By Narada Priya devi dasi
The question about whether women should become initiating spiritual masters or not has been raised. Some speculate about what to call her– “Maharani”, instead of “Maharaja”? “Jaya Guru devi”, instead of “Jaya Gurudeva”? Hearing all this, I am thinking, “Why change anything? Didn’t Srila Prabhupada say not to introduce anything ‘new’? Prabhupada didn’t make women sannyasis while on the planet, so why should he favor female diksha guruship?”
PRABHUPADA MADE DISTINCTIONS
Some female Prabhupada disciples argue that he did not discriminate what kind of services they could render as women. On the contrary, Prabhupada did make distinctions, as evidenced by his letters. An example is Yamuna devi. She was doing huge preaching work, but after leaving her husband, Prabhupada wrote to her the following instruction: “It is better that you don’t make a large program. Remain a humble program. In bhakti there is no grotesque program. A humble program is better. We are doing all these grotesque programs to allure the masses. My Guru Maharaja used to say that no one hears from a person coming from a humble, simple life. You remain always very humble….Women when not with husband must live very very humbly and simple life.” –letter to Yamuna and Dinatarine 1/13/76, Calcutta
Their main argument, it seems, for women becoming gurus has been to “increase the preaching”, but the above letter states that it is not a woman’s business to allure the masses on a grand scale. Bhakti is not dependent upon such things. As for the preaching, what sort of people will it attract? How will it affect our society? For unmarried women, therefore, Prabhupada desired that they take the humble position.
CREATING HARDSHIP FOR OTHERS
Even if a senior woman is able to perform the duties of guru-ship very nicely, she should be the rare, self-effulgent exception rather than the norm. Bg 3.35 warns the rest of us, “To do another’s duty, even though perfectly, is dangerous.” Why is it dangerous? First of all, it sends the wrong message to others. Women’s real duties will be neglected or set aside as something insignificant. This in turn creates a social imbalance and hardship for others, which we can already witness practically.
I can relate some sad stories about devotee children (a few were written about in an earlier post on my blog) having spent a lot of time with them, including listening to them. In other words, if the Hare Krishna movement wants to avoid suffering from another gurukuli lawsuit, Vedic womanhood (Bg 1.40p) ought to be promoted instead of female guruship.We sometimes hear talk about how the men in our movement are not qualified to lead women, but it is a woman’s hand that rocks the cradle (Well, since they don’t want to do that anymore, God only knows who ended up rocking it). We hear so much complaint about exploitation of women, but what about the unspoken abuses towards men–who are not known to complain loudly like a woman does–and their children when families are neglected by their wives and mothers? We hear nowadays, over and over again, “A Vaisnava can do anything”- but a child’s mother is irreplaceable.
In this regard, writer and ex-lawyer Carolyn Graglia makes a monumental case in her book “Domestic Tranquility. A Brief Against Feminism”, demonstrating with hundreds of pages of evidence how feminism was a big factor in creating the child-hating, sexually perverse culture we live in today. Not only that, but when the majority of women feel compelled to be out working a job, those who do choose to stay home find that there is not a female neighbor in sight! Not so long ago it was the other way around; generally mothers, grandmothers and housewives could be found in every home, supporting one another and sharing a common interest in what was once considered human society’s most sacred duties.
It’s something my mother and grandmother experienced, but is foreign to the present generation. Now any woman that dares to remain at home often feels frustrated, unrecognized, derided and alone. To learn how to care for her child or get along with her husband she has to read a book. All this gives further evidence of the sort of social imbalance, hardship and untold heartache that feminism creates for others. Nor are the working women any happier, “Despite the increased opportunities we have in society, to hold jobs, earn equal wages, we are becoming less satisfied. It is possible that these opportunities have become more of a burden. Not only can women do more, but maybe our standards have increased so that we expect women to do more.” (excerpt from Superwoman-Can We Do It All?)
Meanwhile, while thousands of women from other faiths are waking up from the madness, back in ISKCON, several male leaders have been falsely accused of “conspiracy” against women or they’ve been offensively labeled as “misogynists”, because they support Prabhupada’s teachings about a woman’s position according to varnasrama dharma. More amazingly, Srila Prabhupada himself has become an object of ridicule by certain women as well as their male supporters who consider it their duty to correct the founder acarya on these matters, assuming that he didn’t know what he was talking about, was “old-fashioned”, etc.
Lately, there has been another controversy sparked in which I was told directly that “being addressed as ‘Mataji’ is demeaning to women.” Translation? “Your position as a mother is worthless.” To give an example of how wide spread this sort of thinking has become, Doris Stump, Swiss member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe wrote:
“Women are often represented in the media in roles traditionally assigned by society, portrayed as passive and lesser beings, mothers or sexual objects. These sexist stereotypes in the media perpetuate a simplistic, immutable and caricatured image of women and men, legitimising everyday sexism and discriminatory practices and establishing a barrier to gender equality.” (For more quotes from the founders of modern feminism themselves, scroll towards the bottom of this article.)
Yet, when women are taught to covet the positions designated for men, such actions devalue the duties of traditional womanhood. In other words, by neglecting the things that make us women, one realizes that in reality, feminism is anything but feminine.
Due to the above considerations, therefore, one may wonder, who are the real woman-haters? If fingers must be pointed, how about pointing them at those people who mistakenly follow the teachings of feminism? Whether consciously or unconsciously, they look down upon the duties I have performed most of my life as a wife and mother. They look down upon anything that has to do with being a woman, hoping to create a genderless, utopian and ultimately impersonal society where everybody is equal in all respects or united as “all one”.
Now, it is understandable when an elderly woman who has never experienced the joy of caring for a child may feel uncomfortable or unhappy to be called a mother, but why decry something that is cherished by most women and instructed by Srila Prabhupada for his male followers? In rural India, “Mataji” is a title of honor since mothers are revered enough that when they grow old, they don’t have to rely on nursing homes or even to burden ISKCON to provide shelter or “family” in their old age. Their children remember the sacrifices made for their well-being when they were growing up, so of course they are cared for in return.
SOMETHING WE HAVE YET TO WITNESS IN ISKCON- VEDIC WOMANHOOD
In the Woman’s GBC Resolutions conference, Radha devi dasi was quoted: “Most women in ISKCON are engaged in traditional roles. We are mothers, wives, cooks, housekeepers and caretakers. We cook, we clean, we care for the children and the men in our Society, as well as caring for each other. But these tasks are not the whole of our abilities or of the contribution we have to make to Srila Prabhupada’s movement.”
“Most women in ISKCON?” “Traditional roles?” “Take care of our men?” Sorry, but I have no experience of what she is talking about. For the last thirty plus years of living in or near ISKCON temples, most the women I’ve known were either divorced, renunciates, single or childless, and if they did have any children or husband, they were usually required to perform various services outside the home or to work a job and were either too busy or too worn out devote much time for them. That’s because household life was/is regarded as maya. When I told the women in my asrama I was getting married, for example, they immediately found ways to let me know I was no longer welcome. The pressure was/is always there that the less involved you are at home the better.
Isn’t it one’s consciousness that counts, one’s service mood, not what big important service one is rendering outside her home? So, it is a matter of providing proper association and education. One woman believed that unless she was allowed to take sannyasa, she couldn ‘t go back to Godhead! Surely correct understanding is needed.
Then we can counteract the feminist propaganda against women’s duties and womanhood in general and cultivate a class of ladies dedicated to their husbands and family life for the pleasure of guru and Krishna. In the western countries especially, most women are simply ignorant of their power to make or break their homes. We are taught to blame it all on the men, that women have some sort of impunity for the mess the world is in today.
Yet, a healthy marriage relationship is vital to happy family life, so if we want to “increase the preaching” , happy family life speaks volumes and is the foundation of any sane society. It is something that is sorely lacking in ISKCON at present, because not just men should be reminded to treat women with respect, but especially women need to be instructed how to get along with men. Prabhupada’s advice about male psychology given in his books is a good place to start.
Besides, it is much easier to command respect rather than to demand it.
In closing, Bhagavad-gita points out that Arjuna also considered giving up his duty, thinking it ineffective or looked down upon in society, but Krishna counteracted (Bg 3.24) that if He, Krishna, did not perform His duty, He’d be the cause of world ruination, because what persons in positions of authority perform, others will follow. This is why the feminist ideals are so harmful to a society. This is why women must seek GBC approval for diksha guruship. Thomas Jefferson sagaciously remarked: “It is error that needs the support of the government; truth can stand by itself.” In contrast, Krishna exemplified King Janaka, who attained perfection solely by performance of his prescribed duties and how, although he was a self-realized soul, he continually performed his duties just for the sake of setting the proper example.
Regarding the diksha women issue, what’s the difference if someone wants to take formal initiation from a female devotee since he has been getting siksha from her all this time?
Exactly. Why not keep things the way they are! You said it your self that women as shiksha is just as good as being diksha.
Isn’t it unfair to bar a woman from becoming diksha?
Don’t try to turn the issue into sexism; that is not the issue. The issues is that the Bhagavad gita teaches us, “Do not give up your prescribed duties” for the reasons described above.
But what if there are disciples begging the woman for initiation?
We are duty bound to guide new devotees properly, and according to the Vaisnava etiquette of mayarda pratikrama, we should advise them to take shelter of the qualified devotees who have seniority over us, following in the footsteps of Uddhava who advised Vidura in this way. “One should be very careful of transgressing the law of maryada-vyatikrama because by so doing one loses his duration of life, his opulence, fame and piety and the blessings of all the world. To be well versed in the transcendental science necessitates awareness of the techniques of spiritual science.” -SB 3.4.26p
LET THE FEMINISTS SPEAK
The following sample of quotes from the founders and supporters of “second wave” feminism, aren’t just about the encyclopedia’s definition of women having the “right to work, equal pay and voting privileges”. Nope. It’s something (unsurprising to me) much more sinister :
“‘The nuclear family must be destroyed, and people must find better ways of living together…Whatever its ultimate meaning, the breakâup of families now is an objectively revolutionary process.” - Linda Gordon, Women: A Journal of Liberation, 1969
“‘We have to abolish and reform the institution of marriage…By the year 2000 we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God…We must understand what we are attempting is a revolution, not a public relations movement.” -Gloria Steinam, feminist leader and editor of Ms Magazine
“Abortion is a necessity for millions of women worldwide, for their health, for their well being, for their dreams of a better tomorrow.” -The Feminist Majority Foundation, Feminist.org
“You can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t believe in the right to abortion.” â Gloria Steinam
“‘Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession… The choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a familyâmaker is a choice that shouldn’t be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that.” - Vivian Gornick, 1981
“The simple fact is, every woman must be willing to be recognized as a lesbian to be fully feminine” - NOW/ The National Organization for Women, 1988
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons…but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” - Gloria Steinam
For further information, “Feminist Fantasies” is suggested.
Feminist history answers a lot of questions for me like why I hardly knew my mother (after 1969), why public school was my authority on life, why abortion is considered acceptable, why atheism is on the rise, why women are pressured to work outside the domestic realm, why the media is trying to convert men into thinking and acting like women, why teacher’s guides refer to the student as a “she” and no longer a “he”, why there’s so much divorce, why illicit sex is so rampant, why ISKCON varnasrama society remains a dream described in Prabhupada’s books and much, much, much more.
Your humble servant
Narada Priya devi dasi