Bits and bobs from the road

Traveling -any sustained detour from the daily routine- is an effective tool for evaluating one’s practice and core beliefs. What elements of practice are vital? What do I make space for when my regular patterns are disrupted? What do I crave? What is essential for stability? What is so loosely tethered in me that I forget about it completely when out of my routine?

I am at my inlaws and all is well. Our trip across the Atlantic was uneventful, although my husband and I (with two kids and bags) had to run for our plane. It was a long day of travel: 6 hours in the car, airport shuttle, security, and a 10 hour plane ride. We invoked Ganesh in the morning, while driving, and while running for our flight. Jai Ganesha!

I am only today getting a grip on what day it is. I think jet lag has run its course. Getting up at 5am in the mornings is wonderful for getting in yoga and meditation. I don’t have a space to do puja or devotions. I brought my shiva lingam and my icon of Kali, and I bow to them every morning and before climbing into bed. That’s about the extent of it.

I have forgotten what day is Monday and what is Friday so observing those days as devotion to Shiva and Kali has fallen by the wayside a little. I’m trying to get back to that. I hope to visit the Vedic Cultural and Spiritual Center of San Diego at least once while here. I don’t think I’ll be able to make any classes or events, as getting around here is a huge challenge, and the kids need to be in bed in the early evenings. Still, I’d love to go see a real temple and offer up my prayers there. Say a formal hello, as it were. I also hope to attend an actual yoga class while here as well.


Two things I’ve been reading:

First, I saw this article this morning on Hinduism and modernity in the Huffington Post. I’ll be honest, the only part that interested me was his three paragraphs on feminism. He addresses one of the main criticisms of Hindusim from a feminist perspecitve, that of sati, the ritual immolation of the wife upon her husband’s death. According to this article, only 10% of the population ever observed this. As if that’s not a big deal. I am not well read in the history of India or its customs and culture, but I agree with the author that British colonialism only complicated matters. The author also mentions that having goddesses and a concept of Shakti counters patriarchal attitudes by seeing the divine in all women. I don’t want to wax all scholarly in my blog, but I will say I think he is wrong. There is no correlation between recognizing a divine female and treating women well or fairly. See Roman Catholicism and the Virgin Mary. See also the issues with women in India. Great theory does not always lead to liberating practice. I will talk a lot more about this when I get to my Christian quarter.

However, Pankaj Jain (Phd) raises an excellent point in his last paragraph on the subject:

“Women who were given the sole responsibility to run a home are now being over-loaded to earn money also. In the modern world of judging everything by financial and materialistic rewards, are we reducing our mothers and wives also into moneymaking machines? And is that the only criteria for their freedom?” [Emphasis mine.]

Mainstream feminism struggles with these questions. Is it really liberating to gain power in the context of the status quo? Is capitalism liberating at all? How do we balance the need and/or desire to earn money with the responsibilities as mothers (if we are one)? I would also like to point out the problem with reducing the identity of women to only those of mothers and wives. I am both and I don’t think these roles are necessarily confining, but can women not be women if they are not wives or mothers? I am certain Jain means wives in the context of heteronormative marriage. What about women outside that context? Hinduism itself might not be the limiting factor, but culturally there are clearly places with room to grow.

The second bit of reading I’m doing is a series of devotionals, Living with Siva, from the Himalayan Academy. I rather like the daily musings. They help me gain focus and give me something to ponder as we drive around (and in Southern California there is A LOT of driving). As I read through some of the materials I find that there is more of the ‘by men, about men, for men’ style of writing. Women are wives. End of story. Clearly the Himalayan Academy is not the church for me. However, there is much wisdom to be gained from Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami. I take what I like, and leave the rest.


5 responses to “Bits and bobs from the road

  1. Wonderful discourse on feminism and the divine feminine. I particularly resonate with your statement that “there is no correlation between recognizing a divine female and treating women fairly.” So true, and so sad.

    About a month or so ago I read “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s about her journey from “traditional” Southern Baptist, to a modern, feminist spirituality. During this reading it occurred to me that even in the goddess cults of Southern India, most of the texts (as far as I know) were written by or attributed to men. I think that says a lot about the need to bridge the gap between recognizing the divine feminine and the divine woman 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Almost all the religious texts in the world -even goddess-centric ones- are written by men, for men. Now that i have my own kids I can see how that happens, but yes, there is a large gap to be bridged. I have some thoughts about this and how my own academic studies relate. I haven’t spoken much about my own studies, but I will in time. I feel very privileged to be able to study theology and at such a level, knowing that women have worked hard to open these doors and to engage in the discussion.

      I’m glad you’re reading! Thanks for commenting.

  2. I have been meaning to write a response to this for some time. Maybe it is right that you get this message as you are moving on in your experiment from living Hinduism to your next tradition.

    I believe that “Living With Shiva” is written for everybody, man and woman. A lot of it, and the other books of the Master Course trilogy are written in terms of ideals or archetypes. This very often does not correspond to people’s actual lives.

    Few people in Britain now marry at a young age, having been celibate to that point, treat each-other like God and Goddess, and arrange things so that the husband can fully support the whole family and make generous gifts to charity. Few women would be happy to be responsible for the home and family while the husband is the sole earner. Yet this is the ideal.

    To say to someone who has not seen themselves in these roles that they should live them is as ridiculous as telling an adult convert to Hinduism that they should have had a name-giving ceremony at a young age and have learned Sanskrit mantras from 12 years old. It just won’t work. And the Himalayan Academy doesn’t say that. In practice we adapt. On the Master Course group, a discussion forum for people formally following the course, there are a diverse set of people. To give you some idea one is a woman doctor and another is a man who is a stay-at-home dad, mainly responsible for bringing up the children. Nobody suggests that they should live otherwise – in fact they make use of the situation, the woman doctor has written about vegetarian nutrition in Hinduism today.

    I do think that Hinduism does see gender differences from a different perspective to the Abrahamic religions, and this may explain why we see the ideal in terms of defined roles for men and women. Hinduism puts a great importance on following dharma. Ideally in lives were we are born male we should nurture our male qualities and in lives where we are born as female we should nurture female qualities. Now, there is leeway in this, and forcing someone into a role they cannot fulfil would be himsa. However it does help the man who feels resentment that he has to earn all the money to know that in other lives he has followed the female role – and almost certainly will again. Likewise it helps the woman who feels that she would like to work and not look after her children to know that there have been lives when she has worked and supported a family, and that there almost certainly will be more. It should (though I admit doesn’t always) give the husband and wife a reason to sympathise, respect and honour each other’s roles.

    I would imagine that Hindus who find themselves leading very different roles will spend a lot of time contemplating the meaning of this, perhaps thinking of what it means to be feminine in the workplace or masculine at home. These could well be necessary experiences for the people concerned, so we accept their lives and ways.

    I realise that this probably does not fit in with your philosophy, but I feel that its important for me to express this clearly. Maybe it is something you will understand, or maybe in your spiritual journey it will help you appreciate something about another path.

    I think that you are right about there being no correlation between recognising the divine in female and treating women well or fairly. I believe there should be though, I see this as a failure of internalising and living the spiritual truth. I am particularly saddened by the female infanticide and sex-selective abortion in India, which goes against the countries laws, the law of ahimsa (non-injury) and seeing God in everyone.

    Aum Shivaya

    • I don’t want to suggest that my nitpicking on gender overrules the good things that I see in ‘Living Siva.’ I have gained much from reading through it. But I am critical of gendered attitudes and of course, I can only respond from my own position as a white, heavily educated, queer feminist female.

      I struggle with the idea of dharma. On its own terms I am enamoured of it. On one hand it allows for a spaciousness in life, an acceptance of where we’re at and the opportunity to work for a better life. On the other hand, it can be a way of placating those who live in poverty or other unfavorable conditions, for example women in abusive relationships, with a ‘well your karma brought you here and you’ll just have to accept it until the next lifetime.’ That’s the worst case scenario. On this side of things the best case is just a lack of urgency.

      As for your last paragraph, I agree with you. Our practice must line up with the theory. I also think our practice is a far more honest reflection of our beliefs than are our words about those beliefs. Which is why this last month has been so very painful for me! Is this all just a hobby for me, or what??

      • On the other hand, it [dharma] can be a way of placating those who live in poverty or other unfavorable conditions, for example women in abusive relationships, with a ‘well your karma brought you here and you’ll just have to accept it until the next lifetime.’ That’s the worst case scenario. On this side of things the best case is just a lack of urgency.

        I agree that this is a danger. To everyone who says “it is his/her dharma to be in that situation” I say “perhaps it is your dharma to rescue them from that situation.

        ….Which is why this last month has been so very painful for me! Is this all just a hobby for me, or what??
        The fact that it is painful for you means that it is not just a hobby. It is an important part of your life. I will be interested to see how your experiment continues.

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