On the Subject of Female Diksha Gurus
By Phalini devi dasi
Dear Respected Vaisnavas,
Please accept my humble pranams. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and the great acaryas in our line.
Thanks to all who have posted thoughtful, articulate papers and comments on the topic of female diksha gurus. I have been in India preaching with my husband for the last six weeks and during that time was not able to keep up with the back-and-forth as the various comments emerged. But now after reaching USA I have found the time to read and re-read many articles and commentaries by devotees on both sides of the issue.
After traveling back and forth to India many times, living among the villagers and also interacting with high-class, educated, cultured, chaste ladies, observing them in their homes and temples as well as in public, I am further convinced that our Srila Prabhupada wanted us western women to learn how to behave like those women. Over the last thirty+ years of visiting India, I have seen powerful, effulgent women who use their native feminine power to uplift and promote their husbands. Such women are not only an inspiration to their husbands and families, but to men, women and children outside their families as well.
Women used to be satisfied remaining out of the spotlight. Remember back in the seventies how in every shop in Loi Bazaar you could not find one woman making sales or even assisting the merchant? They were nowhere to be seen. They were not even to be found serving Limcas to shoppers! Of course, just down the road in Delhi you could find women working in banks and cloth stores, but in small towns and villages, the ladies were in their homes, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children. They did not clamor to be seen. They were content to remain hidden.
Nowadays, though, as we walk the streets of Vrndavana, we see huge, loud, garish posters plastered on the sides of buildings advertising loose-haired, imposing, scary-looking female so-called gurus. Such women are not content to remain hidden, to quietly share the wisdom they have earned by their many years of selfless service as wives, mothers and grandmothers with their daughters, nieces, granddaughters and other lady friends and acquaintances. Those unattractive billboard gurudevis are a far cry from such cultured ladies as those I have mentioned above.
Now I’m not implying that there are any matajis in our ISKCON who, if appointed as diksha gurus, would succumb to the temptation to wear their hair loose while sporting long, flowing orange robes and posing for photo ops. Allowing their faces to be blown up into larger-than-life-size to be forced upon every passer-by in the Holy Dhama is surely not likely to be tolerated by any proposed female diksha guru that the GBC might elect. They would surely present themselves more tastefully if chosen for the job.
Nonetheless, if FDG-ship becomes an institutional law in ISKCON, I recoil in apprehension at the thought of the can of worms that a generation of ISKCON gurudevis could open up for far-down-the-road future generations of not-so-carefully chosen candidates for female diksha-guruship. What if in some future decade, some attractive young woman decides that she doesn’t want to bother with the hassle of being married (after all, even though Srila Prabhupada wanted all the ladies to be married, marriage is no doubt rife with difficulties), but would rather take on the service of diksha guru? One can just imagine what might happen if such a young gurudevi finds herself approached by a male disciple who is desperately trying to remain celibate but is having emotional difficulties due to overpowering sex drive. The wise men in our Movement who are practicing celibacy know what would happen. They know how difficult it is for men to remain celibate in this day and age, and how gullible and soft-hearted-to-a-fault a young woman can be.
Better that such a young woman surrender to Srila Prabhupada’s desire that all women be married. She can purify her heart by the method given by Lord Sri Krsna Himself: to serve her husband according to stri-dharma and bear children according to the process of garbhadhana-samskara, raising them as Vaisnavas. Her husband can become the guru for that struggling brahmacari, and she can assist her husband as his disciple’s guru-mata. But if we create a precedent for future young women that diksha guruship is another choice for those women who are not satisfied to perform stri-dharma, there will be confusion in the minds of those women as to what their duties are.
I have personally found that if a woman is actually doing her duty, she has little time for anything outside her stri-dharma. “A man, he works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” The fact that women always have too much to do is the expert arrangement of the Lord, who planned it that way. We women, although expert at a lot of tasks, are sometimes lacking in discrimination and weak in our resolve. We can easily fall prey to temptations and bad association, and be led astray. We require not only protection (which means protection from danger as well as control and direction) from our fathers, husbands and sons, but also full-time engagement. Busy women, happily engaged in the service of their husbands and families in Krsna consciousness, have little chance to get into trouble. In fact, they find their feminine power and loveliness as well as blessings from above increasing as they remain devoted to their protectors. If a woman follows her stri-dharma dutifully for the pleasure of the Lord, she is kept fully engaged, occupied in positive tasks, for her entire life up until the point of death. Again, this is the expert arrangement of the Lord for souls in women’s bodies, and when women follow their dharma properly, the good effects of this perfect arrangement of the Lord are felt throughout human society.
If, by chance, a Vaisnavi finds that she does have extra time beyond her normal duties, then she can engage in other services that support the strengthening of Krsna consciousness among her family members, friends and others. If she feels inspired to do so, she can preach, distribute books, do public kirtan and perform temple and deity services, as long as her outreach endeavors are authorized by her protector.
Conversely, women who wander outside the jurisdiction of their male protectors–even in thought and even with the best of intentions–can easily find their feminine power, effulgence, influence and chastity beginning to wane like the waning moon which gradually becomes totally dark at amavasya.
A diksha guru has to be powerful and independent. Women are empowered by Krsna when they are devoted and obedient to their male protectors. If they remain dependent on their protectors in Krsna consciousness, Krsna is so pleased with such women that He bestows great power on them (See: stories of Shubha and Shaibya in Five Divine Abodes by Jayadayal Goyandka, taken from Padma Purana).
When women act independently, they become a source of trouble to their husbands and others, and their shakti dwindles. (Ibid.)
Srila Prabhupada made it clear in the Bhagavatam how he wanted us women to behave. (For some basics, see SB 3.23.2, 7.11.25-29, and 9.3.10) We lady followers of Srila Prabhupada need to apply ourselves to learning how to behave properly until proper behavior becomes second-nature. This takes a lifetime of practice. Everything else will fall into place in the coming generations if we pioneers continue to strive toward LIVING our stri-dharma in Krsna consciousness. This is how we women can do our part in promoting daivi-varnasrama-dharma.
If, on the other hand, we introduce practices which are unprecedented in Vedic culture and in our sampradaya, we are indulging in risky business. There have been a few initiating gurudevis in our line. I recognize that fact. Those female initiating gurus gave harinam initiation under the auspices of our guru-parampara during and around the time of Lord Caitanya. All but one of those ladies were acting under the protection and direction of their husbands or fathers, who were either Visnu-tattva or, as in Srinivasa Acarya’s case, empowered representatives of Lord Caitanya.
As I have said before, more than female diksha gurus, the world desperately needs to see examples of ladies who are actually following the instructions for chaste women that Srila Prabhupada labored night after night to give us. If we refuse to perform our own duty according to the body we have earned by our very own prarabdha karma, if we think that the duties Lord Krsna has prescribed for us are somehow not sufficient preaching to bring souls to Krsna consciousness, if we feel that the different kinds of mentalities found in male and female genders and the duties ascribed to each are somehow irrelevant, outdated or inconsequential, if we feel that it is not enough to preach by example as a Krsna conscious wife, mother and grandmother, and if we choose instead to do another’s duty, neglecting the intended social paradigm of the Lord, we take a risk, as Srila Prabhupada explains below.
“So you have to study first of all what is nature’s law. You cannot surpass the nature’s law. That is not possible. Prakrteh kriyamänäni gunaih karmäni sarvasah [Bg. 3.27]. Nature’s law will go on. Best thing is, let the hand… the hand can typewrite, but if you say “No, the leg will typewrite,” that is not possible. Take hand’s business, take leg’s business, and combine them cooperatively. Then the body will be nice. If the leg says “Why hand will type? I shall type,” that’s not possible. “Legs, all right, you walk, and hands that you type.” Then combine together. Then it will be nice. 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. (emphasis mine) Unity in variety. That is wanted. Variety is enjoyment. Variety is not disturbing. Just like Krsna gave, all of them fruits, but variety. They are coming from the same source, earth, but Krsna is so intelligent—varieties of fruit, varieties of flowers, varieties of grain, varieties of brain. That is enjoyment. So, take instruction from Krsna. Why He is sending so many varieties? He could have given one fruit, the coconut. With great difficulty to chop it you can get out the water, no? There are so many nice fruits. Just see Krsna’s intelligence. So Krsna has made the varieties. Why should you disturb? Let the variety be united, just like these varieties are united, and it looks nice, and if you eat that will be nice. Why you want to stop the variety? That is Mäyävädi. Equality does not mean to stop variety. All the varieties combine together for the same purpose. That is required. (emphasis mine) Is it not? One must know how to put the variety to look very (indistinct). If all the vases have only rose flowers it would not have been so beautiful. Rose is costly, but the leaves are not costly. But the leaves and the rose fit together, it becomes very good variety. That art is required, how to keep varieties together for Krsna consciousness, and look very beautiful. This art is known to the Krsna conscious person, not to the fools and rascals. Why Krsna has made varieties? Why you should try to change? That is lack of Krsna consciousness. When Krsna has made so many varieties there is some purpose. That one should understand. That is intelligence. You can organize these farms very nicely. Then this devil’s workshop will stop.” (Room conversation, 31/7/1975, New Orleans)
In the above quote, Srila Prabhupada says, “Equality does not mean to stop variety.” We men and women are equal spiritually, but materially, we are not equal. According to the body we have earned by our karma, we are given prescribed duties. That is Krsna’s expert arrangement. He has created the varieties of brains, bodies, mentalities and abilities within human society, and He has also created the relative varieties of work within human society. Let us learn what those prescribed duties are for each of the varnas and for women as a separate group, and let us perform those duties as perfectly as possible for the pleasure of Lord Sri Krsna who created varieties of brain, varieties of mentality, varieties of ability and varieties of work. In this way, we will feel equal and we will feel happy as well. “Combine together, working differently but for the same purpose, for pleasing Krsna, then you will become happy.”
To fail to accept the varieties of engagement that Lord Krsna has given mankind based on the varieties of gender that Lord Krsna has created is dangerous, and can lead to offenses. It can even subtly pull us toward impersonalism. Maya can then cover our intelligence, with the unfortunate consequence that we may never understand Lord Krsna’s and Srila Prabhupada’s plan for human society.
Over the last few years since this topic of female diksha guruship came up, although we do have a few female gurus in our line in past history, I have leaned toward the side of avoiding institutionalizing diksha guruship for women. My attitude is based on five objections:
1. A diksha guru needs to possess a measure of independence in order to perform his service nicely. Women are never to be given independence. They are meant to be always dependent, always protected. Consequently, they can’t effectively perform the necessarily independent duties of a diksha guru.
2. The diksha guru takes on the karmic reactions of his disciples. Husbands have to suffer the results of their wives’ sins, therefore how can a woman take on the karmic reactions of someone else (a disciple) without passing them on to her husband?
3. Institutionalizing diksha guruship, even for males, what to speak of for females, is not shastric.
4. Traditionally, we see only male gurus giving diksha. The women in our line who initiated others during the time of Lord Caitanya were most likely giving harinam initiation, which is not actually diksha.
5. A woman cannot receive a sacred thread, so how can she give a sacred thread?
Someone objected to my stance, saying, “Well, not all elderly women in ISKCON have husbands or sons who can protect them, so what are they then to do? Who will protect them?” My answer is that instead of desiring or clamoring to take on a recognized position of leadership within ISKCON–which diksha guruship within ISKCON has come to denote–they should instead find a way to live quietly with other women, in a secluded place, as Srila Prabhupada recommended to Yamuna and Dinatarini to do, producing their own food and keeping a cow or two.
If they prefer not to live on a farm, then they should find someone, a Godbrother, a Godnephew, or a sadhu who is sympathetic with and supportive of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, who is willing to protect them and engage them in devotional service that is appropriate for ladies. Engagements that are compatible with the psycho-physical nature of women are many. Some of the services ladies can render are: teaching girls how to cook, sew, spin, weave, clean, decorate, care for babies and small children, perform deity seva, sing, dance and play musical instruments and serve a husband. Such women can also render many other services, including match-making, astrological, medical, counseling or child-care services.
For the rest of us who have husbands to protect us, we should submit ourselves to their leadership and promote them, encouraging them to become pure devotees. If they are brahminically inclined, we should encourage them to eventually take on the heavy responsibility of accepting disciples. After all, the wife benefits through the husband’s spiritual progress. To be the wife of an initiating guru is a great privilege and heavy burden of love. It bestows auspiciousness on a woman by conferring yet another type of motherhood on her (guru-patni is one of the seven mothers). In this way, we not only invite great blessings upon ourselves and our husbands, but also upon our husband’s disciples, our children, grandchildren and other Vaisnavas in our sphere of influence.
I have said it many times before, but I’ll say it again: the world desperately needs to see Krsna conscious couples who are solid in their commitment to each other and to following their respective roles according to shastra. Srila Prabhupada’s mission will be strengthened by the example of long-standing devotee marriages, especially those couples who follow their dharma as laid out by our founder-acarya. Most of the people in the world are householders, and they need to see that we Hare Krishnas follow our dharma, that we are still chanting Hare Krishna after many decades and that we couples are still together after all the challenges that Maya devi and the Personality of Kali have thrown at us.
“It is not that woman cannot be äcärya. Generally, they do not become. In very special case. But Jähnavä-devi was accepted as, but she did not declare.” (Room Conversation, 29/6/72 San Diego) Srimati Jahnava devi’s service as successor to Her Lord is time and time again cited as reasonable evidence that ISKCON should adopt the practice of naming women as diksha gurus. Two important points are made by Srila Prabhupada in regard to Srimati Jahnava devi:
1. One point is that “She did not declare.” I repeat, “SHE DID NOT DECLARE.” The quiet service of Srimati Jahnava devi is a far cry from the billboard gurudevis plastered all over Vrndavana who have no qualms about declaring that they are quite available for darshan and, by the way, looking for followers. Jahnava Mata bore the cross of carrying on Her Husband’s preaching mission because She was intended to do so by Sri Nityananda Rama, the Supreme Lord, not because She desired to enjoy the name, fame and the percs of being a declared gurudevi. She is simply Lord Nitai’s fully surrendered maidservant and that is why He chose Her to do the job. She is an expansion of Sri Laksmi-devi Herself.
2. The other point Srila Prabhupada made in regard to Srimati Jahnava devi being the acarya for our sampradaya is that lady acaryas are VERY RARE. So we should keep it that way. We should not bring criticism upon our ISKCON Movement by institutionalizing female diksha guruship, nor should we create artificial adhikara for our ladies by pronouncing them fit to offer diksha.
Srila Prabhupada observed that his female followers were happy because they were cleansing the temple and cooking very nicely. When confronted with the question, “Women today want the same rights as men. How can they be satisfied?” Srila Prabhupada replied:
“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 Prabhupäda.” They never say. This is artificial. (emphasis mine) 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) (Morning walk, 27/5/74, Rome)
Pranams and gratitude again to all those who have so far contributed to the discussion.
Your aspiring servant,
Phalini devi dasi (ACBSP)