Monday, March 14, 2011

Chris Dierkes - Against The Use of the Terms Masculine and Feminine in the Spiritual Path

Several years ago, for a few months, I thought David Deida was the sh!t - mostly because some integral people had promoted his version of gender and sexuality as integrally informed.

Then I read his books, and did some background research, and discovered that (1) he just amplifies and perpetuates destructive gender stereotypes (but he makes them sound cool), including his "stage three" non-gender bound versions of masculine and feminine, and (2) that he was another of the many "integral" people who (supported and promoted by Ken Wilber) was a student of the dysfunctional, abusive, authoritarian, cultish guru last known as Adi Da (also known as Bubba Free John, Da Free John, etc).

Wilber wrote many glowing endorsements of Adi Da, and while eventually warning people to join Da's community at their own risk, he never recanted his assertions that Da was the first and greatest Western Avatar - even after Da had proclaimed himself God, asserted that enlightenment required devotion to and worship of him, and was exposed in many news reports and eye-witness accounts as an abusive, drug-abusing sex addict.

If only figured that Deida would be associated with Da at some point (1986-1988).

Admittedly, Deida is a brilliant and well-educated man - check his Wikipedia page for details on his life. Yet there is something troubling about his views on sexuality - not the least of which is that he has been willing adopted by the "pick up artist" community.

In this article from Beams and Struts, Chris Dierkes offers a very cogent explanation of why Deida's gender and sexuality teachings are problematic. This is a long and well-argued piece, so please go read the whole article - I am posting what amounts to the introduction to get your interest.

Against The Use of the Terms Masculine and Feminine in the Spiritual Path

Written by Chris Dierkes

[Warning: Video somewhat NSFW].

Discussions concerning the masculine and feminine have a long and controversial history in the cultures of spiritual practice.

The key commonality to teachings that use masculine and feminine in spiritual discourse is to assume the existence of a masculine and a feminine principle. These principles are said to be universal (even cosmic) in nature and therefore trans-cultural. Further, the masculine and feminine qua principles are not to be defined solely as men and women. That is a man can be said to have a feminine side and women a masculine side.

This idea of the masculine and feminine principle runs through the teachings of Tantricism as well as the Taoism traditions. The teaching has a long and honorable heritage. Just so in the (self-named) integral world the terms masculine and feminine (as principles) are bandied about quite frequently, and in my experience typically in quite ignorant and deluding fashion.

There is quite a bit of criticism out there about the use of the terms masculine and feminine in integral thought (our own Sr. Vanessa is one of the experts on this conversation), which has to my mind too often been categorized as postmodern and therefore deficient (and therefore able to be ignored). A brilliant counter-example to that trend—one that takes seriously these issues and offers a substantive critique is this article on the Divine Feminine by Elizabeth Debold (highly recommended). Also, this one by Elizabeth.

Into that fray, I offer this post. It is meant to be controversial and generate intense thought and discussion. Before I go there, however, I want to make clear that just because I’m taking a fairly critical stance on this one issue (the use of masculine/feminine) in relation to spiritual teachers in the integral world does not mean I think they have nothing to offer. I’ve learned a great deal from many of them and appreciate much of what they do. The main reason I offer this criticism is because I think it is creating an unnecessary barrier to the dissemination of their teachings. Here less would be so much more.


I’ll begin with the video at the top of this article by David Deida, perhaps the most (in)famous contemporary teacher of masculine and feminine. I should say upfront that I actually think David often gets a bum rap. This video is good because you hear David’s own words rather than summarized versions (whether pro or con) of his ideas. Nevertheless I still think there is a serious categorical error in what he says.

Deida clearly articulates the idea of a masculine and feminine principle. The Masculine, Deida says, is the Witness or the Unmoved aspect of Consciousness. The Feminine, in contrast, is Light or Energy-Radiance, the Manifest Form of Consciousness.

This teaching is the classic teaching of the Shiva-Shakti Tantric tradition. Lord Shiva is Dark and Unmoved, The Death or Deatheless Ease of Consciousness. Goddess Shakti is the Dancing Wild Energy of Manifestation.

Now you’ll note that David says his description of Consciousness and Light as Masculine and Feminine is how he paints, a form of art, and a description (really an interpretation I would say). Too often people have forgotten how this is an artistic painting and not a scientific description of reality.


Another teacher who uses Masculine and Feminine in integral spiritual discourse is Genpo Roshi (Big Mind/Big Heart teaching). This article lays out nicely Roshi’s views on the matter. Genpo is more influenced by the Taoist tradition of the Yin/Yang symbol than the Shiva-Shakti imagery.

In fact though the Yin-Yang and Shiva-Shakti imagery are often thought to be interchangeable, it’s worth asking whether they are so. Notice that in the Taoist symbol it is the Feminine (Yin) that is dark, receptive, and unmoved while in the Tantric system it is The Masculine (Shiva) arguably exhibits those traits. In the Taoist system it is the Masculine (Yang) that is energetic, the force of evolution, something akin to the Shakti (Feminine) in the Tantric system.

I don’t want to push those distinctions too far, but notice that in some sense, the language and categorization is a bit arbitrary.

Third, Sofia Diaz, one of the leaders of Integral Feminism. She writes:

So we’re basically talking about something that is invisible because it is so present all the time. And it is important to make the distinction between the terms feminine, woman, and female. The Feminine is an aspect of existence that is independent of women. A more absolute definition would be that, relative to the Masculine Principle of absolute infinity, the Feminine Principle is everything that appears, everything that is noticed, even the noticer himself or herself. However, in terms of human embodiment, it is expressed as a woman’s body, because the Feminine is the receptive principle and the masculine is the penetrative principle. Our relationship to the Feminine is our relationship to embodiment.

I think this equation of Embodiment with the Feminine and Infinity with the Masculine (as trans-personal Principles) is deeply flawed. By interpreting, naming, and labeling the principle of Consciousness-Agency as Masculine and Embodiment-Radiance as Feminine, we end up converting what are (in many cases) specific cultural and historical expressions of gender into Cosmic Archetypes of the Universe. The technical philosophical term for such a mistake is essentializing—making what is specific, chosen, and open to change into something eternal, essential, and given in the Universe. This doesn't mean I think their teachings, practices or ways are invalid--I'm simply talking about interpretation and categorization here.

Read the whole article.

For what it's worth, Deida was a student of and co-creator of partnership teachings with Sophia Diaz from 1983 to 2000, so there is bound to be considerable overlap in their perspectives (Deida, David and Diaz, Sofia; The Tantra of Relationship [Audio program], 1990).

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