Thursday, March 02, 2006
This recent essay by my friend, the poet and spiritual explorer Elizabeth Reninger, offers a valuable summing up of how male/female energies are viewed in the various traditions. Historically, the balancing of the opposites, including the male/female aspects of the self, is an essential step in the entire process of spiritual initiation. (This essay is from Elizabeth's own blog site, but unfortunately I do not have that address at hand. I'll post it later when I locate it.)
Krishna & The Gopis: Gender & Spiritual Practice
Krishna saw his own self as the Infinite
In the throng of lovely gopis.
They experienced in Krishna, O wonder,
Their own self but as the Absolute.
And when, in play, he stole their veils,
He wished to see himself in Truth's naked ray.
Atma and Maya: light and mirror.
God is Love and He loves His image.
This poem by Frithjof Schuon (translated from the German) tells the
story both of the historical Krishna ~ a man & teacher of great
spiritual power ~ in his relationship with the gopis ~ women who were
his devotees; and also (at the level of an extended metaphor) of the
relationship between God/the Infinite/Atma and living beings/the
The poem itself is lovely, and ~ like all poems ~ is its own answer
to the question: what does it mean? So I won't pretend to have
anything to "add" to it … But will share some of what the poem evokes
for me, on this February morning, warmish & windy in the Rocky
Mountains near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado … particularly in relation
to how sex, gender & sexuality interact with spiritual practice …
My favorite part of this poem is: And when, in play, he stole their
veils, / He wished to see himself in Truth's naked ray. How God (our
own Higher Self, the "masculine" Krishna) "plays" with those parts of
us (the "feminine" gopis) still trapped in duality by "stealing their
veils" i.e. dissolving what prevents those aspects from realizing
themselves as God. And why does he do this? There is a desire, a
wish, perhaps even a need, that God has to "see himself in Truth's
naked ray," to see himself reflected in the
awakened/naked/transparent play of Maya.
Now many volumes have been written by those exploring ~ from
psychological, sociological, philosophical & many other points of
view ~ sex (the biological aspects of what makes us "men"
or "women"), gender (how this biology interacts with social
constructs), and sexuality (how sex & gender play out in our intimate
relationships, in how we define ourselves in relation to sexual
desire & practice). Exploring these literatures can be a great way of
becoming more conscious of our social conditioning around these
issues and ~ if we're on a spiritual path ~ beginning to unwind some
of these patterns (these "veils of Maya").
There was a time in my life when I was quite passionate about
explorations such as these. Recently my passion has been more along
the lines of yoga & qigong & meditation: techniques for transcending
all levels of conditioning (including those woven of sex, gender &
sexuality). Yet frequently the two paths overlap: My exploration of
Egyptian Yoga, for instance, revealed that certain Egyptian cultures
had eight different categories of "sexual identification," of
variations on the theme of considering oneself to be "heterosexual"
or "homosexual." So the view & enactment of desire was much more
fluid than it is in our culture.
And Taoist philosophy & practice (the foundation for qigong) is built
upon a sophisticated understanding of the interactions between yin &
yang: how the "feminine" and "masculine" principles are in constant
flux, one becoming the other, continuously; how this movement depends
upon the essence of yang always already existing within yin, and the
essence of yin always already existing within yang; how they depend
upon each other (like Krishna depending upon the unveiled gopis, and
And how the process of yoga asana (as a Hindu path) involves drawing
the energies that ~ when we're still caught in duality ~ flow in the
Ida & Pingala (feminine & masculine) channels, into the Shushumna
Nadi (the central channel of the yogic body, representing Unity
Consciousness, the "marriage" of the masculine & feminine). And how
that energy of nonduality (or an awakened Kundalini) can then flow
out again into the appearances, the play of Maya, representing this
blissfully unified masculine & feminine energy.
And how Yidam practice of the Buddhist vajrayana path utilizes the
imagery of sexual union between male & female deities as a skillful
means for accessing aspects of awakened mind. Though at the level of
actual consort practice (with or without a physical partner), the
yogi or yogini is able to manifest either a masculine or a feminine
form (since this is all unfolding at the level of the subtle body,
which is not bound or defined by biological sex) … so not only are
women are able to act as consorts/supports for men (the "traditional"
arrangement), but men also are able to act as consorts/supports for
women; as well as women and men acting as consorts/supports for
practitioners of their own sex.
And how the path of Buddhist or Hindu Tantra (as well as Taoist Inner
Alchemy) involves the skillful transformation of the energies of
desire (that yearning of the finite for the infinite) into the nectar
of spiritual awakening … and the subsequent infusion of all aspects
of life with this awakened energy.
And how all these thoughts/verbal expressions are nothing more than
the play of conceptual mind, until one actually finds oneself in the
Presence of an Enlightened Master: a Being (a woman or a man) already
flowing with the energy of Krishna. At which point one becomes (men &
women alike) ~ for better or for worse ~ a gopi, in love with ones
own Self as reflected in that Being. At which point ones spiritual
practice becomes the practice of surrendering, of allowing ones
conceptual veils to be "stolen," and generating devotion ~ endless
devotion ~ to that which is being reflected back: the nakedness of
our own Divinity. Sobeit.
Copyright, Elizabeth Reninger