The Supreme Spirit, as Creator,
manifested everything by vibrating what we might call the surface of
Its consciousness to produce waves of separate awareness. Where there
is vibration, there is duality. This movement of consciousness in opposite
directions from a state of rest at the center is what produces Creation.
Duality (dwaita) exists
everywhere; everything has its own self-canceling opposite. For every
joy, there is an equal and opposite sorrow. For every success, there
is an equal and opposite failure. Heat is, in the over-all scheme of
things, canceled out by cold; pleasure, by pain; light, by darkness;
fulfillment, by disappointment; triumph, by disaster. It will be noted
that these opposites apply to both mental states and material conditions.
Mankind struggles over countless
incarnations to achieve a fulfillment that, out of the very nature of
manifested reality, simply cannot but recede before him forever. The
sum total of all his striving must be zero. (And what a supreme
irony: to reflect that the anguished striving of countless incarnations
must always end, quite literally, in nothing!?)
The dualities are always equal and opposite. I have heard men say that women are inferior
beings. My monastic superior (a woman) once said to me, “Let’s face
it, women are more spiritual than men.” What nonsense! Men and women
are, in every significant sense, equal. In the Ananda communities, no
qualitative difference exists between the sexes; both equally have positions
of leadership and authority. Nor have I ever observed, in the forty
years of Ananda’s existence, the slightest spirit of competition between
the sexes. A person is judged entirely on the basis of individual merit,
never on the basis of gender.
It must be added, however,
that just as heat is different from cold, so men and women do differ
from each other in the ways they express their essentially divine nature.
The position of men’s sex organs, being on the outside of their bodies,
indicates an energy directed more naturally outward, to the world. Women’s
organs are inside, an indication of energy directed more inward. Men
and women, similarly, differ in their manner of egoic expression. Men
are more likely to seek outward conquest. Women’s mode of seeking
conquest is more likely to be personal, for themselves. Thus, men tend
to be impersonal; women, to have a more personal view of things.
I once read of a man who
said to a woman friend, “The trouble with women is that they take
everything so personally.” “Nonsense!” she expostulated. “I don’t!”
Neither way is better or
worse than the other. The two together create, rather, a balance in
human nature. Men, as they become more balanced, also grow more sensitive,
heartfelt, and concerned for the feelings of others. Women, as their
masculine/feminine natures become equalized, develop a more affirmative,
impersonal nature, and become more inclined to see life in abstract
terms. An Indian woman saint I knew, Ananda Moyi Ma, for whom I felt
great devotion, used to say of the Divine Consciousness, “It is and
it isn’t, and neither is it nor is it not.” She was filled as much
with wisdom as with love.
Men go more by intellect;
women, by feeling. Here again, their very bodies reveal the difference.
The male skull is somewhat square, and is often ridged above the eyebrows,
indicating an emphasis on reason. Women’s foreheads are more rounded,
which suggests greater adaptability. Women’s breasts are located over
the heart region, indicating a more feelingful, and potentially more
tender, nature. If their feelings are disturbed, however, women can
become intensely (and irrationally) emotional, with all the positive
and negative connotations that the word suggests. Men, by contrast,
can become too (even absurdly) abstract and analytical. As men’s nature
becomes balanced, however, they may develop small breasts like those,
perhaps, on a thirteen-year-old girl.
The natural attraction between
men and women indicates a deeper-than-conscious recognition of their
need to balance reason and feeling. The attraction is only secondarily
sexual, with the supreme purpose of propagating the species.
Where renunciation is concerned,
there must be respect for these differences. There must also be respect,
however, for individual variations, which may be great.
Women’s renunciation generally
ought to help develop in them a caring, nurturing nature. Unfortunately,
as one reads in many firsthand accounts, not a few nuns have displayed
exceptional lack of feeling toward others, especially toward the children
in their care. Their harshness may have come from sexual repression,
or it may, in the Catholic Church, come from one-sided emphasis on masculine
nature as being the best adapted to religious matters. I have not seen
that attitude in the women renunciates at Ananda, though tales about
it among Catholic nuns have long puzzled me. One inclines to think the
explanation may lie, as I said, in sexual repression.
And I do recall a very different
episode in Italy that impressed me: A group of us were seated at an
outdoor table in the main piazza at Assisi, drinking coffee. One of
our party made a wide gesture while telling a story, and struck the
hand of a nun in a white habit just as she was coming up from behind,
carrying a cup of espresso coffee. A large brown stain appeared on her
all-white habit. Instead of the normal reaction of dismay, she at once
smiled and passed off the episode good naturedly. I was well impressed.
So, maybe an attitude of
good-humored acceptance is essential — for all renunciates, but for
women renunciates perhaps especially.
Humor is certainly a help
to men renunciates also. Humorless renunciation can be a grim business.
Men ought, I think, to direct their energies particularly toward teaching
and a sharing of wisdom. But warm and wise humor can make their very
teaching more acceptable.
Men ought to emphasize rather
the quest for bliss than for love, lest in love their attitude become
too personal. Women, on the other hand, may be drawn more naturally
toward developing a loving relationship with God — as Jesus, or Krishna,
or Rama. They may be encouraged also to express love in service, in
self-giving, and in self-surrender to God.
Men and women renunciates
ought, at least for some time on the path, to avoid one another’s
company as much as possible, or as much as convenient. Only when they
can arrive at an impersonal attitude is it somewhat safe for them to
mix more freely together. Even so, they should always be on guard against
personal attraction. Sexual attraction, my Guru once said to me, is
“the greatest delusion.”
Monasteries for men and for
women should be kept well apart from one another. The activities of
both should be kept separate, too. Men and women renunciates should
as much as possible avoid eye contact. And because the sense of touch,
of all the senses, is the most involved in sexual desire, it would be
wise to avoid hugging others, whether male or female, or even touching
each other. The best form of greeting, especially between the sexes,
is the Indian namaskar, in which one places the palms together
respectfully over the heart. Since hugging is so much a part of some
cultures, however, I don't forbid people to hug me. I simply don't respond
Is it (one asks) absolutely
necessary — and here I am addressing married persons who want at heart
to be renunciates — to forego sex completely? Let us say, rather, that
it is extremely helpful. Sexual expression increases ego-consciousness.
It also weakens people physically — men especially, but women also lose
spiritual strength when their energy moves downward. Moreover, sex not
only weakens the will and clouds the mind, but also greatly strengthens
the ego. For a person who wants to achieve complete mental clarity,
especially in deep meditation, it would be best to forego sex altogether.
Yes, abstinence is the ideal.
How many people, however, are able to live by that ideal? Very few!
The spiritual path is not a sudden leap to the mountaintop. It is a
winding journey to ever-greater heights of freedom, and to ever-more-soaring
absorption in God. It is always a help to speak of ideals, but one must
also be realistic. In human nature, sex is the second strongest instinct
next only to the instinct for self-preservation. Religious teaching
must offer people ideals, but it must also suggest ways to attain those ideals. Otherwise the teaching itself amounts to little more than
blowing breath into a gale.
In the next chapter, this
aspect of life will be treated carefully. Here, for now, is a last point:
If you are married, follow with everyone the above rules regarding gaze
and touch, except for your own spouse, close friends, and relatives.
Chapter 7: The Main Delusions, Including the “Greatest” One