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Blacks and Slavery
Umapati Swami Answers Krsna Avatara Prabhu

Dear Krsna Avatara Prabhu,

Thank you for your article "Proper Dissent Should Be Discussed Rationally." I will try to answer your questions, starting with an easy one. You write, "A few sanyasis and some leaders told me that interracial marriages were not "Vedic"(varna means color)—that Prabhupada was against them."

I was present when Srila Prabhupada performed the wedding ceremony for a black man and a white woman (Sudama and Cintamani), so I do not believe Srila Prabhupada was against this. Later, Srila Prabhupada awarded sannyasa to the same black man.

Concerning slavery, Srila Prabhupada is not proposing a return to the Old South:

"The point is that in any society there must be a leader, there must be directors, and there must be workers, but everyone should be so satisfied that they forget the difference." (JSD 7)

"Kirata-hunandhra-pulinda-pulkasa abhira-sumbha yavanah khasadayah. So the Kiratas [blacks], they were always slaves of the Aryans. The Aryan people used to keep slaves, but they were treating slaves very nicely. Later on it degraded. Otherwise, slaves were kept just like family members." (May 26,1974)

But what does Srila Prabhupada mean by slaves? In the Vedic system there are sudras, but they are defined as workers and servants. Where do the slaves fit in?

"Prabhupada: If one does not obey the social structure, he must be forced. That is the idea of slaves. The sudras who do not work properly, he must be forced. Nobody should remain unemployed. The sudras are inclined. If he has got something to eat, he will not work. You see? Then again he will work when his need, eating. This is sudra mentality.

"Bhagavan: So they have to be kept employed.

"Prabhupada: Yes. They have to be... They should not possess, so that they will work always.

"Yogesvara: Yeah, but that was exactly the situation that sparked the Communist revolution. When the workers felt themselves exploited, then they revolted.

"Prabhupada: No, workers, what is that? Exploited?

"Yogesvara: Yes, when the sudras were seeing that, "Oh, these men, they are keeping us as slaves, and they are making us work just for our food," then they revolted.

"Prabhupada: No, no. You should keep them such nicely and friendly way, they will never think like that. They will think that you are giving him food and shelter, and you are taking care, giving them protection to their family. Then they will be happy. Then they are happy. When you give them all protection, then they will be happy. Now... Just like in Japan. The industrialists give all men. They give food. They give education. They give shelter. So they work very happily.

"Bhagavan: They like to work.

"Prabhupada: Yes.

"Bhagavan: It’s not that people like to be idle.

"Prabhupada: I have seen. And the Dai Nippon directors, they live very poorly, but still, they do not like to give up the service because they are assured of their family, protection, medicine, food, education. They did not like. Never mind, it is not very luxurious. Still, they stick. That I have seen." (May 27, 1974)

I assume from your letter that you have a black body. I am not black, but I come from a sudra background. My father worked as a machinery repairman. And as Srila Prabhupada says, what my father wanted more than anything else was security for his family, something he never found. He was always in fear of being laid off. He would have been happy to work hard all his life for someone who would give him that security.

You mention that you would rather be a teacher than a slave. Well, so would I. And like you, I would not want to be forced into sudra work, nor does Srila Prabhupada recommend it:

"Either educate them or control them," says Srila Prabhupada. "Give them facility of education. But there is no education at all. Even for the whites there is no education. So we are stressing on the point of education. You educate certain section as brahmana, certain section as ksatriya, certain section as vaisya. In that education we don’t discriminate because he’s coming of a sudra family. Take education. Be qualified. Then you talk. Not by votes." (Feb 14, 1977)

I have never heard Srila Prabhupada say that the blacks in our movement should be the slaves of the whites. In fact, Srila Prabhupada initiated blacks as brahmanas and sannyasis. Such people cannot be made slaves. Therefore, no black person has to fear that he will be putting himself at a disadvantage by surrendering to Srila Prabhupada.

The question of whether blacks would be happier as slaves comes down to whether blacks have a high percentage of sudras among them. If so, these sudras, like all sudras, would be happier in a Vedic society where they would have guaranteed financial security. The statement is a generalization. Srila Prabhupada judged a person by quality, not by birth:

"Just like I am talking with you," says Srila Prabhupada, "I am not talking with your shirt. I don’t look to your shirt, whether you have put on a white shirt or black shirt. That is not my concern. I am concerned with you as a living being. This is our philosophy. We don’t take account of the outward shirt and coat." (July 5, 1972)

Of course, there have been instances of racial prejudice in our movement. I have also been shocked by this, but it does not come from Srila Prabhupada. You speak of teachers being racially abusive while beating black children, but again, this comes from ignoring many things Srila Prabhupada said. (And by the way, Srila Prabhupada said that children are not to be beaten or even insulted.)

You, on the other hand, are guilty of violence of another kind. You mention that one of the teachers who insulted you was an ISKCON guru. This may be true, but you are trying to put the blame on ISKCON, and indirectly on Srila Prabhupada. You blame Srila Prabhupada for what is not his fault. Thus you destroy people’s faith and their chances of attaining perfection and of establishing the kind of society you would like.

You may claim you do not want to ruin anyone’s faith, but you say the following: "It seems that most of the controversial statements that Srila Prabhupada made originated from his college—obviously not a very good one. Why do we have to integrate into our philosophy, the views of the college Srila Prabhupada attended?"

You say, in other words, that Srila Prabhupada accepted these ignorant men as authorities and presented their false teachings as spiritual knowledge. It is hardly a glorification of the spiritual master, and it is an absurd theory on your part because Srila Prabhupada often decried materialistic teachers although he would quote them if it served his purpose.

You do not want to integrate these views into "our" philosophy. This implies that you think you own the philosophy and that Srila Prabhupada is an intruder bringing in unwanted views. Maybe it’s the opposite. Could it be that you are the intruder?

You go on to say, "What does that size of the brain and slavery have to do with developing love of God? Why are we so obsessed with labeling everybody? Just because Srila Prabhupada was mistaken, that does not affect his standing."

Srila Prabhupada has made no mistake. He said that the numbers concerning a woman’s brain were not necessarily precise, although the principle still held. You and Mother Niscala and the others pretend that Srila Prabhupada never said that, although I have quoted it several times. Why? Is it more fun to find fault?

I do not know of any instruction by Srila Prabhupada for instituting slavery although he did say that everyone must be engaged in some kind of work, by force if necessary. You will surely agree that making some people work against their will would be better than having street gangs, prostitutes, drug dealers, robbers, and the like.

You say I am going against the current of the times, but what is the benefit to society of having streets full of loafers who live by stealing and freeloading off of welfare? It is not a question of race. There are plenty of whites out there too. Bhagavad-gita, as translated by Srila Prabhupada himself, says that people should be engaged according to their quality, not their birth.

You cannot avoid the need for sudras. We think people have been freed from menial work by the invention of machines, but who makes the machines? People working like slaves in miserable factories, and without any financial security. Every day on the news, you hear about thousands of people being laid off. What Srila Prabhupada is saying is that the workers were happy in the Vedic system and they had financial security besides.

Where, then, is the fault? If anyone is mistaken here, it is not Srila Prabhupada.

You say, "So Maharaja, you are entitled to think that blacks would be better off as slaves, but that does not mean that your have to force everybody to accept this as holy doctrine."

Do you really feel I am entitled to think that? I doubt it. You are speaking out of blind emotion, as I have never said any such thing. You are simply lashing out. And blind emotion does not go well with "proper dissent" and "rational discussion."

And there is no question of the dissent being proper if you are dissenting against Srila Prabhupada.

You say I have been mean to Mother Niscala, but what about your own letter and the things you say to me? Are you not mean? At least I criticized Mother Niscala for things she had actually said. That’s more courtesy than you have shown to me. Or to Srila Prabhupada.

I can understand that you have been hurt, but it’s time to stop brooding over it. You have to go forward with your life and with your Krsna Consciousness. You have to work to make ISKCON the kind of society you want it to be. But first of all, you have to establish your faith in Srila Prabhupada. And I don’t mean faith in him as a glorified Sunday-school teacher. I mean faith in Srila Prabhupada as the perfect acarya, to whom everyone can surrender in all respects. Without that, nothing will work.

I hope this meets you in good health.

Umapati Swami

© Umapati Swami
CHAKRA 27 October 2001

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