Home > The Book > 6. Men, Women

Chapter Six
Men, Women

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 warmly.

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

Autobiography of a Yogi

A Renunciate Order for the New Age

Nayaswami Kriyananda

Order the book (when available)