Woman- Aham Brahma Asmi
Vrndavanlila dd: (Dr Vrinda Baxi)
Prabhupada: Not required. Caitanya Mahaprabhu denied, “I am not brahmana, I am not ksatriya, I am not this, I am not this.” He rejected. But in the Bhagavad-gita, the catur-varnyam maya srstam. So we are Krsna…, preaching Krsna consciousness. It must be done.
Hari-sauri: But in Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s practical preaching He only induced them to chant.
Prabhupada: That is not possible for ordinary man…The chanting will be there, but you cannot expect that people will chant like Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They cannot even chant sixteen rounds. (And) these rascals are going to be Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Satsvarupa: No. But if they at least will chant and take some prasada…
Prabhupada: Chanting will go on. That is not stopped. But at the same time the varnasrama-dharma must be established to make the way easy.
(Room conversation in Mayapur, February 14, 1977)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu rejected varnasrama in conversation with Ramananda Raya
naham vipra na ca narapatir napi vaisyo na sudro
naham varni na ca grhapatir no vanastho yatir va
kintu prodyan nikhila paramananda-purnamrtabdher
gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanu-dasah (Cc, Madhya 13.8, Padyavali 74)
“I am not a brahmana, nor a ksatriya; I am not a vaisya nor a sudra, I am not a brahmacari, nor a householder, not a vanaprastha, not a sannyasi. But since Lord Sri Krsna , the maintainer of the gopis and the overflowing ocean of nectar, is the only source of universal, transcendental bliss, I claim to be a servant to the servant of the servant of His lotus feet.”
Our real identity is the transcendental identity, “gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanu-dasah” as Gauranga Mahaprabhu would explain. It appears very attractive to us; just not because it states the ultimate truth, but surprisingly, also because it pampers our ego – we are ‘vaishnavas’, above brahmanas. We may derive pleasure in saying, “I am not this body, I am a spirit soul.” “My varna is not a woman, but a spirit soul.”
Spiritually there is no distinction between a man and a woman, anybody can scale any height. The gopis of Vrindavan are personification of height of bhakti bhava. Vishakha devi, seeing the suffering of Srimati Radharani in the absence of Krsna (who was then with Chandravali) cursed Him to suffer the same emotion of separation and agony (You shall cry, cry, and cry!) as her prana-sakhi (Srimati Radharani) had. The Supreme Lord’s most merciful form of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, whose lotus eyes were always tearful in separation from the Lord, is the result of the curse (blessing in disguise for the devotees) of Vishakha devi.
Aham Brahma asmi. While it is the truth, it has to be understood in the right perspective lest it turns spiritually self-destructive – we are in the relative world after all. If we humbly and sincerely try to explore into our hearts we would realize that the said transcendence is very difficult to achieve. I do not rule out the possibility and even presence of great souls even amongst us who have achieved this perfection but they are very very rare.
bahūnāḿ janmanām ante jñānavān māḿ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ [BG 7.19] [After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.]
In general we are all on the path to that perfectional state, with different devotees serving from different planes of realization. Understanding of general conditioning or limitations imposed by our body will only help us fighting it successfully. Chanting or harinam is definitely the yuga-dharma and it should not stop under any circumstance. It is a great cleanser but how many of us are like Haridas Thakur?
Prabhupada: Because it will cleanse the mind. Chanting will not stop.
Hari-sauri: So therefore the chanting was introduced to replace all of the systems of varnasrama and like that.
Prabhupada: Yes, it can replace, but who is going to replace it? The… People are not so advanced. If you imitate Haridasa Thakura to chant, it is not possible.
(Room conversation in Mayapura, February 14, 1977)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s chanting could make even ferocious animals like tiger also forget their nature imposed by their material body and enjoy the Nama-sankirtana in the Jharikhanda forest. Haridas Thakur’s chanting was so pure that he could effortlessly bring a heart change even in the prostitute (he could achieve what great Vishwamitra could not). But are we on the same platform? Both qualitatively and quantitatively, we are a far cry from Haridas Thakur. His chanting had transformed the prostitute, but if we are simply able to continue with our chanting without offence even in her absence, it is an achievement.
“Being gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanu-dasah is the true transcendental identity. But with layers of conditioning on our consciousness, encased in the material body we forget ourselves in different identities – “I am an Indian; I am a Hindu, I am a woman or a man, I have a Ph.d., I am the Senior Manager etc.” These are all upadhis, the disguises of the soul and we have to aspire for
sarvopadhi vinirmuktam tat-paratvena nirmalam
hrsikena hrsikesa-sevanam bhaktir ucyate
“Bhakti is defined as the engagement of the senses in the service of the Proprietor of the senses. This service is to be free from any contamination by identity with the body, and pure through being exclusively fixed on Him.” (Bhakti-rasamrta Sindhu quoting Narada Pancaratra )
But have we achieved that transcendental plane? The nature of soul is – sad+cit+ananda (eternal, full of knowledge and blissful). The animals around us, even the plants and trees have the same soul, same quality of the soul; but their consciousness is so low that it is very difficult for them to jump out of it. So much is the effect of this bahya (external) superfluous material body! Is this conditioning so easy to conquer? In human form we have an opportunity to chant and come out of it but is it so easy to break the conditioning that has been on us from millions and millions of lifetimes? We are full of bliss then why do we cry in pain when hurt (recall Bhakta Prahlad who was a vaishnava), we feel the pangs of hunger; we feel thirst and need water to quench the thirst, we treat when sick… We behave according to our gender, like a man or a woman, we dress like a man or a woman. Not just that, we even marry which is based on our identification with body.
Even Lord Siva was momentarily bewildered by the illusory potency of the Lord, who are we compared to Him?
ayi vyapaśyas tvam ajasya māyāḿ
parasya puḿsaḥ para-devatāyāḥ
ahaḿ kalānām ṛṣabho ‘pi muhye
yayāvaśo ‘nye kim utāsvatantrāḥ [SB 8.12.43]
[Lord Śiva said: O Goddess, you have now seen the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the unborn master of everyone. Although I am one of the principal expansions of His Lordship, even I was illusioned by His energy. What then is to be said of others, who are fully dependent on māyā?]
Our desire may be sincere, but our ambience is not so conducive. There are more than enough examples to show the wonderful working of maya, even within our own society. It is thus more effective to take a humbler and safer position in a daiva varnasrama and discharge our duties according to the Vedic injunctions.
Sadly in this age, the general mass is of varnasankaras. Further, the four regulatives that Srila Prabhupada gave us to protect the devotees from the attack of Kali and reinstate the four legs of dharma is very difficult to observe despite sincerity.
“The basic principles of irreligiosity, such as pride, prostitution, intoxication and falsehood, counteract the four principles of religion, namely austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness. The personality of Kali was given permission to live in four places particularly mentioned by the King, namely the place of gambling, the place of prostitution, the place of drinking and the place of animal slaughter.” [SB, Purp, 1.17.38]. In order to protect the devotees from the attack of Kali, Srila Prabhupada gave us the four regulatives (no meat eating as the basic principle of Krishna Consciousness.
No eating of meat, fish or eggs – [Principle of mercy or daya]
No illicit sex – [Principle of Austerity or tapas]
No gambling – [Principle of Truthfulness or satyam]
No intoxication (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs) – [Principle of Cleanliness or Śaucam]
In this age, every pillar of spiritual growth has crumbled down. Unconsciously we are a part of civilization that thrives on slaughterhouse, total sense aggrandizement, gambling (stock market), and dirt (internally as well as externally). Sitting on the debris of violated vows what kind of liberating chanting will we be able to do? Isn’t it simpler to acknowledge the power of Kali and equip ourselves to safety by resorting to the structure of daiva varnasrama dharma? Its Krsna-centric living can only facilitate the chanting and one day lead everybody to the perfectional stage where we can actually relish His name.
Similarly, how can a woman be above the material conditioning? She also has to perform her dharma – stri dharma as given in the scriptures (Refer to HH Bhakti Raghva Swami’s article “Vedic View of Women” in the last issue of “The Eight Petals”). Simply serve the husband, who in turn serves the Guru, Guru ultimately serves the Lord in the disciplic succession. If there is a break in the service-chain anywhere, the person who fails to render the service is at the suffering end. So if we have to realize our selves, we need to serve according to our dharma.
Many women cite spiritual blindness of their husband as a sufficient reason to not to serve or worse (to divorce). Although at several places Srila Prabhupada said that a chaste woman need not serve a fallen husband (naradhama), but if we see practically this was advised only in extreme situations. He instructed even his own sister to serve her husband dedicatedly without any complaints, despite he having all the vices – a meat eater, drunkard, woman-hunter. She did, and it is a history how he turned around completely after a few years. This situation does not give license to men to do anything sinful, it only means that a woman’s path of liberation is much easier, it lies in her sincerely following and assisting her husband with reverence and intimacy. Indian history is replete with such examples; Queen Mandodari, wife of king Ravana, personification everything demoniac, is also one of the Satis; Gandhari devi was married to Dhratrashtra, about whom we all heard so much. Bhagavad-gita opens with his speech clearly displaying his material attachment, spiritual blindness, selfishness, irresponsibility, and adharmi nature. His wife, Gandhari never gave up on him and f ollowed her path of stri dharma. She was so chaste that she covered her eyes when she realized that she would be marrying a blind king, so is the case with Vrinda devi, who was married to demon king Jalandhar. This simple path of chastity and following the husband in itself endows the women with such spiritual power that even the Supreme Lord honors it. For instance, the Lord gracefully honored the curse of His devotee, Gandhari devi and of Vrinda devi. When they cursed, what did the Lord do? He gladly accepted it, even though it meant complete erasion of His dynasty and then because of Vrinda devi’s curse He later appeared as Shaligram shila in Gandaki river. Why should the Lord accept the curses and ‘undergo’ this ‘tribulation’? He is setting an example for us to show how He respects a person, man or a woman who respect His timeless injunctions. It is therefore important for every woman to not just know the stri-dharma but also follow it sincerely. Hare Krsna!!
[The article originally appeared in the 19th issue of the e-newsletter, The Eight Petals, in support of Daiva Varnasrama dharma]
The author can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org