Life - Towards Tao
by Purnima Coontoor
They Find TaoPersonal accounts of the human struggle to find that elusive balance
Like water, human beings too are constantly struggling to find their own level. The ups and downs of life
Quick – with what gender do you associate these professions – barber, secretary, lawyer, politician, nurse? Think again before you answer, for regressive traditional society has been turned on its head in recent times.
“Hello, Captain Kapoor welcomes you aboard the flight…” intones a female voice on the mike, and one settles down to a pleasant flight without so much as giving a thought to the gender of the pilot. Even as Condoleezza Rice is listed among the most powerful people in the world, Hillary Clinton is likely to be the first female President of the US. Parents no longer dream of marrying off their daughters, as every year throughout India, girls fare better than boys in the 10th standard examinations. Men are increasingly reporting to women bosses dressed in smart designer shirts and trousers with skills and attitude to match.
The non-sexist ‘Ms’ is substituted for the traditional ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, while gender-inclusive terms such as ‘humanity’ instead of ‘mankind’, ‘chairperson’ instead of ‘chairman’ are slowly becoming part of English vocabulary.
If women have been becoming more like men for the last few decades, men have started catching up over the last decade or so.
Japanese celebrity florist Shogo Kariyazaki, for example, is one of the highest individual tax payers of his country. The gender-bending guru is famous for his glossy lips and flowing bleached-blond hair. Recently, he appeared for a show in public, sporting an embroidered silk shirt with the motif of birds of paradise in flight, exclaiming, “Beauty is the essential thing in life!”
Film director Farhan Akhtar has no qualms appearing on prime time television with his Rapunzel locks held up with hair bands – and now a very, very male Abhishek Bachchan is also seen sporting this item of feminine headgear with panache. David Beckham’s fashion sense is iconic. And it’s not just the Dhonis or Ustad Zakir Hussains who flaunt long hair. Middle-class salaried males and college students are doing so.
In a TV ad, Shah Rukh Khan smiles disarmingly from a bathtub selling beauty soap, and an ad for a famous brand of luggage shows the husband carrying the child and waving his corporate wife goodbye at the airport. In another, the man welcomes his wife home after a hard day’s work with a steaming cup of branded tea. He even operates the washing machine and the microwave and dishes out delicacies from instant food packets, and not just in ads.
Hello 21st Century
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the new world order, where women have made forays into traditional male professions, and men are all ready to storm the hitherto female bastion of beauty and homecare. Hail the emergence of the metro sexual man, a man who is emotionally sensitive and aware, verbal and communicative, physically fit, clean, has manners, smells good, and often enjoys fashion, beauty products, entertaining, and interior design. A man with a sophisticated aesthetic and often a well-developed feminine side. A man a woman can live with.
World over, the so-called reversal of gender roles has become a topic of TV talk shows, magazine articles, academic research, films and, perhaps most notably, public acceptance. Same sex relationships are becoming commonplace in college hostels, and two men or women waltzing together to a tune no longer raise eyebrows. Openly gay entertainers, fashion designers, hairstylists and film-makers have achieved mainstream success, even as heterosexuals have sought to cultivate an image of gentle manhood. “It doesn’t matter if we are straight or gay. We are simply not afraid to show our feminine sides anymore,” says Kariyazaki, echoing the views of his lesbian counterparts as well.
Does all this point to a paradigm shift in the psyche of humanity?
“Yes. Present society reflects a deep-seated need in men and women to find a balance, and it seems as if things have come to a head,” says counselor Anuradha Kurpad. “For long, men and women have been out of balance, simply because they have been trained to be out of balance! For centuries, the masculine energy has been honored in men, urging them to act but not to feel. The feminine energy has been honored in women, until recently, to feel but not to act. With the onset of the woman’s movement, they were encouraged to get in touch with their male energy as well, to become active and not merely be content as nurturers and caretakers. And only recently, men have been encouraged to get in touch with their feminine side.”
Man have been conditioned to mistrust feelings and intuition, suppress emotions or push them aside. Females have mostly been taught to mistrust the male side of the energy. They help others achieve greatness but find it hard to get motivated on their own projects. They know they have talent but often wonder why they cannot seem to express it or profit from it.
But the fact that these trends are reversing, suggests that it could just be the beginning of the end of male-female stereotypes. Increasingly, men as bosses (and husbands) are expected to be more caring, empathetic, tolerant, less of power freaks and less critical of their subordinates. And women are increasingly needed to be more assertive, dynamic, energetic and confident. In short, men are expected to tap into their feminine side, and women, into their masculine side.
Most youngsters today have grown up in homes where both parents contributed equally to home care, and thus expect the same from their partners. Says Vaishnavi Vittal, a student of Mass Communication, “Both parents play a vital part in bringing up a family. I would definitely expect my husband to be a part of baby care, cooking and household chores…not because I can’t handle it on my own, but because there is a sense of togetherness in sharing and doing these activities together.”
Gender specific careers are blurring, and Psychologist Dr. Sujendra Prakash identifies technology as the main cause for this. “Technology has ensured that jobs today are more neutral rather than gender specific. Earlier, only men used to work outside the house. So we thought they were men’s jobs. In reality, these jobs could be done by anyone as it involved less of the body and more of the brain’s efforts and efficiency. No longer are men needed to hunt, for which their body and brain are specialized. Similarly, no longer are women needed to gather food from the wild. As technology makes things easier, our inherent potential for manual work is reducing day by day, leading to blurring of gender roles in society.”
The X Factor
Dr. Prakash says that every person is feminine by default, and technically, no one is a perfect male or female. “The X Chromosome is common among both males and females and hence feminine characteristics are shared by both. However, the Y chromosome and the male hormone testosterone make all the difference in giving the male aggression.”
Shashi is a gentle, caring husband and father who is happy to have a working wife and glad to share household chores with her, representing the attitude of a majority of men in urban, literate India. “Empowerment of women through education and employment is one of the strong reasons for role reversal,” he says, adding, “the father has to fill the space left behind by a working mother. And most men now have a healthy respect for women and their right to take independent decisions.”
Urban youngsters, who have grown up getting their nappies changed by their dads, seem to have no concept of gender roles at all. This ‘cool’ generation makes no distinction between the sexes on any issue. Their attitude reflects in the way they dress and the career choices they make.
A Balancing Act
Essentially, the masculine side comes from a place of strength, and the feminine side comes from a place of goodness. A balanced human being will have both in the right doses. Of course, genes still play a major role in giving distinct traits to the sexes. Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University professor of psychology and psychiatry, has said that, “the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, while the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems”. Yet research has discovered that neural synapses in early childhood are formed due to the environment of the child. Thus, if parents were to treat the child according to gender-defined ways, then the brain would develop for that gender role and thus would be ‘hard-wired’ – a result of parents buying dolls for girls and cars for boys, dressing their daughters in pink and sons in blue.
Further, the sex of a brain is decided in the womb and depends, among other factors, on hormone levels. Scientists have found there are three types of brain – masculine, feminine and asexual, the last a mix of both male and female characteristics. So it’s a combination of genes, gender, hormones, programming, economics, literacy and mores that contribute to the development of an individual and thus, society.
The Dance of Creation
Traditional Indian culture has always acknowledged that every human being is a creation of pure cosmic consciousness which is a composition of two energies: male energy, called Purusha and female energy, Prakruti. Purusha is the choice less passive awareness, while Prakruti is active consciousness. Prakruti is the divine creative will. Purusha, best represented by Lord Shiva meditating on the icy Himalayas, doesn’t take part in creation, but Prakruti, represented by Parvati, instigates the divine dance of creation called lila. Shiva and Shakti are both equal partners in this dance of creation. Again, these energies have nothing to do with biology. The Ardhanarishvara, a combination of the male and female forms, symbolizes a complete human being.
In his book Myth = Mithya, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik says that Lord Krishna, considered a perfect avatar of Lord Vishnu, has both masculine and feminine characteristics. He is always resplendent in his silk attire and gold ornaments, adorned with sandal paste, sporting peacock feathers on his head and a garland of fragrant flowers around his neck; what’s more, he plays the flute and serenades thousands of gopis. But he is equally at home vanquishing evil forces, taming the evil serpent Kaliya, wielding his Sudarshanachakra to behead Sishupala and getting down to fisticuffs with his uncle Kamsa. As Mohini, Lord Vishnu also contributes the X chromosome to Lord Shiva’s Y, to give birth to Lord Ayyappa! A perfect example of how various energies come to the fore to cater to different situations.
Similarly, Shakti is a dynamic representation of the changing nature of the female energy. As Gowri, the goddess embodies the traditional wife and mother, dresses in green (a symbol of prosperity), and wears flowers on her bound hair with other symbols of marriage. The maternal goddess holds no weapons, but, as Annapoornesh-wari, offers food. As Durga, she dresses in red, hair unbound, wielding weapons and riding a lion. This goddess is ready to take on evil and emerge victorious. Kali represents the carnal side of woman – she is naked, covered in entrails and human heads, with disheveled hair, holding weapons, drinking blood and riding a lion. All three forms represent the attributes of satva, rajas and tamas in the cycle of life and nature.
The Tao of Life
Tao philosophy also holds that there is an underlying equilibrium of two opposing forces in nature. The Chinese call these the yang and the yin. The yang symbolises the masculine nature of reality, the rational, calculating, analysing side; whereas the yin represents the feminine – the more sensitive, delicate, conscious side of things. Chinese believe that all human life is the interplay of these two forces, and, for the smooth functioning of things, equilibrium is desired between the two.
Carl Jung calls these two forces, the anima and animus. The anima is the feminine component of the male unconscious – a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies within a man, the archetypal feminine symbolism within a man’s unconscious. The animus is the male component of the feminine unconscious – the personification of all masculine psychological tendencies within a woman, the archetypal masculine symbolism within a woman’s unconscious.
The anima and animus draw their power from the collective unconscious, but they are also conditioned by a person’s individual experiences, including a predisposition for imaging the feminine/masculine archetypes; images and symbols of femininity/masculinity culturally transmitted through mythology, art, fairy tales, religions, etc, and personal experiences with the opposite sex.
In the words of Demaris Wehr, an expert in Jungian psychotherapy and spiritual direction, the anima leads a man into “unexplored depths of feeling, relationship, and sensitivity”. The animus leads a woman into “the world of the spirit, erudition, and the power of the word”. The integration of the anima/animus in a single individual is often termed androgyny. An androgynous individual will have masculine and feminine characteristics in equal measure.
The men and women of today’s society are manifesting a tendency in them to achieve a balance at all levels – social, emotional and spiritual. They are learning to act upon their feelings and heart’s desires, instead of suppressing these feelings or abandoning them. They make sure they have creative and emotional outlets in life, and make themselves an equal priority along with the others in their life. In this quest for achieving a perfect balance, human beings are now allowing the Divine to speak through their feelings, inspiring them to venture into hitherto unexplored dimensions of life, living according to the soul’s blueprint and in harmony with all of creation.
The consciousness of humanity is rising, manifested in this growing balance between the male-female energies.
The stage seems set for more and more to move naturally towards enlightenment, for there can be no doubt that only a proper balance between the energies can equip a person for liberation from the human condition.
Although the male patriarchy has long held that women are not entitled to enlightenment, divinity, equated with universal consciousness, is suffused with feminine attributes.
All religions of the world look upon God as a benevolent being who is kind, compassionate, forgiving, etc. These qualities are essentially feminine.
Eckhart Tolle, author of Power of Now, writes in that book, “To go beyond the mind and reconnect with the deeper reality of Being, very different qualities are needed: surrender, nonjudgment, an openness that allows life to be instead of resisting it, the capacity to hold things in the loving embrace of your knowing. All these qualities are much more closely related to the feminine principle.”
One of the most outright declarations of the Divine Feminine in all Sufi literature is in Jalaluddin Rumi’s Masnavi. In a passage praising the feminine qualities of kindness and gentleness, he says: man is the radiance of God, she is not your beloved. You could say that She is the Creator, not the created.
Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, describes the feminine force as the power that literally holds the cosmos together and propels evolution. For him, the Eternal Feminine is an all-pervasive, all-powerful love – a divine fire that is the fundamental principle of attraction, union, and generation of the universe.
There is no arguing that the Divine is also masculine, the embodiment of dynamism, assertiveness and outgoing energy. But this fact is too well-known to bear repetition. What is important therefore is a strife for balance between the two. Most enlightened people embody that. It’s no accident or mere artistic license that divine forms are depicted with features that are balanced in their male-female components. Whether it is Buddha or Jesus, the appearance is of gentleness and compassion. All Hindu gods, male or female, look the same – soft features with a gentle glow about them.
All spiritual masters too have a distinctly feminine cast to their appearance and character. J. Krishnamurti, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Satya Sai Baba, Mahatma Gandhi, all possess or possessed a strong feminine aspect to their nature. In the same vein, realised women gurus like Mata Amritana-ndamayi, Anandmurti Guruma, or Nirmala Devi, are all dynamic and active, confident and self-possessed, fully in control of their male energy.
Such a balance is a pre-condition for enlightenment, for it can only happen when every shadow part of our being is flushed out into the conscious level. Every fear, inhibition, fantasy, emotion, memory, must be brought to the conscious and accepted. In the process, conditioning dissolves, allowing the unconditioned ardhnarishvara, the perfect blend of male-female energies, to shine forth.
Advaita in Dvaita
Men and women are equal and opposite of one another. They need to move parallel to each other just like the two wheels of a cart. A wheel moving faster than the other is detrimental to the cart’s movement.
“What I would really love to see is an integration of the male-female styles of living through a neutral and all-inclusive paradigm and set of values. That model, for me, is nature,” says creative corporate trainer James Wanless. “The natural world is both masculine and feminine, straight and curved, hard and soft, scientific and intuitive. Nature has survived and thrived for billions of years. It’s our greatest success role model. Look at a tree. How exciting it would be to use the so-called male energy to branch out and break through in an expansive manner and do the so-called feminine thing of going inwards in the winter, into the dark earth, to be fruitful and fallow”.
Duality is what drives nature and sustains evolution. Wisdom lies not just in the realisation of this duality, but in transcending it and realising the underlying unity in everything. For it’s not the outer differences but the inner alchemy that matters. To quote from the Rosarium Philosophorum, a Medieval Latin treatise on alchemy by Jaroš Griemiller z Trebska, “When you make the two into one, and the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, then you will enter the kingdom of God.”
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