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Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue
Editorial : The Divine Feminine
God has no gender. God has no form or name. It is for our convenience that we imagine God to be in various names and forms and also in different genders. We have female, male, and transgender conceptions of God. All these conceptions are the creations of human minds. That is why they differ according to the place, time, culture, and world views of the people who conceive them. And since most of the people in this world have a patriarchal mindset; most conceptions of God are patriarchal. Most forms of God are male. The most used pronoun for God is ‘he’ and it is ‘God’ and seldom ‘Goddess’. This is characteristic of the male aggressive psyche. Even the most docile personality types among males tend to be aggressive towards a female.
Many faith-traditions have at best a secondary place for the female form, irrespective of whether it is divine or human. So, if it is a female human being, she is always secondary to the male human being. If it is a female form of the almighty, the Goddess is always secondary to the male form of the almighty, the God. In many religious traditions women are considered to be inferior and are kept away from places of worship. Their very presence sometimes is considered to defile a place of worship. Ironically, even shrines to goddesses do not have women priests. While it is comforting for many to see a woman praying and crying to God in ultimate despair, most of us cannot accept the idea of a women spiritual guru.
There are some places where the female form of the almighty is worshipped and adored. There are hymns praising the female form of the Goddess in vivid detail and these hymns are chanted every day in many places of worship.
It is a different matter that many people chant them mechanically without understanding the meaning of the words of these hymns. However, even in such places the female form is always seen as a distraction to spiritual life. It seems that every spiritual aspirant wants to give a simplistic explanation of the innumerable obstacles to spiritual life by blaming it all on the female gender. This is foolish because the problem is not a particular gender but the pull of the body accentuated by the opposite gender or the gender one’s body feels physically attracted to. So, here the culprit is not any particular gender but the instinctual craving for sense-pleasures. Since most people feel physically attracted to the opposite gender, Sri Ramakrishna cautioned his male devotees to beware of women and alerted his female devotees to beware of men. Till the sense of touch acquires sensual tendencies because of biological growth, touch does not disturb the mind. This is the reason why infants are generally not disturbed by a comforting touch, no matter which physical form it comes from.
If God or the ultimate reality is omnipresent and if only that reality is true, then how could a particular gender be inferior to other genders? That cannot be. All such ideas of inferiority of a particular gender are against the concept of immanence of the almighty or the ultimate reality. So, if at all the divine principle has to be referred to in a particular gender, it should be in any gender of the choice of the speaker. But, since the female and the transgender have been neglected for ages, it would make sense, at least for some time, to address the divine principle in the female or transgender genders. We should now, for some centuries, stop talking of God and only talk of Goddess. But, it is not just a gender that has been marginalised by neglecting the female or transgender. It is the whole gamut of dimensions that are integral to these genders that has also been neglected.
For instance, the female gender signifies bearing and birthing. All that creates or gives birth to a new life and all that forbears bring forth the feminine dimension of the immanent divine. The earth is the mother of all. It swallows and assimilates all that is on it and produces food and creates an ecosystem that sustains life on it. Any life has to have three aspects of creation, sustenance, and dissolution. All these three dimensions are manifested in the earth. So, earth in all its femininity can be by itself a fair representation of the ultimate reality. It is only ignorance that leads us to believe that for any living system of this universe to be in balance, there is a need for at least two genders, the female and the male. When gender itself is a superimposition on the ultimate reality, does it matter if there are more than one or if there are no genders? We do see instances of living systems without female and male genders in some lower life-forms and plants.
The feminine gender cannot be restricted to life alone and it pervades the entire universe. It is also not a great service one does to the female kind if one sees the Goddess in place of God. In recent times, there has been much joy expressed over the so-called ‘re-emergence’ of the divine feminine. This exhilaration at reading the divine as feminine is misplaced. This universe is considered to be a superimposition on the ultimate divine reality. That superimposition is pervaded by that on which it is superimposed. So, different names and forms, and also different genders—all have the same status regarding divinity. On the practical side however, we have to remember that the right to practise religion, individually or socially, by offering individual prayers or by praying in a place of worship, is a right that all human beings have and one cannot be denied this right based on one’s gender. That would not only be unjust, it would also reflect the wrong understanding of the true nature of the ultimate divine principle that every religion or faith tradition attempts to follow.
There should be a conscious effort by everyone to bring various genders into active role in the practice of religion. If names, forms, and genders can be active in all their diversity in this play of the universe, why should genders be left out? There should be practitioners of all genders in all religions. There should be gurus of all genders in all religions. Even the scriptures of world religions should be presented in a manner that does not exclude any gender, in practice, precept, or in the language of the scriptures. Spirituality or religion should not be an exercise to exterminate the presence of specific genders but should be an attempt to destroy differentiation out of which all concepts of genders arise. The divine is feminine, masculine, transgender, and yet beyond all these. Our aim should be to tear the veneer on the ultimate reality and come face-to-face with the gender-free immanence.