Addressing women as Prabhu Smashed



Lecture by H.H. Sivarama Maharaja 

Transcribed by Basu Ghos das


This morning I am going to touch on a subject that I was asked about recently by one devotee, that subject is the addressing ladies by the title “Prabhu”. Devotee asked me that why is this going on in some parts of ISKCON.


And then I’d to answer that I really didn’t know that why has this practice been introduced in ISKCON because it is some kind of new introduction. It didn’t exist in Prabhupada’s times and didn’t exist after Prabhupada’s times. Best of my knowledge is coming from last year or two and when asked what I thought of it, I told them I did not believe it was the right thing, was the wrong thing, which does not really have any other reference other than Srila Prabhupada on occasion calling some of his disciples “Prabhu” and that may be the case but it wasn’t what I experienced when I began associating with devotees in 1970. But that I was told that all women should be considered one’s own mothers and when I called my own wife “Mother” I was corrected, no no not your own wife, all other women.


Since then I have reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, everywhere, Srila Prabhupada’s conversations, lectures, Srila Prabhupada constantly refers to this ideal of women being addressed as “Mothers”, what has been going on in last three decades or four decades in our Krishna Consciousness movement. For me it is like pulling a rabbit out of the hat, all of a sudden lets show respect to ladies and we’ll show them respect by calling them Prabhu. I don’t think this is what Prabhupada wants us to do that, he wants us to practice and follow Vaishnava tradition which means that the address co-relates the gender. You call a man ‘Mr. Smith’ and wife you call ‘Mrs. Smith’, you don’t call man’s wife Mr. Smith also just to show some respect. Respect is there and it is inherent in the title that is being given. And, Mother is no lesser than a title than Prabhu, but it is correct, it is gender correct.


The structure of KC Movement is ideally supposed to be about Vaishnavism and Prabhupada continually quotes this “maatrivat patrabharesu” from Chanakya Pandit, he calls it sastra. He says everyone else “parateresu“, everyone else except your wife, “matrivat” is you call them your Mother, you deal with them as your “Mother”. That is meant to be our social interaction. Someone may say well in realms of pure Vaishanavism, transcendental Krishna Consciousness then the designations of body don’t matter. That I don’t believe that, for one and second we are not meant to be acting as if on transcendental platform even if we are, we are meant to be acting as conditioned souls within a social framework, a Varnashrama social framework and adopting those types of designations and appellations. I don’t believe that transcendentalists behave like that because the references which tradition seems to point to, for instance when we read about Jahanava Devi, there is never anywhere, there is lot to be read about her in “Bhakti Ratnakar” and other Vaishnava literature. She is always called Jahanava Ma or she is called Sri Isvari or she is called Acharya Rani. These are appellations which are gender correct and they do not cross the grain of cultural norms.


And from what we read about her, even though she was the acharya, even though no doubt she was the transcendentalist but she did not mix with men, she did not eat with the men, she ate separate. She cooked for them, she served, but she did not eat with them. We address Srimati Radharani, we don’t say Sriman Radharani, Srimat Radharani, we say Srimati. And, we say Radharani, we don’t say Radharana, Radharaj, we say Radharani.


I mean, it is even ridiculous just to be discussing this but anyway, Srila Prabhupada called ladies, initiated ladies, gave them spiritual names and called them devi dasi. I don’t think on any of the initiation lecture Prabhupada called anyone Prabhu.


So, it just doesn’t really make any sense to me that we want to introduce after all this time some kind of new practice and I can’t for the life of me understand why actually some people even buy into this. I even heard in news of GBC body, I think it is extremely childish. Okay, why did Srila Prabhupada called some ladies like that, I don’t know. Why did he call 5 year old Gurukula boy ‘Mr. Dwarkadesa’? Did he imply that we are supposed to be calling all Gurukula children ‘Mr.’ Of course not, it won’t be good for them, ISKCON would be a laughing stock. It is not something that is done, children are not called Mr., you call superiors, elderly persons and mature people ‘Mr.’. Srila Prabhupada may have done it but it is not the general practice, it is not what is in scriptures. It is not what society was doing in Srila Prabhupada’s times, after Srila Prabhupada’s times. Why should we adopt something what no other Vaishnava society does and not Vaishanava, no other society uses Prabhu and which isolates ISKCON and makes us look extremely foolish and I would say impudent thinking that we’re introducing some kind of cultural norm that Srila Prabhupada did it, ultimately Srila Prabhupada takes the blame.


But we’ve no lecture, purports in books, no direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada that ladies should be called “Prabhu”. We’ve instructions that how devotees should be called Prabhu, and generally that refers to males and generally always refers to males. We know Srila Prabhupada told us sannyasis should be called ‘Maharaja’ and that spiritual master should be called ‘Divine Grace’. So, we say Prabhupada did it but Prabhupada never explicitly gave us any type of such guidance and instructions.


Anyway, so, therefore I’ll not allow devotees to introduce this practice at least in my zone and I’ll continue to respect and worship all ladies as I do my mother, which I think is the most preferential title that one can address a lady, a spiritual personality, a Vaishanavi, a senior sadhavika or even a perfected personality. Srila Prabhupada refers in his talks on Hare Krsna mantra, Mother Hara, Mother Radha, Mother Durga, Mother Jahanava. If these personalities were being slighted by being called ‘Mother’, I am sure Srila Prabhupada would have made explicit statements that no, this is not respectful enough, you should call them all Prabhu. So, I very much like and am convinced that this ‘Mother’ title is what is appropriate and I really don’t want to put devotees in a position in public eye, in Vaishnava eye for those who speak Sanskrit and understand what the word Prabhu means. To either call a female by male name or to subject ladies in my yatra to being addressed as ‘Sir’ such and such.


Anyway. Hare Krishna. I hope no offenses are taken by this. But that is my conviction, unless I’m really given some kind of scriptural and direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada to the contrary.


Here is some nonsense that this “pro-prabhu” woman writes,

  1. Yasoda Saci devi dasi says:

    Dear Maharaja,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

    I was just researching this topic, within the last week ago, so it seems to be very relevant for ISKCON. I am sure that without as much depth as you have. But I thought to include my points to see what should be done, as I have been chastized by very senior devotees for not calling devotees in female bodies prabhus, while calling those in male bodies prabhus.

    My conclusion was:

    It appears that prabhus could be used, if the devotees are on the vaisnava level, and mataji-beta if there is any possibility of tinge of material contamination.

    The following is from the Brahmacharya in Krishna Consciousness book, by Srila Bhakti Vikas Maharaja: (but I believe the quotes are Srila Prabhupada’s):

    In a conversation in Seattle in 1968, Srila Prabhup€da said, “Now, another thing: Girls should not be taken as inferior. Sometimes, of course, in scripture we say that woman is the cause of bondage. So, that should not be aggravated that women are inferior. The girls who come, we should treat them nicely. After all, anyone who is coming to Krsna consciousness, man or woman, is very fortunate. The idea of addressing each other as Prabhu means, ‘You are my master.’ Prabhu means ‘master.’ So everyone shall treat others as ‘my master.’ This is Vaisnava understanding. In spiritual life there is nothing like this sexism. The more we forget sex life means we are advancing in spiritual life. So this should be the attitude: women, godsisters, should be nicely treated.”

    ( Appears to support the address of prabhu between mixed-gender devotees.)


    In 1967, at the 2nd Avenue temple in New York City, ®r…la Prabhup€da announced in one class, “Don’t see these girls as objects of sense gratification. See them as associates of Krsna.” (Told by Jadurani devi dasi) And in the mid-1970’s in America, a party of sannyasis and brahmacaris became overly righteous about the attachments of grhasthas and women. Tension developed and reached exploding point at the Mayapura Festival of 1976. In the course of setting everything straight (the way he always did-by preaching Krsna consciousness) Srila Prabhup€da said that male devotees should address the women as “My dear mother” and the women should see the men as “My dear son.” (Told by Jadurani devi dasi)

    (Appears to support the address of mataji-beta between mixed-gender devotees.)

    So from these two examples, it appears that there are two standards, either of which may be acceptable for vaishnava dealings according to Srila Prabhupada. However, it would be wonderful to see all possible quotes on this subject, in order to help come up with a more clear ISKCON standpoint.

    Thank you for any insights Maharaja, and other esteemed devotees,

    Your servant,

    Yasoda Saci devi dasi

and here is sivaram swami’s reply

  1. Sivarama Swami says:

    My brief comment on Yasoda Saci dd and Jaganatha Suta d’s postings:

    We should, as Srila Prabhupada says, respect everyone, men and women as Prabhu, that does not mean, and Srila Prabhupada does not indicate, that we should call everyone “Prabhu”. But we cannot avoid calling each something as JSd seems to suggest. And I agree, all Vaisnavis are worshippable.

    To use different titles as YSdd suggests for pure or contaminated Vaisnavis would be chaotic and is not necessary. We are meant to live according to the principles of Varnasrama, regardless of the level of advancement. Varnasrama means everyone accepts roles and designations of sadhakas, or conditioned souls. Eg: Krsna’s father Nanda is called “Maharaja” (title for a king), not “Paramahamsa Thakura” (which he is).

  1. Danesha das says:

    Hare Krishna.

    Please accept my respectful obeisances. All glories to Srila Prahupada!

    I just want to mention that last year in Soho St. in London his Holiness Hridayananda Maharaj (who is a sanskrit scholar) explained that the word “prabhu” is neutral in sanskrit and does not refer only to men. Technically it can be used when addressing both men and ladies. For a sanskrit scholar it does not sound like addressing a lady “Sir” or “Mr.”. Whether or not a strong emphasis is put on the title “mother” by the individual teacher of vaisnava siddhanta is another issue.

    Your servant

    Danesha das (HDG),


  1. Sivarama Swami says:

    I am not a sanskrit scholar, nor do I challenge the scholarship of Hridayananda M, however the tradition has been to use Prabhu for men. And if in fact ladies prefer an honorific title, which they do not find ‘mother’ to be, then words like Srimati, as in Srimati Radharani, seem to be tradition. I have not yet found Prabhu written in sastra next to a woman’s name.

This is a non-gaudiya math, non-ritvik, pro-bookedits, pro-JAS, anti-feminism, anti-egalitarianism website for Iskcon members under the GBC(in principle). All anti-iskcon persons remove your demoniac presence from my site! Haribol! TY!

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