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Sexual politics, Sahajiyaism - Men, women and God

Jagat - Thu, 08 Jul 2004 01:19:16 +0530
QUOTE(Someone wrote)
Indian culture, no matter if represented in religious dogma or liberating spiritualism, always has the woman in a subservient role. Part of the sahajiya path is sexual sadhana with persons you are not married to. There is a long standing tradition of the wives of male sisyas serving the guru through this means. An Indian wife complies with whatever the husband wants in most cases. This would not be an exception. Therefore I feel this is exploitation.

On the other hand, the sahajiya path seens like one that could potentially bring about a reversal of this if women were indeed esteemed in all ways and women took the predominant role as guru.

In my research of religions it seems that socially, the laws of Islam sought to make an improvement in the lot of women's lives by legalizing divorce and encouraging remarriage for widows. I don't know why the Vedic culture seems to be so backwards in that regard despite the fact that it is seen as so spiritually progressive (Vedanta, etc). Seems like a hugh contradiction. I'm shocked that such a spiritual body of work as vedas, upanishads, etc, showed such little understanding of the nature of the human psyche. What is the use of such hi-fi religious doctrine if it cannot address the issues of humans in a compassionate way?

Good points all. When we, as Westerners, approach Gaudiya Vaishnavism, we tend to come at it from a pragmatic point of view: we look for what is useful and reject what is not.

Sexual politics have changed greatly in the last generation, but it is a great challenge for men and women to understand the past sympathetically, without necessarily wishing to return to it.

Men and women have had to live together, for better or worse, since the beginning of time. Both men and women have sought happiness in each other's company, and this has always meant some kind of accomodation. In other words, there had to be a convenient arrangement that was satisfying to both men and women, otherwise either partner would make their displeasure known. And no one should underestimate the extent to which a woman can make a man suffer for his inadequacies as a provider, sexual partner, parent, protector or defender of honor.

When there is a social system in place, both men and women generally buy into and support it. Just look how Somalian women are the primary promotors of a barbaric ritual like genital mutilation.

So don't expect too much from the past, but don't despise it as an inexorable, one-way exploitative system that had absolutely no benefits for women and only joys and regal lording it over for men. In many ways, women continue to expect the same old things from their men, and men, in their dependency on women for pleasure, willingly submit to them in a kind of slavery.

Don't take a simplistic view of these things. You will fall into a trap of sexual power games that profits no one. What is needed is a modus operandi, a complementarity through which both men and women can grow and find spiritual and emotional fulfilment. With changing times, the modalities of such an entente will no doubt change, but the goal, as symbolized by Radha and Krishna, will be the same.

Getting back to my original point of taking what IS useful--any religion that sees the feminine as an equal partner in the Divine has greater potential for valorizing egalitarian sexual relationships. In fact, Gaudiya Vaishnavism recognizes what is truth--man is ultimately even more dependent on woman than woman is on man; that woman's sexual pleasure is greater than that of a man, and that woman's emotional range is more complex and satisfying than that of a man. Men have their advantages in the "outer world," but women have theirs in the "inner."

The few Sahajiyas I met showed a respect for their female partners that I did not see in Indian society in general, though I saw many affectionate or loving relationships between men and their wives. As far as gurus having sex with their disciples, this may happen, but I had no experience of it. I suspect that in cases where it did happen, it would only be as a kind of initiation rite and should be seen in that context. Nevertheless, I will not deny that abuse is not only possible, but quite likely where such practices are current.

But let's leave the questions of Sahajiyaism aside and simply think of how men and women, devotees of the Divine Couple, can become imbued with faith in the all-pervasiveness of Radha and Krishna's ecstatic love and find a way to participate mystically in it. I am not talking erotic sadhana here, but a way of seeing the world through the prism of Krishna's divine relationships.

Through the process of bhakti yoga, Mahaprabhu gives us back the world. We can experience the world as an uddipana for rasa, and see Krishna smiling and reciprocating through all our loving relationships, simultaneously one and different from those we love. We cultiivate devotion not to leave the world, but to find Goloka here and now.

je din gRhe bhajane dekhi
gRhete goloka bhAya