Women and Sannyasa: A comment
by Jalakara dasa
Posted January 17, 2003
I respectfully take exception to the statement made by Sri Gopa Kumar
Dasa in his article on Women and Sannyasa, wherein he states
"Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur...established the system of giving
sannyasa only to
male members of his mission who had been born in brahmana families."
This is the first time I have heard of this. In fact, as Srila
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur was the son of Srila Bhaktivenode
Thakur, who manifested his birth in a kyastha family, it is incredible to
imagine he awarded the order of sannyasa only to those born of brahmana
In fact, prior to the intervention of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati,
Gaudiya Vaishnavas did not wear brahmana threads, and if they were
born in brahmana families, they generally discarded their sacred threads.
Similarly, there was no Gaudiya Vaishnava sannyasa, and no saffron at
all. Gaudiya vaishnava renounciates accepted the title of babaji and wore
white. Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati traveled to South India and studied
the Ramanuja system for accepting sannyasa, and then he adopted it and
became the first
Gaudiya Vaishnava sannyasi. Our present system of sannyasa comes directly from
him, just as our system of accepting the sacred thread does.
To suggest that "The disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta, most prominently
Srila Prabhupada, extended the ashram of sannyasa to all appropriately
disposed men regardless of their birth caste" is both incorrect and
In fact, Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur initiated one German
disciple as a sannyasi, and there were Indian sannyasis from
Thus, by distorting historical facts, the author makes it appear that
The awarding of sannyasa to women is only a logical progression in
sannyasa liberalization began by Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and continued
down through the present day. This rather historically dubious argument is
disingenuous and is transparent to any student with knowledge of the
actual historical position.
Not only is there distinction made between men and women in the
eligibility of men as opposed to women to receive sannyasa, so also
Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur discriminated between the sexes in
the awarding of sannyasa. Not only are women never actually given a
thread, but also the first line of the Gayatri mantra, namely the "Om bhur
bhuvah..." stanza, was only given to men, and never to women.
Why he did so is inappropriate to discuss here, as the subject matter
justifies discussion in a separate article.
However, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada did expand from his guru
in that he awarded that first line of gayatri to his female disciples,
and he did empower female disciples to perform pujari functions.
It is interesting to note in this regard that while most other Gaudiya
Vaishnava acharyas continue to withhold the first line of Gayatri from
women, there is also often some difference in the exact wording of the
Gayatri as given or in the number of times it is chanted.
Therefore, while it can be said that in the case of the Gayatri mantra
there has been minor contextual change by different acharyas since Sri
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, there has been little or no change in the
manner of award of sannyasa.
In fact, the award of sannyasa to women was ridiculed by A.C.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada showed himself
to be staunchly traditional in these fields, in spite of making some
allowances according to time, place and circumstances.
To suggest that Srila Prabhupada approved of women taking sannyasa, or
that the acceptance of sannyasa by women is in some way the logical
extension of a vast trend of liberalizations begun by him is not only
incorrect but also illogical. A study of Srila Prabhupada's lectures
and writings will leave the reader with a clear understanding of where he
stood on that issue.