Many of you may be wondering what this women's presentation is
all about. So, before setting the scene, I would like to assure
you what this presentation is not about.
. It is not about promoting feminism.
. It is not about disregarding Vedic culture.
. It is not about accusing, complaining or blaming.
. It is not about women versus men.
What it is about is looking at ISKCON's social history, specifically
from the female perspective, for if we cannot clearly understand
the mistakes of the past, we cannot successfully move forward to
a healthy future. I would like to read a portion of an article written
by Thomas Hopkins in the ISKCON Communications Journal1,
where he describes the importance of ISKCON studying its own
There is a tendency in ISKCON today, however, to look on Prabhupada
and his teachings as a source of proof-texts for ad-hoc policies
and decisions rather than try to understand him and the tradition
in which he stood more systematically. In what may seem a paradoxical
way, it may be necessary to pay less attention to specific statements
that Prabhupada made in order to preserve the vitality of what he
stood for. Prabhupada himself was constantly changing - not in his
essential beliefs and devotional relation to Krsna, but in the decisions
he made to meet new circumstances and take advantage of new opportunities.
Prabhupada was a living person, and it was his personal application
of devotional principles that gave life to ISKCON rather than any
one teaching or even the whole body of his teachings.
Nevertheless, it is his teachings and the memory of his living
presence that ISKCON now has to rely upon, along with - and he would
certainly be the first to say this - the guidance of Krsna, the
Divine Godhead. How does one use these properly to keep ISKCON a
vital tradition? The answer certainly is not to use them in bits
and pieces to support decisions made for more materialistic or egocentric
reasons. It is rather to approach Prabhupada, his teachings and
the tradition in which he stood - the tradition of Caitanya Vaisnavism
as mediated through earlier scriptures and the teachings of Bhaktivinoda
Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati - in a more systematic manner
to provide a dialogue with the past on behalf of the future. [...]
The purpose ... of ISKCON History is rather to maintain a continuous
check of the present against the core values and essential doctrines
of the larger tradition and the spirit of the founder. It is, in
other words, to keep the bright light of trained and devout attention
on the way the Lord's human agents are presenting His teachings
and managing His affairs.
So this presentation is about:
. Sharing our realisations and experiences of the last
. Generating deeper understanding between leaders and
the people they lead.
. Seeking balance, working towards social sanity.
. Expressing our love and concern for Srila Prabhupada
and his movement.
. Protecting Srila Prabhupada's legacy for future generations
(we will not be around that much longer).
. Addressing the difficulties in our human relationships.
This is not exclusively a women's issue. We are all suffering due
to the lack of deep loving relationships, and the fragmentation
of our society is proof of this. We have a long way to go in living
. It is also about encouraging a shift in emphasis from
buildings and institutional concerns to emphasising the importance
of appreciating, valuing and encouraging all individual devotees.
Finally, I would like to humbly request that during these presentations
we all try to step out of our own autobiography - to set aside our
own glasses and really try to see the ISKCON world through the eyes
of others. Make it an exercise in empathic listening - in trying
to understand - for not seeking to understand will lead to judgement,
rejection and manipulation, whereas seeking to understand will lead
to understanding, acceptance and participation. We really have no
other choice. To survive in these difficult times we must focus
on what unites us, not what divides us.
1 ISKCON Communications
Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2, December 1998.