Monday Morning Greetings #37 – Are Vaisnavas Democrats or Republicans?

September 12th, 2016

Do Vaiṣṇavas have an ideology? Śrīla Prabhupāda had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaiṣṇava King Yudhiṣṭhira.

“Therefore there are so many states over the earth quarrelling because of ideological differences or other selfish motives. But a king like Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira had no ideology of his own.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

Certainly Vaiṣṇavas strongly profess a particular system of economic and political ideals, an ideology called varṇāśrama.[i] How could Śrīla Prabhupāda describe a great Vaiṣṇava as Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira as having no ideology of his own?

The reconciliation is simple. Śrīla Prabhupāda is not saying that a Vaiṣṇava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather in describing a Vaiṣṇava as “having no ideology of his own” he means that unlike most modern day conservatives or liberals a Vaiṣṇava’s “own” conditioning does not bias his or her views. Rather a Vaiṣṇava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on śāstra, not a predictable prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.

A Vaiṣṇava’s objectivity beyond bias is also described by Śrīla Prabhupāda in reference to the rule of Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira:

“He had but to follow the instructions of the infallible Lord and the Lord’s representative and the authorized agent, Bhīṣmadeva. It is instructed in the śāstra that one should follow the great authority and infallible Lord without any personal motive and manufactured ideology.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

A learned Vaiṣṇava can thus not be pigeon holed politically simply as “left” or “right”. Śrīla Prabhupāda is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative as he often espoused traditional mores in context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology either. When teaching in the west, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women, although certainly not to the level of unabashed feminism. In other words, his views were not informed by his own ideology “left” or “right”, but by the authority of śāstra that advocated both a strong tradition and gave leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus when in arriving in San Francisco and being shown by the devotees an article where Allen Ginsberg commented that he was conservative, Śrīla Prabhupāda was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to śāstra, “Conservative, we are not”. He went on to describe that although traditional sannyāsis like Śrī Caitanya would not even look at a woman, that he was accepting everyone “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head pūjārīs[ii] in his temples outside of India.

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Such limited ideology born of one’s own material conditioning is just not how a Vaiṣṇava informs his or her views, nor does a Vaiṣṇava have faith that such a limited ideological platform of “left” or “right” would ever even come close to meeting any promises for a better world.

My views on the subject 13 years ago:

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part I

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part II

[i]  The social and economic system of traditional India.

[ii] The head priest of the temple Deities.

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