Dhanurdhara Swami March 28th, 2016
We can learn a lot from Confucius. For example:
“One who learns from tradition but who cannot think creatively will be confused. One who thinks creatively but who does not learn from tradition is in great danger.”
– Analects 2.15
Here Confucius conceptualizes exactly the tension facing most religious or spiritual groups in the modern world. Their members often see reality through a preconceived political lens born of their own modes. Overly conservative people try to keep religion strictly in the forms in which they were born. The teachings lose relevance and people become confused. Overly liberal people reformat the presentation without proper regard for the tradition. They risk the danger of losing touch with the core principles upon which their faith was born, principles that empower transformation.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda uncompromisingly espoused the four regulative principles of no meat eating, no intoxication, no gambling, and no illicit sex he was accused of being conservative. His response was strong, “How can you say I am conservative? I let women into the ashram!” – a practice that certainly stretched the limits of the social structure of the tradition in which his spiritual life was inspired, the Gauḍīya Maṭha.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was revolutionary in so many ways, but he wasn’t politically correct either. He also strongly espoused classical gender specific roles as the basis of an ideal social system. He was thus also a traditionalist in many ways.
His comment on the story of the passing away of Grandfather Bhīṣmadeva is revealing in this regard. Bhīṣmadeva was resting on a bed of arrows pierced through his body awaiting imminent death. The greatest yogis and sages of his time gathered to pay their last respects. Due to Bhīṣma’s condition he could not appropriately greet them according to the standard expected etiquette, but through simple gestures with his eyes he was able welcome and satisfy them. Śrīla Prabhupāda comments:
“Expert religionists know perfectly well how to adjust religious principles in terms of time and place. All the great ācārysa or religious preachers or reformers of the world executed their mission by adjustment of religious principles in terms of time and place. There are different climates and situations in different parts of the world, and if one has to discharge his duties to preach the message of the Lord, he must be expert in adjusting things in terms of the time and place.” (Bhag. 1.9.9, Commentary)
His conversation below with an American reporter is also revealing in terms of his roots in the tradition:
Reporter: Are men regarded as superior to women?
Prabhupada: Yes, naturally. Naturally, woman requires protection by the man. In the childhood she is protected by the father, and youth time she is protected by the husband, and old age she is protected by elderly sons. That is natural.
Female Reporter: That goes against the thinking of a lot of people in America now. Do you know that?
Prabhupada: No… America, maybe, but this is the natural position. Women require protection.
A person versed and practiced in śāstra (sacred texts) can’t be boxed into a political worldview based on personal conditioning and prejudices. As their views are formed beyond their conditioning based on realization of śāstra and its practical application, like Śrīla Prabhupāda, they can’t be labeled as belonging to a particular mindset like “I am conservative” or “I am liberal”.
Are you liberal or conservative? How are your values informed? Is it purely by śāstra, or is it mixed with a psychological view based on your upbringing? If you fall into just one camp it is likely that they are. In the coming weeks I will post an article titled “What is the Krishna conscious view of homosexuality?” If you are just liberal or just conservative there is a chance that you might not like it.