by Visakha dasi
Presented at the Third Annual Women’s Ministry Conference in New Vrindaban, October 1999
Our Krsna Conscious Heritage of Affection
From the beginning of the creation of the universe, our heritage in Krsna consciousness is a bond of loving affection between devotees: parents and children, husband and wife, friend and friend, spiritual master and disciple. This bond of love originates from Lord Krsna Himself, who expressed great love for His child, Brahma. Lord Brahma in turn had great love for his child, Svayambhuva. Similarly, Svayambhuva Manu and his wife Satarupa raised their children with the deepest concern and love. For example, after they had found a suitable husband for their daughter, Svayambhuva Manu and Satarupa were about to leave the newly-married couple, when “The Emperor was unable to bear the separation of his daughter. Therefore tears poured form his eyes again and again, drenching his daughter’s head…” (Bhag., 3.21.25) Not suprisingly, the grandchildren of Svayambhuva Manu and Satarupa continued this noble and tender tradition. From these examples and from Srila Prabhupada’s abiding affection for us, it is clear that these feelings are an integral aspect of God consciousness. Such concern for others buds within an individual, blossoms in the family, and then is implanted in the next generation.
Children raised with culture and love will become cultured, loving parents who in turn raise children of the same nature. Srila Prabhupada writes, “By bodily union of the husband and wife their qualities are expanded: children born of good parents are expansions of the parents’ personal qualifications.” (Bhag., 3.23.10 purport) Conversely, a child raised by unqualified parents, especially the mother, may create havoc. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life … Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood.”(Bg. 1.40 purport) And, “Contemptuous sons are born of the condemned womb of their mother… This is especially true for boys; if the mother is not good, there cannot be good sons.” (Bhag., 3.14.39 purport) And, “If the maternal family is very corrupt or sinful, the child, even though born of a good father, becomes a victim of the maternal family.” (Bhag., 4.13.39 purport) “These are very important things, that soft-hearted women, vama-svabhava (vama-beautiful; svabhava-nature), they should be given protection. They should be trained up how to become faithful wife, affectionate mother. Then the home will be very happy, and without happiness we cannot make any spiritual progress. We must be peaceful. This is the preliminary condition.”
(Lecture Bhag., 1.7.43 Vrndavana 10/3/76)
Peaceful Women Make a Peaceful Society
For a woman to be peaceful, she must first of all be at peace with herself. She must have a singleness of vision, a purity of intention, a central core to her life that will enable her to carry out her obligations and activities with her natural tenderness. A woman wants to live in inner harmony, which then translates into outward harmony: she wants her outer and inner worlds to be at one. She wants to achieve a state of spiritual grace from which she can function and give as she was meant to, according to her uniqueness.
Certain environments and modes of life are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. For example, simplification of life—both inward and outward—can bring extraordinary freedom and serenity. To become simple, devotees may need to remove themselves from conflict, offensive behavior, apathy, manipulation, endless talk with no results, rubber stamping, and the like. These are not a life of peacefulness and simplicity but the life of duplicity that Srila Prabhupada warn us of. They lead not to unification but to fragmentation. They do not bring grace: they destroy it. And this is not only true of women’s lives, but of men’s also. This is a concern for our communities and society.
A woman who feels her life invaded by duplicity, who feels unloved, is neither peaceful nor protected. She will be unable to inspire, emotionally support, and properly care for her husband and children; she will be unable to have meaningful relationships with her peers; unable to be enthused in Krsna’s service. If one is not cared for and cared about, one is a stranger to oneself and estranged from others. What has not been received cannot be given. If we want to build a community, let’s take a long look at the necessity of straightforward and affectionate relationships between its members. The deepest need of the soul is to overcome its separateness from the Lord and His servants, to leave the prison of its aloneness in material consciousness. The failure to meet this need means repeated birth and deaths. Without genuine affection between its members, a society crumbles from separatism, faultfinding, callousness, and endless controversy.
It is the softhearted, beautifully-natured, gentle woman who naturally forms the axis within the revolving wheel of relationships in the grhastha-asrama. And it is her sacred time of hearing about, chanting about and serving the Lord that nourishes this all-important axis. In these basic practices of Krsna consciousness she finds and refines her inner strength, perceives the illusion of outward trappings, and enters into relationships with a fullness rather than an emptiness. If women are feeling empty, children and men will suffer. If women’s hearts are filled, they will naturally help to fill the hearts of those around them, and their own will be renewed in the process.
To illustrate the effect of such fullness, let us turn to the example of Devahuti, the daughter of Svayambhuva Manu and Satarupa, who served her husband Kardama Muni “with great love and affection, and knew how to please him. . . . Having served him for a long time, she grew weak and emaciated due to her religious observances. Seeing her condition, Kardama, the foremost of celestial sages, was overcome with compassion and spoke to her in a voice choked with great love.” (Bhag., 3.23.1, 4 & 5)
As an adult, what Devahuti brought to her remote and austere grhastha-asrama was determined by her background and childhood, her mind and it’s education, her conscience and its values, her heart and its desires. From her exalted example we can see how a beloved daughter becomes a beloved wife and a loving mother and plays a vital role in society.
The woman who is not complacent but is satisfied and peaceful can joyfully fulfill her obligations to her family and engage her propensities gainfully in the Lord’s service. We know well that during Srila Prabhupada’s time with us, many woman served their husbands, raised their children, and painted, photographed, led kirtana, lectured, headed departments, traveled, preached, raised funds, participated in construction projects, gardened, served the Deities in the temples, and were generally fully excited about their lives in Krsna consciousness.
One who is protected is protected in body, mind, intelligence and spirit. The mind is protected by following certain rules of conduct, and the intelligence by hearing genuine knowledge, knowledge that awakens us to our actual situation and evokes self-realization; such knowledge is compared by Krsna to a sword that cuts through illusion. And the spirit is protected by love. It is the love between the child and parents, wife and husband, friend and friend, disciple and spiritual master, and ultimately the living entity and the Lord, that guides us to right thoughts, right words, and right action. And if by chance we make mistakes (or apparent mistakes) it is love that will bestow upon us the forbearance to tolerate the apparent misfortune that results.
Protection must not be confused with repression, stifling or performing stereotyped functions. Rather, it is similar to what an experienced gardener offers a valuable tree: freedom from disturbance so it can grow to it’s full capacity. Protection is not the artificial clipping imposed on an espalier or a topiary garden. If you love someone, your goal is that they be all that they can be and you will encourage them every inch of the way. Every time they do something that helps them grow or learn something to help them become more, you are pleased and may sometimes even dance and celebrate the occasion. You’re not growing apart; you’re growing together in Krsna’s service and for His pleasure.
A devotee is not challenged or threatened by another’s growth in Krsna’s service, but rejoices in it. A devotee does not impose gender consciousness on aspiring Vaisnavas. Such superficial cutting and clamping is the behavior of those who lack understanding, who confuse Srila Prabhupada’s words with their own conceptions.
Allow all to grow in their areas of interest. Let us all blossom for Krsna’s pleasure. Srila Prabhupada writes, “No one should try to check a person, no matter what his present position is, from coming to the platform of a brahmana or a Vaisnava.” (Bhag., 5.26.23 purport) And, “Vaisnave jati-buddhih. If anyone considers a Vaisnava, a devotee of the Lord, in the categorical estimation of birth, then that is hellish consideration.” (Bhag., 6.1.41-42 lecture), and, “So far as your question regarding women, I have always accepted the service of women without any discrimination…” (letter to Gurudasa, 1972)
The exemplary marriage of Kardama Muni and Devahuti produced nine wonderful daughters and Kapiladeva, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, who, after His father renounced family life, happily stayed with His mother, gave her the ultimate protection of transcendental knowledge, and pleased her.
Thus Devahuti served and received service from her great husband, Kardama Muni, as well as her transcendental son Kapiladeva. Protected by the love of her exalted parents, her husband and her children; fully enlightened by Kapiladeva, the Supreme Lord Himself; not only did Devahuti attain perfection—eternal, blissful residence on a Vaikuntha planet—but she also was instrumental in disseminating Lord Kapiladeva’s instructions to the world. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The mission of the appearance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of Kapila was to distribute the transcendental knowledge of Sankhya philosophy, which is full of devotional service. Having imparted that knowledge to His mother and, through His mother to the world, Kapiladeva had no more need to stay at home, so He took permission from His mother and left.” (Bhag., 3.33.12 purport)
As Devahuti was protected and able to grow to her full majesty, so all women should similarly be encouraged to grow to their full and unique majesty.
The Lilas of Three Women
Let us look at several examples of women from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. First, Draupadi, the exalted wife of the Pandavas.
When Asvatthama, the heartless murderer of her five sleeping sons, was brought before her, Draupadi “could not tolerate Asvatthama’s being bound by ropes, and being a devoted lady, said: ‘Release him, for he is a brahmana, our spiritual master.’ ” Commenting on this verse, Srila Prabhupada remarked, “Draupadi, being a women, vama-svabhava, very soft-hearted, she did not consider whether he (Asvatthama) is actually a brahmana … A woman, vama-svabhava, she can accept that ‘Because he’s the son of a brahmana, he’s brahmana.’ Therefore the word is used, vama-svabhava. Because women are considered less intelligent.… Their heart is very soft. Just like children, their heart is very soft. But their intelligence is not very sharp. That is the difference… They have been put in one group: women, vaisyas and sudras. Because they are not very intelligent. They can be molded by another intelligent man to the proper channel. Therefore they require guidance. They require guidance.” (Lecture Bhag., 1.7.43 Vrndavana 3 October 1976)
The next day Srila Prabhupada lectured on the next verse in which Draupadi says, “It was by Dronacarya’s (Asvatthama’s father) mercy that you learned the military art of throwing arrows and the confidential art of controlling weapons,” and Srila Prabhupada commented. “So this is Vedic civilization. Draupadi advising Arjuna that ‘You have learned. Feel always obliged,’…this guru-mara-vidya (killing the guru after learning from him) should be avoided. That is the instruction in this verse we can get, and that is the Vedic way. It is not that Draupadi is speaking, but Caitanya Mahaprabhu is also speaking . . . Caitanya Mahaprabhu was very strict on this point.” (Lecture Bhag., 1.7.44 Vrndavana October 4, 1976)
Speaking on the following verse the following day, Prabhupada said, “So, in continuation of the Pandavas’ position in relationship with Dronacarya, the guru, so many things are being explained by Draupadi. So she is not ordinary woman. She knows everything of religious principles, and therefore she is teaching the assembly of respectable, learned persons how the spiritual master should be respected… That is being explained by even one woman. That is Vedic culture. Draupadi is explaining the importance, and she said, sa esa bhagavan drona. She’s quite right when she’s accepting Drona as Bhagavan. Se esa bhagavan dronah praja-rupena vartate. And he is present by his praja. So these things should be taken very seriously instruction.” (Lecture Bhag., 1.7.45-46 Vrndavana, 5 October 1976)
The following day Prabhupada continued with the next verses, in which Draupadi says to Arjuna, “My lord, do not make the wife of Dronacarya cry like me. I am aggrieved for the death of my sons. She need not cry constantly like me.… ” Srila Prabhupada remarked, “So, in these two verses the important point is that Draupadi is sympathetic. That is Vaisnava. She is Vaisnavi. This is the attitude of the Vaisnava… They never think that he is very advanced. Never… So the feeling of Vaisnava is like that. Similarly, Draupadi is Vaisnavi. She is feeling more than herself, the wife of Dronacarya, mother of Asvatthama, how she will feel. Therefore Vaisnava’s qualification is, para-dukha-duhkhi. Personally a Vaisnava is not unhappy, but a Vaisnava becomes unhappy for others’ distress.” (Lecture Bhag., 1.7.47-48 Vrndavana, 6 October 1976)
The next verse the next day was, “Suta Gosvami said: O brahmanas, King Yudhisthira fully supported the statements of the Queen (Draupadi), which were in accordance with the principles of religion and were justified, glorious, full of mercy and equity, and without duplicity. Nakula and Sahadeva (the younger brothers of the King) and also Satyaki and Arjuna, the Personality of Godhead Lord Sri Krsna, son of Devaki, and the ladies and others all unanimously agreed with the King.” And Prabhupada confirmed, Then the statement of Draupadi was accepted by all the gentlemen, or the kings. Everyone accepted.” (Lecture Bhag., 1.7.49-50 Vrndavana, 7 October 1976)
Here we see that the statement of Draupadi, an elevated Vaisnavi, is first considered that of a less intelligent woman. Then we find that her statement is confirmed by Vedic culture, by Lord Caitanya, and by all the elevated personalities present, including Lord Krsna Himself. Is this contradictory? Only apparently. Queen Draupadi spoke from her heart and, as her heart was pure, her words were wise, pleasing to the Lord and appreciated by great souls.
Srila Prabhupada informs us that if we try to become Krsna conscious alone it will not be possible; it will be a failure. We are in this together. So to achieve our goal of becoming Krsna conscious, we are obliged to study the nature of our relationships and exchanges. It is exchanges that are steeped in mutual humility, respect and affection that will bless us in our efforts to purify our hearts and move toward Krsna together. Such exchanges will give the Lord pleasure, as did Draupadi’s exchanges with Arjuna.
Sati offers us more instructions along these lines.
From Canto Four of the Srimad Bhagavatam: “Vedic material relationship existed between Lord Siva and Sati, but sometimes, due to weakness, a woman becomes very much attracted by the members of her father’s house, and this happened to Sati. In this verse it is specifically mentioned that she wanted to leave such a great husband as Siva because of her womanly weaknesses…” (Bhag., 4.3.3, purport)
After this we find that Sati “wanted to see whether or not her husband was being respected. To see her relatives, her sisters and mother, was not so important; even when she was received by her mother and sisters she did not care, for she was most concerned that her husband was being insulted in the sacrifice… Since Sati was a chaste woman and the wife of Lord Siva, it was her duty to establish the elevated position of Lord Siva, not only by sentiment but also by facts… She did not actually come to her father’s house to participate in the function, although before coming she pleaded with her husband that she wanted to see her sisters and her mother. That was a plea only, for actually at heart she maintained the idea that she would convince her father, Daksa, that it was useless to continue being envious of Lord Siva. That was her main purpose. (Bhag., 4.4.9 &16, purports)
From this we discover that Sati’s intent, cloaked in womanly weakness, was in fact to preach to her father who insisted on dishonoring the best of the Vaisnavas, Lord Siva.
Next, Sati reveals her humility: “Sati decided to give up her body because she thought herself to be among the sudras and vaisyas. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (9.32), striyo vaisyas tatha sudrah. Women, laborers and the mercantile class are on the same level. Thus since it is recommended that vaisyas and sudras should immediately give up their bodies upon hearing the blasphemy of an exalted person like Lord Siva, she decided to give up her life.” (Bhag., 4.4.17, purport)
And again, we visit other aspects of the reality of this situation: “Since Sati was the representation of the external potency of the Lord, it was in her power to vanquish many universes, including many Daksas, but in order to save her husband from the charge the he employed his wife, Sati, to kill Daksa because he could not do so due to his inferior position, she decided to give up her body.” (Bhag., 4.4.18. purport)
If we read these pastimes with intent to establish our own point of view (whatever it is), their sublimity will elude us. They are not a denigration of women but an exaltation of Vaisnavas and Vaisnava behavior, here portrayed by Sati’s selfless love for her husband, her attempt to reform her proud father, and her impeccable sense of propriety.
For our third and final example, we turn to Parvati.
From Srimad Bhagavatam Canto Six: “Lord Siva tried to convince his wife, Parvati, that her cursing of Citraketu was not very sensible.” Srila Prabhupada comments, “Here is a difference between male and female that exists even in the higher statuses of life—in fact, even between Lord Siva and his wife. Lord Siva could understand Citraketu very nicely, but Parvati could not. Thus even in the higher statuses of life there is a difference between the understanding of male and that of a female. It may be clearly said that the understanding of a woman is always inferior to the understanding of a man. In the Western countries there is now agitation to the effect that man and woman should be considered equal, but from this verse it appears that woman is always less intelligent than man… These were all friendly jokes; there was nothing serious for which Parvati should have cursed Citraketu. Upon hearing the instructions of Lord Siva, Parvati must have been very ashamed for cursing Citraketu to become a demon. Mother Parvati could not appreciate Citraketu’s position, and therefore cursed him, but when she understood the instructions of Lord Siva she was ashamed.” (Bhag., 6.17.34-35, purport)
This certainly seems like a clear fault of womankind. Yet, as in the other examples, there are other aspects to this pastime: “The difficulty was that Citraketu, having become a great devotee of Lord Visnu, Sankarsana, was somewhat proud at having achieved Lord Sankarsana’s favor and therefore thought that he could now criticize anyone, even Lord Siva. This kind of pride in a devotee is never tolerated. A Vaisnava should always remain humble and meek and offer respects to others…. Citraketu thought himself a better controller of the senses than Lord Siva, although actually he was not. Because of all these considerations, Mother Parvati was somewhat angry with Citraketu… Mother Parvati was justified in punishing Citraketu, for Citraketu impudently criticized the Supreme Father, Mahadeva, who is the father of the living entities conditioned within this material world. The goddess Durga is called mother, and Lord Siva is called father. A pure Vaisnava should be very careful to engage in his specific duty without criticizing others. This is the safest position. Otherwise, if one tends to criticize others, he may commit the greatest offense of criticizing a Vaisnava… It is to be understood that mother Durga was justified in punishing Citraketu. This punishment was a boon to Citraketu because after taking birth as the demon Vrtrasura, he was promoted directly to Vaikuntha.” (Bhag., 6.17.10&15, purports)
“Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura comments that Maharaja Citraketu being cursed by Parvati should be considered the mercy of the Lord. The Lord wanted Citraketu to return to Godhead as soon as possible, and therefore He terminated all the reactions of his past deeds. Acting through the heart of Parvati, the Lord, who is situated in everyone’s heart, cursed Citraketu in order to end all of his material reactions. Thus Citraketu became in his next life and returned home, back to Godhead.” (Bhag., 6.17.17, purport)
So, are we witnessing a woman’s inferior understanding, or that woman meting out unjustified punishment, or that woman delivering a divine boon, or the Lord’s supreme plan? We are witnessing all of them. Again any contradiction is only apparent; and again it is resolved in relationships steeped in uplifting, mutually beneficial feelings:
Lord Siva doesn’t want his friend, Citraketu, to be cursed for his jokes.
Parvati, in the mood of a mother, corrects Citraketu for his pride and criticism of the greatest Vaisnava, Lord Siva.
As a “son,” Citraketu humbly accepts Parvati’s curse, although he could have done otherwise, and benefits as a result.
The whole affair is an exchange of respect, love and humility. Such exchanges can only be grasped through the culture of Krsna consciousness and the development of genuine affection for Vaisnavas. Those of us under the grip of passion will either be turned off by the statements of women–or be turned on by them, and either way unable to incorporate contrary statements.
A theme of womanly selflessness gently arises from these lilas: while Asvatthama so craved conquest that he ignored humanness, Draupadi so desired relationships that she ignored Asvatthama’s inhumanity. A Vaisnava is one of infinite compassion.
In apparent weakness Sati left her husband to strongly object her father’s treatment of him. A Vaisnava’s life cannot include blasphemy.
Parvati corrects Citraketu for proudly criticizing a Vaisnava. A Vaisnava’s life means shedding false ego and ambition, shedding one’s mask and armor. In each case the actions of these beautifully-natured women was born of a desire to do good to others in Krsna consciousness. In each case one could say they were ignorant or weak or mistaken, as well a woman may be, and in each case one could also correctly say their words and actions were Krsna conscious. In a dance what may appear as a misstep may not be. The dancer may be following a rhythm that we are not yet aware of; when we do become aware of it, then we can appreciate the dancer’s movements. A Vaisnava’s life is meant for this broadness and clarity.
Srila Prabhupada’s Lila
Srila Prabhupada introduced us to relationships steeped in respect, humility, and affection without sensuality, and he himself was the personification of such relationships. Here are excerpts from letter that he himself wrote to one fortunate Vaisnavi: “I am so much obliged to you for your devotion and affection for me. I thought of you all throughout my journey from San Francisco to New York and I was praying to Lord Krsna for your more and more advancement in Krsna Consciousness.” (4/10/67) “Every minute I think of you and as you asked me to go to San Francisco while returning from India, I am trying to fulfill my promise.” (11/4/67) “With the greatest satisfaction I have just now read over your nicely composed and hand-written letter… and I thank you so much for the kind sentiments you have expressed therein. I had also been thinking of you because you were thinking of me, but as your letter has arrived first it is for me to answer it. Actually, I always think of you as my naughty daughter and from the start of the movement, you and your very good husband have always shown to be very sincere and I will always appreciate this.” (9/9/68) “I was thinking of you since about a week why are you silent, and all of a sudden I got your letter with a golden ring enclosed. It was so much ecstatic. I thank you very much for your kind presentation which you have given… immediately upon receipt of this ring I pushed it on my finger, and it is very nice.” (1/18/69) “I lost my mother when I was only 14 years old. So I didn’t get much of my mother’s affection in my childhood. But in my old age, Krsna has given me so many young mothers to take care of me.” (2/20/69) “…even I am far away, as you say you are remembering me, so also I am remembering you, and in that sense we are never separated.” (12/27/72)
The relationship between the spiritual master and the disciple is not simply functional– the master giving knowledge and instructions and the disciple learning and obeying–but it is also a fully personal exchange into which, in the highest sense, two people enter with the interest of the other and the Supreme Lord at heart. Each does not serve limited and partial ends. The value of their exchange lies in its bhakti and for that reason transcends all materially-based relationships. The affection between them is transcendentally fulfilling, infinitely considerate, gentle and enthusing.
The light shed by this relationship illuminates all relationships. The disciple loses herself in her service to a worthy person, Srila Prabhupada, and in doing so finds herself in the highest sense. And thus finding herself she can weather the pettiness of useless controversy, of life’s endless details, and always thirst for the magnitude and magnanimity of Srila Prabhupada’s gift. In the service of her master, her inner life nourished, she can become whole, centered, and free from distraction: she gives of herself fully for his sake. It is from this spiritual strength that an individual, a family, a community and a society can flourish.
Making Our Heritage Relevant Today
In our Krsna conscious heritage all relationships, between husbands and wives, parents and children, spiritual master and disciple, friend and friend, are marinated in mutual respect, humility and affection. Subtract these vital ingredients and simply demand submission, subordination and service (in the name of Krsna consciousness), and the exchange quickly decomposes. Let us not dwarf the individual next to us, dear to us, by the enormity of our own ego. Hear from that person. Be awakened to his or her dignity.
What we seek is for the members of a family and a community to work with the same vision. Drawn together in Krsna’s service, we stretch to understand each other and are invigorated by the stretching. We move through life like dancers coming together and then moving into their separate spaces yet always to the same rhythm. Together creating a pattern and being invisibly nourished by it. The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation or participation, but also the joy of living it; of each person completely in touch with the music, poised on the beat in the present, free of innuendoes from the past and omens of the future, moving so harmoniously that who is leading and who is following is immaterial. Each individual feels accepted, appreciated and valued. And the individual is the special concern of the woman, as Asvattama was for Draupadi, Daksa for Sati, Citraketu for Parvati. The woman never forgets the particular uniqueness of each member of the family, she wants the best for that person, and she will sacrifice for that person. Awareness of others and giving to them is the basic substance of community.
This dance of community begins with our personal growth in humility; it begins when our fear of others is exorcised by respect for them. It begins when our relationships are not only functional, but are also the affectionate unification of devotees who are developing in all they can be and who are encouraging others to do the same.
These are the essential elements that form a community. We may neglect these realities. And we may witness our community fragment. We may emphasize these realities and move toward Krsna together.