One of the purposes of the Himalayan Institute is to bring to the people those traditions which are not easily accessible. Thus we may not always talk much about the saints of whom one can easily read in already published literature in English.
A meditator's interest in matters of life is in the perennial aspects of wisdom and truth. His or her direct interest is not in the temporary contemporaries. Today we have become an issue-oriented society and not a philosophy-oriented society; we are tending to develop our philosophies as solutions to certain problems we experience. Most of the time all we are thinking of is problems as though the solutions are almost subservient to the problems. In reality, however, the problems are subservient to a perennial wisdom which contains all of the solutions if we follow it in the first place. With this in mind this article is not regarding women saints because there are questions particular to the 1990's that need answering.
The meditators and saints of the perennial philosophies of all centuries and countries have an entirely different way of handling the problems of their societies and of helping solve them. It is a very subtle way. Quite often when you ask a great master a question, he gives an answer that seems to have absolutely no relevance to the question asked. But the answer has been given. Now, that answer will enter into your mind; it will touch some areas of your mind; will give rise to certain brain waves over a period of time, perhaps many months, years, decades, or even incarnations. It will help solve the unconscious core of the problem from which the conscious question arose. Similarly a master drops a seed into the contemporary society which may seem to have no direct relevance to society at that moment. But over a century something else sprouts from this seed and the entire society undergoes a change unknowingly. This is the method of all the saints and masters in all cultures of the world.
Another point that needs to be made here is that a saint is not necessarily a famous person. There are many, many great saints who never become known to the large masses. If it is that by becoming known their mission will be fulfilled, then they will allow themselves to be known. Our judgments and criteria do not apply to them. That they are saints, that alone, in itself, is their success. Beyond that, what other success one can want or can you seek? A saint's success in terms of his fame in history, or how many people got to know about the miracles he performed, or if Paulist Press published his writings, or even whether the Pope declared the person canonized or not, are matters absolutely, completely irrelevant to the fact of sainthood.
Many people ask, "Why are there so many more male saints than women saints in history?" as though they have made a complete list of all the saints, male and female, and have checked the exact number. You may instead ask the question: "Why is it that women saints have not become that well known?"
I began my own spiritual quest with an assumption that some of the qualities of sainthood are humility, modesty, self-effacement, self-concealment; not personal assertion, not seeking of fame or wealth or comfort or recognition. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that there are more female saints than male saints, although the female saints succeed more in their sainthood by remaining hidden than the male saints do. And I want to repeat that there are more saints even now, on this earth, whose names have not become known and will never become known to large masses, but who wield their influence in their own way, in the particular areas of life in their vicinity.
In the recent studies of cerebral functions we know of the left and the right hemispheres of the brain. We know that the final goal of a human being is to balance the functions of both sides of the brain completely. A person who can manage to completely balance the functions of the two sides of the brain is then a psychological hermaphrodite in whom the dichotomy of the male versus the female ceases to exist. Until such total balancing of the left and right nostril breath occurs, until such total balancing of the maleness and the femaleness in the individual human being is accomplished, no matter how high we reach, the alternation of the functions of the left and the right of the male and the female within ourselves continues; thus we remain incomplete beings torn by conflicts and divisions in our hearts and minds. We remain subject to the habits of attraction and aversion, of love measured by hate, of compassion measured against vengefulness, of unselfishness measured against our self-interest and so forth. During such an incomplete life, the grace that is implied by the beatitudes and other guidelines set in the spiritual literature of the world for aspiring saints, that grace flows unevenly.
Now, if you look carefully, you'd find that the functions of the right hemisphere of the brain are more saintly than the functions of the left hemisphere, that the dominance of the right hemisphere insures a holistic outlook, facilitating communication, kindness, gentleness, and an aesthetic approach. Even though this might deflate the male ego, but there is no doubt that the functioning of the right hemisphere of the brain is more dominant in females than in males. Therefore, so far as the basic tests of sainthood are concerned, some of the qualities required for sainthood have always been inbuilt in the functions and roles that women have played in the overall society: Facilitating the communication within the family, the great compassion required of motherhood, and so on.
To assume that in order to be named a saint you must leave home, you must live in a cave, you must perform a great many miracles, that you must become known, that you must be canonized, these do not approach the definition of sainthood anywhere. What we have to look at is the innermost qualities that are exhibited in the life of a saint: Self-sacrifice, compassion, kind words, gentle voice, being the last in any claims. And when we look to many different societies we find that many more women exhibit these qualities than many men do. You may feel that these statements are open to question; the reader might take from them whatever is convenient to support the present arguments regarding the issues of today. But sainthood is beyond those issues. Those issues can receive guidance from the perennial things which are beyond, which transcend the matters of the todays, tomorrows, and all of the yesterdays, too.
I'd prefer that instead of reacting quickly, you ponder these preliminary statements. In a country like India it is seen that the religious life of the community, not the priesthood but the religious life, is run by women. It is the women who train the children into spirituality. It is they who read the scriptures to the children. It is they who remember all the sacred days. It is they around whom the entire religious life of the country continues. And it is because of this that, in the words of Billy Graham, India is the most prayer-oriented country. Ask any average male in India about religion and he says, "Ask my wife," "Ask my mother," "Ask my sister," "Religion is their department." Everybody in India says, "Religion is women's department," and they have been responsible for the last 4000 years for the continuity of the spiritual traditions. They are not the people who sit down and teach the technique of meditation. To them meditation has nothing to do with technique. They teach that spirituality from which meditative states flow naturally.
Oh, it takes years between one wandering saint and the next wandering saint to come by through the village. Who will keep the lights burning in the meantime in a land where there is no church, no bishops? If I asked any friend as to whom, between his mother and his father, spends more time in devotions, he will say his mother. Even a priest has unconsciously learned and received more from his mother than from his father. From his father he may have learned the scriptures, the details of philosophy, but that is not life. Life, the devotional feeling, the undefined spirituality he has learned from the mother. Theology and ritual he has learned from the father, but the whole picture of his spiritual life, his whole inspiration, he has received from his mother. I'm not saying it ought to be or it ought not to be so. Maybe a woman should be, you know, more liberated and spend less time in devotions and do other things, make them successful. Maybe she should seek the same fame that his father has in the village. She should certainly and in very definitive social terms have the freedom to do so, if she so chooses. There can be no two ways about it. But it just happens to be the case that by her presence she has taught more than the father has taught by all his doings. No, her name will not be written in history books, but the influence that she wields is more profound.
Having made these general statements I would like to quote one specific hymn. Throughout the spiritual literature of the world there are interspersed here and there some statements in the first person singular: God who appears in the form of Jesus speaking, "I am the Way, the Light, and the Life," appearing in the form of Krishna he says similar words in the Bhagavad Gita. Such statements are found in the Koran, and so forth. There are hundreds of songs and hymns on that theme in the literature of the ancient Sanskrit language. From the Rg Veda, is historically the most ancient one of such statements, speaking of the divinity in the first person singular. The rishi, the sage through whom this revelation is made, to whom this hymn is revealed is a woman. Like many of these masters she has omitted her name. It has been a tradition in India that the authors of great works have often obliterated their names. Many times you do not know who is the artist of a great immortal work. This also used to be the tradition in Europe before the renaissance brought human ego to prominence. They have chosen not to have their names revealed; the work itself is sufficient. Quite often they have taken pseudonyms so that they would not be known as persons. This is even more so in the case of the great saints. Thus the name of the great master through whom this hymn was revealed is not known. All it says is that the rishi, the master, the revealer of this hymn is known as Vak (pronounced vaak), meaning "The Divine Speech.
Her Sacred Formless Form
I who am one with the totality of existence, consciousness, and bliss
I wander with all the Gods of the earth, sky, and heaven.
I am the Sustainer of the Lords of the Sun, the Seas, the Thunder and
Fire (Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Agni).
I am the Sustainer of Soma, the ever-flowing mystic Water of the Universe
that streams through space.
I am the One who bears fruit for all who seek Divine Love.
I am the One who offers Grace to those who sacrifice
and honor the Divine Beings.
I am the Lady ruling the whole Universe.
I am the One who brings wealth of joy to my worshippers.
I am the dominant One among those who are united with
the Divine Reality.
In all these various forms I have manifested only Myself, I have entered
all the elements of the Universe.
It is I to whom all the deities give service.
Whoever consumes Food does so only by my Grace and Power.
Whoever sees, breathes, hears, utters a cry, receives these
experiences through my Divine aid.
Those, who do not know Me in this Power, in this Glory, through their
ignorance, they fall very low in the levels of existence.
Therefore, oh learned beings, I teach you this Essential
Knowledge, which can be gained only through deep faith in Me.
I shall teach you this Essence of Reality which is followed both by
human beings and by the gods.
Whomsoever I wish to protect, him I protect and make powerful with
For he attains the Unity with the Creator and finds the Knowledge that
is hidden from beyond one's eyes.
I am the Creator of all the Spaces that are the progenitors of this earth.
In the Ocean from which all the beings are born and in all the Waters
of the mind,
It is because of Me that the Unity of the spiritual force flows.
It is I, who fill this whole Universe, touching even the highest heaven
with my Body.
When I, the First Cause of the Universe, begin to create
without any other source impelling me,
like a self-propelled wind,
I move forward by my own Volition.
For, I am beyond both earth and heaven.
Oh, indeed such is my Glory.
This is the most ancient statement of the divinity of an incarnate being in the literature of the world spoken by a woman.
Swami Veda Bharati was trained from childhood in meditation and yoga philosophy and has taught yoga to thousands of people from an early age. He is an expert in raja yoga which is the source of all branches of yoga. A faculty member of the Himalayan Institute, he has written many books and articles on yoga and meditation. In addition to his writing and meditation, Swami Veda Bharati has lectured and taught meditation throughout the world.
Now you can have 5,000 years of wisdom, knowledge and inspiration in your own home. Swami Veda's taped lectures allow you to study, meditate and review various facets of yoga science at your own pace and level.
In 1982, Dr. Arya took the vows of swamihood, and is now known as Swami Veda Bharati. He lives in Rishikesh, India.
You may write for a free copy of a catalog of his taped audio lectures to:
West-Art Publishers, 10545 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031. Telephone (716) 759-6078, fax (716) 759-7925.
May we recommend some books?
Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama
Primer for Those Who Would Govern, by Hermann Oberth
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
Arno Breker: The Divine Beauty in Art, by B. John Zavrel
Mantra and Meditation, by Dr. Usharbudh Arya
Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox