Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Return of the Mothers

Updated 12/13/17
A prabhu at asked -in regard to the article My Brief against Feminism-  "How is feminism related to female guruship?" and more specifically, "Why can't an older woman become guru?"

First of all, the idea of female diksha is not the foremost issue, feminism is. It is a chief cause of the many social disturbances we see today, fed by the root cause- godlessness. Feminism was what prompted the article; the questioning of female diksha was simply for openers.

Historically, it's not that a woman could not become diksha, but there was no dearth of full time mothers and women at home either. The divine consort of Lord Nityananda and incarnation of Ananga Manjari, Jahnava Ma, was one rare example, but who was better known for cooking and feeding devotees rather than traveling to Japan. Thus the question should be: Why is it not the best idea at this phase in time, when family life and the family structure has been undergoing serious attack from atheists?

In other words, what problems arise when a society gives increasing emphasis to personal choice via leading women taking on traditionally men's training and roles, rather than their God given duties in the home? and what does feminist influence have to do with this?

Feminism is related to the idea of material equality, and since that's impossible, it forces human society to adapt in many artificial, complicated ways to facilitate female independence. Take, for example, the widespread use of unhealthy contraceptives, all the aborted babies or latchkey kids, sexual harassment laws, men forced to pay child support while losing their children, men losing job and educational opportunities that have become more and more geared towards women, or the fact that men have to take on the worst or high risk job positions which subject them to workplace fatalities simply because women are still protected from them.

And how do many women end up? Often lonely and bitter with little or no family.

Because of this continued push for equal rights, we see such trouble and a scourge of husbandless women. And this will continue to grow until women are foremost encouraged to learn about and take their place in the home, regardless of what path they choose later.

Of course, it's not like one will never see a woman on the street again or in the work place. There always have been public women, as Srila Bhaktivnoda called them, or sudranis who work alongside men. Therefore, we do not find only brahmanis and queens in the sastras. There also are women like Kubja, for example, who was obliged to work as a maidservant for Kamsa or the maidservants that accompanied Devaki during her wedding, or the prostitutes of Dwaraka or the beautiful Cintamani who inspired Srila Bilvamangala Thakur or the woman vendor who gave her fruits to Lord Krishna. And as a side note, Srila Prabhupada cleverly took advantage of the western woman's proclivity for public service and elevated them to the status of Krishna's transcendental dasis instead. Working outside the home is the back up crew because generally the servant class has always been necessary for the activities of the other classes to go on. Sudranis do so many services to keep the rest of human society going even to the present day; not every woman can be fortunate enough to work at home. Ditto the transcendental women servants in present day ISKCON.

Beyond this, there may occasionally be the case of domestic women needed outside the home similar to what Srila Prabhupada mentions as "emergency duties" in Bhagavad gita 2.47 purport. Such duties, as necessary, may require capabilities outside one's regular activities, and thus they are generally executed without personal ambition and on a short term basis. One example might be Queen Kaikeyi in the Ramayana assisting her husband Dasaratha on the battlefield.

This is different reasoning, however, than what is happening today. In Kali yuga sudra life is glorified and a perpetual situation is being pushed for all women to not only work outside the home but also to become trained for men's duties ad nauseum and to live their lives outside marriage if no husbands are willing to facilitate such a program. And since similarly, ISKCON leaders have already sanctioned for women positions as temple president or GBC, the position of female diksha was bound to come up.

So now, questions naturally arise- if not the boundaries given in Srila Prabhupada's books, who decides where boundaries should be drawn?  And how does the GBC propose to solve the above social problems created by independent womanhood? Not long ago, they passed a resolution resembling sexual harassment laws. So instead of protecting women by encouraging marriage and faithful womanhood, it seems our whole society is being brought closer to the artificial conditions of present secular society. And if we must have women on the GBC, why not married women who are closer to the sastric ideals?

Otherwise, more problems are guaranteed to multiply because when women are increasingly programmed to demand men's jobs, this detracts from the duties traditionally assigned by sastra. Such duties take a back seat or become practically non existent in the clamor for an egalitarian, communist society.

And perhaps the most serious problem is that the remaining women who do choose a home life suffer from feelings of loneliness, derision, lack of role models and support. They are prone to feel incomplete if they don't compete with the superwoman model that teaches women they should "have it all", which means juggling both family life and a career or some big service outside the home. The result is women who feel disconnected from their families, too worn out to do it all, properly.

The family woman, therefore, should become the standard for ISKCON rather than the public woman. A shift in focus is in order, so that dedicated family women may develop their God given abilities to nurture a society via stable family life. Especially for the children's sake.

There is talk, for example, about improving the educational standards within ISKCON. What people need to understand, however, is that no amount of education will turn a child into a devotee the way stable family life can. Children who actually feel loved and cared for by both parents and valued, make happy students and better schools. This means getting to the root of ISKCON's educational problems, rather than drifting away from Prabhupada's vision for gurukulas. It means getting to the heart of the problems most men today face, which often disqualify or cripple their abilities as leaders in the home or the greater society.

After all, mother is the first guru. She teaches her children the foundation of unconditional love by faithfulness to their fathers, as prescribed by Lord Sri Krishna. This means her position as shiksha to her children and, in her maturity, to everyone else is totally natural; it complements the feminine nature. Thus it makes sense that when Suniti is described as shiksha guru for Dhruva Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada chose her example to teach women that being guru is not limited to diksha (SB 4.12.32p). CC Adi 1.47 purport says "If one foolishly discriminates between them, he commits an offense in the discharge of devotional service."

And if women are encouraged in their duties at home, in turn we will see the return of dedicated grandmothers or mother's in-law because without their involvement, young wives and mothers cannot thrive. They simply have not the maturity, experience, etc. Without such elderly family women, there are currently many young women who need mentoring and support, rather than depending upon society to pressure their already overworked husbands or outsiders to accept more and more responsibilities previously done by mature family women.

No wonder so many abandon their home life for other things while their husbands and children are bewildered and deeply affected by their frustration!

Young men, too, benefit from the advice and encouragement of elderly, family women. Not entangled in other things the world now has women believe they should be a part of, availability of an elderly woman's counsel and support is probably her most important service to humanity. And the more experience such noble women have in life as a mother to others around them, the better able men will grow up to think of them as such, rather than objects for personal sense gratification. Disrespect for women naturally will be curtailed.

In other words, family life and motherhood should be presented for women as their normal, healthy, and lifelong service to the Lord or to at least be looked up to by women not so fortunate, wherever their karma places them. These are such extremely important jobs, sacred duties, that they are meant to be promoted and carefully protected by a godly governing class as an example for all.

Thus women, currently programmed to believe they should act as a temple president, GBC or to give diksa rather than siksha to help humanity, less likely would be called upon, the more they focus upon establishing for men and their children a happy home life overseen by mature women. That's because men who grow up in stable families of supported mothers, followed by good training in gurukulas and satisfactory householder lives via faithful wives dedicated to their husbands, homes and family for Srila Prabhupada's and Lord Krishna's satisfaction, will become better equipped to take on these duties that were meant for them in the first place.

To get to this point, we need women educated in their domestic duties and supported by healthy social attitudes to help them to realize just how valuable their position in the domestic sphere really is.

We won't accomplish much, however, if neophyte women should be forced into these roles. For most of us converts, it required a higher taste, which gives the patience needed to understand what is duty and what is not. It requires steadily chanting Hare Krishna and following the process of Krishna consciousness to gain a service mood. That's because varnasarama development depends upon bhakti, not the other way around. Bhakti is always independent.

"The value of such scientific divisions of human society can be ascertained only in terms of the proportionate development of devotional service to the Lord...Everyone is meant to serve the purpose of the Supreme Lord" -SB 2.8.16p

But does that mean society should just sit back and not have an important role in determining how things will play out?

The masses of people are simple- minded; what is fed to them enough, they eventually accept. Today the media, for example, constantly displays images of unsubmissive, grossly selfish, often violent tempered women who apparently have no concern for men, family life, children or anything else normal women have feelings for. If ISKCON leaders propagate the roles of women from Prabhupada's books, this blatant social engineering can be gradually overturned, and a healthy attitude towards dedicated family women and their extremely important contributions to society can reawaken.

So the ISKCON leaders need to take these things into consideration. Which role models for human society should receive the most attention?  Domestic women or public women? The latter always have and always will exist and for important reasons not covered here, but we need to consider who needs the most support in order to help our sons and to set the best example for our daughters, as well as attract traditionally minded people by giving our movement a better image.  Plus, it makes sense that a social structure that takes into account all living entities, having been designed by the Lord Himself, should take priority over the desires of the nostalgic devotees who seem to expect that all men must act immediately on the same platform as paramahamsa Srila Prabhupada did in dealing with women. Srila Prabhupada's position is not so cheap.

Some may argue that devotees are transcendental, that they are above such considerations. But what example does that give the masses outside our movement? Unless we counter modern culture, we are inadvertently supporting sinful activities which include domestic violence, divorce, abortion and child abuse. 

And let us not forget that family life connected to Krishna's service becomes purified. Prabhupada says in Bg 5.2-3 purport, "Since everything belongs to Krishna, everything should be employed in the service of Krishna. This perfect form of action in Krishna consciousness is far better than any amount of artificial renunciation...There is no duality in his mind because whatever he does, he does for Krishna. Being thus freed from the platform of dualities, he is liberated- even in this material world."

As for those who strongly insist that opposing material equality for women is discrimination, they should consider how their stance is discrimination against dedicated family women just as well (and also how they appear envious of their own gender).

Truth is, if it were not for the foolish men who support feminism, feminism could not exist (although conversely, it is feminism that gives such men, who are over attached to women, a voice in the first place!).

And if they could please read their own sexist language whenever describing a woman at home... Often, they write as if it is some terrible, horrible thing forced upon her. By men. But unless they have served as a dedicated wife and mother for thirty years or so, what qualification do they have to even speak on this subject?

The source of this thinking is something all devotees should examine. These men are enjoying the company of women in every sphere of their lives, and therefore it makes sense why they fight tooth and nail to keep things the way they are- a chaotic society overrun by people's wants. In reality, they are more dangerous than the feminists because, as Prabhodananda Sarasvati pointed out, "What will a man attached to women not do in disobedience to the orders of guru and scripture?"

This blog has vintage images from the 1950's and so on. Maybe that's why the same prabhu at Dandavats criticized: "Some devotees seem to confuse western materialistic culture prior to 1950 with the ideal Vedic standard".

The reality is, it's difficult to find many pictures after the early 60's that show a woman serving her husband or in the home. Revealingly, that's how looked down upon household life for a woman has become.

And yes, any period in American history had a good share of flaws.  Underneath the surface of any materialistic society lies a good deal of unhappiness and even if covered by social expectations, it's bound to come out some way or other.

In response, the second wave of feminist activity began in the early 1960s and lasted through the late 1980s. "The key event that marked the reemergence of this movement in the postwar era was the surprise popularity of Betty Friedan's 1963 book 'The Feminine Mystique'.

"Writing as a housewife and mother (although she had had a long story of political activism and connection with the CIA), the problem with no name that Friedan described-  the dissatisfaction of educated, middle class wives and mothers like herself who, looking at their nice homes and families, wondered guiltily if that was all there was to life-  was not new; the vague sense of dissatisfaction plaguing housewives was a staple topic for women's magazines in the 1950s. But Friedan, instead of blaming individual women for failing to adapt to women's proper role, blamed the role itself and the society that created it" (Norton, Mary Beth, "A People, A Nation" )

After consorting with the ideals of Friedan and her ilk for a disastrous several decades, many people are again attracted to what the fifties era represents- homelife, motherhood, family, apple pie... But that is the nature of the material world, wavering back and forth between semblances of the fifties or that of the hippies. This wavering is described in the sastras as "bhoga tyaga".

 But, we followers of Srila Prabhupada should know better than anyone else, that the discontent described by Friedan was actually a lack of Krishna consciousness, which is also the root cause of this industrial society and its nuclear family model and all its feelings of isolation, depression, boredom, etc.

Prabhupada's books, on the other hand, give the ideal for human society to function according to Krishna's plan, and the role that women play is highly important and their cooperation essential. To move forward, therefore, shouldn't we first of all take better care to avoid further advancing the materialistic woman's eternal discontent voiced by Friedan, and work to promote Srila Prabhupada's desires for varnasrama instead?

A sect of Christians sell a book called The Return of the Daughters.  But those daughters have mothers and grandmothers already in the home. With their faithful women already firmly convinced that happy home life is a primary necessity and God's arrangement for human society to function properly, all they need now is transcendental consciousness, something ISKCON is meant to demonstrate for them.

But at present, it isn't just daughters ISKCON needs the return of, but dedicated mothers, mothers-in-law and grandmothers to support those daughters.

It is notable, too, that these Christians understandably have less trouble following the determination to have sex only for procreation, since they consider children their future hope and therefore often have large families in the face of the widespread, western contraceptive mentality.  We could do likewise, since Krishna says sex for His divine service is religious and Srila Prabhupada desired many such children for the spreading of Krishna consciousness.

In conclusion, Krishna consciousness was all that was missing all along. Feminism was just a symptom of that. Then Srila Prabhupada came to the west and women started becoming Krsna conscious. Unfortunately, coming to the Hare Krishna movement contaminated by feminist conditioning, many had disposed of their valuable feminine nature well beforehand and have influenced succeeding generations to do the same. Now let's work conjointly to bring back the lady at home, this time for the service of Krishna, and in this way establish the long awaited, non-industrial, spiritually -progressive society Prabhupada envisioned for us, a true varnasrama society.  First things first.

Then maybe some day, another nitya-siddha female diksha might appear like Jahnava Ma, who, most importantly, served with the heart of a mother.

For the follow up on this post, you may also like: Refined