Women/sudras bottom line

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Jan 20 17:45:10 CST 1998

On Tue, 20 Jan 1998, Gregory Goode wrote:

> To cut to the chase -- according to the traditionalists on this list, can
> women, sudras, non-Indians reach enlightenment in this life?

I have been avoiding this thread, partly due to its acrimonious nature,
and partly due to time pressures, but finally, someone is asking the only
question that really matters.

There is just nothing that says that women, Sudras and non-Indians cannot
reach enlightenment in this life. In fact, there is an explicit statement
to the contrary in SankarAcArya's brahmasUtrabhAshya. However, the means
to self-knowledge for the non-divjas is not the Sruti, but others, like
the itihAsa and purANa. Traditionally, these two terms refer to the
Mahabharata and a lost, original text that all Puranas draw from.
SankarAcArya points to the examples of vidura, the minister in the
Mahabharata, and dharmavyAdha, the dhArmic hunter. And we have the example
of maitreyI and her husband, yajnavalkya, discussing brahman. So also with
gArgI and yajnavalkya. Before we say, here is a rishi discussing spiritual
matters with women, let us also not forget that the same yajnavalkya had a
second wife, named kAtyAyanI, and apparently, there was no objection to
his bigamy. Suffice it to say that the parameters assumed in remote BCE
times, the 8th century and those assumed in the 20th century are vastly

Which is why the argument about women and Sudras (non-Indians would just
be an extension) will go on for ever, with neither side agreeing about
anything. Before we make statements like, "it was not like this in ancient
times," we must be very clear of the sources of our knowledge about Vedic
times. There is no doubt that some of the mantra-drashTas in the Vedas are
women, but there is equally no doubt that the dharmaSAstra literature,
which has guided orthoprax Hindu life, prohibits women and Sudras from
learning the Vedas. This is not a feature of one or two centuries, but of
at least two millennia. The "fundamentalist" view is in reality only a
conservative view, and it is quite consistent, if unfashionable. The
liberal view seems well-intentioned, but seems very confused over various
issues. Let us be very honest about the Hindu past and the Hindu present,
and let the future take care of itself.

As for knowledge of the Atman, why is everybody forgetting the Bhagavad
Gita, the most famous Hindu scripture today? Sure, it is not Sruti, but it
is scripture nonetheless, and it is part of the itihAsa, which is
accessible to one and all. I suggest that everyone should take a deep
breath, and try to understand the Advaita view of scripture (Sruti, smRti
and the rest) first. It would also help to see how the specifically
Advaita view of scripture contrasts with the popular notion/mImAmsA
notion etc. They are by no means identical in all respects.


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list