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Dear Lady, I am sorry, I can't help you || Acharya Prashant Workshop (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
30 min
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Questioner (Q): Sir, as a woman, how should I perceive religion? Religion and culture are supposed to help, but I have practically seen that religion is associated with patriarchy and misogyny. Please tell me, as women how should I look at religion?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, the relationship between women and religion has been pretty interesting and mostly tragic. On one hand, religion, rather core spirituality is the woman’s best friend; because it helps her be liberated from all that which oppresses her, and it tells her that no price is too big to be paid for liberation.

The best help that self-knowledge and Vedānta extend to women is that they tell her that being women is not her primary identity, that body identification is the root cause of all kinds of suffering. And that if you can take your physical self and your mental conditioning lightly, then it will be very difficult for Prakṛti and society, even if it’s a very toxic and patriarchal society, to enslave you. The women can be enslaved only as long as she is body identified and socially conditioned.

Vedānta is about the person gaining liberation from both of these—body identification and mental conditioning. So, ideally spirituality should be the woman’s best friend. But practically, evidence has been rather mixed; in fact, evidence has been that religion historically has been on the side of the oppressors when it comes to the women, oppressors of the women. The reason is that religion itself has not been well understood. Religion itself has been a victim of contamination, and when religion is contaminated then religion becomes a tool towards exploitation of women.

So much so, that a lot of very negative attitudes that you see existing towards women today, they are claimed to be sanctioned by religion. Right? So, as you are saying that the women should continuously be dependent, that’s an attitude that finds its source in some so-called religious books, and there are verses exactly to this effect—that let the women never be independent. Not only that, there have been so called books that have talked of women as a very clearly inferior person; some kind of a different spies all together. “So, she is guilty of this, this, this; so many things are inferior and condemnable in her and therefore she does not merit responsibility and freedom or many other things.”

Now what’s the problem here? The problem here is that these two kinds of attitude towards women are actually coming from two kinds of different religions. There is a religion that uplifts women, that’s called Vedānta ; and there is a religion that oppresses women, that’s your normal cultural religion. And whenever Vedānta will shine, one of its effects will be the emancipation and empowerment of women.

Whenever the real religion will show up, it will help women and that will deeply frustrate the traditional kind of religionists, because the difference is stark. Real religion, I said is the woman’s best friend, and false religion, prevalent religion, mainstream religion, is the woman’s worst enemy. And it’s very important to differentiate between these two kinds of religions.

The tragic thing is, most women themselves follow the false kind of religions. They are aghast, why I am talking to women and telling them that they are not baby producing machines, that it is not their fate to be firstly dependent on father and then on their husband; but what I am saying is Vedānta . And the amusing thing—what I am saying is probably not finding too much acceptance among women themselves. So, now the question is, who should be blamed? Religion or Women?

You see, if you go to places where in the name of religion all kinds of nonsense are happening, eighty to ninety percent of that crowd will be women. What to do? It is as if women themselves are hell-bent on proving that they do not deserve the real religion. All kinds of storytelling, and nonsensical dancing, and gossiping; all this in the name of religion and you will find women very eager. But when Vedānta speaks truly in the favor of liberation of women, women themselves do not come forward to support. How can they support? They do not want to even accept the help, because this help is expensive and demanding.

Vedānta is saying, “You have it in you to lead a free and independent life,” but the women have become accustomed to support and crutches. When Vedānta tells her, “You must live freely. Before you are a woman, you are first of all a consciousness, and consciousness is your first identity.” When a woman is told all this, she gets scared. Because patriarchy is not just about oppressing the women, patriarchy is also about giving her a safe nest, and the women have become accustomed to the safe nest.

“Somebody is always taking care of me. I am not burdened with the being a provider, a keeper, a protector.” And all this has continued, and it has made the women internally weak. And she has become so weak that today even if the right religion comes to help her, she is probably not in a position to accept the help.

It’s a very strange thing. I think it’s called ‘The Stockholm syndrome’—when you fall in love with your oppressor; that’s what has happened to the women. You will be amazed—a lot of those who are criticizing me very sharply are women. I mean, how you can criticize me for something that I am obviously doing to help you and support you? Do you understand this?

It’s a very tragic thing that happened to those who are caged for long durations. Even if you open the door of the cage, they will now not want to fly away. They have become accustomed to the cage; they have discovered security within the cage and outside the cage are challenges and competition.

Freedom is not really free; freedom comes when you pay the price, and we don’t want to pay the price. Even men don’t want to pay the price. But it breaks my heart when I find women content with their own encaged and miserable conditions. And to top it, you have told the bird that she is very respectable if she accepts the cage. And that’s what she has done—she has become a respectfully caged woman.

And when she flies out, the entire society will say, “Oh, look at her, there she is, the slut.” And the women do not want to be called that. And why does she not want to be called that? Again, that’s a social value that’s been embedded into her. “You must remain respectable, let no body talk harshly to you.” So, boys, they slap to each other and abuse each other, and nobody minds; but if you say one harsh word to a woman, she doesn’t forget it. She says, “You know, speak politely to me, mind your language.”

This kind of attitude simply means that she becomes very controllable. Whenever you want to control her, just threaten her with abuses and she will become so terrified that she will relent, she will succumb, surrender. If you want independence, you must be prepared to take abuses. Let them call you a whore, a slut, someone of loose character and whatever else they have to; let them throw all these things at you. Say, “Fine, I am a slut, that’s okay.”

But you have been turned into some kind of a Goddess, a Goddess who must be respected. And you say that it is part of our culture that we respect women, and the woman says that yes, I am respectable. And if somebody is insulting me then, “No, no, no, I will not take that path.” The fact is that the path of freedom is necessarily a path where your oppressors will insult you. Why will they not? Think of it. You are running away from their captivity; will they worship you? Will they praise you? They will obviously throw abuses at you, and you have to be ready to accept all that and you have to be ready for hardships.

But again, in that, the women softness has been venerated. So, she is told, “You remain soft.” Now if she remains soft, how will she face the hard challenges of life? But you say, “The women’s glory lies in her softness. Look at her, how soft her emotions are? Look at her, how soft her cheeks are? Look at how glorious her long hair are?” With all these things, how will you survive the challenges of real life, real society? Please tell me. All the time if your hair is so long, all the time you are taking care of just your hair, how will you fight battles with such long hair? I am using hair as a symbol, not really that I have something against.

Please understand. Her subjugation is so total, so complete, that it has become very difficult to liberate her. So much so, that in the name of liberation, she starts doing awkward things. Instead of accepting real liberation, in the name of liberation she starts doing very childish things. “I am liberated, so I will expose my body.” It’s okay, you expose your body, it’s your body; but that’s not called liberation. And all that is just a very childish tactics to avoid real liberation. Because you want to avoid real liberation, so you are opting for that liberal kind of liberation.

You know of these liberals? They think liberation lies in running around naked. Again, I have nothing against running around naked, please do that. My point is that is not liberation. That is not liberation. So, it’s a very moot question you see. You have to ask yourself as women—I am glad to see a lot of women here—you have to ask yourself, “What does religion means to you?” And just because religion has meant bad things to you historically, I request you, kindly do not discard religion itself. Religion is your best friend. If you have to discard, discard the rotten kind of religion. And religion is both—the highest and the lowest, mind you.

Religion is your highest possibility and your lowest state as well. Religion has given the world both the things—if you look at the highest figures we have had, they are religious; and if you look at the worst acts that we have done, they too have been done in the name of religion. Religion is the highest and religion is the lowest. You have to make a choice—which religion do you want to choose?

And I assure you, when you will choose the right religion, you will face abuses; just as I do everywhere. The thing is I am not a woman, it’s for you to face those abuses. Why must I keep facing them on your behalf? And for how long can I do that? And when I face abuses on your behalf, and I look around, I do not find too many women coming around to support me, not that I need your support, please. I am here to support you; I don’t need your support.

But just as an assessment, just a yard stick that how successful my work is, when I look around, I do not see women really rising. All kinds of superstitions, who is supporting them? The women. Who is the victim? The women, What kind of self-destructive attitude is this? What is this?

Do you know that it is established—I am talking of bad religion—and it’s such a dirty statistic, I hate to look at it. The more religious a person is, the more uneducated he is likely to be. The more religious a person is, the poorer he is likely to be. Uneducated. Poorer. And also, the more uneducated a person is, the more is the number of the children he is likely to have. Religion should have been highest in our life; instead, this is what religion has become. It has become so bad that no intelligent person now wants to look towards religion. They all feel proud in declaring that they are atheists.

If a person has some wits, some sense, very quickly he starts declaring, “No god, no religion for me; I am simply an atheist.” Whereas the thing is that religion is the very nectar of your life. Without religion, how will you ever be liberated? Without true religion, that is spirituality, that is self-knowledge, how will you ever attain the highest in life? How will you ever realize your potential, your purpose?

But, because of this all-pervasive bad religion, even genuine spirituality has become untouchable. And it always mesmerizes me that how can a victim of something be a supporter of that same thing. In some sense, you know, when it comes to this man-women question, I have no issues in admitting that I am biased towards women; and I have my reasons. Why should I not be?

There are two persons and one of them keeps facing more challenges throughout her life. Even if those challenges come in form of security, and comfort and conveniences; still, they are challenges because they prevent her from recognizing, realizing her true final potential. Why should I not lean towards her? But to no avail. You lean towards women, and they get afraid, “Surely, he intends to hurt. Oh, he is rough.” If I become soft like you, how will I help you?

Q: May I ask a follow-up question? Sir, you have said that how a victim of something can be a supporter of the same thing. Isn’t it due to conditioning? That women are conditioned in this way that even they do not realize what they are doing or what they are opposing. So, how one can address it?

AP: Obviously, it’s a matter of conditioning. But you want to use that word to justify your own lifelong state of suffering? As a woman, you suffer your entire life and then you want to somehow rationalize that by saying, “Oh, because I have been conditioned therefore I suffer.” Does not matter why you suffer? The thing is, is life meant for suffering?

How can you justify suffering by saying, “I suffer, just because I am conditioned.” You might be suffering for any reason X, Y, Z—suffering is suffering. And suffering must be discarded, and you have to rise-up and revolt. Even if you are conditioned, does your conditioned assuage your suffering? Suffering remains. Does it not?

As a category, as a gender category, when you look around, when you do not find women in parliament, when you do not find women in positions of power, when you do not find women amongst scientists—how is it that you do not acknowledge your suffering? All that which is the highest in life, women are rarely found there, especially Indian women. How is it that you do not see that you are suffering?

For money, on and average the Indian women remains dependent. How do you not see that you are suffering? Come on. That should be visible even to a blind person. So, how do I justify that suffering by saying, “But, I am conditioned to suffer.” Where is the courage? Where is the direct honesty to acknowledge the fact? And when I say all this, all the men start chasing me with swords.

They say, “He is inciting our women. Ours is a well settled family, everything is going okay. The woman is very silent in her state of oppression, so no noises in our family. It’s a great family you see. Everything is well settled and silent, and this man is coming, and inciting and igniting.”

And I will stop doing all this; you take care of your business. Why must I fight your wars and for how long? My problem is—the categories that I fight for, most of them has no voice. I fight for the animals, they have neither money, nor voice, nor vote. So, irrespective of how much I do for them, they can’t do anything in return. These rabbits, I sometimes ask them, “All the time you are eating, since one decade you are only eating.” So, one day I actually got them to produce a rather short movie advertisement—you would have seen that. So, rabbits were the actors in that. I said, “You do something and get me some donations at least.”

I am supporting the cows, the buffalos, the environment, the rabbits, the insects, all these species that are turning extinct; and they are poor and powerless. And that is exactly the reason I am supporting them. And the same thing has started applying to women—you keep supporting them, they remain voiceless. So, then I limit myself to supporting the rabbits.

In general, you see, gurus choose their target segment very nicely. They target the most affluent and powerful class. They say, “If we act on this class, then the returns will be awesome.” No? First of all, I am working in North India—the poorest part of the country; then I speak majorly in Hindi, so I am not addressing the English-speaking population. And then I am working for the rabbits, the cows, and the women, and the unemployed (Acharya ji, tapping his forehead). So, it starts becoming a little absurd.

Q: So Sir, in this section you talked about revolt and courage. Sir, I am not talking about those women who belong to central place such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai. I belong to rural background. So, when woman crosses a certain age, takes a step, one finds a tremendous pressure—the social control, social pressure, pressure from parents whom we are emotionally connected. So, how to cope-up with that?

AP: How do they apply that pressure? They press against your arm, you head, your neck? How do they apply that pressure?

Q: Like they (relatives/society) do not do anything to me, they are not in touch with me; I am not talking to anybody. But the pressure comes to me through my parents. When they attend any festival, functions etc., so they face questions.

AP: Listen, one must know the relative value of things. No function, no celebration is worth going to, if it is crowded with people who don’t have the basic sense of life. Why should I go to a place that’s infested with animals? I mean, that’s the reason I asked, “How exactly do they apply pressure to you?”

They say things, right? That’s the only way they do stuff, right? They say things. First of all, why are you available to listen to them? Secondly, even if you do get to hear what they are saying, why must you accord importance to what they are saying? A madman is saying things to you, will that affect you? Hurt you?

There can be no liberation, if first of all your priorities are not clear. If you keep giving priority to stuff that is anyway valueless, then you will never be able to break free. Never, never! Some random person comes and says something and that becomes headache to you, why? Why? Why must you mind the fools so much? Why must you to be so reticent, so reluctant in declaring fools as fools? Announce that on their face.

“Sir, now that you have said this, let me say something. You are an idiot!” Utter that and be relieved for good. Now he will never dare to say anything else. That’s all. But you know, when I say this, this sounds so unbelievable, right? “But we are dainty, cultured, educated girls; we have been trained to be polite and respectful.” So, you keep away your politeness; learn to be disrespectful and learn to be disrespectful right on their face.

And for your own sake, memorize a few nice heavy abuses and get some practice in using them in-front of the mirror may be. And do not use them only in-front of your friends; throw those abuses to those who act as your elders, your well-wishers and in the name of care and love they want to throw you into captivity. When that happens, that’s the occasion to just shoot the abuse.

When you needed money for your education, did that fellow come to offer you money? When you needed various kinds of help, support, guidance; where were those well-wishers, relatives, elders? They will throw you in to some kind of life and thereafter whatever happens to you, will they come to partake in that? Then who are they to push you towards something, just so mediocre and encaging?

I will tell you who your well-wisher is. Somebody who supports you in your education–first thing, nothing more important than that. Even your parents are your well-wishers only if first of all, they keep pushing you to get more and more educated. If they find you have gained admission at some place where a lot of money is to be paid as fees, they should be willing to come up with either the money or the guarantee; only then they can be called as well wishers.

Let those relatives come to you and ask you, “Which sport have you taken-up? Tell the hobby you excel in. Let’s discuss the Ukraine war.” So, people who take you as consciousness that deserves to be awaken–they are your well-wishers; not people who keep asking you random stuff. The true religion is your real well-wisher. Vedānta is the religion for women.

Q: Practical implications are very difficult—execution.

AP: First of all, define your bottom line. What is it that you need in order to survive? If you need too much to survive, then life will be very difficult, and anybody would be able to control you. What is it that you need? What is it that you can survive with, without trading away your freedom? You need some food, you need money, and you need a roof over your head; and this much you can easily have, without selling away your freedom. So, how your life is difficult? Please tell me.

As an individual, as a human being, you require money for your needs and also for your growth. So, money should be there, right? That money will come to you out of your education. So, you need money, you need a place to live-in, you need food, you need clothes. Beyond this, why do you need anything?

And when you start needing too much, that’s when you become enslaved. Nothing gets you enslaved accept your own demands and greed. Drop your greed, drop your demands and you will live freely.

How difficult it is? I am asking you as a man or a woman, how difficult it is to have enough money to survive? To pursue your hobby, your interest, your passion whatever you want to call it. Have enough good books to read. As a person how many rooms do you really require to live in—a 1 BHK flat, a 2 BHK flat would suffice in a decent locality, correct? So, there is not much that is needed to just happily-joyfully live. Why then you must accept slavery? If freedom is actually so easy, why do you accept slavery?

Q: Apart from the fundamental necessities what you said—food, and finance, and education, and roof; we need family that includes parents.

AP: That’s why you need Vedānta . Here (showing the book on the table), the baap (Father) is here— Bhagavad Gītā , and his name begins with K ( Kṛṣṇa ). That’s family, that’s family. Family is those who uplift you. There is family of flesh and there is a family of spirit. And the family of spirit is far more important than family of flesh. Family of flesh is something that is given to you by accident, by birth. Family of spirit is something that you consciously cultivate. Give more respect and importance to the family of spirit. Do away with all this softy emotionality please, these emotions are not your well-wishers.

Q: Women are not only emotions, they are more than that.

AP: Money we have talked of, emotions we have talked of, now what remains?

Q: I have read somewhere that Ādiguru Śaṅkarācārya was very attached with his mother.

AP: Thank you so much, I am done. And I am realizing that I am wasting my life. You people will not wake-up. Even if I get killed, you will still keep sleeping. The one who says, “Nameh Deho Bhavo.” Have you heard of Nirvāṇaṣhaṭkam ? “I am not the body.” And you are saying, “He was attached to the mother of the body?” You continue doing what you want to do, I don’t think that anybody can help. There must some reason, why historically nobody has been able to help.

This attachment, and body, and baby, and father, and mother, and relatives, and emotions–who can help? Nobody can help. No space for wisdom, no space for courage, no space for liberation–only emotion. As long as emotion remains more important than liberation, no hope.

Q: Pranam Acharya ji. Related exactly to what you just said about women, I am the father of a high school daughter and I have just one daughter, and probably I have tried to raise her exactly on the lines that you have always told me.

She is very good at studies, she is a fantastic dancer, she completed her Arangetram and graduated in Bharatnatyam already, she is in her high school basketball team, she knows how to play musical instruments, she wins poem competition every year in her school and amongst all the regional school districts and she was recently selected into one of the top high schools by clearing an entrance exam. And you won’t believe the pressure she has, because in the school she has been selected, there are more girls than boys; so, the ratio is little skewed.

The pressure that she feels is that some of the other girls are better in style, that the other girls have boyfriends in there, but she is more focused in all the other things. How do I convince my daughter, or I would say, how do I raise my daughter, so she doesn’t feel that pressure even though she is doing better in all the line?

And second thing is related to, how does women are unable to do is, think about it—at the same time when the soccer world cup was happening last year, everybody was glued to men’s Argentina football team and how Messi was playing, which is great, I am not against Messi here. But at the same time women’s cricket team was also doing really well, and nobody was discussing that at all.

And I feel women themselves do not watch whether women’s cricket, or basketball or any of the sports. The day when women start watching women’s sports and support women’s sports activities, they themselves will do well.

So, there are two questions—one at a generic level and another at the personal example level, that’s what my question is.

AP: The standards have to be set very high. See, it’s like when you exercise with fifteen kg weights, after that the five kg ones just stop mattering, because the standards have been raised. Similarly, she has to be introduced to women who really are worthy of being remembered, and then her internal standards will rise to a point where she will stop caring for the stylos and the hipsters.

Otherwise, if she feels that these are the only ones available in her world to compare herself against, obviously she will feel left behind or disadvantaged. Standards have to be very-very high. And why must you allow your environment to dictate your standards, let those standards come from books, and documentaries and videos, and other places—books primarily.

If she, for example spends an entire week reading the life story of Marie Curie, how after that will she afford to give respect to a certain, let’s say ‘Pari’ in her class, who with a dimwit from here (pointing at brain), but is fantastically regarded because her body, and her style and her dressing, and her boyfriends? After you have been with Curie, how will you respect Pari? That’s the thing. That’s why education is the real thing. Give her real solid role models and then she will become not just disregardful, but disdainful of all these typical teenagers.

If I do not know what kind of highness is possible, then any kind of lowness will become the gold standard for me. That’s why reading is so important, otherwise anybody in your environment will come and influence you and boss you from within. And it happens a lot in the school and in college—some local kind of stud just becomes the dominant hero and who is he? Worthless chap, but he can take away a very large chunk of you mind and life.

We all know of these people from our college days, don’t we? Some random worthless fellow, but he dominates the scene in the school, in the college, in the university; and he dominates it so much that he can influence a lot of his batch mates to take wrong kinds of decisions–inductive effect, no? One wrong role model, one very wrong kind of, very mediocre but powerful and attractive, and glitzy; and this fellow becomes the impression creator, the goal setter, and he induces a lot of batch mates into the wrong kind of attitudes, lifestyles and ultimately wrong life decisions.

And that can be taken care of very easily–just give your daughter right role models. Give her great books. See what her preferred mode of assimilation is, if it’s visual, take her to the right documentaries, the right movies. See, how she likes to absorb the information and give that to her. And there are just so many names, we have talked of them frequently even on AP Circle.

Women worth respecting, women worth even worshiping, and they exist; they have existed in history. Why must we not take note of them? Why must we not introduce those glorious women to our daughters? But that’s not being done. Mainstream education is not doing that. All right, let fathers and mothers do that.

Otherwise, the danger is very real. Some Pari will become her idol. “I want to be like Pari,” and then she will drop her dancing, her sports, her recitation, her poems, her elocution, her passion, everything she will drop, and she will just start chasing boyfriends; so that she can stand-up to somebody like Pari.

I call these ‘Nodes of Evil’. They are not too many, but they are highly influential, they set the bar. They have to be fought against and they can be very young. Typically, we don’t want to associate the word evil with teenagers; but the reality is, yes, even the teenagers can be evil, a fifteen-year-old can be evil. That does not mean that a fifteen-year-old has to be killed, that means he has to be corrected.

May be as parents, you and her mother need to sit together and first of all figure out—who are the names you must introduce your daughter to. Right? If she reading something from Sarojini Naidu? If she is interested in Hindi? Has she been brought to Mahasweta Devi or Mahadevi Verma? The names are comparatively fewer when it comes to women; fewer but they still exist. Don’t they?

For ten male poets, you will have four female poets as well; and four is sufficient. You introduce her to these four. You have freedom fighters, you have scientists, you have politicians, you have sports persons—in all walks of human activity you do have women role models and young girls must be introduced to them. Otherwise, they will simply chase boyfriends, just as boys chase girlfriends; and they will dress-up and try to act adult and get into all kinds of non-sense.

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