A Woman's Place?

The primary focus of this article relates to the possibilities of women being accepted as religious teachers / masters / gurus in various traditions and cultures. At page bottom are a few links to women's roles in general in some religious traditions, not deeply explored, but good for background.

Cruising through history we find that in almost any culture it is literally his story. This applies in religion and enlightenment and masterhoodshipness as well as it does in any other field outside the home. Women are of course honoured in most cultures, when not raped and beaten. But such honour comes at a price. When you see what particular heights they are encouraged to pursue and emulate – chastity, devotion to husband, service, sacrifice, etc – it is apparent that for those who do not naturally fit with the stereotypes it could be very stultifying indeed. And "honour" here does not necessarily equal respect.

In the field of disciplehood it has been suggested that women have an advantage. Their nurturing motherhood-related chemicals equip them well for the path of the devotee, which can be as liberating as anything else if sincerely followed. But even if it is true that women have an advantage as disciples, very few have gone into "postgrad" work as masters, in any culture. Before the 20th Century this was especially so. Now, with the rise of women's possibilities in other fields, there has been a corresponding rise of a female presence in the guru biz. Yay!

But there are limitations to this. The drag of tradition is an albatross that weighs heavily on everyone but may be most constricting for women. Traditions do vary but in their treatment of women they are surprisingly similar. Or is it so surprising? 

More subtly, it has been suggested that most women are not suited by their natural energies to be masters. Women may become enlightened via the devotee path but masters need to have an outgoing energy and women's energy is more ingoing, receptive. Or so the argument goes. Is that the case? 

I dunno but i note that outside of the established and set-in-their-ways mainstream religions, opportunities are expanding for women in the guru biz. In Mini-Advaitaland, fully one quarter of those listed are female. Well, that's impressive, especially as this area is totally outside women's traditional purview. Even in big time Advaita 13% are women. Figures for Devotionals and Middle-Paths are 17% and 9% respectively, as of this writing. Progress is being made, though much remains to be undone.

The closer women stay to tradition, the more they will tend to embrace qualities that will not help them wake up, the great masters of the past notwithstanding. For it is not the masters who have created the traditions but their followers. Even present-day masters, to the extent they are traditional, are perpetuating forms of ritual and attitude that may be helpful for a few but enslave far more than they help. One exception to this may be the Tibetan tradition, which in gender balance is statistically not so different but seems to me to be freer overall. Though it relies extensively on ritual and form, it understands the need to go beyond form. Likewise Zen, whose female practitioners have been fruitful and multiplied since it came to the West.

A complex question, whose answers may take another hundred years. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile a survey, of traditional and non-trad female role models, may be useful. And eventually of course we may be able to dispense with role models altogether, as a role model is virtually by definition someone who takes you away from yourself, someone to imitate.

Female spiritual roles and achievement in traditional religious practice: 

Hinduism, ancient, modern 

Xianity, 0-2000 by century

Buddhism overall, modern*, analysis

Tibetan, ancient 

Zen, ancient + scattered 

All Eastern, mainly ancient 

Islam, articles 

Judaism, magazine 

* = an outstanding site

Currently listed in rated categories: 

* = has a decent rating ()
= pick o' the pack (+)

Advaita: Gangaji**, Catherine Ingram, Byron Katie**, Neelam*, Toni Packer**, Metta Zetty*

Middle Path: Suma Ching Hai, Helen Schucman, ShantiMayi

Devotional: Ammachi
**, Anand Murti Guru Maa Ji, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Jetsunma Ahkön Norbu Lhamo, Karunamayi*, The Lady, Mother Meera*, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi 

Fringe: Helena Blavatsky, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, Kalindi, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Judi Rhodes 
§ . § . § . § . § . § . § . § . § . § . § . §
And in unrated:
Too many to keep up with! But significant numbers exist in all the larger categories (Z, T, I, N and O) and a few in all others.

Women's roles and opportunities in general in various traditions, a small sampling:

: Site is small and English not great, but gives a good background in Vedas and Manu, relating it to current attitudes and treatment. 
Islam: Site is mainly a testimonial to the greatness and fairness of the Quran, women's ill treatment in Islamic societies being explained as arising from factors outside the Quran, even though it admonishes that it is the last and final word on all matters of religious law.
Buddhism: Early Buddhism's ideas about women arose out of the Hindu tradition, as per above. Rev. Patti Nakaitraces the development from the first sexist (ol' Shakamuni [sic] himself) through China and Japan. And The Wanderling's still astounding collection, link above left, "Zen," has survived the Geocities crash.

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