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Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the modern world. Dealing with the varieties of challenges we face as practicing Gaudiyas amidst Western culture.

Conservative Vs. Liberal - What's the way to go?

Jagat - Mon, 24 May 2004 05:33:39 +0530
I was listening on the radio to an interview with Catholic priest Philip Jenkins, who has recently written a book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

It would be too much to go into his main thesis, which is basically a reaction to what the man feels is excessive criticism levied at the Church, which historically comes out of a deep-seated Protestant hatred of Papism, etc.

In discussing the Catholic Church, Jenkins spoke of the huge rift between North and South in the Church. First of all, numerically speaking, there are now far more Catholics in the Third World--and the same applies to other churches, like the Anglican--where the Church is very much a living, breathing and vibrant organization. The most Catholic countries in the world are no longer Italy and Spain, but Nigeria and Tanzania. But what is particularly interesting about the brand of Catholicism practiced in these countries is that it is very conservative on issues like married or women priests, birth control, abortion and homosexuality, and deeply reluctant to embrace the road taken by Western liberals.

Thus, though in the North American Catholic Church the move is to liberal values, and indeed most of the above issues would have been settled already in keeping with the values of the societies in which they find themselves, the Church in Africa, Asia and South America still very much adheres to the old school of thought on these issues.

Catholics in Europe and North America may find the Pope to be ultra-conservative and detest him for that, but in fact there are far more people in the world who approve of his conservatism--and these are the Catholics of the Third World. If John Paul's successor comes from any of these areas, which is a distinct possibility, the First World's Church might find itself becoming even more alienated from Rome than it has already become under him.

Also in line with this discussion was the further interesting point, which has been startling liberals for some time now: that where religion in the West has been finding new adherents, it is often to the more conservative denominations--where the demands on faith are more stringent.

Iskcon itself was at its origins, an ultra-conservative religious movement. The idea of self-discipline to achieve real spiritual goals sparked an enthusiastic response in a certain sector of the youth of the day, and their sublimated sexual energies spread Krishna consciousness around the world in 80 days. But over the course of time, various problems have arisen to disturb this deeply conservative faith for a great many of them.

In so many ways, the Hare Krishnas have problems comparable to those of the Roman Catholics. The child abuse scandal jumps immediately to mind. Now Fr. Jenkins said something that I have been saying for a long time, and that is that up until the 1970's awareness and response to child abuse was quite different than it is now. It's hard to speak of this subject now without a hysterical reaction and I personally feel that there is some kind of weird psychological transference taking place--we live in the most hypersexual society that has probably ever existed--access to pornography, sexual activity and indeed what would have in any other age been called vice or aberrant sexual practices have never been more widespread--and yet pedophiles have somehow become the lightning rod for all our confusion and guilt about sexuality.

I suppose that to avoid misunderstanding I have to say clearly that I am not approving of pedophilia, which is definitely an aberration, but simply observing a cultural phenomenon--that of a generalized hysterical scapegoating on the one hand and a culture of victimization in the abused on the other.

A few weeks ago, I brought attention to an article by Andrew Greeley (For Priests, Celibacy is not the Problem.), who argued that priestly celibacy was not a cause of either homosexuality or pedophilia. Nevertheless, it is clear from those who visit this site, that a majority, especially of those who are outside Iskcon, would probably agree with the statement that celibacy itself is a cause of most problems in the Krishna consciousness movement, or at least confusion about or devaluation of sexuality itself is a serious problem.

Recently we have been having a discussion about the meaning of dharmAviruddho bhUteSu kAmo'smi (Gita 7.11), with the most conservative interpretation possible--that only sexual activity (kAma) for the sake of procreation is within the scope of righteous activity (dharma). The widest meaning, that desire is God Himself, as long as it does not violate the basic principle of righteousness, which is, ultimately, ahimsa. In other words, God also reveals himself in our desires where they are not harmful either to ourselves or to others, and ultimately, if they are followed up with a sense of profound detachment.

This is a kind of sublimation of desire: The love you feel for other human beings is a reflection of love for God. Experiencing love in all its facets (the main relationships we know as rasas) is not inherently an obstacle and may indeed be an impetus to attaining love for God. This universal, almost pantheistic, approach to Theism is to me the most liberal way of looking at Krishna consciousness.

OK, I am sorry, I haven't the time to make this article more coherent, but my question is this: What are our values--conservative or liberal?
adiyen - Fri, 28 May 2004 11:30:36 +0530
QUOTE(Jagat @ May 24 2004, 12:03 AM)
up until the 1970's awareness and response to child abuse was quite different than it is now

Yes, did you know about the Sartre petition?

See here "'Naivety' of May 68 Philosophers" it supports what you say:

My response to your question, Jagatji, is the recent essay on Richard Rorty which I linked to start the Polytheism thread on Philosophy Theology.
Madhava - Fri, 11 Jun 2004 17:17:29 +0530
We need to revive this discussion, and indeed give it an exhaustive treatment. I am now quoting some posts from another thread, you know which one, to form a basis for the discussion.
Madhava - Fri, 11 Jun 2004 17:21:29 +0530
QUOTE(Adiyen @ Jun 11 2004, 03:34 AM)
I'm a conservative. I abhor anarchy, chaos, ill-considered reform, and 'progress'.

I can't abide people making fast and loose with authentic tradition.

Sure I've changed over the past 3 years. Probably more in how I articulate my views. Many of my views have not changed since I was at University 10 years ago, and I've tried to post links to discussions of my major influences like Richard Rorty and Alasdair MacIntyre on other threads. If you understand MacIntyre then you'll see where I'm coming from. I keep posting this link, perhaps 4 times now. Perhaps people find it obscure. It isn't -it's about all of us right now right here. And it's the same as I understand the Gita verse below: without an established moral context, all is lost!

QUOTE(Adiyen @ Jun 11 2004, 04:11 AM)
Madhava, I need to simplify, try this analogy:

Catholicism is full of faults and confusion right?

Not to its conservative followers and advocates like MacIntyre above. To them, it is eternally pure, the fault is in the eye of the beholder. It is a living spiritual current, and one needs only to find a live connection. Read the webmagazine First Things which represents this view. Reformist Catholic groups abound in rich western countries (nowhere else!) but the liberal reformists and those who believe in the integrity of the tradition find no common ground.

Advaita's view of Gaudiyaism, and mine, is very similar to that of the conservative Catholics.

If people would digest the views of Alasdair MacIntyre in that link above, then we could discuss it further. Perhaps I could write a summary, but I find the above essay difficult to beat for simplicity and directness.

Thing is too, that adoption of the common sva-dharma idea eliminates all the problems which liberals claim we have to address. Everyone from any community simply needs to follow the dharma of their own birth family and community until they are ready to live a renounced life and adopt the highest Vaishnav renounced life. That may never come in this life. No matter, just chant and do your best. It is completely individual.
Madhava - Fri, 11 Jun 2004 17:27:30 +0530
QUOTE(Adiyen @ Jun 11 2004, 07:31 AM)
Jagatji, there are liberal pluralists and conservative pluralists, especially in Hinduism. You are the first, I think I am the second.

What is the difference? You look to new forms of community, new combinations forming, which you hope to be the catalyst of. I see this as Jacobinism or Bolshevism and you are simply dreaming of Soviet Man, a discredited exercise. And nothing more than anarchism as far as I am concerned, with exploitation a possibility for those who master the chaos.

I say respect the pluralism which already exists, and the limited ability to understand across cultural boundaries. Discrete traditions, defined by differences with few if any similarities and therefore few chances of comprehendable cross-cultural transmission, so rather dire consequences for disputes. Peace is possible by agreeing to disagree and accepting traditional norms.
Madhava - Fri, 11 Jun 2004 17:28:53 +0530
Question: Is there not a certain degree of liberalism inherent in the way our tradition has evolved?

Before proceeding on that on, though, I would like to hear Adiyen give one or two paragraph definitions of conservatism and liberalism within the realm of our own tradition.
Jagat - Fri, 11 Jun 2004 17:48:05 +0530
I'll just make a short comment for the time being. I am not quite sure where all this "Soviet Man" stuff is coming from.

I have been inspired by the O'Connell articles I posted in the Comment forum, which speak precisely of the kind of informal social structure that existed in the traditional Vaishnava world. Since the guru is the principal locus of social organization, rather than the single ecclesiastical authority as in Iskcon or the Catholic Church, there is a great deal of decentralization.

Decentralized structures are usually more innovative and adaptive, even though in the long run, their adaptations and innovations are coopted by the larger ones.

Conservatives, it seems to me, live in a kind of illusion that nothing ever changes, or that if it does, we can roll things back to some bedrock of eternal verity.

Anyway, I still haven't read your MacIntyre article. I'll look at that before saying anything more on the subject.
dirty hari - Sat, 12 Jun 2004 00:03:26 +0530
Is this debate about insular versus adaptive or is it about perceptions of what is "morally" permissable within the Gaudiya tradtions ?

If it is about insular versus adaptive then we can say with certainty that the essential teaching is based upon developing an adaptive mentality.

The basic premise is that we are in the dark and we need to make conscious adaptations to an unfolding series of "realizations" or intuitive and cognitive experiences as we progress to a higher vision of reality.

If the debate is about "morality" or socially acceptable standards of authenticity or perception of "tradition" as the standard from which all and everything is to be judged as permissable or not, then we may understand that all Gaudiya traditions at one time were themselves revolutionary within the cultural or esoteric milieu of their times.

The Catholic traditions were also unorthodox and unacceptable or against the conservative or insular traditions of it's time, but gradually it replaced the older traditions and the upstart liberals became the dogmatic insularists.

So when demanding that the old ways are the best ways then we run into a problem, we need to keep going back until we find the original way and that may never be known or it may not be something to our liking.

The Vedic paradigm found in the life and times of Sri Krishna are what I see as the perfect standard for setting our own ideal Vedic or Gaudiya zeitgeist.

There we find an inclusive social and religious paradigm, Krishna bhakti is not even a religion !

I want to take that society with the addition of gaudiya esotericism as the model or ideal.

What was the "moral" standard of that society ?

That is what I want to see propagated as the best form of society, some may object to the use of intoxicants or the promiscuous lifestyle being an acceptable "moral" template for society, yet it is a fact that these things are part of the highest manifestation of Vedic society, prostitution, soma, bhang, even liquor !

All are acceptable in Sri Krishna's social milieu, and therefore this is what I believe we should teach, and this is what I believe will attract a large following, by defining the message of Sri Krishna in a narrow renunciative mode we automatically put a limit on how much we will impact society, the mass of intellectual or progressive thinkers will reject any attempt to confine them to a renunciative paradigm, it is an axiom that the more you teach renunciation as the raison d' etre of your message, the smaller your audience will be.

The ultra conservative vision of living within a a social setting of renunciation always had it's place within the traditional vedic society, the sages lived in the ashrama or forest or even in householder life, they preached the message of the Vedanta, but there was no across the board demands for everyone to conform to a single religious vision, there was a wide mix of religious practice and belief, the rule over society by Dharmic law was the common denominator.

This is what I would like to see the vaisnava community evolve into, I believe in a dynamic approach to the teaching of Gaudiya thought, in India during the time of the goswamis this was not necessary, they lived within a long established vedic society, their purpose was in giving out the tippy top teachings having to do with the pastimes of Radha Krishna as the essential religious message.

We have a different purpose, or I would like to see a different approach then that of the past acaryas who lived in vedic society, they were teaching to a vedic society, we need to create a vedic society, or at least transform what there is into a microcosm of vedic society.

I want to present Gaudiya thought within a larger framework, within a complete vedic social setting based on the life and times of Sri Krishna.
ananga - Sat, 12 Jun 2004 00:17:31 +0530
Pretty liberal regarding, but when it comes to kirtan over the years I've become ultra conservative.

I mostly only like bengali raga/ragini kirtan and projectile vomit at sloppy tinkley western guitar/djembe kirtan, especially when beautiful bengali songs are massacred eg.

nitai paaaaadaaaaaa kaaaaamaaaaalaaa

haaaaaare krishnaaaaaaa ....