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New Commentaries Protect Srila Prabhupada’s Legacy

Submitted by on February 27, 2017 – 12:33 am11 Comments

By Arcana-siddhi dasi

The Srimad Bhagavatam is a perfected spiritual literature. Each verse of this work can be viewed from many different angles of vision and, depending on the commentator’s purpose, different points will be drawn out.

Since each verse could potentially be explained in various ways, commentators are keen to choose a particular angle of vision that will be most helpful to their audience. The main goal of presenting this literature is to inspire others to take up the process of bhakti.

When Sukadeva Goswami spoke the Bhagavatam to Paraksit Maharaja 5,000 years ago, the audience was all male. Shortly thereafter, Suta Goswami narrated the Bhagavatam at a thousand-year sacrifice predominated by male transcendentalists. The needs and biases of the audience influenced the speaker to emphasize certain points that would help his audience come to a higher level of spiritual understanding and attachment.

Subsequent commentaries on this great literature were written for a predominately male audience until the commentary of my spiritual teacher, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada, in the 1970s. Srila Prabhupada’s outreach efforts and commentaries on the Bhagavatam came at a junction between the beginning of the breakdown of traditional family roles and values and social reform movements. Srila Prabhupada’s main objective, like his predecessors, was to encourage his audience to take up a God-conscious life.

From his own life, Srila Prabhupada had experienced the trials of being a married man with children and pursuing his spiritual ideals. His wife was not particularly supportive of his involvement in the spiritual mission of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. After leaving his family encumbrances, he began writing his commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatam. No doubt his family experiences and growing up in Bengal during Victorian British rule played into his particular portrayal of both women and family life. His particular angle of vision was to try and avoid the entanglement of family life.

Despite Srila Prabhupada’s less than ideal marriage, he treated his women disciples with great love and respect. Unfortunately, some of his immature men disciples experiencing attraction and aversion for women found statements in Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries to support their disrespect of women and the grhastha ashram.

Srila Prabhupada saw many advantages to maintaining the traditional roles of men and women. However, the powerful influences of change, like a tsunami, hit the globe and have created unprecedented anomalies in the gender roles and family values. Foremost is the economic necessity for most families to have two wage earners. With both spouses in the workforce, couples have to re-negotiate traditional expectations in the home, i.e., child care, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.

Now, in this country, there are more women than men going to college and women scores have surpassed men on many standardized academic tests. In many areas internationally, women’s voices and opinions are no longer regarded as inferior and women occupy leadership positions in universities, health care, corporations, and government. To base preaching strategies around the subordination of women will not attract intelligent, thoughtful women or men to take up bhakti.

The purpose of the parampara is to keep the force of bhakti alive in the world and to find ways to attract people to the practices and ideals of true spirituality. If strategies from the past are getting in the way of this objective, they need to be renovated or disbanded to increase the receptivity of the public.

I have been a practitioner of bhakti for over forty years and for the past thirty years I have been counseling devotees as a professional psychotherapist. I have witnessed misunderstandings and misapplication of verses and purports in our sacred literature. Grhasthas, both men and women, when falsely practicing renunciation within their marriage deprive their spouse and children of proper affection and nurturing. Misogynist and or immature men extract verses from the Bhagavatam as a way to justify disrespecting and mistreating their spouse and children.

We must consider the mental and emotional fragility of today’s population having grown up with unprecedented violence, fear, and trauma. Bhagavatam offers refuge to these souls, but we must be able to present it in a way that will help them heal from their material conditioning rather than give them a way to perpetuate lies and falsity under the banner of scripture. Devotees need emotionally and spiritually mature guidance more than ever.

A person who understands the meaning of this scripture can properly present the teachings in a meaningful and compelling manner to the current audience on the planet. This punctuates the need for ongoing commentaries. The deep realizations and insights from the commentaries of our previous teachers will assist the current representatives of the Bhagavatam to expand on and synthesize those teachings with their own unique flavor and realizations. Srila Prabhupada’s books would remain available for serious students who have the qualification to understand them.

I am eternally grateful to my spiritual master, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada, for giving me shelter at his lotus feet. I not only read his books but also distributed them to the public for many years. We need to protect Srila Prabhupada’s reputation and books from the sound bite culture we are currently living in. Even some devotees have come to the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada is a misogynist and bigoted from hearing a few extracted quotes from his commentaries.

Without a comprehensive understanding of Srila Prabhupada’s mood, mission, and teachings, such assumptions are being made. It is heartbreaking to hear such miscalculations of Srila Prabhupada’s magnanimous character. Srila Prabhupada saw beyond the male and female dress and gave the opportunity of bhakti to everyone he met. Some devotees support editing his commentaries and removing inflammatory statements from his books. Others propose footnoting the controversial statements.

It is not proper to edit the content of past commentaries. Srila Prabhupada’s books need to be left as they were written, for the times they were written in. New commentaries need to be written to speak to today’s world as the best way to bring new people to Krishna and to protect the integrity of Srila Prabhupada’s immense writing contribution. Then the current readers will be sheltered from misunderstandings which could lead to committing Vaisnava aparadha and spoiling their precious opportunity for spiritual connection in their human form of life.

11 Comments »

  • Arcana-siddhi, your thoughtful essay is appreciated. It is important to honor Srila Prabhupada’s legacy. It is important to teach and share according to time, place and circumstances. With sincerity, maturity and compassion, we will be inspired to intelligently demonstrate the purpose of the Srimad Bhagwatam and attract intelligent women, men and children to this mission. Lord Caitanya instructed His disciples to write about the science of self-realization and Srila Prabhupada encouraged this as well. I look hopefully to our cooperation in intelligently developing strategies to appeal to all and and a culture that values the contributions, talents and vision of spiritually inclined women, men and children.

    Thank you. You have given us food for thought.

  • sastra-vani dasa

    I hope that this article makes it to ISKCON websites like dandavats.com, and the Back to Godhead magazine.

  • Due to the nature of her service, my godsister Arcana Siddhin devi dasi has full experience of how screwed up some of us can be due to not understanding the Srimad Bhagavatam in a mature context. When I joined the Chicago temple in 75, I remember one Swami speaking to a packed Bhagavatam class how grhastha life was just a license for sex life, etc…and one godsister started to sob at the back of the classroom. It was bewildering to me, because everyone looked up to this Swami, yet he was causing someone to sob by his very grave talk

    I think it would be an excellent idea for Arcana Siddhi to write her own book, citing the commen misunderstandings of Srila Prabhupada’s words and how they have been taken out of context and the damage they have done, and what is the proper way of seeing them, or at least the way that a Vaisnavi would see them

    I do believe that some footnotes are in order for just a few controversial quotes like the ” women like a man that is ” very expert at rape ” as found in the purport of SB 4.25.41. Ravindra Swarupa das discusses it in this article :

    http://iskcon.us/ravindra-svarupa/prabhupada-women-rape/

    I am actually surprised that with all the controversy this statement creates, that a little footnote has not been added in the latest edition of the Srimad Bhagavatam.

    What other controversial statements require footnotes ?

    If there are too many footnotes, then the BBT can’t get a good price on printing hundreds of thousands because there can only be so many pages to get the discount

    When it comes to editing commentaries, I see that as a big No-No. Those words are sacred and I don’t think any of us have the right to change the original words of Srila Prabhupada, just like we don’t go and change the words of Srila Jiva Goswami , though new commentaries can be written for a modern public

    I say write your own commentaries on the Bhagavatam, but leave Srila Prabhupada’s words as they are

  • Arcana siddhi

    Ganapati Swami posted it on the Prabhupada Conference. There has been some discussion going on there.

  • Nila Madhava Dasa

    Arcana Siddhi Prabhu!

    Dandavat pranams, all glories to Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga!

    Your article is wonderful! Thank you so much for writing it! I will be going out of my way to share it with family and friends. And I’m also excited to hear that Ganapati Swami shared it. I haven’t heard much about him in years, but I went on TSKP with him several times and have an appreciation for his knowledge and realization.

    Is the ‘Prabhupada Conference’ public?

    Your servant,

    Nila Madhava Dasa

  • Mahesh Pandit Dasa

    💖****MESSAGE!!!****💖

    “TO THE PREACHERS & FOLLOWERS OF IRM”

    I really appreciate your endeavour and enthusiasm in spreading the words of Srila Prabhupada. However, when it goes deeper into the subject matter it can be very touchy.

    We know very well, in the early days Srila Prabhupada used to speak only about the ABC of spiritual life, since he has to deal with many near vite devotees and most of them are from mlechas, yavanas, hippy background. We may then say, that most of them have no bhakti adhikar yet.
    Since real bhakti starts when we become free from all anarthas which includes misconceptions of all tattvas, and one should be at least on the level of nistha.

    For their encouragement, Srila Prabhupada as being the Acharya used to preach according to time and circumstances and presented KC. in a very palatable way, by using the method of coated quinine by which everyone becomes attracted. If Prabhupada has presented KC. in its true form, certainly no one will have ever come and stay, since most of them are covered with so many anarthas.

    However, Prabhupada is so magnanimous that he put everything for our spiritual progress in his books, and he has concealed it in a seed form.
    However, that particular seed contains a whole tree full of Vedic wisdom.
    As we know, in order to understand Krishna, Prema bhakti is required.

    The Lord cannot be understood by severe tapasha, penances, fast learning, scholarship, reading the Vedic scriptures, expert in quoting sastras, own merit etc.
    Similarly it is with the Maha Purana/Srimad Bhagavatam as well, which is considered to be the essence of all Vedic scriptures and by definition it is vibhu or none different than the Supreme Lord, which it can only be understood through Prema bhakti.

    Unless one is situated on that prema level and, has simultaneously heard from his guru through the chain of disciplic succession of Acaryas, then he is considered indeed the perfect candidate, to reveal the glories of the granthas to us in tattva.

    All of our ACARYAS are still living, also in their books, so it is with Srila Prabhupada as well.
    However, have we develop the vision to see and communicate with those ACARYAS, and be able to inquire from them ?
    Who will inflict discipline on us if we go astray from the path ?
    The only option which is left, that we will accept our wicked mind as our guru/guidance.
    Are we really able to understand their books ?

    One thing is for sure unless we are situated on that prema level, we should consider ourselves partial or totally blind.
    We may pretend that we know or have understood the sastras, in fact we are deluding ourselves. For this reason, we may say that this is another kind of pride.

    Grantha Bhagavata and Bhakta Bhagavata are the two mercyfull manifestations of The Lord.
    In order to understand the Grantha Bhagavata we must approach a Bhakta Bhagavata. This is the verdict of the post graduate scripture Caitanya Caritamrita (CC.Antya 5.131)
    Without the help of such a Bhakta Bhagavata, we may understand the scriptures mostly in an Apparent consideration instead of in an Absolute consideration.

    That’s why a Tattva Acarya is required if,.. we are really thirsty to understand Krishna.
    If we think we are happy with our present situation and no need to dive deeper in the ocean of KC. and not interesting in taking the help of such an exalted Vaisnava, then we would rather say,
    😍”Stay happily in the kindergarten of Kc. ”

    In the worldly ocean if we float on the surface we can only collect fish, however if we dive deeper up to the bottom we can collect valuable Jewels. Similarly in the ocean of KC.
    if we dive deeper we can collect the most valuable Jewel of Krishna Prema with unlimited nectar and bliss.

    This is for your kind information and please forgive me for my words, if it hurts your sentiments.
    Hare Krishna…..

    • I appreciate the spirit of your post: that sadhu sanga is essential and especially association with superlative devotees. But it implies that one cannot understand sastra theoretically until one attains prema. Confusion concerning tattva is an anartha that is overcome in the stage of nistha.Thus one can understand the sastra theoretically in this stage with spiritual intelligence. One can understand what the books say and mean, what the siddhanta is on any particular issue. Still the seeds of material desire remain but with no opportunity to sprout and taste, attachment, and emotion are lacking—ruci, asakti, and bhava. In the stage of ruci material desires are extinguished and only desire for bhakti remains. In asakti attachment for the object of one’s ruci-bhakti is attained, and in bhava ignorance is destroyed and jivan mukti attained. So again, it is not that one cannot understand the siddhanta until one attains prema. Indeed, understanding the siddhanta is essential to attaining prema. One whose faith is firm and who is capable of engaging in sastra-yukti is considered the most qualified to tread the path to prema (Brs 1.2.17), not one who has attained prema.

  • Antariksa das

    The topic of this essay is of such deep importance to Srila Prabhupada’s
    mission that I want to thank my dear Godsister Arcana Siddhi for writing about it. What can be more revolutionary than the essence of knowledge that all living beings are eternal divine persons, part and parcel of the supreme eternal divine person, Sri Krsna? My prayer is that we followers of Srila Prabhupada can work together in the spirit of what Arcana-Sidhi writes about here. While it is clear that chanting the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra, both personally and collectively, is the dharma for this dark age with which we must contend, I feel we need to be attentive to the importance of teaching about it, in a way that does not include unnecessary cultural baggage getting in the way of that teaching. I vote for Arcana-siddhi dasi to be the GBC Chairperson for at least one term.
    Hare Krsna.

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