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Presentations to the GBC, March 2000 - Kusa Dasi
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Women in ISKCON:
Presentations to the GBC, March 2000

Sitala Dasi Kusa Dasi Rukmini Dasi
Yamuna Dasi Saudamani Dasi  
Visakha Dasi Sudharma Dasi Conclusion

Presentation by Kusa Dasi

These past few days I have relished participating in the application of vaisnava-siddhanta to management. Thank you!

Burke Rochford's report, submitted to the GBC last year, states: 'I recommend that ISKCON leaders immediately move to restore the rights and responsibilities afforded women by Srila Prabhupada. Men should be educated accordingly. Guru and non-guru leaders should teach respect for women; women should again be viewed as capable devotees in the service of Prabhupada's movement rather than as temptresses or other such derogatory characterisations. To do so would immediately increase the self-esteem of women and make them more productive members of ISKCON. This will also make the movement more attractive to potential members who view ISKCON's position on women as antiquated and morally objectionable.'

Calling women temptresses and using other such derogatory characterisations is, in part, due to our failure to practise austerity of speech. In Bhagavad-gita 17.15, Lord Krsna states: 'Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.' Profound speech invigorates receptivity and trust within our Gaudiya Vaisnava family. So, why do we sometimes utilise denigrating speech in relation to women? Perhaps it is because when a man is improperly trained, rather than taking responsibility for his own sex desire, he blames women and thus speaks harshly about them and to them. This harshness towards women, and along with it, harshness towards the householder asrama, intimidates, alienates and lessens the esteem and dignity of women and grhasthas. Gender-biased speech wounds our Society; spoken from the vyasasana, it strikes a thorn in our hearts.

The Bhagavatam's wisdom is not gender-exclusive. A small adjustment in the speaker's elaboration of a sloka could make the instruction applicable to the whole audience. For example, if the text reads, 'regarding associating with women for illicit sex', the speaker could purport that one should guard against associating with anyone for illicit sex. While reflecting guru, sadhu and sastra it behooves us to consider our audience and practise austerity of speech.

Pleasing and beneficial speech comes naturally with proper training. A brahmacari who has been properly trained honours rather than denigrates women. When such a brahmacari enters the grhastha-asrama, his dominating male ego is tempered by his wife's precious qualities. His realisations and humility increase during his decades as a householder, while his sensuality decreases until it becomes nil and he enters the vanaprastha stage.

Finally, having fully developed his own inner, gentle life - of forgiveness, softness, nurturing and relatedness - the satisfied gentleman accepts the renounced order. Such a secure renunciate is not threatened by a woman's power; on the contrary, he evokes it.

Srila Prabhupada set the example of this mature stage of sannyasa. He was as hard as a thunderbolt, kicking with boots on the heads of materialistic scientists, Mayavadis, pseudo-religionists and sahajiyas when time, place and circumstance warranted it. He was also as soft as a rose, having nurturing, loving exchanges with his followers - women, children and men.

Overemphasis on qualities such as rational analysis, authority, control, competition and power causes us, men and women, to demean softness, simplicity and gentility. By neglecting and denying these kind and humbling aspects in each of us, by making the feminine seem trivial, our lives become progressively more sterile, inert and empty. The feminine qualities of nurturing and compassion perish when pitted against the masculine lust for power. Our most noble spiritual path, when denied feminine values, degenerates to prideful hypocrisy rather than devotion.

It is time to bravely and without sensuality affirm the feminine, to heal the wounds and at the same time contribute to the healing of our children and our Society. Let us move from a place of arrogant weakness to one of humble strength.

In his purport to text 1.9.27 of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes: 'As far as the women class are concerned, they are accepted as a power of inspiration for men. As such, women are more powerful than men.'

Due to Devahuti's feminine power, Kardama Muni was inspired to create an incredibly magnificent palace in the sky; due to Gandhari's feminine power, her eldest son, Duryodhana, received a body that was impervious to weapons. Due to Savitri's feminine power, her husband Satyavan was rescued from death. Due to Cintamani's inspiration, Bilvamangala Thakura gave up material life and completely devoted himself to Krsna.

Honour all Vaisnavas. Failing to do so inspires edicts instead of dialogues, resolutions instead of relationships, indifference instead of spiritual intimacy. Vaisnavis are agents of Laksmi, not Mayadevi. They summon the presence of Narayana, for Laksmi is always in her Lord's company.

We may also note with caution that Krsna conscious feminine power can create havoc in the lives of those who don't respect Vaisnavis: the unscrupulous Kauravas perished due to dishonouring Draupadi. If those of us who are not on the level of Draupadi are disrespected, we may live down to those expectations and become representatives of Mayadevi. Respecting a woman as an agent of Laksmi will do much to encourage her most precious devotion to the Lord. Expectation, especially from those we respect, has an extraordinary influence on us.

We have experienced Sri Caitanya's, Srila Bhaktivinoda's, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's and Srila Prabhupada's mercy. We now request the mercy of the assembled Vaisnavas. Our ISKCON social body needs a change of heart!

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