After reading “GBC Amends and Affirms Law Allowing Vaisnavis To Initiate,” I thought to myself that you can always get to the same place from a different direction. The debate in ISKCON for the last few years has been about women gurus. But this article will show the reader that Srila Prabhupada did not approach this issue from a man vs woman perspective.
No one dared to really consider what Srila Prabhupada was saying when he was still physically with us. Some of the young men devotees in the early days of ISKCON were busy jockeying for positions in the prestigious sannyasa order. And from the start, many gurus and brahmanas in India were leery of women brahmanas, women residing in the temples, and women actively preaching and distributing books on western street corners. Shouldn’t they be at home raising families? Now 50 years later, it’s about time that Prabhupada’s vision for his movement is understood and implemented.
It’s a vision who’s time has certainly arrived. And it’s a vision that will correct other issues: that many of Prabhupada disciples are being left behind, and that by endorsing gurus the GBC has overstepped its function.
The early devotees invested great amounts of time and energy, and gallons of blood so to speak to help jump-start the Hare Krishna Movement. In the 1960s and 70s, the young men and women in ISKCON went out to distribute Prabhupada’s books. They opened temples, or supported the development and the functioning of temples. They inspired people to join or to make donations, or participate in one way or other. Their energy knew no bounds. At Prabhupada’s request, they left the word “impossible” behind. These devotees made great personal sacrifices. Many walked away from college educations and professional careers. And the families gave their children over to be educated in the gurukula system.
These early pioneers, whether one was sannyasa, brahmacari or grhastha, made a great investment in ISKCON. Now, it’s time for ISKCON to make an investment in them. By Srila Prabhupada’s efforts these devotees have received unprecedented insights into the nature of the material world, the nature of the Supreme Lord and His various incarnations, and they were given a special role to play in spreading Caitanya’s Sankirtana Movement.
And now, many of these devotees have an important role to play in their senior years. Prabhupada often quoted the order Lord Caitanya gave 500 years earlier
amara ajnaya guru hana tara’ ei desa
yare dekha tare kaha ‘krsna’-upadesa (CC Madhya 7.128)
“By following My order, you become guru.”
Prabhupada had a special vision on how this verse would be implemented in his fledgling society.
In a lecture of August 17, 1968, Prabhupada explained his vision.
“So all my students present here who are feeling so much obliged… I am also obliged to them because they are helping me in this missionary work. At the same time, I shall request them all to become spiritual master. Every one of you should be spiritual master next. And what is their duty? Whatever you are hearing from me, whatever you are learning from me, you have to distribute the same in toto without any addition or alteration. Then all of you become the spiritual master. That is the science of becoming spiritual master. Spiritual master is not any… To become a spiritual master is not very wonderful thing. Simply one has to become sincere soul. That’s all.”
In a letter dated January 3, 1969, Prabhupada again reiterated his desire.
“I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta (Prabhupada’s own title), so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program. So we should not simply publish these books for reading by outsiders, but our students must be well versed in all of our books so that we can be prepared to defeat all opposing parties in the matter of self-realization.”
Prabhupada expressed that same vision in a May 9, 1969 lecture.
“āmāra ājñāya guru hañā tāra’ ei deśa
yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa (CC Madhya 7.128)
Lord Caitanya says that, “Every one of you become the spiritual master. Every one of you. Why one, two? Every one of you.” “Oh, spiritual master is very difficult job.” No. No difficult job. Caitanya Mahā . . . Āmāra ājñāya: “Just try to carry out My order. That’s all. Then you become spiritual master.” And if you interpolate, if you put something nonsense, rubbish, to show your so-called rascal’s education, then it is spoiled. Immediately spoiled. And if you present as it is, then it is pure.”
In a letter dated Dec. 20, 1969 to Himavati devi dasi, Prabhupada is delighted with the “new” stage in the movement, and encourages her to step up and lead by example.
“So I am especially proud how my householder disciples are preaching Lord Caitanya’s Mission. This is a new thing in the history of the Sankirtana Movement. In India all the acaryas and their descendants later on acted only from the man’s side. Their wives were at home because that is the system from old times that women are not required to go out. But in Bhagavad-gita we find that women are also equally competent like the men in the matter of Krsna Consciousness Movement. Please therefore carry on these missionary activities, and prove it by practical example that there is no bar for anyone in the matter of preaching work for Krsna Consciousness.”
In a July 18, 1971 conversation in Detroit, Prabhupada again expressed this vision.
Mohsin Hassan: “After you, is it any decision has been made who will take over?”
Prabhupada: “Yes. All of them will take over. These students, who are initiated from me, all of them will act as I am doing. Just like I have got many Godbrothers, they are all acting. Similarly, all these disciples which I am making, initiating, they are being trained to become future spiritual masters.”
On Oct 24, 1972, in a lecture in India, Prabhupada criticized the nay sayers.
“When Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered that prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama, so that means He wanted that all over the world, in every town, in every village, His mission should be propagated. …. And it is a glory for us that people in other countries, outside India, they’re accepting this cult of Krsna consciousness. But crippled people, they unnecessarily criticize this method. But we don’t care for them.”
In a lecture on April 6, 1975, Prabhupada again quotes the order of Lord Caitanya (CC Madhya 7.128) and follows with:
“So, so we want to spread Krsna consciousness. Simply prepare yourself how to repeat Krsna’s instructions very nicely, without any mal-interpretation. Then, in future… Suppose you have got now ten thousand. We shall expand to hundred thousand. That is required. Then hundred thousand to million, and million to ten million. . . . . . So there will be no scarcity of acarya, and people will understand Krsna consciousness very easily.”
And in a lecture in India on March 16, 1976 Prabhupada explains that his vision can be applied in any place and country.
“Anywhere, either you are in this district or that district, it doesn’t matter. Either you are at home or outside home, it doesn’t matter. You become a guru. Everyone. “How shall I become guru? I have no qualification.” Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “You don’t require any qualification. You simply require one qualification, that you repeat the instruction of Bhagavad-gita. That’s all.”
In another lecture on August 19, 1976, Prabhupada elaborated on a phrase in Caitanya’s famous order.
‘Ei desa means wherever you are living you become a guru and deliver them. Suppose you are living in a small neighborhood, you can become a guru of that neighborhood and deliver them. “How it is possible? I have no education, I have no knowledge. How I can become guru and deliver them?” Caitanya Mahaprabhu said it is not at all difficult. Yare dekha tare kaha ‘krsna’-upadesa. This is your qualification. If you simply deliver the message given by Krsna you become guru.”
And now, ISKCON has a truly great resource: Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. In any other genuine community or culture, they would be considered elders. These devotees are mature, chanting the Holy Name for almost a half century or more, and they carry with them a wealth of spiritual knowledge. Now, 50 years later the time has come for ISKCON and the GBC to invest in these elders, men and women alike; whoever wants to accept the responsibility of becoming a spiritual master. This will immediately resolve the guru issue, surcharge the entire movement to bring ISKCON up to a new level of involvement, and fulfill Prabhupada’s desire. This movement is ultimately inclusive, and not exclusive. Its focus is on Krishna Consciousness, and is all about expanding the circle of compassion.
“Vaiṣṇava is always thinking how to do good to the suffering humanity.”
Srila Prabhupāda, February 8, 1977
“I want to see my disciples become bona fide Spiritual Master and spread Krishna consciousness very widely, that will make me and Krishna very happy.” Letter from December 2, 1975
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