1: HBV- Women Gave Mantras in the Past

svapna-labdhe striya datte | mala-mantre ca try-aksare
ekaksare tatha mantre | siddhadin naiva sodhayet
Hari-bhakti-vilasa (1.211)/ Kularnava-tantra (15.97)

“One should not test a mantra attained in a dream, a mantra given by a woman, a mala-mantra [mantra over 20 syllables] or mantras of one or three syllables for siddha and so on.”

SAC: “This verse points to the fact that, in the past, women sometimes gave mantras. One could then assume that women, on occasion, had acted as diksa-gurus.”

The SAC’s translation of this HBV verse contradicts other sources, which state mantras obtained in a dream, or given by a woman, need to be purified. The first part of the quote, svapna-labdhe striya datte, also appears in Rudrayamala and Yogini Tantra. It forms part of a dialogue between Siva and Parvati.

svapna-labdhe striya datte samskarenaiva suddhyati
“When obtained in a dream and when given by a woman [the mantra initiation] should be purified through a consecration ceremony.” [Rudrayamala (Uttara Tantra) 2.107]

swapna-labdham striya dattam samskarenaiva suddhyati
“Also, mantra obtained in a dream or through a lady can be accepted only after performing mantra samskara due to the lack of sakshadacharyatva in the case of a lady.” [Yogini Tantra]

In the Bhairavi Tantra, it is said:

“striyo dIksa shubha prokta matuscastaguna smrta”
“it should however be remembered that even in the case of a qualified stri guru, the mantra needs to undergo samskara without which siddhi will not be obtained.”

Curiously, the SAC did not refer to CC ML 24.331 in their paper. Srila Prabhupada therein explains this section of Hari-bhakti-vilasa, which includes the above HBV 1.211 quote and addresses the women-specific qualification of chastity. Note- Srila Prabhupada translates sodhana as ‘purify’, not ‘test’:

“mantra-adhikari, mantra-siddhy-adi-sodhana diksha,
pratah-smriti-kritya, sauca, acamana

“You should discuss the qualifications necessary for receiving a mantra, the perfection of the mantra, the purification of the mantra, initiation, morning duties, remembrance of the Supreme Lord, cleanliness and washing the mouth and other parts of the body.”
[CC Madhya 24.331]

In any case, the main point is sodhana or purification may be required when receiving other mantras but not the Maha mantra:

The Krsna mantra is so strong that there is no question of sodhana”. [CC Madhya 24.331]

As Srila Prabhupada explains in Caitanya Caritamrita, this section of Hari-bhakti-vilasa pertains to the “Qualification To Receive Initiation” which continues this discussion.

The following is also from Hari-bhakti-vilasa:

“It is other mantras that have problems. That is why for them the Tantras prescribe ten kinds of purification.” [HBV 7.225]

“Because the Krsna-mantras are so powerful they should not be purified in this way. Thus, in a general way, the purification of mantras has been described. ” [HBV 7.235]

The SAC “assume that women, on occasion, had acted as diksa-gurus”, yet they don’t explore whether their giving of mantras was actually the pancaratrika diksa performed in ISKCON or whether it was part of demigod worship.

Gopis Gave Mantras

Some  gopis and yoginis, for example, knew (and gave) mantras in worship of Goddess Durga, but this should not to be confused with  the diksa in discussion:

“The gopīs, for example, worshiped Kātyāyanī, a demigoddess, but the only benediction they wanted from the goddess was to have Kṛṣṇa as their husband. A Vaiṣṇava is not interested in asking any benediction from the demigods, nor is he interested in asking benedictions from the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” [SB 4.12.9]

“the performance of the rituals in Kātyāyanī-vrata and the worship of the goddess Durgā” [CC Madhya 1.44]

The Pearl Pastime story, from Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s Mukta-carita, describes gopis worshiping Goddess Durga. But we are not to imitate the gopis or give mantras in worship of demigods and goddesses:

“The gopīs used to worship not only Lord Śiva but Kātyāyanī, or Durgā, as well, but their aim was to attain the favor of Lord Kṛṣṇa. A devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa does not disrespect Lord Śiva, but worships Lord Śiva as the most exalted devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Consequently whenever a devotee worships Lord Śiva, he prays to Lord Śiva to achieve the favor of Kṛṣṇa, and he does not request material profit. “ [SB 4.24.30]

There are all kinds of Durga mantras women may receive and give in demigod worship, but they follow different scriptural injunctions. The Gopis did not violate Vedic norms by giving Durga mantras because it is permissable for a woman to give such mantras.

If scriptural injunctions of Radha-Krsna/Laksmi-Narayana doctrine are defied in an authorized Maha-mantra initiation yajna, it is considered to be in the mode of ignorance according to Bhagavad-gita:

“And that sacrifice performed in defiance of scriptural injunctions, in which no spiritual food is distributed, no hymns are chanted and no remunerations are made to the priests, and which is faithless- that sacrifice is of the nature of ignorance. “ [BG 17.13]

The gopis were actually worshiping Mahamaya because the goal was to achieve Krsna, although the mantras were of the nature of Yogamaya worship. We are not to imitate such devotion or it comes to the level of sahajiya:

The regulative principles are designed to take us gradually to the platform of spontaneous love of Krsna, which is the perfection of human life. Those who think they have already attained such perfection and give up the regulative principles are called sahajiya, or those who take things cheaply and simply imitate.” [Letter to: Bhurijana April 29, 1974]