In a video released today featuring Gopal Krishna Goswami, Bhakti Charu Swami, and Jayapataka Swami, these three initiating gurus and senior members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC) explain why they support the GBC resolution empowering women to serve as initiating spiritual masters in ISKCON.
Watch the video here:
The resolution included under “701.6: ISKCON spiritual masters,” and entitled “Vaisnavi Diksa-gurus — 2019” was passed by the GBC at the Midterm General Meeting in October 2019. It was confirmed at the Annual General Meeting at ISKCON’s world headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal, India in February 2020.
The resolution states that: “Whereas in 2009 the GBC Resolved:
1. The GBC accepts the philosophical conclusion presented in the SAC’s [Sastric Advisory Committee’s] Female Diksa Guru Paper that a mature, qualified, female devotee may accept the role of an initiating spiritual master.
2. The GBC Body authorizes local area committees to put forward for approval as initiating guru any devotee in their area, male or female, who is qualified according to existing GBC Law.
Whereas, since then, the GBC has worked to achieve consensus and implementation of this resolution;
Whereas after much study, dialogue, and research, the GBC has come to the following conclusion.
1. Vaisnavis are eligible to give diksa in ISKCON provided that they: a) Meet all the qualifications listed for ISKCON diksa-guru applicants; b) Are at least 55 years of age and in a stable family situation, living under the protection of a husband, elder son or son-in-law, qualified householder couple or senior Vaisnava or Vaisnavi sanga; c) Receive written permission from the appropriate regional body or its equivalent, or national council, to give diksa in that particular part of the world.
2. After five years the GBC shall review this resolution to determine if the number of Vaisnavis initiating in any region or as a total for the world is in keeping with Srila Prabhupada’s indication of ‘…not so many’.”
Dissenting voices among the GBC called for the resolution to be voted down, tabled, or amended at the 2020 AGM. The GBC decided not to amend the decision, but agreed to continue dialogue with other leaders – especially within India, where some had voiced opposition to the Vaishnavi diksa-guru decision – before any amendments are adopted.
The video released today is significant because the three senior GBC gurus who are featured have a large number of disciples around the world. All three also had a great deal of personal association with Srila Prabhupada.
“I support the present GBC decision on authorizing Vaishnavi diksa-gurus,” says Jayapataka Swami in the video, entitled “Vaishnavi Diksha Gurus in ISKCON.”
He explains, “Lord Caitanya taught ‘kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya, yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya.’ Regardless of whether they are brahman or sannyasi or even a sudra for that matter, anyone who knows the science of Krishna, they are qualified to be a guru.”
Bhakti Charu Swami points out: “Srila Prabhupada did say that he wanted his disciples, male and female, to become gurus, to become initiating spiritual masters.”
He also comments: “How can we discount this instruction of Srila Prabhupada? And Prabhupada did not mention it just casually. He mentioned it very clearly during his Vyasa Puja. So obviously Prabhupada meant it and it is our responsibility to pursue that desire and fulfill that desire of Srila Prabhupada.”
Jayaptaka Swami adds: “I don’t think that with all these references we should restrict anyone from being a guru. There may not be many such qualified personalities, but anyway if someone is qualified they shouldn’t be restricted from being a diksa-guru just because they are in a female body. I don’t see that that’s Lord Caitanya’s culture. Maybe it’s a different culture, but it’s not Lord Caitanya’s culture.”
Gopal Krishna Goswami remarks, “I personally am not against female diksa-gurus. I personally saw the movement grow and I saw how the ladies played a big role in pushing book distribution. They would distribute more books than men. And [they were] doing Deity worship in the temples, and doing cooking in the temples. So if they were able to do service, and we took their service, what is the harm in their being recognized?”
His final comment in the video is: “I believe that Prabhupada would permit exceptionally qualified female disciples to be guru. But we will all ultimately accept what the GBC body decides.”
The GBC decision itself was perhaps the longest debated decision in ISKCON history. The original resolution accepting the conclusion that Vaishnavis can give diksa was adopted by the GBC in 2005. Since then there have been multiple plenary sessions on the topic, with GBC members and other senior leaders sharing their thoughts, scriptural evidence, and sometimes strongly held differences, both in favor of and opposed to Vaishnavi diksa-gurus. In addition, hundreds of pages of documents, sastric references, and scholarly papers and counter papers were reviewed by the GBC. The conclusion of the 2005 resolution was confirmed by resolution in 2009, and finally again in the present 2019 resolution.
Bhakti Charu Swami.
In addition to the GBC debates, other ISKCON members – and some outside ISKCON – have weighed in on the topic. Also released recently is a more than 200-page paper authored by Madana-mohan das, a GBC deputy and former member and secretary of the GBC Sastric Advisory Council, entitled “Guru: The Principle, Not the Body.” [see link below]. That paper, while not officially endorsed by the GBC, supports the GBC decision and counters many of the arguments against Vaishnavis serving as gurus in ISKCON.
“In the minds of most GBC members, Srila Prabhupada wanted his women disciples and future generations of women to be able to serve as initiating gurus,” says Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON Minister of Communications.
“Prabhupada also called for ‘unity in diversity.’ That means giving some leeway in how different regions of the world manage their affairs. The GBC decision, as endorsed in this new video, is in line with the mood of Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada because it doesn’t prevent any class of qualified persons from serving as gurus, while at the same time allowing local decision-making in implementing the policy.”
Radha dasi, head of the ISKCON Vaishnavi Ministry, and a Harvard-educated attorney based in the United States, commented, “The resolution and the video both recognize that our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and history, and our Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada have sanctioned Vaishnavi diksa-gurus.
“The question has always been how to implement the practice. This resolution balances the cultural concerns of certain areas of the world with the need to follow both our tradition and our Founder-Acharya.”
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Watch the video “Vaishnavi Diksha Gurus in ISKCON” here. Click on the “settings” wheel at the bottom of the video to choose either English or Hindi subtitles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yXOU3clZ0s&feature=youtu.be
Read the paper “Guru: The Principle, Not the Body,” by Madana-mohan Das, here: https://tinyurl.com/guru-not-the-body
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies