[Advaita-l] Re: Women and Vedas

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Apr 3 16:17:43 CDT 2006

On Sun, 2 Apr 2006, Krunal Makwana wrote:

> namo nArAyana
> Dear Jaldharji and list members,
> I was having conversation a couple of days ago about vedas and who can and
> who can't recite, read, learn etc.
> What is AcAryaji's opinion on this matter?

It is what you have quoted below:
> I found a quote by SankarAcaryaji stating "vaidya'andhikaaraat" (women do
> not have 'adhikaara' on veda)

and please note it is not Shankaracharyas opinion it is common knowledge
to anyone versed in dharma.

the prerequisite for Vedic study is upanayana samskara (investure with
Janoi)  In the shastras the method of upanayana for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas,
and  Vaishyas has been given.  But not for Shudras.  Therefore it is
inferred that they have no right to Vedic study.  Furthermore, injunctions
refer to the male gender only.  Therefore it is inferred that women have
no right either.

> If women are not allowed to study veda does that not go against the whole
> teaching of advaita...that everyone and everything is brahman in reality
> 'sarva khalu idam brahma'. and if we distinguish between genders are we not
> deepening our hole of ignorance?

If you don't immediately hand over to me your credit cards and the keys to
your car does that not go against the whole teaching of advaita...?

We are not aikya (one)  we are a-dvaita (not-two.)  Ponder on the subtle
distinction between the two terms.  Bheda (difference) is a fact.  It is
real and cannot just be wished away with rhetoric.  Advaita Vedanta would
be a very poor sort of philosophy indeed if that is all it did.

Ok so there are differences.  But why this particular difference?

In the karma kanda, The Mimamsaka musings on the subject (sorry I can't
give you the source at the moment, will try to do so later.) do not imply
any spiritual, physical or mental weakness in women which would render
them incapable (though you can find such sentiments here and there in the
shastras. On the contrary, the Mimamsa sutras affirm, that being
conscious, intelligent (i.e.capable of following a procedure,) desirous
for punya, etc.  women have a prima facie right to perform yagnas.
However the discussion points out without upanayana they cannot recite the
mantras. So they should utilize their husbands as their priest (he has
to eligible himself of course.)  just as any ordinary Hindu can perform a
Vedic rite and get the punya from it by going through a Brahmana purohit.
And this is why a married dvija has to wear two janois, one on his
wifes behalf.

In the jnana kanda, we have already noted the quote from Shankaracharya.
However this is not the end of the matter.  According to Advaita Vedanta,
Brahman is not some thing to lost or acquired by any person or God or
book.  It is the innermost consciousness that pervades every living thing
whether they are aware of it or not.  Knowing the Vedas does not guarantee
that awareness.  In fact there are plenty of examples of those who did not
have upanayana (e.g. Vamadeva, Shukadeva) and yet were jnanis and also
those who knew all shastras (i.e. Narada in chandogyopanishad) and yet
were not.

so from the dharmic point of view, there is no good reason for women to
learn Vedas and they are not under any disability for doing so. The
problem is the orthodox people often don't communicate this well.  A
typical conversation goes:

Woman:  I want to learn the Vedas
Astika: No you can't.
Woman:  You're a sexist.
Astika: You're an atheist.
Woman:  I'm not talking to you.
Astika: I'm not talking to you.

Having had many such arguments, my approach is different.  I recognize
that the kind of woman who wants to learn such things is most likely not
some wild-eyed radical but actually believes it will make her more
spiritual.  I respect that but it is precisely because I think she is
sincere that I am compelled to tell her the truth, that such a course of
action is misguided and will not actually help at all.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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