Notes from a think tank



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Letter COM:1674089 (223 lines)
From: Internet: btb@georgian.net
Date: 09-Sep-98 20:15
To: Shyamasundara (das) ACBSP [4326]
Subject: something of interest
------------------------------------------------------------
Some recent texts from IWC by Madhusudani and Advaita concerning the Boston
temple and president, also a note from and to M. XYZ to and from the
Boston TP....

MRdd writes:


Dear IWC members,

I had the fortune of spending Radhastami at the beautiful ISKCON temple in


Boston, MA. The Deities were all wearing gorgeous new flower outfits and
the feast was great. However, one thing detracted from the experience; Boston
is one of the few US temples in which the women still stand in the back.
Following the feast I spoke with Sadhusangananda, the Boston TP about this.
I also spoke about it with Advaita Prabhu who has had similar experiences
when bringing Harvard students to the temple. Advaita Prabhu felt strongly
enough to send Sadhusangananda Prabhu a letter about this issue, which I am
posting below. This is a very important time in ISKCON. Reform proposals are
being widely circulated. Let's take advantage of this golden opportunity and
make this a true reform that also includes profound changes in the way women are treated in our society.

Thoughts?



Advaita Prabhu Dasa writes:
Subject:
Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 12:59:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: Edwin Bryant To: Maria Ekstrand CC: sadhusangananda.hks@com.bbt.se

Dear Sadhuji,

All glories to Guru and Gauranger. I understand that Madhusudani,
who is receiving a copy of this message, spoke to you about allowing women
to share the front of the temple room instead of at the back. I thought
perhaps this would be an appropriate time for me to share some feedback
with you from my students from Harvard whom I have brought (and will be
bringing) to the temple. I think such feedback is essential because Srila
Prabhupada was most keen to target the student community and spread KC
amongst the educated class of people. He was especially proud of, and
committed to, attracting scholars and students and I think it is very
questionable whether the devotees have fulfilled that desire on any
significant scale.

First let me note that the students loved the deities, the kirtan


and the prasadam. If you want their feedback on the classes then I will
share that with you separately. But the one comment that everybody seemed
to make was the sexist culture of the temple and this is what I wanted to
share with you on this occasion. This feature was not at all appealing to
the students. I should hastily add that this did not just negatively
impact the female students, but the male ones as well. Students nowadays
are thoroughly schooled in the principals of male/female equality and any
kind of a sexist culture where women are relegated to positions of
inferiority or secondary status is completely unacceptable to both men and
women. In my opinion, KC will never make a serious impact in the lives of
the intelligent class as long as such attitudes remain in operation.

Devotees sometimes try to substantiate such a culture by selective


quotes from Prabhupada. In so doing they often by pass other quotes from
Prabhupada wherein he empowered his women disciples to do everything they
were inspired to do and accepted them as good as the men on all accounts.
They also ignore the fact that men and women used to share half the temple
room in a left/right (as opposed to back/front) fashion in the early days
before the sannyasi culture became prominent and relegated them to the
back. They also used to give classes and lead kirtans until some of the
the 'renounced' sannyasis objected. We know what has happened to most of
those sannyasis.

It is my belief that Prabhhupada himself would have modified his


statements on women (as he modified other statements that he made
according to time and place) if he was made aware of the devastating
effect ISKCON's sexist culture has had on the ability to spread KC. But
that is just my personal belief and perhaps not of interest to most
people. What should be of more interest to ISKCON devotees, is that the
North American GBC have perceived the negative effect of sexist practices
and resolved that men and women should split the temple room in a
vertical, as opposed to horizontal fashion. I urge you to accept this
resolution. I also urge you to strongly encourage the women devotees to
give class. Regularly. If they initially are hesitant to do so it is
because they have been disempowered for so long.

A final point is that on occasion temple presidents have asked the


women resident in the temples what they would prefer in this regard.
Sometimes these women, either out of extreme purity of devotion or extreme
social conditioning, opt to maintain the status quo. Such superficial
surveys do not take into account the numerous other women who perhaps have
already previously left the temple because they could not tolerate such an
atmosphere. It does not take into account the numerous women who were not
attracted to move in in the first place. And it does not take into
account the number of women who might never have moved in but might
nonetheless have been interested in KC in a more general way, but were
disturbed by such features. I can assure you that these must be legion
just from the feedback I get from my own students. It is impossible to
calculate the negative effect on the ability of KC to become a more
mainstream form of religious life.

I read your proposal on ISKCON reform which you sent to CHAKRA and


was impressed by the very valuable insights you articulated therein, so I
know you are very concerned about the future of the ISKCON mission. Since
you are in a position of power, it is to you that we must address
ourselves on issues that some of us consider to be of paramount importance
in the spreading of KC in the West. Let the women take up half the temple
room and strongly encourage them to give *regular* class (ie not the odd
token women every once in a while). If the temple room is too small to be
split in the middle, let the women go in the front. This is the system in
all the temples in India: the women are allowed to swarm into the front
before the deities. It is also in keeping with notions of chivalry in our
own western cultures.

I am inviting Madhusudani to post this message onto the


International Women's Conference, along with your response, so that this
is not just limited to the sharing of opinions between two individuals,
but can be discussed by a larger concerned audience. I would like to post
it to Niranjana Swami as well as Premananda if you would kindly give me
their e-mail addresses. Such discussions are of vital importance at this
vulnerable time in ISKCON.

Hare Krsna. YS APD



XYZ writes:

In this letter, Sadhusangananda prabhu is replying to my letter to him.



<<<both women and men is an actual impediment to the spreading of Krsna
Conciousness to the women of the West, not the application of modern
so-called standards of equality between men and women.

I fully agree: A properly situated and normal, happy householder couple is


A very impressive and convicing representative of KC to many people. So is a
happy brahmacari or a renounced sannyasi.

<< On the absolute plane, we are all spirit souls but while in this body,
we should follow the intruction manual that came along with it.

Srila Prabhupada confirms this over and over in his books, conversations,


etc. but some men and ladies can simply not accept it. Interestingly, they
are the same ones who generally have no taste in harinam, the Bhagavatam,
japa, etc.

<conference, Dharma of Women, I would like to invite you to take part in
this conference. Let me know if you would like to be added as a member.
ys XYZ dd
Sadhusangananda responds:

Answer below:

Dear XYZ dd,

Please accept my humble obeisances.


All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Thank you very much for your letter. I have heard about the "Dharma of


Women" conference recently and was very happy to hear that such a
Conference exists. As far as I can see, there is a growing body of women who are tired of militant feminists telling them how they have to cause revolutions in
The temples. The Boston temple is one of the most dynamic and happy temples in
the world, and the militant attack (the letters on the conference you
mentioned were 'nothing' compared to the latest hate letter from the German
mataji council.

The ironic thing is that I am fighting for matajis getting proper respect,


being fully accepted as authorities in case they are department heads etc.
for as long as I can think of. Although I am a brahmacari, I have helped
many matajis over the years to find a suitable husband, get trained in KC
etc. Nevertheless, feminists love to attack me in any way they can - must
be my karma.

I humbly requested Advaita and Madhusudhani to stop their inappropriate and


non-sensical attack in public because I have to presently take care of a
legal aspects + spiritual counseling of a mataji who has terminal cancer.
On top of that I have my hands full with counseling disciples of Harikesa
prabhu + tons of other managerial and preaching duties. Despite my pleas,
they simply continued to mercilessly harrass me and the Boston temple.

The situation here in Boston is very simple: the temple room is so narrow


that a side by side solution doesn't work. No one ever complained about it.
No GBC, no senior mataji, not even the few matajis with feminist tendencies
that came through here in the past few years. Even though our ladies are
requested to stand side by side during Deity greetings (because there is no
dancing during that time, and therefore no problem) they tend to stand a
little further in the back. The men here don't really mind if there are
aggressive ladies who ostentatively try to come up front - they simply
tolerate without thinking much about it.

Re. matajis giving class: As soon as there are qualified matajis present,


We generally invite them immediately to give class. Our own matajis here are
not only mostly young devotees but not inclined at all to give class.

Re. my membership in the conference: Personally, I do not think that I


Could contribute very much philosophically in the Dharma conference - but I'd
like to be added as a receiver for the sake of learning. Since I am planning to
close down my COM account, I am not certain though whether I can receive
texts on my AOL account (Sadhu1008@aol.com). Although I am usually
overburdened with work, I would still try my best to read the texts posted
there simply because I am attracted by dharma.

Thank you for your kind letter.

I hope this meets you well.

Y.s.


(Text COM:1674089) -----------------------------------------

Section 9


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