How do you give up the male identity?

Someone was chastising me the other day that in order to attain the siddhi of the gopis one had to give up the puruṣābhimāna and think of oneself as a beautiful gopi maiden expert in the arts and dressed in the remnants of Radharani’s own wardrobe, with flowers in her hair, and so on.
He is pleased by our prema for Him in one of the five rasas. But it requires a change in identity, from thinking you are this material body, to knowing that you are His lover, young friend, servant or parent. If you want to be His lover, you have to identify as a young and very attractive woman, expert in all the arts, witty, expert in word jugglery and thus equipped in all ways to bring Him pleasure. You cannot approach him, thinking you are an old man, and that the material illusory form of your partner is Radha. You cannot enter madhurya at all with a male form or identity.
A beautiful picture indeed. And it seems so easy. Just like that, puruṣābhimāna disappears. Now what makes anyone think that this is so easy?

I have been going through the Third Pada of Yoga Sūtra rather thoroughly of late as my work for Swami Veda. I am on Sūtra 3.50 where, after having listed a progression of siddhis or vibhūtis, Patañjali finally names the big prize of kaivalya. This is where the knowledge of discrimination of spirit from matter results in tremendous spiritual power and omniscience. But when one lets go even of this knowledge, then the seed of all bondage is destroyed and the soul attains kaivalya, or “ultimate isolation” or “going solo,” as Swami Veda puts it. Then there is no puruṣābhimāna because the puruṣa is pure consciousness through negating any contact with prakṛti.

Though we call the system of the Yoga Sūtra aṣṭāṅga-yoga, having eight limbs, with samādhi only being the last of these, in fact there is a whole array of stages within samādhi, which are explained from a couple of different points of view in the first, third and fourth padas. The Yoga view is that the puruṣa is the witness and everything he experiences, even to the very perception that he is different from prakṛti is a manifestation of prakṛti’s hold over him. So to let go of even this knowledge means total separation from matter. What is left then? The puruṣa is situated in his own true being. What is that? We don’t really know. Patanjali is not forthcoming. It seems to me to be very close to total self annihilation.

But the fact that Patanjali says nothing on the subject is the reason that the yoga system, abridged or adulterated or not, is adaptable to other Indian systems of yoga, including bhakti-yoga.

Now when one recognizes that there are eleven or twelve different levels within samādhi, I have to ask my friend, do you really think it is so easy for a man to give up puruṣābhimāna? It is easier to think of one’s self as a nothing, a monad floating eternally like a baby in the amniotic fluid of the universal womb, than it is for a man to get to the bottom of what it means to be a male, to understand what womanhood is, and then to give up the former for the latter in a way that is genuine and absolute.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas have tried many ways, and it is not surprising that transvestism and trans-sexuality play a historical role. There is a process of changing gender that modern surgical technology has mastered, and .some men do undertake it in what seems to most people like a tremendously daring and radical fashion. But Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other levelheaded individuals saw that a religion that caters to such a peripheral element in human society could hardly point the way forward for humanity as a whole.

No one has really discussed the process of giving up male identity in the way that the Yoga Sutra does. Jiva Goswami writes about the levels of smarana, up to samādhi, but the actual process, in minute detail, of how the puruṣābhimāna disappears is not described. It is assumed that you want to become a gopi and that by meditating on yourself as such you will like it more and more until that is what you naturally identify yourself as that. Just as Yoga says one must be situated in one's own svarūpa, so do Gaudiya Vaishnavas, intimating that the natural self is feminine and that purification of the ego can only be done by adopting the ideal feminine nature.

But as to what that process is, other than a gradual diminution of the one and and adoption of the other, how it actually happens step-by-step, is nowhere described. A trans person could probably describe in more detail the process, and they start from a sense of opposite gender identity and still have to undergo various transformations.

The yoga system, which is allied to the knowledge system of sankhya, is mostly concerned with the nature of the material world as composed of an array of elements – buddhi, undifferentiated matter, matter set into motion by the disequilibrium of the gunas, ahankara, the five great elements, the senses and the sense objects, the mind. These are each seen in relation to one another and in each case one is given meditations in which these are broken down and separated.

Yogis are not interested in anything to do with human psychology that relates to rasa, by which I mean human interactions with life in the world. The difference is that of mechanistic psychology to depth psychologies and psychoanalysis.

So what are the interim steps that proceed from being attracted to Krishna’s Vrindavan lila, thinking of Krishna dancing with the gopis in the rasa dance, seeing the bhakti of the gopis, ramyā kācid upāsanā vraja-vadhū-vargeṇa yā kalpitā, and saying “I want that” and actually wanting it to the point of (to exaggerate) wanting a sex-change operation? And what is the point of a sex-change operation if one is still mentally more of a man than a woman? And why not dress like a woman, and dance like a woman, and feel like a woman, and even be attracted to men, in a way of seeing Krishna reflected in them?

It is very easy to say, as often is, that this is not a material gender change, but where do we see the mental gender change without thinking, “Is this latent homosexuality? What else can it mean?” The male mind rebels. And it will rebel even as long as one takes on masculine roles. It was this problem that led me on my course of investigation that led through a number of different paths and led me to where I am today, by way of reinterpretation in accordance with modern psychological findings.

Let us say that as good and faithful followers of our school of devotion, we accept the literalness of the Goswamis' intentions and of all those who were inspired by Radha and Krishna’s loves to imagine a world of beauty, love and play, a Neverneverland of permanent escape into Love. And that the secret to entering this world is to imagine yourself a young girl in love with a beautiful prince. Or, as a manjari, to idolize the most beautiful girl in the world and to love the ways she loves the most handsome flute-playing hero.

The process is one of identification, sādhāraṇīkaraṇa. But how can a man, a sannyasi, who accepts the male power roles, who separates himself from woman out of fear of sexuality, truly identify with that of which he has only minimal experience? Is it a refuge for those who harbor the love that dare not speak its name? Perhaps this whole process does require the same kind of absolute bifurcation with the world that Patanjali and the other serious yogis taught, and as was followed by the great exemplar tyagis of the Vaishnava schools.

We are in the rather strange situation in the current Vaishnava world of having male tyagis teaching women what it means to be a gopi, while women remain marginalized. And this manifests in the rather strange idea that Radha and Krishna have nothing at all to do with love in this world.

Is it possible, or necessary, to look at this business of gender identity in a way that confronts these kinds of questions directly?


Anonymous said…
"But the fact that Patanjali says nothing on the subject is the reason that the yoga system, abridged or adulterated or not, is adaptable to other Indian systems of yoga, including bhakti-yoga."
I've often wondered why other Vaisnavas don't take advantage of Patanjali's insights, especially isvara-pranidhana. Well, actually, I know the party line.

Regarding your excellent essay, I'd like to add that a difficulty in finding the answer to your question is the difficulty in finding a bhakta who is actually successful in this transformation. As you point out, we can certainly exclude those dysfunctional tyagi guys posing as experts on the feminine bhava. As best as I can tell, men like to claim, "I know!" Women are more comfortable with, "I'm not sure." Perhaps, then, asking the question is the path to shifting identity.
Jagadananda Das said…
Good point. These are the things that preoccupy one when one discovers that certain strange-sounding beliefs are at the very core of an entire system of thought, which is withheld until one is "ready". Like the Scientologists with their increasingly bizarre mythologies. I have made the rather outrageous assumption that if this is the core belief then we have to set aside reservations for a minute and examine it and see what it means, according to those who have spoken of it, according to the use of reason, and according to direct experience.
Prem Prakash said…
I don't want you to think the "excellent essay" compliment came from anonymous. I'm having trouble sometimes signing in.

-Prem Prakash
Anonymous said…


Quote: "the “liberation” of the subtle feminine ("pure substance”) from the clutches of the coarse “dragon” (prima materia)."

Read from '2. The absorption of the “virgin milk” or gynergy (inana mudra)' onwards...

birkhauer said…
Jagat Ji, i think you have elaborated on something that i have been internally investigating as well. I am a "straight as an arrow" male, and so to reconcile the internal heart identity of the true "you" as female, has meant that first, one must not be judgmental or homophobic. The moment you approach the desire to understand something of trans people, to try to observe how and what they are feeling, and how they relate to their male bodies, while internally affirming that they are female, and how it actually comes out transparently in their behaviour, that they indeed are female and you refer to them in the correct gender pronoun as "she"...this journey in empathy is fascinating and personally very valuable for my own GV sadhana-bhajana. 20 or 50 years ago, people's minds would have freaked out if they realized that in the 21st century, there is a tremendous sea change in the attitudes of the people in accepting and coming to terms that human beings are not simply male or female and everyone else "a mistake". We now realise more and more, the fluid nature of sexuality and people who have leanings towards same sex and they are also valid as long as it is by mutual consent and above the legal age.
And look, the sky has not fallen on our heads!
There is no fire and brimstone raining down upon us. The whole response of fear towards gays and transgender people is so stupid, and the time has come to wake up and realize that all human beings have fundamental human rights that cannot be violated or trampled upon just because you have a particular narrow view of what "society" must be like and otehr stupid ideas that transgender people are a curse from God etc etc. All this bullcrap must be thrown out of our minds voluntarily, that time has come.
My point here is, it has been very educational interracting with trans girls, and with empathy, feeling how they feel in their male body and how they feel they are in their hearts.
Now, while a lot of trans girls want to go in for MTF surgery (male to female), and really are comfortable in dressing in womans clothes, i dont feel that way. I dont feel the need to express myself as feminine in my outer cloting or even behaviour, yet internally, i clearly see myself as being feminine, especially as i do my sambandhanuga sadhana. Yes, even though i am in the Gaudiya Math and Iskcon company, and while i am tremendously reverent and also attracted to the seva of the dasanudas Manjari's of SriJi......for now, i am guided towards Vatsalya bhava.
And let me tell you something about Vatsalya.....this bhava, of wanting to nourish Sri Lala, and you can understand what i mean when i say "nourish" as in how a mother nourishes her infant with her own body, this instinct, is so powerful, and so above any contamination of lust, and so stable, that i can channel my sexual energy from my sex center upto the heart, to transmute the kama into prema quite easily. Meaning, even though i am single, i am able achieve the 'upward motion', the Urdhvareta principal. It happens naturally as a result of my praying to Sri Yashoda Maiiya and Rohini Maata and Their Dasanudas's and wanting to experience how they must be witnessing the Mothers caring for Sri Lala and Sri Baladeva.
My point here JagatJi is, i can see my outer personality as just a facade, but one that i am comfortable with interracting in, because i dont make compartments within myself, i am all one. One personality, integrated. Those who will have the eyes to see me, will see how i feel really internally. Those that dont, wont suspect anything.
(continued into the second part)

birkhauer said…
.....(continued from the first part of my comment)
Now, to explain my journey, and i have only just begun my spiritual sadhana, into which i am guided by the explain that you can learn from trans people you first need to be quite liberal in your outlook on the world. Paramatma is in my heart, and He knows what i have briefly talked about in this haphazard post of mine, and i am under His and Sri Guru's guidance.
All i am saying is, yes, as you say, without confronting all these seemingly scary skeletons of homophobia and phobia or trans people and the LGBT community, it is not possible, for the modern young adult to look at his own " puruṣābhimāna" and not worry about it dissapearing with just the functionalshell remaining for external appearances.
Jagadananda Das said…
Thank you for your comments, Birkhauer.
Anonymous said…
In union draw up that which is apart, become neither male nor female, become both and neither, as a child - and place ones own feet above.
Respects to you..
... this is my fifth or so comment of the day. I am enjoying your association. As open humans me and you should talk a while. I am sure we can put history to bed. I am not what you imagine. A sahaja sahajiya if you know what I mean. I am very sensitive to my causes and realize you are. I have many realizations about this topic. For me, sexuality returned after 7 years celibacy... a celibacy that was very light and with no fighting with sexual desire... through seva. Through relationship to my guru. Your writing is sweet but sometimes I fail to see your connection to your guru. With me sexuality returned through picking up cow dung. The progression of love upon meeting the lover starts with santa rasa. Seeing the guru. There is no relationship but there is some contact. There is respect. Then you take initiation. You touch his feet. There is dasya. Santa represents sound. You hear a lecture. It is the first contact. The primordial OM> Dasya is air. Touch. Next up is the relationship of friend when the teacher becomes intimate with you and can speak to you with eyes. I had already been through a two year relatioinship with my siksa guru Sri Premananda Prabhuji and he cut off touch and sound and related to me just with eyes, with glances. Sri Haridas Sastri didnt cut off the other ways of communicating but he allowed me into his friendship. Eyes. Fire. Third sense. Deeper still there is vatsalya. I remember shouting at Maharajaji because he was getting too close to a frisky bull. He smiled at me loving my love. The taste of that smile. Water. Fourth sense. Deeper still, I remember massaging his feet. He would not let anyone else touch his feet. People tried to dive at his feet for mercy. He hated the lust of it, the desire to get something. I just wanted to soothe his feet. I didnt think of anything else. It was so uncomplicated. So natural. He shrugged at first but I just grabbed his feet and told him to shut up. I massaged him for hours sometimes while he dozed off. I cried on his feet. I loved him absolutely. I would die for him. Madhurya. Final sense. Earth. Take the h and put it on the front. Heart. Earth. Heart. Complete love. I felt sexual desire arise. What was this. It wasn't like it was before. It was prema. I recognized my tears of prema. It was sexuality and spirituality combined. I was embarrassed to look at Maharajaji but he smiled at me the next day. He knew. I was finished. From then sexuality took its roll in my life and the rest is a history which is me making sense of it and others making nonsense of it.

Where I was going was this feeling is coming from love of the guru. Then you can love others with that love. The energy is feminine. The act may be masculine but the energy is feminine. Even as a hetrosexual male I totally understand the sexual energy of a woman. I feel like a woman in love even being the male actor. All this talk of ejaculation or not, to me is just another religious fad. That you want to remain in pleasure for so long. Where is the love in that? As if lying in each others exhausted arms is not also tantra. For me, the absolute sahajiya has completely done away with all this worry of acceptance in a spiritual community, and whether one is doing something spiritual or not. YOU become spiritual. Here Vishvanath Cakravathi Thakur. The body becomes spiritualized. What does that mean? How can you do something unspiritual with a spiritualized body? How can you not love when you ARE love?
I am a little girl in my relationship with Radha and Krishna. Yes. Sometimes that comes out to the external but no, I am not transformed into a transvestite, or a homosexual though I understand them. There is no need for a man to become a woman externally to understand a woman internally because through love all understanding occurs. Through loving a woman all understanding occurs. It is so precious Prabhu this knowledge. So wonderful. Please forgive me for speaking as if authority. YOu know words, they are sometimes more delicious when you let them just come out. But you are my senior and though I speak as if instructing or preaching, I am your servant.
Jagadananda Das said…
Thanks for writing Pitambarji. Yes, I am sure we should have an open conversation at some time. If there were misimpressions they were derived from the original splash you made a few years ago. In actual fact, you are one of the causes of this blog itself.

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