Friday, April 5, 2013

The Feminine Mystic (not a typo)

It could well be the nicotine withdrawal, but I'm losing patience with the Hare Krishnas. First there's the music, which is basically a variation on the same chant: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Which is pleasant to listen to, once or twice. Not six hours or more a day. The Hare Krishna fellowship produces devotional music in an extensive array of genres. This morning I was washing arugula when a saucy little reggae beat started playing from the kitchen stereo. I got excited, but then...

"Chantin', chantin', chantin' in the name of the Lord! Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare! Jah!"

Several years ago a friend of mine and I were approached by a Hare Krishna monk in a castle courtyard in Edinburgh, selling CDs that he billed as "Monk Rock." Later we listened to it. Some hardcore guitar riffs, a couple of guttural grunts, then: Hare! Krishna! Hare! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Hare! Hare! Hare! Rama! Hare! Rama! Rama! Rama! Hare! Hare!

I'm reminded of a childhood experimentation with the Born Again crowd. In particular I'm reminded of a band called Jah Christafari. The less said the better.

At the ashram in Trivandrum I was struck by a picture of Jesus in the wilderness. (The upper hall was reserved for large paintings of the Indian gods, the bottom hall had smaller pictures of figures from other religions, including Judaism and Buddhism.) It occurred to me that while we see many such pictures of male mystics, their brows furrowed in existential angst and eyes gazing off into the middle distance, we see almost no pictures of female mystics.

Female religious figures, in fact, are usually portrayed in one of the same two archetypes familiar to us from advertising. Either they are explicitly maternal:

Devi, the Mother Goddess.

Or orgasmic:

The ecstasy of St. Theresa by Bernini.

Of course, we can't forget Kali, with her necklace of severed heads and forked tongue. She's a nice subversion of what in Western archetypes would be the Evil Woman.

But where is the female ascetic? I'm not referring to the pictures of saints at bended knee, being rewarded for their lifetime of devotion with ascendance to Heaven. I'm referring to the women who honestly question, the way that Jesus and Moses and Mohammed did, whether or not they're on the right path. Hasn't almost every person, male or female done this? Sat in the void, wandered the wilderness, pondered they why and the what and how of it all? Felt a howling emptiness instead of warm surety? Somehow this stage of spiritual development seems to be neglected from the story of every holy woman I've read about. It's as if faith were implanted in us along with ovaries. There is no female Job: the trials we endure are not cause to question God, but opportunities to prove our devotion. To be honest, it's a bit condescending. It implies that a woman's spiritual path is simply to accept and embody the teachings of a man who undertook a journey we're too frail or feeble-minded to follow ourselves. It's a very old story: men are doers, women are the beneficiaries. Holy men are living representations of God, holy women mere brides of God.

Meanwhile, at the Hare Krishna organic farm, the lovely Argentinian Hare Krishna nuns, resplendent in white robes and veils, are preparing a silver tray of food to deliver to the shrine. Later they will return to cook lunch and clean the kitchen. A short and muscular Bolivian woman leads the volunteers at a blistering pace through the garden work. The swami? I haven't seen him in days.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

A playful waterfight between Krishna and his devotees. Because, why not?


  1. Dunno an answer to your question, but I do know that the genders are different from each other. That's a really just tautology because if they weren't different, we'd not find it useful to 'gender' individuals.

    Anyway, the real issue is in what ways are they different? No one can answer that with objective certainty other than morphology. So in practice, individuals are what they are. If some female behaves like an "ascetic", then she is that.

    So, Where are the female asceticss, You point one out to me and there she is!

  2. You sound like a female mystic to me. I commend you for treading where most women won't go. You are obviously a leader, not a follower. Hopefully your quest will inspire other women to do the same. Great post!

  3. Good points. I laughed about the music! Jah Christafari! It's like when you're surfing the car's FM stations in some radio wasteland and hear a familiar-sounding rock riff and decide to go with that, until the singing begins, and about three words into it the guy's glorifying His the tune of some closely-copied classic rock. "Christian Rock" is an oxymoron!