Recently there was a meeting in Tirupati, India by the GBC on whether to allow female bodied devotees to become initiating Gurus in ISKCON. This question had come up twice before in the last few years and there was a lot of debate about it and so it didn’t go ahead. This time it seems to have been more or less decided to implement it although there was a mention of another final session on it in Mayapur this January.
I was very happy to see leaders of the Indian Yatras jointly stating their complete opposition to this strange idea, in the form of a resolution which they also submitted to the Sampradaya Sun website sometime last week. What I found particularly enlivening was the word ‘Varnasram’, which I saw occurred in the document. This for me is probably the first time that I saw a mention of this aspect of our mission on any GBC level document.
For anyone regularly hearing Srila Prabhupada’s lectures and reading his books with a submissive mood this idea seems so far-fetched from the direction that we are supposed to be going. I say submissive because there is now a class of devotees in ISKCON who read Srila Prabhupada’s books and hear the lectures with the idea that some of what he says is wrong and needs to be corrected and edited. That is extremely offensive and thus cannot lead to any spiritual advancement.
Time and again Srila Prabhupada would give anecdotes, sastric quotes, sayings and even common sense arguments on why a woman should not be alone or independent let alone become a Guru or leader. There have been some ideas floated by our senior administrative ISKCON body which have been contentious in the past, but implementing this idea of sanctioning female bodied devotees to give diksha and become gurus would be a most serious departure from the line of our parampara that would alter the character, society and direction in a very serious way. This is unchartered territory and I know a lot of devotees who say that they would not just sit by if that idea was implemented.
First of all, out of all the various problems in ISKCON such as attempted murder in Mayapur, land mafia problems in Vrindavan and Mayapur, serious state of broken marriages and disenchanted devotee youth in ISKCON, dwindling congregation and no preaching in many parts of the world, serious deviations from the actual direction of ISKCON, why have we decided to give so much focus to this issue? IT IS NOT THE NEED OF THE HOUR. There are more serious issues at hand that need emergency sessions and meetings. There are many diksha Gurus in ISKCON travelling all over the world. No shortage definitely for such dedicated sessions to increase the number of diksha gurus in such an unauthorized manner. And more importantly, is it the correct direction to go?
Major Break with Tradition
None of the four sampradayas have women giving diksha. It was not the norm. In exceptional cases in our sampradaya it was implemented. But, with respect I would like to declare that none of the candidates can be said to be exceptional in this case. So the idea is to just institute this in ISKCON as policy so any female bodied devotee can become a guru if she reaches the standard (whatever that standard is). As mentioned earlier this is a major departure from the parampara and Vaishnava tradition. You mean to say that all the previous acaryas were all wrong to not implement this system and now we are going to set things right? Ramanujacarya, Visnu Swami, Nimbarakacarya, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada were all wrong to preach and implement systems which were male dominated? And their idea of only giving Sannyasa to male bodied devotees was wrong? One may say that those days things were backward and now we are progressive. Rather it is the opposite. We have serious anarthas and impurities as compared to past generations who were more advanced and at peace with the process of Krishna consciousness, and so require much more serious practice and systems and rules for engaging our rascal minds and contaminated consciousness. Thus we should become much more conservative, not try to become more liberal and give more room to our rascal minds.
We have to see the direction we are going and understand that if we depart from the line of the parampara then we will lose all their blessings as well and have to face the consequences of Guror Avajna, not obeying the instructions of the Spiritual Master. Srila Prabhupada said that the Gaudiya Math lost all potency to preach since they disobeyed the instruction of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur of forming a committee to manage after he departed instead of trying to install any single acarya. Are we going the same way now after gradually infiltrating ISKCON with all our anarthas and ideas instead of following Srila Prabhupada? We have already completely abandoned implementing or even planning to implement Varnasrama on a senior level and now this infiltration of mundane women’s liberation ideas of men and women having the same roles.
Relearning the idea of culture, moral values and tradition
Generally the younger generation see their seniors as role models. They may also have some sastric characters that they look up to that they want to emulate and impart their characters and qualities. In the tradition and culture of Sanatana Dharma the itihasas and puranas had no dearth of outstanding devotee woman who carried out their Stri Dharma (woman’s duties) even in extenuating circumstances. These stories were widely known, since the tradition was for the family to gather and read and discuss the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam practically every evening. Thus young women would hear about the chastity of Draupadi and Gandhari and the loyalty of Sita devi and so many other examples. Sons would read about the dutiful role of Rama towards his father or Laxmana’s unwavering support and service to his elder brother. This would mold their characters from an early age making them powerful forces for maintaining and imparting culture, spiritual and moral values to their wards and the next generation. No doubt with the breakdown of traditions and family values system this knowledge is deteriorating at a rapid rate. Now the new role models are the film stars, music stars etc. Hare Krishna.
Most of us have come into ISKCON from sinful backgrounds or at least, non-religious backgrounds. Our role models were probably far from the ideal Vedic characters. We were also involved perhaps in some movements such as Women’s Liberation, Black empowerment, Veganism, legalizing homosexuality or other mundane movements on the bodily platform. We didn’t even know that we have nothing to do with this body and thus had no clear and positive idea of what constitutes culture and proper moral standard. Srila Prabhupada educated us from the beginning even on how women should comb and wear their hair and always keep their heads covered with the extra part of the sari, always keep your body covered up, or the fact that a young man cannot just go up to an unmarried young girl and talk to her or even be with her in a room alone. An important point that recurred in many lectures was that shyness should be inculcated in young girls from an early age and that will protect them and society from degradation since girls by nature were very lusty and naïve and therefore easily manipulated by men. Lajja nari bhusanam, was the quote oft heard. Shyness is the ornament of a woman. To some of us these ideas were new and strange but we had faith in the words of the Spiritual Master and followed him. After some time everything made sense. But others refused to follow these instructions Srila Prabhupada gave and brought all their old ideas with them from outside. Now a lot of us who left decadent materialistic societies to take shelter of the Vaikuntha Vedic culture are facing the prospect of seeing all those degenerative stool-like practices coming into ISKCON. Women’s Liberation has come into ISKCON. What is next? The list is very long. This should be seriously opposed. ISKCON is practically the only path to Goloka and if we compromise our standards it will be a disaster not only for us, but the future generations who will be taking birth in the darkness of Kali.
Women are not to be given independence
Due to their psychophysical nature, women are not at all to be left unprotected and given independence, let alone placed in a position of leadership or made into Gurus.
“The woman should be protected by the father, by the husband, and by elderly sons. No independence. [break] …she is my sister. She is old, about three years less than me, but she has got sons. She is very happy moving, protected by the sons. Even Kunti, such intelligent woman, such educated and…, she also kept herself under her sons, the Pandavas. The Pandavas lost the game. They were banished, but Kunti was not banished. But she said, “Then how shall I…? I must go with my sons.” Sita, wife of Lord Ramacandra. So Ramacandra was ordered by His father, “My dear son, You have to go forest for fourteen years.” Sita was not ordered. But she voluntarily followed. “Where shall I go? You are my husband. You are going to the forest? I shall go to the forest.” This is Vedic civilization.”
(Morning Walk — June 27, 1975, Los Angeles)
In the quote above Srila Prabhupada makes it clear that the Vedic culture upon which our movement is based doesn’t advocate independence for women. So then where is the question of a worldwide international woman preacher? Below we see the quote that Srila Prabhupada repeated numerous times. I would often wonder why Srila Prabhupada would repeat some things so often, but now I have the answer. It’s to make sure that it enters our dull brains. But it seems like it still doesn’t enter for some of us.
“A woman is never given independence. She is protected during her childhood by the father, and she is protected in her youth by the husband, and she is protected in her old age by her sons. That is the conception. And the woman, the cow, the brahmana, the children — they are meant for absolute protection.”
(Bhagavad-gita Lecture Excerpts: 2.44-45, 2.58 — New York, March 25, 1966)
“Women are self-interested by nature, and therefore they should be protected by all means so that their natural inclination to be too self-interested will not be manifested. Women need to be protected by men. A woman should be cared for by her father in her childhood, by her husband in her youth and by her grown sons in her old age. This is the injunction of Manu, who says that a woman should not be given independence at any stage. Women must be cared for so that they will not be free to manifest their natural tendency for gross selfishness. There have been many cases, even in the present day, in which women have killed their husbands to take advantage of their insurance policies. This is not a criticism of women but a practical study of their nature.”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 6.18.42)
“As for behavior, there are many rules and regulations guiding human behavior, such as the Manu-samhita, which is the law of the human race. Even up to today, those who are Hindu follow the Manu-samhita. Laws of inheritance and other legalities are derived from this book. Now, in the Manu-samhita it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. Children are not given freedom, but that does not mean that they are kept as slaves. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life. She should be given protection by the father in her younger days, by the husband in her youth, and by the grownup sons in her old age. This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-samhita.”
Now we are not going to go all out and force all women to comply with this immediately as a lot of us are conditioned differently, and so wouldn’t find it easy to take up this immediately. But we need to see the direction we are going towards. We should at least start moving in the direction that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to, otherwise we will never escape the hells and vices of this materialistic civilization. At least we should not institute practices which are against these points Srila Prabhupada has made. As for training young girls in gurukula, Srila Prabhupada said that all they need to learn is to cook, clean and be faithful to their husband. This is proper cultured society. Not to this materialistic so-called education making them into sudrani salesgirls, secretaries etc. where they mix up with men and become polluted…
Tamala Krsna: So we’re… I thought there were girls in Vrndavana now. They said that they’re going to have the girls’ gurukula behind the boys’ gurukula. Gopala was talking about that.
Prabhupada: No, no, no. No girls.
Tamala Krsna: It should be in another city or somewhere else.
Prabhupada: Yes. They should be taught how to sweep, how to stitch…
Tamala Krsna: Clean.
Prabhupada: …clean, cook, to be faithful to the husband.
Tamala Krsna: They don’t require a big school.
Prabhupada: No, no. That is mistake. They should be taught how to become obedient to the husband.
Tamala Krsna: Yeah, you won’t learn that in school.
(Morning Conversation — April 29, 1977, Bombay)
So the main duty of a woman is to assist her husband. Any other arrangement that makes women function separate from their husbands or out of the institution of marriage will create havoc in society in due course of time. This should be taught form a young age to them.
“It is very important for peaceful householder life that a woman follow the vow of her husband. Any disagreement with the husband’s vow will disrupt family life. …A woman’s education should be conducted along the lines indicated in this verse. The basic principle for a chaste woman is to be always favorably disposed toward her husband. In Bhagavad-gita (1.40) it is said, strisu dustasu varsneya jayate varna-sankarah: if the women are polluted, there will be varna-sankara population.”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.25)
Again, some of these societies we come from before ISKCON may have conditioned us differently about how a girl should be educated, but we shouldn’t forget that these same societies run slaughter houses for cows, see nothing wrong in killing unborn babies in the womb, consider it normal for a young girl to go through a few boyfriends and abortions before she settles down to get married.
So the point here is that instead of trying to teach women to become men in terms of their duties, the proper thing to do if we at all want to call ourselves followers of Srila Prabhupada is to move away from the idea of giving women independence, and leadership roles gradually. This would change the whole society with stable marriages, more Krishna conscious minded children and expert mothers and grandmothers, which is what is seriously lacking in ISKCON at the moment. The idea of instituting female bodied diksha gurus goes against this in a big way. Below is a letter written by Srila Prabhupada on 13 January, 1976, to Yamuna and Dinatarini, who wanted to start an ashram only for women:
“You can attract the fair sex community. Most of them are frustrated being without any home or husband. If you can organize all these girls they will get a transcendental engagement and may not be allured to the frustration of life. Your engagement should be chanting and worship of the Deity Jiva Goswami advises that in the Kali-yuga sankirtana is the principle worship. Even if one chants many mantras it must be preceded by glorious sankirtana. Sankirtana is the maha-mantra.
“Yes, you are right, women are generally after sense gratification. That is the disease. Chant 24 hours a day and don’t dress nicely to attract men. It is better that you don’t make a large program. Remain a humble program. In bhakti there is no grotesque program. A humble program is better. We are doing all these grotesque programs to allure the masses. My Guru Maharaja used to say that no one hears from a person coming from a humble, simple life. You remain always very humble.
“So far as giving loans, I think it won’t be possible because in India we require a huge amount of money for Bombay and Mayapur. We also have to build nice Temples at Kuruksetra and Jagannatha Puri. The Americans are accused of being C.I.A., so counteract this. We want to prove how Americans have constructed very large temples. Certainly it is not for C.I.A. propaganda.
“Sita Devi, Mother Laksmi, wife of Lord Ramacandra, went to live with Valmiki Muni in a cottage. Although she was a King’s daughter and a King’s wife, she preferred to live very humbly in the cottage of Valmiki Muni with two sons in the absence of Ramacandra. That should be the ideal example. Women when not with husband must live very very humbly and simple life.”
On the same day, Srila Prabhupada wrote another letter to the GBC man in that area, Jayatirtha:
“Regarding Yamuna and Dinatarine, they want to live independently, that is the defect. A woman cannot live independent. According the the Vedic culture a woman is always to be protected by a man. Why they should purchase a house? We already have Los Angeles. If they want they can have a separate asrama supported independently of ISKCON. Every woman in America has money, so why do they want support? No, the BBT cannot give them loan. You may check that they are chanting and following the rules but do not get involved with their management. So far your suggestion that they sew clothes for the sannyasis Deities it is not possible. Sannyasis may have no connection with women.”
This letter is very instructive as it is addressed to senior women bodied disciples. It shows how Srila Prabhupada agreed with a certain aspect of their request but was not happy about it and saw it as adharmic. Even though these were senior devotee women, Srila Prabhupada maintained in the second letter that it was still a defect for a woman to want to live independent of a husband. Thus from this we can see Srila Prabhupada’s opinion on this matter very clearly. Whether we want to follow him or not is up to us. And for anyone in ISKCON the idea of whether to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and words SHOULD NOT BE DISCUSSED BUT RATHER ACCEPTED WITHOUT RESERVATION. If we institute FDG then it will mean increasing number of single women moving around society, which is not what Srila Prabhupada wanted.
Sometimes Srila Prabhupada allowed some of his female bodied disciples to do things or act in a way contrary to the Vedic practice as ISKCON was still new and being established as was the case above and they could not immediately change. However we should not now take it as a license to break all the rules of Sastra. The exception is not the rule. Srila Prabhupada was an acarya and expert at knowing how to adjust things to time place and circumstances. We should simply humbly follow his teachings and pray for his mercy and that of our immediate Guru to advance rather than go against his teachings and pretend to be something that we are not.
Woman in a position of leadership
As mentioned, Srila Prabhupada said that for a woman to want to live independently without a husband was a defect. Here we see that for whatever reason if there were single or independent women, they should definitely not be put in leadership roles as that is not the role that they are meant for.
“Here is a difference between male and female that exists even in the higher status of life – infact, even between Lord Siva and his wife. Lord Siva could understand Citraketu very nicely, but Parvati could not. Thus even in the higher statuses of life there is a difference between the understanding of a male and that of a female. It may be clearly said that the understanding of a woman is always inferior to the understanding of a man. In the Western countries there is now agitation to the effect that man and woman should be considered equal, but from this verse it appears that woman is always less intelligent than man.
(Srimad Bhagavatam 6.17.34-35)
Next, Srila Prabhupada quotes Canakya Pandita, who basically followed the Vedic culture and guidelines.
“Canakya Pandita, the great politician and moral instructor, said, visvaso naiva kartavyah strisu raja-kulesu ca: “Never put your faith in a woman or a politician.” ….Women in general should not be trusted, and what to speak of a woman loitering like a prostitute?”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 8.9.9)
This quote was given during a class on the section of Mohini Murti. Srila Prabhupada makes the point that Mohini Murti was entrusted to divide the nectar between the demigods and demons and that was a mistake, as women should not be given responsibilities. Even if we see from our own experience, every single culture in the world has a setup where the males are in charge and the women are involved in the home tasks such as bringing up children, cooking, arranging the household affairs etc. This was how their nature is. When a girl child is young she naturally looks for a toy doll and cares for it, copying her mother. The boy child will play with cars, or fighting games, etc. The whole nature is displayed from young age. Later this rascal civilization brainwashed the young girls to think that they will be happy flying a jet plane, or fighting in a war or being a CEO of some big company. Of course, they won’t be happy like that.
How can we implement Varnasrama?
As we know from numerous quotes, the ultimate plan for ISKCON was to implement varnasrama. This is only natural as Srila Prabhupada would continually lambast this modern civilization and how adharmic, immoral and unsuitable it was for practicing bhakti. And so what is our alternative? Varnasrama. The institution of Varnasrama can only work if everyone performs their roles properly. We can see this in any farm community. All sections of society are important. What about the women? They have a very major role to play. Of course, again there are so many quotes and we have gone over this so many times. But I will put one below where Srila Prabhupada goes into details:
“…in this spot, New Vrindaban, the woman’s business will be to take care of the children, cooking cleansing, and churning butter. (laughter) And those who have the knowledge of typing can help in typing also. No other hard work. That’s all. This is for woman. And for men, hard work, field work, taking care of the cows, of the animals, to go to collect wood, to construct building. In this way cooperate. The girls who are here, they should prepare nice prasadam so that the boys, in time they can get their prasadam, timely. This is the duty. And they must be given timely breakfast, lunch prasadam. They will work hard. And the churning business is for the girls.”
(Lecture — New Vrindaban, June 22, 1969)
Now, what will happen if the women decide that they want to also go out with the men in the field as ‘we are all equal’? Or if they started travelling around the community or other communities trying to take on the role of a Guru? Who then will carry out their tasks and who will take care of the children? If they didn’t carry out the household tasks how long will everything go on for? Therefore how can we fulfil Srila Prabhupada’s goal of establish farm communities as alternatives to the beds of vice that have become the modern cities?
In such a system as above the elder and experienced mothers and grandmothers will be very important for guiding the younger generation and imparting cultural, spiritual and general practical matters. But if the women decide or the leaders of ISKCON decide that after some time they can take sannyasa or start serving as diksha gurus, then won’t it destroy the social fabric of such a society? The younger girls seeing the Female diksha Gurus as role models will start to aspire to become Gurus by leaving their families, children and maybe divorcing their husbands in order to do that, as is the case with the present candidates. I don’t think Srila Prabhupada would want the society to move in that direction.
These points all need careful consideration. There will be serious social implications if women are now being told to also consider the possibility of pulling out of household affairs and taking up roles as diksha Gurus. Many societies knew the important role women play in having social stability, good population, maintaining family values and religious practices and therefore the women were protected with utmost care. We have yet to learn this in ISKCON. If we want to spread Krishna consciousness in the whole world (and we should actually want that), then we will have to also spread the system of varnasrama dharma in order to create a stable and scientifically structured society through which one can gradually elevate, as not everyone will take up the whole process immediately, and so we need a system by which we can organize society and live sinless lives.
Achieving success in spiritual life
The role for women has been prescribed for them in the sastras, as is the role of a Brahmana, King etc. In particular we find long narrations in Mahabharata, Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam. So what if someone thinks that, that is all very well but I think I could make an excellent Guru, Temple President or GBC even though it is against my nature being in a woman’s body. Bhagavad-gita addresses this point. In Bg 3.35, Sri Krsna says that it is better to do your own duty even if we can do someone else’s duty perfectly. Why is that? That is sastra and if we follow it we can get perfection, otherwise we will run into difficulties.
Increasing the Problems in ISKCON
“Once a devotee asked Srila Prabhupada, “We have the perfect philosophy, Krsna consciousness, and we have the perfect spiritual master, Your Divine Grace. Everything about Krsna consciousness is perfect, yet we always seem to have so many problems. Why?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “Because the brahmacaris and sannyasis associate too much with women.”
(Ref. VedaBase => BIKC: Miscellaneous)
Therefore according to the quote above, simply by accepting FDG, we will promote the movement of single women around the society and therefore increase the problems in ISKCON. I know of an ISKCON Sannyasi who was protesting about certain deviant practices in ISKCON. He was subsequently invited by the GBC for a discussion to resolve the issues. He flatly refused to meet with the GBC body due to the fact that the GBC consists of women bodied devotees also and he mentioned that he being a Sannyasi (renunciate) cannot sit for hours together in a room speaking with women.
Some Practical Considerations
Another practical consideration: how will the FDG confer second initiation on their disciples? One cannot confer a sacred thread if one doesn’t have it themselves, except in one or two rare circumstances in our parampara (again though, the exception is not the rule). Say for arguments sake that the FDG is allowed to confer the sacred thread as would definitely be the case if they take the role of Gurus, would this not be indecent? For a young man to be alone with his female ‘Guru’, bare chested waiting for his Guru to put the thread on him personally and speak the mantras in his ears? How can this whole idea work on a practical level?
And what about Pada Abhisekh, the foot bath. Generally the Guru’s feet are washed. Many self-respecting women would prefer not to show large sections of their exposed legs to just anyone. And so will they allow their feet to be filmed and washed by their disciples? It would definitely have to be at a time when they are not going through their monthly cycle as at that time they would be contaminated. I need not say any more, as I think everyone can see how this just doesn’t fit in our culture. It is nothing else but another way that the personality Kali is trying to enter the movement to smash it.
In conclusion, these are some of the main points on why FDG should not be implemented in ISKCON:
- Women are not to be given independence
- Women are not advised to be put in a leadership roles
- It would be impossible to implement Varnasrama if we institute FDG
- As it is the not the dharma of women to be in that role, advancement will be difficult if at all for them
- It would lead to Increased problems in ISKCON due to single or separated women roaming around alone, unprotected
- It is extremely socially and morally incompatible with cultured and moral Vedic society
Add to this one very basic and important point: Srila Prabhupada didn’t say we should do it. That alone should be sufficient reason not to go into this social experiment.
It’s no secret that the main persons pushing for the implementation of this gimmick are divorcee women bodied jivas. This sends a completely wrong message in the sense that if a Brahmachari, Sannyasi or anyone for that matter is not doing their duty or dharma, then how can they start instructing others on dharma, self-realization, doing our duty, Bhagavad-gita, Bhakti, or any other topic? Similarly the role or duty for jivas in women’s bodies has been clearly repeated again and again by our Founder-acarya and if someone doesn’t want to follow that, we cannot force them but we should certainly not place them in senior or leadership positions as this undermines the whole position of authorities in ISKCON.
Another point is that there is something fundamentally wrong with this whole idea of pushing, manipulating, politicking and canvassing to become a Guru. Gurus are not self-appointed. At least all the instances I heard of how one became a Guru is when someone approached them and suggested they become Gurus. This shows a strong streak of self-interest that the candidates have which a Guru is supposed to be free from intrinsically.
I have to say that no one who is properly educated in sastra and Vedic culture or no one who has a clear vision of Srila Prabhupada’s mission can think of such a deviant practice. Every time that this idea was put forward by the handfull of self-interested persons and their backers, there was heavy opposition and articles were written logically and sastrically with quotes from Srila Prabhupada as to why this is a wrong idea. This is the third time now. Let this matter now rest. It is a major deviation to implement FDG and so let’s not bring this subject up again.
I heartily congratulate the ISKCON India leaders, aka IIAC, for clearly stating their position in the recent Resolution and more importantly, for sticking to Srila Prabhupada’s line. I would like to suggest that we don’t stop there. They mentioned Varanasrama in the resolution. Let us now move on with the plan that Srila Prabhupada wanted for implementing Varnasrama. And I am sure if you simply start with the plan many will come forward to assist with this. Generations to come will be grateful for this.