Proper Gender Roles in ISKCON Must be Authoritatively and Clearly Defined
By Sita Rama dasa
Myself and a significant percentage of devotees in ISKCON preach that it is O.K if a woman sees her husband as a guru and worthy of worship ; but it is not required. In contrast, the husband may see the wife as the guru and spiritual leader, there are precedents in the scripture that verify this as bonafide. Or a couple may be essentially equal, spiritually. The only thing that is required is that a married couple love and respect each other, and help each other advance in devotional service. With this understanding people are advancing in Krishna consciousness all over the world. However some say that the only bonafide relationship between a devotee couple is one where the wife see the husband as pati guru and worships him. This is not supported by Vedic Scriptures or Srila Prabhupada’s purports. This fact needs to be definitively confirmed in ISKCON
Let’s take a look at a Sloka and Purport: Srimada Bahgavatam, 6: 18: 33-34
A husband is the supreme demigod for a woman. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vasudeva , the husband of the goddess of fortune , is situated in everyone’s heart and is worshiped through the various names and forms of the demigods by fruitive workers. Similarly a husband represents the Lord as the object of worship for a woman.
Purport: The Lord says in B.G. (9.23), “Whatever a man may sacrifice to other gods o son of Kunti, is really meant for me alone, but it is offered without true understanding”. The demigods are various assistants who act like the hands and legs of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who is not in direct touch with the Supreme Personality of Godhead and cannot conceive of the exalted position of the Lord is sometimes advised to worship the demigods as various parts of the Lord. If women, who are usually very much attached to their husbands, worship their husbands as representatives of Vasudeva, the women benefit, just as Ajamila benefited by calling for Narayana, his son. Ajamila was concerned with his son, but because of his attachment to the name of Narayana, he attained salvation simply by chanting that name. In India a husband is still called pati guru, the husband spiritual master. If the husband and wife are attached to each other for the advancement in Krishna consciousness, their relationship of cooperation is very effective for such advancement. Although the names of Indra and Agni are sometimes uttered in the Vedic mantras, (indriya svaha agnaye svaha), the Vedic sacrifices are actually performed for the satisfaction of Lord Visnu. As long as one is very much attached to material sense gratification, the worship of the demigods or one’s husband is recommended.
Here Srila Prabhupada describes two situation, one in which a husband and a wife are attached to each other for advancement in Krishna consciousness, and one in which individuals are very much attached to sense gratification. In the context of the couple being attached to spiritual advancement he says” their relationship of cooperation is very effective”. In the case where they are very much attached to material sense gratification the worship of the husband is recommended.
Cooperation is the word Srila Prabhupada uses in the context of a couple attached to spiritual advancement. Srila Prabhupada chooses his words carefully according to the dictionary meaning. The 1# meaning of cooperation is- to act or work with another, or others- to act together.
Worship is the word Srila Prabhupada uses in the context of a woman who is very much attached to sense gratification. She should worship the husband. This is a liberal instruction because it is understood that an attached woman has a natural tendency to worship her husband and by this natural tendency she can eventually come to a higher understanding. As described by Lord Kapiladeva in S.B. 3:31:41- a woman who is attached considers her husband to be the bestower of wealth. Those who do not see the soul, but only matter, think that the material facilities are supplied by material agents such as a husband or a demigod and they worship these out of a desire to increase their facilities for sense enjoyment. The comparison, (given in S.B. 6:18:33-34) of the worship of the husband by an attached woman and the worship of a demigod is therefore clear. However an intelligent Viasnavi understands that these things are supplied by Krishna only. Thus her main duty is to act together, in a mood of cooperation, with the husband, to glorify Krishna, not to worship the husband- worship is recommended for a wife who is very much attached and is comparable to demigod worship
Srila Prabhupada also makes it clear that the type of worship performed by the attached individual is for, “ One who is not in direct touch with the Supreme Personality of Godhead and cannot conceive of the exalted position of the Lord..” We know for certain all those who are sincerely chanting, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, are in direct contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Sri Krishna. We see all other devotees as Prabhu- master but we do not worship them for material facilities. Srila Prabhupada said we show our love by cooperating with each other.
It is a travesty of Krishna consciousness to instruct a woman, who desires spiritual realization, that she must act like one whom, according to Srila Prabhupada, is very much attached to sense gratification- that she must worship her husband. And frankly it is hard not to become passionately opposed to those who stubbornly insist that all devotee women must worship their husbands. However; intense arguments turn devotees off because devotees are gentle peace loving souls. I do have the tendency to get a little passionate, (well maybe more than a little). But to calm my nerves I need to see some kind of solidarity among the leaders and members of our society; a cooperative effort to explain the proper gender relationships and refute the erroneous one. Can someone suggest how this showing of support for true spiritual relationships could possibly manifest?