Go to the Prabhupada Page
by Umapati Swami
My article "Infallible Prabhupada" has brought charges of radicalism and fanaticism for my disagreement with those who say that Srila Prabhupada was antiquated in his views on women. Now I would like to elaborate on it, especially in the light of the new articles by Mothers Niscala and Maharani. I stand by my article, of course, but I would like to explain my point.
First, there are some instances where I agree with Mothers Niscala and Maharani. We all agree that Srila Prabhupada is an infallible authority on spiritual matters. We also agree that even a perfect spiritual master is not necessarily omniscient and that Srila Prabhupada sometimes admitted he did not know this or that. I even published an article to that effect on Chakra last year, "Who Says Prabhupada Knew?"
We disagree, however, on where to draw the line between spiritual topics and topics that Srila Prabhupada may not know about. Niscala and Maharani say we must decide for ourselves where to draw this line, but I say we must let Srila Prabhupada draw it for us.
Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would say, "I do not know," or "I did not know," and only in these cases should we assume that Srila Prabhupada did not know something. We should take Srila Prabhupada’s word for it just as we should take his word for everything else: "You have to select another person where you will find that ‘Here is a mind, here is man where I can surrender. Yes, he is greater than me in so many respects. Therefore I can surrender.’ …You have to become blank slate: ‘Now, sir, whatever I have learned, oh, I forget. It is now blank slate. Now you write whatever you like.’" (San Francisco, March 15, 1967)
And again, "Therefore we have to see through the eyes of a person who has perfect vision." (Los Angeles, Dec 18, 1973,)
Niscala disagrees with Srila Prabhupada on this point. In "Who Sees?" she writes, "When we take the duty of the guru to be ‘He will see for me’ rather than ‘He will open my eyes,’ then we unwittingly reverse his role, and place all responsibility for our advancement upon him.… It is directly opposed to the meaning of ‘om ajnana timirandasya [sic]....’"
But "om ajnana timirandhasya..." means that my spiritual master has opened my eyes with the torchlight of knowledge. In such a case, my knowledge should be the same as my spiritual master’s. If we disagree, it can only mean that my eyes have not yet been opened, at least not by my spiritual master.
Since Mother Niscala disagrees with Srila Prabhupada here, we can dismiss her point as speculation.
Mother Maharani reminds us that no jiva, from Lord Brahma down, can possess more than 78 percent of the godly attributes, including all knowledge. Fine, but do we all agree that Srila Prabhupada is a perfected jiva? I hope so.
Then Srila Prabhupada must possess a full 78 percent of the godly attributes, the same as Lord Brahma, and Srila Prabhupada’s intelligence must be similar to the intelligence of Lord Brahma, which is greater than ours to the same degree that Lord Brahma’s life is longer.
Would tiny, insignificant Maharani presume to define the limits of Lord Brahma’s knowledge, especially since she has been entrapped in his creation for countless lives? How then, does she dare to tell us where Srila Prabhupada’s knowledge ends, when Srila Prabhupada is so intelligent that he knows the way out of Lord Brahma’s trap?
Now there were times when Srila Prabhupada said he did not know something. He once told me that before opening the temple on Second Avenue, he did not know it would be a good location. Another time, in 1966, I was in Srila Prabhupada’s office repairing something when I nicked my finger and it started to bleed a little. I did not know yet that one should not take service from the spiritual master, so I asked Srila Prabhupada for a piece of cloth, and he tossed me a used, inky typewriter ribbon. Then he looked and saw the blood on my finger. ‘I am sorry," he told me. "I did not know."
In such cases, one may reasonably assume Srila Prabhupada did not know, as he said so himself, but neither Mother Niscala nor any of her friends have come up with any quotation where Srila Prabhupada says he does not know what he is talking about when he says women are generally less intelligent.
Quite the contrary. In 1966, I also objected. "The Americans will not accept these things you are saying about women," I told Srila Prabhupada.
"I am not going to change the truth for the Americans," he answered.
Srila Prabhupada also put these statements in his books for his disciples to study, so we can assume he considers them to be true as well as important enough to be studied. What disciple or descendant can say that he knows better than Srila Prabhupada what is true and important?
Coincidentally, Maharani mentions Kirtanananda in her article, saying that he is "definitely misguided, at the very least." Not many people will dispute her view there, but philosophically speaking, Niscala and Maharani are misguided in the same way as Kirtanananda. He also rejected parts of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings on the plea that these parts were material and outside the sphere of Srila Prabhupada’s knowledge. Thus, he claimed, his rejection of such things did not constitute a breach of faith.
These are the same arguments now being advanced by Niscala and Maharani. The topics are different, that’s all. Kirtanananda rejected Srila Prabhupada’s statements about culture and sadhana, and Niscala and Maharani reject the statements about women, but the justification is the same: these topics are material.
But can we reject the spiritual master’s knowledge of material things? We all know of the incident where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati told a disciple to pick up a rope, then told him to put it down because it was a snake, then told him to pick it up because it was a rope, then told him to put it down because it was a snake. Ropes and snakes are material things, but the lesson here is that one should see everything, material and spiritual, through the eyes of the spiritual master.
And who says the relative intelligence of women is a material consideration when we are trying to give Krsna Consciousness to women as well as men? Lord Krsna Himself puts women in the same category as vaisyas and sudras. How shall we take this? Shall we say that the situation of women is beyond the sphere of Lord Krsna’s knowledge? Or shall we follow the principle of sastra-caksus, seeing through the eyes of scripture?
The problem is one of accepting and rejecting according to one’s own likes and dislikes. If we look at all of Srila Prabhupada’s statements about women, we will find that he is saying something different from what his detractors accuse him of. The same goes for his statements about Blacks. People take one or two statements out of all that Srila Prabhupada has said and then accuse him of being sexist or racist and of being ill informed. It is an insidious practice, the same as used by the woman-abusers for their own justification.
We are trying to go to the Spiritual World, but what kind of society do we expect to find there? It won't be 21st-century America, that’s for sure. Does Srila Prabhupada know what the Spiritual World is like? If yes, then when we reject anything that Srila Prabhupada teaches, we may be rejecting a part of the Spiritual World.
© Umapati Swami
CHAKRA 6 October 2001
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