Constitutional Issues: Checks and Balances, Part 2


Today we add one final chart to complete our summary of how checks and balances of power are written into the Constitution for ISKCON As It Is. The chart below lists the key ways in which the Brahminical Council and the Governing Body Commission work together on behalf of the Society:


We would like to address one additional issue today, which falls within the range of the 'checks and balances' discussion. Implementing checks on power held by the Society's leaders is undeniably important, because we are all conditioned souls, prone to the four defects. At the same time, the fundamental principles articulated in the Constitution are absolute, having come directly from the Lord's nitya-siddha maha-bhagavata pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada. In dealing with any conflict before the Society, the Constitution emphasizes the scope of absolute principle. Article 1 of the Constitution, § 1.2 - 'Constitution as Absolute', states:

"The Constitution is a document composed by self-confessed conditioned jivas, therefore it is not presumed to be Absolute. Every principle articulated herein is to be interpreted and understood on the basis of, and in the context of the teachings of His Divine Grace. His instructions shall be taken literally and without change, as they are directly coming down through the disciplic succession, evam parampara praptam, and are thus privileged over all other subjective means of understanding."

One Prabhu in our Constitution Workgroup raised the following concerns about how this clause might be interpreted:

"There could be some possible problems here. For instance in the application of statements such as "Sometimes it is necessary to preach a philosophical doctrine which is against the Vedic conclusion." SB 4.2.28 ppt.

The following statement, from SB 4.3.9, has caused anger among some readers who have taken it literally: "It was fortunate for Sati that Lord Siva did not take the ornaments from his wife and spend them for ganja." It appears to be a tongue in cheek statement by His Divine Grace.

There are many other instances wherein completely literal acceptance can be problematic, not least the famous "rape" statement. And there are apparently contradictory statements or usages by His Divine Grace, for instance his sometimes addressing women devotees as Prabhu and later instructing that all women should be addressed as Mother.

So this clause may need rewording."

My personal response to this input was that I believe there's ample protection built into § 1.2. If you break the statement down…

interpreted and understood on the basis of, and in the context of the teachings

means not taking any one statement singularly or out of context, but understanding it in the context of the body of teachings.

literally and without change, as they are directly coming down through the disciplic succession

also affirms that in context, we interpret and understand in accordance with the Acaryas, not just one sentence or statement singularly.

There will always be seeming contradictions and controversies, but preaching means we have to be able to explain how to understand something, taking the sastric statement or instruction as absolute, and understanding it in light of Guru, Sadhu, Sastra. Room for interpretation is there, but sastra as absolute is also there.

Personally, I don't see Srila Prabhupada's purport statement in Srimad Bhagavatam 4.3.9 as tongue in cheek, but as a real possible scenario. Shiva is known to smoke ganga on occasion. As a mendicant, might he swap his wife's ornaments for ganga? Who can say no to such a pastime? When concerns arise about such things, strong preaching is needed in order to make them understandable. Not that the absoluteness of the pure devotee's sastric purports may be called into question and not taken literally.

Likewise, Srila Prabhupada's comments on rape require solid preaching to make them understandable, to women and men alike. But the statement is there, and personally I take it as absolute. In fact, there is even a whole body of mundane women's literature and xociology that can be used to explain and support this statement, what to speak of the cultural and language nuances from Srila Prabhupada's personal context. But the statement cannot be scrubbed out or simply considered non-absolute, because everything that emanates from the maha-bhagavata pure devotee is absolute.

Much like the checks and balances of power in the managerial realm, our interpretations of sastra and the instructions of the Spiritual Master have to find balance by first recognizing their Absolute nature. And this is the principle embodied in the Constitution.