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 Just as an exclusive conservative is sure to back traditions and support values that no longer represent truth, a diehard liberal will also certainly advocate change that distorts reality.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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