Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #5 – Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?

February 1st, 2021

I failed this week. I wanted to elaborate on a discussion I had with a friend about the difference between the Hare Krishna Movement (its structure and organization) and its mission (its goals or objectives). The wonderful thing about writing is that one is forced to clarify one’s conceptions. What I realized as my thoughts became clearer is that this week’s post needed to go in a completely different direction, and I just wouldn’t have time to complete it by Monday. I am thus reposting an article I wrote four years ago on a subject that I feel is relevant: the tendency for people in the modern age, including spiritual people, to fall too far into political camps rather than to think independently.


Are Vaishnavas Democrats or Republicans?[1]


Do Vaishnavas have an ideology? Srila Prabhupada had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaishnava King Yudhisthira:


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


Certainly Vaishnavas strongly profess a particular ideology, an economic and political system called varṇāśrama. So how could Srila Prabhupada describe as great a Vaishnava as Maharaja Yudhisthira as not having one of his own?


The reconciliation is simple. Srila Prabhupada is not saying that a Vaishnava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather, he means that unlike the conditioning of most modern-day conservatives or liberals, a Vaishnava does not bias his or her views. A Vaishnava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on shastra, not a predictable, prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.


A Vaishnava’s objectivity being beyond bias is also described by Srila Prabhupada in reference to the rule of Maharaja Yudhisthira:

“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.” (Bhāgavatam 1.10.4, purport)


A learned Vaishnava can thus not be politically pigeonholed as simply “left” or “right.” Srila Prabhupada is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative, as he often espoused traditional mores in the context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology. When teaching in the West, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women. In other words, his views were informed not by his own “left” or “right” ideology but by the authority of shastra, which both advocates a strong tradition and requires leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus, when arriving in San Francisco and being shown an article in which Allen Ginsberg had commented that he was conservative, Srila Prabhupada was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to shastra, “Conservative, we are not.” He said that although traditional sannyāsis like Sri Chaitanya would not even look at a woman, he was accepting everyone, “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head priests, pūjārīs, in his temples outside India.


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



[1] Originally posted September 12, 2016

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