GBC Critique of 2013 SAC Paper
SAC / FDG
BY: VIDHEYA DEVI DASI
Jan 07, 2018 USA (SUN)
"The following is a critique by a GBC member of the Sastra Advisory Council’s 2013 FDG paper. The analysis is so scathing that the SAC was too embarrassed to publish their paper to the public. Thus it was not easy for us to get a copy of it and the GBC review. This paper could be held up as an example of how not to write a paper, it is that bad. But, you may be asking, why are we posting this here on Urmila’s blog? The reason is simple, Urmila is the chairwoman of the SAC and she is also pushing to be a diksa guru so she is the main one responsible for this SAC paper. Of course all other members of the SAC who signed off on it also bear responsibility but she is the main one. It is because of several papers like this that no one has any respect for or trust in the SAC. And, it thus reflects badly on her. Urmila’s ambition is to be in the spotlight, what she didn’t realize is that in the spotlight we can see all her spots.
Before you read the critique you should read the original SAC paper.
And, this is the response by ISKCON India in 2009 to the first SAC paper on FDG and the reason why the SAC came out with their 2013 paper.
See also the related posts:
Politically Motivated Wrongdoings of the Sastric
Why Women Should Not Be on the Sastric Advisory Council
GBC member / Comments & Questions
October 10th, 2013
Conflict of Interest:
Two of the members of the SAC team are Vaisnavis who would like to initiate. This creates a conflict of interest.
“SAC members mostly agreed,,,”. What about hearing from those who did not agree?
The paper sets up an “either or” dynamic—either Varnasrama or pure devotional service—whereas the truth is that varṇ. This two dimensional view of the SAC paper allows them to write off the many Varnashram social principles instructing women to not to take prominent leadership roles but instead focus on developing sane and spiritually progressive families. This is not a 2nd rate engagement. After all, sane and spiritual progressive families are the essential building blocks of a stable and spiritually progressive society.
Note; At the same time, there are numerous quotes by Srila Prabhupada castigating Varnasharam for its rigidity, casteism, and inability to see the forest through the trees. After all, the paper is using Srila Prabhupada’s own statements. Thus the paper’s authors can say “We did not create this dynamic. It is coming from Srila Prabhupada”.
Do the benefits outweigh the concerns?
Srila Prabhupada is attacked for allegedly seeing women as 2nd class citizens. There was that recent posting on the GBC discussions forum from some scholar who has put together a selective set of quotes by Srila Prabhupada about women. Reading it cold, without any understanding of context and the rest of the story, it does not present a flattering picture.
The presentation in the SAC paper is that there are sincere souls who are put off from ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada because of this picture painted. If we go forward with FDGs, we can then point to this.The argument is that this could do much to deflect this criticism. It would make Srila Prabhupada more attractive to those of the modern mind set.
Are we denying this positive opportunity due to the lesser point of concerns over Vedic culture?
As a service to protecting Srila Prabhupada’s image and to allow more people to feel comfortable approaching him, do we open the door for FDGs? Do we let a few Vaisnavis start initiating and then hold it at that? There may well not be that many more who want to do this and either way, the GBC controls how many FDGs are allowed on the field. Thus the GBC can keep the number “rare” and “not so many”.
As a counter to #4 above, modern society is no success story. As it has been said: “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation”. One of ISKCON’s most potent messages is our alternative social roles. Rather than attempting to assimilate, we should have the courage of our convictions and boldly present our Varnashram / Vedic model. The “cultural conquest” Srila Prabhupada spoke about was our culture conquering theirs, not that we became like them.
This is not so far-fetched. As with discussions about alternative economies, permaculture agriculture, and the simple living movement, there are a number of respected scholars, writers, and activists out there who are re-thinking the whole current social model and coming to conclusions sympathetic to the Vedic view.
Putting the cart before the horse
We are establishing FDGs while we have not put in place Varnashram, which, as we all know Srila Prabhupada said, remains the unfinished 50% of his mission in this world.
FDGs and the establishment of Varnashram are linked because the natural role of men and women is an essential part of Varnashram. The authors of the SAC paper write:
“But in today’s society women are no longer in such a position. In nearly every country and culture of the world, including India, women are expected to fully function in society.”
GBC: A priori we are conceding that the image of the go-getter woman, out there in the work place arena jostling for the same role in society as men. I would offer that if we take this position, we have already dealt a mortal wound to an essential principle of Varnashram and thus ISKCON will never be able to get a healthy and proper Varnashram model off the ground.
This is one reason why the decision of FDGs matter so much. It is a watershed event. It will have a major impact on charting ISKCON’s social course going forward.
It is not that the only leaders are those who are competing in the external social arena.
It is not that the only leaders are those who rise to prominence in the external social arena. ISKCON can set a much needed example by having Vaisnavis become leaders in another arena: in how to raise healthy families. Barbara Bush, when she was 1st lady of the USA, told an audience at a college graduation “It is not only important what happens in the White House. It is equally important what happens in your house”
The paper seems to be using the claim of daivi-varnasrama as a rationale to avoid a number of Varnashram principles altogether.
Inappropriate comparisons / support evidence:
The paper uses Paurnamasi being a diksha guru in Vrindaban lila as support evidence. Do we accept these nitya-lila devotees as the standard for conditioned souls of this world?
8. Sleight of hand / Re-writing history
Claim that Srila Prabhupada established Vaisnavis in leadership positions equal to their Vaisnava counterparts, when in fact he did not.
No Vaisnavis as GBCs / None as temple presidents (Yamuna dd and1/2 a vote / None as BBT trustees
Note: There is also Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Yamuna dd shutting down her idea about an active, independent ladies’ ashram
b) They then try to build on that unsupported foundation
See Quote section below
Beyond Varnashram / Varnashram not for devotees?
a) Selective quotes / Ignores: “Half my work unfinished”
b) Vedic values are eternal and good for all. This is the “culture conquest” SP wanted—not the other way around,e. that ISKCON is conquered by modern mundane mores.
You can’t have it both ways
The paper argues one way when it serves its purpose and then the opposite when that becomes convenient.
The paper argues that Srila Prabhupada was very liberal and then that he was very conservative
b) Argues that Srila Prabhupada was bold and then that he was timid i.e. afraid to confront the resistance of young passion sannyasis. This ignores that Srila Prabhupada pulled TKG from Radha-Damodar and sent him to China.
c)See “Misquoting / Misunderstanding” below. The paper argues that SP wanted all leadership roles to be open to Vaisnavis. Therefore, he wanted Vaisnavis to be diksha gurus. Elsewhere the paper argues that to think that being a diksha guru is a position of leadership, influence, and power is a misunderstanding. So which is it regarding diksha, a position of leadership or not?
Building on a foundation they did not really establish.
The paper makes an unconvincing claim and then use that weak foundation as “proof” of their next point.
a) Claim that Srila Prabhupada put Vaisnavis in leadership roles equal with Vaisnavas (which SP did not). Then the paper’s claim is that to be consistent with Srila Prabhupada’s vision, we need to establish Vaisnavis in the leadership role of diksha gurus
b) The paper also uses the unsupported claim that Srila Prabhupada put Vaisnavis in prominent leadership roles as “proof “ that Srila Prabhupada stepped outside of tradition and moved beyond the standard of the previous acharyas of “rare” and “not so many” FDGs
See Quote section below
Misquoting / Misunderstanding GBC paper
Claim that being a diksha guru is not a position of power / authority quoting the GBC’s “Lines” paper as confirmation. But the “Lines” paper recognizes that diksha gurus have power and influence over their disciples. Note the paper’s title “Managing ISKCON’s Lines of Authority”,
Assumptions presented as a certain result
“By exercising their vetting power, the GBC can make sure that only such exemplary Vaisnavis are allowed to serve as FDGs, which would raise the threshold for FDG qualification and promote them as role models.”
GBC: Actually the opposite could just as easily happen. There will be great pressure on the GBC to accept Vaisnavis as ISKCON recognized diksha gurus. If a Vaisnavi candidate is not approved, there will claims of sexism and misogyny. This is not a theory. It is already happening right now, in the course of the current FDG debate.
Faulty logic / assumptions
Opening the door to FDGs will greatly expand the positive reputation and attractive power of ISKCON.
GBC: The Mormons are doing just fine and they have a far more male-dominated culture and leadership structure than ISKCON.
Suppositions as support for the FDG case
The paper asks us to enter into the mind of Srila Prabhupada—that he might have done this or that for some assumed reason
See quote section below
Do Vaisnavis need to be even more qualified than Vaisnavas?
When it comes to taking up the role of FDGs, a case can be made for the answer being “yes”. This is because the role is so unconventional by Vedic / Varnashram standards.
See Mukunda dhatta prabhu’s paper
Questions from reading the paper
“Not so many” and “rare”
Do we accept the paper’s mathematical answer i.e. there are “not so many” because there are less women who want to take up the role? Due to the natural quality of shyness and because of family duties, less Vaisnavis become active preachers. As less are coming forward as active preachers, therefore less develop a circle of aspiring disciples in need of initiation.
Successful preaching requires initiating?
Does a preacher automatically, inevitably need to initiate? Is this the natural and mandatory result of all preaching? The paper claims that if we say “no initiating” it greatly limits / reduces the preaching work of Vaisnavis?
One who will pass this examination will be awarded with the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.
GBC: In my opinion, this is the strongest piece of evidence in support of FDGs. What is the reply? Do we say that Srila Prabhupada adjusted his thoughts as events unfolded, just as he initially proposed that the GBC be elected by the presidents and later changed that to new members being selected by the GBC itself? After all, Srila Prabhupada initially was thinking that “maybe by 1975, all my disciples will be allowed to initiate”
Quotes from paper
However, these Vedic norms are still at a formative stage in ISKCON. In the absence of a developed social infrastructure, it is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position as the founder-ācārya and his application of Vedic social norms to ISKCON that take precedence over other social considerations.
GBC: What are they saying here? “Formative” / “absence of developed social structure”— So when these Vedic norms are in place and developed, then Vaisnavis initiating will go back to being “rare” and “not so many”? Or is the paper trying to make the case that Srila Prabhupada started with a blank slate and created what he wanted I,e. a different model from the traditional Vedic norms?
“…there are no recorded negative impacts of FDGs in our sampradāya in the past, in other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas, and in the modern Indian society in general.”
GBC: There may be no record because it was very rarely done. As for modern times, there are scandals with the Brahma Kumaris and a number of the so-called female sannyasis and so-called spiritual leaders. The statement above is sketchy and not even accurate.
Another important way of protecting the Vedic social model while implementing FDGs is, for both men and women, to put more emphasis on the traditional model of dīkṣā-gurus having a limited number of disciples with whom the gurus had regular contact and could truly train and instruct.
GBC: Wishful thinking. The paper suggests various safeguards. How about putting these in place in ISKCON first and then talk about FDGs? What are the odds these safeguards will ever be enacted and practices?
There is ample evidence to the contrary – that Śrīla Prabhupāda did put Vaiṣṇavīs in prominent roles of spiritual and even administrative leadership, albeit on a smaller scale than men and in some cases mostly over other female devotees. Examples include Vaiṣṇavīs serving as preachers, teachers, pujaris, heads of departments, leaders of the World Sankirtana Party, and temple managers (such as Śilāvatī, Yadurāṇī, and Yamunā).
He also proposed two of his female disciples as GBC members.
GBC: Note the absence of temple presidents, GBCs, and BBT trustees. The paper says “proposed as GBCs”. It sounds like Srila Prabhupada “proposed” the idea and someone else vetoed it. The fact is that Srila Prabhupada considered Yamuna (with ½ a vote) and then decided not to appoint any Vaisnavis. They are trying to re-write history here. .
This attempt to re-write history, altering from what Srila Prabhupada actually said and did, is a very dangerous precedent. We lose the words and example of our founder-acharya and ISKCON is a ship a drift –in very turbulent and dangerous waters.
From the list of 9 suppositions / pages 8 and 9
If we take it that the list of eleven has some meaning in terms of what sort of persons should be dīkṣā-gurus in ISKCON, there are some possible interpolations of what Prabhupāda might have, or might have not, intended:
GBC: Here the authors feel free to speculate on “possible interpolations”. They assume Srila Prabhupada’s mind set with no hard evidence. If this has become the standard for evidence, then what about the following alternative interpolations?
Srila Prabhupada’s comments and quotes about Vaisnavis giving diksha were just to encourage them.
His comments about ISKCON being an equal opportunity institution were to appease his female disciples’ western feminist leanings (after all, the paper asks its readers to accept that Srila Prabhupada was sensitive to the chauvinistic sentiments of his male disciples).
This, although apparently at odds with a traditional role of women in the Vedic society, and with the instructions of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s immediate predecessors,
GBC: They don’t make their point but go ahead and build on it as if it had been established as a proof.
While Śrīla Prabhupāda did uphold traditional standards, he did so not simply for their own sake. While emphasizing the importance of establishing varṇāśrama with its concomitant standards for preserving purity, Śrīla Prabhupāda also expertly modified such traditional standards in compliance with the more essential principles of pure devotion and preaching, evident from his empowerment of female disciples for untraditional roles of preachers and teachers,
GBC: Which is it? Kunti devi and the others listed from a more traditional time were “preachers and teachers” or not? They can’t have it both ways—use Kunti devi and the others Vaisnavis as examples of how there is a history of Vaisnavi “preachers and teachers” and then later in the paper say that Srila Prabhupada broke free from tradition by “empowerment of female disciples for untraditional roles of preachers and teachers”.
Trying to construe Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appointment of male devotees as his proxies for initiations as his philosophical statement is a very speculative and tenuous argument.
GBC: They are trying to dismiss by name calling what is a cornerstone piece of evidence: What Srila Prabhupada actually did.
In fact, one can just as well extrapolate this argument to advance a wide range of absurd conclusions: that Śrīla Prabhupāda did not want any Indian gurus, that he did not want any black gurus, that only these eleven disciples and no one else could ever initiate, or that wanted a certain percent of ISKCON gurus to be Jews.
GBC: Way out on a limb here. Srila Prabhupada did in fact appoint black and Indian devotees as GBCs and temple presidents. He did not do so for Vaisnavis.
The paper repeatedly extrapolates and speculates to try to support its own points.
The sannyāsī-gṛhastha controversy was still too fresh, and Śrīla Prabhupāda might have wanted to avoid exacerbating it by appointing women among the eleven proxies.
GBC: Rank speculation and quite frankly offensive to Srila Prabhupada’s stature. Elsewhere the paper lauds Srila Prabhupada for being bold yet here the speculation is that Srila Prabhupada was too timid to stand up and convince his sannyasis? Worth noting that Srila Prabhupada removed TKG from the Radha-Damodar party, at the height of its success, and sent him to China. History simply does not support this claim.
Considering the young age of his disciples at that time, Śrīla Prabhupāda might have chosen men over women to protect the latter’s new family life and responsibilities.
GBC: Speculative and inconsistent. Men didn’t also have new family life and responsibilities? All of a sudden, at the end of his manifest pastimes, these family duties become Srila Prabhupada’s focus? And yet the paper claims that Srila Prabhupada already was putting Vaisnavis in prominent and demanding leadership roles.
Here the paper argues that Srila Prabhupada considered the traditional role of motherhood so important but elsewhere the paper says that he adjusted traditional roles.
If the above speculation was Srila Prabhupada’s intention, then all he had to do was say so. “No FDGs now but I want them in the future”. However, the simple fact is that he did not.
There are reasons to believe that those eleven proxies were not intended by Śrīla Prabhupāda to become anything more than proxies.
GBC: Completely diversionary tactics to try to explain away the list Srila Prabhupada made. Srila Prabhupada said “proxies now / regular gurus after I am gone”. Either way, Srila Prabhupada did not list any Vaisnavis.
This argument seems to be based on a mistaken notion that there was indeed an appointment of not just gurus but eleven zonal ācāryas. Denying female devotees permission to serve as dīkṣā-gurus appears to be another symptom of the same inappropriate conflation of the dīkṣā-guru’s position with administrative influence and power.
GBC: Another odd smoke screen diversionary argument.
At the same time, Śrīla Prabhupāda consistently criticized Indian people for their superficial, neglectful and indiscriminate attitude towards their own spiritual culture, and for spoiling it with casteism and superstitions, like:
‘[Actually India’s position is now degraded; it is not advancing. They have lost their original culture, and now they are begging from outside. So actually they have not gained by sacrificing their original culture.”
GBC: This line of logic is a complete flip-flop of history and intent. Srila Prabhupada criticized India for chasing after Western modernity. That was the “giving-up” of their original culture. He regularly criticized the loss of shyness and the need for protection of women that was found in the West.
Therefore it should be ascertained, ideally in a face-to-face discussion with all the important stakeholders, including FDG candidates, what the actual concerns of the Indian yatra leaders about introducing FDGs are and how to best address them.
GBC: Have this discussion before we start the process. See where it goes and if the concerns can be satisfactorily addressed.
Given the absence of an uninterrupted and exhaustive hagiography of the Gauḍīya-Vaiṣṇava line with its many sub-branches, it is virtually impossible to provide a solid proof for the claim that FDGs were rare,
GBC: Deeply offensive actually. Are the authors of the paper denying that Srila Prabhupada said “rare” and “not so many”? Are they saying “Yes, he said it, but it may not be true”?
With regards to varṇāśrama duties and training, Prabhupāda explained that men and women have different roles in some areas. Even in varṇāśrama, men and women sometimes have very similar roles.
GBC: This is an attempt to dance around the gurukula quote (about different educations / goals for Vaisnavis and Vaisnavas / see #18 below). The paper acknowledges different roles (because it is impossible to honestly deny it) but then tries to conflate these different roles and duties into one—or at least blur the lines between them.
This is another example of this dangerous precedent of re-writing, re-interpreting Srila Prabhupada’s words and deeds.
I am especially stressing the importance of our Dallas Gurukula for training up the next generation of Krishna Consciousness preachers. This is the most important task ahead.
GBC: What about the following quote?
Now our policy should be that at Dallas we shall create first-class men, and we
shall teach the girls two things. One thing is how to become chaste and faithful to their husband and how to cook nicely. If these two qualifications they have, I will take guarantee to get for them good husband. I’ll personally… Yes. These two qualifications required. She must learn how to prepare first-class foodstuff, and she must learn how to become chaste and faithful to the husband. Only these two qualifications required. Then her life is successful. So try to do that..Ordinary education is sufficient, ABCD. (Morning walk, Chicago, July, 10, 1975.
Bhakti-ratnākara on Jāhnavā Devī
GBC: This logic that the exception creates the rule, establish the norm is flawed. Exceptions are just that—very rare exceptions for very exalted souls.
“Reasons for having women give diksha…”
Following Gaudiya history
GBC: Then follow it—“rare” and “not so many”
But in today’s society women are no longer in such a position. In nearly every country and culture of the world, including India, women are expected to fully function in society.
GBC: That maybe what is expected of them in today’s society but that is not the role Srila Prabhupada advocated for them during his summer tour of 1976 (or maybe 75) when he spoke so boldly and frankly to the media, including female reporters
Such persons say that we should now institute a society where women are “not required to go out” to preach and that we should now abandon Prabhupāda’s policy of engaging women fully as preachers.
GBC: I have never heard a single GBC member say anything like this. This is a straw man argument.
For those who hold this view, we can suggest that they create enclaves within ISKCON where they can start to set up societies according to their vision
GBC: This is advocating the Balkanization of ISKCON i.e. ISKCON breaking into small and disparate fiefdoms. The paper seems almost desperate to advocate anything in order to somehow or other push the door open for FDGs. How does this proposal for “enclaves” square with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to the GBC that one of their main duties is establish and sustain spiritual and philosophical principles and to also keep ISKCON as a united institution?
In terms of ability to advance in bhakti, Prabhupāda generally stated that all persons have ability to advance. Here Prabhupāda explains that women who chant the holy name and follow the regulative principles should not be considered as women in terms of lower birth or qualification.
GBC: Sure. But does having the ability to advance in bhakti mean that women must be able to initiate? The paper is very weak on addressing the fact that many great, advanced Vaisnavis stayed in their social position to set an example for others and to not disturb society. Krishna Himself cites Janaka Maharaja in the Bhagavad Gita
Regarding giving the thread to men only:
Srila Prabhupada quote: “As a preacher, he should be recognized as a brāhmaṇa; otherwise there may be a misunderstanding of his position as a Vaiṣṇava”. [Comment: giving the thread to men is a preaching strategy, not an indication of spiritual status.].
GBC: OK. Given that it was a preaching strategy, not an indication of spiritual status, that still does not explain why Srila Prabhupada gave the thread to men and not to women. The “preaching strategy” did not include women being recognized as brahmanas?
Prabhupada: Maybe somewhere I might have mentioned. It is not that woman cannot be ācārya. Generally, they do not become. In very special case. But Jāhnavā Devī was accepted as, but she did not declare.
GBC: What does Srila Prabhupada means “…but she did not declare.”?