Faith and Femininity

By Ananda-mayidasi, originally published at Ruminate, a place where writers, artists, believers, and seekers share stories, poetry, and art, including the stories and work of those who are nudged forward, backwards, and sideways on the spiritual journey.

Our story begins with a girl with long, golden hair just before a monk enters wielding a pair of cow shears. I’ve been sitting in the monastery bathhouse, mapping the pathways on my face that have brought me here: the angular lines that asserted themselves when I chopped my hair into a boyish pixie; the slopes softened by leftover baby hair from the years when everyone called me “Goldie,” short for “little girl with a golden curl.” The monk’s apology—“Couldn’t find the scissors!”—brings me back to the present.

In my spiritual tradition, renunciates—feminine and masculine—sometimes shave their heads, expressing an intention to depart from a universe where girls with long golden curls act as the sun. The ritual is a prayer to be drawn into the orbit of faith in which the sun is love itself, personified as Radharani, the feminine aspect of God.

But, when I watched my ponytail fall to the floor, I was surprised by the lurch in my stomach. The definite markings of my femininity would soon be swept into the forest, leaving uncertainty: How would I embody femininity now that I had chosen to withdraw from traditional feminine expectations? What form would femininity find now that she wasn’t serving an agenda outside herself? What was her agenda?

“Looks like Maya!” the monk exclaimed, referring to the pile of hair, noting that it looked like the mop-haired dog lying at my feet who was named after the Sanskrit word for illusion—Maya—one of Radharani’s many forms.

Maya, the energy that binds us in temporal affection, also means “to measure.” When femininity—the fountainhead of devotion—expresses herself in relation to possibilities that expand and collapse with the rising and setting of the sun, ironically, the ever-changing world she gestates in her womb appears from within itself as static, quantifiable, and knowable.

But as the outer identity Maya had nurtured fell away with a snip, I wondered: What had I built with my devotion to her? Perhaps the certainty of the female body I called home was nothing more than a sandcastle formed on the shore of an ocean of doubt. Perhaps I hadn’t built anything at all.

In my tradition, we perceive of Maya as a partial expression of God’s feminine aspect. While Maya is pictured meditatively as an unearthly, armored goddess, when Radharani is fully herself, she appears as a simple saint, her unweaponed arms raised in joy as she dances out of love for God. Like the ocean tide rushing and receding in response to the moon, Radharani moves in accordance with God’s innermost will. When femininity expresses herself fully, she appears as full faith.

In traditional symbolism, femininity corresponds with chaos. She is the ocean shifting over the unmovable ground of being, possibility enveloping objective truth, uncertainty enlivening the certainty of love. The more she becomes herself by devoting herself to God, the more her waters deepen. Full femininity, full faith, is the full, deep chaos of love.

***

Rituals seem to begin and end, brief as the bell tones that pulse through them like heartbeats. In the same way, acts of renunciation often appear to occur in a solitary moment, or in this case, in a single snip. But, if we conceive of the bell tone as the sum of all sound, a symbol of sound itself, then we understand the rituals encircled by its ring as eternal acts, eternal windows within time.

I was born in a female body, but the ritual of renunciation taught me that embodying femininity is an eternal process, woven between the tension of male and female forms. Little by little, like water, femininity fills me, takes my shape, moves me. As compassion personified, she inhabits even our sandcastles of doubt and nurtures them into solid homes. For her, every form is a vessel for faith. She knows that femininity is not female—not necessarily. Rather, femininity is our desire to dance with God.


About the Author

5 Responses to Faith and Femininity

  1. Pranams Ananda-mayi,

    I am curious how you might respond to a feminist claim that the ideal of devotion to Krishna that Sri Radha exemplifies situates women in a subservient position to men. I’m not making the argument myself, I am just trying to represent what I think a feminist response might be and I am genuinely interested in how you would respond to such an argument. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

    • Pranams Gauravani. Thank you for your question, and please excuse my delayed response. I’ve been expanding the article for another publication and wanted to reply with the additional text. Your question, being psychological, warrants a layered and individualized response beyond the scope of this forum, but I hope this generalized presentation will suffice for most readers:

      In traditional symbolism, femininity corresponds with chaos. Uncontainable, she shifts over the fixed order of forms—masculinity—like light, illuminating unpredictable perspectives, facilitating shadows of uncertainty. Fire is: its form is certain, independent. But light is relational: it’s perceived in the context of form. Light is an experience; it allows the viewer to participate in the symbolic realm, to be enlightened, so to speak, by the meaning of fire. Without light, our world is at best two-dimensional: unilluminated forms; night-blind viewers. Light—required for vision—is the miraculous third note that completes this world’s chord.

      Why, then, is femininity marginalized? Why does she—the life of masculinity—appear dimmed when she casts herself on the forms of this world?

      I said earlier that masculinity is independent, but I contradicted myself just now: I said that masculinity depends on femininity the way the body depends on the breath—for life. But how often, taking in life and exhaling, do we acknowledge the breath? It never asks. Unless we focus—in, out, in, out—we might never notice the breath—until it leaves.

      When the breath departs, the body remains only for a moment. It disintegrates into its elemental components, meaningless fragments of being. In other words, without the breath, the body loses its purpose out of which its form arises. Similarly, without femininity, masculinity—form itself—is formless, teleologically undefined. But, when masculinity is animated by egoless femininity, he often thinks himself to be both the body and the breath, the dancer and the dance. By her grace he dances through life, using his breath to say, “I dance so beautifully.”

      In the same way, femininity—the life of our world’s forms—depends upon masculinity—form, the ground of experience—for self-realization. Chaos only dances on the ground of order. With her feet on this ground she knows herself, becomes herself, and expresses herself fully in devotion—the traditional spiritual conception of femininity. Without devoting herself to a singular form—without limiting her limitlessness—she’s like wind in an empty room, dancing unacknowledged on the ground of existence unable even to cry, “I cannot dance.”

      But where in this world is femininity to find a form—a limitation—that expands her limitless light, swells the circle of her dance? And where in this world is masculinity to find a breath that dances his apparently solid body into an ever-expanding experience of being?

      ***

      And then, the unfathomable reversal: When femininity express herself fully as full faith—complete certainty, solidity beyond doubt—masculinity expresses himself as full love—complete chaos, liquidity beyond certainty. In the presence of Radharani, Krishna (God’s masculine counterwhole) becomes a devotee. Krishna—the most worshipable—worships Radharani.

      Earlier I employed the sun as a metaphor for Radharani, identifying her with love, the energy existence orbits. Strange, wasn’t it? Because usually femininity is identified with the moon; usually she’s pictured reflecting masculinity’s light. And from her faith-saturated perspective, she is the moon: Radharani is pictured meditatively worshiping the sun, offering sacrifices to obtain Krishna.
      But devotees of Krishna identify her with the sun, the life source of Krishna. My tradition offers a picture of this exquisite enchufla so poignant we might call it a summary of aesthetics: beauty itself.

      Krishna—the sun, the receptacle of love—is subjugated by Radharani—the moon, the servitor, love herself. Exchanging hearts, they exchange positions. Krishna becomes a devotee of Radharani, and, unable to reciprocate with her ever-expanding love, he takes a new shape:

      He trades his alluring black complexion—the color that absorbs all other colors—for a golden-white form, like sunlight—the color that broadcasts all colors—reflective of Radharani’s heart. We call this form Gaura (Golden) Krishna, the “we” that vibrates implicitly in eternity’s chord, the third note heard when one listens closely to the dyad of “me” and “you.”

      Previously, in his dark form Krishna identified himself as a student in golden-complected Radharani’s eternal school of dance; now, donning Radharani’s incandescent tone, Gaura Krishna dances, illuminating the earth with the brilliance of Radharani’s ecstatic love. The ground of order dances under the ocean of chaos, forming and reforming under the force of love’s ecstasy, until finally, Gaura Krishna takes shape: the ground reflects the undulations washing over it; the two become one. When masculinity is fully himself, he embodies—exalts—full femininity.

  2. Dandavats Ananda Mayi Dasi, the chiseled ink of your sweet and humble heart crumbles the rocks of mine remembering that you say at end not only of this and her past article, to be written by the perfect effort of the imperfect devotion in hands of the feminity that only longs dance with God, in this essential humor that inspires and invites to always follow whenever be found and the heart resounds there I postrate and throw my head, infinite thanks, Jaaya!! =)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe without commenting

Back to Top ↑