An Address given by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi on the occasion of A GLOBAL PEACE INITIATIVE OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL LEADERS at Palais des Nations, UN, Geneva 7 October, 2002.
Salutations to all of you who are verily the embodiments of Supreme Love. Men and women are equal in Amma’s eyes. But, at present, most women are asleep. Women have to wake up and arise! This is one of the most urgent needs of the age. Not only women living in developing countries need to wake up — this applies to women all over the world. Women in countries where materialism is predominant should awaken to spirituality. And women in countries where they are forced to remain inside the narrow walls of religious tradition should awaken to modern thinking. It has been widely believed that women and the cultures in which they live will awaken through education and material development. But time has taught us that this concept is too limited. Only when women imbibe the eternal wisdom of spirituality, along with modern education, will the power within them awaken — and they will rise to action.
Who should awaken woman? What obstructs her awakening? In truth, no external power can possibly obstruct woman or her innate qualities of motherhood — qualities such as love, empathy, and patience. It is she, and she alone, who has to awaken herself. A woman’s mind is the only real barrier that prevents this from happening. The rules and superstitious beliefs that degrade women continue to prevail in most countries.
The primitive customs invented by men in the past to exploit and to subjugate women remain alive to this day. Women and their minds have become entangled in the cobwebs of those customs. Even today, woman is caught in the illusory net of the nightmare she has experienced for so long. The memory of the horrors perpetrated against women throughout history runs very deep. Women have been hypnotized by their own minds. Women have to help themselves in order to extricate themselves from that magnetic field. This is the only way.
Look at an elephant. It can uproot huge trees with its trunk. When an elephant living in captivity is still a baby, it is tied to a tree with a strong rope or a chain. Because it is the nature of elephants to roam free, the baby elephant instinctively tries with all its might to break the rope. But isn’t strong enough to do so. Realizing its efforts are of no use, it finally gives up and stops struggling. Later, when the elephant is fully grown, it can be tied to a small tree with a thin rope. It could then easily free itself by uprooting the tree or breaking the rope. But because its mind has been conditioned by its prior experiences, it doesn’t make the slightest attempt to break free.
This is what is happening to women. The infinite potential inherent in men and women is the same. If women really want to, it won’t be difficult to break the shackles — the rules and conditioning that society has imposed on them.
The greatest strength of women lies in their innate motherhood, in their creative, life-giving power. And this power can help women to bring about a far more significant change in society than men could ever accomplish.
The antiquated, crippling concepts devised in the past are blocking women from reaching spiritual heights. Those are the shadows that still haunt women, evoking fear and distrust within. Women should let go of their fear and distrust. They are illusions. The limitations women think they have are not real. Women need to muster the strength to overcome those imagined limitations. They already possess this power; it is right here! And once that power has been evoked, no one will be able to stop the forward march of women in every area of life.
Men normally believe in muscle power. On a superficial level they look upon women as their mothers, wives, and sisters. But there is no need to hide the fact that, on a deeper level, men still have a great deal of resistance when it comes to properly understanding, accepting, and recognizing women and the feminine aspect of life.
Amma remembers a story…
In a village there was a woman who found immense happiness in doing selfless service as service to God. The religious leaders of the village chose her as one of their priests. She was the first appointed woman priest in the area, and the male priests didn’t like it one bit. Her great compassion, humility, and wisdom were appreciated by the villagers. This caused a lot of jealousy among the male priests. One day all the priests were invited to a religious gathering on an island. It took three hours to reach the island by boat. As the priests boarded the boat they discovered, to their dismay, that the woman priest was already seated inside. They muttered among themselves, “What a pain! She refuses to leave us alone!” The boat set off. But an hour later the engine suddenly died and the boat came to a standstill. The captain exclaimed, “Oh, no! We are stuck! I forgot to fill the tank!” Nobody knew what to do. There was no other boat in sight. At this point the woman priest stood up and said, “Don’t worry, brothers! I’ll go and fetch some more fuel.” Having said this, she stepped out of the boat and walked away across the water. The priests watched with great astonishment, but were quick to remark, “Look at her! She doesn’t even know how to swim!” This is the attitude of men in general. It lies in their nature to belittle and condemn the achievements of women.
Women are not decorations or objects meant to be controlled by men. Men have forced women to become like potted plants, stunting their freedom and development. Women were not created for the enjoyment of men. Men try to make women into tape recorders, which they like to control, to stop and start, fast forward and rewind, according to their whims and fancies, instead of allowing the women to grow. Men consider themselves superior to women, both physically and intellectually. The arrogance of men’s mistaken attitude — that women cannot survive in society without depending on men — is obvious in everything that men do.
For example, even in the materially developed countries, women are pushed back when it comes to sharing political power with men. It is interesting to see that, compared to developed countries, developing countries are far ahead in providing opportunities for women to rise in politics. But, except for a few who can be counted on one’s fingers, how many women can be seen in the arena of world politics? Is it this way because women are incapable, or is it due to the arrogance of men?
The right circumstances and support of others will certainly help women to awaken and arise. But this alone is not enough unless they draw inspiration from those circumstances and find strength within themselves. Real power and strength don’t come from the outside; they are to be found within. And courage is an attribute of the mind; it is not a quality of the body. Women have to find their courage. They have the power to fight against the social rules that prevent their progress. This is Amma’s own experience. Until recently, in India, women were not allowed to worship in the inner sanctum of a temple; nor could women consecrate a temple, perform Vedic rituals or chant Vedic mantras. But Amma is encouraging and appointing women to do these things. And it is Amma who performs the consecration ceremony in all the temples that we build. There were many who protested against women doing these things, because for generations all those ceremonies and rituals had been performed only by men. To those who questioned what we were doing, Amma explained that we are worshipping a God who is beyond all differences, who does not differentiate between male and female. As it turns out, the majority of people have supported this revolutionary move. Those prohibitions against women were never actually a part of ancient Hindu tradition. They were in all likelihood invented later by men who belonged to the higher classes of society, in order to exploit and oppress women.
In ancient India, the terms that were used by a husband when talking about his wife were, “the one who leads the husband through life” and “the one who guides her husband on the path of righteousness.” These terms imply that women enjoyed the same status as men, or perhaps an even higher one. In fact, women were considered the embodiments of power. In India, Saraswati is worshipped as the Goddess of wisdom and learning; Lakshmi is the Goddess of prosperity; and Durga is the Goddess of strength and power. It is commonly believed that the religion that gives least status to women is Islam. But the Koran speaks of qualities such as compassion and wisdom, and of God’s essential nature, as feminine.
In Christianity, the Supreme Being is worshipped exclusively as the Father in Heaven, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The feminine aspect of God is not so widely recognized. Christ considered men and women equal. For Christ, Krishna, and Buddha to be born, a woman was needed. In order to incarnate, God needed a woman, who went through all the pain and hardship of pregnancy and giving birth. A man was not capable of this. Yet no one considers the injustice of women being ruled by men.
Which eye is more important, the left or the right? Both are equally important. It is the same with the status of men and women in society. Both should be aware of their unique responsibilities, or dharma. Men and women have to support one another. Only in this way can we maintain the harmony of the world. When men and women become powers that complement each other, and move together with a sense of cooperation and mutual respect, they will attain perfection. In reality, men are a part of women. Every child first lies in the mother’s womb, as a part of the woman’s very being. As far as a birth is concerned, a man’s only role is to offer his seed. For him it is only a moment of pleasure; for the woman it is nine months of austerities. It is the woman who receives, conceives and makes that life a part of her being. She creates the most conducive atmosphere for that life to grow within her and then gives birth to that life. Women are essentially mothers, the creators of life. There is a hidden longing in all men to be re-enfolded by the unconditional love of a mother. This is one of the subtle reasons for the attraction that men feel towards women — because a man is born out of a woman.
No one can question the reality of motherhood — that men are created from women. Yet those who refuse to come out of the cocoon of their narrow minds will never be able to understand. You cannot explain light to those who know only darkness. Giving birth is the one thing a woman can claim exclusively as her own. With this power within her, she can influence the entire world. The principle of motherhood is as vast and powerful as the universe. “Is God a man or a woman?” The answer to that question is that God is neither male nor female — God is “That.” But if you insist on God having a gender, then God is more female than male, because the masculine is contained within the feminine.
Anyone — woman or man — who has the courage to overcome the limitations of the mind can attain the state of universal motherhood. The qualities of motherhood are a woman’s birthright. The love of awakened motherhood is a love and compassion felt not only towards one’s own children, but towards all people, animals and plants, rocks and rivers — a love extended to all of nature, to all beings. Indeed, to a woman in whom the state of true motherhood has awakened, all creatures are her children. This love, this motherhood, is Divine Love — and that is God.
Half of the world’s population is women. It is a great loss when women are denied the freedom to come forward, and when they are denied the high status that should be theirs in society. When women are denied this, society loses their potential contribution. When women are made weak, their children become weak as well. In this way, a whole generation loses its strength and vitality. Only when women are accorded the honour they deserve, can we create a world of light and awareness.
Women can perform all tasks just as well as men — perhaps even better. Women have the willpower and creative energy to do any type of work. Amma can say this based on Her own experience. Whatever the form of action, women can attain extraordinary heights, and this is true especially on the spiritual path. Women have the purity of mind and intellectual capacity to achieve this. But, whatever they undertake, the beginning should be positive. If the beginning is good, the middle and the end will automatically be good, provided one has patience, faith, and love.
Wrong beginnings set on a faulty foundation are one reason that women lose out so much in life. It isn’t only that women should share equal status with men in society; the problem is that women are given a bad start in life, due to wrong understanding and lack of proper awareness. So, women are trying to reach the end without the benefit of having the beginning. If we want to learn to read the Roman alphabet, we have to begin with ABC, not with XYZ. And what is the ABC of women? What is the very fibre of a woman’s being, her existence? It is her inborn qualities, the essential principles of motherhood. Whatever area of work a woman chooses, she shouldn’t forget these virtues that God or Nature has graciously bestowed on her. A woman should perform all her actions being firmly rooted in the very ground of these qualities.
Just as ABC is the beginning of the alphabet, the quality of “motherhood” is the foundation of a woman. She shouldn’t leave out that crucial part of herself before she moves on to other levels. There are many powers in women that are generally not found in men. A woman has the ability to divide herself into many. Contrary to men, women have the capacity to do several things at the same time. Even if she has to divide herself, and do many different things simultaneously, a woman is gifted with the ability to carry out all actions with great beauty and perfection. Even in her role as a mother, a woman is able to bring forth many different facets of her being — she has to be warm and tender, strong and protective, and a strict disciplinarian. Rarely do we see this kind of confluence of qualities in men. So, in fact, women have a greater responsibility than men in society. Women hold the reins of integrity and unity in the family and in society.
A man’s mind easily becomes identified with his thoughts and actions. Male energy can be compared to stagnant water; it doesn’t flow. The mind and intellect of a man usually get stuck in the work that he does. It is difficult for men to shift their minds from one focus to another. Because of this, the professional life and family life of many men become intertwined. Most men cannot separate the two. Women, on the other hand, have an inborn capacity to do this. It is a deep-rooted tendency of a man to bring his professional persona home and behave accordingly in his relationship with his wife and children. Most women know how to keep their family life and professional life separate. Feminine energy, or a woman’s energy, is fluid like a river. This makes it easy for a woman to be a mother, a wife, and a good friend who provides her husband with confidence. She has the special gift to be the guide and advisor of the entire family. Women who have jobs are more than capable of succeeding in that as well.
The power of a woman’s innate motherhood helps her to find a deep sense of peace and harmony within herself. This enables her to reflect and react at the same time; whereas a man tends to reflect less and react more. A woman can listen to the sorrows of other people and respond with compassion; but, still, when faced with a challenge, she can rise to the situation and react as strongly as any man.
In today’s world, everything is being contaminated and made unnatural. In this environment, woman should take extra care that her qualities of motherhood — her essential nature as a woman — don’t become contaminated and distorted. Yet, whether you are a woman or a man, your real humanity will come to light only when the feminine and masculine qualities within you are balanced. There is a man in the unconscious of a woman, and a woman in the unconscious of a man. This truth dawned in the meditation of the great saints and seers eons ago. This is what the Ardhanariswara (half God and half Goddess) concept in the Hindu faith signifies.
Men have also suffered greatly as a result of the exile of the feminine principle from the world. Because of the oppression of women and the suppression of the feminine aspect within men, men’s lives have become fragmented, often painful. Men, too, have to awaken to their feminine qualities. They have to develop empathy and understanding in their attitude towards women, and in the way they relate to the world.
Statistics show that men — not women — commit by far most of the crime and killing in this world. Only love, compassion, and patience — the fundamental qualities of women — can lessen the intrinsically aggressive, overactive tendencies of men. Similarly, there are women who need the qualities of men, so that their goodness and purity don’t immobilize them. Today when competition and anger are the norm everywhere, it is the patience and tolerance of women that create the harmony that exists in the world.
Women are the power and the very foundation of our existence in the world. When women lose touch with their real selves, the harmony of the world ceases to exist, and destruction sets in. It is therefore crucial that women everywhere make every effort to rediscover their fundamental nature, for only then can we save this world. What today’s world really needs is cooperation between men and women, based on a firm sense of unity in the family and society. Wars and conflicts, all the suffering and lack of peace in the present-day world, will certainly lessen to a great extent if women and men begin to cooperate and support each other. Unless harmony is restored between the masculine and the feminine, between men and women, peace will continue to be no more than a distant dream.
There are two types of language in the world: the language of the intellect and the language of the heart. The language of the dry, rational intellect likes to argue and attack. Aggression is its nature. It is purely masculine, devoid of love or any sense of relatedness. It says, “Not only am I right and you are wrong, but I have to prove this at all costs so that you will yield to me.” Controlling others and making them puppets that dance according to their tune is typical of those who speak this language. They try to force their ideas on others; their hearts are closed; they rarely consider anyone else’s feelings. Their only consideration is their own ego and their hollow idea of victory.
The language of the heart, the language of love, which is related to the feminine principle, is quite different. Those who speak this language do not care about their ego. They have no interest in proving that they are right or that anyone else is wrong. They are deeply concerned about their fellow beings and wish to help, support, and uplift others. In their presence transformation simply happens. They are the givers of tangible hope and of light in this world. Those who approach them are reborn. When such people speak it is not to lecture, impress or to argue — it is a true communion of hearts.
Real love has nothing to do with lust or self-centredness. In real love, you are not important; the other is important. In love, the other is not your instrument to fulfil your selfish desires; you are an instrument of the Divine with the intention of doing good in the world. Love does not sacrifice others; love gives joyfully of itself. Love is selfless — but not the enforced selflessness of women being pushed into the background, treated as objects. In real love, you do not feel worthless; on the contrary, you expand and become one with everything — all-encompassing, ever blissful.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is the language of the intellect that prevails, not the language of the heart. The representatives of lust and selfishness — not of love — dominate the world. The ancient teachings of the sages have been distorted to fit within the narrow frames of men’s selfish desires. The concept of love has been distorted. This is why the world is filled with conflicts, violence, and war. Woman is the creator of the human race. She is the first Guru, the first guide and mentor of humanity. Think of the tremendous forces, either positive or negative, that one human being can unleash into the world. Each one of us has a far-reaching effect on others, whether we are aware of it or not. The responsibility of a mother, when it comes to influencing and inspiring her children, cannot be underestimated.
There is much truth in the saying that there is a strong woman behind every successful man. Wherever you see happy, peaceful individuals; wherever you see children endowed with noble qualities and good dispositions; wherever you see men who have immense strength when faced with failure and adverse situations; wherever you see people who possess a great measure of understanding, sympathy, love, and compassion towards the suffering, and who give of themselves to others — you will usually find a great mother who has inspired them to become what they are.
Mothers are the ones who are most able to sow the seeds of love, universal kinship, and patience in the minds of human beings. There is a special bond between a mother and child. The mother’s inner qualities are transmitted to the child even through her breast milk. The mother understands the heart of her child; she pours her love into the child, teaches him or her the positive lessons of life, and corrects the child’s mistakes. A child’s mind is like a freshly cemented floor. The impressions made in the fresh cement will remain there. The good thoughts and positive values we cultivate in our children will stay with them forever. It is easy to mould a child’s character when he or she is very young, and much more difficult to do so when the child grows up.
Once, when Amma was giving darshan in India, a youth came up to her. He lived in a part of the country that was ravaged by terrorism. Because of the frequent killings and lootings, the people in that area were suffering a great deal. He told Amma that he was the leader of a group of youngsters who were doing a lot of social work in that area. He prayed to Amma, “Please give those terrorists, who are so full of hatred and violence, the right understanding. And for all those who have faced so many atrocities and have suffered so much, please fill their hearts with the spirit of forgiveness. Otherwise, the situation will only deteriorate, and there will be no end to the violence.”
Amma was so glad to hear his prayer for peace and forgiveness. When Amma asked him what made him choose a life of social work, he said, “My mother was the inspiration behind this. My childhood days were dark and terrifying. When I was six years old, I watched with my own eyes as my peace-loving father was brutally murdered by terrorists. My life was shattered. I was filled with hatred, and all I wanted was revenge. But my mother changed my attitude. Whenever I would tell her that I was going to avenge my father’s death one day, she would say, ‘Son, will your father come back to life if you kill those people? Look at your grandmother, how sad she always is. Look at me, how difficult it is to make both ends meet without your father. And just look at yourself, how sad you are, not having your father with you. Would you want more mothers and children to suffer as we do? The intensity of this pain would be the same for them. Try to forgive your father’s killers for their terrible deeds, and spread the message of love and universal kinship instead.’ When I grew up, people tried to get me to join different terrorist outfits to avenge my father’s death. But the seeds of forgiveness sown by my mother had borne fruit, and I refused. I gave some of the youngsters the same advice that my mother had given me. This changed the hearts of many people who have since joined me in serving others.”
The love and compassion, rather than hatred, that this boy chose to pour into the world, stemmed from the wellspring of love in his mother. It is thus, through the influence she has on her child, that a mother influences the future of the world. A woman who has awakened her “motherhood” brings heaven to earth wherever she is. Only women can create a peaceful, happy world. And so it is that the hand that rocks the cradle of the babe is the same hand that holds up the lamp, shedding light upon the world.
Men should never hinder a woman’s progress towards her rightful position in society. They should come to understand that the full contribution of women to the world is vitally important. Men should move out of her path; nay, they should prepare her path, to make her forward movement smoother.
A woman, on her part, should think of what she can give to society, rather than what she can take. This attitude will certainly help her to progress. It should be underscored that a woman doesn’t need to receive or to take anything from anyone. She simply needs to awaken. Then she will be able to contribute whatever she wishes to give to society, and she will gain everything she needs. Rather than becoming rusty, living out their lives inside the four walls of the kitchen, women should come out and share with others what they have to give, and fulfil their goals in life. Today, when competition and anger are the norm everywhere, it is the patience and tolerance of women that create whatever harmony there is in the world. Just as a complete electrical circuit depends on the presence of both positive and negative energies, life flowing in all its fullness depends on the presence and contribution of women as well as of men. Only when women and men complement and support each other will their inner blossoming take place.
In general, today’s women are living in a world fashioned by and for men. Women have no need of that world; they should establish their own identities, and thus recreate society. But they should remember the real meaning of freedom. It is not a license to live and behave any way one likes, regardless of the consequences for others; it doesn’t mean that wives and mothers should run away from their family responsibilities. A woman’s freedom and rising has to begin within herself. Also, for shakti, or pure power, to awaken and arise in a woman, she first has to become aware of her own weaknesses. She can then overcome those weaknesses through her willpower, selfless service, and spiritual practice.
In the process of striving to regain their rightful position in society, women should never lose their essential nature. This tendency can be seen in many countries, and will never help women to achieve true freedom. It is impossible to attain real freedom by imitating men. If women themselves turn their backs on the feminine principle, this will culminate in the utter failure of women and society. Then the problems of the world will not be resolved, but only aggravated. If women reject their feminine qualities and try to become like men, cultivating only masculine qualities, the imbalance in the world will only become greater. This is not the need of the age. The real need is for women to contribute all they can to society by developing their universal motherhood, as well as their “masculine” qualities.
As long as women — like the grown elephant tied with a thin rope to a sapling — don’t begin to break the rope and uproot the tree, they are, in a way, themselves responsible for creating their own narrow world. The more a woman identifies with her inner motherhood, the more she awakens to that shakti, or pure power. When women develop this power within themselves, the world will begin to listen to their voices more and more.
There are many individuals and organizations, like the UN, who are supporting the progress of women, and Amma would like to salute them all. This conference is an opportunity for us to build on that foundation. Amma would like to share a few suggestions, and to ask that each one of us ponder what we can do:
1. It is high time to amend the social and religious systems that were formulated in the past. Not only have many rules and practices become obsolete — they actually block the progress of today’s women. Religious traditions are significant. They shouldn’t be discarded completely. Nevertheless, religious leaders should make every effort to guide their followers back to the true essence of spirituality, and in light of this, condemn all types of injustice towards women. Religious leaders should publicly speak out against all forms of oppression and violence against women.
2. The UN should maintain a presence in war zones and areas of communal strife specifically to provide safe havens for women and children.
3. Every nation should create special funds for the education of women and the eradication of poverty among women.
4. The UN should work to eliminate the dowry system.
5. All religions and nations should condemn such shameful practices as female foeticide and infanticide, and female genital mutilation.
6. The UN and leaders of every nation should intensify their efforts to stop child trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young girls. The legal consequences of such behaviour should be effective deterrents.
7. The number of rapes taking place all over the world is astounding. And the fact that in some countries it is the victims of rape who are punished is incomprehensible. Can we merely stand by and watch this?
There should be a concerted, international effort to educate young men, with the aim of putting an end to rape.
8. The dignity of women is assailed by advertisements that treat them as sex objects. We should not tolerate this exploitation.
9. Religious leaders should encourage their followers to make selfless service an integral part of their lives.
10. Amma suggests that, in the wake of this conference, women spiritual leaders form a worldwide network. They could exchange ideas, and inspire and support one another in uplifting women and in protecting human rights.
The essence of motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is the attitude of the mind. It is love — and that love is the very breath of life. No one would say, “I will breathe only when I am with my family and friends; I won’t breathe in front of my enemies.” Similarly, for those in whom motherhood has awakened, love and compassion towards everyone is as much part of their being as breathing. The forthcoming age should be dedicated to awakening universal motherhood.
Women everywhere have to actualise the qualities of motherhood within themselves. This is the only way to realize our dream of peace and harmony. And it can be done! It is entirely up to us. Let us remember that real leadership is not to dominate or to control, but to serve others with love and compassion, and to inspire women and men alike through the example of our lives.
Amma would like to thank all those involved in organizing this summit. Amma deeply honours your efforts to bring peace to this world. May the seeds of peace we are planting here today bear fruit for all.
Om Namah Shivaya.
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