Chapter 3: The Most Intelligent Woman

tathā paramahaṁsānāṁ
munīnām amalātmanām
bhakti-yoga-vidhānārthaṁ
kathaṁ paśyema hi striyaḥ

You Yourself descend to propagate the transcendental science of devotional service unto the hearts of the advanced transcendentalists and mental speculators, who are purified by being able to discriminate between matter and spirit. How, then, can we women know You perfectly?

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.20

Even the greatest philosophical speculators cannot have access to the region of the Lord. It is said in the Upaniṣads that the Supreme Truth, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, is beyond the range of the thinking power of the greatest philosopher. He is unknowable by great learning or by the greatest brain. He is knowable only by one who has His mercy. Others may go on thinking about Him for years together, yet He is unknowable. This very fact is corroborated by the Queen, who is playing the part of an innocent woman. Women in general are unable to speculate like philosophers, but they are blessed by the Lord because they believe at once in the superiority and almightiness of the Lord, and thus they offer obeisances without reservation. The Lord is so kind that He does not show special favor only to one who is a great philosopher. He knows the sincerity of purpose. For this reason only, women generally assemble in great number in any sort of religious function. In every country and in every sect of religion it appears that the women are more interested than the men. This simplicity of acceptance of the Lord’s authority is more effective than showy insincere religious fervor.

Kuntīdevī prayed to the Lord very submissively, and this is the symptom of a Vaiṣṇava. The Lord, Kṛṣṇa, had come to Kuntīdevī to offer respect to her by taking the dust of her feet. Because Kṛṣṇa considered Kuntīdevī His aunt, He used to touch her feet. But although Kuntīdevī, a great devotee, was in such an exalted position, practically on the level of Yaśodāmayī, Kṛṣṇa’s mother, she was so submissive that she prayed, “Kṛṣṇa, You are meant to be understood by the paramahaṁsas, the most advanced transcendentalists, but I am a woman, so how can I see You?”

According to the Vedic system, there are four social divisions (cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭam). The highest members of the social order are the brāhmaṇas, those who are intelligent, and then come the kṣatriyas (military men and administrators), the vaiśyas (farmers and businessmen), and finally the śūdras (ordinary laborers). One’s place in this system is determined by one’s qualities and work (guṇa-karma). The Bhagavad-gītā mentions striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrāḥ, and the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam speaks of strī-śūdra-dvija-bandhūnām. According to these references women, śūdras, and dvija-bandhus are considered to belong to the same category. The word dvija-bandhu refers to one who is born in an exalted brāhmaṇa or kṣatriya family but who has no qualifications of his own. One’s social standing, according to the Vedic system, is determined by one’s qualifications. This is very practical. Suppose a man is born the son of a high-court judge. This does not mean that he himself is also a high-court judge. Yet because one happens to take birth in a brāhmaṇa family, even if he has no qualifications and is rascal number one, he claims to be a brāhmaṇa, and although his qualifications are less than those of a śūdra, people accept him as a brāhmaṇa. This has caused the downfall of the Vedic civilization. The brāhmaṇas in India are sometimes very much against my movement because I train and accept brāhmaṇas from Europe and America. But we do not care about their arguments, nor will any other reasonable man. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said:

pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi grāma
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma

“In every town, city, and village of the world, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement will be preached.”

How is it, then, that Europeans and Americans will not become brāhmaṇas? In fact, one who comes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness has already surpassed brāhmaṇism. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (14.26):

māṁ ca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
brahma-bhūyāya kalpate

“One who takes to bhakti-yoga surpasses the modes of material nature and comes immediately to the transcendental platform [brahma-bhūta].” Not to speak of becoming a brāhmaṇa, the person who fully engages in bhakti-yoga attains the highest transcendental platform.

The stereotyped, crippled idea that only a person born in a brāhmaṇa family can become a brāhmaṇa has killed Vedic civilization, but now we are reviving the correct understanding that the attainment of perfection is meant for everyone. In Bhagavad-gītā (9.32) Lord Kṛṣṇa says:

māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya
ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās
te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim

“O son of Pṛthā, those who take shelter in Me – though they be lowborn, women, vaiśyas, or śūdras – can approach the supreme destination.” Thus although women, śūdras, and vaiśyas are ordinarily considered to belong to a lower class, when one becomes a devotee he or she goes beyond such designations. Women, śūdras, and vaiśyas are ordinarily regarded as less intelligent, but if one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness one is the most intelligent, as stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (kṛṣṇa yei bhaje sei baḍa catura). And Caitanya Mahāprabhu says:

ei rūpe brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja

“Among all the living entities wandering throughout the universe, one who is very fortunate receives, by the mercy of the spiritual master and the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, the seed of devotional service.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 19.151) The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement does not consist of wretched, unfortunate men. No. It consists of the most fortunate. One who has taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness is to be considered the most fortunate because he has found the way to act so that his life will be perfect. One who is Kṛṣṇa conscious and discharging his duties nicely is the most fortunate and the most perfect. This is humbly stated here by Kuntīdevī.

Although Kuntī had the body of a woman, she was a devotee. Therefore she was not like an ordinary unintelligent woman. Rather, she was the most intelligent, for she recognized Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Godhead: “He has come to me to offer me respect, materially appearing to be my nephew, but He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Therefore in a previous verse she said, alakṣyaṁ sarva-bhūtānām antar bahir avasthitam: “You are not seen by ordinary men, although You are everywhere, inside and outside.” In another verse also she said, na lakṣyase mūḍha-dṛśā: “Fools and rascals cannot see You.” This indicates that Kuntī saw Him. Unless she were able to see Kṛṣṇa as He is, how could she say, na lakṣyase mūḍha-dṛśā? She also said, prakṛteḥ param: “You are transcendental to this material creation.”

Now here also, in this verse, Kuntī continues to express herself with humility. This humility is very good in devotional service. Therefore Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu teaches us, tṛṇād api sunīcena taror api sahiṣṇunā: “One should be more tolerant than the tree and humbler than the grass to make progress in spiritual life.” This is necessary because for one who is living in this material world there will be so many disturbances, just as if one were traveling on the ocean. One cannot expect a very peaceful situation on the ocean; even a big ship may also be unsteady, and at any moment there may be tumultuous waves. Similarly, in this material world we should always expect danger; one cannot expect a very peaceful life within this material world. The śāstra, the Vedic literature, says, padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadām (Bhāgavatam 10.14.58): at every step there is danger. But if one becomes a devotee, then one can escape (māyām etāṁ taranti te).

If one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, in the beginning there will be many disturbances caused by Māyā, the material energy of illusion. Māyā will test us to see how firmly we are fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Because she is also an agent of Kṛṣṇa, she does not allow anyone the freedom to disturb Kṛṣṇa. Therefore she tests very rigidly to see whether we have taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness to disturb Kṛṣṇa or are actually serious. That is Māyā’s business. So in the beginning there will be tests by Māyā, and we shall feel so many disturbances while making progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But if we follow the rules and regulations and chant regularly as prescribed, then we shall remain steady. If we neglect these principles, Māyā will capture us immediately. Māyā is always ready. We are in the ocean, and at any moment we may be disturbed. Therefore one who is not disturbed at all is called paramahaṁsa.

Kuntīdevī therefore says, tathā paramahaṁsānām: “You are meant to be understood by the paramahaṁsas.” The word parama means “ultimate,” and haṁsa means “swan.” So paramahaṁsa means “the perfect swan.” If we give a swan milk mixed with water, the swan will take the milk and leave aside the water. Similarly, this material world is made of two natures – the inferior nature and the superior nature. The superior nature means spiritual life, and the inferior nature is material life. Thus a person who gives up the material part of this world and takes only the spiritual part is called paramahaṁsa.

One should know that the activities of the body are due to the soul within the body. That is the real fact. The body is only the outward covering. Similarly, one should know that Kṛṣṇa is the real center of all activities, and one who knows this is a paramahaṁsa. Thus bhakti-yoga is for the paramahaṁsa, one who knows that Kṛṣṇa is the central fact. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā, ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate: “I am the source of everything; everything emanates from Me.” So one who knows, not only theoretically but practically, that Kṛṣṇa is the cause of all causes – one who is convinced of this – is a paramahaṁsa.

Kuntīdevī says, “You are meant for the paramahaṁsas, not for the rascals and fools. You are meant for the paramahaṁsas and munis.” The word munīnām refers to those who are thoughtful or to mental speculators, and the word amalātmanām refers to one who has no dirty things in his heart. The heart of a materialistic person is full of dirty things. What are those dirty things? Lust and greed. All materialistic persons are lusty and greedy, and therefore their hearts are understood to be full of dirty things, but amalātmanām refers to those who are freed from these two contaminations.

Bhakti-yoga is meant for those whose hearts are cleansed, not for the lusty and greedy. Of course, those who are lusty and greedy may try to advance, and gradually they may do so, but once one is situated in bhakti-yoga there is no more lust or greed. Viraktir anyatra ca (Bhāgavatam 11.2.42). This is the test – when one is free from lusty desires and greed, then he is situated in bhakti-yoga and is actually a paramahaṁsa. Kuntīdevī humbly submits, “You are meant for the paramahaṁsas and munis, those who are cleansed in heart and are engaged in bhakti-yoga. But what are we? We are simply women. We are in a lower class. How can we understand You?” Although she understands everything, she still takes the position of an ordinary woman and says, “How can I understand You?” This is humility.