Spirituality and Women



Prior to Vedic times, women were fully equal participants in ritual celebration – then along came Vedic Brahmanism and women were not even permitted to hear the vedas recited. I heard this when attending an address by the scholar and translator of Sanskrit spiritual writings, Dr Mark Dyczkowski, from Varanasi.  But, he said, while women have been cruelly repressed, we are now seeing the “re-vindication” of women.

It is a pleasant thought… do you see it around you?

Many, many women

Yoga classes throughout the world are filled predominantly with women. The majority of yoga teachers are women… though whose names spring most readily to mind? Iyengar, Desikachar, Bikram, Sivananda, Satyananda, perhaps Rodney Yee?

Not much re-vindication in that.

What  about the big names in meditation?  Ian Gawler, Jon Kabat Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddha… how many women’s names can you call to mind?

It is self-realisation that empowers a woman, not the permission of a man.

 A potted history of  Yoga

Mark took us on a journey from pre-Vedic times with ample participation by women, to absolute repression, and then to a period where women had some tiny symbolic role with their husbands in yagna (fire sacrifice).

Then the story led to more recent times, to tantric sexuality, and then also to a period, only recently banned in India, of young girls being dedicated to the temple. Ritual sex was involved both in tantra and in the temples. Consensual sex…up to a point. The girls could refuse. Such noble sex! not for gratification but rather for enlightenment! For the men, that is! The girls were mere instruments of the male’s adventure in transcending sexual satisfaction, his purpose being to gain something better for himself.

Not much re-vindication in that, either.

Spiritual Teachers in Yoga, gurus

What about teachers of Yogic spirituality? Hmm, that’s even more extreme – almost all of them men. It is unbalanced enough that the big names in hatha yoga are male while so many yoga students and class teachers are women. It is unconscionable that the most by far of those teaching spirituality to these huge numbers of women… are men.

How many women’s names spring to mind? My guru, now disgraced for sexual impropriety, has invited many guests to share his platform, none of them women. Prior to the scandal, he was a much loved teacher and attracted many followers.  In his prime, he once said to me that in his view, there aren’t any women worth inviting as a guest to share his podium, because women are just not good enough.

Now, you can choose what to make of this. Here are some possibilities:

  • He said it, so it must be right.
  • It is sexism pure and simple
  • It is a case of a man misunderstanding that the nuances of male teaching are only half the story – those of a woman are as intrinsically valuable as any teacher’s… both hold truth and meaning just as easily
  • Women need men to teach women about their inner lives
  • Women really are not good enough, so it is their own fault.
  • God really is a male, and meant for men

Which do you suppose motivates his exclusion of women?

What to do?

Look around at the Catholic, Islamic, Judaic, mainstream Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist and Zen venues to see what the major spiritual teaching organisations think of women.

But I have a question for you, whether you are a man or a woman reading this. It is, “What are you going to do about it?”

For either, I suggest you investigate your views about the divine, and see if there is a male god lurking there. Islam certainly got it right – there is no Allah but Allah, no pronoun is proper to that One but that One. The trouble with a male god is that you are mistaking grammatical shortcuts (he, him) for actual gender.

If you’re a man

Then, if you are a man, investigate your self-identifications – you like the idea of identifying yourself with “Him”, it somehow makes you feel important (He, Him, yeah Me too). Such small-mindedness doesn’t become you. Aspire higher than that!

If you’re a woman

And if you are a woman, I suggest you investigate your views about your spiritual journey. Where do you position yourself – as someone who will never get enlightenment in this life? Do you like the romance of sitting at the feet of a master better than the work of self-investigation? Perhaps you want your guru to hand you enlightenment? In that case, your guru will never be effective for you, because you have blocked him by your own stupidity.

Enlightenment – When?

When do you suppose enlightenment might be for you? Maybe in a few lifetimes? And my next question, “Why not now?”

And perhaps that is a fundamental problem for women… for anyone who takes fright at the snake on the road and waits for someone else to pick it up and say, “Look, it is only a rope”.

It is self-realisation that empowers a woman, not the permission of a man.



About Mataji

I have been practising still-mind meditation since 1982, teaching still-mind meditation since 1989, and training teachers since 1999. The greatest life change for me has been a steady easefulness with its ups and downs, and an ability to love the difficult folks as well as the easy ones. The more profound changes aren't so easy to put into words.
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