July 11, 2008

The Hindu will say that the feminine is the active principle (the Shakti), while the Sufi will see the static, passive Absolute as feminine

Gender, Traditionalism and Occultism
from The Stumbling Mystic by ned
In a previous post, I commented, “… secularists … see sex as an objective biological fact and gender as an arbitrary and often superficial social construction. Traditionalist metaphysics seems to go in the opposite direction: gender is a universal property of the creation as a whole, and is found in every created thing. Gender exists in the terrestrial world because it’s a materialisation of gender as it exists in the universe as a whole. Let me say that the integral understanding that I am seeking through Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seems to indicate that both views hold important truths.”

I’m re-thinking this a little bit right now. First of all, as I mentioned in the aforementioned post, the traditionalist idea doesn’t hold up empirically. There are many species that are ungendered, and many that display transgenderism/transsexualism and homosexuality, which contradicts the idea that everything is gendered in the physical manifestation. In this same post, I quote the Mother pointing out that even in occult realms, all beings are not gendered — many are androgynous or sexless.

But apart from this, none of the spiritual traditions really agree on which cosmic principle to call “masculine” and which to call “feminine”. They all say different things and contradict each other. Put simply, if you put a Sufi, a Hindu and a Christian into one room, they will not agree on which cosmic principle is masculine and which is feminine. For instance, the Hindu will say that the feminine is the active principle (the Shakti), while the Sufi will see the static, passive Absolute as feminine, and so on. So from a purely common sense point of view, the traditionalist, medieval theory of gender makes no sense to me, even though I accept the existence of supraphysical planes of existence and occult principles.

As a result, I was quite relieved to see the following passage from the Mother in a discussion on the meanings of the Vedantic terms Purusha (which literally means “man” and refers to a witness consciousness) and Prakriti (which is a feminine term referring to Nature) [...] There are cosmic principles, occult processes, and so on, but when we experience and try to grasp them, we inevitably project our biological and cultural conditioning onto them and thus water them down into a language that we humans can understand. There is always a “mythos” of the day through which we interpret our experiences. So our formulations of all these processes are several steps removed from what they actually are.

In short, the more I learn about spirituality and occultism, the more the traditionalist idea that the male human is the incarnation of a particular cosmic principle and the female human is the incarnation of another one seems to be a huge oversimplification (and a fairly anthropocentric and irrational one at that). This medieval theory of gender certain doesn’t hold up in the light of scientific studies on gender, but even from a purely common sense understanding of occultism it makes no sense. How exactly Prakriti (Nature) arranges things, what the occult processes involved behind the physical manifestation are, and so on, are valid questions that occultists can try to answer, but the idea that there is something “feminine” about Prakriti or “masculine” about Purusha, seems to me to be nothing more than a projection of our lower biological nature onto higher occult realities, as the Mother points out above, which loses its meaning once one is established in higher planes of consciousness. There are cosmic and occult principles but from higher states of spiritual attainment it makes very little sense to classify them as masculine or feminine.

It’s been said that medieval mystics were more intuitive and less rational than modern and postmodern humans are. This allowed them easier access to higher realities, but it also meant that their mental or rational formulations of those realities were quite mythical. What I’m suggesting is that a truly scientific occultism — and again I refer to Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga as having set the bar in this area — will have to wait until we are truly ready for suprarational mysticism. I see plenty of infrarational elements in medieval mysticism, which is why many secular people reject it because it contains formulations that don’t make sense in the light of modern-day findings.

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