Prabhupada's Views on Women
by Urmila devi dasi
Reposted November 29, 2002
Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Over the past months, several devotees-some of a very high devotional caliber-have directly or indirectly stated that Prabhupada's comments and instructions about women were erroneous, irrelevant to our spiritual life, or out-of-date, etc.
It is certainly true that all of varnasrama, which includes the position of women in society, is external to our spiritual life and is not important in the sense that chanting Hare Krishna, worshipping the Deity, preaching, hearing Bhagavatam, and so forth, are important. It is also true that spiritual life isn't dependent on any material situation.
However, some material situations are more favorable to spiritual life than are others. In particular, a stable society with functional families, are helpful to, as Prabhupada said, "make the mind peaceful" for spiritual life. If both men and women play their respective roles in this world, then the truly important things, such as always remembering Krishna and serving Him favorably, become so much easier.
If we throw out the "external," instructions that Prabhupada gave us regarding society-especially instructions that he repeated very often in his purports, lectures, letters, and conversations-we risk making our advancement so much more slow and difficult. And we risk developing the mentality that we can disregard anything Prabhupada said that we can't immediately understand or apply. The fact that we may not feel able to apply something doesn't mean that we should "resent the principle," but rather we should go on trying "without consideration of defeat or hopelessness. " (gita 3. 31 purport)
Prabhupada was preaching only 20-30 years ago. Society hasn't changed all that much. And certainly, hormones haven't changed since the creation, what to speak of in the last 20 years. The different psychology of men and women haven't changed since the creation. The psychological needs of men, women, and children remain as they were. If we truly believe, even theoretically, that we "are not this body," then why do we care whether our bodily duties are "higher" or "lower" than someone else's? Such things are temporary, external, and don't touch the real self. If doing a "lower" duty will please Krishna and Prabhupada and help us fix our minds on the glorious holy name, why for the sake of pride will we reject it?
Urmila devi dasi is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and frequent contributor to Back to Godhead Magazine.
In any case, most difficulties with understanding the position of women can be solved if we understand that all of us have two duties-material and spiritual. The spiritual duties, the nine processes of devotional service, are equally available to every human being regardless of age, gender, race, intelligence, health, etc. etc. There should be full equality of doing these nine processes in our movement. The duties according to the body and mind, which should be dovetailed in the Lord's service, will, indeed, vary according to age, gender, inclination, intelligence, talent, cultural situation, and so forth. If we deny these before the stage of liberation, we will do them anyway, but in a way that will cause our bondage. (BG, chapters 3 and 18)
Also, in terms of the external duties, women have varna. When comparing men and women, one must only compare a brahmana man to a brahmana woman. For example, a brahmana woman is certainly superior to a sudra man in terms of intelligence, freedom from lust, etc. I've written a lengthy article on this subject, with full scriptural references, if one wants more details.
The "less intelligence" of women doesn't refer to IQ or talent, but the facts that women are more inclined to mundane enjoyment and are more under the control of passion and ignorance. Our logical abilities are more prone to be over-ridden by our emotions and sentimentality.
If we wish to discuss areas in which Prabhupada was mistaken about women, we could bring up where he quoted some scientist as saying that women have 32 ounces less brain substance than men. The actual statistics are that women have 4 ounces less brain substance than men; when adjusted for body size, we have 1 ounce less. (One has to compare within race as certain races have larger brains). In any case, there is ample statistical evidence that men excel women in certain types of thinking; women excel in others.
Each type of body has its material and spiritual advantages and disadvantages. While it would be scripturally correct to say that males have an overall advantage for spiritual advancement, women have some advantages, too, such as being softhearted and inclined to follow authority. We could also say that overall, human have more advantages than demigods to become Krishna consciousness. But demigods have some advantages that humans lack, and many demigods become pure devotees.
Why not just accept the body we have for this life, and work with it so as to please Krishna and make our life peaceful, so that we can concentrate our time and energy on what's truly important-loving and remembering Krishna.
Your servant, Urmila devi dasi