“Calling women Prabhu” Transcribed lecture of H.H. Sivarama Maharaja
This morning I am going to touch on a subject that I was asked about recently by one devotee, that subject is the addressing ladies by the title Prabhu. Devotee asked me that why is this going on in some parts of ISKCON. And then I’d to answer that I really didn’t know that why has this practice been introduced in ISKCON because it is some kind of new introduction. It didn’t exist in Prabhupada’s times and didn’t exist after Prabhupada’s times. Best of my knowledge is coming from last year or two and when asked what I thought of it, I told them I did not believe it was the right thing, was the wrong thing, which does not really have any other reference other than Srila Prabhupada on occasion calling some of his disciples “Prabhu” and that may be the case but it wasn’t what I experienced when I began associating with devotees in 1970. But that I was told that all women should be considered one’s own mothers and when I called my own wife “Mother” I was corrected, no no not your own wife, all other women. Since then I have read in Srila Prabhupada’s books, everywhere, Srila Prabhupada’s conversations, lectures, Srila Prabhupada constantly refers to this ideal of women being addressed as “Mothers”, what has been going on in last three decades or four decades in our Krishna Consciousness movement. For me it is like pulling a rabbit out of the hat, all of a sudden lets show respect to ladies and we’ll show them respect by calling them Prabhu. I don’t think this is what Prabhupada wants us to do that, he wants us to practice and follow Vaishnava tradition which means that the address co-relates the gender. You call a man ‘Mr. Smith’ and wife you call ‘Mrs. Smith’, you don’t call man’s wife Mr. Smith also just to show some respect. Respect is there and it is inherent in the title that is being given. And, mother is no lesser than a title than Prabhu, but it is correct, it is gender correct. The structure of KC Movement is ideally supposed to be about Vaishnavism and Prabhupada continually quotes this “matrivat paradaresu” from Chanakya Pandit, he calls it sastra. He says everyone else “paradaresu”, everyone else except your wife, “matrivat” is you call them your Mother, you deal with them as your “Mother”. That is meant to be our social interaction. Someone may say well in realms of pure Vaishanavism, transcendental Krishna Consciousness then the designations of body don’t matter. That I don’t believe that, for one and second we are not meant to be acting as if on transcendental platform even if we are, we are meant to be acting as conditioned souls within a social framework, a Varnashrama social framework and adopting those types of designations and appellations. I don’t believe that transcendentalists behave like that because the references which tradition seems to point to for instance when we read about Jahanava Devi, there is never anywhere, there is lot to be read about her in “Bhakti ratnakar” and other Vaishnava literature. She is always called Jahanava Ma or she is called Sri Isvari or she is called Acharaya Rani. These are appellations which are gender correct and they do not cross the grain of cultural norms. And from what we read about her even though she was the acharya, even though no doubt she was the transcendentalist but she did not mix with men, she did not eat with the men, she ate separate. She cooked for them, she served but she did not eat with them. We address Srimati Radharani, we don’t say Sriman Radharani, Srimat Radharani, we say Srimati. And, we say Radharani, we don’t say Radharana, Radharaj, we say Radharani.
I mean it is even ridiculous just to be discussing this but anyway Srila Prabhupada called ladies, initiated ladies, gave them spiritual names and called them devi dasi. I don’t think on any of the initiation lecture Prabhupada called anyone Prabhu. So, it just doesn’t really make any sense to me that we want to introduce after all this time some kind of new practice and I can’t for the life of me understand why actually some people even buy into this. I even heard in news of GBC body, I think it is extremely childish. Okay, why did Srila Prabhupada called some ladies like that, I don’t know. Why did he call 5 year old Gurukula boy ‘Mr. Dwarkadesa’? Did he imply that we are supposed to be calling all Gurukula children ‘Mr.’ Of course not, it won’t be good for them, ISKCON would be a laughing stock. It is not something that is done, children are not called Mr., you call superiors, elderly persons and mature people ‘Mr.’. Srila Prabhupada may have done it but it is not the general practice, it is not what is in scriptures. It is not what society was doing in Srila Prabhupada’s times, after Srila Prabhupada’s times. Why should we adopt something what no other Vaishnava society does and not Vaishanava no other society uses Prabhu and which isolates ISKCON and makes us look extremely foolish and I would say impudent thinking that we’re introducing some kind of cultural norm that Srila Prabhupada did it, ultimately Srila Prabhupada takes the blame.
But we’ve no lecture, purports in books, no direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada that ladies should be called “Prabhu”. We’ve instructions that how devotees should be called Prabhu, and generally that refers to males and generally always refers to males. We know Srila Prabhupada told us sannyasis should be called ‘Maharaja’ and that spiritual master should be called ‘Divine Grace’. So, we say Prabhupada did it but Prabhupada never explicitly gave us any type of such guidance and instructions. Anyway, so, therefore I’ll not allow devotees to introduce this practice at least in my zone and I’ll continue to respect and worship all ladies as I do my mother which I think is the most preferential title that one can address a lady, a spiritual personality, a Vaishanavi, a senior sadhavika or even a perfected personality. Srila Prabhupada refers in his talks on Hare Krsna mantra, Mother Hara, Mother Radha, Mother Durga, Mother Jahanava. If these personalities were being slighted by being called ‘Mother’, I am sure Srila Prabhupada would have made explicit statements that no this is not respectful enough, you should call them all Prabhu. So, I very much like and am convinced that this ‘Mother’ title is what is appropriate and I really don’t want to put devotees in a position in public eye, in Vaishnava eye for those who speak Sanskrit and understand what the word Prabhu means. To either call a female by male name or to subject ladies in my yatra to being addressed as ‘Sir’ such and such.
Anyway. Hare Krishna. I hope no offenses are taken by this. But that is my convinction. Unless, I’m really given some kind of scriptural and direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada to the contrary.