Q. I read your comments on women and sannyasa and appreciated them, but a sannyasi informed me that they were not in line with Srila Prabhupada’s opinion and the Vedic position on this issue. He sent me the following quote from Prabhupada’s books:
“So-called spiritual societies concocted in modern times give sannyasa even to women, although there is no sanction in the Vedic literature for a woman’s accepting sannyasa. Otherwise, if it were sanctioned, Kardama Muni could have taken his wife and given her sannyasa.”
He then wrote to me that we must strictly follow the Vedic principles because this was Prabhupada’s standard. He also explained that “We should have faith that Srila Prabhupada’s books will be the ‘Law books’ for mankind for the next 10,000 years. Therefore we don’t very much appreciate Swami Tripurari’s willingness to change them so easily. Also this ‘sannyasa for women’ is more than a mere detail as it involves the principle of protecting women, which is a cornerstone of the Vedic culture.” With all respect, can you comment on this for my benefit?
A. I have not proposed that Srila Prabhupada’s books be changed. However, I do not think that a literal understanding of the idea that Prabhupada’s books will be “the law books for the next 10,000 years” is well-reasoned or realistic. Incidentally, this statement attributed to Srila Prabhupada cannot be found anywhere in the written record.
Furthermore, I do not think that the sannyasi who wrote you and others like him are “strictly following the Vedic principles.” If such sannyasis were doing so, they would be walking barefoot, bathing only in holy rivers, passing only one night in each village, etc., etc.
Prabhupada wrote that women should be protected in all stages of life, as children by their father, as wives by their husbands, and as widows by their sons. In spite of this he himself created a brahmacarini order in ISKCON. Who is protecting them? Perhaps Krishna. Srila Prabhupada wrote:
“Actually, there is no… brahmacarini is not allowed in the sastra. Where is the question of brahmacarini? Because according to Vedic system, as soon as a girl is fourteen years old or sixteen years old, she is at once married. According to Vedic system, no girl should be allowed remaining unmarried. So there is no question of brahmacarini. Every girl is supposed to be married. That is the Vedic system.”
Yet in spite of quotes like this he established a brahmacarini asrama! He also said the following in this regard:
“So at the present moment we cannot strictly follow [the Vedic culture]; neither we are strictly following; neither it is possible to strictly follow. As far as possible, that’s all. Our conception of brahmacarini is in the Krishna society, because. Especially in India, there is no brahmacarini. But here, in your country, the boys and girls mix very freely, but just to restrict such free mixing, we think that the unmarried girls should remain separately. That is the contemplation. Actually, in the Vedic system there is no brahmacarini system.”
In the above quote Srila Prabhupada speaks of establishing a brahmacarini asrama in his society in spite of the fact that it is not Vedic to do so. He said the following about this non-Vedic asrama:
“I am so pleased that you are guiding your God-sisters in N.Y. so nicely. But some of your God-sisters in San Francisco want you for 2 months. I have asked them to write you directly and if you can spare yourself for that time to organize a brahmacarini asrama in S.F., please think it over. I have seen the article put in Boston newspaper about your activities there, and I am so glad to see your picture, just a brahmacarini. The picture was very attractive for me, and I pray Krishna that you may make further progress in Krishna consciousness so your spiritual beauty may come out more and more.”
“If you can organize a brahmacarini asrama, it will be very nice idea.”
The example of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON is noteworthy: in today’s ISKCON, the position of the GBC is arguably higher than sannyasa. Although women were not members of the GBC during the personal presence of Srila Prabhupada, the wise leaders of today’s ISKCON have appointed women members of the GBC. Who is protecting them? Perhaps the best protection for women in today’s society is education, by which they will be aided in seeing through the pretense of concern for their well being on the part of male chauvinists who disguise their sexism in quasi-spiritual packaging. Such chauvinists hardly represent Srila Prabhupada and sorely lack his dynamic spiritual vision.
I believe that the question of whether or not women can accept the sannyasa order or not is a detail. Indeed, in my original article I pointed out that the entire institution of sannyasa within Gaudiya Vaisnavism is a detail, one that can be added or deleted as time and circumstances warrant in the determination of spiritually advanced preachers. Details can be changed, as was done by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura when he instituted sannyasa for our sampradaya. It can be changed in order to underscore essential principles. As I have stated in the article in question, I personally believe that there is merit in considering the possibility that it may be useful for preaching to award sannyasa to women in our sampradaya. Yet, I personally have not done this, nor do I have any plans to do so. Furthermore, I remain open to consider that this may not be prudent at this time.
I believe that in spite of what Prabhupada has said on this in the past, were he personally present today he might reconsider. After all, as demonstrated above with regard to the brahmacarini ashram, he was known to do this after receiving new information or as circumstances changed, reversing his position on issues from time to time as any reasonable person would do.
Some persons like to find things that I say that seem to contradict Srila Prabhupada and in doing so assert that I am not his follower. They find literal contradictions but fail to grasp the spirit of my preaching that keeps me in line with my guru-parampara. A number of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples committed the same error in relation to him. At a certain stage of spiritual advancement a disciple is entitled to what may appear to be his own opinion while embracing the spirit of the message of his guru, especially with regard to preaching and time, place, and manner considerations. Sincere devotees should consider this point carefully.
Simply because an advanced disciple offers a different opinion from that of his guru, this is not grounds for concluding that he is not a true follower of his guru. Srila Prabhupada has stated in writing in his Bhagavatam commentary that Brahma is in sakhya-rasa, whereas his gurudeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, opined that Brahma is in madhurya-rasa. This is certainly not a detail, yet I consider my gurudeva to be a strict follower of his guru in spite of his different angle of vision on this important issue.
Overall, it is best to be generous in our attitude toward one another, and furthermore we should rise to the level of being able to accommodate differences of opinion amongst one another without feeling the necessity to declare holy war.
Q. In your Sanga on diksa by tape recording (http://www.escribe.com/religion/sanga/m195.html) you quoted Srila Sridhara Maharaja that “The will of the Vaisnava is the heart of the affair, if he gives his consent, everything else is just a formality.” You also said that initiation was about formalizing the love one feels for the guru.
Many people have developed a strong affection for Srila Prabhupada from reading his books and I once read that Prabhupada said just by reading his books one is initiated. Given that it was Prabhupada’s instructions that initiated, or started, them chanting Hari nama, is Srila Prabhupada their nama-guru? Does it matter that in a lot of cases Prabhupada had already left us, so this will never be formalized? Is it necessary for spiritual progress to accept formal initiation from a ‘living’ representative of the parampara?
If love, rather than self-deception, is the motivation for someone wanting to be a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and if due to love they did not want to accept anyone else, how is it possible that this could hamper their spiritual progress? Does this attitude reveal a lack of understanding of the nature of the guru? Is it right that one should have such a personal love for their guru?
A. Thakura Bhaktivinoda said that he “came to Krishna consciousness” by reading Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, but because he read the book thoroughly and studied its message carefully he never concluded that he could consider himself a direct disciple of its author, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami. Nor did he think that becoming the disciple of another would in any way make his connection with Krishnadasa Kaviraja somehow less than if he were personally initiated by him. In other words he understood the concept of guru-parampara, by which one is connected to all of the previous acaryas.
Those who began chanting Krishna nama because Srila Prabhupada preached in his books that they should do so should realize that in preaching like this Prabhupada is representing his predecessors, all of whom preached the same message. Along with teaching that everyone should chant Krishna nama, our parampara explains that one should do so under the guidance of a proper guru and take initiation from him. Taking initiation involves taking something that is being given. Thus there are two sides to the equation: the prospective disciple must be willing (and no doubt loving), and the guru from his side must be willing to accept him. If our initial inspiration has come from a departed guru, it does not mean that we can claim ourselves to be his initiated disciple without his consent. Nor would he give such consent, given that it would clash with the Gaudiya doctrine established by his predecessors, his gurus. Indeed, in order to make a significant connection with such a departed guru, we must follow the system of guru-paramapara and in this way follow his own example.
Not wanting to accept anyone other than Srila Prabhupada as one’s guru, even though he has already departed, is a form of self-deception fostered by fanaticism in the name of love. Admittedly, it has not been helpful that a number of his disciples have proven unqualified to represent him, but this does not afford us a license to change Gaudiya siddhanta. If you have love for Srila Prabhupada but were not initiated by him, my suggestion is that you seek out those who are representing him. If your quest is sincere, you will find him in what appears to be another, and finding him in this way will make for a noticeably more substantial connection with him than the one you have made thus far.
Q. In a previous Sanga you stated that Sri Sri Radha and Krishna are manifestations of Laksmi and Narayana but the Padma Purana states that Saci, the wife of Indra, performed penance for 60,000 years in order to take birth as Sri Radha so she could be with Krishna. Why the confusion?
A. According to Sri Jiva Goswami, all statements from the Puranas have to be understood in the light of the scriptural conclusions of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In his Tattva-sandarbha he has gone to great lengths to explain why the Bhagavatam holds this preeminent position. Statements from other Puranas that contradict the conclusions of the Bhagavatam are either propaganda or only partially true. For example, Saci is in fact a partial manifestation of Radha and is present within her, as is Laksmi Devi, when she descends. Sri Radha is the primal sakti of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, and as such Laksmi as well as the powers that empower all of the goddesses of the gods are partially present within her.
The scriptural conclusion of the Bhagavatam is that it is not possible to become a Vraja gopi of Krishna simply by performing penance for however long. The prime example in this regard is Laksmi Devi herself. Although she performed penance for this end, she was unsuccessful. The reason for this is that to become a Vraja gopi, one must follow in the footsteps of the Vraja gopis. This is the path of raganuga-bhakti as taught by the followers of Sri Caitanyadeva. Furthermore, it has been clearly explained by Srila Rupa Goswami that no one can become Radha herself any more than one can become Krishna.
Q. I would like to thank you for your Sanga. I very much appreciate your guidance. I think Srila Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja would be very proud of you.
In your articles you sometimes advise that one should follow one’s heart. How is one to differentiate inspiration from the heart from self-deception stemming from selfish desire? It is so easy to deceive oneself; we have all had so much practice it comes naturally.
A. We have guru, sadhu, and sastra to help us in determining the parameters of what is and what is not within the siddhanta of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. However, all of the answers to spiritual life are not in the books in the sense that within these parameters there are many individual choices to make. With all the sincerity at our disposal, we should follow our heart when making those decisions. For example, everyone has to choose a guru. The scripture, guru, or sadhu does not tell us which guru to choose. They provide us with guidelines, but the choice is ours. Don’t expect others to make every decision in spiritual life for you in the name of avoiding following the whims of your mind. You will have to use your mind and intelligence to make many important decisions, and in doing so, your mental decision as to how to proceed should be made from within the parameters of the scriptural conclusions of the tradition and in consonance with your heart.
Self-deception and selfish desire are deeply rooted in all of us, but we also know something of what it means to be sincere. Pray to be sincere about being sincere and it will be obvious to you what self-deception and selfishness are relative to your immediate need to advance at any particular time.