Last time I mentioned that GBC might make a decision on Female Dīkṣa Guru issue at this year’s meetings, there’s an indication that something is afoot because last month FDG proponents published a supporting video (Youtube). I have absolutely no idea whether the topic will be actually raised but the timing is suspicious – just on the eve of GBC meetings and not only on Youtube but on Dandavats as well.
I don’t want to talk politics but Dandavats placement is curious because the video otherwise is critical of the GBC and wants the GBC to make a policy change. We don’t normally see this kind of appeals on GBC sponsored Dandavats so, perhaps, FDG proponents have some support there, too.
A couple of years ago they published a book and I wrote about it here but I don’t want to come back to it or search my archives. I only remember that they twisted quotes to support their agenda. At one point they argued that current BBT version of the purport about Dhruva Mahārāja’s mother is not faithful to Prabhupāda’s original dictation, for example, which is playing dangerously with a whole new can of worms – book changes. They don’t want to go down that road, no one does, but they made it their crucial point in refuting Prabhupāda’s clearest statement on FDG issue ever (SB 4.12.32):
Sunīti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Mahārāja’s dīkṣā-guru.
Anyway, forget the book itself, I mentioned it and the video because these are the kind of publications that get mentioned and referenced when actively canvassing for support. Video, perhaps, came out a bit too early because FDG opponents had just enough time to produce a rebuttal (Youtube), though I don’t want to speculate whether GBC members had a chance to watch it before leaving for Māyāpura meetings. Let’s talk the substance of this new call to let women initiate disciples.
It starts with showing perhaps the most convincing quote in support of FDG, from Prabhupāda’s letter written in January 1969:
Another examination will be held sometimes in 1971 on the four books, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who will pass this examination will be awarded with the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.
There are several reasons why this quote does not convince FDG proponents. One is that it’s a letter from the early days of ISKCON and by the order of priority Prabhupāda’s later statements in the books should override that. Another is that the talk here is clearly about examinations and the connection between getting the diploma and women becoming initiating gurus is an implied one. I’m certain Prabhupāda didn’t mean it that way at all, he was talking about “academic” qualification for becoming a guru, not a “gender” one. Also he wanted all his disciples to take those courses to become knowledgeable devotees, not only because they all would have become gurus by 1975, which we can’t take literally either. Another reason follows from that – 1975 came and went, Prabhupāda learned a lot more about his disciples and their abilities and made adjustments to his plans that did not allow for FDG anymore.
If he really wanted women to become dīkṣa gurus he would have mentioned it elsewhere and made a really strong case for it because we just don’t have this practice in our tradition, or in any respectable Vedic tradition at all. We can’t create this female guru institution willy nilly on the basis of a possible interpretation of one letter. Female gurus are an exception and not the rule, and so we can’t ask GBC to write a rule about exceptions. They’ve already allowed for it and that’s what caused Indian GBC to rebel, as I mentioned yesterday.
Still, this allowance is not enough for FDG proponents and they want more. So, what does their video have to say in support of it?
Nothing really. It’s a series of quotes from various people about how they feel and what they think, not what śāstra says. The second person up, an unitiated Bhaktin, worries how outsiders might perceive her and our movement and that she doesn’t want to tell them we don’t practice gender equality in appointing gurus. Who cares? Seriously?
Then there’s Ravindra Svarūpa Prabhu who say sthat Prabhupāda in his personal relations wasn’t sexist at all. Okay, but what has it got to do with FDG? If they interviewed him for this video why didn’t he say he supports it? Or did they just took a clip from another video and made Ravindra Svarūpa their “supporter”. Is he really? Being big on supporting women and making them into dīkṣa gurus are two different things. He is also big on varṇāśrama while FDG supporters typically aren’t – obviously because there’s no guruship in strī dharma.
Then there’s some professor talking about gender roles in early ISKCON and gave example of cooking. Okay, but what has it got to do with FDG? Is there no difference between female disciples cooking for Prabhupāda and female disciples becoming initiating gurus?
Then there’s Mātājī Rukmiṇī who spoke remarkably like Rādhānatha Svāmī, down to every little inflection in her voice, and she shared her memory how Prabhupāda wanted even the girls to open temples. Okay, but did he tell that the girls could become dīkṣa gurus? We have absolutely no problems in ISKCON with female devotees managing temples so we follow that instruction already, but what has it got to do with FDG?
Then there’s a man of Indian descent who says that Prabhupāda gave women more opportunities than they had in India (where he came from), and that he prioritized more universal, spiritual aspects of bhakti than the ritual ones. Okay, but why then women want to perform dīkṣa rituals? Also – he is not implying that Indian gender disparity is only a cultural, not a Vedic thing, is he? I can’t tell. It does sound like “if Indians were as advanced as we are now…” Hopefully not, but this man works as an assistant professor at an American university where this attitude is the default.
Then there’s another academic saying that Prabhupāda allowed women to make spiritual progress independently in their own right and not under the aegis of their husbands. Umm, that is not true at all, and even if it was it’s still not an argument for FDG.
Then there’s a devotee saying that in our tradition disciples of female gurus did not feel embarrassed or handicapped in any way and that they were very proud of their spiritual masters. Okay, but in our tradition we have only THREE female gurus we ever heard of and they were all liberated souls. Who would have been embarrassed by following them? It’s not an issue at all and so if this devotee solved it – good for him, but what has it got to do with current female devotees being qualified for dīkṣa guru status? If another expansion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī appears among us there’d be no question of her being qualified to initiate disciples.
I’ve got through about half of the video so far and there are a couple of good, thought provoking arguments left coming up but I’d rather address them tomorrow.