[Advaita-l] Re: Women and Vedas
svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 7 02:51:54 CDT 2006
Let us take a step back and examine what it is that we want to debate.
Are women, in general, capable of Vedantic knowledge? A resounding yes. Note
that nowhere in the tradition is this denied. Now, what is this Vedantic
knowledge? Does it consist of the knowledge of Brahman or does it consist of
the words of e.g. SvetASvatara upanishad? Obviously, the former.
Is there a tradition of women reciting/chanting the SvetASvatara upanishad?
No, for various historical, social, political, individual, religious
reasons. For that matter, even the tradition of men reciting the
SvetASvatara upanishad is lost. As we all know, many Vedic recitation
traditions are lost today, but in some cases, we still have the texts in
I would suggest, each person who worries about this issue should ask
themselves - are we bothered about the content of the Vedantic knowledge or
are we bothered about questioning/changing the recitation tradition?
If it is the former, then the entire question is moot. Wherever we see a
woman who has Vedantic knowledge, we accord her the respect that is due to a
knower. Even the traditional male leaders of Advaita Vedanta tradition have
publicly acknowledged women brahmajnAni-s.
If it is the latter, I would also suggest that each of us ask ourselves, how
do we hope to bring about any change, for the better or for the worse, if we
sit in armchairs and do not engage the tradition constructively? What are
the reasons why certain restrictions were placed upon people reciting the
Vedas? Do we know them in detail from the perspective of the tradition? I
would wager that most of us think of this question only from sources that
were most interested in challenging the tradition rather than understanding
or explaining its constraints and its historical development.
I would also suggest that for most traditional males, learning to recite the
Vedas and making a life out of it is not and never was as privileged or as
easy a position as is generally assumed to be. It took a lot of rigor and
discipline to master the recitation, but it guaranteed neither material
success nor brahman knowledge. Traditionally trained purohitas may know to
conduct rituals, but do they necessarily gain Vedantic knowledge? On the
flip side, are there not lots of other people, men and women, who do not
know to conduct rituals, but have Vedantic knowledge?
What is relevant to our interests here? I hardly think the issue of women
reciting texts and conducting rituals that are traditionally the domain of
male priests is pertinent here.
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