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

GBC Pauses Vaishnavi Diksa Gurus, Again
By ISKCON News Staff   |  Dec 23, 2022
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At its November 2, 2022 meeting, the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of ISKCON resolved to again put a moratorium on women devotees accepting disciples in ISKCON. (The resolution can be found at the end of this article.)

The topic has been debated and discussed in various forums in ISKCON for twenty years and has evoked strong feelings (as well as lengthy papers and lists of oppositional sastric [scriptural] references) on all sides of the issue. In 2014, for example, the GBC held a special 3-day retreat at ISKCON’s temple in the holy city of Tirupati, India to exclusively discuss the matter. (See https://gbc.iskcon.org/gbc-completes-three-day-special-session-on-vaishnavi-diksa-gurus/).

The GBC Chairman in 2014 commented that “thoughtful ISKCON devotees will appreciate that the GBC is taking a methodical, introspective and prayerful approach to this issue, and is not ignoring any of the many viewpoints in its discussions.”

After more back-and-forth discussions within GBC and the ISKCON society, in 2019 the GBC voted to allow Vaishnavi Diksa Gurus (VDG) under specific conditions, including that a Vaishnavi had to be 55 years of age and in a stable ashrama situation, as well as fulfilling the other requirements established for Vaishnava men, before they can initiate. See https://gbc.iskcon.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/MGM-2019-GBC-Resolutions-v4-1.pdf (Scroll to section 701.6 on page 5 to see the resolution, followed by a statement on the resolution.)

However, after that GBC resolution, two senior leaders of the ISKCON Bureau, the organization that leads ISKCON in India, spoke to the full GBC Body and expressed their strong disagreement with the decision. They also said that they felt the views of the majority of leaders in India had not been heard sufficiently. At that point, the GBC put another pause on the implementation of the VDG policy, to allow time for a formal dialogue with Bureau members. See: https://gbc.iskcon.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/GBCRES2020.pdf (Scroll to section 700 on page 13.)

In 2020, the GBC established a committee of four members to dialogue with, and hear from, four representatives of the India Bureau. From approximately October 2020 to May 2021, this group met weekly for one to two hours, so that the GBC could better understand the views of leaders in India. The dialogues were coordinated and led by two professional facilitators, one from ISKCONResolve, and one selected by the India Bureau.

After months of dialogue and hearing extensively from the Bureau representatives, the GBC team reported back to the GBC Body, and a modified proposal was considered. In that decision, the GBC invoked a recent resolution that allows a GBC decision to be designated as “culturally sensitive.” In short, the GBC may empower regions to decide if a specifically designated “culturally sensitive” resolution is not appropriate for their region. In this case, if India or another region of the world chooses to not allow VDGs, they are free to do so.

That GBC decision, which upheld the endorsement of Vaishnavi diksa gurus under specific conditions, was passed by a vote of 19-2-8 vote (19 in favor, 2 opposed, and 8 abstentions). Within that decision, it was specified that Narayani devi dasi, the first Vaishnavi to complete the GBC review process for new gurus, was competent to fulfill the service of being a diksa guru and should be allowed to do so wherever ISKCON regional leaders do not object. See https://gbc.iskcon.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/2021GBCRES.pdf (page 23).

After that, Narayani devi dasi accepted two disciples, one in North America and one in Australia, after those two regions formally accepted that Vaishnavis were welcome to initiate in their regions. See ISKCON News Aug 23, 2022 https://iskconnews.org/narayani-devi-dasi-initiates-her-first-diksa-disciple/

However, although regions were given the option of opting out of VDG, and another year was dedicated to dialogue with the leadership in India, many leaders in India remained concerned, and not in agreement, that Vaishnavis were allowed to initiate elsewhere in the world.

These leaders argued that ISKCON was meant to prioritize the re-establishment of a varnasrama system, that, based on their sastric research, does not allow women to initiate unless they are exceptionally qualified, i.e., more qualified than what is required of a male guru. Others argued that VDGs are not part of Srila Prabhupada’s vision or plan for ISKCON, or that having Vaishnavis initiate goes against Vedic tradition. (One popular argument against VDG is based on Srila Prabhupada’s purport here https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/4/12/32/)

The GBC rested its decisions on multiple arguments, including these quotes from Srila Prabhupada:

“Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna, that person should be accepted as Spiritual Master, regardless of any material so-called qualifications; such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or sudra.”
(Letter to Silavati — New Vrindaban 14 June, 1969)

“I hope that all of you, men, women, boys and girls, become spiritual master…”
(Vyasa-puja Address, London August 22nd, 1973)

“However, since both the boys and the girls are being trained to become preachers, those girls are not ordinary girls but are as good as their brothers who are preaching Krsna consciousness.”
(CC Adi 7.31–32 purport)

 

In October 2022, the Indian Continental Committee (ICC), the ISKCON India Advisory Committee (IIAC), and later the Indian Bureau (IB) each passed resolutions stating their continued objections to VDGs. The IIAC requested the Bureau to endorse their proposal, including: “That any FDG should not be allowed to give class, darshans, seminars….and that a disciple of any FDG not be engaged in temple services….”[Note: The Indian leadership bodies use the term “Female Diksa Gurus,” whereas the GBC in recent years prefers the term “Vaishnavi Diksa Gurus”.]

Upon review of these two resolutions, the Indian Bureau resolved and requested that: “1. The GBC put on hold their resolution of women diksha gurus; and, 2. Restart a serious dialogue with the Bureau.” The Indian Bureau wrote that it “may not be in a position to control the repercussions ensuing from the genuine feelings of disenfranchisement unleashed by this resolution.”

Following receipt of those resolutions, the GBC voted on November 2, 2022 to again put a moratorium on Vaishnavi diksa gurus for “up to three years,” and to prevent any additional initiations by Vaishnavi gurus.

Per ISKCON Law, that decision required the review of the Spiritual Advisors Bhagavata Assembly (SABHA). The SABHA was asked by the GBC Executive Committee (EC) to expedite their decision, and they did. Within one day the SABHA voted against the GBC decision, by more than a 2/3 majority, which meant the GBC resolution had to be returned to the GBC for further discussion.

The SABHA disagreed with the need for a moratorium, but said it would support the same under two conditions, a) that the time for further dialogue should be limited to one year, and that b) during that year up to five Vaishnavis be allowed to initiate a maximum of ten disciples each (only women). The SABHA pointed out that this will enable the society to gauge the tangible results Vaishnavi diksa-gurus have on the well-being [or not], of our movement.

On November 9th, the GBC reviewed its earlier decision and the comments of SABHA. The GBC voted by a 54% majority to overrule the SABHA’s suggestions, and reconfirmed a moratorium of “up to 3 years” on VDG while GBC members again meet with India leaders to try to address their concerns and seek a degree of consensus.

# # #

The November 2022 GBC Resolution is here:

RESOLUTION TO IMPLEMENT A MORATORIUM ON ALL FURTHER APPOINTMENTS OF AND INITIATIONS BY VAISHNAVI DIKSHA GURUS (VDG) IN ISKCON
November 2, 2022

Whereas, the GBC Body has, pursuant to Resolution no. 701.06/2019 and a subsequent amendment to said resolution on 22 December 2021, approved Vaishnavi Diksha Gurus (VDG) in ISKCON;
Whereas, the Indian Bureau (IB) contends that the GBC Body has erred by instituting VDG in ISKCON;
Whereas, the IB is of the view that further consultation on the VDG matter is needed;
Whereas, the IB feels that a deeper theological deliberation on guru-tattva is required;
Whereas, the IB has asked the GBC Body to put on hold its resolution permitting VDG;
Whereas, the IB has called for a serious dialogue by constituting a joint GBC-IB committee to examine the VDG issue during a period lasting no longer than three (3) years; and
Whereas, the GBC Body is amenable to further consultation and deliberation with the IB

Therefore, the GBC Body resolves that:
(i) an immediate moratorium be placed on further appointments of and initiations by Vaishnavi Diksha Gurus (VDG) in ISKCON;

(ii) a GBC committee be established to formulate a written understanding to be approved by the GBC Body within 4 weeks, with the IB mandating, among other things, the requirement for proper decorum, the withdrawal of ultimatums, and a solemn pledge to abide by Srila Prabhupada’s request for cooperation; and

(iii) the dialogue be concluded within three years from the date of this resolution;

Below are references to some prior GBC resolutions on VDG:

2005: https://gbc.iskcon.org/2005/ (scroll to item #425)

Excerpt below:
RESOLVED:
The GBC accepts the basic philosophical conclusion presented in the SAC’s [Sastric Advisory Council] Female Diksa Guru Paper, i.e. that a mature, qualified, female devotee may accept the role of an initiating spiritual master. The implementation thereof is pending further GBC consideration.
2009: https://gbc.iskcon.org/2009/ (scroll to item #305)
Excerpt below:
RESOLVED:
1. That resolution 425/2005 “Female Diksa Guru” is amended to read as follows:
“The GBC accepts the philosophical conclusion presented in the SAC’s Female Diksa Guru Paper that a mature, qualified, female devotee may accept the role of an initiating spiritual master.”
2. The GBC Body authorizes local area committees to put forward for approval as initiating guru any devotee in their area, male or female, who is qualified according to existing GBC Law.

August 2022:

Resolution on the Dialogue Between the GBC and IB on Vaishnavi Diksha Guru

Whereas, in response to a formal request of Bureau leaders, GBC representatives met and dialogued with Bureau representatives regarding Vaishnavi Diksa Gurus (VDG) more than two dozen times over a one year period; The majority of the delegates from the Bureau and GBC agreed that VDG is in our tradition though somewhat rare.

Whereas, after hearing from the Bureau representatives for an extended period of time the GBC modified its prior resolution, and passed a law, later reviewed and approved by the SABHA, that allows for Vaishnavis to serve as diksa gurus in ISKCON under specified conditions;

Whereas post that decision, the India Bureau and other leadership bodies in India have again asked for additional discussion with the GBC regarding VDG;

Whereas the GBC affirms its respect and appreciation for the India leadership and their viewpoints;

Whereas the GBC wishes there be more clarity in understanding the details and conditions of the recent GBC decision on VDG, and the India leaders’ continued opposition to such;

Whereas the GBC reaffirms that India, as a region of ISKCON, may opt out of the VDG decision, as is allowed per the GBC resolution;

Whereas Narayani dasi who has passed all the qualifications required per ISKCON law can initiate where allowed by the RGB or similar body.

It is hereby resolved that:
1. Other VDG initiations will be on hold for 90 days from the passage of this proposal.

2. Four members of the Bureau are invited to form a delegation to meet with four members of the GBC during these 90 days to discuss the VDG decision and its impact on India. (Basu Ghosh prabhu and Jayapataka Swami will not be members of this group.)

3. The criteria for the discussion, or dialogue. will be determined by both delegations with the understanding that VDG is now ISKCON Law and the charge to the delegates is to find a solution that the different parties can live with and that remains within our siddhanta as taught by Srila Prabhupada.

The discussion will be moderated by mutually agreeable facilitators suggested by ISKCONResolve and agreed by the delegates. If the delegates cannot agree within a reasonable period of time, the EC will choose the facilitator(s).

4. That dialogue shall not last longer than 90 days from the passage of this proposal. After 90 days, the GBC will consider any recommendations from the full delegation, or a minority recommendation put forward by a minimum of 3 members of the larger group.

5. Upon conclusion of the discussion, or dialogue, and the receipt of any recommendations per above, the GBC law on VDG may be further amended, or a new law may be proposed, to address those relevant local issues.

The above August 2022 Resolution was superseded by the November 2, 2022 Resolution calling for more dialogue and a moratorium of up to three years.

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