She Can Become Guru

Debunking Lies and Fallacies in the 'She Can Become Guru' Video


"Prof. O'Connell: Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?

Prabhupada: Yes. Jahnava devi was-Nityananda's wife. She became. If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection.... Yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya [Cc. Madhya 8.128]. The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru. Yei krsna-tattva-vetta, sei guru haya. [break] In our material world, is it any prohibition that woman cannot become professor? If she is qualified, she can become professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krsna consciousness perfectly, she can become guru."

(Interview with Professors O'Connell, Motilal and Shivaram -- June 18, 1976, Toronto)

There is no question that Shrila Prabhupada said that a woman can become a bona fide spiritual master if she is qualified, and that there is precedent of such in our lineage. However, the video 'She Can Become Guru' presents some claims and arguments that are false or fallacious. Unless devotees understand the difference between Shrila Prabhupada's above statement and the lies and fallacies in 'She Can Become Guru', then they will lose faith in our heritage. They will consider Vedic culture to be an imperfect creation of a particular time and place, and consider Shrila Prabhupada to be a man who presented both spiritual truth and backward views. In this essay, I will establish the positive truth of how any man or woman can become a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, rather than an advocate of any imperfect 'ism' of this world, and I will debunk the unauthorized claims and arguments in the 'She Can Become Guru' video:


Shrila Prabhupada says, "The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru." Thus the qualification to become a guru is the same for both men and women. Shrila Prabhupada's logic is simple:

1) A bona fide spiritual master is one who knows Krishna in truth, which is the highest perfection of life.

2) According to Bhagavad-Gita (9.32), even women can attain the highest perfection of life and know Krishna in truth.

3) Therefore, a woman can become a spiritual master by that qualification.

We can note with profit what Shrila Prabhupada says immediately after this simple argument: "If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many." The words, "But, not so many" are significant. Shrila Prabhupada also said, "It is not that woman cannot be acarya. Generally, they do not become. In very special case."(June 29, 1972, San Diego). So the meaning is clear; women can become qualified gurus, but it is rare. This can only have two meanings. Either both men and women are equally likely to become qualified and there is some artificial restriction that is repressing women, or women are less likely to become qualified than men. If we take Shrila Prabhupada's statements that the only qualification to become a guru is to know Krishna, and that the qualification is the same for men and women, then it does not make sense to accept that there is some artificial restriction that is repressing women from taking up their rightful roles as gurus. There is nothing of the sort in his liberal answer at all. Therefore, it should be understood that although the qualification to become a guru is the same for both men and women, that women have are less likely to become qualified as often as men.

The reason why women are less likely to become qualified gurus is explained consistently by guru, sadhu, and sastra. The Shrimad-Bhagavatam 3.31.35 & 41 explains that:

"The infatuation and bondage which accrue to a man from attachment to any other object is not as complete as that resulting from attachment to a woman or to the fellowship of men who are fond of women. A living entity who, as a result of attachment to a woman in his previous life, has been endowed with the form of a woman, foolishly looks upon maya in the form of a man, her husband, as the bestower of wealth, progeny, house and other material assets."

Although all souls take birth in material bodies due to material attachment, women have more material attachment. Just look at the size of the women's section in any department store. Shrila Prabhupada comments in the purport to text 41 that, "In the body of a man there is a greater opportunity to get out of the material clutches; there is less opportunity in the body of a woman." Because of this, not as many women will become qualified spiritual masters as men will, although the qualification is the same for both. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna says:

"O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaisyas [merchants], as well as sudras [workers] -- can approach the supreme destination. How much greater then are the brahmanas, the righteous, the devotees and saintly kings who in this temporary miserable world engage in loving service unto Me." (Bhagavad-Gita 9.32-33)

The Shrimad-Bhagavatam (2.7.46) agrees:

"Surrendered souls, even from groups leading sinful lives, such as women, the laborer class, the mountaineers and the Siberians, or even the birds and beasts, can also know about the science of Godhead and become liberated from the clutches of the illusory energy by surrendering unto the pure devotees of the Lord and by following in their footsteps in devotional service."

However, the 'She Can Become Guru' advocates have a different message than Shrila Prabhupada, one of affirmative action. They believe that the qualification to become a guru is to be rubber-stamped by the GBC, and that both men and women have equal likelihood to become qualified, but that artificial prejudice is repressing women. The video begins:

"The crown jewel of discrimination against women in ISKCON is the refusal of the GBC to allow them to initiate disciples. This is the top position of spiritual leadership in our society, and there's no question that the fact that there are 80 men and no women initiating makes people turned off to this organization."

The underlying belief here is that if there are 80 gurus in male bodies, and no women, that this is due to discrimination by the GBC. However, in the introduction to the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, when Shrila Prabhupada lists the acaryas of our lineage, he lists 32 gurus in male bodies and no women. According to the ISKCON Sastric Advisory Committee, known gurus in female bodies from our lineage include only:

1. Sita Thakurani, the wife of Advaita Prabhu

2. Jahnava Thakurani, the wife of Nityananda Prabhu

3. Hemalata Thakurani, the eldest daughter of Srinivasa Acarya

4. Gaura-priya Devi, the second wife and disciple of Srinivasa Acarya

5. Gangamata Goswamini, a disciple of Haridasa Pandita Gosvami

The question is: what is an appropriate ratio according to the 'She Can Become Guru' advocates? Should we have no women and all men, some women and mostly men, about the same number of men and women, or mostly women and some men? And should we create artificial advantages for one gender to produce the ideal ratio? As soon as we deviate from guru, sadhu, and sastra, then all these questions arise, and not everyone will agree on the answers. But all these artificial complaints based on speculation are trumped as soon as we accept Shrila Prabhupada's original words:

"If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become guru? But, not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection.... Yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya [Cc. Madhya 8.128]. The qualification of guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krsna. Then he or she can become guru." (Shrila Prabhupada, June 18, 1976, Toronto)

"Prabhupada: If a woman is perfect in Krsna consciousness... Just like Jahnava-devi, Lord Nityananda's wife, she was acarya. She was acarya. She was controlling the whole Vaisnava community.

Atreya Rsi: Lord Nityananda?

Prabhupada: Wife. Jahnava-devi. She was controlling the whole Gaudiya Vaisnava community.

Atreya Rsi: Do you have references about that in any of your books, Srila Prabhupada?

Prabhupada: I don't think. But there are many acaryas. Maybe somewhere I might have mentioned. It is not that woman cannot be acarya. Generally, they do not become. In very special case. But Jahnava-devi was accepted as, but she did not declare." (Room Conversation -- June 29, 1972, San Diego)

The GBC does not have the power to make any man or woman qualified as a spiritual master. Each individual is responsible for his or her own Krishna consciousness, and if qualified, he or she is automatically a guru. If GBC vote had the power to make people bona fide spiritual masters, then then none of the many devotees who they have approved would have fallen down. It is an essentially useless system unfounded in Shrila Prabhupada's instructions which leads to unnecessary political issues like the complaints of the 'She Can Become Guru' advocates. Instead, devotees ought to be taught from Shrila Prabhupada's books how to recognize a bona fide spiritual master, and then choose any qualified devotee to take initiation from. And all such gurus will transparently represent the Founder-Acharya, who should be the focus and ultimate authority for all generations of devotees to come in ISKCON.

Next in the video, we are presented with a picture of many young devotees standing in front of the Krishna House in Gainesville, Florida. The 'She Can Become Guru' advocates explain that:

"Here in Gainesville we've had over 200 young people taking part in Krishna consciousness. They like the chanting; they get involved. They tend to shy away from being involved in the organization on a long term basis because of regressive attitudes like this from the leadership."

Because I am in this picture, and I personally know every single person who is pictured in it, I can testify that not a single one of them has shied away from Krishna consciousness on account of what they consider regressive attitudes from the leadership. There is one person in the picture who used to cross-dress on the strength of the argument that he was not his body, and he left the temple to bicycle cross-state, but it had nothing to do with being offended by the leadership of ISKCON. Furthermore, in my many years at Krishna House, I never encountered one example of this claim. So it is a lie.

The 'She Can Become Guru' video makes false claims about Shrila Prabhupada. Thomas J. Hopkins of Franklin & Marshall College claims about Shrila Prabhupada that, "He had no real sense of gender roles." But this is clearly not true, as Shrila Prabhupada teaches about the different roles of men and women in his books, lectures, letters, and conversations.

"Women should be under the protection. In the Manu-samhita it is said that woman should not be given freedom. Na stri svatantryam arhati. They cannot properly utilize freedom. It is better to remain dependent. That is very good. Independent woman cannot be happy. That's a fact. We have seen in the Western countries, on, in the name of independence, so many women are unhappy. So that is not recommended in the Vedic civilization and on the varnasrama-dharma." (Shrila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 3.25.5-6 -- Bombay, November 5, 1974)

There is an emotional anecdote in the video which seems to conflict with Shrila Prabhupda's recorded words.

"I remember one evening he was looking into each of our eyes. Looking at each and every one of us, saying, "I want each one of you to open a temple, somewhere." And at that I was so young and so impetuous, and I said "Even the girls, Swamiji?!" Prabhupada looked at me, and he looked really intently, and he said, "There is no difference between the boys and the girls. When you are teaching Krishna consciousness there is no difference."

But Shrila Prabhupada taught that a woman should never be independent. So although there is no difference between a man teaching and a woman teaching since the subject is the same, men and women remain different even when they practice Krishna consciousness. Otherwise a Krishna conscious woman could impregnate a Krishna consciousness man, and vice versa. But that is obviously not possible. So to protect women, Shrila Prabhupada only sent them out to open temples under the protection of their husbands. And that is perfectly loving, whereas sending them out alone would be irresponsible. It is said:

"Yogesvara: Here's a problem. The women today want the same rights as men. How can they be satisfied?

Prabhupada: Everything will be satisfied. Just like our women, Krsna conscious, they are working. They don't want equal rights with men. It is due to Krsna consciousness. They are cleansing the temple, they are cooking very nicely. They are satisfied. They never say that "I have to go to Japan for preaching like Prabhupada." They never say. This is artificial. So Krsna consciousness means work in his constitutional position. The women, men, when they remain in their constitutional position, there will be no artificial" 

(May 27, 1974, Rome)

Larry Shin, Author of Dark Lord, claims that:

"If you think about the thousands and thousands of words that Prabhupada spoke, and you think about the spirituality that he was inviting people to join, it was fully inclusive of women-fully inclusive of women being able on their own right to pursue that spiritual journey-NOT under the aegis of their husband or some male."

But Shrila Prabhupada consistently taught in his books, lecture, letters, and conversations, that a woman should serve a Krishna conscious husband. He writes:

"One who is not a devotee, however, is the most fallen and condemned. It is recommended, therefore, that a chaste wife not associate with a fallen husband. A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles of sinful activity -- namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Specifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband. It is not that a chaste woman should be like a slave while her husband is naradhama, the lowest of men. Although the duties of a woman are different from those of a man, a chaste woman is not meant to serve a fallen husband. If her husband is fallen, it is recommended that she give up his association. Giving up the association of her husband does not mean, however, that a woman should marry again and thus indulge in prostitution. If a chaste woman unfortunately marries a husband who is fallen, she should live separately from him. Similarly, a husband can separate himself from a woman who is not chaste according to the description of the sastra. The conclusion is that a husband should be a pure Vaisnava and that a woman should be a chaste wife with all the symptoms described in this regard. Then both of them will be happy and make spiritual progress in Krsna consciousness." (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.28)

"Generally women are very much passionate and are less intelligent; therefore somehow or other a man should not be under the control of their passion and ignorance. By performing bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, a man can be raised to the platform of goodness. If a husband situated in the mode of goodness can control his wife, who is in passion and ignorance, the woman is benefited. Forgetting her natural inclination for passion and ignorance, the woman becomes obedient and faithful to her husband, who is situated in goodness. Such a life becomes very welcome. The intelligence of the man and woman may then work very nicely together, and they can make a progressive march toward spiritual realization. Otherwise, the husband, coming under the control of the wife, sacrifices his quality of goodness and becomes subservient to the qualities of passion and ignorance. In this way the whole situation becomes polluted." (SB 4.27.1)

Next in the video there is a seemingly strong argument:

"In the early '70s there was a small group of us traveling with Shrila Prabhupada throughout South India. And when we came to Madras, the Smarta Brahmanas in Madras came to Shrila Prabhupada and spoke very strongly, saying that, "You should not make mlecchas into brahmanas." In other words, Prabhupada came to the West, he picked up these young people who came from terrible backgrounds, and Prabhupada was now making them into brahmanas. And these Smartas said that, "No, this is not correct." And using the scriptures, Prabhupada very vehemently defeated them, saying again, "It's according to quality and work that one is designated as a brahmanas, not due to birth. So it is very ironic that now those same individuals that Prabhupada stood up for, that, "Yes, you are brahmanas, despite your birth as mlecchas. Because of your quality and your work you should be recognized as brahmanas"-Those very people are now turning around and saying to Prabhupada's women disciples, Prabhupada's women followers, that "No, because of your birth as a woman you are not qualified. You can't do this, you can't do that." So this is not Prabhupada's message. That's not Krishna's message."

The qualification of a Brahmana is to know the Absolute truth and to have qualities in the mode of goodness, as described in Bhagavad-Gita (18.42). Anyone can attain these qualifications, even a mleccha. The qualification of a woman is that she is born a woman, and it is not possible for her to become a man by rising to the mode of goodness or Krishna consciousness. Therefore, the comparison is not valid. Although men and women are equally responsible to follow the orders of guru, sadhu, and sastra, their specific duties are different according to their natures. And therefore, it is not wrong for a man to say that a woman should follow the scripture or for a woman to say that a man should follow the scripture. For example, Bhisma explained the duties of women (SB 1.9.27). We're all struggling to do our best, but we cannot compromise the philosophy. Both men and women are equally accountable and neither is independent to disobey the orders of the Supreme Personality of Godhead revealed through guru, sadhu, and sastra. A man or woman may become a bona fide spiritual master according to the directions of guru, sadhu, and sastra. But if they invent their own independent standards then they cheat themselves and others.

Next in the video, it is said:

"The Gita said, "We must act upon our own nature." And based on some social constructs, we tell women they cannot act on their nature… Again, this is a contradiction that I cannot explain."

Although it is possible for a man or woman to become qualified as a spiritual master by knowing Krishna, Krishna Himself says, "Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth." (Bhagavad-Gita 7.3). And according to the same scriptures that any female diksa guru would represent, women are at a natural disadvantage for becoming qualified compared to men. So it is certainly misleading to insinuate that it is the nature of women to become spiritual masters. Unless they use contraceptives, which Shrila Prabhupada said are demoniac (BG 16.1-3 Purport), then the vast majority of women will be mothers. A mother is naturally the first guru of every human, and children would certainly suffer if their mothers were preoccupied with many disciples. Shrila Prabhupada writes:

"Now, in the Manu-samhita it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. Children are not given freedom, but that does not mean that they are kept as slaves. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life. She should be given protection by the father in her younger days, by the husband in her youth, and by the grown-up sons in her old age. This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-samhita. But modern education has artificially devised a puffed -- up concept of womanly life, and therefore marriage is practically now an imagination in human society. The social condition of women is thus not very good now, although those who are married are in a better condition than those who are proclaiming their so-called freedom. The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable." (Bhagavad-Gita 16.7 purport)

Another essay could be written showing statistically how feminist values lead to disturbances in families and society, but the primary concern of this essay is loyalty to the message of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Shrila Prabhupada. The video 'She Can Become Guru' does not represent Shrila Prabhupada, and so any woman who becomes a so-called guru on the strength of their arguments is cheating herself and others. It is possible that a woman can become an acarya, but her gender is secondary to the fact that she represents guru, sadhu, and sastra-exactly how an acarya of the male gender would. For the vast majority of women, the best thing is to take Shrila Prabhupada's advice, and serve a husband who is not fallen. And the best thing for men is to remain brahmacharis or otherwise marry and remain like gentleman. We may not be able to follow Vedic culture very easily, but we cannot compromise our philosophy in hopes of gaining cheap followers.

Shrila Prabhupada said, "We cannot make any compromise with anyone for cheap popularity."(Letter to Brahmananda, 21st December, 1967)

And although the 'She Can Become Guru' advocates claim to represent the interests of women, in fact they only disempower women by convincing them that they are victims of artificial prejudice that is in fact non-existent, or at best based on the artificial institutionalization of guruship in ISKCON. Truly empowered women know that their Krishna consciousness does not depend on anything but chanting their rounds, reading Shrila Prabhupada's books, associating with devotees, honoring prasadam, and so on.