Everyday Bhagavad-Gita: Context
Verse 1.40: When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krishna, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vrishni, comes unwanted progeny.
Today I have a choice: to face something head on or not.
What I mean is that I can either choose to address the fact that Arjuna is speaking about women becoming polluted and degraded due to irreligion, or simply ignore this “unpopular” idea. For me, the choice is easy.
I’m going to address it because it brings up a very important point which has nothing to do with men, women or degradation, but reveals the importance of context.
Context is so important and something most of us fail to consider unless we ourselves are taken out of context and portrayed in an unfair way. So many things are taken out of context and none more so than the concepts and principles that are associated with religion and spirituality.
This is why one of the key messages of the Gita is the necessity to inquire and hear from authorized and self-realized bhakti yogis.
Now, I am by no means proclaiming to be such an advanced individual, but I can say that I have learned from, and am trying to follow in the footsteps of, such esteemed personalities. So my qualification is one of trying to be a transparent conductor of knowledge that others have spent years studying and realizing.
You see the practice of bhakti yoga is not provided in a step-by-step, do-it-yourself manual where you are provided the complete set of instructions and left to your own devices to figure it out. Bhakti requires teachers, friends, mentors, well-wishers and so much more. Essentially, the practice of bhakti yoga requires a community. There are things that you can learn on your own, but most lessons require personal guidance, clarification and role models.
This is essential to not only following bhakti yoga properly, but to understanding it with your heart and not just your mind. In other words, of allowing our knowledge and experience of bhakti to move beyond the theoretical into the realm of practical realization.
So, in the case of this verse, it is important to understand context.
Sometimes I hear newcomers, or even those who have not had a chance to study bhakti texts, ask: “What is the position of women in bhakti?”
Unfortunately, sometimes reading such verses, and only understanding them superficially, can even turn people away.
This verse can be analyzed on two levels—the material and the spiritual.
On the material level, which, let’s face it most of us are on, the question of the role of women is important to many. On this level, this verse is saying that the role of women is of paramount importance within society. Surprised? It’s true. Just as a king in his kingdom should be loved and protected from all negative influences, similarly women should be loved, protected, cherished and held in the highest esteem.
And who are those people who should be treating women this way? Other women of course, but even more importantly, men. When men treat women as objects this creates so many issues. We see it in our own society today. I can only imagine the dread that parents feel the first time they have to explain the wild promiscuity and portrayal of women as sexual objects in the media and the entertainment industry today. It’s quite an unfortunate situation.
On the spiritual level, the nature of this verse takes on a different quality as whether one is male or female is quite irrelevant.
The soul, the eternal spark which is in all of us, is the most important thing. And if one realizes this, then any reference to any designation, whether it be male, female, cat, dog, whale, elephant, bug, Chinese, Swiss, Conservative, Liberal etc., is of little value. It amounts to little more than an exterior shell designated to carry that which is most important: the soul. If this is the case, then every single living being should treat the other with respect and once again, this promotes equality. Thus, there is no higher or lower as all souls are equally dear to God.
So what does this mean?
This verse is a “Wake up!” call for our society. It stresses the fact that we all have our roles to play and that we need to acknowledge them and work cooperatively. Bhakti yoga does not promote neglecting our material roles of being a member of society, a daughter, son, mother, father, etc. But, at the same time, our ultimate spiritual role of re-establishing our loving relationship with God is the most important.
The true practice of bhakti should inspire us to become better members and contributors to society by realizing we are all the sons and daughters of God.
Vrindavan Rao was born into the bhakti tradition and grew up enveloped in it. However, her personal discovery of the bhakti path began in 2004 when she had the opportunity to go to a Vedic College in Belgium and since that time she has embraced it completely. Her love for travel has given her the opportunity to study Vedic texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, in places such as India, Canada, Belgium, Ukraine and the United States under the guidance of several advanced practitioners.
She especially loves the Gita and refers to it as her “Guidebook for Life” since it contains practical answers for complicated questions and is currently writing a daily blog on every verse of the Gita. In addition, you can keep track of all the happenings of Everyday Bhagavad-Gita on Facebook and viaTwitter.
Her background is in science and she not only has a Bacherlor’s degree in Biochemistry, but also a Masters in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology. In her free time she loves to write, read, give presentations, sing and work out.
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Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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