women and religion: hinduism November 14, 2006Posted by Brad Richert in religion, sexism.
Unlike other major world religions, Hinduism has a multitude of feminine deities. This, of course, is a result of the millions of celestial entities that comprise the cosmology within Hindu thought. The feminine deities of Hinduism often represent the traditional characteristics of femininity such as compassion and nurturing, although there are still many that symbolize much more traditionally masculine traits such as aggression and dominance.
Other world religions often use the lack of feminine deities to justify their positions against women. However, in Hinduism there are many feminine deities that men and women may recognize to be worthy of veneration. This should lead to a better status of women within the Hindu culture, yet it does not. Even those deities that symbolize so-called feminine traits do not transport their venerable status to their earthly counterparts. Such ideas of the life-giving female deity are not transferred positively to the women on the earth. This could be explained as a result of the concepts of karma, samsara and nirvana. As Hindu takes a patriarchal stance in its view of women, it easily puts aside any positive feminine deities in favour for patriarchal values. Concepts such as karma, samsara, and nirvana may not be patriarchal in themselves, but much of written and unwritten laws stem from ideas that attempt to explain and understand them. If men make all of the interpretations, the concepts will be interpreted exclusively in a male’s perspective, not allowing the opportunity for a female voice.
Hindu thought revolves around the idea of being saved from the constant cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth and so on. This cycle of reincarnation and death is called samsara. The antithesis of samsara is the “state” (or “non-state”) of nirvana, which is the escape from this seemingly endless cycle. There are several requirements for an individual to attain this nirvana or moksha (salvation), but the one that concerns us the most in a male’s perspective of women is this concept of karma. Positive karma is found though selfless action which is part of living within the harmony of life, or dharma. Part of living selflessly is to deny the pleasures of the earth (or of the flesh). The ascetic androcentric perspective, however, translates females as a tool of earthly pleasures. Females are then regulated and viewed through their sexuality, not at the fault of the female, but because of the weakness of the male.
This connects with other religions, as Hinduism also recognizes that women have a natural connection to the earth and thus must be dualistically opposed to the heavens or to the ultimate salvation. All the positive symbols and deities in the world cannot save the feminine from the androcentric religiosity. The worship of female deities does not translate into a higher respect for women because that is not in the interest of patriarchal values. Even the failings of earthly women in comparison to their divine counterparts are used as a hypocritical excuse for further degradation of womankind.