In the long course of her history, India has experimented with life from various angles and at various levels, and has discovered many truths and proved a few of them for herself and the world. The Indian mind long ago discovered that the object of life is not pleasure, much less pain, but knowledge, through a detached study of both. Pleasure and pain and all experience are the opportunity for the mind of man to gain knowledge and wisdom. Young immature cultures fail to grasp this vital truth, and they build their edifice on the shaky basis of the pursuit of the pleasure; but such edifices fail, unable to understand the pleasures from within and without. Indian culture has endured these thousand of years, surviving dark periods of challenge from within and without, because of its stable foundations furnished by her early thinkers and leaders and because of the mature Weltanschauung or world view which they had provided for her people.
Among the values which that Weltanschauung has placed before humanity, the most significant is the idea of the innate divinity of man. Men and women and all beings are divine in their essential nature. Indian thought views social evolution as the process of the incorporation of this great value in the texture of human relationships. From it are derived the values of freedom, equality, and the sacredness of personality. That forms the measure of social and cultural progress.
Among the various types of human relationships, that between man and woman is the most important. The status of woman is the most significant criterion of progress of any society or culture. The history of the different cultures presents various phases of the evolution of this idea.
In the lower levels of culture this status is one of dependence in theory and practice, woman being meant as an object of pleasure to man, the stronger sex. But in the earliest glimpse of recorded Indian society, we find this stage already passed. The Rig Veda presents a picture of woman as the equal of man in civic and religious spheres. In the pursuit of knowledge and virtue, in the performance of rituals, in the composition of hymns, even in the harder fields of war and statecraft, we find the Vedic woman as a companion and help-mate of man. This equality in practice soon found its sustenance in theory. The Upanishads expounded the idea of man and woman as the equal halves of a divine unity, each the complement of, and incomplete without, the other.
Excerpt from Dynamic Spirituality for A Globalized World, selections from the works of Swami Ranganathananda, late president of RK Math & Mission