Restricting association with opposite sex
Since the dawn of history, materialists have written thousands of books about dealing with women, and it is still a mystery to them. Especially if women are accepted as sense objects, relationships with them remain inextricably complex: nectar in the beginning, poison in the end. The brahmacari has no real business associating with women—whatever must be there, he keeps as brief as possible. He knows that the male human form is meant for self-realization, and that attraction to the female form blocks such spiritual advancement.
Therefore the Vedic culture has always carefully restricted the mixing of men and women. Most of the time traditional brahmacaris wouldn’t see women at all, as they would be busy with their studies. Addressing all women as mata (mother), the only relationship they might have was with their guru’s wife, who in the absence of their real mother would look after the boys. Even then there were restrictions, especially after the boys reached puberty and if the wife was young. Brahmacaris would not even see any young woman for the first twenty-five years of their lives. (Lecture, 06/02/75) Vanaprasthas kept the company of their aging wives, under strict vows, but for sannyasis, association with women was meant to be zero. Even grihasthas were only allowed limited association. Free mixing with women was only for shudras and outcastes (i.e., those with no higher values of life).
For those interested in spiritual advancement, association with women must be restricted to the minimum. In the presence of a woman, the consciousness of a man changes. Even if several serious brahmacaris are present in a room, and a chaste devotee woman enters for some reason, the mentality of the men consciously or unconsciously will change. They will become self-conscious in their words and actions. So, even having philosophically accepted that we are all spirit souls, and even if we want to be liberal and forget the formalities and relate to women on a person-to-person basis, the shastra forbids us to do so.
“As long as a living entity is not completely self-realized—as long as he is not independent of the misconception of identifying with his body, which is nothing but a reflection of the original body and senses—he cannot be relieved of the conception of duality, which is epitomized by the duality between man and woman. Thus there is every chance that he will fall down because his intelligence is bewildered.” (SB 7.12.10, text)
In the purport to this verse, Shrila Prabhupada elaborates: “One must realize perfectly that the living being is a spirit soul and is tasting various types of material bodies. One may theoretically understand this, but when one has practical realization, then he becomes a pandita, one who knows. Until that time, the duality continues, and the conception of man and woman also continues. In this stage, one should be very careful in mixing with women. No one should think himself perfect and forget the shastric injunction that one should be careful about associating even with his daughter, mother, or sister, not to speak of other women.”
In Krishna consciousness, man is good and woman is good; but, in the conditional stage, the combination is always dangerous. (Conversation, 31/07/76) Better to be careful than sorry. Even in the short history of ISKCON, we have seen many stalwart, sincere devotees (including sannyasis) fall down because of carelessness and complacency in dealing with women. “In our Krishna consciousness movement it is advised that the sannyasis and brahmacaris keep strictly aloof from the association of women so that there will be no chance of their falling down again as victims of lusty desires.” (SB 7.15.36)
The material world is so designed that unless one goes to the jungles or mountains, he must have some dealings with the opposite sex. In the modern world there is no protection for brahmacaris; man-woman relationships are quite free (which is the beginning of all hellish life, and quite unsuitable for spiritual progress).
ISKCON brahmacaris have to deal with women (both devotees and nondevotees) a lot more than traditional brahmacaris did, and in less favorable circumstances. Dealings with women should he formal, polite—and as little as possible. If some talk must be there, keep your distance (stand well apart), avoid eye contact, and finish the business as soon as possible. Never get into an argument with a woman. Strict brahmacaris do not attend marriage ceremonies, (SB 3.24.20) watch dramas with parts played by women, (-See Lecture After Play, 06/04/75) or see women dancing or hear their singing. (SB 6.18.41) The general principle to avoid intimate association must be strictly maintained. It is foolish to think that one can freely mix with the opposite sex and remain unagitated. Even the great brahmacari Bhishmadeva expressed that he could not save himself if he were to associate with young girls. (Lecture, 16/08/73)
Nor should brahmacaris accept service from women (even prasada service should be separate). It is especially dangerous for a brahmacari to see and talk to the same woman repeatedly. Once a friendly relationship is established, the downfall of the brahmacari has begun.
Remember, women are powerful. Caesar controlled a mighty empire, but Cleopatra controlled Caesar. Of course, having to speak with women or sometimes discuss something with them is unavoidable. If at all possible mold your life in such a way that you don’t normally have to have any dealings with women—the tendency should be toward zero dealings.
Brahmacaris should avoid physically touching women, for to do so even accidentally will agitate the mind. Keep at least far enough away so that there is not even a possibility of brushing against a woman’s clothing; and preferably further still. Lord Chaitanya, even in His householder life, would stand well to the side if He saw a woman approaching on the path. Nor did He joke with women.
The eyes have a tendency to stray towards women, but this should be given up. When a man looks at a woman, then Cupid (Kamadeva), standing nearby with his flower-bow, immediately shoots an arrow called Mohana (meaning infatuation, delusion, or folly) which causes the man to be fascinated by the female form. After this preliminary bewilderment, Cupid sends a further four arrows, namely: Stambhana, which stuns the man and causes him to forget all else; Unmadana, which causes him to be as if intoxicated; Shoshana, which causes intense attraction; and Tapana, which deeply pierces the heart and causes it to burn.
Hardly anyone in the three worlds has the power to resist the influence of these arrows. Maya is so strong that even in the midst of an enlivening kirtana, a devotee engaged in chanting the pure names of the Supreme Lord may become attracted upon seeing the form of the opposite sex (especially a dancing form). Therefore a brahmacari should practice not looking at women, and should especially never see a woman dressing, combing her hair, running, playing sports, sleeping, bathing, undressed or partially dressed.
Never trust the mind. The mind will tell us, “I can speak to this woman, I won’t get agitated,” “She is only a child,” or, “She is much older than me, so no problem,” or “She is the chaste wife of so and so,” or, “Anyway, I know the philosophy, I’m not going to speak to her for long, it’s important, and I’m not going to fall down.” But shastra states that, what to speak of lusty rascals brought up in the modern sex-centered so-called civilization, even learned scholars of the Vedic age were totally forbidden from sitting close to their mother, sister, or daughter! (SB 9.19.17)
Such chaste behavior helps to control the mind. The natural tendency to be lusty is checked by deliberate restraint in dealings with the opposite sex. As soon as one even slightly indulges in looking at, unnecessarily talking with, or in any way behaving loosely with women, then the guard is let down and lusty desires begin to enter. Soon the intelligence becomes bewildered and, being impelled by the senses, one cannot distinguish between activities that are beneficial and those that should be avoided. One who loses control of his mind loses control of his life, and becomes controlled by maya in the form of a woman.
Therefore a brahmacari must be careful to control his mind and senses and not indulge them in the illusory pleasure derived from seeing, thinking about, or talking with women. The mind and senses are so strong that they can never, never, never be trusted. The only thing they can be trusted to do is to sell us off to maya if given even a shadow of an opportunity. One slip into illicit sex will cause havoc in the life of a devotee.
Such strong strictures may seem odd in the context of modern social relationships, but the fact is that unless this discrimination between the sexes is reestablished, there is no hope for human society. “A civilization that allows men to mix unrestrictedly with women is an animal civilization. In Kali-yuga, people are extremely liberal, but mixing with women and talking with them as equals actually constitutes an uncivilized way of life.” (SB 7.12.8)
The scriptures enjoin that we see all women as our mother. That’s a healthy approach for a brahmacari—even if most women, due to lack of training, don’t act like mothers.
Don’t try to impress women. We may not even be fully conscious of it, but when women are present, the tendency is to try to impress them by our good behavior, eloquent speaking, athletic dancing, or whatever. Be careful.
However, fanatical anti-womanism is also unhealthy. How many woman-hating “staunch brahmacaris” have succumbed and become big enjoyer householders? The roughness of so-called “super-brahmacaris”—as if unkindness and rudeness to women were proof of their freedom from sex desire—is actually indicative of their agitation. Indeed, undesirable traits such as the desire to dominate or impress others, unnecessary anger, and voracious eating are all symptoms of sex desire manifest in different ways. Attachment and rejection are two sides of the coin of the mode of passion. Neutrality and detachment born of sattva-guna are required of a steady devotee. One must come to the mode of goodness to maintain brahmacarya. In goodness, knowledge and renunciation develop.
Our philosophy begins with atma-jnana—we are not these bodies, male or female. So we shouldn’t develop a superiority complex: “I’m a big renounced brahmacari. Who are these less intelligent women?” Who knows, possibly in our last lives we were in women’s bodies and the women were in men’s bodies! Still, we must keep the distinction. “Danger—keep your distance.” Don’t be rough, don’t be rude, but don’t worry about being considered odd or anti-social by being distant. Better be safe than sorry.