People have no fucking clue what Hinduism is.
The monotheisms – the paths which admit a single truth – are four major and many minor. The four major are Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Buddhism is not often discussed as a monotheism, and in many variations it is not, but the notion of a single teacher who can save the student from infinite suffering should be familiar to anybody who has contact with Christianity or Buddhism: it’s the same narrative structure. The recitation of lineage back to the first teacher, the Buddha, is akin to Apostolic succession.
Now, let us consider Hinduism. I’ve written about it at length elsewhere from a philosophical level, but now let’s address the folk religion level. Here’s the deal:
- Every being is exactly equally god: 100%, total divinity, right down to ants and trees. No exceptions.
- The universe we experience is an elaborate improvised theater piece being performed by God for its own amusement.
- Enlightenment is the direct verification of these perspectives for oneself, and is often massively, stunningly direct insight of a permanently life-changing kind.
I am enlightened. I was enlightened in the late 1990s after more than 10 years of regular meditation, and several years of direct spiritual instruction from a tantric guru, Bhavani Ma. Bhavani was one of the people The Oracle was based on in the Matrix movies, but was not nearly so pleasantly maternal: she was a belt sander – an abrasive, meddling old yenta who claimed Lucretia Borgia as a previous incarnation and was enough of a bitch that it was believable. And yet one does not cut diamonds with paper towels. I have a hard head, and it took a monster to reform me out of ignorance and into wisdom; such is life.
I inherited a cultural model from Bhavani. That model is called tantra. Tantra is a specific mode of enlightened awareness, not a different state from other ways of being enlightened, but a different way of life and method. My particular school lived within the traditional Hindu frameworks of arranged marriage and would not normally be expected to have more than one sexual partner in a lifetime. There are exceptions, but the idea that “tantra = promiscuity” is a western fantasy. Except in rare circumstances, ancient India did not have the material base for promiscuity: disease was not treatable, pregnancy would raise socially awkward questions, and there were more than enough mouths to feed. Arthur Avalon and the lads describe the tantra of the elites, the princes, who were going to have courtesans anyway, and might as well try to get enlightened with them. It’s an utterly different thing from the quiet lives of postmen and ushers which was and is our way.
This preamble matters because I’m about to attack feminism, and one needs to be pretty well-grounded before sticking a pitchfork into such a beast. It destroyed Ivan Illich, and I’m well aware of the risk I’m taking here by speaking out. But it is time, and I am clear in my objectives and agendas.
So let us first separate Feminism from Women. Feminism is a way of seeing the world, an ideology, and it comes in perhaps 50 flavours with innumerable individual variations. Women are, well, people. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to understand that Feminism first constructs a category, Women, and then builds various systems to attempt to defend their quality of life or abstract equality in the face of an uncaring and harsh world.
The error that people make in the West when discussing Feminism comes from the fact that your culture hates women and always has, at least since it went Christian. Without this bedrock hatred of women, the discourse between Male and Female Humans is carried out in a completely different tone, and the harsh oppression which has been the core experience of women in monotheist cultures is an understandable object of political concern.
Hindus do not hate women, at least not as a deep cultural trait, although one cannot speak for all individuals. This is all the way through our theology – there are goddesses who are self-originating, without any male figure involved in their worship – absolute spiritual sovereigns. There are also goddesses who are parts of gendered pairs, a Male and Female god/dess seen as a conjugate pair, dual expressions of a single being with two aspects or fused wholes creating a binary entity – the theology of same/different in the partnered couples like Ram and Sita is nontrivial. But it must be noted with exquisite care that the female partners in such relationships are seen as being inseparably equal from the male principles. This is not Zeus and a chain of maidens, or Jesus and Mary the Whore, these are full-and-permanent partnerships between inseparably divine beings. The women are fully realized, independent entities, not adjuncts or projections of male gods. I’m not sure that anybody who was not raised with exposure to Hindu mythology can really appreciate the degree to which, as a culture, we accept and integrate female powers into our way of seeing the world.
In this context, western feminist battle lines are simply inappropriate. It’s a fight we do not have, at all. There’s no demonization to reverse.
Now, this is not to portray India as a paradise for women. No, like many poor cultures, it’s a shithole in many ways, and women have the worst of it, as they do in any poor culture. It’s a fucking mess, and it needs fixed. People are marrying for the dowry and setting brides on fire, disfiguring women who reject them with acid, and generally being beasts. All this is true, in some areas, at some times. There are castes of prostitutes where the women have been sold as virgins for as long as footsteps in the dust have been wiped away by winds. All of this is here, but it is not rooted in the hatred of women but on the exploitation of the weak. Children are hit just as hard by the grinding, awful poverty of India.
We wound up this way in no small part due to invasion and centuries of pillaging by Britain, by the way. It’s not a neutral matter or one of political disorganization. It’s damage, material, cultural and spiritual, from imperialism.
This brings me to my own training. Bhavani taught me a culture-within-a-culture, a lineage, the lineage of Goraksnath, a man who’d helped found the State of Nepal about a thousand years ago. He’s said to be an immortal yogi, an ageless helper of humanity, but that’s an aside – we have our dogmas, you have yours. I was taught a very simple model for how the relationships between men and women should be conducted, within a wider framework of many such special-case relationship frameworks, such as the ideals of relationships between Guru and Disciple, or between fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, or friends. Hindus model things in a very different way to westerners, and I can’t really bridge those gaps now.
Between men and women, then, there are mutual obligations. In Bhavani’s teaching, there was a simple basic framework, which follows:
- Women, generally speaking, have little or nothing to gain from being personally involved in physical violence. (unlike men, who’s status is often raised by winning or even bravely losing fights) She would paraphrase a long discourse on this truth as “women lose any fight they get into,” meaning win-or-lose there’s unacceptable risk and consequences, generally speaking. This matters a lot, psychologically.
- Women can get pregnant
- Therefore, men, who are predisposed to violence and can gain from it, will serve women by protecting them as needed in order that the greater risks and burdens borne by women can be offset by male service to them.
Now, this is a really simple retelling of a way of life which took me many years, so try not to argue with my words or phrasing. Argue with the ideas, not stray words. The crux of it is that men are obligated to women (and vise versa) and, in Indian culture, this is seen as being a condition of incarnation: a woman brought you into the world, and you will serve them according to the needs of the times, to ensure that women live as well as men. This is another core concept: the goal of a tantric lineage, a tantric society, is to make a place which suits women well enough that if great spirits have the freedom to incarnate as either gender, as they are said to, they choose to manifest about 50%/50% male and female. Our model of equality is very simple: it’s the idea that one is completely comfortable incarnating male or female because quality of life is much the same regardless of gender at birth. In fact, this same principle of equality is at the root of all tantra – it’s just the art of seeing people as they really are, and reacting appropriately. The radical spiritual equality of all beings is affirmed by our mutual obligations to take care of one another. Women and men are one of many special cases: the young and the old is another carefully thought-out model for mutual support inside Hindu society. Quality of life should be shared roughly equally among all, that’s our goal state.
Now, from that basis, the Western Feminist models about putting women in the cockpits of fighter jets etc. as female liberation seem kind of twee. If you want to do the stuff that men do, please feel free, but if you want to do the stuff that women traditionally do, please feel free too. Radical equality of all beings is the root of our religious tradition, and always will be. If your body is soft and prone to bear children, if that’s something you’re deeply attracted to do, there should be a social support network to make the experience as pleasant as it can be. If your body is hard, and your instincts aggressive and savage, if you are well suited for war, may your opponents have honor, bravery, and thin skulls. The fundamental tantric logic of radical spiritual equality does not dismiss the variations in our physical bodies or minds as irrelevant, nor does it understand a person’s worth as being tied to their body in any way: they are god, whether a dwarf, a giant or a bullfrog. But the bodies do come in two stock types and generally speaking the psychological drives fit well into the bodies chosen: the hetronormative breeder ideal is actually understood to be a pretty good show for all concerned when its going well, and therefore its privileged because it works, and, if it doesn’t work for you because you’re barren, queer or too ugly, it’s the job of the community and the guru to make you as happy as you can be in whatever role you have chosen instead. This is a rule more honored in the breach in wider hindu society, but we know exactly what we are doing in the tantric subcultures, and that is to be applauded and respected, rather than being denigrated because it does not fit into Western Feminism’s templates. Quality of life is shared equally between all parties, and that is our equality.
I do not expect to be understood, only to demonstrate that I know what I am doing. You may read this as you will, but I hope it’s the final word on the misunderstanding that Hinduism hates women. It doesn’t. Our ways are not your ways, but we’ve got a pretty good thing going on, better (to my eye) than you do, for both men and women, for young and old, for women and children, when we’re not being beaten down, starved, oppressed and massacred for the economic gain of European empires.
In your culture, Woman is the origin of all Sin, and it’s bred into your bones, into the structure of your language, into your ways of seeing. That does need to be corrected, and I respect whoever is doing that work, but for god’s sake, stop acting as if my culture is as sick as yours is.