Chakra Discussions

Prabhupada treated women with equality and respect

by Yadunandana Pada das

Posted February 1, 2005

During aratis, Srila Prabhupada established that the women would stand on one side, while the men stood on the other. Despite criticism from his own godbrothers, and apparently going against the scriptural mandates of varna-asrama-dharma, Srila Prabhupada carefully rewrote the rules of Vaisnava Dharma, lovingly tailoring it in order to be able to globalize Krsna consciousness across the planet as the main objective and highest priority.

Srila Prabhupada was not attached to rules and regulations; rather he showed exemplary compassion by his flexibilities and sensibilities, clearly separating true Saragrahi Vaisnavism from the lesser Bharavahi Vaisnavism, whose practitioners are only able to practice Bhakti through the sectarian, world-intended designations of the Varna-asrama system, without their own personal realization. He realized that the monastic, male, exclusive temples of India would not last in modern Western civilization. Therefore, against popular demand from his own godbrothers, Srila Prabhupada began initiating women into his asrama-temples as disciples, brahmacarinis, brahmanas, pujaris, and cooks for Lord Krsna.

We understand from Srila Prabhupada that, once a person becomes a Vaisnava, he/she is free of all material designation. The globalization of Vaisnavism, as prophesied by Lord Chaitanya, would become the perfect opportunity to allow Vaisnavism to exemplify this essential proclamation of the true identity of a Vaisnava to the world -- freedom from designations.

The images accompanying this article -- including two pictures from the installation of Rukmini and Dwarkadish in New Dwarka, where the presiding priest was Silavati dasi prabhu -- are taken from videos where Srila Prabhupada was either physically present or had subsequently and proudly approved of the content, as if to say to the world, "These are my sons and daughters; just see how wonderfully they are serving Krsna."

The Saragrahi Vaisnava has already realized the unilateral equality of the jiva, but especially that of the Vaisnava, despite bodily designations, and even beyond scriptural injunction. The message put out by Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada when they decided to globalize Vaisnavism could have been nothing else than "this is for everyone, please take it, 'as it is'." Otherwise, how would Srila Prabhupada have been able to justify promoting this paradigm shift?

Those still baffled by the change (and who remain unable to adapt) suffer from several temporary issues that, with time and realization, will dwindle and disappear, but only if they allow it within themselves before the ultimate transition of this present life. Fundamentalists and literalists are not able to see Srila Prabhupada's example, but only his written words and the words of the Vedas. We cannot expect everyone to see with equal vision.

Nevertheless, it becomes clear from the world's historical evidence that the oppressions dealt against women, as well as the stereotypes of the fundamentalists and Napoléons of the world, have been caused typically by fear -- "defending" themselves from what they fear most: anything or anyone different from themselves. Perhaps those who are so intimidated or agitated by women -- i.e., those men who cannot refrain from indulging in the disturbance and neglect of this very delicate issue -- might have an alternative. They just might have a much happier and healthier life living off the land (off the grid, if you will), in the forest or in male-exclusive colony farms, where they will not have to fear womankind anymore.

We sometimes say, "A picture paints a thousand words." These eight images, all from Srila Prabhupada's time, certainly speak for themselves. We have recently received news that some members of ISKCON wish to "suspend, pending review" the ordinances resolved and approved five years ago by the GBC, which state that women should be given certain equality and undeniable rights, as Srila Prabhupada exemplified. It took us 25 years to get there, and now some individuals are using rhetoric to take us five steps back with an indefinite "pending" cancellation of these rights.

This Human Rights and common decency item is in all probability the number one mindset, among some of our men, which holds back our mission, bar none. This gap is also the precedent and cause of not being able to address successfully any of the other problems that plague our society. My personal spiritual realization, in the most primordial essence of my being, tells me that unless we get past this misunderstanding of Srila Prabhupada's intentions and move on into the 21st century, accepting fully all kinds of devotees, as he showed us by his example, our movement in the West will not succeed. It will, instead, fade away in the next three generations into a mere memory of a dream -- indeed, it has already begun. All that is left will be a shadow of a culture, which will just blend right in with the western "New Age" mish-mash, and Kali will have won in the West, while the fundamentalists and literalists, "those attached to rules and regulations," will remain in India, to be forgotten by the world, again.

History continues to show, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that fundamentalism never survives changing times, because it doesn't adapt gracefully to serve the needs of the many and the new. Consequently, it is eventually forgotten and ridiculed as a mistake in history.

"Please go to www.dharmacoalition.com and consider signing the petition against the cancellation of women's rights as devotees."