FEBRUARY 27, 2012
By His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami
Women are meant to form the pillars of a stable, happy and healthy society. In the Vedic culture, the concept of womanhood is intimately connected with that of respect, honor, chastity, home and family [the nucleus and foundation for a stable society], a loving and caring husband, planned progeny to create wanted, healthy and happy children. In her youth, a young girl is protected by responsible parents; in her adult life by the husband and in her old age by elderly children. When these principles of womanhood are no longer upheld and women become unprotected, they naturally become polluted, create varna sankara or instability in society resulting in physical and psychological abuses, exploitation, where co-education of boys and girls often leads to pre-marital sex, abortions, un-wed mothers, unwanted progeny and single parent families. Many more serious problems abound in such a scenario.
Some of the more recent statistics show that domestic violence is on the increase in the US, much of which involves the battering of both women and children http://www.womenindistress.org/press_release_26_524033909.pdf. Trafficking of women and minors is another major social problem and has become rampant in today’s promiscuous society leading to untold miseries and abuses, all of which is the result of severe deviations from the norms of regulated family life. “Trafficking is a lucrative industry. It has been identified as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable illegal industry in the world. ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking
The US Census Bureau (2011) reports that there are approximately 13.6 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.2 million children (approximately 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today). http://www.singleparentmagazine.net/single-parent-statistics/. One can find a long list of similar statistics which all support the alarming anomalies which plague our modern day diseased society.
The Vedic View
The position and role of women in society has been thoroughly analyzed and described by various great authorities of the Vedic literatures, notably by the great moralist and State advisor Chanakya Pandita in his work Niti-Sastra. The renowned saint among saints, Devarshi Shri Narada Muni, the foremost of Lord Brahma’s sons and one of the 12 Mahajanas (great personalities) who is a leading authority on the science of both devotional service (Bhaghavat Dharma) and the science of social organization and governance (Varnasrama Dharma), has also quite conclusively spoke on the subject matter.
Modern day society abounds with such expressions as “women’s liberation”, “equal rights to women”, “women empowerment”, etc., much of which remains a source of controversy within general society as well as within the Vaisnava society of devotees. One of the fundamental questions raised is whether the traditional role of women in general is meant to remain “traditional” or whether we must learn to adapt with the changing times and allow for more flexibility, adaptability and innovativeness.
Chanakya Pandita’s Teachings
In his work Niti-Sastra, Chanakya Pandita gave a number of instructions regarding the nature and position of women in society, one of the foremost being his statement regarding the very definition of education:
matrivat para-darshu para dravyani loshtavat
atamavat sarva bhuteshu yah pasyati sa panditah
“Someone who sees another’s wife as mother, another’s wealth as trash in the street, and another’s suffering as his own, is actually a pandita, or wise person.”
Additional quotes given by Chanakya Pandita in his Niti-Sastra are as follows: [http://www.hinduism.co.za/chanakya.htm]
“She is a true wife who is clean (suci), expert, chaste, pleasing to the husband, and truthful.” [Ch.4:13]
“The king, the brahmana, and the ascetic yogi who go abroad are respected; but the woman who wanders is utterly ruined. [Ch6:4]
“A father who is a chronic debtor, an adulterous mother, a beautiful wife, and an unlearned son are enemies (in one’s own home)”. [Ch 6:11]
It is clear from Chanakya Pandita’s teachings that a women’s place is with the home, husband and children. He warns against a woman being independent. As stated above, the Vedic culture teaches one to regard all women as mother (except one’s own wife), to regard money as garbage in the streets and to treat others as one would expect to be treated. Therefore, traditionally, all women are addressed as “mataji” or mother, a highly honorific title giving them utmost respect, be they elderly or younger than us.
Other teachings of Chanakya Pandita on the role of women are more controversial when he states that women are less intelligent and are also not to be trusted. Such statements are naturally disturbing as we see in modern day society many intelligent women taking on leadership roles and responsibilities. So how to understand such statements by such a learned scholar? If we study the teachings of Srila Narada Muni, we will gain a better insight since he deals with the subject matter from a purely spiritual point of view.
Srila Narada Muni’s Teachings
The instructions given by Srila Narada Muni are most significant and sobering. These are given especially in the 7th Canto of the great Vedic Epic Srimad-Bhagavatam while describing in detail the science of varnasrama dharma to one of the very illustrious kings of the Vedic culture, Maharaja Yudhisthira.
In the section dealing with the four social classes [Canto 7, Chapter 11 entitled The Perfect Society: Four Social Divisions] which delineate the make-up of an ideal society, Narada Muni first begins by describing the characteristics of the four social orders, beginning with brahmanas (intellectuals), and then followed by ksatriyas (administrators), vaisyas (farmers) and sudras (workers). Immediately after describing the duties of these four social orders, Srila Narada Muni covers the duties and responsibilities of women in five concise verses [verses 25 to 29]. It is significant to note that Srila Narada Muni does not include women as belonging to any of the four varnas or social orders. Rather, his description below explains how women, as a whole, are meant to assist the husband in his particular varna. In other words, social occupations that involve interaction with the outside world are not meant to be taken up by women. Or put yet in another way, varnas are for men, not for women.
Considering the modern day social structure and modern ideology based on liberalism and democracy, this in itself is a revolutionary thought, one which most women, and most men as well, will tend to question and reject. But why an exalted personality as Srila Narada Muni advanced such a theory needs to be closely analyzed for it touches upon some of the core principles and concepts of the Vedic culture which give us clear and scientific understanding of both the material and spiritual spheres of life.
These explanations from Srila Narada Muni will initially seem to be one sided and, by some, even covered by male chauvinism, especially knowing that Srila Narada Muni was himself a life long brahmacary (celibate student). So how can he be considered an authority on women since he never got married? This obvious question was already within his mind as he explains to Yudhisthira Maharaja that he heard all this knowledge from the Lord Himself while visiting the holy place of Bhadrinatha in the Himalaya Mountains. Hence, what he will convey to the great Yudhisthira Maharaja are the wise instructions and realizations of Lord Narayan Himself who is surrounded and served in the world of Vaikuntha by hundreds and thousands of Goddesses of Fortune, surely making Him the best authority on the subject matter.
The first text describes four basic principles to be followed by women [Text 25]:
strinam ca pati-devanam tac chusrusanukutala
tad-bandhusv anuvrttis ca nityam tad-vrata-dharanam
“To render service to the husband, to be always favorably disposed toward the husband, to be equally disposed toward the husband’s relatives and friends, and to follow the vows of the husband – these are the four principles to be followed by women described as chaste.”
We must keep in mind that the Vedic culture does not favor that women remain independent. It is actually not the nature of any living entity to remain independent, not even for men. Therefore, men are meant to become surrendered to God through the process of diksa or initiation where they learn their position as servants and subordinate to Krishna. In a similar way, our Acaryas have upheld that women should be subordinate to their husband who is meant to represent God and who plays the role of spiritual master within family life. The Vedic culture therefore enjoins that all women should marry and be properly protected.
Why such a seemingly harsh view one may ask? In order to properly understand this reality, one must know the psychological nature of both men and women. This necessitates a preliminary study of human nature itself which explains that we are all conditioned by the modes of material nature and all living entities are actually prakriti (dependent and subordinate), both in our restricted state of conditioned soul (apara prakriti) as well as in our unrestricted state of liberated soul (para prakriti). Dependent and subordinate means female. Only Krishna is male or purusa and is referred to as Govindam adi purusam, Govinda being the original enjoyer. In the same way that the bodily structure of men and women are different, it is logical to conclude that the psychological nature of both is also different. This is very elaborately explained in several places of the Srimad-Bhagavatam whereby it is stated that women are generally 9 times more sensual than men due to their bodily and psychological make up.
These four principles for women will help make the household become a pleasant place for all concerned. What her duties will be as a housewife are explained in the following two verses [Text 26-27]:
svayam ca mandita nityam parimrsta-paricchada
kamair uccavachai sadhvi prasrayena damena ca
vakyaih satyai priyai premna kale kale bhajet patim
“A chaste woman must dress nicely and decorate herself with golden ornaments for the pleasure of her husband. Always wearing clean and attractive garments, she should sweep and clean the household with water and other liquids so that the entire house is always pure and clean. She should collect the householder paraphernalia and keep the house always aromatic with incense and flowers and must be ready to execute the desires of her husband. Being modest and truthful, controlling her senses, and speaking in sweet words, a chaste woman should engage in the service of her husband with love, according to time and circumstances.”
By this description, we can easily understand that women are meant to be part of a family as ideal housewives and affectionate mothers. Due to our having lost the notion of localized living where one’s lifestyle is closely connected with land, cows, family and spiritual life in Krishna consciousness, we will find the above statements difficult to accept. Needless to say, unless there is a return to the more natural and more traditional lifestyle, such activities for women will appear as impractical and outdated.
In the same way that the husband also becomes subordinate to his guru and recognizes his position of his menial servant, similarly, the wife will regard her husband as her guru and will also serve him as a menial servant. In India today, the husband and wife are still referred to as ‘swami’ and ‘stri’ respectively, ‘swami’ meaning ‘master’ while ‘stri’ meaning ‘dependent’. The following text [Text 28] gives more vivid descriptions of a woman’s role in family life:
santustalolupa daksa dharma-jna priya-satya-vak
apramatta sucih snigdha patim tv apatitam bhajet
“A chaste woman should not be greedy, but satisfied in all circumstances. She must be very expert in handling household affairs and should be fully conversant with religious principles. She should speak pleasingly and truthfully and should be very careful and always clean and pure. Thus a chaste woman should engage with affection in the service of a husband who is not fallen.”
For one who takes up such a role, the path of spiritual advancement leading to liberation is open. The Vedic culture gives prime importance and clear instructions as to what is the goal of life, that of spiritual emancipation. Both the husband and wife will help one another in progressing in devotional life and thus, similar to the goddess of fortune in Vaikuntha, will one day return to the spiritual world as outlined in the last verse [Text 29] spoken by Narada Muni.
ya patim hari bhavena bhajet srir iva tat-para
hary-atmana harer loke patya srir iva modate
“The woman who engages in the service of her husband, following strictly in the footsteps of the goddess of fortune, surely returns home, Back to Godhead, with her husband, and live very happily in the Vaikuntha planets.”
Many will frown at the above statements and conclusions given by Narada Muni considering them archaic and not in keeping with today’s more liberal and advanced worldview. What most people fail to understand is the degraded position of present day society that is referred to in our Vedic literatures as ‘varna sankara’, a society where individuals no longer follow any principles and regulations.
The condition of many women in modern-day so called liberated society has become very degraded, miserable and most unfortunate. Independence of women has been and remains largely but an exploitative way to abuse women in so many ways as seen in the earlier references covering various statistics. To remedy such a situation, there is need to understand the perennial teachings of the Vedas which give us clear and unwavering instructions on the role and importance of women within general society. Adopting such views will help bring back to glory of women in society and help bring again the social stability and harmony we are all seeking.
(The article originally appeared in the 18th issue of “The Eight Petals”, an e-newsletter in support of Varnasrma dharma)
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