July 2001

» About This Issue - Editorial

» Carrying the Sacred: Women's Spiritual Journeys - Gayatriprana   

» Practicing an Ancient Tradition in the New Age - Bhikshuni Heng Yin   

» My Spiritual Journey - Sister Chandru & Desai   

» The Family Tree and the Feminine - Tuli Rode   

Editorial - About This Issue

Kumar Mehta
This issue is dedicated to our sisters - Sister Gayatriprana of the Vedanta Society, Bhikshuni Heng Yin of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Sister Chandru of the Brahm Kumari Spiritual Organization, Tuli Rode - the Native American story-teller, and Paulette Millichap who organized the event, “Spirituality and the Feminine,” and painstakingly prepared the transcripts from the recorded version of the talks.

Spirit cannot be seen but its manifestations can be seen or experienced in five domains that are well described by Sister Gayatriprana in her scholarly essay. Taking an ingenious approach she shows how biological motherhood gives an endless scope for unselfishness that offers women a unique opportunity on their spiritual journey. Both Sister Chandru and Bhikshuni Heng Yin have described their personal spiritual journeys to show that renunciation of worldly pursuits and unselfish service of fellow humans and other living beings is another way to spiritualize life, and find peace and happiness. Tuli Rode, who was brought up by her Apache mother and Swedish father, tells how her family tree has helped her spiritiual growth so that she feels spiritually connected with everyone and everything including the earth. All the talks reaffirm the truth that spirituality transcends the gender differences and that both women and men are equally equipped to manifest the power of spirit.

At the Ahimsa Conference last year in October, spiritual and scientific perspectives on individual violence were provided by several speakers. This year’s conference is a follow up at which we propose to focus on institutional violence (especially as it is glorified in a media-centric society) and consider how individual and collective efforts may be pooled together to build peaceful cultures around the world.
Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are role models of the power of human spirit to accomplish social transformations and peaceful resolution of highly violent situations. How to nurture and harness the spiritual dimension of ordinary people against institutional violence will be the theme of this conference. Expected speakers include, Prof. Huston Smith, Swami Prabuddhananda, Prof. Michael Nagler, Rev. Heng Sure, and Tom Mahon. Sufficient time will be provided for dialogue and audience participation to suggest individual and group actions by way of follow up.

» Return to Top

Carrying the Sacred: Women’s Spiritual Journeys

Let’s look at the word spirituality. Broadly, it means relating to Spirit. But, what is Spirit? Its root meaning is breath, what enlivens and supports life. Its later meaning - and what we tend to think of nowadays - is the essence or core of anything, specially something subtle, which works in a very powerful and unseen way. Now, if we think of Spirit in this more subtle way, the question comes up: how do we know it exists and how can we discern what is spiritual, or coming directly from the Spirit? How can we experience it directly and make it manifest in our day-to-day living?

Five Domains of Spiritual Realization
In a way, the history of religion is the attempt to define Spirit and to discover what the word spirituality means. I’m not going to get into any of the theories and practices, but will simply take the plunge and lay before you five domains where I think we can experience the spirit.

First comes unselfishness. What does that mean? In a general way, it means putting the welfare and concerns of others on a par with one’s own; or, if one is a saint, above and beyond one’s own. Fundamentally, unselfishness rests on an understanding that what is most important about people is precisely the Spirit. It is Spirit which enlivens them and also what we are relating to and serving in them.

Second, comes unconditional love. This is a term we hear everywhere nowadays, no doubt because it is so very important. What, however, does it really mean? If we analyze ourselves with true objectivity, we can see that just about all our behavior is motivated by the desire for emotional gratification and control of people or situations. Our willingness to get involved in anything is based on a psychology of barter or competition. I suspect everyone here has already experienced the long-term results of such emotional capitalism, and found them bitter and unsatisfactory. On the other side, if we have ever experienced even a touch of love offered without any motive of bargaining or reward, we also know the joy and the liberating feeling that accompanies it, and the deep urge to love that way ourselves. We have experienced in that moment the joy of the Spirit , uncomplicated by our self-serving desires.

Third, is the ability to turn our minds inwards and see who we really are, beyond the hassle of work and the roller coaster of emotion. Our natural tendency is to look outwards and involve ourselves in the unceasing activity of the physical and emotional worlds. All of us know, I am sure, that this can be exhilarating and also extremely tiring and confusing. There are times when we desperately need to be quiet and to find out who or what we are at the core. In the language we are using, we are trying to get to the essence of ourselves, the principle or Spirit which, by definition, is where we are in reality grounded. The attempt to reach the inner principle or Spirit is known, variously, as concentration or contemplation or meditation, all of which can be developed systematically. We can develop this to the degree that we are in direct contact with Spirit, making it our primary focus and allowing it to guide and influence very directly everything that we do.

A fourth criterion of spirituality is the ability to see our own little worlds, the cosmos and the universe as emanating from and manifesting Spirit. All worlds are interrelated because they are centered on Spirit and animated by it. When we experience things in this way, we can move from our own little world of experience to that of others and on to wider and wider universes , without ever losing our grounding in the Spirit. There is an unbroken chain of inter-connectedness. Everything is strung on Spirit like pearls held together on the thread of a necklace.

Finally, spirituality reaches its acme in the ability to see Spirit, not just as interconnecting everything, but fully present in every atom of the universe. Here there is no division whatever between matter and Spirit. Spirit is everywhere, in every-thing, as everything. There is nothing small and trivial, because everything is Spirit. This is a very, very exalted state of spirituality, one that is reached after long and arduous work; but the fact that there have been people who have lived their lives that way proves that it is possible; a goal that anyone can strive for if they want to plumb the depths of spirituality.

Spirituality and the Feminine
Now, turning to the second part of my talk, what is the feminine, and how does it relate to spirituality? The way I see things, there are always several domains or layers of meaning to everything. Like spirituality, although there are five possible domains of the feminine, I will go through three meanings of the word _feminine to illustrate how there can be quite a variety of experiences. I shall touch on domains one, three and five and shall try to show, in each domain, how the whole picture of spirituality can be manifested.  

The First Domain of the Feminine
Generically, the word feminine  refers to the fact of being a woman or female. The irreducible criterion of being a woman is the ability to conceive, bear and nurture children. Biological motherhood is unique to women and the primary distinguishing feature of women from men. Furthermore, the vast majority of women are or become biological mothers, so that this fundamental criterion of femininity applies almost across the board to all women. Finally, true motherhood is a lifelong commitment, absorbing vast amounts of a woman’s time, energy, and inner resources.

In such a situation, how does the feminine connect up with Spirit? How can women spiritualize the tremendous drama of biological motherhood? Well, I think we all know that motherhood gives endless scope for unselfishness. The ideal mother puts the needs of her children before her very own, especially in their earliest years. Little children are so dependent on their mother: they look to her for food, comfort, protection. How could she not put aside her own preoccupations and throw herself wholeheartedly into nurturing her children? This is more or less an imperative; but it becomes spiritual when one understands that the child is form of Spirit, that the demanding job of nurturing the child is setting the stage for the child’s own spiritual unfoldment. The quality of the nurturing received, even by the tiniest infant, makes a deep and permanent impression which it carries for its entire life. If we are doing the work of mothering spiritually, the child will absorb that spirituality and will use it to grow on, as royal jelly nourishes a queen bee.

Mothers naturally love their children; but spiritual , unconditional love, takes the position that the child has his or her own inner pattern to unfold and refrains from pushing an agenda foreign to the child. This does not mean lack of training and discipline. It means that the genuine inner needs of a growing personality are not suffocated and distorted, hitched to the problems and neuroses of the mother. Mother always must bear in mind that her child is, at the core, Spirit; and that trying to push an agenda can only alienate and distort. I’m sure we all know how excruciatingly difficult it is to love like this; but it is its own reward when we see our child, in turn, growing into a person who loves unconditionally.

Motherhood also gives lots of opportunities to turn inwards, perhaps most of all when our child grows up and is ready to fly the coop to his or her own, independent world. This is a notoriously difficult time, when mothers can resort to all sorts of traps and subterfuges to hold her “dear little baby” in her warm, motherly embrace. Only by deep introspection can we become convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the true nature of “our baby” is  Spirit.  Not only that; we, the mothers, are also Spirit. How can there be separation between Spirit and Spirit? Physical and emotional separation are only on the surface; the real, true bond is at a much deeper level - and that we find by turning inwards. A mother who looks on her child in this way forges a relationship that endures and enhances the nurturing and love in a deeply spiritual way.

How can a mother expand her vision from her child to the world, to the universe? Surely by taking her stand on what she has understood of Spirit through all the previous steps. We can enjoy our child’s career, his or her marriage, promotions, and ideals and use them to expand our own understanding. Through the eyes of Spirit we see new worlds unfolding before us, with which we deeply empathize.  As our children pursue paths, so often entirely different from our own, we experience new countries, new cultures, new universes and incorporate them into our own world view. In this way, without moving from where we are, we travel everywhere and feel ourselves interconnected with everyone and everything.  We have gone through the heavy work of early nurturing, the struggle to love without conditions, the challenge of seeing the birds fly away and the process of absorbing all the new ideas and lives that grow up out of our children’s careers. If we have steadfastly tried to see everything as coming from, and ultimately being Spirit, a time will come when we can see Spirit and Spirit alone. 

This is not something that comes with drum rolls and showers of confetti and balloons. It comes very quietly, in fact. In my own life I saw it in my grandmother, with whom I lived after the death of my mother. My granny was a Gaelic speaking peasant from the Outer Hebrides, a woman with only one year’s formal schooling whose whole life was given to being a soldier’s wife and the mother of six children.  When I knew her, she was in her late seventies and early eighties. Every afternoon she would sit quietly in our humble living room and there would be an endless stream of visitors eager to talk with her and get the benefit of her wisdom and loving counsel. The state of spirituality I am trying to describe here was most visible to me on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although she had had several heart attacks, her great joy was to get up on the weekends before the rest of the household and bring all of us a cup of tea in bed. When she quietly came through the door with the steaming tea, the expression on her face was very serene, very loving, deeply aware of who she was, her mind open to the whole universe and, above all, seeing each of us, not simply as her dear relatives, but as Christ, the form of Spirit to which she was devoted. Such experiences, I can definitely say, make deep spiritual impressions on the mind and change one’s whole attitude to life. This, then, is what I see as the spiritual possibilities in the first domain of the feminine, that of biological motherhood.

The Third Domain of the Feminine
I would now like to move on to another aspect of the feminine; this time less conventional. Traditionally, feminine can mean weak and dependent, and we all know why that meaning came about. There have, however, been some women who have been very strong and independent and it is my belief that we should look into what they are about. If even one woman can be strong and independent, then any woman can be so, and femininity can find expression here also. I have chosen to illustrate this possibility of the feminine with the life of Joan of Arc, whose biography I read only just last year. 

I know all sorts of things are said about Joan, but my perspective is that this was a woman who dedicated herself to an ideal and stuck to it to the bitter end. She was born in 1412, three quarters of the way through the Hundred Years’ War, which was, in essence due to the English claim to annex and dominate France. Although much more numerous than the English, The French, under unrelenting attack for 70 years or so, were deeply demoralized and exhausted. The heir to the French throne, the Dauphin, was weak and cowardly and was hiding in the south of France out with the area dominated by the English. Joan, a peasant girl from the North East, understood the whole problem of her people in her early teens and conceived of the idea of liberating her country and crowning the rightful heir to the throne in Rheims, the traditional site of such coronations, though at the moment under the control of the English. 

So intense was her dedication to this ideal that she totally transcended the fact that she had a female body and no education. This was her form of unselfishness. Her love for her country led her to undergo intense hardships, roughing it with common soldiers and accepting everything as part and parcel of her mission. Her deep intuitive understanding convinced the Dauphin that she was a genuine prophet and her burning vision inspired the French army to beat back the English all the way to Rheims, where she did indeed preside over the coronation of the French prince.  Although she was betrayed into the hands of the English by the French clergy, she never once, in the course of several grueling months of interrogation (which ended in her martyrdom at the stake), doubted herself or her mission. Indeed, the biggest case against her was that she, as a woman and a devout Catholic, had no right to think for herself, far less to take such drastic action to work out her vision. History, however, has come to another verdict. Her inspired life brought the French back to the battlefield and within 20 years or so the English were gone from the soil of France. She became the patron saint of France and the source of endless inspiration to generation after generation of writers and thinkers, as well, one would hope, of women who aspire to be more than “clinging vines”.

I believe Joan of Arc is a prototype of what women can become. Gender is no bar to embracing high ideals and working them out to a logical conclusion. Joan manifested unselfishness, intense, self-giving love, inner conviction and vision, as well as total identification with Spirit that add up to the hallmarks of spirituality. That she chose to work in a field stereotypically restricted to men is no blot on her spiritual greatness; rather it is a model to inspire other women of the same type.

The Fifth Domain of Femininity
Now I am coming to the last and most unusual domain of spirituality, whether feminine or masculine. As I think you may have seen, what I am calling domain three of the feminine is less exclusively female than the first; in fact Joan’s domain is more commonly thought of as a male preserve. However, women are competent to excel in any domain, provided they are ready and free to play by the rules of the domain. In the domain I want to touch on here, gender is of no account whatsoever because it is not concerned with anything but Spirit itself. By definition, Spirit is the essence of everything, whether masculine or feminine, both, or neither. Although the historical records have dwelt on the stories of men in the area we are in now, there have been women of equal eminence. 

I want to speak here of Sarada Devi, an East Indian woman of the 19th to 20th Century. In my view, she demonstrates a universality and a depth that are extremely rare, among men or women, but which are touchstones as to the possibility of any human being. Sarada was a country girl, born in a good family, but spending her days in agricultural and family work. In accordance with the Hindu custom of the time, she was betrothed in childhood. Her fianc? was a man who was so intoxicated by the Spirit that people called him mad. Sarada, however, had such intense spiritual vision that her focus was not on his unusual behavior and his unsuitability (by worldly standards) as a husband, but rather on the Spirit that animated him. In this she totally transcended, from the very word go, the usual expectations and demands that women normally make of men. In such a relationship, biological motherhood is irrelevant. Nor is there any great “cause” to fight for. Instead, she had the capacity to see every single person she met as her very own child and unselfishly to go through the whole process of nurturing, loving, freeing, empowering and spiritualizing them. 

She and her husband developed a bond of love that totally transcended physical contact or even proximity. She spent much of her time in her village, ministering to her family, biological and spiritual, while he pursued, in Calcutta, his rather amazing spiritual explorations and discoveries. Her unconditional attitude not only made it possible for him to develop in his own way, but also was offered to everyone, thus drawing out the most intense love and a sense of exhilarating freedom in those who knew themselves as her “children”.

A major turning point in her life occurred when she was sixteen. Her husband worshipped her as the Spirit itself, in the form of the Goddess, to whom he offered his entire being as well as all of his spectacular spiritual discoveries. Can any of us imagine how we would react in such circumstances? It would surely be very, very difficult to maintain our poise. Sarada, however, took all of this very calmly. Her serene poise in such a situation bespeaks a spirituality grounded in the deepest possible level, a self-knowledge of superhuman depth. She was fully identified with Spirit and as still as an unrippled ocean.  _ Her husband set in motion a huge tidal wave of spiritual reform in India and later in the West. Sarada quietly went about her unassuming life; but, after her husband’s death, discovered that more and more the leaders of the renaissance were turning to her for her counsel and advice. Without missing a beat, she accepted this new role and proved herself to be the peer of her husband and, in some ways, more practical and effective. Her quiet solutions to major problems kept the movement on a steady course and set a standard that endures and grows, even a hundred years later. She was, as it were, sitting at the center of an expanding universe, quietly adjusting it and keeping it in balance.

Finally, those who met her knew to the very marrow of their bones that they were Spirit, first, last and foremost. There was no doubt about it. Moreover, that Spirit is loving without any strings attached; it is liberating; it is empowering; and finally, it is what is really real. This is a very direct way of experiencing the Spirit. It can come through men or women and in it there is no question whatever of gender or gender roles. It is the essence, without anything else. It is a state of freedom which nevertheless gladly embraces the struggling and the so-called “ordinary”.

Now, let me summarize what I have tried to say. I have tried to show that Spirit can be manifest in three different domains of the feminine, beginning with biological motherhood, the unique privilege of women; and moving on to areas more or less conventionally “feminine”, but both demonstrated by great women exemplars. My ideas is: why not expand the repertoire of women? We can be highly spiritual in many domains, not merely those assigned to us by social conventions. Why don’t we think over such lives as I have outlined here and see what fits us best? Then, let’s give it a go! We have it all within us. And, as a bonus, if we expand our repertoire, men will do so, too.

Sister Gayatriprana is a member of the Vedanta Society Convent in San Francisco.

» Return to Top

Practicing and Ancient Tradition in the New Age

Bhikshuni Heng Yin 
I think that in the world today barriers between genders and between races and nationalities and social classes and even species have almost disappeared. Women have most of the same opportunities as men, and we can do the same things men can do. The internet gives us almost instant communication with everyone in the world. With genetic engineering even the barriers between species are disappearing. This is very fitting to me as a Buddhist because Buddhism advocates that all beings are interrelated and all beings are essentially one. 

On the other hand, in America, in this modern age the lifestyle of most people, especially the people without strong roots and some tradition, is hectic and fragmented. Many people seem to be grasping for something that is deeper. This is my personal experience too because, even though my parents came from China, I grew up these thirty years in America. My father came as a student to the US to study computer science in Maryland and Texas. My mother was a housewife who raised two daughters and later helped my father in his career. I grew up in a middle class family and I consider this a very blessed situation. I had a good education, good opportunities for traveling and knowing people and a very easy life. I had some connection with my Chinese roots too. In college I majored in computer science not only because of my father’s influence, but also because I liked science and I was good at it. There was also the practical consideration of making a living. At that point I was not conscious of what I really wanted so I went along with what others thought would be good for me.

But in college I started to see a lot of imperfections in society and in life, in general. I was searching and I knew something was incomplete. I wasn’t satisfied with just having a career and getting married and so forth. But I didn’t know what I wanted and my parents were very puzzled too. They said, “You have everything that could make you happy. Why aren’t you happy?” The first inkling of what I wanted came when I took an Indian art mythology class. I learned something about Buddhism and Hinduism but then out of inertia I went on to graduate school in computer science. I still didn’t know what I wanted, but I continued to explore a lot of things in the humanities area and various religions. One summer I even came over to live at the International House in Berkeley from Texas and worked in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. I also visited the Vedanta Society. That was a new thing for me. But it was when my present teacher, a venerable Buddhist master, led a delegation to the University of Texas that I really knew what I was interested in. I was awe struck by the whole lifestyle of Buddhist monks and nuns in America. They were chanting, they were praying, they were speaking the dharma. I had not heard these ideas before, and they seemed to make a lot of sense. Growing up in this consumer society I could see that we were wasting so much. I worried about what was going to happen to the environment. I also wondered how we would find ultimate peace and happiness. I wanted to make a difference in this world and I wondered how to do that. 

When the venerable master came to Texas, he talked about the importance of filial piety. He was not speaking of Buddhism per say at that time but just saying that what we really need to stress in modern society is our roots, being filial to our parents and our elders and appreciating and respecting them. He said we needed to stop just doing everything for ourselves as individuals. At the age of twelve when he was bowing to his parents he started to realize it was very important. In the end he came to bow to all living beings. That was his practice in the beginning before he became a monk even. That story struck me so much that I wanted to learn more. I ordered literature and studied about Eastern religions and Buddhism in particular. Since I didn’t find a Buddhist center in Texas that had a monastic leader, I came over to The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California. The whole environment there is a monastic environment. It is a community of monks and nuns who really uphold the Buddhist lifestyle ? all the precepts like eating one meal a day and doing the ceremonies from four o’clock in the morning until 9:30 at night, and translating huge collection of scriptures into English. Our teacher wanted to focus on reforming the education to make it based more on morality and virtues, and for developing good character. All this seemed very meaningful to me. The computer science fell to the side because that was meant for making a living, not life. I couldn’t see any way how I was really going to help society by teaching artificial intelligence. It was spiritually dry. 

I became attracted to The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and fortunately my parents were very empathetic and open minded. They didn’t insist that I had to get married or had to pursue a career. They just wanted me to be happy. They allowed me to go to The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for living there. Soon, I wanted to be more devoted to Buddhism and leave the home life. My parents also gave me their blessing for that.

As for the topic of practicing this ancient tradition in the new age, I don’t really know much about the new age. But I do know that our consumer society needs to be more frugal. It is very hard because you have to use a car and do all these things just to function in the world. That’s why I was attracted to living in a monastic community where life is very simple. You do everything by hand and don’t use a lot of resources. I call that cherishing our blessings. 

Today’s topic also has to do with the feminine and spirituality. Three of us were talking about what actually could we say about women. We decided there isn’t much because in Buddhism we are equal, the monks and nuns are the same. The Buddha taught that everyone had the Buddha nature and we are all essentially the same. As monks and nuns we even become the same in appearance. When I first went to The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas I couldn’t tell the difference who was a monk and who was a nun. I’ve also been addressed as, Sir. In this tradition we want to get rid of our ego and if there is no ego how can there be any gender. We also want to respect the spirit in all beings. Everyone certainly has that spirit. 

As for the idea of the woman as a clinging vine, I could say that in college I did have some relationships with young men that I now consider as a kind of clinging and dependent. I was relying on some other human being for my own wholeness and happiness. I came to feel it didn’t work at all for me because if I didn’t even understand myself how could I expect someone else to understand my needs. I was just very selfish and immature. Through practice I think every man or woman can find their own complete true self within, and then not only we can have healthy relationships with other people but also be happy just with ourselves. At the same time, we wouldn’t have any arrogance that women are better or men are better if we don’t have any ego. Also, of course, there is the idea of reincarnation that we are born again in different kinds of forms. We are a man or a woman right now, but we could easily be the opposite in the next lifetime. 

Buddha was a revolutionary in that he accepted women to be practitioners and monastics although traditionally it was not for women to do that. He didn’t accept it right away but in the end he did acquiesce when his nurse, Mahaprajapati who raised him after the death of his mother wanted to follow him. Another thing about the new age that is good, is that at this time people are becoming more ecologically conscious with a holistic viewpoint. With Buddhism we cherish blessings and resources and know that, how long the world would last depends on how we treat it with our own actions.
Bhikshuni Heng Yin is a nun at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

» Return to Top

My Spiritual Journey

Sister Chandru Desai 
I had a thousand reasons not to be here…many obstacles, but something about this afternoon made me stick to my promise to Ahimsa. I think that is one form of spiritual practice, not to break a promise. 

All of us who are speaking today come from different traditions, beliefs, understandings, and life styles. As we try to understand each other’s practice we learn more about our own. I grew up in India in a very traditional Hindu Brahmin family. Everyone in India grows up surrounded by religion. We study and hear about spiritual practice from our parents and grandparents, and it does help throughout our life journey. But at a very young age I began to question what was happening around me. There were injustices that I resented, and I questioned should it be that way. There weren’t any answers, and anyway children’s voices were unheeded. No one wanted to listen to my questions. Stories are an important part of all religious teachings. Hinduism is filled with stories that keep ideal examples in front of us all the time. Being in a religious setting there were always stories. Guidance was not so much in that you should do this or you should do that but something that grew naturally from the tradition and the stories. 

My biological father died when I was very young. This was unfortunate one way but fortunate another way in that it stirred up many, many questions: what is soul, what is death, what is life all about, where does the soul go, where do we come from. These basic questions come eventually to our minds, and sometimes we get answers and sometimes we do not. The death of my father at my age of twelve made me think so much about life and death and how I wanted to spend my life. Am I not going to see my father ever, ever again? That reality was very shocking. This is not just about sadness but also about the questions in my mind. Then a life-changing event happened. A sister in a white sari came to my doorstep. She said something to me that I didn’t fully understand but which seemed to make sense. She talked to me about the soul and about the cycle of life and about what’s going on before life and after life. It touched me very deeply, and I became very much interested. That experience was one main reason why I became a Brahma Kumari. 

I grew up in India at the time of Indian independence when Mahatma Gandhi’s influence was very much felt in the schools. We were intensely interested in the spirit of freedom that was the legacy of the freedom fighters. We were very influenced by doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence) and a life of service. So the thought was always there that since I have a life I should use it for helping people. For me the question was now we have gotten the freedom but what next? Then something shocking happened that made a big impact in transforming my social feelings into religious and spiritual feelings. I began to understand that freedom is not just social or political work. It was the deep down spirituality of Mahatma Gandhi that was his freedom and that was a meaningful point. When I talk to women and men too, of course, I tell them that it is not what we attain with our skills and education alone which is the most meaningful in life. It is something within us, the spirituality. That is the driving force. If Mahatma Gandhi had not been deeply spiritual, I don’t think he would have succeeded in the task he set out to accomplish. And so in the same way whatever big thing or small thing, or whatever work we do, it is what is inside us that affects the results. If I have peace within me, then my work will enhance peace, love, non-violence, patience, and tolerance.

If a woman chooses to be a professional person then she often has to sacrifice a part of her householder’s life. And at the same if she chooses to stay at home and raise a family, that is also a challenge and sacrifice. Whatever the choice she needs to bring something internal, something coming from a spiritual base in order to bring contentment and satisfaction. If she has this spiritual core, whatever her task requires of her she will be able to do without difficulty. 

In my own life, I thought if I really have something to offer why not offer it in an unlimited way rather than just a limited way? When I became a Brahma Kumari I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. I don’t think any successful person really knows that when they begin. I don’t think Mahatma Gandhi knew. It is the little idea, little vision that we adopt and then a whole new world opens up. That little girl who was me, going to the teachings at the Brahma Kumaris Center in Bombay, did not know what was happening. All she knew was that there was a powerful force telling me that my life was worth something. _And so the spiritual base makes one humble as well as it makes one strong. To take care of what is really your calling is what God wants from you. How many ideals we may have or how many visions we may have, but we are able to fulfill very few because we lack the inner strength. When we gain that strength from God, then what we do becomes very easy.  I grew up believing that we are all from one God, we are all one family, and we are all God’s children. Even though we are of different color, caste, and country, we are all one family. 

The author is the Director of the Brahm Kumani Spiritual Center of San Francisco.

» Return to Top

The Family Tree and the Feminine

Tuli Rode 
I want to start with something that is unusual for Ahimsa. I want to start with World War II. The reason I am starting with a mention of World War II comes from a dream I had of my father who is still alive in his late eighties. He was in the Pacific during the war and he was awarded two medals. On the medals were the images of two women. The medals were in my dream, and when I woke up I thought about this. I thought I had to try to make some sense of it. The women in the World War II medal has a scroll with something written on it. The women in the American Defense medal has a sword and a shield. These two aspects of the feminine that I saw in the dream, are where I begin my talk.

You can judge for yourself what you think is the feminine. I don’t make a judgment on it or clearly define or analyze it. I am a half-breed which is an uncomfortable word for a lot of people. My mother was Apache Indian and my father is Swedish. My father who served in World War II was a violinist for the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. He was an incredible musician. When he went to war and fought, it was the most devastating experience of his life. He told me that the only way he was able to survive was by thinking of home, and because my mother wrote him every single day of all three years when he was in that hell. Listening to that story and thinking about how he survived and how we all survive in extraordinary circumstances was an important part of my growing up. So, I think about my father gifting me with that sense of how the feminine worked through him and how it was important even in war. We tend to think the feminine is not present in war. But I believe where there is death there is the feminine, where there is birth there is the feminine. The feminine is very present in war and men know that, and it is very important for the women who remain behind to support men in any way they can. That seemed to have happened in my family. I didn’t come to that conclusion when I was a kid, but the more I think about that it makes a lot of sense to me.

My father’s music filling the house, I take as the feminine, as creativity and the arts. From that I began to learn a little bit about his spirituality and what he valued. And throughout my entire life that remains as a core. What we are surrounded with as children we take with us into our adult life. We travel with that. My father’s sense of my mother and my mother writing him, loving him, keeping her faith in him and keeping him close in her heart may have helped him survive. In the Native American tradition honoring veterans is extremely important. Going into battle is something that men do, something that women do too, but mostly men do and we honor that because its an affirmation of their love ? their love for us, their love for what they think is important and are willing to die for. I asked my father if I could talk about these things and he said, yes. I’m pleased to be able to share this story, which is very intimate. Normally, among my people we don’t tell everyone our whole life history. But I’m pleased to give you this story because sharing it continues my family. Each one of you takes a little bit of my family with you. My family is in my words and my words are now in your consciousness and in your being.

My mother, who was an extraordinary individual, died when I was very young. She died when I was seventeen. And she died of a disease too typical among Native Americans. She died of alcoholism which is a female problem too. My mother was rooted in the earth. She could make anything grow. From planting to nurturing, to the fruit that came out of the earth there was a complete cycle that she observed every single day of her life. Despite her problems, this is what I choose to take from my mother that she was repeating the cycle of birth and death and rebirth constantly over the seasons. In our tradition, we also have the sacred number four and the cross. Sometimes I wear a cross and people ask me if I am Christian and I say, no. The cross in our tradition is for the four directions ? North, South, East, West, and for our ancestors which are points of energy around a circle.

My mother understood this energy and used this knowledge in planting her garden. She even had four gardens. Everything she grew was delicious. We had the freshest, most wonderful fruits and vegetables. It wasn’t until I came into more adult consciousness that I realized what my mother was doing. She was carrying her culture, which she was not allowed to practice anymore, in the way the garden was growing. I remember that about my mother, and I remember the way that she died. She died drinking wine which was the fruit of the earth but which, in her case, was her undoing. That was part of her life too, part of her story, which is extraordinary when you put all these parts together. The other thing I remember about my mother was her creativity, intense creativity. She was always creating little designs on things. She was painting mirrors. She was creating little dolls and she would put them everywhere. She was always into a project and she was creating, creating. I see myself in her because that is what I like to do. I have a great sense of place from my mother. When I was little, perhaps five or six, she took me into the garden and she shoved my hand into the earth and brought it up and closed my fist over a great clot. She said no matter whatever happens you have this, meaning the earth.

So the earth is my mother, the earth is my sister, the earth is my child. We cannot be separated. We are all one family as expressed in the words of the Sioux,’Ho, Mitakuye lyasin,” which means “To all my relations.” It’s a profound, philosophical concept that truly means I cannot do anything without affecting everyone and everything around me.

The author is a deam reseacher and Native American story-teller.

Previous page: Ahimsa Voices - Journals
Next page: Talks