[Advaita-l] Re: Women and Vedas

Vidyasankar Sundaresan 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 
other forms.

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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