Is the Ācārya Relative?

ADDENDUM: Some people feel it is insulting to say that a guru’s teachings are relative to their time and place, and to other circumstances like the nature of their audience. It seems to me that this attitude does not comprehend the true function of guru. The first priority and foremost responsibility of the guru is to take the *absolute* essence communicated in the heart of śāstra and explain it in ways that are relevant and digestible to specific individuals in specific periods of history, culture, etc. In other words, it is the DUTY and GLORY of the guru to be relative! Guru makes the mysterious absolute Veda relate-able and rele-vant to us, by expressing it rela-tive to things we can comprehend.

I got into a terrible argument recently with a friend because of something I said.

It started when someone (on Facebook of course) asked me, “What do you have to say about Prabhupada’s condemnation of homosexual activity?”

In hindsight, I should have asked him to give examples and then addressed the examples one by one. I don’t think there would have been too many. Instead, as usual, I blurted out exactly how I feel – without pausing for diplomacy or tact or all that much sensitivity. “I don’t like it.”

My friend really hated that. He took “I don’t like it” to mean “It is wrong.” But “I don’t like it” doesn’t mean “It is wrong,” it means “I don’t like it.”

“Why would you not like it if its not wrong?” he asked.

I don’t like it because its very complicated. It is very complicated becaus it triggers a million reflexes that make it very difficult to clearly understand or explain.

In my original answer to the question, the next sentence after “I don’t like it” was a quick summary of why I don’t like it. Its another flaw of mine that I often make these summaries vastly too summarized. I skipped the step of explaining why I don’t like it (because it is so difficult to clearly understand and explain) and jumped to a summary of the essence of how I try to understand and explain it. I said, “I think its a product of the time, place and circumstance of his upbringing.”

My friend read this to mean, “I think Prabhupāda is an ordinary human being whose opinions are generated by the modes of nature and the reactions of karma.” That’s not what I meant. I meant that even Avatāra, Mahā-bhāgavata, Sad-guru appear within a certain setting in this world, and use what is at their disposal in that setting to communicate with the people in that setting and thereby bless them. Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared at the end of the 19th century and was educated by the British in Kalkatta, at Scottish Church College. As a result he was fluent in English and exposed to English victorian culture. I don’t think this is why he did not have a positive opinion of homosexuality. I think any orthodox, traditional non-tantric yogi wouldn’t go out of their way to have a positive opinion of homo- or hetero- sexuality. But I do think it is a very big part of the reason that his discriptions of homosexuality are distasteful to a majority of late 20th and early 21st century readers.

I was not expressing a denigration of Prabhupāda. After all, the next sentence I wrote in my original reply shows that my opinion of Prabhupāda is high and that I don’t like how people on either side of the issue use his comments to present him in a way that most people find low and ugly. I wrote, “I also think it is over-emphasized by people who want to denegrate him for one reason or another.”

My friend remains quite disappointed in me for having the opinion that material circumstances would have something to do with Prabhupāda – but I remain convinced that I am being realistic, not offensive. The mahā-bhāgavata who descends into this world takes the material circumstances he or she descends into and utilizes them for divinity in a way analogous to putting an iron rod into fire. The rod itself is not fire, but it becomes as hot and as bright as fire.

I think this is an opinion worth defending because I think the concept that “context is all-important” it is a central, fundamental principle of Vedic Hermeneutics (the Vedic system for understanding conflicting or complex statements). The context in which an ācārya makes a statement is an essential part of correctly understanding that statement. The statement’s relation to the ultimate śāstric context is another part, of paramount importance (since śāstra is the ultimate pramāṇa [authority] of our Gauḍīya Vedānta school; and the ācārya is an ācārya due to his or her relation to śāstra).

We can exploit the myriad connotations, denotations and possible contexts of words to derive almost any meaning from almost any statement. Hermeneutics (rules of understanding words) are therefore essential. The essence of Vedic Hermeneutics is that  the original, intended meaning is understood by establishing the actual context of the words, and especially the context and intent of the speaker. In the case of an ācārya speaking with transcendental context, the context and intent of the śāstra he exemplifies and teaches is also an essential factor to be considered if we hope to have fully accurate understanding of the ācārya.

The meaning of śāstra or of śāstra’s teacher, the ācārya, is absolute, but the method through which śāstra and ācārya communicate is relative. This is why the same śāstra and same ācārya says many different things, often contradictory, to many different people in many different contexts and circumstances. The actual meaning of all these things is one absolute truth, but language and specifics through which that truth is expressed is relative to the person expressing it and the person it is being expressed to.

This does not mean that Prabhupāda is “an ordinary being whose words were not dictated by Krishna.” It means that Prabhupāda is a mahābhāgavata recieving diction from Krishna and expressing it to the world in context.

– Vraja Kishor dās

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  1. Hare Krishna Vraja Kishor Prabhu !

    Great to see you are out here in cyberland sharing your writing skills and realizations !

    I just came across tour blog and have enjoyed reading your various articles. When it came to this one, I felt some reservations and I posted it in the “Srila Prabhupada’s Discipels , My Godbrothers & Godsisters” Fb group to see what others thought. . I shared this article and other articles with godbrothers and so far I received these two comments back. I will ask them if I can share their names, if you would like to know :

    Godbrother 1 : We don’t reject homosexuals, per se. We reject every act that cannot be offered to Lord Krishna as a sin. Sin is an action that does not involve God or Krishna. It’s like taking the law in your own hands. That is illegal because ultimately everything belongs to the government, and they give you a licence to act. So the problem with homosexuality ( or recreational heterosexual sex not for conception purposes ) is there is no offering, no baby to raise in KC. That way Srila Prabhupada said that marriage is not a licence for prostitution. Sex if for having children. If not then don’t have sex. This is our philosophy. If one can apply this to their, life then one will make spiritual progress, and if not, then it will be a long time coming.

    Godbrother 2 : Srila Prabhupada had many disciples who happened to be homosexual. He knew it as well. Srila Prabhupada, as the acharya, preached that material sense gratification in all its forms binds us to the material prison. Sex life in the Vedas is for the purpose of procreation. Krishna is the well-wisher of human procreation, since it brings souls into the human form from which one can go back to Godhead. He obviously condemned abortion for this reason.

    Even if homosexuality were fully socially acceptable, as it is in many western settings, the duty of the acharya is to help direct his disciples to understand the role of sense gratification in binding one to maya. We are not the body, we are not made of matter. We are eternal spirit souls. One who accepts direction in spiritual life from one who does not understand things as they are, is being cheated and could very well develop satisfaction in the illusory plane. This approach may even come from one in the line of Krishna consciousness, who is not a full-fledged genuine acharya. They are cheaters, and one who accepts their shelter is being cheated. It is not an issue of political correctness at all. It is a question of Truth.

    Your friend and servant,
    Gaura dasa


  2. Vraja Kishor prabhu, I started to search for all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples on Facebook about four years ago, and I gradually created a site where there are now 709 of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples gathered for regular istaghosti and sharing

    I posted your article asking others what they thought about it. Praghosa prabhu, the book distributor, gave his opinion, and then asked me to post my own comment, so here goes :

    I think that Vraja Kishor dasa’s point is that Srila Prabhupada hated the sin and never the sinners

    I find that Vraja Kishor dasa is relativising Srila Prabhupada’s statement by saying that Srila Prabhupada’s statements against homosexual activity is “ a product of the time, place and circumstance of his upbringing.”

    I don’t agree with him when he states that because Srila Prabhupada

    “ was educated by the British in Kalkatta, at Scottish Church College…and exposed to English victorian culture……is a very big part of the reason that his descriptions of homosexuality are distasteful to a majority of late 20th and early 21st century readers.”

    If Srila Prabhupada’s books are supposed to be the law books for humanity for the next 10,000 years, then how is it that after 39 years, they are already outdated ?

    Would Srila Prabhupada had written his books any different in 2016 ?

    Vraja Kishor das ends with “The meaning of śāstra or of śāstra’s teacher, the ācārya, is absolute, but the method through which śāstra and ācārya communicate is relative. This is why the same śāstra and same ācārya says many different things, often contradictory, to many different people in many different contexts and circumstances. The actual meaning of all these things is one absolute truth, but language and specifics through which that truth is expressed is relative to the person expressing it and the person it is being expressed to.”

    Srila Prabhupada says the same thing as the Srimad Bhagavatam sastra says about homosexuality :

    Lord Brahma, approaching the Lord, addressed Him thus: My Lord, please protect me from these sinful demons, who were created by me under Your order. They are infuriated by an appetite for sex and have come to attack me.
    It appears here that the homosexual appetite of males for each other is created in this episode of the creation of the demons by Brahma. In other words, the homosexual appetite of a man for another man is demoniac and is not for any sane male in the ordinary course of life. (SB 3.20.26)
    and in a letter he further confirms :

    My Dear Lalitananda dasa,
    Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated May 13rd, 1975 and have noted the contents. I am very sorry that you have taken to homosex. It will not help you advance in your attempt for spiritual life. In fact, it will only hamper your advancement. I do not know why you have taken to such abominable activities. What can I say? Anyway, try to render whatever service you can to Krishna. Even though you are in a very degraded condition Krishna, being pleased with your service attitude, can pick you up from your fallen state. You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise, your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil. Show Krishna you are serious, if you are.
    I hope this meets you in good health.
    Your ever well-wisher,
    A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

    Even though this letter was written in 1975, and now it is 2016, homosex has not become less degrading karmically, even if it has become socially more acceptable.

    My analysis is that Vraja Kishor does not want to see people get alienated from taking up to the practice of Krsna consciousness because some devotees may clobber gay or gay-friendly people over the head with sastra telling them if they are gay, then they are a demon, or there is no way they can take up to Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada stated in one lecture that we are all more or less demons, but even demons can take up to Krsna consciousness..

    In the same way that some devotees don’t want to see gays alienated from taking up to Krsna consciousness some are concerned that Srila Prabhupada quoted that one never trust a woman, that women are less intelligent or that women like to be raped. That can be taken out of context , and used to discourage others to take up Krsna consciousness. We know that Srila Prabhupada said that our Vaisnavas are not ordinary women, and can take us back to Godhead, and we know he engaged many gay devotees to pioneer his movement, and he loved them so much , that many were able to give up their “gayness” though some could not

    There are articles online that Vraja Kishor das may have been influenced by, in terms of wanting to have a compassionate view towards those with the homosexual appetite, but who are attracted to taking up Krsna consciousness. One has been written by Tripurari Swami.

    Here is the link :

    Another article I vaguely remember. which I could not find, also written by Tripurari Swami, stated that Srila Prabhupada wrote his books from the use of English language and perspective of one educated during the Victorian era in England, at Scottish Churches College. It may have influenced Vraja Kishor’s statements in this article

    One article I vaguely remember Tripurari Swami Tripurari wrote. which I could not find right now, ( If anyone knows the link for that article, please post it ) stated that Srila Prabhupada wrote his books from the perspective of one educated during the Victorian era in England, at Scottish Churches College. Perhaps he meant that the use of words will need to be adjusted in Prabhupada’s books over time since language changes

    I just wrote to Tripurari Swami to get some light on that point and he wrote back to me “ While there is no need to change his books, here is a need for new books. Books with new language dealing with new time in new circumstances and new information. And such new books should help us to separate details from principles that are expounded in his books.”

    Swami Tripurari also gave me permission to share further thoughts from him :

    ” In brief and essentially speaking, the sexual urge is central to human existence. The scripture teaches that it should be harnessed. Homosexuality is a sexual urge that some humans are born with. It would be progressive in terms of harnessing it if its expression were limited to the intimacy within a committed relationship. If one adds spiritual insight and practice on top of this, there is every possibility that this sexual urge will be extinguished. That is my opinion.”

    Srila Prabhupada did tell one devotee Raya Rama to get married to a nice Krsna conscious woman, when he expressed that he was sexually agitated and gay . He was unable to do this

    Tripurari Swami is suggesting an additional way of regulating the urge, and also taking the steps to over come it.


    1. Please check the Sanskrit (which Śrīla Prabhupāda so wisely provided) to the reference from Bhāgavatam. Brahmā merely says “these sinful people want to have sex with me!” They are sinful for many reasons. One of the reasons is that Brahmā is their FATHER. The other is that Brahmā is UNWILLING (this is the most important reason).

      They are not homosexuals, and Prabhupāda doesn’t word it that way in english. He says the “homosexual tendency.” They are omni-sexuals. As soon as the twilight became a beautiful woman, they totally forgot Brahmā and went for her. A homosexual would never behave like that.

      I am not surprised that Pragosh Prabhu, a disciple of Prabhupāda brought up in early ISKCON, was not comfortable with how I “relitivized” Prabhupāda. If fact, however, the VERY FUNCTION of guru, is to make the absolute relative to the disciple. It is not that relativity is a flaw in the guru, relativity is the function of the guru.

      I thought he made many nice points, besides that.

      Liked by 1 person

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