“I do not want to be a woman in varnashrama”
By Vrndavanlila dd (Dr Vrinda Baxi)
“I do not want to be a woman in varnasrama” – This fear like many other fears of say being branded a shudra or of a non-brahmana varna, or being permanently moved to not so luxurious or physically comfortable setting of a villages is one of the many primary reasons which have hamstrung the acceptability of varnasrama dharma even in devotee circles. Let me address the first fear here – being a woman in varnasrama set up.
The varnasrama context immediately conjures the image of a woman in traditional roles to the extent of duty sans right, tireless provider of incessant unconditional services to everybody in the family. Any kind of non-observance on account of some inability or reason is sufficient to negate her years of service and she being branded as a non-cooperative power-hungry feminist modern women.
My own journey was marked by jeer at the hands of devotees, all in the name of varnashrama. A woman’s body is a disqualification enough to not even be considered for any service even in the face of non-experienced male devotees. I am aware that I am still somewhere very down in the process of self-realization, but is not service an opportunity to cleanse? If a woman is good and experienced at any service (managerial or non-managerial), it benefits both, the organization in developing further and woman in cleansing and utilizing her talents in the service of the Lord. There are several conversations by Srila Prabhupada, in which he considered protected status of a woman and management service of a woman to be compatible. After having served at senior positions in different organisations, I had decided to be fully involved in the varnashrama mission and render my services here. I rejected several lucrative offers to realize little late that I was unwanted in the spiritual circle. ‘Afterall woman is just a sex object and thus has to be kept away from the sight of men and positions.’ With these thoughts playing, my understanding of varnashrama as a set up which has place for everybody was challenged and I had only three options:
Stay on and fight for the right to serve according to my nature and skills.
Flee from the varnasrama scene and accept a regular good paying job while privately practicing at home with my husband (who had been in the movement since his childhood)
Stay on with perseverance and faith, waiting for things to improve on their own
The first option was not for me as in my life I had never experienced belligerence even in the remotest way. My mother had been a very virtuous village lady with all her simplicity.
Now for the second option, ‘fleeing’ from the scene is not in my temperament. Further, I was not sufficiently materially inspired to quit the preaching mission of Srila Prabhupada and violate the desire of my gurudev.
I was left with only third option, which was very difficult to practice. I was reminded of my Guru Maharaj’s (His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami) one instruction that in situations when we think that the other person has wronged us, one must always humbly and even sincerely think that one is one self responsible for the unfortunate development and forgive the bitterness that it entails. Its implementation was very difficult. But as I prayed for little insight into understanding his instruction, its true import revealed itself in its true glory with its profundity of karma and phala.
Now it was interesting and even testy. Externally things were same, no change in my situation or in others’ perception, still so much had changed. The dirt and conditioning of life times has accumulated on our consciousness – sad+cit+ananda – attribute of soul. How could I present myself with all its ugliness to Him? Naturally they were helping me clean my self before I stood in front of Him and I still do not know how much more is required for attaining that final goal.
What difference does it make if one is treated as a king or a beggar, a brahmana or a sudra, a man or a woman in the cleansing process as long as the result remains the same, as envisioned by Srila Prabhupada?
Many people go to Vrindavan by flight, a few by train in different classes- AC 2 Tier, AC 3 Tier, Sleeper or even unreserved bogie but as long as the transport takes me to Goloka dhama, what difference does it make as to how I reach?
My spiritual master is so merciful that he wishes to accommodate all the varnas with all their guna-deficiencies in them on the road to Back to Godhead by adopting to daiva-varnashrama set up; my grand spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada too was so merciful that he would not rest till the last tiniest of the ant went back home, and here we have forgotten that ultimate purpose of life and would not be compassionate to a woman. The Lord is so merciful that He accepted service from Hanuman as well as from a tiny squirrel.
My services may be similar to a few grains of sand that the squirrel had brought to build the bridge for Sri Ram compared to huge rocks and mountains brought by others but if it pleases the guru and the Lord, it is worth persevering. Afterall what all is happening is His desire and Varnasrama is His creation:
cātur-varṇyaḿ mayā sṛṣṭaḿ / guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ
tasya kartāram api māḿ / viddhy akartāram avyayam [BG 4.13]
[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.]
Whatever teething problems it may be giving in implementing because of our wide departure from the ideal norm or misunderstanding of the concept by a few, it will still yield result if we are sincere, simply because it is His creation – perfect and complete, just like Him.
oḿ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaḿ / pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya/ pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate [Isopanishad, Invocation]
[The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.]
At the same time, the Lord instructs in the conclusive chapter of Bhagavad-Gita as:
śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ / para-dharmāt sv-anuṣṭhitāt
svabhāva-niyataḿ karma / kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣam [BG 18.47]
“It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.” We are here to prepare ourselves to go back home and not waste our human birth in asserting our “right”. This birth is meant for higher purpose rather than settling the gender equation ‘right’.
Taking the role of women further as a wife, Chyavan Muni who was fit to be Sukanya’s grandfather in age and was irritable in nature was lovingly served by his wife. Being Manu’s granddaughter, any young king would have felt honored to have Sukanya as his wife, still married to him, she was totally surrendered to her husband in service. First of course is the Vedic training that the parents impart to their children and second is the husband himself. Respect and love is something which cannot be enforced, Chyavan muni though irritable in temperament was spiritually a very exalted soul. This attribute makes the process of respect and loving service to the husband come naturally to wife.
Husband is a worshipable demigod for the wife or His representative belonging to the class of guru, king, and parent for the wife and has more responsibility to follow his dharma and lead his dependents back home, Back to Godhead.
gurur na sa syāt sva-jano na sa syāt / pitā na sa syāj jananī na sā syāt
daivaḿ na tat syān na patiś ca sa syān / na mocayed yaḥ samupeta-mṛtyum [SB 5.5.18]
[One who cannot deliver his own dependants from the path of repeated birth and death by his devotional instructions, should never become a spiritual master, a father, a mother, a husband or a worshipable demigod.]
No organization can function successfully without cooperation between a leader and his followers. Grhastha, the only ashrama that allows association of both the sexes cannot function unless there is cooperation between the two. In view of the natural ‘gunas’ it is effective (materially and even spiritually) to have ‘husband’ lead the organization of home and woman accepts the position of follower and support him in his spiritual endeavors. Afterall the only objective of our birth and follow our dharma is to go back to Him. It is so beautiful that daiva varnasrama dharma allows just not Brahmana, but even non-brahmanas and woman to go back to the Lord through a simple method – service. Distortion of the original model and our conditioning (more so in Kali-yuga) may have strewn this simple path with difficulties and complexities. It is only our Arjun like concentration on the ultimate goal with surrender, sincerity, focus and humility can help melt all the hindrances.
Srila Prabhupada wanted the second part of his preaching to be radically different from the first one and focused on revival of varnashrama dharma. He knew that in kaliyuga it will be very difficult for devotees to even follow the four regulatives. Our food is contaminated to the extent that even without our knowledge we are taking things for which we have vowed not to touch; we vowed not to indulge in illicit sex but what are we fed in the name of advertisements or co-education or adult education? It is omnipresent in cities in both the subtle and obvious form, we vowed not to intake intoxicants or gamble but what are we taking in the name of allopathy medicines, we work for companies which thrive on stock market. We are a part of an economy that sustains itself on abominable products like liquor and cow slaughter. How is it possible to sever ourselves from this unwanted conditioning getting thicker as long as we are in a city set up? This is just a beginning of our spiritual journey. Isn’t it a good enough reason to move back to simple village life style and engage in occupations that are based on land and cows with Krsna at the center? Ugra karma, whether on the part of men or women is the cause of many gender role confusions? The fears and insecurities in both the sexes exist as long as one has not moved to villages. Confusion, protest, and oppression, exist only in the transitory phase or when we have not taken to the rural life. Village life is a great leveler in itself. One bold decision to bring overall change and revert with firm faith in His creation and words like Arjun –
naṣṭo mohaḥ smṛtir labdhā / tvat-prasādān mayācyuta
sthito ‘smi gata-sandehaḥ / kariṣye vacanaḿ tava [BG 18.73]
[Arjuna said: My dear Kṛṣṇa, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.]
In the same spirit we have to accept His word and follow our dharma. Men have daiva varnasrama dharma and women have – the stri dharma. Men being given the responsibility of protecting the women as a father, husband, and a son have more responsibility as the ‘leader’, their natural inclination to serve the Guru and Gauranga will elicit a natural ‘follower’ in a woman. A very very few women attain the stature of Jahnava mataji (Lord Nityananda’s wife). It is better to follow the sva-dharma, the stri dharma for women and varnasrama dharma for men not just because we are still on the material platoform but even if it is otherwise, still we have to follow the dharma simply because:
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas / tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaḿ kurute / lokas tad anuvartate [BG 3.21]
Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
Hare Krsna![The article originally appeared in the 18th issue of “The Eight Petals”, and the author can be contacted: email@example.com]
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