Satish Purohit explores the concept of divine masculinity as a counter to the toxic variety of masculinity found in various spiritual traditions and its role in co-creating a New Age of elevated gender synergy
Mira Bai, who had taken Krishna as her husband and lord, arrived at the door of Jiva Goswami, the great scholar of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya and a direct disciple of the saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
“I wish to see the Master,” said Mira. “Srila Jiva Goswami says that as a renunciate, he does not see women,” said the Vaishnava who had taken her message to the saint. “So, he thinks he is a man?” asked Mira. “What do you mean by asking such a question?” asked the Vaishnava, his eyes widening in surprise, “Of course, he is a man.” “But does he not teach that Krishna is the only male in the universe. Everyone else is a woman,” countered Mira Bai.
The flummoxed man went back and reported what Mira had told him. Tradition tells us that Jiva Goswami agreed that Mira had spoken the truth. He came out running to meet Mira Bai.
A woman’s highest calling is to lead a man to his soul, so as to unite him with the Source. Her lowest calling is to seduce, separating man from his soul and leave him aimlessly wandering. A man’s highest calling is to protect the woman, so she is free to walk the earth unharmed. A man’s lowest calling is to ambush and force his way into the life of a woman.
- Cherokee Proverb
Even the greatest of seers apparently have made the mistake of identifying people on the basis of their genders and holding onto the archaic notions of what men and women are supposed to be and do, without ever questioning the beliefs.
The traditional concept of masculinity has held many a generation in its thrall until now when it can be seen in its most vicious avatar. The idea of being the ruler, the superior one, the stronger and more entitled one—simply because one belongs to the male gender—is very deep-rooted in society.
Said a friend while talking about this mindset a few years ago, “Amongst men, there is arrogance attached to being born a male.”
Since millennia, men have occupied the centre stage and pushed women and weaker sections to the margins, on the basis of their physical strength. They hunted, went to wars, formed tribes and governments, and fought the world to earn bread for their families. These abilities naturally put them on the top of the power pyramid. But the advent of technology and the march of women towards greater autonomy and participation has somewhat shaken this establishment of male privilege.
The old ways of masculine superiority are no longer applicable. A woman can, as easily, fly a plane, drive a taxi, or run a business like a man, thanks to technological development. Being able to accomplish tough and challenging tasks is no longer strictly a male domain. Greater empowerment is making women question and challenge the partial rules of patriarchy. Men, used to being treated with preference and privilege, are suddenly waking up to changed equations and struggling hard to adjust to changed realities. In places where awareful living is not yet the norm, they can be found reacting with increased aggression and violence against women, in a desperate attempt to maintain the old order.
In a time where the idea of male superiority is being brought into question, men are finding it difficult to define as well as identify themselves on the parameters of old notions of masculinity. Modern women are no longer impressed by hardy, rugged, virile, macho men who are the masters of all that they survey but fail miserably at forming heartfelt connections with themselves as well as others. They prefer men who are sensitive, empathetic, and in touch with their intuitive, emotional side.
So, is it an indicator of how future man is supposed to evolve? How is a man who has embraced his divinity supposed to conduct himself in society? How is the divine aspect of masculinity supposed to unfold in the human male form? A masculinity which is not self-serving and toxic but an agent of happiness, progress, and growth.
Let us first examine this divine interplay of masculine and feminine energies in their primordial form.
What is the divine masculine?
The mystical masculinity of God and the femininity of all of creation is the stage on which the divine leela or spiritual play of the universe unfolds.
The divine masculine, in other words, is the giver of the seed, the original impetus. The impetus awakens the inherent potential of the feminine who responds to the impetus and together they set the universe into motion.
In the Yoga as well Sankhya systems of Hindu philosophical traditions, Purusha, the word commonly used to denote ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ in several Indian languages, is the transcendent still principle that is beyond causation. This Purusha, by its mere presence, awakens or excites Prakriti or nature or matter, which is described as feminine. So, the latent potential in Prakriti, understood to be feminine, becomes kinetic due to the proximity of Purusha.
The point of the Purusha-Prakriti samyoga or the mysterious union of the still principle (considered to be masculine or Shiva in Tantra) and the one that dances due to its proximity (Prakriti which is described as feminine in Tantra) is represented by the Shiva Lingam, which is said to be the first form to emerge when the world is created. We are also told that it (the Shiva linga) will be the last one to submerge when it is dissolved. In between is the continuous play of the cosmic masculine and the cosmic feminine.
Of course, this play of the feminine and masculine is the ‘what reality is’ aspect of dharma. The other aspect of dharma is the ‘what to do?” part. So, what does it mean to honour the divine feminine or the divine masculine in ourselves, families and society, in thought, word and deed?
This particular piece, of course, explores the idea of the divine masculine and what it means to honour it. Revisiting the question of grasping what the divine feminine or the divine masculine mean and how we can honour this divine in ourselves, families and society, and in thought, word and deed?
The masculine ideal
Iyanifa Ifashindara IfaSeun is a priestess of Ifá, a religion and system of divination of the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, which is at the root of spiritual traditions like Santería, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodou, and other Afro-American faiths.
Iyanifa says the defining characteristic of a spiritual man, in the ancient tradition she represents, are embodied in the person of the deity Orunmila, the quintessential male in the Yoruba religion. “Orunmila has conveyed to mankind that no human being is perfect, but a man can become noble through the principles of iwa-pele (gentleness and good character). He who is gentle in all his ways is pleasing to everyone. Orunmila asks men to treat wives like precious diamonds. He advises patience as a supreme value because such a man can co-exist with anyone. He warns men against harbouring anger, as anger is dangerous,” says she.
Like Ifá, all religions have their ideal of the perfect man who manifests all that is noble, refined, elevated, and spiritual in man.
“In Islam, it is the Prophet Muhammed who is considered the perfect man, an example of perfect surrender to God. The Prophet’s example is, therefore, to be followed in all spheres of life as a means of living a spiritually rooted life on earth and in the hereafter. Christians similarly follow the example of Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross as an act of sacrifice in order to give mankind a way out of sin. The spiritual heroes of Jainism and Buddhism were seekers who withdrew from the mundane world of passions, found the light through their own efforts, and shared it with the world,” says Parag Desai, a devotee of Lord Vitthal (an aspect of Lord Krishna) who hails from the Ratnagiri region of Maharashtra.
“We have, before us, the ideal of Lord Rama, the Maryada Purushottam (the ideal man who honours the boundaries set by dharma or righteousness), who lives by the rules of dharma, which calls for sacrificing personal comfort for honouring family and sacrificing family for the nation. He plays by the rules. On the other hand, we have Krishna, the purna or complete avatar. He is God in all his glory who has become flesh to display the fullness of his powers through his descent into ordinary space and time. Because he is a complete avatar, he cannot be emulated by those who are subject to the laws of karma. Doing so would mean playing God. Krishna is to be followed, not copied.”
In all these men, we have various paradigms of spiritual masculinity as it expresses itself in space and time. Interestingly, while Jesus, Buddha, Mahavir, and masters like Adi Shankara distanced themselves from feminine influence, considering it a distraction and obstruction on their path, others like Krishna, Rama, and Mohammed were householders.
“What remains after you renounce one attachment after another is that which cannot be renounced—our true Self. Whether one follows the path of shedding layers of fake skin or that of using the world to transcend it by performing karma yoga, the end is the same—the realisation of the true Self,” says Desai, who adds that the path of renunciation includes the renunciation of the body-mind emotions.
“Masculinity or gender is a thing of the lower realms. It is something possessed by embodied beings and it is therefore seen as something to be transcended by particular masters,” he explains.
The predominance of male spiritual teachers across traditions and the idea of a single male God who has no feminine counterpart, who chooses one tribe over another, either on the basis of birth or because they place their allegiance to his book/ teachings/ supremacy, are questioned today. In the not-so-distant past, the idea of the great male God and his earthly counterparts—the king, the husband, and the chief of the tribe—had to be respected and honoured. These ideas gave birth to several patriarchal institutions that supported men, as they dealt with the forest where the men hunted, the field where they toiled, and the battlefield where they gave proof of their virility.
Patriarchy, even of the enlightened variety, eventually gobbles up space for women in all spheres, including spirituality. This is the reason that there are way fewer women spiritual teachers. We have the rishikas or female seers Ghosha, Gargi, and Maitreyi in the Vedas; we have Sufi figures like Rabia of Basra, Hazrat Babajan, Sister Champa (Jainism), Akka Mahadevi, Sant Andal, Sant Avvaiyar, Sant Bahinabai, and Sant Janabai. However, the spiritual galaxy is crowded with male stars. This near absence of women in the public sphere beyond the home and hearth has had an impact on how men articulate their masculinity.
The Puranic shastras recognise the two poles of masculinity and femininity as they manifest physically as man, woman, and the third gender, which is in between. They also point towards the fluid understanding of gender in the divine scheme of things.
Vishnu, the all-pervading one, is male, and he is the one who sustains the phenomenal world with his wife Lakshmi, the deity of affluence. However, when the demon Bhasmasura (the demon whom Shiva granted the power of turning anyone he touched to ashes) decided to use the power to destroy Shiva, Vishnu decided to awaken his feminine side and became the stunningly beautiful Mohini. Bhasmasura, smitten by her charms, began to dance with Mohini, who asked him to match her steps. She placed her right hand on her head. Caught in the web of Vishnu’s illusion—what the wise call Maya—the demon brought about his own end. However, the story did not end there. Shiva was himself smitten by Mohini’s charms; she stayed ‘in character’ and agreed to a union with Shiva and birthed Shasta, who is also called Hari-Hara sutha (son of Vishnu or Shiva).Shasta, the one who was born of the union of Shiva and Mohini (the only female avatar of Vishnu), is considered a great teacher of dharma and is probably the teacher of great truths in this world rocked by gender wars. Shiva himself manifests with his Shakti, Parvati, in a half-man-half-woman form as Ardhanarishvara or Ardhanarisha (half-woman lord), Ardhanaranari (half man-woman), Ardhanarinateshvara (the Lord of Dance who is half woman), Naranari (man-woman), Ammiappan (Tamil for mother-father), and Ardhayuvatishvara (the Lord who is a half-young girl). So, what in this context is divine masculinity? And what, the question follows, is divine femininity?
A compassionate heart
“Compassion and empathy are the two qualities that mark out a spiritual person, man or woman. A spiritual man is one who has compassion. A spiritual woman is one who has empathy. The one who is not compassionate or empathetic becomes selfish. He does not mind harming others to meet his selfish ends. Krishna, Ram, Buddha, Christ, and Imam Hussein are all people of tremendous compassion for those who suffer. Just as toxic masculinity seeks to control, dominate, and limit femininity, enlightened or divine masculinity gives space to others to flower. By manifesting divine masculinity, such a man lights the way forward for other men. He is also a nourisher of divine femininity as, secure in his masculinity, he gives space to women to be themselves. In this dance of equals, both complete each other,” says Feroz Shakir, a Shia Muslim based in Mumbai, who is also a fashion designer and photographer-chronicler of the Sufi, Tantric, Hijra, and Aghori traditions of India.
Shakir calls the transgender ‘kinnar’ Lakshmi Tripathi his guru and recently did a photo essay on the Tantric ‘kinnar’ guru Mata Bhavani. He also has gurus in the Sufi, Tantric, and Naga traditions. He speaks fondly of his late Tantric guru who manifested divine femininity in his (the guru’s) body when he invoked the Goddess. The guru, his disciples say, became visibly female. Despite these adventures, Shakir remains a committed Shia Muslim. A doting grandfather to three granddaughters, He wears heavy jewellery, colourful turbans, and Sufi robes that flare as he dances in them and attracts attention when he walks in Mumbai. “People will often say rude things, tell me what religion permits and what it does not, and even abuse me. I fail to understand why I should be disturbed when I am just being myself. I do not harm anyone. I earn an honest living from my clothing business and spread the message of love, empathy, and compassion. This business of telling men to behave like men and women to keep their place comes from a space where there is zero compassion. Let people be! How difficult is that?”
Neeta Borkar, a graphic designer and illustrator from Gurgaon, says much of what is taken to be the norm in defining what is male and female comes from outdated realities. “Men do not birth babies on their own. A woman cannot do it alone either. Maybe, this will be possible in the future. Nature ensures that men and women need each other. It is equally true that men are stronger as they have more muscle mass. So, the division of genders, in that sense, is real. Back when our ancestors lived in caves, keeping the woman and children safe while the men went out to kill animals, rigid gender segregation was not fed by patriarchy but by the survival instinct. This regimentation of genders permeated life, culture, and discourse for centuries. It is only with the technological revolution which has reduced the utility of brute strength in ordinary life, that an ever-widening breach in the old ways of thinking has become a reality. This breach manifests itself as an increasing willingness to consider gender, sexuality, and identity as something fluid. I am a woman, but I feel I am half man. An astrologer also told me that my masculine and feminine side were equally present within me. The realities that inform patriarchy are weakening. It is natural that institutions that do not serve these new realities will have to change, along with cultural mores. This straying from the strict male-female binary is being seen in the emergence of the metrosexual man who are comfortable getting facials and beauty treatments. There are female Ola and Uber cab drivers too. So, in conclusion, new paradigms of what it means to be a woman aligned with divine masculinity and a man aligned with divine femininity are truths that are slowly emerging out of the ferment of the New Age.”
Yin Yang balance
Latika Rathod, a soft skills and communication coach and mother of two, says both genders need room to flower. Society suffers because women are not given enough room. “We have to understand that male aggression, muscle mass, and desire to undertake adventures are natural traits that need not be denied. They are necessary in an imperfect world where the weak have to be protected and the powerful have to be checked so they do not become destructive under the influence of their own power. Man provides the seed, but it is not enough. It is the woman who—with her physicality, time, and energy—nurtures, supports, and completes the circle of effort,” says Rathod. “Man and woman, or the masculine and feminine binary, is a creative expression of the essential duality of nature. Without the two, the dual or the many, which constitute the phenomenal universe, are not possible. To be spiritual is to grasp this duality, align oneself with the truth of this duality, and act in ways that honour this duality. What this means is that the two are different, but neither is inferior or superior. They are co-equals who further the never-ending business of existence.”
Rathod adds that it is interesting that Hanuman, the epitome of sinewy masculinity and also the unfettered mind and its tremendous power, does not have a consort or a wife. “Even the casual play of such masculinity involves swallowing the sun, which causes a pall of great darkness to fall upon the earth. The same force becomes a force of good when it surrenders to Lord Rama, transitioning in a way from toxic to surrendered masculinity. It is telling that his big task is to help defeat Ravana and rescue Sita, who is, again, the epitome of surrendered femininity. Ravana refuses to heed his wife Mandodari’s advice and is, therefore, acting without the support of the feminine. Ravana is, therefore, a man who trespasses on the female sphere by kidnapping Sita and also does not give space to feminine energy in his own life by refusing to heed the wisdom in Mandodari’s words to return Sita to her husband. The fate of Ravana tells us that divine masculinity is one that honours the divine feminine within and without in thought, word, deed, and relationships,” she says.
Sex, gender, and Bollywood
Sex is a thing of biology. It is a binary spectrum with male and female as its two ends. There are also those in between who possess characteristics of both sexes in varying degrees. Gender, on the other hand, is the sum total of behaviours that one is expected to display when one belongs to a particular sex, either male or female. The pressure to adhere to a particular look and behave or talk in a certain way is very real. It results in ostracism of effeminate men and women with a pronounced masculine side. Mythology hints at the presence of the feminine in man and of the masculine in women. There is Shikhandi in the Mahabharata, a woman who incarnated as a man to seek revenge. The problems, say psychologists like Carl Gustav Jung, begin when either the masculine or the feminine in the psyche is ignored.
“Stereotyping is gender violence. Imagine a man modelling himself after the Bollywood male film hero of the 80s or 90s. He is rough, quick to fight, and short-tempered; he is too busy beating the bad boys up to have any time for feminine values like intuition, feeling, and nurturing. Even as this hyper-male goes about doing what matters to the masculine ego like worldly adventures, achieving, and success, he feels unfulfilled because the perfect man in his head is a myth. Such ideas of being a ‘man’ are not aligned with the truth that within, we are masculine as well as feminine. My physicality as a woman should not involve denial of my masculine side. I think acceptance of the binary of masculine-feminine within ourselves is the key. Once I can give permission to myself to be who I am, it is easy for me to embrace the uniqueness of others as well,” says Neha Gupta, corporate coach and founder of Alchemy of Organisation Development.
Here is what Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev says about balancing Yin with Yang in the play of genders, and the dangers of ‘super-masculinity’. “So, equality (of genders) is never in question, but sameness is a stupid thing to do. Instead of trying to fit a woman into a masculine world, it is time we structure society and the world so that there is an equal role for the masculine and feminine. The society we have created is so super-masculine, it is not even good for a man, let alone a woman. Right now, it is badly tilted against her, and she is desperately trying to fit into the man’s world, which is, unfortunately, taking its toll on her. The outcome of this is a general disruption of life. We need to restructure many things in this society so that there is an equal role for the masculine and feminine aspects of nature. As a masculine, though an aggressive way of doing things is needed on one level, aesthetics, music, and being sensitive to things must become equally important.”
Masculinity is not only about being aggressive. It is also about being noble and honourable. Superior masculine qualities such as being truthful, morally courageous, responsible, committed, passionate, and protective of the weak can be adopted by both genders if they wish to evolve. Restricting people from adopting and expressing traits considered to be the domain of the opposite gender is the biggest injustice we can do to people. A truly divine masculine will be aware enough to see that it is impossible for the human race to achieve perfection and completion if it correlated bodies with qualities and denied itself the right to discover and express itself.
“In conclusion,” says Neeta Borkar, “while engaging in war-like discussions on ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’, we forget that we are really from Earth and we need to live here peacefully. It is time to halt the battle of the sexes and call a truce. Let us be men, women, or both and let others be what they wish to be,” she smiles.
Nine metaphors for awakening the Divine Masculine
Life skills optimiser and author of the forthcoming book, The Elephant On The Road, Mina Tilakraj shares seven metaphors that may be visualised to help us honour, uphold, and integrate the divine masculine within us:
The Sky: Infinite, ever-expanding, outpouring, and upholding numerous galaxies within the realm of its eternal cosmic dance. It’s a natural male instinct to pour in his infinite effort to provide a platform for life, protect it, and provide for it too. This is even more evident in animal and bird life. The ever-expanding aspect of the sky is also about his never-ending quest for varied experiences along with the understanding and knowledge to be acquired thereby.
The Sea: Calm expanse and depth. The confident calm about his own power with the depth of internalised emotions inspires trust.
The Volcano: Contains its heat within until it erupts with unbridled force. The most attractive and sensuous aspect of male consciousness is the effortlessly contained power with the capacity to instinctively erupt with full force when the situation demands.
The Mountain: Loftiness and stability. Speaking of real men of substance, the loftiness of their commitment to provide stability in all circumstances is their true nature which commands so much respect.
The giant and the little child: Have you ever seen a big burly man speaking to a little child? He actually bends down to reach their level. That’s true power, which respectfully and indulgently surrenders before the purity of innocence.
Father to his parents: When an adult son takes responsibility of his ageing parents or even offers support to other ageing persons, cares for them, and indulges and pampers them in little ways, it is the switch of roles that makes him stand out as a person.
The Gardener: Gently tends to the delicate plants. True strength is not only about being strong and powerful but also having the gentle tenderness of a gardener to handle delicate plants and flowers, and to interact with Mother Earth.
The Devotee: Humble surrender to a deity. Humble strength and power are most endearing and heart-warming. This is visible in a man standing with folded hands, bowing with earnest devotion and humility before a deity.
The devoted and passionate lover: Gives space, respect, and attention to those he loves. Lastly, it is the Divine Consciousness in a real man that makes him treat with utmost respect and care, the Divine Consciousness in the feminine.
‘An ordinary man treats every woman like an object of possession or pleasure. A real man with Divine Consciousness treats every woman like a Goddess.’ He is passionate about his own consort and, at the same time, gives her love, space, respect, and care. The woman with Divine Consciousness responds towards her consort with the same passion and with utmost affection, respect, trust, and care.
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