vivekacUDAmaNi is a famous text on advaita teaching, usually ascribed to Shankara. The very first verse, after the formal salutation for auspiciousness, speaks of the rarity to be born as a male human being. It says:
jantUnAm narajanma durlabham atah pumstvam tato vipratA …
(For all beings, the human birth is difficult to obtain; much more so is a male body; rarer than that is brahminhood…)
Now we have genetic support!
Dr. E.M. McCarthy, a Georgia University geneticist, comes up with a controversial new hypothesis of humans evolution. He says that the genetic evidence overwhelmingly suggests that we are a rare cross between a male Pig and a female Chimp.
Can 48/2 of Chimps chromosomes + 38/2 of pig = 46 of a man? Well, don’t ask such silly math questions. Who can remember what happened after all over 80 million years ago?
So Sitara, Dhanya and Meenakshi, Don’t blame us if we are boastful of ourselves!
(If you are more curious see: http://www.macroevolution.net/human-origins.html#.Upoej8RDuSr)
A very provocative post, Ramesam! But an interesting one. Of all the 9 versions of this I have, most do not mention it all, giving an abbreviated translation. Even Swami Dayananda ignores it in his superb 108 verses version. Rafael goes so far as to mention it, but translates it as ‘male temperament’! Only Swami Ranganathananda tackles it head on and devotes 2 pages to it! He asks “Why does Shankara prefer a male body to a female one? This is the one jarring note in the great book.”
But he then shows why this is specified, saying it is essentially due to the fact that, “in the feudal society in which this book was written, women’s status was much lower.” With foreign invasions, etc, women’s freedom was necessarily curtailed. He points out that the same situation has occurred in Buddhism and Catholicism.
And on the positive side, he says that the RRig veda presents a picture of equality, as do the Upanishads in general. And he mentions the awe/respect held by Shankara and Ramakrishna for their mothers. In summary, it was relevant then, but not relevant today.
Thanks Dennis for the well-considered comments. I am sure you know that the post was written half in jest and neither you nor I would want to open up the highly debated issue of women and eligibility for Vedas/Vedanta in these columns.
But I may be allowed to say that one need not be apologetic or try to be “politically correct” about presenting historical facts.
Some of the Swamis, in their missionary zeal of spreading a message (almost in imitation of Christian Missionaries who believe in proselytization) may publish sanitized versions of the text or try to explain away certain things. Such attempts do not erase a historical fact / convention / norm / or dharma of the society of a certain period. The authentic versions of vivekacUDaMaNi do have this verse (for example the 1921 edition of Himalayan Series No: XLIII of Advaita Ashrama).
It is a fact that certain Vedic mantra-s and yajna-s are prohibited for women in the past and even in the present time by some maTha-s. For some yajna-s and rituals, the presence of the lady (of the house in the grihasta ashrama) is mandatory. Further, one has to be aware that the guidelines prescribed on the basis of gender differ depending on the subject under consideration – learning Veda-s, Vendanta or performing religious duties.
Nevertheless, male domination in the society cannot be denied. It, perhaps, originated right in the times of hunter-gatherer societies, as some anthropologists suggest. I remember to have read one research paper which said that the Neanderthals became extinct because there was no proper ‘division of labour’ between the male and female members of their society. So if a society developed a certain code of conduct based on gender differentiation, we need not feel shy now to admit it. And after all, these codes of conduct keep fluctuating, altering and getting amended from time to time – even the ancient dharma shAstra-s allow this.
We know that it is a historical fact that women were not allowed till the 1920s the right to vote even in the advanced societies – but today such a discrimination is considered shameful. Should we have to, therefore, erase that part of history?
Writing on this topic of women and brain some 7-8 years ago, I said: “Remember the frontal cortex, the seat of higher executive and cognitive functions, is larger in women. They need not have to take lessons from vivekacUDAmaNi to improve their cognitive functions. They have it by nature! It is men that need the lessons with an encouraging pat on their back. So Ye, Men, practice meditation, read vivekacUDAmaNi. Remember, Women are already blessed.” As we learn more in the future about the neurophysiological differentiation between the male and female bodies, we may, perchance, come to appreciate the issues better.
I agree with all that you say here. I wasn’t really being ‘apologetic’, just trying to ensure we did not trigger any ‘righteous indignation’ type responses. Of course, we do hope that readers of these pages would not react in such a way!
Men have been also much maligned of late, not only that class, ‘white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant’.
Without trying to be apologetic to women or to society at large, as Ramesam has mentioned, we can relay the fact that there are more then thirty women sages in Rig Veda, with many hymns associated with them. One can learn, from hymn 10.27.12, that women could choose their own husbands, and in hymn 10.85 it is stated that the daughter in law should be treated as a queen by all the family members, especially the mother-in-law, husband, and father-in-law…. “Become the house-hold’s mistress; ruler of the home, you will address the religious assembly” (10.85.26). There evidently was a decline in such exemplary customs many centuries after that.