Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada so valued Narada’s instructions in SB Canto 7, he stated in the purport they should form an essential part of “women’s education”:

“woman’s education should be conducted along the lines indicated in this verse. The basic principle for a chaste woman is to be always favorably disposed toward her husband.”
[Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.30]

The “training to become wives and mothers”  were intended to be by association. Thus, girls and women would imbibe chastity and cooking from other women who were daily practicing them in the temples or in their homes, teaching by example:

“So if you simply practice these things yourselves and show examples, they will learn automatically, one doesn’t have to give formal instruction in these matters.” [Letter to Chaya Feb. 16, 1972]

Speaking directly about the girls at Dallas’ Gurukula school, Prabhupada said their main educational qualifications were chastity and good cooking skills:

“…in the Dallas there is no problem. Educate the girls how to become faithful, chaste wife and how to cook nicely. Let them learn varieties of cooking. Is very difficult? These two qualifications, apart from Krsna consciousness, materially they should learn. There are many stories, Nala-Damayanti, then Parvati, Sita, five chaste women in the history. They should read their life.…Deity or at home, she must be very first-class cook. That is wanted. That is according to convenience. If possible, they can take prasadam in the temple. If not possible, they must cook. But she must be first-class cook. That is wanted, either in the temple or outside. In India still, 80%-90%, they are very happy in their family life, never mind one is poor or rich, because the wife knows these three things: to remain chaste and faithful to the husband, and she knows how to cook nicely.” [July 10, 1975 Morning Walk]

Prabhupada instructed the GBC to ensure girls were being educated in this way, because it was  the gold standard for a woman’s fundamental qualification:

“I am instructing our GBC’s that “Let our little girls be educated to become faithful and chaste.” That is their qualification. No education required.” [July 16, 1975 SB 6.1.31 Lecture, San Fransisco].

A female disciple’s primary devotional service, therefore, was primarily cooking and offering food to the deity. Additionally she could do deity worship, preach, write and/or teach academics, as time, place and circumstance permitted but not to the point where she was neglecting or ignoring her primary services of wife and mother.

In the early days of ISKCON, many women were doing so much temple and sankirtana service, they sometimes even neglected their primary duties. Prabhupada lovingly and patiently corrected and even chastised his female disciples who did not take their duties as chaste wives and mothers as devotional service:

“I am simply surprised that you want to give up your child to some other persons, even they are also devotees. For you, child-worship is more important than deity-worship. If you cannot spend time with him, then stop the duties of pujari… not neglect it or be confused. Your duty is very clear.” [Letter to Arundhati, July 30, 1972]

“If you chant daily 16 rounds and read at least one hour daily Srimad-Bhagavatam, plus your other prescribed duties, never mind this or that, you will feel yourself becoming happy more and more and these practices will protect you from maya or hazy consciousness without any doubt. Of course, it is very much favorable to our advancement in spiritual life if we are engaged in some service for Krishna which is also pleasing t us to perform. So if you have got some special talent or experience you may discuss with Jagadisa how to engage yourself in that way. That is his duty as leader, to give you good engagement.

Another item is, you are married wife, so in that position you should serve your husband nicely always, being attentive to his needs, and in this way, because he is always absorbed in serving Krishna, by serving your husband you will also get Krishna, through him. “ [Letter to Soucharya Oct. 23, 1972]

It is noteworthy that none of the “five chaste women” Prabhupada directed girls to read the lives of, ie. study, are described in the SAC’s paper. Queen Kunti, one of the famous five chaste women, is considered a female “authority” “because she has followed the authorities, Brahmā, Nārada, Svayambhū.” [SB Lecture 1.8.28, Mayapura, Oct. 8, 1974] A female who is considered as an authority, or instructor guru, must therefore follow Narada and not behave opposite to or ignore his clear directives otherwise she is a deviant.

Prabhupada’s letters to his female disciples reveal he did not take chastity and faithfulness as a relative consideration. The tendency of some of them to imitate the renunciation of men and sannyasis was not encouraged, neither did Prabhupada ever cite to them the example that women can leave their husbands if they are liberated souls like the gopis. He taught that even liberated souls do not violate but follow Vedic codes of morality and dharma for Krsna’s pleasure.  The duty stays the same but it becomes transcendental. A liberated soul must still perform duties and follow the regulative principles (see Chapter 5 NOD). For women, this includes chastity.

“When one is liberated, one’s svadharma-specific duty- becomes spiritual and is not in the material bodily concept.” [BG 2.31]

“You should always live with your husband and help him with his personal comforts, and he will look after your all necessities of life. There is no question of separation. By mutual agreement and advancement of Krishna Consciousness you can stop sex life, but there is no question of separation. Separation is artificial. As Hamsaduta advances in Krishna Consciousness then by his company you will also profit. So the husband and wife are mutually beneficial. This idea of separation was developed also in Govinda Dasi, but I have sent her back to her husband, and she is now following my instructions. There is no question of separation between husband and wife until the time when the husband takes sannyasa. At that time the wife cannot remain with the husband. Even in the vanaprastha state, or retired life, the wife remains with the husband, but without any sex relations.” [Letter to Himavati, Jan. 24, 1969]

 “Don’t create some abnormal condition. Please go back to your husband and live peacefully and execute Krishna Consciousness together. He will also not take sannyasa order out of frustration. You are an intelligent girl and an advanced student. You should know that our main business is Krishna Consciousness. So fighting between husband and wife is not to be taken very seriously. So if you have any respect for me, I request you not to quarrel with your husband seriously. So if you have any respect for me, I request you not to quarrel with your husband. Live peacefully, chant Hare Krishna and try to serve the cause as best as possible. I am very glad that your mother is also taking interest in Krishna Consciousness. That is very good. As you have to leave Boston very soon it is better that you go immediately to N.Y. and live peacefully with your husband. That is my order. I hope you will not disobey me.” [Letter to Ekayani Aug. 31, 1971]

Prabhupada’s Instructions For Single Female Disciples

A woman whose husband takes sannyasa was to “live like a chaste Hindu widow woman” [Letter to Govinda Dasi April 30 1974], not an independent sannyasini. SB 3.24.40 Purport]. Unless the husband takes sannyasa, the wife does not, on her own, become a wandering vanaprastha. Parivrajakacarya is the business of a sannyasi:

“Why this system? Because sannyāsī means he will give good instruction, spiritual knowledge. But that is his business, parivrājakācārya, wandering all over the world and giving good instruction. Therefore parivrājaka. Parivrājaka means wandering, and ācārya means teacher. Parivrājakācārya. This is sannyāsī’s business.” [July 16, 1975 San Fransisco Lecture]

Prabhupada appeared proud his women disciples didn’t want to “go to Japan for preaching like Prabhupada” [May 27, 1974, Rome] as it indicated they had understood and realized their spiritual equality and knew not to disturb the different material roles and social positions of men and women as prescribed by sastra.

It has been argued on Dandavats, that the prostitute Haridasa made a devotee became a female guru of sorts. Yet she did not continue unchaste behaviour once she became a devotee. She lived simply like a widow and people came to see and hear her rather than her traveling far and wife to speaking engagements. Single female disciples would have had the status of brahmacarini, separated, or widow but none were advised by Prabhupada to act contrary to stri-dharma:

“Regarding the suggestion that you remarry, I have never suggested such thing, so you need not trouble yourself with this. As I have told you in Los Angeles, I wish that the mother’s who have no husband at present should not remarry, but should dedicate their time to seeing that their children are brought up very nicely in Krishna Consciousness…. Now if you can induce all the women of Los Angeles to place an altar in their homes and help their husbands have peaceful, happy home life in Krishna Consciousness, that will be very great service for you.…. So if you can show the women of the community how to help their husbands and children to perfect their home life, and all aspects of life, in Krishna Consciousness by chanting, aratrik ceremonies, and eating Krishna prasadam, then you will improve the conditions of the neighboring communities to an incalculable extent. So try for this as far as possible.” [Letter to Silavati June 14, 1969]

“You can attract the fair sex community. Most of them are frustrated being without any home or husband. If you can organize all these girls they will get a transcendental engagement and may not be allured to the frustration of life. Your engagement should be chanting and worship of the Deity Jiva Goswami advises that in the Kali-yuga sankirtana is the principle worship… It is better that you don’t make a large program. Remain a humble program. In bhakti there is no grotesque program. A humble program is better. We are doing all these grotesque programs to allure the masses. My Guru Maharaja used to say that no one hears from a person coming from a humble, simple life. You remain always very humble…. Sita Devi, Mother Laksmi, wife of Lord Ramacandra, went to live with Valmiki Muni in a cottage. Although she was a King’s daughter and a King’s wife, she preferred to live very humbly in the cottage of Valmiki Muni with two sons in the absence of Ramacandra. That should be the ideal example. Women when not with husband must live very very humbly and simple life.” [Letter to Yamuna and Dinatarine, January 13, 1976] See also a related letter written the same day to a GBC.

Brahmacarini was considered artificial, but temporarily necessary, for girls who had no training from their mothers. Devotee women, however would naturally want to learn and teach their daughters and other women these things, knowing it pleases Srila Prabhupada and Krsna. Prabhupada’s female disciples didn’t request equal rights with male disciples during his presence because they apparently understood such imitation to be an artificial imposition on their constitutional occupational female duties [May 27, 1974, Rome] and natural inclination to serve men [Jan. 8, 1977 Conversation].

Women are, by Krsna and Nature’s plan, to be subservient and dependent. Brahmanas and sannyasis, on the other hand are neither. Prabhupada gave brahminical initiation to women in order to establish the point that on the spiritual platform all men and women are considered brahmanas. On the spiritual platform there is no material distinction whatsoever.[Morning Walk, Nariobi Nov. 2, 1975] At the same time, a woman is known as a brahmani only when she is married to a brahmana husband, whereas a male brahmana is not subservient to the other classes.

A FDG is neither subservient nor dependent in the sense of her performing daily service in assistance to and accepting direction from her male authority. Female gurus who live, travel, speak and write independently, in person to senior men and sannyasis, while living separated from husband, son, or other male authority is confusing and disturbing to society. [SB 4.18.3]

Prabhupada’s comment at the end of a temple lecture shows his application of the philosophy to performing one’s duty in Krsna consciousness:

“So who is going to mop these two rooms? The ladies (indistinct). It is the ladies’ business. Ladies’ business. First after this, cleansing (indistinct). Then get some flowers, change dress. This is the procedure. And then offer breakfast. In this way. (end)” [SB Lecture 6.3.18-19, Feb. 12, 1971 Gorakhpur

See Prabhupada’s Letters for more relevant instructions to female disciples. See July 9-13, 1975 for interviews and conversations relevant to the topics presented herein.