Srila Prabhupada's Transcendental Sweetness
Presentation by Yamuna
What a week of Vaisnava sadhu-satsanga this has been! I
leave the richer, having exchanged with my family members, old and
new, Godbrothers, Godsisters, nephews and nieces. While I feel most
unqualified to speak to you today, I am honoured and privileged
to join my Godsisters in voicing my concerns as a woman in ISKCON.
As the GBC body, all of you are responsible for establishing Srila
Prabhupada's legacy, which, in these difficult and turbulent times,
is at stake. One realm of that legacy - the rapport Srila Prabhupada
established with his Vaisnavi disciples - is the topic of our discussion
today, because over the years since his disappearance it has been
largely forgotten. Perhaps my personal service and association with
him, along with his later guidance and instructions, offer some
insights in this area.
As a strong and independent young woman I met Srila Prabhupada
in 1966 and took initiation in 1967. Had Srila Prabhupada demanded
conformity to orthodox roles for women as a condition of surrender,
I, along with many of my Godsisters, would probably not have joined
ISKCON. That he did not is testament to his spiritual vision. He
lovingly encouraged and engaged us in the service of the sankirtana
movement, and he consistently revealed himself to be panditah
sama-darsinah - equal to all.
In both men and women, Srila Prabhupada observed our propensities
and expertly dovetailed them in his preaching mission. For many
years, in different countries and circumstances, I had the good
fortune to render personal service to him. He trained me, urged
me to accept more and more responsibility, and regularly asked me
to lead kirtanas, give classes, arrange programmes, manage
departments, provide comforts for visiting devotees, meet with leaders,
and actively promulgate Krsna consciousness. In ISKCON India, where
previously no women were allowed, he sent me to various temples
to learn cooking and Deity worship, and he repeatedly asked me to
train others in the same.
It would take much longer than the limited time I have here to
give you a glimpse into the numerous exchanges that illustrate Srila
Prabhupada's demeanour and mood. However, one such exchange is what
I call the Canakya Pandita episodes. I was present on four occasions
when Srila Prabhupada repeated the Canakya adage: 'Never trust a
woman or a politician.' On each occasion Srila Prabhupada looked
me in the eye to see my response. On the last occasion, in Bombay
in 1973, he quoted the saying, heartily laughing in front of a small
group of men. Then he said: 'What do you think, Yamuna?' Immediately
I retorted: 'Of course it is true, Srila Prabhupada,' whereupon
he became grave, looked at me with great feeling, and said, 'But
you are not a woman, you are a Vaisnava.'
Another series of exchanges centred on leading kirtana.
Srila Prabhupada often had me lead the first kirtana before
he spoke at a programme, whether in front of twenty people or ten
thousand people. There were occasions when I felt uncomfortable
with this. At the Jaipur pandal at Radha Govinda temple,
I refused to lead kirtana. Srila Prabhupada called me over
and said, 'Lead kirtana.' I said, 'I can't. My throat hurts.'
He said, 'No. Lead kirtana.' So, croaking like a frog, I
In late 1974, not long after I had left my householder asrama,
Srila Prabhupada pronounced it 'good that you have left your husband',
and encouraged me to become a 'sannyasini'. Although I was
not in the traditional role of being protected by my father, husband
or son, in both his personal darsanas and written instructions,
Srila Prabhupada offered me unfettered encouragement and astonished
me with unexpected answers to my questions.
After settling in Oregon with my Godsister Dinatarine, Srila Prabhupada,
while pronouncing us 'independent' to a concerned Godbrother, at
the same time twice rebuked us when we approached him to leave.
'You westerners are so restless,' he admonished. 'Why can't you
remain in the same place? Stay where you are.' We questioned, 'But
Srila Prabhupada, they are saying that if we aren't in ISKCON, we
lose your blessings and cannot make advancement.' Prabhupada replied,
'ISKCON is where you are chanting the holy name - that is ISKCON.'
We rejoined: 'They are saying we don't have any association here
and are therefore in maya.' He replied: 'Association can
be two or two hundred. If you are two and compatible, you can become
perfect in Krsna consciousness. If you are 200 and are not, then
no one will make advancement.'
To conclude, Srila Prabhupada trained me to be concerned about
his movement, and at this time I am deeply concerned. Now more than
ever, it is time to revive and imbibe Srila Prabhupada's mood with
his disciples. If we neglect this, an aspect of his greatness will
remain unknown to future generations.
I appeal to the GBC that along with the laudable projects you are
managing and those you are contemplating - especially the magnificent
temple that will arise here in Sridhama Mayapura - consider that
the behaviour of the ISKCON devotees who participate in these projects
must also be magnificent. Any other behaviour will make the projects
less than worthy of Srila Prabhupada's name. This grave responsibility
falls on you. In other words, let us instil in every person who
comes into contact with Srila Prabhupada's movement the healthy
spiritual relationships that he had with his followers - his mood
of encouragement, protection and kindness.
The closer we come to individually appreciating and honouring Srila
Prabhupada's personal dealings with his disciples, the closer we
will come to his sense of completeness in Krsna consciousness, to
his joyfulness, to his transcendentally attractive nature.
With great care, our service is to create a devotional environment
where men, women and children can thrive in Krsna consciousness,
rendering service according to their desire and inclination. Our
service is to empower rather than inhibit the service propensity
Finally, let us search our intelligence and hearts for ways to
help the women who are sincerely looking for spiritual life. Without
properly nurturing them, we as a society have no future. Women in
Krsna consciousness are an intricate, essential part of Srila Prabhupada's
legacy. In our effort to move forward, let us not put Srila Prabhupada's
example behind us, but in front of us - our divine beacon - to guide
us together towards the lotus feet of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai and Sri