Question on Advaita (Women in Advaita Vedanta) (fwd)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 26 15:57:05 CDT 2000

> As I consider my original question more carefully, it might be better
>phrased, "Does Advaita teach that women are not as competent as men to
>and progress in spiritual and philosophical reason and wisdom?"  As for her

Ah, that is a much better line of enquiry! In a single word, no.
The qualifications for the above are not limited by gender.

I know of a few cases, where the Sringeri Swamis, one of the most
orthodox representatives of the Advaita tradition, have imparted
mantropadeSa to women, and encouraged their studies in philosophy.
The guiding principle in such cases has been the mental preparedness
of the disciple. In general, rather than taking broad stands and
making it applicable to entire populations, the tradition prefers
to do these things on an individual basis, taking into account all
the relevant antecedent factors.

Regarding the right to study the Vedas, we have to view it both
from the cultural context of the texts that prohibit the right to
some groups, and from the point of view of the distinction between
the karma- and jnAna- kANDas.

Generally, a student of the Veda learns the karmakANDa portions,
and studies it in order to become an officiating priest, in a
culture where rules of bodily pollution were observed very carefully.
But then, we should also note that the man who becomes a monk is told
to stop the study of the karmakANDa and study only the jnAnakANDa.
Moreover, it is also generally accepted that the jnAnakANDa texts can
be accessed through translations, commentaries etc. Granted, in the
structure of the epistemology of Advaita, the Sruti takes prime place,
but inasmuch as works derivative of Sruti are allowed for all, the
question becomes rather moot.

Ultimately, knowledge goes beyond all our created boundaries.
Moreover, in a non-Indian culture, different customs and rules
have been historically applied. I would suggest to our American and
European friends on this list to use viveka (I'm not including our
one known South African member, Charles Wikner - he already knows all
these things!), and take the good and leave out the bad in the cultural
baggage that comes along! One can hardly say that all Indian society
was structured according to the principles of Advaita Vedanta. Nor can
we say that Western societies need to be reorganized according to
principles of Advaita Vedanta, or for that matter, any other Eastern
philosophy. Rather, the entire system of Advaita is geared towards
those who eventually tire of too much society - aratir jana-samsadi
(gItA). Keeping this in mind, we can learn how to harmonize our
current lives with the goal, taking into account the history that
has brought us where we are today.

Best wishes,

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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