ISKCON accepts same-sex followers from couples

at Jaya Badhra prabhvi -

1 Introduction

A few years ago, while attending a theological seminar, during a group discussion on non-heterosexuality, I quoted the following verse from the Bhagavad-Gita: “O descendant of Bharata, o conqueror of enemies, all living beings are born in delusion, confused by dualities, arising from desire and hatred ”(Bhagavad-Gita 7.27). With a quick answer, a respected, older lady quipped: "That certainly depends on what" itch "(eng. Itch, translator's note) it refers to!" By playing on the word "iccha" or "desire," she alluded to the concept that worldly enjoyment of sexuality is just scratching an itch. But she (and the other participants in the discussion) did not immediately notice my actual intention, which had more to do with the word “dvena” or “hate”. Because the discussion had taken a turn that denigrated non-heterosexuals as a class per se, I tried to bring them back to a more balanced and philosophical approach.

As a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a society that philosophically and socially downplays any kind of sexuality, I find it valuable to examine how non-heterosexuality is dealt with in ISKCON. While ISKCON's founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) strongly opposed “homosexuals”, his personal relationships with non-heterosexuals, both inside and outside ISKCON, were neither judgmental nor discriminatory. In general, he has encouraged everyone to "chant and be happy" and progressively purify their existence.

How do ISKCON members perceive Prabhupada's teaching and example regarding non-heterosexuality? Is there a derogatory view of non-heterosexuals as a class? If so, how does that fit into the integrative, spiritual worldview that ISKCON propagates? Could ISKCON members improve their preaching work for their non-heterosexual audience and members if they knew more about what constitutes non-heterosexuality? This study may also provide a glimpse at how ISKCON, generally seen as a religious minority outside India, deals with its own internal minorities.

2. A look at the literature

In Is Gay Good? Ethics, Theology, and Homosexuality, H. Kimball Jones (1971) made the following statement:

In order to come to a reasonable disposition on any subject on which the social sciences can provide useful information, a person has a responsibility to acquire as much that information as possible. It is not an easy task in a field like homosexuality, where a great deal of new relevant material is published every year ... Equally important is the face-to-face confrontation between the theorist and those about whom he theorises. As useful as literature research can be (I don't want to devalue its importance), it cannot serve as the sole basis for making responsible theological or ethical statements about a problem like homosexuality. (Jones, 1971, 144-5)

Jones advocates two approaches to non-heterosexuality that would allow an informed and ethical perspective: personal education about non-heterosexuality and dialogue with non-heterosexuals. He also pointed out that both should be done in a “spirit of openness”. (Jones, 1971, 142).

It appears that ISKCON's leaders and members could benefit from such a thoughtful attitude as an experienced and mature theologian. An ISKCON member might respond to such advice that Prabhupada's view of non-heterosexuality was consistent and clear. At the height of the sexual revolution in America, Prabhupada boldly preached that sexuality, even in marriage, is only intended for the generation of children. It naturally followed from this that his view of “homosexual”, as he called it, was not exactly affirmative, which was to say of non-heterosexual marriage: “Now the priests support homosexuals. I'm surprised. They are going to pass a resolution for a man-to-man wedding. Human society has come down to such a degraded position. It's amazing. ”(VedaBase, 2003, Coversation with the GBC - May 25, 1972, Los Angeles).

Despicable as Prabhupada's statements appear, his friendly exchanges with non-heterosexuals, such as Allan Ginsberg, suggest the absence of malice in this matter; In the 1950s and 60s, Ginsberg was known, among other things, for his public advocacy of non-heterosexuality. Ginsberg spoke openly to Prabhupada about his gay activism and although Prabhuda disapproved of that, he always remained respectful and personable towards Ginsberg. (Prabhupada 1991, 290). Prabhupada's friendly demeanor wasn't limited to celebrities like Ginsberg. A number of statements show that Prabhupada did not treat non-heterosexuals any differently from others, even though his statements about homosexuality were offensive. Are ISKCON members able to emulate Prabhupada's neutrality, and if not, can a more informed perspective on non-heterosexuality be helpful?

Carol T. Tully (2000, 1) presents in this context Lesbians, Gays and the Empowerment Perspective states that there is enough available data to verify that same-sex attraction is as old as humanity, and that behavior based on that attraction has been condemned, accepted, or even expected at different times and in different places. Their publication also claims that the term "homosexuality" is relatively modern and was invented in 1869 by Karl M. Kertbeny, a German-Hungarian author, translator and journalist.

Bhakti Ananda Goswami points out in his article Modern Biology and the Concept of a "Third Sex" points out that the extensive research that has been done on "intersex conditions," "same-sex attraction," and "sexual orientation" shows that terms such as "intersex" and "homosexual" are inherently versimplifications of a category of individuals whose psychophysical constitutions vary immensely. The well-documented details in this regard have underscored their diversity and in no way allow an assignment to a single biological cause or a single mechanism (Goswami, nd, 2).

Unfortunately, this has not stopped such cohesion reduction. For example, in 1953, "homosexuality" was classified as a "sociopathic personality disorder" by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Various revisions developed from this diagnosis until the APA in 1974 no longer designated non-heterosexuality as pathological, while still allowing people who are uncomfortable with their personal erotic tendencies to seek treatment for "sexual orientation stress". But the stigma of the 1953 diagnosis continues to smolder; Sociological research by the APA found evidence that psychiatrists in many places (e.g. Belarus, Brazil, China, India, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Venezuela) still treat non-heterosexuality as a mental disorder. (Murphy, 1997, 51)

While scientific research on sexual orientation often tends to ignore or be hostile to non-heterosexuals, in some cases it has helped clear up common illusions about non-heterosexuality. Such research has revealed, for example, that there is no fundamental psychological difference between “gay” and “normal” men, that the children of gay couples are less likely to adopt the sexual orientation of their parents, and that non-heterosexuality is not contagious or bothersome. (Murphy, 1997, 57)

For scientific research on sexual orientation to be truly scientific and ethical, "it must presuppose the existence of a scientifically meaningful class of homosexual people" (Murphy, 1997, 58). Suggested areas of research might then include the nature and cause of homophobia, and to what extent it is related to latent homosexual tendencies:

Injustice about sexual orientation is not an invention of scientific research, and the fight against injustice against homosexuals may very well depend on strong research programs that make it possible to falsify malicious and erroneous views about the nature and cause of homosexuality. (Murphy, 1997, 59)

In his unpublished paper entitled Vaishnava Moral theology and Homosexuality Hrdayananda dasa Goswami points out that within marriage, sexual intercourse that is not expressly carried out for the purpose of having children is naturally forgiven, because that is the only level on which many (also respectable) householders can live and is therefore seen as better than extramarital sex. He then asks: “Is the principle of choosing the less bad only valid for heterosexuals, or is it also a necessary strategy for homosexuals?” In his position paper, he concludes: “ISKCON must encourage serious devotees to do so at times, with no malice , and within reasonable limits, choose the less bad to stabilize oneself on the spiritual path. This principle applies to human sexuality between mutually consenting adults. "(Dasa Goswami, 2005, 24)

Goswami's conclusion was supported by numerous Vaisnava references and reflections, indicating that he had naturally incorporated what scientific research reveals. Individual bodies are constituted differently, and recognition of this basic human reality is necessary to ensure the individual and collective health of a spiritual community.

3. Methodology

Since I took a qualitative-descriptive approach, I designed the following questionnaire with four open questions:

  1. How do you see homosexuality?

  2. What are your guidelines for dealing with gay devotees:

    1. In your temple ashram

    2. In your community

    3. Among your friends and family

  1. What is your perspective on homosexual partnership / marriage

  2. When dealing with the issue of homosexuality, be it among devotees or be it in preaching work, how do you understand statements by Srila Prabhupada such as the following?

"Just like you told me yesterday that the students talk about gay sex. That means Tama-Guna, that the educational students discuss about gay sex. That means Tama-Guna, lustful wishes, very clearly, and how to fulfill them, with Gay sex or through sex with a woman, that is their subject, kama, everyone in this material world is infected with tama-guna, all those lustful desires, in different ways."(original in VedaBase, 2003, Morning Walk, May 11, 1975 Perth

“Animals don't have gay sex. They never have sex between males and males. They are among the animals. " (VedaBase, 2003, Conversation with the GBC - May 25, 1972, Los Angeles).


These questions were emailed to 30 ISKCON temple presidents around the world and to the local community of Radhadesh, located in the Belgian Ardennes.

It wasn't easy to collect the data. I received 20 responses (17 men and 3 women) of which only 5 were temple presidents. Among the remaining respondents were an initiating guru and fourteen "average" ISKCON members. 18 of the respondents are heterosexual and two are non-heterosexual.

The answers to the first three questions, which describe respondents' general attitudes towards non-heterosexuality, were categorized as follows: “judgmental”, “tolerant”, “accepting” and “accommodating”. The answers to the last question, relating to the inclusion of Prabhupada's statements, were categorized as: "generalization", "warning", "factual" and "inaccurate". The data was then converted into pie charts, which in some places are accompanied by direct responses from respondents. General principles were derived from the results.

4. Results and analyzes

4.1 General approach

Answers using words like "demonic", "abnormal", "sinful", "deviant" and "perverted" were labeled "judgmental". There are 8 answers in this category. Answers that are characteristically tentative and contain words such as “as long as”, “if” and “should not” have been labeled as “tolerant”. There are 7 answers. 1 answer to which the term “accepting” fits sees the complexity of both heterosexuality and homosexuality as largely the same. What distinguishes this answer from the “accommodating” category are statements such as “How should you support without agreeing to your actions with your partner (s)” and “We should not directly judge what you are doing”. The four “oncoming” responses are characterized by bright intellectual comments and insights into same-sex attraction. The answers are shown graphically here (Figure 1):

4.2 How Members Receive Prabhupada's Testimony

As for the last question in the series, in which devotees were asked to express their understanding of some of Prabhupada's statements about non-heterosexuality, three responses generalized the statement by noting that Prabhupada degrades all forms of unlimited sexuality as being extremely degraded and harmful to it had viewed spiritual life. Three other responses suggested being very careful about citing such statements out of context. While six of the respondents considered Prabhupada's statement to be factual, eight responses from all categories (including “condemning”) indicated that Prabhupada's statement was not accurate.

This includes direct quotations from the last set of responses: "The second quotation is difficult to discuss as Srila Prabhupada addresses a social construct that in fact does not exist"; "It is interesting to note that this quote is not entirely true." "It looks like Prabhupada was not well informed"; "It is considered heretical by some in ISKCON to ascribe the culture to Srila Prabhupada as he was born and raised, but in this matter it appears to be the case"; "I have seen in documentaries that some animals actually behave homosexually at times"; "[Name omitted | said he knew a gay couple in Ireland "; "I've heard reports of homosexual behavior or attraction between animals on the news, but I can't remember if they actually had sex with each other or just lived together as a couple"; “I want to address a philosophical problem for devotees that could have a much greater bearing on modern preaching ... the above statement is wrong. It is not true. She is incorrect ”.

5. Discussion

5.1 General approach

The majority of respondents (40%) condemn non-heterosexuality. Still, it is interesting to note that all but one of the answers in this category have been tempered by varying degrees of compassion. The second largest category, “tolerant” (35%), appears to welcome people with non-heterosexual tendencies as long as they give up their non-heterosexual activities altogether. All responses from the "accommodating" category (20%) recognized that unlimited sexuality is problematic for spiritual development, but no overt or hidden allusions were made about non-heterosexuality in particular.This group of respondents did not find it necessary to place non-heterosexuals separately under or apart from the main social society. The minority of respondents (5%) who accepted non-heterosexuality as a class nevertheless showed disdain for it.

5.2 How members receive Prabhupada's teachings

The last quotation from the responses section above turned out to be the most challenging answer in the whole study, arguing that Prabhupada condemned "homosexuals" on the basis of incorrect information. This factor then turns out to be the unforeseen "philosophical problem" that is "much more relevant to modern preaching." The following discussion suggests some answers that ISKCON members might choose to meet this challenge begun above.

One answer would be to simply ignore that Prabhupada made a technical mistake in order to avoid the intellectual challenge, as Prabhupada has made similar statements on some such occasions. However, it is very likely that such deliberate “ignorance” would sooner or later become problematic; an overlooked intellect can create trouble, especially when it comes to questions of personal belief. In addition, an ISKCON member would have difficulty responding to a new member or "outsider" who questioned such statements by Prabhupada.

Another approach might be to acknowledge that Prabhupada is technically wrong and that such a mistake creates a particularly delicate situation as he uses an incorrect statement to make a very critical comment. To draw attention to a mistake by Prabhupada runs the risk of opening Prabhupada's words, which are the mainstay in the faith of his followers, to arbitrary interpretation. As a spiritual teacher, however, Prabhupada is unique in that more of his words have been recorded for posterity than ever before in such a personality. In addition, ISKCON devotes a lot of energy to the wide distribution of its recorded words. So it seems that one could not avoid the arbitrary interpretation of his words. This makes it even more important that such statements by Prabhupada are properly understood and preached by his devoted followers.

Therefore, it would not be incompatible with Prabhupada's status as a spiritual teacher that he was not an expert in the details of worldly sexuality. This would in no way conflict with the main principle of his statement: a human being who indulges in unlimited sexuality places himself in a category that, according to ISKCON's traditional theology, is below that of animals. The argument that Prabhupada made a technical mistake to support this main principle can be corroborated by the following excerpt from a conversation between Prabhupada and his disciples in which Prabhupada expressed doubts after hearing that same-sex attraction existed between animals: " Student: So the psychologists say that you can see that dogs, pigs, and monkeys have homosexual relationships, on that basis, they say, it should be legal. Prabhupada: Do you have homosexuality? Dogs, pigs, I don't think. ”(Prabhupada, 1989, 90-91). After this discussion, there is no recorded statement in which Prabhupada mentions that there is no such thing as homosexuality among animals, although he remained judgmental of non-heterosexuality. This suggests that he found this detail insignificant. His emphasis was on the degrading effect of uncontrolled sexuality.

How should it go on? A mature and compassionate follower of Prabhupada is expected to share Prabhupada's unequivocal belief that excessive identification with the body is the cause of bondage and positive individual identification of the self as an eternally connected soul is the antidote to it. While Prabhupada attacked the tendencies of modern society to decline on a large scale (whose spectrum includes "homosexual"), his successors on this point are left with the task of making his teachings accessible and practicable to precisely this society, including non-heterosexuals. It would not be in ISKCON's interest to ignore Prabhupada's exemplary behavior with all classes of individuals. In the absence of Prabhupada's level of compassion, a broader understanding and knowledge of what constitutes non-heterosexuality and the challenges non-heterosexuals face both inside and outside ISKCON can be a step in the right direction.

6. Conclusion

Although some ISKCON leaders demonstrate attitudes that meet the demands of both sanity and compassion, this work brings to light a variety of responses to non-heterosexuality that suggest there is still much disagreement and confusion among ISKCON members as to what Concerning non-heterosexuality and non-heterosexuals. Many of Prabhupada's followers may not see his strong statements about "homosexual" in the broader context of his condemnation of all forms of sexuality outside of the conception of children who should be given full support for their spiritual development. Rather, even the more tolerant and accepting members of ISKCON may have a tendency to maintain a kind of aversion to non-heterosexuals and to see this confirmed in some of Prabhupada's statements. This can lead to an ISKCON member unknowingly entering the iccha-dvena Cycle, or the duality of attraction and dislike, which by its nature is detrimental to spiritual progress. And how could such a member help another to break out of this cycle?

7. Limitations and Recommendations

One of the main limitations of this study is the refusal of many ISKCON members, especially those in leadership positions, to participate. In addition, the medium of email allows only a little personal communication on a delicate and controversial topic. Otherwise, the limited amount of time the work had to be completed was another limitation.

My suggestions for future research are: Interviews should be personal and, if possible, recorded. More time should be allowed and more members should be interviewed, especially as many women as men and a larger percentage of non-heterosexuals.


8. Bibliography

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (ed.) (2003) Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. [CD-ROM] USA, Bhaktivedanta Archives.

dasa Gosvami, Hridayananda, (2005), Vaishnava Moral Theology and Homosexuality, Unpublished.

Goswami, Bhakti Ananda, [N.D.], Modern Biology and the Concept of a “Third Sex
Improving Our Understanding of Intersex Conditions and Homosexual Behavior
, [online], The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association, Inc. Hinduism, Hare Krishna…, Available from: [accessed 8/02/07].

Murphy, Timothy F., (1997), Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research. New York, Columbia University Press.

Oberholtzer, W. Dwight (ed), (1971) Is Gay Good? Ethics, Theology and Homosexuality, Philadelphia, Westminster Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, (1989), Conversations With Prabhupada, Volume Fifteen, Los Angeles, The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, (1991), Conversations With Prabhupada, Volume Thirty-four, Los Angeles, The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Tully, Carol T., (2000), Lesbians, Gays & the Empowerment Perspective, New York, Columbia University Press.