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An Ageless Vision
Equality of man and woman - Culture or nature?
This short essay originally appeared as the answer of Suhotra Swami to a question whether the female inproficiency that is sometimes spoken of in Vedic scriptures could also be a cultural effect more than a natural one.

Culture and nature are both given by God according to the karma of the living entities. To say that it is only the social system that prevents a woman (or anybody from the "lower classes") from getting ahead is a statement of doctrine, not a statement of science (Vedic science, that is). The doctrine that is represented here is called Deism, which happens to be the philosophy upon which the United States of America was established. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Deists. Deists compare God to a watchmaker, who after creating the world let's it just go running on by itself. In other words, Deists think God turned nature over to human beings to make out of it what they want. God, according to Deists, gave everyone the same chance in the beginning by creating all men and women equal. What men and women have become now is the result of the social systems they developed in their efforts to exploit the nature that God turned over to them. This is the essence of the American view of the world. However... I think you can see my point coming already. If you wish to understand Vedic science and civilization as it is, you have to drop that Deistic bias you've acquired from your upbringing in American science and civilization.

In the Vedic view, nature and culture are inseparable. Both are creations of God -- not that only nature is created by God and society is created by man. Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita 4.13, "According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me." The four divisions are the brahmanas (Vedic priests and philosophers), ksatriyas (administrators), vaishyas (merchants and farmers) and sudras (artisans, craftsmen, musicians, workers, servants, and women in general -- although women belonged to the higher classes as well, but only as the servants of the male brahmanas, ksatriyas and vaishyas). These four classes are present in every society even today. But now they are not managed according to the Vedic standard. This is because people's karma is very bad, therefore of nature's three modes (goodness, passion and ignorance), ignorance predominates in our time. And so unqualified persons occupy all social positions. Nobody is trained in their rightful dharma (social duty ordained by God). Society is chaotic.

Often people who espouse social doctrines that originate from Deism say they do not like the idea of brahmanas being superior to sudras. But the Vedic social system is compared in the scriptures to the human body. The brahmanas are the head, the ksatriyas the arms, the vaishyas the belly and the sudras the legs. Is the head better than the legs? Or to put the question more sharply, would you cut off your legs if your head told you to do that? The Vedic system certainly did not advocate sacrificing the legs for the sake of the head. That is simply madness, a head gone crazy. But in the history of Western civilization, such crazy things go on. In Medieval Europe, the priests lived at the cost of everyone else. Then the German kings under the influence of Luther kicked the priests out and took over. The same thing happened in England under Henry VIII. After some time the merchants (capitalists) overthrew the kings. That's what happened in America in 1776. Nowadays the sudras are becoming the most important class. In some countries the workers have taken over by force the property and positions of the higher classes. All this simply means that the Western social body is dysfunctional, spastic and self-destructive. The Vedic social body, on the contrary, was harmonious. The goal was not for one class to tyrannize the other. The goal was for all classes to serve God (Krishna). The brahmanas are the head of society because they have knowledge. All the other sections of society served the head. But the head serves them too. Just like your head serves the rest of your body by eating. If the head did not chew the food and swallow, your arms, belly and legs would wither. Your body is made that way by Krishna. Similarly, the social body is made by Krishna. Just as you are supposed to use your body in Krishna's service, similarly the social body should serve Krishna.

Another point in this connection is that it is futile to make the Deistic argument that "everybody is created equal" and "it is not what you are but what you do that counts," etc. Why is it futile? Because the argument pertains only to matter, not spirit. The essence of intelligence is discernment between the real and the unreal. One who is actually intelligence knows "I am not the body." With your question whether the difference in intelligence between men and women in Vedic times might be cultural rather than natural you seem to be missing the point. A "woman" is nothing more than a temporary material designation of the eternal soul. A "man" is also. Trying to argue that a "man" and a "woman" are equally endowed and should have the same rights is just a waste of time. The actual self, or soul, is neither a man nor a woman. Understanding this is intelligent. Thinking that the self is the body is unintelligent. Actually as soul we are all equal. But as long as we are unintelligent, we try to realize our spiritual equality while clinging to the material body.

It is a plain fact that throughout the world, holy teachers in male bodies (Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, for example) are more prominent than holy teachers in female bodies. This does not mean that a liberated soul within a woman's body is less enlightened than a liberated soul in a man's body. Nor does it mean that the male-bodied holy teachers came to prominence simply because of social biases. If holy teachers, whether in male or female bodies, are sent by God, then it is God Himself who establishes their position. And this is in accord with God's natural and cultural plan for the world. A male body is a better "vehicle" for propagating spiritual knowledge throughout society. That is the way God intended things to be.

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