The debate about the position of women in ISKCON is so contentiousthat some would question the need to air the subject in this journalat all, while others would object if we did not.� It is dfficultto ignore the subject since approximately half of ISKCON's membersarewomen and many, if not most, come from societies where genderissues are openly discussed.� Dr. Knott's article, in offering anobjective and historical background to the issue, provides a interestinginsight into how the debate is being seen by those outside of ISKCON.
The issue of women in this well-known Western Vaisnava movement hasbeen troublesome for many years, both within its own boundaries andin the depictions of those outside it. For large numbers of devotees,predominately women but some men, it has been a deeply painful matter,and has been perhaps second only to the issue of the status and roleof the guru in threatening the future of the movement. I first consideredand wrote about the issue in 1987 in Ursula King's edited collection,Women in the World's Religions, Past and Present. (King, 1994:111-28)The account which appears below is based loosely upon that earlierarticle, to which I have added new material and arguments, and updatedreferences. In the eight years since 1987, consideration of this issuehas benefitted both from the rise of more sophisticated feminist analysesand from studied reflection and debate within ISKCON of the history,philosophy and sociology of their problems. Despite beginning my accountin the same graphic way, I hope that the changes in later sectionsdo justice to these developments.
It is early morning in central Boston. Another day breaks in the service of Sri Krsna. For the brahmacharis- the young, celibate male devotees - the early hours are spentin ablutions, worshipping Krsna in the first of the day's religiousservices and chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, the holy namesof God. As most of Boston is thinking of rising for work, the brahmacharisgather in the temple to greet the Deities.
The curtains open. Lying prostrate on the floor in homage, the brahmacharispay their obeisances to Radha and Krsna. The music begins, and thedevotees standing close to the Deities, admire their clothes and thejewels and garlands with which they are adorned. Some of the brahmacharisare swaying, others standing quite still, all transfixed by the beautyof Radha and Krsna. Then, with the beat of the mrdanga andthe clash of the kartalas, guru-puja begins. The guruor spiritual master is honoured with offerings of incense, light,cloth, water and flowers. Each brahmachari offers a handfulof petals at his feet. Songs of praise are sung, and the peacefuland reverent mood gradually changes to one of ecstatic celebration;the swaying turns to energetic dancing; the slow tempo acceleratesto a fast and lively rhythm. Everyone is fully involved, happy tobe worshipping and serving Krsna and His representative. The pujais followed by a class - a reading and discourse on a passage fromscripture. As time is precious, listening to the class is combinedwith other activities: the young brahmacharis prepare vegetablesfor the day's meals or make garlands, carefully selecting and sewingtogether the carnations, roses and lilies for the next day's offering.After class, and a vegetarian breakfast, the day's work begins, withthe brahmacharis dispersing to the kitchens, the living quartersor the streets, to cook, clean or distribute literature.
The devotional life of Krishna Consciousness is not merely for brahmacharisalone. These acts of worship and service are also performed by marriedmen, and women, both married and single. It might seem odd thenfor me to have begun an account about women and their place in thisreligious movement with a description of men and what they do. Thereason for this, as I hope to show, is that we can learn a greatdeal about the spiritual position of women in the Hare Krishna movementif we start by looking at the men. In this case it can help us toappreciate the perspective from which the issue of gender is approachedwithin the movement itself. Looking back to the description of themorning programme at the Boston temple, we can see that the activitiesof a brahmachari are hardly what might be connoted traditionally'masculine' in type. Brahmacharis engage in singing and dancing,sewing and cooking, dressing the Deities, praising and admiringclothes and flowers, all in a spirit of submission and obedience.Roles which, in society at large, have been commonly assigned towomen are adopted here as a spiritual discipline by both sexes.
Devotees on the theory of gender equality in Krishna Consciousness
According to accounts by women in the Hare Krishna movement, however,their role is not restricted to these activities. When asked aboutthis, one devotee replied:
'Some (women) are designers, writers, accountants, teachers,housewives, secretaries, cinematographers. I know one who's alandscape architect, one who runs an art gallery. Their rolesare no different from women outside the movement. The differenceis their consciousness.' (Satarupa, 1982:16)
Another woman commented,
'There are no exclusively female vocations in the movement. Bothmen and women cook, clean and raise children. And rather thanremain homebound, our women are strongly encouraged to be assertiveas missionaries and preachers.'� (Sitarani, 1982:26)
Women devotees have also been eager to stress other aspects oftheir equality with men:
'The scriptures do describe women as a cause of material entanglementfor men, and that's true. But scripture balances that out by describingthat men are also a material entanglement for women'; 'Unmarriedwomen ... live as celibates within the protection of the templecommunity, living the same ascetic, devotional life as the maledisciples.' 
Technically at least, there is no reason why women should nothave the highest religious authority in the movement, as guru -although, as yet, none have achieved this - or the highest managerialresponsibility, as temple president. A few act in this capacity.Prabhupada granted women, as well as men, the opportunity for initiationas Krishna devotees. Like men, they may be celibate brahmachari(ni)s,or they may be married in the service of Krsna. Against orthodoxHindu tradition, they may be initiated as brahmanas and actas pujari, servants of the temple Deities. Although sannyasa,or renunciation, is not open to them - for reasons I will explainlater - they are afforded complete spiritual equality with maledevotees. What then accounts for 'the women issue' in ISKCON, thegreat debate both outside and inside the movement on the roles andtreatment of women?
Sociologists on the role of� women in the Hare Krishna movement
The promise of equality does not readily conform to the picture ofISKCON presented to us in scholarly accounts. In 1974, in the earliestbook on the Hare Krishna movement, J. Stillson Judah described theplace of women as follows:
'The position of women in the Society may not appeal to Americansinterested in women's liberation. Swami Bhaktivedanta says thatall women other than one's wife are to be considered as one'smother, and yet he regards them as prone to degradation, of littleintelligence, and untrustworthy. They should not be given as muchfreedom as men, but should be treated like children; they shouldbe protected all during their lives, by their fathers when young,later by their husbands, and in their old age, by their sons ...This view is largely consonant with the traditional one foundin the ancient Indian law books. Females may not become presidentsof any temple, nor occupy positions of authority. They may dothe cooking, help with the devotional services and maintenanceof the temple and prepare the flower offerings for Krsna.' (Judah,1974:86)
This view was reiterated in the late 1970s and early 1980s by severalscholars: Francine Daner: 'Ideally, the woman must be completelysubmissive and a constant servant to her husband' (Daner, 1976:68);Vishal Mangalvadi: 'The strongest opposition to it (the Hare Krishnamovement) has come from the feminist movements, because of the lowposition it gives to women.' (Mangalvadi, 1977:98); John Whitworthand Martin Shiels: 'Women are regarded as being at once childlikeand dangerous as it is their nature to tempt men from the pathsof virtue, and are felt to be less intelligent than men and henceless reliable.' (Whitworth and Shiels, 1982:155-72).
In later, more thorough accounts, the movement is aligned withtraditional, private and feminine virtues, particularly for women(Rochford, 1985:130) and with the Indian dictum of 'male protection'for women (Shinn, 1987:114).
Situating the debate about women in ISKCON��������������������������������������������
Is it possible to square the account given by the devotees themselvesabout gender equality with this damning sociological critique? Howcan these seemingly contrary positions be explained, and the internalwrangles on the nature of women devotees and their treatment by theirmale colleagues be understood?
To understand these differences of opinion, we need toevaluate the beliefs and practices of Krishna consciousness concerningthe issue of gender. Moreover, to comprehend the debate more fullywe must gain some insight into the problems of interpretation whichrevolve around the issue of women both inside and outside the movement.To fulfil these aims, I will begin by investigating the claim ofspiritual equality and then discuss ISKCON's view of the genderedbody and the way in which this view is conditioned by its theologyof nature and society (dharma). This, as I hope to show,explains some of the hermeneutical difficulties which exist withinthe movement on the question of women. From there I will examinethe problems of interpreting the issue from a position outside thetheological framework of Krishna consciousness. In the final sections,I will move from a theological consideration of ISKCON's understandingof gender - via the founder's attitudes to women - to a brief historyof women's experiences in the movement.
The Hare Krishna movement, established in the United Statesin 1966, aims to spread the teachings and practices of love andservice to Krsna popularised in India in the sixteenth century byCaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers. As such, it is part of theIndian tradition of Vaisnava bhakti.  Although it is new to the West,it is familiar to Indians and seen by many as a legitimate formof 'Hinduism'. In the early days of the movement those who becameinvolved were nearly all young.  It is helpful to remember that,although they were eager and quick to learn, they did not at firsthave a sophisticated understanding of the philosophy of the movementor its founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This resultedin a number of disputes and misunderstandings, not least of allin relation to this question of gender, some of which are reflectedin the testimonies of devotees reproduced in the sociological andanthropological literature. Judah, for example, cites one femaledevotee, interviewed in the early 1970s:
'Well, spiritually, we have an equal position ... We're subordinatenow in Kali-yuga, but it doesn't mean we're inferior necessarily.Actually we are ... I can see that women tend to flip out a lotmore than men. They are more emotional. Women's lib tries to glossover all of the very obvious differences ... and it's nonsense... On the whole we are less intelligent, our attention is notso good ... So we take our orders from the men and it's nice.They're very nice. It's no problem. You're protected and you'regiven instruction, and you don't have to make the decision; it'sreally pleasant .� The boys really have propensities for administration... that we just don't have. So it must be my female body, butI'm very pleased not to have to make very many decisions anymore.'(Judah, 1974:87)
Although there are undoubtedly many different views held by devoteesconcerning the different strengths and characteristics of womenand men, there are now very few who would go as far as this devotee.The issues of 'protection' and the nature of male and female continueto be discussed in the movement, but generally speaking the tenorof her comments is rejected, at least in public. The movement'sleadership teaches a view of equality-in-difference (to which Iwill return shortly), and practical opportunities for advancementare supposedly made available for people according to their propensitiesand abilities. As in society at large, the practical outworkingsof these theories and intentions are conditioned by a range of localsocial, historical and psychological circumstances. It is here,of course, that inequality of opportunity and actual discriminationagainst women generally arise.
Equality and the soul: the starting point
'Women themselves have to transcend the bodily conception oflife and become liberated from the mundane social sexual rat race.And of course men have to raise their consciousness. Spirituallife begins with the realisation that one is not the materialbody but an eternal spiritual soul and the designations "male"and "female" refer only to the material body. So ultimately theyhave nothing to do with the soul or self.' (Sitarani, 1982:11-2)
Devotees may differ on other matters regarding the women issue, butno one dissents from this view. Many articles written on the subjectof women in Krishna Consciousness by devotees make this their focusof attention.  Judahalso mentions this: 'Regardless of their social positions, the soulsof female devotees are to be considered of equal value with theirmale counterparts.' (Judah, 1974:86) While this priority can be confusingto those outside the movement who are not acquainted with the KrishnaConsciousness philosophy or its language, it is central to those withinit. Like many religions, this movement teaches spiritual equality.All the souls (jiva) are distinct from one another and areof the same quality and nature, yet separate from the supreme soul,Krsna. 
The self-realisation sought in Krishna consciousness is not primarilythe liberation of the soul from the round of rebirth (samsara),although this is a by-product of the process, but the attainmentand perfection of a relationship of loving service to God. Bhakti,or devotional service, is both the path and the goal, and is opento anyone. Its success is dependent not just on keeping the regulativeprinciples (abstention from meat and other unacceptable foodstuffs,alcohol and drugs, illicit sex and gambling), but particularly ona 'service attitude', a position of surrender to Krsna, the spiritualmaster or guru, and other devotees. Egoism, pride, envy and greed,whether they are directed to material or spiritual attainments,are signs of deviation from the realisation that one is by naturea servant. In Krishna consciousness it is essential to recognisethe dutiful nature (dharma) of the soul as well as the body.While the latter is dependent on one's social position, stage oflife and gender, the former is eternal (sanatana). It isthe constitutional nature of the soul to be a servant of God. Theperfection of this natural role is exemplified by Radha, the belovedconsort of Krsna, and it is only through Her that devotees ultimatelycan approach Him.
This explains why devotees writing on the subject of women returnagain and again to the same philosophical starting point, and wheretheir concept of equality has its roots. What is more, the successof the self-realisation of the soul is measured against the 'serviceattitude' of Radha. Therefore, in theory, it is not that the womenon the path of Krishna Consciousness must aspire to or imitate malespiritual practice, but that all devotees, whether female or malein body, must adopt what might be called a 'feminine' approach tospirituality.  This'feminine' approach is essentially an attitude - spiritual, mentaland physical - of surrender and service to others, and ultimatelyto Krsna who manifests a 'masculine' approach. Femininity and masculinity,as manifested transcendentally in Radha and Krishna, are eternal values,not merely cultural constructions.This is important for several reasons. Firstly, the spiritual rolemodel for devotees is apparently 'female' (though her transcendentalform is non-material). Secondly, the 'feminine' approach of surrenderand service is recommended for all. We see it manifested by Arjunain the Bhagavad-gita as well as by Radha. Thirdly, women,by virtue of their social and cultural conditioning in Indian andWestern societies, are better practised in this attitude or approachthan men. Many men - and some women - have, for example, found itdifficult to surrender to a spiritual master, and there have beenbattles in the history of ISKCON over the issue of serving God throughhis representative, the guru. Most women, it is said, seem to haveless problem accepting this aspect of the philosophy, or the practicalconsequences of obedient and submissive behaviour. There are, naturally,a number of women who, while attracted to Krsna, find the notionof submission initially objectionable on the grounds that it remindsthem of the oppression from which, as intelligent women, they aretrying to escape. It will be pointed out to them, however, thatthere is a world of difference between material submission and spiritualsubmission, the one leading to oppression, the other to liberation.
The basic philosophy of Krishna Consciousness concerning the soulis one of spiritual equality. At this level, the women problem islargely irrelevant. Devotees are the first to admit, however, thatalthough they are aspiring to live on what they call 'the spiritualplatform', they have yet to achieve it. Equality may exist on thisideal level, but, at the level of conventional experience, it isthreatened by all the circumstances of material and social embodiment.
Equality and the body: a can of worms?
Although in the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness the soul iseternal and the body impermanent, it cannot and should not be ignored;the body is there to enable the soul to experience service to God.Human embodiment is to be treasured for providing the soul withthe opportunity for liberation. Human beings may respond to God'scall in a way that other living beings may not, and they may experience,albeit in a qualified way, the pastimes of Krsna.
However, human embodiment also provides many opportunities forentrapment. Living out a spiritual path in which the body is usedwith care as a vehicle for liberation is extremely difficult. Theway is full of material temptations. It might be easier if all bodieswere the same, like all souls; but they are not. They are different,each one having a unique dharma or dutiful nature. This dharmadiffers according to one's social situation (varna) and stageof life (ashrama). And, traditionally, both of these differaccording to gender. 
Formally, according to scripture, women are excluded from therequirements of varnashrama-dharma and have theirown dharma. Various women in the texts exemplify differentaspects of this, e.g. Kunti, Draupadi, Devahuti and Sita. Althoughall these women were strong and devout, their roles were essentiallysupportive. They expected to serve their husbands (though difficultiesarose with this even for these women) and to find spiritual fulfilmentand material protection in doing so. These roles derived from anunderstanding of women's nature, which is associated with prakriti(matter) and maya (illusion). Their bodies were designedfor procreation, and this process bound them to material natureto a greater degree than men. What is more, the beauty of theirform made them potentially dangerous both to men on the spiritualpath (hence they were perceived to be a problem to be avoided) andto the honour of families (as a result of which they were to beprotected at all times by male relatives). As we will see, thistraditional view of women's nature and roles, stridharma,has been influential in the women issue in ISKCON.
Although devotees come across these ideas regularly in scripture,the teachings of the movement focus more on the problems of dealingwith our material bodies while striving to live on 'the spiritualplatform'. As all jivas or souls are embodied materiallyuntil spiritual realisation is attained, this is a problem for bothwomen and men. However, different bodies have different problems,and there does seem to be a common view among devotees that thewoman's body is the more entrapping for a soul in search of liberationfor the reasons given above.
It is in relation to this issue of the body that confusion arisesin critical circles outside the movement and also within the movementitself. The disparity of views on the issue of material, as opposedto spiritual, equality arises in relation to two areas: conflictingapproaches to understanding how devotees, particularly women, shouldlive, and the practical problems of interpreting the subject ofgender from inside and outside the movement. I will now try to givesome account of these.
Women and dharma: three levels of meaning
The first area of difficulty stems directly from the teachings ofthe movement on dharma as they relate to women, and concernsthe use of three distinct levels of meaning. These are not alwaysclearly distinguished and, as a result, have led to a certain amountof confusion both inside and outside ISKCON.  For example, devotees speakof participating both in varnashrama-dharma, socialnature and its attendent responsibilities, and in bhagavat-dharma,divine nature.  In fact, Krishna Consciousness, as a radical Vaisnava bhaktimovement, offers the latter as a challenge to the old, brahminicalorthodoxies.
Devotees remind us frequently of the promise in the Bhagavad-gitaof spiritual realisation to women and sudras as well as thosefrom twice-born groups. Surely it is the teaching on humanity'sdivine nature and duty in service to Krsna, on bhagavat-dharma,that is of greatest importance in Krishna Consciousness? Or is it?There is certainly a recognition in the movement of asrama,the different stages of life. In addition, although Prabhupada initiatedmale and female devotees as brahmanas, there is a commonparlance of varna-dharma at work in the movement -devotees seeing themselves as engaged according to their naturein sudra or ksatriya activities, and so on.
How do women fit into all of this? Should they obey the classicallegal prescriptions laid down in Manusmrti on a woman's duty(stridharma) which place them outside the conventions ofvarnasrama-dharma, or does their position in ISKCON'sbhagavat-dharma leave them immune to these? Thesedifficulties are compounded by references made by devotees to 'Vedic'culture and ideals. Are devotees trying to live out a philosophyand practice derived centuries previously in a different socialand cultural context? Should women devotees try to live in a 'Vedic'manner, and what would that mean in practice?
What is ISKCON's understanding of dharma, particularlyas it applies to women? To answer this, it is helpful to distinguishbetween three distinct understandings of dharma which mightbest be designated 'Vedic', 'Hindu' and 'Krishna conscious'. Although devotees frequently refer to their aspirationto live according to 'Vedic' prescriptions, at the theological levela distinction is made between the Vedic way of life per se and theideal, Krishna Conscious' way of life or bhagavat-dharma.The account that follows, particularly with regard to the conceptof 'Vedic' culture and ideals, conforms with a devotional scholarlyview and is not necessarily shared by scholars outside the movement. 
The 'Vedic' way of life was specific to a particular period oftime and a particular people, who lived out their relation to Godin a particular social form.  In Indian 'Vedic' varnasrama-dharmamen served God through their spiritual masters, and women servedGod through the men who protected them - their fathers, husbandsor sons. Since they understand this social system to have been operatedin a different time and place, and by a people who knew how bestto perfectly serve God, the devotees do not see this arrangementas unequal or oppressive. The men did not abuse their positionsby using them as mechanisms for the pursuit of power over women,and women served God by supporting the male members of their family.In this arrangment, the husband was the wife's spiritual master,patidev.  This view of social life has a mythic and historical realityfor devotees to which I will return shortly.
The 'Hindu' system of varnasrama-dharma also has anhistorical reality, but it relates to a different period, that ofthe dark age of Kali-yuga. According to devotees, the 'Hindu' socialsystem is a function of this age. During this period Indians havecontinued to live by the social rules of Vedic varnasrama-dharma,but these have become distorted in practice. In Kali-yuga the pathof spiritual life has been obscured, and people resort to the lessergoals of material and sensual gratification. What was once a spirituallylegitimised system of social organisation has become a means of oppression.Women are still expected to serve, but instead of offering spiritualguidance and protection, men exploit and oppress them. Similarly,although varnasrama-dharma is not indigenous to theWest, Europe and America in Kali-yuga have experienced a similar periodof social and moral degradation in which the distortion of old socialstructures and principles has led to the exploitation of women. Asdevotees see it, this has led to the rise of feminism. Women havebeen oppressed by the very people who they were told were supposedto protect them and their interests, and their natural response hasbeen to attempt to take control of their own lives, to protect themselves.When such women come into ISKCON, unsurprisingly they wish to resistany hint of male protection. They want to take charge of their ownbodily needs and spiritual advancement.
Difficulties may certainly arise as a result of this. ISKCON isnot a 'feminist' movement. As we saw earlier, it understands theessential nature of masculinity and femininity to be different,and believes, ideally, that men and women should have separate anddifferent natures and roles while being spiritually equal. The recognitionthat women and men cannot be expected to behave in conformity withtheir ideal 'Vedic' types, is conceded unwillingly in the cold realityof Kali-yuga. Thus this brings us to the 'Krishna Conscious' viewof dharma, or bhagavat-dharma.
The 'Krishna Conscious' view is an attempt to apply the Vedic 'serviceattitude' to Kali-yuga. The aim is not to copy the Vedic systemof varnasrama-dharma, but to use it for guidance ina troubled period. This cannot be achieved by introducing the systemwholesale and expecting it to work. This, as the devotees see it,is the failing of the 'Hindu' system. For this reason, in the 'KrishnaConscious' system, men and women are seen not only as spirituallybut also materially alike in the sense that they are ultimatelyresponsible for their own spiritual welfare with guidance from aguru. Both men and women take gurus, and when they marry, althoughthe women are responsible for bearing and raising children and themen for supporting them in this, both are expected to serve Krsnaand the spiritual master in the best way they can, be this cooking,gardening, teaching, sewing, managing, writing or whatever. Womenare not seen as less intelligent or less able. Kali-yuga has changedthe ground rules.
Following the Vedic ideal in this dark and dangerous age of Kali-yuga,then, does not mean that women should submit to the whims of theirhusbands but that both parties should do whatever is best for servingKrsna. In the Vedic period this would naturally have meant servicethrough the husband; in Kali-yuga it means service through the spiritualmaster by whatever means is most conducive. If a woman feels thather spiritual life is best practised through serving her husband shemay focus on this; if she feels that she can serve best through cooperativeindependence, she may cultivate her career in conjunction with sharingthe care of her family with her husband.
The changing demands of the contemporary situation are illustratedwith reference to the thought-provoking comments of two male devotees:
'We had to become friends in Krishna consciousness, because Icouldn't become that varnasrama husband - the one thatis so respectable that the wife would automatically do everything;as soon as I come home she would wash my feet and whisper pleasantriesin my ears. That's not real life for ISKCON devotees today.'
'I'd like to challenge the supremacy of the male body for realisation... It seems to me that that concept actually belongs to varnasrama-dharma.Bhagavat-dharma doesn't actually place a stresson male or female. When you go to any place of worship, there'salways more women than men there - church, temple, mosque, even... Vrindavan, even in Radhakunda, there's at least as many womenas men there. So I really wonder if it's true, on the bhagavat-dharmaplatform, that women can't make progress as easily as men.'
In the first statement we see the welcome recognition by a male devoteethat it is not only women but men who are affected by the changesbrought about in Kali-yuga. A relationship of equality and partnershipcame about as a result of the impossibility of either party livingup to the Vedic ideal. In the second, in a powerful challenge to thecommon assumption that the female body is unsuited to the path ofspiritual realisation, the speaker affirms the radical nature of the'Krishna conscious' system or bhagavat-dharma for overturningthe problems of material embodiment. Together these examples confirmthat, for devotees, Kali-yuga demands changing strategies from bothwomen and men, and that the most appropriate are those which conformnot to 'Vedic' ideals (impossible to achieve in Kali-yuga) or 'Hindu'practice (the failure of Vedic varnasrama-dharma) butto bhagavat-dharma, the Krishna conscious spiritualpath.
Needless to say, these complex levels of interpretation have ledto many misunderstandings among both commentators and devotees.Devotees continue to strive for clarification of Prabhupada's ownview on the relationship between varnasrama-dharmaand bhagavat-dharma. My view is that the ambiguitiesof this relationship are not possible to resolve in a movement whichaccepts both scripture and guru as fundamentally authoritative.Ancient texts speak of philosophical ideals and social principleswhich were worked out for distant places and times; living teachershave to interpret these in the light of contemporary circumstanceswhile not losing the impetus for real spiritual revolution. Theneed to balance a commitment to ideals and the wisdom of a spiritualtradition situated in real time and place inevitably elicits mixedmessages: those spoken out of an appreciation of ideals and thoseframed in the experience of the hard realities. It is commendablethat in the face of this tension the founder of the Hare Krishnamovement made a philosophy and practice available to women thathad once been largely closed to them, allowing them effective materialequality with men and the opportunity to serve in the same waysdespite his own cultural background and the ideal prescriptionsof his tradition. He acted in accordance with the spirit of bhagavat-dharma,in the manner of Caitanya and in the specific context of Kali-yugaas it manifested itself in the West. What happened in ISKCON subsequentto the initial positive opportunities for women is a matter to whichI will return later.
Representing the gender issue: rhetoric and context
Before moving onto this subject, I want briefly to discuss severalmore practical matters which compound differences of opinion onthe subject of women in the movement. These apply particularly toviews expressed from either side of the ISKCON boundary. Chief amongthese matters is the misuse of comparative examples. Commentatorsoutside the movement and exponents inside it make frequent use ofthe device of comparison in order to underline the differences betweenthe relative situations of women. Sometimes a writer seeks onlyto observe a difference; at other times he or she may seek to showthat one situation is superior to the other. Both intentions arelegitimate, when and where appropriate, if and when they comparelike with like. This is not always the case.
In the early sociological accounts attention was frequently givento the practical restrictions placed on women in the movement. Judah,for example, stated that:
'The position of women in the society may not appeal to Americansinterested in women's liberation ... Females may not become presidentsof any temple, nor occupy positions of authority. They may dothe cooking, help with the devotional services and maintenanceof the temple, and prepare flower offerings for Krsna.' (Judah,1974:86)
Reading this now, we feel that women in the Hare Krishna movementin the early 1970s faced many restrictions. However, if we thinkof women in American society as a whole in the early seventies,we remember that the situation was not so different. Few women werein important managerial positions or were engaged in activitiesother than those traditionally assigned to women. There were welcomeideals concerning the equality of women and their career entitlements,but these had not filtered through to the practice of working lifein general.
A common reading of Judah's words, I surmise, is that the practiceof gender roles in the Hare Krishna movement differed considerablyfrom the ideal of gender roles in liberated American society. Thisis true, but is it a fair point of comparison? Devotees writingon this subject are equally prone to the rhetorical device of comparinglike with unlike. 'When Krsna, or God, is at the centre of our relationships,we can live in perfect harmony with those around us. This principleis basic to the entire Krishna Consciousness Movement. Without aspiritual foundation a marriage stands a good chance of deterioratinginto the fifty percent of recent US marriages ending in divorce.'(Satarupa, 1982:17)
Here, the 'principle' of Krishna conscious marriage is comparedfavourably with the 'empirical observation' of the poor successrate of American marriages in general. However, are Krishna consciousmarriages always true to the ideal? Do they never fail? Are therenot laudable sentiments concerning love and marriage even in secularsociety which, if they could be adhered to, would provide the basisfor a higher rate of success?
These mistaken, and I am sure unconscious, comparisons of principlesor ideals with practices or empirical observations tend to exacerbatethe disparity between the views of women inside and outside the movement.The 'life' of women in the movement, therefore, can seem and has seemedrestrictive by the 'standards' of those outside. The same kind ofproblem can arise from a further practical problem, the failure tocontextualise statements on the subject of gender.'Ideally, the woman must be completely submissive and a constantservant to her husband' (Daner, 1976:68) This was how Daner describedthe theoretical role of women in the Hare Krishna movement in themid-1970s. From what we have seen of the philosophy of Krishna consciousnessthere is some truth in this. However, it would also be true to saythat the man must be submissive and a servant to his wife (the suffixDasa or Dasi, which all devotees takeafter their names, denotes 'servant'). The important point, of course,is that everyone is a servant of God, and must be submissive, particularlyto the spiritual master, but also to all other Vaisnava devotees.  Daner's comment is not incorrect, but, by making no referenceto the philosophy which produces this ideal, suggests that womenare subordinate. 
The teachings of Krishna consciousness concerning the body andmaterial life have produced a number of problems of interpretation.As we have seen some of these have resulted from the complexityof the teachings themselves. This has been compounded by the factthat, as a young movement with an old theology, its members arestill learning the task of articulation. The other problems arerelated not to the teachings directly but to the way in which theyhave been expressed by those describing the movement.
In some ways they are only minor points but they have had an importanteffect on our understanding of the women issue in ISKCON. Whereasthe souls are equal and the same, in Krishna consciousness or bhagavat-dharma,bodies are to be viewed as equally useful for liberation, but clearlymaterially different. The souls have the same nature (dharma);bodies have different natures, depending on their social situationand gender. It is not the case, however, that women's bodies andminds are of intrinsically lower status than the bodies and mindsof men. Neither is it the case that the souls which inhabit women'sbodies must be born again in men's bodies in order to achieve liberation.As far as it is possible to tell, the philosophy of Krishna consciousnessattributes spiritual and material equality to those in bhagavat-dharma(but not to ordinary men and women). This is not to say,however, that the male and female devotees use or have been allowedto use this potential in the same way.
Women in the Hare Krishna movement: a short history
What have been the experiences of women in the movement? Are theteachings on the soul, the body and gender safeguards for the treatmentof women or mere platitudes? After all, although provisions weremade by the founder, Prabhupada, for women in the movement, he alsowrote, 'never put your trust in a diplomat or a woman' and referredto women as 'less intelligent' (Bhaktivedanta, 1970:7,21).� In orderto understand why someone who upheld such an apparently sexist viewshould choose to open his movement to women, we must again returnto the focal point of the philosophy, the equality of the souls.Early disciples frequently point out that Prabhupada saw and treatedhis disciples as equals regardless of gender. He did not, however,see those outside the Hare Krishna movement as necessarily equal,although they had the potential to be so once they saw themselvesas spiritual rather than material entities. To put it another way- using ISKCON terminology - according to the 'bodily conception'of life there are men and women; according to the 'spiritual conception'- bhagavat-dharma - there are only souls. When twofemale devotees asked Srila Prabhupada if they would make slowerprogress than the male devotees, he replied, 'Yes ... if you thinkof yourselves as women, how will you make any advancement? You mustsee yourself as spirit-soul, eternal servant of Krsna.' (Satsvarupa,1983a:147)
Prior to Prabhupada's arrival in the United States in 1966, hisreligious training and empirical experience had provided him withlittle reason to take women seriously except as home-makers. Inthe Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition of which he was a part, theemphasis had previously been placed on the spiritual progress ofmen. Certain women, renowned for their great spirituality and leadership,were mentioned favourably in the texts, but at that time they hadno place in the ritual practices or asramas of this tradition.  In addition, the normal role of women in Indian society wasone of domestic subservience, with few women given the opportunityto attain higher material or spiritual positions. When Prabhupadacame to the United States, however, his empirical experience changed.In a talk to the residents of Vrindavan, India, several years afterhis arrival in America, he reported, ' ... in the Western countriesthere is no distinction. They (boys and girls) are given equal liberty.In our country there is still discrimination' (Satsvarupa, 1983b:21-2).Because of this Prabhupada thought it appropriate to allow bothmen and women to enter his movement, and to become disciples onthe path of Krishna consciousness with the same opportunities foradvancement and responsibilities for service.
Women were involved in Krishna consciousness from the earliest daysof the movement.  A woman devotee named Janaki was one of the first initiates andwas married shortly after in the first ISKCON marriage ceremony. Withtwo other couples, she and her husband, Mukunda travelled to Englandto preach Krishna consciousness under instruction from 'Swamiji'.Other early female disciples were given special responsibilities too,such as Yamuna who sang and cared for the Deities, and Visakha whoreceived encouragement in her vocation as a photographer. Both menand women were enjoined to start centres for the movement: 'Krsnadoes not make distinction - female dress or male dress ... Krsna givesintelligence' (Satsvarupa, 1983a:147). Women participated activelyin worship, cooking and serving Krsna and the spiritual master. Prabhupadamade the women responsible for more traditional feminine activities,but did not bar them from stepping out of these into other roles ifthose suited them better. After setting up the Governing Body Commission(GBC), Prabhupada offered membership to one of his female disciples(although this was never taken up). Women also gave scripture classes.Like the men, they travelled freely with Prabhupada and served himpersonally, even in India where Hindu women were generally deniedequal participation in religious movements and close involvement witha spiritual teacher. 
However, as a number of female and male devotees attest, the situationbegan to change in the mid-1970s. By this time several male devotees had been initiatedas sannyasis (celibate renunciates).  They worked closely with Prabhupada, particularlyon various projects in India where they were exposed to very differentcultural circumstances to those operating in the West. Looking backto this time, older devotees now see this situation as causal inthe devaluation of women within the movement. With a desire to protecttheir own asrama and their individual spiritual advancement,they saw the involvement of women as a problem. The householderor grhastha asrama as a whole was criticised, withwomen in particular targetted (Ravindra, 1994:52) Some sannyasis,it is said, wanted to see the initiation of women stopped, presumablyin line with the majority of Indian religious practice. One practicaleffect of their preaching was the reorganisation of worship suchthat in many temples women were made to stand at the back of thetemple room behind the male devotees.
Prabhupada was certainly aware of some of the things which tookplace in this period.� However, most devotees, in evaluating thechanges in relation to Prabhupada's original openness and equaltreatment of women, believe that he allowed such things to happen'to allay the fears of ... (his) newly celibate male population'(Vrinda, 1992:9) and perhaps to help them with the difficultiesthat the renunciate lifestyle inevitably engendered. The femaledevotees close to Prabhupada were able to appeal to him in someof these matters, with some success, until he passed away in 1977.Following this, while the management of ISKCON was in the handsof the GBC, spiritual authority was taken on by a group of maleinitiating gurus, all sannyasis, who were not sympatheticto calls for the reinstatement of opportunities for women.
Although in the early 1980s some devotees wrote about the positionof women in the movement in response to feminist developments in thewider society, it was not until the mid to late-1980s, with the riseof a more vocal group of women in the movement - and with pressuresfor reform growing in relation to a number of matters - that realcalls for change began to resonate throughout ISKCON. Both male andfemale devotees began to acknowledge the degree of damage that wasbeing done through a failure to tackle the issue of women's second-classstatus.
'Shouldn't women be taken seriously? If they aren't, our movementmay survive, but will it prosper? Not only will we be turningaway half of the world's population, but we will be neglectingthose who are strong enough to stay. We will exploit them, hurtthem, and not allow them to reach their full potential. And inthe process of doing this, we will be exploiting, hurting, anddenying ourselves. We will not progress, nor will we understandeven the simplest things about the Krishna conscious view of women.'(Satyaraja, 1992:11)
Women started to propose changes and to write about the problemsthey faced. One devotee, suggesting that women devotees organiseto place a referendum of their views before the GBC, drew fellowdevotees' attention to the violation of,
' ... one of the main objectives of Vaisnava culture which isto inculcate in its adherents an enlightened, broad-visioned andcompassionate attitude, thereby creating a socially just, non-repressive,God-centered society.' (Vrinda, 1992:10)
Changes slowly began to take place. In the mid-1990s, the issuehas by no means disappeared completely, but there is a little morereason for optimism. Some positive European examples include thechanges in Ireland and England which brought women and men sideby side for worship and entitled women to give classes to all devotees,and the situation in Germany where three out of eleven temple presidenciesand one-third of National Council seats are held by women. Similar progress is gradually occurring elsewhere.
With regard to spiritual advancement as opposed to these importantmanagerial changes, all devotees are reminded that there are noscriptural grounds and no GBC rulings which deny advanced womendevotees the possibility of leading classes or taking on the roleof guru. The latter has not yet occurred in ISKCON.  Perhaps it is only when itdoes that women devotees will feel fully affirmed as equal spirit-soulsin Krishna consciousness. Principles of equality are all to thegood, but if they are never practically enacted, it is all too easyto doubt the sincerity of those who proclaim them.
As it remains the case that few women are given the public opportunity of speakingprophetically about ISKCON it has been left to two men, one a devoteeand the other a sympathetic outsider, to invite the movement toproceed further and faster down the road to reform. Ravindra SvarupaDasa, a leading commentator within ISKCON, was not referring explicitlyto the women issue when he wrote the following, but his commentselsewhere lead me to believe he would include it in his hopes forthe future:
'Our work of reform and renewal continues. It has to be perpetual.As part of that work, ISKCON is beginning to look back at itself,engaging in its own process of honestly coming to terms with itspast. Only by so doing can it have a viable and progressive future.'(Ravindra Svarupa, 1994:33)
This sentiment is echoed by a British scholar of Hindu studies,Julius Lipner, who calls with great sincerity for a serious commitmentto change on the issue of women's participation in the Hare Krishnamovement:
'I would suggest, on the basis of this account, that the philosophyand scripture of ISKCON need provide no significant barrier forwomen's progress in ISKCON. Moreover, its history provides examples- if comparatively few in number - of great women devotees. Prabhupada'sown writings - which need some explanation and commentary for newdevotees and outsiders - when set alongside his radical actionsin opening up a previously male movement to substantial female participationshould provide no obstacle for women's spiritual advancement andmaterial involvement in ISKCON. As Vrinda devi dasi points out inher plea for change, '(We do) a terrible disservice to His DivineGrace (Prabhupada) and his mission. These points should be clearedup for the sake of our own interpersonal dealings, and secondarilyfor our appearance in the eyes of the public.' (Vrinda, 1992:9)
While those in new religious movements may always be misunderstood,even misrepresented, by outsiders, the primary responsibility, forcleaning the ISKCON house and the hearts of devotees on the subjectof women, falls squarely to those inside the movement.  It is only once this has been achieved that the movement willrightfully shake off the stigma of sexism.
 The main sources for this accountwere interviews in the 1980s with devotees in Boston, Mass., andWatford, UK, and ISKCON's own discussions and writings, principallyfrom Back to Godhead, Priti-lakshanam, ISKCON CommunicationsJournal and the tapes of the first ISKCON European CommunicationsSeminar (Ravindra Svarupa, 1991). An author who also has made useof interview accounts with women in the Hare Krsna Movement is SusanJean Palmer (1994). Her book was not available to me when I waswriting this article.
 The Hare Krsna devotees referto the temple forms of Radha and Krsna as 'Deities', these beingactual incarnational forms of the divine. I have used this and otherdevotional terms in the text because it is my intention to convey- to the best of my 'outsider' ability - a sense of the women'sissue as it is discussed and experienced within the movement. ISKCONmembers have had few opportunities in the scholarly literature toexplain the philosophical and historical perspectives of the movementon the woman question. Whilst not ignoring the mounting discontentamong many women devotees in the late 1980s and 1990s (which I willdiscuss later in the article), I wish to present these perspectives,in the context of external, sociological criticisms, in order torender explicable the apparent diversity of views about gender andequality in ISKCON.
 The first of these points wasalso reiterated by a senior male devotee in 1991 in a paper presentedto European devotees involved in communications work. Referringto scriptural references to sexual entrapment, Ravindra SvarupaDasa said, 'For a man, woman is the woman; for a woman, man is thewoman.' He confirmed that this was how Srila Prabhupada had explainedpassages in sastra which cited woman as the lure for a manengaged in spiritual life. (Ravindra Svarupa, 1991)
 ISKCON's relationship to Vaishnavabhakti is important when evaluating the question of gender.The bhakti movements in North and, particularly, South Indiaprovided liberatory path for groups normally excluded from brahminicalorthopraxis, notably for low castes and women. A useful accountof the teachings about and opportunities for women in a similarVaisnava movement is provided by Katherine Young (1983:183-90).
 For more informationon this early period see Judah (1974) and Satsvarupa (1980-3; 1983a).
 See also Satarupa(1981:17) and Visakha (1981:6).
 This philosophical stance of identity-in-differenceis known as achintya-bhedabheda. (Kapoor, 1877; Gelberg,1983; Srivatsa, 1992:249-60).
 Satyaraja Dasa cautiously commentson this in a critique of the treatment of women in ISKCON: "GaudiyaVaisnavism ... exalts the feminine side of reality as supreme ...(But) this emphasis of feminine spirituality ...� is something thatwe've yet to explore (in ISKCON)' (1992:11).
 The Krsna consciousness viewof varnasrama-dharma is described by A. C. BhaktivedantaSwami Prabhupada (1983:chapters 3-4, purports; 1987:Canto 7) A contemporaryview is that of Krsna Dharma Dasa (1994).
 Among those who have writtenabout the movement there is an awareness that the teachings of Krsnaconsciousness are related to the traditions and philosophies ofIndia, but an uncertainly about the extent to which these are normativefor devotees. Both Judah and Whitworth and Shiels mention 'Hindutheology', and Daner uses the phrase 'Vedic ideals'. The difficultyis that these terms, to a reader unfamiliar with Krsna consciousness,may signal something rather different to that perceived by HareKrsna devotees. Their perspective on such terms, and on dharmaitself, has to be understood in relation to their status as a Vaisnavabhakti movement, a part of the Gaudiya tradition rooted in theexperience of Caitanya.
 The tensionbetween varnasrama-dharma and bhagavat-dharmawas explored by devotees at a European communications seminar. Thelecturer, Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, pointed out that both are mentionedin the writings of Srila Prabhupada and it is difficult to see howthe two should fit together in practice (Ravindra Svarupa, 1991).
 These particular designationswere explained to me in an interview with Garuda Dasa who also discussedthis issue in Back to Godhead (Garuda, 1980:7-13). The distinctionsbetween these different perspectives are further alluded to, thoughnot described explicitly, by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, (1984:61)and Sitarani Dasi (1982:26). See also Ravindra Svarupa (1991).
 I have discussed the relationshipbetween these perspectives in 'Problems in the interpretation of"Vedic" literature: The perennial battle between the scholar andthe devotee' (Knott, 1994).
 The Vedic period is held bydevotees to form the latter part of the age previous to this one,dvapara yuga (about five thousand years ago).
 This ideal 'Vedic' view ofvarnasrama-dharma and stridharma conforms withthat which is presented in the classical Hindu lawbook, Manusmrti.However, devotees would see the practical attempt to live out theprescriptions of Manu in India in the last two thousand years as'Hindu' rather than 'Vedic' and as representing the distortion ofthe ideal system of varnasrama-dharma in the darkage of Kali-yuga.
 These reflections formed partof the discussion about the situation of women in the Hare Krsnamovement at the European Communications Seminar (Ravindra Svarupa,1991: part 2).
 Hare Krsna devotees regularlypay their obeisances, not only to Krsna and the spiritual master,but also to the other devotees.
 Both thisproblem and the one of implicit comparison are well illustratedby Janet Jacobs (1984:155-71) She not only uses those who have leftNew Religious Movements (deconverts) to illustrate the attitudesof these movements to women's roles, but she also neglects to giveany consideration to the religious beliefs held by the groups. Theinevitable result is that Jacobs concludes that for women in 'non-traditional'religious movements 'a submissive self image also becomes inseparablefrom the goals of spiritual growth' (ibid.:158). This is certainlytrue for Krsna consciousness, yet we read it without realising thatthis goal, and the image attached to it, is shared by both men andwomen.
 In addition to the undeniablyhigh position afforded to great Vaisnava queens and other femaleepic figures (Nandarani, 1980), the Caitanya movement itself providesgood examples in Jahnavi, the wife of Nityananda and a guru in herown right, and Gangamata Goswami, a celibate devotee from the followinggeneration who inspired many Vaisnavas in Orissa (Satyaraja,1989:8-12).
 The sources for this accountof the early years are Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami (1980-3; 1981; 1983a;1983b) and taped conversations with devotees.
 There are some other neo-Hindumovements in India which allow the active participation of women,e.g. the Brahma Kumaris (led entirely by women), the Sarada DeviMath (exclusively for women), the Swaminarayan Sampradaya (in whichwomen are segregated from men but are actively involved) (Babb,1986; Denton, 1992:211-32; Pancholi, 1993; King, 1984:69-83).
 The sources for this discussion are taped conversations, andVrinda Devi Dasi (1992:8-10).
 This was one role which womenwere unable to take on. Whereas Prabhupada had initiated them -giving them brahmacharini status - and allowed them to becomebrahmanas (though they did not wear the sacred thread) andpujaris, they were not formally permitted to renounce theworld and wander as sannyasinis. The explanation given forthis is that renunciation would separate a woman devotee from thesources of her protection, e.g. a husband or temple authorities,and this would expose her to danger and exploitation.
 Taped discussion,� Ravindra (1991), Daya (1994:37-42).
 Unfortunately, this accordswith the findings of June McDaniel in Bengal where, in her studyof women spiritual leaders, she concluded that no Vaisnava holywomen were to be found (1989:Ch. 5, p.192).
 Phrase borrowed from Ravindra Svarupa Dasa (1994a).
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