There is a custom in Nepal, in which a few, select prepubescent girls are regarded as living manifestations of the goddess, and worshiped by Hindus and Buddhists. These girls — kumari, or “living goddesses” — will live in temples until they retire at puberty. They will also wear special clothing, and will have a third eye or “fire eye” painted on their forehead, as a mark of their divine status. During religious festivals, they will be taken, inside special chariots, to the streets, where devotees will be able to worship them. Why?
While we in the modern West may be uncomfortable with such a tradition, we should suspend judgment.
Of course, we know that children naturally bring out paternal and maternal instincts — to protect or nurture. But, I believe the kumari acts as a reminder, not of the devotee’s role in life, but of his or her mortality itself. It makes him aware of his transience, his drawing closer to death, and of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
As I wrote recently, men may fight wars, but without the female image, there can be no revolution. Here I want develop what I mean by “revolution” — and we should be clear that it is first and foremost an internal revolution — and how the female image inspires the higher man and provokes inner-transformation.
Here, however, we must acknowledge the misuse of the female image by “lower masculinity” — the “masculinity of bravado, of a lack of discipline and self-control, of finding meaning in drunkenness and spectacle, etc. The relationship is twofold: First, the society that heralds low masculinity and low, inauthentic or degraded, femininity, will depict women in a way that reflects this societal inner poverty; that is to say, it will depict women in a degraded manner: the “dumb blonde,” the seducer who must be covered up from head to toe so as not to entice men to rape her, and the woman as the object, or victim, in sadistic sexual imagery, etc. (There are both conservative and liberal versions of this tendency. The former, for example, believing “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” and the latter promoting the idea that women should ape low masculinity, preferring multiple sexual partners to actual partnership, etc. We reject both of these.)
Secondly, the lower man’s urge, on seeing an attractive woman, is a kind of hostility, in which he wants to possess her (if only temporarily, for sexual purposes), to impress his friends, impress himself upon her, or to negate her as a whole person.
In contrast to the higher man, he does not see her as a woman he can partner and grow with. Nor does he see her as representative of important aspects of civilization, or as a manifestation of a type of divine energy or force (of which male energy is the complementary).
Wresting with the Feminine Force:
There is a Zen anecdote. Two monks came to a river, where they found a very beautiful young woman. She asked the monks if they could carry her across it. The senior monk picked her up and carried her to the other side, then the two monks continued on their way. Several hours passed without a word being said, when, unable to contain himself any longer, the junior monk furiously questioned the senior monk. “You know we are not allowed to touch a woman,” he said, “especially one as beautiful as her.” “I put her down at the river,” the senior monk responded, “why are you still carrying her?”
We can say that the junior monk was still affected by the karma of low masculinity. It is natural to find a beautiful woman attractive, of course. But he allowed himself to become obsessed, angry, and hostile. He contradicted the spirit of monasticism. Although I have not come across this explanation, it seems to me that for the senior monk the beautiful woman appeared not as something first and foremost physical — and not as a sexual being — but as a manifestation of the female transcendental and transformative force.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, male devotees are able to subdue their sexual desires by focusing on an image of the goddess Tara. I have come across Catholic monks who are devoted to Mary, undoubtedly partly as a way of coping with lifelong celibacy. We must stress that the devotee here is not sexualizing the female image, but discovering a transcendental female form that makes sex unnecessary for them. The disciple is, in effect, de-sexualizing himself through the image of the divine feminine.
The Body of The Goddess:
In the Hindu secretive esoteric tradition of Tantra there is a notorious ritual called the “Rite of the Five Ms.” During it, the disciple will drink wine (Madya). He will eat meat (Mamsa), fish (Matsya), and grain (Mudra). And he will experience sexual union (Maithuna), often with someone of a different caste.
While Tantra is, not surprisingly, associated with sex, this, however, is not accurate. Some Tantrikas abstain from sex altogether, meditating on the image of the union of male and female (Shiva and Shakti, or the Buddhist Yab-Yum (“father-mother”)).
Only devotees of the Vira (“hero”) level are permitted to participate in the Rite of Five Ms, precisely because they have already undergone a considerable period in which they have abstained from sex, intoxicants, and so on, and, moreover, have destroyed their desire for them. The ritual is intended to force the disciple to experience everything — even what is considered forbidden, immoral, etc., by those of lower spiritual attainment — as the body of the goddess (comprised of the five elements represented by the five Ms — Madya (fire), Mamsa (air), Matsya (water), Mudra (earth), Maithuna (spirit)).
(There is some parallel to the Roman Catholic Mass. Unlike Protestant churches, which see the Eucharist (the consumption of bread and wine) as purely symbolic, the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation: i.e., that the bread and wine is literally transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ, in essence, even if the accidental elements remain the same in appearance. Like the Tantrika, the Catholic faithful cannot receive the sacraments if they are in a state of sin.)
Woman as Initiator:
For the male disciple, the female is, in a sense, the initiator in the Rite of Five Ms. This is also the case in Western esotericism, in the Gardnerian Wiccan tradition (an early form of modern witchcraft founded by British author and amateur archeologist Gerald Gardner, which emphasizes “the Goddess” and claims roots to ancient, pre-Christian witchcraft), where a male and female member of an established group, or “coven,” will unite sexually in the “Great Rite.”
It should be clear that such practices are open to abuse, and, as such, should only be practiced by a very small number of highly developed spiritual practitioners, if it is necessary. In general, it has been men that have initiated men, both into manhood (by teaching young men basic skills of fighting, cunning, comradeship, etc.) and into the greater male Mysteries, such as in ancient blacksmith cults, or, in the modern age, into Freemasonry.
Not everyone will be able to experience authentic Tantra, especially since, in the West, some authors and self-proclaimed teachers merely advocate sexual experimentation, visiting strip clubs, and so on. This is absolutely anti-Tantric, and represents only the worst of Western modernity.
The ‘Ordinary’ World:
The difference between modern and ancient man is that the former sees himself as the product of historical forces. For ancient man — and we would say for the higher man of today — he is participating in the cosmic, sharing in the forces and dynamics accounted for in myth (which he regards as eternally true). The ordinary embodies the Divine.
Some years ago, a Harvard study found that the sight of a beautiful woman’s face triggered the “reward centers” in the male brain. While the researchers likened the effect to cocaine, we should note that these centers can produce a kind of euphoria, which, indeed, is part of the religious or transcendental experience.
The Catholic monk meditating on the image of Mary, or the Tantrika on the image of Tara, is able to rein in his sexual urges partly through cultivating a mystical euphoria (or unio mystica), through the image of the divine feminine.
Of course, we know that the female image is misused by advertisers, who, sexualizing women, want to sell us everything from smartphones to vacations. But we have all seen men straighten up when a beautiful woman walks in the room, instinctively, suddenly, wanting to be — or at least look — their best.
To the higher type of man — the Chun-tzu — who sees himself — as did ancient man — as immersed in the cosmic and mythic, female beauty can remind us of the best of who we are, destroy our ego, and can will us to overcome ourselves.
As such, whether connected to a spiritual tradition or not, we can find initiation, or, at least, elevation of ourselves, through the feminine.
This requires seeing women as partners, comrades, or initiates, in the struggle for self-overcoming. It requires mutual understanding, and a desire to help, and to improve, each other. And it requires respecting the feminine energy and understanding women unveil to us.
The classic of Samurai tradition, the Hagakure, tells us that if we truly understand our Way (art or discipline that connects us to the Divine) then we will be able to understand all Ways. I am not advocating monk-like existence for men who remain in the world, but we might conclude by saying that the higher man — who is able to see the world as the place of the cosmic and the mythic — is elevated through female beauty, perceiving Samsara — even at its most brutal — to be Nirvana.