. Embracing truth requires both a liberal and conservative attitude, because both conservativeness (opposing change because it alters reality) and liberality (championing reform when it brings us closer to reality) are equal components of truth. Just as an exclusive conservative is sure to back traditions and support values that no longer represent truth, a diehard liberal will also certainly advocate change that distorts reality. A seeker of truth must be free from constricting preconceived attitudes in order to see truth within the shadow of debate.

How then does a Vaisnava approach controversy? A Vaisnava accepts that the resolution of all debate rests in sabda-brahmana, reality transmitted in sound (sastra). He thoughtfully, without liberal or conservative prejudice, judges the arguments at hand to the standard of revealed scriptures and embraces the conclusion.

Is a Vaisnava a democrat or republican? He is neither, because to embrace or reject either ideology means to accept a world view outside of the Absolute Truth, truth for all times and in all circumstances. Srila Prabhupada was thus a democrat and not a republican (championing reform) when deciding whether women in the West could live in the temples and worship the Deities, and a republican, not a democrat (opposing change) when outlining their role in an ideal society. He tackled issues thoughtfully and independently and then judged their merit in terms of sastra. And so should we.

(Note: I am using the terms “republican” and ” democrat” for argument’s sake, in terms of conservative and liberal, as traditionally defined. In fact, few politicians today have ideologies based on ideals.)

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