In the Vedic tradition of India the feminine side of creation is given equal importance to the masculine. The Divine Mother, Mahashakti, is revered as the primal creative energy who manifests the deities and the physical universe and then sustains all dynamic activity. When portrayed together, the deity pairs – Brahma and Sarasvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Shiva and Parvati – are often androgynous and almost identical to show they are fundamentally beyond gender.

Unfortunately, centuries of colonial domination have made Indian society as male dominated as the West is. Fortunately, women in India are now developing a strong feminist movement to change this.

A sign of this change is a new commentary on The Crest Jewel of Discrimination, a major work by Adi Shankaracharya, India’s 8th-century reviver of Vedic knowledge. Spiritual teacher Shiva Rudra Balayogi’s commentary makes this ancient philosophical discourse relevant to us today. It speaks to us more directly than the others because it refutes the gender and caste biases that have accrued with time.

He corrects several mistranslations from the Sanskrit. For instance, the second verse lists the qualities necessary to achieve enlightenment, prominent among them Purasattvam and Bramanattmana. The first is usually translated as “being a man” and the second as “being a Brahmin”. He convincingly explains that a more accurate translation is “a person who who has a strong body and will to achieve things that can inspire the world” and “a person who has mental purity”. These qualities are possessed by both women and men. Shiva Rudra Balayogi shows us that enlightenment is not the exclusive province of male Brahmins.

Adi Shankaracharya himself revered Shakti, the female life force, but that was only after a woman saint bested him in a debate on the topic and he had to admit she was right.

Shiva Rudra Balayogi’s spiritual name also reflects this change. “Bala” is one of the names of Goddess Parvati, indicating he incorporates both the masculine and the feminine.

The Crest Jewel of Discrimination, or Viveka Choodamani, is a concise explication of Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of unity, nonduality. “Discrimination” in this context means the ability to distinguish between truth and illusion, between what supports and what hinders our enlightenment.

Meditation is one of the chief supports. As Shiva Rudra Balayogi writes: “The mature mind, through prolonged practice of meditation, merges with Brahman, the Ultimate Supreme Truth and attains Realization of the One, undivided Self of Supreme Bliss. … By this Realization the mind’s illusory imaginations, which come from the darkness of ignorance, are destroyed. One lives in Bliss, free from all imaginations of the mind.”

This commentary is profoundly written and easy to understand, abstract but never abstruse. It inspires us to seek unity consciousness and points the way to it. For more information: https://www.shivarudrabalayogi.org/en/books-cds-a-dvds/68-books-cds-a-dvds/books/1123-viveka-choodamani.

Shiva Rudra Balayogi also offers an easy and effective technique of Vedic meditation, Jangama Dhyana, and the opportunity to meditate with him online and ask him questions – all of it free: https://www.jangama.org/.

* * *

William T. Hathaway’s books won him a Rinehart Foundation Award and a Fulbright professorship in creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher consciousness is more effective than violence.

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