The biggest myth: men are mind, women are matter

Kathmandu (Pahichan) December 30 – The story goes: when Buddha returned to his hometown for the first time after his enlightenment, his wife, Yashodhara, asked him a question. “You spent so many years in the forest, suffered a lot with deprivation and austerity; we wouldn’t have disturbed your spiritual practice would you have remained in the palace. Could that not have been possible for you to become enlightened if you were at home?”

Buddha replied, “One must understand the difference between purush’s Chitta prakriti (man’s mental ‘nature’) and stri’s chitta prakriti (women’s mental ‘nature’). Women’s chitta prakriti can adjust and grow while being remaining in the ‘world’, whereas masculine chitta prakriti needs to withdraw itself, exclude itself from the world in order to achieve enlightenment.”

Please! pay attention to the phrase “chitta prakriti” here and we must be careful with the translation of the word as “nature.” Now, why did Buddha mention the different ‘chitta prakriti’ between men and women or the masculine mind and feminine mind?

This is often mistaken as ‘mind is man and matter is women’ in many readings. This interpretation of the text is a long-time misinterpretation of mind-matter phenomenon that makes people believe that the mind is represented by men and matter is represented by women. This wrong and diluted understanding lead to the belief that men are superior to women, as embedded in the notion is the idea that the mind is superior to matter.

So why does this phenomenon keep finding its deep-rooted ground throughout many societies, cultures, and mythologies? This myth has around for a long time and persists in making women and other people, who aren’t masculine men, oppressed and suffering unfair disadvantages. To get into the root of the problem, it is important to understand the language of the original quote.

Prakriti (or pakiti in the Pali language), is often translated as “nature.” This is inaccurate.

Pali is the language that the original Buddhist Theravadan texts were written in and is different from Sanskrit. For example, the Pali word for samskara is Saṅkhāra. But the very terms, Sanskriti and Prakriti are related and point to how the Buddha’s reply to his wife may have been long misinterpreted.

In Buddhism, there are 131 states or phases of Chitta (or mind, and in the west, we only mention conscious mind and subconscious mind). For the sake of simplicity Buddha divides Chitta into four states or phases as it operates or interacts with the world outside through our sensual doors (mind-matter interaction). They are:

1. bedana (sensation);

2. binnyana (first and vague knowledge of something happening; simple awareness);

3. sannya (detailed knowledge of the happening based on our past experiences); and

4. the Saṅkhāra (volitional action, simply our habitual reaction by our unenlightened mind which is biased and divided, the source of suffering).

Let’s look at why man is represented as mind and women as matter? Men are represented by this (states or phase of) mind, Saṅkhāra, is not a problem and rightly so. Also, women are represented by the ‘prakriti’ is not a problem either and rightly so.

The problem starts when scholars, since a long time, misinterpreting the word ‘prakriti’ as ‘nature'(which largely means the physical world outside, out there). Just like Saṅkhāra, Prakriti is also (equally possible) a state or phase of mind, which is, rather, unbiased and equanimous; alternate yet profound states of mind, unlike Saṅkhāra mind.

Look at both the words Sanskriti and prakriti, root word is Kri, which means to act, to do. And when the suffix ‘pra’ is added it denotes for involuntary continuous action or doing or happening (similar word structure can be found in English like pro-gress, deriving from “pro” for forward and “gradi” for step).

Similarly when the suffix sam/n is added the root word ‘kri’, becomes Saṅkhāra, which means I (as self) interfering, modifying on ‘the happening’ with our biased mind. Unfortunately, the word ‘prakriti’ is reduced to ‘nature’ or physical world, abandoning its subtle and fundamental meaning, the possible fourth state or phase of mind (can replace Saṅkhāra if the individual is in equanimous mental status).

Thus, Sanskriti mistakenly takes the superior mind status dominating the ‘prikriti’, i.e., pushing women into an inferior position to men. This historic misinterpretation has been the greatest conspiracy against women by men (alpha masculinity), otherwise, originally all the eastern doctrine gives greater emphasis to the ‘feminine chitta prakriti’ and the whole yogic and meditation practices are focused upon building and cultivating mental qualities like compassion, caring, forgiveness, motherhood, sensitivity, politeness, nonviolence and more, which are feminine characteristics. The truth is that feminine mind is more enlightened, if not the enlightened mind, whereas as masculine mind are biased, disturbed and control freak mind which wants to dominate and control ‘nature’ and creates ‘order’. In other words, the masculine mind creates a culture and the obstacles attendant to culture because it is rooted in a Saṅkhāra mind. That’s why we find many enlightened sages, gurus, and Buddhas who have cultivated feminine qualities of mind: like compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, etc. Embracing ‘prakriti’ mind and abandoning the ‘Saṅkhāra mind’.

Buddha also said ‘prakrarena jaanati pannya’, means wisdom is knowing the ‘prakriti’. He didn’t mean to say knowing the nature, as the outer physical world, is wisdom, instead, wisdom is a continuum of knowing our inner ‘nature’. The Rigveda says, ‘vikruti Evam prakriti’, again the word ‘vikruti’ is misinterpreted, for a long time, as ethical pollution. Actually, the original meaning of vikruti is whatever action taking place internally at mental level, within us or simply whatever happening within us as mind-matter interaction takes place all the time. Hence, our inner happening or inner action is our ‘prakriti’.

However, it is our prakriti (sometimes the word nature imply into this sense) as we say what is the prakriti’ or nature of this person or this or that object, still use the word as it originally used. Understanding one’s nature is a step toward liberating one’s self from the endless cycle of habits and habitual thought. This is why Buddha taught ‘vipassana’. Here again, the root word ‘passana’ means to look, when the suffix ‘vi’ is added to it, it means: looking inwards, looking at self inside, looking deep inside.

I am not saying all women are enlightened but what I am saying is that ‘feminine chitta prakriti’ is definitely more enlightened. We must stop perceiving man representing mind and women as matter. Rather, they two are different kinds of mind, prakriti is enlightened mind, Sanskriti is ignorant mind. The masculine mind must cultivate feminine mental qualities if they want to become enlightened, blissful and equanimous. Clearly, males and females embody aspects of ‘sanskriti and prakriti’ as we understand that gender becomes more fluid, we see how these aspects of our being play out. But it is the challenge of the Sanskriti mind that the Buddha has shown to have many obstacles, whereas the more natural state of openness of the prakriti mind that each of us shares leads us to a space that is more open and compassionate just like a ‘mothering mind’.

So, all people out there, let’s not try to equate to masculinity as that is a downgrade.
OR—The idea that masculinity is “better” doesn’t fit with the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain philosophies. Nor should we think of it as something to “aspire to” or become more like, as that is just a subtle way of saying “it’s better.” And in many ways, our species would do well to elevate our in/outlook to a more compassionate, loving and open approach reflected in the ideas embedded in the term, prakriti. Goddess ‘Kali’ is symbolized as the ultimate ‘prakriti’, both, the elementary particles and the universeal consciousness, standing on Lord Shiva’s chest, indicating the superior status of ‘prakriti’ over ‘sanshkriti’.

Source : Kathmandu Tribune