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December 2004 - January 2005
Women and Equality in the Hindu Religion - A Lecture at DTI's Women and Equality Unit
Following some discussions on the role of Hindu women priests with the Women & Equality Unit at the DTI, Hindu Council UK with Hindu Human Rights arranged a short talk by a visiting female Swami, Swamini Geetha Atmaprakashnanda ji to the Department of Trade and Industry’s Women and Equality Unit. .... Swamini ji expounded on the Male-Female principle underpinning the Cosmic Reality of the Universe.
Swamini began her talk by chanting some Sanskrit shlokams in a most melodious manner which created an atmosphere that facilitated the receptivity and understanding of the listeners.
In the entire Creation human beings are the most sophisticated of earthly creatures endowed with consciousness. Although animals also have a type of consciousness they are not driven to develop complexes such as the human is prone to do as a result of Self Awareness. This self awareness of the human being can and does give rise to complexes of superiority and inferiority. Until he/she is free from such complexes there is no fulfilment in life.
The practice of Hinduism helps the individual to free the self from such complexes and to totally accept the self for what it is. In fact it is a real achievement for the person to become able to understand and to accept the self for what it is. Hinduism, therefore is a way of life based on a given vision-and this is a fact and not a contention.
If we say that the Universe is a manifestation of the reality of God as established in our sacred Shastras-this is not a contention but a fact since it does not differ from person to person. If I do not accept this as fact it means that I do not understand the nature of this fact and that is a verifiable fact. However this fact does require some understanding. The Whole being is the Lord. If one understands this-that the whole of one’s being is the Lord then one becomes free from isolating the self from the whole and so becomes free from problems.
In order, however, to come to this understanding that the self is the Lord then the understanding of this fact requires some preparedness. The whole of life is designed for the preparation of this understanding. Any undertaking which advances this preparedness is called Yoga-asanas, pranayama ,in fact any learning which disciplines and prepares the mind for this knowledge is called Yoga.
Marriage can also be called a form of Yoga. It is not just a social institution but beautifully designed for emotional and spiritual growth. This too is a preparation whereby two individuals first learn to give up their ego for each other.
Nothing can come out of nothing. Every thing comes out of a pre-existing condition. Anything in existence now has come from something existing before. The whole of the Cosmos is part of a whole-an emergence of something- the Absolute Reality and the Ultimate Truth. One has to understand what the Reality is. The whole of the Cosmos demonstrates that understanding it is a subtle fact. The discovery of this is the highest discovery that the mind can make-this is what our Shastras say. Unless one discovers this fact then the thirst for knowledge continues and never gets quenched. The whole of life is designed to prepare oneself for this greatest realisation. Any human knowledge is learned methodically and yet our thirst and seeking is quenched only when this great fact is acknowledged and understood.
The only Reality is manifested as the Whole. Innumerable causes are manifested as innumerable countless effects. There are however two main causes. A wooden table is a creation of a product. At first glance we are aware that it has been created but not by whom. It has been manufactured and very beautifully designed. The wood is manifested as the table. It is the material cause and inseparable from the table. However for the wood to become the table it has to be touched by the intelligent hand of the carpenter. We say , therefore that the wood is the material cause and the carpenter is knowledge and skill is the efficient cause. The car is a product of many things put together in an intelligent way. If one cannot put the parts together intelligently the car cannot be put together as a car. The two causes are inseparable and the entire vast Cosmos is a result of many things intelligently put together.
Everything in the Cosmos is intelligently put together including the insensate and sensate beings, the elements, the amoeba, and all other living and non-living things. Everything-the vegetables, fruits and flowers-everything speaks of the how they are put together by the two causes-the material and the efficient cause.
These two causes-the material and the efficient manifest as the whole and it is the manifestation as reality. This is true and a fact. The reality being manifest and the two different causes of manifestation are the male and female principles. A plant cannot come into being by itself. Neither a man nor a woman can beget a child by themselves. There is the Sanskrit term-stri-meaning she who bears the child.-the one who bears and rears and sustains the human race. This is one of the reasons that women are revered and respected in Hinduism. If we look at the ocean we see the waves of the ocean. If we look at the water, it is still but then comes a movement-a projection of the water. That is called the wave. The still water embodies the male principle and the projection of the water-the wave is called the female principle.
We see, therefore, the entire Cosmos as the manifestation of the male and female principle. The unmanifest dimension of the female principle is called the male principle and the manifest dimension of the male principle is called the female principle. These are the main principles in Hinduism and in order to understand this the mind has to become subtle and we say that there is no greater discovery of the human mind than discovering this.
Any learning is looked upon as a personification of the female principle in Hinduism ‘the capacity to know and to think’ gyan shakti-is personified as the female principle. The capacity to know and to desire is a female principle. Every phenomenon that is part of the whole is looked upon as the Devata- it is looked upon as female.
The sun-Surya devata is looked upon as a phenomenon of the Lord. So is the moon ‘the Chand devata’. All these phenomena are to be looked upon as expressing the female principle. In Hinduism women are to be respected and treated equally. In the Puja-ceremony of worship-the process is incomplete if the woman does not accompany the man. In the Upanishads many women rishis and seers were highly informed and competent and equal in knowledge and wisdom as their male counterparts. There are no restrictions on females over and above any on males and Swamini ji expalined that in her case it was a personal matter of her own choice.
In Hinduism we do have many sacraments (samskars) for the person to become emotionally refined and mature in order to achieve the ultimate wisdom. There are about forty-one in all. We have the pre- and post-natal samskars.There is also the vivaha samskar-the marriage ceremony This is to achieve the ultimate end of understanding. To dissolve the Ego-that is the ultimate need of the pilgrimage of life. Marriage is where two pilgrims join together to prepare and ultimately achieve that end. One has to fuse and to dissolve one’s ego with the whole. Marriage is a process to facilitate this progress. One individual fuses one’s ego with another’s.
When the marriage is fixed and takes place even if they start off being indifferent or even not liking each other, they begin to get emotionally involved, they discover love and start loving one another. When one fuses one’ s ego with another, then love is discovered and they fuse their ego with the whole.
Everyone has a front with which he faces the world-our physical dress is a kind of public front. When we are undressed, then we are as we truly are! And in that kind of state, with no front /no dress anyone is capable of singing in the bathroom, of finding and expressing their true voice. And to first discover that one has to fuse one’s ego with another’s. Thereby they can live with one another and the mind can get sharpened in that rough and tumble of co-existence. The mind becomes sharpened. It is like the sharpening of a knife. One cannot sharpen a knife on a slab of butter. Nor can it be done on a hard and rough implement since it only succeeds in blunting the knife further. But on a sharpener-a simple tool the knife can become sharp again.
In the marriage man and woman become the knife and the sharpener-they both grow emotionally and become mature and eventually become greater than the sum of their two parts. The man understands the importance of the woman within his life and within greater society.
At the end of her discourse Swamini fielded a number of questions on the difficulties encountered in becoming a spiritual teacher, the roles of men and women in Hinduism, the status of single people and same sex couples within Hinduism though majority of these questions were answered, quite eloquently, by Hindu Human Rights representatives.
Swamini Geetha is the disciple of Swami Dayanand Saraswati of Coimbatore Tamil Nadu India. He has initiated several centres of Vedic and Sanskrit teachings such as Arsha Vidya Gurukulams in North and South India and the USA. He has founded the All India Movement for Sewa (AIMS), a charity for bridging the gap between urban and rural poor and initiated the first ever Acharya Dharma Sabha (gathering of Hindu spiritual leaders)in India in 2003.