Varnasrama, Dharma, and Sexism

One will find a good deal of sexism in the Gaudiya community, which is so influenced by India. There it is still prominent today and it carries over into Hindu and Buddhist spiritual movements in the West. Much has been written about it over the last few decades. But the entire Western world is still dealing with it and Eastern Europe and Russia are particularly backward on the issue in comparison to their Western counterparts.

In Gaudiya Vaisnavism it carries over from identification with varnasrama dharma. The sexism of Prabhupada is really no more than a varnasrama sensibility. So that has played a part in his followers sexist attitudes that surface here and again. And those who are psychologically prone to it, will identify more with it than the core of Gaudiya Vedanta and tend to speak loudly on the topic.

The “No women gurus” voice is a good example. It’s sexist plane and simple. And it echoes in a number of Gaudiya institutions. Still many of Prabhupada’s followers do not resonate with such sensibilities. So it is facile to make a one to one correspondence between Prabhupada’s theoretical varnasrama sensibilities (from which he often acted differently) and the sexism we see in some of his followers. It is a factor, but the issue is much more complex.

Varansrama and dharma sastra are best honored by striving for and engaging in ananya bhakti, because at its heart this is what dharma sastra points to, however buried it is in moral law. The moral law is fulfilled by knowing its purpose and pursuing it, even if by means other then those strictly concerned with morality unto itself. This is what ananya bhakti does, and in it women surely have an equal say and even lead the way in the form of the Braja-sundaris.

Morality and Scripture

Q. I would rather adopt a system that does not claim to be perfect, that has the capacity to change than submitting my moral compass to rigid immovable systems such as religion.

A. This is a misunderstanding of actual religion. For example in the scripture Mahabharata we find Krishna teaching the following essential moral principle:

“It is difficult to grasp the highest understanding [of morality]. One ascertains it by reasoning. Now there are many people who simply claim ‘morality is scripture.’ Though I don’t oppose that view, scriptures do not give rules for every case.”

He then goes on to say,

“Morality is taught for the progress of living beings. Morality [dharma] derives from the act of sustaining [dharana]. Thus authorities say that morality [dharma] is that which sustains living beings. The conclusion is that whatever sustains is actually dharma.”

Thus Krishna teaches that moral principles are to be determined in a dynamic that includes reason and revelation. Revelation may be divine or it may arguably derive from science as well. In either case it must be reasoned about in order to determine the moral good of the hour.

Sam Harris makes some good points but his overall argument suffers from his misunderstanding of religion and the attempt to quantify that which is not quantifiable. It is objective to the extreme, and we are at least 50% subjective and arguably more so.