OBVIOUSLY, HAVING THE BODY of a man or a woman is not a qualification or disqualification for spiritual activities. Srila Prabhupada wanted his women disciples to be as qualified as the men in teaching Krsna consciousness, and women should be offered full facilities for practicing Krsna consciousness and teaching it to others. This shouldn't even be a question of controversy.
But if there is some problem or apparent problem about the role of devotee women, women don't have to be worried. We can use all situations to our advantage in becoming pure devotees.
To give an example: When we go out to distribute books, some people take a book and some don't. We don't run after the ones who don't. We don't become discouraged by the no's. Instead, we concentrate on the yes's and pray to Krsna to help us be more Krsna conscious and present things better so that the no's, if He desires, will in time turn into yes's.
In the same way, if some devotee men don't want to hear us, we can go to other groups and speak to them about Krsna and train them through Srila Prabhupada's books.
We can offer our services anywhere, but who accepts our offer is up to Krsna.
The men in the temple are already hearing classes, chanting Hare Krsna, and making advancement. But other people may not be. So we can distribute books all over the world. We can preach on street corners, on television, in school auditoriums. We can invite people to the temple and speak about Krsna to them. If we have a house or apartment we can talk about Krsna to our family and neighbors. We can hold festivals and distribute books and prasadam.
If spreading Krsna consciousness is the real point, we can do it anywhere.
Krsna will recognize us. And when Krsna wants us to give a class in the temple or do other such things, He will arrange it.
We don't need to depend on any facility or position. Nor will such things guarantee our happiness or advancement in Krsna consciousness. Many devotees in the past had all sorts of facilities, but because of their own desires they left the movement, and now they have no spiritual power to speak about Krsna at all, or even to chant Hare Krsna. On the other hand, Haridasa Thakura was kept out of the Jagannatha temple, but that didn't stop him from becoming the greatest preacher of the holy name. Even Maya herself was defeated by him and became his disciple.
Sometimes we use apparent "issues" as an excuse to be angry or resentful or as an excuse not to spread Krsna consciousness. When we come up against our own limits or shortcomings, we surrender to the "they" philosophy:
They don't encourage me enough.
They don't engage me in big enough programs.
They don't accept my suggestions.
In our modern materialistic society, we're trained from childhood to blame others for our troubles. Men blame women, women blame men, managers blame workers, workers blame managers.
But we are the architects of our own fortune.
About four years ago, I complained to a friend that certain devotees were causing me misery. So she answered that I myself was the cause.
"All right," I said, "I can understand that I may have been instrumental. But can't I say that those other devotees were the cause of my suffering?"
But she insisted that I was the cause.
This was hard to believe. But I wanted to believe her, because my own way of thinking wasn't making me happy or Krsna conscious. And then I remembered a verse in Bhagavad-gita (13.21) that confirmed her statements. Purusah sukha-duhkhanam bhoktrtve hetur ucyate: every living being causes his own happiness and distress.
The benefit of understanding that we are the cause of our own problems is that we can then take responsibility for the solutions.
We cause our own problems by our "overlording mentality," the mentality of trying to control everything. We forget that Krsna is supreme. So as a father sometimes puts a bad child in a reform school to get him to become good, Krsna spins us around like a merry-go-round just to bring us to our senses.
"Well," you may say, "that's just philosophy, but then there's real life. The philosophy is general, but we're dealing with specific issues."
But that would be to lose sight of the real issue.
If we go through any difficulty because of "women's issues," it is Krsna who is putting us into difficulty, and by knowing this we can serve Him without resentment.
Sometimes it looks as if Krsna, for no apparent reason, is withholding—withholding facility, position, profit, respect, knowledge, health, the results of our work, or whatever. But Krsna does it because He knows what we need to become purified.
Srila Prabhupada once said that if a devotee has an enemy—or thinks he has an enemy—the devotee thinks, "I am trying to become Krsna conscious. Why should this person be my enemy? Oh, I know: I have some impurity, and Krsna is trying to rectify me."
At every moment, the choice is ours: We can think dull, mundane thoughts or brilliant thoughts of Krsna's pastimes and ideas for spreading Krsna consciousness. We can pray in helplessness to develop all the devotional qualities and be used as transparent instruments for Krsna's will. No one can check us.
When we chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna mantra on our beads, that comes to 28,000 names. So each day we have at least 28,000 opportunities to become pure devotees.
It's up to us individually how we identify ourselves. In 1966, while reading Srila Prabhupada's books, I once misunderstood he was saying that women couldn't make as much advancement as men. I was disturbed, so I told Srila Prabhupada. And his response was "If you think you are a girl, how can you make any advancement?"
According to the law of karma, the past makes the present, and the present makes the future. At present we are suffering because of our desires to lord it over material nature.
Who knows? A man who mistreated women in his last life may come back in this life as a mistreated woman. And—who knows?—maybe when I needlessly complain, I may be mistreating someone else.
If we act in Krsna consciousness at present, our future will be Krsna conscious.
Yadurani Devi Dasi is one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples. For more than twenty years she has painted illustrations for Srila Prabhupada's books. She is also one of ISKCON's leading book distributors and one of the few women who regularly give classes in ISKCON temples. She lives in New York, working on Krsna conscious picture books and illustrative comics in graphic novel style. Her husband took sannyasa in 1972.