U. Chicago Magazine

Message from my dear friend Tommy (Tomas Haendler) who has known my eldest since she was born.

Hi Guys. Just came back from a week at the beach and among the reading stuff I take I reviewed the University of Chicago magazine article on Wendy Doniger’s writings on Hinduism, and surprise, surprise…. there she was.
Shoba’s comments all over it.

Link here

Very polarizing issue. I still get reader letters saying that I am wrong to defend Ms. Doniger. Below is a recent one.

——— Forwarded message ———-
From: ‘Nathu Ram Verma’ via Ideas QZ
Date: Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 1:08 AM
Subject: doniger’s book Hindus: An Alternative history
To: “ideas@qz.com”

I read your column, Shoba, on the above. I could not digest it. I am also reading this book, now at page 252. I am not tired. I will finish the book. My objection is not about freedom of expression or thought, but the larger question of sensitivity of billions of people. Depiction of Rama and Sita in this book, to say the least, was obnoxious. From which version of Ramayan Wendy has taken details, I do not know. From her references, I gathered they were mostly Westerners. People have sensitivity, right or wrong. To violate it in such utter abundance is morally wrong. Do not tell me about scholarly/ academic / witty/ and what else approach. The story of Rama is venerated in many southeast Asian countries. In Thailand near the Buddha shrine, there is a Rama temple.
You call Wendy brilliant. Yes, but brilliance is to be tempered with wisdom.
I may be wrong. But I do not think Indians mock Christianity in the name of scholarship or otherwise, although there is a lot of bull… in it. To put it simply Jesus was a bastard. How Wendy will like it ?
Since you do not know me. I should tell I am not exactly illiterate and I dislike all organized religions. But Wendy is beyond me.
I do not know whether you reply to your readers’ comments. If you do, pl enlighten me with your wisdom at (REMOVED)

The Sexes– again

The thrill of being a beat reporter at a newspaper is to turn in copy and have it up in a few hours. Column writing takes away that immediacy but offers carte blanche with respect to voice and content– that is its thrill. I write my Mint column about two weeks in advance and The National column about ten days in advance. Last night at about 8 PM, I saw this piece about the Dalai Lama. Pitched it to Eleanor, my editor at The Sexes. She approved it within minutes. Wrote it in two hours. She edited it in an hour. And it is up. Felt like a reporter– although I didn’t go out to report, which Professor Blood said is what real reporters do.

Should read Carol Gilligan’s work. Hadn’t known about it at all.

The piece is here and below. The comments are interesting.

The Dalai Lama Says Female Leaders Are More Compassionate … Hmm

“If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come,” he said.
SHOBA NARAYANJUN 13 2013, 2:09 PM ET

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets the audience as he arrives at a talk titled "Beyond Religion: Ethics, Values and Wellbeing" in Boston
Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

As a Hindu, I often think that if I wanted to choose another religion to follow, it would be Buddhism—and not just because I might get to hug Richard Gere. The Dalai Lama’s recent comments in Australia about how his successor could be a woman only added light to my eyes, and made me exhale into a perfect Lotus pose.

Speaking at a press conference, the exiled 78-year-old leader, suggested that women were better equipped to lead the world in the current time. “If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come,” he said.

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso was then asked about the bitter gender debate that is permeating Australian politics. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been accusing her opposition Liberal Party of being sexist and removing women from the political sphere. Earlier this week, a menu for a Liberal Party fundraiser was leaked on social media. It carried the line: “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.” The chef who created the menu called it a joke that never made it out of the kitchen. He said that the opposition leaders had not seen the menu. Ms. Gillard called the menu “grossly sexist and offensive.” The menu has gone viral and evinced reactions all over Australia. “Even when women ARE at the table, we’re still on the menu,” tweeted a woman in response.

The Dalai Lama responded to the gender question by referring to rising economic inequality around the globe. The world, he said, needs leaders with compassion. And in his mind, that means the world needs more female leaders.

“In that respect, biologically, females have more potential,” he said. “Females have more sensitivity about others’ wellbeing … In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate.”

This is where I lost him. Are women truly more compassionate than men? In responding to the sexist saga that has Australia all a-twitter, is the Dalai Lama himself being sexist?

(This is the problem with us feminists: we bristle. People pay us a compliment—heck, the Dalai Lama pays women a compliment—and some of us, me included, take it amiss. He calls us compassionate and we call him sexist. But even if you take the Dalai Lama—given as he is to simple, playful remarks—out of the equation, the question remains: are women more compassionate than men? )

Research is both fascinating and conflicting on whether women are more compassionate than men. In 1958, Harvard psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg wrote his dissertation on what would come to be called Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. In it, he posited that males are morally superior to females because they scored higher on tests that measured impartial justice and equality. His research was considered groundbreaking at the time and continues to be widely cited. Kohlberg’s conclusions were challenged by his student, Carol Gilligan, who suggested that morality and ethics are based on gender and culture. Gilligan’s research posits that ethics follow two parallel paths: the justice perspective and the care perspective (no prizes for guessing which sex has which). In her 1982 book In a Different Voice, described by Harvard University Press as the “little book that started a revolution,” Gilligan suggests that people with the justice perspective (mostly men) base their ethical decisions on impartiality, fairness, rights, and justice. Those with the care perspective base their ethics on care, compassion, and empathy. Gilligan says that most people will base their choices on either one of these perspectives even if they are aware of both.

Other research suggests that women are socially compassionate but morally traditional. A 2005 study, for example, found that women would support legislation that would reduce income differences but would also oppose the legalization of marijuana. Chinese martial arts movies would have you believe that it is all a matter of perception. Men are compassionate but are not taught to show it. Instead, they are encouraged to hold it all in even if they can empathize with the other party. Last year, British ethicist Roger Steare, who has administered the “Moral DNA test” to over 60,000 volunteers in 200 countries, concluded that women make decisions based on how they impact others—”which tends to produce better decisions.” Men, concluded Steare, are more self-interested.

Despite all the research, or perhaps I should say, in spite of all the research, what is important is the qualities of the leader in question. So yes, let us advocate for more female leaders because that is what is fair. But we should also be advocating for more compassionate leaders, whatever their gender.

SHOBA NARAYAN is the author of Return to India: A Memoir.

jojoabc123 • 6 hours ago
So basically good leaders should be elected and not influenced by quotas based on gender politics
1 1 •Reply•Share ›

notbobcousy • 6 hours ago
This is the problem with us feminists: we bristle. People pay us a compliment—heck, the Dalai Lama pays women a compliment—and some of us, me included, take it amiss. He calls us compassionate and we call him sexist. But even if you take the Dalai Lama—given as he is to simple, playful remarks—out of the equation, the question remains: are women more compassionate than men?
I think most feminists don’t bristle at ideas like women are more compassionate. I often hear feminists say things like “if women ran the world there’d be no wars”, or wax on about the supposed positive virtues of women, and I hear little pushback from feminists against such statements. In the case of the Dalai Lama, these comments will probably go unnoticed by people who would write volumes on it if the Dalai Lama said men were better in some way.

It’s also worth pointing out the Dalai Lama is a feminist, and I guarantee that in saying women were more compassionate, he saw himself as making a feminist statement. Stephanie Meyer recently said she was a feminist because she thought the world would be a better place with women, and while people criticized her, it wasn’t for that statement but because people felt her novels don’t reflect feminist ideas.

To me, what he said is a feminist statement. I just am skeptical of it (at the least, if you think women are better at men at being compassionate, you oughta conclude that men are better on some other personality traits. I see it as nature vs nurture, and if you agree with the studies saying women are inherently more compassionate, there’s probably similar studies ascribing positive traits to men over women. But many people, feminists included, seem to agree with such statements when it’s something positive about women, disagree when it’s positive about men).
2 •Reply•Share ›

CJ Anton • 4 hours ago
What a crock. Compassion wasn’t needed before now? We only just recently discovered this fabulous compassion allegedly possessed (mostly) by women? Very solid of the DL to say it would be cool with him if, thousands of years in, a woman got to take the top job in Buddhism. Good luck convincing the monks.
2 •Reply•Share ›

CAinDC • 4 hours ago
You really are stressing the age thing! “Speaking at a press conference, the exiled 78-year-old leader, who is 78, “
1 •Reply•Share ›

Eubie • an hour ago
Perhaps it would have been more relevant to reference the economic research on altruism, which shows that men tend to be more generous when generosity is less costly, while women tend to be more generous when the costs of generosity are higher [http://econ.ucsd.edu/~jandreon...] . And, this research result is further muddied when expectations of payback are factored in, leading to a finding that men and women are about equally altruistic [http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de...]. The problem with the Moral DNA test is that it involves self-reporting, notorious for its strain on reliability.

New York Times

The editor of Room for Debate got in touch and asked me to write this piece

Respect the Sacred, Ignore the Sexism

Shoba Narayan
Shoba Narayan is a columnist and the author of two books: “Monsoon Diary” and “Return to India.
Updated January 8, 2013, 3:42 PM
I am a Hindu. I love my religion’s glorious and imaginative epic stories, in which seers chose the moment they die and goddesses kill the bad guy while riding a tiger. Within my family, I have Hindu role models who teach me how to conduct the pujas (prayers) and celebrate Hindu holidays.
That said, I still have vexing issues with certain aspects of Hinduism. Like most religions, it is patriarchal–something that the feminist in me deeply resents–and its rituals, though beautiful, can be tedious. But at the end of the day, the mantras, chanting, yoga and other Hindu traditions are what I know and cherish…and what I want to share with my children…but in a Hinduism-lite way.

I tell my daughters that religions are products of a certain era; they have outdated rules.

I believe that raising children within the broad precepts of a religion is good for them. Faith grounds them and gives them part of their identity. My hope is that it will help them later in life when life throws monkey-wrenches at them. I hope that chanting the mantras that they learned at home will give them the strength and resilience to deal with difficulties. Studies have shown that faith helps to preserve relationships, and enhance longevity, health and happiness.
Although Hinduism is an easy religion to follow—we don’t have to keep kosher or go on pilgrimages, for example–there are some constraints that continue to make me uncomfortable as the mother of two daughters. Sons have to cremate fathers, for instance, and mantras like the Rudram, a hymn in praise of Lord Shiva, are supposed to be chanted only by men.
Such sexist rules anger me. I combat them through disobedience. And I try not to expose my daughters to them. They don’t know, for example, that they are not supposed to chant the Rudram. They’ve certainly heard women in our community chant it enough times (and me attempt to chant it in bits and pieces). As for sons being in charge of cremating the parents, my daughters, at 16 and 11, are far too young to ponder this. Instead, we have tangential discussions. I tell my daughters that Hinduism–and indeed all religions—are products of a certain era. They all contain rules that are no longer relevant. They need to be reinterpreted to suit the times and our lives.
I want my girls to be strong women capable of anything. I want them to imbibe a faith that gives them strength but is also flexible enough to accommodate their dreams and circumstances. For now, Hinduism will do.

Yoga Journal

About Vishnu in the Yoga Journal

Super Man

Vishnu lives in luxury, but this Hindu god will abandon his opulent ways to take human form and save the world from evil.

By Shoba Narayan

SO05_75a.jpg

In Indian films known as “god movies,” Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, the pale-skinned goddess of wealth, are shown living in absurdly luxurious surroundings, wearing golden crowns, glittering jewelry, and silky robes, and surrounded by clouds of fragrant incense.

But Vishnu is known as the preserver of the good, and in keeping with that role, he repeatedly assumes human form and goes forth to rid the world of evil. The most famous of his incarnations are Rama, a devout and dutiful prince, and Krishna, a born prankster and the revealer of the profound teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

Rama, the hero of the great Indian epic poem the Ramayana, epitomizes the virtues of filial obedience, loyalty, and honesty. When his own father is tricked into banishing him, Rama utters no protest and continues to serve the full term of his exile even though his father dies long before its end. In return, Rama commands extreme loyalty—from his wife, Sita, who follows him into exile and willingly undergoes trial by fire to prove she has remained pure while kidnapped by another man; from his brother Lakshmana, who leaves his own wife to accompany Rama; from the monkey god, Hanuman, who spends his life in Rama’s service; and, to this day, from legions of Hindu devotees all across India. Mahatma Gandhi died uttering the name of Rama, and in North India, a common greeting is “Ram Ram,” instead of “Hello.”

Mischievous Krishna is Rama’s opposite. He’s usually up to no good, whether enlisting his pals to help steal the butter pots stored high in his mother’s kitchen; hiding the clothes of the gopis, the cow-herding girls, as they bathe naked in the river; or playing sensual music on his flute, driving the gopis faint with longing. Despite these tendencies, Krishna is the teacher who reveals the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita. Exploring some of the most difficult of spiritual issues, including the nature of reality and humanity as well as the central problems of human existence, the Gita remains one of the most important books for any yogi as well as one of the world’s great spiritual classics.

The idea of karma yoga—the yoga of right action—is a centerpiece of Krishna’s message in the Gita. He teaches the importance of striving to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing, not because of the spiritual merit it might bring. Like all of Vishnu’s incarnations, Krishna reminds us to do our best to make the world a better place.

Yoga Journal

Yoga Journal

Parvati Power

This Hindu goddess, consort of Shiva, proves that dignity and smarts prevail.

By Shoba Narayan

Parvati is one face of the divine female energy, often called Devi (the shining one) or Shakti (power), that many Indians worship as the power above all deities. The goddess is personified in many forms, including Saraswati, goddess of learning and consort of Brahma, and Lakshmi, goddess of fortune and consort of Vishnu.

Parvati came into being when a female demon was terrorizing the world, smug in the knowledge that only a son of Shiva could kill her. But Shiva had withdrawn from the world to practice ascetics high in the Himalayas. He wouldn’t even look at a woman, much less sire a son.

In an effort to woo Shiva, Shakti, the great mother goddess, took the form of Parvati. Shiva scorned her until she engaged in austerities of her own. Impressed, Shiva accepted her as his wife, and they produced a son who destroyed the demon.

Smart and curious, Parvati questioned Shiva about the Vedas and other sacred texts, whose secrets he whispered into her ears. But the couple also had their spats, one of which resulted in Ganesha: Parvati was frustrated that none of Shiva’s ganas (attendants) would swear allegiance to her, so she created a boy and instructed him to let no one enter her home. When Shiva arrived, the boy blocked his way, so the god chopped off his head. Parvati was sick with grief. To appease her, Shiva fused the head of an elephant onto the boy’s body and breathed life back into it—and named him Ganesha, “leader of the ganas.”

Today, Parvati is the epitome of determination and discipline. She refuses to let Shiva’s scorn intimidate her and doesn’t take no for an answer. Instead, she wins with grace and dignity, something we can all aspire to.

therefore, all sages worship him. He is there before anything else was there in the world. Whomever Narada approached could not give him an answer. Therefore, finally he approached Lord Shiva and asked this question. Lord Shiva replied that he mediate upon his guru. Narada satisfied and went back and told to other gods that he got his answer. Then the other gods asked Narada- who is Lord Shiva’s guru? The sage, then only realized that he did not get the answer to his question so far. So he went back to the Lord and praised him. ‘O Lord’, you are above everything. You can destroy the whole world and can create it back even better way within seconds. So, please be kind enough to understand all my doubts instead of asking you silly questions. Then, Lord Shiva replied with a smile. ‘Oh Narada, The person you and the entire world worship as their mother is my guru’. Narada surprised and replied; But, she is your wife? Then Lord Shiva said; Yes, that is the reason why she is my guru. Then he showed Narada his mediating form which we normally see in pictures. So, Narada saw Parvathi as Kundalini rising across Shiva’s spine and going across his neck and realized the reason why he is called ‘Nataraja’. Finally, he saw Parvathi at Shiva’s Crown Chakra in woman form just like the universal mother and water falling out of her mouth to feed the entire living beings. Then, Lord Shiva told to Narada: ‘Oh! Great sage, Narada, please spread the knowledge to the entire world that when one respect and believe their wife to the most, their Kundalini will start aligning with her and they will have the perfect married life. Then only, she will yield to him willfully’.

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Yoga Journal

Thanks, Naomi, for sending me these links in the Yoga Journal.  Wrote these pieces a long time ago.  Didn’t know they existed.

    • Quite Contrary

      Kali is both a fierce warrior and a compassionate mother goddess, reflecting the range of behavior available to us all.

      By Shoba Narayan

      Many of the female deities in Hindu mythology are powerful and full of contradictions. The goddesses Kali and Durga are perfect examples of this: They mix fierce destructive power with maternal protectiveness.

      Durga, often shown riding a tiger, is one of the names given to the consort of Shiva. When one of their sons was battling a demon, Durga came to her child’s aid by assuming the form of Kali, a fearsome, bloodthirsty figure with a long, protruding tongue. The demon’s power allowed every drop of his blood to turn into a hundred copies of himself as soon as it hit the ground, but Kali’s tongue caught each drop in midair, and the demon and all his copies were vanquished.

      The victorious Kali danced on the corpse-strewn battlefield, adorned herself with skulls, and, fueled by blood and gore, ran amok, wreaking havoc on the three worlds—the heavens, the earth, and the underworld.

      To stop her, Shiva turned into a corpse on the battlefield. When Kali stepped on him, she stopped short, fearing she’d slain her husband in her rage. As she paused, Shiva became an infant and began crying. Kali instantly picked up and suckled the baby Shiva, transforming from a fierce warrior to a benevolent mother goddess. This story illustrates how Kali’s destructive power can bring about good, though it needs balance and direction.

      Portrayals of Kali are symbolic in many ways. She is depicted as black-skinned, which means she’s without form: infinite and changeless. Her girdle of hands looks horrific, but it suggests the way for devotees to free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth; our hands can free us from the karmic wheel. Her garland of 50 skulls signifies the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the destroyers of ignorance. Like Shiva, Kali has three eyes, meaning she knows the past, present, and future.

      An incredibly powerful female icon, Kali is full of contradictions. She’s naked but not vulnerable, motherly yet unafraid of battle and blood. She’s a warrior but a compassionate one; she brings death but also gives life. Like Kali, we’re all capable of fierce opposition to evil as well as tenderness and compassion.

      Kali is both a fierce warrior and a compassionate mother goddess, reflecting the range of behavior available to us all.

      By Shoba Narayan

      Many of the female deities in Hindu mythology are powerful and full of contradictions. The goddesses Kali and Durga are perfect examples of this: They mix fierce destructive power with maternal protectiveness.

      Durga, often shown riding a tiger, is one of the names given to the consort of Shiva. When one of their sons was battling a demon, Durga came to her child’s aid by assuming the form of Kali, a fearsome, bloodthirsty figure with a long, protruding tongue. The demon’s power allowed every drop of his blood to turn into a hundred copies of himself as soon as it hit the ground, but Kali’s tongue caught each drop in midair, and the demon and all his copies were vanquished.

      The victorious Kali danced on the corpse-strewn battlefield, adorned herself with skulls, and, fueled by blood and gore, ran amok, wreaking havoc on the three worlds—the heavens, the earth, and the underworld.

      To stop her, Shiva turned into a corpse on the battlefield. When Kali stepped on him, she stopped short, fearing she’d slain her husband in her rage. As she paused, Shiva became an infant and began crying. Kali instantly picked up and suckled the baby Shiva, transforming from a fierce warrior to a benevolent mother goddess. This story illustrates how Kali’s destructive power can bring about good, though it needs balance and direction.

      Portrayals of Kali are symbolic in many ways. She is depicted as black-skinned, which means she’s without form: infinite and changeless. Her girdle of hands looks horrific, but it suggests the way for devotees to free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth; our hands can free us from the karmic wheel. Her garland of 50 skulls signifies the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the destroyers of ignorance. Like Shiva, Kali has three eyes, meaning she knows the past, present, and future.

      An incredibly powerful female icon, Kali is full of contradictions. She’s naked but not vulnerable, motherly yet unafraid of battle and blood. She’s a warrior but a compassionate one; she brings death but also gives life. Like Kali, we’re all capable of fierce opposition to evil as well as tenderness and compassion.

      Kali is both a fierce warrior and a compassionate mother goddess, reflecting the range of behavior available to us all.

      By Shoba Narayan

      Many of the female deities in Hindu mythology are powerful and full of contradictions. The goddesses Kali and Durga are perfect examples of this: They mix fierce destructive power with maternal protectiveness.

      Durga, often shown riding a tiger, is one of the names given to the consort of Shiva. When one of their sons was battling a demon, Durga came to her child’s aid by assuming the form of Kali, a fearsome, bloodthirsty figure with a long, protruding tongue. The demon’s power allowed every drop of his blood to turn into a hundred copies of himself as soon as it hit the ground, but Kali’s tongue caught each drop in midair, and the demon and all his copies were vanquished.

      The victorious Kali danced on the corpse-strewn battlefield, adorned herself with skulls, and, fueled by blood and gore, ran amok, wreaking havoc on the three worlds—the heavens, the earth, and the underworld.

      To stop her, Shiva turned into a corpse on the battlefield. When Kali stepped on him, she stopped short, fearing she’d slain her husband in her rage. As she paused, Shiva became an infant and began crying. Kali instantly picked up and suckled the baby Shiva, transforming from a fierce warrior to a benevolent mother goddess. This story illustrates how Kali’s destructive power can bring about good, though it needs balance and direction.

      Portrayals of Kali are symbolic in many ways. She is depicted as black-skinned, which means she’s without form: infinite and changeless. Her girdle of hands looks horrific, but it suggests the way for devotees to free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth; our hands can free us from the karmic wheel. Her garland of 50 skulls signifies the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the destroyers of ignorance. Like Shiva, Kali has three eyes, meaning she knows the past, present, and future.

      An incredibly powerful female icon, Kali is full of contradictions. She’s naked but not vulnerable, motherly yet unafraid of battle and blood. She’s a warrior but a compassionate one; she brings death but also gives life. Like Kali, we’re all capable of fierce opposition to evil as well as tenderness and compassion.

    • READER COMMENTS

      K-km YEP:
      “mix fierce destructive power with maternal protectiveness”
      dat’s what I am, but WASTED a so much of my life FEELING GUILTY about the CONTRADICTORY nature of me; little did I know:
      I AM GODDESS KALI
      kali this is so weird. my name is kali and yes, i am young, 13 to be exact but my mom reads this magazine and showed it to me. she was freaked out about how close this resembled me. i can say no to anyone and stand up for myself and my friends. i was coming on here to find the article to put on my myspace, my friends would agree with my mom. :)

Beliefnet

I used to be the Hinduism columnist for Beliefnet when it began years ago. When it got acquired, I even got stock options for which. They have a page for me here but most of my articles are archived under the Hinduism banner.
Beliefnet’s Search page which has all my stories.

Here are some of the topics and links.

The Meaning of a Guru

I have to admit that I have trouble with the whole ‘guru’ thing. Guru means teacher in Sanskrit, but it connotes much more than that. A guru is someone who removes your ignorance, without whom you cannot attain the knowledge you are seeking.
Delaying Puberty with Yoga.

Pop Karma: My Name is Earl TV show.

Ritual Initiation: Varalakshmi Puja

Rama: Beloved Avatar

Saying a Traditional Goodbye

Yoga as Middle Path

Loving with no strings attached

The Incomparable M.S. Subbulakshmi

Decoding Destiny with the I-Ching

Incarnations of the Mother Goddess

May Hanuman be with you

Soy: soul food or spiritual sham

Stop Building Hindu Temples

Bah, Humbug!

Confessions of a Closet Vegetarian

Fashionably Devout

Just Say No to Turkey Propaganda: Hindu Thanksgiving Recipes

End to Passive Resistance
Indian or Hindu: One, Both or Neither?

Karma’s a Drag
– Movement Meditation
Shortcut to Spirituality

Stripping the Soul out of Yoga

The Vasthu Vibe

Tuning Out the Teletubbies
Vegetarian Nirvana