Good Behavior is as Important as Preaching ISKCON's divorce problems made worse by bad leaders

Mata Radha Devi Dasi, a senior member of ISKCON’s Vaishnavi Ministry, is also a long-time divorce lawyer. The problem in this case is not that she is a lawyer or that, as a woman, she is running her own practice. It is that she has built her career on fostering the dissolution of marriages.

This provides a powerful economic incentive for sinful activity.  More divorces = more business.  But more business means more people are encouraged in sinful activity.

Even if sometimes it so happens that some marriages should be dissolved (and the dharma-shastras also specify some conditions for this, many of them intuitively grasped), baked into her line of work is an incentive to maximize the number of divorces. In her line, a success is a divorce in which the gains for the client are maximized. The more successes she racks up, the more successful her business and the bigger her income. But as a result, society becomes more sinful.

If divorce is sinful, then letting a lawyer continue with a divorce law practice and be recognized as a senior devotee is something like letting a butcher get initiated and cook for the Deities yet carry on with his business.

Even if she herself is not using her legal skills to divorce her husband (and to her credit she never has been divorced), just as everyone else in the “supply chain” who makes the slaughter of an animal possible is as guilty as the one who actually slaughters the animal, she is also no less culpable for the sin of divorce committed by others she has encouraged.

The big problem is here you have a woman whose day-to-day dealings in earning a livelihood are sinful, yet she is held up as a leader for the whole of the ISKCON society. Her actions are deeply and orthogonally opposed to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the matter.

The worst part about it is it reflects a personal choice. She could have practiced any other specialty in the field of law. Yet she chose this. No one forced her against her will to become a divorce lawyer.

This also reflects badly on her elders, who have not protested. As we know from the example of Bhishma and Drona, maunam sammiti lakṣaṇam, silence implies consent. For their silence, Lord Krishna also held them as culpable for the sin of atttempting to disrobe Draupadi as He did the other Kauravas.

This article has been a long way of saying this–achar (behavior) is as important as prachar (preaching). But this is an important example because yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas, whatever acts leaders perform, common men follow. On the authority of Lord Krishna, it is to be understood that many people within the ISKCON society and within society at large have been and continue to be adversely directed by Mata Radha Devi Dasi’s impious actions.

Hence, if you want to do something proactive about the problem of divorce in ISKCON, don’t start at the bottom, start at the top.

(Lest there be any doubt as to whether Mata Radha Devi Dasi’s choice of profession has been on the whole sinful and bad for just about everyone who has come under her guidance, this essay concludes with some of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the subject of divorce:)

Q. In your ISKCON society, do you allow for divorce?

  • Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of separation. There is no question of divorce. (Lecture: SB, 1975)
  • We don’t allow divorce; once they’re married, there is no separation. (Interview: NY Times, New Vrindavan, 9-2-72)

Q. But isn’t it necessary to have divorce as a legal option?

  • Srila Prabhupada: The divorce act is encouraging prostitution, and this should be abolished. (SB 1.17.38)
  • In Vedic civilization the husband and wife were not separated by such man-made laws as divorce. We should understand the necessity for maintaining family life in human society and should thus abolish this artificial law known as divorce. (SB 4.23.25)
  • …there is no such thing as divorce in the Vedic literature. A wife is always trained to be chaste and faithful to her husband, for this helps her achieve deliverance from any abominable material condition (SB 9.20.22)

Q. What if a woman simply cannot tolerate her husband any longer?

  • Srila Prabhupada: Generally, separation between husband and wife is due to womanly behavior; divorce takes place due to womanly weakness. The best course for a woman is to abide by the orders of her husband. That makes family life very peaceful. Sometimes there may be misunderstandings between husband and wife…but a wife should not leave her husband’s protection because of such misunderstanding. If she does so, it is understood to be due to her womanly weakness. (SB 4.4.3)
  • What is this nonsense, divorce? There is no such thing in the Vedic civilization, divorce. You must accept whatever God has given you as husband or wife, you must. They had no thinking even, idea of divorce. One may not agree with the husband.. That is natural. Sometimes we do not agree. But there is no question of divorce. (Room Conversation, Baltimore , 7-7-76)

(More instructions from Srila Prabhupada can be found here.)

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