Women in the Yogic Tradition

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

How do you see women working within the patriarchal system of yoga? How may they interpret the teachings with their female nature and potential?

According to the tradition, yoga is not a patriarchal system. Historically, from the time of Rama, Krishna and the Vedic age, there were many women luminaries, gurus, sadhus and saints. These women had higher status than their male counterparts. A shift took place about a thousand years ago when India was invaded. At that time there was a social consensus that women should be kept in the household and not in public positions, in order to protect them. From that point on, the tradition of women saints diminished because women were unable to go out and pursue a spiritual direction. Of course, times have changed but the mentality has not.

In our opinion, women are better qualified to interpret the teachings of yoga. The feminine nature is not so rational or intellectual, it is more psychic, intuitive and more sensitive to the changes that take place in the personality of an individual. Females project an image of compassion, kindness, caring, loving and nurturing, whereas males tend to project an image of strength and firmness.

God is full of feminine qualities. If God is compassion, then it is a feminine quality. If God is love, then it is a feminine quality. If God is caring, then it is a feminine quality. The experience of spirit, according to all the traditions, is the experience of the final state of Prakriti and Purusha. Shiva is the last item which has to be realized, to be recognized. But if the search for Shiva happens through the energy of Shakti, and Shakti represents and is the epitome of all the feminine attributes, then it is only a woman who can in reality understand, transmit and explain the yogic, vedic and tantric traditions.

To reinstate women to their proper role in this tradition, an opportunity has to be provided where the full dimension of the philosophy and the practices, of the thoughts behind the practices, can be explained to them. They should be taken through a process where they can become better masters than their male counterparts. There is no question about it. A change is taking place. In our own organization the female force outnumbers the male by sixty to forty. Maybe in a century or so we will have a line up of female gurus, and I hope I live long enough to welcome that.

—Ganga Darshan, 4 December 1998