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Female Guru

“Can a female be guru?” is a frequently asked question. Such a question did not arise in the minds of people a few decades ago because people in general, and in India specifically, were clear about their identities and roles. With the advancement of technology and science, our lifestyles have changed drastically. This has also brought about an immense change in our identities and roles. There are no watertight boundaries for gender-based roles and responsibilities. The general understanding is that all human beings are equal and that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Although such is the trend, yet we see that there are certain areas in which a particular gender seems prominent.

The post of guru is generally dominated by males. Not only that, there is an unwritten belief in the minds of many that only males can function as gurus. Some are making an attempt to turn this into an ordinance. Is this valid?  

The answer depends on what sort of pramāṇa one accepts. There is a popular saying in Sanskrit, mānādhīnā meya-siddhir māna-siddhistu lakṣaṇāt, “Knowledge of a subject depends on a valid means and a valid means is understood from its definition.” Therefore, the first thing to be ascertained is the valid means of acquiring knowledge or pramāṇa. Those who do not accept scriptural authority, śāstra-pramāṇa, will reply to the above question on the basis of logic, human rights, and/or personal experience. Such replies do not concern us. A guru means a spiritual teacher, and spirituality is not subject to logic, human rights, or to one’s empirical experience. Śāstra is the only pramāṇa for spirituality. Therefore, we will investigate the above question solely on the basis of śāstra.

Different schools accept different śāstras as pramāṇas. As Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavas, our pramāṇas for spiritual subjects are the bhakti-śāstras; among them, Bhāgavata Purāṇa is supreme. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has categorically established this in Tattva Sandarbha (Anucchedas 9-29). One may read that part for understanding why we accept Bhāgavata Purāṇa as the supreme pramāṇa. Besides Bhāgavata Purāṇa, we accept Upaniṣads, Vedānta-sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā and the books of our predecessor ācāryas, such as the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, as pramāṇa. The latter are primarily based upon Bhāgavata Purāṇa. We also accept  Purāṇas,  Smṛtis and Āgamas that do not contradict Bhāgavata Purāṇa as pramāṇa. Anything that goes against the spirit of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is not acceptable to Gaudīya Vaiṣnavas. So, let us investigate the above question based on this main pramāṇa.

There are various references to guru in Bhāgavata Purāṇa but there is no prohibition against a female becoming guru. However, one may argue that all references to guru are in the masculine gender i.e., the word “guru,” which has been used repeatedly is in the masculine gender. There is no usage of the feminine gender form, gurvī, anywhere in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. One may argue that this proves that a female guru is not recommended in Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Similarly, Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, the smṛti for Gaudīya Vaiṣṇavas, lists the qualification of a guru in verses 1.38 to 1.55. Here again there is no mention of a female guru. The same analysis can be applied to other śāstra such as Bhagavad Gītā. One could argue that these pramāṇas conclusively show that śāstra prescribes only a male guru, and thus a female is not qualified to be guru.

Such a conclusion, however, is not proper. First of all, there is no explicit prohibition for a female to become guru in any of these śāstras. Secondly, when the word “guru,” which is in the masculine gender, is used, it is inclusive of a female guru. When the characteristics of a class are described, the description is given for a single gender, but it similarly applies to the other gender also. This is the standard principle used in Sanskrit grammar—prātipadika-grahaṇe liṅga-viśiṣṭasyāpi grahaṇam (Vyādi-paribhāṣā 25, cited in Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 2.73, 6.32). For example, if one wants to describe the qualities of a dog of a particular breed, then it is common to use the male gender word “dog.” It is understood that this word is also applicable to a female of that particular breed. A gender-specific description will be given if there are differences in the characteristics of the male and female pertinent to that specific topic. Therefore, when it is said that a guru should be an expert in śāstra and in realization of the Absolute (śābde pare ca niṣṇātam SB 11.3.21), or that he should be a jñānī and tattvadarśī (BG 4.34), this certainly does not mean that it is applicable only to a male guru. The statement is applicable to anyone who takes the post of guru regardless of gender. For example, in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (1.59-63), although the qualities of a disciple are described by the use of the masculine form, such qualities obviously apply to a female disciple also. The same is true of the description of the qualities of a devotee given in many places in scripture. Such descriptions apply to every devotee irrespective of gender. Similarly, qualifications for a guru as described in scripture are applicable to both male and female gurus. In these descriptions, there is no intention to prohibit a female from becoming a guru.

Amarakośa (2.6.14), a well-respected lexicon of Sanskrit, gives separate words for the wife of an ācārya and for a female ācāryā; the word ācārya is a synonym for the word “guru.” Amarakośa refers to the wife of an ācārya as ācāryānī, whereas a female ācārya is called ācāryā. Similarly, it calls a female teacher of a part of Veda upādhyāyā or upādhyāyī. The wife of an upādhyāya, however, is called an upādhyāyānī (Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇam 7.225, 226). This is also stated in Siddhānta-kaumudi (505, Pāṇiṇi-sutra 4.1.49). Separate words for the wives of an ācārya and for an upādhyāya, and for females who are themselves ācāryās and upādhyāyās, would not exist in the Sanskrit lexicon and grammar if female gurus did not exist in the past.

Furthermore, every Sanskrit word has meaning, and there is an eternal relation between the word (śabda) and its referent. This is stated by Patañjali in his Mahābhāṣya, which is the most authentic commentary on the Pāṇini-sūtras and is accepted on par with the sūtras. In the entire Sanskrit literature, Patañjali’s commentary is the only one called mahābhāṣya, while others are called bhāṣya. Patañjali writes, siddhe śabdārtha-sambandhe lokto’rtha-prayukte śabda-prayoge śāstreṇa dharma-niyamo yathā laukika-vaidikeṣu (1.1 Paspaśā, Mahābhāṣya). Here he clearly states that the relation between a word and its referent is siddha, or eternal. This is also understood from Yoga-sūtra (3.17). Bhartṛhari explains that a śabda has the natural capacity to express its referent, just as our senses have the natural ability to sense their respective objects:

indriyāṇāṁ sva-viṣayeṣu anādir yogyatā yathā
anādirarthaiḥ śabdānām sambandho yogyatā tathā

(Vakya-padīyam Pada-sambandha 29) 

Nyāya-sūtra (2.11.56) also says, sāmayikatvāt śabdārthasambandhasya, “The relation between a word and its reference is conventional.” From this, it is understood that there must have been female gurus in the past because a corresponding word exists for them in the Sanskrit lexicon as well as in the grammar. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude that female gurus did not exist in the past. 

A pūrvapakśa can be raised for the above logic. There are statements in Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā which categorically forbid a woman to be a guru. The relevant verses are as follows [Note: The translation of the verses from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā are not mine. They were sent by a questioner.] 

na jātu mantra-dā nārī na śūdro nāntarodbhavaḥ |
nābhiśasto na patitaḥ
 kāma-kāmo ’py akāminaḥ ||42||

Even then, a woman, a śūdra, and an antyaja can never act as initiating gurus, nor can anyone who is accused of a great sin or is fallen. And an aspiring disciple who is already accomplished in detachment (akāmī) should never accept a guru who is infected with material desires. 

striyaḥ śūdrādayaś caiva bodhayeyur hitāhitam |
yathārhaṁ mānanīyāś ca
 nārhanty ācāryatāṁ kvacit ||43||

Women, śūdras, etc., can give ethical and moral instructions and are also worthy of respect as per their qualifications and conditions but are not entitled to get the position of ācārya

These statements seem to clearly prohibit a woman from taking the role of an initiating guru. My reply to this is that if this prohibition was acceptable to our previous ācāryas, then why did they not refer to these verses? In the first vilāsa of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, there is an elaborate discussion about the characteristics of both qualified and unqualified gurus. However, there is no prohibition mentioned for a woman to become guru, neither in the original text nor in its commentary by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī. Similarly, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses both the qualified and unqualified guru in Bhakti Sandarbha. But he makes no statement prohibiting a woman from becoming a guru. We also do not find any such statement in the writings of other ācāryas of our sampradaya, such as Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa, Śrī Kavi Karṇapūra Gosvāmī, Śri Viṣvanātha Cakravarti, and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa.

Moreover, if we accept Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā as our pramāṇa, then we would have also to accept that it allows only a brāhmaṇa to be a guru. It says:

prapitsur mantra-nirataṁ prājñaṁ hitaparaṁ śucim |
praśāntaṁ niyataṁ vṛttau
 bhajed dvija-varaṁ gurum ||38||

“Thus, one who is desirous of surrendering with faith, should take shelter of a guru who is always engaged in chanting the mantra and is a knower of bhakti-siddhānta (prājñam), is always engaged, without any desire for personal benefit, in showering mercy on fallen souls (hita-param), who is always pure in heart or free of sins, peaceful, and always committed to his prescribed duties (ordained by his guru or by varṇāśrama). Such a guru should be the best of the twice-born (dvija-varam meaning brāhmaṇa).”

The book also defines who is a brāhmaṇa in the following verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā (cited from the Wisdom Library):

jāta-karmādibhir-yastu saṁkāraiḥ saṁskṛtaḥ śuciḥ
vedādhyayana-sampannaḥ ṣaḍ saṭ karmasvasthitaḥ
śaucācārasthitaḥ samyag vighasāśī gurupriyaḥ
nityabralī satyaparaḥ sa vai brāhmaṇa ucyate

[Bharadvāja Muni said, “O best of the twice-born, Ṛṣi among the brāhmaṇas, best of the orators of Vedic knowledge, kindly instruct us in the differences between brāhmaṇaskṣatriyasvaiśyas, and śūdras.” Bhṛgu Muni replied]:

“One whose birth and subsequent works have all been purified by the appropriate saṁskāras, who has the qualities of purity and cleanliness, who is devoted to Vedic study, who performs worship of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, and who instructs others in that worship, who is a paragon of the six activities of a brāhmaṇa, whose behavior is never impure, who eats the remnants of his guru’s prasāda, who is dear to the guru, who always carefully follows his vows, and who is fixed in the truth, is known as a brāhmaṇa.” (14.96 Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā)

According to this definition of a brāhmaṇa, the majority of male gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradaya would not meet the qualifications. The verse requires a guru to have undergone the various saṁskāras, beginning from one’s birth. These saṁskāras are described in smṛti-śāstras. They also require birth in a brāhmaṇa family. According to the smṛtis, these saṁskāras cannot be performed for one who is not born to brāhmaṇa parents. The above verse from Bhāradvāja Saṁhitā also talks about the six activities of a brāhmaṇa: studying śāstra, teaching śāstra, performing yajña for oneself, performing yajña for others as a priest, giving charity, and accepting charity. If we apply this definition of a brāhmaṇa, then most gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradāya would not qualify. If, however, we do not accept this definition, then we apply śāstra selectively. That is considered a defect—ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya. This means we accept what is convenient and reject what is troublesome.

Instead of searching for statements in Vedic literature to support one’s views, one should carefully study one’s tradition and the foundational books of one’s sampradāya. As mentioned before, there are no statements in Bhāgavata Purāṇa that prohibit women from becoming guru. Even when our ācāryas, namely Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Jīva Goswamī, extensively discuss the qualifications of a guru, they do not cite any verses that prohibit women from becoming guru. Anyone with basic Sanskrit grammar knowledge would not misinterpret the masculine use of the word guru to indicate an exclusion of female gurus; rather, the word refers to both masculine and feminine genders as a class.

Ma Yashoda

It is a fact that in various Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava traditional lineages, there have been many female gurus who gave dīkṣā. Some of them were very prominent but there have also been many others who may not be well-known outside their particular lines. For example, women have always been gurus in the Advaita vaṁśa, extending from Advaita Ācārya’s wife Sītā Ṭhākurānī down to this very day. Such female gurus mostly functioned within the family, giving dīkṣā to their sons or daughters-in-law, although now there are women functioning as dīkṣā gurus who are not the direct descendants of Śrī Advaita Ācārya. Probably the most prominent female Gauḍīya guru after Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was Nityānanda Prabhu’s wife Jāhnavī Devī. Virabhadra (or Viracandra) Gosvāmī, who is described in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa dīpikā as an avatāra of Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, took dīkṣā from her. In my own paramparā from Śrī Gadādhara Paṇḍita, there are four female gurus, ācaryās.

In conclusion, neither the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava tradition nor the Gauḍīya Vaiṣnava pramāṇas oppose women from acting as guru. The qualifications of a guru—deep knowledge of scriptures and experience of Param Tattvado not depend upon gender.

Women and Lust

by Satyanarayana Dasa


There are popular statements found in smṛtis and nīti sāśtra that women have eight times more kāma than men. For example: 

strīṇāṁ aṣṭa-guṇā-kāmaḥ
(Bṛhat-pārāśara-smṛti)

kāmaśca aṣṭā-guṇaḥ smṛtaḥ
(Garuḍa-purāṇa 1.109.33, Hitopadeśa 2.71)

The word kāma in these statements is often thought of as sexual “lust,” giving the impression that śāstra considers women to be eight times more sexually lusty than men.

History and experience, however, seem to show just the opposite: that men have a lot more lust than women. Throughout history, female prostitution to satisfy the lust of men has been very lucrative. Men are willing to pay for sex. If women had more lust, wouldn’t it be they who pay men for sex? 

The history of polygamy and harems also support the observation that men have more lust. The incidence of sexual crime further supports it. Every day there is news about women being raped by men, but how often do you read that a woman has raped a man? 

Marriage also generally confirms the observation that men are sexually lustier than women. It is usually the wife rolling her eyes because she has to comply with the husband’s need (or demand) for sex. 

These observations do not tally with the idea that women are eight times more sexually lusty than men. So, either sāśtra is wrong or it has been misunderstood. I suggest the second option.

The word kāma has various meanings besides simple sexual lust. It also indicates desire, an object of desire, affection, love, passion, cupidity, semen, an aphrodisiac, pleasure, amorous sport, the male organ, and a mango tree. It can even refer to Balarāma, Pradyumna, and others. In English also, the word “lust” has various meanings other than sexual appetite. It simply indicates strong passion for anything. For example, the famous, positive phrase, “lust for life” (indicating enthusiasm to live).

We therefore have to select the specific nuances of a word meaning that do not make a śāstric statement contradict other śāstric statements, and the verifications of anumāna (logic) and pratyakṣa (experience). Sexual passion is certainly one possible implication of the word kāma, but is that the meaning that tallies with other statements, and with logic and experience? No.

A far more reasonable meaning to select from the possible meanings of kāma is “strong affection.” In other words, this means that the quality of a woman’s love is eight times more intense than that of a man’s. This is supported by a story told that Bhīṣma told King Yudhiṣṭhira (MBh, Anuśāsana Parva, Ch. 12). Yudhiṣṭhira asked Bhīṣma, “Who gets more pleasure during copulation, the man or the woman?” In reply, Bhīṣma related a story about King Bhaṅgāsvana. 

Bhaṅgāsvana was a pious king with no children. He performed the agniṣṭuta yajña to rectify this. A peculiarity of this yajña is that it does not include Indra. Because of this, Indra felt insulted and he planned revenge. 

One day, the king went hunting in the forest. Indra made him confused and lost. He wandered alone and became tired, hungry, and thirsty. Soon, he saw a beautiful lake full of clean water. After taking his horse to drink, he himself entered the lake to bathe and drink water. To his utter surprise, when he entered the water, he was transformed into a woman. 

As he (now she) looked at herself in the lake’s reflective water, she felt bewildered, ashamed and anxious. Her mind became blank and did not know what to do. “How will I ride the horse as a woman? How can I go back to my kingdom like this, what will my people think? How will I deal with my subjects now? As a king I was valiant and courageous, but the qualities of a woman are much different than those of man. Now I feel very soft and weak.” 

Eventually, she mustered the courage to ride the horse and returned to the kingdom. When she arrived, everyone was astonished, because they could see that the woman was the king: riding his horse and wearing his clothes. The king’s wives and sons asked what happened, and she explained. Then she asked her sons to look after the kingdom and retired from royal responsibilities to live in the forest in the āśrama of a hermit. After some time she married the hermit and had another 100 sons with him. 

Eventually, she returned to the kingdom to reunite with her older 100 sons. She introduced the younger to the older, asked them to cooperate peacefully, and returned alone to the forest āśrama. Her 200 sons lived happily together and cooperated peacefully. This made Indra very unhappy. “I wanted to harm the king,” he thought, “but I seem to have done him a favour.”

Indra decided to create an argument among the brothers. Disguised as a brāhmaṇa, he incited the kṣatriya men to hate the brāhmana men. Thus the 200 sons wound up killing each other down to the last, making Indra happy. Their mother wept bitterly and Indra, still disguised as a brāhmaṇa went to her and asked, “O beautiful lady, why are you wailing so bitterly? You are a renunciate, it is unusual for renunciates to cry.” She explained that she was once a king, who had been transformed into a woman and that she had just lost all of her 200 sons.

Indra relished the sight of her weeping and felt satisfied with his revenge. He revealed himself as Indra and explained that the king had insulted him and he therefore took his revenge by having her children kill each other. Hearing this, she fell at Indra’s feet and begged forgiveness. “I did the yajña to get children, and I did it under the guidance of my guru. I had no intention to insult you.”

Indra offered her a boon, “I can revive one set of your sons. Which set would you like me to revive?” The woman replied, “Please revive the sons who were born to me in this female form.” 

Surprised, Indra asked, “Why do you have more affection for them?” “A mother’s love,” she explained, “Is stronger than a father’s.” Indra was very pleased. He revived all 200 sons and offered one more boon, “I also give you the option to regain your male form or you can continue as you are. Which form do you choose?” “I prefer to remain as I am,” she said. “I do not want to become man again.”  Indra asked why. She replied, “I have enjoyed sex both as a man and as a woman. It is better as a woman.” 

This story shows two appropriate implications of the word kāma in the statements saying that “woman’s kāma is eight times superior.” It shows that women love with greater intensity of affection and attachment. It also shows that women have greater capacity to enjoy sexual pleasure. It does not show that they are eight times more sexually agitated, but rather that they have eight times better capacity to enjoy sexuality.



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Many Sanskrit texts have been misinterpreted due to a lack of knowledge or with the intent to malign and exploit women. If one doesn’t know the hermeneutics of Indian scriptures one will misinterpret what they are actually saying. Because of this misunderstanding women are often being labeled as maya based upon the physical body and not by their internal disposition. 

From Taj to Vraj explains some of the ambiguous verses and highlights the deep psychological insight into humanity that is embodied in the Indian scriptures. It discusses the conflict between sexuality and asceticism, misconceptions about the Kama-sutra and the practice of Sati, as well as the power of the divine Feminine. In conclusion, From Taj to Vraj reveals the confidential meaning of ‘woman’ in shastra.

 

Descriptions of Women in Shastra

Question: Often we hear statements that women are 9 times more lusty, but I have not come across that in any scripture. Some people may argue that the basis of this roof for the “nine times lustier” statement in shastra is in the story of Devahuti and Kardama Muni (SB 3.23.44) where Kardama expands himself 9 times to have intercourse with Devahuta. Could you comment on that?

Answer: Just because Kardama expanded into nine forms does not prove that women have nine times more lust than men. Is Devahuti a representative of women in general? Even if it is agreed that Devahuti had 9 times more lust, why did Kardama have to expand into nine forms? He could have had sex with her nine times. Expanding nine times means that he had nine different moods to conceive nine girls of different mentality. This has nothing to do Devahuti’s lust. Kardama is one of the Prajapatis and produced nine daughters to propagate the creation. Number 9 signifies completeness. No acarya has commented that Devahuti was nine times more lusty. If this conclusion is drawn from his expanding nine times, then since Saubhari Muni married 49 girls expanding himself into 49 forms – that means he was 49 times more lusty than his each wife. Thus men must be 49 times more lusty than women. Usually a king had many wives and rarely you see a woman having more than one husband, rare example being Draupadi, so who is more lusty? It is men who rape women and not vice versa. So who is more lusty?

Question: Then how to understand the following verse:

śaśvat kāma varenāṁhas turīyaṁ jagṛhuḥ striyaḥ
rajo-rupeṇa tāsvaṁho māsi māsi pradṛsyate (ŚB 6.9.9)

“Women took a fourth part of Indra’s sin of slaying a brahmin by accepting the reaction of their monthly unease. In return they received a boon of constant sexual capacity.”

Answer: I checked the sanskrit commentaries by various acaryas of different sampradyas on verse 6.9.9. Nobody says that it means women have more lust than man – 9 times or whatever times. They say that they have more capacity to have sex and can have sex even while pregnant. One acarya says that the word kama in this verse means “desire” and not sex or lust. Thus it means they are more desirous for material objects. That is natural because they maintain children and family and want a stable arrangement for that. That is their instinct. Nobody has glossed the word “kama” as “lust”.

Women have more capacity for sex does not mean that they have more lust. Capacity for sex is not same as lust, just as if someone is rich and thus has more capacity to give charity does not mean that he is more charitable.. If they had nine times more lust they would not be satisfied with one husband. They would need a few of them to douse their lust because one husband would not be able to satisfy their lust. But such is not the case. It is just the opposite.

Because women have more capacity for sex they can be prostitutes. But who goes to prostitutes? Only lusty men. A woman does not become prostitute because of lust but because of earning money. So basically prostitutes are the only one who are making use of Indra’s boon !!

It is known fact that a woman’s libido diminishes after giving birth to a child. But such is not the case with men and thus some men feel sexually dissatisfied with their wives who have born children and run to prostitutes or have extra-marital affairs.

Question: The BBT translation of SB 8.9.10 says:

sālāvṛkāṇāḿ strīṇāḿ ca svairiṇīnāḿ sura-dviṣaḥ

sakhyāny āhur anityāni nūtnaḿ nūtnaḿ vicinvatām

SYNONYMS:

sālāvṛkāṇām — of monkeys, jackals and dogs; strīṇām ca — and of women; svairiṇīnām — especially women who are independent;

The word ‘especially’ is not in the Sanskrit. But strinam and svairininam are mentioned seperately. Is svairini here an adjective to stri or a separate noun? In the latter case, BBT would be right in saying that all women, especially the independent ones, are untrustworthy. Jiva Goswami comments – svairininam strinam cety anvayah – does this mean that BBT is right here?

Answer: Svairininam is an adjective of strinam. So ‘especially’ is unnecessary. If svairininam is not taken as an adjective, it becomes redundant because svairinis are also women. It is as if you say: “Men are mortal, especially the Dutch.” What does the second part of the sentence inform us which is not known from the first part? Sri Jiva Gosvami is commenting that svairininam is an adjective of strinam. The word ca in cety is joining it with salvrkanam.

Question: You have translated BG 9.32 in the following way:

māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye ‘pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te ‘pi yānti parāṁ gatim

O Pārtha, even those of sinful birth, women, the merchants and farmers (vaiśyas), and also the labor class (śūdras), by taking refuge in Me certainly attain the highest goal.

This verse has created much confusion and ill-will because the term päpa-yonayaù, sinful birth, has been considered by some translators and commentators as an adjective to the other classes, namely women, vaishyas and sudras and not as an independent clause. Out of 13 commentators on this verse, 6 have taken sinful birth as an adjective to the other groups.

SB 2.7.46 makes a similar statement about women:

te vai vidanty atitaranti ca deva-māyāṁ strī-śūdra-hūṇa-śabarā api pāpa-jīvāḥ
yady adbhuta-krama-parāyaṇa-śīla-śikṣās tiryag-janā api kim u śruta-dhāraṇā ye

The verse, spoken by Lord Brahma, says that even “women, sudras, Hunas and Sabaras” who are  sinful, “papa-jivah”, and animals can becomes liberated, what to speak of those who absorb their minds in the Vedas. Could you please comment on this. To which kind of women does this refer?

Answer: The two verses that you have cited from Gita and SB can be interpreted in both ways. Sanskrit grammar gives that facility. In the Bhagavad Gita verse the word papa-yonah can be taken as a noun or an adjective of the other three nouns. It is up to the commentator how he /she wants to interpret it. From the various Gita commentaries you can see that there are both possibilities.

However, if papayonaya is taken as an adjective of the remaining three categories, then the natural question arises as to why vaisyas are considered to be papyoni. Vaisyas are counted among dvijas which means theyhave the right to study the Vedas. Papayoni are not allowed to study Veda. It is for this reason that many acaryas have taken the word papayonayah as a separate class and not an adjective of the other three.

Krishna Himself is famous as a cowherd boy and thus belonging to the vaisya class. Thus we can believe that He would not consider cowherds as papayoni.  He thus intends to consider papayonaya as a separate class. This will make a better sense.

However, if it is accepted that papayonaya is an adjective of the other three classes, as has been done by some acaryas, then also it should not be taken as an insult to the three classes. His intention here is certainly not for delineating who is a papayoni and who is not. Rather He is stressing the importance of surrender to Him, the greatness of bhakti. We have to always keep in the mind the subject under discussion. There s a famous hermeneutic principle — – na hi ninda nindayitum pravartate api tu vidheya stotum – the purpose of criticism is not to criticize others but to establish the conclusion about the subject under discussion. The subject under discussion is bhakti – both in Gita as well as in SB. Therefore, the intention of these verses is not in criticizing women, vaisyas or sudras but to stress the importance of bhakti. If this is not understood, then we are only deviating from the topic and that is considered a defect in debate, and a point of defeat, nigraha-sthana.

The word papajivah in SB 2.746 can also be taken an independent category. The word api also means “also” in the sense of “and”. It is not necessary that it has to be taken as an adjective of the other four categories. Then it can refer to animals and birds. That is also true about the Gita verse. That in fact brings even more glory to bhakti because it states that even animals can transcend maya by bhakti – a goal that cannot be achieved by other paths such as jnana-yoga.

So the conclusion is that whether you take papayoni and papajivaa as adjective or a separate category, these verses are not meant to demean women. Yet, to take these words as independent nouns is preferable because that brings out the distinctive feature of bhakti.

I hope this throws some light on the meaning of these verses and and lightens and enlightens the heart of the ladies!!

Are Women Duplicitous and Selfish According to Bhāgavatam? (Part 2)

Mohinī’s Criticism of Herself

As similar example can be found in the story of the churning of the milk-ocean by the devas and asuras. (Devas are those who live responsibly, looking after the condition of nature and the world. Asuras are materialistic people whose prime interest is sense gratification, regardless of its effect on nature and the world).

When the ocean was churned by these two parties, various items appeared from it. At last  Dhanvantari, an avatāra of Viṣṇu and presiding deity of Āyurveda (Vedic medical science)  appeared with a pot of nectar (amṛtam) in His hand. By drinking this nectar, one would attain a long life and immunity from any weapons. Immediately there was a big commotion to grab the pot. Being more powerful, the asuras succeeded in snatching it. Frustrated, the devas took shelter of Śrī Viṣṇu, who assured them He would help.

Mohini distributing Nectar

While the devas and asuras continued arguing for a share of nectar, Śrī Viṣṇu appeared as a beautiful young girl named Mohinī. When the asuras saw her, their minds were completely captivated by her beauty. Marveling, they exclaimed in unison, “Oh, what a beauty! Oh what a body! Oh, what a youth!” With throbbing hearts they approached her and uttered with gleeful smiles,

“O beautiful lady, who are you and what brings you here? Indeed, with your beautiful sidelong glances you are churning our hearts. We have never seen a beautiful girl like you before. Surely you have been sent by Brahmā himself to please our minds and senses. O you with beautiful thighs, we plead with you to help us solve our dispute about the distribution of this nectar. We, devas and asuras, are both sons of Kaśyapa, and have acquired this nectar by our joint effort. We want you to divide it among ourselves without any bias.”

When Mohinī was thus beseeched by the asuras, she smiled coyly while looking down and, touching her chin with her right hand and moving her beautiful eye brows, she spoke as follows:

kathaṁ kaśyapa-dāyādāḥ puṁścalyāṁ mayi saṅgatāḥ
viśvāsaṁ paṇḍito jātu kāminīṣu na yāti hi
sālāvṛkāṇāṁ strīṇāṁ ca svairiṇīnāṁ sura-dviṣaḥ
sakhyāny āhur anityāni nūtnaṁ nūtnaṁ vicinvatām

“O sons of sage Kaśyapa, it is foolish to put your trust in me, because you don’t even know who I am. What if I am unchaste and untrustworthy? Wise people never put faith in such frivolous women. O asuras, there is no difference between wolves and women of loose character. Their friendship is never stable, they both hunt for newer and newer prey.” (SB 8.9.9-10)

A Hidden Purpose to Fulfill

These statements are spoken by Śrī Viṣṇu Himself in the form of a woman, yet can be read as quite demeaning towards women if divorced from their context.

Mohinī was not giving a seminar on the nature of women. She actually had a hidden motive to give the nectar to the devas, and was simply being honest about not being a trustworthy friend for the deva’s enemies. To accomplish her goal, she had to win the confidence of the asuras. One way to do that is to show humility, especially in the face of praise. The asuras were already enamored by her beauty and spoke with reverence. Now, when they heard words that sounded like humility, they became completely convinced that she was a good person, the most unbiased person to distribute the nectar. Thus they fell into her trap.

After recounting these words of Mohinī, Śrī Śukadeva states that the asuras developed full trust in her by hearing her words, which he describes as “tricky jugglery” (kṣvelitaiḥ). Thus Śukadeva himself implies that the description of women by Mohinī is not a direct “king-like” proclamation to be taken literally, it is instead, something indirect or deceptive.

Furthermore, even if we insist on direct analysis of her statement, we must note that she does not describe all women as being “wolves,” rather she describes only frivolous woman as untrustworthy. She does not say, “I am a woman, so you shouldn’t trust me.” She says, “You don’t even know who I am. Maybe I am a frivolous and untrustworthy woman.” That she is a woman is obvious, the thing the asuras should beware of is that they don’t yet know if she is a trustworthy or untrustworthy woman.

Urvaśī’s Criticism of Herself

A similar and even more puzzling incidence is seen in the 14th chapter of the Ninth Canto in the description of the story of King Purūravā — a great, powerful and handsome king. Once, sage Nārada was describing the greatness and beauty of Purūravā in Indra’s assembly. When Urvaśī, one of the most beautiful heavenly damsels (apsaras) heard this, she desired to associate with King Purūravā. Since Urvaśī had been cursed to come to earth for some time, she took this as an opportunity to undergo the curse and come down. She met King Purūravā who immediately fell in love with her and proposed that she become his wife. Urvaśī agreed, but only on three conditions:

1.    The king had to protect her two sheep who were dear to her like her own babies.
2.    She should always be given food cooked in ghee
3.    The king should not appear naked in front of her, except when uniting with her.

If he ever violated any of these conditions, she would immediately leave him. Actually, she stipulated these conditions because she wanted an excuse to leave Purūravā and return to heaven eventually. The king readily agreed to all the conditions, his heart being completely captured by her. Thus they lived happily for many years.

Regretting Urvaśī’s absence from his court, Indra in time ordered some Gandharvas to arrange for her return. The Gandharvas came to earth and in the dark night stole her sheep, who started bleating loudly. When Urvaśī heard this, she immediately began lamenting and taunting the king: “Alas, alas, this king is a coward, and foolishly I have entrusted my sheep to him. He boasts about his valor but cannot even fulfill his promise to protect sheep! Certainly I have been cheated!”

Urvashi-Pururavas_by_Raja_Ravi_Varma
Urvashi and King Pururava

These harsh words tormented the King’s heart. He immediately jumped out of bed, took up a sword, and chased the Gandharvas while still naked, just as they had plotted. They left the sheep and created light, causing the king to be naked in front of Urvaśī without the purpose of uniting with her. True to her words, Urvaśī immediately disappeared from his bedroom and went back to heaven to join Indra. When Purūravā returned and could not find Urvaśī, he was heartbroken. He searched for her day and night, feeling intense pangs of separation, and wondered all over the earth like a madman who had lost all his wealth.

Once, while he was in Kurukṣetra, King Purūravā saw Urvaśī on the bank of the river Sarasvatī along with her five female friends. The king cried out piteously, “O my wife, o my beloved, where have you gone? Come back to me, don’t leave me like this! Without you, this beautiful body will fall and will be food for wolves, jackals and vultures.” Hearing the king plead in this manner, Urvaśī spoke some of the most denigrating words ever spoken about the character of women in general:

mā mṛthāḥ puruṣo ‘si tvaṁ mā sma tvādyur vṛkā ime
kvāpi sakhyaṁ na vai strīṇāṁ vṛkāṇāṁ hṛdayaṁ yathā
striyo hy akaruṇāḥ krūrā durmarṣāḥ priya-sāhasāḥ
ghnanty alpārthe ‘pi viśrabdhaṁ patiṁ bhrātaram apy uta

“O King, you are a heroic man. Do not give up your life like this for the benefit of wolves. You should know that women do not have true friendship with anybody. Their heart is just like the heart of wolves, devoid of compassion and are cruel by nature. They are temperamental and will risk anything for their own pleasure. To please themselves they can get their own husbands or brothers killed by tricking them into confidence. Their hard hearts can cheat innocent people after eliciting their trust. Always wanting newer and newer companions, they are unchaste and frivolous.” (SB 9.14.36-37)

Negative Advertising for Detachment

These statements have been misused to insult women by those ignorant of their real import. Every sane person knows that not all women match this description. Women are also mothers of humanity and are the most loving and kind people, especially to their children. If all women were of the nature as described here, humanity would cease to exist because women of such character would never raise babies.

Advertising executives sell products by unrealistically presenting their products accompanied by beautiful girls. Urvaśī is doing the opposite here, painting an unrealistically unpleasant picture of women so that King Purūravā would come to his senses and take care of his severely neglected duties as a king. We become influenced positively or negatively by hearing good or bad about a person or object. Urvaśī is using this human psychology to detach King Purūravā and turn him away from her.

Therefore the real intention of Urvaśī, who is a woman herself, is not in describing the nature of women in general. She knew well that she could not come back to him because she belonged to another world. She had to come and lived on earth as a result of a curse by Mitra and Varuṇa.

Again, she is using the principle that “beloveds instruct indirectly.” She does not directly blame herself, but instead indirectly blames herself by blaming something she is associated with, in this case, her gender. In fact, she is speaking, accurately, about her personal flaws as an individual, but because she is speaking as a beloved (not as a truth-proclaiming king), she does so indirectly.

Men in general have a keen weakness to be easily attracted to the female body. This is the basic principle behind most advertisements. The products and the women in the ad often have nothing in common, but once the woman catches the man’s eye, his rationality drops and he becomes completely susceptible to accept the message of the advertisement without discrimination.

In stories like this one, śāstra tries to do the opposite. Just as the object of advertisement is not to make men attracted to the girl but to sell the product, in the same way, the intention of śāstra is not to denigrate women, but to make men detached so that they can be serious about spiritual life. But just as by seeing a provocative ad, a man feels attracted to the girl, similarly people who do not understand the real import of śāstra nurture their hatred for women by reading such stories. Since hatred is just the back-side of attachment, this is certainly not the intention of śāstra.

An important hermeneutic principle says, na hi ninda nindayitum pravartate api tu vidheya stotum: “The purpose of criticism is not to criticize others but to establish the conclusion about the subject under discussion” – which here is detachment from sense enjoyment.

Ultimate Context: Praise of the Feminine

Krsna and Gopis / JIVA
Krsna with Gopis

Overall, we have to consider that in many stories of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam women have been highly glorified, especially the gopīs. To give an example, when Uddhava came to Vrindavan as a message carrier of Kṛṣṇa and personally witnessed the love of the women of Vraja for Kṛṣṇa, he could not but praise them beyond anyone’s expectation. This is the same Uddhava who is a student of Bṛhaspati, the guru of the devas, and whom Kṛṣṇa Himself describes as no less than Him in any respect. This same Uddhava said,

vande nanda-vraja-strīṇāṁ pāda-reṇum abhīkṣṇaśaḥ
yāsāṁ hari-kathodgītaṁ punāti bhuvana-trayam

“I continuously worship even one dust particle from the feet of the women of Vraja, the glorification of whose character purifies the three worlds.” (SB 10.47.63)

Indeed, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said that to get the highest love for Kṛṣṇa, one has to acquire the mood of the women of Vraja.

Śāstra uses many techniques to instruct human beings. Without knowing those techniques, there is a good chance of misunderstanding and misapplying of scriptural instructions. Therefore in future I plan to write a book systematically explaining the traditional authorized methodologies for understanding the statements of śāstra.

Are Women Duplicitous and Selfish According to Bhāgavatam? (Part 1)

By Satyanarayana Dasa

According to Jīva Gosvāmī (in Tattva Sandarbha, Anuccheda 26.2), there are three ways to instruct: like a king, like a friend, or like a beloved. The Vedas instruct like a king, giving direct instructions. The Purāṇas teach like a friend by giving stories which have a moral. And books of Sāhitya (Indian literature) teach indirectly. This is described as “like a lover” because traditionally, a girlfriend or wife, who used to have reverence for her beloved, did not consider it appropriate to give direct instructions. Instead she would speak with indirect innuendo or in an implied manner. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam uses all three techniques.

Criticism of Diti by Kaśyapa

Here is an example pertinent to the topic of Bhāgavatam’s view of women in general. Kaśyapa, a great sage, a grandson of Brahmā, and a venerable progenitor (prajāpati) says:

   śarat-padmotsavaṁ vaktraṁ vacaś ca śravaṇāmṛtam
hṛdayaṁ kṣura-dhārābhaṁ strīṇāṁ ko veda ceṣṭitam
   na hi kaścit priyaḥ strīṇām añjasā svāśiṣātmanām
patiṁ putraṁ bhrātaraṁ vā ghnanty arthe ghātayanti ca

“A woman’s face is as beautiful as a fully blossoming lotus flower in the autumn season and her words are sweet and soothing like ambrosia, but her heart is sharp like the edge of a knife. Who can understand the intentions of women? No one is really dear to them because their real interest is only to fulfill their own desires. For their own sake they might even kill or assassinate their own husbands, sons or brothers.” (SB 6.18.41-42)

Dancing Girl / Evita WorksAnyone, especially a woman, who reads these verses cannot but be baffled how a great sage can speak in such a denigrating manner about women as a class, and furthermore how Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which is very dear to Vaiṣṇavas and is accepted as spotless literature, can have such a biased view towards half of humanity. Is all the glorification given to scriptures like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam hogwash? Are these scriptures written by male chauvinists who delight in deriding women? Do such scriptures intentionally oppress women and rob them of the equal status they duly deserve? Are these charges true, or is there some other mystery behind these statements that is not evident from a cursory reading?

Indeed, various similar statements can be found in many Purāṇas, and have become the subject of discussion for modern scholars, Indologists, “outcaste” Dalit thinkers, progressive feminists, etc. Hundreds of books focus on verses like these, criticizing not only the scriptures, but Vedic culture as a whole. I do not deny that women are and have been suppressed and mistreated in Hindu society, but the scriptures are not at fault. The true cause of such mistreatment is ignorance of the true meaning of scriptures. Please consider that mistreatment of women (and other groups) exists in every religion, and among secular societies as well. Therefore, human nature, not scripture, is at the root of the problem — for human nature impels those in power to exploit the weak.

In most cases, verses like this are not an absolute statement and thus cannot be giving as a general principle. They apply to a specific situation and must be studied in the context in which they have been spoken. Otherwise great injustice is done to scripture. One has to consider the speaker of the verse, the circumstances under which it is spoken, and the person it is spoken to. If we do not consider these factors, it is very likely that we will misunderstand the real import of statements in śāstra. Many times people intentionally cite controversial verses out of context. The simple audience, not knowing this, is thus mislead into misgivings about scripture.

The truth is that scriptures have nothing to gain by denigrating women nor did the speakers display biased, malignant behavior in their personal lives. Sage Kaśyapa, for example, had thirteen wives. That alone can demonstrate that he not was a misogynist, for why would a person who hates women keep thirteen of them around him  constantly?

Diti’s Desire for Revenge

Diti and Kashyapa Muni / ISKCON Desire Tree
Diti and Kashyapa Muni

Let us consider the context of Kaśyapa’s statement quoted at the outset. Diti was one of Kaśyapa’s beloved wives. She gave birth to twins, Hiraṇyakaśipu and Hiraṇyākṣa. They were conceived at an inauspicious time against the will of Kaśyapa and predicted to be materialistic by nature. These two brothers terrorized the whole world and disturbed its management by overpowering various devas who look after the managerial affairs. Therefore both of them were killed by Śrī Viṣṇu who is in charge of the maintenance of the universe. First Hiraṇyākṣa was killed because he had made the whole earth uninhabitable. Thereafter, Hiraṇyakaśipu, who dethroned Indra, the chief of the managers, was also killed by Viṣṇu in the form of Nṛsiṁhadeva. When Diti lost both of her sons, she was very angry at heart and wanted to take revenge. She reasoned that it was Indra, the chief manager of the devas, who had plotted against her sons and got them killed by instigating Śrī Viṣṇu. Therefore, to take revenge, she decided to get Indra killed. For this she devised a plan which was to please her husband, sage Kaśyapa, and then receive a boon from him to have a son who would be able to murder Indra.

With this intention, she began serving her husband and doing every action to please him. With much care, attention and devotion, she took care of Kaśyapa. She would speak to him in a very pleasing voice and always smile at him with alluring charm. Eventually Kaśyapa wanted to reciprocate her apparent kindness. So one day, in a happy mood, he asked Diti to take a boon from him. Diti, of course, was just waiting for this opportunity. Therefore she immediately asked her heart’s desire: to get a son who could kill Indra. When Kaśyapa heard these unbelievable words from the beautiful lips of his devoted wife, it was like a dagger in his heart. He almost collapsed in complete confusion and did not know how to respond, because Indra was also his son, the child of his wife Aditi. In fact, Indra is one of his dearest and most famous sons. How could Kaśyapa now grant a boon that would be the murder instrument for his beloved son?

This is the context in which he spoke the verses cited above. Before, criticizing his wife, however, he criticized himself being attached to the pleasure he enjoyed in her charms and thus falling prey to her trap. He admits that he should have been smart enough to perceive her hidden motives, but he failed only because of his weakness towards pleasure.

Kaśyapa’s Failure and Frustation

Then, feeling frustrated, trapped and bound his own words, he vented his anger indirectly at his wife, by criticizing women as a class. Indeed, it is quite common that when we become angry at a particular person who is dear to us, we indirectly express our anger towards their religion, ethnic background, etc. These statements are not literal, “king-like proclamations,” they are indirect expressions towards a beloved. It is insane to accept an indirect expression as a direct proclamation. Any sane person knows that generalized statements do not convey literal truths. No community or class can accurately be generalized, because each contains a wide variety of people. Kaśyapa, for example, would never say these same statements to his other wife Aditi, who gave birth to Indra and Śrī Vāmanadeva, an avatāra of Viṣṇu.

When one studies the character of Diti as individual, one understands that by nature she was self-centered and uncooperative. The very word diti means “one who creates faction or division”. Kaśyapa must have known this, but somehow he succumbed to Diti’s female charm. That was his weakness, which is not uncommon in men. That is why he first condemned himself.

Ego finds pleasure in finding faults in others instead of inspecting itself. It is difficult for one’s own self-esteem to accept defeat. This is why after Kaśyapa had realized his own mistake, his ego took over and he turned his criticism outward towards Diti. He expressed this indirectly as a condemnation of women in general. This same flaw is at the root of many men who try to justify their own weaknesses and vindicate their own failures by using śāstra to support their ego. Thus, the next time you hear a man using śāstra to criticize women, you can be confident that he is just trying to hide his own weaknesses.

We have demonstrated that verses should not be read out of context — although it unfortunately happens quite often, even by those supposed to be spiritual teachers of śāstra. The context here was not a literal discussion of the nature of women in general, so Kaśyapa’s words should not be misinterpreted as such.

(to be continued)

“Freedom versus Protection of Women” by Satyanarayana Dasa

By Satyanarayana Dasa

Recently there was a tragic incident of gang rape in Delhi in which the victim was killed. This crime caught the attention of the entire nation. Since then much has been written about the safety, freedom and protection of women in India. In this article, I contrast the status of women in the Vedic period in India with their status in today’s modern times.

In Vedic times, more importance was given to the protection of women than to their freedom. Freedom existed mainly within the folds of dharma, and the autonomy of women was dependent on their status, class and education.

Indian scriptures laid down many rules to protect women. A famous verse of Manu Smrti (9.3) advises that a woman should not be given independence, but should be protected in her youth by her father, later by her husband, and in old age by her son. This verse has been the object of discussion and criticism by feminists. Usually it is seen as an injunction for men to oppress women. However, when seen in its proper context, it’s clear that the intention of Manu is not to oppress women, but to protect them.

Today the concept of protecting women has often been misunderstood. Women’s rights movements all over the world strive for women’s independence. Consequently, they interpret any form of restriction on women’s activities as ways to curb their freedom.

However, where Vedic injunctions appear to restrict women or make separate arrangements for them, it is not to discriminate against them, but to protect them from exploitation and to ensure their rights. In fact, the Vedic injunctions provided protection to everyone who needed it: women, children, the aged and even the cows, as everyone is subject to exploitation, albeit in different ways. The verse of Manu (9.3) is often misread to mean that women should not be given independence. But, when translated properly, it means that women are unable to protect themselves if left independent. If we see the number of women who are molested and exploited all over the world, we may appreciate Manu’s wisdom.

For Ladies Only

Rules and arrangements to protect women are made in present times also. Most of the trains in India have a Ladies Compartment reserved exclusively for women which allows them to travel comfortably without the risk of being hassled by men. In Delhi, metro trains have separate women’s compartments with guards to prevent men from entering, and there are special public buses for women only. The Delhi government is also protecting female employees by requiring employers to provide either dormitory facilities or transport home when they work after 7pm. Such measures are intended to provide protection for women, although they can also be seen as restricting their freedom.

In New York City, as early as the beginning of the 20th century, it was not acceptable for single women to rent an apartment on their own. There were, however, several residences for women in different areas of the city, including the famous Webster Apartments. Even today, the Webster Apartments serve as an oasis for women in midtown Manhattan, by providing safe and comfortable housing to women from all over the world who work, study or intern there.

The purpose behind these provisions in modern society and in Manu’s texts is the same: to protect women.  It is not to restrict their freedom.

Contextual Rules

Smti texts are written for a specific period in time and a particular public. If Manu had lived today, he would surely have made different rules. Seeing the Indian girls of today who have exchanged their saris for jeans and T-shirts and who race by on their motorbikes with their hair freely blowing in the wind, one may wonder how Manu would write the Manu-Smti today. His concern would still be the protection of women, because he knew its importance for the stability and peace of society.

By taking on today’s gender-free fashion from the West and with it the new-found “freedom” it symbolizes, the feminine characteristics of India’s women are bound to change  more and more. Many are out to prove their value outside the home by doing better than men, and many are succeeding. Moreover, they are challenging what for generations has been accepted as male behavior. Women, in India and all over the world, are increasingly discovering their new identity and its power, and are reveling in it. These assured women know what they want and feel that achieving this success will free them from their dependence on men.

But what does “women’s freedom” actually mean? Are women really independent? By gaining the freedom to compete equally with men, do women no longer need protection? Or does that independence mean that women accept the responsibility for their own safety? Seeing the world-wide rate of increasing violence against women, one wonders if it is actually possible that women’s freedom and protection co-exist.

The Concept of Freedom

The divergence between freedom and protection makes us question whether the modern women of today actually have more freedom than their ancient sisters. Freedom is a relative concept. The freedom to choose a life-partner had a different meaning back then. For women like Draupadī, who chose her husbands at a svayamvara, freedom of choice was based on dharma, on higher principles of life. Today, however, most choices are influenced by superficial factors, such as what or who gives the most pleasure. Consequently, what we consider to be our choices about what is best for our lives, is ultimately determined more by what we enjoy or not enjoy than by our intelligence. The result of this is evidenced by the short-term and often unfulfilling relationships in today’s societies.

This raises further questions. Has woman’s freedom created its own predicaments? Are women trapped by the consequences of their own freedom? Has this freedom set women free or created yet another bondage in the form of a more hidden expedient? Is it actually possible for women to be free when they are living within an environment of fear and exploitation?

Freedom entails both great responsibility as well as the possibility of unrestrained licentiousness. To use freedom for self-indulgence without any kind of boundary or self-moderation is the freedom of self-destruction. Taking this into consideration, it would be better to restate these questions:  “How well does the present day freedom serve the genuine and essential worth of the feminine?” Today, women have the freedom to choose different partners and divorce at will, but does that give them happiness? Does it give them love? What is the use of freedom without love?

Comparing the lives of women of the past and today, we can see how ultimately their bondage has only changed its appearance. Traditional women were bound by hundreds of rules and regulations, while today women are bound by the consequences of their freedom, their manifold desires to do whatever they want to or be whoever they want.

The Price of Freedom

Degradation of women is the price they pay for their freedom. This freedom may create the impression that these women are sexually available, and it teaches men to see and treat women as ephemeral play objects only.

Despite the freedom that some women claim is their right, we cannot deny the concomitant and increasing misogynistic trend of today. The degradation of women has become so acceptable that it now continues unabated without question or protest. All the different modes of communication have become portals to the most explicit pornography that maligns women as sex objects. A new breed of coarse men is no longer able to recognize or appreciate the finer qualities in the character of women. Such men have made themselves incapable of benefiting from the special quality of women that the Vedic texts recognized and honored, to restore and uphold masculine self-esteem.

Woman, the First Guru

Vedic culture was well aware of how the power of feminine purity enhances and influences masculine self-esteem. For example, freedom fighter Swami Shraddhananda (1856–1926) once told how his mother’s tolerance and self-sacrifice changed her drunkard husband.

Swami Shraddhananda‘s father, Lala Nanak Chand, was a police officer in Kanpur. His wife, Shiv Devi, being very devoted to her husband, observed the rule not to eat before everyone else in the family had eaten. One time, Lala Nanak attended a party and became so drunk that he could hardly walk. When he arrived home, he vomited and lost consciousness.

His wife gave him yoghurt and lemon water, bathed him, changed his clothes, fanned him and gave him a head massage. Finally, in the early morning, he awoke and realized the good care he was receiving from his wife.  When he asked her if she had eaten, the wife shook her head and said, “I have never eaten before you finish your meal.” In that moment, her husband realised his mistake and stopped drinking for good.

Such examples are no exception in India. The wife would not eat until her husband came home. She would wait for him, serve him affectionately and only then have something to eat herself.

Such real life stories demonstrate why more importance was given to the character and integrity of women than of men. A woman’s personality influences both her husband and children. Everyone comes to this world through a woman and is then brought up by her. Vedic culture therefore proclaimed women to be the first gurus and honored the position of women and motherhood as the foundation of society. Keeping this fact in mind, Manu, the first law-giver for Hindus, was very much concerned with protecting women from degradation at the hands of men. So, what may not be appreciated now by modern women, actually has a deep wisdom within.

 

Chanting the Holy Names

Question: I have a question regarding the following verse: sanketyam parihasyam va stobham helanam eva va vaikuntha-nama-grahanam aseshagha-haram viduh: “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.” (SB 6.2.14) Srila Prabhupada does not give a commentary on this verse and I was wondering if Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur has said something further on its meaning.

Answer: He adds that none of these things should be offensive. Otherwise he only explains the meaning of these terms.

Q: As you know, many devotees of Krsna are lecturing and doing kirtan at various studios in the USA and Europe.  Some conservative devotees feel that we shouldn’t compromise our Vaisnava philosophy one iota while others are more liberal and are encouraging yogis to chant even if it has the above mentioned flaws.  Any thoughts on this matter, specifically in regards to the above mentioned verse?

A: Well, the real thing is to know the purpose behind chanting. Its primary purpose is devotion to the Lord – to do it for His pleasure. It is not a means of entertainment, which is usually the case. Even many conservative devotees fall prey to this tendency.

The above mentioned verse is not an injunction to chant in this manner but an explanation of the power of the name. You can chant in Yoga centers or wherever, if your intention is proper, and ultimately you should let it be known. Sometimes I also chant but I also explain the meaning and purpose of chanting.