Monday, January 9, 2012

Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on women

H. P. Kanoria

Women – “Be Emboldened”; “Embodiment of Goddess of Mother”

There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.” - Swami Vivekananda

India of the Vedas entertained a great respect for women amounting to worship. But during the time of Swami Vivekananda, the condition of women in Mughal-ruled and British-ruled India was deplorable. Swamiji said, “It is very difficult to understand why in this country so much difference is made between men and women, whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same conscious self is present in all beings. You always criticize the women, but what have you done for their enlistment?”

Swami Vivekananda was of the firm opinion that women should be put in positions of power to solve their own problems in their own way. The welfare of the world is dependent on the improvement of the condition of the women.

Vivekananda repeatedly told that India’s downfall was largely due to her negligence of women. The great images of Brahmavadinis like Maitreyi and Gargi of the Upanishad age, and women missionaries like Sanghamitra carrying Buddha’s message to Syria and Macedonia, all were lying buried deep due to millennium of foreign donation. The mid-nineteenth century India saw women, the great mother – power shackled and degenerated to mere “child producing machines” as Vivekananda saw it.

Swami Vivekananda views woman exactly as he views man, an individual with a destiny. In the sphere of the pursuit of spiritual realisation, which is the highest reach of life, woman as well as man, has to walk in a single file. Perfect freedom, independence and responsibility are involved in the individual, be it man or woman, who longs for God alone. “In India the mother is the centre of the family and our highest ideal. She is to us the representative of God, as God is the mother of the universe. It was a female sage who first found the unity of God, and laid down this doctrine in one of the first hymns of the Vedas. Our God is both personal and absolute, the absolute is male, the personal, female,” he said.

Vivekananda was against the early marriage. Early marriage was the very reason for the existence of so many widows, so many women dying early and the birth of emaciated children who would only increase the number of beggars in the country.

What was the way out to save and elevate Indian woman? Education was the answer. But what kind of education? What is women’s education? Sister Christine wrote that for weeks and months Vivekananda would be buried in thought, creating and recreating the splendid image of the Indian woman of the future. Would a combination of the western spirit of independence, freedom, and dynamism with Indian austerity, purity and chastity in woman’s life be possible?

A nation that has educated itself to look upon God as Mother has learnt to invest its view of woman with the utmost tenderness and reverence. Swami Vivekananda is the first monk to uphold and do work for the freedom and equality of women and realising her importance for the functioning of home and society.

He defended the marginalization of women and empowering women and the poor a priority of the Ramakrishna Mission.

He visited England in 1895 and met Margaret Elizabeth Noble, an Irish lady who was in the midst of her learning about the Buddha. Influenced by Vivekananda’s teaching she became the first Western woman to become a Sanyasin named Bhagini Nivedita. Nivedita played a major role in promoting the rights of women in rural India. In November 1898, according to Vivekananda’s instruction, she started a school for girls, allowing them to receive basic education. The school is today known as Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Sister Nivedita Girls’ School, situated in Baghbazar of North Kolkata.
Swamiji on women
  • All nations have attained greatness by paying proper respect to women. That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in future.
  • With five hundred men, the conquest of India might take fifty years; with as many women, not more than a few weeks.
  • Every nation, every man, and every woman must work out their own salvation.
  • The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence.
  • There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved.
  • Women – I should very much like our woman to have your intellectuality, but not if it must be at the cost of purity.”
Vivekananda declared that the Western ideal of womanhood is wife, while the eastern ideal is mother. “The very peculiarity of Hindu women which they have developed and which is the ideal of their life, is that of the mother…………”

Swami Vivekananda glorified Indian women of the past for their great achievements as leaders in various walks of life.

“Women in statesmanship, managing territories, governing countries, even making war, have proved themselves equal to men, if not superior. In India I have no doubt of that. Whenever they have had the opportunity, they have proved that they have as much ability as men, with this advantage – that they seldom degenerate. They keep to the moral standard, which is innate in their nature. And thus as governors and rulers of their state, they prove-at least in India far superior to men. John Stuart Mill mentions this fact.”

India’s reverence for women as the symbol of chastity brought such words from Vivekananda’s lips:
“I know that the race that produced Sita – even if it only dreamt of her – has a reverence for woman that is unmatched on the earth.”

The rise of outstanding women administrators, statesmen, scientists, writers and spiritual teachers, is gradually proving the truth of these prophetic words.

Today Swamiji’s words have proved true. Following the footsteps of Sarada Devi and Sister Nivedita hundreds of women all over the world are coming forward with a combination of the ‘mother’s heart and the hero’s will,’ a combination of the purity of Holy Mother and the dynamism of Rani of Jhansi or Joan of Arc.

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