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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
Is there such a thing as liberation theology within your Vedic system? I noticed that you have Hare Krsna centers in Chile and El Salvador. Does your movement in these countries support or empathize with the struggle of the commonfolk against the murderous oppression they face? . . . Is the black majority in South Africa supposed to merely chant the Hare Krsna mantra and not fight back against apartheid tyranny?
Robert K. Smith
OUR REPLY: According to Vedic "liberation theology," the worst oppression that anyone can face and the kind that everyone does face is to be forced by the laws of material nature to suffer repeatedly in the vicious cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death. Whether one is a Salvadoran peasant, a South African black, or a well-to-do Canadian, American, or European, everyone is oppressed by these four primary miseries of material life.
The members of the Krsna consciousness movement are not politically active per se, but that doesn't mean we are apathetic about human rights. Our primary aim, however, is to educate people everywhere about their spiritual identity and about life's spiritual purpose. When people are ignorant of their spiritual identity, they misunderstand the purpose of life; thus to achieve their misguided aims they are ready to oppress others.
The Vedic social system, known as varnasrama, emphasizes cooperation among individuals, classes, and nations for the common goal of satisfying the Supreme Person. Only when we've established this common spiritual cause is there any hope of putting an end to oppression. Otherwise, as history shows, the so-called liberation of one group only leads to the oppression of another. Oppression cannot be eliminated without Krsna consciousness.
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I have had contact with ISKCON because of my study and teaching of the music of India. On so many levels you are to be commended: your spiritual principles, your devotion to study and prayer, your thoughtful way of life. However, you are making the serious mistake of. . . hiding and jeopardizing the intellectual gifts of your women members. In not one of your publications have I read anything of intellectual/spiritual substance (other than food, as important as that is) by a woman. Furthermore, when members of your community have come to the college where I teach, the women have, with one significant exception, held back their verbal and persuasive skills. That exception, . . . Laksmimoni-devi dasi, is proof that you are wasting talents.
OUR REPLY: First of all, one of our contributing editors, Visakha-devi dasi, and one of our regular contributors, Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi, are both women. If you read some of their articles, you will probably agree that their writings contain as much "intellectual/spiritual substance" as articles written by men.
Futhermore, our monthly feature "Lord Krsna's Cuisine" (which you were obviously referring to) is not really just about food. Those articles are philosophical, but the philosophy is presented in such a way as to make the science of bhakti-yoga easier to understand and apply. This is a great accomplishment by a gifted and sincere writer. She expertly takes "intellectual spiritual substance" and makes it practical and understandable. And this feature has been running every month for three and a half years. Quite a noteworthy accomplishment, we feel and by a woman.
We searched through our 1983 and 1984 issues of BACK TO GODHEADand discovered eleven articles by women (other than those articles by the two women already mentioned). Also in the last two years, we ran dozens of photographs of women instructing others in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. These numbers should help to convince you that ISKCON has no policy that would hide or jeopardize the intellectual gifts of its female members.
Rather, ISKCON's philosophy is that in the service of Lord Krsna there is no distinction of caste, creed, color, or sex. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord especially mentions that a woman who has taken Krsna consciousness seriously is also destined to reach Him. On the absolute plane there is no gradation of higher and lower. The only qualification of a person speaking on Krsna consciousness is that he or she has knowledge of Krsna. If a woman can lecture nicely and to the point, then her audience will be purified.
Regarding your point that when members of our movement have come to your college, the women have held back their verbal and persuasive skills: As you know, women nowadays are under great social pressure to compete with men as equals in almost every conceivable way. The women's lib movement, however, isn't necessarily making women (or men) any happier. Certainly the competitive role isn't for every woman, and ISKCON recognizes this right of women. We offer all women the opportunity to find happiness and selfulfillment as a mother, as an intellectual, or as both.