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While reading the article "Bhoga, Moksha and Jivanmukti in Tantra" on Kamakotimandali, i was surprised to know that in one of his works Adi Shankara said "Women are like the gates to hell".

I want to know what the context of the discussion was that led him to say so?

Some relevant portions from the article:

The Jīvanmukta in the Tantric tradition behaves in the world in a positive way. He loves all as his own self, and enjoys the worldly objects in an unattached manner like śrī kṛṣṇa. For him the world is the free manifestation or play of his own Self. He is in perfect identity with all. The Advaitin, because he has a negative attitude towards the world, finds difficulty in adjusting the Jīvanmukta in the world.

In the Tantric tradition we find a positive and respectful attitude towards the world and worldly values. The things of the world are accepted and worshipped as śiva. Material wealth, for example, is taken to be the Goddess Lakṣmī, a form of the divine śakti. The natural desires and vṛttis of mind are accepted as sparks of the divine śakti. The Sāttvic, Rājasic and Tāmasic vṛttis are respectively symbolized and worshiped as Goddesses Sarasvatī, Lakṣmīand Kālī. A girl or a woman would be regarded as the Devī Herself. This is diametrically opposed to the negativist’s attitude towards the woman, which says (praśnottarī attributed to Shankaracharya):

dvāraṃ kimekaṃ narakasya nārī | ‘What is the door to hell? It is the woman’.

To regard the woman as the door to hell, as the verse suggests, is the height of the vanity and hypocrisy of man; psycho-analytically speaking it is a psychological situation of self-deception. By condemning the woman, man actually condemns his own self, the sexual self.

The article also mentions the name of the work viz- "Prashnottari".

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    It is from a work called Mani Ratna mala and the context is samsara. It is explaining how bad getting caught in Samsara and luxuries is. Nov 21, 2017 at 6:44
  • If its meant for Sannyasis, then you can write an answer based on that explaining the context. Also according to you a woman is a material thing? @SwiftPushkar
    – Rickross
    Nov 21, 2017 at 6:58
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    Oh come on, even in our non-religious human society, the desire of woman is considered as the strongest of all. Isn't desire the door to hell?
    – user6990
    Nov 21, 2017 at 13:50
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    @RakeshJoshi - I am not defending Sanyasa , but as Upanishads says sanyasa ( Non attachment in pleasures) is helpful & without that self realisation is not possible. I am just presenting what scriptures are saying.:) Nov 21, 2017 at 15:31
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    Upanishad never say about sanyasa only later upanishad say about it. Mundaka says about sanyasa as hiranyagarbha upasana. FYI Nov 21, 2017 at 16:29

3 Answers 3

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The question and answer quoted in the article is in the book Mani Ratna Mala which is said to be the work of Shree Adi Shankaracharya. Translated by by Paramhans, Swami Yoganand. Shloka no. 3

This book is in the question and answers , asked by Shishya and answers given by Guru.

This is the whole verse.

संसार ह्रुत्कस्तु निजात्म बोध : |  
को मोक्ष हेतु: प्रथित: स एव ||  
द्वारं किमेक नरकस्य नारी |  
का सर्वदा प्राणभृतामहींसा ।।3।। 

Samsara Hrutkastu Nijatma Bodha  
Ko Moksha Hetuhu Prathitaha sa eva
Dwaram Kimekam Narasya Nari 
Ka Sarvada PranaBhrutaMahimsa 

Shishya - Who takes us beyond Sansara ?  
Guru - The realisation of self takes one beyond samsara and the person then gets detached from Samsara. i.e. Atma Bodha. 

Shishya - What is the Root Cause of Moksha?  
Guru- The famous Atma Bodha OR self realisation is. 

Shishya - What is the gate to hell.?  
Guru - Women is gate of hell. 

Shishya - What facilities us with moksha?  
Guru - Ahimsa (Non-violence).

Before answering your question let us see in what context the word "Women" is used and why in Hinduism scriptures.

We at many places find such similar verses portraying women as gate to hell or an obstacle etc. It appears though our scriptures are demeaning women. But in reality often the word Women isn't used for actual women , but for "Maya of the Lord in the form of women"

For example this verse of Shreemad Bhagvat Purana is also saying "Women are gate to hell"

सङ्गं न कुर्यात्प्रमदासु जातु 
योगस्य पारं परमारुरुक्षुः । 
मत्सेवया प्रतिलब्धात्मलाभो 
वदन्ति या निरयद्वारमस्य ॥39॥ 

sańgaḿ na kuryāt pramadāsu jātu 
yogasya pāraḿ param ārurukṣuḥ 
mat-sevayā pratilabdhātma-lābho 
vadanti yā niraya-dvāram asya 

One who aspires to reach the culmination of yoga and has realized his self by rendering service unto Me should never associate with an attractive woman, for such a woman is declared in the scripture to be the gateway to hell for the advancing devotee.SB 3.31.39

But if we look at the next verse , there it's said that Women are created by Lord is the representation of his Maya.

योपयाति शनैर्माया योषिद्देवविनिर्मिता । 
तामीक्षेतात्मनो मृत्युं तृणैः कूपमिवावृतम् ॥40॥ 

yopayāti śanair māyā 
yoṣid deva-vinirmitā 
tām īkṣetātmano mṛtyuḿ 
tṛṇaiḥ kūpam ivāvṛtam 

The woman, created by the Lord, is the representation of maya, and one who associates with such maya by accepting services must certainly know that this is the way of death, just like a blind well covered with grass.SB 3.31.40

So the word women is often used as Maya , and women does not necessarily mean a physical women but a representation of worldy pleasures. That simply mean an advice not to indulge / attach in women (Maya) too much.

So in conclusion we can say that what Shree Adi Shankaracharya mean by "Women is gate to hell" is this maya of the Lord in the form of women is one of the gate of hell.

And may be he is not pointing towards women directly but using / giving an example of obstacles for those who are going in the path of Moksha, mainly sanyasis to keep away from material pleasures.

This is clear by this shloka of Mundaka Upanishad ,On which Shree Adi-Shankara written commentary. As the main objective of the verse no.3 from Mani Ratna Mala is retirement from sanyasa , atmabodha and to show the powerfullness of sexual desire. as given in index.

नायमात्मा बलहीनेन लभ्यो न च प्रमादात्तपसो वाप्यलिङ्गात् ।  
एतैरुपायैर्यतते यस्तु विद्वांस्तस्यैष आत्मा विशते ब्रह्मधाम ॥ 3.2.4॥ 

nāyamātmā balahīnena labhyo na ca 
pramādāttapaso vāpyaliṅgāt | 
etairupāyairyatate yastu 
vidvāṃstasyaiṣa ātmā viśate 
brahmadhāma || 3.2.4 || 

4 This Atman cannot he attained by one devoid of strength or by excitement or by tapas devoid of linga. But of the knower who strives with these aids, the Atman enters into the Brahman.

Shankar Bhashys -because this Atman cannot be attained by one devoid of strength produced by concentration on the Atman or by excitement caused by associating with objects of the world, as son, cattle and the rest, or by tapas devoid of linga. ‘Tapas’ here means ‘knowledge.’ “Linga,” means “Sanyasa.” The meaning is that the Atman cannot be attained by knowledge without Sanyasa. 


Note - Below Shloka of shloka 3 of Mani Ratna Mala book the detail explanation of the answers given by guru is provided by the translator. And the translator is giving ref.of puranas to explain his point. hence I have used ref.from puranas.

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  • This answer should be accepted. Jan 14, 2019 at 17:16
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संसार ह्रुत्कस्तु निजात्म बोध : |
को मोक्ष हेतु: प्रथित: स एव ||
द्वारं किमेक नरकस्य नारी |
का सर्वदा प्राणभृतामहींसा ।।3।।

Samsara Hrutkastu Nijatma Bodha
Ko Moksha Hetuhu Prathitaha sa eva Dwaram Kimekam Naraksya Nari Ka Sarvada PranaBhrutaMahimsa

Nari in this instance is to kill or sacrifice. Nari also means a woman, feminine. So which one is more applicable here.

The first two lines assert that atmabodh or self-realized enlightenment is the only path to moksha.

If you look at the fourth line of the verse, you'll note that it asserts that pranabhrut ahimsa, or avoiding killing is always the first choice.

But why does Adi Shankara need to say this?

Was sacrifice or taking of life for any purpose, of any living entity, whether bird or animal, had become prevalent in the time of Adi Shankara?

Or is the reference to women, since this was a period in which the cultural memory of the Mahabharata war would have been very strong and if you've traced the events leading to the war, you'll see that it was always a woman at the key pivots or turning points of the Kuru dynasty, starting with Satyavati's insistence that for her to marry Shantanu, her children and not Devavrata (later Bhishma) would inherit the throne. In the second generation, the story of the princes of Kashi, especially that of Amba who is reborn as Shikhandi is well known and one that leads to the death of Bhishma in the war. In the fourth generation of the Kurus, it is Draupadi cheerharan that sets the tone for the great war.

A fresh reinterpretation by any Advaita scholar would be welcome!

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It might be a reference to their womb, which could be called a Hell, because it is a miserable place.

Sanatkumāra said:

...

Then the soul complete in this body recollects all the pleasures and sorrows and every thing done by it formerly as if in a dream.

...

  1. This time when I am born and consecrated I shall strive for welfare by means of this body so that I may not have to stay in another womb in future.

  2. So thinks the child in the womb “As soon as I am released from this womb I shall seek Śiva’s perfect knowledge that repels all worldly existence.”

  3. Troubled and tormented by the distress in the womb as a result of his past actions the individual soul stays there pondering over the means of liberation

So it might just be literal (I see no reason not to believe so), in that women have a Hell inside them, rather than anything about the character of women.

https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/shiva-purana-english/d/doc226582.html

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  • You should give source for your statement that Adishankara is referring to womb. Avoid writing speculative answers
    – The Destroyer
    Jan 1, 2022 at 13:53
  • @TheDestroyer Only women have wombs. So only women would have implications from what I quoted. Jan 1, 2022 at 16:17

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