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Can Become Guru
by Rama Kesava dasa
Dear Bhaktin Millie,
Please accept my dandavat pranams and my best wishes. Sri Sri Guru Gaurangau jayatah!
It was with some concern and some distress that I saw your April letter to Chakra ["The Women: A Greater Inspiration" Chakra April 25, 2002]. You raise very valid points that ought to be addressed. Indeed, I am surprised that there has not been a reply to your letter on Chakra so far.
It is very unfortunate that brahmacari men are increasingly becoming ignorant of the proper respect they should give women. The answer "I'm a brahmacari" is hardly a gentlemanly one, smacking of one person being better than another. It is therefore understandable that you derive more inspiration and solace from the ladies. Whilst physical disposition should not be the primary grounds of choosing a guru, given your circumstances it is understandable why you question that there are not lady gurus to choose from.
Indeed this question is one that a good many new bhaktas and bhaktins must ask. Why do we have no female spiritual masters in our society? Indeed the Gaudiya tradition has seen some, yet it seems we have had none in recent times. I believe this is part of a larger problem endemic to our movement, in which there is a fundamental lack of balance between men and women. However, this is far too large an issue to go in to here. In short the roles of women and of other segments of the devotional community have often been minimized, in favor of the larger segments, e.g. the male brahmacaris and sannyasis.
I am not suggesting any magical "empowerment" of any particular segment of society, but would rather stress education of people's options. For example, people should be aware that gurus do not have to be sannyasis (those in the renounced order), or even male. In Vaisnava theology there is division as regards women taking up sannyasa. Whilst we have the examples of Sulabha and Amba in the Mahabharata, some brahminical writers supported the idea, some did not. However, asrama status aside, there are clear examples of women acting as instructing siksa-gurus and initiating diksa-gurus. Jahnavi Devi, Nityananda Prabhu's wife, was an initiating spiritual master in our lineage with a number of disciples. She was very special to Bhaktivinode Thakura, and her bathing spot at Radha-Kunda is still there for all to see. And the pious Gangamata Gosvamini set an example of renunciation and austerity, and initiated men with the Radha-Krsna mantra of ten syllables.
It would behoove temple authorities to educate bhaktas and bhaktins to realize that there is not some list of "approved" gurus in ISKCON, but rather a policy of such persons being granted a "no objection" status by the GBC (Governing Body Commission). If a name is submitted to the GBC, then provided there are less than three dissenting voices, after 6 months such a person may accept disciples. Such a concept is actually fairly liberal and non-limiting. It is therefore important that people are educated on its application. However, the fact that someone who we take inspiration and instruction from is not on a "list" does not preclude him or her from acting as the active agent of divinity in our lives. The guru is the manifestation of the divine in our lives, and is there to inspire us in our hearts.
In short, if someone inspires us and we should like to take instruction of him or her, then the distinction of what gender he or she is should not enter into the equation. We should be able to do so without hindrance. The current lack of women gurus is more a social issue; however, if the person that inspires you most, Millie, is a lady and not on that "list", then I would suggest that you petition the GBC to grant such a status to her.
Spiritual qualifications should come first, and for that I would recommend you consult Rupa Goswami's Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the great legacy of Srila Prabhupada's instructions, Vipramukhya Swami's 1996 paper "Now That I Am Chanting 16 Rounds," and other sources. In the Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna instructs:
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." (4.34)
If, having done so, you find a woman to be that person, there is nothing, except conformity, that says you cannot take initiation from her. Anyone who is qualified can become guru.
[See "The Women: A Greater Inspiration" Chakra April 25, 2002]
© CHAKRA 28 May 2002
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