(based on a webinar class on Prabodhananda Sarasvati’s fifteenth century classic: 'Vrndavana Mahimamrta')
“In this verse, Prabhodananda Sarasvati says that for a male sadhaka, the embodiment of maya or illusion is woman. In fact, there are many verses in this book about the perils of woman, which we compare to icebergs on the ocean of devotion for a male sadhaka. But why is this rasika-vaisnava, Prabhodananda Sarasvati, discussing this, since this book is about amrta or the nectar of Vrndavana?
Five-thousand years ago, when Radha-Krishna were manifest in Vrndavana, yogamaya was running the show and sweet nectar was flowing everywhere. But now mahamaya is running the show. When this book was written and especially now, there is a mayic covering on Vrndavana. There is some danger here—mahamaya. Today in Vrndavana, one can see are murders, rapes, drugs, garlic, onions, eggs, gambling, liquor consumption and believe it or not, prostitution. Yes, everything is going on.
Obviously there are some serious dangers for the sadhaka in Vrndavana, which are like visha or poison. If a sadhaka takes poison he will die and never taste the amrta, the Vrndavana-mahimamrta. So one must be careful; be a savadhana Vaisnava. Prabhodananda Sarasvati, therefore, repeatedly talks about the dangers of woman. But let’s look more closely about the idea of man and woman. The sastras often mention that woman is maya. When ladies read this, however, they become disturbed thinking that the sastras are unnecessarily criticizing or blaming them, calling them maya. But the word maya does not mean woman, it means the material world, asta prakrti, the external energy or maya-sakti, which is Sri Krishna’s bahiranga-sakti.
In Sanskrit the word for woman is stri, which means to expand. The word prakrti, which means the material energy or maya, is also often used to indicate woman, as in the context of purusa (male, man, the enjoyer) and prakrti (female, woman, the enjoyed).
By combining the meaning of stri as expand and prakrti as the material energy or maya, we find that the word woman can refer equally to either a man or a woman. Thus, we can derive the following definition of woman. The word woman refers to any human being who expands one’s interest in the prakrti, or material world of sense enjoyment. Therefore, by this definition a man is also a woman if he is attached to enjoying the material energy or maya.
In summary, when acaryas and sastras warn about the perils of woman, one should think that the word woman refers to any human being, who is interested in expanding and exploiting the prakrti, maya-sakti, for material sense gratification, be they in male form or female form.
After hearing many verses about the power, benefits and the sweet beauty of Vrndavana, we are now reading several verses about the perils of woman. While sailing us across the ocean of nectar known as Vrndavana-mahimamrta, our captain, Prabhodananda Sarasvati, is pausing briefly to warn us about the dangers of icebergs on the ocean which could sink our boat of bhakti. So as we discuss these verses about ‘woman’, I would like to ask all the pure-hearted devotional souls that inhabit female gender bodies not to take offence or take think that Prabhodananda Saraswati is getting too personal. He is simply warning all of us to be careful of maya, and maya is everywhere in the material world. As Srila Prabhupada often said, in most cases, unless one is a pure devotee, woman is maya for a man, and man is maya for a woman.