Reader comment on Vinoba Bhave's passage ...

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    On Oct 30, 2012 Be Happy wrote:

    Vinoba wrote in English at a time when it was common to use the sweeping "men" to refer to both men and women. This has only recently changed. English was not his mother tongue. In the Indian languages, there tends to be an emphasis on "humans" over "men" and "women" - if he were communicating in his own tongue, this issue would not have come up as he would have used the term "manushya" for human.

    Be that as it may, I totally agree with the sentiment that women have tended to be our unsung servant leaders. No less a leader than Gandhi admitted that he had learned ahimsa from his wife. In my own life, my hero has been my grandmother, who was the rock of our family. Having her in my life has been my blessing. She would support my grandfather, who felt he was the star. He would write lots of books on spiritual matters, and she would be his humble typist. I took a summer vacation to go live with them when I was 15. I still remember that one day he got annoyed with her and told her, "You are not fit for me." She remained calm and equanimous, while I broke down, horrified. Both of them comforted me, with my grandfather feeling ashamed, and my grandmother telling me not to mind it. 

    While my grandfather had a lot of intellectual clarity, my grandmother lived it. She not only supported her own family's journey but those of her neighbors and anyone else who crossed her path. Her prayer would not be, "may their suffering be alleviated," rather, it would be, "may their suffering leave them and come onto me." That kind of prayer requires a level of strength that I am yet to develop. 

    Toward the end of her life, she called my grandfather on her deathbed, and told him that she was here so he could complete working out his own journey. He did not realize it, but that is what she had focused on all her life. He had to complete for her sake, and he had very little time left. For completion, he had to forgive everyone who he felt had wronged him, and let go of all grudges. Hearing all this, my grandfather, who always thought of himself as her teacher, broke down. He spent the next six months after her passing a changed man, following her advice and withdrawing from the world, after which he too passed on.

    Vivekananda used to strongly say that it was a terrible idea to discriminate between genders in spirituality - the spirit has no gender, and women don't need the permission of men to access their own spirituality. A beautiful and inspiring story comes to us from the Yoga Vashishtha, which tells us of King Shikhidhwaj and Queen Chudala. The queen was far ahead in spiritual matters. One day her husband announced that he was done with the material world and would go to the forest for enlightenment. She told him to go right ahead and she would take care of the kingdom. This being an Indian story, and that too a Yogic one, she could see in meditation that her husband was totally miserable in the forest, being bitten by flies and far away from renunciation. She knew that if she went and instructed him, he wouldn't take it. So, she changed her form to that of a male hermit, and then told him, "You are doing it all wrong." His mind opened up enough to receive instruction from his wife, who then helped him to realize that waking up required separation from the ego, and just by virtue of being in a forest, he wasn't going to get there. This is a remarkable story, quite unparalleled in the Yogic tradition.

    I feel that modern efforts for gender equality in language are good as far as they go, but they don't go far enough to celebrate the unique strength and wisdom that women servant leaders have shown us. I must end by celebrating CFMom, who (along with CFDad) serves as a rock for Wednesday meditations, no matter what her health is, so we may all further our journey. It is no easy task to cook for so many people, and she has done this for 15 years now! Her gratitude at being of service deepens our own commitment to servant leadership.


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