By Ajamila dasa ACBSP
Recently a small group of devotees have been asserting that ISKCON was not meant to have any female diksha gurus. In essence their rationalization in one particular article consists of a string of varnashrama dharma quotes and supporting explanations. On the one side they hammer home with carefully selected quotes the traditional restrictive nature of Stree Dharma for women and on the other they calculatedly fail to mention at all any of Srila Prabhupada’s contemporary Preaching Dharma instructions for women. In that article any independent ISKCON women are, sadly, scolded as, quote, “feminists”, even though such independence is forced upon many innocent women owing to much abuse from irresponsible men who are not at least equally reprimanded.
The article supports a small group’s recent demands to the GBC to remove the existing sastrically verified GBC resolution that allows a qualified ISKCON woman to seek a no objection to become a diksha guru from a panel of 10 peers of the GBC. They claim there is no sastric evidence to support such a GBC resolution and that having female diksha gurus is nothing but a serious deviation from Srila Prabhupada’s ‘pure’ teachings. But herein (see the quotes below) I prove with crystal clear evidence from Srila Prabhupada that they are very much mistaken.
It so happens that some of the group are leading members of the GHQ organization (unauthorized by ISKCON) that calls any responsible independent ISKCON preaching women hurtful insulting names that cannot be mentioned herein. This is also very sad. And moreover they also publicly criticize the ISKCON and GBC leadership, accusing them of seriously deviating from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on ‘many issues’, one of which is the topic of the female diksha guru which we examine herein.
If you take the time to go through ALL of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the topic of female diksha guru you’ll find he said:
NO THEY DEFINITELY CANNOT – when referring to Stree Dharma’s ancient traditions; and
YES THEY DEFINITELY CAN – when referring to his unique Preaching Dharma in our modern tradition.
So which is it? It’s BOTH !
Srila Prabhupada emphasized Stree Dharma for women, and in all the discussions thus far no one has ever denied that. But Srila Prabhupada further ‘added’ Preaching Dharma to Stree Dharma for our modern tradition like only he could do as the Founder Acarya of ISKCON. So why do a minority group of devotees deny the existence of all SP’s instructions on Preaching Dharma? Traditionally women would rarely be front line preachers, but Srila Prabhupada changed that for expanding his preaching movement. In the said article that opposes FDG, readers are given carefully selected quotes, giving you only HALF the picture. Herein you will get the FULL picture.
The gist of the article is that SP wanted ISKCON women to follow nothing else other than Stree Dharma because it is a most important part of varnashrama dharma without which all else will fail. Those opposing FDG have stated over the years that aside from being a perfect submissive wife engaged only in cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children ISKCON women should not take on any other higher roles of responsibility. They state that women should never be independent, they cannot get a proper education or take up any profession, and more to the point that becoming a female diksha guru is just totally out of the question regardless of what SP said about it. I could not agree more that certain Stree Dharma principles should be implemented in ISKCON as much as possible, but in a practical and balanced way that does not totally eliminate SP’s Preaching Dharma instructions for women. In the recent article the author has carefully selected quotes to give you his predetermined preference of women following Stree Dharma only. But quite simply Srila Prabhupada wanted more.
What the article fails to tell us is that SP specifically stated many times that all women should whenever and wherever preach Krishna consciousness harmoniously ‘along with’ following Stree Dharma. And SP further added that if a few women were QUALIFIED they could be diksha gurus and take disciples. SP specifically said yes, quote, “But, not so many.”, (See reference below.) indicating that a least a small number of his female disciples could become diksha guru. In the quotes I have provided below you’ll see what a small group of devotees don’t want you to see – direct statements from SP where he clearly states that if a few women are qualified they can be diksha gurus. They contradict Srila Prabhupada’s overall conclusion on female diksha guru. They attempt to hammer women into a restrictive corner with Stree Dharma quotes that limit all ISKCON women to non-preaching and non-professional roles. But that was clearly not what Srila Prabhupada intended.
The fact is that although in traditional Vedic culture women should not have any independence they are in this Kali Yuga forced to become independent because of so many irresponsible men in ISKCON. This was a fact when Prabhupada was physically present, it’s still a fact today, and it’s not likely to go away in the future. When such ISKCON women are abandoned by irresponsible men they are forced to develop a career in order to survive and independently take nice care of their children. In many cases such women become successful and give back to ISKCON various valuable services and some very positive preaching. And some end up being sufficiently qualified to be an ISKCON guru. Yet on this topic of FDG a minority group vociferously disagree with FDG for reasons known best to them. They are very adamant that such so called ‘feminists’ cannot be gurus or take on any higher responsibilities even if they are highly qualified. But Srila Prabhupada’s preaching vision was all encompassing. He gave us a clear guideline – when it comes to who can be a guru or take on a position of any service for Krishna it simply comes down to who is QUALIFIED, QUALIFIED, QUALIFIED! It has nothing to do with gender or any other consideration. (See the quotes from Srila Prabhupada below.)
I sincerely applaud certain devotees’ enthusiasm and attempts to follow ‘strictly’ Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on Stree Dharma. But leaks from their secret meetings have revealed that their hidden agenda is to save ISKCON from ‘womenization’. On many issues they drift so far to the right that theirs are extreme views gone well over a cliff. And that extreme position was certainly not Srila Prabhupada’s way. Their views on many issues enter the treacherous land of nyamagraha or following lesser rules and regulations just for the sake of following them while losing sight of the higher preaching principles set by Srila Prabhupada. SP’s preaching culture is higher than Vedic culture. Of course Stree Dharma should be implemented as much as possible but there is no reason why Stree Dharma and SP’s unique Preaching Dharma cannot co-exist harmoniously in ISKCON just as SP intended. This will enable the preaching to expand very advantageously. What Srila Prabhupada created for us was a unique fusion of Vedic Culture and Preaching Culture, but those who oppose FDG mistakenly overly emphasize Vedic culture for women to an extreme that totally compromises SP’s unique Preaching Culture.
That group opposing FDG imply that anyone who disagrees with their extreme right views is seriously deviating from Srila Prabhupada’s ‘pure instructions’, stating things like ISKCON is not like it was when Srila Prabhupada was present. But expansion changes in a preaching mission are to be expected, ISKCON is expanding with no MAJOR philosophical discrepancies. The preaching is going on slowly but surely in a balanced way. But those opposing FDG see such balancing as a compromise because their views come in from such an extreme right nyamagraha wing.
For the very large majority of ISKCON women, following Stree Dharma should be the first and foremost training. And in a few cases, where a woman has all the qualifications, she can be a diksha guru just as Srila Prabhupada clearly intended. So what is the problem?
On the family grihastha issue, the same group is quick to heavily reprimand any independent woman but they never reprimand the irresponsible men who abuse and abandon such women in the first place. This particular group do not have the ability to represent Srila Prabhupada in a balanced way – on so many issues they come in on from an extreme far right. And whoever disagrees with their extremism are accused of seriously deviating from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. This was exemplified recently when such extreme right views were made known in public on the internet. In defiance of the GBC, they accuse them of seriously deviating from Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on various issues such as FDG, and so on. This is sad because such extremism cannot be upheld by guru, sadhu, and sastra.
Srila Prabhupada’s statement in 1976 on this very issue of female diksha guru was that it is all about QUALIFICATION, QUALIFICATION, QUALIFICATION, not gender or anything else. What follows is the sastric evidence to prove this point. For reasons known best to them, those opposing FDG do not want not want you to see these following Preaching Dharma quotes from Srila Prabhupada:
“Anyone following the order of Lord Caitanya under the guidance of His bona fide representative, can become a spiritual master and I wish that in my absence all my disciples become the bona fide spiritual master to spread Krishna Consciousness throughout the whole world.” (Srila Prabhupada letter to Madhusudan November 2, 1967)
Srila Prabhupada said, “ANYONE”. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
IN 1976, AFTER COMPLETING MOST OF HIS WRITINGS, SRILA PRABHUPADA SUPERSEDED EVEN ALL HIS IMPORTANT STREE DHARMA INSTRUCTIONS WITH HIGHER PREACHING INSTRUCTIONS FOR HIS QUALIFIED SPIRITUAL DAUGHTERS TO BECOME DIKSHA GURUS:
Toronto, June 18, 1976
Interview with Professors O’Connell, Motilal and Shivaram —
Prof. O’Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnava devi was – Nityananda’s wife.
Prabhupada: In our material world, is it any prohibition that woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified, she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru.
Srila Prabhupada clearly states that QUALIFICATION is the determining factor, not GENDER or anything else, as to who can be a guru in our line of disciple succession. It is crystal clear. He says, quote, “…she can become guru.” Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.” (Letter to Hamsaduta on Jan 3, 1969)
Srila Prabhupada included his DAUGHTERS, he never ever said men only. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“My dear sons and daughters . . . Anyone who is coming to Krsna consciousness, he’s not ordinary living being. Anyone who is connected with our movement, he’s not ordinary living being. Actually, he’s liberated soul. And I am very much hopeful that my disciples who are now participating today, even if I die, my movement will not stop, I am very much hopeful.” (Sri Vyasa-puja Lecture, London, August 22, 1973)
Srila Prabhupada says his DAUGHTERS are not ordinary. Those with an anti women outlook have said that none of Srila Prabhupada’s daughters were extraordinary. But what about Yamuna Devi Dasi? And there are many more fine examples of extraordinarily qualified women in ISKCON. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“Yes. All these nice boys and girls who have taken so seriously . . . To become spiritual master is not very difficult thing. You’ll have to become spiritual master. You, all my disciples, everyone should become spiritual master. . . . Remain always a servant of your spiritual master and present the thing as you have heard. You’ll be spiritual master. . . . So I hope that all of you, men, women, boys and girls, become spiritual master.”
Srila Prabhupada specifically says ALL my disciples, EVERYONE, and BOYS and GIRLS should become spiritual master. He never ever excluded the women except when referring to ancient Stree Dharma which he subsequently overrided for preaching purposes as verified herein. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“Women in our movement can also preach very nicely. Actually male and female bodies, these are just outward designations. Lord Caitanya said that whether one is brahmana or whatever he may be if he knows the science of Krsna then he is to be accepted as guru.” (Letter to Malati, December 25, 1974)
The above is yet another crystal clear example that Srila Prabhupada wanted his spiritual daughters to transcend Stree Dharma and become qualified to initiate disciples as a diksha guru. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“Every acarya has a specific means of propagating his spiritual movement with the aim of bringing men to Krsna consciousness. Therefore, the method of one acarya may be different from that of another, but the ultimate goal is never neglected. . . . The acarya must devise a means to bring them to devotional service. Therefore, although I am a sannyasi I sometimes take part in getting boys and girls married, although in the history of sannyasa no sannyasi has personally taken part in marrying his disciples . . . It is the concern of the acarya to show mercy to the fallen souls . . . we are thoroughly instructing both men and women how to preach, and actually they are preaching wonderfully . . . Both men and women are preaching the gospel of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Krsna with redoubled strength . . . it is a principle that a preacher must strictly follow the rules and regulations laid down in the sastras yet at the same time devise a means by which the preaching work to reclaim the fallen may go on with full force.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila, 7.37-38, purport)
Srila Prabhupada therefore as the greatest acarya overrided the Stree Dharma principle for the sake of the higher principle of Preaching Dharma and so he instructed his qualified spiritual daughters to initiate disciples. Yet a small group of devotees opposing FDG have chosen to contradict Srila Prabhupada.
“Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a sudra—regardless of what he is—he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krishna.” (CC Mad 8.128)
“A scholarly brahmana, expert in all subjects of Vedic knowledge, is unfit to become a spiritual master without being a Vaisnava, or expert in the science of Krsna consciousness. But a person born in a family of a lower caste can become a spiritual master if he is a Vaisnava, or Krsna conscious.” (Padma Puräna) (CC Mad 8.128)
Qualification, qualification, qualification….
(The complete conversation with Professor O’Connell.)
Toronto, June 18, 1976
Interview with Professors O’Connell, Motilal and Shivaram —
Woman: Swamiji, would you say something about the place of women in your movement?
Prabhupada: There is no distinction between man and woman. That is clearly said in the Bhagavad-gita. Mam hi partha vyapasritya ye ‘pi syuh papa-yonayah striyo sudras tatha vaisyah [Bg. 9.32]. The first is mentioned, striya. Striyah sudras tatha vaisyah. These classes are understood to be less intelligent-woman, sudra, and the vaisyas. But Krsna says, “No, even for them it is open.” Because 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 [Bg. 5.18]. Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah [Bg. 5.18], 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.
Woman: The women could become panditas, then.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Te ‘pi yanti param gatim. Not only come, she can also attain perfection. There is no such restriction. Krsna 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 Krsna 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.
Prof. O’Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnava devi was-Nityananda’s wife. She became. If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection…. Yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya [Cc. Madhya 8.128]. The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru. Yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei guru haya. [break] In our material world, is it any prohibition that woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified, she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru.
Indian man: Well, to understand Krsna consciousness, do you not require adhikari?
Prabhupada: Adhikari means he must agree to understand. That is adhikari. But we do not agree. That is our fault.
End of quotes, but there are many more.
I hope the small group of devotees who contradict Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the female diksha issue will reconsider their narrow and sometimes very offensive outlook toward ISKCON women and in particular on the issue of a female diksha guru in light of the evidence I have presented herein from Srila Prabhupada.
Hoping this meets you well. Hare Krishna!!