Religion and Women

By Nicholas D. Kristof, originally published in the New York Times on January 9, 2010.

It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.

Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.

“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia.

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the “basic causes of the violation of women’s rights,” is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

The Elders are neither irreligious nor rabble-rousers. They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they begin their meetings with a moment for silent prayer.

“The Elders are not attacking religion as such,” noted Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights. But she added, “We all recognized that if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”

There is of course plenty of fodder, in both the Koran and the Bible, for those who seek a theology of discrimination.


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72 Responses to Religion and Women

  1. “The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

    The first line of Mr. Carter’s quote shows where all this ignorance that supposedly justifies the mistreatment of women comes from. However I am not sure Mr. Carter even realizes it himself.

    Because we misidentify the self with the material body we naturally assume God does also.

    This, as we know, is the source spot for all the world’s problems which unfortunately is reinforced by the majority of religious institutions.

    “He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all living entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything never hates anything or any being.”-Iso 6

  2. Kristoff says in his blog that Muhammad’s youngest wife Aisha was arguably the first Islamic feminist. But her armies were defeated by her rivals and the rivals apparently started oppressing women much more than was the norm before that.

    I found it very interesting. It seems to be the norm powerful spiritual figures are socially ahead of their times and as time goes by, the stagnant institutionalization of that saint’s spiritual inspiration takes ugly forms. Sounds oh so familiar… 🙂

  3. When you read bhagavatam you see many instances where women are protrayed as subordinate to men. This is all taking place however in vedic times when varnasram is in full working order. When society is working occording to vedic varnashram even slavery takes place. However it takes place in a beuatiful way in which a slave is working in his appropriate place in the world and thus his position during that life promotes the fastest and most efficiant way for him to progress spirtually. There is no cruel treatment being forced on someones will. Everyone is living according to how they are best suited. In these times it so happened that men may have been suited to be real brahams, and thus were able to be “superior” to women but only in a way which Krsna intends in real varnashram, and only in a way which insured optimal spirtual advancemnt for both parties.

    In Kali Yuga everyone is a Sudra. Trying to rise anyone above anyone else based on race or sex is only one sudra trying to rule another. Which is pointless. All the qualities found in men, in vedic varnashram are long gone in this present Kali Yuga. Similiarly all the positive quailites in women talked about in bhagavatam are also gone now. We are all just a bunch of equally helpless sudras. Thank God all we have to do is chant!!

    So who can you follow in Kali Yuga? Who ever chants the best!!!!

    • However it takes place in a beuatiful way in which a slave is working in his appropriate place in the world and thus his position during that life promotes the fastest and most efficiant way for him to progress spirtually.

      This kind of statement makes Hinduism seem dated and oppressive.

      Modern Western culture is based on individuality and the opportunity to rise above one’s circumstances at birth, such as poverty, to achieve economic prosperity. Explaining varnasrama as “living according to how [you] are best suited” and then describing the various castes will not be effective. I’m not defending Western culture; I’m pointing out how a dogmatic approach to varnasrama makes the Western mind cringe.

      I strongly encourage you read Swami Tripurari’s commentary on the Bhagavad-gita in this regard, particularly verse 14.5:

      “The Gita teaches that a psychologically well-adjusted person is aware of the particular influence the gunas exert on his psyche and thus acts in consideration of these influences. This basic awareness is itself the influence of sattva, which subtly governs the Gita’s varnasrama social system. In the Gita’s vision, the essential first step of goodness is to be situated in one’s prescribed duty, a duty that corresponds with one’s psychology. By being properly placed, one finds a sense of harmony with one’s materially conditioned self that makes the cultivation of other aspects of goodness possible.”

      Here, Swami is emphasizing the psychology of the sadhaka, knowledge of which requires introspection and, often, professional guidance.

      • I think you may have misunderstood my post. I was trying to say that although there are examples of Women being subordinate to Men, and slavory in the bhagavatam, this is all taking place in Krsna’s proper varnashram system for vedic times. I agree there is a snow balls chance in hell for anything resembing that varnashram to take place today.I thought thats what I was trying to say. In fact I cant tell you how opposed I am to dogmatic views that try to use these statements in order to supress women or slaves.

        Again I would strongly stress that There is no place for women to be subordinate to men in today’s society for other reasons then tanglible spirtual realization on part of the man or vice versa.

        Im not sure why you think that highlated statement would make hinduism look oppressive and outdated. The examples of people living a servants life and reaching perfection are quite moving. Take Narada for example. He was the son of a maid to the rich. But in that position he reached absolute perfection. It is only when people site examples of servitude in the scripture as a means to oppress or enslave others based on their own will that causes problems.

        I think we agree that spirtual lessons can be learned from the way varnashram worked in vedic times. But to try and implement the system now is dogmatic and takes no consideration into time and place.

      • again I feel like you saying you disagree with my post and then saying most of the same points I was trying to make. Only more fluently.

        Probably as a result of a lack of clarity on my part!!!

  4. Religion and women. Hmm, where to begin…

    Lets just address what concerns us devotees: Why is the tradition (Gaudiya Vaishnavism) which claims to be the most developed of all religious systems in the world, simultaneously the most absurd in its treatment of women? Ours is undoubtedly the greatest contradiction of all times.

    Our most sacred deity, Radharani, the feminine energy of the Divine, holds a higher position even to the masculine energy, Krishna. Yet, the feminine amongst us is tolerated at best. And where it is tolerate it is considered the best this religion can do and will do for the female section of mankind.

    Sannyasa order in the Gaudiya Math was modeled after a stratagem started by the Rama Krishna Mission. The claim that Sannyasa is intrinsic to GVism because of Mahaprabhu’s example is debatable considering that the larger Gaudiya community does not practice it.

    At any rate, like sannyasa, renunciation or monasticism as that adopted by the Goswamis of Vrindavan, was put at the center of this religion. Compounded with its questionable centrality, this premise is for and dependent on men. Women are not only unfit for renunciation, a channel to the spiritual, but a great threat to it. By being less developed humans compared to men, women are not only unfit for monasticism, the way to God, but in fact the source of all impediments for real souls to achieve their liberation. Women’s only chance then is to get a male body. And until that happens, they are, again, at best tolerated.

    Now, the screaming question this tradition insists in ignoring is, and as the very last sentenced in the article puts it: how spiritual is a sadhana and a sadhya which depends on the shape of its undertakers’ loins?

    • I believe you have a point in terms of how GV has manifest in the west, which is a reflection of it’s manifestation in the east. However, I also believe you misrepresent GV siddhanta and confuse it with the apasiddhanta that has manifest itself. Bhakti is independent of karma and vairagya, so it should be quite obvious that renunciation is not considered by any means a ‘channel to the spiritual’ according to GV siddhanta.

      The goal, or sadhya of the tradition is not liberation – but rather devotion, or love, is the goal. Love of Krsna is not to be had by karma or renunciation – it only comes through bhakti devi herself.

      I don’t believe you have asked the proper ‘screaming question’. The reason I say that is that neither sadhana nor sadhya are dependent on gender. The real question could maybe better be stated as: Why do so many who profess to be adherents of GV think that sadhana and sadhya depend on gender? or any other material quality? When the teaching is clear that sadhana and sadhya depend on sincerity and good association.

    • GV is not the most absurd religion in its treatment of women. Other religions are or have been worse. Then again how much of this mistreatment is is a misinterpretation of the religion is an important question. Also I would not mix up the feminine theological Radha with the feminine material gender and visa versa. And if renunciation was put in the center of the religion by Rupa and Sanatana or by others citing their example it was only to the extent hat renunciation is a result, a byproduct of the religion (an important one), rather than means to attain its ideal. Those who are advanced in love of Krsna are not attached to the temporal. They forego everything that is unfavorable to bhakti.

      As for the eligibility of women for formal renunciation, it should be obvious that just as this determination in the past was largely if not entirely relative to the social system of the time, so too should it be today. And the same is true for men. We have to look at the social norms and determine if there is a meaningful place for renunciates today. I think there is for both genders as well as in between, should any individual as a result of his or her practice transcend their sexual orientation or be in a spiritually progressive enough position to forego sexuality and remain psychologically healthy and spiritually engaged.

      • Swami,

        Throughout history mistreatment of women has always been traced back to religions.

        Regarding our own religion, the mistreatment I am speaking of is not in the form of physical and emotional abuses – you are right we Gaudiyas indeed have though competition out there in these two areas.

        Our religion champions mistreatment of women where it denies women the ultimate opportunity it claims able to exclusively offer, namely the means for the ultimate sadhana. According to our religion, just for being women are ineligible for that most accurate opportunity.

        You say this is not an opportunity but instead the result of an opportunity. Even so, again, why is it that said result is only achieved by one half of humanity? To construe so that this is evidence that women are naturally ineligible is, indeed, the ultimate mistreatment. The obvious flaw in this logic tells tomes about our urgent need for an improved argument.

        Regarding Radharani, that there is no mixing of the feminine in this world with Radha is a mute point. But then to have it instead removed so far from that deity is nothing short of irrational.

        Its quite obvious that what needs developing is the religion, not the feminine.

        As for foregoing sexuality, yes of course one can always become the diety’s bosom frolicking friend or some other bhava that doesn’t involve sexuality. But either way, the formal order of such foregoing (or not) should always be given equally to all, regardless of gender.

        • As I said, renunciation is not the means to but rather it is a result of bhakti, a byproduct. As such it is open to all. As far as a formal order of renunciation not being available to women, this in the past was in consideration of the social norms, norms that as far as I know were not such that women were denied genuine spiritual opportunities despite not being able for the most part to participate in a formal order of sannyasa. The Goswamis were wiser, more compassionate and spiritually astute than I, and I trust that they did not let social norms get in the way of any jiva’s spiritual progress as they formed our lineage. Nor is it possible to fully understand the social norms and the spiritual considerations taken on their part 500 years ago. All we can do is embrae the essence of their teaching and proceed in consideration fo the times that are with us, times that do not restrict women from embracing a formal order of renunciation in my opinion.

          You wrote:

          As for foregoing sexuality, yes of course one can always become the diety’s bosom frolicking friend or some other bhava that doesn’t involve sexuality.

          The romantic rasa of sringara or madhurya does not involve mundane sexuality any more than any other bhava or rasa. And the Goswami’s are very clear about that. Our lineage is different than that of the sahajiyas in this regard, very different.

          • If it is indeed, as you state yourself, that our tradition adapts to times and circumstances, it is then a different tradition not only from sahjiyaism, but different even from itself since its inception. Its clearly an evolving tradition except where women are concerned.

            The Gosvamis, as far as I understand it, did not forego sexuality. They where aware of having a gender and made it central in their sadhana. In fact, I do not believe that human beings can abandon sexuality altogether as you suggest without losing their sense of self anymore than one can abandon one’s sense of hunger, cold, etc and remain functionable. We all have a gender. What must be abandoned is promiscuity, aversion, abuse, and such mundane elements.

            At any rate, I don’t understand why this insistence in defending the indefensible. Our religion is blatantly misogynist.

          • If it is indeed, as you state yourself, that our tradition adapts to times and circumstances, it is then a different tradition not only from sahjiyaism, but different even from itself since its inception. Its clearly an evolving tradition except where women are concerned.

            Different in details not in essence. There is a big difference. And if is is truly an evolving tradition where women are concerned s you state, then end of problem. But the “problem” is a perceived problem with regard to times gone by that no one can completely understand and thus access accurately. The problem is really only to the extent that the tradition does not adapt. And if it is adapting in some quarters and not others, then the problem is not with the essential tradition but rather with some of its adherents.

            The Goswamis were celibate. Members of the tradition are mysogynists, not the tradition itself, and what it means to be so is somewhat relevant to history and particular social climates. Abraham Lincoln was not racists in relation to his times, but he did not think people of color could hold a political office.

          • Excuse me. I see that you have said that it is truly an evolving tradition except for where women are concerned. Still, I could not disagree with you more on this point. It evolves on all fronts in the hands of those who understand its essence and apply it, making adjustments accordingly.

          • Lets just say that, proportionally, where women are concerned the tradition has made so little advancement that it can be considered nearly non existence. The reason for this, as you very well know as a thinker, is that even when one wants to push it forward and make said adjustments, one is faced with the astonishing unresolved question of human sexuality at the very foundation of this tradition. Touch that and the house of cards might come down altogether. No one is willing to touch the issue preferring instead patch up the inevitable holes where they spring up (he didn’t say ‘rape’, sex once a month for procreation, etc, etc, etc). Indeed, we are beating around the essence.

          • The reason for this, as you very well know as a thinker, is that even when one wants to push it forward and make said adjustments, one is faced with the astonishing unresolved question of human sexuality at the very foundation of this tradition.

            What’s unresolved about it?

          • What’s unresolved about it?

            What is unresolved about it is that it (human sexuality) receives the voidistic treatment. Trouble is, the remaining of our sense of identities (and there is very little left) gets the opposite treatment. The result is that we walk around in a very altered sense of self, to say the least.

          • I see your point and it bears the stamp of your association. If one can employ eating in sadhana, why not sex? For that matter, does not the lila speak loudly to us along these lines if we but listen?

            This faulty line of reasoning has been dealt with centuries ago. GV does speak overtly of employing sex in sadhana in a way that fosters sacrifice, the underlying foundation of true love. What does the tradition advocate in this regard? Married life, or a committed relationship.

            Devotees should find partners through the social system of the society they live in pursuit of finding a relationship that makes sense, one that helps to stabilize one emotionally so that one can be better suited for increased spiritual practice. Within a committed relationship partnersare encouraged to pursue an ethically, morally responsible life in consideration of the times in which they live, taking into consideration issues we all face in today’s world, rather than attempt to adhere to a morality that does not answer to the complexity of today’s world. In doing so different opinions arise and each person is expected to make their own decisions, while honoring those of others.

            The overall spirit is not that sex is bad, but rather that it does need to be harnessed sensibly, and furthermore it is but a shadow of the light of prema, a shadow that one can learn something valuable from in terms of spiritual attainment. This has nothing to do with sahajiya sadhana. Nor does the Gaudiya tradition speaks to us of that kind of sadhana. My experience leads me to believe that progressive, spiritually serious people will more readily identify with this position than they will with one advocating a sexually explicit form of sadhana in the name of Guadiya Vaisnavism. For the most part modern, Western, tantra yoga is not taken seriously by genuine spiritual seekers.

            Humanity and spirituality come together in Gaudiya Vaisnanvism. However the result of this union is the disappearance of kama with the gradual appearance of prema. The disappearance of kama is not the sadhya, but prema will not manifest until quite some time after kama disappears within the context of the culture of bhakti.

            Furthermore my experience is that the spiritual bliss that arises in krsnanusilanam at any stage along the path makes sense indulgence and mundane relationships seem distasteful. In my experience this includes even the desire to taste and eat palatable and nourishing foods. It does not cause one to loose love for friends, children, etc., but it changes the dynamic of such love because it causes one to see others differently. One ceases from seeing them as objects of exploitation that one thinks one need in order to be whole. Instead one experience them from a spiritual perspective, and one understands the detachment that ensues to be an abstract form of love that is concomitant to the sadhya of prema. With this detachment that corresponds with a developing Krsna centered love one grows into a better position from which to love all people.

            Without the Vedanta side of the Gaudiya Vedanta world view in place it is easy to err on the side of kama in the name of prema or its development. Adding Gaudiya to the term Vedanta with all that is does to validate the human sense of what life is about (sexuality included) does not do away with basic tenants of Vedanta: there is a difference between the body and ourselves.

            Furthermore, bhava is something quite different from anything within the mundane experience, although we readily draw examples from our mundane experience in an effort to explain and understand it.

          • Swami,

            I was hoping to have a discussion on the issue of mistreatment of women within our religion. Its inevitable that on speaking on genders the issue of sexuality also arises. Still, surely you understand it’s a side point. But you chose to make it the main topic. Very well, I appreciate your care, but please be assured my position bears the stamp of my own pondering.

            I will just say this: whatever its cause, the mistreatment of women in this religion is a fact; a faulty line of reasoning indeed if one really wants to be concerned with real issues. And it hasn’t been dealt with maturely by anyone in this tradition yet, at least not that I am aware of.

            Opinions and their resulting advices are plenty, but they are from a defensive position. And they are from theory, not experience (renounciates advising couples). And they are thus still more revealing of the need of this tradition than of what it has to offer. You speak of how Vedanta assures your own intellect that there is a difference between the body and ourselves. Yet you veer off the topic of vedic bodily considerations, i.e, mistreatment of women within the context of vedic religion. This illustrates the point I am pursuing here and which I prefer see addressed.

          • I will just say this: whatever its cause, the mistreatment of women in this religion is a fact; a faulty line of reasoning indeed if one really wants to be concerned with real issues. And it hasn’t been dealt with maturely by anyone in this tradition yet, at least not that I am aware of.

            Mistreatment of women in most religions and societies is a fact… But how does it prove that there is something wrong in GV tradition? Long long time ago, soon after disappearance of Lord Gauranga there were powerful Vaisnavi preachers- Jahnava Mata, Ganga Mata, Hemlata Thakurani and others. Why was it forgotten later? I don`t know. Yet their examples show that tradition was quite revolutionary in it`s beginning and women were treated with the respect they deserved

          • Yes quite so. And misogyny means “hatred of women.” What a poor choice of words to characterize GV by.

          • Swami you know very well that the meaning ‘hatred of women’ to explain misogyny expands to accommodate additional meanings as well. Why dwell in trivialities.

            Perhaps the fact that prominent women in the tradition were anyhow “forgotten later” gives us a hint of whats ‘wrong’ with the tradition, Brajasundari. The truth is, there is always the token females in every male dominated religion (and they are all male dominated).

            Srila Sridhara Maharaja on explaining the Bhagavata parampara system adopted by Sarvasti Thakur, said that there is no need to give importance to every member of the chain, for the chain has unimportant men. And some women. He does not qualify the women. He just mentions that since some females are there, how can we consider every member relevant?

          • Perhaps the fact that prominent women in the tradition were anyhow “forgotten later” gives us a hint of whats ‘wrong’ with the tradition, Brajasundari.

            Or perhaps it shows how easy it is for people to misunderstand the tradition, as you are demonstrating.

          • Gauravani dasa, I don’t believe in this I misunderstand the tradition. But you are welcome to demonstrate coherently where I have done so. Meanwhile, I think as a man you should at least give a woman in this movement the benefit of the doubt that she knows abuse within the tradition when she speaks from experience. Unless you want to take that away as well so to retain that feeling of superiority.

          • It’s a common trend in almost all of the histories of world religions that in the beginning of any tradition women members are active and even acting as leaders, and as time goes by and the religion in question becomes more “mainstream” – women are pushed back, silenced, and their contribution forgotten. So, is the problem with society at large or are the religions themselves the culprit?

          • I agree. It is very common in most formal religious institutions for women to be made subordinate or at least of marginal significance. In GV the perfect example is when women are referred to as half a bhakta (C.C.). It is my personal belief that men –religious or not– are threatened by the power women possess in sexuality, reproduction, intellect, and fortitude. As such, men tend to push themselves forward in an attempt to eclipse the natural luminescence of women. How many people reading this have been to a GV lecture given by a woman? If you have, what percentage of the lectures given do those represent? Nevertheless, women have received the same training, read the same books, and done the same sadhana as men. There is still a prominent belief that a woman’s intellect is inferior to a man’s. This is VERY far from my experience of women.

            Furthermore, to believe this to be true is a blurring of the belief that the body is distinct from the soul. If body and soul are distinct how can we continue to believe in spiritual matters that the woman is inferior? It seems to me that the misogyny (yes the word does fit) is a hatred (an envious hatred that is) of women’s bodies causing us to inaccurately believe that the woman’s body imposes a limitation on spiritual or intellectual capacity. The whole system in GV is self-reinforcing. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by discouraging women to excel and thrive.

            Another piece of evidence –for me– that the subordination of women is a symptom of perceived threats in the minds of men is the fact that a disproportionate number of our line of siddhas are accomplished male sadhakas rather than female sadhakas and the lineage is predominated by male sadhakas attempting to realize a female siddha-deha (due to its obvious superiority in terms of rasa). It’s almost as if male sadhakas have not only subordinated the position of women in the sadhaka deha domain, they have also usurped the bodies of women in the siddha domain. This seems to me like rather clear evidence the the female body is coveted and envied to a massive degree.

            I believe we should have an affirmative action movement for women in GV that intentionally encourages the positioning of women to ensure that their place is secured in the future of the GV institution.

          • There are some theories among devotees as to why we promote misogyny, but to even address the issue maturely at all, as we attempt to do here, is a battle of genders at times. It is a difficult matter. My own theory is that men naturally fear women and therefore use their natural one advantage, brute force, to subdue the object of their phobia. This fear is due to the female power of attraction over the male – a natural process – women are the “personification of maya”. This subduing, as the article in question brushes upon, is an interchangeable occurrence between social structures and religions. Where did it start? Religions are created to satisfy the need for meaning. The social order is defined by male according to male’s psychology. Any possibility of women becoming prominent beyond control (must be ‘protected’ at all times) is checked by brute force and/or religious values. Religion and society inform and sustain one another. Gaudiya Vaishnavism is the most complete religious system arrived at by humanity, no doubt. And it is only so because it is an evolving tradition. It is quite clear therefore that is time this religion moves on to its next phase which is to affirm the feminine in this world as not only legitimate socially, but key to promoting of the self. The discoveries of the Gosvamis of Vrindavan have laid the ground for this, and it should be taken up without fear.

  5. The varnasrama system portrayed during the Vedic period of the Puranas should not necessarily be taken as perfect or ideal. It is said that in Satya-yuga everyone was brahmana and there was no need for varnasrama. Varnasrama appeared in the Treta-yuga and gradually dwindled from there. Thus by the time of Lord Krsna (at the end of Dvapara-yuga), varnasrama was already significantly corrupted–what to speak of by the time of Lord Caitanya’s advent in Kali-yuga.

    The primary corruption of varnasrama is the determination of occupation and ashrama based on birth (parentage and body-type) rather than actual qualification. Thus we see that even in Lord Krsna’s time, the varnasrama system had already become significantly degraded and was determined primarily by birth (within mainstream society). So we should be careful and not assume that everything going on during Lord Krishna’s advent–such as slavery or the subjugation of women–should be taken as ideal or desirable.

    Regarding women accepting the sannyasa order, this should theoretically be permitted since qualification trumps body-type. I believe some Gaudiya Vaishnava groups already permit this. However, sometimes practical social considerations restrict us from fully implementing pure daiva-varnasrama as we would like.

    These are just a few of my thoughts and understandings on this matter. Anyone please correct me if I am wrong…

    • When you say that one should be careful to say that everything going on in vedic times regarding opression of women and slavery should not be assumed to be 100% pure and krsna’s way I 100% agree.

      I was more trying to stress that the examples in the Bhagavatam which are there to promote spirtual example are 100% pure. For instance Devahūti living completely subordinate to the will of Kardama Muni as his loving wife is a perfect example of how a husband and wife should live according to the time and place they lived.

      That exact life style cannot be expected now a days but certainly one can find inspiration from someone living a perfect life, according to another era’s standards, even if your current lifes situation is nothing like it. Sadly not many husbands are constructing flying castles with their minds these days :). just kidding!

      I agree the problem arises when people try to generalize something like this. If someone says that because Devahuti was 100% subordinate to her husband then therefore every man has the right to dominate any women he sees fit, this would clearly be wrong and dogmatic to the extreme. And in kali yuga where being born male or female in my opinion is an equal birth this would be even more obsurd.

      While there were certainly instance of evil or confused people mistreating women or workers even in vedic times. The examples in the bhagavatam show proper exhanges between husband and wife, servant and master, according to the time the events took place.

  6. At any rate, like sannyasa, renunciation or monasticism as that adopted by the Goswamis of Vrindavan, was put at the center of this religion. Compounded with its questionable centrality, this premise is for and dependent on men.

    Renunciation and monasticism are not synonymous. Renunciation must be embraced by all sadhakas regardless of station in life. Some will do so in a formal way either by taking sannyasa or babaji vesa.

    The example the Goswamis set was to illustrate that Vraja-bhakti, and parakiya-bhava in particular, has nothing to do with worldly sensuality. Outward expressions of renunciation of course can be exploited in a male-dominated society but this does not mean it’s a core tenet of the religion by any means; we say in fact just the opposite: you are not your body and that since bhakti is the jaiva-dharma anyone can take it up. That sannyasa or formal renunciation has been propagated (whether subtly or overtly) by some as the only genuine means of attaining love of God by some is lamentable, but an astute sadhaka under good guidance will see the falsity in such a claim.

    • I am sorry but I will keep my charge that this religion indeed leads one to impasse when it promotes renunciation as pivotal and does so at the expense of one of the genders. A ludicrous and absurd contradiction.

      You say it doesn’t because of the claim that “we are not the body”. Yet, the formal renounced order, which as you very well know is much more than a publicity element in the religion, is conferred ONLY to those in a man’s body. The religion then goes on to explain that there is a reason for such. You say such explanation is ill propaganda, but it isn’t so. It has been the central tenet of the religion and one that is becoming increasingly difficult to make heads and tails of. What is propaganda though, is this new explaining away technique (which you repeat here) of denying the charge and making yet a new claim of an “astute sadhaka” category as key to solving the problem.

      Clearly the best is for us to begin an ‘honest sadhakas’ era.

      • As has been pointed out by others, to say that the religion has formal renunciation for men only as one of its core tenets is not true. You say “the religion then goes on to explain. . .” rather than “many adherents of the religion.” Please show us where such an idea is to be found in the philosophy itself, not in how the philosophy has been historically applied in male-dominated contexts. Core tenets are one thing, application of them according to time and place are often another. Also, I don’t believe anyone here is trying to explain away the mistreatment of women in the tradition–we recognize that it exists and is a deplorable situation. This is changing, however. In the mission I belong to (Sri Caitanya Sanga) women are treated equally according to qualification. And I have no doubt that my gurudeva would give sannyasa to a woman who was qualified for such a position.

      • Vedic Varnashrama is not a “religion”. It is a social and cultural system for the upliftment of human society.
        There are many “religions” in the Vedic Varnashrama culture. Primarily there was the worship of Vishnu, Brahma, Surya, Agni and Siva, not to forget about the Shaktas who worship Devi in her many different aspects.

  7. Vedic Varnashrama was specifically administrated under the codes of Manu known as the Manu-Samhita. Undoubtedly, the concepts and principles in that law book would not fly very well in the face of our modern liberated, free-love, prostitution of women culture.

    Vedic culture was never anything that would win a majority vote in any of our modern countries around the world. It is a rigid, strongly enforced male dominated culture that advocates principles and concepts that would be considered as dictatorial and oppressive in our modern world.

    Modern man is not fit or qualified for Varnashrama civilization.
    That is why Mahaprabhu made spiritual advancement practical and simple in chanting of the Maha-mantra and illuminating the heart and mind with the Bhagavat theology compiled by Vyasadeva.

    • The codes of Manu regarding women were more prostituting than modern culture in that said codes were imposed on women by men who otherwise had no idea what to do with a tormenting, curse-like existence driven by sex. Its a good thing that Varnasharam as per those codes does not fit in with a civilized albeit still needy world.

      Mahaprabhu made spiritual advancement accessible precisely because of that type of codes.

      Gaura Haribol!!

      • Actually, in a genuine Vedic culture men were very prudent sexually and for the most part celibate except for the begetting of children. In a high grade Vedic culture men are so spiritually advanced that they have strict control over their sexual conduct. There is no sexual exploitation of women in a true Vedic culture. Both men and women are sexually very conservative and not lost in the illusion of sexual attraction.

        Your estimation of the moral character of men in Vedic civilization is not very high. But, that is an extreme and overly critical evaluation of the spiritual status of men in Vedic civilization who are all very much above the low grade sexual morality of modern materialistic civilization.

        With a little more insight into the high moral character of men in Vedic society, you might come to understand that the Vedic civilization is neither abusive nor oppressive of women and neither do women feel exploited. They in fact feel protected. The Queen rules the Kingdom because the Queen controls the King with love.

        In Vedic Civilization the women are very enlightened, chaste and pure and so are their husbands. The asura Varnashrama that overtook the Daiva-Varnashrama long, long ago is the reason that modern people have such sour opinion of Vedic Varnashrama and the Manu-samhita.

        However, asura-Varnashrama is the evil imitation of Daiva-Varnashrama that came along with lots of other evils existing in the Galaxy today.

        • Even if there was such a Daiva-Varnashrama “long, long ago” somewhere on this planet (as you like to believe it), it is irrelevant to us today. Personally I don’t believe there was such a thing. How could men be “prudent” sexually if they weren’t even able to exercise restraint? The higher his hank in society, the more women a man collected. Like objects, or cattle. This wasn’t a highly developed society. In terms of gender relations, it was as crude as it was lawless, and it was the cause of the caste system and such aberrations in Indian culture throughout the ages and into present days. And Indian religions though the ages absorbed these aberrations into their cores like sponges in a swimming pool. Gaudiya Math is a proof of that.

  8. I am sorry but I will keep my charge that this religion indeed leads one to impasse when it promotes renunciation as pivotal and does so at the expense of one of the genders. A ludicrous and absurd contradiction.

    Truly I speak from the position of an interested layman and very much an outsider, but what I have learned from Prabhupada’s books shows me that in GV the women have the natural advantage in developing bhakti due to their naturally softer hearts and the humble position that external circumstaces places them in.

    I offer the example of the brahmana’s wives in the tenth canto.

    To rise high in love and realization the bhakta seeks the position below the straw in the street.

    All this posturing for the right for women to be given the right to take to the formal sannyasa order within Iskcon a few years back made me ask the question, “Why do these woman want to give up their natural advantage to advance in bhakti just to advance in a religious hierarchal system.”

    We have seen the massive casualities such so-called advancement has produced in recent years.

    Surely this is not the real GV teachings as given by Srila Prabhupada.

    • Comradesoul,

      It is also in Prabhupada’s statements that women like to be raped and other such misogynist ideas, as you surely know of them by now. And Prabhupada wasn’t the one to introduce a formal monastic order for women despite his other claimed innovations. If this religion has firm faith in sannyasa for men, and in fact bases itself in such faith, why not for women?

      But to introduce such change will mean a clear departure from Gaudiya Math as conceived by Bhaktisidhanta Sarasvati. This was a religion designed for men. It neglected to think of the feminine and it keeps denying that it does so.

      • That statement you refer to about “rape” in the book of Srila Prabhupada is most always misunderstood. In the culture that Srila Prabhupada grew up in, any sort of aggression towards a woman is considered a form of rape in the very strict Hindu culture. In Hindu culture marriages are arranged thereby minimizing this aggression towards women. So, when Srila Prabhupada said “women like to be raped” all that means in the context of his social background is that women like the man to be the aggressor and to initiate the contact and the relationship.
        Srila Prabhupada NEVER intended to mean that women like to be brutally assaulted and sexually abused.
        What he meant, in the context of his social orientation, was that women simply do not like to be aggressive but desire that the male initiate the sexual advance thereby allowing the woman to maintain her mood of chastity and shyness.

        Undoubtedly, that remark by Srila Prabhupada was supremely politically incorrect and socially a terrible choice of words.

        Those words will haunt his legacy for a long time, because people are not willing to look at those words in the proper context of Srila Prabhupada’s cultural orientation with the Hindu society in India/

  9. Bhaktiananda prabhu,

    It is also in Prabhupada’s statements that women like to be raped and other such misogynist ideas, as you surely know of them by now.

    Yes I am familiar with this quote and the needless controversy surrounding it. I say needless because it is clear to me that what he meant by “rape” could be more clearly understood by the term ‘taken forcefully’. The idea that Prabhupada was referring to some stranger entering a woman’s house in the dead of night and forcing sex on her at knife point or some similar scenario strikes me as a grave misunderstanding of his intent.

    Just like when he used the word prostitute. We think of street walkers and alleyways when he would often be referring to what we call a girlfriend.

    I wish he had never used the word rape for sure but he did use it and I think it now falls on us to be mature enough to realize the context of how it was used in light of the rest of his teachings.

    Can’t we at least give him the benefit of our doubt?

    How many times was this term used like this and how many times did he teach that women in general are to be seen and respected as Mother?

    And Prabhupada wasn’t the one to introduce a formal monastic order for women despite his other claimed innovations.

    Perhaps it wasn’t a big priority to create such an order when opposed to initiating the world into the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, opening 108 or so temples and translating scripture.

    And why would such an order need to be formalized anyway or need to be an exact replica of the sannyasa ashrama that men take up. Is there any prohibition against women shaving their heads, wearing white, and residing together free from males? I don’t know, there may be, but I have never heard of such a prohibition.

    If this religion has firm faith in sannyasa for men, and in fact bases itself in such faith, why not for women?

    I am not sure GV has such a firm faith in formal sannyasa for men. There is a discussion on this site now about the relevance of sannyasa in Kali-yuga.

    Firm faith is to be placed in the person Krishna. Sannyasa may be a means to that end that is appropriate for some but not appropriate for others. It is not a fact that one must pass through a formal renounced order to develop firm faith in Krishna.

    But to introduce such change will mean a clear departure from Gaudiya Math as conceived by Bhaktisidhanta Sarasvati. This was a religion designed for men. It neglected to think of the feminine and it keeps denying that it does so.

    I can’t speak to what Bhaktisiddhanta conceived or his reasoning to how he steered his Gaudya Matha in that particular time and culture. But “neglect of the feminine”? I can’t accept that because it is through his line that I have learned that in relation to Krishna all jivas are feminine.

    To me it seems GV teaching is the highest promoter of the feminine.

    • To me it seems GV teaching is the highest promoter of the feminine.

      And the Christians think they are the highest promoters of fraternal love.

      Srila Prabhupada was irreducible towards the Christians. To them he used to say, “until you understand ‘thou shall not kill’ to mean that animals have a soul, you cannot possibly understand the meaning of compassion to your fellow human beings.”

      I think it is time we taste our own medicine. Until we learn to honor and promote all equally in this world, we have no business claiming we know the meaning of love in that other world.

  10. *sorry, misplaced comment*

  11. Change just for the sake of change is not a very intelligent thing. As Swami Tripurari has just said; “It evolves on all fronts in the hands of those who understand its essence and apply it, making adjustments accordingly.”

    Prabhupada once said that the problem with we Westerners is that we always change things. Sometimes things are fine as they are. Sometimes change is warranted. In religious/spiritual matters it takes a soul with enlightened vision to institute change. Not just someone with a “progressive” agenda inspired by the external nature of the current society he finds himself in.

  12. It appears that there is a percentage of devotee women inside the GV institutions that want the same kind of honor, respect and position in these organizations that the sannyasi preachers have. They don’t want a female version of sannyasa but the same dress, danda and status as the saffron-clad Swamis. It appears they do not want renunciation for the sake of renunciation alone but also want to enjoy the same aura of holiness in these organizations that the saffron Swamis radiate in their particular uniform.
    Why not let the women have what they want?
    Would a class of female Swamis in the HK movement advance the mission or simply further splinter an already divided sect?

    Undoubtedly, this issue was bound to come up in the Western Gaudiya sect.
    Is this just another of the many issues that come along with these cumbersome institutions that in effect mandate so many compromises that the end result is the essence gets buried under a pile of dung?

    • In my experience, women in Iskcon are only asking for normal, human respect that the rest of modern society affords them. There are many misogynists who quote sastra and Srila Prabhupada out of context to justify their psychological dysfunctions and then apply policy or emotional abuse in the temple.

      The women who speak up do so to 1) correct misrepresentations of the siddhanta, 2) call out abusive men and policies that distract themselves and others from their sadhana and 3) make the institution more progressive for attracting new members. All of this is quite admirable and deserves our respect.

      Anyone who has been around long enough can see that the responsibilities and scrutiny of carrying a danda are hardly worth the “honor, respect and position” bestowed by an institution.

      Otherwise, what is the big deal? Who cares what kind of body bhakti-devi chooses to grace or from where Mahaprabhu will have his teachings emanate? If a women in saffron robes challenges us, that would be a blessing. I, for one, welcome it. I need the guidance and association of such a person.

      • It doesn’t matter much to me what any of these institutions do as far as expanding the cult to awarding women formal sannyasa.

        It just seems that there is a built in device in the Vedic system that automatically prevents the giving of formal sannyasa to women.
        In the real definition of sannyasa as being a wandering mendicant with no fixed residence, there would be a violation of the other Vedic laws which prohibit women from practicing such a lifestyle but remaining always under the protection of their family.

        The Vedic rules state that women should never be given independence. How can a person award sannyasa to a woman in the name of Vedic culture while at the same time violating other very standard Vedic laws?

        Giving formal sannyasa to a woman is a direct violation of other Vedic laws governing the conduct of women in the society.

        Obviously, these institutions are breeding grounds of envy where western women will attempt to overcome the Vedic tradition and force western values upon Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

        • It just seems that there is a built in device in the Vedic system that automatically prevents the giving of formal sannyasa to women.

          Not in the opinion of Thakura Bhaktivinode. And furthermore, one qualified for sannyasa transcends such social laws by the very nature of the realizations involved in the qualification. There is no prohibition against women transcending material attachment. Formalities are details that are subordinate to such realization.

          But this is such a tired issue overall.

    • Would a class of female Swamis in the HK movement advance the mission or simply further splinter an already divided sect?

      I don’t see how a female sannyasi could be a bad thing. Advaitin sects have had them for decades, so it’s not like it’s some new idea. If a practitioner is sufficiently surrendered, learned, and psychologically suited to such a life then gender makes no difference whatsoever.

      A truly qualified sannyasi or sannyasini could only be an asset in outreach. Any splintering of sects would come about only because some adherents failed to see the progressive and practical nature of it.

  13. Comment misplaced. Again.

    • I don’t care to make sexuality the main topic. But as I have said I think it has been addressed. You say you want to make the mistreatment of women in GV the center of the discussion and that on one has addressed this mistreatment maturely. You seem to want to fault the religion rather than its adherents who have misrepresented it. I disagree on two counts. First I do not think the religion of GV is inherently misogynistitci. Second I think a number of people have been maturely addressing misrepresentation of the essential tradition on this issue for more than a decade.

      • To be fair, all religions share their degree of guilt in misogyny, as the article in question points out. So I don’t see why the need to deny that our religion exclusively is not misogynist, that only some of its members are. This sounds rather silly I must say. As KB points out in this very page, it goes against the very tenets of the Veda to award freedom to women. If anything it is individuals who are trying to break out of such foolishness.

        • If you really think that Gaudiya Vaisnavism promotes misogyny then you have absolutely no understanding of the teachings.

          As far as the emphasis on varasrama-dharma and manu-smrti that keeps coming up in the thread:
          sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja

  14. In earlier times, women’s physiological make-up(including hormonal differences from males and menstrual bleeding) was considered a impediment to some extent for the path involving yoga and renunciation. Still there were exceptional women who could do penance for long time . In the path of bhakti though, women had the upper hand because of their natural soft hearted and compassionate nature. Now I think the differences are waning, with men becoming more soft hearted than before and women able to overcome their physical frailties better.

  15. I believe we should have an affirmative action movement for women in GV that intentionally encourages the positioning of women to ensure that their place is secured in the future of the GV institution.

    You cannot artifically advance anyone into the inner realms of GV. Haven’t we learned that with the guru by appointment, voted-in, coin-flip debacle?

    But if you are talking about advancing someone along in some external religious institution that is another thing. But then who cares about that anyway.

  16. It is quite clear therefore that is time this religion moves on to its next phase which is to affirm the feminine in this world as not only legitimate socially, but key to promoting of the self.

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by affirming the feminine as key to promoting of the self?

    • Our religion states that the soul is feminine. Even when the bhava may be that of a young male companion of the male aspect of God, the qualities of the atma are of feminine leanings, i.e., pleasure giving. Rupa Gosvami conceived of manjari bhava, a state of consciousness where the soul takes on the form of a woman so to intimately assist in the utmost manifestation of pure love, the Love of the Divine Couple. As Swami Tripurari mentioned, sexuality of this world is not part of this consciousness. But sexuality of that world is – it must be, for it is prema. The trouble with negating sexuality in this world is where it impairs one in functioning even as a sadhaka. To say that renouncing sexuality altogether is the best and indeed the only way to achieve that state of consciousness would only work if sexuality is truly transcended in this world, not repressed. Women have been assigned the burden of carrying the consequences of male repressions. The result is a contradicting proposition. Impossible task. The feminine in this world must be risen up and stay at the same level as the masculine, at the least. In this world we are male or female, and that must be used in sadhana as everything else is: active or not, sexuality must be acknowledged as an aspect of the self. To accept the feminine in this world as positive seems only logical. And its key in our religion presently due to the erroneous way it has been dealt with this far.

  17. There was dicussion in this thread previously whether the teachings of hinduism/GV are inherently sexist or not and few things came to mind.

    It wouldn’t be hard to make the case that actually the teachings themselves are at least partially very male-centered. Let’s take the concept of purusa/prakriti for example. Purusa is seen as the cosmic representation of the masculine and is the energizer, the enjoyer, the will. Prakriti represents the feminine, the energy, the enjoyed, the provider for the will. The foundation of this concept seems very male-centric.

    God, the purusa, is always depicted as a male. Vishnu is male and Laksmi massages his feet. Laksmi is the embodiment of chastity, which basically means that she is completely under her husband’s control.

    Also in the lila the ladies are considered less intelligent (Devahuti’s prayers for example), fickle, and so on. The rulers are always men, they make the decisions and women could be said to be seen as parts of the husbands that don’t have independence.

    Since this is how it is in the lila, which we take to be as the very foundation and source of reality, it’s very easy for the sexists to make the case that gender equality is unnatural (as well as homosexuality, based on the same premise).

    Someone might counter this argument by saying that actually the feminine is in charge because even Narayana is hen-pecked by Laksmi, and men in general are easily manipulated by women. But still the fact remains that this is only an indirect way of empowerment for women, it’s not based on equality.

    There’s something to stir up the conversation about women’s position in GV. On a side note, I find it very interesting to try to find the bottom line for WHY men have to keep up these power structures. Bhaktikanda’s suggestion of the fear of the power that the feminine attractiveness has over men seems true, but I think there’s more to it.

    • I think it is a complex question because some women by choice want to be taken care by men. In France, for instance some European women have protested against the govt diktat’s against allowing them to wear scarfs after converting to Islam. They are doing so out of choice.
      I have seen independent and assertive woman and woman who want to just take care of home and take a less assertive role.

      • That’s true, but I think the real question is, if a woman wants to be treated equally and wants to be assertive, is she allowed to? That’s true equality: that they are free to choose between being chaste housewives or flaming riot grrrl lesbians 🙂

        • They are free to be renunciates

          • There isn’t a formal renounced order for women in this religion as there is for men. And there should be. Whats good for the goose is good for the gander.

          • Yes I’ve said all along that as much as there is a formal order of renunciation for men in today’s world there should be one for women . But as others have pointed out, there have always been renounced women in the tradition and they were formally recognized as such. And you maybe wrong about the formal renounced order idea. I am not sure renounced women were not recognized formally in the past as much as men in babaji vesa were. They certainly had their own vesa and shaved their heads, which differentiated them from other women.

            To accept the feminine in this world as positive seems only logical. And its key in our religion presently due to the erroneous way it has been dealt with this far.

            This sounds like you are saying that until your ideas are implemented the tradition has been in error from the time of its inception. If so, how then would you account for the spiritual successes (sainthood) of many men and women thus far.

  18. Dear Respected Devotees,
    If you allow me, I wish to share an extract from the book Prabhupada Srila Sarasvati Thakur written by Sriman Tridandiswami Bhaktikusum Sraman Maharaj, on a conversation with Srila Gaurkishore Babaji. I believe this is relevant to the topic as discussed under Religion and Women. Especially among the female readers, I hope this can be inspirational and mould our thoughts in that line of thinking with the intended messages that it tries to get across. Here is exactly as it is:

    “We will now discuss a little about the subject of Paramahamsa Babaji Srila Gaurkishore Dasa Goswami Prabhu’s instructions on ideal bhajana for both householders and renunciates. The instructions relating to householders which were given when an opportunity arose to the late Sriyukta Sambhunath Bandyopadhyay Mahasaya, a follower of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, have been described in the book “Sarasvati-jayasri” under the portion of the Vaibhavaparva written by Sampradaya Vaibhavacharya Srimat Paramananda Vidyaratna. It is quoted exactly here…

    “Sriyukta Sambhubabu, after newly married asked Srila Prabhupada for instructions on what opportunities there are for Hari-bhajana in the married life. When Prabhupada (Srila Saraswati Thakura) said to Sambhubabu that there will be many obstacles to Hari-bhajana present in his married life, it seemed that Sambhubabu became particularly unhappy.

    After this, on the 28th October, Srila Prabhupada, Sambubabu and a few others of us got into our own boat and arrived at Srila Gaurakishore Dasa Goswami Maharaja’s feet at Kuliya’s silted river land. After some other talks with Babaji Maharaj, the subject matter of Sambhubabu’s marriage was mentioned and he (Paramahamsa Babaji Maharaja) said –

    “ Excellent, it is good that Sambhubabu has married, now he will daily cook offerings for Vishnu with his own hands and after offering it to Vishnu he will give the prasada to his greatly religious wife to take.

    Then, in the understanding that she is a Vaishnava, he will take the remains of her meal.

    Thus, he will more or less replace the attitude of enjoying her with the attitude of her being his servable Guru.

    If this is done there will be benefit for Sambhubabu.

    The whole universe – all the world’s wealth, jewels, women and men are all only Krishna’s enjoyable objects, so he will please use the objects of Krishna for the service of Krishna, and he will not consider his wife to be his own maidservant but will respect her in the understanding that she is Krishna’s maidservant.”

    What are the messages that you can take from this?
    From my own humble opinion, if you allow me.
    1/ It is not about the battle of genders, it is about being a vaishava/i.
    2/ It is not about superiority/inferiority complex, it is about being a vaishnava/i.
    3/ It is not about misogyny or “hatred of women”, it is about being a vaishnava/i!

    I am sure you can add on more to the above.

    Please forgive me if you think the above is off tangent to the subject matter and its subsequent active forum discussion.

    Nitai Gaura Haribol.

  19. This sounds like you are saying that until your ideas are implemented the tradition has been in error from the time of its inception. If so, how then would you account for the spiritual successes (sainthood) of many men and women thus far.

    How are these “my ideas”? They are a necessity which have been voiced by others as well. In this very discussion you can see for yourself that others are speaking in the same vein as I do. I am actually disappointed that you persist with the denial and persist in trying to make it an isolated incident.

    The article which started this discussion states that all religions throughout history have helped shape the context of societies’ injustices towards women. Do you really believe that our religion, alone, hasn’t done that?

    The saintly become so despite the contradictions found in this world. Sainthood indeed is in the perpetual process of removing the fallacies of a religion, whichever that religion may be. That is the meaning of sarva dharma parityaja.

    • Bhaktikanda: You fail to recognize the difference between a religious institution and the teachings contained in scripture. The two can be very different.

      You have also continually attempted to state that the teachings of GV are misogynistic, but your statements are based on how the scripture has been misunderstood, often by the practitioners that are members of religious institutions.

      When members of an institution are unable apply the essence of teachings, that does not make the teachings invalid, or in this case, misogynistic.

      No one disagrees that religious institutions, especially Gaudiya missions, need to adapt to be more in line with scripture (ie. less misogynistic), but to claim that the source of misogyny is scriptural is extremely inaccurate.

      There are examples in scripture that we would call misogynist (exploitative) from our perspective, and it is in those cases that we must seek to understand and apply the essence with help from a sadhu rather than our own “pondering.”

      In addition, your statement that “Religions are created to satisfy the need for meaning” is grossly out of line with Gaudiya siddhanta and more in line with atheistic thinking.

    • Well you said your points were a product of nothing but your own association.

      But my objection is not to the fact that the tradition needs to be flexible in relation to time and circumstance and that women as well as those of a homosexual orientation should be facilitated with regard to renunciation and everything else. I champion this myself, and Srila Prabhupada was himself an example of this as well and thus quite progressive for his time. Notice the emphasis here. My objection is to judging history and ancient history by modern standards in all respects. I maintain that Gaudiya Vaisnavism has been progressive all along, as is the more ancient Bhagavata itself with regard to social issues such as the position of women. Gaudiya Vaisnavism may not seem “enlightened” with regard to the position of women to you when looking back 500 years ago through today’s lens, but it was viewed as such 500 years ago in relation to the thinking of the time. And that is how it should be evaluated. I have already given the example of President Lincoln. By modern academic standards we do not consider him racist, despite the fact that he held a position that in today’s world would be considered so. Thus the idea that Gaudiya Vaisnavism has ben in error since the time of its inception and that you and others are gong to fix it does not sit well with me. I don’t think it has been. Rather the the very spirit of the tradition is one of adaptability and ongoing progressive insight gleaned from all quarters such that the insight squares with the essence of revelation (the Bhagavata). It represents the embrace of truth, and truth reveals itself the the extent that it sees fit to do so. May I suggest the following article? “The Bhagavata Leans Left” (https://harmonist.us/2009/05/the-bhagavata-leans-left/)

      So I do not think that women should be treated by social standards of 500 years ago, but I think that 500 years ago the reality of the Bhagavata was presented progressively with regard to the place of women in society at the time. Thus we should do the same today and doing so has much to do with what Gaudiya Vaisnavism is about. Again, the fault is not Gaudiya Vaisnavism. It lies with improperly understanding it. GV is not about hating women or in any way inhibiting their spiritual growth or material well being.

      • The problem is that for most devotees times are not progressing, they are getting worse. They believe that ancient paradigm was better in all respect, aka Satya Yuga than ideas of the demonaic people of this age aka Kali Yuga.

        • Yes, they do not follow the example of the acaryas.

          • The problem is that so many of the devotees today (especially in institutions lacking guidance from a true, present day acarya/s) are, to borrow Bhaktivinoda’s language, carrying the heavy burden of being bharabahi vaishnavas instead of being saragrahi vaishnavas.

            This is especially seen in the way certain devotees approach the issue of “women and religion”. They confuse religious externals (social customs, etc.) to be the essence of the tradition and in the name of following the Goswamis/Srila Prabhupada/etc. treat women devotees in ways that, I am sure, would not please these great souls.

            Studying GV texts can be a tricky thing. Especially when one reviews the parts dealing with social customs and does so without good guidance. Thus we need two bhagavatas, the book and the person. We need someone (sri guru) to harmonize the things that appear to clash with our modern values.

            According to the book Hindu Encounter with Modernity, Bhaktivinoda says in the introduction to Sri Krsna-samhita:

            I felt torn between tradition and modernity, between faith and reasoning. It was impossible to relinquish my rational mind and put faith in a religious tradition that was not always logical. Simultaneously I sensed the genuine nature and sweetness of the tradition. My solution was to compartmentalize the two, hoping to one day find a synthesis. When I began reading the Sri-krishna-samhita I soon found myself listening a new voice–that of a great teacher boldly putting the two worlds together. Without warning, the doors holding those two worlds apart, suddenly burst open allowing waters of both traditions to rush together.

            Speaking from my experience, I’ve always sensed that the tradition of GV is “genuine and sweet” – for women, too – but of course it (the tradition) is not always logical or rational in all ways and all aspects (i.e. there are controversial and disturbing verses to be found in the literature and the teachings are not always applied in the best possible way).

            For me, this has not been a problem because I have been blessed with the guidance of a true acarya and a saragrahi vaishnava who has, in the spirit of Bhaktivinoda and all of the previous acaryas, grasped the essence of GV which is all about emancipating women – and men 😉 – in the broadest meaning of the word.

            And, by the way, in regards to women giving lectures… I’ve taken part of devotional gatherings where ALL of the lecturers were women 🙂

      • I had missed this comment, which I am delighted to find. Thank you Swami for your reminder of the glory of the Bhagavata. You call it the “essence of revelation”, and these your words are poetry, truly.

        Personally I would bypass any debate on the issue of women and religions if the “essence of revelation” where a set reality in my daily life despite the other reality, i.e. the mistreatment I am subjected to by default, by just being. But it has been revealed (if you will) to me that the two realities are in fact interdependent. The essence of revelation depends as much on our attitude to it as we depend on its revelation to proceed successfully. Yes we are the subjects and bhakti is independent. But we do have a degree of freedom – its precisely where we are humans. Neglecting this world in any degree reflects proportionally in how the other world reveals Itself to us. Gaudiya Vaisnavism is simultaneously perfected already and perpetually in a state of adaptation. Bhaktivinod Thakur indicates that much in his progressive writings. We resort to grace, not jana. The Bhagavata simply reciprocates accordingly. And so it is that our religion is as living as it is pure. If no thing is accidental, then I believe we have yet one more purport to extract from our acarya’s name, Abhay, and it is that no fear at this point is a good motto to go by.

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