Are They Really Lesbians?
Posted April 10, 2003
by Mahavegavati devi dasi


Dear Readers,

Hare Krsna. Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Jayatah. My pranams
to you.

I have been just made aware of one letter sent by a
devotee to Brahma das prabhu. Reading
this letter sent in to Brahma das prabhu I felt
compelled to make comment, both philosophically and
personally. In particular I wanted to address and make
comment on the author's last paragraph:

"I think women should be given a good ashram to
advance spiritually, but I don't think that giving
sannyasa to women is required. They can wear white and
live like nuns. Taking sannyasa seems almost like
something lesbian women would want. Most devotee women
like being ladies and would never dream of wearing
saffron and carrying a danda. I think that there would
be some accompanying curse with breaking the tradition
of the Gaudiyas of not giving sannyasa to women.
Sounds risky, controversial, DIVISIVE and outrageous."

I think in order for the author to make a judgement
about what most devotee women would be feeling, (when
s/he says, "Most devotee women like being ladies and
would never dream of wearing saffron and carrying a
danda."), the author would have to go and ask devotee
women what they feel and why. I don't think a woman's
desire to accept the sannyas order is a denial of her
womanhood. She may be thinking that she can increase
her service to Guru and Krsna as a woman, by taking
sannyas, and it is very likely that she WOULD be able
to increase her service. I have seen this from my own
practical experience that when a woman had taken
sannyas, the devotees DID relate to her differently,
and it enabled her to be able to render more service,
preaching-wise only because of that. The author has
also dictated what s/he feels women should be wearing
when they are renounced. I think that it is not for
the author to relegate hirself into such a position to
be making such a dictation; rather, it depends on the
woman and her renunciation, based on scripture, time
and circumstance.

When Srila Prabhupada first started ISKCON, the
devotees, both men AND women, wore only two colors:
Yellow for grhasthas and saffron for celibates.
Therefore, it was Srila Prabhupada who had sanctioned
celibate women to wear saffron. It was in around 1971
that this started to change. After some time, the
color white was worn by some women in ISKCON,
generally by widows. There were a few other ladies who
made the conscious choice to live as renunciates, and
thus, they also put on white. (More can be said about
this, but no need here. As far as a woman wearing
saffron, the author can refer to the SB 4th canto,
both verse and purport to see where Sati dressed in
saffron garments when she was getting ready to quit
her body.)

I think it is very unfair, foolish, and shortsighted
for the author to make such a statement equating a
woman's desire of taking sannyas with her being a
lesbian. Why if a woman is renounced and feels she can
increase her service to Guru and Krsna by formally
taking sannyas would this be as being "almost like
something lesbian women would want." WHY should it be
assumed that a woman's wanting to take sannyas
indicates that she is a lesbian? When a man takes
sannyas, do we say he is homosexual, (although in
enough cases, we have seen that some of our
(so-called) sannyasis, have been hopping into bed with
other men).

When a man takes sannyas or is a renunciate as a
brahmacari, this is respected. When a woman is
renounced, and dresses accordingly, she is labelled as
"weird," "lesbian," "witch," "liberationist,"
"anti-men," and so many more derogative terms. I can
speak this because since 1971 I have lived as a
renounced mataji. For years many devotees labeled me a
lesbian because I was able to keep my vows of
renunciation. So many devotees were not able to
understand a woman's being renounced, nor did they
even bother to find out; they simply made their
MISjudgements and put their (wrong) labels on me.

When I took my vows of renunciation, shaved my head
and put on white, the devotees flipped, but I had a
deep conviction that I was doing the right thing. My
temple president went to Srila Prabhupada to present
the situation explaining how the devotees were so
upset with what I had done. My temple president told
me of the exchange. "Srila Prabhupada, the devotees
are very disturbed because this mataji shaved her head
and put on white." Srila Prabhupada asked, "Is she
doing her service?" "Yes Srila Prabhupada; she is
doing more service than so many devotees combined." My
temple president told me that Srila Prabhupada smiled
and said, "This is very good. It is very difficult for
a woman to maintain a vow like this. She should be
encouraged." And with that, there was never any
problem ­ at least with that temple president.

Despite my clean record of strict following and doing
my service steadily, I was directly called "lesbian"
and so many other derogatory terms by common devotees
and by some GBCs. One GBC spread the rumor throughout
his whole zone, "The only reason that woman can do as
she is doing is because she is a lesbian." (Hey, if I
was a lesbian, they should have been congratulating me
for never having hopped into the sleeping bag of any
of the other women all the years I was living in the
ashram, since ­ according to them - the object of my
lust was right there surrounding me.)

I was beaten on several occasions by different men who
knew that since I was renounced, there was no one to
protect me except myself. These beatings came ­ we can
say it was my karma ­ due to certain men feeling so
much disturbed that a woman was able to maintain a
consciousness of renunciation. Some years after one
brahmacari had viciously beaten me, he sent an apology
through another devotee. "Tell Mother Mahavegavati
that I am sorry about what I had done to her in the
Buffalo Temple. I beat her because it drove me crazy
that a woman could be more renounced than me." And I
was beaten by some other men for the SAME, EXACT
reason. (Why it is that the renunciation of a woman
should bother a man, when that woman is minding her
business, doing her service and NOT speaking to the
men unless it is strictly in relation to Krsna
conscious matters?, and WHY is it that when a woman
lives as a renunciate her renunciation is NOT taken
seriously?)

There was a point in ISKCON, aound 1976 or 1978 where
it became a "fashion" for women to put on white. Many
of the men started approaching these women asking them
to get married. It was as if wearing white (for a
woman at that time) meant that she "was available." I
was also being approached in this way. Obviously that
renunciation on the part of a woman was NOT being
taken so seriously. Although I did not "officially"
take sannyas, for so many years I was living as a
renounced mataji. In 1982 I was sent alone to Africa
where I was travelling by myself for many years going
to the various countries, cities, and villages to
preach, chant, and distribute Srila Prabhupada's
books. I was also involved in management as well.
Especially due to my services in Africa I was acting
non-differently from a "real" (male) sannyasi. (I
might add here that in 1986, after my GBC had sent me
to New Vrindavan, in-between two of my stays in
Africa, Kirtanananda (at that time) Swami asked me to
take sannyas from him ­ as he said, "to renew my vows
of renunciation under him" ­ but I refused to take
sannyas from him.

In 1990, I saw from my own practical experience that
when a woman was officially given sannyas (by
Kirtanananda) it made a HUGE difference in the way the
devotees related to her, the same way that we in our
temples make the distinction between how we relate to
"regular" devotees and those devotees who are
sannyasis. No need to go into all of the details, but
it was very obvious that for the devotees there was a
huge distinction made between a woman's being formally
initiated into the sannyas order and when she was not.
Because of the difference, it provided a situation in
which her service could be tremendously increased.
That is exactly the external reason why Sri Caitanya
Mahaprabhu took sannyas, because he knew that more
people would listen to His preaching as opposed to who
would listen when he had not taken sannyas.

Real renunciation is not a matter of the externals,
but of devotion which makes one attached to Krsna that
they become detached from the sense gratification of
this material world. Sadly, we as neophytes due to our
conditioning, do NOT recognise someone for their
quality, but rather for their externals of position
and title. This also includes the money that a person
is possessed of. There are enough cases where, only
due to the formal externals someone has been given
respect, etc. even though they are not truly
renounced, whereas a real renunciate can sometimes
even be shunned and criticised because neophyte
devotees will not understand their renunciation. Thus,
in many cases, the real renunciate is neglected, and
the cheater glorified.

Lord Caitanya was the same person possessed of the
same consciousness before and after His taking of
sannyas, but because He knew the nature of people, He
took sannyas so that people would give Him the respect
required for them to hear His message.

When we are given the choice of going to attend a
class given by a "regular" brahmacari or mataji who
may truly be advanced, as opposed to going to a class
being given by some "famous" sannyasi, GBC or guru;
who will most devotees chose to go to hear from? I
think the answer is pretty obvious. While some of
these devotees with titles were being listened to,
glorified, etc., they were breaking the principles or
doing other horrendous things. I know so many
qualified devotees, both men and women, who because
they have no title and are seen as "regular" devotees,
they are not recognised for the spiritual advancement
that they are possessed of, whereas those devotees who
are in some position, even if they are out and out
rogues, are given so much respect ONLY because of
their title. And if they have a falldown, when others
are aware of it, if and when it can be covered up, it
IS covered up.

Maybe we should add here that some sannyasis have
engaged themselves in business ventures ­ no need to
embarrass anyone here ­ and have either bought
themselves land and houses, or have purchased land and
had houses built for themselves. For WHAT reason? What
is the need when someone is a sannyasi, and he can go
to ANY temple in the world and be given a room in
which to stay, and prasadam, that he should go and
purchase or make himself a house, (or more than one
house)? Why do some of our sannyasis stay in hotels as
opposed to staying in one of the rooms in an ISKCON
temple? I can understand if someone is starting their
own mission separate from ISKCON, that they will want
to get their own facility, but when some sannyasi is
serving under the banner of ISKCON, then why should he
be getting his own house?

Srila Prabhupada KNOWING what was what, and knowing
what was going to happen in the future when He left,
wrote in a few letters that "the grhasthas will have
to go begging from the sannyasis." So let's get REAL
about things. I am NOT arguing or advocating for women
to (officially) take sannyas, but I DO believe that
devotees SHOULD be treated according to the Vaisnava
dharma. Sadly, in ISKCON, so many devotees ­ a lot of
them women ­ have been pushed out of ISKCON, whereas
had they been brahmacaris or sannyasis this would
NEVER have happened.

The author says, "I think women should be given a good
ashram to advance spiritually." Srila Prabhupada DID
give such a facility, allowing womem to live in the
Math, attend the programs, render service, and thus
have the opportunity to make spiritual advancement.
But after Srila Prabhupada left, so many of His female
disciples got PUSHED OUT of the ISKCON temples. I also
got pushed out, despite my being a staunch follower
with no deviations. Getting beaten on numerous
occasions while serving in Africa, I ended up getting
crippled. My GBC had a falldown, and due to his
problem, he took effective measures to get me out of
ISKCON and on to the street. If I had been possessed
of a man's body, getting pushed out would NEVER would
have happened, and had I been a soldier in the US
army, I would have been given so many medals and a
lifelong pension in compensation for my service. Srila
Prabhupad would NEVER have allowed His daughters
getting pushed out of His temples if he had still been
on the planet.

The woman's real nature is that she WANTS (and
SHOULD)be protected. But how many of us were protected
within the ISKCON realm? It must also be taken into
account that there women who are ARE GENUINELY
renounced in their psychophysical consciousness, and
that does NOT mean that they are gay. Even if they do
not formally take sannyas, it SHOULD be accepted that
these ladies HAVE reached such a level of
renunciation, and should be treated accordingly; not
that men are respected for their renunciation and
ladies are considered to be dirt because they are
truly renounced. Sadly, in so many cases, such ladies
have simply been exploited, abused, and later thrown
out of ISKCON. Other than ISKCON, there was and still
is no other Gaudiya Vaisnava society that would accept
ladies into the Math. Srila Prabhupada being so
empowered and innovative, seeing the nature of the
Western ladies and their eagerness to take up Krsna
consciousness, was able to make such an accommodation.
WHY should our Godbrothers RUIN that?

One major reason why women are not given sannyas is
because due to a woman's nature, she should be
protected. But let's get real: If the authorities in
ISKCON are NOT adhering to Srila Prabhupada's desires
and intentions ­ that women in His temples be given
proper protection ­ and these women are possessed of
renounced consciousness, AND are given the services
that are given to male sannyasis, then what is the
argument against a woman's taking formal sannyas?

After I returned from Africa at one point, since there
were practically no devotees preaching there, I
suggested to one of my GBC-guru-sannyasi Godbrothers,
Jagadish (now) prabhu, that when men were under the
waiting period for sannyas, maybe the GBC could
arrange for a few of them to go together and spend
some time preaching in Africa. Jagadish prabhu
answered, "That is too dangerous.," and he said it
could not be done. Too dangerous? I (as a woman) had
been there for so many years by myself. So WHY
couldn't some candidates for sannyas go there and
preach for a few months. If a woman could be sent to
Africa by herself, certainly men who were being
considered for sannyas could go there as well.

So many more things could be said about women's taking
sannyas, but this submission is already long enough.

I think if we would understand this principle Trinad
api sunicena., and relate to others as servants of
Guru and Krsna, our Vaisnava efforts would be a lot
more successful. The first ABCs of spiritual life is
that we are not these bodies, but we have NOT been so
successful in understanding this ourselves. Putting
aside the issue of whether women should or should not
officially be given sannyas, at least we should LEARN
how to relate to one another as devotees. I KNOW that
Srila Prabhupada would NEVER be happy with the
present-day circumstances of HIS ISKCON.

I think many of our ladies have PROVED themselves to
be very renounced, especially after their being forced
out of the temples, their having to live alone and
maintain their Krsna consciousness. These ladies ARE
living like sannyasis, being totally dependent on Guru
and Krsna. The male sannyasis will ALWAYS have a math
where they can live, hear and chant; for women, the
only maths they would be allowed to stay in are the
ISKCON maths, and in many (most) cases, older women
have been forced out of these mathas. Being forced out
of Srila Prabhupada's maths, they are not able to go
to live in any other Gaudiya Vaisnava Math. Many of
these ladies have been forced to maintain their Krsna
consciousness with no association. Our author says "I
think women should be given a good ashram to advance
spiritually," but what is the provision for the older
matajis who were so faithful to Srila Prabhupada and
who WANT to live in HIS maths and remain faithful to
Srila Prabhupada and His service? Many of these
ladies, despite their being pushed out of ISKCON, and
living in a place NOT having devotee association, are
still preaching and continuing in their execution of
the Krsna conscious process given by Guru. If that is
not sannyas, then what is? I think these women are
MORE sannyas than so many of the male sannyasis.

Maybe some of our rich sannyasi men should contribute
money so that we can build ashrams for these ladies,
instead of these sannyasis spending the money they
collect from Srila Prabhupada's institution to be used
for purchasing and making their own houses.

anasaktasya visayan yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah krsna sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate

One should use things only for the service of Krsna
and not for one's own sense gratification. When one
uses things in this way, that is real renunciation.

Ultimately it is Krsna Who will be the real judge of
who is the sannyasi and who is not. AND, it might be
added, that Krsna is the greatest sannyasi.

With all respects I remain your servant,

Mahavegavati Dasi
Hare Krsna