Like our two eyes, men and women are equal. Could one ever say that the left eye is more important than the right? Or the right more than the left? Men and women are meant to complement one another — to function in harmony and cooperation. Only when their essential equality is appreciated and they treat one another with mutual love and respect will society attain peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the majority of the world.
The awakening and arising of women is one of the most urgent needs of our time. This applies to all women — not only those in developing countries. Women in countries where materialism is predominant should awaken to spirituality, and women in countries where they are forced to remain inside the narrow walls of tradition should awaken to modern thinking. It has been widely believed that women and the cultures in which they live will awaken through education and material development, but time has taught us that this concept is too limited. Only when women imbibe the eternal wisdom of spirituality along with modern education will the power within them awaken. Then they will rise to action.
Who should awaken a woman? It is she who has to awaken herself. While superstitions and primitive customs and rules continue to exist, in truth they cannot obstruct a woman’s arising — no external power can. Yet, the minds of many women remain entangled in these cobwebs. They must break themselves free. All the power women require to do so — love, empathy and patience — are innate within them because these are the very essence of their inherent motherhood. Women just have to awaken to that motherhood.
The situation of many women can be compared to that of a chained elephant. When an elephant living in captivity is a baby, it is tied to a tree with a strong rope or a chain. Since to roam free is its nature, the baby elephant instinctively tries to break the rope, but it isn’t strong enough. Eventually it gives up. Later, when the elephant is fully grown, it can be tied to a small tree with just a thin rope. At this point, it could easily break free, but because its mind has been conditioned by its prior experiences, it doesn’t even try. This is what is happening to many women.
The infinite potential inherent in women and men is the same. If women really want to, it won’t be difficult to break the shackles of the rules and conditioning society has imposed upon them. The limitations women think they have are not real. Women need to muster the strength to overcome them. They already possess this power; it is right within them. Once that power has been evoked, no one can stop their forward march into every area of life.
While ultimately women hold within them everything they need to awake and arise, the right circumstances and support of others will certainly help. We need to remove antiquated and crippling social and religious concepts that attempt to suppress women. Moreover, men should never hinder a woman’s progress. Men should move out of her way — nay, they should prepare her path.
Unfortunately many men still harbor a great deal of resistance when it comes to properly understanding, accepting and recognizing the value of women. In this regard, there is a joke: In a village there lived a deeply spiritual woman who found immense happiness in serving others. She became the area’s first appointed woman priest. Her great compassion, humility and wisdom were appreciated by the villagers. This made the male priests jealous. One day all the priests were invited to a religious gathering on an island, three hours away by boat. When the male priests boarded the boat, to their chagrin the woman priest was already seated. Soon, the boat set off, but an hour later the engine died. The captain had forgotten to fill the tank. There was no other boat in sight, and no one knew what to do. Suddenly, the woman priest stood up and said, “Don’t worry! I’ll get more gas.” She then stepped out of the boat and proceeded to walk across the water. The male priests were astonished, but were quick to remark, “Look at her! She doesn’t even know how to swim!”
This remains the attitude of many men. They continue to belittle the achievements of women. Men need to understand that women are not objects, like tape-recorders, for them to control: play, pause, stop, rewind… Moreover, men need to see the great loss incurred when women are suppressed. In their obstruction, society is losing the potential contribution of more than half of the population.
Still, women should give up their tendency of finding fault with men. Men cannot be completely blamed for their attitudes. Like women, they have also been conditioned. Instead of blaming men, women should patiently and lovingly strive to gradually change them. If we try to force open the petals of a flower while it is still a bud, its beauty and fragrance will be lost. We must allow it to blossom naturally.
No genuine religion looks down upon women or speaks of women in a derogatory manner. In fact, if we look deeply into all religions, we will find that they all extol a great love and respect for the feminine. In India, the Supreme Being has never been worshipped exclusively in a masculine form. It is also worshipped as the Goddess — as Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom and learning, as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and as Durga, the goddess of strength and power. There was a time when men revered woman as embodiments of these qualities. She was considered a manifestation of the Divine Mother. However, at some point, because of the selfishness of certain men of influence and their desire for dominion, this concept was distorted and the connection was severed from our culture.
When we put in effort to remove outdated social and religious concepts that suppress women, we will often find support. Until recently, women in India were not allowed to worship in the inner sanctum of temples; nor could they consecrate a temple or perform Vedic rituals. Women didn’t even have the freedom to chant Vedic mantras. But our ashram is encouraging and appointing women to do these things, and I myself perform the consecration ceremony in all the temples we construct. In the beginning, many protested against this. To those who questioned us, I explained that we are worshipping a God who is beyond all differences, who does not differentiate between male and female. In the end, the majority of people supported us. In fact, those prohibitions against women were never actually a part of the Hindu tradition. They were in all likelihood invented later by men in order to exploit and oppress women.
It is commonly believed that the religion that gives least status to women is Islam, but the Qur’an speaks of qualities such as compassion and wisdom as well as God’s essential nature as feminine. Christ also considered men and women equal.
For those who — like Christ, Krishna, Buddha, etc — have realized God, there is no difference between men and women. Such enlightened individuals have equal vision. If anywhere there exist rules that prevent women from enjoying their rightful freedom — rules that obstruct their progress in society — then those are not God’s commandments but are born out of the selfishness of men.
If we want to learn to read the alphabet, we should begin with ABC, not XYZ. What is the ABC of women? What is the very fiber of a woman’s being? It is her inborn essential motherhood. Whatever area of work a woman chooses, she shouldn’t forget these virtues that God, or Nature, has graciously bestowed upon her. A woman should perform all her actions firmly grounded in these qualities. This does not mean that a woman must have children — just that she should never abandon her fundamental nature. In the process of striving to regain their rightful position in society, women should never lose this essential nature. It is impossible for women to attain real freedom by imitating men. If women turn their backs on the feminine principle, it will culminate in the utter failure of both women and society. The world’s problems will only be aggravated.
In fact, the awakening of the qualities associated with motherhood is the need of the hour. Not only women but men too should strive to awaken such virtues. The love of awakened motherhood is a love and compassion felt not only toward one’s own children, but toward all people, animals and plants, rocks and rivers — a love extended to all of nature, all beings. This universal motherhood is divine love, and that is God.
If the future is to be a beautiful, fragrant, fully blossomed flower, women and men must join hands in all spheres. Those who desire peace and contentment must pay heed to this, right now, in this very moment. For the sake of a promising future, the hearts and minds of women and men need to become one.
By Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma).
The author is a world-renowned humanitarian and spiritual leader. Amma is the founder and head of Embracing the World, a multi-national collective of not-for-profit organizations dedicated to providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor and needy.
Embracing the World has helped more than 100,000women start their own home-based businesses powered by vocational training, microfinance and self-help groups. Amma is also the chancellor of Amrita University, which, in 2016, was made India’s first-ever UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment.
Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com(August 26, 2017)