Some of you may have read the prequel blog post to this one, which talked about the female roots of certain forms of spirituality and debunked the idea that only men have been spiritual leaders throughout history. This time, we’re going to look at some specific Masters – all women – who had an important impact in the spiritual growth of our species.
MAITREYI (circa 800-500 BCE)
A keen scholar of the Indian Vedas and one of the only ancient female rishis (sages), Maitreyi helped to evolve Vedic philosophy, which can be thought of as the foundation upon which Hinduism was built. She was wife to the holy man Yajnavalkya, and shared in much of his wisdom.
Maitreyi wrote 10 hymns in the Rig Veda, an ancient Indian canonical text, and also the Maitreyi Upanishad, which is part of a compilation of sacred scriptures. After separating from her husband and beginning an ascetic life, Maitreyi became a traveling sage, offering her knowledge wherever she went. Here are some excerpts from the Maitreyi Upanishad, which contains elegant wisdom:
If you are a seeker after liberation, remember: worshipping God in idols of stone, metal, jewels, or clay only brings repeated births; and for that reason, worship only [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the deity in] your own heart and no other.
I am me; and I am the supreme. I am Brahman, and I am the origin of all. I am the guru of the whole world and I am all over the universe. Such am I.
The world of changes is the mind, so purify the mind.
MARY MAGDALENE (circa 1-72 CE)
Often (erroneously) associated with a prostitute, Mary Magdalene – or Mary of Magdala – is considered by some scholars to have been Jesus of Nazareth’s most adept Disciple. In the Bible, she is one of the only Disciples who witnessed Jesus’ death, and the first to see his resurrection. Yet, in the esoteric manuscript The Gospel According to Mary, which is considered to be an early Christian text, Mary testifies to an enlightening vision she had of her teacher; one sees clearly the special role she played in the development of Christianity.
In this apocryphal scripture, Mary inspires the grieving Disciples after the Crucifixion, reminding them of Christ’s wisdom and motivating them to deliver its message. This segue’s into her incredible vision, and the potent words she heard and passed on:
The soul answered and said, “I saw you. You did not see me nor recognize me. I served you as a garment and you did not know me.” (Mary 8:11)
And the soul said, “Why do you judge me, although I have not judged?
I was bound, though I have not bound.
I was not recognized. But I have recognized that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly things and the heavenly.” (Mary 8:15-17)
Some of the Disciples, such as Andrew and Peter, didn’t like what Mary had to say. They were particularly upset that a woman had been so close to Jesus and learned things that were seemingly kept from them.
Tradition holds that in the latter part of her life, Mary spent 30 years in deep prayer and meditation in the cave at La-Sainte-Baum (dedicated to her) in what is now France. St. Augustine referred to Mary as the Apostle to the Apostles. She very well may have possessed a profound knowledge of the Christian Mysteries few of the Disciples grasped.
RABI’A BASRI (circa 717-801 CE)
Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, or Rabi’a Basri, was an Islamic Sufi mystic and saint, and regarded as one of the most important Sufi poets. The Prophet Muhammed is believed to have visited her father with these words:
Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord, and shall lead many Muslims to the right path.
At one point a slave, Rabi’a was supposedly released by her master when he saw intense light surround her while she was in prayer. Another story claims she was released due to the sincere plea she made to serve God, which her master overheard. She became a desert ascetic, with few possessions, and with many disciples.
Rabia helped to establish the doctrine of Divine Love, and, in particular, the concept that one should fulfill God’s Will without desire for reward or fear of punishment (an idea still new to many Sufis). Her poetry is lucid and potent, espousing such teachings and much more.
O Sons of Adam, from the eye, there is no way-station to the Real. From the tongue, there is no path to Him. Hearing is the highway of complainers. Hand and foot dwell in perplexity. The matter falls to the heart. Strive for a wakeful heart.
SUN BU’ER (1119-1182 CE)
Not studying the Tao until age 51, Sun Bu’er nevertheless became one of the Taoist Seven Masters of Quanzhen in China (and the only woman). After 12 years of intense spiritual practice, she is said to have attained Enlightenment and Immortality. Legends abound about her powers, such as performing exorcisms, transforming sticks into people, bathing in boiling water, and being able to turn stones into gold. The city of Loyang, where Sun Bu’er trained for years, claims she blessed it with protection and abundance; a statue was erected in her honor.
Sun Bu’er grew a large following of disciples, and she added new insight into Tao teachings by helping women learn how to harness their energies for spiritual development, which was a secret mostly taught to men up to that point. She wrote two important works on Chinese inner alchemy and wisdom of the Tao. Here is her poem called “Refining the Spirit”:
The relic from before birth
Enters one’s heart one day.
Be as careful as if you were holding a full vessel,
Be as gentle as if you were caressing an infant.
The gate of earth should be shut tight,
The portals of heaven should be first opened.
Wash the yellow sprouts clean,
And atop the mountain is thunder shaking the earth.
These are just a few examples of extraordinary women who have made important contributions to the Perennial Philosophy. There are many others: Hypatia of Alexandria, Teresa of Avila, Alexandra David-Neel, Sri Sarada Devi, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Mata Amritanandamayi, etc. It is pretty clear that, yes, women can and have been spiritual leaders. The discrimination toward women in certain religions today is a sad scene. By recognizing these great female Adepts, we help to promote the potential latent in every human being, regardless of gender. Spiritual Genius is the birthright all of us, who are made in the Image of God.