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I found some misogynist interpretations of Bhagavad Gita in the commentary section from A. C. Bhakti' Prabhupada.

Observation 1

For example, in Verse 1:40 he writes,

"Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Canakya Pandita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varëäçrama system. On the failure of such varëäçrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population. Irresponsible men also provoke adultery in society, and thus unwanted children flood the human race at the risk of war and pestilence."

Also, the verse number doesn't match with some other Gita versions for example, In Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das version the verse is 1:41 instead of 1:40. The same in Gita Society of Belgium version and International Gita Society/USA.

In Eknath Easwaran's version, the verse is translated/interpreted as

"decline of the family and ancient traditions."

Observation 2

In verse 9:32 according to As it is:

"O son of Prthä, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas [merchants] and sudras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination."

The Annie Besant version says:

"They who take refuse with Me, O Pârtha, though of the womb of sin, women, Vaishyas, even Shûdras, they also tread the highest path."

The Eknath Easwaran's version seems more progressive and less vitriolic:

"All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the supreme goal."

Observation 3

In his commentary to verse 16:1-3 A. C.B. S. writes in As it is,

"Lord Caitanya was an ideal sannyäsé, and when He was at Puré His feminine devotees could not even come near to offer their respects. They were advised to bow down from a distant place. This is not a sign of hatred for women as a class, but it is a stricture imposed on the sannyäsé not to have close connections with women. One has to follow the rules and regulations of a particular status of life in order to purify his existence. For a sannyäsé, intimate relations with women and possession of wealth for sense gratification are strictly forbidden. The ideal sannyäsé was Lord Caitanya Himself, and we can learn from His life that He was very strict in regards to women."

The same barrage of subhumanization continues in 16:7 commentary by A.C. BS with reference to Manu-samhita:

"...in the Manu-samhitä it is clearly stated that a woman should not be given freedom. That does not mean that women are to be kept as slaves, but they are like children. Children are not given freedom, but that does not mean that they are kept as slaves. The demons have now neglected such injunctions, and they think that women should be given as much freedom as men. However, this has not improved the social condition of the world. Actually, a woman should be given protection at every stage of life. She should be given protection by the father in her younger days, by the husband in her youth, and by the grownup sons in her old age. This is proper social behavior according to the Manu-samhitä. But modern education has artificially devised a puffed-up concept of womanly life, and therefore marriage is practically now an imagination in human society. Nor is the moral condition of woman very good now. The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable."

This interpretation is far far from the verse which is:

"Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them."

According to Annie Besant the same verse goes:

"Demoniacal know neither right energy nor right abstinence; nor purity, not even propriety, nor truth is in them."

which is pretty similar to Eknath Easwaran's.

There maybe other instances of vilifying women or speak in an ill manner that doesn't go with progressive values of universal human equality. But how did this version of Bhagavad Gita got so popular esp. in Western world despite such defaming prose. I don't speak Sanskrit, I have that drawback, so I managed to read multiple versions of Gita and what I understood that the oration of Krsna in Gita doesn't have such language. So is it brushing such misogyny of a prominent preacher under the carpet or west's lack of knowledge like me to propagate such thoughts that is antithetical to progressive values?

If anyone can add or enlighten me, would be much humbled.

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    Does this answer your question? Does Geeta have gender and caste discrimination verses? Jul 15 at 7:52
  • It is addressing the fact that those who are not entitled for sanyasa such as women, vaishya aur shudras can achieve the enlightenment through his(Krishna's) devotional path. The other part emphasize the fact about women's role in family structure.
    – user19357
    Jul 15 at 14:24
  • @Carmensandiego this definitely adds some points. But only discusses 9:32
    – banikr
    Jul 15 at 16:30
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    voting to closes as you are asking for opinions. Please see the forum rules. Jul 16 at 7:05
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    @banikr no no. There is no such hue and cry. And Hinduism does allow reasoning and questioning of even the fundamental beliefs. But the thing is this site has some rules. Your question sounds your opinion of ISKCON's Bhagavad Gita being misogynist. Even my questions have been closed for being opinion based in the past. If you really want to know how ISKCON interprets it I suggest going to Krishna.com. there used to be a live chat option there, idk if it still exists. Your doubts will be clarified that too by Prabhupada followers. Even I used that back in the day.
    – RishX
    Jul 26 at 6:19
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Let me change your perspective.

This is Srila Prabhupada's "misogynistic" translation of BG 9.32:

"O son of Prthä, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birthwomen, vaisyas [merchants] and sudras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination."

This is Eknath Eswaran's "progressive" translation of BG 9.32 (quoted by OP):

"All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the supreme goal."

Here's the original verse in Sanskrit, from this page:

मां हि पार्थ व्यपाश्रित्य येऽपि स्युः पाप-योनयः ।
स्त्रियो वैश्यास् तथा शूद्रास् तेऽपि यान्ति परां गतिम् ॥ ३२ ॥

māṃ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye'pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ |
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te'pi yānti parāṃ gatim || 32 ||

mām–of Me; hi–certainly; pārtha–O son of Pṛthā; vyapāśritya–by taking shelter; ye–who; api–even; syuḥ–may be; pāpa-yonayaḥ–born of sinful parentage; striyaḥ–women; vaiśyāḥ–merchants; tathā–and; śūdrāḥ–manual labourers; te–those; api–even; yānti–attain; parām–the supreme; gatim–destination.

Based on this, I would call Srila Prabhupada's translation "orthodox", and Eknath Eswaran's translation "politically correct" or even "watered down".

Even Annie Besant seemed to make it a list starting with "womb of sin", followed by "women", but the original verse seems to end the sentence (using the danda) with "womb of sin" (if my understanding of Sanskrit is correct), followed by starting a list beginning with "women", implying that the list is a description or elaboration of "womb of sin", rather than "womb of sin" being the beginning of the list.

"Lower birth" seems to be a translation that explains the intention of "womb of sin".

So, overall, I would say, of the three translations, the one given by Srila Prabhupada conveys the original intention of the Bhagavad Gita.

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This is my answer:

Observation 1.

Arjuna is speaking these verses. No one reads the Gita to know Arjuna's views. These verses contain no message to the modern reader.

Observation 2:

Here the problem is with the interpretation of the term papa-yonih in Gita 9.32. Should we interpret it literally as a sinful womb? The answer is no since such an interpretation will make Lord Hiranyagarbha, the ultimate source of both man and woman, sinful.

He, verily, had no delight. Therefore he who is alone has no delight. He desired a second. He became as large as woman and man in close embrace. He caused that self to fall into two parts. From that arose husband and wife. ....

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad I.4.3

Should we interpret it as socially inferior? We have to be careful about this translation also because of Gita 9.29.

I am the same towards all being. None is hateful, and, none dear to Me. But those who worship Me with devotion dwell in Me, and I too dwell in them.

Gita 9.29

God does not view people through the social lens since all people are same to Him. So the correct translation of papa-yonih is socially oppressed. Vedic people did not allow women, Sudras to access the Vedas. Krishna is thus referring to that oppression in Gita 9.32.

A complete discussion of Gita 9.32 would require also an explanation of Gita 9.33.

Then how much more so in the case of holy Brahmanas and also of devoted royal sages! Having come into this impermanent and unhappy world, engage yourself in My worship.

Gita 9.33

Why will the Brahmanas and royal sages find it easy to gain the highest spiritual goal?

The simplest answer is that they did not experience the social oppression faced by women, sudras etc. This shows that translating papa-yonih as socially oppressed makes perfect sense.

Why didn't Krishna just say that all will attain moksha?

He did in Gita 9.29 where he says that He is the same to all. He does not distinguish between high and low born people. Such social distinctions mean nothing to Him. Gita 9.32 and 9.33 are simply applications of the position stated out in 9.29.

What if I feel that the above explanation is not satisfactory and Gita 9.32 is misogynistic? What should I do?

The answer to this is actually given in Gita itself.

'....Reflecting on this entire teaching, do as you think is fit'.

Gita 18.63

One shouldn't accept anything simply because it is in a text considered to be a scripture. Neither Sruti, nor Smriti, nor ancient traditions and customs can override one's conscience.

An example of Conscience

Gandhari said, ‘Since deliberately, O slayer of Madhu, thou wert indifferent to this universal carnage, therefore, O mighty-armed one, thou shouldst reap the fruit of this act. By the little merit I have acquired through waiting dutifully on my husband, by that merit so difficult to attain, I shall curse thee, O Wielder of the discus and the mace! Since thou wert indifferent to the Kurus and the Pandavas whilst they slew each other, therefore, O Govinda, thou shalt be the slayer of thy own kinsmen! On the thirty-sixth year from this, O slayer of Madhu, thou shalt, after causing the slaughter of thy kinsmen and friends and sons, perish by disgustful means within the wilderness. The ladies of thy race, deprived of sons, kinsmen, and friends, shall weep and cry even as these ladies of the Bharata race!’

Vaisampyana continued, “Hearing these words, the high-souled Vasudeva, addressing the venerable Gandhari, said unto her these words, with a faint smile, ‘There is none in this world save myself, that is capable of exterminating the Vrishnis. I know this well. I am endeavouring to bring it about. In uttering this curse, O thou of excellent vows, thou hast aided me in the accomplishment of that task. ….’

Mahabharata, Stree Parva Section XXV

Krishna did not pull rank when Gandhari cursed him after the war. He accepted that Gandhari had a point.

The moral of this story is that neither the Gita nor Hindu scripture encourages dogmatism. If anyone is convinced that Gita 9.32 is misogynistic then he should just reject it. That is no big deal.

I do not see any misogynism in Gita 9.32. After all Arjuna, i.e. the common man of that time did not think women can gain moksha. Lord Krishna is actually rejecting that view. So I do not see how Gita 9.32 can be misogynistic. In my view, commentators or lay people who accuse Lord Krishna of prejudice in Gita 9.32 are actually superimposing their own prejudice on to the textual material.

Observation 3

Srila Prabhupada has mentioned that women were not allowed near Lord Chaitanya. Yes, that is true and that is not misogynism. The reason is simple. Sanyasis are expected to remain celibate and they are not allowed to come near women to reduce temptation. This also applies to women Sanyasis.

Just as a woman is a danger to a man desiring progress on the spiritual path, so is a man to woman.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana III.31.41

There is no doubt that Manu Smriti that is referred to by Prabhupada has many regressive statements on women. It is, however, not a divine text and only a Smriti and is not valid forever. I only wish that Prabhupada referred to uplifting statements on women in Hindu scripture. An example is given below.

Pay respect to womanhood, as they are all born of the family of the Divine Mother. Punish them not in however mild a manner, whatever the transgression. Their excellences, not failings, are to be stressed.

Kularnava Tantra, Worship, Readings by M.P. Pandit

Why did western society accept such a reading?

Not every westerner is a liberal. I had a debate with a western follower of Prabhupada who staunchly defended his interpretation.

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    <<If anyone is convinced that Gita 9.32 is misogynistic then he should just reject it. That is no big deal.>> This statement captures the correct spirit of the Gita.
    – user23407
    Sep 27 at 11:58
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This is a limited partial answer addressing only Observation 2.

In this context, for Gita 9.32, the commentary of Sri Ramanuja (who lived in 11th-12th Century CE) might be relevant -

Sanskrit Commentary By Sri Ramanuja

।।9.32।।स्त्रियो वैश्याः शूद्राः पापयोनयः अपि मां व्यपाश्रित्य परां गतिं यान्ति।

৷৷9.32৷৷striyō vaiśyāḥ śūdrāḥ ca pāpayōnayaḥ api māṅ vyapāśritya parāṅ gatiṅ yānti.

English Translation of Ramanuja's Sanskrit Commentary By Swami Adidevananda

9.32. Women, Vaisyas and Sudras, and even those who are of sinful birth, can attain the supreme state by taking refuge in Me...

By the usage of the word and (ca in Sanskrit) it becomes clear that women, vaishyas and sudras are differentiated from the "people of sinful birth". The verse is therefore not misogynistic.

PS: It cannot be said that the above is an example of a "modern progressive re-interpretation" of scripture, because Sri Ramanuja belonged to 11th -12th century.

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  • Interesting interpretation. Alternate fact? It is funny that several great defense lawyers listed above struggling over the ages attempting to interpret and rescue to date in vain. As per Rig Veda "truth is one". As there is no acceptable interpretation to date, proves that interpretations over the ages are just alternate facts. One would expect the almighty, who is considered the creator, to mention simply that "I will provide salvation to all that I created" instead of naming different groups. First of all the Creator need not even mention that. It should be felt as we do with our mother.
    – RanonKahn
    Jul 15 at 20:50
  • Great comment, I like the 'defense lawyer' part. However, I don't think Bhagavad Gita is 'the panacea or cure' to all human problems. For some questions, there are no solid answers and even if there are, some questions will always have a vague boundary of understanding and alternate facts.
    – banikr
    Jul 15 at 23:31
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    @RanonKahn // One would expect the almighty, who is considered the creator, to mention simply that "I will provide salvation to all that I created" instead of naming different groups // The verse was spoken from the social context of those times. In the past, women and sudras were considered ineligible to study vedas. So a natural doubt arises if these groups were eligible for liberation. If the groups are not explicitly named, there is a possibility of some commentator denying liberation to these groups. By naming them explicitly, such doubts are dispelled.
    – user23407
    Jul 16 at 1:41
  • Sudras? what? what does that word mean?
    – RanonKahn
    Jul 16 at 22:54
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    @banikr Please address the person you are responding to. (Unaddressed messages are by default meant for me, here). By the way, I tend to agree with some of your observations.
    – user23407
    Jul 18 at 2:31
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Can you please define misogyny??

According to the dictionary meaning its

Misogyny (/mɪˈsɒdʒɪni/) is hatred or contempt for women or girls.

Now even according to As it is, there's no hatred or contempt towards women. This is an age old Hindu problem, if someone is a sinner it doesn't mean they are worthy of hate and contempt.

Infact Bhagavat Gita goes on to say to see the enemy and friend and says don't hate. So there's dictionary meaning of misogyny, unless you have a different meaning of misogyny.


Now assuming you mean Is Bhagavat Gita or the As it is interpretation sexist

sexist /ˈsɛksɪst/ characterized by or showing prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Observation 1
It patently clear that As it is author is sexist and states opinions that are not present in Gita to paint an inferior picture of woman, regarding their intelligence.

Observation 2
Now this is a verse which can be interpreted in two ways, where papayonis are a term that was used socially and had nothing to do as to whether the mentioned classes are really born so because of their sins and were mainly disadvantaged due to lack of societal power and the perception that they cannot achieve liberation. So it can be interpreted to mean that Krishna is actually demolishing that idea saying that, the so-called papayonis also get liberation if they surrender unto me. This is the good faith interpretation of Gita.

Now the otherway is to consider the term papayonis as descriptive, that the classes mentioned are born so because of their sin. First of, this seems to be the tradtional and cultural interpretation, given that language is to be considered within cultural context this also seems to be the intended meaning. Now we've got to refine the meaning of sexism, is it sexist to point out the difference between men and women, or is it only sexist when you unrealistically stereotype women like they are not intelligent. I agree that the latter is sexist, but not the former. If someone says women have XX chromosome they should not be considered sexist, as long as its descriptive and real. As the term papayoni is supposed to be descriptive and the realm of proof for such a karmic thing is scriptures, which makes Bhagavat Gita the authority, even the As it is interpretation of this particular verse is, strictly technically speaking, not sexist

Observation 3
But not letting women near male sannyasins and not letting men near female sannyasis is not at all sexist. For a person who is trying to acheive sannyasa, it was seen as a mark of genuineness in ancient culture. Not that this was an absolute rule which was always followed.

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