Chapter 6: The Art of Living
The first question:
Today at the lecture you extolled the virtues of Hasidism. But if they are so praiseworthy, so full of feeling of brotherhood, etc., why do they exclude women from their religious practices, and particularly their ecstatic religious dancing?
Pratima has asked the question. It is very relevant, and has to be understood. The first thing to remember, to always remember, is never to judge the past by present standards. That is not compassionate. For example, when Hasidism was arising, to allow women into a religiously ecstatic dance would have been impossible. Not that Hasidic mystics were not aware, not that they would not have liked to allow it - they would have loved it - but it was impossible.
Even Buddha was afraid to initiate women into his order. What was the fear? Was he an orthodox person? No, you cannot find a more revolutionary mind, but he insisted for many years on not allowing women into his order. The reason is to be found somewhere else.
A religion has to exist in the society. If the society is too much against a certain thing, even the founder has to make a few compromises otherwise the religion as such will not exist at all. The society is not in a condition of perfection, the society is not yet as it should be, but a religion has to exist in this society, in the framework that this society allows it. Revolutionaries try to go a little further than the boundary, but even they cannot go too far. If they go too far they will be uprooted.
For example, I have no objection if you go naked when meditating. I have no objection. In fact I will support it, because clothes are part of the repressive culture. I know it, but still I have to insist on you not being naked in the meditations because that creates such trouble that even meditation will become impossible. That will be too much. To destroy the whole possibility of meditation just for clothes or nudity would be foolish. It would have been good if I had been able to allow you to be absolutely free - free from clothes also. But then society will not allow us to exist at all, and we have to exist in society. So we have to choose the lesser evil.