There was an evil, covert operation, well planned, to minimize the position of the women in ISKCON and dishonor and stifle their spirit after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world. It actually started well before he departed, and he sadly observed that “there would be no protection for the women and children” after he left.
I often recall my first Nŗsiṁhadeva festival. It was the spring of 1974, and there was a performance of the pastimes of Lord Nŗsiṁhadeva by the devotees of the Henry Street Temple in Brooklyn. It was an irreverent presentation, and was very uncomfortable even for the relatively untrained, new devotees. The story is that a very pure devotee named Prahlada was born into a family of very powerful demons. Prahlada’s father, Hiraņyakaśipu, was very envious of his devotionally inclined son, especially once the son started teaching his schoolmates about the perfection of life, learning to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. Hiraņyakaśipu tried to kill his son in many ways, but Krishna always saved the young Prahlada. In the New York play, the fellow playing the role of Hiraņyakaśipu was contemplating how to kill Prahlada, and he said, “I know, I’ll throw him into a pit of snakes.” With that, he pushed the baby-faced young man who was playing Prahlada off the stage, into the audience, on the side where the women were sitting, right into the lap of one venerable elder lady whose sole purpose in life was to make wonderful garments for Śrī-Śrī Rādhā-Govinda. Many devotees got up and walked out, myself included. Unfortunately, the seed had already been planted for gross disrespect of the women. It even went so far that some of the men began to physically spit on the women devotees. Why did we remain? We had full faith in Śrīla Prabhupāda and his love for us, but there were also ramifications to the ongoing emotional, physical, and psychological abuses.
The belittling and disempowering of the women was on the basis of the body and the female subtle body alone, using one scriptural reference after another out of context to further the demonic agenda that effectively alienated at least half of the sincere souls who had approached Śrīla Prabhupāda for shelter, even if they apparently remained faithful to the organization. It knocked the graceful feminine qualities and natural motherly insights and instincts out of the preaching movement as the women were not allowed to flourish, create, and express, and even started to see themselves as shameful and inferior by the constant battering of the misuse of the philosophy. It did not allow the mood of nurturing support of each other to flourish, and sent many spiritual seekers far away. It damaged the necessary foundation of honest and productive family life. It gave permission for abuse. An impersonal, and dishonoring environment was created, and those women who claimed some sort of “success” within the organization had to give up their natural good qualities and try to emulate the men. This only resulted in them becoming harsh and cruel, as a woman cannot be a man same as a man cannot be a woman. The nurturing, womanly nature was deemed sentimental by those who hankered for that nurturing the most and could not express it.
This agenda was put into place by those agents of Kali whose purpose was to stop the attractive effectiveness of the preaching mission. It was meant to totally undermine Śrīla Prabhupāda’s loving mood towards all his sons and daughters. It was a well-organized propaganda effort by those who were not only expert in twisting the philosophy, but by those who were skilled in twisting the minds. Their entry was through those who already did not like women from some previous experience, were insecure enough to have to take power from lording it over others, or who otherwise needed some badge of superiority.
I got worn out myself presenting insights and ideas to the ISKCON authorities that were ridiculed and rejected, only to have some man give the same input some time later and have it fully embraced. I got tired of being asked to give Śrīmad Bhāgavatam class and then having the men walk out and then chant their japa loudly right outside the temple. There were times I tried to get one of the men to lead a Sunday feast kirtan, have all the men refuse to do it, and then leave when I had to then lead it myself for the sake of the guests. Every time I was asked to manage a temple kitchen, the men overrode almost everything, from the shopping lists to where the pots were kept. The prize might have been managing the bakery for the 55th Street Manhattan Govinda’s restaurant while I was a single mom of two young boys and having the men break into the bakery regularly at night and steal the cookies and cakes that were meant for opening the restaurant the next day. Instead of helping to catch the thieves and offering me some protection, the temple and restaurant managers simply expected that I would have more goods ready so that the restaurant was well stocked for the noon opening time. Or maybe the prize really was when I was managing the kitchen in Lake Huntington and the authorities brought in another person for the kitchen staff who had already beaten another single woman at a different temple to near death with a cast iron frying pan. When I approached the temple president about his decision to bring in that man, the reply was, “Well, I could remove him, but if it is your karma to get beaten or killed, then someone else will come in to do it.” Yay. Profound and premeditated misapplication of philosophy.
Protection of women does not mean to simply control, stifle, demean, or abuse them. It means to shelter them from those who would take advantage of them. Like the Lake Huntington kitchen guy, who I later witnessed threatening another of the ladies with a huge knife, or the cookie thieves from the Manhattan restaurant. Or those who committed even much greater crimes of unspeakable mention here.
I was called “stupid woman” or “less intelligent” more times than could be counted. I have seen other women have to act dumb in front of their husbands because that is what “was expected” of them. There were two occasions where I said to friends that it must be really hard to be so intelligent and have to act so stupid. The agenda was meant to break the spirit. I have many times warned the young devotee ladies not to let the organizational authorities destroy their spirit. A woman’s spirit, properly channeled, is very powerful. The demonic creatures were, and still are, afraid of that very natural feminine power.
Even though there has been some superficial effort to again honor the devotee women, it is still based on the body, and so cannot grant full honor and respect. It still gives no satisfaction to the soul. It is the opposite end of the same stick, as is said. Whether we repress and abuse on the basis of the body or try to make someone feel loved, honored, and respected on the basis of the body, it is still violence. To kindly urge someone forward in their spiritual life on the foundation that we are not the body, while fully accepting and utilizing the physical body and the accompanying subtle body and simultaneously recognizing that we are neither, is the requirement. It is an art.
In the spiritual kingdom there is no envy. The boys and the girls, and everyone else, are each other’s most dear, caring, and affectionate well-wishers, with Krishna at the center.
There are so many quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda, how any person who takes to Krishna Consciousness becomes most intelligent, how the scriptural references to mundane women did not apply to the devotee women, we could quote all day. There are many powerful devotees in female bodies who became chronically ill, who left devotional service, who lived with so much anger and resentment. Girls, ladies, don’t buy the party line. There are hormonal swings to be tolerated, children to raise, duties that no one else can do, diapers to be changed, and grandchildren who need you. Chant, dance, be happy, and honor that Krishna has placed you perfectly, for your spiritual progress and His own divine plan for using you for bringing the conditioned souls back to Him.
And for those of you currently in male bodies, you have also been cheated by the propaganda. You have been deprived of your ability to honestly and powerfully move through the āśramas, with proper self-introspection, self-respect, and strength. You have been demeaned and considered fallen for accepting household life and therefore resented it and taken it out on your wife, thinking that it was lesser, influenced by the chronic woman haters. You have passed on the falsity to your children. You have been deprived of your masculinity and the proper use of it, the protection of your family, the raising of your children, and the propagation of the mission in a way that suited your individual nature.
The attack on the women was really an attack on proper devotional exchanges and healthy community development. It was an attack on the very process of going back to Godhead. It was an attack on going back to Godhead.
For those of you who know me, I am metaphysically inclined. I get called on by an international clientele who are very pleased by my work. Some years back, I was called by some young devotee parents who were having serious problems with a newborn girl. When I went into communication with her energy field, she revealed that she had previously been a long-term brahmacari, male celibate student, who had some negativity towards the women and thought it was properly spiritual. He, now she, was appalled, horror-stricken in fact, that there was not the expected immediate return to the spiritual kingdom, that there was another birth, and that is was a GIRL body. I energetically supported the infant in various ways to heal the trauma and bring resolution, and then the communication was, “OK, I’ll do good with it, I’ll do good with it.” Then, the child prospered.
As a brief aside that I will address very shortly in a video presentation, there have been many rumors and falsehoods spread about my work and my personal integrity by those in devotional dress who have something to hide. If you are implicated in believing or spreading them, shame on you, research your sources, and if you are the ones who started them, I know who you are and why you did it. And know that I feel nothing but compassion for you. Compassion can have many faces, however.
No society can flourish that demeans and abuses its women, nor can any society succeed that does not encourage its men to be strong gentlemen. At the same time, the focus must be on learning to love the Lord as life’s primary goal. We have to reject as violence anything that says otherwise. A wise society has a culture of honoring and supporting the natural characteristics and roles of both genders, maintains basic moral standards as outlined in the Vedic literatures and keeps Krishna at the center. This society gives a sane and solid foundation for participating in the spiritual science whereby the soul can realize its constitutional position in relation to the Lord while acting in alignment with its unique psycho-physical nature. This is the Vedic society that Śrīla Prabhupāda envisioned, varņāśrama dharma. By living according to these principles, one can gradually shed the illusion that he is the body, male or female, attain the eternal and joyful platform of transcendence, and return to our real home, the spiritual kingdom of God.