Can Women Be Diksa Gurus? The Syrup on Both Sides of the Gulabjamun
Posted December 12, 2012
There has recently been a debate on the internet* about whether or not women can become diksa gurus, some statements of Srila Prabhupada supporting the idea, and others contradicting it. Whenever there is a contradiction in statements of the guru, it is wrong to focus on the statements that support one's foregone conclusion, and neglect the others that contradict the same. This is called "guru avajna" and constitutes an offense to hari-nama, being, as it is, an offense against truth, being a half-truth only.
The guru always preaches according to time, place and circumstance, and this must be taken into account when analysing his instructions. For example, he told Harikesa "Eat meat" at one point, but the circumstance surrounding the incident was indeed favourable to cow protection, the sacred and compassionate principle behind "Don't eat meat". The circumstance was that Harikesa was capable of turning the Russian people towards vaishnavism and used the argument for not going there "But there is only meat to eat there!" So that was Srila Prabhupada's response: "Eat meat, then!"... In light of the circumstantial evidence, both statements are in complete resonance.
Keeping this in mind, let us examine the differing, direct instructions of Srila Prabhupada, on the matter of women becoming diksa gurus, and reconcile them in light of time, place and circumstance:
Evidence in Support for Women being Diksa Gurus
"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 number of generations. That is my program."
(letter, Srila Prabhupada 3rd Dec, 1968)
Prof. O'Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnava-devi was Nityananda's wife. She became. If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection…. Yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya. The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru. Yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei guru haya. In our material world is it any prohibition that woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified, she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru." (Conversation 6/18/76)
The second quote, the conversation, indicates the general qualification to become guru- whether of the diksa or the siksa type is not mentioned. The first quote, which is written, a letter, is more specific- gurus that initiate disciples. Specifically, Srila Prabhupada includes women in this category "spiritual sons and daughters". It is not that he is just allowing or conceding that women could- begrudgingly- be given the position of diksa guru. Srila Prabhupada said that it was his "program", his desire: "I want..."
The opposing argument must now be considered. The opposition quotes a purport by Srila Prabhupada thus:
Actually, Dhruva Maharaja's mother, Suniti, was his patha-pradarsaka-guru. Patha-pradarsaka-guru means "the guru, or the spiritual master, who shows the way." Such a guru is sometimes called siksa-guru. Although Narada Muni was his diksa-guru (initiating spiritual master), Suniti, his mother, was the first who gave him instruction on how to achieve the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is the duty of the siksa-guru or diksa-guru to instruct the disciple in the right way, and it depends on the disciple to execute the process. According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru, and generally the siksa-guru later on becomes the diksa-guru. Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja's diksa-guru. (S.B. 4.12.32 pp)
In this purport, there is the statement that Suniti was actually Dhruva Maharaja's guru, as proven by definition. But because she was a woman AND the mother of the boy, she could not be his diksa guru. If it was just enough that she was a woman to discount her credentials, then there would have been no need to add the fact that she was his mother. It was that she was a woman AND his mother that made it impossible for her to be his diksa guru.
Why is this a relevant consideration? There is another correlation to this story in modern vaisnava history- of a well qualified person who was already an advanced siksa guru, unable to become diksa guru, on account of parenthood to the disciple. It is the case history of Bhaktivinode Thakura, who was already a siksa guru to his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. The latter begged to take initiation from his father, but the father refused on account of parenthood, and directed him to take initiation from Gaura Kishore instead. It appears that, for some reason, possibly familiarity, possibly to prevent the formation of a hereditary line of gurus, the disciple can never take diksa of even an amply qualified guru who happens to be his father. From the Dhruva story, it appears the same problem can occur in regard to one's mother, who may even be already qualified and acting as one's siksa guru: "Actually, Dhruva Maharaja's mother, Suniti, was his patha-pradarsaka-guru. Patha-pradarsaka-guru means "the guru, or the spiritual master, who shows the way." Such a guru is sometimes called siksa-guru."
Considering the whole purport, not just the last sentence, plus the written testimony of Srila Prabhupada, that all his spiritual sons and daughters should become diksa gurus, we see the circumstance surrounding the inability of Suniti- not that she was a woman, but a woman and Dhruva's mother. From this we can only conclude that any of our women who are qualified to be siksa gurus, can also be diksa gurus, except to their own offspring. The GBC are not above sastra. If sastra says they can be diksa gurus, no proclamation by any ecclesiastic authority can say they are not, by refusing or neglecting to rubberstamp them as "approved". The qualification is not to get GBC approval. The qualification is that they must simply be "fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru". Such a qualification is also given in a specific way by Srila Prabhupada- they must qualify for the Bhaktivedanta degree, which means full understanding of all types of vaisnava sastra, its relevance and its applications.
After writing this, I researched the discussion further on the internet and noticed that a similar argument had been put forth in regard to the above mentioned purport. The opposition counters it thus:
"The way editors presented it, enclosed with commas, the clause "and specifically his mother" can be omitted entirely without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Suniti, being a woman, could not become a diksa guru.
From a legalistic point of view this sentence can be dissected in numerous ways leading to numerous implications but the direct meaning is actually pretty straightforward."
The "direct meaning" is not actually straightforward, as is claimed, for it was not Srila Prabhupada, but the editors who put in the commas, thus allowing the removal of the clause without changing its meaning. Srila Prabhupada dictated these purports into the dictaphone, and they were transcribed and edited by his disciples. Such editing should always be in consonance with Srila Prabhupada's other instructions, or they can cause misinterpretations and misunderstandings, as they have done in this case. If Srila Prabhupada had stated elsewhere that women cannot be diksa gurus, then the editing would have been in consonance with his instructions. Since the opposite is true, this editing is faulty.
As quoted above, Srila Prabhupada supported the concept of female initiating gurus, along with male initiating disciples- indeed he wrote that it was "his program" to create them. When opponents have to resort to insertions made by editors to support their opposition to Srila Prabhupada's program, they only reveal the frailty of their position and their lack of sincerity to fulfill the desire of the spiritual master.
The Question of Gender Equality
The opposition to female initiating gurus have also made the argument that Srila Prabhupada was not for gender equality, being as he was in favour of traditional female roles. Those supporting the premise of female initiating gurus argue that indeed he was for gender equality in his repeated instruction that we are not these bodies, and are all part and parcel of Godhead.
Both are correct. The woman body does not equal a male body- they are not equal as in being the same in every respect. Women have different minds and bodies tied up in the concept of ahankara "I am this body". Generally, a woman is not as physically strong as a man, and so, she needs protection. She can be raped very easily by a man. It is much harder for a woman to rape a man, practically impossible. So, having a female body on this planet means we have the right to be protected. It is the religious duty of a strong and healthy man to protect a woman, any woman, especially his wife, from any aggressor...not only a woman, but a child, an elderly person, a sick person, an animal- especially a cow, or a generally physically underdeveloped person, like an intellectual. This is the responsibility of the strong, and Krsna says in the gita "I am that strength".
Therefore, when the strong protect the weak, they do so on Krsna's behalf. But when the weak take it as an offense, or as being "patronized", or "treated as a child" to be cared for in this way, and argue that they are just as good and equal as anyone else, they not only stray far from truth, they sell themselves short of desperately needed well-wishers.
Yes, on the spiritual platform we are equal, but try and tell that to a would-be aggressor, filled with lust. Having a spiritual philosophy doesn't mean having one's head in the clouds, or hiding it in the sand. Ultimately, we should seek only Krsna's protection, however. Husbands, sons, fathers, none of these can ultimately protect us from death. Only recognizing we are not these frail or strong bodies, but something unbreakable, insoluble, uncrackable, unrapable, untouchable, joyful and sublime, intimately and forever united with the inexhaustible fountainhead of bliss, ultimately only that connection can protect us from the distress of anything which may befall our bodies.
We don't reach that state by refusing to recognize differences in bodies, but by transcending the body altogether. In that consciousness, we don't see in terms of the body, we see everyone in their relationship with Krsna. Neither do we confuse such spiritual equality with bodily equality, nor do we neglect the religious principle for the strong to protect the weak- and for the weak to accept protection. These are all principles favourable to the cultivation of transcendental awareness- seeing Krsna in everything, seeing Him even in our own ability to protect others, and seeing everyone and others as Krsna's, His divine property, and we, His servants, ever attendant to protect that property from harm.
The Need for Submission and Humility
The opposition has also given the statements of Srila Prabhupada that women should be humble and submissive, to prove their point. Humility and submission that is not blind is not detrimental to Krsna consciousness and therefore cannot be detrimental to the service position of someone with the most realization of it- a guru. If a Krsna conscious person has humility and submission that is not blind, then the most Krsna conscious person, the guru, has the most of humility and a submissive attitude that is not blind. He or she humbly and joyfully submits to a more advanced person, regardless of their gender. Being submissive to a person with less spiritual advancement, is not recommended. Therefore, the vedic system was that a woman could never marry a man from a lesser varna. A woman trained up in a brahmana family, could never marry a ksatriya, vaisya or sudra, as customarily she would need to submit, possibly blindly if the husband required it, to someone less in touch with the voice of the Lord within, the sastra, and the acaryas.
If a brahmana woman submits to her (properly qualified) brahmana husband and has a humble and menial service attitude towards him, then that is beneficial for her pleasing the Lord, and she may further please the Lord by enlightening so many souls, sharing her realizations with them, opening their eyes about their illusions, and in general being a guru to many, and for some, also a diksa guru. That the point of humility and submission has come up as an argument against women becoming diksa gurus, betrays our misunderstanding of what a diksa guru is- the most humble of all, and the most willing to submit to anyone who is more advanced- joyfully and completely, being as she or he is- without ahankara of lording it over others, or wanting to be in a superior position.
Erich Fromm wrote about the alignment of two states of consciousness- one towards "having" and one towards "being". In service attitude, we "be"- our sense of worth is what we are in the process of becoming- which is like water- the most humble position. In the "have" consciousness, our sense of worth is aligned with what we "have"- title, honour, adoration, position. Those whose consciousness is aligned with having, interpret the guru position from their own perception, and see it as something one has- rather than becomes. They see honour- and so how can one in that position consider themselves lowly, menial, submissive, etc? For the one in "being" consciousness, there is no sense of having this honour at all- their whole focus is becoming more and more humble, and being able to serve others, more and more. Thus, they seamlessly integrate tasks of menial service with tasks of instruction and guidance, much as a mother does. It is all part of the service package.
Enlightened mothers are already gurus to their children, and Srila Prabhupada required the men to call all our women "mataji", expanding the reverential concept to go beyond the person who has nurtured one in the womb (are we not all in the womb of becoming?) . That he wanted them to be diksa gurus was also clear, and the limitation in this reagrd, is there in the same way that it is for men- one cannot be diksa guru for one's bodily offspring.
When the guru wants something of us, it is something we should take very seriously. It should be "our life and soul". We failed him in giving him his expressed wish, of women becoming diksa gurus, by the due date: 1975. How long will we keep him waiting? But let our tardiness not discourage us: Srila Prabhupada could not fulfill his guru's desire that he go to the west, for so many decades. He tried everything he could, however, to do it as soon as possible. We must do it sooner or later, but unnecessary procrastination is a symptom of the mode of ignorance. So, let's start today. Make a course for all our devotees, both women and men, to become Bhaktivedanta Title qualifiers, then let them all preach and make disciples all over the world. Haribol! Jaya Srila Prabhupada!
*the relevant articles on this debate can be found at:
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