Don’t Open Pandora’s Box
Why I am strongly opposed to female diksha gurus in ISKCON.
(This paper was submitted by me to the leaders of ISKCON North American at their annual meeting in January 2016.)
Wikipedia describes Pandora’s Box as follows:
“Pandora’s box is an artifact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora’s creation in Hesiod’s Works and Days. The ‘box’ was actually a large jar given to Pandora, which contained all the evils of the world. Pandora opened the jar and all the evils flew out, leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. Today the phrase ‘to open Pandora’s box’ means to perform an action that may seem small or innocent, but that turns out to have severely detrimental and far-reaching consequences.”
So this paper (brief for your ease of quick reading), based on Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, proposes that allowing females to initiate disciples in ISKCON is a Pandora’s box. In other words it is a seemingly small or innocent action that will eventually have detrimental consequences for ISKCON.
Those who are opposed to ISKCON allowing females to initiate quote Srila Prabhupada’s purport to SB 4.12.32:
“It is the duty of the siksa-guru or diksa-guru to instruct the disciple in the right way, and it depends on the disciple to execute the process. According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru, and generally the siksa-guru later on becomes the diksa-guru. Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja’s diksa-guru.”
Those in favor of female initiating gurus quote this conversation with Professor O’Connell (whose wife was present) to support their position:
Prof. O’Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?
Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnava devi was-Nityananda’s wife. She became. If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many.”
It should be noted here that Jahnava-mata was a nitya-siddha devotee from Goloka Vrindavana and that her devotees were also devotees of her husband, Lord Nityananda. In this regard Srila Prabhupada states in his purport to CC, Adi 11.21 as follows:
“Jahnava-mata is also within the list of Lord Nityananda’s followers. She is described in the Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika (66) as Ananga-manjari of Vrndavana. All the devotees who are followers of Jahnava-mata are counted within the list of Sri Nityananda Prabhu’s devotees.”
The female diksha proponents also quote this letter from Srila Prabhupada dated 3 January 1969:
“Next January there will be an examination on this Bhagavad-gita. Papers will be sent by me to all centers, and those securing the minimum passing grade will be given the title as Bhakti-sastri. Similarly, another examination will be held on Lord Caitanya’s Appearance Day in February, 1970 and it will be upon Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Those passing will get the title of Bhakti-vaibhava. Another examination will be held sometimes in 1971 on the four books, Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and Nectar of Devotion. One who will pass this examination will be awarded with the title of Bhaktivedanta. I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.”
It should be noted here that Srila Prabhupada was present in 1975 and never implemented this program.
So which instructions from Srila Prabhupada should be given more weight? This paper proposes that since Srila Prabhupada stated in 1976 in Los Angeles, “My books will be the law books for the next ten thousand years,” and since the letters and conversations are spoken and written in the context of time and place considerations, what is written in Srila Prabhupada’s books should be taken as more significant than his letters and conversations. After all, Srila Prabhupada ordered us to mass distribute his books, not his conversations and correspondence. To now establish a direction for ISKCON, which is against what Srila Prabhupada has written in his books, is a very dangerous precedent, which will have long lasting devastating effects on our movement. If we can violate this instruction, we can also violate other instructions. Where will it end? It’s a slippery slope, a real Pandora’s Box that ISKCON ‘s leaders should be intelligent enough to avoid.
The proponents of female initiating gurus have also argued that for the sake of preaching in this age of gender equality we must allow female initiating gurus, otherwise our movement will appear to outdated and irrelevant. They argue that people will not join our movement if ISKCON does not give equal positions to men and women. If we are to buy this line of logic, we will have to change many things established by Srila Prabhupada. For example, women will have to be given brahmana threads. They will also have to be allowed to take sannyasa. When we chant the Sanskrit verses in class it will be considered discriminatory for the women to have to wait to chant the verse after the men.
Also if we allow female diksha gurus, certain statements in Srila Prabhupada’s books will appear to be very odd and out of place. For example:
“The first birth is made possible by the parents, and the second birth is made possible by the spiritual father and Vedic knowledge.” From purport to SB 4.12.48
“Under the guidance of the spiritual master, the spiritual father, one can return home, back to Godhead.” From purport to SB 6.16.6
How can the spiritual father be a woman? Will someone then propose an edit to these purports changing “spiritual father” to “spiritual parent”?
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to SB 1.11.28:
“According to scriptures also, there are seven mothers: (1) the real mother, (2) the wife of the spiritual master, (3) the wife of a brahmana, (4) the wife of the king, (5) the cow, (6) the nurse, and (7) the earth.”
So will “the wife of the spiritual master” be eventually taken as indication that a female guru can have a wife, in other words, be a lesbian?
I propose that as Srila Prabhupada did not name any female initiating gurus we also should not do so. However our women can all be potent, powerful siksha gurus. I cite the example of my wife, Her Grace Srimati Vishnupriya devi dasi, who is addressed as Gurumata by my disciples. She is certainly a bona fide spiritual master, although she is not initiating. She leaves that service to me and assists me in my service as an initiating spiritual master. She is just as much of a spiritual master as me, and in some ways she is more than me, definitely my better half.
In conclusion, I urge everyone for the sake of ISKCON’s connection with Srila Prabhupada to understand and realize the importance of this and to then inform your GBC representative that you are strongly opposed to ISKCON’s allowing women to initiate disciples. By staying connected with Srila Prabhupada as siksa and diksa gurus we will have the potency to be successful in our mission of making the whole world Krishna conscious. If we deviate from Srila Prabhupada, our movement is finished. And if we remain loyal to Srila Prabhupada, our movement will be successful in its mission of saving the world from irreligion. So we don’t really have a choice.
Thank you for taking the time to read this paper. I hope that you are now convinced that ISKCON should not open Pandora’s Box by allowing women to initiate disciples.
Your eternal servant,
Sankarshan Das Adhikari
Question: Can a Woman Become a Spiritual Master?
Can a woman become a spiritual master?
Answer: Lord Caitanya Has Ordered Everyone to Become Guru
Absolutely. That is Lord Caitanya’s order to everyone:
yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa
āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa
“Whomever you meet instruct him in the teachings of Krishna. In this way, on my order, become guru and deliver the people of your country.”–Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 7.128
That both boys and girls are equally good preachers is confirmed by Srila Prabhupada in his purport to Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Adi 7.31-32 as follows:
“Since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krishna consciousness.”
From our great Vaisnava authoriites we learn that there are two kinds of gurus: instructing spiritual master and initiating spiritual master. Although women can become instructing spiritual masters according to Srila Prabhuapda they cannot become initiating spiritual masters. But does not mean that they are any less potent or less qualified than their brothers who acting as initiating spiritual masters. This is so, because as Srila Prabhupada explains in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.12.32 there is no difference between the instructing spiritual and the initiating spiritual master: Srila Prabhuapda describes that there is no difference between the instructing spiritual master and the initiating spiritual master:
“Dhruva had a feeling of obligation to his mother, Suniti. It was Suniti who had given him the clue which had now enabled him to be personally carried to the Vaikuntha planet by the associates of Lord Vishnu. He now remembered her and wanted to take her with him. Actually, Dhruva Maharaja’s mother, Suniti, was his patha-pradarsaka-guru. Patha-pradarsaka-guru means ‘the guru, or the spiritual master, who shows the way.’ Such a guru is sometimes called siksa-guru. Although Narada Muni was his diksa-guru (initiating spiritual master), Suniti, his mother, was the first who gave him instruction on how to achieve the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is the duty of the siksa-guru or diksa-guru to instruct the disciple in the right way, and it depends on the disciple to execute the process. According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru, and generally the siksa-guru later on becomes the diksa-guru. Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja’s diksa-guru. Still, he was not less obliged to Suniti.”
So the conclusion is that we should highly respect all the wonderful siksa and diksa gurus that Krishna and Srila Prabhupada have blessed ISKCON with. It is not that a diksa guru is necessarily more spiritually advanced than a siksa guru. Every guru’s spiritual standing is determined by how much they taken the order of their spiritual master as their very life and soul.
Sankarshan Das Adhikari