No Mr Devdutt Pattanaik, Patriarchy did not rise due to hermits!
The popular model of a patriarch is derived from the Abrahamic mythology. Hence the patriarch is a serial rapist. Jehovah the God of Abraham sure demands absolute submission. I can agree with Devadut Pattanaik (DP) up to here. However the confused mind of the author erroneously clubs the Greek mythology with Abrahamic mythology!
Abrahamic Monotheism vs. Greek Polytheism
Greek mythology is polytheistic and diverse like Hindu Dharma and Zeus is in no way the sole representative of the Greek pantheon. The Greek pantheon is amply represented by numerous gods like Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo and goddesses like Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Demeter, Hestia and so on, representing both the feminine and masculine energies. Even if we analyze Zeus alone based on all that is mentioned about him in Greek mythology, he cannot be accused as being an absolute patriarch as he is often seen as acknowledging the feminine energies and admiring it.
Contrast this with the stark tradition of Abrahamic monotheism. Jehovah stands out as an absolute patriarch, demanding absolute submission and brutally suppresses the feminine energies as his worshipers rejects every other god and goddesses in the Abrahamic pantheon, including Jehovah’s female counterpart Ashera the nurturing mother goddess, the goddess of agriculture and land. If we trace out the history and development of monotheist traditions, including all the three major variants of Abrahamic monotheism, it is precisely this rejection of the goddesses representing the feminine energies to counterbalance the male energies represented by the gods, which has created this gross imbalance in the human world in the form of absolute patriarchy.
In the polytheist traditions all over the world, be it Hindu Dharma in Bharata, the pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, the Greek, Roman, Celtic and Norse polytheism, the polytheist traditions of the Mayans, Incas, those of the pre-historic people of Australia or anywhere in the world the male and female energies were well balanced with the many gods and goddesses and women enjoyed great power playing the role of priestesses, sorceress, oracles, witches, soothsayers, seductress and warriors.
It is after the emergence of the Abrahamic monotheism that these well balanced societies were obliterated, the diversity and vibrancy of the culture with its beautiful male-female balance replaced with the monotony, colorless and absolute patriarchy.
Western culture is an artificial mixture of Abrahamic monotheism and Greek-Roman polytheism. Hence, many westerners are as confused as DP in identifying the true source of patriarchy as Abrahamic monotheism.
It is this DP’s lack of understanding about the core difference between monotheism and polytheism that make him erroneously see Dharmic traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Hindu monastic orders as a source of patriarchy, institutionalized misogyny, queerphobia, hierarchy, discrimination and untouchability. He is seen as opposing the term ‘Brahminism’ as a Western invented term and yet he is seen as using it in support of his confused pronouncement in the rest of the article!
Other Factual errors in DPs argument
Another major error DP makes is his statement is that the Buddhists were the world’s earliest missionaries, because he is unaware of the Jain missionary traditions that predates Buddhist missionary activities by many centuries. This however is immaterial as his allegations are upon the whole of Sanatana Dharma with its Buddhist, Jain and Hindu traditions so that the allegation stands even if Buddhism is replaced by Jainism. Yet it shows clearly to the reader how callous he is in making statements like this.
DP then says: – Today, the celibate man with ochre or white robes is viewed by the media as a “religious leader”, even a “messenger of God”, higher in station to the householder. This is a hierarchy that had never existed. – It is heartening to see that DP is not endorsing the Media, which sees a hierarchy here. The word religion is originally used only to denote Christianity, and later it was expanded to include all the Abrahamic monotheist traditions viz. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That term has no meaning while describing Dharmic traditions. The term “messenger of God” is purely an Abrahamic concept as any laymen will be able to tell. Hope he also understands these subtle difference of terminologies and is willing to correct the wrong notions of the Media he is referring to, whenever he gets a chance to do so.
In the rest of the article DP devotes his attention to abuse the concept of celibacy, non-violence and purity as they are practiced in the Dharmic traditions and is trying to portray them as sources of all evils including patriarchy the subject of his article.
In every species either the male or the female take the responsibility of attracting and seducing the other so that they can unite together and give rise to progeny and engage in the progression of life. In some bird species such as in the case of peacocks, it is the male that attracts and seduces the female using his beautiful form. In the human species, this role of seduction is mainly performed by the female. It is the female’s function to attract and seduce the male and make him engage in the nature’s divine play. This seducing power and the right of the female to seduce the male is respected and acknowledged in all the Dharmic traditions. However, Dharma also gives the male, the freedom to resist the power exerted by the female upon him, if he chooses to do so. This is what celibate males do. Dharmic tradition respects a celibate male’s decision not be seduced and a female’s decision to seduce even a celibate male. Thus, in Dharmic traditions masculine and feminine energies express themselves and interact with each other in perfect harmony and perfect balance.
This explains why in the Puranic lore Apsaras were provided with all the freedom to seduce even ascetics seeking celibacy. Here the feminine power of seduction triumphs over the ascetic’s urge to find strength through celibacy. In case of Siddhartha leaving his wife and overpowering the daughters of Mara, the ascetic’s choice of celibacy triumphs over the feminine power of nurturing and seduction. Same is the case with similar narratives in the Jain traditions.
Puranic lore also shows how Shurpanakha was attracted to Rama- Lakshmana, how Gopikas were attracted to Krishna and how Ulupi and Chitrangada were attracted to Arjuna. This is because there is an ambient attraction between the male and female energies apart from the seductive powers of the female. Hence, the Dharmic traditions provide an unbiased level playing field for the male and female energies to flow to each other, resulting in the dynamic dance of the masculine and the feminine. Hence accusing Dharmic traditions with any bias or with Patriarchy is a gross error.
Speaking of naked female Sadhus, we have the tradition of Shaiva Sadhvi Akkamahadevi in Karnataka, who roamed naked a few centuries ago. But, generally, Male hermits walk around naked during the Kumbh Mela, but female hermits dare not because here both the male and the female are unitedly seeking a singular role of spiritual arousal by participating in the rituals and the female willingly withdraws her seductive powers by covering her naked body, making it easy for her male companions (who are anyway have come prepared to resist the seductive power of their female companions in case the female chose to be naked).
There is no inequality here unlike what DP tries to portray, since among humans, it is the female that possesses the power of seduction more than the male. This kind of cooperation between male and female is a hallmark of the Dharmic traditions.
In Dharmic traditions, unlike the Abrahamic traditions the rules of engagement are not rigged in favor of the male or biased towards the female. For example, contrast the Dharmic tradition with Islam, where the rules of engagement are grossly biased against the females where they need to cover their body from head to toe because Muslim men are so weak that they will get easily seduced by a female exposing even an inch of her skin. In Islamic law, a woman subjected to rape is to be punished because she is guilty of seducing the male who raped her! This is the grossest form of patriarchy currently existing in this world. One or two centuries ago, Christianity too had more or less the same biased views about women.
Thanks to the influence of Eastern philosophies including the Hindu Dharma and the Chinese traditions on the West in these last few centuries, Western Culture was able to break free of the Abrahamic monotheism and its absolute patriarchy which now enable Western women to enjoy greater freedom. On the other hand, starting with the Islamic invasion of India and then the British rule, Indian women continue to lose their freedom as Dharmic traditions were forced to curtail freedom of women and the free expression of feminine energies in the form of attracting and seducing the male counterpart. They were forced to commit Jauhar to escape from the Islamic soldiers who will otherwise rape them or sell them in slave markets. They were forced to live indoors to avoid abduction, molestation and rape. They were forced to cover more of their bodies as Islamic men were weak and could not withstand the seductive power of the female bodies because of their upbringing in the male dominated, patriarchal, female suppressing Abrahmic theology and world view.
Dharmic traditions place the life-generating capability of the female body and the life-nurturing capability of the female in high esteem treating pregnant women with great respect. Contrast this with some Abrahamic traditions where women were treated like baby making machines and in Western tradition where pregnant women were portrayed as comic characters in movies and pop operas.
No Dharmic tradition tries to attain immortality by rejecting sexual acts or rejecting women all together. The Puranic lore describes the domain of the Devas, the highest domain of immortality as a place where women enjoyed great freedom. It is the same domains from where the Apsaras that DP spoke about, with the highest power of seduction hails from.
DP then says, to break free from her is to break free from nature and merge with something transcendental identified with liberation. Here, he grossly overlooks the Vaishnava Puranic lore where feminine energy and nature is described as another aspect of the divinity, expressed in the form of Vishnu and his transformed form as Mohini (the seductress). Anyone who thinks Vishnu and Mohini are different, are grossly mistaken. To think of them as opposing entities is a much worse error! This is also expressed subtly in the Shaiva Puranas where Shakthi or Devi is considered as the other half of Shiva, the ardha-naree-shvara. It is expressed even more vividly in the Shaktha and the Tantrik traditions where immersing in the feminine energies is considered as the path leading to liberation! Vedanta explains it with the concept of Brahman and its transformed form of Maaya. Those who think Brahman and Maaya are separate are again mistaking themselves in the maze of terminologies. Those who attain Brahman are not those who break free of Maaya (or its grossest aspect viz. nature) but those who can recognize that Brahman and Maaya are inseparable and those who can understand the concept of Leela (the divine play) by which the One diversify into the Multiplicity to play because it is pure bliss.
One also wonders, from where DP gets these funny and erroneous translations like God as param-atma, wisdom as kaivalya and oblivion as nirvana! He is unable to understand how much he is under the influence of Abrahamic ideologies and how much his vocabulary and perspective is clouded due to this, because of which he is unable to properly analyze Dharmic systems which require a different vocabulary and perspective.
The celibate gods in Hindu traditions only indicate the diversity of the Dharmic tradition which is ever neutral, unbiased, and all-embracing, and hence allows temples ranging from those dedicated to celibacy like those of Sabarimala to those dedicated to the feminine energies like the one in Kamakhya.
The rules that emerge in a self-evolving tradition like Sanatana Dharma are not imposed by any central agency, but arise from the consciousness of the collective, like how languages emerge and they evolve naturally based on the accumulated social transactions and are subject to change based on the changing priorities of the Dharmic society. Thus, we see in Mahabharata a passage which explain why a pre-historic free-sex society where men and women were free to mate, produce children and then move on and mate with others later evolved laws enabling the formation of well bonded families so that children can be nurtured and the suffering of the children are reduced on account of being raised by single parents or no parent at all to look after them.
Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 122 details out this change in the society for the benefit of children so that men and women sacrificed some of their freedom of engaging in free sex and choosing partners at will.
Pandu says to Kunti:-
O thou of handsome face and sweet smiles, women formerly were not immured within houses and dependent on husbands and other relatives. They used to go about freely, enjoying themselves as best as they liked.
O thou of excellent qualities, they did not then adhere to their husbands faithfully, and yet they were not regarded sinful, for that was the sanctioned usage of the times. That very usage is followed to this day by birds and beasts without any exhibition of jealousy. That practice, sanctioned by precedent, is applauded by great Rishis. O thou of taper thighs, the practice is yet regarded with respect amongst the Northern Kurus. Indeed, that usage, so lenient to women, hath the sanction of antiquity. The present practice, however of women’s being confined to one husband for life hath been established but lately. I shall tell thee in detail who established it and why. It hath been heard by us that there was a great Rishi of the name of Uddalaka, who had a son named Swetaketu who also was an ascetic of merit. O thou of eyes like lotus-petals, the present virtuous practice hath been established by that Swetaketu from anger. Hear thou the reason. One day, in the presence of Swetaketu’s father a Brahmana came and catching Swetaketu’s mother by the hand, told her, Let us go’ Beholding his mother seized by the hand and taken away apparently by force, the son was greatly moved by wrath. Seeing his son indignant, Uddalaka addressed him and said, be not angry. O son! This is the practice sanctioned by antiquity. The women of all orders in this world are free, O son; men in this matter, as regards their respective orders, act as kine’ The Rishi’s son, Swetaketu, however, disapproved of the usage and established in the world the present practice as regards men and women.
DP then proceeds to contrast the householder tradition with the celibate tradition where there is none as it is the householder that allows a few males to live the life of celibacy without making a lineage extinct. Thus, Shiva marrying Shakthi and Vishnu appeasing Lakshmi in the role of householder adds nothing to the argument.
The rule about Pandaka in Buddhism too has to be seen in the light of self-evolving self-regulating laws of Dharma to sustain the society where all these laws are subject to change if required.
Bhishma’s refusal to fight with Shikhandi has nothing to do with the seductive power of Shikandi as DP alleges, as Shikhandi is not a proper woman and is described as of neutral gender with no power of seduction over the celibate Bhishma. Mahabharata makes it clear that Bhishma made that stance as part of the strategy to indirectly help the Pandavas win the battle, much like he made Karna to stay away from the battle till he is fighting so that the Pandavas have one lesser enemy to fight with in the battlefield.
DP is right that most people, including MK Gandhi mistake Buddha’s pacifism as better than Krishna’s urge for “action”. All these people, including DP fail to understand that “action” in the context of a battlefield that a warrior needs to perform is participation in the war by fighting. Thus, it is erroneous to tarnish Krishna as a war monger. What Krishna propounded in Gita is the philosophy of doing self-less action that frees oneself from the burden of expecting some personal benefits on the account of doing it. Action sought from a warrior is fighting and that sought from a doctor is curing the patient. This is how Gita has to be understood. This is a philosophy highly admired by many. It is the erroneous writings like this one of DP and others like him that delude Hindus by making them defensive, apologetic or angry on account of Krishna and Bhagavat Gita.
It is quite amusing to see DP attributing sex and violence even to plants! We are told plants and animals are hardwired and know where to stop and humans don’t and one wonders how? In DP’s view Dharma is a byproduct of the human urge to control sex and violence!
With this erroneous understanding, he again accuses the celibates and hermits for outsourcing all the acts of sex (needed for reproduction) and violence (needed as per DP, to perform economic activities like farming, mining and husbandry) to the householder! He then sites the discourse of a housewife (Mahabharata, Vana Parva Chapter 205) and a butcher (Mahabharata, Vana Parva Chapter 206) detailed in the story of an ascetic named Kaushika. Instead of appreciating the diversity of views in Dharmic tradition, DP is using this story as a stick to once again beat the hermit and the celibate.
DP first acknowledges that Gita allows a householder to attain the same state that a hermit will achieve without rejecting the household. Here, he fails to acknowledge that in this way, householder Krishna’s philosophy scores above that of the household rejecter Buddha. Over and above this gross omission, he accuses Bhagavat Gita as complex metaphysics and then instead of trying to understand that metaphysics or acknowledge his lack of understanding of this metaphysics, he jumps to the conclusion that this complexity is wantonly introduced by Brahminism. Here again DP is using the term after tagging it as a word invented by the West. Besides accusing Gita on account of its complexity as a Brahmin conspiracy or Brahminical gobbledygook to justify violence is really comic. It is like someone saying that all the scientists are evil because I don’t understand science!
DP explains the diversity in the temple of Puri where vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism coexist, but is never ready to acknowledge the Dharmic ecosystem that has facilitated this diversity. DP’s observation that poor laborers lives in the villages and elites in the cities, ignores the rich landlords in the villages and the poor workers in the midst of the city.
He then stresses the correlation between food and violence again and highlights that Buddha ate pork and Rama ate deer meat: – “We are embarrassed by stories, and even get violently angry with the suggestion that Buddha probably ate pork in his last meal, and get upset enough to unleash troll armies when faced with evidence in Sanskrit literature that Ram probably ate deer meat”.
Here is my take on this: – Mahabharata explains the story of Apat-Dharma, where it says doing things contrary to what we do normally is acceptable during the time of mortal danger and cites the example of Viswamitra, who stole meat from a butcher and ate it, when he was about to die of starvation due to extreme drought in the Sarasvati basin. Many narratives in our Itihasa, Puranas, where it mentions about ascetics eating meat belongs to this category. Besides, non-vegetarian food was not prohibited to Kshatriyas, which includes Rama and Sita (Visvamitra too was formerly a Kshatria, who later adopted Brahmana way of life as per our Puranas) in the Ramayana as well as the Pandavas in Mahabharata. Buddha’s case was a little different, where his story of eating ‘suukara-maddava’ translated varyingly as ‘pig’s soft’, pig’s softened meat’, ‘pig-food’, ‘a sprout trodden by pigs’, ‘a mushroom growing in a place trodden by pigs’ and ‘some medicinal plant’ (like suukara-kanda: pig’s bulb), which could become poisonous if not cooked properly.
This story of Buddha’s last meal is told in the Mahaaparinibbaana-sutta (‘Book of the Great Decease’), as per which a smith named Kunda served Buddha this dish as part of the meal. Soon after taking this food Buddha died of food poison. Buddha then asked his disciples not to blame Kunda and says Kunda is forever blessed for becoming the cause for leaving his mortal body, much like Krishna in Musala Parva of Mahabharata blesses the hunter, who shot a poisonous arrow on his foot leading to the end of his mortal life. The circumstances being this, it doesn’t make any difference if what Buddha ate was non-vegetarian (pig’s softened meat) or vegetarian. Buddha was merely searching for a means for leaving his mortal body by eating some food, which was not good for him.
A Hindu learned in ancient lore will acknowledge the non-vegetarian habits of his Aitihasik and Puranic heroes, but that will not prevent them from trying to become a vegetarian today knowing about the huge stress that non-vegetarianism is causing to the Earth’s food chain. Studies show that more acceptance of vegetarianism in global population can reduce food production expenses and this will certainly benefit all including the rich and the poor. Dharma being a self-evolving system can easily adapt to pro-vegetarianism despite its non-vegetarian heroes of the past, who lived when food resources were plenty and the population was sparse and when there were no mechanized slaughter houses where animal-life from little chicken to big bovines and camels are treated like meat balls and meat sacks by slicing and dicing them in automated machines even before they are dead!
I agree with DP that any kind of discrimination based on food habits is not good for a diverse tradition like ours, but knowing the current strain on the food chain due to human non vegetarianism and the cruel ways in which non-vegetarian food is mass-produced in mechanized slaughter houses, every Dharmic individual should try to be as vegetarian as possible and I guess DP will agree with me here.
I contest DP’s statement that the Dharmic discourse treats the soul (atman) as pure and body as a pollutant. We have a tradition that considers body as the sole instrument of self-knowing resulting into liberation by allowing us to experience variegated things in life. Without body anubhava (experience) is not possible and hence no liberation is possible.
Being a physical entity and subject to physical laws, body can accumulate dirt, produce sweat, excrete bodily wastes and produce other secretion and hence it needs continuous purification. Anyone who is not keeping his body clean appears repulsive to others and also may be an abode of diseases that can spread all over the society and hence becomes untouchable. This is the basis of untouchability. For example, a famous Hindu reformer in Kerala, Sri Narayana Guru, who abolished untouchability in Kerala said this to a group of untouchable people who asked permission to enter into a temple: – “Clean your body, take regular baths”. Legend says that a sudden rain started and all the people waiting to enter the temple were cleansed instantly and Guru gave them permission to enter the temple. This is the simple truth about untouchability and not the complex scenarios imagined by DP like the separation of sacred and profane, soul and flesh, the holy and unholy etc.
Currently we are not in a position to declare auras and vibrations as pseudo-science. It is an evolving field of inquiry. In the list DP makes in the conclusion, vegetarianism especially doesn’t require any theory based on auras and vibration to justify, since looking at the strain on the food-chain, it is a choice any reasonable person may choose to make.
Thus, DPs attempt to portray celibacy, non-violence and purity as patriarchal practices in Dharmic traditions falls apart on close scrutiny. Celibacy, non-violence and purity doesn’t work to establish patriarchy in India. DP grossly overlooks the fact that patriarchy emerges from Abrahamic monotheism, which brutally and violently eliminated feminine representation in the polytheistic pantheons in the form of goddesses symbolizing power, knowledge, prosperity, nature, agriculture, female sexuality and female energies. The hermit and the celibate in the Dharmic tradition has no role in any of these ailments of the modern society like patriarchy or the suppression of the females. Thus, the smile of a male hermit or a male celibate evokes only the innocence of individual males, who want to travel in their own chosen journeys towards self-realization, without engaging or competing with the seductive power of the female.