Letter to a Godsister
BY: BASU GHOSH DAS (ACBSP)
Nov 18, BARODA, INDIA (SUN) —
Subject: It was brought to my attention
By a godsister…
Home Base: ISKCON-Baroda
Respected Mataji, Namonamaha. Jaya Srila Prabhupada! Received your message:
> Did you read this Basu Ghosh Prabhu?
Well, now I did! 😉 Of course, I’m aware that Malati Mataji is “pushing this line of thinking”. Sadly, she and others, Vishakha, et. al, have “bought into” both “feminism” and “egalitarianism”, which are ideologies.
In fact, at the recently concluded IRGB meeting at Puri, where a paper was presented “refuting” the GBC SAC’s (SAC = “Shastra advisory committee”) paper recommending “female diksha gurus”, during the ensuing discussion, a sannyasi stated that “feminism is due to the abuse of women”.
I responded that “feminism is an ideology” and that “feminism and egalitarianism” are popular ideologies in the West.
Here, from the Wikipedia on ‘Feminism’:
“The term Feminism can be used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing more rights and legal protection for women. Feminism involves political and sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference, as well as a movement that advocates more gender-specific rights for women and campaigns for women’s rights and interests. Although the terms “feminism” and “feminist” did not gain widespread use until the 1970s, they were already being used in the public parlance much earlier; for instance, Katherine Hepburn speaks of the “feminist movement” in the 1942 film Woman of the Year.”
and, from the Wikipedia on ‘Egalitarianism’:
“Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning “equal”), has two distinct definitions in modern English. It is defined either as a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people.”
The “Vedic” concept is different from both of these ideologies. The Vedic concept is that everyone has a “svadharma”, “his/her own duties”, and those duties are divided according to the concept of “varna”, or “caste” (which has become a pejorative term) or “category” and “ashrama”, or “stage of life”.
“Stridharma”, the duties of women, are defined separately from the above, in “their own category”.
What is the basis of these divisions? The Vedas themselves, the “purusha sukta” and other places, mention the “varnas” and “ashramas”. In the Gita, as we both know, Lord Krishna says that he divided the society into “varnas” and “ashramas”.
A more detailed study of duty, “dharma”, is made in the “dharma shastras” like the Manu Samhita/Smriti. Srila Prabhupada called the “dharma shastras” “the lawbooks for humanity”.
Srila Prabhupada wanted his Western disciples to reside for extended periods here in India to “learn Vedic/Vaishnava/Indian culture”. Part of that learning is that there is “gender distinction” in daily dealings. This “gender distinction” is “innate” in all Indian languages, beginning with the “mother of all languages”, Samskritam, where words (nouns) are (“declined” into) masculine, feminine and neuter.
Here, from the Wikipedia on ‘Grammatical Gender’:
“Many languages place each noun into one of three gender classes (or simply “genders”): Masculine gender includes most words that refer to males; Feminine gender includes most words that refer to females; Neuter gender includes mostly words that do not refer to males or females”
Sadly, Malati Mataji is ignoring both the teachings of the Vedas and the Gita, and the simple grammar lesson herein above. That doesn’t mean that I disrespect her as a person. But what I understand is that she’s misleading herself and those in her wider audience.
She’s basing her arguments on two points. One, there are some letters that were signed by Srila Prabhupada wherein women are addressed as “prabhu”, and two, Prabhupada may (or may not) have addressed some of his early women disciples as “prabhu”.
I’m not saying that both aren’t possibly true. The explanation however is simple enough. One, in the “very beginning” of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the West, he may very well have addressed some female disciples as “prabhu”.
He knew that in the English language, the nouns themselves are not “declined” according to gender – meaning they don’t have suffixes (like in Samskritam) that categorize the nouns themselves as either “masculine, feminine or neuter”. Therefore, it may have been that to make things simpler for the “American youth” (at the time), who were speaking a language without “declined nouns”, he chose to address both males and females as “prabhu”.
Later on, he obviously changed! There are innumerable references where Srila Prabhupada instructs his disciples to address women as “mother”, i.e. “mata”, “mataji” (Hindi/Bengali).
Malati Mataji’s attempt is basically one that wishes to change the (Samskrita) language itself!
“Samskritam” can be translated as “culture”, and the Samskrita language and literatures do much to preserve the ancient Vedic culture that Srila Prabhupada desired to propagate.
Rather than attempting to change the meanings of Samskrita words, and thus falling into/adopting “a feministic/egalitarian agenda”, we should all — Malati Mataji included — try to learn Vedic culture and imbibe it.
Vedic culture is prevalent here in India in many ways, as we all know: food, dress, daily habits of early rising and cleanliness, spiritual sadhana, Deity worship, fire sacrifices, dealings with ones relatives (parents, brothers, cousins — as seen in the words used in the Gita) etc., etc., etc.
Srila Prabhupada spent most of his time, and money, highlighting India to his disciples. The Mayapur, Vrindavan and Juhu projects, and the amount of time, energy and money Prabhupada spent in his last days promoting these projects are the strongest testimony there is to this!
Malati Mataji’s efforts seem to be born of the desire to see ISKCON “go the way” of “Eckankar”. [www.eckankar.org], where the “omkaar” has been forgotten, and the “spiritual leader” is “Harold Klemp”, in “suit and tie”!
“Eckankar” forgot their “Punjabi Sikh” “roots” [to a great extent] (“ek omkaar” = “one om”) and “morphed” into a “totally Western” “outfit”. [The Punjabi word “sikh” itself is a mispronunciation of the samskrita “shishya” and so “guru shishya”, “teacher and disciple”, became “gursikh” in Punjab! In fact, the “Samskrita” (and hence “Vedic”) roots of even the Muslim society of the “Pathaans” (of Afghanistan & Pakistan) are on display in the word “pakhtoonwali” [“code of the pashtuns/pathaans”] (“vaalaha” is the Samskritam of “waala”, or “one who possesses something”, i.e. “rickshawaala”, “one who has a ricksaw”, etc.)] And so it goes.
Srila Prabhupada wanted “cultural change & revolution”! Food, dress, nomenclature, religious belief, daily habits, etc. — all of them, he had his disciples change!
One day we will all wake up and realize that our language ought to change as well! Like Israel, where they adopted the ancient language of the Bible as the “national language”, Vaishnavas should adopt the “language of Vedic literatures”, the “language of the Goswamis”, the “language of the acharyas”, Samskritam!
The statement “na mlecchati vai”, in Patanjali’s “Mahaabhaashya” commentary on Panini’s “ashtaadhyaayi” (eight chapters describing Samskrita grammar, seen as the “definitive description” of the grammar of Samskritam) means “one should not mispronounce”,
Samskrita words! “mleccha” means “inncorrect” and Samskritam, the “fully phonetic” “language of the cities of the devatas/demigods” (“devanaagari”) stresses “ucchaaranam”, (“pronunciation”, the title of a book which HH) Lokanath Swami just published, to help Western devotees who grew up speaking “unphonetic” languages!
Sorry for the length of this message. I hope this helps to clear up the sad misconceptions regarding the Samskrita (masculine) word “prabhu” that are being propagated mistakenly.
Hope this meets you well.
Basu Ghosh das