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 #560. Giving up on FDG

Recent developments in FDG debate have been very disappointing for me. To the point of giving up on the whole issue altogether – that is I don’t think there’s any merit in it and it only promotes selfish, materialistic aspirations in the guise of service.

What I mean to say is that my storage of benefit of doubt has run dry – I won’t give any to FDG proponents anymore.

There are several reasons for my decision, I can’t be bothered to rank them in order of importance or on the timeline.

So, here’s the list of things I find unacceptable in arguing pro-FDG side:

FDG opponents are openly called misogynistic male Taleban or worse. Proponents do not register that these attitudes do not come from studying Taleban literature but from reading Prabhupada’s books. Devotees who stick to our books and traditions exposed therein are being verbally abused. End of debate for me.

Devotees arguing anti-FDG side are publicly being called ignorant simply because they do not agree to the pro-FDG interpretations of shastric statements.

One well-established devotee website heavily moderates anti-FDG contributions. There could be no mention of feminism in discussing sources of pro-FDG position but comparing anti-FDG to Taleban is accepted.

Another long standing devotee site doesn’t apparently moderate its comments section but pro-FDG views there are interweaved with worst examples of vaishnava aparadha and FDG proponents treat these contributions as perfectly normal and acceptable, reply and comment on them and keep them as part of their overall presentation.

The books and papers arguing pro-FDG stance have shown alarming lack of reason and consistency, cherry picking quotes and arguments, twisting meanings, misrepresenting opinions and excessively relying on emotionally charged labels. At one point they even imply that BBT has corrupted Prabhupada’s original meaning, in another place they argue that Prabhupada’s purports give a snapshot of the ancient world and so are not applicable to our age.

The volume of pro-FDG papers is increasingly expanding while it all stems from only one or two quotes from Prabhupada’s letters and conversations. The debate has become about who speaks louder and longer. It’s not particularly difficult to answer all presented pro-FDG arguments but it would require an inordinate amount of time and effort. Some devotees have taken the challenge but this can’t continue forever.

Despite the piles of paper and bandwidth spent on pro-FDG argument, we are still in the dark about FDG motives – why do they want to give dikshas, why they are not content with being siksha gurus, or how would they conduct their new guru duties? Will they speak with male disciples through the curtain, for example? Will they act like travelling sannyasi gurus? Also, the debate is not about exceptional qualifications of proposed candidates, nor about practicality of it, but about normalcy of FDG itself.

Practically nothing is being said about effects of introducing FDG on our preaching efforts and whatever is said is downplaying possible dangers while extolling possible benefits. I think this should be the most important consideration in the whole debate but it’s being avoided.

Apparently there will be a name proposed for GBC vote this year but it’s all shrouded in secrecy and FDG proponents choose to talk about anything else. I perceive this as disingenuous, it’s like they are sneaking a different agenda from that presented to the public. It’s like all the arguments are presented only so that they can sneak a foot in the door. I’ve seen enough such trickery in local politics – once the objective is achieved there will be a whole new set of proposals and ideas to deal with while the original debate will be all but forgotten. In politics it’s about victory at all costs and I sense the same is happening with FDG issue, too.

Lastly, if FDG was indeed what Krishna wanted there wouldn’t be so much controversy about it and there would be no need to insult devotees who remain cautious about introducing these changes.

Vanity thought #480. Another why

I still can’t figure our why there’s an explosion of interest in FDG issue. Why would any woman devotee want to become an initiating guru? I’ve found a lecture from couple of years ago that asked the same question from yet another angle.

We know what sannyasis are supposed to do. They travel around and they preach, and they naturally become spiritual masters, it’s part of their dharma. We know that successful grihasthas who become just as proficient in knowledge of devotional service can take on disciples. In fact most of the gurus mentioned in the shastras were grihasthas. In fact guru’s wife is supposed to be one of the mothers of the person, along with mother Earth. This is what is expected of our grihasthas, they should become gurus or their life mission won’t be complete.

We know that a life long brahmachari can and should dedicate his life to preaching and that means taking on disciples, too, even if he hasn’t been “promoted” to sannyasa yet. I don’t know the specifics, but in ISKCON we have some experience with brahmacharis becoming initiating gurus and not losing that status even when they changed their ashram to grihastha.

The point is that “kiba shudra kiba nyasi” – everyone can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krishna.

But what about women then?

Well, nowhere in our books it is said that women should become initiating spiritual masters. Nowhere. It’s not part of their stri-dharma. A sannyasi dedicates his life to the Lord. A grihastha dedicates his life to the Lord. A brahmachari dedicates his life to the Lord, so they all can speak on Lord’s behalf. A woman, however, dedicates her life to her husband, she can speak on behalf of her husband only, she can’t speak on behalf of the Lord without her husband’s blessings, just like a sannyasi or grihastha can’t speak on behalf of the Lord without the blessings of his guru. Actually it’s on behalf of guru and Krishna but it’s the same thing – represent the parampara.

A woman should always be protected, that means she should always be under the shelter of her husband or her son, or her son-in-law. She can’t take shelter of the Lord directly, not as long as she sees herself as a woman. Spiritually, yes, but on the bodily platform it would be just as improper as for a man to approach Krishna directly.

We all have our boundaries when appealing to Krishna. Men can’t circumvent the instructions of their gurus and women can’t circumvent control of their husbands.

No matter whether one likes it or not, but stri dharma does not have provisions for women becoming initiating spiritual masters.

So why do some women allegedly want to go against their stri dharma and start initiating disciples?

Would you want to become a disciple of a sannyasi who doesn’t follow sannyasi dharma? Would you want to take initiation from a brahmachari who doesn’t follow brahmachari rules? Would you want to take initiation from a grihastha who doesn’t follow rules regulating his ashram?

Why would someone want to take initiation from a women who doesn’t follow women’s dharma?

So far I haven’t seen compelling reasons for our devotee women to become diksa gurus. Maybe there are some our there but I haven’t seen them yet.

Much of the pro FDG argument is based on that it isn’t explicitly prohibited.

Well, much of the fear of FDG is based on the suspicion that it’s coming from the desire to conform to modern times, feminism, equality of sexes and so on. One basic feature of modern mindset is that if something isn’t explicitly prohibited it’s permitted by default. In the modern culture of rights over duties something becomes your unalienable right as long as it’s not directly against the law.

This is not how it works with shastra. What if our women want to become Olympic weight lifting champions next? It’s not prohibited in the shastra, not even in Prabhupada’s purports? What if they want to become mud wrestling champions? It’s not prohibited in the Vedas either.

There’s this new cultural phenomenon in the US, a little girl called Honey Boo Boo, nothing what she does, all under directions of her mother, is prohibited in the shastras. These people are so depraved that Vedas are failing to curb their creativity.

Just because something is not explicitly prohibited doesn’t mean it could be done. Avoiding this point takes FGD propagandists half the way to establish their legitimacy. Well, they shouldn’t avoid it, they should answer it clearly.

This willing deviation from following prescribed duties for women leads one to ask a question – if these women don’t see how they are deviating, what makes them qualified to teach people about Krishna?

Having said and asked all that, there’s also no reason why a qualified woman can’t become a diksa guru, too. Unfortunately, what we learn form the shastra, from the history of our sampradaya, and from Srila Prabhupada, the qualification here means being really extraordinary. Extraordinary means that we can’t regulate it, it’s beyond our purview, and I mean not just me, I mean the whole GBC. Extraordinary means there aren’t any boxes to check, it’s the mercy of Lord Chaitanya that should be shining through.

I don’t believe our GBC would be blind to this kind of mercy, and neither the main body of ISKCON devotees, it would be self evident to any sincere follower of Srila Prabhupada.

I think unless that happens we have the duty to be skeptical about women wanting to disperse diksas.

Once again – it’s not that I’m against it as a principle, I just need to see compelling reasons, or at least see some respected devotees seeing compelling reasons.

It’s also not like somebody can just sit down and type these reasons up, these reasons should manifest themselves by Lord’s mercy, too.

Sorry to be such a party pooper but this is a serious matter, it’s not just about letting women to follow their dreams nonsense. There will be real victims if (or rather when) the whole thing goes down south as it must without support of guru, sadhu, and shastra.

It would be violence against the soul committed on our watch.

Vanity thought #477. Official FDG position

I took a sabbatical from internet news for a couple of weeks, somehow came across female diksha guru issue, thought it was past sell-by date, wrote about it, checked back with the news and there has been an explosion of articles about it. I’ve read about six of them since yesterday. Weird.

Anyway, there’s an official Sastric Advisory Council paper on the issue that is available here. Recommendations of this paper were approved and adopted by GBC in 2005 and again in 2009. But then there’s also a petition by Indian GBC (IRGBC) to have those resolutions amended, so the issue might not be fully resolved yet.

The conclusions of the Sastic Advisory Council are very reasonable. In sum – diksha guru is traditionally a male role but there are precedents in our sampradaya and there are statements both by the sastra and our acharyas that leave the possibility for female diksha gurus open. Therefore it can’t be considered forbidden but it should also be treated rather as an exception.

Practically, SAC recommended reaching a certain age and having practiced sadhana for a big number of years, but, more importantly – never changing women’s social, varnashrama dharma position.

They still should be protected and provided for, both materially and spiritually. There’s no question of turning women into traveling preachers ala sannyasis. They must remain mothers and grandmothers but simply add one more service to their list of duties.

While these conclusions seems to be okay some of the reasoning in reaching them is still open to interpretation. I’m not sure that the same weight must be given to all the references to stri-dharma for women in Prabhupada’s books and elsewhere, and one or two letters or conversations. It shouldn’t make the score 1:1. It looks like SAC tried to keep that kind of score with pro- and anti- points.

The connection between Srila Prabhupada asking ALL his disciples, boys and girls, to become gurus, and girls specifically giving diksha is not established. In fact the latest GBC resolution starts with saying that a number of female devotees already have siksha disciples, thus conforming with Prabhupada’s desires already. The number of available pro points for going beyond being a guru to being diksha guru is practically non-existent though it’s not explicitly prohibited except for the case with Dhruva Maharaja’s mother.

The end result being is that the issue could be spun in any way, there are still good arguments left on both sides.

Another interesting feature of SAC proposal is that potential FDGs “should normally have spiritual support in the form of at least one or more siksa-gurus or senior mentors from which she can take assistance.” There’s nothing wrong with a guru requiring assistance from other senior devotees from time to time but I still can’t get my head around a guru who, if you ask a question, goes to his guru for council before getting back to you. I still think that in this situation a devotee should not start initiating people as a matter of etiquette.

I guess it could work if the etiquette rules are not broken, they are far more flexible in practice than guru-disciple relationship, but it’s still a very interesting add-on for prospective FDG candidates – don’t forget to bring your own guru if you want to initiate anyone.

Another angle to this issue is diksha-siksha-mantra differences and whether they matter at all or not, but that is a far bigger topic that has it’s own hidden dangers.

Yet another aspect, perhaps the most important one, is the spiritual qualification of prospective FDGs. We have several examples of female gurus in our sampradaya but simply being a long time devotee has never been enough. It might seem like a big achievement for us but India is full of women like that and it never crossed anyone’s mind to appoint them as diksha gurus.

We can say that our candidates also have strong philosophical foundation and have proven himself through preaching but while it might impress people in India, in ISKCON it’s nothing extraordinary, we’ve seen a fair share of big time preachers going sideways.

One of the qualifications mentioned in SAC paper is being on a liberated platform where all material distinctions cease to matter. Fine, but I don’t think there’s consensus in our society about who out of our women preachers have achieved liberation. SAC talks about nishta but it’s not clear that devotees on nishta platform can transcend their material restrictions, ie women become diksha gurus (and no one is arguing that they cannot become siksha gurus instead).

Finally, while the issue seems complicated it’s all about exercising benefit of doubt – the one single most compelling reason for FDG petitions is desire for status and prestige, but we do not take this into account so far. We talk only about women sending applications with absolutely pure motives. Once we start examining actual motives and asking women to prove their sincerity all previous hypothetical scenarios might become far out topics.

Two other major reasons why women might want to become diksha gurus is that in Gaudiya Math they are given far more prominent roles than in ISKCON, so it’s a kind of blackmail, and that women are influenced by the modern feminist movement for equality of sexes – that one is very easy to spot on discussion boards.

Needless to say that if one notices even slight traces of above mentioned aspirations the petition to become an FDG should be immediately rejected.

Yet another thought on transcending bodily platform – how come that one of the first candidates for FDG position talks about bodily platform all the time? Men are like this, women are different, men should do this, women should do that – it’s okay to talk about his occasionally but I, personally, sense that it is a far too fascinating topic for that particular vaishnavi and it should raise some flags.

Actually, the same could be said about my blog as well – too much about everyday trivia and too little about Krishna.

Let people become diksha gurus if they want to, even if it’s a mistake it would be a very valuable one – a valuable lesson for the future.

Vanity thought #475. Gurudeviship

I don’t know if it’s a word, the concept itself is alien but in the modern times women are entitled to anything so someone might argue that a new word is desperately needed.

It’s a bit late to discuss implications of allowing women to become ISKCON diksha gurus, it’s not the news, but the matter is still pressing.

I don’t want to discuss whether some of our women are qualified to becomes gurus, that’s beside the point, I wonder why we need females to become gurus at all. Qualified vaishavis can dispense valuable spiritual advice without hindrance, why do they need formal responsibility as well?

Jahnavi Devi was an exceptional soul but she didn’t take any male disciples [correction, it was Sita Devi, wife of Advaita Acharya, and it’s a rather complicated story]. Are our modern day candidates going to discriminate on the basis of gender, too? It was expected four hundred years ago but modern day push for gender equality would fly in the face of such discrimination.

Even if that happened, in line with Vedic gender roles – why would female devotees seek protection of other females? Would we encourage them to ditch their husbands and take shelter of women authorities? Are they going to do a better job at that?

Of course we can say that male-female dichotomy has no place on the spiritual level but if gender rules were followed in Lord Chaitanya’s time why should they be discontinued now? Do we claim to be more advanced and more spiritually powerful than Mahaprabhu’s eternal associates?

I’m posing these questions because I want to see the pro- points in this debate. The anti- points are plentiful and would require a separate post.

When listening to women’s opinions on this there are some who argue generally in favor of the idea but they do it only on basis of qualifications, not whether there’s any real necessity for this.

Women arguing against it have a counterargument as well – they say that all that “denigrating” stuff about women in our books is true. They just laugh off suggestions that women devotees somehow are more strict, more disciplined, more devoted etc.

When I listen to lectures of one mataji candidate for gurudeviship I can’t help but notice that women in her narratives are always the ones who remind their husband to go to the temple. In my personal experience it’s quite the opposite and I’ve heard a couple of confessions from other women, too – they are not angels by any count.

So why? Why should the best women in our society, the most advanced vaishnavis desire to give up positions of mothers and take roles of fathers instead? What example does it set for their followers? That being the best wife or the best mother is not good enough, it’s all maya, real vaishnavis must transcend it and shoot for the stars?

It’s not like we have an excess of successful family stories. Our divorce rate is the same as the rest of the society, which is already at the all time high. We obviously failing at promoting family values, and now our female leaders decide to drop it altogether and play roles of men?

It looks like a great disservice to humanity. It’s going to hell quite nicely on its own, why should we help it along? I thought our goal was to reverse the degradation of Kali Yuga and create a society in the mode of goodness so that people can take to spiritual practice. We can’t have a society conducive to developing Krishna consciousness if we let our women roam free to do whatever they want.

Krishna might have disagreed with Arjuna on the need to fight but He never said “Don’t worry about leaving women unprotected, it’s all nonsense, tall tales invented by power hungry men who wish to keep women in eternal slavery.” Krishna never talked about “liberating” women and giving them an equal position.

Or let’s look at it this way – Krishna never advised it, neither in Bhgavad Gita nor in Uddhava Gita, shastras never advise it, Lord Chaitanya never advised it, our acharyas never advised it – why should it be done? Just because someone wants to? That’s ridiculous. And what about devotees following these “gurudevis” acting on their own whim? What kind of nonsense is this? Don’t we have enough apa-sampradayas already? Don’t we have enough deviations even in our short ISKCON history? Do we need another proof that following your own concoctions will always fail?

Having said that, I think there’s another angle to this, too, and I will try to explore it some other day.