How do we continuously keep Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ISKCON on the right track being loyal to the aim that he as the founder-ācārya had set for our movement to save the entire human society?
HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami gives a clear and unambiguous answer to this question in his book Women: Masters or Mothers?
By repeatedly referring to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s direct teachings and to śāstra he refutes the arguments of materialistic ideologies such as egalitarianism, feminism, liberal humanism and moral relativism that tries to defeat ISKCON’s traditional Vedic culture and values, even from within the movement. This book is dealing with statements of Śrīla Prabhupāda like varṇāśrama-dharma and feminism within ISKCON which many devotees avoid discussing because these subjects are too controversial to discuss openly. HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami mentions in the book that over the years, the leadership of ISKCON has quietly, without consulting the wider body of devotees, promoted assimilation with the broader society rather than conquest of it by varṇāśrama-dharma. In this book he takes up statements of Śrīla Prabhupāda and shows us why varṇāśrama-dharma offers a comprehensive solution to the crises of the modern world and very much related with that — why we oppose feminism within ISKCON.
I feel that this is an extremely important book for all devotees; both prabhus and mātājīs, because it helps us to understand our real identity as Vaiṣṇavas following Vedic culture and regulations and to not fall victim of becoming devotees standing with one leg in the Vedic tradition and the other in the hedonistic modern society of today.
Since only a few are pure devotees we have been given the prescription of daiva-varṇāśrama-dharma as the original divine method which Śrīla Prabhupāda advocated since the beginning of his preaching in the West and later on after establishing Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West he emphasized the importance of this ideal social structure more so to help devotees to come to the spiritual platform.
HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami mentions the famous quote of Śrīla Prabhupāda; “Fifty percent of my work is not complete, because I have not established varṇāśrama-dharma,” both in the beginning and in the end of his book and thus leaves us with the understanding that we as the present and the future generations of ISKCON have to take this statement seriously if we wish to follow the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
This book is a real eye-opener and makes us really wonder whether we are really following the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda or still keep too much of the inheritance of the worldly thinkers of the West in our worldview and life. If we stick to the facts that HH Bhakti Vikāsa Swami gives us in the book it is obvious why Śrīla Prabhupāda emphasized the social system of varṇāśrama-dharma and why he opposed feminism.
Important topics are clearly analyzed and discussed such as female dīkṣā-gurus, divorce, female leaders, sannyāsīnīs, career women, and the mistake of looking down on women who choose a most valuable life as full-time mothers. The arguments are clear and whether we like it or not we must realize that even though men and women are equal on the spiritual platform we are not equal on the material and social platform.
My experience in studying this book is that it is a very thorough analysis of these topics and it is written in a genuine mood of protection of women. I have been in the situation of working outside on a full-time basis in the society for many years and after having taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the last five years, I can definitely follow and agree with the conclusion of this book. Spiritual life becomes very difficult living in the modern cities while working outside ISKCON in the corporate world.
Superficially the book might be judged as an attack on women’s freedom and emancipation, but it is just the opposite. It is a very brave and noble attempt to make us women aware of the dangerous traps of māyā in the form of the modern society, sucking out our energy to perform our spiritual duties and placing us in an artificial social position in which the real intrinsic nature of a woman is not able to flourish neither emotionally, in the family or even intellectually. I am thoroughly convinced about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s and śāstra’s statements that shyness and chastity is the real empowerment of a woman. I can understand that the biggest part of our challenge in our Kṛṣṇa conscious movement is that we must be brave and take the step to live in a fully Kṛṣṇa conscious community preferably on the farm. It surely will open up the revival of the natural position of women primarily as mothers where we will feel much more protected and able to fulfill our natural propensities. For as Śrīla Prabhupāda stated; “So Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is means for thoroughly overhauling the whole human society.” (Morning walk, September 25, 1975, Ahmedabad). Quite a brave ambition which can lead to a bright future.