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Brhad Mrdanga Member

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Reviewed book

On «On Speaking Strongly in Śrila Prabhupāda’s Service»

I admit that I usually do not read books written by my godsisters and godbrothers, save and except for publications that share personal memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Time is precious. Therefore I prefer to read the literature of my spiritual master almost exclusively.

That said, I am glad that I picked up this book. Sure, one reason was that I was intrigued by the fact that this publication is considered controversial by many. Which is astonishing. For it becomes crystal clear after reading the first few paragraphs that the author is reminding the reader of the most precious thing in this miserable world: The very essence and purpose of the original undiluted mission of our Śrīla Prabhupāda, the Hare Krishna Movement, and the entire Sampradaya. And the genuine bliss and ecstasy that comes with delivering the message As It Is.

I consider this publication a highly responsible undertaking. I fail to see any controversy. There is not a single sentence that would suggest that the author tends to be fanatic or, in ISKCON-devotee vernacular, “too heavy”.

Quite the opposite is true. Bhakti Vikāśa Maharaj lucidly and eloquently encourages the use of our discretion and intelligence when delivering the urgent message of the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa to the suffering Jīvas. Just as our Ācāryas did, but in our own individual capacity – and based on an honest assessment of our own stage of realization; but never to compromise – as we would be failing in our duty to Śrīla Prabhupāda if we did. The truth is unpalatable to almost every conditioned soul, there is not much we can do about it. Bhakti Vikāśa Swami warns his readers of the traps of speaking to people what they like to hear, rather than what they need to hear – and that the dangers in doing so are real. Both for the speaker and the listener.

The entire book is articulately written in illustrative language. Yet perfectly sober and uncompromising as you would expect from Bhakti Vikāśa Maharaj. Be assured that the book is refreshingly free of any personal opinion. Each and every statement is thoroughly supported by Guru, Sādhu, and Śastra. In addition, the author delivers the proof that humility and speaking strongly do not necessarily exclude each other.

In conclusion, I can only humbly suggest that you get your copy. I go as far as saying that this publication is a must-read for every Śrīla Prabhupāda follower worth his salt. The book stands out as a highly potent reminder of what our sacred duty is and shows how to put it into practice. “Back to the roots,” you could say – which does apply – if by ‘roots’ we understand the undiluted, unobscured, and uncompromised words of Guru, Sādhu, and Śāstra.

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Women: Masters or Mothers? gives profound psychological, social, and above all spiritual insights into the actual role and position of women in society. In the material world people tend to decide what is right and wrong based on their selfish standards. They don’t think about what Kṛṣṇa wants, and what He said and so their whole so-called knowledge and perception is based on the mental platform. On that mental platform, one is simply pulled this or that way by the material senses. Therefore, this talk of liberalism, open-mindedness, being free is just a royal edition of animals, as Śrīla Prabhupāda said. Western philosophy is nothing but footnotes of Plato’s philosophy. He was an atheist, especially when it came to moral law. Plato claimed that morality is not a law given by a personal God, and that ideal behaviour of people can be discovered through intelligence as there is no authority to teach us. The problem with this is when one is speculating and is not yet purified then from his heart comes all kinds of material desires and nasty things, and these influence one’s thoughts (lust, anger, greed, illusion, envy, and madness). Post-modernism especially considers that everything is what you make out of it by yourself. Nietzsche (probably the first post-modern philosopher) said that modern man has to remake is soul. It means everyone has to make an identity for oneself out of nothing. In other words it means – we become God. These concepts are of the modern dominant philosophy known as New Age, which considers Truth to be something you yourself discover by your own process. Jean Paul Sartre wrote a book ‘Being Out of Nothingness,’ and his girlfriend Simone de Beauvoir (the prototype of feminism) wrote a book ‘The Second Sex,’ but actually she drew her inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche said that people should be adventurous, experimental, dangerous and they should celebrate the body. In his moral system good is what heightens the feeling of power. And bad is all that proceeds from weakness. So, modern feminism is very concerned with these two points, and also that one should be authentic. We should have authentic
relationships, which means that everything should be freely chosen. But, in reality, their authenticity is imposed. This trend is actually ironic because Nietzsche was not very respectful towards women. Also, the life of Simone was quite scandalous. Śrīla Prabhupāda however labeled all this for what it really was; nirviśeṣa-śūnyavāda. These persons represent the background of liberal education. Whatever is necessary for education and life we already have in the Vedas. We don’t have to search or experiment with these so-called modern liberal systems. Śrīla Prabhupāda gave us the best system of learning moral values and spiritual knowledge. Śrīla Prabhupāda introduced the concept of sva-dharma (occupational duty, the characteristic). Everything has characteristics. Dharma means to render service. Everyone is rendering service according to their characteristics. Just like the characteristic of a microphone is to vibrate the sound. In the varṇāśrama system, the guṇa (natural quality), karma (natural propensity of work and its reaction) and dharma (divinely ordained purpose) of the human being are the key factors of civilization. Those who condemn the Vedas are themselves condemned to blunder about in the darkness of social, moral, and religious experimentations. Culture, etiquette, and proper behavior distinguishes humans from animals. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu instructed Sanātana Gosvāmī that maintenance of Vaiṣṇava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. Vedic culture or varṇāśrama is the highest culture because it originates from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Kṛṣṇa. As stated in Bg 4.13, He created the varṇāśrama system, the best possible social order and the highest manifestation of human culture. Vedic instructions are not subject to mistakes. The knowledge of the Vedas is received directly from God, and there is consequently no question of illusion, cheating, mistakes, and of imperfect senses. Principles can only be established by authority, not by mental speculation. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Rāmānanda Rāya that even sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja is not effective for go-kharas (animals). In the beginning living beings have to rise to the level of human beings, and stop vikarma.
Therefore Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu instructed Sanātana Gosvāmī to write a rulebook beginning with details of basic standard Vaiṣṇava behavior, as a necessary accompaniment to chanting and other primary devotional services. Varṇāśrama system is personal and has prescribed duties for every person, from birth to death, and leads individuals to the ultimate goal – Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The goal of daivavarṇāśrama (divine or God centered varṇāśrama) is the paramapuruṣārtha, the supreme goal of human life – love for Kṛṣṇa. When we combine buddhi, intelligence that Kṛṣṇa is giving, with our determination to follow Kṛṣṇa, that is called vyavasāyātmikā-buddhi. The varṇāśrama definition of women’s roles in society perfectly complements the female nature. It prescribes the means by which the female nature may be naturally dovetailed in the service of Kṛṣṇa thus pointing the way back to Godhead for the soul in a woman’s body. Modern people may say such a definition of a woman’s role in society is patriarchal or mysogynist, but what social system have they invented that can surpass Kṛṣṇa’s own varṇāśramadharma? Actually such people are simply barbarians who can understand only one social principle: sense gratification, the principle of animal society. Both women and men are equally bound by scriptural injunctions. A man who accepts a wife must return her service in so many ways, by protecting and caring for her. He must, also, respect all other women, besides his wife, just as he respects his own mother. “Be one for whom
the mother is a god.” (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.11.2). A vital role of women is to not simply bear children, but to themselves be religious and of pure consciousness. As stated in Bg 1.40, unprotected women become victims of unscrupulous men and thus varṇa-saṅkara are born, and the whole civilization is spoiled. Therefore one of the purposes of this book is to counteract propaganda that Śrīla Prabhupāda treated men and women equally in all respects. Men and women are spiritually equal, but they are materially and socially different. In today’s oversexed society, women are the main sufferers, because they are more often and more seriously exploited. Men should protect women from exploitation by lusty men. According to Śrīla Prabhupāda, so-called equal rights for women means that the men cheat the women. Another kind of protection that women require is emotional support of a man, without which they tend to feel insecure and dissatisfied or dysfunctional — even to the point of becoming a feminist. Often it is seen that women who are superficially renunciants try to cozy up to a man (usually a renunciant) whom they admire; they cannot forswear their need for male shelter. Undoubtedly, this need for male protection is a major reason why formal renunciation for women is mostly discouraged within Vedic culture, wherein women are glorified for being chaste, not for being renounced. (p. 106) Again, it may not be easy to quickly change one’s way of thinking. Even if one agrees with the principles, it could for various reasons be very difficult to implement them. Nonetheless, reform is needed, and reform begins with understanding of principles. (HH BVKS, Seminar: Principles for Establishing Varṇāśrama Communities, ) My gratitude to HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami, who tirelessly and unwaveringly preaches Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Vedic culture, as a perfect example of a faithful disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s, and a brāhmaṇa sannyāsī – a natural teacher of the society! I feel this book will appeal to all individuals and can greatly help society by making sure that women are taken care of and are protected in every aspect.

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

I am very grateful for having come across this book, Women: Masters or Mothers? but I lament not laving come across it earlier, for I would then have avoided many mistakes in my life. I was born and brought up in a simple South Indian family. My mother always dreamt that her daughter should be an independent woman. It didn’t take much time for me to develop this desire and prove my worth. To enjoy power, respect in the society and have some important identity. I saw that the best way to accomplish this desire (even at the cost of losing highly paid jobs in the West), is to be a lady officer in the armed forces, wearing uniform and getting salutes from the subordinates under my command. When asked in the Air Force selection interview by the president of the selection board as to why I wanted to be a commissioned officer in the Indian Air Forces, I gave the same reason — to enjoy respect that an officer in armed forces gets in the civil society. The president (interviewer) replied with a popular saying — the grass on the other side always looks greener — and my reply to his statement was I am sure that it is indeed very green. I was selected and joined the Air Force academy. Within ten days of the training in the academy I started to think of quitting the training. But the thought and dreams of enjoying the respect, financial independence, and fame in the society made me stay and continue the training. Soon after the completion of the training phase, I got married to a fellow officer and started my new life as a wife and a commissioned officer in Indian Air Force simultaneously. Things started looking impossible. I wanted to excel in both and didn’t want to compromise one duty for another. The tug of war started between professional front and the home front looking after family matters. I ended up requesting my superior officers to understand that it is difficult to stay away from my family, whenever there was a requirement for me to stay in remote postings for many days at a time. At home also, I began requesting my husband to cooperate, support, and understand that I am an officer and cannot be a wife to him in the same way that he had seen his mother be to his father. I used to wonder how the other married lady officers were managing their lives. I received many wise solutions and advice, such as hire a cook, employ a full-time maid servant, if you want to cook for your family the market is flooded with frozen and ready to use products, purchase already chopped vegetables, take full advantage of refrigerators and microwave ovens, cook at a time for 4 days and enjoy dining outside on weekends as you are financially independent, you see, women are better managers and so on and so forth. I started compromising the health of family and myself in order to try and maintain the balance of work and home duties. Stress started building up. Even after reaching home after work, the phone from the office kept ringing and while at the office, my mind gave the list of things to be done at home. Also, I was not at all comfortable with being the only lady officer posted in a unit of 10 male officers and 300 airmen. I started becoming a victim of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and extreme stress. Although my husband was caring enough and advised me several times to quit the job and that his earnings were sufficient to live a decent life, I resisted the idea. I would think how I was going to face the society. By this time, my family life was almost at a standstill, as I was under severe stress and depression. Then by divine arrangement, I came across and started to
read Srila Prabhupada’s books. Prabhupāda’s words came like a hammer when I came across the phrase “Equality of men and women is a propaganda by men to fool women
for their own benefit.” Things started to fall in place. I started to get more and more inner strength by reading His Divine Grace’s books. I started deriving strength to become devoted to God and to become a devotee wife and overcome the weakness of having to prove myself. I read the sections dealing with duties and responsibilities of women whose lives were based on scriptures, again and again. Now a third aspect was entering in my life; the life of Krsna consciousness. I realized that in order to go back home, back to Godhead, all the three aspects of work, family and maintaining sadhana cannot be managed simultaneously. I will have to compromise one for the other. And I decided to leave my job for pursuing the other two on a full-time basis. Six years have passed, and I never regretted this decision even once. I agree with every line of this wonderful book Women: Masters or Mothers? In ISKCON, I am always looking for women who can inspire us with their personal examples of being good mothers and at the same time maintaining good sadhana. I find the actions of such mothers speaking louder than the voice of the women sitting in front of the microphone and delivering lectures. We need more books like this in our movement and I am happy for the young women readers who can take lessons from this book and save themselves from many troubles in life.

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Despite Śrīla Prabhupāda and our previous ācāryas explaining clearly why daiva-varṇāśrama-dharma is of great importance for devotees and ISKCON as a preaching movement, there is still sometimes some confusion as to how it should be introduced, what aspects are of more or less importance, the speed at which we should endeavor to establish it and so on. The dharma of women, strī-dharma, is unfortunately often brushed aside as something of lesser importance — or even totally neglected as it is viewed by many as impractical, too idealistic and even exploitive. That it is so is perhaps not surprising as this tendency merely reflects the view of mainstream society that the role of a mother and wife is, simply put, not very important. If you want to “be someone,” if you want to be viewed as doing something valuable for society, you must have an education and a job. Then only are you viewed as someone contributing to society. If you merely do your duty as a mother and wife, you may even be seen as a parasite or a lazy person. Women: Masters or Mothers? explains nicely and clearly why Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke and wrote quite often about the important role women have in society as devoted mothers and wives. The book makes it clear why strī-dharma is very much relevant for the women of ISKCON here and now if we want to show the world a positive example of stable family life, happy children and harmonious marriages. At the present moment there is dissonance between the ideals and principles as presented by Śrīla Prabhupāda on the role of women and the way these ideals are understood and practiced. As is pointed out in the book, an immediate change may not be possible, but at least the ideals should be upheld, strived towards and propagated so that gradually we will move in the right direction, and the sooner the better.

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Reviewed book

On «On Speaking Strongly in Śrila Prabhupāda’s Service»

I have just read your recent book On Speaking Strongly. Congratulations on doing exactly that. It is quite a wake-up call, and I hope it awakens within many a reassesment of where they are at or going. Perhaps it will also evoke some meaningful and beneficial counter-approaches for further understanding. So many relevant and well-chosen quotes. At least a desire to study and hear from Çréla Prabhupäda resulted from my reading. It struck me that the strong speaking was first to be applied to myself - cut out compromise. The influence of reading so many other books by outsiders appears to affect our way of thinking and acting a lot - everything from rasika to science, other sampradäyas, other religions. Devotees who are scholars seem to be directing the ways of the movement in terms of the preaching approach and application of the philosophy often at the cost of pure bhakti. Heavy saìkértana, pioneering, challenging situations, difficulties are not in vogue.
By preaching strongly we have to become strong. We have to let go of the anarthas within.
Sometimes ulterior motives dictate our modus operandi. We do not want to expose, accept, or remove shortcomings.
I believe we need to be on the preaching front, and if we are not, there is more likelihood to adopt an indirect approach to preaching.

Reviewed book

On «Mothers & Masters»

Women: Masters or Mothers? offers powerful solutions to the problems we face as a spiritual institution. It is a must-read for every member of our ISKCON Society. If we simply ignore this book as irrelevant or fanatical, our tendency as a religious movement will no doubt be to adopt the spirit of modernism, thus inviting calamity upon our spiritual progress, both individually and collectively. If we thus loosen our standards and degrade from being the powerful, pure and dynamic force that Śrīla Prabhupāda groomed us to be, how can ISKCON survive? Purity is the force that keeps our movement thriving and growing. Impurity, which can be traced to deeply rooted attachment and adherence to Western social behaviors, is an opposing force that can lead us to degradation. Śrīla Prabhupāda warned that we should keep ourselves free from the impurities of materialistic culture. If we give in to the cultural norms of a degraded, failing society, what will be ISKCON’s destiny? William Ralph Inge’s chilling admonition can be taken a step further to read, “That religion which marries the spirit of today will be a widow tomorrow.”