Are Men and Women equal? Do we honor the Feminine? Do we value Women? Are Women more empowered today than they ever were?
One of the most pertinent issues of our time is Equality, specifically gender parity and Women’s rights. Despite enjoying more freedom and rights than ever before in the history of our human existence, Women today are struggling to fully embody and express their true feminine nature. With the advent of the recent “Radical Feminist” movement, Women are less content or fulfilled than ever. Feminism in the 21st century in the West seems to have morphed into something very unpalatable. It has suddenly turned into a man hating, obnoxious, entitlement driven, intersectional hard machinery called the ‘Third Wave of Radical Feminism’.
This essay takes a nuanced, deeper and holistic approach to this issue. We are noticing the key pitfalls and the toxic environment that has been created today in the world. The manifestation of the Radical Feminist ideology has been a mutation of the “Me too” movement and the toxic environment that has been created which is having an adverse effect on Men and indeed Women everywhere. Women are refusing to be identified as a ‘Feminist’ as a result.
In our attempt to look for a better solution, I discovered alternative frameworks from the East, specifically India. The main one being the Hindu tradition and its offering of Shakti, the Divine Feminine essence and how it is far more effective compared to the current western model. Shakti has remained intact even today. We are seeing the western models’ problems, blind spots and would like to compare how a Dharmic culture may alleviate and resolve this problem. Ancient and Ancestral Indian wisdom could lead us to a better way for our world.
It is 2020 and the most pertinent issue of our time is the issue of Feminism. It encompasses gender balance and female empowerment. In the West, people seem to be racking their minds trying to come up with a solution that can heal this issue. We observe these phenomena and look at the Hindu tradition, its lineage and culture, one can find a completely different perspective on the topic of Feminism and female empowerment.
India is a unique civilization with a demonstrated capability to manage deep divides, engage with other cultures, religions, philosophies and peacefully integrate many diverse streams of consciousness. These values are based on ideas about Divinity, Cosmology and society that stand in contrast to the fundamental concepts of the western civilization.
This Essay attempts to explore these ideas and concepts, and in doing so, propose a better solution.
There is a famous verse in the Rig Veda, the oldest Holy Scripture in the world, that say:
Ekam Sat Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti
Which translates to “Truth is one, the wise calls it by many names”.
While it is true that there are many paths to the Divine, it would be disingenuous to say that all the paths are identical. The “Dharmic” family of traditions stem from the Ancient Hindu Civilization. Hindu tradition offers a framework that includes a truly pluralistic social order and a holistic integration of many different faiths and belief systems, and the only one that integrates science and Anti-theism. It is the only model that also offers a solution for environmental sustainability and a symbiosis with one another, animal life and nature.
The Indian civilization with it’s ancient wisdom and cosmology is distinct from the dominant narrative of our time-namely the West. One particularly unique concept that the Dharmic framework holds is Femininity and the dynamic between Feminine and Masculine energies.
Shakti is the personification of the Divine Feminine; it is the primordial cosmic energy that represents the dynamic forces, which move through the entire Cosmos. It is a Sanskrit word and is absolutely central to Hinduism.
It is 2020 and the most pertinent issue of our time is the issue of Feminism. It encompasses gender balance and female empowerment. In the West, people seem to be racking their minds trying to come up with a solution that can heal this issue. We can observe these phenomena and look to the Hindu tradition, its lineage, culture and can find a completely different perspective on the topic of Feminism and female empowerment.
You see, in Sanatan Dharma, this is not even a question that will arise. Sanatan Dharma is of course the real name for the knowledge system known as Hinduism today. There is no such thing as Hinduism. The term “Hindu” was used to describe a “people” that lived by the Sindu river and the Indus Valley. Essentially Hinduism is a civilization, the longest, continuing unbroken one in the world. In Sanatan Dharma, you will never hear of questions such as like Are men and women equal? Do we honor the feminine? Do we value our women? Are our women empowered? These seem to be questions that haunt the West and in contrast are not prevalent within Hinduism.
That’s because Shakti- the Divine Feminine is central to it’s faith. Hinduism is the only tradition that upholds the Goddess energy even higher than God himself. In fact, there is a joke that goes” in Hinduism, there are more female Goddesses than male Gods”. This is true. Devi- (Goddess) worship is the very essence of this ancient tradition and it has been practiced it for thousands of years. Hindus believe that Shakti is both responsible for creation and the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation itself.
Feminism in the 21st century in the West seems to have morphed into something very unpalatable. It has suddenly turned into a man-hating, male-bashing, venomous, entitlement –driven form of identity politics and toxic intersectionality. One where activists are fighting for better treatment based on entitlement rather than merit. They don’t take into account that men and women are different, that they are not supposed to be the same; that each has their own spiritual purpose and that one marries perfectly into the other.
In this pursuit of “Equality of Outcome”, we are finding a reversal of the gender balance where the women are becoming harder, the men softer and almost ashamed of their inherit masculine power. This leaves women yearning for the divine masculine which they feel they now have generate within themselves. This is due to the absence of real masculinity in men around them. And when a woman is forced to be the “Man”, she is unable to be her true feminine self.
In contrast, when you look east, Indian women are an embodiment of this Shakti energy at its highest elevation. I find women in the West struggling to find their divine feminine essence and I see this very essence effortlessly manifested within Indian women. Have you ever observed an India woman? She proudly wears her femininity. She realizes that her real power is in her vulnerability, beauty, softness and sensuality. She knows that she does not need to give up who she is to be the person she wants to be. She is secure in her power and does not feel the need to prove it or to bring someone else down to validate her own self-worth. True Yoga (Union) is embracing the Shiva and Shakti, the Yin and the Yang within ones’ self.
Goddess worship and symbolism is a central element within the Dharmic tradition. For thousands of years, the Goddess has been revered in all of her glorious forms. When looking at the Goddess energy, we see that there are so many faces to it. The benevolent Lakshmi, the fierce Kali, the powerful Durga, the compassionate Parvati, the sensual Quan Yin, the playful Radha, the maternal Mother Mary and the knowledgeable Saraswati among others. We have all these different elements of the Goddess within us.
Goddess Kali is particularly fascinating. She is the quintessential embodiment of Shakti. This Hindu Goddess is an embodiment of boundless and existential freedom without seeking permission to be. She is both creation as well as destruction. Both frightening and awe-inspiring. Benevolent as well as destructive. Multi-faceted and unapologetic, she symbolizes Woman- ALL of her.
Hinduism teaches us to embrace it all and not give up our essence to be something in the world.
Santana Dharma is as timeless as it is contemporary. It is needed now more than ever. The answers that the world is searching for lies in it’s ancient wisdom traditions.
A famous Hindu verse in the Rig Veda says:
“In Woman, is the form of all things, of all that lives and moves in the world. There is no Jewel rarer than Woman, no condition superior to that of a Woman”.
For me personally, Shakti has played a great role in shaping me into the kind of woman I am today in the world. It has taught me the balance of Yin and Yang, to receive and exert. It has taught me to find my power in charm, softness, vulnerability and love rather than through force. When I was an investment banker, I harnessed my Shakti energy to communicate and negotiate while keeping my center and now in the entertainment industry and as a public intellectual, I have to express myself with grace, elegance and light. There is a large void I see in society these days that this notion of Shakti could fill.
Gender balance and equality is at the forefront of all social sciences and policy issues in the west as they struggle to find a model that works. It is ironic that In the case of India, the British invaders tried to impose their flawed idea of gender equality and balance onto Indians. Thankfully we have kept our traditions and rejected their western idea of feminism. It is now our job to share the Dharmic idea of gender balance back to the West.
In the age of ‘Times up’ and ‘Me too’, the dance of Shiva Shakti becomes incredibly healing and necessary. Hinduism can play a role in the growing consciousness or gender activism and awakened living. Most problems arise because of the imbalance in the Shiva and Shakti.
We are finding that the Western notion of Feminism has not worked- more women are turned off from the brut notion of the new wave of Feminism in the West. There are stark differences between Western Feminism and Indic Shakti. In the west, its all about rights. The struggle for rights. In the East, it is about duty. Not competition or compulsion. It assumes that men and women are equal and hence there is no need to “fight” for anything.
Yet at the same time, we know that there has got to be a better social framework where women get to keep what is unique about being a woman and not have to give that up. The very idea of what it means to be a woman is now being challenged and contemplated on. In the pursuit of socially generated equality, it is important that we don’t loose the very notion of the male- female dynamic as it has been for millennia.
The fact that Women and Men are seen as equals in the eyes of Sanatan Dharma reflects the egalitarian attitude of the Vedas, and how the tradition emphasizes that a spirit of cooperation and appreciation between men and women is what leads to societal progression. The West can take a leaf from these teachings and bring balance back into their societies. In Hinduism, we don’t encroach on each other’s space or impose our gender values onto them.
It is ultimately a delicate dance in this divine Leela (Divine play) of life. That is why it has worked for over 6000 years and continues to even today.
It is part of my personal Dharma to share this with the world. By being an embodiment of Shakti herself and a conduit for this ancient wisdom to the rest of the world.