An Inspired Talk delivered by Gurudeva Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami on his 54th Jayanti, on January 5, 1980, at the Kadavul Hindu Temple in Hawaii, enjoining the modern Hindu woman to not forsake her dharma but protect the home and nurture the family as her gift of love to the next generation. Hmmm! It seems not to have gone out of date much.
Anbe Sivamayam Satyame Parasivam! Tonight we are going to talk about a vast subject, one that is important to every Hindu family: stri dharma, the dharma of the Hindu wife and mother. In Sanskrit stri means "woman." Dharma is a rich word which encompasses many meanings: the path to God Siva, piety, goodness, duty, obligation and more. Stri dharma is the woman's natural path, while purusha dharma, we can say, is the man's.
There is much controversy about the role of the woman in society these days. In the West, a strong women's liberation movement has been at work for many years, and now there has arisen an equally vigorous opposition which defends traditional values. The so-called struggle for women's liberation has affected women the world over--in India, Iran, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. In North America, I began a campaign informally called the Hindu women's liberation movement. It is not what you might expect. Its purpose is to liberate our Hindu women from the liberators, to save them from worldliness and to allow them to fulfill their natural dharma as mother and wife. For a religious woman, being liberated starts with resigning from her job and coming home. Once she is home, she is liberated and liberated and liberated. Working in the world keeps her in the outer dimensions of consciousness, while being at home allows her to live in the depth of her being. I have seen this work many times. There are so many distractions and influences in the world today that divert women away from being a wife and mother. In the West a woman is a wife first and a mother second, but in the East her duties as a mother are foremost. She is trained from early childhood in the arts of homemaking, trained by her mother who was trained in exactly the same way by her mother, and so on right down through history. It's an old pattern.
The Hindu woman is looked upon as most precious. Two thousand years ago Saint Tiruvalluvar observed: "What does a man lack if his wife is worthy? And what does he possess if she is lacking worth?" There is more respect in the East for women and for their role in society. Here in the West, the woman is not fully appreciated. Her contribution is underrated and misunderstood. In fact, this is one of the reasons she seeks fulfillment and recognition in other spheres, because Western society has become oblivious of her unique and vital role. Abused by neglect and disregard, she seeks other avenues where she may be appreciated, recognized and rewarded.
Don't forget that in the East the ties of the extended family are very close. Women live in a community, surrounded by younger and older women, often living in the same house. They enjoy a rewarding life which includes helping the younger ones and being helped by those who are more mature. Several generations work together in sharing the joys as well as the burdens of household culture. It is different in the West. Women here usually do not have the advantages of close association with other family members. Naturally, they become a little lonely, especially if they do not have a religious community of friends. They get lonely and want to get out in the world and enjoy life a little. This is another reason women leave the home. It is very unfortunate.
In the East there is a better balance of the masculine and feminine forces. In the West the masculine is too strong, too dominant. The feminine energies need to be allowed greater expression. But that does not mean women should start doing what men do. No. That only confuses the forces more. A better balance must be found. In the East the woman is protected. She is like a precious gem. You don't leave it unattended. You protect it. You guard it well because you don't wish to lose it. Hindu women are guarded well. They are not allowed to become worldly. They are not exposed to the looks and thoughts of a base public, nor must they surrender their modesty to contend with business affairs. She can be perfectly feminine, expressing her natural qualities of gentleness, intuitiveness, love and modesty. The home and family are the entire focus of a Hindu woman's life.
Many of you here tonight are too young to know that this was also the pattern in the West until about seventy-five years ago. Before World War I, women were very strict in the West. It was that war and the one that followed that broke down the ancient roles of men and women. The men were taken away from industry by the army, and women were forced out of the home into the factories and businesses so that production could continue. Earlier they had been protected, seldom seen unaccompanied in public. Throughout history, women had been the caretakers of the home and the defenders of virtue. They valued their purity, their chastity, and were virgins when they married. Many people don't know that the old values were followed most strictly up until 1915 or so. Then the two world wars broke up the family and disturbed the balance between men and women. For the first time, women were seen alone in public. For the first time, they left the home and competed with men for their jobs.
I speak often of the change humanity is going through in moving out of the agricultural era and into the technological age. This change has affected the dharma of the woman and the dharma of the man in an interesting way. During the tens of thousands of years of the agricultural age, families lived and labored mostly on farms or in craft guilds. The entire family worked on the farm. The men all worked in the fields; the women and children worked in the home. Children were a great asset. More children meant more help, a bigger farm. There were many chores that a young boy or girl could do. When harvest time came, everyone joined in. It was a one team, and everyone contributed. When the crop was sold, that was the income for a combined effort from all members--men, women and even children. In a very real sense, everyone was earning the money, everyone was economically important.
In the technological era, only the man of the house earns the family income. Everyone else spends it. The husband goes to work in a factory or large company office while his wife and children stay at home. There is not much they can do to help him during the day with his work. His work and his wife's are not as closely related as in the old days. He is the provider, the producer now; she and the children are consumers. Because the children cannot help much, they have become more of an economic liability than an asset. This, coupled with the population problems on the Earth, devalues the economic importance of the woman's traditional role as wife and mother. Whereas raising children and taking care of the farmhouse used to be a woman's direct and vital contribution toward the family's livelihood and even the survival of the human race, today it is not. Whereas they used to be partners in a family farm business, today he does all the earning and she feels like a dependent. The answer is not to have women join their men in the factories and corporations. The answer is to bring traditional religious values into the technological era, to find a new balance of karma that allows for the fulfillment of both the man's and the woman's dharma.
When young couples marry, I help them write down their vows to one another. He must promise to support her, to protect her, to give her a full and rewarding life. She must promise to care for him, to manage the home, to maintain the home shrine and to raise fine children. I ask them each to respect the other's realm, to never mentally criticize the other and to make religion the central focus of their life together. I ask the young bride to stay in the home, to be a little shy of involvement in the world.
A mother's place is within the home and not out in the world working. When she is in the home all day, she brings love and security to the children, sensitivity and stability to the husband. By raising her children, she changes the course of history. How does she do that? She raises strong children, good and intelligent children. They will grow up to be the great men and women in the community, the leaders of the nation. They will be the farmers, artists, businessmen, the teachers, the doctors, the lawyers, the architects, the presidents and, most importantly, the spiritual leaders. They will be the mothers, the homemakers and child-raisers, scientists and inventors, pioneers and poets, artists and sculptors and creators in all dimensions of life. It is such men and women who change the course of human history. This is the great power held by the mother and by no one else: to properly mold the mind and character of her children. And she trains her daughters to do the same by example and gentle guidance.
Of course, she also holds the opposite power, expressed through neglect, to allow her children to grow up on their own, on the streets where they will learn a base life. Such children will as surely change society and human history, but negatively. They will be the common men and women, or fall into mental and emotional abysses, there to express man's instinctive nature and become the exemplars of violence and lust, of dependence and crime. The very direction of humankind is right there in the early years, to be turned toward a great potential through love and attentiveness or allowed to decay through neglect. The mother is the child's first guru, and she alone can shape the mind in those impressionable years. So, you can all see the truth in the old saying: "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."
Take the case of a mother who is at home every day, morning and night, attending to her children. As she rocks the cradle, her love and energy radiate out to the infant who then feels a natural peacefulness and security. She has time for the child, time to sing sweet lullabies and console when the tears come, time to teach about people, about the world, about the little things in growing up, time to cuddle for no reason except to express her love. On the other hand, the working mother has no time to do extra things. When the infant cries, she may, out of her own frustrations of the day, become impatient and scold him, demanding that he keep quiet. "I told you to be quiet!" she shouts. The infant doesn't even understand English yet. You can imagine this helpless child's feelings as he receives an emotional blast of anger and frustration directed toward his gentle form. Where is he to turn? He cannot find refuge even in his mother's arms. What will the next generation be like if all the children are raised under such circumstances? Will it be strong and self-assured? Will it radiate kindness to others, never having had kindness given to it? Will it be patient and understanding? No. It is a proven fact that most of the people in prison were neglected or beaten as children. It is also a proven fact that nearly all parents who mistreat their children were themselves mistreated by their parents. Unless mothers care for and love their children, society will inherit an entire generation of frustrated adults who were once frustrated children. These will later be the people who rule the world. Then what happens? They in turn raise their children in the same manner, for that is the only example of parenthood they have. They will think that neglect is natural, that children can get along on their own from an early age or be raised by a governess or nurse or at a day-care center. It's a circle: a childhood of neglect produces a bitter adult life; a childhood of love and trust produces a loving and happy adult life.
We learn so many important things from the mother. This learning is not just from the things she explains to us, but from the way she lives her life. If she is patient, we learn patience. If she is angry and unhappy, then we learn to be angry and unhappy. How wonderful it is for a mother to be in the home and give her children the great gifts of life by her example. She can teach them so many things, bring them into profound understandings about the world around them and offer them basic values and points of view that will sustain them throughout their life. Her gift of love is directly to the child, but indirectly it is a gift to all of humanity, isn't it? A child does not learn much from the father until he is older, perhaps eight or nine, or ten years of age.
Let me tell you a sad story. We have a book in our library which describes a plan, made by the Christians, to destroy Hinduism in Sri Lanka and India. One of their major tactics is to get the Hindu women out of the homes and working in the world. They knew that the spiritual force within the home is created by the unworldly woman. They knew that a secure woman makes for a secure home and family, a secure husband and a secure religion. They knew that the Hindu woman is the key to the perpetuation of Hinduism as long as she is in the home. If the woman is in the home, if she is happy and content and the children are nurtured and raised properly, then the astral beings around the home will be devonic, friendly and beneficial. But if she is out of the home and the husband is out of the home, the protective force-field around the home disintegrates, allowing all kinds of astral asuric beings to enter. Such a neglected home becomes inhabited by base, asuric beings on the lower astral plane. You cannot see these beings, but they are there, and you can sense their presence. Things just don't feel right in a home inhabited by negative forces. You have the desire to leave such a home as soon as you enter it. The children absorb these vibrations, these feelings. Children are open and psychically sensitive to such influences, with little means of self-protection. They will become disturbed, and no one will know the reason why. They will be crying and even screaming. They will be constantly disobedient. Why should they become disobedient? There is no positive, protective force field of religion established by the mother. This leaves the inner force field vulnerable to negative and confusing forces of all kinds, especially in modern, overpopulated cities where destructive psychic influences are so strong. These negative vibrations are penetrating the inner atmosphere of the home, and the children are psychic enough to pick them up and suffer.
Religion begins in the home under the mother's influence and instruction. The mother goes to the temple to get strong. That is the reason Hindus live near a temple. They go to the temple to gain the strength from the shakti of the Deity, and they return to the home where they maintain a similar vibration in which to raise the next generation to be staunch and wonderful citizens of the world, to bring peace on Earth, to keep peace on Earth. There is an ancient Tamil proverb which says one should not live in a city which has no temple.
If a child is screaming in its cradle, and the baby sitter is yelling at him and couldn't care less about his feelings, and the mother is out working, that child is not a candidate for peace on Earth. That child is going to keep things confused, as they are today. So, it's all in the hands of the mother; it's not in the hands of the father. Religion and the future of society lie solely in the hands of the mother. It is in the hands of the father to allow or not to allow the mother to be under another man's mind out in the world.
Just as the two world wars took women out of the home, so did another recent change affect mankind. When the automobile came, people forgot about breeding. The automobile did one terrible thing: it made people forget how to breed and how to take care of one another. When people had horses, horses were a part of the family. People had to care for their horses and in the process learned to care for one another. People also had to breed their horses, and in that process learned about the value of intelligent breeding. In those days, you often heard of the "well-bred" person. You don't hear of the well-bred person anymore. People no longer consider that humans, too, are involved in the natural process of breeding. They have become forgetful of these important laws, and this has led to lack of discipline, to bodies indiscriminately creating more bodies. Who is living in them nobody quite knows. That's what we, as a society, forgot when the automobile replaced the horse. When you had a horse, you had to feed it, you had to train it, curry it, stable it and breed it. In breeding it, you had to choose a stud for your mare or find a suitable mare for your stallion. The qualities on both sides were closely observed, and the combination of genetics consciously planned. It was, therefore, natural for people in those days to seek proper mates for their children, and the results were the vital, creative and industrious children of the children. As a civilization, we are slowly forgetting such things, being more careless about our children's future, about their lives and minds.
Television has not helped the matter. In fact, it has virtually stopped the proper education of the child in those communities where it is watched for hours each day. Instead of developing a curiosity by adventuring for hours through a forest or climbing a tree, instead of discovering the wonders of nature and art and music, instead of becoming involved in sports and hobbies, children are mentally carried along by television stories through positive and negative states of mind. They become uncreative, inactive, never learning to use their own minds. Not all television is negative. Some of it can be quite educational; but hours and hours each day of passive absorption are not good for the child's mental and emotional development. Children need to be active, to involve themselves in a wide variety of experiences. If the mother is there, she can intelligently guide their television, being careful that they do not get in the habit of watching it for hours on end, and watching that bold sex, violence and other bad influences are not a daily experience. When the program is over, she can send them out to play. Of course, if she is gone, they will watch anything and everything. For the young, television is one of the most senseless pastimes there is, carrying the mind further and further away from the true Self. I think you will all agree that our values, the values found in the holy Vedas, Tirukural and other sacred scriptures are not found on television. Instead, TV gives our children a brutal and unbalanced view of life which distorts in their minds how life really is. These are very serious questions. It is the mother who protects her children from negative influences, guiding their young minds into positive channels of expression.
Take the case of a farmer who raises livestock, who milks cows and goats. He works hard. He gets up early and takes care of his animals. He cannot succeed if he is also working part-time in the grocery store downtown. He just can't do it. Those animals need attention. There is no sensible man who would run a farm, with cows and goats and chickens, and not be there to take care of them, because those animals need a lot of help. He stays there and takes care of his business. He is a farmer and that is his duty, and he knows it.
Well, what's more important than the child? He needs 24-hour-a-day care. He is learning to walk, to speak, to think. He falls down and needs consoling. He catches the flu and needs to be nursed back to health. It is the mother's duty to provide that care. No one else is going to do it for her. No one else can do it for her. She brought that child into the world, and she must prepare that child for a positive and rewarding life. If the farmer neglects his animals, he creates a karma. The animals suffer. The farm suffers. The community suffers when the farm fails, and the man himself suffers. There is a grave karma, too, for the woman who neglects her stri dharma, who goes out into the world and does not nurture the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of her children. She knows this within herself, but she may be influenced by ill-advised people, or by a mass movement that tells her that she has only one life to live and that she cannot find fulfillment in the home but must express herself, venture out, seek her own path, her own fortune. You have all heard these ideas. I tell you that they are wrong. They spell the disillusionment of the mother who heeds them, then the disintegration of the family that is sacrificed by her absence. Finally, they result in her own unhappiness as she despairs at the loss suffered by her family and herself.
From the point of view of the Second World, or astral plane, the home is the family temple, and the wife and mother is in charge of that spiritual environment. Man can come into that sanctum sanctorum but should not bring the world into it. He will naturally find a refuge in the home if she is doing her duty. He will be able to regain his peace of mind there, renew himself for the next day in the stressful situations that the world is full of. In this technological age a man needs this refuge. He needs that inner balance in his life. When he enters that sanctuary and she is in her soul body and the child is in its soul body, then he becomes consciously conscious in his soul body. He leaves the conscious mind, which is a limited, external state of mind and not a balanced state of mind. He enters the intuitive mind. He gets immediate and intuitive answers to his worldly problems. How can he not be successful in his purusha dharma in the outside world when he has the backing of a good wife? She is naturally perceptive, naturally intuitive. She balances out his intellect, softens the impact of the forces which dash against his nervous system from morning to night. Encouragement and love naturally radiate out from her as she fulfills stri dharma. Without these balancing elements in his life, a man becomes too externalized, too instinctive and sometimes brutal.
If a woman is working, she cannot provide this balance. She has to start thinking and acting like a man. She has to become a little harder, create a protective shell around her emotions. Then the home loses its balance of the masculine and the feminine forces. Take for example the situation in which the wife rushes home from work fifteen minutes before the husband. She's upset. The children come over from grandmother's house or she tells the baby sitter to go home. She scurries to prepare something before he comes home, then rushes to get herself looking halfway decent. Emotionally upset, she tries to calm herself, tries to relax and regain her composure. Her astral body is upset. The children's astral bodies are upset. The husband enters this agitated environment--upset by being in the world anyway--and he becomes more disturbed. He was looking forward to a quiet evening. He feels neglected, disappointed, and that leads him to become distraught, even angry. No wonder he beats his wife and abuses his child. He's mad. He gets more and more disturbed until there is nothing left to do but walk out. It's a totally impossible situation. Furthermore, it's not going to get better but exceedingly worse.
The situation I have just described is one of the main reasons that marriages today have become less stable, that so many married couples--sixty to seventy percent, I'm told--are experiencing difficulties and breaking up. People never get married with the intent of breaking up. Never. The forces do it. You put two magnets together one way and they attract one another. Turn one around, and they repel each other. The same force that brought the people together, when it is not handled right, makes them pull apart and hate each other. They can't see eye to eye. Then to make up, they go out to dinner to talk it over--in another frustrating asuric situation, as far out in the world as they can get--to try to make up. When that doesn't help, they come home, still frustrated. If they went to the nearby temple and worshiped the Deity together, that would help. They would return home in a different state of mind, and discover that their vibration had changed. Why does it help to go to the temple? Because the Deity is in the temple. The Deity is there to adjust the forces of the inner nerve system, to actually change the forces of mind and emotion.
In the home the mother is likened to the Shakti Deity. She is the power of the home. None other. So she has to be there. She has to be treated right. She has to be given the things she needs. It is the man's duty to provide for her and for the children. The husband should provide her with all the fine things, with a good house which she then makes into a home, with gold and jewels and clothes, gold hanging down until her ears hurt, more bracelets, more things to keep her in the home so she is feeling secure and happy. In return she provides a refuge, a serene corner of the world where he can escape from the pressures of daily life, where he can regain his inner perspective, perform his spiritual sadhana and meditations then enjoy his family. Thus, she brings happiness and peace of mind to the family, to the community and to the world.
This working together of the home and the temple brings up the culture and the religion within the family. The family goes to the temple; the temple blesses the family's next project. The mother returns home. She keeps an oil lamp burning in the shrine room on the altar. It's a beautiful thing. All this happens because her astral body is not fretted by the stresses and strains of a worldly life, not polluted by the lustful thoughts of other men directed to her. She is not living in the emotional astral body. She is living in her peaceful soul body of love, fulfilling her dharma and radiating the soulful presence called sannidhya. She was born to be a woman, and that's how a woman should behave.
If she does not do her dharmic duty--this means the duty of birth--then she accrues bad karma. Every time she leaves the home to go out to work, she is making kukarma. Yes, she is. That negative karma will reflect on her astral body and on her husband's astral body and on the astral bodies of their children, causing them to become insecure.
The Christian-Judaic-Islamic idea of a one life, that "you have to get everything out of this life because when you're gone, you're gone, so grab all the gusto that you can out of life" has given the modern Western woman the idea that she is not getting what she should, by being a woman, and therefore the world looks doubly attractive because she is just passing through and will never come back and doesn't want to miss anything. So, living a man's life is very, very attractive. She doesn't want to stay home all the time and not see anything, not meet anybody, go through the boredom of raising a family, taking care of the children. She wants to be out with life, functioning in a man's world because she is told that she is missing something. Therefore, you can understand her desire to get out and work, start seeing and experiencing life and mixing with people, meeting new people. The Hindu woman does not look at life like that. The Hindu woman knows that she was born in a woman's body--this soul has taken an incarnation for a time in a woman's body--to perform a dharma, to perform a duty for the evolution of the soul. The duty is to be a mother to her children, wife to her husband, to strengthen the home and the family, which are the linchpin of society. She knows that the rewards are greater for her in the home. She knows that all she is missing is a man's strenuous work and responsibility, that her stri dharma is equally as great as a man's purusha dharma, even though they are quite different by nature. Because she knows these things, she fulfills her dharma joyously.
Now, a woman may wonder, "If I don't work, how are we going to pay the bills?" The real reason that most women work is economic. The economy of the world is becoming more and more difficult, and the first answer to money problems, especially in the West, where the family unit is not too strong these days, is to have the woman go to work. This is an unhappy solution. The sacrifices are greater than the rewards. It is a false economy. Many times I have told young wives to stay home with their children. They worry. Their husbands worry. But with the wife at home, working to strengthen her husband, he soon becomes confident, creative, energetic. He is reinspired and always finds a way to make things work.
As long as the mother is home, everything is fine. There is security. Without this security, a family begins to disintegrate. Just think how insecure a child is without its mother. When the mother is there, security reigns in the home. As long as the mother is home doing whatever she naturally does as a mother--she doesn't even have to read a book about how to do it--the husband has to support the home. He feels bound to support the home.
Of course, religion must be the basis of the home to make it all work. When women leave the home to work in the world, they sacrifice the depth of their religion; their religious life then simply becomes a social affair. This is true of both Eastern and Western religions. As long as the mother is home, the celestial devas are there, hovering in and around the home. How many of you were raised with your mother staying at home? Well, then you know what I mean. Now, what if she wasn't at home when you were a child? You came home and mother wasn't there. You had to fix your own snack in an empty house. You didn't feel much cared for. You were alone in an empty house, perhaps frightened, and you went around seeing if someone was hiding in the closet. You didn't feel that motherly, protective feeling. When mother finally does come home, she has other things on her mind. She is tired. She has worked hard, and now she has to work even more. She is not thinking about the little helpless kid who can't take care of himself or herself. She may get home and think to herself, "I just can't forget about that good-looking man I met at the office. I even see him in my dreams. I have a husband and I shouldn't be thinking about such things, but" And on and on and on. Arguments begin to happen for the first time in the home. What do you do? You worry for awhile. You cry a little. As soon as you can, you start fending for yourself. You work out ways to take care of yourself or even to get away from the unhappy situation as soon as you can. You end up out on your own in the world at a young age, before you are mature enough to cope with it.
The Hindu woman knows that she is born in a woman's body to perform a woman's dharma, to perform her duty and not to emulate the men. The duty is to be a mother to her children and a wife to her husband, whom she looks to as her lord. She performs that duty willingly as does the man perform his duty which arises out of being born in a man's body. The Hindu woman is trained to perform her stri dharma from the time she is a little girl. She finds ways to express her natural creativity within the home itself. She may write poetry or become an artist. Perhaps she has a special talent for sewing or embroidery or gardening or music. She can learn to loom cloth and make the family's clothing. If needed, she can use her skills to supplement the family income without leaving the home. There are so many ways for a Hindu wife and mother to fully use her creative energies, including being creative enough to never let her life become boring. It is her special blessing that she is free to pursue her religion fully, to study the scriptures, to sing bhajana and keep her own spiritual life strong inside.
Then there is the situation in which the wife is working for her husband in the home. This is not ideal, but it is far better than having her out, away from her husband, under another man's mind. At least the family is working together toward a single goal, and the mother is there to care for the child and answer questions. Of course, if working in the home does not allow for closeness of mother and children, then it is to be avoided--if, for instance, the work is so demanding that the mother is never free to play with the young ones or is so pressured by her other duties that she becomes tense and upset. Otherwise, it is a positive situation. From the child's point of view, mother is home. She is there to answer questions, to make a dosai or say "Go make yourself a nice dosai."
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