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Women in ISKCON in Prabhupada’s Times - Part Three

By: for vaisnaviministry.org on March 16, 2017
Opinion

Philosophical Arguments and Prabhupada’s Practical Application

Reasons for this Debate: Many of the changes brought in the movement, whether concerning the women or other vital elements of ISKCON, have done great damage to the beauty and the greatness of Srila Prabhupada’s contribution to the world. Having known to a certain extent the movement from almost its beginning (from 1969), a number of the first devotees and Srila Prabhupada personally, I feel a responsibility to share this experience with other, newer, devotees in order to help correct the faults and give ISKCON back its original, wonderful nature.

Authoritativeness of this Endeavor: Convinced at heart and by practical experiences that Prabhupada was not at the origin of the negative changes of women’s position in ISKCON, I personally asked Satsvarupa Maharaja and had someone ask Brahmananda Prabhu, who both associated very intimately and for long periods of time with Srila Prabhupada, if they had ever heard him personally give instructions for these changes to occur. Both said no, that they were instituted by the leading men of the movement.

After a lecture I gave on the subject during a Communications Seminar by Mukunda Maharaja, I was asked by Maharaja to take the re-establishment of the women’s proper situation in ISKCON as a special mission.

Param Gati Maharaja, the GBC for France, fully backs up my endeavor for informing the devotees about the way things were when Srila Prabhupada directly managed the temples and trained the devotees and about the most wonderful spirit he created.

Authenticity of the Proposed Arguments 

Our subject here deals with the social application of Krishna Conscious principles, not with philosophical knowledge. Therefore many of the arguments given here do not come from Prabhupada’s books but from conversations between Srila Prabhupada and his disciples in daily encounters, most of which of course did not get recorded. Many devotees do not trust these “Prabhupada said,” but Prabhupada himself gave his opinion about these “Prabhupada said.” In a reunion in Mayapura in 1975, the GBC told Prabhupada: “There are so many “Prabhupada said,” better only accept what is in the books and tapes.”

Srila Prabhupada answered: ‘”No, what I say in talks also, many things I say are not in my books.’”(From Himavati.) My information is coming from a notebook in which, all along the years, I noted the anecdotes related to me by devotees who lived closely with Prabhupada or by devotees who received these stories from these first disciples. My other stories, which are irrefutable, are from Srila Prabhupada’s letters.

Contradictory Statements Many devotees are puzzled by the many seemingly contradictory statements appearing in Srila Prabhupada’s books and talks, while others choose to quote and act only upon those fitting their own desires and conditioning while completely avoiding seeing their counterpart. But devotees must learn, by analyzing scrutinizingly Srila Prabhupada’s teachings as a whole, to understand how Prabhupada in his great intelligence and love knew how to change or adapt an instruction according to the spiritual need in a particular time and place. In the following list of anecdotes or quotes showing Srila Prabhupada’s attitude towards women in ISKCON, this kind of apparent contradiction will sometimes occur.

Equality and Equal Treatment 

Often pushed by his male disciples to minimize ISKCON women’s spiritual position, Srila Prabhupada reacted, for example, in the following way: Srila Prabhupada: ‘”You dance, she dances. You sing, she sings, you cook, she cooks, there is no difference. You are the same in Krishna’s eyes.”

While during a darshan Srila Prabhupada had a brahmacari distribute a little prasad to everyone present, the boy gave prasad to all the men and sat down. Srila Prabhupada noticed that he did not serve the only two girls present and said: “Give them also prasad. Why don’t you serve them?”

Womanly Duties 

Srila Prabhupada often stressed that women take up traditional roles:

* “Girls who are living in New Vrindavan should be engaged in the following activities: 1) “Taking care of the children, 2) cleaning the temple, kitchen, etc., 3) cooking and 4) churning butter” (letter to Labangalatika, 1969)

* “A women’s real business is to look after household affairs, keep everything neat and clean. ….the women should be sewing.” (letter to Chaya Dasi, 1972) There is no doubt that householder women, inside ISKCON or outside, recognize that cooking, cleaning, sewing, taking care of children are their basic activities. As a mother, I myself spend a good part of my time in these matters.

But the point is that a woman is not limited to these activities only, if she has abilities for other activities, as will be shown by the following quotes and anecdotes:

* Bhibavati asked Srila Prabhupada “Should I live like in the Vedic times, and simply serve my husband and child?” Srila Prabhupada answered, “No, you have a talent as a writer, you should write articles for newspapers and propagate Krishna Consciousness. (Bhibavati)

* “You have good writing capacity, and good artistic ability. Now devote your life to chanting Hare Krishna and if possible write articles on Krishna Consciousness, as many as possible with your own paintings and send it for publication to Back to Godhead.” (letter to Govinda Dasi, 1974)

* “The nursery school program is very good. That is good that the mothers are being freed to increase their devotional service.” (letter to Jayatirtha, 1975)

* “All the wives of our students should be trained up for Deity worship and cooking, and when possible they should go on Sankirtana party with their husband and others.” (letter to Hamsadutta, 1970)

* “I am very glad to know that you are engaged as pujari there. Try to learn this art of arcana very nicely. ..I wish that all our girl devotees be expert in the matter of arcana…” (letter to Kanchanbala, 1970)

When the service of Deity worship was being taken away from women, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Regarding women worshipping the Deity, in the Bhagavad-gita it is stated: striyo vaisyas tathasudras, te ‘pi yanti param gatim. The idea is that everyone who is properly initiated and following the rules and regulations can worship the Deity.” (letter to Uttama Sloka, 1974)

* So far your question regarding women, I have always accepted the service of women without any discrimination, so I have no objection if Yamuna devi contributes her ideas on this construction project. Nothing should be done without group consultation. (letter to Guru Das, 1972)

Women in Posts of Responsibility 

Many men were opposed to women being given posts of responsibility and refused to work under them.

* Atreya Rsi asked Srila Prabhupada if women could be given great responsibilities. Srila Prabhupada answered, “Yes, if they are Krishna Conscious.” Then he gave the example of Jahnava, the wife of Nityananda Prabhu, who took charge of the whole Vaishnava community after Nityananda Prabhu’s departure. (Atreya Rsi)

* “Chanakya Pandita said not to trust those who do not control their senses, politicians and women. But this applies to non-devotee women, not our women, because they do control their senses.” (class in Los Angeles 1972)

* When a male devotee refused to be instructed by Jadurani, the head of the art department, because of her being a woman, Prabhupada called him in and ordered him to accept her instructions.

Womanly Qualities Favorable to Devotional Service 

* “A devotee should have the courage of an English officer and the heart of a Bengali mother,” Srila Prabhupada used to say.

* “Women are better than men because they can accept any position.” (Bhavatrini)

To be continued.

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