Someone inquired if Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had made any remarks on differences between men and women. This is a compilation of remarks that I was able to find right now. It addresses topics such as : What are the cosmic origins of gender? Are women less polyamorous than men? Are women better at Yoga? Can gender change across incarnations? If I find more remarks, I will add them in the comments section to this blog post.
Cosmic origins of gender
Question: Why has there been, since the beginning of creation, this difference between male and female?
Mother Mirra Alfassa: Since the beginning of which creation ? Of which creation do you speak ? Of the earth ?
First of all, it is not exact. There are species in which there is no difference. And in the beginning there was no difference, number one. Number two, earthly creation is a purely material creation, it is a sort of conclusion and condensation of the universal creation, but in the universal creation this difference does not exist as a matter of necessity. All possibilities are there, all possible things have existed and still exist, but this differentiation is not at all at the basis of creation.
So your question does not stand, because it is incorrect.
A zoologist could tell you that there are species which are not like that at all. Nature has tried this method tries many things, it has made all possible species, made the two in one, made every possible thing… It tries like this because probably this appears more practical to it! I don’t know. That’s all. But on other planes, even in the terrestrial world, in the subtler planes of the terrestrial world, even in the subtle physical, in the vital and in the mental, if there are beings who are so differentiated, there are also others who are neither male nor female. This exists. For example, in the vital world, it is extremely rare to come across sex difference, the beings there are generally without sex. And I strongly suspect that the world of the gods as described to us by men, has been largely influenced by human thought. In any case, there are many deities who are without sex. In all the stories told of the pantheons of all countries, there is a good deal that has been strongly influenced by human thought. So, this difference is simply a means used by Nature to achieve its aim, that’s all, nothing more than that. We must take it like that. It is not an eternal symbol – not at all.
Now, there are many people who are very keen on this distinction – they may keep it if they like! – but it is not at all something final or eternal…or perfect in itself. 
Gender change across incarnations
Question: X asked me if in the course of rebirths a woman can become a man, and a man a woman. He thought of certain feminine traits in him that could be explained thus. I would also like to know if there is in the psychic being itself something like sex?
Sri Aurobindo: Not sex exactly, but what might be called the masculine and feminine principle. It is a difficult question [whether sex is altered in rebirth]. There are certain lines the reincarnation follows and so far as my experience goes and general experience goes, one follows usually a single line. But the alteration of sex cannot be declared impossible. There may be some who do alternate. The presence of feminine traits in a male does not necessarily indicate a past feminine birth – they may come in the general play of forces and their formations. There are besides qualities common to both sexes. Also a fragment of the psychological personality may have been associated with a birth not ones own. One can say of a certain person of the past, “that was not myself, but a fragment of my psychological personality was present in him.” Rebirth is a complex affair and not so simple in its mechanism as in the popular idea. 
(For elucidation on the remark “a fragment of my psychological personality was present in him” , see the first comment below)
The Mother on the same question:
Mother: All depends on the category to which one belongs, and the degree of the psychic being’s development. If the psychic being is in an advanced stage, near maturity, the choice before death, about which I spoke to you the other day, is quite real and this choice means that everything is possible; but in other cases, the rebirth takes place almost automatically. The will of the psychic being is not developed and it does not choose. Hence, there are no rules. It depends very much on circumstances, and especially on the line of formation which the psychic being will follow, and that depends on its origin. It is difficult to say. In the matter of sex, that may vary for a long time. As the consciousness grows and gains some unity of action, of consciousness, it can choose to follow one line to the exclusion of another, but before this choice, through innumerable creations you have been undoubtedly of different sexes. That is why perhaps some women have a masculine character, and vice versa, or have tendencies opposite to their sex. But at the time of the “choice” one may decide to belong to the creatrix Consciousness or to the immobile Witness. That depends upon the origin. 
Mercedes de Acosta: Can sex change in rebirth?
Ramana Maharshi: Oh, surely. We have all been both sexes many times. 
Madame H.P. Blavatsky
Madame Blavatksy of the Theosophical society:
Question: By the way, you mention “he or she”. Could I have been one of the opposite sex in a previous reincarnation?
Blavatsky: Yes, definitely. The soul is sexless. It may reincarnate in either sex and it may change from one to the other gender in different lives. 
Why are there gender differences in practice?
Disciple: From the point of view of the idea of sex, that there are two different sexes. That still exists.
Mother: The idea! But that’s the fault of the person who thinks! One can very well dispense with thinking. You know, these very petty limits of thought are things which ought to disappear before you can even attempt to transform your body. If you still have these very petty ideas which are purely animal, there is not much hope that you could begin the least process transformation of your body. You must first transform your thought…. For that is something which is still far down below. if you are not able to feel that a conscious and living being can be quite free, even in a certain definite form, from all feeling of sex, it… it means that you are still up to your neck in the original animality.
Disciple: In the inner thought one feels it, but in the actuality of material life……..
Mother: What about the actuality?
Disciple: In the Outer life I have not yet realised that. In the inner..
Mother: You spend your time thinking about it?
But one may live twenty-four hours out of twenty-four without giving a single thought to this difference! You must really be hypnotised by this affair. Do you suppose that when I Speak to You I think that you are a man and when I speak to Tara I think she is a woman?
Disciple: Still there is a difference!
Mother: Ah! but it is not at all necessary
Disciple:In theory I understand.
Mother: In theory! What theory?
Disciple: That there is no difference. But when I am in contact with someone, either I am speaking to a man or a woman.
Mother: Well, it’s a great pity both for you and for the other person.
No, it is just the very opposite of what ought to happen! When you are in contact with someone and speaking with him, it is precisely to what surpasses all animality that you should speak; it is to the soul you must speak, never to the body. Even more is asked of you, for you are asked to address the Divine – not even the soul – the one Divine in every being, and to be conscious of that .
Another remark by the Mother
…This masculine-feminine business is a trick of Nature, it has arranged things here like that. Now, let me tell you: when one descends from above, well, right up there one has no idea of masculine and feminine and all that nonsense; as you come down and arrive here, it starts to become something real. So you tell yourself, “Well, well! That’s how Nature has arranged things.” Good! But what I say is that these conceptions—these very conceptions which make one element masculine and the other feminine— this is a conception which has come from below, that is, has come out of man’s brain which cannot think otherwise than of MAN and WOMAN —because he is still an animal .
Sri Aurobindo’s exchanges with a disciple Nirodbaran
(Since Sri Aurobindo lived in seclusion for much of his life from 1926-1950, disciples had to communicate with him via letters. This has the unexpected benefit of leaving written records for later generations.)
Nirodbaran: You laughed away my medical statement about ladies. Is it not true that women are more receptive and psychic than men? All outward signs would direct that way, at any rate.
Sri Aurobindo: Rubbish! Neither more receptive nor even more hysteric. Men, I find, can equal them even at that. It is true they declare hunger-strikes more easily, if you think with Gandhi that that is a sign of psychicness (soul force). But after all Non-cooperation has taken away even that inferiority from men.
Nirodbaran: My last questions on women were a prelude to a bigger question on them in general…I will quote the view of a medical man of experience who seems to represent the popular opinion “Women are, as a rule, more intelligent than men, but their intelligence is of a different order. Man’s brain is superior to woman’s in size and weight… We are told that it can be explained by our keeping all culture as a sex-monopoly to ourselves, that they have been in constant subjection, that they have never had a fair chance.” Then he adds that in Greece and Rome during the Middle Ages women had great freedom and a superior form of instruction, yet they did nothing outstanding. In his own profession, though there have been women professors since the 17th century infamous Italian Universities — in Bologna, Naples, etc.— they have done nothing to advance their special science.
Sri Aurobindo: In Greece woman was a domestic slave — except the Hetairae (prostitutes) and they were educated only to please. In Rome “She remained at home and spun wool” was the highest eulogy for woman. It was only for a brief period of the Empire that woman began to be more free, but she was never put on an equality with man. Your medical man was either an ignoramus or talking through his hat at you.
Nirodbaran: Then again, there have been no women of first rank in painting, music, literature, etc., except Rosa Bonheur, who however had to shave her chin and dress as a man.
Sri Aurobindo: What an argument! from exceptional conditions as against the habits of millenniums! What about administration, rule, business, in which women have shown themselves as capable and more consistently capable than men? These things need no brains? Any imbecile can do them?
Nirodbaran:You will then agree that that is the consensus of opinion.
Sri Aurobindo: The consensus of masculine opinion, — perhaps.
Nirodbaran: Of course no one can dispute that in another sphere they are angels. By the side of death and disease, sorrow and suffering… which means apparently that they live more in their heart than in the head… Isn’t history full of immortal tragedy of their self-sacrifice for mortal love?…
Sri Aurobindo: It means that is what men have mainly demanded of them — to be their servants, nurses, cooks, children-bearers and rearers, ministers to their sex-desires etc. That has been their occupation, their aim in life and their natures have got adapted to their work. All that they have achieved else than that is by the way — in spite of the yoke laid on them. And then man smiles a superior smile and says it was all due to woman’s inferior nature, not to the burden laid on her.
Nirodbaran: Whatever may be the reason of the difference between a man and a woman, it can’t be gainsaid that women can efface themselves more completely or more easily for the sake of love. Is it because their heart is full and strong that their head is weak (if true) ?
Sri Aurobindo: They have been trained to it through the ages — that is why. Subjection, self-effacement, to be at the mercy of man has been their lot — it has given them that training. But it has left them also another kind of ego which is their spiritual obstacle — the ego which is behind the abhiman and the hunger-strikes.
(Women might get understandably outraged by Sri Aurobindo’s remark above that submissive women can have “abhimana”(ego). It is not known what he was referring to but one can hazard a guess. He might be alluding to the fact that people who have sacrificed something reluctantly make demands in other spheres of life as a form of compensation. In Indian joint families, for instance, mothers who have sacrificed for their son feel entitled to control the life of their daughter-in-law and often do so.)
Nirodbaran: Can it be said that because they live more in their heart than in their head, their path is easier ?
Sri Aurobindo: All these clear-cut assertions are mental statements — and mental statements are too clear-cut to be true, as philosophy and science have now begun to discover. Life and being are too complex for that.
Nirodbaran: Here I have noticed that out of sheer love some women have followed their husbands into the travails of the Unknown, but when the husbands have been assailed with doubts and depression, they have been sitting happily and confidently in the lap of the Divine.
Sri Aurobindo: Great Scott! what a happy dream!
Nirodbaran: It seems that in Yoga women have one advantage, the sex-instinct in them is not as strong as in men
Sri Aurobindo: There is no universal rule. Women can be as sexual as men or more. But there are numbers of women who dislike sex and there are very few men. One Sukhdev in a million, but many Dianas and Pallas Athenes. The virgin is really a feminine conception; men are repelled by the idea of eternal virginity. Many women would remain without any wakening of the sexual instinct if men did not thrust it on them and that cannot be said of many, perhaps of any man. But there is another side to the picture. Women are perhaps less physically sexual than men on the whole,— but what about vital sexuality? the instinct of possessing and being possessed etc., etc.?
(Sukhdev mentioned above was the son of Vyasa (the author of Mahabharata) who was famous for his purity. Even the Apsaras (dancers of Heaven), when they were bathing, did not feel the need to cover themselves before him, but they quickly covered themselves when Vyasa passed by, for Vyasa was aware of being in the presence of women. )
Nirodbaran: How is it that Ramakrishna always used to ask his disciples to avoid kamini-kanchan (women and gold)? Buddha was no less strict.
Sri Aurobindo: That is the old monastic idea. It arises from the extreme sexuality of men. They see in women the Narakasya Dwar (door to hell) because that door is so wide open in themselves. But they prefer to throw the blame on women.
Nirodbaran: Was not man’s fall from heaven due to woman?
Sri Aurobindo: That was not due to sex, but to woman’s desire for new experience and knowledge.
(Since Sri Aurobindo refused to admit any clear-cut gender differences, Nirodbaran decided to ask the Mother! This is the advantage of having two Gurus. You can play their remarks against each other. Read on…)
Nirodbaran: Apropos our discussion on women, let me put before you Mother’s opinion on the matter. She says that women are not more bound to the vital and material consciousness than men. On the contrary, as they do not have the arrogant mental pretensions of men, it is easier for them to discover their psychic being and be guided by it.
Sri Aurobindo: No doubt, they can discover their psychic being more easily,— but that is not enough. It is the first step. The next is to live in the psychic. The third is to make the psychic the ruler of the being. The fourth is to rise beyond the mind. The fifth is to bring what is beyond mind into the lower nature. I don’t say it is always done in that order. But all that has to be done.
Nirodbaran: Then why do you say that these are my clear-cut mental assertions? [19.1.35]
Sri Aurobindo: Perhaps if you give full weight to my marginal answers, you will realise why. The truth is too complex for such assertions to be reliable.
Nirodbaran: Mother also says that women are conscious in their sentiments, and that the best of them are conscious in their acts. If that is so, there is no more question about it, I think
[Sri Aurobindo underlined the words “no more question”]: That is too much to say. There may not be so much mental questioning but there may be a lot of vital questioning and resistance.
Nirodbaran: You will agree then that women are more intuitive than men ?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes, that of course — but it is the spontaneous intuition of the heart or of the vital mind, not the Intuition with a capital I.
Nirodbaran: As they live in the vital, their difficulties in the sadhana (askesis) will be less, I suppose.
Sri Aurobindo: Not at all. How can living in the vital make things easier? The vital is the main source of difficulties in the Yoga. The difficulty with men is not purely mental. There too it is vital — only men call in their intellect to defend their vital against the coming or the touch or the pressure of the Divine. Women call in their vital mind to do the same thing.
Nirodbaran: Nolini writes in his book, “Woman’s whole being is concentrated on the thing she clings to, but man’s vision is not so exclusive. Nishtha (dedication) is the very nature and ideal of woman.”
Sri Aurobindo: It depends on the spirit in which she is concentrated. There is the psychicised spiritual and there is the unregenerate vital. The unregenerate vital way creates enormous difficulties, and its desire to possess means a vehement vital egoism. How can a vehement egoism be helpful for the spiritual life?
Nirodbaran: Since ancient times women have been trained to accept a position of subjection by Manu and others. Is it because men are more sexual? It would be rather hard on us to be accused of this
Sri Aurobindo: It is because of man’s desire to be the master and keep her in subjection,— the Hitler and Mussolini attitude. The sex is an additional stimulus. Not more hard than you deserve.
Nirodbaran: Then again, it is said that woman’s centre of life and consciousness is in the vital, whose nature is to pull the jiva (soul) down to earth.
Sri Aurobindo: Woman’s living in material and vital is not the cause — it is man’s living in the vital and material that is the cause of his finding her an obstacle. She also finds him an obstacle and could say of him that he is Narakasya dvāram (gates of Hell). The assumption that man lives less in the vital and material than woman is not true. He makes more use of his intellect for vital and material purposes — that is all.
Nirodbaran: Is it not because of this fundamental trait in her being that she has been so sacrificed and tied to man, and also incapacitated from any spiritual endeavour in conjunction with man ?
Sri Aurobindo: Man has taken advantage of it to keep them under his heel.
Nirodbaran: Can we not then justify Buddha, Ramakrishna and others who advocated isolation from women ? After all, is it not essentially the same principle here, because if vital relations are debarred, nothing remains except a simple exchange of words?
Sri Aurobindo: What about the true (not the pretended) psychic and spiritual — forgetting sex? The relation has to be limited as it is because sex immediately trots into the front. You are invited to live above the vital and deeper than the vital — then only you can use the vital aright. Buddha was for Nirvana, and what is the use of having relations with anybody if you are bound for Nirvana? Ramakrishna insisted on isolation during the period when a man is spiritually raw — he did not object to meeting when he became ripe and no longer a slave of sex .
Another exchange between them:
Nirodbaran: Today D and I had a discussion on women. D said that by nature Indian women are very attached and devoted.
Sri Aurobindo: By habit and education, not by nature, except with a minority.
Nirodbaran: Whereas men, by nature, are quite the opposite.
Sri Aurobindo: What rash generalisations!
Nirodbaran: Why is there this difference between man and woman? Why is man made more polygamous ? why do his attachment, love, desire, fleet from one object to another, where as woman’s nature is more one-pointed, devoted to one?
Sri Aurobindo: To one at a time perhaps, at least with the majority. There are plenty who are polyandrous by nature.
Nirodbaran: Why are we made up of so many contradictory elements: one aspect has aspiration towards Him, religion, morality, aesthetic qualities; the other, a tremendous pull towards baser elements, especially sex?
Sri Aurobindo: It takes many ingredients to make a nice pudding .
- Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 9, p 103
- Mother’s Agenda. Oct 31, 1970.
- Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 4, p 183.
- Mercedes De Acosta. Here Lies the Heart. New York: Reynal, 1960. online at http://www.realization.org/page/doc0/doc0039.htm
- Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 9, pp 131-133.
- Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, p 119.
- Nirodbaran. Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, pp 100 – 114, passim.
- Nirodbaran. Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, May 1936, p 582.
- The transmutation of sexual energy
- Sublimation of the sexual urge through Yoga
- The foundation of spiritual relationships
- Further remarks on sexuality
- What exactly is a “crush” or “love at first sight”?
- Four stages of human love
- How to choose the right life-partner
- Should women dress modestly?
- How to bring up a child?
- Raising a child prodigy
- The rationale behind vegetarianism
- On suicide, euthanasia, and capital punishment
- On death, burials, cremations, funerals and resurrection
- When does the soul enter the body?
- Cases of reincarnation between Hindus and Muslims