Understanding Prabhupada

I have been reading about the history of Prabhupada in the early days and just came upon the description of the first wedding between two American devotees. I studied history and anthropology as an undergrad and was taught not to be ethnocentric.

I’ve been trying to keep this in mind while reading some of the things Prabhupada is quoted as having said- for example, that the wife should not be independent and that one of her main jobs is to have the house ready for her husband’s arrival home from work. I am able to clearly see that this was said in 1966 and that Prabhupada is coming from a traditional Indian background. So, it is easy for me to read these things and not be offended or argumentative.

However, the situation is changing now that I am seriously considering becoming an initiated devotee myself. I am happy to remain neutral while reading things like this as an “innocent bystander.” But, as a follower of Prabhupada, I would want to “translate” those types of statements into a more modern perspective. But, is this appropriate? By doing so, am I essentially disregarding Prabhupada’s instructions?

Here are some relevant points:

  1. I appreciate your mature attitude toward Srila Prabhupada’s 1966 statement.
  2. Prabhupada was a deep, complex thinker who often said different things on the same topic. So to get a full picture of his thinking, we sometimes have to assemble various statements. For example, you will find Prabhupada saying that a wife will be content with domestic duties. Elsewhere (in a room conversation on June 22, 1975) Prabhupada says, for example, that qualified women should earn Ph.D.’s and teach in universities. Prabhupada also often said that marriage is teamwork and that husband and wife must respect each other and adjust to each other’s needs.
  3. Prabhupada was eminently practical. As he learned more about the West, he adjusted and refined certain policies, while keeping his basic teachings and practices intact. Prabhupada states in Chapter 6 of Nectar of Devotion, that devotional ‘details’ are variable and marriage relations are a culturally variable detail of devotional service, not a basic principle such as “chant Hare Krishna.” So Prabhupada constantly adjusted. For example, in the beginning of his mission, he arranged marriages as one would do in India at that time. But upon seeing that most of these arranged marriages failed, he realized that this method did not work in the West. I remember that as a married temple president in 1971, I received a letter from Prabhupada sent to all the temples in which he declared that he was exiting from marriage arrangements and would leave it to us.

I saw over and over again that Prabhupada, as a pure lover of Krishna, really just wanted us to love Krishna and be happy. And as our loving father and guru, he never pushed us to the breaking point, but always made space for us, respecting our needs and limits.

You are an intelligent, thinking girl and obviously you need a marital relationship of mutual respect and consideration. The lucky man who marries you must love and accept you for who you are. Both husband and wife should serve each other in Krishna consciousness. The center of a Krishna conscious marriage is not the husband or the wife, but Krishna, and we are all servants of Krishna. Both husband and wife must deeply respect each other as eternal servants of Krishna.

Regarding your question about which other points Prabhupada would see as non-negotiable. Here is a short list:

  1. Prabhupada firmly held the line on our basic philosophy. We have lots of space to philosophically wonder about and analyze our philosophy, but Prabhupada did zealously protect the basic teachings, which in Sanskrit are called ‘siddhanta’ or settled conclusions such as: we are eternal souls, not temporary bodies; Krishna is the original form of God; Lord Caitanya is Krishna Himsel, etc. Prabhupada once wrote to me that we do not engage in mental speculation, but we can engage in philosophical speculation. He gave this example. In the Gita, Krishna says, “I am the taste in water.” To speculate WHETHER this statement is true or not is mental speculation. On the other hand, if I accept Krishna’s words, and try to grasp HOW they are true, that is philosophical speculation.
  2. Similarly, Prabhupada wanted that whether or not we are able to strictly follow all the basic moral and spiritual practices of bhakti-yoga, we should least recognize them as valid goals and patiently work toward them.
  3. Prabhupada also emphasized that we should be loyal to our spiritual family, ISKCON. That makes complete sense to me.

Originally posted here in the Question and Answer section of this site.

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