Found in Sanga, Sanga 2000.

Q. I came across a passage in Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita that disturbed me very much. The purport to Bg.1.40 reads, “As children are prone to be misled women are similarly very prone to degradation.” Later in the purport Prabhupada says, “According to Canakya Pandita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy.” The Gita verse itself is acceptable but when it is followed by these other two statements, it starts looking like female bashing from some harsh, male dominated viewpoint.

A. These apparently sexist statements (and there are some others in the Bhagavatam as well) have to be balanced with the way in which Srila Prabhupada engaged women in Krishna’s service. He gave them positions of responsibility, and in spite of what he wrote here and there that might be considered sexist today, all of his female students loved him dearly as he did them. The statements themselves arise out of a particular cultural background, that of 19th century Calcutta, and India’s ancient Vedic traditions.

Prabhupada’s Gita commentary was written over 50 years ago. Had he written his commentary today, it may very well have been different. He would have taken the social and cultural climate of the times into consideration. Prabhupada was in fact very flexible and very liberal minded. Within Gaudiya Vaisnavism he took revolutionary strides to improve the status of women and engage them in spiritual culture. His comments of 50 years ago do seem conservative and somewhat insensitive to today’s postmodern worldview. But we have to identify Prabhupada with his spirit of making Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings relevant to today, and do that ourselves with his blessing, and go on from there offering our pranams at his lotus feet again and again.

Here is my rendering of Bg.1.40, the verse under discussion, from my upcoming Gita commentary: “O Krishna, descendent of Vrsni, when irreligion increases women are taken advantage of, and when women are abused this gives rise to inappropriate mixing between men and women from different castes producing unwanted children.”

I did not write any commentary on this verse because I felt it was apparent that the text itself refers to times gone by. Although it is certainly true that when irreligion increases women can be taken advantage of, in today’s world women can also take advantage of men. Inappropriate mixing between men and women does often produce unwanted children. This section of the Gita extols the virtues of family life, that which is vital to a healthy a society. It should be understood in this way.

Otherwise, the argument raised here by Arjuna is one of many arguments he raises in the Gita based on material considerations in order to justify not doing Krishna’s bidding. All of these arguments are refuted by Krishna when he takes the discussion to the level of the soul in the second chapter. The conversation between Arjuna and Krishna begins in chapter two, and the subject is the soul.

From there the discussion moves to the engagement (yoga) that will enable one to realize the soul from selfless action (karma yoga) to knowledge, meditation, and ultimately bhakti. This is followed appropriately by the theology of the Gita in chapters 7-12. Chapters 13-18 further explains the knowledge that is relevant to self realization and God realization discussed in brief in the first six chapters. In chapter 18 the conclusion of the Gita is given, one that reiterates the concluding remarks of chapter nine.

In short, the Gita has nothing to do with whether or not women can be trusted. Trust me. Prabhupada trusted his women disciples, and his male disciples often proved untrustworthy. Canakya Pandita’s remarks may have been wise during his time, but they are not spiritual and thus subject to reconsideration.

Q. What is the difference between a mayavadi and brahmavadi?

A. A Mayavadi is one who adheres to the doctrine of Sankara, in which the form of Krishna is considered to be Brahman covered by an adjucnt constituted of material nature. According to the doctrine of Mayavada, while this expression of Brahman is helpful to the illusioned, it does not itself exist in ultimate reality. Others may be less concerned with the form of God yet not deny its eternal existence and ultimacy. They are the jnani bhaktas described in the Bhagavad-gita. Sometimes people refer to these jnanis as Brahmavadis. They are not impersonalists in the negative sense that Prabhupada uses the term.

Q. What motivates them to pursue these spiritual paradigms?

A. For the most part all transcendentalists are motivated in their pursuit by their association.

Q. You explained once that the Guru is like the disciple’s own heart coming before him and thus is very dear. Why then is the disciple dear to the Guru?

A. The disciple is a representative of one’s guru coming to engage him in Krishna’s service. The guru sees his disciple in this way.

Q. I heard that Nanda and Yasoda performed austerities in order to have Krishna as their child. Others say they performed no austerities and are nitya parsadas, Krishna’s eternal parents. Which is correct?

A. Nanda Maharaja and Yasodamayi performed the dvadasi vrata in the worship of Narayana for one year. They were perplexed because every time they thought of having a child they envisioned a son who was more beautiful than Narayana. Realizing that this was impossible, they decided to perform the dvadasi vrata, and then yogamaya made Yasoda appear pregnant. Suddenly she developed an uncontrollable appetite for milk sweets, etc.

Q. In a recent discussion you wrote, “The world is the creation (sristi) lila of God (Maha Visnu), who becomes many out of joy. Because he is the master of material nature the many expanding from him come in touch with material nature. They, unlike God, are small and thus prone to be overwhelmed by material nature’s influence.”

How can an individual living entity (soul) be an exapansion of the Lord? Doesn’t Krishna say in the Gita, “you, me and all these kings have existed from time immemorial and will continue to exist.” Doesn’t this mean there is no question of the creation of the living entity or an expansion of God becoming a living entity?

A. The sristi lila of God is sometimes described as creation. It is really the emanation of God that occurs again and again as does its contraction in a beginingless cycle. Repeatedly God desires to manifest the world after it has been dormant during his mystic slumber. At this time, the individual conditioned souls are again manifest from God. They are manifestations of his tatastha sakti (marginal/intermediate potency). This is the teaching of the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krishna says that he manifests the individual souls being the seed giving father of material nature (Chapter 14).

Krishna’s mention of this in chapter 14 is an explanation of the sruti in which it is said eko bahu syam, “The one becomes many.” God becomes many as the jiva souls, although this is not an act that has a beginning in time. It does manifest in conjunction with time, but it is at the same time without beginning. As all the manifestations of God (Visnu tattva) are eternal while appearing to manifest at a particular time. So too are all jiva souls. The Godhead manifests himself as many (bahu syam), and thus all diversities are within him, and he is within all diversities. At the same time he is different from all of them. He has inconceivable mystic power.

Q. Madhvacarya writes that some souls are eternally demoniac whereas the Gaudiya tradition teaches that everyone has the oppurtunity to become liberated. How do we harmonize this apparent contradiction in siddhanta?

A. Madhvacarya interprets verses such as 18 and 19 from the 16th chapter of Bhagavad-gita to reach this conclusion. Therein Krishna says, “Those who are envious and cruel, the worst of humanity, I repeatedly cast into the wombs of the ungodly life after life. Having entered the wombs of the ungodly, the deluded, not attaining me in birth after birth, O son of Kuntî, go from there to the lowest destination.”

So Madhava has not said anything wrong. Indeed, Krishna himself has said that some souls are perpetually cast into demoniac wombs. However, the Gaudiya sampradaya, while appearing within the Madhava sampradaya, has shed new light on the scripture. True to its compassionate Lord, Sri Caitnaya, it finds hope for all souls. In my own Bhagavad-gita commentary (scheduled to be published this year), I have commented on the above verse as follows:

“Here Arjuna experiences the wrath of God and reacts accordingly. This is the nature of the godly. Hearing of the fate of the demoniac, Arjuna considers that certainly on hearing this the ungodly will change their ways. This choice is possible with the help of good association. However, the ungodly do not care for the association of the godly, and they usually have no fear of God. Fear is the lowest level of motivation for serving God. Being devoid of this, there is little hope for them. Here Krishna’s strong words are an attempt to save them.”

Actually, there are many differences between the teachings of Madhava and the teachings of Sri Caitanya. For example, Madhva does not accept that Krishna is the source of Narayana, whereas this is central to Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Madhava is not wrong in his opinion, inasmuch as this is his realization and the common understanding in Vaikuntha. There are different ways of looking at ultimate reality. To say that Sri Caitanya is an incarnation of Mahavisnu is not wrong, but it is not very flattering.

Q. Important devotees in our line are said to be special personalities either in Krishna lila or Gaura lila or both. How is that possible? And how do we know these things? Couldn’t this just be speculation?

A. Conflicting opinions on the spiritual identity of devotees either in Krishna lila or in Gaura lila do not necessarily mean that one opinion is correct and another incorrect. Nor are they necessarily just speculation. The principle devotee to reveal these identities is Kavi Karnapura, who wrote about them in his Gauragonnodesa dipika. In places he himself offers different opinions about the same devotees. The idea is that he has identified the bhava (spiritual emotion) of devotees from Krishna lila, or a semblance of it, that appeared in devotees of Krishna’s lila as Sri Caitanya—Gaura lila.

These devotees are all nitya parsadas (eternal associates) of Krishna. They are constituted of Krishna’s svarupa sakti (internal/primary potency), unlike the jivas (individual souls like ourselves) who are constituted of Krishna’s tatastha sakti (marginal/intermediate potency). The possibilities of Krishna’s svarupa sakti are beyond our comprehension. We are like ice. They are like water. In connection with them we can flow, etc. like water as well.

Kavi Karnapura refelected on the interaction between Gaurunga and his devotees throughout Gaura lila and at different times he was moved within by various considerations. He has expressed his feelings in his book. At one time in the lila he reflected on Ramanada Ray and felt the emotions of Arjuna, and at another he felt the bhava of another devotee of Krishna lila manifesting in Gaura lila through Ramananda Ray. Other realized devotees may do the same and come to different conclusions.

Their conclusion is what Krishna is revealing to them at that time. Other possibilities may exist as well, and you are to reflect on these things yourself. At first we can reflect in relation to scripture, and later we may even write our own scripture. Spiritual feeling, bhava, takes us from the black and white world of the conditioned mind to the land of all possibilities. Arriving there, even the broadest material mind is narrow in comparison.

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