Women’s Roles in Iskcon Krishna Kirti Pr.

Krishna Kirti Das (BVKS)

Nowadays it is common to hear the word “discrimination” in ISKCON society. When the word “discrimination” is used, it is often done to accuse one or more persons of being unfair to another person or group of persons, and this unfairness happens to almost always have something to do with gender. If women do not have political representation, that is called “discrimination,” or that “the men” are oppressing women. If a guru-kula happens to take only male students, and not female students, then there are complaints and accusations that the heads of the guru-kula are “discriminating”—or that they are oppressing women and venting their hate on them. Or if we are feeling a little benevolent, we can dismiss them as merely ignorant and in want of a better understanding. So there is a women’s movement in ISKCON to right these wrongs, so to speak. But the so-called oppression of women that we are trying to rectify are things we will find all over the Vedas, and specifically in Srila Prabhupada’s books.

In scripture, we find that boys went to the guru-kula, not girls. Sandipani Muni only had male students, not female students. When the cowherd men of Gokula convened to discuss what to do about the many disturbances of demons (who were trying to kill Krishna), we never find that women were participating in the meeting with the men. Or in Krishna’s court in Dvaraka, we never find any women among his ministers and representatives. The same is true for Lord Rama’s court, as it was for Maharaja Dasharatha’s court. It should be obvious that the educational, social, and political institutions we read about in scripture were mainly exclusive of women, not inclusive. Does this mean Sandipani Muni was ignorant? Were the cowherd men of Vrindavan narrow-minded? Was Lord Rama a bigot? Or was Lord Krishna a sexist? And above all, when the person without whom we would not have the faintest idea of what is the spiritual world makes statements in his books such as these:

As we learn from the history of the Mahabharata, or “Greater India,” the wives and daughters of the ruling class, the ksatriyas, knew the political game, but we never find that a woman was given the post of chief executive. This is in accordance with the injunctions of Manu-samhita, but unfortunately Manu-samhita is now being insulted, and the Aryans, the members of Vedic society, cannot do anything. Such is the nature of Kali-yuga. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.4.5 purport)

Are we to conclude that Srila Prabhupada’s admonition of such gender-inclusive social policies, as we have today, is the byproduct of a less-enlightened, narrow-minded, 19th century Indian culture?

Nowadays the people of our society seem to be more inclined toward mundane social reform and less inclined toward trying to understand from the words of our acharyas and from the words of scripture what is the perfect, Krishna-conscious society. Rather, it seems we are too busy trying to import non-spiritual social values in order to appeal to the mundane sentiments of the karmis, and, perhaps, appease devotees who maintain such mundane sentiments. It is no wonder, then, that nowadays we hardly every hear talk about taking over the world and making it Krishna conscious. Instead of taking over the world, it appears that the world is taking over us.

But if we think more deeply about scripture, and the explanations of our acharyas, only then can we get real direction and guidance as to what will solve our problems. For example, although women did not go to the guru-kula with the boys, they were nonetheless similarly qualified as the men who went to school. Although the great women we read about in scripture, as per Srila Prabhupada, were never heads of state, they were nonetheless influential and active in the political arena. Women like Devaki knew the art of politics, Rukmini and Subhadra could drive a war chariot, Draupadi managed the Pandava’s treasury. Citrangada, a Manipuri princess, battled Arjuna. None of them had a voice or vote in political assemblies, yet they were well protected, cared for, and were still influential and important in society. All this was possible in a social atmosphere that was thousands of times more exclusive of women, from social and political life, than today’s standards. Yet in spite of the exclusion, these highly qualified women were satisfied with their roles, and they were much happier than today’s so-called liberated women.

We have got Mahabharata, there is not a single instance… We had very,

very great, qualified women. But they were in charge of state…? Very, very

qualified women. You know. Na svatantratam arhati, striyah. For woman there

is no independence. The Manu-samhita. They must stay under father, under

husband, or under elderly sons. (Evening Darshana, May 9, 1977 Hrishikesha)

The society we read about in the Srimad-Bhagavatam is Lord Krishna’s. It is completely spiritual, not something mundane. Lord Krishna performs His nitya-lila in that society. Yet if due to mundane sentiment we despise Krishna’s society, considering it to be something discriminatory, or sexist, then there is no hope for us to participate in those pastimes. Instead of dismissing the words of the Vedas and our acharyas as “impractical” or “discriminatory,” we should first try to understand how the society we read about in scripture, with all its seeming contradictions and “politically incorrect” social structure, is actually the perfect society.

`sastra-guru-atma’-rupe apanare janana

`krsna mora prabhu, trata’–jivera haya jnana

“The forgetful conditioned soul is educated by Krsna through the Vedic literatures, the realized spiritual master and the Supersoul. Through these, he can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He is, and he can understand that Lord Krsna is his eternal master and deliverer from the clutches of maya. In this way one can acquire real knowledge of his conditioned life and can come to understand how to attain liberation.”

[From the purport] Sadhu, sastra and guru act as the representatives of Krsna, and the Krsna consciousness movement is also taking place all over the universe. Whoever takes advantage of this opportunity becomes liberated. (CC Madhya 20.123 + purport)

Your servant,

Krishna-kirti das (BVKS)

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