Peace - Wise Women on the Rise
by Suma Varughese
Making way for the divine feminine was a path-breaking summit held recently in india under the auspices of the global peace initiative of women, which highlighted the pivotal role of women in creating a peaceful, harmonious and sustainable world
At the end of five intense days, a few of us sat at the lobby of Hotel Amer-Clarke, where the conference “Making way for the Divine Feminine, for the benefit of the world community” was held, waiting for the bus that would take us back to Delhi. I asked one of them, a Tibetan woman settled in Kathmandu, how it was, and she said rapturously, “I felt I was in heaven.”
For most of the 450 people who spent time at the beautiful and feminine yellow and white “Great Gathering Tent’ in Jaipur, the experience was not very different.
Honouring the divine feminine is a theme that almost any woman, and especially a spiritual aspirant, will embrace with a deep sense of vindication. In whichever part of the world we are, it is still a world that is dominated by masculine energies, such as aggression, competition, conquest, control, rules and separatism. If the world today is torn asunder by strife, violence, inequalities, planetary crisis and so on, it is because we, both men and women, have been using the masculine focal lens to look at and create the world.
Feminine qualities, in contrast, highlight peace, nurturance, love, service, and co-operation. Such qualities are the lodestone of the institution of the family. It is the woman who holds the family together, who sustains its life-force. What would happen if these same qualities were to influence the world? Surely the world family would thrive once again? Surely peace would prevail on earth, the inhuman inequalities of caste, class, colour and gender would dissolve, and the terrible depredation on the planet would be arrested?
Women and oneness
There is wisdom in the feminine qualities, and an innate sense of holism.
It is to tap this wisdom and intuitive awareness of oneness that the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) conceived the idea of emerging with a summit on the divine feminine. In an impassioned speech at Mata Amritanandamayi’s ashram celebrating her birthday, Dena Merriam, the founder, said, “For her children, a mother will move mountains. As mothers, we can move mountains. As mothers, we must. If the human community is to survive, if our Mother Earth is to survive, we must begin to come together and have our mother’s love lead the way.”
GPIW was born out of the Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000 when 2000 religious leaders from all over the planet met at the United Nations. Only five of them were women. Struck by this imbalance, which was also reflected in the world outside, the women got together and asked Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General, if they could organise a similar summit for women. Over 500 women met in Geneva in 2005, and decided to take an active role in creating peace in the world. Subsequently, they have been organising many reconciliation meetings in all the conflict zones, such as Iraq-US, Syria-US, Sudan and so on. In addition, they have organised a group of young people, called The Young Leaders International Peace Council, in keeping with their recognition that it is they who hold the key to a peaceful and sustainable future.
India was chosen for the Divine Feminine summit because, “for millennia, India has been home to a rich tradition of honouring the divine feminine.”
People from around 30 countries made their way to Jaipur, and the atmosphere was electric with enthusiasm and excitement. It was a congregation of wise women from all over the world. For a spirit watcher it was a rare delight to meet so many, known and unknown, who seemed to embody the divine feminine in such depth.
Who would have thought one would get a chance to meet and spend time with the likes of Sister Helen Prejean author of Dead Man Walking, on which the famous film of that name was based? Or Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, the wellknown British woman who became a Buddhist nun and is founder, Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh? Her book, A Cave in the Snow, is a deserved spiritual classic.
Then there were Venerable Dhammananda, who became the first Buddhist nun in Thailand, and is now director, Sathira Dhammasthan Center in Thailand, and the ecstatic Sufi teacher Sheikha Celmanur Sargut, director, Turkish Women’s Cultural Association. Others who made a mark with their wisdom and insight were Mrs Maryam Zarif, Rumi expert from Iran, Rabbi Naamah Kelman the woman rabbi in Israel, and a whole slew of Indianspiritual luminaries including Mata Amritanandamayi, Dadi Janki, Anandmurti Gurumaa, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati. If these were the bright stars that dazzled among the gathering, almost everyone gathered there was a light of some sort – writers, artists, healers, therapists, religious and business people, Buddhist nuns, South African priestesses, each working in their own way to make a difference to the world.
Laughter, songs and even dance punctuated the discussions, lending them a joyous vibrance. Much more than the mind, the conference nourished the soul and the heart. It was rare that a discussion left us untouched. Women – and men – bared their hearts and shared their stories, shedding tears and offering wisdom.
Certain vignettes remain entrenched in my mind. One member of the South African delegation, a lawyer, stood up when it was her turn to speak, and said that it was impossible for her to feel comfortable unless she sang, and behold she burst into song, accompanied by her friend, a massively dignified priestess with a deep bass voice. Neither of them could carry a tune, but the spontaneous outflow of their spirit was one of the best gifts they could have given us.
In another discussion on conflict in Asia, a Burmese nun, whose own country has been embroiled in conflict, made the most eloquent statement possible by simply bursting into tears after making several unsuccessful attempts to speak.
Another irresistible image was that of the Ajmeri brothers who engaged us in a raucous qawali. A small group of Indian women broke into a spirited dance. They waved others in too and soon everyone, men and women, young and old were dancing their hearts out. “It looks like a Punjabi wedding,” said my friend, Swati, in disbelief.
The proceedings began on March 6 (the night of Shivratri) at 4 pm with prayers and meditations offered by some of the many distinguished participants gathered there.
The conference began in earnest on Day 2. Dena Merriam founder, co-chairs, Reverend Joan Campbell, and Sr. Joan Chittister, set the context to the conference. Soon after, Mata Amritanandamayi swept in with an army of followers dressed in white, the men, including foreigners, wearing the Kerala lungi. Unpretentious and joyous, Amma sat quietly on the dais while other speeches were made, until her time came. Her speech in Malayalam spoke movingly about the plight of the woman today, and how imperative it was that she regained her dignity and self-determination. Later, she held a press conference in the hotel, and one was fortunate enough to interact with her at close quarters, and even get a hug. Her love and simplicity simply goes to the heart. and one cannot help but love her back.
Over the next three days the concept of the divine feminine was discussed thradbare at the Great Gathering Tent, and in concurrent circle conversations. The subjects included the feminine spirit and oneness, the transformative power of Shakti, women’s leadership and the potential impact on society, the role of the masculine in making way for the feminine, gender reconciliation, and tapping feminine principles to develop new leadership styles. Mostly, people spoke from their heart, and unpolished though their words may have been, their impact was tremendous.
Nowhere was this more deeply felt than on Day lll, which was indisputably the core of the conference. The subject was on strengthening inner resources to transform conflict, and instead of scholarly papers, representatives of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world were invited to have their say, often in the company of the opposing or oppressive country. Thus representatives from Israel and Palestine came together as did those from Iran and the US. Reverend Joan Campbell chaired the discussion, and in doing so we got a glimpse of what it would be like if women had a chance to run the world. The panellists were invited to share their experiences, and many of them expressed great anger, hurt and pain. One remembers the comments of Dr Tho Ha Vinh, Founder, Eurasia Foundation, after the Israel-Palestine discussion: “So much blood has been shed, mostly by men. And for every drop of blood, there have been many tears shed by women. And in a way, it is the tears that have washed away the blood.”
No matter what the emotion, it was validated respectfully. Finally, Rev Campbell asked them a wonderful question. “If there is one thing you would like us to do, what is it?” Such a question was healing and brought people closer, and one could sense that the energy of the room had shifted. Many of the panellists, especially those belonging to the Israel-Palestine discussion, spoke with great wisdom and love and really expressed a desire to overcome their own emotions in order to rise to a level of win-win. One Ali Abu Awad, founder, Al Turiq, Palestine, spoke of his pain and anguish when his brother had been killed by Israeli offensives, but he added, “Eventually, I realised that killing an Israeli is not going to bring my brother to life.” Ali today is an active practitioner of non-violent resistance, and is striving to rise to a peaceful resolution of his country’s problems. What such discussions fostered in the audience as well as the panellists is hope. It is possible to transform violent anger and grief by the simple power of receptive non-judgemental listening. It is possible for a people to rise from the debris of destruction and victimhood and heal. Peace can yet be won.
No matter which country under discussion, the solution to the problem was unanimous. Only spirituality and the cultivation of inner peace and self-restraint will put out the fires of warfare and violence. And women, or indeed, the feminine in all, both men and women, seem equipped to play this healing role.
In one of her talks, Dena Merriam is reported to have said, “I think women are more willing to take risks because we have less to lose and we feel the pain of these situations so deeply. The first issue brought up in inter-religious dialogues among women is inevitably the suffering of the children. With men it just doesn’t come up.”
A cry for help
One of the most pivotal moments of the summit took place during a discussion on balancing material and spiritual development – insights from India.
The speakers, who included LP Plus’s former editor Swati Chopra, spoke eloquently on India’s spiritual culture, but we were unprepared for Dena Merriam’s cry from the heart. She called out to India to help the world, especially the US. “We need you,” she said. “We don’t know how to respect each other, how to be thrifty.”
It was, I think, a special moment for all Indians, a moment of vindication for all the centuries that our culture was derided and decried by the West. In many ways, this conference was not just a coming of age of women but also of India – an acknowledgement of its spiritual power and holistic culture which can show the way to a peaceful world.
Women’s wisdom was much in evidence, thanks to the number of spiritual teachers. Sheikha Celmanur Sargut smiled ecstatically as she urged the audience not to run away from pain but to embrace it because it holds the seed to transformation and growth. Then there was Dadi Janki, head of the Brahama Kumaris, tiny and irresistible with the charm of one who is completely authentic. “Woman shares, cares and inspires. If you can do that, everything will be okay.”
All too soon, the summit was over. For all of us, it was a place of nourishment and power. A place to recognise the innate strength of the divine feminine in us, and to sally forth into the world with these transformative gifts. Who can say what these 450 men and women will not do for the world?