Ladies Can Become Guru
Posted April 19, 2005
A Response to the article on VNN called, "Can Ladies become Guru?"
The nomination to the GBC for a woman diksa-guru some months ago has raised some serious concerns, and there was an article on VNN at that time, proposing that such a thing is not correct. This present article is a response to that idea.
The first step is to clarify the point, from the Vedic scriptures, who is qualified to become guru at all, and the next step is to determine whether a lady can also become a Guru.
The Qualification of A Bona fide Guru
In Bhagavad-gita 4.34 Sri Krsna says:
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth."
For understanding the absolute reality, which is the topmost goal of the jiva, one approaches a guru who has fully realized the truth. By offering him obeisances, inquiring submissively from him and by rendering service to him, one should please him. Thus pleased, the guru will bestow upon his follower knowledge of jiva-tattva (the pure constitutional nature of the self), para-tattva (the nature of the supreme absolute reality) and bhakti-tattva (the nature of pure devotional service). After knowing all these, the follower's human life will be successful.
It is said in the Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12:
tad vijnanartam sa gurum evabhigaccet
samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nistham
"To learn the transcendental subject matter, one must approach a spiritual master. In doing so he should carry fuel to burn in sacrifice. The symptom of such a spiritual master is that he is expert in knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
vaco vegam manasah krodha vegam
etan veganyo visaheta dhirah
sarvam apimam prthivim sa sysyat
"A sober person, who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind's demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world." (Nectar of Instruction verse 1)
Another statement is found in Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.3.21:
tasmad gurum prapadyeta
jijnasuh sreya uttamam
sabde pare ca nisnatam
"Any person who seriously desires to achieve real happiness must seek out a bonafide spiritual Master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the Spiritual Master is that he must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation, and must be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, leaving aside all material consideration, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters."
In a conversation at the Los Angeles Temple on June 18, 1976 Srila Prabhupada clarifies this point: if a woman has the qualification of guru, she is guru.
[Question:] Swamiji, would you say something about the place of women in your movement?
[Prabhupada:] There is no distinction between man and woman. That is clearly said in the Bhagavad-gita. Mam hi partha vyapasritya ye 'pi syuh papa-yonayah striyo sudras tatha vaisyah. First is mentioned, striya. Striyah sudras tatha vaisyah. These classes are understood to be less intelligent Ð women, sudras and the vaisyas. But Krsna says, "No, even for them it is open." On the spiritual platform there is no such distinction Ð man, woman, black, white, big or small. No. Everyone is spirit soul. Panditah sama-darsinah [Bg. 5.18]. Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah [Bg. 5.18].One who is actually learned, he is sama-darsinah. He does not make any distinction. But so far our material body is concerned, there must be some distinction for keeping the society in order.
Woman: The women could become panditas, then.
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Te 'pi yanti param gatim. Not only become, she can also attain perfection. There is no such restriction. Krsna said.
Woman: Do you have any panditas in the Western movement?
Prabhupada: There are so many Western women, girls, in our society. They are chanting, dancing, taking to Krsna consciousness. Of course, because superficially, bodily, there is some distinction, so we keep women separately from men, that's all. Otherwise, the rights are the same.
Prof. O'Connel: Is it possible, Swamiji , for a woman to be Guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, Jahnava-devi, Nityananda's wife. She was Guru. If a woman is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But not so many are qualified to be Guru. Actually, one who has attained the perfection , she can become Guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection he cannot be Guru: yei krsna tattva vetta, sei guru haya." The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then she or he can become guru. "Yei krsna tattva vetta, sei guru haya." In our material world is it any prohibition that a woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified , she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is needed. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru."
In another conversation, Srila Prabhupada addresses the same point: If a woman is perfect in Krsna consciousness just like Jahnava devi, Lord Nityanandas wife; She was acarya. She was controlling the whole vaisnava community...It is not that women cannot be acarya." (Conversation 29/6/1972)
Now, since Srila Prabhupada left the planet physically we have to find another bona fide Guru, a pure devotee, who is still physically present, so that we can understand all tattvas, including guru-tattva, properly, as Srila Prabhupada wanted us to understand it.
The VNN article raises the question regarding whether it is appropiate for a woman to be guru, given that she should set an example for other women in terms of chastity Ð which supposedly runs counter to the nature and character of a Guru?
We suggest this response: The foremost duty of a woman is to become fully Krsna conscious under the guidance of sadhu-sanga. It is not the topmost occupational service of a woman to care for husband and children. It is surely her occupational duty, but not her topmost duty. Nowhere in any sastra does Sri Krsna say that, nor does any pure sadhu.
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhoksaje
"The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6)
There are so many examples of lady Gurus, and here are some of the most famous:
Jahnava and Gangamata Thakurani
Why should Srimati Jahnava devi have to show the example of a perfect mother, when sometimes she exhibited her four armded form? Does our Srila Prabhupada or Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura have to show the example of a perfect father to proove they are pure devotees of the Lord?
Srimati Jahnava Thakurani is the eternal potency of Lord Nityananda. Nityananda Prabhu has two potencies, embodied in the persons of Jahnava and Vasuda. The son of Vasuda is the incarnation of Godhead, Bhirabhadra. He was searching a guru and was recommended to take shelter of Jahnava Thakurani, but he thought, "She is my mother. How can she be my guru?" One early morning , after passing and just before taking bath, Jahnava Thakurani was undressed from the waist up, as was the custom for Indian ladies. Bhirabhadra saw her in that condition by a well, and became shy. She immediately manifested two more arms, and with them she covered her breasts. Bhirabhadra then offered his pranama to her and took initiation. (lecture from Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja about Gangamata Gosvamini in Australia Jan. 14,2001)
Room Conversation in San Diego, June 29, 1972
Srila Prabhupada: So a crazy man's statement is not accepted. Child's statement, crazy man's statement, unauthorized person's statement, blind man's statement, we cannot accept.
Atreya Rsi: A woman's statement?
Srila Prabhupada: If a woman is perfect in Krsna consciousness. Just like Jahnava-devi, Lord Nityananda's wife; she was acarya. She was acarya. She was controlling the whole Vaisnava community.
Atreya Rsi: Lord Nityananda?
Srila Prabhupada: Wife. Jahnava-devi. She was controlling the whole Gaudiya Vaisnava community.
Atreya Rsi: Do you have references about that in any of your books, Srila Prabhupada?
Srila Prabhupada: I don't think. But there are many acaryas. Maybe somewhere I might have mentioned. It is not that woman cannot be acarya. Generally, they do not become. In very special case. But Jahnava-devi was accepted as, but she did not declare.
Another example of the perfect female guru is Srimati Gangamata Gosvamini: "During the night, Lord Jagannath gave a dream to the King and also the prominent pujari. Saci devi would now become famous as Gangamata Thakurani or Gangamata Goswamini, due to her being carried by the Ganges. Jagannatha told them:"Go at once and beg forgiveness. Bring Gangamata Thakurani in a golden chariot, with drums and all other paraphernelia to make a royal reception and royal procession. Also you should become a disciple of that lady, along with your priests and all other prominent persons." The king awoke and at once went to the jail with golden chariots, a large crowd, and a royal reception. He brought her to her cottage and said: "Lord Jagannatha has told me, 'You should go and take shelter of that devotee. And if you do not take initiation from her, I will finish your whole dynasty.'" Along with all his councilors and others, he now began to fast and pray. Gangamata Gosvamini said, "My Guru has not told me to do this. I do not want to make any disciples." Jaganatha then ordered her:" For Me, to please Me , you should make disciples." After that she accepted them.
(lecture from Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja about Gangamata Gosvamini, in Australia January 14, 2001)
Krnsa may be Guru of the whole world, but His guru is Srimati Radharani:
radhikara prema guru ami sisya nata
sada ama nana nrtye nacaya udbhata
"The love of Radhika is My teacher, and I am Her dancing pupil. Her prema makes Me dance various novel dances." (Adi lila Ch.4 Text 124)