Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the modern world. Dealing with the varieties of challenges we face as practicing Gaudiyas amidst Western culture.
If Mahaprabhu Advocated 'Social Protocols' - which ones should Westerners now adopt?
Kamala - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 06:12:22 +0530
Browsing through some old threads I came across the following from Advaita-ji:
QUOTE(Advaitadas @ Mar 31 2004, 08:25 PM)
[Mahaprabhu advocated] civil disobedience against the Muslim invader and oppressor yes, but not against the Vedic system. Mahaprabhu followed varnashram in all respects.
Sriman Mahaprabhu was NOT AGAINST THE CASTE SYSTEM. When He heard that Sanatana Gosvami had burned his footsoles to avoid touching Lord Jagannatha’s pujaris, He praised him, saying "Although you are the purifier of the whole world and the demigods and sages are purified by your mere touch, still it is the nature of a devotee to follow the social protocol. Maintaining the social protocol is the ornament of a sadhu. When a Vaisnava violates the social protocol people will ridicule him and he will perish in this birth and in the next. By keeping the social standard you have pleased My mind. Who else but you could do such a thing?"
By saying: ‘Although you are the purifier…’, Mahaprabhu acknowledges the spiritual superiority of a Vaisnava, but then He immediately warns that the external social protocol must be maintained. These are two separate worlds, one spiritual and the other material.
Some of you may still disagree on this (and to take up that argument, you can post in the original thread "On Brahminhood".
But the question I'd like to pose here is this: if we accept 'for the sake of the argument'
that Mahaprabhu advocated maintaining the social protocols of varnashram - in a sort of "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" way - I believe that can lead to two quite different conclusions about how as Westerners
we should act. And at the risk of over-simplification, I see these as indicative of paradigmatic "orthodox" and "progressive" approaches to translating Gaudiya Vaisnavism into the West, as follows:
a) Mahaprabhu's position means that because of the inherent superiority and value of the Indian system and its associated social protocols, we as Westerners aspiring to be Gaudiya Vaisnavas should seek to adopt that type of social system, so far as we are able, in our own lives. For instance, we should be vegetarian, follow traditional family structures and gender roles, maybe use Ayurvedic medicine, wear Indian style dress where possible, listen to Indian classical music rather than western music, etc etc. (Orthodox paradigm)
b) Mahaprabhu's position means that we should all try not to disturb the social status quo of the society in which we find ourselves. So for Westerners we should not overly imitate Indians, but should go with the flow of Western culture such as wearing shoes in the house, using chairs, wearing suits, accepting modern gender roles, political pluralism and tolerance, equal rights of all persons, democracy, etc etc. (Progressive paradigm)
I'm not trying to be flippant, and I'm not overly committed to the details of any one particular element set out above as being unarguably appropriate for that paradigm - I'm just trying to give a flavour of what I think are two opposing paradigms - and more importantly I'm suggesting that both of them are tenable conclusions that can legitimately be drawn from the premise that Mahaprabhu advocated "maintaining social protocols".
So I'd would like to hear more from others about their views on this. Especially Advaita and Jagat who seem to represent the orthodox and the progressive views, respectively!
Talasiga - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 08:38:33 +0530
Kamala, I think you have done very well to distil these two paradigms but unfortunately you seem to have ignored the contextual premise as per the initial sentences in Advaitadas's post. This is that Gauranga is reported to have been anti status quo regarding that which was "non-Vedic" as in Muslim governance which was antagonistic to his movement. He is reported to have deferred to reasonable social protocols within the varnashram but was prepared to challenge that which wasn't. Hence your western world paradigm is shaken somewhat if you intend to base it on the points in Advaitadas's posts.
Please consider revamp.
Advaitadas - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 12:43:08 +0530
Kamala, please note too that Vaishnava Sadacara and Vedic protocol are not always the same thing. Vaishnavism and Hinduism are sometimes parrallel but not always. Arguing in your way you might even suggest that Western devotees could eat beef and drink whiskey, since that is part of their innate culture. Haribhakti Vilasa and other scriptures are giving rules of how Vaishnavas should and should not behave, and, as far as is practically possible, 21st Century Western devotees should comply with that. Naturally in the winter it is too cold to wear a dhoti or shari, one might not want to be odd by wearing such garments on the street etc, but a conscientious Vaishnava will practise Sadachara as far as possible. I think that is common sense.
Advaitadas - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 13:20:27 +0530
To respond to some of the items you mentioned (leaving out the highly combustible issue of gender roles and equal rights
1. Sitting on chairs is not favorable to meditation, but sitting in padmasana on a cushion furthers meditation as you will experience.
2. Listening to sitar, tablas, or mridanga and karatalas will have a much more subtle effect on the consciousness than listening to electric guitars and drumkits (especially if the lyrics are screamed and deal with obscenities which is often the case with western music),
3. Wearing shoes in the house will bring the dog-stool, cigarette-buts and spitting on the sidewalk with you in front of the deities (and why have deities too, since that is just 'Indian'?),
4. Wearing a suit has a different effect on the consciousness as wearing a dhoti or sharee, and you wouldnt peep into a porn shop wearing dhoti or sharee either, because people would notice that a holy man or woman is doing something naughty. Not to speak of the consciousness that is created by wearing a non Vaishnava outfit.
5. Being a vegetarian is a basic principle of compassion and purity and is being practised by many westerners too, without them being Vaishnavas. And did you know that only a minority of Indians are vegetarians?
The bottom line is, these are not cultural habits but are items of sadacara, universal virtues that have little or nothing to do with a large south-Asian country per se.
VrajaGopi - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 15:52:03 +0530
It's true, a lot of the vedic injunctiuons can be seen as 'common sense'!
There are aspects of Varnasrama which are favourable to hari-bhajan, and aspects which are not so useful. So the devotees take those which are useful, and enact them for Krishna's pleasure. Because that is the way that HE likes things to be done. It is a lila, or so i have heard.
Kamala - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 15:52:46 +0530
QUOTE(Talasiga @ Feb 25 2005, 03:08 AM)
Gauranga is reported to have been anti status quo regarding that which was "non-Vedic" as in Muslim governance which was antagonistic to his movement. He is reported to have deferred to reasonable social protocols within the varnashram but was prepared to challenge that which wasn't.
Thanks, this strikes me as a very valid point which I had not considered, which indicates that Mahaprabhu deferred to traditional Hindu social forms, but challenged some social forms from outside that culture such as the excesses of the then Muslim rulers.
Advaita's points make a lot of sense, particularly in the distinction between Vaishnava Sadacara and Vedic protocol. I am thinking about how this makes it less of an "either/or" question as I posed it, and more of a need to balance the behaviours associated with Vaishnava Sadacara with the circumstances (e.g. no dhoti needed if it is snowing). Is there also perhaps a need to consider the expectations of the prevailing culture in which one is situated, such as the appropriateness or otherwise of wearing Indian dress in certain setting where people adopt a different dress code, e.g. business meetings? Or is that going down a slippery slope towards compromising one's spiritual affiliations by concealing them?
Regarinding sitting on chairs though - my knees have gone past the point of no return in that area.
Advaitadas - Fri, 25 Feb 2005 16:15:16 +0530
Is there also perhaps a need to consider the expectations of the prevailing culture in which one is situated, such as the appropriateness or otherwise of wearing Indian dress in certain setting where people adopt a different dress code, e.g. business meetings? Or is that going down a slippery slope towards compromising one's spiritual affiliations by concealing them?
It depends on one's social standing. Being on welfare myself, I have little to do with the outside world so I can afford to wear Vaishnava garments, as long as the climate allows it. For business meetings one should definitely show up with suit and tie, concealing one's Tulasi-beads under one's stiffly ironed white collar.
Yes when arthritis sets in the knees are unable to sit in Padmasana anymore. Hope you had a chance to do padmasana in the past. Ananta das Baba is also no longer able to sit in Padmasana due to arthritis. Anyway, we must do the best we can, be we Indians or Westerners. Harinama is the essence and sincerity is the essence.
VrajaGopi - Mon, 28 Feb 2005 00:25:45 +0530
QUOTE(Mina @ Feb 27 2005, 06:26 PM)
Someone on another thread thinks that they can take the so-called "positive aspects" of varnasrama and use them to enhance their bhajan. That demonstrates complete ignorance of the Caitanyaite tradition, which wholesale rejects varnasrama and for very good reasons. What positive aspects could a system that is inherently misogynistic, racist and totalitarian possibly have?
First up: I don't 'think'. I know because I have heard from the Vaisnavas.
What I actually said was that the devotees follow those aspects of Varnasrama which are appropriate, in order to please Krishna.
I have never come across the idea that the Gaudiya tradition 'wholesale rejects varnasrama'.
And why would Krishna choose to manifest His pastimes within a tradition that is 'inherently misogynistic, racist and totalitarian'?