Female Diksha Guru — some considerations
By Basu Ghosh Das
There is a definite “push” for a female diksha guru in ISKCON that is the proverbial “elephant in the room”, as the title of the recent article on Dandavats.com by Devaki Mataji alluded to.
The eagerness of a section of devotees to see a female blessed as diksha guru in ISKCON posthaste is akin “affirmative action” in the USA, as well as the reservation system for the backward classes here in India. Call it “social engineering”, if you want. The mood is “let’s have a token woman diksha guru” to affirm that women are equal to men in ISKCON.
This arises from the egalitarian outlook of modern Western society and the various equal rights movements so popular in the Western world, and is an ideology that runs contrary to Srila Prabhupadas’s teachings and the ancient culture he was eager to transplant from India, worldwide.
To begin with, when a woman can’t wear the sacred thread – the yajnopavita – then how can she give one as a part of initiation? Srila Prabhupada followed the system of initiation introduced by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Srila Saraswati Thakur introduced the brahmin thread – yajnopavita – for persons not born in brahmana families.
Traditionally, brahmanas, kshatriyas, and vaishyas were initiated with the yajnopavita in order to study the vedas and then perform vedic sacrifices. They are the “dvijas” – the twice born, as upanayanam (“bringing closer”) samskara was performed in their communities.
Srila Prabhupada introduced such initiations – for men. For women, he never conferred the yajnopavita! Therefore, how can a woman give a sacred thread as a part (“anga” in Samskritam) of “diksha” if she herself does not/cannot wear it? This historical fact should be sufficient in itself as evidence that women were not to be diksha gurus.
Prabhupada’s now well know comment in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.12.32 is a direct comment on this:
“According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksha–guru and diksha–guru, and generally the siksha–guru later on becomes the diksha–guru. Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja‘s diksha–guru”.
Srila Saraswati Thakur and Srila Prabhupada envisioned the revival of vedic culture and “daivi varnashram”. Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad-gita that He Himself created varnashram dharma:
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.13)
In the varnashram system, women are envisioned as belonging to the varna of their husband. The following verses in Manu Samhita clearly indicate that:
“Whatever be the qualities of the man with whom a woman is united according to the law, such qualities even she assumes, like a river (united) with the ocean. Akshamala, a woman of the lowest birth, being united to Vasishtha and Sarangi, (being united) to Mandapala, became worthy of honour. These and other females of low birth have attained eminence in this world by the respective good qualities of their husbands.” (Manu 9. 22-24)
After the battle of Kurukshetra, when Bhishmadev was lying on the bed of arrows (baan shayaa), Lord Krishna took Maharaj Yudhishtir to him so that Bhishma would instruct him on the various aspects of dharma.
In this regard there is the following verse in the Bhagavatam:
“He (Bhishmadev”) then explained, by divisions, acts of charity, the pragmatic activities of a king and activities for salvation. Then he described the duties of
women and devotees, both briefly and extensively.” [Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.27].
From this it is crystal clear that the Bhagavatam states that women have their own specific and separate set of duties, distinguished from those of men.
Srila Prabhupada voiced this in simple language on several occasions. Here are two examples of those expressions:
A woman’s real business is to look after household affairs, keep everything neat and clean, and if there is sufficient milk supply available, she should always be engaged in churning butter, making yogurt, curd, so many nice varieties, simply from milk. The woman should be cleaning, sewing, like that.
(Srila Prabhupada in a letter to female disciple, February 16, 1972)
Prabhupada: We shall teach the girls two things. One thing is how to become chaste and faithful to their husband and how to cook nicely… These two qualifications required. She must learn how to prepare first-class foodstuff, and she must learn how to become chaste and faithful to the husband. Only these two qualification required. Then her life is successful. Educate the girls how to become faithful, chaste wife and how to cook nicely. Let them learn varieties of cooking. Is very difficult? And by fifteenth, sixteenth year they should be married. And if they are qualified, it will be not difficult to find out a nice husband. Here the boys, they do not want to marry because they are not very much inclined to marry unchaste wife. They know it, that “I shall marry a girl, she is unchaste.” What do you think?
(Srila Prabhupada on his morning walk, July 10, 1975, at Chicago, USA)
And Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Arundhati Devi Dasi dated July 30, 1972:
“Child-worship [for female, grihini] is more important than deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him [alluding to her son], 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…”.
The point is that women were encouraged by Srila Prabhupada and vedic/vaishnava /Indian tradition to be grihini – housewife, which is the most important duty for women. Grihini’s act as mother, grandmother, cook, cleaner, and guide to the children in the home.
We don’t find in any of the shastras that women studied or taught the vedas, nor wore the yajnopavita (sacred thread). Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did not indicate that we should change this ancient vedic tradition by having women take up these activities.
The pro-female diksha guru devotees cite Jahhava Mata, Gangamata Goswamini, and others who Srila Prabhupada recognized as “gurus”.
However, from Gaudiya vaishnava history it can be understood that these exalted ladies were “shiksha gurus” and that such exalted personalities were exceptional cases Srila Prabhupada only mentioned these two or three ladies as gurus.
According to the Taitiriya Upanishad, mother is the first guru as per the famous mantra: “matri devo bhava, pitri devo bhava, acharya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava”.
Some proponents of female diksha guru state that there were “hundreds” of women gurus in the Gaudiya Sampradaya. However, upon close investigation of their names, we see that these women were from the “caste goswami lines” (the “parivaars” – “families”/family lines), that were rejected by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila Prabhupada.
“In India there are still superstitions that one should be initiated by someone from such a sukaracharya family. They are called generally the jatigosain. Jatigosain means the caste spiritual masters. All over India, especially in Bengal, this jatigosain spiritual mastership is very prevalent. But really goswami means one who is master of the influence of different senses, namely the influence of anger, the influence of the belly, the influence of the genitals, and the influence of talking. So one who is master of these influential webs of sense gratification, he is called goswami. Goswami is not by hereditary chart. So Sukaracharya posed himself as such a goswami spiritual master. He had many mystic powers; therefore, he was considered to be a very influential spiritual master of the demons”.
[Srila Prabhupada as quoted in Srila Prabhupada lila by Satsvarupa das Goswami, in Chapter 3]
Then we have the example from the Srimad Bhagavatam of Lord Krishna and Balaram residing at the home of the guru, Sandipani at Avanti (today Ujjain):
“Concealing Their innately perfect knowledge by Their humanlike activities, those two omniscient Lords of the universe, Themselves the origin of all branches of knowledge, next desired to reside at the school of a spiritual master. Thus They approached Sandipani Muni, a native of Kasi living in the city of Avanti.” [Srimad Bhagavatam 10.45.30/31]
Sandipani Muni was Lord Krishna’s guru and his wife was “guru patni”, the
wife of the guru. He is addressed as the guru, not his wife. We do not find her addressed as “gurvi”, the feminine form of the word guru in Samskritam. [Like “prabhvi” is the feminine form of the word “prabhu”].
In fact, in all the vedic/Samskrita literatures and histories we don’t find reference to even one woman guru! That is because women were trained in the vedic culture to be grihini – housewives, and engage in their natural dharma – household work.
The five “panchakanyas”, famous women in vedic literatures, were famous for their devotion to their husbands, not for guruship:
ahalyaa draupadi sita taaraa mandodari tatha
panchakanyah smarennityam mahapatakanshiniḥ
“Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari. One should forever remember these panchakanyas who are the destroyers of great sins”.
If a woman were to give up her home life and become a traveling preacher, which is the duty of sannyasis, then it would be a cause for her falldown, according to the Manu Samhita:
Panam durjana sangasya patya cha viraho’tanam svapno’nyagehvashcha naari sandushanaani shat
“Drinking (spirituous liquor), associating with wicked people, separation from the husband, rambling abroad, sleeping (at unseasonable hours), and dwelling in other men’s houses, are the six causes of the ruin of women”. (Manu 9.13)
It is said that the sannyasis are the guru of the brahmanas and the brahmanas are the gurus of society.
In his lecture during sannyas initiation at Mayapur on March 16,1976, Prabhupada stated this:
“So guru is the post given to the sannyasis, to the brahmaṇas. Without becoming a brahmaṇa, nobody can become a sannyasi, and sannyasi is supposed to be the guru of both all the ashramas and all the varnas. So the preaching work… We require so many sannyasis”.
This fact further supports the contention that women were to be grihini, housewife. Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur did not initiate a single female into the sannyas ashram.
Prabhupada: In the history of India there is no woman leader. Throughout
Mahabharata you’ll find… Mahabharata is the greater history, history of
greater India. Maha means “greater,” and bharata. So “Greater Bharata.” That
means this whole planet. So you won’t find woman leader”.
[Srila Prabhupada in a room conversation March 24, 1977, Bombay, regarding
Woman reporter: And if women were subordinate to men, it would solve all of
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.
(Newspaper interview with Srila Prabhupada, July 9, 1975, Chicago)
Devaki Mataji, in her article “The Hot Issue, Female Diksha Guru”, attempted to echo Srila Prabhupada’s and vedic/vaishnava tradition’s views on women and their duties, and the fact that becoming a diksha guru for a women is incongruent with those duties – known as “stridharma”.
The quotes above and so many other quotes, and the history and tradition of vedic culture preserved by the parampara, system of disciplic succession, teach us just what is stated herein above, that diksha guru is the occupation of a brahmana, and not the occupation for women, who have their own dharma.
Prabhupada’s conversation with Tamal Krishna Maharaj gives us gives us further indication of this:
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. 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, 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. 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 [sexually deviated]. 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.
(Prabhupada’s conversation at Bombay on April 29, 1977)
If the example of a female guru is allowed to be established within ISKCON, it would certainly inspire other women to do likewise, and that would set the wrong example, as it is in contradiction with Prabhupada’s teachings.
The rationalization and justification for establishing female diksha guru in ISKCON is born out of Western liberal, egalitarian thought, and not based on the teachings of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Saraswati Thakur and our previous acharyas.
Thus it would be a shame for us to change ancient vedic culture and the traditions of vaishnavism so as to make our movement acceptable to “popular modern thought” prevalent in the mleccha and yavana West! Srila Prabhupada set the example by not doing so, and we would be wise follow his example. Srila Prabhupada never appointed one woman as GBC or Temple President, what to speak of dikha guru.
The late Dr. Stillson Judah, a Western religious scholar who dialogued with and befriended Srila Prabhupada wrote: in his 1974 book “Hare Krishna and the Counterculture”:
“‘The position of women in the [ISKCON] Society may not appeal to Americans interested in women’s liberation. Swami Bhaktivedanta says that all women other than one’s wife are to be considered as one’s mother, and yet he regards them as prone to degradation, of little intelligence, and untrustworthy. They should not be given as much freedom as men, but should be treated like children; they should be protected all during their lives, by their fathers when young, later by their husbands, and in their old age, by their sons … This view is largely consonant with the traditional one found in the ancient Indian law books. Females may not become presidents of any temple, nor occupy positions of authority. They may do the cooking, help with the devotional services and maintenance of the temple and prepare the flower offerings for Krishna.”‘ (Judah, 1974:86)
The conclusion is that establishing women as diksha gurus contradicts the concepts that Srila Prabhupada taught above the duties of women, as well as the example Srila Prabhupada himself set when managing his ISKCON society.