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.”

Source

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:

[TAKEN OUT]

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.

Vanity thought #1633. Indians are on it, too

Feminism is traditionally a western invention but it’s on the rise in India, too, albeit in their own peculiar forms. Perhaps we can’t cite India as an example of proper attitudes to various female related issues any longer.

It was only a couple of years ago when Indian GBC strongly opposed female dīkṣa guru decision by Śāstric Advisory Committee. They practically threatened to ignore implementation of this particular rule in their zone. I don’t know how much effect their opposition had in the end, every year we can expect some new announcements from Māyāpura meetings but so far it has been quiet on FDG front. Maybe they’ll spring a surprise for us this time, who knows, there’s a new push for it I wanted to address separately.

Indian GBC might be strong in their convictions but not the Indian public. The most popular guru there at the moment is a woman, I’ve heard, the one that gives free hugs, so if we do have female gurus in ISKCON it won’t be seen as something outrageous by the public at large. We are obviously are not going to judge our decisions by public reactions but we can’t appeal to Indian masses any more either.

India is undergoing one of the biggest transformations in its history, perhaps on par with getting used to be part of a British Empire. They’ve been modernizing themselves for over a century but this is the first time when India is getting truly plugged into the global economy and global way of life. Up until twenty years or so ago they modernized at their own pace, they had their own industry, their own cars, their own entertainment etc. To westerners it all looked clownish, from their Ambassador cars to their obsession with “Number 1” proclamations in their advertising. Then came the internet and Windows 95, and the rest is history.

They had no western brands or supermarkets or shopping malls at all. No McDonalds, no Toyotas, only Coca-Cola and SevenUp. With the internet and with Indians getting thousands of jobs at western software companies they suddenly learned what they have been missing, government eased related regulations and westernization began in earnest, and with it came western values of rights and freedoms.

Newly minted middle class credit western attitudes as much as western economical model for their prosperity. If one wants to work in a multinational company, for example, one has to project a fitting image, has to have proper aspirations, pursue proper goals, share proper values, and, generally, appear non-different from job applicants in the west. If one plays the ball he gets rewards and so naturally feels validated in his beliefs so now we have half a billion people who think they are middle class and so have to stand by middle class values. The actual number of middle income people is about 2% there but I’m talking about self-perception and self-identification which is more important for my case.

Gender equality is one of the most fundamental of those values and “middle class” women there see their roles and duties differently from the tradition we in ISKCON expect from Indians. Nope, they want education, they want career opportunities, they want to be professionally successful, they want it all. I don’t want to look up stats on birth rates or marriage rates, they might not look so bad yet but the point is that women have become very assertive there.

Then we had a couple of bad rape stories that agitated public not only in India but around the world and women there thought they had to assert themselves even more. They demand safety, which should be provided, of course, but the problem is that they demand it and they demand it not from their traditional protectors – fathers and husbands, but from the government, from the society, from random men on the streets, or that it should simply be there. They demonstrate with banners, march up and down the streets, stage PR events, protest, make noise – all the kinds of things we’d expect from politicized western public pushing for their democratic rights. There’s nothing traditional about it at all. We can’t say “in India women…” any more. Maybe on some issues they still keep traditional attitudes but not on the issue of their power.

They tasted it, it tasted good and they want more of it, there’s no turning back. Everything they do is right and everything they want is righteous. Whoever or whatever gets in their sights needs to comply or cease and desist.

Just like with adopting western business models and western science they adopt western atheism, too. I mean they value their rational thinking and logic above śāstra and tradition even though they still go to the temples. That’s their peculiarity – they are too afraid to give up their “superstitions” but at the same time they want to be all rational about them.

A year ago I wrote several posts on the move PK, which I think is still the most popular Indian movie of all times, and the main message of that movie was that we should rationally re-examine our gurus and sādhus and weed out “wrong number” ones. Who would argue against expunging cheaters from the temples and positions of religious authorities they so clearly don’t deserve?

However noble goal that is, they are going about it the wrong way – on the basis of their own speculations of what “right” religion should be, not on the basis of śāstra or tradition. Driven by the mode of passion they will never achieve satisfactory results, however. In the beginning it feels great but only because they get what they want, not because what they want works.

BBC just gifted us this little gem of Indian feminism gone unhinged – they are demanding entrance to the temples that are traditionally closed to women. I don’t know the exact reasons why it is so, there must be more than cited in the article, but even a simple “This deity is a brahmacārī and He does not associate with women” should be enough to put restriction on what female worshipers can and cannot do in that temple. Some demanding the right to touch the deity, for example. Just look at their arguments:

“Ms Desai – who describes herself as a “practising, believing Hindu” – says it is her “constitutional right” to enter any temple and blames patriarchy for keeping women out.
“These are man-made traditions. God does not differentiate between man and woman. He was born of a woman too,” she says.”

Seriously? Constitutional right to enter any temple? What about that particular deity’s right not to allow women inside? Does the constitution cover that right, too? At least it’s put in quotation marks so this Ms Desai might no be really serious about constitution.

The rant about man-made traditions is incomprehensible, too. How does she know and why does she think that her current demand is what God wanted all along and not her man-made concoction. Oh, wait, maybe she means man-made as opposite to woman-made. In any case, whatever she wants is right and whoever stands in her way is wrong.

They want to worship God, okay, but they do not believe God had communicated the way He should be worshiped or that He controls His servants, or that He has His representatives, or that it’s God who ultimately enforces His rules. It’s atheism pure and simple, never mind that they want to practice it while going to the temples.

Sadly, we are losing an important ally in trying to either build varṇāśrama or preserve whatever is left of it. It looks like if anything will ever get better in this regard it will get a lot worse first.

Vanity thought #1521. Female diksha guru, bending lower, and various odds and ends

There was one poignant question in that debate about merits of the Catholic Church that echoes our own, ISKCON discourse – female priesthood. There’s a short answer here and a longer, uncut version continues here. Since there was a little confusion about the question itself, here it is in the original form.

When the moderator relayed it to Anne Widdecombe she asked “Why not women priests in the Catholic Church?”. Widdecombe objected and reminded that the original question was, shortened for brevity: “Why is it wrong for a woman to become a priest but perfectly okay for her to become an MP?” Quite an important distinction even if the subject is still the same. Moderator stripped it of the comparison to an MP, a comparison which, in Widdecombe’s answer betrayed “vast ignorance”. There was an undecipherable reaction from the audience to the “vast ignorance” phrase but in a second it turned to laughter and even applause, they really wanted to hear Widdecombe explanation.

“A member of parliament, a male of female, does not stand in persona Christi at the point of consecration,” she said. In Vedic language in persona Christi means as God Himself, a bona fide guru, and consecration is dīkṣā, initiation. In Catholic doctrine God does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of consecration. Or, in our speak, Kṛṣṇa does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of dīkṣā.

Catholics have their own ways to explain it but, in general, that’s how the church conducted their consecrations throughout history. They have this straightforward instruction from Paul, for example: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Tim 2.12. One of the recent Popes said “I do not have the authority to consecrate women,” which was a clever way to nip the subject of women’s rights in the bud. Whatever the reasoning, the verdict is clear – women can’t stand in place of Christ for the purpose of consecration. As Widdecombe clarified it’s different from ministry, which is preaching or discussing Lord’s pastimes, I guess, she said that this rule is specific to the priesthood and people should know the theology of the priesthood to understand it. She finally said that it is no more possible for a woman to represent Christ at the point of consecration than for a man to be a Virgin Mary. Clear enough.

Why can’t we have the same clarity? I guess because guru is a principle for us and guru manifests himself in a variety of forms, including female. The question then becomes about peculiarity of dīkṣā. Catholics have a simple “can’t be a woman” rule that seems to be lacking in our tradition. We need to deduce it from statements on different subjects, like in the case with Dhruva and his mother. We also have historical precedents and the basic fact that our material genders have nothing to do with our spiritual identities at all.

Well, until very recently the question of female dīkṣā gurus didn’t exist and everyone was very clear on this, too. Catholics still stay clear but maybe one day somebody will challenge them just as people challenge GBC in ISKCON.

Next up was Fry’s rant about Church being likely to kick out Christ himself if he showed up at its door today. It was a good rant but it means nothing. If he is suggesting that the Church lacks any introspection and no one there ever thinks of how his actions would be perceived by JC then Fry is clearly wrong. Yes, it would have made for an appalling picture of the Church but it’s not the real life, it’s a caricature, and a rather pointless one for the purpose of the debate. It scored him easy points with the public, though, and was followed by a long applause. This rant was one of many misrepresentations of the Catholic Church and its doctrine, just see what follows.

The short continues with Fry’s rant about limbo and how it was legislated out of existence in the year 2000. This prompted Widdecombe to respond directly. She said she was raised a Catholic, went to Church, read the books, etc etc and she didn’t recognize the limbo he was talking about. Now, the actual Catholic version expressed in her own words isn’t much better but the main point is that a civilized debater, if he wants to explain the position of the other side, would always check that his representation is correct.

That’s what Prabhupāda always did when discussing other people’s philosophy. He didn’t just hammer his own visions of it, he asked people to explain it themselves first and if he volunteered his own version he’d always check that it was acceptable and not a wild distortion of it. Fry is simply no gentleman here, and Hitchens was guilty of the same behavior, too, even though it escapes me on what aspect of Christianity exactly. In this rant Fry declared that concept of “purgatory” is not in the Bible and Catholics simply invented it. He assumed the position of authority on Catholic doctrine and thought it was perfectly okay for him to teach Catholics proper Christianity, which is going lower and lower (limbo, get the reference?)

Atheists do this all the time, which is fine in their own circles but they should know better in public. We do this all the time, too, but anyone who thinks we can easily convince advaitins of the error of their ways because advaita looks so illogical and easy to refute in our own classes simply hasn’t tried. The fact is that for each and every argument they have long and convincing responses. Advaita was taught by Lord Śiva himself, after all, our intelligence in minuscule compared to his, we should remember that. I believe this is one of the reasons Lord Caitanya explicitly forbade us to hear advaita explanations of the scriptures – it’s too big for our little brains and we can’t defeat it by intellect alone, we should know our limits, just like with association with women – won’t work, lust will surely develop.

This is basically it, the short version of the debate is practically over. There are only a couple more points I wanted to discuss and I don’t want them to be short ones because they apply to us, too, and so we need to understand them thoroughly.

PS. I wish I had a simple, conclusive, and also comprehensive answer to female dīkṣā controversy. I don’t, there isn’t a way to easily put the matter to rest. Personally, I think it’s nonsense but there’s always a chance that there’s a qualified vaiṣṇavī out there who deserves the honor and I don’t want to get in the way of her service.