A disturbing thought if you are a woman, but one that occurred to all of us last night as we discussed the need for detachment. We have all read about how a male birth is superior and necessary for progress and we have dismissed it as patriarchal nonsense.
But now we began to question whether women do indeed have a distinct disadvantage in this spiritual race to the top, not by nature of their inferiority but by virtue of their instincts. In the commentary on the verses, we read about how there were many instances throughout history of men who were once passionate about women or wine or war and who then made the switch to a passionate desire for liberation and succeeded. Their success we were told, came from channeling their intense desire in the right direction. But can women channel their desire as easily and instantaneously as these men seem to have done, and if so, will they meet with the same respect and honor?
We know the stories and legends of poets and saints and dramatists like Annamacharya and Kalidasa and even Lord Buddha, who could walk away from their lives and their wives and achieve both creative and spiritual greatness in their intense bid to acquire Nirvana. But we seldom hear of women leaving their homes, families and responsibilities to seek God. If they are devoted, they continue their devotions within the confines of their homes, still attending to their duties. The Krishna devotee and poet Mirabai is the only one that comes to mind as one who devoted herself fully to God despite being a householder, and according to legend, she endured ostracism and terrible hardships for her choice.
Is this disadvantage created by our biological instincts? While men are driven to fight for survival, spread their seed and compete for the largest spoils, including eventually liberation, is our instinct to nurture and foster and balance everyone’s needs along the way robbing us of something far more valuable than our peace of mind? Is it actually keeping us from attaining perfection?
In our daily lives, we see that our fathers, husbands and brothers are able to focus single-mindedly on their work and when it’s time to cut loose, on their pleasure. They can put in a long day of meetings and deadlines and then lose themselves on the weekend in a great game of golf. It’s easy to see how they could just as easily, once convinced of its benefit, become fully absorbed in the pursuit of spiritual perfection. They could very well be dormant Annamacharyas or Buddhas, and in a decade or so, when they are good and ready, zoom past us on their way to liberation, while we continue to plod through our journey weighed down by duty, by attachment to home and family, by the need to be all things to all people.
I remember my mother during our adolescent years, trying her best to keep me and my brothers in line, despite our hormonal outbursts and rebellion and teenage angst, dealing almost daily with some drama or the other, while my father sat behind the carved sandalwood doors of the puja room, immersed in chanting mantras. They had both found the same guru at the same time, but he alone had the luxury of shutting out the world while he pursued salvation.
My husband can come home from a day of teaching music, be transported as he plays a beautiful melody on the saxophone, and then watch a youtube video of Lord Shiva dancing, with tears of devotion streaming down his face. And as he invites me to enjoy the melody or watch the video, I find myself checking that the stove is off, that the rice cooker is on, and that I won’t be late for class.
I see myself, sneaking in a Gita class once a week for one hour with great difficulty, reading between taking the dogs out for a walk and making dinner, sending text messages to my son, calling my mother to make sure she is okay, writing my blog on Friday mornings before the demands of the weekend take over, trying to get a few minutes of meditation in before the distractingly beautiful sounds of the saxophone fill the air.
I’m not complaining. But as we decided last night, as women we will have to work harder to overcome the instincts and emotions which continue to keep us bound. If not, we will most likely be left behind in this alluring web of attachments we create for ourselves, while the men in our lives stride purposefully and with unwavering intensity toward their goals.
Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons