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In Social Attitudes Towards Misconduct and Accountability, Theology Can Help or Hurt


Image Source: Wylly Suhendra

I wish to share some reflections on the position of scripture (śāstra) and theology within the context of ISKCON’s ongoing efforts in direction of accountability and justice associated to sexual misconduct. The previous couple of years have introduced a brand new wave of consideration to sexual misconduct and accountability in ISKCON. While this has been a welcome cultural shift for a lot of, it has introduced the reopening of previous wounds. It’s additionally introduced battle over what accountability ought to seem like, the position of survivors in justice processes, and the way we envision our society and tradition. Conflict isn’t essentially dangerous. Moments of battle will be inflection factors. While aggravating, battle supplies an area the place latent cultural shifts are actualized.

Śāstra and theology have been utilized to play each useful and inhibiting roles on this course of. In specific, I’ve noticed the usage of BG 9.30 (api cet sudurācāraḥ…) in fashionable dialogue round accountability. I wish to share some perspective on this verse and its use.

BG 9.30 is a basic “exhausting verse.” Hard verses in scripture are these which persistently current as stumbling stones to the group of practitioners. Hard verses aren’t simply “robust love” verses, similar to, for instance, these which discuss in regards to the nature of attachment. Hard verses are complicated, persistently troublesome to interpret, and trigger battle. The Gīta has a handful of such verses. In some circumstances, Śrila Prabhupāda’s purports make these verses a bit simpler. In others, they don’t.

There are a variety of approaches to exhausting verses. Some practitioners might really feel obligated to just accept the whole lot of a sacred textual content, or your complete corpus of approved literature of their custom. Others might strategy exhausting verses with sensitivity, acknowledging the problem and confusion they create whereas acknowledging that they’re a part of the textual content and have to be taken critically. Still, others will desire to put in writing off exhausting verses as relics of a specific historic context, and never search to interact with them in up to date observe. These are all legitimate approaches. Where I take situation is within the weaponization of exhausting verses.

BG 9.30 is weaponizable – greater than virtually every other verse within the Gīta. It has been utilized time and time once more to excuse misconduct, together with sexual harassment or abuse, misconduct that rises to the extent of felony, and different grave breaches of social accountability. For members of ISKCON who really feel burned – and burnt out – by years and years of misconduct, and the arduous wrestle for accountability, even listening to the point out of this verse is a set off for anger and ache. Invoking this verse throughout charged cultural moments implicitly tells survivors that their tales don’t matter; that the fame and religious well being of the perpetrator issues extra.

Given this historical past, any remedy of the verse, and of subjects associated to accountability generally, warrant the utmost sensitivity. The hassle is, too typically, this verse and its purport are quoted with out cautious evaluation of what they’re saying, how they apply to the current second, and whether or not they need to be used in any respect.

Historically, Vaiṣṇava students have approached this verse with sensitivity. Jīva Gosvāmī’s dialogue of the verse in his treatise Bhakti-sandarba is price noting [note: the same passage was discussed in another recent editorial published on social media]. In this passage, Jīva Gosvāmī is discussing a portion of the Padma-purana on offenses in opposition to the Holy Name, which states, “An individual who commits sinful acts on the power of hari-nāma can’t be purified even after being disciplined by a number of Yamarājas.”

Jīva Gosvāmī feedback, “One ought to know that this offense applies not solely when committing sinful acts on the power of hari-nāma, but additionally on committing such abominable acts on the power of any limb of bhakti… That verse of the Gītā (9.30) is supposed solely for highlighting the fault of criticizing an individual who has turn into a dharmātmā-sādhu freed from all earlier sinful tendencies and has turn into one-pointed in bhajana, having given up the whole lot else. That verse isn’t meant to encourage or justify the dedication of abominable acts by anybody.”

I recognize Jīva Gosvāmī’s cautious remedy of 9.30 and the way critically he takes misconduct and its penalties. He and his colleagues definitely witnessed their fair proportion; Jīva himself underwent severe penance for offenses which, to the up to date eye, appear merely like breaches of social etiquette.

The hassle is, although, how do we all know somebody “has turn into a dharmātmā-sādhu freed from all earlier sinful tendencies” – and, extra to the purpose, how is that this related to how we have interaction an individual who has dedicated severe misconduct, sādhu or not, in accountability and justice? Questions of pretty apply justice, accountability, forgiveness, and pardon are perennial challenges to justice methods all over the world. The private transformation of an individual who has dedicated misconduct is notoriously exhausting to measure, and sometimes generates intense debate (living proof: Jarvis Masters).

However, once we provoke conversations about justice and accountability by speaking about pardon and forgiveness, we’re actually lacking the purpose. When a case of misconduct arises, fact-finding, justice and accountability are the questions for as we speak. Pardon and forgiveness are questions for the longer term. BG 9.30 has offered a stumbling stone to justice and accountability in ISKCON as a result of it creates confusion in regards to the order of operations. It has been too readily weaponized by allies of an accused party, or by individuals who know that they themselves are ethically wandering, to confuse individuals and express regret (learn: impunity) earlier than justice has an opportunity to happen.

We can’t know now whether or not an individual accused of misconduct will rework spiritually sooner or later. That’s not likely our drawback. Our drawback is to make sure security and therapeutic for these harmed and accountability for individuals who have dedicated hurt.

It’s additionally not our drawback that an individual’s fame for misconduct will stick with them. The slate of worldly deeds isn’t cleaned even when an individual achieves religious therapeutic. Remembering hurt that was achieved up to now helps society within the current to enact correct safeguards. We by no means wish to erase the tales of survivors.

Theological discussions of forgiveness typically finish with the conclusion that “forgiveness is between an individual and God.” In a way, that’s true. But there’s extra to the story. How we enact justice and accountability in society really does affect our religious selves. Our religious wellness is tied to the ethics of our lives.

Seeking justice and accountability is useful not only for survivors. It’s useful, additionally, for the potential of redemption for an individual who has dedicated misconduct. This known as the reconciliation or restorative justice strategy. The reconciliation strategy is predicated on the basic perception that individuals have the capability to take full accountability for what we have now achieved. We have the capability to really have a look at ache – and to take sensible motion to heal that ache.

One instance generally given on this context is of Rāvaṇa, who continues to be often called a foul actor, though he’s believed to have been redeemed and to serve on the heavenly gates as Jaya. Use of this instance means that Rāvaṇa ought to be revered for his skill to repent and reform, moderately than for the hurt he brought on to thousands and thousands of dwelling creatures.

Other examples have a unique conclusion. Once upon a time, the irascible sage Durvāsā
Muṇi went along with his disciples to go to Ambarīṣa Mahārāja. As the king was ready for them, the hour for breaking the ekādaśī quick arrived. The king’s advisors suggested him to take one tulasi leaf, in order that he may full the quick, however keep away from inflicting the offense of eating earlier than his company. Just then, Durvāsā Muṇi returned – and reamed out Ambarīṣa for taking the tulasi leaf. He cursed Ambarīṣa and solid a spell, sending a demon to assault him. However, Ambarīṣa Mahārāja had been graced with Viṣṇu’s sudarśana chakra for defense. The chakra destroyed the demon and chased Durvāsā Muṇi everywhere in the universe. Viṣṇu Himself refused to name off the chakra, telling Durvāsā, “You should repent and search forgiveness from Ambarīṣa; solely then can your spirit be saved.”

Accountability and repentance are elementary to human nature. Even younger youngsters will carry a burden of guilt for small misdeeds until they inform what they’ve achieved and help in “fixing” it.

The similar logic is a part of twelve-step packages, which have helped thousands and thousands turn into free from dependancy. The twelve-step course of contains taking a looking and fearless ethical stock of oneself; admitting to God, to ourselves, and to a different particular person the precise nature of our wrongs… and making amends to every particular person one has harmed, besides when doing so would trigger them additional hurt. People I do know who’ve discovered assist and therapeutic in twelve-step packages inform me that the fourth step is the important thing to unlocking actual change. Honestly taking inventory of the hurt one has brought on, with out making excuses or bypassing, is crucial to releasing oneself from the veil of illusory power.

What accountability, repentance, and reconciliation seem like in observe will fluctuate. Dr Howard Zehr, a restorative justice practitioner and a Mennonite, places it this fashion: “Restorative justice displays three primary assumptions: (1) Crime is a violation of individuals and relationships; (2) violations create obligations; and (3) the central obligation is to place proper the wrongs” (The Little Book of Restorative Justice, p64). Some wrongs can’t be put proper. We know all too properly the toll that sexual misconduct has taken. But accountability and reconciliation can get us a great distance in direction of therapeutic, and in direction of guaranteeing a safer and happier future for ISKCON society.

Let’s additionally do not forget that, in a context of a complete society that has skilled hurt, therapeutic is an ongoing course of. Theologian Chanequa Walker-Barnes writes, “Reconciliation isn’t a vacation spot or a set cut-off date, however is moderately a developmental course of—a journey—that requires (i) confrontational truth-telling; (2) liberation and therapeutic for the oppressed; (3) repentance and conversion for the oppressor; and (4) constructing beloved group” (I Bring the Voices of My People, p163).

In closing, I wish to return to the phrase dharmātmā-sādhu launched within the passage by Jīva Gosvāmī. What is a dharmātmā-sādhu? There are a number of doable translations, however the gist is a sādhu who’s absolutely fastened in dharma. This is usually translated as transcendent dharma, however that’s not the entire image. Let’s not overlook that one that means of dharma is justice (or ethics). Ethics means doing proper – doing proper by God, by one’s internal compass, and by the individuals to whom one is accountable. Each particular person in ISKCON society has the chance to be a dharmātmā-sādhu once we observe compassion, once we maintain each other accountable to the ethics of our souls, and once we put aside the illusory power of excuses for our personal conduct and for each other. That is our accountability.

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