In the previous post, we discussed how matter is also consciousness, although a different type of consciousness. We identified three types of consciousness—God, soul, and matter—and discussed their natures. This post extends that discussion and identifies three genders associated with the three types of consciousness—masculine, feminine, and neutral. God has a dominantly masculine gender; His Sakti has a dominantly feminine gender; and the soul has a dominantly neutral gender. These genders arise due to the differences in their desires. However, when the soul becomes subordinate to God, then it also develops a masculine desire and gender, and when the soul becomes subordinate to God’s Sakti, then it also develops a feminine desire and gender. These genders are ulimately understood in terms of the differences in their desires. Generically, the soul can alternately be called he, she, or it.
Table of Contents
Three Kinds of Desires
Let’s begin by identifying three kinds of desires—wanting, needing, and willing. To illustrate by an example, we can say: “I want to eat”, “I need to eat”, and “I’m willing to eat”. When we say, “I want to eat”, it is suggested that I’m not hungry (i.e. I don’t need to eat), but I still have a desire to taste. When we say, “I need to eat”, it is implied that I’m hungry and I’m eating not for taste, but for survival. And if we say, “I’m willing to eat”, it is understood that I’m not hungry (and hence I don’t need to eat), and I’m not desiring tasty food (I don’t want to eat); but if food is offered to me, then I will accept it.
Conversely, when we say that “I don’t want to eat”, it is suggested that I will not enjoy eating, although I may or or may not be hungry, and if food is offered then I may or may not accept it. Similarly, when we say that “I don’t need to eat”, it is implied that I’m not hungry, although I may or may not have a desire to eat, and I may or may not be willing to accept food if it is offered. Finally, when we say that “I’m not willing to eat”, it is understood that I won’t accept food, although I may or may not need to eat, and I may or may not want to eat. Thus, negation of wanting, needing, and willing is not necessarily the negation of each of the three types of desires, but only the negation of one of them.
Consequently, when we say that “desire is absent”, it may not necessarily mean that each of the wanting, needing, and willing are absent. It can also mean that one of wanting, needing, or willing is absent, but the other two are present. In the worst case, when willing and needing are absent, and everything else is rejected, there is still a desire, although it is present as a ‘rejection’ rather than ‘acceptance’. Therefore, there is no conscious state without desire.
Desires are Treated as Genders
The wanting desire is considered masculine, the needing desire is considered feminine, and the willing desire is considered neutral. Let’s take an example. A form of God, called Paramātma, advents into this world, and accompanies the soul. This form of God, however, doesn’t enjoy and suffer in this world, because He is not wanting to be in the world, and His wants are never fulfilled or unfulfilled. He also doesn’t need to be in the world because He is self-satisfied. However, to guide the soul through the material journey, God is willing to enter the world. Therefore, we say that Paramātma doesn’t want to be in the world, and doesn’t need to be in the world, but He is willing to be present. By accepting this willing state of desire, God renounces His masculine desire of wanting, and accepts a neutral position of willingness. He is still the Supreme Person, but because He accepts the desire like the soul, therefore, in one sense He is like a soul. These two souls are hence described as two birds sitting on a branch of a material tree.
God’s original desire is wanting. God is also said to be self-satisfied, and that is sometimes incorrectly interpreted to mean that He has no wants. A self-satisfied state means that He has no needs. He doesn’t need to eat, to sleep, to be with anyone. And yet, He wants to eat, sleep, and be with others. When God acts on His wants, but without a need and without accepting what others want, then He is Supreme.
The Sakti of God has the original desire of needing. This type of desire is considered feminine. The Sakti is incomplete without God because She needs God. Sakti is power, but the power needs to be used. Therefore, the Sakti is not ‘inert’ in the sense of dull matter which doesn’t need to be used. The Sakti is also a person—a feminine person—but Her desire is that of needing rather than wanting. Due to this needing, the Sakti often agitates God— “I need you”. Likewise, sometimes, God agitates His Sakti— “I want you”. As a result, the Sakti is said to be ‘dependent’ on God, because Her need is God. And God is said to be independent of Sakti because He doesn’t need Sakti, although He wants Her.
The original position of the soul is willing. The soul doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or be with anyone. However, when the soul enters the material body, then it develops these needs, by the association with the material nature. The material energy is expanded from the needing desire; therefore, all our senses are inherently needy. The eyes need to see, the tongue needs to taste and talk, the ears need to hear. Since the senses are hungry, therefore, they influence the soul’s willingness to become neediness.
Likewise, when the soul contacts matter, and it considers itself the enjoyer, then it develops the masculine desire of wanting—namely, I want to acquire, control, and enjoy the material world.
Liberation from matter is freedom from wanting and needing. Of course, we know that the body must be fed to keep it alive, and the body must sleep to prevent madness. However, these are bodily needs, not the soul’s needs. When the soul learns to differentiate these two, then liberation is attained. In the liberated state, the wanting and needing desires are substituted by the willing desire. This simply means that I don’t want to eat, and I don’t need to eat, but I’m willing to eat if some food is available.
This position of willingness is called sama-darshan when everything is perceived equally in this world. In short, if something is available, it is accepted. But if it is not available, then there is no hankering for it.
Free Will and Free Won’t
One of the illusions of the material world is that we have wants and needs and free will is generally equated to wanting. Experiments in neuroscience, however, have shown that the brain has neural activity before consciousness indicates an acceptance. This idea is already well-known to anyone who practices meditation—the mind wanders everywhere, and the meditator must control the mind. The wandering mind is not due to the soul; it wanders automatically. But the soul can control the wandering. Hence, the soul is differentiated from the mind, and mind control is the ability to accept and reject the mind’s wandering. In short, the soul either willingly accepts the mind’s thoughts, or rejects them.
Owing to this fact, the idea of free will is modified into free won’t which is a different way of saying that we don’t have wants and needs, but we accept and reject the automatically created desires.
In short, the soul’s position is not wanting or needing; it is simply being willing or unwilling to participate in the wanting and needing created by the body and the mind. The material desire can be wanting or needing, but the soul’s desire is willing or unwilling. In general, material life means willing to accept the wanting and needing generated by the material body and the mind, as the soul’s own wanting and needing. And liberated life means the rejection of the wanting and needing generated by the material energy.
Therefore, free will is not wanting or needing. It is only accepting and rejecting or willing and unwilling. This idea is called sankalpa and vikalpa of the mind. The former means “being with the possibility” and the latter means “being against the possibility”. Thus, the body automatically generates the need for hunger, sex, sleep, and protection, and the soul must accept or reject that automatically generated need. Likewise, the mind automatically generates wants and we accept or reject them. Due to the soul’s ability to reject, the mind and the senses can be controlled; but this acceptance and rejection is not wanting or needing. It is willing. A strong will means the ability to resist the temptations of the body and the mind. Strong will is not the determination for material achievements. It means the rejection of these inducements produced by the body and the mind.
Mind Control in Yoga Philosophy
The Yoga Sutra begins by the statement: yogah chitta vritti nirodhah, or the end of chitta vritti is yoga. The term vritti means ‘modification’, and vrta means a circle or boundary. The chitta is compared to an ocean, and the vritti in the chitta is like waves in the ocean. These waves are created when a boundary is imposed on the chitta. When a membrane is fastened around a circular frame to create a drum, an external force causes the membrane to vibrate. In the same way, to free the chitta of its vibrations, one must remove the boundaries in the chitta. These boundaries constitute the definition of the self, and when the self identifies with these boundaries, it creates an identity, such as “I am man”, “I am young”, “I am an Indian”, etc. When these boundaries are imposed on the chitta, it automatically produces thoughts. For example, if I have the boundary of “I am Indian”, then nationalistic thoughts automatically arise in the mind. Likewise, when the boundary is “I am a man”, then thoughts about women are automatically created in the mind. These thoughts are vibrations of the chitta, like waves in the ocean. We can try to stop these vibrations, but the vibrations never truly end so long as the boundaries in chitta exist.
The liberation in the Yoga Sutra process is therefore one of removing all kinds of boundaries. The problem is that it is very hard to remove these boundaries as long there is a body, a social identity, etc. because as long as we live in this world, we tend to carry these identities. Therefore, the liberation by this process is generally expected to take thousands of years.
A simpler process for liberation was hence prescribed by Sri Chaitanya: cheto darpan mārjanam. Instead of trying to stop the vibrations in the chitta, try to clean the chitta and create new types of boundaries, which will then create new types of vibrations. This new type of boundary is also a definition of the self, but it is given in relation to God and His Sakti. When the chitta is thus modified, then thoughts about the Lord and His energy are automatically created just like materialistic wants and needs are created automatically when the chitta is not purified of its false identities. The novelty is that our acceptance of materialistic thoughts is bondage, and the acceptance of the thoughts in relation to the Lord and His Sakti are liberation.
Even in this liberated state, the soul’s position doesn’t change. It still is willing, rather than wanting or needing. However, when the chitta is modified to create an identity in relation to the Lord and His Sakti, then, the wanting and needing produced in the chitta is the wanting and needing of the Lord and His Sakti, and the soul simply accepts this wanting and needing. Due to this acceptance, the soul cannot say that this is what I want, or this is what I need. He simply says: This is what the Lord wants, and this is what the Lord’s Sakti needs. The soul’s position of willing or accepting doesn’t change, but the wanting and needing that the soul accepts as its own desires, changes through the spiritual process.
Gender Change Through Spirituality
Thus, the soul is neutral gender, but depending on the thoughts in the chitta, it becomes either masculine or feminine. In the material world, the soul becomes masculine when it wants material things, and feminine when it needs material things. The desire of wanting is somewhat easier to control than the desire for needing, and therefore, the masculine gender is considered superior. But that superiority is relative to renunciation of the material world: it is easier to renounce wants than needs.
Similarly, in the spiritual world, the soul becomes masculine when it wants the Lord, and feminine when it needs the Lord. The position of needing the Lord is a more helpless and forceful condition than the position of wanting the Lord. As a result, the love of the feminine is considered superior to the love of the masculine. The inferiority of the feminine in this world becomes superiority in the spiritual world because the inferiority is relative to renunciation and the superiority is relative to attachment.
The Relation to Impersonalism
The impersonalist claims that the soul is always “it” and never “he” or “she”, and that is partially correct in the sense that the soul is Brahman, which doesn’t have a gender. It is also the constitutional position of the soul in the sense that the soul’s desire is always willing rather than wanting or needing.
However, the soul is not the only type of consciousness; God and His Sakti are different kinds of consciousness, and they are the primary masculine and feminine. When the soul becomes subordinate to these genders, then “it” becomes “he” or “she”. Even in the material world, the soul is not “he” or “she”, but it comes under the control of a gendered material reality and becomes “he” or “she”.
Therefore, the impersonalist argues that the genders in the spiritual world must be just like the genders in the material world, and if both genders are alien to the soul, then both must constitute a fallen condition. This latter idea is rejected in Vaishnava philosophy, after accepting that the soul is not truly the feminine or the masculine, although it becomes subordinate to the masculine or feminine, and by that subordination, it acquires the desires that exist in the original masculine and feminine.
The rejection of impersonalism (at this stage, which is again modified later, as we will see subsequently in the post) is therefore very subtle: (1) the soul is “it” and not “he” or “she” by itself, and (2) when the soul becomes subordinate to the masculine or feminine, then it becomes “he” or “she”. This subordination is the willing of the soul—i.e. accepting the gender of “it”, “he” or “she”. Since the neutral gender is possible, therefore, impersonalism is not rejected in principle. However, it is rejected on the ground that the soul can accept a masculine or feminine desire spiritually.
The Rejection of Impersonalism
Impersonalism is ultimately rejected on the ground that there are three kinds of consciousness, which present themselves as masculine, feminine, and neutral genders. Hence, the philosophy of the soul cannot be extended to God and His Sakti; the soul can take on a neutral gender, but God and His Sakti are forever masculine and feminine. The soul can also take on a masculine or feminine gender because its desire is willing, and that willing can become subordinate to the wanting and needing.
Thus, all sorts of seemingly contradictory claims are reconciled. First, the soul enters a situation of bondage in the material world when it accepts a material gender. Second, the soul is superior to matter and it can reject the desires created by matter. Third, the soul can be free of qualities, including a gender, because it can exist as the neutral gender in Brahman. Fourth, the soul can accept all kinds of qualities, including a gender, as it becomes subordinate to the desires of the Lord and His Sakti.
As a result, you can say that (1) the material gender is false, (2) the soul has no spiritual gender, (3) the soul can accept a spiritual gender, and (4) the material gender can also be a spiritual gender. These contradictions cease to exist when the true nature of conscious desires is clearly understood.
If we insist that only Brahman is real, then we cannot explain how wanting and needing arise—even in the material world. We also cannot explain how the soul has wanting and needing, and yet is able to reject these things, because the wanting and needing must be innate to the soul because matter is already said to be inert. Only when we accept that the wanting and needing are separate from the willing, and yet, the willing can be subordinate to the wanting and needing, can we explain the material world. But when these two are accepted, then God and His Sakti are understood separately from the nature of the soul. As a result, we can also understand how the soul can take on new kinds of wanting and needing.
The difference between material and spiritual wanting and needing is also very subtle: the material desire is “I want” and “I need”, whereas, the spiritual desire is “He wants” and “She needs”. They can be confused only when “He” and “She” are dissolved, and everything becomes “I want” or “I need”.
Innumerable Forms of Consciousness
Thus, in one sense, everything is consciousness. But in another sense, primarily there are three different kinds of consciousnesses, and they are differentiated by the nature of their desires. The masculine, feminine, and neutral archetypes are, however, not mutually exclusive. Rather, they mix incessantly to create innumerable forms of consciousness. Thus, some feminine forms can have masculine wants, although their primary desire is a feminine need. Likewise, some masculine forms can have feminine needs, although their primary desire is a masculine want. As a result, God is sometimes depicted in a masculine form, sometimes in a feminine form, and sometimes in an androgynous form.
The individuality of the conscious entity is then identified by the nature of desire. A different individual is also a different type of individual personality. As a result, it is now said that even the soul has a constitutional or “original” form, in the sense that it accepts a certain mixture of masculine wants and feminine needs as its own nature. Again, in one sense, the soul is neutral because it accepts and rejects, rather than wants or needs. And yet, it is masculine or feminine, because the desires it accepts or rejects can be masculine or feminine.
In the final analysis, each soul is a mixture of willing, wanting, and needing. But every soul is a different mixture of these three kinds of desires. As a result, each soul is an eternally unique individual. In the soul, however, the willing is always dominant, and therefore, the soul never attains the position of God or His Sakti. Likewise, in God and His Sakti, the wanting and needing are always dominant, so They never become the soul. Hence, in one sense, there is an absolute distinction between God, His Sakti, and the soul. In another sense, sometimes the soul can be almost on par with God or His Sakti, and God and His Sakti can almost seem to be like the soul. Likewise, in some situations, God can seem to be just like His Sakti, and vice versa.
To the novice, this can seem overwhelming, and hence a simple idea is presented: the soul is different from matter; the soul is Brahman, and matter is illusion. But this simplistic view proves problematic on closer inspection, and the doctrine is updated to address the issues with the simplistic doctrine. These enhancements are for the advanced students, not for the novices. If one is not detached from material life and starts considering their material desire as their spiritual desire, then the result would always be a disaster. Therefore, deeper philosophical expositions are also necessary for the removal of misunderstandings.