Srila Prabhupada and gay devotees


Over the past few years it has become commonplace for devotees to depict Srila Prabhupada as very hateful and condemning of gays. What a great disservice this has been to His Divine Grace! I suspect this is more a reflection of the mentality of such devotees themselves, and not that of Srila Prabhupada. As far as I have seen, Srila Prabhupada’s exchanges with homosexual friends and disciples were always exceptionally loving and kind. Indeed, he was quite caring toward them and displayed a great deal of concern that they feel welcome and included in his Krsna consciousness movement.

It is very sad that this loving attitude has become mostly absent today among many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and followers. Devotees seem obsessed only with the sexual aspect of homosexuality, while failing to address the more important human and personal considerations emphasized by Srila Prabhupada himself. A pure devotee always looks for the good qualities in others, while foolish neophytes take delight in pointing out faults and weaknesses. In regard to gays and lesbians, Srila Prabhupada personally taught us how to receive and treat them, so why not simply listen and follow his example?

Srila Prabhupada meeting with Allen Ginsberg.
Srila Prabhupada meeting with Allen Ginsberg.

Srila Prabhupada met many times with Allen Ginsberg, who was sometimes accompanied by his lover, Peter Orlovsky. Do you know how nicely and politely Srila Prabhupada received them? Do you think he called them demons and accused them of having illicit sex together? No. Srila Prabhupada’s mind was never in the gutter like that. His concern was for their Krsna consciousness, how to make them feel welcome in his temple, and how best to engage them in Krsna’s service. The same interaction was evident in Srila Prabhupada’s dealings with disciples like Sudama Maharaja and Upendra Prabhu. He was always very concerned and caring for them. They felt his love so strongly that it changed their hearts and lives forever!

It is these loving dealings between Srila Prabhupada and gays that convince me he would eventually have allowed for some type of concession regarding gay marriage. When the issue becomes personal and involves loved ones, it becomes much more clear and easy to understand. Even thirty years ago, when one of Srila Prabhupada’s earliest disciples discussed his homosexual orientation with him, Srila Prabhupada said, “Then just find a nice boy, stay with him and practice Krsna consciousness.” It’s plain commonsense that monogamy is superior to promiscuity for anyone unable to follow complete celibacy. It may not be perfect or ideal, but it’s definitely a step forward. And while Srila Prabhupada initially experimented in marrying gay men to women, often without the wife’s knowledge, I think it’s fair to say we have all seen the unrealistic nature and failure of such experiments, however well intended.

One time at the Hawaii temple, Siddhasvarupa dasa came to visit Srila Prabhupada in his private garden. After some initial conversation, Siddhasvarupa began complaining to Prabhupada about the gay devotees in ISKCON, apparently trying to prod him into making some negative statement he could later use against them. Srila Prabhupada remained silent and unimpressed, refusing to take the bait, and Siddhasvarupa left feeling disappointed. Syamasundara dasa, a gay disciple who had been present for the conversation, remained seated next to Srila Prabhupada, feeling angry about what he had just heard, but also somewhat self-conscious about his sexuality. After remaining silent for some time, Srila Prabhupada, perhaps sensing Syamasundara’s discomfort, said, “What is the difference if a person is held in this material world by a gold chain or by a silver chain?” Syamasundara replied, “I don’t know, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada continued, “I am glad that Siddhasvarupa is chanting and reading my books, but he is always focusing on everyone else and not on the Supreme Person. That is the important thing.”

If we study the transcendental examples of Srila Prabhupada’s dealings with gay people very carefully, keep note of them, and imbibe them into our own lives and character, then we can truly become bona fide followers and representatives of His Divine Grace. Otherwise we cannot. If we are able to display the same loving and caring attitude that Prabhupada himself embodied, only then will our preaching be inspiring and effective. Without this sincerity of heart, our preaching will be useless and filled with false ego. No one will listen, and it will drive intelligent and fair-minded people far away. It will be a great embarrassment for our movement. In short, only one who genuinely cares for others has any business preaching to them.

If any devotees are harboring deep hatred or dislike for any of God’s creatures, I beg them to please abandon it immediately. Do not act upon this lower nature because it will only grow and increase. Displays of hatred and contempt for others only anger the guru and stain the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Instead, like Srila Prabhupada, we must become emblems of love and compassion for all. I beg everyone to please chant Hare Krsna carefully and offer all respect to others. Consider only yourself as the most fallen. This is how Srila Prabhupada was, and this is how he expected us to be. I offer my humble obeisances to all of you and thank you for listening.