Women in Scriptures and Teachings

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

Whenever I wanted to refer to a Scripture or the Teachings of a Great Sage of India, for spiritual or practical guidance, I always found that women were given the least importance or priority. Whenever disagreeable things were advised to be shunned by devotees, it usually came as “women, wealth, fame” etc.  To add to these disturbing things, I found that many deities were accompanied by more than one goddess, even though many of the things mentioned in Religion are symbolic and so they cannot be taken literally.

However, I also found that the same Scripture or Sage venerated women as Supreme Shakti (Power), Valor, Wealth, Knowledge, Peacefulness and Bliss. For example, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa frequently mentioned that “The mind is wasted on ‘woman and gold’”, “The renunciation of ‘woman and gold’ is the true renunciation.” etc. But He also said “The Primordial Power is ever at play. She is creating, preserving, and destroying in play, as it were. This Power is called Kaali. Kaali is verily Brahman, and Brahman is verily Kaali. It is one and the same Reality.” In fact, He considered His Consort Sri Sharada Devi as a Goddess and worshipped Her. 

Sri Aadhi Sankaracharya too offered great poetic works such as Soundarya Lahari. whose hundred and three slokas (verses) eulogize the beauty, grace and munificence of Goddess Parvati.

The usual tendency is to immediately give up the teachings of these Profound Scriptures and Enlightened Sages as “male chauvenists”. But I could not easily make this rash judgement, because I felt it was stupid to make decisions based on just on feelings without researching further. It raised some questions for me. Why would they insult women when at the same time they worship the Higher Power as a Goddess or Mother? It did not seem rational. So after some pondering over these discrepancies and ambiguities, I came to the conclusion that I have to take every Spiritual teaching in the “right context”.  I guess the times and the nature of the society and people in those times have to be taken into consideration.

Whatever the case might have been, I have come to the conclusion that it would be unintelligent to give up the Good parts of a Scripture or Teachings of a Sage that are agreeable to me, just because there are some Unpleasant mentions that are disagreeable to me.  Besides, I have the unshakeable confidence that I do deserve to be benefited by these Scriptures and Gurus as much as men, if not more. So I have decided to take what is useful and helpful to me, and leave the rest.  And that’s exactly what the following simple, common quote means :

“Don’t throw the Baby out with the bath water”!  It means to me – “Keep the good things, those that you like. Ignore the disagreeable things, what you don’t like”.  Otherwise I will be the loser.


God : With Form or Without Form?

God : With Form or Without Form?

The Attributeless Being is the Highest Reality.  So should we worship God only this way, or is it okay to worship God with a Form and Name?  There are so many Gods and  Goddesses, Forms, Names and Symbols and Attributes.  Why?  These baffling questions are probably raised in the minds of many.

It seems to me that worshipping God in both these ways are good and necessary at different stages of one’s spiritual development and mental inclinations.  Different solutions are needed for different problems.

Let’s take a simple example of a City with people of different ages and mental capabilities. And let’s say the goal is to get a PhD degree.  A rare few geniuses may be eligible to pursue PhD even as a child or teenager. But typically little kids have to learn the alphabet and basic numbers in Elementary School. Elementary School kids cannot learn complicated subjects that only Junior High or High School students can. In the same way, there are steps for Under Graduate, Graduate, PhD etc.  Therefore, can we say that since PhD program is available and that is the Goal, anyone can directly join the PhD program, whether they are capable or not? The truth is, everyone has to educate themselves according to a certain combination of their age, capacities, mental framework and preference.  When they are ready, they can pursue their ultimate goal.  So the City has to have schools all the way from Kindergarten to the Highest Education.

The same applies to Religion and Spirituality too. Not everyone can directly worship the Supreme Reality that has no attributes and which is all-pervading Being and Bliss. The Sanatana Dharma – the Eternal Way of Life in India – allows ways of worship to God at every phase of life.  It caters to all ages, all temperaments, all levels of abilities, all preferences, even though the end goal or aim is one – true liberation from sorrows, realization of the Real Self.  All the others kind of worships apart from the transcendental, can be said to be supplementary aids to achieve the Goal.

It is not easy for everyone to think of something or someone without a form or name, especially children. It is easy to contemplate when one associates the Highest with a Divine Form or Name or Symbol of preference. There are phases and stages of development too. A person who loves worshipping God with a Form may later prefer to meditate on the sound of OM, or perhaps just do Self-Enquiry. So Hinduism addresses all of this. It is complete.  It does not leave anyone hanging out there without suitable guidance.

To put it in a nutshell, here are the words of the Great Sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi.

D.: Has God a form?
M.: Who says so?
D.: Well, if God has no form is it proper to worship idols?
M.: Leave God alone because He is unknown. What about you? Have you a form?
D.: Yes. I am this and so and so.
M.: So then, you are a man with limbs, about three and a half cubits high, with beard, etc. Is it so?
D.: Certainly.
M.: Then do you find yourself so in deep sleep?
D.: No, I am the subtle jiva within the gross body.
M.: So you see that you are really formless; but you are at present identifying yourself with the body. So long as you are formful why should you not worship the formless God as being formful?

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
25th December, 1935
Talk 121.


Below is another discussion on the same subject with Sri Ramana Maharshi

D.: Idol worship does not seem good. They worship the formless God in Islam.
M.: What is their conception of God?

D.: As Immanence, etc.
M.: Is not God even then endowed with attributes? Form is only one kind of attribute. One cannot worship God without some notions. Any bhavana premises a God with attributes (saguna). Moreover, where is the use of discussing the form or formlessness of God? Find out if you have a form. You can then understand God.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
6th April, 1937
Talk 385.

Sages Say: Turn inward while active in the world

We don’t have to give up active living to turn inward. This is what the sages say.

Everybody wants to be Happy!  No matter what we do, good or bad, right or wrong, we only do it to be Happy.  Most of the times, we mistake pleasures to be Happiness.  But when we understand that every pleasure seems to have nine pains following it, we want to know how to get true happiness.  We need HELP.  So we turn to God, Gurus, Scriptures and Wise Ones.

Everybody is afraid when they hear the word God, Religion, Guru, Scripture, Meditation etc.  The so-called experts of any religion – they all seem to tell us to give up life as we know it, consider ourselves sinners, give some money or do some special worship or confession as atonement or punishment for our sins.  There are good followers and good people in any religion who tell us what is really good for us.  But there are also some who tell us to be phonies.  Sometimes they are not to be blamed, because they are placed in positions for which they are not qualified.  The inadequate and immature followers of religions and scriptures misinterpret the sacred scriptures and confuse and brainwash people for their own wealth and power.  The power of being “holy” is the most dangerous power because the people who know they have been bad, want to get a quick cancellation of their wrong doings and buy a “ticket to heaven” and  so they listen to these “holy” people who promise them that.

However, if we are fortunate enough to come across Masters, Gurus or Their Teachings, who are qualified to teach us about Life because they are living what they are teaching, then we will know that the phony religious teachers are bluffing.  On the contrary, these Great Ones tell us the Truth as they see it.  If we don’t spend the time to understand it correctly, how can we blame them? Swami Chinmayananda once said that if the radio is defective and produces noise instead of music, you cannot blame the station from where it is transmitted.  Meaning, the Guru is telling you the Truth; if you don’t follow it correctly, then you cannot blame the Guru. He also said that the longer the beard of the religious guru, the more careful you have to be about him! He had a great sense of humor! All the Great Ones have.

The fact is, these Sages never tell us we are sinners.  Sri Ramana Maharshi said that there are no good or bad people; just good or bad thoughts. How simple, yet how refreshing!  Once an American devotee called Dr. Henry Hand told Maharshi during a discussion, “Maharshi! Do not think we are bad boys!” Maharshi replied, “Do not tell me so. But you need not think you are bad boys!”.  By hearing that we are sinners all the time, the negative notion is further reinforced in our minds.  But if we hear that we are only good, but due to ignorance we have bad or unwise thoughts, then that reinforces the positive notion in our minds and encourages us to fix the mistakes we make.

These Sages tell us that we should live our lives in the world according to our nature and “Dharma” which here means “duty”.  Everyone has a purpose for being here and the purpose will be fulfilled whether you will it or not.
Mr. M. Oliver Lacombe, a Frenchman asked Sri Ramana Maharshi:
“D: “How is work to be done ordinarily for an aspirant?.
M: Without self-identification with the actor.  For instance, did you intend visiting this place while in Paris?
D: No!
R: You see how you are acting without your intention to do so? The Gita says that a man cannot remain without acting.  The purpose of one’s birth will be fulfilled whether you will it or not.  Let the purpose fulfil itself.”

The Great Ones say, you are an actor playing a part due to desires and attachments.  Act to the best of your ability using the talents and skills that you have.  But don’t get carried away and get deeper and deeper into the mire of delusion and attachments and desires.  Understand that your basic need is to be Happy, which is your Real Nature.  You have just digressed from it temporarily.  Get back to it slowly and gradually. Swami Dayananda in one of his discourses gave an example. He said, to identify too much with our activities and the world, is like an actor who refuses to give up his role and his costumes even after the play is over and continues to play the actor in his life too! Great example.

The point is, Sages only tell you to lead your life happily, but wisely. Even in ordinary life, this is what everyone says! Only some people don’t know how to do it. So the Sages are sought. When someone wanted to go to a cave to meditate, Sri Ramana Maharshi said, “Solitude is in the mind of man. One might be in the thick of the world and maintain serenity of mind; such a one is in solitude. Another may stay in a forest, but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is a function of the mind. A man attached to desire cannot get solitude wherever he may be; a detached man is always in solitude.”

So it is very clear to me that we can live an active and happy life while turning inward and learning how to handle problems and acquire peace of mind. I call the little time I try to quieten my mind, “My Happy Hour”! I also call it, “charging my batteries” to prepare for the rest of the day!  These Sages are My Best Friends!