Women and Sannyasa: Self-Realized devotees are not controlled by the scriptures.
by Brahma Das
Posted January 17, 2003

(A reply to Romapada dasa) According to Bhaktivinode Thakura realized souls are not bound by the dictates of the scriptures. On the contrary he says that any new practice established by such souls should be followed as religious code even if not found in the writings of previous sages.

Bhaktivinode writes: "Devotees of the Supreme Lord are not controlled by the scriptures since their activities are congenial to divine wisdom. Therefore when the self-realized devotees ordain any new arrangement, this should be followed as a religious code, even if such new arrangements are not found in the scriptural dictums of the previous sages." (Sri Krishna Samhita)

Bhaktivinode Thakura ordered Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to find the ways and means to spread Krishna consciousness. Taking the lead from Mahaprabhu's acceptance of sannyasa, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta decided to reestablish or re-introduce the sannyasa ashram into Gaudiya Vaisnavism for the sake of preaching. For this he was much criticized by the Gaudiya orthodoxy because previous Gaudiya saints had for some time been accepting the Babaji tradition instead of the sannyasa ashram. The sannyasa ashram had been replaced in order to distinguish Gaudiya renounciates from adwaitins as well as to illustrate that Vaisnavism was above varnashram. Considering the socio-religious climate of the times and regardless of the precedent set by his own gurus Srila Bhaktisiddhanta decided that re-introducing the sannyasa ashram would be helpful in promoting the mission of Sri Chaitanya which was the essential desire of Bhaktivinode. Thus he was inspired to take sannyasa (from a picture of Gaur Kishore das Babaji) and use the ashram of sannyasa for the cause of Mahaprabhu.

Great devotees may break the rules for the cause of Mahaprabhu. Indeed Mahaprabhu taught that spirituality's highest ideal was the lawless love of the gopis. The gopis cared not for any restriction that interfered with their service to Krishna and in that mood were willing to neglect the dictates of scripture and sacrifice even their so-called honor for his service.

Srila Prabhupada writes in Caitanya Caritamrita that in promoting the cause of Mahaprabhu an acharya should not be expected to conform to a stereotype. And: "Every acarya has a specific means of propagating his spiritual movement with the aim of bringing men to Krsna consciousness. Therefore, the method of one acarya may be different from that of another, but the ultimate goal is never neglected." (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 7.37)

Bhaktivinode, Bhaktisiddhanta and Bhaktivedanta all taught that the ultimate goal was paramount and took precedence over various scriptural rules and regulations. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada himself disregarded many rules, some even established by his spiritual master, in his work of establishing the mission of Bhaktivinode in the western world. Scriptural rules according to Bhaktivinode are provisional and meant to bring one gradually to the realized platform. Such rules have no binding on great souls.

Bhaktivinode writes: "The provisional character of scriptural texts is evident, but the authors of the scriptures do not explicitly indicate this because those qualified to discard the scriptural bindings naturally become independent of scripture with the help of the hidden indications of the scriptural authors and also by their own purified knowledge. Such persons carry on sinless activities with the help of their own intellect as well as by the advice of the scriptures. In that stage the scriptures do not have any binding power over them, but only serve as their guides.

On the other hand, those who are unable to understand their own spiritual path for want of self-evident knowledge may not be able to ascertain their duties and so may fall into misery due to sensuality; for such people the scriptural rules are imperative. Such persons should not know that there is any way for them apart from the bindings of the scriptures. When they become authorized due to their advancement, they will be able to know this secret by the suggestions of the scriptures." (Sri Krishna Samhita)

By example great saints like Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada who were authorized due to their advancement show that scriptural rules are provisional and can be adjusted according to time and circumstance. Thus they did so while at the same time teaching the sanctity of scripture and that not everyone is qualified to adjust it's rules. During his manifest presence Srila Prabhupada did not see a necessity to adjust scriptural rules regarding women and sannyasa but he did adjust many rules regarding the role of women in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. As we know times are forever changing and times have changed considerably since Srila Prabhupada wrote that women were less intelligent or that woman could not take sannyasa.

Following in the footsteps of recent great acharyas, in the foreseeable future devotees who are "authorized due to advancement" will likely adjust quite a number of rules, some even established by their own empowered guru. This will need to be done in order to further the cause of Mahaprabhu by presenting his teachings in a way that is more relevant to the times. This is the preaching methodology and mood of devotees in the line of Bhaktivinode (Bhaktivinode Parivara) who himself was known as the Seventh Goswami.

/ Brahma Das (ACBSP)

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