Second Try at Response to Open Letter about FDGs

The first try was a bit sharp at the edges for general audience, so I’m trying to smooth it out, and some new arguments are added, too.

Late last year GBC put the resolution authorizing women devotees to become diksa gurus on hold, reasoning that further discussions with its opponents is necessary. This opens up an opportunity for approaching this issue in a new way to avoid the stalemate we, as a society, reached approximately ten years ago. 

In BG 3.20 Krishna gives King Janaka as an example of a person who attained perfection by executing his prescribed duties. Looking at Mahabharata and other sastric records we can learn that one of his distinguishing achievements was creating a perfect atmosphere for philosophical debates. For example, the entire story of Ashtavakra from start to finish relies on the assumption that one can always go to the court of King Janaka and showcase his learning there. His father went to participate in the debates before Ashtavakra was born and then Ashtavakra himself went there, too, and King Janaka accepted him as a guru (but not diksa guru) after hearing him speak. One of the reasons for our stalemate is the administrative arrangement where SAC can write papers but cannot respond to objections because it only does work when ordered by GBC, which is how … operate (fill the blank with one of the varnas yourself). Pertinent to this discussion, the famous female sage Gargi Vachaknavi attained her fame by engaging Yajnavalkya in a debate organized by King Janaka, too (but she didn’t win). 

We do not have a system for conducting such debates yet and in the meantime we exchange opinions through open letters such as the one put out by forty seven senior female disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Personally, I looked at it with interest but it was quickly replaced by disappointment and here are my reasons why. 

First of all, it looks like these senior vaishnavis argue for their right to become gurus. That’s the disqualification right there – anybody who argues that he should be a guru is an imposter and not an external manifestation of Krishna. They could have included a passage dealing with this “conflict of interest” but they didn’t. Not a good sign.

Secondly, they addressed this open letter to all ISKCON devotees, present and future, but they talk about the opponents as some third party, meddling, annoying, and perhaps even devious. Well, I can be counted as one of these opponents and I can sense that these vaishnavis do not want a dialogue, they want us to be “cancelled” – to be confined to our “culturally sensitive” reservations where we do not impede their glorious preaching. Interestingly, one of the accusations directed at the opponents is that they act against the principle of unity in diversity but this desire to remove their opponents from the conversation is not a symptom of unity either. In fact, these senior vaishnavis do not seem to want a conversation, discussion, or a debate (they just want to be gurus). This is also disappointing.

They talk about this issue of female gurus as if it has been settled and Srila Prabhupada’s desire was very clear. In the letter it’s “Srila Prabhupada’s clear instruction that we do so”  (they probably meant instructionS – in plural). I will rephrase Sivarama Swami’s argument in this regard, taken from his video address a couple of years ago: they say that it’s “clear” but even the quotes they give in support of their position are already contradictory. In this letter they cite Srila Prabhupada’s conversation with professor O’Connel and a letter to Hansadutta. The conclusion given to O’Connell was “but not so many” and to Hansadutta it was “all my spiritual daughters”, so which one is it? Add to this the famous “Suniti purport” and we get a range from “women cannot become gurus” to “not so many” to “all my spiritual daughters”. Where is the clarity? The opponents see the obvious need for reconciliation here and declarations that it’s “all already clear” sound more like wishful thinking or avoiding the problem. This attitude will not get us anywhere and it will not bring “unity in diversity” either. 

The letter argues against several objections to vaishnavi diksa gurus but avoids the main one – “it’s not what Srila Prabhupada wanted”. This objection is not rooted in “cultural sensitivity” but based on decades of studying and preaching Srila Prabhupada’s message, sastra, and it’s supported by ages old Vedic tradition (I’m not speaking about myself here). Can the proponents display a similar level of knowledge? Can they assert it in a debate? Let’s look at one of their arguments.

The letter states: “Even today women give initiation in different branches of the Gaudiya Math.” They most likely mean Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram that got into public discussion very recently, started by Gaura Keshava Prabhu (who has left ISKCON some time ago). This ashram has a website and in the  biography of their founder we can read this: 

“Shrila Acharyadeva soon left the math as a consequence of some problematic issues and incidents that arose, and went to stay at Vrindavan. The math atmosphere gradually seemed more and more detrimental to the practice of devotion and, without much delay, our beloved Shrila Prabhujee, being perturbed, decided to leave the math to continue practising devotion while avoiding the limelight of promotion and publicity.”

and then two sentences later:

“He established his own institution ‘Shree Guru Prapanna Ashram’ at Budge Budge, Dinhata, Raghunathpur, Navadwip, Basirhat and a few other places in West Bengal.”

It’s not a branch of Gaudiya Math, though their dedication to devotional service must be recognized. Speaking of which, this ashram was established in 1953 but we only learn about it now, seventy years later, and only because it came up in our own discussions on female gurus. This ashram existed all through Srila Prabhupada’s preaching and later thousands and thousands of ISKCON devotees have left to take shelter of various Gaudiya Math acharyas but no one has ever heard of this particular group. Shouldn’t it be taken as a testimony to how dynamic female guru preaching is? Also what was left of public conversations about this ashram was that it practices giving sannyasa to women, which was not at all accepted by Srila Prabhupada – “So-called spiritual societies concocted in modern times give sannyāsa even to women, although there is no sanction in the Vedic literature for a woman’s accepting sannyāsa.” (SB 3.24.40 purport)

Forty seven senior vaishnavis signed this letter and no one thought of checking bona fides of the example they give? This is also disappointing. If Gargi Vachaknavi I mentioned early was as careless with her arguments as these vaishnavis are with their statements on clarity and with their examples she wouldn’t stand a chance.

However, I felt most let down by the following two arguments. 

“Moreover, there are women who have lost trust or been harmed by male authority figures even before joining ISKCON. As a result, some of those women feel they can open their hearts more sincerely, and better reveal their minds, to a Vaishnavi Diksha guru.”

This one talks about a search for a guru based on material considerations, as if one were choosing a date on the basis of one’s previous dating experiences. It would be okay if one were looking for a guru to teach how to play genuine ragas as opposed to teaching how to copy westernized tunes on harmonium or some material skill like that, but it’s absolutely not how Krishna manifests himself through a vaishnava guru. The name Ashtavakra means he was disfigured, “bent in eight places”, and surely King Janaka never thought he would meet such a repulsive looking guru, but he accepted Ashtavakra nevertheless. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, as the saying goes – when Krishna appears in the form of Sri Guru all material expectations need to be put aside. And then the above sentence was immediately followed by this:

“One woman said if she can’t receive initiation from the Vaishnavi guru of her choice, she’ll wait until her next life to receive initiation. This is heartbreaking. Why should a serious and qualified aspirant be…”

Counter question – why would forty seven senior vaishnavis think that a person postponing initiation until next life unless she is given a guru of her preferred gender is “a serious and qualified aspirant”? Such a person wouldn’t even pass ISKCON disciple course, so what does it say about people who support her in this and what does it say about their claim to become gurus themselves? Nothing good. In fact, if there was a list of possible guru candidates then these forty seven names can be immediately stricken out.

That should be the end of the conversation.

A couple of disclaimers, however. I say “I’m disappointed” and “I feel let down” not because I masquerade as a VDG supporter but because I want to see strong arguments from the pro-vaishnavi-diksa guru side, arguments worth considering and arguments which move the discussion forward. This letter doesn’t even want the discussion and arguments they present should be embarrassing for vaishnavis of such seniority. We all should feel bad when one of us does something ermm… stupid, shouldn’t we? We are all in this together as Srila Prabhupada’s followers, after all.

Secondly, the letter could mean not Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram but some other Gaudiya Match branch where women give initiations. The possibility is there but I have never ever heard of anything like it. I have heard of another female disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who gathered a significant following, but not as part of Gaudiya Math either.

“Receive initiation from the Vaishnavi guru of her choice” could mean a deep personal connection and determination, similar to how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati felt when he approached Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji several times and was rejected. Or how Narottama Dasa Thakura felt when he was rejected by Lokanatha Swami. However, in both of these cases it’s not the disciples themselves who made a choice but they were directed to seek initiation from these personalities by senior authorities. Insisting on one’s own choice in the presence of many alternatives and against existing rules and regulations sounds like acting on a mental platform, so even this possible explanation needs a lot more arguments in support of it. 

It is also understandable why our senior vaishnavis want to pass along their accumulated knowledge and realizations as a service to Srila Prabhupada. This is not a gender issue, however – every human of this age feels that his experience is invaluable and it’s the main thing he has left to contribute to the society. This is a material consideration, however, as this knowledge and experience comes with age and then becomes lost again, but spiritual realizations are not restricted in this way. Ashtavakra became King Janaka’s guru when he was only twelve, for example. Or Bipin Bihari Goswami was much younger than Bhaktivinoda Thakur but Bhaktivinoda Thakur was still directed to seek initiation from him. Anyway, in Vedic society there must have been ways for elderly women to feel included and be valuable contributors without giving out diksas. In fact, the opponents cite several examples of venerable women like that, personalities like Queen Kunti. Perhaps our real problem here is not vaishnavi diksa gurus but that the services given to our senior vaishnavis are not fulfilling enough. 

That’s another point to get disappointed about – the letter implies existence of younger female devotees who could be qualified to become diksa gurus but does not acknowledge it other than a future possibility, as in “tragic precedent for future generations.” In other words, these vaishnavis do not see any other females but them to be qualified to become gurus. That’s some text book neophyte thinking – I’m a great devotee meant to save the world and I don’t see anyone else coming even close. I hope I’m exaggerating here. 

I do really hope I’m wrong and there is a way to explain this letter as not unbecoming the status of the devotees who signed it. I welcome all such explanations.


See[k]ing Clarity on FDG

Late last year GBC suspended FDG resolution to work things out with the objectors. In the more recent news they couldn’t make much administrative progress on their side but they keep trying and we still have time. Meanwhile, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to rekindle public discussion of this issue and keep exchanging opinions. First one came from the pro-FDG side in the form of yesterday’s article on ISKCON news. It’s titled: “Prabhupada’s Daughters Speak Out on VDG” and the text announces itself as “An Open Letter to The Present And Future ISKCON Devotees”.

What I’m going to say in response might become a long post and in such cases it’s customary to place “executive summary” at the top – for the readers who want to form an opinion without getting into details. I hope it’s not how our GBC operates when making major decisions like who can and who cannot be a guru. To make it extremely short – this open letter presents proof of the often repeated statement that women are less intelligent.

Of course I cannot say this about illustrious vaishnavis who signed it but that’s the problem right there – this argument makes it a discussion about ranks, not about truth of the matter. People of the higher rank cannot be told they are wrong and that’s how they enter the conversation – with the expectation that their status will always be protected, and it’s also the main feature of a “jalpa” level of discourse, and that’s why it will never become a “vada” discussion, and that’s why it will never bear fruit of knowledge, so if it’s what you think we have to start from then you should probably stop reading – this post is not going to be about protecting senior vaishnavis’ reputation.

Take this VDG-FDG distinction, for example. It has been rejected by the opponents from the start because, unlike “F” for female, “V” for vaishnav-i-s is not distinct from “V” for vaishnav-a-s – both males and females are abbreviated the same here. To keep using it is not very intelligent, and it’s not very intelligent to insist on using it despite objections from your interlocutor. Technically, it’s not very polite and being impolite is not very intelligent – the conclusion is the same.

With my first argument for “less intelligent” I wanted to shift responsibility to Sivarama Swami but this FDG-VDG matter needed to be put away from the start. Anyway, a couple of years ago Sivarama Swami recorded an address on this resolution and one of his arguments was very simple, I’ll rephrase it here:

The proponents declare that Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on FDG-VDG are very clear. In this open letter it’s worded as “despite Srila Prabhupada’s clear instruction” – please note that “instruction” is in singular here, too. Is it a typing error or do they really mean that one instruction left in one place settles it? It’s probably a typo because the letter cites two quotes from Srila Prabhupada. Sivarama Swami’s points out, however, that even the instructions the proponents usually cite in support are already contradictory. In O’Connell conversation it’s “not many” but in Hamsadutta’s letter it’s “all my sons and daughters”. Which one is it? “All female disciples” or “not many”? This “not many” qualifier along with the example of Jahnava Mata from O’Connell’s interview was left out of open letter’s quote, and they didn’t include Suniti purport quote in their letter either. So the range of options goes from “women cannot be guru” to “not many” to “all my spiritual daughters”. Where is this claimed clarity?

The exact interpretation of Srila Prabhupada’s intentions has been the subject of rigorous debates going on for many years, with books published in support of both sides. It’s not very intelligent to NOT acknowledge it and declare that the matter is “clear”. It is most obviously not.

The letter also cites a couple of usual objections to FDG/VDG but avoids the main one – Srila Prabhupada’s opinion, supported by sastric evidence and tradition, is that FDG/VDGs are rather an exception than the rule. Failing to even acknowledge the opponent’s main argument is not very intelligent.

I don’t want to go through the letter paragraph by paragraph, there are bits and pieces that can be questioned everywhere. Take this one, for example: “Even today women give initiation in different branches of the Gaudiya Math.” If they mean “Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram” that was in the news recently then their statement is not true – Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram followers do not state that they are a branch of Gaudiya Math and in the biography of their founder there is this sentence: “The math atmosphere gradually seemed more and more detrimental to the practice of devotion and, without much delay, our beloved Shrila Prabhujee, being perturbed, decided to leave the math to continue practising devotion while avoiding the limelight of promotion and publicity”, and then in the next paragraph: “He established his own institution ‘Shree Guru Prapanna Ashram’ at Budge Budge, Dinhata, Raghunathpur, Navadwip, Basirhat and a few other places in West Bengal.” It’s not a “branch of Gaudiya Math”.

Picking up on all these little bits and pieces would be petty and it would unnecessarily expand the volume of this post. I’ve already tested three grains from this rice pot to illustrate that it’s not cooked yet and I haven’t even got to my main points.

First of all, this letter looks like people argue for their right to become gurus. I remember in one of my very first conversations with Madan Mohan Prabhu of the pro-FDG/VDG side he said that arguing for one’s own qualification would qualify as an immediate disqualification instead. How can I take this letter any differently? Okay, they are not arguing for their each individual right but talk as a group, but this group includes Mother Narayani who is already approved and who is acting as guru, and the Mataji who gave first “proxy” initiation – Sandamini DD (or maybe she is not the same person as Sandamani DD who signed the letter). Anyway, this letter argues for the rights of some its signatories to be gurus. At least they should have acknowledged that there is this potential conflict of interest and they should have addressed it. Maybe their explanation would have been satisfactory, maybe not, but not even seeing there is a potential problem here is not very intelligent.

More importantly, apart from confusing typos and factual and general errors of judgement, there are these two troubling arguments cited in the letter:

…there are women who have lost trust or been harmed by male authority figures even before joining ISKCON. As a result, some of those women feel they can open their hearts more sincerely, and better reveal their minds, to a Vaishnavi Diksha guru.

One woman said if she can’t receive initiation from the Vaishnavi guru of her choice, she’ll wait until her next life to receive initiation.  This is heartbreaking. Why should a serious and qualified aspirant be left in limbo, especially…

First argument makes selecting one’s guru a matter of material considerations, like shopping for clothes or choosing a date partner based on one’s previous experiences with dating. Note also how it says “those women feel they can…” A guru is an external representative of Krishna and as such he does not depend on how one feels about what they can and cannot do. “Feeling” is what Arjuna did in the first chapter and it was rejected wholesale by Krishna. When true representative of the Lord appears in one’s life one’s heart opens up automatically because the guru is perceived as one’s dearmost friend and well-wisher. It is NOT a matter of planning according to one’s preferred specifications.

Second argument is even worse – the signatories to this letter think that a person who refuses to take initiation for the rest of her life until they create a vaishnavi guru just for her is a “serious and qualified aspirant”? What kind of nonsense is this? Is this what they teach in ISKCON disciple courses nowadays?

What is the value of their arguments about guru qualifications if they have such warped ideas of qualifications of a disciple? It’s a waste of everybody’s time to engage in such a discussion. Of course they can pull the rank and force us to listen, and there are GBCs on the list of signatories, too, but I have already addressed this point – that would be a discussion based not on the merits of arguments but on the egos of participants, even if these egos are fully deserved by years of service.

So here is my final statement, and it could be practically helpful, too – if we are discussing guru qualifications then everyone who signed this letter, stating that serious aspirants can postpone getting initiated until their next lives unless provided gurus of their preferred gender – everyone who signed this can be stricken off the list. In this way the pool of potential candidates becomes forty seven names shorter. This confirms Srila Prabhupada’s “not many” conclusion, too.

PS. Looking through the article again there are still lots of bits and pieces left that deserve to be addressed but I’d highlight only the one major one – this letter fully allies itself with what the opponents call “feminism” and therefore reject FDG-VDG on this ground alone. Near the end the letter openly says: “In the West, professors tell us the two issues that most concern university students are cared for the environment and equity for women.” Never mind yet another grammatical error in “are cared for”, let them do whatever western professors tell them to do to their heart’s content, this should be left out of the discussion on who is qualified to act as Krishna’s representative.

PPS. I’m not a grammar Nazi but if you post an open letter to all devotees on ISKCON news it better be proofread to be taken seriously, unlike my posts on my blog, which I don’t insist on being taken seriously to begin with.

First FDG

Finally, it happened. Done! First initiation by a female diksha guru, or FDG, or VDG, as their proponents insist – Vaishnavi Diksha Guru, which is different from Vaishnava Diksha Guru, which also abbreviates to VDG, so I mean VDG(f). Or maybe we shouldn’t call male diksha gurus “Vaishanva Diksha Gurus” at all. This issue hasn’t been settled yet but life doesn’t wait and first disciple of a female Vaishnavi guru has been initiated. I think these days we need to specify that by Vaishnavi we mean female as there could be males identifying as Vaishnavis, too. But enough of that.

Actually, it’s not the first initiation – a year ago another Mataji initiated a devotee but that was done as if she was a ritvik and a male devotee was listed as the actual guru. He was present there but he wasn’t offered obeisances, he didn’t pronounce the new name, he didn’t give japa beads – all that was done by the female devotee, and yet officially the man was the guru. But now we got the first official female guru – Mother Narayani (link).

Wait, this is not correct either – first officially approved guru would imply that she got the permission to initiate, as usually happens in ISKCON. Bhanu Swami, our current GBC Chairman, got this permission decades ago but he still hasn’t initiated anyone, for example. ISKCONnews article doesn’t clarify this – was she officially given the permission to initiate by GBC, like all the male gurus in our society? They only talk about FDG resolution getting final approval by SABHA. Or maybe my understanding of how guru approval works is not up to date and anyone considering himself qualified can just go and start initiating.

It’s hard to be up to date on these things, however, as GBC resolutions are released only once a year and the last one stated that FDG matter had been passed over to SABHA. Oh, wait, the current link to GBC resolutions in ISKCONnews article, same as on GBC website doesn’t mention it but it was definitely there as I commented specifically on this point at the time. What happened? I think the resolution has been quietly updated. When 2021 resolutions were first announced the link was different, as you can see in this Dandavats article, for example. At the end of the article it’s given as but that page no longer exists. Then in February there was another article on Dandavats called Addendum to GBC Resolutions with a new link: This page no longer exists either. If you look at it closer, however – their new uploads automatically get a new year-month designations. First one was 2022/01, for January, the second was 2022/02 for February, and the current version has 2022/08: and it’s the one that is working. This means they have just updated it and that’s when references to SABHA approval have been removed. How can we be up to date when they quietly upload new versions of the resolutions without telling anyone?

ISKCONnews article does mention that SABHA approval was granted back in May but that was three months ago and was unannounced. Maybe they have updated GBC resolutions back in May, too. Whatever, there is such thing as internet archive and the original resolution is there. The “Note” about FDG and SABHA is on page 23 and that was the last I heard of it.

Anyway, I’m from the generation where we expected the laws to be announced first and then implemented, not that we first hear of FDG initiation and then they also cite the newly passed/affirmed law no one heard of before that supports it. Wait, it’s not true that no one has heard of SABHA approval – people involved in this initiation were certainly aware of it, but I think it’s also a generational thing – we expected that everyone was aware of the law at the same time, not that some people knew of the new laws and used them and others were kept in the dark.

The key to this probably lies in “culturally sensitive” designation of the FDG resolution. I don’t know what that means – it first popped up in the same set of resolutions for 2021 as a fait accompli. We learned that FDG was a “culturally sensitive” and what “culturally sensitive” means in one go and I’m still not clear how devotee’s ability to be “as good as God” can be a culturally sensitive matter. In GBC resolutions linked above it’s presented on page 7 but I haven’t seen any discussions on this. Generationally, I was taught to believe that if one meets a genuine vaishnava guru then surrendering to him is a must and should not be restricted by any cultural norms. There were many instances when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati initiated devotees who already had a culturally acceptable dikshas from their family gurus, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

The initial, 2019 resolution on FDG had this in: “We recognize that some members and friends of ISKCON may object to this resolution based on their own reading of sastra, their own social experiences, or deeply held Vaisnava convictions.” This lists three possible reasons for different understanding and one of them, “social experiences”, can be designated as “cultural” but the two others, especially “deeply held Vaisnava convictions”, are much more serious that mere “cultural sensitivity”.

Regardless of their intended meaning to “culturally sensitive” I understand it like this – I’m too old to understand what they are doing and I come with all kinds of unreasonable expectations of how GBC should be legislating and managing out society. They are doing it in a new way that makes sense to them and I can’t expect that it would equally make sense to me. Again, I don’t believe that’s how leadership should work but then it’s probably one of my old generational hangups, too. Perhaps they are not required to approve new gurus by the whole GBC anymore and Mother Narayani got all necessary approvals from her local authorities and no one was actually obliged to make any of it public. It would have been nice to make it public, considering how much attention has been focused on this issue, but I should stop myself from expecting GBC from acting “nice” because my cultural conditioning is not the same as theirs and my “nice” is not automatically their “nice”, too.

Whatever, what’s done is done and first new Female Diksha Guru is there. Or “gurvi” – because the world “guru” is male gender in Sanskrit and its female form is gurvi, but they have no problem with having female Prabhus. On the other hand they don’t call female police officers “policemen” or female Congress members “congressmen”, but that is also an example of an old logic that seems no longer applies. Or maybe it does – because I heard of “gurvi” suggestion along with an example of usage in Bhagavatam from one of the devotees instrumental to passing that initial FDG resolution.

Then there is a small matter of fire yajnas. In this case the ritual was performed the next day by male priests, which is fine as we have precedents for this from Prabhupada’s time. Except in this case it’s not because the initiating guru is not present so a ritvik guru does it on his behalf, as was the case with Prabhupada and others initiating disciples by letters or via Zoom. In this case I believe Mother Narayani realizes that she should not be conducting fire yajnas herself.

I find it interesting because Jananivas Prabhu regularly mentions how in Bhavishya Purana there is a prediction of an acharya coming in Kali yuga who would be initiating people by fire. Normally, fire yajna is reserved for giving Gayatri mantras and brahmana threads but Prabhupada did it on first initiation and considered it a real initiation with no big necessity for the second one. In Gaudiya Math devotees with what we call “first initiation” were/are not considered initiated yet, they have a different term for them – they are not “dikshitas” but “Harinama ashritas” or something like that. The point is that fire yajna for the first initiation was Prabhupada’s signature style from day one. And now female gurus can’t perform it. Maybe it’s okay but it doesn’t sound right, it sounds like they are half gurus and limited in their application.

Then there will be time for the second initiation and we don’t have any established rules for that either. There was a proposal for a male guru to perform second initiation but it was only a proposal and it hasn’t been discussed in public yet. Will we have gurus who can’t give you mantras? Or will we delegate passing brahmana threads to a male person nearby just as they delegated doing a fire yajna now? Whatever, I’m sure they’ll figure out a way that makes sense to them (and people like me will remain culturally confused forever).

These are all boring technicalities, however. What about the real juice here – is Mother Narayani a proper, fully fledged guru now? Is this initiation legitimate in Krishna’s eyes? Because if it is then all other objections don’t matter. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to this question, but I do have some thoughts.

Mother Narayani has been often presented as a sensible FDG choice with no baggage of being rejected before or no history of involvement in controversial matters. Her pedigree, so to speak, is fine. There was this one little thing with her contribution to SAC Hermeneutics manual where she presented an interpretation of Narada Muni’s preaching to Dhruva Maharaja as “reverse psychology” which doesn’t seem to have support anywhere outside of modern society with its own explanations of how people behave.

In SAC Hermeneutics Supplementary materials we have “With Dhruva, a small child, Nārada used reverse psychology. Usually, if you tell a child to do something he will say “no!” – but this is usual for OUR society! Srila Prabhupada begins his purport on Narada’s words with “Ordinarily if a child is rebuked as a rascal or fool, he smiles and does not take such insulting words very seriously” and this shows that for Srila Prabhupada the understanding of how children usually behave was quite different. Perhaps he was culturally conditioned, too.

My point here is that Mother Narayani simply assumed our current cultural norms as universal and didn’t challenge that assumption. No big deal, everybody does that form time to time, including our male gurus and most certainly myself, but she did this as an example in a manual on how to understand sastra, which makes it into kinda big deal – gurus are not supposed to present their culturally conditioned norms as standards.

Forget guru, any serious devotee should always carefully examine himself (or herself, or zerlsef, or theyself, or whatever pronouns they use) and discriminate between mind, intelligence, cultural conditioning, sastric prescriptions, guru instructions, calls from the heart etc etc in everything we put our energy in. Otherwise we will forever remain on the mental platform and will be driven by our minds, which is not a safe position.

This one little thing does not disqualify Mother Narayani from being a guru but it shows that self-realization and self-examination that comes with it is not a gender specific issue – everyone has to do that, and usually men do it better. Of course one can always find a bunch of male retards to compare any selected female to and declare her a winner but that doesn’t say much. Can you consistently disassociate yourself from your mind? Can you always be detached and unaffected even as gunas are flowing all over your body and mind? That’s the challenge and if you find a female who can do it better then go and learn from her, by all means.

Another consideration is the common argument in favor of FDG that Srila Prabhupada didn’t want to be constrained by old norms when developing an entirely new preaching field. He established brahmacharini ashrams, for example. To people who objected to making women do all kinds of traditionally male things he would reply with an equivalent of “Have you even seen western women? You don’t know what you are talking about.” This makes sense even to myself – when you see the flow of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and power you don’t stand in the way with “this hasn’t been done before” objections.

When Srila Prabhupada confronted his Indian critics in the early 70s his female ISKCON devotees were preaching all over the world. They broke through UK barrier and got Beatles onboard. Himavati was the mother of the German yatra, too. Preaching flowed out and it was obviously necessary to save the world. There was no time to wait – ISKCON needed potent preachers out there on the front lines.

And it’s with this spirit that FDG was proposed, too – we need to push our mission further and further. And I guess it’s with this spirit that Mother Narayani initiated a girl born into a family of one of our leaders. Totally the same thing… What one wouldn’t do for the sake of preaching. Pardon me for dripping with sarcasm, but is this what the whole FDG fuss was all about? Finding an acceptable guru for someone who grew up immersed in Krishna consciousness from birth?

Narayani Devi Dasi (right) initiates Nila Madhava (left), now Nilambari Dasi, a second-generation ISKCON devotee on Janmastami 2022 at New Raman Reti Temple in Alachua, Florida. (Photo credit: ISKCON Alachua)

Now THAT sounds to me like a kula guru system. In image caption on ISKCONnews they call Nila Madhava, now Nilambari Devi Das, a “second generation devotee” but it’s not the meaning I’m personally accustomed to – a disciple of Srila Prabhupada’s disciple. They use the meaning of “second generation by the bloodline”. It’s totally legitimate, too, and I have heard it many times on Namarasa’s podcast, but maybe this is where our future lies – not in the Sri Vaishnava like split but in growing a kula guru system where communities unite around their shared heritage, and I mean literal heritage here – shared blood, shared customs, shared environment, shared properties and possessions, shared identities. This is how any community is supposed to function anyway, but besides that there will always be devotees who do not want anything to do with it and do not want to belong to these worldly congregations. They want to be united on the basis of shared spirit and shared spiritual realizations. Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura – they all left their family heritage behind and created new identities instead. I mean we don’t see Gaudiya Math as Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s familial institution. Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself took initiation in a traditional “kula guru” lineage but then found affinity with Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, largely on the basis of a common vision of Mayapur as Lord Caitanya’s birth place. And he left us an elaborate description of thirteen apasampradayas, which is what most of traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavism consisted of at the time. This is where our acharyas come from – they extricated themselves from the mess created by degradation of traditional communities and became shining beacons for all sincere souls, leading them by new paths of lightness.

But for this kind of acharyas to emerge we need to create mess first, and this is where our FDGs come in, I’m afraid. I wish them all the best but this hush hush way of doing things where there are people on the inside who get it and people on the outside who do not know what is really going on and who should stay on the outside, looks like a recipe for creating a mess and filling it with all kinds of nonsense. But this needs to be done – we need to see that the wrong ways don’t work and the best way to accomplish this is by trying it ourselves. This is also a noted American trait: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else,” as was observed by Churchill. And you can’t accuse our North American ISKCON of not being American. That’s what they do. Now we just have to wait until these Americans do the right thing. Except that it might never happen as America ages and reaches its sell-by date. When you are young and you get sick you don’t care about it as you will surely get better. When you are old every new sickness might stay with you until death or even could be the one that kills you. You do not always get a chance to do the right thing.

But then again – I do not live in America, this doesn’t affect me. I don’t think I will ever meet Mother Narayani or her disciple in real life and so will never become puzzled by how they should be treated, and even if I do it will be only a moment of hesitation, so I’m not affected. To the devotees who WILL have to deal with “culturally sensitive” gurus and their geographically shifting statuses – good luck with that, it’s something they will have to figure out on their own.

Srila Prabhupada was very liberal towards women… or was he?

Prabhupada, Malati, and Gurukripa(?)

Let’s look at this small collection of Prabhupada’s quotes, some of which are instantly recognizable:

  • If one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious, then he doesn’t require husband. He does not require. He . . . She knows that “Kṛṣṇa is my protector. Why shall I artificially seek after father or . . .?” And what protection, for a few days, either the father or the son or the husband may give? Real protection is Kṛṣṇa.
  • Such natural instincts of a woman or a man are manifested only in the bodily conception of life. When either a man or a woman is advanced in spiritual consciousness, the bodily conception of life practically vanishes. We should see all women as spiritual units (ahaṁ brahmāsmi), whose only duty is to satisfy Kṛṣṇa.
  • if the wife can bring her husband into practicing this process, then it is all right that the husband accepts wife as Spiritual Master.
  • – Could a woman be a temple president? Prabhupāda: Yes, why not?

Obviously, they display Prabhupada’s liberal thinking towards modern women.

Now, let’s look at this other selection of quotes

  • And the Western countries, they have been taught to become independent. That is artificial. That is all artificial. So woman by nature . . . Manu-saṁhitā (9.3) says, na striyaṁ svatantram arhati: “Women should not be given independence.” They must be protected by the father, by husband, and by elderly sons. They are not independent. No independence.
  • Similarly woman. Live with one husband fastidiously, with children.
  • A man should be trained to be a first-class devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and a woman should be trained to be a very chaste follower of her husband.
  • if you can show the women of the community how to help their husbands and children to perfect their home life, and all aspects of life, in Krishna Consciousness by chanting, aratrik ceremonies, and eating Krishna prasadam, then you will improve the conditions of the neighboring communities to an incalculable extent.
  • actual system is that the husband is Spiritual Master to his wife
  • because women are less intelligent, they should remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband and first-class son. Then she is first class. That is the injunction. Woman should remain dependent in childhood upon first-class father, in youthhood upon first-class husband and in old age upon first-class son. Woman is never independent. If she becomes independent, her life is not very good. She must agree to remain dependent on first-class father, first-class husband and first-class son—three stages
  • – Can a woman be first class? Prabhupāda: Woman can become first class if she is chaste and very much attached to husband. And if the husband is first class, she becomes first class. Because woman’s duty is to follow husband. So if the husband is first class, the wife is first class, if she sticks to the husband.
  • – But she can never be first class unless she has a first-class husband. Prabhupāda: No, she is first class by following faithfully husband. And if the husband is first class, then woman is first class.

Obviously, these quotes create a very different impression. “So what,” you might think, “we have known the power of selective quoting before, what’s new here?” Well, the interesting feature of all these quotes is that they come from the same letters and conversations (and one purport). These things have been said to the same people on the same occasion, and almost immediately one after another. To illustrate this once again, consider these two letters written on the same day and on the same subject, but to different recipients:

  • My Dear Yamuna and Dinatarine, … You can attract the fair sex community. Most of them are frustrated being without any home or husband. If you can organize all these girls they will get a transcendental engagement and may not be allured to the frustration of life. Your engagement should be chanting and worship of the Deity Jiva Goswami advises that in the Kali-yuga sankirtana is the principle worship. Even if one chants many mantras it must be preceded by glorious sankirtana. Sankirtana is the maha-mantra.
  • My dear Jayatirtha, … Regarding Yamuna and Dinatarine, they want to live independently, that is the defect. A woman cannot live independent. According the the Vedic culture a woman is always to be protected by a man. Why they should purchase a house? We already have Los Angeles…

How to make sense of all of this and how to reconcile these contradictory quotes? Make you own conclusions, I don’t want to force any particular mode of thinking here, but I might add that conservative statements are far more extensive and even after I clipped them down in half they still take more space (and more time for Srila Prabhupada to articulate). This fact might not matter much but it’s worth noting anyway. Overall, I’d say that contradictions appear when we start hunting for quotes instead of studying Srila Prabhupada’s books systematically, verse by verse and purport by purport. Then we see big picture and all little facts fit into it perfectly.

In a similar way we, as the “owners” of our bodies, feel whole, complete, and well adjusted, but if somebody took a foot and a hand separately they might wonder how these parts can possibly fit together. This is a kind of acintya-bheda-abheda tattva available for us to ponder – how can Srila Prabhupada encourage and seemingly reject something at the same time? He himself did not see it as contradictory, however. The same principle is applied differently in different circumstances just like same trunk produces different branches, some extending north and some extending south, and all reaching for the Sun. Somehow it’s possible and I don’t want to boggle down in details of each case.


Actual legwork of searching for different sounding quotes in the same sources was done by one reviewer of one recent book and was posted on social media. He made a similar observation but as part of a review and he provided extensive commentary on each case. I tried to keep it short and to the point instead. For those who want to read the whole thing (in Russian), here’s the source.


Mystery of initiation

The following is a thread of quotes and ideas which ties together several aspects of approaching a guru and taking initiation. It’s by no means complete, but if one insists on a different understanding it should be kept in mind that quotes given here should also be accommodated and not excluded as impossible. They exist and we have to deal with them.

Let’s start with the most basic definition of a guru given by Srila Prabhupada, as recollected by Hari Sauri Prabhu from a morning walk on December 20, 1975:

If there is no need of guru,” Prabhupada said sharply, “why are they writing books to tell people? As soon as you tell someone something, that is guru.

From Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary, Vol 1

Actual transcript differs in wording but it conveys the same idea and there’s really nothing strange about it. That’s how we get mother as the first guru, and then how things like trees, pigeons, and pythons can also become guru, not to forget the prostitutes (SB 11.7-8). The principle is very simple – every time we learn something, there is a guru. There’s a guru who teaches you to write, there’s a guru who teaches you to tie your shoes, play mridanga, cook, and so on.

When talking about ISKCON, however, we clearly mean something more specific, something related to purely spiritual instructions. Here we can start with the often quoted Upanishadic verse: tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet. That’s the guru we are talking about. The second line tells us about qualities of such guru: śrotriyaṁ brahma-niṣṭham, and it tells us something about the disciple as well: samit-pāṇiḥ – bring firewood, which immediately brings the question: “What are you going to do with that?” and then from possible answers we can figure out the dynamic of guru-disciple relationships. Previous line says something more about qualification of a disciple but that’s before he tries to approach a guru.

In Bhagavad Gita Krishna is a lot less cryptic and He gives us three components: praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā, and they form the basis of our understanding, thanks to Srila Prabhupada repeating them over and over again. One must surrender, one must inquire, and one must serve  his guru. Srila Prabhupada himself attributed his success to unwavering commitment to fulfilling the order of his spiritual master to preach to English speaking audience, and then Prabhupada’s disciples made it their life goal to further expand this mission to cover the whole world. Being part of this mission is what defines ISKCON as opposed to members of various other branches of Gaudiya tree. That’s where we want to be – in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, and that’s also the goal of our surrender to guru and Krishna. There’s nothing more we could possibly want, though there are plenty of lesser goals for us to settle. Would one be comfortable enjoying Krishna’s company in Goloka while Srila Prabhupada continues the battle for lost souls in one material universe after another?

This could lead to a potentially uncomfortable discussion but let’s get back to the main topic – we still haven’t heard anything about initiation yet. Well, let’s take this quote from Srila Prabhupada, describing his own initiation process:

So anyway, from 1922 to 1933 practically I was not initiated, but I got the impression of preaching Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s cult. That I was thinking. And that was the initiation by my Guru Mahārāja. Then officially I was initiated in 1933…

From, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Disappearance Day Lecture, Hyderabad, December 10, 1976

It appears he considered the moment guru’s order was given and accepted to be the moment of his initiation, though not official yet. One might say it’s just one quote to stress one point, but look at the next one and see how serious Srila Prabhupada was about this understanding of initiation:

Student:: I came to New York from Detroit with a recommendation from Bhagavān dāsa to be initiated. I have my letter with me.

Śrīla Prabhupāda: You’ll be initiated. Any one of you—when you agree to follow the regulative principles and you are recommended by our men, then you can also be initiated. Initiation is a formality. First of all you have to decide whether you will abide by the rules and regulations and become Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is your consideration. You have to decide for yourself whether you are going to take this Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously. That is your decision. Initiation is a formality. If you are serious, that is real initiation. If you have understood this Kṛṣṇa philosophy and if you have decided that you will take Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously and preach the philosophy to others, that is your initiation. My touch is simply a formality. It is your determination. That is initiation.

From a conversation published in Back To Godhead

I don’t know how to double bold the last three sentences – real initiation happens in the heart of the disciple when he becomes determined to accept Krishna consciousness seriously. This is not a mere recollection, these are instructions given to devotees just as they were about to be initiated themselves. Srila Prabhupada fully meant it there.

Another quote in a similar vein:

So you take the bhakti-latā-bīja from the spiritual master—that is called initiation—and develop it by pouring water of hearing and chanting. Then it will grow.

From lecture on The Nectar of Devotion, October 29, 1972, Vṛndāvana

Note that one has to “take” the seed of devotion to become initiated. One might say that in order to take the seed it must be offered first and this offering of the seed happens during initiation procedure, but it would mean that the same words about Krishna consciousness spoken prior to the ritual do not carry the seed of devotion in them, which is obviously absurd. The offering is always there, from the very first moment of meeting with guru, and initiation happens when the disciple takes it. Of course some gurus do not always speak of Krishna in public and keep the “good stuff” for private conversations, but Srila Prabhupada was not one of them. Any book you open, any class you hear – the seed of devotion is always there, ready to be accepted and ready to grow. Just take the advice to your heart and that will be your initiation – that’s what Srila Prabhupada was saying there. There’s further clarification in this quote:

chanting Hare Krishna is our main business, that is real initiation. And as you are all following my instruction, in that matter, the initiator is already there. Now the next initiation will be performed as a ceremony officially, of course that ceremony has value because the name, Holy Name, will be delivered to the student from the disciplic succession, it has got value, but in spite of that, as you are going on chanting, please go on with this business sincerely and Krishna willing, I may be coming to you very soon.

From letter to: Tamala Krsna, 19 August, 1968

Here Srila Prabhupada first tells his prospective disciples (from the context it’s clear he didn’t mean already initiated Tamal Krishna) that real initiation is chanting of Hare Krishna mantra, but then he adds that the formality of initiation ceremony still has value because at that moment they would hear the Holy Name from the disciplic succession. This could mean that so far the disciples had heard the mantra from fellow devotees and hearing it from Srila Prabhupada himself would carry more potency, not that the Holy Name heard from Srila Prabhupada before initiation ritual is less potent. Still, the importance of “official” and “formality” initiation is undeniable and one should not forsake the ceremony when one eventually gets the chance. That would be silly, just as if Krishna appeared in front of one’s very eyes and asked for an apple, but the devotee replied that in Kali yuga Krishna should be satisfied only with chanting.

Let’s not forget how Srila Prabhupada pushed for initiations in the summer of 1966 when the devotees had only started developing their faith. It’s wasn’t a formality back then, certainly not for Srila Prabhupada himself and he, apparently, hoped that the ritual would make his disciples more serious. Some did, others didn’t and drifted away, which, again, stresses the most important part of initiation – it should be accepted in one’s heart.

Now we come to the subject of the first initiation and it was the only initiation our devotees knew for almost two years, until brahman initiation was conducted in May 1968. Up to this day anyone who receives this first initiation is considered as “initiated devotee” in ISKCON, but that wasn’t the case in Gaudiya Math where this ritual was known as harināma-pradāna  and devotee was then called harināmaāśrita  as opposed to dīkṣā and dīkṣita – what is known to us as second initiation now. Only after that dīkṣā a devotee would be considered a fully fledged disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, not before. That was general understanding widely shared by all GM devotees, but there was one occasion where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta disagreed, perhaps to curb the pride of some dīkṣita disciples, but nevertheless:

The dīkṣita are inferior to the harināma-āśrita. They don’t believe that the name and the named are nondifferent. For them deity worship is required.” He then quoted Lord Caitanya’s statements ihā haite sarva-siddhi haibe sabāra (The holy name alone gives all perfection) and dīkṣā puraścaryā-vidhi apekṣā nā kare (With the holy name, one need not undergo initiation or puraścaryā observances, as with other mantras).

From Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by Bhakti Vikasa Swami

The passage in the book continues to establish the main point here – chanting of the Hare Krishna alone is sufficient and perfect, but some devotees require help of deity worship and, correspondingly, dīkṣā initiation:

Indeed, to some disciples he never awarded dīkṣā, deeming harināma alone sufficient for their spiritual progress. And he stated, “The success of dīkṣā is inclination for harināma. Whoever remains fixed in chanting inoffensively should be understood to have undergone dīkṣā and all other proceedings.

From Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by Bhakti Vikasa Swami

Speaking of ISKCON’s first brahman initiation, this is how Hansadutta Prabhu remembers it:

“After the first Brahmin initiation ceremony (Boston 1968), I asked Prabhupada, “What is the significance of this Brahmin Initiation?” Prabhupada gestured dismissively and said, “It is not very important. My Guru Maharaja introduced this ceremony of Brahmin initiation, because in his time SMARTA BRAHMINS (caste conscious) were deriding Vaishnavas as not being qualified Brahmins, because they were not born into Brahmin families and had received no second initiation. So to counteract their belittling attitude towards the Vaishnava community, he introduced this policy, but it is not very important. One can become perfectly Krishna conscious simply by first initiation, Hare Nama initiation. Nothing else is required. It is a formality to satisfy the SMARTA BRAHMINS – CASTE CONSCIOUS community.

About an hour later, still not being completely satisfied, I again approached Prabhupada and asked him, “What is the meaning of this Gayatri mantra? What does it do?” Again Prabhupada’s reply was quite casual and dismissive. He said, “IT IS A LITTLE AUXILIARY TO THE MAHA MANTRA. IT IS NOT VERY IMPORTANT, but it helps in chanting Hare Krishna. The main thing is chanting HARE KRISHNA. That is the main thing. So Gayatri mantra, it is a little helpful, but chanting Hare Krishna is sufficient. It is the main thing.”


One might question veracity of Hansadutta’s recollection, but it seems completely in line with how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati explained the same point above. Similar understanding is expressed in this letter:

Srila Prabhupada explained the difference between first and second initiation as follows: “Why do you believe in rumors, that first initiation is not so important as second? I have already said that it is equally important, but you say rumor. Actually first initiation is more important. You can go without second initiation; if the first initiation is executed very thoroughly that is sufficient. First initiation stands strong. The spiritual master accepts the disciple’s sinful reactions upon giving first initiation. The Vedic system was to give the sacred thread at the first initiation. We are following Pancaratriki. Vedic initiation was given to a person born to a brahmana. That is not possible in this age. Therefore he has to be prepared by Hari Nam initiation and then second initiation. He is given a chance. Therefore others protest that I am giving initiation: He is not born of a brahmana, how can he be initiated?

From letter to Satswarupa complied by Tamal Krishna Goswami, August 7, 1977

The following letter mentions many of the points above and puts them together:

Regarding your questions, second initiation is real initiation. First initiation is the preliminary, just to make him prepared, just like primary and secondary education. The first initiation gives him chance to become purified, and when he is actually purified then he is recognized as a brahmana and that means real initiation. The eternal bond between disciple and spiritual master begins from the first day he hears. Just like my spiritual master. In 1922 he said in our first meeting, you are educated boys, why don’t you preach this cult. That was the beginning, now it is coming to fact. Therefore the relationship began from that day.

From letter to Jadurani,  4 September, 1972

Notice how at first Srila Prabhupada seems to contradict the other quotes about first initiation but then comes around to the same thing – real initiation happens on the first day disciple hears, and then rituals need to be performed in a certain (and inviolable) order as the disciple gradually purifies his consciousness.

What about our previous acharyas? What did initiation mean to them? Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis received their names from Lord Caitanya, they received the Holy Name from Him, they received instructions, they received orders, they surrendered, they inquired, they took up the assigned mission, and yet they were not considered initiated disciples in a sense they did not get dīkṣā. Or look at the description of initiation of Ramacandra Kaviraja (of ramacandra sanga mage fame) by Srinivas Acharya:

Ramacandra spent the night in a brahmanas house, thinking deeply about Srinivasa Prabhu. In the morning he came running to Srinivasa and fell at his feet crying loudly. Overwhelmed with emotion, he begged the blessings of Prabhu. Srinivasa lovingly lifted him from the ground and embraced him warmly. Sri Acarya emotionally confessed that they had a long-deeped rooted relationship and were meeting again after a long separation. Thus Srnivasa gave Krsnanama in his ear and sang Radha Krsna lila to him. He also assisted him in the study of Vaisnava literatures, and blessed him to become an earnest lover and devotee of Lord Krsna. Srinivasa told Ramacandra about the glories of Narottama Thakura, and instructed him to go to meet him in Vrndavana. Thus, in due course of time, Narottama and Ramacandra became such good friends that people considered them like one soul.

From Sri Karnananda by Yadunandana Acharya, chapter 1

All three of praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā were evidently present and Srinivas Acharya unquestionably became a guru  of Ramacandra Kaviraja, but it wasn’t a dīkṣā  according to Pañcarātrika rules. Speaking of which – Jiva Goswami raises the subject of pañcarātrika dīkṣā  in Bhakti Sandarbha when it comes to the necessity of worshiping the deity – an important aṅga of devotional service, but not as important as guru-pādāśraya, which always stands first.

Now will be considered worship of the Lord (arcana), which begins with the invitation (avahana) to the Lord to appear. If one has faith in the path of worship, one should take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master and ask questions of him. This is described in these words of Srimad Bhagavatam (11.3.48); “Having obtained the mercy of his spiritual master, who reveals to the disciple the injunctions of Vedic scriptures, the devotee should worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the particular personal form of the Lord the devotee finds most attractive.

Although in the opinion of Srimad-Bhagavatam the path of worshipping the Deity, as it is described in the Pancaratras and other scriptures, is not compulsory, and without engaging in Deity worship one may attain the final goal of life by engaging in even only one of the nine processes of devotional service, processes that begin with surrender, nevertheless, in the opinion of they who follow the path of Narada Muni and other great sages, by accepting initiation from a bona fide spiritual master one attains a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a relationship established through the feet of one’s spiritual master, and when one is thus initiated, the process of Deity worship is compulsory.

Therefore in the Agama-sastra it is said; “Diksa is the process by which one can awaken his transcendental knowledge and vanquish all reactions caused by sinful activity. A person expert in the study of the revealed scriptures know this process as diksa.

“It is the duty of every human being to surrender to a bona fide spiritual master. Giving him everything; body, mind and intelligence, one must take a Vaisnava initiation from him.” / “Therefore one should offer respects to guru, offer him everything and accept vaishnava mantra according to the rules while taking diksha” [alternative translation by Bhanu Swami]

The words “divyam jnanam” (transcendental knowledge) here refers to the descriptions of the Lord’s transcendental form in sacred mantras. Chanting those mantras establishes a relationship with the Supreme Lord. This is explained in the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda’s description of the eight-syllable mantra. Thus for wealthy householders the path of Deity worship is most important.

From Bhakti Sandarbha by Jiva Goswami, Anuccheda 283, 16-20

I’ve bolded “Lord’s transcedental form in sacred mantras” above because it’s something different from “generic” Hare Krishna mantra. Dīkṣā mantras describe specific forms of the Lord and specific relationships with them and, therefore, have special values. Gopa Kumara in Brihad Bhagavatamrita received one such mantra and chanting of this mantra took him all through various places and planets in the universe until it finally delivered him to Krishna’s personal company. It’s not a trivial thing. BUT, please also look at the last bolded sentence – dīkṣā is meant for wealthy householders so that they could engage in deity worship.

This Bhakti Sandarbha passage, and I apologize for how lengthy it was, gives us a clue to understanding how Bhāgavata marga and Pañcarātrika-vidhi relate to each other in relation to initiation, taking shelter of the guru, chanting the Holy Name, and taking dīkṣā. They are all necessary components and they help each other, but among the two Bhāgavata marga is superior, which is confirmed in the next Anuccheda:

…It may therefore be questioned why there is a necessity for further spiritual activities in devotional service for one who engages in the chanting of the holy name of the Lord.

The answer is that although it is correct that one who fully engages in chanting the holy name need not depend upon the process of initiation, generally a devotee is addicted to many abominable material habits due to material contamination from his previous life. In order to get quick relief from all these contaminations, it is required that one engage in the worship of the Lord in the temple. The worship of the Deity in the temple is essential to reduce one’s restlessness due to the contaminations of conditional life. Thus Narada in his pancaratriki vidhi, and other great sages have sometimes stressed that since every conditioned soul has a bodily concept of life aimed at sense enjoyment the rules and regulations for worshipping the Deity in the temple are essential.

From Bhakti Sandarbha by Jiva Goswami, Anuccheda 284, 1-2

We’ve just heard the same explanation in the above quoted letter to Jadurani – initiation rituals and accompanying deity worship help one to purify his consciousness, but [pure] chanting itself does not depend on initiation.

This was taught by Lord Caitanya Himself:

Upon hearing this, Satyarāja said, “How can I recognize a Vaiṣṇava? Please let me know what a Vaiṣṇava is. What are his common symptoms?”

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu replied, “Whoever chants the holy name of Kṛṣṇa just once is worshipable and is the topmost human being.
Simply by chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa once, a person is relieved from all the reactions of a sinful life. One can complete the nine processes of devotional service simply by chanting the holy name.
One does not have to undergo initiation or execute the activities required before initiation. One simply has to vibrate the holy name with his lips. Thus even a man in the lowest class [caṇḍāla] can be delivered.
By chanting the holy name of the Lord, one dissolves his entanglement in material activities. After this, one becomes very much attracted to Kṛṣṇa, and thus dormant love for Kṛṣṇa is awakened….

Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 15.10.105-109

But when instructing Sanatana Goswami in the matters of regulated devotional service, Lord Caitanya put dīkṣā right after guru-pādāśraya:

guru-pādāśraya, dīkṣā, gurura sevana
sad-dharma-śikṣā-pṛcchā, sādhu-mārgānugamana

“On the path of regulative devotional service, one must observe the following items: (1) One must accept a bona fide spiritual master. (2) One must accept initiation from him. (3) One must serve him. (4) One must receive instructions from the spiritual master and make inquiries in order to learn devotional service. (5) One must follow in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas and follow the directions given by the spiritual master.

Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 22.115

Thus, dīkṣā should not be avoided, but it isn’t central to success in developing love of God, which depends on chanting of the Holy Name. Perhaps a story of a devotee, Sitalasayi Prabhu, who by all accounts achieved perfection of regulative devotional service as outlined in the quote above, can illustrate this point. For the last fifteen years he reduced his sleep to two-three hours a day, spending the rest of the night chanting extra rounds of japa. During the day he was a regular temple devotee (sankirtana leader, actually) and did everything that was expected of him. Eventually his health deteriorated and he couldn’t perform active service anymore so he dedicated himself to chanting three lakhs of names per day, though no one was counting. He stuck to this vrata until his very last days, even when his body refused to cooperate completely, as you can see in this short video. He left this world in Vrindavana in May 2018.

Youtube video – warning, we don’t usually see devotees or even people in general  in this condition, it can be unsettling.

The beginning of his devotional life was standard for many of ISKCON devotees at the time – he lost interest in material life, got Srila Prabhupada’s book, Easy Journey To Other Planets in his case, surrendered his life to Krishna, and started chanting the holy name – just as Lord Caitanya described above. Then he understood the necessity of accepting a spiritual master and began his search. He understood that book distribution was at the core of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and looked for initiating gurus who put sankirtana first and foremost. He settled on two of them and tried to approach them personally. One was simply too busy and had too many disciples to hope for any meaningful personal relationship while the other was easily approachable and personally appreciative and that sealed the deal. He took shelter of this guru, received pranama mantras, went through the waiting period, got duly initiated according to ISKCON standards, received instructions regarding his service and carried them out to the best of his ability. In other words, he closely followed the sequence for executing regulative devotional service given by Lord Caitanya and somehow he also attained an unprecedented taste for chanting of the holy name, which is the symptom of success on the path of Bhāgavata marga. Did his dīkṣā help? Certainly, but dīkṣā mantras and deity worship did not play a prominent role in his life. The relationship between Srila Prabhupada’s books, initiating gurus, and disciples is an interesting topic but is outside the scope of this article.

One interesting thing that could be added is that, historically, dīkṣā mantras in ISKCON have never taken center stage even during second initiation. It was always known as “Brahman initiation”, during which one would get a Gayatri Mantra. This is how Srila Prabhupada described it in his answers to Hansadutta above and there are countless references in Vedabase Folio where it’s identified similarly, most often speaking of *the* Gayatri mantra with no mention of the other six mantras, which actually constitute pañcarātrika-dīkṣā, though they were included on all “Gayatri tapes” used by hundreds if not thousands of devotees. Just as an example – please consider this famous letter to Vaikunthanatha Prabhu often cited as a precedent of women giving Gayatri mantra, which isn’t a correct understanding of what was going on, but ignore that aspect for a moment:

Even though you have had no gayatri mantra, still you are more than brahmana. I am enclosing herewith your sacred thread, duly chanted on by me. Gayatri mantra is as follows:


Ask your wife to chant this mantra and you hear it and if possible hold a fire ceremony as you have seen during your marriage and get this sacred thread on your body. Saradia, or any twice-initiated devotee, may perform the ceremony.

From Letter to Vaikunthanatha and Saradia, April 4, 1974

“Taken out” part is present there since the first edition of Prabhupada’s letters, so we don’t know which mantra(s) were there exactly, but what I find curious is that Srila Prabhupada refers to “this mantra” here – in singular, apparently not giving any consideration to the other mantras that were supposed to be included. Moreover, he talks about brahmana, not pañcarātrika initiation as necessary for deity worship – the reason these instructions were given in the first place. Vaikunthanatha and his wife were far away from any other devotees and they needed to establish a temple but Vaikunthanatha wasn’t qualified to serve deities so Srila Prabhupada told him to receive second initiation via his wife, Saradiya, and the key part of that initiation was Gayatri mantra, not the dīkṣā mantras specifically meant for deity worship, as we learned above from Jiva Goswami.

I’m pointing this out to demonstrate the scope of applying Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā rules to ISKCON – historically, it has not been very great. It can’t be ignored, it was always present in how we organized our deity worship and initiation ceremonies, but it’s never been given the central defining role in the same way Bhāgavata marga features in our practices, and in the definition of initiation and our understanding of guru-pādāśraya.

It doesn’t mean that Pañcarātrika-viddhi is an alien subject that often simply gets in the way. Fundamental principles of Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā  deserve careful consideration in this regard. In fact, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur once wrote an article specifically dedicated to this process of pañca saṃskāra which constitutes full pañcarātrika-dīkṣā. If we go through five of these items word by word and check how they are described in Pañcarātrika literature it would appear that our initiations have little resemblance to the process – we don’t brand out bodies with hot iron, we don’t wait to put tilakas until the initiation, we chant Hare Krishna mantra from the very first day, too, we don’t get any special mantras until the second initiation, and we don’t aim towards deity worship. I mean that the last step in pañca saṃskāras is yāga – literally the deity worship, but for the vast majority of devotees in Srila Prabhupada’s time deity worship was done only by a few designated pujaris and everyone else was out in the streets preaching or distributing books. No one had ever thought that unless he became a pujari his devotional service would not bring desired results.

On the other hand, essential elements of our initiation are not present in Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā – we give a vow to chant 16 rounds, we give a vow to follow four regulative principles, we receive japa beads from the guru, and we also get a right to wear three threads of kanthi-mala, but that is kind of secondary. Vows and beads – these two have always been the most important. Thousands of devotees received their beads in mail, but everyone always got them, so initiations were completed even without actual guru’s presence, which makes another supporting argument that the ritual is a formality and actual initiation happens in the heart of the disciple when he agrees to accept his guru’s words.

Of course we shouldn’t forget unique ISKCON context – Srila Prabhupada was ready to initiate every sincere soul. This context is not always present and sometimes devotees had to beg the guru repeatedly to accept them. Narottama Das Thakur and Lokanatha Goswami is a prominent case, as well as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. It should be noted that this latter case is not accepted as genuine initiation by some “traditional Gaudiyas” on the grounds that not all aspects of “traditional” initiation have been carried out when Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji finally consented to accept Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati as a disciple, but we can only laugh at their literal application of the rules where they can’t see forest for the trees.

Nevertheless, in the second part of his article, Bhaktivinoda Thakur delves deep into the meaning of each of the saṃskāras and demonstrates to us how they do not deviate in any way from the praṇipātena, paripraśnena, and sevayā principles given in Bhagavad Gita, and from his elaboration we can understand  how they rather expand on the understanding of these principles. He goes through each of them and shows how they manifest in our traditional Gaudiya practices even as they manifest differently in Pañcarātrika literature. The first one, tāpa, is described as a voluntary atonement taken by the disciple for his previous years of material life. The guru observes the disciple for one year to see that his dedication to the process is, indeed, serious. The same could be achieved by observing eagerness of a disciple to be branded forever by hot iron as still practiced by vaishnavas in South India. The second step, ūrdhva-puṇḍra, is described as a counterbalance to the renunciation of tāpa where, instead of giving a disciple a list of forbidden things guru gives him an elevating path forward, his new relationship as a servant of Krishna, which what tilaka marks signify in Pañcarātrika process. I encourage the reader to complete the list by reading the original article called “Panca Samskara — The Process of Initiation”, it’s enlightening. The point is –  Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā is not entirely alien to our initiation, but it should be seen as a particular extension of the same underlying principles where, as I demonstrated above, real initiation happens when a disciple takes guru’s instructions to his heart.

Once again, this is the point when actual dīkṣā happens and when a person gets divine knowledge, gets relief from his previous karma, and gets protection of the Lord. To illustrate this point let me tell a story of Sarabha Prabhu, which I heard in a class recently. He grew up in Bosnia Herzegovina and found Bhagavad Gita in a house of his friend. He became a devotee, stopped all illicit activities and started chanting sixteen rounds a day. Eventually he got to the point where he had to go and find other devotees. The problem was that Balkan wars were raging at the time and the only temples were in Croatia, so he decided to walk there on foot. Everybody said this was the craziest idea ever, but he recited the line he learned from the books – if Krishna wants to protects someone then he cannot be killed. He got a bag with essentials, his beads, and set out through the war zone. In one desolated village he heard a familiar click-clack of an automatic weapon, turned towards the sound, and saw a muzzle of a Kalashnikov releasing a volley of rounds in his direction. Bullets were bouncing of the rocks to the left and right but none hit him. He ran for his life, never forgetting to chant the mantra. On another occasion he was pinned down inside an abandoned house and had a barrel of a gun pressed against his face. He kept chanting, soldiers demanded him to stop but he didn’t. Eventually they shot him point blank but the bullet somehow hit his bag, ricocheted off the wall, and almost hit one of the soldiers themselves. They decided not to shoot in close quarters anymore and instead took him for questioning. All he told them was that he was going to a temple and then he kept chanting. They checked his ID but now he was shaved up and didn’t look anything like in the picture. In the middle of the night one of the militants approached him and said that he knew his family and that he knew he had a Serbian mother, which was almost like a death sentence at the time. Sarabha didn’t stop chanting and instead showed him a picture of Krishna he kept on him. Upon seeing the beautiful form of the Lord the militant’s heart immediately softened and he retreated without causing any more trouble. Next morning they agreed to drive him to the Croatian border but said he had to deal with three checkpoints on the way himself. Miraculously, he passed all three and no one ever asked for his papers, they just looked at his shaved head and how he was chanting and waived him through. Next day he was offering fruit to the Lord in a public park – Panca Tattva picture and food on the bench, Sarabha himself kneeling on the ground. A police patrol happened to pass by at this very moment and they asked him what he was doing. Sarabha had seen everything by then and he confidently told them to wait until he finishes. That really threw them off and, confused by his audacity, they patiently waited. When he explained his situation they checked his papers, concluded that he had no right to be there, and decided to send him back to the same checkpoints again. As they were driving, Sarabha remembered that now he had prasadam and so he offered it to the policemen, they accepted it, and immediately decided to drop the idea of strictly following rules and regulations and drove him back to the city. Eventually, he found a way to cross the border, met the devotees, got initiated and everything.

Who can honestly say that before initiation he didn’t get recognition and protection from the Lord? Obviously, his real initiation had happened very early in his devotional life when he decided to surrender himself to Krishna. This, accidentally, reminds me of another aspect of our initiation – it’s considered the beginning of one’s relationship with the guru, it’s the start of one’s devotional life. Traditional mantra initiations, on the contrary, often become the end of guru-disciple relationship. After getting the mantras the disciple can and should start deity worship on his own and so there’s no reason for him to serve his guru anymore, pretty much in the same way we don’t go back to school to learn ABCs but always respect our first teachers anyway. Relationships with our Bhāgavata marga gurus, by contrast, are eternal, which is explained by sevayā part from Bhagavad Gita and by Srila Prabhupada’s personal example.

I guess I need to write another article to present a “full theory of initiation” where all the above points can co-exist and support each other without contradicting all our known legitimate practices. I call it “theory” not in the sense of scientific theories where people don’t know the conclusion but as an admittance that full knowledge of all aspects of guru-tattva and guru-disciple relationships is impossible for an embodied being. We select some of these aspects as the most important to us and hope it will be enough to please our gurus. Our bottom line, for example, is chanting sixteen rounds and following four regulative principles. Everything else might go totally wrong in our lives and we might misunderstand all kinds of things but as long as we stick to these two foundational principles we should be safe – on the strength of Srila Prabhupada’s promise and his firm conviction that Krishna will take care. Even more fundamental than that is “harer nama eva kevalam” – even the strength to follow regulative principles depends on the mercy of the Holy Name. It’s in this sense that I call everything else a “theory”. Only the Holy Name carries substance in this age and everything else is dependent on it, and can and will go wrong.

Nevertheless, I believe it’s entirely possible to construct a compelling theory of initiations based on the above mentioned quotes, and when this theory is clear one could address all sorts of questions and doubts. Ritviks and FDG are two most obvious topics of interest here. The backbone of this theory should be Bhāgavata marga acceptance of guru to attain spiritual knowledge, and Pañcarātrika-dīkṣā and Gaudiya Math and ISKCON initiations should be seen as local and contextual applications. They might appear different but they share the same root in Bhāgavata marga and this root presents “unity in diversity” in this case.  Ultimately, only success on Bhāgavata marga counts for us as Srila Prabhupada’s followers and it’s be the degree of this success that all other practices should be judged by. Now is not the time to start this discussion, though, and so I shall stop here.

PS. Many of the quotes used in this article were originally collected by Bhanu Swami for his 2018 presentation on ambiguities in ISKCON diksha.

FDG precedent – what would others say and more

GM guests at FDG Vyasa Puja

In the center of this picture is one Jayasri Devi, an initiating female guru and an acharya of Sri Guru Prapanna society, and she is surrounded by sannyasis and brahmacharis from Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math, and Sri Chaitanya Gaudiya Math. They came to celebrate her Vyasa Puja festival earlier this year. So, does that mean that FDG are perfectly acceptable in Gaudiya Math? That is probably not the right question to ask, but we can definitely take a mental note just in case these same devotees raise objections to FDG practice in ISKCON. Let’s look at the background for this occasion and, hopefully, learn a thing or two about how it came about and how the world works in general.

It all started with PatitPavan Prabhu, a young disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. He was not the same person as Patita Pavana Brahmachari who later became Bhakti Kevala Audulomi Swami. This PatitPavan joined as a child and got initiated at a tender age of eight. He grew up preaching under the wings of senior devotees and his service took him all over India. That’s how he met women who aspired to become fully engaged devotees but lacked social opportunities to practice and that’s how he got the idea to put Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s vision of Sri Vishnupriya Palli into practice. He got an approval from the devotee we know as Ananta Vasudeva Prabhu but after Ananta Vasudeva left Gaudiya Math PatitPavan also drifted away and eventually established Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram all by himself. It didn’t receive a warm welcome from the community, but women flocked there, engaged in service, and accepted him as their guru. The organization has half a dozen ashrams now and PatitPavan is worshiped there as a founder acharya pretty much in the same way we worship Srila Prabhupada.

PatitPavan Abhishek

PatitPavan, or Srila Prabhuji, or Srila Patitpavan Goswami Thakur has left this world in 1991 and several years later his foremost disciple, Jayasri Devi, accepted the position of an acharya, meaning she started initiating new members herself. We can argue that it’s ashastric but we also have to acknowledge that these female devotees have no other choice. They are not part of Gaudiya Math, they can’t go and take initiation from some male gurus they have never met before in their lives, and anyway they have developed spiritual affinity with the community they grew up in. Of course they get initiated there.

In his vision of Sri Vishnupirya Pallii Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t specify how initiation of new members should be conducted so they were on their own. Maybe if this Sri Guru Prapanna Ashram wasn’t so isolated from the start these female devotees could happily take initiation from male gurus, but in their case it didn’t happen and they did the best they could under the circumstances.

Another contentious issue here is sannyasa. PatitPavan himself started giving sannyasa to women in his ashram and now they continue the practice:

Female Sannyasa Ritual

This sounds definitely ashastric, but they dug up their supporting quotes for it and no one can stop them anyway. I suggest we look at other aspects of sannyasa here, namely the social one. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati reintroduced sannyasa into Gaudiya Vaishnavism to raise social profile of his preachers. It was considered a sort of climb down from the paramahamsa position expected from genuine followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu because sannyasa is a position within varnashrama. Our ISKCON equivalent of such social sannyasa could be “battlefield commission”, the term coined by Srila Prabhupada, according to Dhristadyumna Prabhu’s memories in Vedabase Folio. It means that certain positions in the society (on the battlefield) need to be filled for it to function. Recently departed Pushta Krishna Prabhu received his sannyasa only fourteen months after his fist initiation, at the age of twenty two. Somebody had to lead the preaching effort and leaders needed to be given distinguishing ranks. Sannyasis didn’t get only maha prasadam, they were expected to commandeer devotees and organize massive preaching programs. Without this title no one would listen to them, so the social need was there.

Similarly, in this Sri Guru Prapanna organization they have the need to distinguish senior, accomplished members from the newcomers. It’s unfortunate they decided to call it “sannyasa” but the need for some kind of higher rank is there and it needs to be filled. We can’t argue against it, even if “female sannyasi” sounds completely bogus.

Speaking of which, have a quick look at this video. You don’t need to know the language – it’s a popular Russian cartoon song and a small group of people goofing around, trying to sing and dance. The sign at the top say that it’s a “Festival of Psychology for the Third Millennium”. Two of the “performers” appearing there are legitimate ISKCON sannyasis.

So we have our sannyasis doing that and the “bogus” female sannyasis doing this:

Female Sannyasis worshiping the deity
I’m reasonably sure they never go and sing Bollywood songs for the paying public at various self-help retreats. Which of the two practices should be declared a deviation and stomped out before it can take root in a vaishnava society? Should our sannyasis be an example for these women, or their sannyasis for ours? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that.

All in all, their situation is very different from our ISKCON. Our women are not isolated, we probably don’t even have brahmacharini’s ashrams anymore and it’s not clear if there’s a need for our own version of Sri Vishnupriya Palli. In any case, female devotees joining it would probably have two-three decades of devotional service and all the initiations they could get already. But these women don’t have any of that and so they need gurus, and the only one available is a female. Should she be recognized?

It appears in the beginning no one in Gaudiya Math recognized this Sri Guru Prapanna ashram but after twenty five years under female leadership it’s probably a good time to acknowledge that these are genuine devotees who are not going away and who are not doing it for self-aggrandizement. Their core group has been doing it for forty seven years now so it’s not a new thing that can fold any day. They ARE genuine vaishnavis and they do, apparently, get competent instructions from their female acharya. This should be respected.

One could argue that their mantras are illegitimate because their diksha is against Pancaratric principles. That maybe so, but our main mantra we all rely on – Hare Krishna, doesn’t need diksha initiation and our main deities – Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, are also kind enough to accept worship from otherwise unqualified people if it’s done sincerely. These women do it with the best mantras they have, we do it with the best of ours.

I heard how our Jahnavi Harrison in her interviews gives so much credit to a few weeks of her association with Mother Yamuna Devi. She, of course, didn’t receive initiation from Mother Yamuna, but she got so much inspiration from her. She felt the actual presence of Krishna Consciousness in Mother Yamuna, it wasn’t a theoretical thing which needed to be proved with quotes, it was real. She saw the light or, as we sing, it was a case of “divya jnan hride prokasito”. Incidentally, it’s also one of the key definitions of diksha – when divya jnana is revealed in the heart of a disciple. We don’t call it initiation but that’s what it was, and it came from a woman. I hope Jahnavi Mataji doesn’t object to me saying so. Anyway, no rituals were performed, no panca-samskaras, no names given, no mantras, no vows, and no titles, but this kind of spiritual connection is, indeed, real and eternal.

In case somebody is skeptical about Mother Jahnavi – an unmarried female performing for thousands of people and all that, but listen to her calling out “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti” in her most famous song and I don’t think anyone can say that there’s no genuine devotion there:

Lately we have become so embroiled in passionate, but ultimately dry arguments over what is right and what is wrong that we might miss the flow of actual devotion which is, indeed, like a river, and it’s supposed to melt our hearts and wash away our pride of being correct and victorious in debates.



On defense of FDG resolution

A couple of days ago one Russian devotee who is a “GBC Deputy”, which means he serves in some sort of an advisory role, gave a long talk answering various concerns regarding recent GBC resolution authorizing Female Diksha Gurus. He was present during that meeting, translating for a Russian GBC member, and, incidentally, he gives vote tally as 16+9+4, meaning there were almost twice as many “yes” votes as there were “nos”. Anyway, this devotee has presented the most comprehensive explanation for this resolution so far. Most likely his arguments will be included in the promised “milestones leading to this decision”. Still, it’s not an official position so whatever deficiencies are there in his talk, they might not be present in actual GBC explanations.

The arguments below are not meant for GBC bashing, they are meant for deeper understanding of the issue. They are not meant as a call to action and I do not propose any alternatives. It’s meant for sambandha, not for abhidheya, nor for prayojana. In the talk this devotee also warned about this from the start – those who are looking merely for more reasons to “defeat GBC” should skip it altogether.

I’m not going to comment on this talk minute by minute either but start with what I think is the most important point. By important I mean the point which allows us to understand not only GBC position but to reconcile it with the position of FDG opponents – because they must have forked at some point before which there was unity, and I think I found it. In the video it’s about 29:30 minute mark and it’s the definition of diksha itself. It relies on CC Adi 1.35 and CC Antya 4.192

In short, it means that a devotee meets many siksha gurus and, after carefully listening to them, selects one guru who speaks to his heart and in whose words he can see Krishna. By speaking sabda-brahman this one special guru reveals Krishna himself, and so a devotee surrenders to him completely, seeing him as no different from God. This act not only cements their existing relationships, where all the doubts of mundanity are finally removed, but also signifies the beginning of the new stage where disciple’s body, mind, and soul belong to his guru – atma-samarpanam.

When this happens I don’t think any arguments will matter at all – this kind of revelation is self-evident, and I don’t think any FDG opponent will object here. If we look at it in light of Bharadvaja Samhita, then there’s a concluding text (1.44) in a series related to FDG and it says that those who are pratyakṣitātma-nāthānāṁ are not subjected to regulations covering women, shudras, etc. The exact meaning of pratyakṣitātma-nāthānāṁ is disputable, but everyone agrees it has something to do with direct perception of the Absolute. The diksha definition of GBC goes even further than that – not only the guru has this perception but at the moment of diksha this direct perception develops in the heart of the disciple, too. In other words, it totally satisfies Bharadvaja Samhita requirements.

The opponents, however, do not mean this kind of diksha in their arguments, and I have serious questions whether our actual ISKCON initiation practices reach that lofty goal either. In the zonal acharya days one could be initiated by anyone, I mean anyone who is put in charge of your geographical location, and it was all the same – all the gurus preached the same things, gave the same lectures, and presented Srila Prabhupada in one unified voice. There was nothing magic happening during those initiations either, no actual revelation of the full glory of the holy name. For this reason our whole guru system is often criticized like, for example, in this Aindra’s video. His presentation is a bit unusual, but I don’t know who can disagree with his argument that unless one has the necessary purity in his bhajan there’s no question of giving a pure name to a disciple, and if one has this purity then what does it matter if he is in a male or a female body? In other words, by arguing about bodily differences we miss the most important thing – purity of the shuddha nam. If one doesn’t have it, it can’t be fixed by passing resolutions. And, conversely, when it’s present no resolution can stop it either.

In recent years, maybe decades even, there have appeared voices nudging us to re-calibrate our diksha vs siksha preferences. The society grows, gurus are few and far in between, all the good ones have thousands of disciples already, and there’s no question for a new initiate to develop any kind of personal relationships with any of them to make an informed choice, and there’s no hope of developing such relationships after initiation either. Every guru can give a solid class, with all the quotes and dramatic pauses in all the right places. Quite often they give the same class in different temples and polish it to perfection – what can the prospective disciple learn from it? Does his guru have any character faults? How does he deal with those? How does he deal with anger? How does he deal with upsets and inconveniences? All you have is these classes which by now the guru can give in his sleep, if it comes to that.  So, there’s a push to recognize local siksha gurus, to recognize devotees who actually guide people in their spiritual life day in and day out, helping them deal with their problems, giving them little boosts of inspiration, sheltering and protecting them from troubles – all the things necessary to nurture someone’s tender creeper of devotion. Alternatively,  more devotees can be allowed to give diksha, considering that nothing magical is expected to happen anyway. But here’s the problem, though – if there’s no actual revelation of the holy name in the heart of the disciple at the moment of diksha, then GBC selected definition does not apply to our everyday practices.

That’s where Bharadvaja Samhita’s warning about not taking diksha from women, shudras, fallen persons etc fits very nicely – if we make diksha an institutional formality, then it’s a different kind of initiation and it’s subject to a different set of rules. In Caitanya Caritamrita Srila Prabhupada describes maybe half a dozen different “initiations”. Look through all the search results here. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada talks about two different kinds of initiations even in the same purport. Sometimes he says that for chanting the pure name initiation is not required at all. In this case it still means someone should give you the holy name first, which is a kind of initiation, but what is not required is a pancaratrika process of getting a new name and a brahman thread etc.

Having spent a bit of time on thinking in terms of Sankhya, I think we are making a mistake of not recognizing the distinctions between different kinds of diksha, and then not understanding of how they all fit together – which are more important, which are less, and then we make a mistake of not recognizing which kind of diksha is applicable to which situation or which Prabhupada quote to use where.

This is all there really is to it at the moment – it’s the source of all our disagreements. The kind of diksha GBC is talking about is appropriate for Bhagavata parampara, but they want to institutionalize it for diksha parampara. Both are required, but requirements are not the same. One is wholly spiritual in nature, the other one is social. Just like in Vedic or Hindu society – everyone should get diksha, everyone should get upanayana when the age comes, there’s social pressure to be initiated, too, and one does not require supergurus for that kind of initiation. The fact that the resolution put in social requirements for FDG – minimum age limit and family/temple protection, is evidence that here we are talking about social function which depends on social conditions. Bhagavata parampara diksha, on the other hand, does not depend on any conditions, including gender, and it does not require any change in social status. No need change of names, no big temple yajnas, nothing. In some cases it could even fall under Hari Bhakti Vilasa’s prescription to hide one’s ishta devata, one’s guru, and one’s mantra. If we try to mix the two different kinds together we are bound to run into all kinds of problems.

Back to the talk – this is one of my big concerns with it – they read into quotes what is in their heads already. Just take the first quote in GBC resolution, from this Vyasa Puja address, second paragraph from the bottom. Yes, it does say “men and women” and “become spiritual master”, but “become spiritual master” was repeated ten times in that class and Srila Prabhupada gave many many examples of what he meant by it and none of them had anything to do with the right to initiate.

Devotee giving the talk accused the opponents of relying on “Yes, Prabhupada said that, but what he actually meant was…” argument. Well, I don’t know about opponents, but this is an example of Srila Prabhupada asking us to humbly approach people, praise them, and then beg them to forget everything they know and take instructions of Lord Caitanya instead. That’s how we should “become spiritual master” and that’s what “follow the principle” refers to in GBC quote, but then the resolution defender says that what Prabhupada actually meant is gender parity in giving initiations. Really?

Or take the famous “Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples” from this letter to Hansadutta. The bulk of that paragraph is about examinations, books studies, titles awarded and so on, but from one sentence which wouldn’t be noticed if it was missing, we conclude that it set Prabhupada’s vision for gender equality in giving diksha. It has never been repeated again and I suspect no one knew of this vision until many years after Srila Prabhupada’s departure when it was included in Vedabase Folio. And so it becomes the case of “in the letter Srila Prabhupada talked about exams, but what he actually meant was…”

Or take the second quote in GBC resolution, duly mentioned in the talk, too: “The word guru is equally applicable to the vartma-pradarśaka-guru, śikṣā-guru and dīkṣā-guru.” It’s from the purport to the kiba vipra kiba ‘nyasi verse where guru means a person who knows science of Krishna. Yes, this person can perform the role of all three of these kinds of guru, “but what Prabhupada actually meant was that vartma-pradarśaka-guru can give diksha, too.” No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Bilvanmangala Thakur’s vartma-pradarśaka-guru was a prostitute, and just because some “working girl” can give you directions to the temple it doesn’t make her potential diksha guru as well.

Even more worrying is the general understanding expressed over and over again – Srila Prabhupada always wished that his female disciples were initiating people on par with men. Over the course of my life I’ve spent some time reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, I’ve listened to his lectures, I’ve read his letters, I’ve read his biographies, I’ve listened to people telling stories about their time with him, but I’ve never heard any indication that he meant gender parity in giving diksha. I might be wrong, of course, but when they say his every quote proves exactly that and anyone who disagrees actually disagrees with Prabhupada I don’t know how to accept this argument. The fact remains that not a single time he said anything about women devotees giving diksha on par with men. Never. And yet we are told “but what he actually meant is exactly that”. I want to understand this logic, but so far it escapes me. I mean I can’t find a rational explanation behind it. I have no problem imagining an explanation where devotees get carried away and become blinded, but I don’t want to think that about vaishnavas.

Accusing the opposition of applying this argument doesn’t seem to be fair, especially when you yourself indulge plenty.

Then there’s an objection to characterizing FDG agenda as being influenced by feminism and to using that word itself when addressing pro-FDG devotees. Okay, maybe it’s better to refrain from using such labels, and maybe there’s no such thing as “feminist lobby”, but let’s not pretend that feminism has no influence on how devotees think about FDG issue whatsoever. As I mentioned, when we start treating diksha as a social formality which does not necessarily require revealing Krishna in one’s heart, the opposition has the right to say that this is not about spiritual equality anymore, but about social equality between sexes, ie feminism.

There’s a She Can Become Guru video where many devotees and scholars present many arguments for FDG, and equality between genders is one recurring theme there. It literally starts with words “The crown jewel of discrimination against women in ISKCON is the refusal of the GBC to allow them to initiate disciples” – how’s that not feminism? Why is it “discrimination against” instead of plain discrimination based on qualities, shastra etc? That first speech ends with saying that there’s no doubt inequality in having gurus turns people off our organization. How’s that not a pressure from people desiring gender equality, ie feminists? Then there’s one young woman who is ashamed to tell her friends that in her religion there are no women gurus. Where does this shame come from if not from orienting oneself relative to feminist values?

One could say “it’s just one video”, but it has roughly five times more views than the most popular “controversial” videos by Bhakti Vikasa Swami and eight times more views than FDG resolution posted on dandavats. Therefore I can’t accept the argument that there’s no feminist influence on these issues in our society. Maybe not among GBC members themselves and not in their meetings, but it is definitely felt everywhere else.

Let’s not forget that Srila Prabhupada’s concessions to his female disciples concerning second initiations, brahmacharini ashrams etc was solely due to prevailing social conditions at the time, and those conditions were dictated by feminist norms taking over American society. It’s not that he wanted to introduce those in his League of Devotees in Jhansi. Our devotee girls were born into a feminist society and absorbed its values when growing up. In other often quoted purport he writes: “…one cannot suddenly change a community’s social customs”, which means the pressure to deal with feminism was felt even by him. But now we say we are immune to it while there are often repeated calls to stay in tune with modern times or risk becoming irrelevant. Doesn’t compute. “I’m not a feminist, I just want gender parity and justice for women’s suffering.”

In the talk that devotee said that there’s no way Srila Prabhupada could have been swayed by feminism, that all the revolutionary changes he introduced, sending his unmarried female disciples to solicit donations or sell books, could not have been made under pressure from his equality seeking disciples. But how to explain Mother Govinda’s account of the first ever brahmana initiation when she sulked and pouted and refused to attend because girls were not included, and how Srila Prabhupada eventually agreed to hold a second initiation for the girls the next day? That’s ISKCON classic and an example of women devotees strong-arming Prabhupada, how can we deny it happened? Or how to explain an episode told by Prabhupada’s servant, I don’t remember if it was Srutakirti or Nanda Kumar, but one devotee asked Srila Prabhupada for permission to divorce his wife and it was granted! The servant later asked Srila Prabhupada why he went against his usual instructions against it. “He would have divorced with or without my permission, but now at least he is not guilty of disobeying guru’s order,” Prabhupada replied. So I don’t buy the argument that Srila Prabhupada was completely immune to our requests for social liberties and that he meant all the revolutionary changes right from the start. These objections don’t matter in the big picture of FDG discussion, but I thought these were unacceptable arguments in defense of GBC decision.

Back to the main topic – I’m really alarmed how so many devotees read diksha gender parity into his quotes. As I already said, not once he mentioned it explicitly whereas he made countless other statements regarding duties of women or treating guru as male by default. To me this interpretation of Prabhupada’s words looks like an invention, and while pro-FDG devotees do not treat it as such, the speaker quickly ran into a problem here – because he discovered that Srila Prabhupada didn’t leave us any language to describe these female guru related terms. “Female guru” by itself is nonsense – the word “guru” is masculine gender and feminine form should be “gurvi”, with long “i” at the end. Good luck finding Srila Prabhupada or anyone else using this word in our tradition. Gurudevi, anyone? Is it grammatically correct? Then the speaker turned to fellow Gaudiya Vaishnavas where female gurus were very common in at least some lineages, and said that there they were addressed as Thakurani. Or Goswamini… And I think that was the point where he realized he better stop because this takes us into caste goswami practices which Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati before him opposed without any reservations.

About inventions – once you invent something you will find there are faults in it which need to be fixed and so you have to invent a patch, which will create more problems in turn – and that’s how the living entity gets entangled in the chain of actions and reactions. It wasn’t specified what weakness was found there in FDG, but I suspect something was felt so that additional constraints where introduced – minimum age of 55 and family protection. It wasn’t spelled out, and the devotee presenting it avoided the topic, as a brahmachari should, but are we talking about female hormonal levels here? Are we talking about “don’t worry about her, she’s just on her period”? It’s an important consideration, but since when it had to be factored when choosing a guru? Especially according to the earlier given definition. The guru should be free from all these things, otherwise there’s no question of possessing the pure name, nor of possessing science of Krishna, which had to be realized. Same argument goes for requirement of family protection. The guru should be niskincanasya and he should depend solely on Krishna, not on the mercy of a son-in-law or something. To be fair, the resolution mentions protection of vaishnava sanga, too, and the speaker mentioned that even male gurus depend on such protection, but if we compare it to a stable family situation then it’s not the same thing. We should depend on mercy, not on the accommodations for material bodies. Once again, there’s a mix of purely spiritual and social functions here. Not to mention that Srila Prabhupada wouldn’t qualify himself. Nor, if we are looking at FDG precedents, Gangamata Goswamini, who left protection of her family very early in her life.

We have plenty examples of devotees who were sent out to preach without any material support whatsoever, to foreign and sometimes dangerous countries, and later on many of them became gurus in our society. It’s possible, it was a expected in our early history, and it’s a requirement stated many many times in shastra. But now we have to select gurus from among the materially well-off devotees? Where does this come from, spiritually speaking? Is it defensible in any way? I’d say – yes, if we treat diksha as a social function under rules of varnashrama where everybody had to get it when they reach a certain age.

There’s another accusation leveled against anti-FDG arguments – that they don’t rely on Srila Prabhupada for their support. Not true. Take the book “Masters and Mothers” by Bhakti Vikasa Swami which is based entirely on Srila Prabhupada’s quotes and which had to be unbanned partly for this reason – it was like banning Srila Prabhupada himself. A lot of anti-FDG arguments can be sourced from there. Statements about women’s duties are plentiful in Srila Prabhupada’s works, too, and so are statements implying that gurus are male, like in “second birth is made possible by the spiritual father” in SB 4.12.48 or “Under the guidance of the spiritual master, the spiritual father, one can return home, back to Godhead” in SB 6.16.6. Or this passage from a lecture in 1968:

    But those who are twice-born… That means once born by the father and mother, and the second birth is the spiritual father and Vedic knowledge. Once born by this material bodily father and mother, and the second birth is Vedic knowledge, the mother, and the spiritual master, the father. So that is second birth.

Incidentally, this [public] lecture was given just a couple of months before that [private] letter to Hansadutta, which FDG proponents take as a statement of Prabhupada’s actual intentions.

Of course there’s only one statement explicitly concerning female qualifications for giving diksha, too – that of “Suniti, being a woman”, but the speaker didn’t have time to address it as promised. I wonder how it will be reconciled in the promised GBC paper. Even when the opponents cite from Manu Samhita they do so on the strength of Srila Prabhupada’s numerous references to it and his instructions to treat it as a law book on dharma. Anyway, I find this argument, that opponents don’t rely on Prabhupada, to be unacceptable, too. It doesn’t meant that in my opinion the victory should go to anti-FDG devotees, but it’s not a fair characterization of their position and I expected better.

There was another argument from tradition – the lineage of Haridas Shastri, who was called the greatest Gaudiya scholar of the 20th century. I hope no one will dispute that, but he appeared in the line from Gadadhara Pandit where, according to him, ALL initiations were done by women. He himself didn’t get one from his mother because she passed away before he came of age. Once again, Srila Prabhupada never said anything good about those caste goswami practices. In 2013 SAC issued a paper where they presented a count of numerous female gurus in half a dozen lineages they examined. I can’t repeat their research, but in the line of Bhaktivinoda Thakura there appears a string of three female gurus and what I do know is that the last one of them gave diksha to her son, who then gave diksha to Vipina Bihari Goswami, who gave diksha to Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I suspect that all three of these female gurus where simply mothers and daughters. I heard that this count of female gurus didn’t factor in the resolution, but I think it should have – because it establishes not only the precedent, but also consequences of having FDG. One important result being that no one remembers they existed, so why bother again? Srila Sridhar Swami knew about them and mentioned their example in “Dead Mantra” chapter of his book on guru tattva. Should we be impressed by this historic precedent? I don’t think so.

Speaking of 2013 SAC paper. The speaker mentioned it as acceptable evidence and he also mentioned Mukunda Datta Prabhu as a trusted devotee who worked on this research, but Mukunda Datta resigned from working on that paper, very tactfully and without assigning any blame, but he made it clear that, in plain words, the outcome of that research had been fixed beforehand and no one was really interested in what he had to contribute. The paper itself is not listed on the official GBC website, but, apparently, its arguments live on, though they shouldn’t. Again, I expected better.

Then there was treatment of Bharadvaja Samhita. First time it was dismissed as “never heard before” but towards the end of the talk the speaker explained why they didn’t accept arguments against FDG based on it. There was some medieval commentator on it, Saryu Prasad Mishra, and on the crucial verse regarding women there he said that the same conditions should be applied to brahmanas as well. It would take me too much time to clarify this issue, but it was something like “self-realized person is not constrained by considerations of birth”, which leaves a kind of loophole for women to become gurus, and the commentator added “brahmanas should be self-realized as well”. This has been discussed a while ago already, this is all that I remember, sorry. I thought it was a misinterpretation on the part of GBC Sanskrit scholar who discovered it – the commentator’s statement was meant to stress the importance of self-realization, not to rewrite the slokas themselves. It’s a noble sentiment glorifying the ideal, but not an actual requirement stated in the text.

In another verse Bharadvaja Samhita says that one should not choose a guru who has more material attachments than oneself – meaning that total and absolute purity was not expected and deficiencies in prospective guru’s realizations had to be considered as well. An aspiring disciple cannot see absolute purity anyway, he can only conclude that he sees something “better than myself”.

In any case, I don’t think Bharadvaja Samhita was given a fair hearing. First of all, half of the anti-FDG presentation based on it was about general description of diksha and about proving that our process, given to us by Srila Prabhupada, complies with all the essential principles of it. Secondly, it demonstrates a clear connection between demands of purity and resulting rituals. It’s not a set of mindless commands like “wave the lamp three times”. It bridges the gap between “Bhagavat diksha” and “Pancaratrica diksha” and demonstrates how the principles of the first manifests as rituals of the second. I also know of Sanat Kumara Samhita, also part of Narada Pandaratra, which does the same thing but doesn’t mention women. In other words, by carefully studying these texts we can learn how Bhagavat and Diksha paramparas are but two different aspects of the same reality. This should help us figure out their commonalities, special features, relevant applications and so on. Earlier I mentioned this difference already, and studying Pancaratra texts should help us to learn about their commonalities as well. It’s sad that this was given a miss.

To sum it all up – there’s nothing wrong with FDG when we go by the given definition of diksha, but I’m afraid we are trying to apply it in the wrong place – as a societal function governed by an institution with somewhat different goals in mind. To solve this problem we should study the shades of meaning of diksha first and then proceed on the basis of that. I can’t do it in this article, sorry, but I think I do get the gist of it. I also don’t think that the speaker was entirely honest or maybe not knowledgeable enough, which is a milder accusation, when describing the process and motivations behind this decision. I think it’s far better to deal with feminists influences in our common psyche than deny that they even exist. I also don’t want to see lumping pro-FDG devotees with feminists and gays, and with characterization of anti-FDG devotees as narrow-minded fools and wife beaters I heard elsewhere. I’m actually against this dual vision altogether. I believe it should disappear once we honestly focus our attention on Srila Prabhupada’s instruction and then another type of vision, one that of harmony in diversity, will take over our consciousness.

PS. I apologize for not using diacritic marks consistently for transcription of Sanskrit words.

Vanity thought #1636. “It’s for preaching”

Another common argument in favor of FDG is that it’s needed for preaching. In that “She can become guru” video it’s what they started from and what they repeated at the end again to make sure we don’t forget.

From the very first speaker we learn that refusal by the GBC to let female devotees initiate disciples is the crown jewel of women abuse in our society. Move over domestic violence and rape – first world problems being discussed here. The speaker openly acknowledges that being a guru is a the most powerful spiritual position without even noticing the dissonance between the high value of this post and casual demand for it, and that it’s abusive not to give it to women.

Then we learn about some community in Florida where there are two hundred interested people who can’t take Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously until we show that women can become gurus, too. This needs to be addressed, we are led to believe, we can’t allow these people lose interest in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we need to keep them and we need to attract hundreds and thousands of other potential candidates, too, but we can’t do it unless we don’t have women gurus.

I’m sorry, I’m not buying it and, judging by other responses to this video, other people don’t buy it, too. They say that the fastest growing religions in the world are even more conservative than us and it means that social conservatism is not an issue. I’m more cynical than that and I think that these two hundred interested souls have been taught what to protests by FDG promoters themselves. I bet they wouldn’t even care whether we have female gurus or not unless someone explicitly raised this issue and demanded its resolution. It’s not something that comes up if you read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books at all. In fact, the more you read them the more absurd the FDG demand appears – it’s all about males being gurus, never females.

Someone noticed in this regard that if we make FDG existence normal we would have to edit lots of pronouns in our books that refer to gurus as males, and sentences like “spiritual fathers”, too, because they’d appear gender discriminatory according to the new siddhānta that guru cannot be gender specific.

At around 8 min mark another devotee comes in and starts talking about the need to give the power of the holy name to the masses. I tried following him but it’s just emotionally surcharged words that don’t really connect to each other – “… the power of the transformation of the heart of the holy name..,” for example. What does it even mean? All words seem important when taken separately but together they don’t make sense at all.

After giving this long list of all the good things we need to bring to people he concludes with rather weak “if we artificially restrict women [then] it’s so dangerous”. The Gītā says, he continues, that we must act on our own nature and he makes it the central point of his argument – because of some artificial social constructs we tell women that they can’t act on their own nature and it’s a contradiction he can’t explain.

Why is thousands and millions of years of Vedic culture is dismissed as artificial social constructs? We did not invent them, our ācāryas did not invent them, this varṇāśrama dharma is the creation of the Lord Himself. How can anyone say that varṇāśrama duties, which include strī dharma, are artificial?

And who gets to decide what is one’s nature, one’s sva-dharma? According to Śrīla Prabhupāda sva-dharma means one’s prescribed duties, not whatever one feels like doing himself, it means one’s duties under varṇāśrama so that brāhmaṇas do not act like śūdras or sūdras act like brāhmaṇas. I mean it’s entirely possible that someone comes up and says: “I’m going to do this job now because it’s clearly needed in varṇāśrama, someone has to do it anyway and I think it should be me.” In this case people might point out that this person sva-dharma doesn’t fit his coveted occupation and so he should get lost.

In a modern society people tend to think that sva-dharma is what they want and what they think is necessary for them. Here’s the first quote that came up (Lecture on BG):

    Sva-dharmam: “one’s own occupation.” So according to Vedic civilization, everyone has his own sva-dharma. This has been misinterpreted by the rascals: “Sva-dharma means anyone can discover his own religious principle. Yato mata tato patha. Whatever you think is religious principle, that’s all right.” This is going on. But that is not the meaning.

Prabhupāda was clearly referring to Ramakrishna here but otherwise the gist of his point is relevant to anyone thinking that he’s got the permission to do his own thing.

And who says that it’s in women’s nature to be gurus? Bossing men around – yes, lecturing others how to do everything right – yes, but that’s not enough to be a guru and these are only external exressions of guru’s service.

Perhaps I should remind the reader that we are talking about dīkṣa gurus here, otherwise female devotees can give instructions in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and be accepted as gurus without any official confirmations of their status. The act of dīkṣa is over in a few minutes, the ritual is short and by a large measure not very important. Come to think of it, in its essense dīkṣa is not conferred through sacrificial fire, not by giving a name to a disciple, not by passing him his new beads, it’s the act of acceptance into the paramparā, that’s all. It could literally be lava-matra, one eleventh of the second, we can’t do anything physical in this short time as our muscle reaction is too slow for that. Then there’s brāhmaṇical initiation which requires specific rituals but let’s leave that out for the moment – I can’t think of women giving out brāhmaṇa threads right now, it’s too unusual.

I don’t know why some women are after this ability to give dīkṣa at all. Why can’t they let someone else do it? All I can think of is external fame and other perks that come with guru status. They can’t be a justification for becoming a guru, however. I hope our FDG proponents understand that and I hope they are honest about their intentions (provided they know themselves what they really want).

The first speaker from the video comes up again at the end and says that by simply lifting the moratorium on FDG the GBC can make tremendous strides towards spreading this movement amongst westerners the way it was done in the very early days of ISKCON. Wait a second – there were no female gurus in our early days at all, no demand from our female devotees to become gurus, no sign that anyone joined because women could become gurus – nothing. Maybe that’s the difference between then and now? Maybe there’d be more preaching if we didn’t worry about our own recognition or waste our energy on this non-issue. Maybe this is sort of blackmail – “we can’t preach until you pass a resolution”. I hope not.

The video ends with self-defeating quote from Prabhupāda that there could be women gurus in our tradition but we can’t expect many. There’s no moratorium for GBC to lift either – there are simply no convincing candidates around. We know our women and we know what they are capable of, and there’s a tacit agreement that, in general, no one really qualifies and so no names should be brought forward. Maybe the politics of this decision making are slightly more complicated but it’s the gist of it anyway – we don’t have self-effulgent female ācāryas yet.

Last words – the video is produced for an emotional appeal, it doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t offer any actual arguments, only personal speculations why it might be a good idea to institute a practice of FDG. As I said yesterday – speculations are not enough, when Kṛṣṇa actually wants something He says so directly through guru and śāstra. Until such direct statements can be found it would remain on the level of personal desires and they would bring nothing but disturbance – see Nectar of Devotion (NOD 7).

Vanity thought #1635. FDragon’s tail

The head on approach in that Youtube video promoting FDG issue doesn’t have any fangs. Some talk on vaguely relevant topics and how they make people feel, without a single direct argument in support of women giving out dīkṣas (save for the opening quote). I’ve covered it yesterday, of course.

The second part appeals to intelligence, suggesting that we need to allow FDG because logic, not just feelings so let’s look at the arguments themselves. Spoiler alert – they are unbelievably weak and I don’t know how any devotee familiar with ISKCON and our issues can take them seriously.

At around 6 min mark an initiated female devotee (Master of Education, University of Florida) says that not having female gurus in ISKCON is disturbing to her because what she always read in Prabhupāda’s books is that one needs a spiritual qualification to become a guru and that one’s material body shouldn’t be taken into account. What do you say to that? Connecting people to paramparā and Kṛṣṇa is a spiritual act, not material. Who could argue with that?

True, but it’s only a trick question, a kind of you know is wrong, like a proof that 2+2=5, but it’s not immediately clear where the logic went astray. Well, for one thing, in our fifty years of history we have tried acting transcendentally plenty of times, usually with regrettable results. Sooner or later but the material nature forces even the strongest of us to act according to our svabhāva. Those whose svabhāva was suitable for anything but renunciation didn’t survive, historically speaking, so if she proposes that we should stop respecting restrictions placed on us by the material nature it’s a recipe for disaster.

Secondly, what exactly is material and what is spiritual here? When we talk about devotees on the level where we consider them advanced enough to act as gurus there’s not much “material” left anymore. Their devotion is manifesting through their seemingly material bodies but it’s still devotion and they are engaged in devotional service every moment of their lives. They are not in their true spiritual forms yet but their position and their service is determined by Kṛṣṇa already. If He wants them to serve as women or as mothers and not as gurus then that’s what He wants and that’s what they should happily do. Gopīs don’t one day decide that they want to be boys, flowers in Goloka don’t one day decide that they want to serve as Kṛṣṇa’s mother, monkeys don’t serve as calves and so on. Such changes, if possible at all, should come by mutual agreement with Kṛṣṇa and with one’s superiors.

Similarly, we can’t just one day decide that we want to take up another service without orders or at least blessings from our authorities. I can’t serve as a mother of Kṛṣṇa’s devotee, for example. I can’t give birth, obviously, but being a mother is a lot more than that. I could, theoretically, adopt a baby and nurse it like a real mother would and it’s possible that when this child grows up he or she wouldn’t even know he was adopted, and I could perform all other motherly duties perfectly, but I’m not asking for it and I can’t imagine Kṛṣṇa, through His representatives, would ever offer such a service to me. I’m certainly not thinking of taking it up myself without asking anyone, or of demanding others to provide it for me.

There are lots of other services that no one expects me to do and that I’m not qualified for and I’m not usually making plans for them just because I like them.

So, the argument that advanced devotees are transcendental and therefore they can do anything they want is wrong – they still do what Kṛṣṇa wants them to do and He communicates His desires through guru and śāstra. If He says, effectively, that those who are born in female bodies are meant to serve Him as mothers of other devotees then this is what we should all accept. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not an equal opportunity movement – we do strictly what Kṛṣṇa wants and however He wants it.

Next is a very respectable mātājī telling a story how Śrīla Prabhupāda put down some South Indian smartas who said that we can’t make mlecchas into brāhmaṇas. “Using the scriptures he vehemently defeated them”, she said, “saying that it’s by quality and work that one is designated as a brāhmaṇa, not due to birth.” By the same logic we can’t tell our female devotee that because of their birth they can’t do this or they can’t do that.

Same trick, just a bit different. My knee jerk answer to this – when did Prabhupāda ever argued that by quality and work a woman can become an initiating guru? He didn’t, so why speculate? And secondly, there’s no theoretical restriction for a female devotee to qualify herself for being a dīkṣa guru, by work or by mercy. The qualification is that she has to become a male, however. If they can do that no one is ever going to question their suitability.

It’s not like we just declare mlecchas to be brāhmaṇas, they have to display all brāhmaṇical qualities first. The work and the transformation must be there. Similarly, if one wants to go from female to dīkṣa guru the qualification is known, how they achieve it is not a particular concern right now but if they do achieve it they can go ahead and initiate as many disciples as they want.

I’m being facetious here, of course, but it’s the same old trick proposing that we don’t have to pay attention to our material qualifications and act transcendentally. There’s another good answer to this – we might not be our bodies but our bodies ARE bodies, they are not souls. What they ask is for our bodies to act as if they are souls but it’s impossible.

In case of dīkṣa gurus they want to give the title to a temporary material female form, not to the soul itself. They don’t even know what these souls’ actual identities are, they are concerned with bodies only – of a certain appearance and age, identified by passports and fingerprints, and preferably carrying licences to initiate, printed and recorded on material paper.

At this point I’m just giving absurd answers to absurd arguments. In any case, the logic here is that “because of this maybe there should be that, just think about it.” That’s not enough to start an FDG institution, there should be clear instructions, either in śāstra or from our ācāryas, preferably both, that FDG should be implemented. So far no one has found any and unless they do it’s all speculative and should be dismissed. And it’s not only speculative but reminiscent of reasons one thinks up to buy some thing he saw on Ebay but which was prohibited by his wife, like a racing motorbike or an outrageously expensive electric guitar or a set of drums. I hope FDG proponents are not acting out of such base desires betraying their human weaknesses, but sometimes it looks like the only explanation.

Vanity thought #1634. FDragon

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.