Caring for the Women in ISKCON|
Name withheld at the request of the author
Posted September 17, 2012
People have gone public about the formerly hidden abuse of children in our movement. There is also abuse of women going on. Although I will not reveal my identity or the identity of the person being abusive towards me, I want to bring into the open what I went through to increase awareness that even "devotees" cannot always be trusted, and that women need to trust their intuition and wisdom when choosing men to associate with, not just trust a man because he is outwardly a devotee. I am also writing this as a request that we in devotee communities develop a woman protection office as there is a child protection office, and that we educate the women in our movement more on what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship. There is the confusion in our movement of being taught that celibacy and living the simple single life is the ideal versus the reality of what most of us need in our lives. This can create some guilt and insecurities in the men who go from brahmacari to grhasta which can then also create disturbances for the women.
In my particular situation, I have spent six years of my life trying to be faithful and loving (as the duty of a woman is according to sastra) to a devotee man (former gurukuli, perhaps his childhood abuse has rendered him unable to relate kindly to women in his adulthood) despite the emotional abuse he has put me through. Sastra emphasizes so much that a woman needs a man (there are even quotes that a woman without a man is a dead body, and that an independent woman can never be happy), so I took these quotes to heart, and thought that be trying to be faithful to the man I initially gave my heart to was the correct dharmic path for me. My intuition told me at times he was cheating on me, and later I found it out to be very true, but I did not listen or trust my intuition as I was trying to be this good little chaste girl. I am writing this as a warning to other women, to trust your instincts, as I don't believe we need to stay faithful to someone who is harming our hearts.
This person has taken me on an emotional rollercoaster, repeatedly going from being kind and loving one week, to not talking to me the next with no warning or indication of why. One day he will speak of marriage, the next he will announce that he has a new girlfriend. One day he will block all communication with me out of the blue, a few months later he comes running back.
I have tried to be the spiritually faithful, chaste, forgiving, tolerant, patient, compassionate woman through all of this, but am at the point where enough is enough. At what point does taking care of ourselves become more important than being forgiving and tolerant? Then there is also the guilt factor, as we are taught in scripture that breaks in the relationship only occur because of the woman. So then there is the constant inner voice of "what did I do wrong to bring this on", but in certain abusive relationships, I think the men are also to blame. And there is also the fear of "what will I be without him?" If the woman's prime duty is to be faithful to a man, and if we lose our man, then what will become of us? Such thoughts might run through the mind of a devotee woman in a troubled relationship.
Also disturbing to me is that this person is so much respected and looked up to by many in the devotee community. Most people think he is a celibate saintly person, having no idea of what goes on behind closed doors. Throughout these six years, it was hard for me to find people to reach out to. I found some devotee counselors in another state across the country but that was about it. We have a child protection office, but I think we need a woman protection office as well. Had I had a trusted place to call and confide in years ago, maybe I would not have remained so tolerant and forgiving for six years. As devotees we don't want to play the victim role, and we want to accept responsibility for our own karma, but where do we draw the line and learn when it is ok to accept that someone else's actions are wrong, and are causing us unecessary pain?
Women are encouraged to be the faithful wife, but I think we need more education how to do this in a way that is healthy, knowing where to draw the line between being faithful and chaste and tolerant, and taking care of ourselves. I also think we need to distinguish between what is Vedic and may have worked will in India many years ago, and what is Krishna Conscious and may work well in the modern western society we live in. Women are raised in the west to be independent. Why not encourage women to utilize that independence in a preaching spirit, and to serve the Lord, rather than encourage her to give that up and become the quiet, humble, submissive wife, especially when it is to someone who may not be acting as a proper husband. I hope that some senior female devotees with wisdom and experience in this matter can possibly create some seminars or books on this topic, or maybe include this in the annual Vaisnavi retreat - a segment on learning to recognize signs of abuse or a potential abusing parter in a relationship, and more generally, how do we as women balance our roles as being the faithful, humble Vedic wife, with being the strong and empowered devotee of Krishna we also have the potential to be.
Facilitating the Voice of Softer Conscience
I would like to thank and applaud Sri Nandanandana prabhu for his vital and relevant message in regard to our lack of facility for women. Maybe part of that reluctance to provide facility is due to seeing women as sense objects to be avoided, ignoring the fact that they are inherently an important and irreplaceable part of ISKCON. They provide the motherly aspect, the softer, caring side that is so necessary for devotees to remain loyal and committed in the long-term. Archetypically at least, they are forgiving, as exemplified by Draupadi, who pardoned the murderer of her own children… in contradiction to Bhima, who only wanted to enact justice. In that pastime, Krsna indicated to Arjuna to do something to satisfy both the feminine tendency to forgive, and the masculine tendency to enact unforgiving justice. He wanted a balance of religious principles, not fanatical adherence to one side or the other, for religious principles, especially forgiveness and justice, are often contradictory.
We are devotees, or lovers of the Lord and His devotees, but even love is contradictory, being of two types- unconditional and conditional. Both are love, but unconditional love assures us of never being abandoned, whereas conditional love aspires us to prove ourselves worthy of being loved, it inspires us to growth, evolution, metamorphosis. Unconditional (motherly) love seeks to rid us of struggle and problems, whereas conditional (fatherly) love, seeks to evoke the same for the sake of growth and independence. Our women or mothers, should therefore not only be a part of every temple, to provide a necessary balance of emotions, and diversity of vision, but they should be part of decision-making, as Draupadi was, at Krsna’s request.
At present we have a plethora of laws in ISKCON which prescribe various punishments for transgressions, but no motherly forgiving figures to provide a balance and thus enable the law to serve the interests of people, instead of people, the law. The spirit of the law must be honored by our Draupadis, as well as the letter or detail of it, by our Bhimas. The spirit of the law is this- ISKCON is created for people to become Krsna conscious. The letter of the law is this- if they fall from the standard, (which includes not only the four principles, but obedience to the GBC) they are necessarily, by law, rejected. Then, how can the spirit of the law be honored? How can they become Krsna conscious, without having the required residence in a holy place, sadhu sanga and seva?
In this situation, mother figures, be they men or women, find what is at the heart of the transgression- they seek to understand the whole situation, rather than blindly enact justice to the detriment of the offender. Thus, Draupadi, understanding that Asvatthama’s wife would suffer from his death, insisted he not be killed. Understanding the whole situation, we may similarly perceive that disobedience to the GBC may have some cause other than blind rebellion, or we may understand that behind the inability to serve the four regulative principles, is a heart that desperately wants to serve the Lord, nonetheless.
For this latter reason, arguably for both reasons, Srila Prabhupada wanted varnashrama. He wanted it so that sincere souls falling from the regulative principles could still remain in ISKCON and have the facility of a holy place to live, sadhu sanga, and seva. This is clear from his conversations, such as the following:
Hari-sauri: Where will we introduce the varnashram system, then?
Prabhupada: In our society, amongst our members.
Hari-sauri: But then if everybody's being raised to the brahminical platform...
Prabhupada: That is... Everybody is being raised, but they're falling down….Not that a shudra man is by force become a brahmana…. At the present moment the idea is: if one remains a shudra, then he cannot get perfection. No. Even a shudra can get perfection provided he does the work of a shudra perfectly.
That he wanted varnashrama to facilitate occasional necessary disobedience to ISKCON law, is given by the fact that brahmanas can always object to the status quo, to laws passed by the ksatriyas, on the basis of spiritual principles, which include forgiveness, mercy. (of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada: )“There must always be individual responsibility…not that one should dominate…” (of varnashrama, SB 4.14.7-12, PP:) Saintly persons are always anxious to see how people can be made happy, both materially and spiritually…. They are not interested in political matters, yet they are always thinking of the welfare of the people in general. Consequently, they sometimes have to come down to the political field and take steps to correct the …government”
Merging the governing and guiding roles of ksatriya and brahmana in the body of the GBC precludes such possibility of saintly correction, and thus laws may be passed that are detrimental to the overall welfare of the movement or for individuals in it. Separating those roles means that any truthful person can speak his mind for the benefit of all, or for someone in particular, even in criticism of ISKCON law or its enactment, or local law, and it will never result in rejection- it will be honored, for in varnashrama, truth is honored as a brahminical guiding principle… as words from the mouth of the Lord.
Draupadi, a woman, had as her duty to be submissive to her husbands, but she was not afraid to challenge and contradict Bhima, her powerful husband, on the basis of the principle of mercy- and Krsna was pleased. This proves that anyone under the duty of submission may give it up when his conscience or knowledge of religious principles dictates, and such will please the Lord. Another obvious example is the gopis, who to honor their attraction to the Lord, the ultimate religious principle, deliberately disobeyed their husbands. Similarly, in varnashrama among devotees, not only brahmanas, but anyone, including the sudras, can contradict those to whom they are normally required to be submissive, when their “inner voice” dictates it. There is no ejection, no rejection.
If we instead have a culture where others are seen as threats- either through the attraction of their bodily forms- or through their different points of view, then we will necessarily remain small, dogmatic and cultish. When a prominent sannyasi, disliking the grhasthas’ independent views and their attractive wives, wanted them all to be relocated to Australia, Srila Prabhupada was appalled. His focus was to be merciful, regardless of gender or viewpoint. Indeed he wanted ISKCON to be a society of independent thinkers, not conformists… leaders, not followers. “The Krsna consciousness movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful” And he certainly wanted women in all his temples- the more the better. He even said that if the women were to leave, so would the brahmacaris. We assumed that this was because the brahmacaris were attracted, but could it not be also true that they simply needed something like soft-heartedness? Why everything is assumed to be sexual?
Sri Nandanandana wrote: If ISKCON is serious about establishing varnashrama or self-sufficient communities, they will never succeed unless they know how to incorporate women to do their part in it. Varnashrama cannot be done by men alone. It requires whole families, which means we need the women to do their part, or varnashrama is merely an endeavor in discussion only, and maybe a few small projects here and there, most of which come and go.
Varnashrama is essentially about honoring diversity, not seeing in terms of important and not important. For example Krsna’s legs, the sudras, are no less important than His head, the brahmanas:
Srila Prabhupada:“The same example: Just like head is as important as my leg. It is not that because it is leg, it is less important than my head.”
When we honor all living entities as part of the Lord’s body, knowing they serve the Whole in some way, we have the vision of the Vedas, and when we all act according to that vision, we have the society of the Vedas, we have varnashrama. When we see in terms of higher and lower, we have the mundane vision that characterizes modern society and is hardly compensated by its so-called constitution declaring equality. We have seen how some “equal” bosses treat their “equal” employees- it is a farce, generally speaking. But recognizing that all living entities form the body of the Complete Whole Personality of Godhead and are His dear servitors, we recognize and honor their differences, and respect them all. If instead the head rejects the legs as insignificant for not thinking, or the legs reject the head for not providing locomotion, there will be chaos in the social body- varnashrama is about cooperation, gratitude for each others services, and appreciation of difference. As the differentiation of organs in our physical bodies allows the whole body to function properly, so it is with the organs of the social body.
Varnashrama recognizes difference- between genders, and psychophysical natures, these are the acquired guna of the soul, and through appropriate karma, the varnashrama dynamic channels those natural qualities for the good of the social body. This dynamic does not fight, exclude or denigrate difference, be it of form or of mind. It channels such diversities to provide a balance of service so that no being suffers in any way, so that women’s soft-heartedness is allowed to flourish and benefit everyone, through including women in all essential decision-making, and so that the naturally truthful non-conformists are not excluded but allowed also to give valuable feedback.
A practical undesirable outcome of not having varnashrama is evidenced by Sri Nandanandana’s observation, as well as the experiences of Daniel Lutz as recounted in his book “My Karma, My Fault” - no shelter and facility for the most vulnerable members of our society, the women, children and the elderly. The title of Daniel Lutz’s book indicates that he was told that whatever he was suffering at the hands of his teachers, was his fault, his karma. Yet, in a varnashrama society, the ksatriya’s duty is to protect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, from any kind of distress, regardless of the fact it is their karma. This is described in the story of Arjuna rescuing the brahmana’s sons- he was prepared to enter fire if he could not deliver them. He never made gross misuse of the concept of karma: “sorry my dear brahmana, the loss of your sons is your karma, your fault, nothing to do with me” Yet when the cow in Canto One was being abused by Kali, she took it to be her karma. The observant Pariksit was not in agreement- he was prepared to behead the offender. Thus the concept of karma and justified suffering can only be used upon oneself- never others.
If we had qualified ksatriyas in our movement, not only would every one of our temples have a women’s ashrama, in preference to a men’s ashrama if there were no room for both, but any abusers of children would be beheaded, or at the very least, given up to the full force of law. Any ksatriya would be ropable, or unropable with fury to see such horrible abuse of power over innocents: their fury would hardly be containable. Instead of being given up to the full force of the law, such abusers are still in the ranks of respected leaders. In addition to Dhanurdhara Swami and Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, we have Lokanatha Swami- these are all respected leaders who have shamelessly abused children, traumatizing them for life, and they are honored as respectable sannyasis.
Such is only possible in a society where shoe-lickers are prominent, where compassion and soft-heartedness are seen as sentimentality, and truthfulness is seen as rebellion against authority. In such a society, both genuine ksatriyas and brahmanas are conspicuous by their absence. Women, children and Truth itself, are some of the casualties of this sorry social experiment, and the softer voice of conscience is drowned out by the ideas and makers of Big and Important Projects….
(More on varnashrama as a positive alternative to ISKCON bureaucracy can be read in my book, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Krsna Consciousness, the Platform of Peace|
by Niscala devi dasi
Posted July 20, 2012
I recently came across a document on the GHQ (www.harekrsna.org/gbc/black/ghq.htm) which was a conference by some of ISKCON’S leaders to stamp out the influence of women in ISKCON. In this conference, there is no mention whether this attempt to turn back the clock would be good for the preaching. There also appears to be no balance, just the perception of two sides at war.
Srila Prabhupada said so many things about women- one side takes his liberal views, and the other his conservative views. I take both. Women need protection, because in a rape case, the victim is almost always a woman. Unwanted pregnancies happen only in women. Generally the protection of children falls down to a woman- there are many more single mums than single dads. Due to naturally being more protective of children, and physically being weaker, they need protection. Women are generally more governed by emotions- this is completely necessary to nurture children. There has to be a strong sense of empathy- that this little person's happiness and distress is everything to me. Because human young remain dependent on protection for longer than any other animal, this is completely necessary, and is hard-wired into us. And it’s not a bad thing- it’s completely a good thing. Men are designed differently, because they are traditionally bread-winners, which meant figuring out how to win bread. In traditional hunter-and-gatherer societies, this required a lot of cerebral activity- remembering which areas were productive last year, which rocks were good for making tools, how they negotiated peace with this or that aggressive tribe, and so on.
But it has also been shown that the brain, more than any other organ of the body, is completely malleable (Click Here). It changes according to how it is used. To begin with, a woman's brain may have be emotionally centred, but if she focuses on an intellectual career, rather than an emotional family-centred one, the brain develops in that way. Therefore, there are so many women post-graduates. To deny that women can be just as rationally intelligent as men is to deny facts. Similarly, men can be just as emotionally intelligent- or there wouldn't be so many great single dads.
The real problem, plaguing ISKCON and outside it, is the idea that reason is superior to emotions- that to be "more intelligent" is more important than to be "more loving" and that leadership is more about who is smarter than who is more empathetic. What a horrible idea.
When we examine the character of kings like Sibhi and Arjuna, we don't see intellectual geniuses, just extremely compassionate men. Sibhi was willing to cut off his flesh to feed a bird. Arjuna cried for the enemies that had five times tried to kill him and his family. Yuddhisthira was inconsolable after the battle of kuruksetra. He could only think of the suffering of others, not his own victory. These were all great leaders. They were men, certainly, because in those days, protection of others required the ability to wield huge bows. That not being so presently, anyone can take up the task- provided they have the emotional capacity.
To turn back the clock, you have to turn back all aspects of time, or you live in constant contradiction. To make a situation where only men lead, which means to protect others, you would also have to get rid of all modern defensive apparatus (which women can use), and have only bows and arrows in the world. With modern technology, the ability to defend is open to all, and the question then becomes- does one want to do it? Does one care? Is the welfare of others paramount in one’s scheme of things? Therefore, even in Vedic culture, we have situations like in the Bhagavatam, where Draupadi “called the shots” on the basis of compassion. She insisted that the killer of her sons not be put to death- because his innocent wife would suffer. Krsna advised Arjuna to satisfy her wishes, which he did. Bhima argued on the basis of justice, devoid of compassion. In effect, a suitable decision was made, by listening to a woman's plea for compassion. Krsna insisted it be so.
So rather than argue, who is more intelligent, they should argue, who is more compassionate? Who stood up for the abused gurukulis? Who covered it up? Who is still covering it up, licking the shoes of child-abusers and calling them sannyasis? After establishing who has been the most compassionate for the most vulnerable, the most caring, by comparison of each individual’s acts of chivalry- the courageous defence of another, they should be elevate them to the position of ksatriyas in our movement- for karma should always match guna. Some of these men and women may also have the capacity for spiritual compassion, and see beyond the temporary distresses of the body, to the soul's need. They should be put into positions of brahmanas. But without compassion, without the desire to help others, spiritual knowledge will necessarily be used for personal self-aggrandizement, gross or subtle- at the very least, to get accolades after the class, accumulating honor and respect and eventually position. After all, even Ravana knew much sastra and could quote from it, but he was hardly a brahmana.
Compassion is the best quality of a brahmana, as it defines whether he is merely an intellectual, or a vaisnava. It is the common quality to all leadership, ksatriya or brahmana, and the white flag of peace between warring factions. When women feel protected in a loving way, which means to not just protect their bodies, but their minds and intelligence, from those that demean them, they don't feel the need to become feminists. But we have a concomitant responsibility- to not turn hatred of misogynism into hatred of men, or think that a relationship with a man is about establishing who is superior, who gives the orders. We shouldn't think of ourselves as feminists, but “das das anu dasi”. Feminism is only necessary if there is a threat to one evolving to one's full capacity. If we use it for augmenting our false egos, ever, it will become our worst enemy. There is a perception by men that feminists are hardened battle types, ready to go for the jugular. Whatever cause we align ourselves with, we must be ready to throw away our weapons, at the first possibility of a truce.
If a man is encouraging us to grow and develop our innate talents, guna, but would also like a nice dinner made and the house kept clean, we say "thank you" by honouring his wishes, and we also learn humility and a loving service attitude. When we see our emotional talents as every bit as important as our intellectual talents, if not more so, then what better way to develop that talent than by being kind and affectionate to our husbands? If the goal of feminism, to be given as many opportunities to evolve as a man, has already been achieved in any given situation, especially in family life when the welfare of kids is at stake, there is no need of war. We need to know that, and know when to drop our defences, be loved, be protected, and enjoy it.
Many of us know that already, but the men against feminism have to hear it, as some may be feeling "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" or "give them some freedoms and before you know it, you will be their willing slaves". This sentiment has been betrayed by the language used in the GHQ, calling them "feminazis". There is no need for war on the basis of the body, simply if we put Srila Prabhupada's instruction of varnashrama into effect, and focus on guna, rather than the body. Being soft-hearted was the quintessential quality of all Vedic leadership- the desire to help others. When combined with spiritual realizations, the guna is brahminical. When focussed more on protection of the body, it is indicates the ksatriya.
If Srila Prabhupada's instructions matter to us, and they really should be our “life and soul”, we should immediately begin varnashrama, starting with our leadership. All those who are shown to be compromising an ideal standard of compassion, should be removed- and offered service as vaisyas or sudras, which they may excel at. All those who have shown acts of chivalry, should be made ksatriyas in their zones. All those who have shown compassion combined with spiritual insights, should be made brahmanas in their zones. It has nothing to do with who has a thread or who doesn't, or a certain type of reproductive organ. Certainly none on the GHQ are showing signs of either kind of leadership, as they are seeing on the bodily platform- who has their kind of reproductive organ and who doesn’t- which precludes them from the brahmana platform. The fact that they are more interested in subduing women, than in helping them evolve their spiritual and intellectual potential, which is complete protection, precludes them from being Vedic ksatriyas as well, who knew that the body is less important than the soul.
I'm all for Vedic culture, but let's not misrepresent it, nor take into account the effects of time, but preserve its essence. Vedic culture is not about subduing anyone, but recognizing guna, and assigning karma accordingly. How could Vedic culture, which is based on Vedic knowledge, have anything to do with gender? It was simply the constraints of the time, that no women were leaders. The bows would have broken their backs. They could simply, as Draupadi did, give advice to their physically powerful husbands- and the advice, if good, certainly if compassionate, was acted upon.
We don't have the need for bows and arrows, but we are so much short of compassionate brahmana and ksatriya leadership in ISKCON, that wherever it may be found, we should take advantage of it, regardless of the body, which is only the dress, and not the real person.
I read with great interest your article about womens ashramas. I have been a long time advocate of places for our women to take shelter. Having grown up in ISKCON and later looking outside to find a place which was conducive to female bodies.
One part of your article stood out to me:
The lady from Kolkata who wanted to join and serve full time for the rest of her life.
I wanted to write and let you know that you can send her a reply I have an answer for you.
the Vrinda mission under Swami BA Paramadvaiti Swami (ACBSP) has a temple with womens ashrama - Sarasvati Kunja- in Sri Dham Mayapur. I just spent 6 months living there with my two very young children. They also have a womans ashrama (actually it's an entire Women-only temple named Vamsi Kunja) in Vrindavan...which is where more senior Matajis go.
Not relevant to that particular mataji but maybe of interest to your good self - is that Vrinda mission has "Visnu Priya Ashramas" which are for women (and sometimes with their children) in most countries they are active throughout South America and Europe.
Contact details, should you like further information for the Lady or yourself, can be found at:
Where Are the Women's Ashramas?
Sometimes there is talk on how the women devotees in ISKCON should be treated, and even the possibility of promoting them into leadership positions in the movement. But that would seem to be a rarity when ISKCON hardly provides any facility for women anyway.
Why? Look around and tell me how many temples even offer a place for women. There are so many temples across America, and especially in India, that offer no place for women, no ashramas, little if any facilities, and in some places, little if any service. And women are supposed to be comfortable in joining such an organization? Maybe they can participate from a distance, like from their homes if they are married, but we hardly ever find any brahmacarinis like there used to be in the past.
Let's face a few facts:
1. In the preaching work that I do, I receive a lot of emails from people from around the world, and this includes a number of emails over the years from Indian men who are interested in joining ISKCON, but have an obstacle to deal with for which they want advice. And that is the disapproval of their wives. Their wives often do not like their husbands becoming too absorbed in ISKCON.
But what should we expect? Any woman who looks over the long-term possibilities of their own involvement in ISKCON would naturally be worried. Why? Because, as long as they are cared for by a husband, their situation may have some security. If they remain householders and participate in ISKCON from their home, it may be all right.
But if their husbands want to join ISKCON or be a part of it on a more full time basis, then what happens to the wife? Where will she go? Is there an ashrama for her to join? Is there a woman's branch of ISKCON to join? Does she go back to her parents, keep working somewhere to support herself, or will her children take care of her? This last scenario is happening less often amongst Indian families. Naturally, many women become apprehensive without a clear picture of what to expect.
If we had more facility for women, whether it be ashramas, women's groups, meetings, etc., then it would reduce that concern of new women devotees or of the wives of men who want to increase their participation in ISKCON. But this kind of thing seems to be a low priority amongst most ISKCON leaders.
2. Even now we can see that for those women who have dedicated years of their life to ISKCON, they have no dependable shelter within ISKCON, no place to retire without the insecurity and worries of what will happen next, or how to pay for the facilities she may need. They may be in an ashrama, even doing much needed Deity worship, but not know if some new temple president with a new attitude will come in and change the standard for who can stay and who must leave. Then they may find that they are forced out, but to where?
Thus, they have few places, if any, to live their final years in Krishna-conscious association. For a movement like ISKCON to maintain such conditions, or lack thereof, it is shameful and thoughtless, especially when we bring up Vedic references that speak of how women are supposed to be honored and protected.
That is why, to me, the whole subject of putting more devotee women in positions of leadership seems strange when, first of all, we hardly consider the need to have a place for women devotees anywhere in ISKCON. When Srila Prabhupada was here, practically every temple had an ashrama for women, and some in the Americas still do. But now we see temples where it is as if women don't count for much. Yes, most women do get married and serve their family without joining an ashrama. Nonetheless, there is little facility for those who would like to join ISKCON. No wonder some people think the way they do about ISKCON, that it's nothing more than a patriarchal environment. And who do we have to blame for that?
Naturally, there are plans to correct this, but only amongst a few, and until those plans are fully developed, where are the women supposed to go? The fact remains that there are indeed ashramas for women, even in Vrindavana or at Govardhan, but those often outside of ISKCON. Does that mean that serious women devotees who are looking for an ashrama may be forced to leave ISKCON and go to some other camp? Thankfully, here in Detroit, where I serve, we still have a fully dedicated women's ashrama, which will remain as long as I am still the chairman of the board at this temple.
3. As it stands, unless a woman has a wealthy husband, or someone who left her money, or has some financial stability of her own and can afford her own apartment, like at the Mayapur-Vrindavan Trust in Vrindavana, or someplace near a temple, it is often seen that there is little facility for her to stay near or in a temple ashrama and freely participate in ISKCON full time. Yet, we can see almost every temple has a men's ashrama.
Of course, more men join full time than women. Nonetheless, I recently got a question through an email from a woman in India for which I did not have a proper answer, and that is which temples have ashramas for women. I did not know quite what to say. It turns out that the woman who emailed me was from Kolkata, around 43 years old, and simply wanted to find an ashrama where she could settle and do service to Lord Krishna full time for the rest of her life. But where can she go to do that? People often email me asking for advice, but I did not have a sure answer for this question.
If we do have temples with ashramas for women, then let's create a database, a list of such places so we can let people know where sincere women can go to be a part of ISKCON and serve full time with other women association.
4. In my preaching endeavors, I work both within ISKCON and with other Hindu groups outside of ISKCON and have come in contact with a wide variety of scenarios. For example, while giving lecture tours in India, I have seen where some Christian organizations that are converting Indian Hindus into Christians focus primarily on the mothers and wives in the villages. Why? Because they know that if a mother of a family becomes interested in Christianity and is invited to the church and becomes enthusiastic, then a few things begin to happen, which are:
A. She will start bringing her children to church and educating them in Christianity,
B. She will talk to her women friends and tell them about it and bring them to the church, which then increases as they all begin to tell others about it,
C. There are often Christian women's groups that are created, in which they participate, which gives them encouragement to bring more to the group and to church, and
D. She also usually has some influence over her husband who then also begins going to church. Iif his wife, his children, the wives of his friends and then his own friends start going, why wouldn't he also begin to go?
Thus, whole sections of villages and various areas of India are being converted to Christianity simply because they cater to the women. It seems if ISKCON is really a preaching movement, they would also catch on to this strategy. But as I talk to people about this in ISKCON, it seems that most are not aware of this point, or do not care.
5. If ISKCON is serious about establishing varnashrama or self-sufficient communities, they will never succeed unless they know how to incorporate women to do their part in it. Varnashrama cannot be done by men alone. It requires whole families, which means we need the women to do their part, or varnashrama is merely an endeavor in discussion only, and maybe a few small projects here and there, most of which come and go.
6. Naturally, not every temple may be able to have a women's ashrama. But even a large organization like the RSS in India has a women's branch called the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, which is established in many cities across India and in which women can participate. These may not have ashramas, but they have their own headquarters in Nagpur, with an ashrama where both older women and younger girls can stay full time.
I know because I visited and had lunch there some years ago with the women leaders of the organization. In fact, they contacted me during their anniversary celebration to write an article on "Women in Vedic Culture" in which I elaborated on how women were viewed in the Vedic texts, how they were supposed to honored, with examples of great Vedic women. They very much appreciated the article and published it in their anniversary souvenir magazine. [Anyone can read that article on my website at www.stephen-knapp.com.]
7. Advantages for a women's ashrama include bringing more women to the movement where they can be properly trained and engaged in devotional service. How can we neglect half of the world's population for spiritual development? Naturally, most women, especially in India, will get married and serve a husband and family. But what about the brahmacaris who want to get married? Where do we expect them to find educated devotee ladies, and trained in devotional service if there is no women's ashrama?
Do the men just go back out to the villages to find someone who may not have been trained up? Or do they still rely on their parents to make the arrangements, which may not be in the devotee's best interest? Would it not be best to have men get married to women who are already trained in devotional standards, sadhana, Vaishnava etiquette, cooking, or even Deity worship? And then bring children up in a strong devotionally-based atmosphere?
8. Disadvantages for not having a facility for women include the fact that ISKCON looks extremely patriarchal with little concern for its women members, or in making women members, or in providing facility for them. That is already one of the factors that keep women from wanting to join, and also put men off who notice this. How can we expect women to want to join ISKCON at any age only to know that there is little facility for them — or those who have already been longtime members and find that after dedicating their lives to the movement there is no longer any place for them in their old age where they can freely serve and strictly engage in devotional service?
In the present state, for the most part, it becomes clear that there is little opportunity for a thriving or dynamic future for women in ISKCON, unless they are financially independent from the movement to do as they like, which is not the Vedic system. But if we cannot provide for them, what else are they to do?
[Some older men also face the same dilemma in ISKCON. I still haven't figured out what I'm going to do when I am old with no money and able to do little service. But that's a separate discussion.]
How can we expect any woman, even if they are married, who thinks long-term to want to join the movement if they know that no matter how dedicated her and her husband have been to serving in the movement, if her husband joins ISKCON full time, or takes sannyasa, or if he unexpectedly dies young, she suddenly has no place in ISKCON? This happened to someone in Mumbai when, before they had children, her husband died and she had no place to go. She was allowed to stay in the guest house for several days, but after that, she had to leave, but where to go?
In conclusion, it would seem that a solution to some of these problems and issues would be that certain temples should have facility for women, or there should be at least a centrally located ashrama that can accommodate a majority of sincere and dedicated women devotees who are looking for a place where they can simply do service. Or if they have already given most of their lives to the movement, then there should be a place where they can retire in devotional life.
If the GBC of ISKCON is in charge of establishing solutions and facilities for the growth of the movement, and if we really accept and believe the Vedic tenets of honoring qualified women, this should be an issue that should be dealt with soon and in an effective manner.
If they don't, then is there any reason why we should expect more than a few women to want to join ISKCON full time, knowing there is little future or facility for them in the movement? Should there be any wonder why husbands who become interested in ISKCON may be met with resistance from their wives? Is there any wonder why women may join other movements who offer more respect and better facilities for them? This could change with properly managed facilities for women.