Do women have the same rights as men in ISKCON?
There is a spiritual perspective and material perspective and from the spiritual perspective as souls we are neither males nor females. We are all parts of Krishna and we all have the innate right and innate nature to love and serve Krishna and that principle is very much stressed by SPP in his teaching and whole Bhakti tradition is that we go beyond everything material so that we can focus on spiritual. In the spiritual sense everybody has equal opportunity to practice Bhakti in terms of philosophy. In terms of practice men and women are different in terms of their dispositions in terms of their nature their rational, emotional balance. This is the not the matter of any discrimination. This is a matter of naturally the way they are made, They all have different roles and relationally men had certain roles and women had certain roles. SPP was in one sense quite conservative and in another sense he was extremely accommodating. So in his books SPP does talk about traditional gender roles quite significantly, but in his dealings he focuses on the engaging everyone in Bhakti. For example SPP went to America, there he found that the women there would practically do everything that men would do. This was the way they were. So Prabhupada engaged them in service, whatever the suitable way for them. so in 1968 SPP went back to America from India after his recovery, he had a big globe in front of him and all his early disciples were there. So he told all of them, ” All of you pick up one country, and deliver that country”. Jadurani mataji was there, she asked , ” Prabhupada what about us, girls”. SPP said ” We are not bodies, we are souls. You also pick one country. You also take one country”. So PP in that sense never discouraged anyone in the practice of Bhakti. So broadly speaking, if we look at PP tenure of instructions, those who are women who were brought up in the western atmosphere where they were doing not necessarily the traditional roles, they were doing various activities. He encouraged them to do those activities and continue doing Bhakti. The women who were brought up in the traditional environment, they were happy doing the traditional roles. He encouraged them to do that. The principle is we don’t have to make Bhakti more difficult than it need to. For a woman who is brought up in a modern society, where she has been doing a lot of activity, for her to be expected to stick to the role of a traditional housewife is very difficult. It’s not mean that the traditional housewife role is any lower, that’s also important. But if a woman is comfortable doing the traditional housewife duties, there is no need for her to think that I have to do the other things which other women were doing for me to do Bhakti. This is even now a matter of discussion and evolution in our movement. Broadly speaking we need to keep ourselves inspired and engaged in Bhakti. So what facility and whatever the environment, the important thing is that social roles and social standards, all these are meant to facilitate us in our spiritual life. So whatever is favorable, we accept that. If the traditional gender role is favorable for the practice of Bhakti, we do that. If that is not favorable we do that. If that is not favorable then whatever is favorable to engage ourselves in Bhakti, we should do that. So are different devotees with different orientations in our movement. Based on their emphasis some of them may be with the idea that everyone should stick to the traditional roles and there may be devotees who may get attracted to that kind of presentation. Others may be just accommodating and they suggest to just engage in bhakti whatever the way we can. What is it that inspires us in bhakti and we should engage ourselves accordingly. In Bhakti there is Sambandha, Abhidheya and prayojana. Sambandha is the philosophical moulage of who we are and what our relationship with Krishna is. Abhidheya is the process of bhakti. The process of Bhakti essentially means, how we practice devotional service and how we fix our mind on Krishna. PP explains in the Nectar of devotion that Rupa Gosvami says that the sadhaka should always fix the mind on Krishna and PP explains in NOD lecture that it is acharya’s responsibility to create means and facilities by which a sadhaka can fix his mind on Krishna. It means that the acharya according to the expertise, according to the realization according to the expertise will adjust the abhidheya accordingly. So the process of fixing the mind on Krishna in its details and process vary according to time, place and circumstances. So rather than worrying about huge institution of ISKCON and how things are within ISKCON, we can focus on that which is favorable to our bhakti and practice bhakti accordingly. Find how we can ourselves best engage in Krishna’s service. How we can fix mind upon Krishna and accordingly do bhakti.
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