Reimagining the Subtle Expression of Gender in the Neohumanist Journey towards Human Wholeness

By Didi Ananda Devapriya

In the last century there have been enormous strides in elevating the position of women in societies around the globe towards greater and greater equality and participation in society. The narratives that shape our understanding of traditional gender roles have also been undergoing metamorphosis. Stereotypical gender expectations that had given a certain stability to social roles are now often perceived as limiting and unattractive, especially to the younger generations who crave greater self-expression and freedom in shaping their identities. At the same time, the global crises facing humanity require a new paradigm of coordinated cooperation to replace that of domination and subjugation that has characterized our historical patterns of relating between human groups, genders and with nature. A new, fresh, more integrated conceptualization of gender narratives and identities is needed in order to more deeply explore the potential that the Neohumanist concept of coordinated cooperation carries.

Archetypes of Polarity

Archetypes representing the basic polarities of masculine and feminine energies are found throughout the ages in all philosophical traditions: Yin and Yang, Shiva and Shakti, Radha and Krsna, Adam and Eve, Reason and Nature. In western philosophical traditions, the feminine has been devalued. Eve is seen as the cause of original sin and consequently humanity’s downfall, reason must dominate nature, etc. However, in eastern philosophy, the two aspects are most often seen as a dynamic balance such as in the image of the Tao, or as intertwined lovers as in depictions of Radha and Krsna or Shiva and Shakti.

Tantric Transcendence of Gender

In the Tantra of Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii, this fundamental energetic duality is represented by Shiva, referring to the quality of pure consciousness, and Shakti, referring to the quality of continuous, creative manifestation. These two aspects of divinity are seen as inseparable as the two sides of a single sheet of paper. They are two aspects of a Whole. Within the actual practice of Tantra as well, the process is one of integration of these apparent dualities into oneness. The human being awakens Shakti, or latent kundalinii force, through intense spiritual longing. It then rises through the spine and ultimately merges into the state of pure consciousness, or Shiva. In many other tantric traditions, Shakti is considered to be the divine feminine energy and Shiva, divine masculine energy.
Spiritual growth requires us to cultivate both masculine and feminine energies on a subtle level. The masculine energy of determination, will power and sharply focused intellect is needed in order to fight against distractions and obstacles in order to elevate the mind. However, to ultimately succeed in spiritual practice, it is essential to open the heart and harness the emotions by transforming them into devotion and surrender. The process of surrendering and transcending the limits of intellectual understanding with direct devotional intuitive experience is one that uses feminine energy. Indeed, it is by opening, receiving and merging that we reach the highest levels of Divine realization.

No Monopolies

It is important to differentiate masculine and feminine energy from our male and female physical forms. Masculine energy gives us strength, power, vitality, competitiveness, rationality and courage. Feminine energy offers us creativity, emotional sensitivity, love, warmth, support, communication and connection. Excesses of masculine or feminine energy can both become toxic and these qualities can surface in both males and females. An excess of feminine energy can lead to dependency, backbiting, vanity, irrationality or indecisiveness. An excess of male energy can lead to insensitivity, destructive aggressiveness, impulsiveness, domination and control. Again, it is important to remember, this is not necessarily referring to males and females. Excesses of masculine energy can easily arise in females, and women are very capable of being competitive, aggressive, controlling and dominating. Men are also quite capable of manifesting excesses of feminine energy that lead to jealousy, emotional decision making, vanity, indecisiveness etc.

Therefore, women do not have the monopoly on feminine energy and nor do men have the monopoly on masculine energy, although our genders often are most naturally inclined to favor the feminine if female and masculine if male. The other balancing qualities may need a bit more conscious cultivation or encouragement, especially when social conditioning and stereotyping would otherwise tend to suppress them. Invisible social conditioning into limiting stereotypes starts with seemingly innocuous things like little girls being praised for their cute dresses and boys for their abilities, but then gets internalized on deeper levels. There are so many direct but mostly indirect messages about what it means to be a “real” or “good” woman or man. This can lead to rejection of whole massive parts of our human psyche, labeled as too weak or too strong for our gender, in order to fit into those cultural expectations and protect ourselves from ridicule, shame and hurt.

Attracted or Attracting?

In Tantric philosophy the aspect of energy that determines feminine physical sexual characteristics is known as saḿyojanii shakti which literally translates as “power that conjoins” or “unites,” and the energy that determines masculine physical characteristics is known as vibhájanii shakti which roughly literally translates to “power that differentiates” or “separates.” The feminine saḿyojanii shakti, is more introversial in quality, attracting objects towards itself, whereas the masculine vibhájanii shakti is more extroversial in nature, moving towards objects of attraction. The relative predominance of one of these shaktis in the disembodied mind of the unit being is what will determine the biological sex of an embryo, but the interplay of these energies takes place on a spectrum. In some cases, these two energies may be relatively equal, though there still tends to be a slight tilt in one direction or the other, leading to physical forms that have a blending of characteristics. India has traditionally recognized people of a “third sex” such as the Hijras, and has an ambiguous Hindi term “napum’sak” that also refers to a non-binary gender.

Spiritual Evolution Towards Wholeness

All human beings have both of these energies to varying degrees, and especially as they begin to evolve spiritually and cultivate their full human potential, the subtler aspects of both will become more manifest. Spiritually developed males may become highly emotionally sensitive, intuitive and devotionally evolved, while still maintaining courage and vitality, whereas spiritually evolved females may develop a powerful and courageous fighting spirit and keen intellect, while still maintaining the sweetness of devotional flow. Within the Tantric path, which includes both attitudes and practices, the divine masculine energy can be cultivated by engaging in fighting against internal staticity and external injustices. The divine feminine energy can be cultivated through devotional practices, like kiirtan and bhajan, that harness creative, expressive, emotional power in order to bring the mind closer to the Divine Source.

When the positive qualities of both of these energies find a healthy balance on the individual level, we become more complete and integrated human beings, well grounded in ourselves. The greater the inner balance and wholeness, the more we are able to enter into healthy, equal partnerships with others, including those of another gender. However, this does not mean that we should erase gender differences, trying to become the same. Rather, as we become more whole human beings, we can more fully embrace and value the unique qualities and contribution of our own gender instead of denying, neutralizing or ignoring them.

Complementary and Enriching

The polarities present in the genders can create a beautiful and mutually enriching complementarity when both energies are equally valued and nourished. The concept of coordinated cooperation is one in which all parties involved in an effort contribute in their own unique ways that add important value to the outcome. The traditional nuclear family set-up, while not the only way to raise children anymore, can give an archetypical model of how these energies can be complementary. The fatherly energy primarily provides stability, safety and security, whereas the motherly energy primarily provides affection, love and emotional support. Each parent is not dependent in an unhealthy way on the other but rather complements their partner’s qualities. Fathers are affectionate and loving, but in a way that is uniquely masculine and mothers can give security and safety in a way that is uniquely feminine. Single parents usually find it much more stressful to try and fulfill both roles by themselves, though it certainly happens frequently. The healthy combination of both of these energies in the child’s life are needed to offer a solid emotional foundation to develop into a secure and balanced human being, whether manifesting in a single parent, or in a respectful coordinated cooperation relationship between partners, or by raising children within a more extended family or community.

Evolution of Values

Our early survival as humans may have depended more on valuing strength, valour, courage, fighting spirit of the masculine energy in our attempts to gain physical mastery over the external world and survive in harsh conditions. This may give some basis for understanding the fact that for thousands of years, human social systems have favored masculine energy over feminine energy, tending to associate the masculine with strength and power and the feminine with weakness and emotion. All over the world, these values were reflected in various types of patriarchal systems that institutionalized male domination of political life, economic life and social status, and kept women in subordinated positions. Slowly, and with enormous efforts over the past two hundred years or so, many of the institutional levels of this discrimination have been dismantled, with women gaining the right to vote and participate in political life as well as to work and gain greater economic independence. However, social narratives, conditioning and stereotypes still create invisible “glass ceilings” that lead to women being paid less for equal work, being under-represented politically in most countries and other such structural manifestations of bias.

Individual and Social Narratives

However, as Sohail Inayatullah’s model of Causal Layered Analysis indicates, deep civilizational change happens not just by changing social structures and laws, but by addressing the deeper levels of myth and narrative in which they are rooted. A new archetype of the fully integrated human being could offer such a deep narrative on the individual level. Ultimately all of us are on the path of elevating kundalini Shakti to unite with its polar opposite, Shiva within our own spiritual being using both the masculine quality of will-force, and the feminine quality of surrender. In this sense, integration is literally part of our inherent spiritual journey as human beings and not just a socially progressive agenda.

On the social level, though, we also need healthy, new narratives. The narratives underpinning patriarchy were about conquering, mastering, subjugating and civilizing the wild, dangerous, nature and its indigenous peoples. The industrial revolution led to the factory narrative, giving priority to the “bottom line” and aiming for limitless materialistic growth, in order to facilitate human progress through technological advancement. However, these advancements came at the expense of exploiting and degrading nature’s resources.

Participatory Circles vs Vertical Leadership

Models of leadership and social organisation that value masculine energy tend to be vertical and hierarchical, whereas models of leadership that value feminine energy tend to be more horizontal, circular and participatory. P.R. Sarkar’s vision for a more Neohumanist society in his writings on Prout clearly emphasizes the need for more participatory, cooperative, circular bodies. He offers a new term “coordinated cooperation” to describe this:

” In every field of collective life there should be cooperation among the members of society.
Where this cooperation is between free human beings, each with equal rights and mutual respect for each other, and each working for the welfare of the other, it is called “coordinated cooperation”. Where people do something individually or collectively, but keep themselves under other people’s supervision, then it is called “subordinated cooperation”. In each and every stratum of life, we should do everything with coordinated cooperation and always avoid subordinated cooperation.”

At this point in history, human beings have reached perhaps the apex of what can be achieved through vertical hierarchies and the view of nature as something to be exploited to serve humans. The negative consequences of that approach are now threatening our very survival on the planet. To overcome the major planetary challenges we are collectively facing, we need to question some of the narratives and paradigms we have inherited, especially in regards to how we value masculine and feminine energy. We urgently need to figure out how to truly value ecology, interconnection, relationship, cooperation, collective welfare, compassion and coordinated cooperation instead of the domination of nature, group or self-interest, competition, exploitation, warfare, etc. that has characterized our more masculine values as a society and given rise to various systems of subordinated cooperation such as patriarchy, slavery and capitalism.

The Default Mode

At the same time, as so much of human behavior is deeply patterned and unconscious, with thousands of years of habituation to subordinated cooperation behind us, we must not underestimate the momentum it still carries. Subordinated cooperation relationships, between genders and in other circumstances, still feel “normal” and “right” and are our “default mode” in many circumstances. It takes conscious efforts and continuous education to shift such deeply entrenched values and norms.

Gender Balance Liberates All

Keeping in mind that collective welfare of all, known as “samasamaja tattva” in Neohumanism, is the polestar that can help us avoid the pitfalls of limited gender socio-sentiments and to work for the full inclusion of all voices for the benefit of the entire society. The shift that Shrii P.R. Sarkar encouraged towards coordinated cooperation was in order to truly access the full strength of a united collective body, so greatly needed in this particular era. This means valuing the power of cooperation vs competition, of communication versus domination and force, of the ecological versus the mechanistic.

Even in the women’s struggle to obtain equal rights, greater respect and social equality, some women themselves have continued to give greater importance to masculine energy, cultivating the same competitiveness, aggressiveness, etc. as males in order to rise in a society that values those qualities. Deep civilizational change requires that we recognize the vital contribution that a more participatory approach valuing nature, relationships, cooperation, communication and emotional sensitivity can bring. Valuing the “feminine” does not mean proposing that humans in female bodies will become saviors. Females can be just as problematic as males when in charge. The domination of either gender will tend to lead to issues arising from the excess of that energy. Giving greater value and space as a society to those positive “feminine” qualities in all of us will enrich all human beings, not just those in female bodies. Including and empowering females in particular by creating spaces that encourage and respect feminine energy, participation and voices, will also be an important indicator of this shift. Indeed, liberating and empowering any marginalized group always liberates all of us to become more fully human and to more fully bring out the wealth of human potential.

We become more full and real human beings, the more that both of these masculine and feminine energies fully integrate, both individually and socially as a society. The blend of the masculine qualities of tantric fighting spirit, rationality, strength, power, etc. with the flexibility, nurturing support, compassionate communication, empathy, and artistic creativity of the feminine, divine mother energy can make all of us more fully human, and better equipped to cooperatively solve the problems that the future will bring.