Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

A Solution to the Guru Gender Debate
By Rasikananda dasa   |  Jan 11, 2016

(The Board of ISKCON News does not necessarily agrees with the views presented in the “Opinion” section.)


The controversy created regarding female gurus is artificial due to insufficient knowledge of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. It is not a question of gender, but of qualification as will be demonstrated herein.

In 1969, two letters sent to Hamsadutta and Kirtanananda indicated that by 1975 any disciple, male or female, passing the Bhaktivedanta examination would be empowered to initiate their own disciples in his presence in order to rapidly expand the movement. In those letters he stated that by 1975, he wanted to have four examinations in place: Bhakti-Shastri, Bhakti-Vaibhava, Bhakti-Vedanta, and Bhakti-Sarvabhauma in that order. (In 1969 he had local temples administer the Bhakti-Shastri exam he wrote himself. The results were sent to India and lost somehow or other.)–_Los_Angeles_3_January,_1969–_Los_Angeles_12_January,_1969

Exams were not yet in place by 1975, but in January of 1976 Srila Prabhupada sent a directive to all GBC to “Institute examinations to be given to all prospective candidates for sannyasa and brahmana initiation,” namely the examinations mentioned above. He wrote, “Any sannyasis or brahmanas already initiated who fail to pass the examinations will be considered low class or less qualified.” Srila Prabhupada wanted the GBC to have “everything prepared in time for the Mayapur festival.” Bhakti-Shastri exams were subsequently held in Mayapura. (See the attached directive to the GBC, a MUST READ:

The point is that Srila Prabhupada had firm faith that absorption in the knowledge of Sastra would purify conditioned souls. That was the purpose and power of Sastra as presented by Srila Prabhupada in his writings and lectures, filled as they were with the missionary spirit of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. 

Srila Prabhupada was not considering gender, but qualification. When he said “not many” women might become gurus, he was clear that he did not expect many of them to meet the qualifications. It was never a question of gender, as can be seen by his plans expressed in his 1969 letters, and in his later interviews. It is disingenuous to refer to his approval of women disciples becoming gurus without clearly referring to his process of examinations for qualifying all gurus. It was always a question of qualification by examination (and of course character). During an interview, he gave Jahnava Devi, wife of Nityananda Prabhu, Lord Balarama Himself, as an example of a woman spiritual master. Such a lofty example indicates that the matter not be taken cheaply. This is of course a high historical example, but may be considered an indirect indication to men also, that such a position must be taken seriously. In any case, Srila Prabhupada designed the examinations as an indicator of the basic qualifications to become an initiating guru. Interestingly, there was still another exam to be taken later by such spiritual masters, the Bhakti-Sarvabhauma.

At this point it seems a fair question to ask just how many of the brahmanas, sannyasis, and 80 initiating gurus have taken and passed the required exams? Notwithstanding the adjustments Srila Prabhupada made on May 1977 (a subject soon to be elucidated in another essay), the standards Srila Prabhupada set for the society in 1976 were for the future.

If female spiritual masters are indirectly certified by a “no objection” certificate or other means, the same embarrassing problems involving spiritual masters so far will again emerge as an historical and hysterical re-run.

If newcomers are presented, in effect, a list of already bona-fide gurus to choose from, such a procedure nullifies the responsibility or onus on the part of such a newcomer to examine any potential guru carefully. Srila Prabhupada has said that the potential disciple should do so for at least one year before making such a life time decision.

This requires an opportunity to examine Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on the qualifications of a spiritual master and one’s obligation to such a bona-fide spiritual master. Prospective members have the right to the information about the results of the qualifying examinations of the person that he or she is considering as a guru.

The choices, as institutionally presented by ISKCON, should include only anyone who has passed the examinations required by Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of the institution. In other words, any prospective disciple must be clearly informed enough to make a proper decision.

Likewise, if a spiritual master initiates one who is unfaithful, not having chanted 16 rounds daily and followed 4 regulative principles for at least six months, that spiritual master is committing an offense at the lotus feet of the Holy Name. (Lecture on the Ten Offenses, in February 1970 in Los Angeles: )

Therefore it is imperative that all members of the society become educated in Srila Prabhupada’s standards for the qualification of a spiritual master and insist that all candidates, existing or potential, be validated through his system of examination. 

Candidates for initiation into the society should be able to make a fully informed decision. As written on a certificate of initiation signed by Srila Prabhupada in November 1966: Such-and-such “is a duly initiated student of the society.” In other words, that devotee was inducted into a society, a collective effort to spread the missionary spirit of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu as directed by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. – from Rupanuga Dasa (ACBSP) January 7, 2016

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