Old 'Gaudiya' and 'Harmonist' Magazines on the Position of Women and Segregation of the Sexes


Mar 28, 2016 — INDIA (SUN) —

Some Q&A from the Bengali 'Gaudiya' magazine (main periodical of the Gaudiya Matha during Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura's times) related to the position of women and segregation of the sexes. Translated from the original Bengali by Brijbasi das.

'Gaudiya', Vol. 9, #42, p.698, (06.06.1931):

"Question: Are women qualified like men to engage in Bhagavad-bhakti or nor? If they are, then what if some woman by her good fortune becomes a devotee of the Lord (acting according to the dharma of the pure vaiṣṇavas) and wants to serve the Lord and to reside in some Kṣetra or Maṭha, having renounced everything, can she do that or not? And if some woman by such an activity becomes pure vaiṣṇavī, then is it proper for a detached person or a pure vaiṣṇava to receive her association in order to get spiritual instructions?

Answer: Śrīman Mahāprabhu taught: "bhaktau nṛ-mātrasyādhikāritā" - Any human is automatically qualified for bhagavad-bhakti, that means (in metaphorical expression) any conscious or living being. A woman, a man, a child, an old man, an animal, a bird, a blade of grass, a bush or a creeper – all these are descriptions related to the body. Bhakti is not an activity of a gross or a subtle body. That pure jīvātmā which is transcendental to the gross or subtle body, has a natural and eternal function - "bhakti". Therefore being jīva is the only qualification for bhakti.

Some jīva externally dressed as a woman by her good fortune can take shelter of bhagavad-bhakti and become an advanced devotee (paramā-bhaktimatī), still a man and a woman who are both inclined towards bhagavad-bhakti, should be very careful in their dealings, because the possibility of falldown is inherent in jīva's svarūpa. In Kali-yuga women's qualification for renouncing the family is very rare, even if we say that it is completely absent that would not be an exaggeration. There are hardly one or two (kvacit dui ekṭi) examples of especially qualified women like Gaṅgāmāta, whose qualification for gṛha-tyāga and kṣetra-sannyāsa etc. was always perfect (nitya-siddha), if we accept their capability as a general rule a great disaster will come upon the world. Women should perform hari-bhajana without duplicity while staying at home. In many holy places women develop different anarthas being driven by very strong desires (vāsanā) that consist of other intentions (anyābhilāṣa) and that are manifested as gṛha-tyāga etc. Although everyone is eligible for hari-bhajana, nevertheless everyone should perform hari-bhajana according to one's own qualification remaining in one's own position. If one gives up his position and wants to show his great thirst for hari-bhajana, then one's many varieties of other desires (anyābhilāṣa), lust (kāma), the desire for name and fame and for high position (pratiṣṭhāśā) or divergent endeavors (itara ceṣṭā) become manifest. In this way one falls down from his bhajana. Many of us witness a disturbance (jañjāla) that comes as a result of such a great desire to take shelter of a tīrtha or kṣetra, but which actually is caused by ulterior motives. If some woman, who in all respects uses her body, mind and speech only for the service of the Lord and has completely given up all bad association, follows the pure example of prema-bhakti-svarūpiṇī Śrī Śrī Śacī Devī or Śrī Śrī Viṣṇupriyā Devī and thus lives in the Dhāma, then she can perform Hari-bhajana in the same way. Just as Śrī Śrī Viṣṇupriyā Devī was always serving the desires of Gaura while taking care of the elderly Śrī Śrī Śacī Devī, who was expert in non-duplicitous bhajana. Or just as Śrī Śacī Devī, being completely free from all the other desires of this world, lived in Śridhāma Māyāpura with her mind fully absorbed in Gaura-sevā. So in this way if someone receives the instruction from a non-cheating sad-gurudeva and takes shelter of Śrī Dhāma, then it is possible for them to live in the Kṣetra etc. In this regard one should remain very careful and impartial (nirapekṣa). Therefore Śriman Mahāprabhu showed the example of sending completely impartial Dāmodara Paṇḍita to Śrī Śacīmātā. "eka līlāya karena prabhu kārya pāṅca-sāta" - "The Lord fulfills five or seven purposes by performing one pastime."[CC3.2.169].

Mahāprabhu told Dāmodara Paṇḍita:

mātāra gṛhe raha yāi mātāra caraṇe
tomāra āge nahibe kāro svacchandācaraṇe

"It is best for you to go to the shelter of My mother's lotus feet, for no one will be able to behave independently in front of you." [CC3.3.25]

It doesn't matter how much detached a pure vaiṣṇava and a pure vaiṣṇavī can become by residing in Śrī Kṣetra or in Śrīdhāma or by serving the desires of the Lord, they should not stay together in a secluded place even for moment, being influenced by a duplicitous desire for some "spiritual instructions". Such questions should not arise at all after Śrīman Mahāprabhu instructed us by the example of Choṭa Haridāsa. There is no such śuddhā-vaiṣṇavi like Mādhavī Mātā in the whole world. In the words of Caritāmṛta, she is:

"vṛddhā tapasvinī āra parama-vaiṣṇavī"

"She was an elderly lady who always performed austerities. She was very advanced in devotional service." [Antya 2.104]


"prabhu lekhā kare yāṅre rādhikāra 'gaṇa'"

"Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu accepted her as having formerly been an associate of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī." [Antya 2.105]

When detached Choṭa Haridāsa on the pretext of begging some rice went to such a paramā vaiṣṇavī, Mahāprabhu said:

—"vairāgī kare prakṛti sambhāṣaṇa
dekhite nā pāroṅ āmi tāhāra vadana

"The Lord replied, "I cannot tolerate seeing the face of a person who has accepted the renounced order of life but who still talks intimately with a woman.

durvāra indriya kare viṣaya-grahaṇa
dāravī prakṛti hare munerapi mana

"So strongly do the senses adhere to the objects of their enjoyment that indeed a wooden statue of a woman attracts the mind of even a great saintly person.

mātrā svasrā duhitrā vā
nā viviktāsano bhavet
balavān indriya-grāmo
vidvāṁsam api karṣati

"'One should not sit closely with one's mother, sister or daughter, for the senses are so strong that they may attract even a person advanced in knowledge.'

kṣudra-jīva saba markaṭa-vairāgya kariyā
indriya carāṣā bule 'prakṛti' sambhāṣiyā"

"There are many persons with little in their possession who accept the renounced order of life like monkeys. They go here and there engaging in sense gratification and speaking intimately with women." [CC, 3.2.117-120]

Also Śrimān Mahāprabhu taught us thousands of times by his own behavior that:

niṣkiñcanasya bhagavad-bhajanonmukhasya
pāraṁ paraṁ jigamiṣor bhava-sāgarasya
sandarśanaṁ viṣayiṇām atha yoṣitāṁ ca
hā hanta hanta viṣa-bhakṣaṇato 'py asādhu

"Alas, for a person who is seriously desiring to cross the material ocean and engage in the transcendental loving service of the Lord without material motives, seeing a materialist engaged in sense gratification or seeing a woman who is similarly interested is more abominable than drinking poison willingly." [Caitanya-caritāmṛta, 2.11.8]

Therefore any detached vaiṣṇava or any person inclined towards bhajana should not in any way associate with women under the pretext of receiving spiritual instructions. Those who are not willing to accept this instruction, are inimical to Mahāprabhu. Mahāprabhu will never see their face. Their only atonement is to die by throwing themselves into the waters of Triveṇī. Servants of the servants of Mahāprabhu will stay far away from the association of such people who engage in illicit association with women."

'Gaudiya', Vol. 10, #27, p. 418 (13.02.1932):

"Question: Can women perform sevā or pūjā in the temple altar or not?

Answer: It is forbidden for women to perform service in the inner part of the altar adjoining the Maṭha. However a duly initiated disciple of a sad-guru, even if she is a woman from the external point of view, can perform sevā and pūjā in the altar in her own home. She should by all means without any duplicity keep a distance from those who from the external point of view are male."

'Gaudiya', 11th year, #16, p.256, (26.11.1932):

The question was not reproduced, but it is apparent from the answer.

"Answer: Sannyāsa-āśrama is not recommended for women. While staying at home, they will meet auspiciousness by performance of hari-bhajana. In the name of giving women sannyāsa or bheka (bābājī-veśa) etc, many troubles were created in the world. Special examples (viśeṣa-dṛṣṭānta) are not to be imitated by common people (sādhāraṇera anukaraṇīya ādarśa nahe). If one wants to get more specific knowledge of taking shelter of bheka, one should consult Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī Prabhupāda's book "Saṁskāra-dīpikā"."

'The Harmonist', 30-2 (August, 1932), "The Paravidya-peetha":

"No women is allowed to live in the Maths. The plan in regard to the spiritual training of women is that they may attend the exposition-classes in the company of their guardians and also participate in an external way in the services of the Maths, to an extent, on the special occasions of Festivals when such help is capable of being utilised under proper safeguards. In other words the policy is to keep the sexes segregated from one another as much as possible. It is inculcated that a woman should serve Godhead by trying to introduce the ideal of the Math-life into her own household."

'The Harmonist', 28-4 (September 1930), "Advent of Sri Sri Baladeva":

"What was the nature of the power that Hiranyakashipu got? He obtained the power of Baladeva in a perverted form. In the Puranas there was an Asura' of the name of Baladeva who was killed by Indra and from whose bones came out jewels and pearls. This 'Asura' Baladeva co exists in competitive opposition to that Baladeva in whose lotus feet the entire principle of Divine transcendence and immanence and that of serving souls are centred. We are worshipping that perversion viz. the Asura Baladeva at present. It is our Sri Gurudev who can take us to the real power giving God. Now-a-days attempts are being made by woman to be treated on a footing of equality with man. But we can only hope to be able to protect both with that spiritual power for which we should rightly aspire. You are aware that Dhatri Panna, Durgabati and Karmadevi possessed more than masculine courage and strength of purpose; but how long could it protect even them? If this power cannot save any of us for good is it worth our while to strive for such an uncertain protection?"

'The Harmonist', 32-6 (21-11-1935), "Relation between the Sexes":

"The Gaudiya Math is urging all persons irrespective of caste, creed, age, sex or race to accept the regulations of the social arrangement based upon varna and ashrama for the reason that it is helpful for the realization of the eternal function of our souls. The varnashrama society is an organization for the joint performance of the worship of Hari by the method of the archana. The regulations laid down in the shastra for the due performane of archana provide the varnashrama society with its code of social procedure.

Archana may be defined as the ritualistic worship of the Emblematic form of the Divinity. The society is the Household of God. Godhead is the only Master. He is made offerings of food, clothing, all necessaries and luxuries except intoxicants and meat or fish, and every form of service. Wealth is earned for meeting the expenses of His Household. All persons are servants in the Household of Godhead. Everyone accepts with thankfulness whatever is provided by the Lord through His beloved ones for his maintenance. Everyone feeds on the leavings of the dishes of the Lord's beloved servants. No one owns any property of his own. Everything if t he Lord's property as everyone is His bondman whom He may let live or not, and who has to do no other work except His Bidding. This is the duty of every person, man as well as woman, in the varnashrama society.

The cardinal principle of the varnashrama association is this that no one may be the owner of any property or the service of another. Everyone is only a servant whose activities are ever in the service of God. Similarly the Sole Object of everyone's service as the only Master, the only Friend, the only Son and the only Consort, is Krishna. Marrying and giving in marriage do not give rise to any rights of a master either to the husband or to the wife. Man and woman are joined in wedlock for the purpose of serving each other in the performance of the joint service of Krishna.

The wife is not an object of enjoyment of the husband, nor vice versa. They do not marry for gratifying their sexual appetites. They marry for pleasing the Lord, nor for pleasing themselves. They choose for their partners only such persons who serve God better than themselves. They offer themselves to be accepted by their partners for the favour of being allowed to share in their superior service of Hari. Neither the husband nor the wife is to claim the services of his or her partner on their own account. Both of them are only to offer their services if and when their partner is pleased to permit them to share their service of Hari. Neither the husband nor the wile is to claim the services of his or her partner on their own account. Both of them are only to offer their services if and when their partner is pleased to permit them to share their service of Hari. None of them can force their services on their partners.

This system of household discipline has its root in the joint worship of the household Deity by all members of the household. All the members are to exert themselves in all possible ways for serving the pleasure of their common and only Master. Everyone is to learn the Command of the Master from one's fellow-servants, so that the requisition by any member of the household is realised as the Requisition by the Lord Himself. Thus both man and woman, children and old persons, vie with one another in offering their services. No one demands any service from another on his own account. No one may demand the service of another for the Lord. Everyone is to offer his or her unreserved services for the gracious acceptance by any and every servant of the Lord.

Those who are not asked in marriage by a servant of the Lord, have, therefore, no occasion for marriage. One who is asked in marriage by another member of the society may not refuse the requisition for his or her service.

A very interesting question naturally arises in this connection. How may any person ask another in marriage in such society? Everyone has to wait for being called to serve. So how can anyone be actually called?

This leads up to the question of the Guru or the spiritual Guide. The highest order of devotees are pleased to requisition the services of their disciples. In this they only carry out the Command of the Lord, so that when the Guru requisitions the service of any of the disciples the latter has the opportunity of actually rendering his services.

The whole system thus receives its initial impulse from the Guru. No one will ask another in marriage except by instructions of the Guru, It does not serve the spiritual purpose at all if one takes the initiative and asks for the permission of the Guru for proposing marriage to a party whom he wishes to ask in marriage. This procedure is tantamount to tasking the Guru to serve oneself.

But the Guru never asks any person to enter the state of wedlock unless he is asked by the latter for his permission to a marriage already settled in one's mind. The Guru may or may not accord his permission to such an applicant. But as a matter of fact the Guru seldom withholds his assent from any whom he does not wish specially to favour.

The reason why the Guru does not ordinarily ask any person to enter the state of wedlock is that it is very rarely that any person is to be found in this world who is willing to regard his or her wife or husband as worthy of his or her unconditional services. This is, however, exactly the relationship between husband and wife that can alone be really sanctioned by the Guru.

This is also the reason why the Gaudiya Math does not permit any woman to reside under its roof as an inmate of the Math. It would be hardly safe to ask any man or woman to offer his or her unconditional services to the other except by sanctioning their marriage.

So there is no necessity for such people to stay under the roof of the Math as they are required to set up a household of their own in order to segregate themselves from similar association with other men and women.

But may it not be asked that the women might be provided with Maths of their own? This is not theoretically inadmissible. But the practical difficulties in the way of the establishment of such an institution are ordinarily insurmountable. The Gangamata Math at Puri set up by a lady was a model institution of this kind. The great difficulty will be that, in all Maths the majority of the inmates will be neophytes. These neophytes are susceptible of back-sliding at any moment.

If a very large number of women enter the Maths as novices it will be difficult to control them properly. Public opinion in no country will tolerate the imposition of the requisite discipline on women and the back-sliding of a single member of such institutions will be magnified by most worldly people.

'The Harmonist', 32-8 (December 21, 1935), "Sex":

"The proposal to segregate the sexes is for eliminating the obstructing physical and mental, or mundane, sexual activity. The spiritual activity is denied by the active desire for the mundane. The economic segregation of the sexes is necessary for the spiritual purpose. In the case of unredeemed souls external, that is to say, physical and mental, association is alone possible in practice. When spiritual association becomes possible, mental and physical affinity automatically ceases to have any influence on the conduct of redeemed souls. It is this which makes all the difference between the conduct of self-realised souls and those who are subject to the appetites of the flesh. As a matter of fact the advocated of full and equal liberty for woman seem to forget that this world and our sensuous affinities for the things of this world are not our permanent and real interests."


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