The following post is published courtesy of Chandra garu, who kindly gave permission to reprint a version of his article originally posted on August 3, 2013
Swamy Vivekananda was born on the 12th January, 1863. Very soon the world will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of the great monk and man who was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism in India, instrumental in the concept of nationalism during colonial rule and introduction of Indian ethos to the West.
On this august occasion it is apt to remember him for his respect towards the fairer sex. It is more so at a time when India is finding itself at the crossroads, when more and more women are occupying pride of place in nation building but sadly, where her modesty is under constant attack.
Swamy Vivekananda believed that the first manifestation of God is the hand that rocks the cradle. In fact in few civilizations we find a cow giving milk, the earth bearing grains, a tree bearing fruit and the mother tending babies being revered equally as manifestation of God , like in the Indian civilization. Swamyji very boldly said those days that in the West woman was treated as wife while in the East she was treated as the mother.
Thus, he tried to draw a distinct line between materialism and spiritualism in the treatment of women. Though unfortunate it is a ‘fait accompli’ that the once revered mother in India is today wailing at the malnutrition of her babies and outrage to her modesty. Allegorically, it is true in case of the healthy Mother Cow that is slaughtered, the rich mother earth that is exploited selfishly and the mother tree that faces near extinction. It’s right time to remember the ‘immortal’ soul and mend our ways.
Swamy Jee was a monk, who renounced material pleasures for spirituality. In early days, it is said, he saw women as an obstacle in his path. But once he realized the highest Truth, he saw in them Mother the Divine. It is a case of seeing objects not with eyes but with soul. “ The soul has neither sex, nor caste nor imperfection”, he averred. Great lesson to be learned here and that which he told the West was that once one realizes soul through meditation, he would see a mother in a woman rather than a wife, but for the duty ordained by God to sustain human race through the Divine union. He further elucidated the point by stating,”Soul has no sex,it is neither male nor female, it is only in the body that sex exists and the man who desires to reach the spirit can not at the same hold sex distinctions.” [The Hindu view being that husband & wife are two halves of one soul]
“The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of women.”, he said. It shows the vision of Swamy Vivekananda for a nation to progress. In fact, his words are equally important to the contemporary East as with the West. He refers to the ancient Vedanta Philosophy and quotes from the Books how women were now being treated in the present age. He lamented why women were treated like that. Woman suffered for aeons and that gave her infinite patience and perseverance.” What great words to say! How many of we, men, that feel we are running the family, have a sense of the invisible income she is accruing through her sacrifice for children through physical toil? Great words from a saint that renounced all sensory pleasures nor was exposed to vagaries of family life.
He lamented why women are treated as aliens when the same conscious Self is present in all, as per Vedanta. “Unless you uplift women, men can never rise in the eyes of the Divine” he stated. He aggrandizes women stating that irrespective of caste they were eulogized by the Vedas. He quotes the example of Gargi, who in the presence of a thousand Rishis boldly challenged Sage Yagnavalkya for a discussion on the Brahman. He laid stress on women’s education in days when women were deprived of the basic privilege. No family or nation that does not respect women ever rises, he averred.
In a veiled attack on the ‘masculinity’ of man being eulogized with reference to the ‘weakness of women’, he asks men whether man can deliver a baby. He says the Universe is one of perfect balance. “If women can not fight, nor can man suffer or endure the vagaries of life”, he said.
In recent times a trend developed in India where the teachings of the Swamy Jee, were sought to be misinterpreted in a way unbecoming of our culture, whereas the West started seeing in him a sage that defined womanhood as Divinity in human form.
Book On Swami Vivekananda, Women, & the West
Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal.