April 3, 1999 VNN3499
Response To Vishaka Dasi's BTG Article
BY JIVAN MUKTA DASA
EDITORIAL, Apr 3 (VNN) Comments on Vishaka Dasi's recent article written for Back To Godhead magazine (her statements in quotation marks).
"These women are not ordinary women. They are preachers. They are preachers. They are Vaishnava. By their association, one becomes a Vaishnava." (Srila Prabhupada, morning walk, March 27, 1974"
This is certainly true. Everything a devotee does is preaching: how he walks and how he talks, how he fulfils his prescribed duties, or, specific to this treatise, how a woman fulfils her duty as a wife and mother. This is the role of acarya.
In a letter to a female disciple, Srila Prabhupada admonished her for neglecting her child. Prabhupada instructed that for a mother, "child-worship is more important than deity-worship". He instructed this female disciple to stop her temple Deity worship if it interfered with her duties as a mother. Prabhupada explained that the most important preaching she could engage in was to care for her child-not worship the Deity, nor distribute books. Though Srila Prabhupada called such extraordinary women "Vaisnavas", we cannot overlook the fact that most, if not all, his disciples-male and female alike-had barely achieved the neophyte stage of spiritual development. Prabhupada explained that attaining the stage of a true Vaisnava is not such an easy or cheap accomplishment. A more significant theme in this letter is the irresponsibility of his female disciple. Prabhupada's offer to personally care for the child-aside from demonstrating his profound love and compassion--indicates the uncultured and deplorable moral condition of some of these extremely neophyte Vaisnava women. For many of us, it is truly astounding even to imagine a young mother being confused about her duties towards her young infant child. Are such women nevertheless extraordinary? Certainly. Anyone who chants the holy name is extraordinary. And are they Vaisnavas? Yes, as much as someone in a shower also is to be considered cleanly. Yet a thorough cultural and spiritual cleansing remains to be completed:
My dear Arundhati,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated July 19, 1972, and I am simply surprised that you want to give up your child to some other persons, even they are also devotees. For you, child-worship is more important than deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him, then stop the duties of pujari. At least you must take good care of your son until he is four years old, and if after that time you are unable any more to take care of him then I shall take care. These children are given to us by Krishna, they are Vaisnavas and we must be very careful to protect them.
These are not ordinary children, they are Vaikuntha children, and we are very fortunate we can give them chance to advance further in Krishna Consciousness. That is very great responsibility, do not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear. (Letter: Arundhati, July 30, 1972)
Two months after describing the extraordinary nature of ISKCON's women, Srila Prabhupada was directly asked his opinion regarding women seeking equal rights with men. He responded by citing the behavior of his female disciples:
Yogesvara: Here's a problem. The women today want the same rights as men.
How can they be satisfied? Prabhupada: Everything will be satisfied. Just like our women, Krsna conscious, they are working. They don't want equal rights with men. It is due to Krsna consciousness. They are cleansing the temple, they are cooking very nicely. They are satisfied. They never say that "I have to go to Japan for preaching like Prabhupada." They never say. This is artificial. So Krsna consciousness means work in his constitutional position. The women, men, when they remain in their constitutional position, there will be no artificial (indistinct) (loud traffic noises) Bhagavan: They say that our women are unintelligent because they submit so easily, but...
Prabhupada: Subway? Dhananjaya: No. This is also public transport, other trains.
Bhagavan: But actually, our women are so qualified in so many ways, but these girls who simply work in the city can do nothing. They can't cook, they can't clean, they can't sew.
Prabhupada: All rubbish, these modern girls, they are all rubbish.
Therefore they are simply used for sex satisfaction. Topless, bottomless...
(end) (Morning Walk: Rome, May 27, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada proudly extolled the virtues of his female disciples who worked without demanding equal rights. He specifically stated that they don't even want equal rights with men. (If it is not equal rights with men that some of today's ISKCON women seek, then what are they seeking?) Srila Prabhupada attributed this surrendered attitude of his female disciples to their culture of Krsna consciousness. He continued to laud them by stating that they did not want to imitate his preaching work. Although Prabhupada trained his sannyasis and grhasthas to duplicate his traveling and preaching activities, nevertheless he considered it artificial for his female disciples to do so. And further, he confirmed that they were satisfied performing their unequal, specific duties such as cooking and cleaning.
Srila Prabhupada ends his comments by saying that Krsna consciousness means acting according to our constitutional position as men and women. Rejecting our prescribed work--as according to these material designations--on the grounds that we are Vaisnavas, is artificial and indicates an impersonal, feminist mentality-which Prabhupada so strongly condemns throughout his teachings. Srila Prabhupada states that the modern girls who seek artificial occupational equality with men are "rubbish," since they cannot cook, clean and sew. As such, this type of woman is used by unscrupulous men for sex satisfaction only. Marriage subsequently becomes a meaningless and lurid arrangement for mutual sense gratification. And ultimately, even the formality of marriage is discarded.
"Traditionally in India, women do not live in asramas. Asramas are organized and populated only by renounced men, while spiritually-minded women worship the Lord in their homes. However, Srila Prabhupada, India's greatest emissary to the Western world, established not only asramas in the west, but also temples, as well as an entire spiritual society."
Srila Prabhupada stated that one of the defects of ISKCON was the presence of women in the temples:
Devotee (1): Srila Prabhupada, one boy in Sydney, he has been a devotee for a few years, three or four years, but now he has fallen away because of lusty association, I suppose, or bad association. So is this unwilling or willing, because he has become attracted to women again?
Prabhupada: That is one of the defects, our society, that women are there, and one falls victim of these women. And it is not possible to keep the society strictly for men. That is also not possible. But actually no woman should live in the temple. That is the... (Morning Walk: Perth, May 14, 1975)
Why was it a defect? Because the mixing of single men and women is a detriment to spiritual progress. Why is it "not possible to keep the society strictly for men"? Because men and women in the West are not trained to observe proper decorum in these matters. Even if Prabhupada were to have demanded it of them, his disciples would have been unable to strictly follow these rules.
"Sometimes my Godbrothers criticize me for intermingling of girls and boys.
But there is no way out of it--you girls and boys will mix even if I say so they cannot avoid it. They sit separately in the temple and then outside mix again. So this was not possible from the beginning." (Letter: Govinda, Bombay, April 3O, 1974)
Similarly, Srila Prabhupada states that it is unrealistic to expect a sudden change in a community's social customs:
"Not knowing that boys and girls in countries like Europe and America mix very freely, these fools and rascals criticise the boys and girls in Krishna consciousness for intermingling. But these rascals should consider that one cannot suddenly change a community's social customs." (Cc. Adi 7.31-2 Purport)
But Srila Prabhupada states that these customs must gradually change:
"Gradually, we shall introduce more and more so that he has no scope to go outside Krsna consciousness." (Room Conversation: Columbus, May 12, 1969)
And in exasperation, Prabhupada questioned Hamsaduta:
"There may be so many defects due to your births in non-Brahmin families, but how long it shall go on? (Letter: Hamsaduta, Sydney, April 11, 1972)
How long indeed.
Srila Prabhupada's preaching strategy, therefore, had to account for those victims and future refugees of Western social decrepitude. In contrast to this leniency, the standards of behavior and training that he established in gurukula was much higher and stricter. Obviously, our second-generation children do not require the same concessions as given us, for they have been spared the cultural numbing so many of us were subjected to. They are therefore much closer to the ideal cultural life of Krsna consciousness than their predecessors or today's new recruits.
Specifically, our daughters were not to be trained as brahmacarinis. That was a program for wayward women who joined ISKCON as cultural and spiritual refugees. The very term and the social position of "brahmacarini" is artificial, and Prabhupada especially considered it artificial that these young women desired to remain unmarried. He was very upset to learn that some of his disciples were intending to train ISKCON's little daughters in a similar fashion. He derided the term "girls' gurukula" and condemned coeducation. Srila Prabhupada didn't even approve of young girls and boys being educated on the same grounds in separate buildings. He always stressed that girls' education should be based on domestic duties and that schools were not required for such education. He endorsed keeping our daughters at home and considered modern educational systems responsible for creating prostitute-like women, i.e., unchaste and unsubmissive. Prabhupada strongly disapproved that many of these brahmacarinis were being trained to remain single. He suggested that they instead become co-wives of competent men:
Prabhupada: So far gurukula is concerned, that also, I have given program.
They have given the name of "girls." We are not going to do that.
Tamala Krsna: What is that? Prabhupada: Girls. Boys and girls. That is dangerous.
Tamala Krsna: Gurukula.
Prabhupada: In that article.
Tamala Krsna: Oh, oh, oh.
Prabhupada: Girls should be completely separated from the very beginning.
They are very dangerous.
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.
Prabhupada: Little education, they can...
Tamala Krsna: Yeah. That they can get at home also.
Prabhupada: They should be stopped, this practice of prostitution. This is a very bad system in Europe and America. The boys and girls, they are educated-coeducation. From the very beginning of their life they become prostitutes. And they encourage.
Tamala Krsna: Oh, yeah.
Prabhupada: They distribute pills. I have seen the boys and girls dancing together, embracing, in the school film. That ruins the career. Both of them are ruined. That is very regrettable. Then you shall require this sterilization, pills, another big program. They are creating animal civilization, and when the animals are disturbing, they are trying to find out some other means. This is their program. First of all create animals.
Then, when the animals behave like animals, then another program. Why do you create animal? Woman brahmacarini, this is artificial.
Tamala Krsna: In our centers, though, there are so many brahmacarinis, and even sometimes they're encouraged to remain brahmacarini.
Prabhupada: That they cannot. As soon as they will find opportunity, they will become vyabhicarini.
Tamala Krsna: They'll become what?
Prabhupada: Vyabhicarini. For woman, protection.
Tamala Krsna: So you don't advocate this remaining sing... these women remaining brahmacarinis.
Prabhupada: Therefore polygamy was allowed. Let them be taken care of, one husband, three wives. Therefore the ksatriyas were taking hundreds of women. They had money. (Conversation: Bombay, April 29, 1977)
Our daughters, these "Vaikuntha children," were never intended to stay in such asramas, nor were they to be trained as brahmacarinis. In fact, Prabhupada put very little emphasis on girls' education and made no educational provision for girls beyond the age of eleven. (q.v. Room Conversation: Bhubaneshwar, January 31, 1977)
Girls were specifically not to attend his higher educational system of Varnasrama College. This is certainly not indicative of equal educational opportunities. And it is an especially significant point, since Varnasrama College was to train devotees in their respective occupational and social duties. The fact that women were not allowed to attend indicates the distinct social role and occupational work expected of them. The college would be exclusively for brahmanas, ksatriyas, and vaisyas; women and sudras were to be trained to assist these higher classes:
Satsvarupa: Srila Prabhupada, is this school for women also, or just for men? Prabhupada: For men. Women should automatically learn how to cook, how to cleanse home.
Satsvarupa: So they don't attend varnasrama college.
Prabhupada: No, no. Varnasrama college especially meant for the brahmana, ksatriya and vaisya. Those who are not fit for education, they are sudras.
That's all. Or those who are reluctant to take education-sudra means.
That's all. They should assist the higher class. (Morning Walk, "Varnasrama College," Vrndavana, March 14, 1974)
"To answer, let's first look at the purposes of ISKCON. In its founder's vision, the members of ISKCON are dedicated to distributing spiritual knowledge and techniques to others, and to practicing the same themselves.
It is a spiritual movement based on rendering transcendental loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna."
This is very true. Still, ISKCON also has a very specific cultural objective that parallels these spiritual objectives. In fact, the two are intrinsically inseparable. For, as much as Krsna consciousness means to perform our gender-specific roles and duties, the Krsna consciousness movement similarly means introducing all the cultural systems and expressions that support such duties. As such, ISKCON's role is to revive and reintroduce the ancient culture of the Vedas, in order to help humanity to learn and apply the eternal, spiritual knowledge and techniques that help us develop our dormant love of God. Culture--and in this case Vedic, varnasrama culture--is the practical application of this spiritual knowledge.
"So our Krishna consciousness movement is meant to revive the Vedic culture. Another name of Vedic culture is sanatana-dharma." (Lecture: Bombay, November 2, 1970)
"Vedic culture means Krsna culture, and Krsna culture means Vedic culture." (SB 5.5.3-4 Bombay, March 29, 1977) This culture is intended to "cleanse the heart and make him (man) perfect." (Bg 1.40, London, July 28, 1973)
"In other words, Srila Prabhupada wanted all of his followers -- men, women, and children -- to become free from all material designations and restored to their pure identity, engaging their senses in the service of Lord Krishna, the proprietor of the senses. In this way their spiritual life is revived."
Freedom from material designations does not mean that we ignore our occupational duties. Lord Caitanya was severely strict in his sannyasa duties. Arjuna was reprimanded by the Lord for even contemplating giving up his social duties. Such artificial renunciation was an indication of his ignorance and illusion. After such misconceptions were dispelled by the Lord, Arjuna then reassumed his warrior duties. Fully depending upon the Lord, and completely detached from the results, Arjuna's material duties achieved a full spiritual transformation. The motives and consciousness underlying our actions determine whether they are spiritual or material.
Prabhupada explains that this Krsna (or Vedic) culture is to teach us that "You be satisfied with your position" within the divisions of varnasrama-dharma (Bg 1.23, London, July 19, 1973). Except for emergencies, sva-dharmas (occupational duties) are never to be renounced:
"There are regular scriptural injunctions for different persons engaged in different occupational duties, and one who follows them is called svadharma-stha, or faithful in one's prescribed duties. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.48) it is advised that one should not give up his occupational prescribed duties, even if they are not always flawless. Such sva-dharma might be violated in cases of emergency, if one is forced by circumstances, but they cannot be violated in ordinary times. The state executive head is to see that such sva-dharma is not changed by the follower, whatever it may be, and he should give all protection to the follower of sva-dharma. The violator is subject to punishment in terms of the sastra, and the duty of the king is to see that everyone strictly follows his occupational duty, as prescribed in the scripture." (SB 1.17.16)
To reject dharma as designated according to gender is certain to make a mockery of our cultural objectives.
"The varnasrama-dharma system is scientifically arranged by Krsna to provide facility for delivering the fallen souls back to home, back to Godhead. And if we make a mockery of this system by whimsically disrupting the order, that we must consider. " (Letter: Madhukara, Bombay, January 4, 1973)
"Whatever one's position in this societal scheme, the persons who fill these various roles generally do not do so alone, but together, as a husband-wife team. In other words, men and women marry based on their compatible natures and propensities and the wife assists her husband and takes primary charge of the home and of raising their children."
Women are considered to be in the same class as the sudras according to the divisions of varna. This was poignantly confirmed by Srila Prabhupada when barring women from attending Varnasrama College.
"Here Kapiladeva in a brahmacari dress, and mother is taking lesson from the son. Now, sometimes it is asked, "How the mother will take lesson from the son?" That is the prerogative of the male. Stri... In the Bhagavad-gita it is also said, mam hi partha vyapasritya ye 'pi syuh papa-yonayah, striyah... Striyah sudras tatha vaisyah. A woman is considered in the level of sudra. Although a woman is married with a brahmana, the woman is not offered the sacred thread. And in the Bhagavad-gita it is also accepted like that by the Supreme Personality... Striyo vaisyas tatha sudrah. (SB 3.25.5-6, Bombay, November 5, 1974)
Why are women classified as sudras? Because they are never independent and always assistants to father, husband, and son. As such, a woman is never a brahmana but a brahmani. She is never a ksatriya but a ksatriyani. She is also designated as first-class, second-class, third-class, or fourth-class, based on the social position of her husband. Srila Prabhupada even explained this on national television:
Woman reporter: Where do women fit into these four classes? Prabhupada: That I already explained. Women's position is subordinate to man. So if the man is first-class, the woman is first-class. If the man is second-class, the woman is second-class. If the man is third-class, the woman is third-class. In this... Because woman is meant for assisting man, so the woman becomes suitable according to the man, her husband.
(Television Interview, Chicago, July 9, 1975)
"It was to this end--to enable persons to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and meet the Supreme Lord--that Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON. Although he was in the renounced order of life (a sannyasi), Srila Prabhupada married his disciples, an act unprecedented in the history of sannyasa, and engaged them in a myriad of services both according to their propensities (sva-dharma) and as eternal servants of the Supreme Lord (sanatana-dharma). Thus, under his direction, there were devotee men and women artists, writers, typists, speakers, singers, Deity caretakers (pujaris), book distributors, managers, and so on."
In the very early days of ISKCON, there were no trained brahmana disciples to perform marriages. It was an emergency situation in which Prabhupada had no choice but to conduct these ceremonies. As a true Founder-Acarya, Prabhupada strictly followed the sastric codes, and as soon as the emergency passed, having trained some men in these brahminical techniques, he promptly stopped performing such duties that were unquestionably irregular for a sannyasi. Srila Prabhupada also placed ladies in charge of Deity departments in the West, this also conforming to his desire that women manage internally, men externally. The significant point is that there was a clear distinction between what was or was not allowed for women:
"The girls should manage internally and the boys should manage externally."(Letter: Yamuna, September 16, 1970)
"While this ideal is quite attractive for most people, it also raises some questions: what, if anything, can a woman do beyond assisting her husband, beyond her housework, and beyond her sacred duties as a mother?"
It is interesting that a wife would or should want to do anything besides assist her husband. This is also a product of nasty, godless Western culture. The typical Western woman is educated and trained always to seek independence and freedom to pursue her own individual interests. Western men have likewise grown accustomed to this and in fact encourage their wives and daughters to pursue this path of independence. Considering the above, the examples provided by sastra are of utmost importance for determining the constitution of proper behavior. There was never a question of Gandhari, Kunti, Sita, or Draupadi seeking to do anything beyond their duties as wives and mothers. To have done so would have indicated an unchaste mentality. Such unchaste desire to transgress the boundaries of stri-dharma is symptomatic of what Srila Prabhupada calls the demoniac "puffed up concept of womanly life." (Bg 16.7) In fact, the one time something even remotely similar occurred (Sati going to the Daksa yajna against the will of Lord Siva), the wife's life became immediately inauspicious from the very moment she decided to act beyond her role as servant of the husband.
"And what of women who are unmarried, widowed, married but childless, or married with grown children? For such women, their services to their children are nonexistent or minimal, and their services in the home also minimal."
Srila Prabhupada encouraged his widowed female disciples to establish an asrama in which they could engage in devotional service without any contact with men. They also were to limit their service to those duties most appropriate for women:
"The thing is cow protection is not possible for women. You can keep two or three cows, but on larger scale it is not possible. You should not try to take care of more. It is not women's business. Women's business is getting milk and making milk preparations. On the whole larger scale is not to be attempted by women. Manage a small asram, but don't try bigger scale, then you require the help of men. Don't try manual exertion, then again there is mixture and that is not desired. Simply keep yourself aloof from men-- chanting, many more times as possible, read books, worship the deity.
I am very much pleased with this girl Svati--she has adopted this white dress. She must not be attractive at all. A widow is forbidden to use ornaments, nice sari, decoration, combing the hair nicely. These are forbidden for the woman who is not with husband." (Letter: Yamuna & Dinatarine, Mayapur, February 21, 1976)
"However, it is certainly possible for a woman to be protected and at the same time to serve the Lord according to her unique ability."
Leaders are supposed to offer protection. "If human society wants to be exalted, the leaders of society must follow the instructions of Bhagavad-gita and give protection to the cows, the brahmanas and brahminical culture." (SB 8.24.5) If they are unable to do so but instead require protection, they cannot be leaders. Prabhupada has already explained to Yamuna that cow protection is not possible for women, so how would women be able to protect brahmanas and brahminical culture? It is not the work of women.
Srila Prabhupada considered that in an emergency situation, wherein a shortage of manpower forced women to take up management positions, all further expansion should stop until competent men were available to assume those leadership roles:
"Regarding having your wife do the management, if there are no men available then what can be done? But now there is some difficulty in the management there is no question of opening up any restaurant. Do not open any restaurant." (Letter: Batu Gopala, Vrindaban, September 7, 1974)
A woman acting as an external manager was a sign of difficulties.
"Srila Prabhupada encouraged and occasionally insisted that his women disciples lead kirtans, speak, and distribute his books. And, while Srila Prabhupada did not approve of women leading a country, he found no fault with women being leaders within his spiritual society."
At this point, it is interesting to note that Prabhupada never appointed even one female temple president, vice-president, or GBC. Further, he also discouraged women from opening preaching centers unless they were married and did so as assistants to their husbands. Whether one leads a small country, community, or spiritual society, such a position is always inappropriate for a woman. Any post of leadership will force a woman to compromise her duty as a wife and mother. Such an artificial occupation will ultimately lead to unfaithfulness and unchaste behavior. It was for this reason that Prabhupada called Indira Gandhi a prostitute. (q.v. Room Conversation, Bombay, April 5, 1977) And it was for this reason that Srila Prabhupada limited women to internal management.
"For example, in the late 1960's, when his movement was still quite young, he put one of his first women disciples, Jadurani Devi Dasi, in charge of all the men and women artists who were creating paintings to illustrate his books."
This is consistent with Srila Prabhupada's desire that women manage internally. Managing an art department is quite different from being a temple president or GBC. Jadurani was married, her husband was the temple president, and she was acting under his protection.
"A little later, in the spring of 1970, when Srila Prabhupada was forming the Governing Body Commission (GBC) as the management arm of ISKCON, he personally wrote down the names of GBC appointees and included women in the list. (As it happened, these women declined the position.)"
Srila Prabhupada may or may not have considered placing women on the GBC, but what is 100 percent certain is that he did not do so. Srila Prabhupada told Tamala Krsna Goswami that it was specifically due to Yamuna devi dasi's gender that she was not chosen to sit as a GBC:
"While at the Bury Place Temple, sitting with Srila Prabhupada in his room, His Divine Grace was once expressing his appreciation for Yamuna devi's wonderful service. I have often repeated what he told me at the time, which I remembered being that were she not a woman, he would have appointed her to the GBC. The only problem with this remembrance of mine is that I do not think Srila Prabhupada had officially formed the GBC at this time. There is no doubt in my mind that this conversation took place during Prabhupada's stay at Bury Place which was probably in December of 1969.
Perhaps what he said was that he would have appointed her as temple President. In any case, he was mentioning some important position of authority within our Society. It was either Temple President, or perhaps GBC. I do not remember raising any objection to this, nor did I hear of anyone else doing so." (ISKCON Dallas, April 15,1992)
"When asked if a woman could become a temple president (in Chicago, July 5, 1975) Srila Prabhupada replied unequivocally, "Yes, why not?," and then explained that women should remain dependent on either her first-class father, first-class husband, or first-class son. (In the final analysis there is only one person who is not dependent, namely the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, but women are specifically enjoined to remain dependent on their intimate male relation.)"
What Prabhupada actually said was this:
"But because women are less intelligent, they should remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband, and first-class son. Then she is first-class. That is the injunction."
Now why would he say that women are less intelligent and then acknowledge that they can be temple presidents? Did Prabhupada approve of less intelligent temple presidents? Prabhupada indicated to Mrs. Wax, a reporter for Playboy Magazine, that just as in theory it is possible to have a woman leading a country, it is not recommended, since she is less intelligent and must always be dependent upon a man. Prabhupada's legacy of never appointing even one female temple president confirms his views in this regard.
"Here, on the one hand, Srila Prabhupada states that a woman may be temple president, but on the other he says that she also must be dependent. Is this contradictory? To gain some insight, we can turn to a conversation between Vallabha Bhatta, Advaita Acarya, and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu: Hearing this, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "My dear Vallabha Bhatta, you do not know religious principles. Actually, the first duty of a chaste woman is to carry out the order of her husband. The order of Krishna is to chant His name incessantly. Therefore one who is chaste and adherent to the husband Krishna must chant the Lord's name, for she cannot deny the husband's order" (Cc Antya 7.103-7). Similarly, a chaste, Krishna conscious woman who's encouraged by her Krishna conscious father, husband, or son, may render whatever service she's qualified to do, whether a mother, a cook, a temple president, a GBC, or a spiritual master."
Unfortunately, men affected by nasty Western culture tend to encourage their wives and daughters to contravene the codes of religion. Therefore it is imperative that sastra and the example of the founder-acarya be used to determine what is appropriate behaviour for men and women. ISKCON's GBC, for example, should always base its decisions on sastra and certainly not on what certain men may or may not allow their wives, daughters, or mothers to do. There are other significant points to consider in the example cited above. If it is in fact the husband's approval that legitimizes the wife's occupation (with which we fully concur), then this further validates our advocating that women's issues should be undertaken and decided by male authorities. And this is a very important point. All contentious women's issues should be addressed to and by grhastha men. The very existence of a ministry that provides and encourages women's self-assertion for determining their occupations flatly contradicts the spirit of Lord Caitanya's enunciation of the primary duty of a chaste woman: to follow her *husband's* order. A GBC that sanctions, supports, and encourages such a ministry thus undermines a very fundamental religious principle and thereby courts social and spiritual chaos. As confirmed by Lord Caitanya, a wife's duty is to follow her husband's order, he in turn is guided by the spiritual master, who in turn strictly follows his guru, sastra, and sadhu.
"That is the Vedic system: The wife becomes a devotee of her husband, the husband becomes a devotee of Krishna; the wife serves her husband faithfully, the husband protects his wife by giving her spiritual guidance.
So you should simply do whatever your husband instructs you to do, however he may require your assistance." (Letter: Saucarya, Vrindaban, October 23, 1972)
A women's organization that seeks to usurp this authority and prerogative of the husband is irreligious and contravenes Lord Caitanya's advice. Women must allow their male authorities to decide the framework of their proper action and work. These men are their natural leaders, since permission to act is ultimately granted by them. A woman is never to act independently.
She is never to be given freedom. But this does not mean that women should not be allowed to express their needs and concerns. The issue of contention is not the right of women to express necessary concerns, but rather the proper channels and processes by which these concerns are assessed and resolved.
"In a letter to Silavati devi, Srila Prabhupada wrote, "Now if you can induce all the women of Los Angeles to place an altar in their home and help their husbands have peaceful, happy home life in Krishna Consciousness, that will be very great service for you. The actual system is that the husband is Spiritual Master to his wife, but if the wife can bring her husband into practicing this process, then it is all right that the husband accepts wife as Spiritual Master. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna, that person should be accepted as Spiritual Master, regardless of any material so-called qualifications; such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or sudra." (SPL June 14, 1969)"
Instructor spiritual masters are varied and many. Even a child can become our guru if he repeats the message of the Lord:
"Even a child can do. And you can preach. You can become guru. What is the difficulty? Everyone." (SB 1.2.5, Aligarh, October 9, 1976) Yare dekha tare kaha 'krsna'-bas. So who cannot do it? Anyone can do it, even a child (laughs)....Even a child like Sarasvati, she can preach. Then what to speak of others?" (Conversation, Puri, January 25, 1977)
"It doesn't require that you become very learned scholar. Anyone can do. A child can do. That's it." (Evening Darsana, Hrishikesh, May 11, 1977)
Likewise, in the Eleventh Canto so many instructing spiritual masters are described:
"O King, I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the prostitute Pingala, the kurara bird and the child; and the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. My dear King, by studying their activities I have learned the science of the self." (SB 11.7.33-35)
Nevertheless, when it comes to initiating spiritual masters (diksa guru) Prabhupada clearly states that such a position is beyond the scope of a woman's duty:
"Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja's diksa-guru. Still, he was not less obliged to Suniti." (SB 4.12.32)
"This same point was confirmed again, years later, when Professor O'Connell asked Srila Prabhupada, "Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?" Srila Prabhupada replied, "Yes.
Jahnava devi was-Nityananda's wife. She became. [Jahnava devi was an initiating spiritual master who had male disciples.] If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many."
Jahnava devi is the internal energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
She is not a woman of this mortal world. Her body is completely spiritual, and any like comparison of Her to women of this material world would be offensive. Nevertheless, She followed the strictest etiquette in relation to her dealings with men. She was an ideal acarya. As the consort of Lord Nityananda, She was naturally considered by the Vaisnavas of Bengal as their leader. She did not give public discourses on scripture, and She remained in the background. And when giving classes, She would always sit behind a curtain so that only Her lotus feet were visible. She strictly followed Vedic social etiquette, even though She was the eternal consort of Lord Nityananda Himself.
Mother Jahnava was also present when Their Lordships Gauranga and Vallabhi-kanta Deities were installed during the first Gaura Purnima celebration in Kheturi-grama. Because she was a woman, She did not perform the abhiseka ceremony; She ordered Srinivasacarya to perform the abhiseka.
Nor did She join the associates of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda on the podium. Nor did She lead the kirtans. She cooked for Their Lordships and offered the preparations to the Deities. She honored prasadam only after all the male devotees were served. Later, She revealed Her four-armed form to Virabhadra Prabhu, who subsequently took diksa initiation from Her.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Jahnava devi was not considered either a branch or subbranch of Lord Nityananda. Instead, the first branch mentioned is that of Virabhadra Gosani, a disciple of Mother Jahnava:
"After Nityananda, the greatest branch is Virabhadra Gosani, who also has innumerable branches and subbranches. It is not possible to describe them all." (Cc Adi 11.8)
A possible explanation is that all of Jahnava-mata's followers were considered disciples of Lord Nityananda:
"All the devotees who are followers of Jahnava-mata are counted within the list of Sri Nityananda Prabhu's devotees." (Cc Adi 11.21)
"In spiritual circles gender is not a disqualification."
In spiritual circles, such as Lord Caitanya and His associates, gender played a very important factor. Madhavi was considered to be a half devotee due to her gender. Women were allowed to offer their obeisances to the Lord only from afar. The Lord banished His disciple Chota Haridas for talking intimately with even an elderly woman. Gender is never a disqualification for engaging in devotional service, although it matters greatly in social circles. The common misconception is that the social interactions of spiritual societies are essentially different from those of non-spiritual societies. But if there is a difference--as we see in the case of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates--that difference lies in the fact that the separation of genders, and Vedic etiquette in general, is even more pronounced:
"My dear Sanatana, although you are the deliverer of the entire universe and although even the demigods and great saints are purified by touching you, it is the characteristic of a devotee to observe and protect the Vaisnava etiquette. Maintenance of the Vaisnava etiquette is the ornament of a devotee. If one transgresses the laws of etiquette, people make fun of him, and thus he is vanquished in both this world and the next. By observing the etiquette, you have satisfied My mind. Who else but you will show this example?" After saying this, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu embraced Sanatana Gosvami, and the moisture oozing from the itching sores on Sanatana's body smeared the body of the Lord." (Cc Ant. 4.127-33)
"In Srila Prabhupada words, "The child must be taken care of. That is good.
Similarly, woman also. Just like old man like us, I am always taken care of. . . That is civilization" (lecture, Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.51). Although he is a topmost Vaisnava, Srila Prabhupada here humbly identifies himself as an "old man," and, since old men are one of the five groups that must be protected (the other four being brahmanas, women, children, and cows), Srila Prabhupada sees himself as protected. Yet at the same time he was an unparalleled leader."
The "protection" that a maha-bhagavata such as Srila Prabhupada "required" certainly cannot be likened to that needed by a woman or child. The main reason a woman requires protection is that she is easily misled:
"Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood.
As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Canakya Pandita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varnasrama system. On the failure of such varnasrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population. Irresponsible men also provoke adultery in society, and thus unwanted children flood the human race at the risk of war and pestilence." (Bg 1.40)
To consider that the "protection" Srila Prabhupada required is analogous to the protection required by women and children betrays a deficient understanding.
"Therefore in the Lord's spiritual society and for His pleasure, a woman may do whatever service is suited to her particular qualities and activities."
We must advise that this conclusion is completely inaccurate. A woman's service is as assistant to her husband. As such, if the husband is a temple president, then the wife may assist him in his work--likewise if he is a pujari, a book distributor, an artist, a farmer, etc. A woman is never independent, even with respect to the service she performs. Srila Prabhupada has also distinguished between a woman's work and a man's work:
"The woman's activities are different, man's activities are different." (Lecture Excerpt: Montreal, July 20, 1968)
"You cannot change the different capacities. There is God's law, nature's law. Let the man and woman combine together, live peacefully. The woman takes charge of the household affairs, the man may take charge of bringing money, and they meet together, have Deity at home, together chant Hare Krsna. Where is the difficulty? That is unity. Combine together, working differently but for the same purpose, for pleasing Krsna, then you will become happy. That is equality. Unity in variety. That is wanted. (New Orleans, July 31, 1975)
"While this principle may seem straightforward and clear to some, it is a point of great controversy for others. These others believe that due to her birth a woman may not do certain services for the Lord, even though she may be qualified for them."
Certain services--such as leading nations, societies, countries, or armies, cow protection, fire sacrifices, etc.--are denied women specifically because of their gender. But to argue with karmi feminists that modern women are not competent to lead communities or nations would elicit their outrage and indignation (indeed, we would be considered mad). Even ISKCON feminists accept the fact that Srila Prabhupada did not approve of women chief executives. As Mother Visakha herself says, "Srila Prabhupada did not approve of women leading a country..." Actually, Mother Visakha has greatly understated Prabhupada's opposition to such social heresy:
"Thus it is most regrettable when a woman becomes a the executive head instead of a lion-like king. In such a situation the people are considered very unfortunate." (SB 4.16.23) "As we learn from the history of the Mahabharata, or "Greater India," the wives and daughters of the ruling class, the ksatriyas, new the political game, but we never find that a woman was given the post of chief executive head. This is in accordance with the injunctions of Manu-samhita, but unfortunately Manu-samhita is now being insulted, and the Aryans, the members of Vedic society, cannot do anything. Such is the nature of Kali-yuga." (SB 10.4.5) "She (Indira Ghandi) is not leader, she is a prostitute. Woman given freedom means prostitute. Free woman means prostitute. What is this prostitute? She has no fixed-up husband. And free woman means this, daily, new friend." (Conversation: Bombay, April 5, 1977)
Therefore, there are definitely certain areas of work that, irrespective of a woman's competence, are inappropriate and denied due to her gender. Srila Prabhupada says,
"Woman is meant for certain duties; man is meant for...Man is meant for hard working, and woman is meant for homely comfort, love. So both of them, if they are situated in their respective duties under proper training, then this combination of man and woman will help both of them to make progress in spiritual life." (Prabhupada on Comte)
The issue, therefore, is not whether women can do anything they want-they obviously cannot--the issue is to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable work for Vaisnavis. Based upon our Vedic cultural heritage and Srila Prabhupada's parallel instructions on this issue, women in leadership and non-domestic management roles transgress the bounds of morally acceptable areas of work.
"Sometimes this line of thinking is culturally based, for example, traditionally in India women don't perform certain Deity services in the temple -- a standard that Srila Prabhupada respected in India in order to preach successfully to the people there."
Actually it was not the people of India for whom Srila Prabhhupada made concessions with regard to women performing Deity services, as the standards there more closely reflect ideal Vedic culture. The concessions were made in the West, in that women were allowed to worship the Deities as instruments of Prabhupada's perfectly tailored preaching to such a culturally challenged populace.
"And in other cases, especially in reference to a woman leading, disqualifying a woman simply due to her being a woman may be a product of the male ego (a version of the false ego) that is easily identified as "the temperament of always wanting to be in a superior position" (Srimad Bhagavatam 9.3.10 purport)."
It is very unfortunate that ISKCON women deride and ridicule the male ego.
Actually, it is the male ego that motivates a man to work and maintain his family. It is the male ego that compels a man to seek a superior position.
And it is this very same male superiority complex that is recognized and accommodated by sastra and civilized societies. A man's desire to be superior must be observed by the wife and women in general:
"The husband is a very intimate friend; therefore, the wife must render service just like an intimate friend, and at the same time she must understand that the husband is superior in position, and thus she must offer him all respect. A man's psychology and woman's psychology are different. As constituted by bodily frame, a man always wants to be superior to his wife, and a woman, as bodily constituted, is naturally inferior to her husband. Thus the natural instinct is that the husband wants to post himself as superior to the wife, and this must be observed.
Even if there is some wrong on the part of the husband, the wife must tolerate it, and thus there will be no misunderstanding between husband and wife. Visrambhena means "with intimacy," but it must not be familiarity that breeds contempt. According to the Vedic civilization, a wife cannot call her husband by name. In the present civilization the wife calls her husband by name, but in Hindu civilization she does not. Thus the inferiority and superiority complexes are recognized. Damena ca: a wife has to learn to control herself even if there is a misunderstanding. Sauhrdena vaca madhuraya means always desiring good for the husband and speaking to him with sweet words. A person becomes agitated by so many material contacts in the outside world; therefore, in his home life he must be treated by his wife with sweet words." (SB 3.23.2)
Prabhupada explains that if a woman subordinates herself to her husband, he then will be inspired to take charge of her. He does not condemn the superiority complex of the man, but instead condemns the unsubmissive and uncooperative nature of the unchaste wife:
Woman reporter: Is the social unrest in this country caused because...
Prabhupada: Because of these things. They do not know that.
Woman reporter: And if women were subordinate to men, it would solve all of our problems? Prabhupada: Yes. Man wants that woman should be subordinate, faithful to him. Then he is ready to take charge. The man's mentality, woman's mentality different. So if the woman agrees to remain faithful and subordinate to man, then the family life will be peaceful. (July 9, 1975 TV Interview)
To neglect such fundamental social principles leads to the disruption of family life, to divorce, and to unwanted progeny:
"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, as found even in such an elevated family relationship as that of Sati and Lord Siva, but a wife should not leave her husband's protection because of such a misunderstanding. If she does so, it is understood to be due to her womanly weakness." (SB 4.4.3)
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna exhorts Arjuna to act as a ksatriya, not as a brahmana. He encourages Arjuna to act in keeping with his Aryan heritage and appeals to Arjuna's nobler character by calling him purusarsabha ("best among men") and purusa-vyagrha ("tiger amongst human beings"). Krsna directly appealed to Arjuna's male, ksatriya ego; not that He considered it illusion to act according to one's psychophysical condition. In fact, the entire purpose of the Gita is to teach us the proper, transcendental utility and purpose of our conditioned natures.
"And let us be enlightened by the perspective Srila Prabhupada reveals in this conversation:
Srila Prabhupada: In the spiritual platform there is no such distinction, man, woman, or black, white, or big or small. No. Everyone is spirit soul.
Panditah sama-darsinah. Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmana gavi hastini suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah, one who is actually learned, he is sama-darsinah. He does not make any distinction. But so far our material body is concerned, there must be some distinction for keeping the society in order."
In order to achieve and maintain social sanity there must be a distinction and division of labor between genders. There must be distinction between the work of men and women, even considering the fact that all souls are qualitatively spiritually equal:
"If I invite one learned scholar, and if I ask him, "Please sit down with the dog," will he be pleased? He will feel insulted. But I see that within the dog, there is spirit soul, and within the learned scholar, there is spirit soul. Panditah sama... Sama-darsinah means from different platform.
On the material platform, if I say, "Oh, you may be a learned scholar, and you may think the dog is dog, but I see you are all equal," so it will be insult. So the fact is that we cannot disturb the equality, er, different position materially; at the same time, we have to understand what is the position, spiritual. That is wanted. (Arrival Lecture: Philadelphia, July 11, 1975)
The scholar and the dog are qualitatively spiritually equal, yet proper etiquette which distinguishes between the physical bodies of the scholar and the dog must be maintained. To neglect such etiquette verily would be insulting. Likewise, Vedic gender morality and occupational divisions must be maintained, irrespective of spiritual equality:
Woman: The women could become panditas, then.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Te 'pi yanti param gatim. Not only [be]come, she can also attain perfection. There is no such restriction. Krishna said.
Woman: Do you have any panditas in the Western movement? Prabhupada: There are so many Western woman, girls, in our society.They are chanting, dancing, taking to Krishna consciousness. Of course, because superficially, bodily, there is some distinction, so we keep women separately from men, that's all. Otherwise, the rights are the same." (Toronto, June 18, 1976)
The right to engage in devotional service is the same for men and women, but the occupational service is different. As Srila Prabhupada states above: "But so far our material body is concerned, there must be some distinction for keeping the society in order....So the fact is that we cannot disturb the equality, er, different position materially; at the same time, we have to understand what is the position, spiritual. That is wanted....Of course, because superficially, bodily, there is some distinction, so we keep women separately from men, that's all. Otherwise, the rights are the same."
"In order not to be distracted from the goal of our lives - rendering uninterrupted, pure devotional service to Krishna -- Srila Prabhupada here emphasizes that men and women should not mix (except if they are married)."
Allowing single or married women to assume positions of leadership inevitably forces ISKCON devotees to overstep and contravene this principle of restriction between the genders.
"And he also says that men and women have the same rights. What are those rights? Their right -- their privilege -- to serve the Lord according to their propensity, according to their hearts' desire."
This statement could be misleading. For, just as spiritual equality has been cited to justify occupational equality, likewise our right to engage in devotional service is often misconstrued as the right to engage in any type of work, irrespective of prescribed duties. If that were actually the case, then there would be no meaning to the following verse:
"It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one's nature are never affected by sinful reactions." (Bg 18.47)
Greater proficiency in one particular occupation does not justify relinquishing those duties prescribed by sastra according to our psychophysical condition.
"Ultimately the real occupational duty, dharma, of women is non different from the dharma of all living beings: to eternally serve Krsna. A woman who is sincerely and seriously serving the Lord in whatever capacity she chooses should be honored and encouraged rather than being designated as a "woman" and discouraged in this divine service."
Provided that a woman adheres to stri-dharma, she should be encouraged; but if she oversteps the boundaries of that dharma, then she must be corrected.
Arjuna was chastised and corrected by the Lord for rejecting his dharma.
"Those who discourage her reveal their own lack of spiritual awareness and create a godless disruption. Srila Prabhupada clearly declares: "Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability." (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.5.12 purport)."
In Vaikuntha also, we see that men and women engage in their respective duties. In fact, we can say that the divisions of varnasrama-dharma are a reflection of the eternal culture in the spiritual world. Aside from the absence of demons, the pastimes of the Lord in Gokula are identical with those in Goloka. Likewise, the pastimes in Mathura, Dvaraka, and Ayodhya are eternal, full of bliss and knowledge. This perhaps is one explanation as to why varnasrama-dharma is also referred to as sanatana-dharma.
In conclusion, we must express our earnest regret that the GBC and BTG editors have accepted Mother Vishaka's controversial and philosophically inaccurate article for publication in a future issue of BTG. Unless our every decision is based upon the authority of sastra and the words of our Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhhupada, we will contribute to a further erosion of the cultural objectives of ISKCON.
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