Last issue, we published what several devotee women had to say about the role of women in ISKCON. Our staff, of course, saw the issue before it came out, and one staff member had strong feelings about it. So now she joins in the discussion, with a differing point of view.
Although women and men are spiritually equal, we women cannot deny the obvious fact that we have the physical constitution of women. A woman can easily be taken advantage of and corrupted by unscrupulous men, as we now see to be an ever more common experience.
The Vedic scriptures compare a woman to fire and a man to butter. When butter comes near fire, it melts. When men and women mix indiscriminately, good intentions melt, material desires manifest, and Krsna consciousness is forgotten.
So the scriptures say that a woman is to be sheltered—by her father before marriage, by her husband after marriage, and by her son when the husband accepts the renounced order of life.
Why should women be subservient to men? A woman journalist once asked this question of Srila Prabhupada.
"Not should be," Srila Prabhupada answered. "They are. … You have become voluntarily subservient to your man. That is nature. They [women] are seeking to become subservient by attracting a man: 'Take me as subservient.' That is natural." It is natural for a woman to be a chaste wife and a good cook. It is natural for her to serve her husband lovingly, help him progress in Krsna consciousness, and help him raise Krsna conscious children. In this way she becomes dear to her husband and, by her devotion to scriptural injunctions, dear to Lord Krsna. In this way she achieves the ultimate goal of human life.
But what preaching opportunities does this leave for a woman? After all, ISKCON is a preaching movement, and Lord Krsna says that His best servant is the preacher. Why should women be left out?
Anyone who teaches by example is a preacher, Srila Prabhupada says. In that way, everyone in our movement is a preacher. The temple cook, the pujari, the devotee sweeping the floor—all of them are preaching just by serving Krsna.
As a mother and wife, the Krsna conscious woman has a great responsibility for preaching, and she has to take this seriously so she can give Krsna consciousness to others and help them perfect their lives by leading them to the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krsna.
We women do not have to adopt the artificial ideals of "equal rights" in order to preach. We can preach profoundly by following the examples of great Krsna conscious women like Queen Gandhari, Queen Kunti, and Sita Devi.
"Purity is the force," Srila Prabhupada says. Our potency to preach lies not in an equal-rights movement or a high-profile position but in purity.
What have "equal rights" and "high profiles" brought women anyway? Exploitation, broken families, broken marriages, an animalistic chain of uncaring sexual partners, abortion, children bereft of parental love, and above all, no time for Krsna consciousness.
If we devotee women stay on the bodily platform, hankering for artificial equal rights, then what is the difference between us and materialistic women? Like them, we will simply miss the whole purpose of human life—love of Krsna.
A Krsna conscious woman is a wife to her husband and a mother not only to her children but to all men other than her husband. She helps them in their Krsna consciousness just as she would help her own children. This is the sign of a Vaisnava: living for the welfare of others.
Women in Krsna consciousness should not feel that they are lowering themselves by accepting what is natural. On the contrary, women who live in their true role are highly esteemed by sadhus (saintly persons), by sastra (scripture), and by Lord Krsna Himself. And Krsna conscious women are very much needed in the present age.
If we ignore our natural duties, we simply create a disturbance in society, and nothing else.
aikantiki harer bhaktir
"Devotional service to the Lord that ignores the scriptures like the Upanisads, Puranas, and Narada-pancaratra is just a needless disturbance in society" (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.101).
Here is true equality: When women and men follow the scriptures and act in keeping with their natural position, then they will find peace and fulfillment, and by their example they will help others attain the ultimate goal of life.
Visnupriya Devi Dasi comes from a Gujarati Indian family in Fiji. There she was initiated by Tamal Krishna Goswami in 1979 and distributed Srila Prabhupada's books for several years before coming to America. She now lives in San Diego, where she assists her husband in his role as sales manager for Back to Godhead.