Women and Sannyasa
by Gopa Kumar dasa
Posted January 14, 2003

A response to Romapada dasa's article

Srila Prabhupada's guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, whose every word we hold over our head as authoritative, established the system of giving sannyasa only to male members of his mission who had been born in brahmana families. In fact, it was this form of sannyasa that follows the Vedic system of sannyasa. His desire was to establish the system of daiva varnashram that his gurudeva and father Sacchidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakur was so committed to. In Bhaktivinoda's estimation devotees on the bhakti marg should settle within an ashrama based on their natural disposition. Bhaktisiddhanta was following in this way in order to re-establish dignity in the mission which had been viewed as lacking in many regards. The disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta, most prominently Srila Prabhupada, extended the ashram of sannyasa to all appropriately disposed men regardless of their birth caste. Sannyasa in Srila Prabhupada's mission is a tribute to this.

Extending sannyasa to those not born as brahmins was quite a controversy in Gaudiya Math. This is not the only thing Srila Prabhupada did that turned heads there. He also gave women the gayatri mantra to chant and allowed women to worship the Deity on the altar. He was considered quite a liberal for his time, but nevertheless we recognize everything he did as completely authorized.

This is because Srila Prabhupada was a fully empowered and realized preacher. His spiritual depth was clearly evident and the success of his mission is proof of this depth. The entire mission was riding on the waves of his bhava. It was his depth of realization that empowered him to make the changes he did in order to make the mission successful in the West. We believe only this kind of empowered personality can make these sorts of changes. It is not that any person can concoct a system of bhakti that is relevant. This sort of preacher must have deep realization and insight into Gaudiya siddhanta. With this merit and footing in the spiritual realm, such a person can judge, as Srila Prabhupada did, what changes will keep our movement relevant in the world while remaining Krishna conscious.

The spirit of Srila Prabhupada was essence seeking. He made necessary changes in order to fulfill the desire of his gurudeva, and doing so, he changed much of his guru's system, in order to be faithful to his guru's vision. We must remember that scripture is not our only reference guide. We also have the authority of guru and sadhu to integrate.

It may be time that we look again at the mission and have devotees of spiritual standing judge whether we should again re-adjust some things in order to fit modern time and circumstance. I believe Swami Tripurari is among those devotees who are qualified to do this.

Changing some of the details that were established by Srila Prabhupada to fit present time and circumstance may sound like heresy, but this is what Srila Prabhupada himself did, while remaining true to the missionary spirit of his gurudeva. This is what Swami Tripurari is talking about in his article 'Women and Sanyassa'. Otherwise, with all this said, it is critical to ask: Why shouldn't women today take sanyassa? The criteria should be scriptural knowledge and purity. Who then can deny that there are women who meet these criteria?