November 10, 1987 Discussion with Bhaktipada on Women Sannyasinis Q. Shrila Bhaktipada, ma
November 10, 1987 Discussion with Bhaktipada on Women Sannyasinis
Q. Shrila Bhaktipada, many people are disturbed that you are giving sannyasa
to women...are you serious about that?
SB. Completely serious. If women can't renounce, then what makes you think
the men can?
Q. Well, it hasn't been done before in our tradition.
SB. We are not interested in tradition. It is not contrary to religious
principles to give sannyasa to a woman. Show me where in the scriptures that
it says that a woman cannot renounce.
Shrila Prabhupada has stated in the following two excerpts why a woman is not
allowed to accept the sannyasa order.
Q. You are guru, but can you back up with sadhu and shastra?
SB. Get the Bhagavad-gita from my shelf and look in Chapter 9, verse 32.
Read it to me.
Q. "O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower
birth--women, vaishyas, as well as sudras can approach the supreme
SB. And how do you approach the supreme destination without becoming
renounced? There you have confirmation of shastra. And then there was
Mirabhai. She approached Rupa Goswami for darshan and he refused to see her
because he was a man in the renounced order. She defeated him saying, "I
thought that Krishna was the only man in Vrindavana." Then Rupa Goswami
accepted her as a sannyasini. We must become freed from this bodily
conception. There are no men and women, these are material designations.
Although it is a fact that the lower classes of men and women can attain all
spiritual perfection of life, there was never any question of the acceptance of
sannyasa-ashrama for women. A woman who has achieved the platform of
devotional service to Krishna--even though she is transcendental to the
varnashrama orders of life--voluntarily participates in such rules governing
Vedic life. As a class, women are never considered independent at any stage of
life. The liberated souls are free from all material designations and
activities, but they agree to abide by the prescribed duties of the varnashrama
system. They remain transcendental to all such work and simultaneously they
set a personal example for the conditioned souls who must participate in the
varnashrama system in order to advance in spiritual understanding. It is self-
defeating to encourage independence for women in the name of spiritual
Q. Some devotees think you are doing this just to encourage the women
devotees, that you don't really believe that they can renounce.
SB. That is offensive! There are already women here who are more advanced in
their renunciation than many of the men! Shrila Prabhupada said that it is
offensive to try to understand the mind of the acharya.
Q. So, you are going to break tradition and really do this?
SB. Traditionally, the message of the Vedas was never to leave Bharata-varsha.
Shrila Prabhupada brought it here. Traditionally, women weren't to take
brahminical initiation, but Prabhupada allowed it. Whatever is necessary for
Certainly Bhaktipada is mistaken if he thinks that Prabhupada acted contrary
to the disciplic succession by starting the Hare Krishna movement in the West.
The process of reclaiming all the fallen souls throughout the creation has been
recommended by the above-mentioned verse from the Bhagavad-gita (9.32). It is
also the desire of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to spread this movement to every
town and village.
Women may or may not participate in the varnashrama system of Vedic life;
that is not necessary. However, every man or woman should immediately
surrender to Krishna without fail and attain full Krishna consciousness.
Prabhupada had specially offered women that training which is normally done by
the pious husband in Vedic life and of which there are practically none such
men in modern Western society. So Prabhupada cannot be faulted with concocting
new ideas; rather he should be credited for giving primary attention to the
salvation of women--a duty not ordinarily done by a sannyasi in Vedic culture.
The ideal varnashrama system gradually elevates its participants in spiritual
understanding, but the participation of women in the independent life as done
in the sannyasa-ashrama is never encouraged. Prabhupada accepted women and
offered them brahminical training and therefore they became brahmani.
In the Kali-yuga, there is practically no such thing as religious family life
and even marriage is becoming imagination only. As such, there is little hope
for the establishment of and participation of women in varnashrama society.
Therefore, it is the duty of any liberated soul like Prabhupada to deliver
those who are interested in attaining immediate spiritual salvation. But as
far as possible, women must always never be encouraged for independence at any
stage of life. In conclusion, a sannyasi offering spiritual training for women
in an emergency situation and a sannyasi offering of the sannyasa order of life
to women are both undoubtedly breaking Vedic tradition. But providing
immediate knowledge about Krishna is transcendental to any mundane varnashrama
social considerations whereas offering women independence in the name of
spiritual life serves no necessary spiritual requirement and is based on
material consideration only. Bhaktipada's action can only compare with
Prabhupada's action in that it breaks Vedic tradition. Otherwise, Bhaktipada's
actions in this matter are not at all similar from a spiritual perspective.
Q. One devotee has said that all women in the Vedas became advanced because of
their surrender to their husbands. How will the women become renounced without
SB. If this process can't bring a woman to the pure platform, then it doesn't
work. If it can work for a man, then it will work for a woman. When you
become free from the bodily conception of life, you are not male or female.
Even a completely liberated woman who realizes her body as separate from the
spiritual force within has to work with such material body as long as it is
there. As such, she must depend on the protection from either father, husband
or grown sons. This is practical.
Q. This is revolutionary.
SB. Shrila Prabhupada said I was first in everything.
Q. If these sannyasinis attract followers, will they become guru and initiate
SB. Why not? If one is able to control the urges of the tongue, belly and
genitals, they are eligible to make disciples all over the world. That is
Although Vaishnavas are transcendental to all rules and regulations
concerning the Vedic varnashrama system, nevertheless, they accomplish all
their transcendental activities without breaking its rules. The gopis of
Vrindavana are the foremost example according to Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
They left the shelter of their husbands, fathers and brothers during the night
to keep company with Krishna in the forest of Vrindavana. That means that the
goal of serving the Supreme Lord is better than the process of following Vedic
injunctions for its own sake.
There is no doubt that any man or woman--if they are in pure devotional
service--can act as a guru and deliver the entire population. The women in the
Krishna consciousness movement are already acting as instructing spiritual
masters by meeting with interested people and also giving transcendental
instruction on how to attain perfection. Therefore, they are also siksha-gurus
and are doing the work of delivering everyone. There is no difference between
the siksha-gurus and the diksha-gurus because they both deliver the message of
Godhead as it is.
Women are barred from becoming diksha-gurus and formally accepting disciples.
Also barred from becoming a diksha-guru is the father. In the case of
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, he was fully qualified to act as diksha-guru for anyone,
but according to Vedic rules, he could not formally initiate his own son,
Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta. Nonetheless, Bhaktivinoda Thakura acted as the siksha-
guru for his son. In this way, women should never be discouraged from full and
active participation in Krishna consciousness and stop spreading the cult of
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If women are falsely ordered to break with Vedic
rules and regulations and accept the role of diksha-guru, that would do wrongly
to bring the entire varnashrama system to ruin. Such anxiety is created by the
modern movement to create equality for women. Even in the Christian Church,
there is mounting pressure to see that women act in the roles of priests--a
role traditionally given only to men. Rather, any liberated soul serves the
mandate of delivering all conditioned souls without creating havoc on the rules
and regulations concerning the progressive culture of Krishna consciousness as
done in the varnashrama system. There are such great women in the Vedic
tradition like Chintamini, the spiritual master of Bilvamangala Thakura and
Suniti, the mother of Dhruva Maharaja who gave him the secret of devotional
service. It is a fact that there can be no material bar in order to perform
the work of devotional service to the Lord. Therefore, whether one is a man or
woman, it is the duty to perform the work of delivering the message of Krishna
consciousness and overcome all lesser considerations of varnashrama formality
while not breaking its rules.
Q. Women on the Vyasasana?
SB. Where do you expect the guru to sit?
Q. But women giving initiation to men? Men offering dandavats to women?
Women carrying dandas?
SB. We must give up the man/woman consciousness and this program will give
everyone the opportunity to do just that. When you offer dandavats, it is not
to the material body, but to the renunciation of that person within the body.
That person is neither male nor female, but spirit soul.
During the 60s counter-culture, some pseudospiritual society reasoned that
all man and women distinctions should be given up and therefore it was their
practice to run around without clothes. The real idea is to give up all
material designations like male, female, white, black, Christian, Hindu,
American, and Russian, etc., but never to deny the restrictions governing
progressive spiritual life under the plea of becoming spiritually advanced.
Q. So women will carry dandas, and they will be given the same respect as the
SB. Absolutely! Prabhupada said that if you don't offer obeisances when you
see a sannyasi, then you must fast all day. There are no male sannyasis, and
there will be no female sannyasis. We are spirit souls--that is our
philosophy. Therefore, it is not a question of whether a woman can take
sannyasa, but it is obvious that she must take sannyasa, and become renounced
to attain the supreme goal.
Any devotee who is acting on the platform of dedicating all of his activities
24 hours a day in the devotional service of Krishna under the expert guidance
of the bona fide spiritual master is already fully renounced and need not
accept the sannyasa order. The sannyasa order is there to facilitate
dedicating ones activities 24 hours in devotional service, but for the devotee
in Krishna consciousness whose activities are already thusly engaged, the
accepting of the order of sannyasa is not required.
PRABHUPD.WSN for Shrila Prabhupada's comments on women sannyasinis.
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