The following is a response written by Hridayananda das Goswami to a letter written on January 23, 2013.
I’m a gay man who has some concerns as to whether or not it’s a good idea to pursue deeper commitment (initiation) in this organization given the homophobic tenor of ISKCON’s stance on the issue.
All things being equal, perhaps it would be wiser to pursue another spiritual path (organization), rather than to spend time and energy hiding and remaining in the organizational closet, so to speak. A dreary waste of time in my opinion.
Friends have cautioned me (as they have watched me becoming more involved) that ISKCON is an extremely conservative organization, and is fairly intolerant of gay people, modern science, woman’s rights, other religions, etc.
Personally, I have not experienced any negativity from any of the local devotees, but still there remains the larger concern of ISKCON in general. Ultimately, I don’t want to participate in or support an organization that promotes bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, etc. Any insight, wisdom or guidance you may have will be greatly appreciated.
Response by Hridayananda das Goswami:
“The simple point is that ISKCON is a huge, very diverse, global society. The kindness and understanding that you have received is typical of many, I would even say most, ISKCON communities.
“There is a very large and growing liberal community within ISKCON. One excellent feature of ISKCON: it is not a tightly controlled society where a few leaders tell everyone exactly how to think. In fact, within reasonable limits, ISKCON tends to be an open society where people who follow Vaishnava etiquette can express their views and advocate various issues.
“ISKCON’s attitude on science, women’s rights, other religions, etc is quite good. We are active in interfaith dialogue around the world, there are more and more women in leadership positions, the governing body has officially stated that women can be gurus (the highest spiritual position), and we have several sophisticated science institutes around the world, along with a number of accomplished devotee scientists.
“We don’t offer knee-jerk fealty to fanatical scientism, but we do engage in meaningful scientific dialogue. Whoever gave you the negative picture of ISKCON is a bit lost in time. It sounds more like ISKCON 25 years ago when we were all young and immature.
“I would strongly encourage you to stay with Prabhupada. He is not replaceable. Again, your experience is typical of many, many other centers. Let’s work together to make ISKCON even better. Prabhupada said our attitude should be as in the old saying, “England, with all thy faults I love thee.” Prabhupada needs us to make his society even better.”