The Wife, The Husband and The Guru This is a first in series of articles concerning the qu
The Wife, The Husband and The Guru
This is a first in series of articles concerning the questions raised by
the late Sulochana Dasa. Sulochana Dasa (Steve Bryant) was murdered in May
1986 during his aggressive campaign against what he saw was widespread
corruption in the Krishna movement. We'll attempt to discuss some of the
controversial issues he had fought to resolve.
A September 1986 Time Magazine article, "Troubled Karma for the Krishnas,"
called Sulochana Dasa (Steven Bryant), "a bit of a crank," and "a
disgruntled disciple". But recently, a Rolling Stone article (April 9,
1987), "Dial Om for Murder," gave a much more detailed look into the holy
war this one man was waging against the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness calling him a "martyr". Being the controversial figure that
Sulochana Dasa was, who can say for sure what he was: a "crank" or a
"martyr" or whatever? But the questions that his life and death evoked are
worthy of spiritual consideration. This article will focus on an issue
Sulochana raised concerning women, their husbands, and the guru.
According to the Rolling Stone article, trouble began in Sulochana's
marriage when he had lapsed into a period of taking intoxication and
stopping his devotional practices shortly after his marriage. He left his
wife and children in New Vrindaban while he departed for India. It was at
that time that the spiritual leader for New Vrindaban, Kirtanananda Swami
Bhaktipada, had agreed to initiate Sulochana's wife, Jane, as his faithful
and eternal disciple.
Between Sulochana and Bhaktipada, who had the ultimate authority over
Sulochana's wife Jane? In general terms, you have the husband and wife
relationship, so where does the guru's authority lie? Can the guru override
the authority of the husband especially if the husband is not acting
In order to understand the answer to this question, reference to the Vedic
culture must be made in order to understand the role of the wife, husband
and spiritual master, and how these three work together to advance in
understanding Krishna consciousness.
The bona fide guru is the authority in spiritual matters for a society
that is interested in going home, back to Godhead. Society must follow the
spiritual rules and regulations governing proper social and sexual conduct
if they are to make any advancement in understanding their eternal
relationship with God. These principles are known to and taught by the guru
who is an expert in the Vedic science of Krishna consciousness.
According to that Vedic science of Krishna consciousness, sexual union
between man and woman is only allowed for begetting a child. Otherwise
celibacy is observed by both sexes.
Contact between male and female is summed up in this verse from the
Bhagavatam (SB 7.12.9): "Woman is compared to fire, and man is compared to
a butter pot. Therefore a man should avoid associating even with his own
daughter in a secluded place. Similarly, he should also avoid association
with other women. One should associate with women only for important
business and not otherwise."
Further, it should be noted that the woman is not meant for remaining
single but as soon as she has reached puberty, an arrangement is made for
her marriage so that she may devote herself to the service of a responsible
husband devotee. By her fifteenth year, she then leaves the protection of
her father and takes up the service of her husband, serving him faithfully
with her faithfulness to him being her main religious duty.
Having stated some of the standards of Vedic life regarding women, we
should note some of the problems that arise in trying to establish
practically such standards, especially in the Western culture.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness created by His Divine
Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was meant for creating first
class men--brahmins--who would give society spiritual guidance. But women
were also attracted to accepting the path of bhakti-yoga and receiving the
unique spiritual training offered by the Krishna consciousness movement.
However, the Vedic regulations strictly forbid a sannyasi, a celibate and a
renunciate like Prabhupada, from associating with women. Chaitanya
Mahaprabhu, the father of the Hare Krishna movement and the incarnation of
Krishna in the Kali-yuga also would never even allow Himself to talk to
women, thus setting the example for His disciples. Did that mean that
Prabhupada was neglecting authoritative Vedic injunctions and the authority
of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu by giving instruction to and providing shelter for
The fact is that only highly spiritually advanced devotees are able to
become free from fall down due to association with women. It can be
understood that Prabhupada was such a rare and advanced devotee. Empowered
by Lord Krishna to spread the Krishna movement, especially in the West, he
wrote over fifty authoritative books on the Krishna science, established
over a hundred Krishna temples worldwide and initiated about four thousand
devotees into strict spiritual vows of no meat eating, no intoxication, no
gambling and no illicit sex--all this he had started at the advanced age of
69, singlehandedly, with only seven dollars when he arrived in America by
boat in 1965 and accomplishing it in the short span of 11 to 12 years.
However, he warned the ordinary devotees against artificially imitating the
incredible activities of such empowered and authorized acharyas as displayed
by he himself.
Regarding his ability to be a guru for women, Prabhupada says in one
purport (SB 7.7.14): "One should not remain in a secluded place with a
woman, even one's mother, sister, or daughter. Nonetheless, although one is
strictly prohibited from staying with a woman in a secluded place, Narada
Muni gave shelter to Prahlada Maharaja's young mother, who rendered service
to him with great devotion and faith. Does this mean that Narada Muni
transgressed the Vedic injunctions? Certainly he did not. Such injunctions
are intended for mundane creatures, but Narada Muni is transcendental to
mundane categories. Narada Muni is a great saint and is transcendentally
situated. Therefore, although he was a young man, he could give shelter to
a young woman and accept her service. Haridasa Thakura also spoke with a
young woman, a prostitute, in the dead of night, but the woman could not
deviate his mind. Instead, she became a Vaishnavi, a pure devotee, by the
benediction of Haridasa Thakura. Ordinary persons, however, should not
imitate such highly elevated devotees. Ordinary persons must strictly
observe the rules and regulations by staying aloof from the association of
women. Narada Muni, Haridasa Thakura and similar acharyas [like Prabhupada
himself] especially empowered to broadcast the glories of the Lord cannot be
brought down to the material platform."
In light of his special qualification as a bona fide acharya, he allowed
women to take shelter of him because of their interest in Krishna
consciousness. But in his dealings with them, Prabhupada was just like his
own guru, Bhaktisiddhanta, who was a life-long celibate, and would also
never allow himself to be alone with a woman for a moment. He taught his
disciples personally and through his books that the woman's primary
religious duty was to be faithful to her Krishna conscious husband. He
strongly opposed the Western fad of women's liberation where the woman mixed
freely with men or tried to be independent of men. Women must always be
protected by responsible men from exploitation by unscrupulous men. He
taught that the Vedic standard of life is for the woman to become devoted to
her husband who then, in turn, is devoted to the spiritual master.
But in all practicality, his Western disciples could not easily conform to
the strict Vedic standards concerning chastity and celibacy. Consequently,
some marriages amongst Krishna devotees would end in divorce, which is
prohibited in Vedic culture. However, Prabhupada did teach that separation
between couples could be recommended under specific conditions (SB 7.11.29
Purport): "A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles
of sinful activity--namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and
intoxication. Specifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste
woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband. It is not that a
chaste woman should be like a slave while her husband is naradhama, the
lowest of men. Giving up the association of her husband does not mean,
however, that a woman should marry again and thus indulge in prostitution.
If a chaste woman unfortunately marries a husband who is fallen, she should
live separately from him. Similarly, a husband can separate himself from a
woman who is not chaste according to the description of the shastra."
Prabhupada openly stated these and related controversial Vedic viewpoints
concerning proper female behavior for female journalists in July 1975 during
his brief visit to Chicago. Women were often taken aback by the strong
stance Prabhupada took against the then current women's lib movement. One
wounded Chicago Tribune reporter wrote: "Forgive me if this story is not
well- written, I am a woman.... He spoke thirty minutes and never mentioned
women. I asked how women fit into his system. Women are not equal in
intelligence to men. 'Men's brain weighs sixty-four ounces, women's weighs
thirty-six ounces. It is just a fact.' He continued, 'Women are meant to
assist men, that is all.' He said women do not figure in his class system
except as daughters or wives. An unmarried woman is presumably classless.
The Swami now lives in Los Angeles, and he trains his followers there. He
says he has about 10,000 followers. 'We do not have so many,' he said. 'It
is hard to find a first- class man.' It's a pity, half the population are
women." Prabhupada's reaction to the article: "So it is not bad. Our
policy should be that at Dallas [Gurukula] we shall create first-class men.
And we shall teach the girls two things: how to become chaste and faithful
to their husband and how to cook nicely. If they have these two
qualifications, then I will take a guarantee to get them a good husband.
These two qualifications: she must learn how to prepare first- class
foodstuffs and she must learn how to become chaste and faithful to the
husband. Only these two qualifications, then her life is successful. Here
[in the West] the boys do not want to marry because they're not very much
inclined to marry an unchaste wife. This is the psychology. They know it.
If the woman is chaste, even though she is not very beautiful, she'll be
liked by the husband."
Citing how only a highly advanced celibate like Prabhupada could provide
proper spiritual guidance for women, just like Narada Muni and Haridasa
Thakura, Sulochana Dasa questioned how was it possible for others who are
less advanced to imitate the behavior of such saintly acharyas. Prabhupada
had definitely warned against the imitation of such extraordinary behavior.
"Ordinary persons, however, should not imitate such highly elevated
devotees. Ordinary persons must strictly observe the rules and regulations
by staying aloof from the association of women." He especially gave
repeated warnings to sannyasis who have taken a vow of lifelong celibacy.
Hadn't Lord Chaitanya Himself banished Chota Haridasa from His association
as punishment for the sannyasi's simply glancing lustfully at a woman
therefore causing him to take his own life and end it in shame?
Therefore he questioned the actions of the successor acharyas--
Kirtanananda in particular. By what right did they have in assuming that
they could provide the same quality of spiritual guidance for women as
displayed by Shrila Prabhupada? They were also initiating many young and
single women as disciples. The new gurus had only been accustomed to the
ideas of "celibacy" and "chastity" for only a few years and, by accepting
the order of sannyasa and being the young men that they were, would it be
reasonable to conclude that maybe they were not yet able to provide directly
the spiritual guidance necessary for young women without having their
celibacy affected? After all, even the oldest of the Prabhupada disciples
were only recent products of the mid-sixties counter-cultural generation
where celibacy and chastity were old-fashioned and outdated ethics nobody
By the time Sulochana had his anti-Bhaktipada, anti-new-guru campaign into
full swing, many of the new gurus had already fallen, precisely due to the
these sexual pressures and/or other violations of their spiritual vows,
giving credibility to his theories that they were not on the level of
spiritual stability; what to speak of spiritual maturity and spiritual
perfection. In perspective, it should be said that failure to remain
celibate is not at all surprising for men typical of today's sexual
orientation. Today, men and women are such easy prey to the demands of the
senses, that they'll jeopardize most anything for sex enjoyment. For
example, television evangelist Jim Bakker, it had recently been revealed,
risked the good reputation of his name, fame and the success of his
multimillion dollar preaching enterprise on the flickering enjoyment of one
brief sexual encounter with his secretary. Similarly, now overseas marines
have traded access to US secrets in exchange for Soviet women's sexual
favors because of uncontrolled sexual desires at the cost of compromising US
security and causing an embarrassing situation for Americans. Because of
the sexual climate that fosters this type of behavior, Prabhupada had often
referred to Western so-called civilization as a society of hogs and dogs
because, like the dogs and the hogs who care little for sexual restraint,
generally Westerners are known for their liberal sexual indulgences. In
ISKCON, however, the fact that many of ISKCON'S new gurus have fallen due to
breaking their celibacy vow is quite shocking in light of their
responsibilities, grave vows and mostly because of their exalted title as
gurus. But again, in reference to today's promiscuity and sexual upbringing
where self-restraint is practically nil, such fall downs are not very
astonishing. Accepting the new gurus as spiritual intermediates at best
rather than on the spiritual master platform Prabhupada had proven to be on,
how, then, could Bhaktipada be so bold as to interfere with his young
marriage, Sulochana wondered. Cited in the Rolling Stone was this phone
conversation Sulochana had taped with Bhaktipada:
Bhaktipada: I have the only eternal relationship with her. There's only
one thing you can do.
Sulochana: What? Bhaktipada: You'll have to surrender to me.
Bryant (Sulochana) refuses. He says he cannot allow his sons to stay in
Bhaktipada: All right, we'll fight for it.
Sulochana: You want to just go through with a fight, huh?
The Rolling Stone continues: "The thing Bryant liked best about Jane was he
could dominate her. She says he beat her. He kept the pressure on,
reminding his wife again and again she was his devotee. Therefore she had
to do whatever he said." Sulochana had denied ever laying a hand on his
wife but called his wife's accusations part of a clever scheme to win a
divorce. A friend said, "Steve knew he could never have a relationship with
Jane unless he went back [to New Vrindaban]. Jane was fixated on
Bhaktipada. He'd brainwashed her." And from Jane: "I was tired of
traveling and didn't really have any affection for Sulochana. I asked
Bhaktipada if I could stay, and he said yes. Sulochana got really mad. He
argued with Bhaktipada and started criticizing the community, saying, 'This
place is just a tourist business to make money. There's no spiritual
qualities left at all.' He was really devastated. I think he realized he
was losing his only disciple."
If the Rolling Stone article is accurate, then it may be somewhat
difficult for Bhaktipada to justify how he had involved himself in
Sulochana's marriage and consequently allowed his already twice married
disciple, Jane, to marry again. A wife may live apart from such a fallen
husband who had completely abandoned all attempts to advance in godly life
by endlessly seducing other women, indulging in intoxicants, gambling and
eating meat, etc., if his situation could not at all be improved, according
to the above Vedic version of marital separation. However, she may not
remarry. But, according to Rolling Stone, "The guru had given her...to
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank