No Defense for Kripalu
Someone called my attention to a remark made on Gaudiya Repercussions by Brainiac, who has also posted to his blog, which I shall quote here:
Not sure the headline is truly reflective of Jagat's views since he directly said he wasn't defending Kripalu's abuses, but his comments are so equivocal that I don't blame anyone for thinking that way. I can't be the only one who thinks this, but it seems that Jagat should really stick to what he is good at: talking about rasa-shastra and such since he is an expert in that area. Every time he discusses something 'worldly', be it politics, science, religious abuses or even the weather, he seems to put his foot either in his mouth or in a big pile of doodoo. Sometimes I feel sorry for him because disagreement can be had in any area of discussion, but in this case I think he brought it on himself as his first statement was: "He was a great preacher of Radha's glories, of this there is no doubt."I have been thinking over my Facebook remark and subsequent discussion (see Brainiac's blog for the whole thing) and the great number of negative reactions it elicited and have come to feel that I made an error in judgment. I don't say this diplomatically, in the sense that I wish for people to have a favorable opinion of me, but because I think that there was something important missing in my original understanding. Sometimes outrage is not only appropriate but the only stance that is justifiable, and this is one of those cases.
I think it's hard to know anything of Kripalu without having heard more than a few whispers of his abuses, and this seems especially true for us in the West. Jagat knew what he was saying when he emphasized the successful preaching over acknowledging the controversies.
In my original controversial comment, I was taking the broadest and most positive possible view of Kripalu's contribution, trying to find something good to say of him, as in the aftermath of his death I had been hearing such good things from several trustworthy people who had been impressed by his lectures, writings or displays of devotion. My general principle is that if you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all. In this case, however, it seems that remaining silent would have been the best course of action.
Even though I had some knowledge of Kripalu's reputation and actions (see here), I showed insufficient empathy for the experience of those women who were the objects of his sexual predation, in all the degrees to which he manifested it. There is a widespread tendency in many men to minimize the violence done to the sense of self that is inflicted by rape, in whatever degree of manifestation, and I fell prey to this blind spot, and that was a major failure of prema on my part.
Rape inflicts spiritual damage on its direct victims, but is also part of the complex by which prema-challenged men perpetuate the confinement of women into spiritually subordinate roles and demeans their humanity. This perpetuation is subtle and psychological because it may even be contradicted by a teacher's words. A disciple whose attention is confined to the words alone may be bewildered by their grandeur and eloquence or even spiritual magnificence: The desire for love haunts the greater part of humanity, so how great the betrayal when one misuses talk of love and spirituality to take advantage of others!
Kripalu's betrayal of Radharani was total and complete. Radha stands for true love, which is by nature exclusive and total, but he and others like him use these stories of ideal and spiritual love as a tawdry tool for sexual exploitation. Kripalu even believed that his sexual touch was equivalent to prema. The perpetuation of puruṣa-bhāva, or viṣaya-bhāva is the very antithesis of Radha bhajan.
By puruṣa-bhāva I mean the masculine sense of entitlement, i.e., the male psychological disposition to see only the masculine view of the world as normative; and by viṣaya-bhāva I mean the individual man's idea that he is the enjoyer and that women are merely an accoutrement to decorate his life with pleasure as a source of sexual pleasure, or sympathetic mothering when he is enfeebled by the vicissitudes of life. In its extreme state, this is the Madonna-whore complex that is the real obstacle to a man's attaining prema.
This is the depersonification or objectification of women for sense pleasure. It is the mistaken understanding that Kama IS Prema. When these characteristics are taken to the extreme they are considered to be asuric.
Kama is not Prema, that is the whole point of Radha bhajan and if someone teaching Radha bhajan makes THAT mistake, not simply philosophically, but behaviorally, then has he done a service, or a disservice? How has he furthered the cause of prema other than to purvey the symbols and teach a few rituals? Has he really preached the glories of Radharani or has he subverted the cause of prema?
The external characteristic of a guru is to teach, but the internal is that he knows his subject and has applied it fully. And in an experiential tradition, where the goal is defined as prema, the internal characteristic of the guru is that he knows and experiences prema.
The underlying question that confused me and led to my comment is: Can the purveying of misunderstood symbols and rituals that accord with a particular religious tradition in itself be a meaningful act? In other words, if someone like Kripalu preaches the name of Radharani or the glories of Radharani from the scriptures, will that in itself be a positive thing, even if in fact his behavior is the antithesis of prema?
Behavior reflects understanding. And a perverted understanding is what is communicated in paramparā from a defective source. Ultimately it is not the words that count, but the realization and its consequent behavior. And even if the words are beautiful, if the behavior contradicts them, then the communication is bound to be, like the shastras say, "Milk touched by the lips of a serpent."
A further question is, then, does this mean that the symbols are less important than their meaning? Can we have prema without Radha and Krishna? That is not really a question I can answer at this point, though I can definitely say that we cannot have Radha and Krishna without prema.
The less developed devotee feels reverence for the symbols but does not understand them fully. Furthermore, he feels under attack when those symbols are not treated with reverence by others. In the short run, the symbols take on more importance than their import, the spiritual experience they point to and the character transformations that they demand of them. This is the stage we are supposed to outgrow.
The articles I published about Kripalu on my blogs inspired many negative reactions from Kripalu’s supporters. I was hoping that my comment at the time of his death would at least encourage those people to continue on the path of seeking out Radharani and the prema-dharma that she stands for. But there is no prema without truth, and when Kripalu by his actions represents the fundamental anartha of depersonification of woman as a sexual object, then it is necessary for his disciples to come to terms with that fact if they want to progress. Therefore, in this case, truth was more important than stroking their egos through flattery or diplomacy.
I hope this sets the record straight. Jai Sri Radhe.