Recovering Our Real Heroes/Heroines
© Copyright 1991, 2017 by Timothy Conway, PhD
It is time to finally honor our countless illustrious women of Spirit.
A veritable angelic host of women have walked this earth, manifesting extraordinary love, goodness, power and grace. Some of them, it is true, have also manifested a few “devilish” tendencies, all-too-human frailties. In any case, the most impressive spiritual women are, I venture to say, our real friends. And they deserve to be much better known.
In this present age—tragically beset by so many physical and psychological dangers, and too often characterized by an even more tragic dearth of truly heroic role models—we can desperately use sources of inspiration such as these women friends to help us cultivate some of the time-proven spiritual virtues to save ourselves from various kinds of doom.
I have written this work not only in hopes of rendering some amount of social reform. As a researcher and reporter who has ventured deeply into our sacred traditions, I am quite eager to tell you about a remarkable phenomenon occurring over the last half-century: the emergence of female leadership within many spiritual circles in a fashion that has not been seen since the inception of the major religions. Finally, as a penitent male, I write this book to describe to a certain extent the terrible sins of patriarchy—which are still being perpetuated in male-dominated circles of our spiritual traditions (—not to mention in our androcratic families, universities, industrial and corporate realms, political scene, medical domain, and elsewhere).
In this book, I will be bringing forth the names and some biographical details of many hundreds of holy women and spiritual teachers within the major spiritual traditions of East and West, past and present—that is to say, within Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Islām/Sūfism, Judaism, Christianity, and various Western non-Christian movements. This will provide us with an extensive “Who’s Who” narrative of women in spirituality.
By studying so many women from so many traditions, this book attempts to be a landmark in historical works in religion, redressing the long-standing omission and glossing-over of women’s achievements in spirituality.
With regard to each tradition covered, I shall not only profile ancient and contemporary women spiritual leaders, I shall also discuss any feminine divine archetypes which have appeared therein, as well as the past and present status of women therein, and, finally, any notable women’s religious orders (sisterhoods) that have arisen in that particular religion.
Because space here does not permit, I have not been able to present much if any of the teachings of our great women spiritual leaders. In a companion volume, Women’s Wisdom: Teachings and Testimonials From the Sacred Traditions, I have gathered together a collection of the sublime prose and poetry left to us by many dozen of these holy women concerning their profound states of spiritual realization and/or their spiritual counsels. These words are invaluable recipes for realizing the “peace that passes all understanding” and are heartily recommended as a follow-up for the readers of the present work.
In yet another book, Women of Power and Grace: Nine Astonishing, Inspiring Luminaries of Our Time [published in hardcover in 1994, with subsequent paperback editions], I have presented a more in-depth focus on nine exceptional souls of the last one hundred years: Pelagia “the Fool” and Mother Maria Skobtsova of Russian Orthodox Christianity, two Catholic women—Francesca Cabrini and Therese Neumann, the Muslim Sūfi matriarch Hazrat Bābājan, and four especially noteworthy contemporary manifestations of the Mother Goddess-archetype in India—stupendous spiritual masters Ānandamayi Mā, Anasūyā Devī, Shyāma Mātā, and Ammāchi (Mātā Amritānandamayi). These nine women, because of their unique spiritual stature, will also receive slightly greater attention here in the present book as well.
There is an abundance of wisdom, inspiration, humor, joy, courage, and overall “godliness” (—or “goddessliness”) to be gained by both male and female readers from an exposure to the many hundreds of remarkable women presented in these pages. My own personal and transpersonal encounter with these women of power and grace has proven this to be true time and time again. By reading of these noble souls and pondering on their many virtues (and taking to heart their counsels about living the sanctified Divine Way) may we all become more fully absorbed in the Source of their holiness—the Spiritual Reality or Divine Being—and our lives thereby be suffused with the Infinite Radiance of real Love, Peace, Bliss, and Spiritual Freedom. ... What else is worthwhile? I can assure you, any shift toward realization of that Infinite One is worth more than all the gold and jewels and perceived “exciting” and “pleasurable” experiences found in this or any world...Each of the female luminaries presented in this book has a unique life-story and a unique teaching. And yet there is also something very much the same about them... This “sameness”—which is also felt in studying holy men of the sacred traditions—is undoubtedly due to the fact that their sanctified lives all ultimately derive from that Single Reality, the Original “I,” the Divine Source, the One Who Alone Is. On a less philosophical or mystical-sounding level, it appears to me that this “sameness” among holy individuals is due to the fact that holiness is a common potential for human beings everywhere and everywhen.
Here the reader may be wondering— “What is holiness?” “How do we define sanctity?” Very reasonable questions... especially in our society, which, in its institutions and media singularly avoids the entire topic. (George Gallup, Jr., the famous pollster, has urged our media and institutions to more extensively cover spirituality—especially the “depth dimension” of real commitment and holiness.) In the late 1980s I completed a long doctoral dissertation which treats this very subject of holiness in some depth, endeavoring to compare and contrast the models of “spiritual realization” across the different major spiritual traditions.  My findings: a vast corpus of spiritual literature and many conversations with acknowledged sages and spokespersons in different traditions (including a number of women) combine to reveal certain clear-cut, cross-cultural criteria for holiness or spiritual realization, which can be outlined here as follows:
None of these enlightenment qualities are particularly “masculine” or “feminine.” Anyone manifesting most or all of these characteristics may be said to be a free being, whole/holy, sanctified, spiritually realized, enlightened, or awakened. Many of the women profiled in this book apparently have realized this amazingly sublime way of being in all its splendor.
Happily, it is also the case that none of these qualities of holiness depend on whether one is a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Jaina, Jew, Muslim, Native American, aboriginal, or New Ager, or whether one’s skin color is white, black, red, or yellow. These are simply the common criteria for holiness worldwide. And I would strongly argue that it is holiness and/or the spiritual quest for greater holiness, that are the crux and raison d’être of religions—not the dogmas, beliefs, rituals, petitionary prayers, artworks, proselytizing crusades, church-building projects and the like, which so dominate most peoples’ understanding and practice of religion.
For instance, it is quite clear to anyone who studies the early documents that Jesus’ mission was not to build that huge edifice known to us as the religion of Christianity (with all its diverse, complicated theologies, rituals, and factional organizations). Rather, Jesus wanted to demonstrate holiness—that is to say, God-absorption (“oneness with the Father”)—and to urge and show others how to live this same simple and utterly profound holiness, even sacrificing his life that we might live this more fully.
The mission of the Buddha was the same: not to launch all the forms of religious Buddhism, but to exemplify and teach the way of real spiritual awakening or Buddhahood, the eradication of all egocentric delusion, craving and aversion and the realization of nirvāṇa, the “unborn, undying, unconditioned bliss and peace.” And likewise with all the great spiritual masters before and since then. A religion without an emphasis on the attainment of holiness by its adherents is not worthy of the name “religion.”
Such a movement would merely be, in Marx’s terms, “the opiate of the masses,” a self-deluding kind of entertainment, an insidious dream on the part of people who think that they are awake.
In order to obtain “the pearl of great price,” one must not complacently stay in the shallow waters at the shore. One must go out and dive deep, very deep, with a single-minded intention and great dedication. So it is with the quest for spiritual excellence. It pains me to have to state the facts so blatantly, but I must be candid: most of us are living on relatively superficial levels of existence, and our “religion” or “spirituality,” when examined with penetrating candor in light of the holiness factors I have listed above, is often really quite mediocre, naïve and more or less egocentric. Only a relative few humans ever go deep, deep, into the realms of spiritual glory and perfect realization (sanctification, liberation, enlightenment, or awakening). Our chronic lack of intensity or depth in our spirituality is due to a number of factors, such as 1) lack of exposure by parents, schools, and media to genuine mentors and role-models for authentic spirituality; 2) increasingly secular attitudes worldwide (where “successful” is defined as “rich and famous,” and real spirituality is not only ignored but actually undermined by a lifestyle that deifies consumption of goods and “experiences,” and by certain anti-spiritual secular-humanist organizations); 3) increasingly fundamentalist religious attitudes on the part of many other large groups of people, which tend to promote rigid dogma, insensitivity, arrogance, and hyper-emotionalism; 4) excessive busy-ness and stress at home and at work, and information-overload from our diverse media; 5) that ancient habituation mechanism in our neuro-physiology which, if unchecked, renders us jaded, bored and restless in the midst of this stupendous miracle of life; 6) poor lifestyle (poor nutrition, too many pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, sluggishness and improper flow of life energy due to lack of exercise and too much television-viewing); and, probably most important, 7) the old psychological habit-patterns of clinging (e.g., lust, greed, envy) and aversion (e.g., hate, fear, disgust) from our past (including, perhaps, habit-patterns of clinging and aversion inherited from what the Buddhists call the “mindstreams” of past lives).
Most people have not gotten free of the influence of some or several of these negative factors which have so viciously undermined the quality of our living, and so we never discover and enjoy the treasures of our spiritual potential—incredible peace, love, freedom, bliss, energy, and solidarity with all life.
The lives of many of the women featured in these pages, on the other hand, exemplify, to greater or somewhat lesser extent, the depths of real spiritual living. And their teachings (available in my companion book, Women’s Wisdom [not yet published online]) invite us to join them in the oneness of Divine communion, indicating precisely how spiritual realization may be achieved. All of us can follow in their footsteps. The only thing apparently “binding” us is our mental belief that sanctification or liberation is not possible. But as Mother Teresa and so many others have declared: we can all be saints! (“Where there is a will, there is a way.”)
Some of my readers who prefer a more institutional form of religion—or no religion at all—may be somewhat rankled to find out that the majority of the women profiled in this book may be regarded as mystics.
The very word “mysticism” connotes in the minds of many people a certain kind of deviancy, “flakiness,” fuzzy-thinking, and so forth. Here we need to remember the operational definition of “mysticism” given by that very orthodox Catholic theologian, G.K. Chesterton, when he stated that “mysticism is simply a transcendental form of common sense.” The mystics, in other words, have tried to find and bring alive in their daily lives THIS ONE Who is most real, beautiful, good, and blissful—the eternal, infinite Reality of Spirit, Pure Awareness, God, Tao, Buddha-nature, Christ-Consciousness.
(On this subject of mysticism, Ken Wilber, in his anthology of writings on mysticism and spirituality by modern scientists,  has strongly challenged any readers harboring an “anti-mystical” bent by asking, in effect: What do you do when you find out the facts, namely, that, in the scientific field of physics—the most basic field of science—the majority of our most eminent physicists, many of them Nobel Prize laureates, are mystics? In light of this information, can you continue to denigrate mysticism as some kind of “aberrant,” “escapist” behavior on the part of people lacking reality-orientation?)
Along this line of thinking which holds that mystics, in their quest for realizing the most Real, are those with the most “common sense,” I would say that this book constitutes for us a challenge of the highest order: Do we have our priorities straight? Are we “properly investing in eternity” or are we staking everything on a worldly life which is merely a blink of the eye in cosmic time? Will we join these holy women, and their male colleagues, in the truly heroic enterprise of getting free of our absurd selfishness and thereby come into the timeless excellence of spiritual realization? Our human civilization, if it is to survive much past the next decade, sorely needs many more such heroes/heroines to guide the way, and many more of us who will step into this most noble vocation and fulfill it to the utmost.
Having mentioned earlier that the acme of holiness appears to be the same worldwide, not dependent on the local spiritual tradition or cultural trappings, let me state more clearly that holiness is present wherever individuals have intensely dedicated themselves to undergoing that “ego-death” and the awakening unto the utterly simple, peaceful life of “being lived” by the Source or Great Presence (God/Tao/Buddha-nature). I would hope that my presentation of women from so many spiritual traditions in these pages will serve the important purpose of promoting an ecumenical spirit by exposing my readers to traditions other than the one(s) in which they were raised. Perhaps a deeper curiosity may be sparked so that we are curious to find out how other people on this rather small planet have endeavored to find and become one with our Source.
It is quite ridiculous in this day and age of easily available printed materials for a person not to know and benefit from the wealth and diversity of our world’s sacred traditions—for instance, not to know the contents of the invaluable wisdom literature of Buddhism (e.g., Dhammapada, Sutta-Nipāta, Lankavatāra Sūtra, Diamond Sūtra, Platform Sūtra, and the life-stories of Buddhist masters), Hinduism (Upaniṣads, Bhagavad Gītā, Yoga Vāsiṣṭha, Śaṅkara’s works), Taoism (Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu), Islām/Sūfism (Qur’ān, Hadith, works of Rūmī, al-Ghazālī, Shabistarī, et al), mystical Christianity (Gospel of Thomas, works of the Desert Fathers and Eastern Orthodox mystics, Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, John Wesley), or mystical Judaism (Tales of the Hasidim), to name just a few works from the major traditions. If there are people out there who are xenophobic and afraid of this diversity—such as fundamentalist, ultra-orthodox or ultra-orthoprax Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists (e.g., Nicheren Shō-shū), et al, who think that their own tradition is the “only way,” the “best” religion, then their religion should be able to stand on its own merits, and not have to be instilled via brainwashing, mind-control, proselytizing, and the narrow, propagandistic, exclusive socializing of their children.
I am not calling here for a mere eclecticism. I know how useful it is to focus one’s practice within one spiritual tradition. Yet how foolish to pretend (out of deep insecurity) that one’s favorite tradition is “the only way” or to think that one has nothing to learn from spiritual masters in other religions, and to then try to prevent family members or friends from gaining exposure to other traditions. Such narrow-minded, fundamentalist thinking is arrogant, pathetic folly, dangerous both to oneself and to others. It will be obvious to anyone who studies the matter with an unprejudiced, nonpartisan view that genuine holiness can be found in each of the sacred traditions, and it appears from various criteria (such as those I have outlined earlier) that the highest levels of holiness in one tradition are not different from the highest levels of holiness in another. In other words, real sanctity—before and beyond differences in belief-systems and rituals —is virtually the same everywhere. The illustrious Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, for one, discovered this sublime truth when he began to meet deeply committed practitioners of other traditions, such as Hindu and Buddhist monks: he felt much more kinship with them than he felt with the nonmystical, institutional religionists from his own Roman Catholic Christianity! I myself have met a great number of adepts from various traditions, and I can assure you that the same fruits of holiness are to be found worldwide (and “By their fruits ye shall know them”); around holy ones there is the same “feel” or aura of sanctity, regardless of the religion, beliefs, and rituals in which the saint or sage was raised. A deeply purified awareness—this is the essence of spirituality.
Therefore, ultimately it does not matter so much whether one calls on the True Self, Yahweh, Jesus (or the Father or Holy Spirit), Amitābha Buddha, Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Allāh or the Divine Mother as one’s istadevatā, one’s chosen form of the Beloved, as the Hindus say. Rather, what really matters is whether the ego-self (the petty self-obsession of “me and my” with all its intolerance, arrogance, greed, ambition, fear, envy, hatred, etc.), has dissolved, the One Spirit is allowed to “live one’s life,” and the factors of real holiness are functioning as a blessing to the world. This is true religion or authentic spirituality, in whatever time, place or cultural trappings it is found. Therefore, let us not allow the “demon of intolerance” to divide us on religious issues, but instead let us select for ourselves the spiritual tradition to which we are most drawn and practice it fully, while dearly appreciating other traditions, learning from them whenever we can, and perhaps switching to another tradition if/when we are so led by the Spirit. Any other policy is sheer madness, as the countless wars in the name of various religions’ “God” clearly demonstrate! 
I must hasten to address the doubts which might be arising in the minds of any Christian readers who have been brainwashed (brain-polluted) by the dangerous notion that “Jesus is the only Son of God, the only way to the Father”: this is an idea which, like all those “I am ...” statements attributed to Jesus, appeared with the very late Gospel of John (or written by someone in his circle); this work is heavily influenced by Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) ideas from the very “pagan” Greek mystery religions and does not come from the earliest, most authentic teachings of Jesus himself. Nonpartisan New Testament scholars are quite sure that Jesus did not have such megalomaniac self-concepts.  No, this simple, humble, God-absorbed and divinely-empowered rabbi recognized that our Divine Father is Love, and that anyone who becomes perfectly transmuted into the presence of living love is “one with the Father,” a perfect “son/daughter of God,” and is a channel no less than Jesus for the Spirit or blessing force of the Father. But Hellenistic Christianity turned this pure spirituality of Jesus into a mythic-oriented religion about Jesus. Especially with the group that wrote the John Gospel (who appear to have been strongly motivated to replace the mystical, egalitarian teachings of Jesus in the early Gospel of Thomas with their own view of Jeus), the God-absorbed Rabbi Jesus was turned into the “pre-existent,” “only-begotten Son of God,” the “Second Divine Person” of a “Trinity.” These very contrived, artificial and abstractionist concepts, which were not politically and religiously finalized until the late 4th century, cut us off from the direct, non-conceptual experiencing of God’s love, here and now. Worse, for almost 1,700 years these concepts have been used to self-righteously denigrate other people’s spirituality and horrifically bully and/or massacre millions and millions of good-hearted, pious souls who either were never exposed to these poisonous beliefs or who chose not to hold them. Such concepts have thus had the effect of giving Jesus a very bad name among many people of the world, and have terribly obscured the sublime truth that he was living and communicating. So I would urge anyone who holds these abstract concepts about Jesus as “the only way, the only Son of God” to suspend them, as well as the psychologically-violent, insidiously “political crusading” to “win souls for Jesus,” and instead humbly follow in Jesus’ footsteps, allowing yourself to be completely absorbed as Jesus was in the Divine Love, silently radiating this pure, sweet love to others. This is truly to fulfill Jesus’ injunction to “spread the gospel”—the good news that the Reign of God is in our midst, in the hearts of all. Using Jesus’ name to denigrate other religions and their practitioners is heresy, an unfortunate “paving the road to hell with good intentions,” an undoing of the Saviour’s work of love.
Holiness, Role Models, Feminism, and Other Issues
I hope that not only women spiritual practitioners will benefit from reading this “Who’s Who” profile of female role-models and their spiritual teachings. I should hope that men will also be greatly interested to discover here that they have a multitude of holy companions (holy sisters, mothers, and daughters, if you will) to draw upon as exemplars of tremendous virtue and as resources for inspiration.
I also consider this book to be as important for men as for women so as to counter what some feminists have called the “demon of sexism.” Speaking from experience, I know that it is far too easy for males to be sexist in our culture, even with the best intentions. Though I have had the good fortune to spend time with a number of female spiritual teachers, I was for too long ignorant about the horrible extent to which women have been discriminated against and exploited through male prejudice over the centuries in the various traditions. Thus, the present book represents a step in my own ongoing self-education, and a contribution toward righting the woeful imbalance which has been perpetrated through the last several millennia against women. I cannot emphasize too strongly how important it is for males to be aware of women’s issues and the wrongs that have been committed by men over the last five or six millennia (we will briefly mention some of these in a subsequent section of this Introduction).
In researching the materials for this book, I discovered that there have been more acknowledged holy women of the past than even I suspected. Still, in comparison to the great numbers of male spiritual leaders whose lives and teachings I have studied, the number of women known is much smaller, probably by a factor of about four to one. I am quite sure, in my own heart, that this lesser number of holy women is not because of “inferior capacity” on the part of women (this is, of course, the standard misogynist attack by certain males throughout the last four thousand years), but rather it is due to 1) suppression of women’s role as spiritual leader/teacher (in many cases, even suppression of her role as participant in spiritual practice!), and 2) failure by the apparently exclusively-male historians to record or preserve the lives and teachings of holy women of the past. John White has observed:“With the rise of patriarchal society on a global scale, recorded history became essentially male history—and therefore tended to exclude half the world’s population! Women were denied positions of authority and opportunities for spiritual unfoldment, or at least not encouraged by the male-dominated institutions. And just as they were excluded from positions of authority in religious institutions, so also were they excluded, by and large, from the written records of those institutions. Thus, recorded history offers almost no female figures as role models of the mystic or the enlightened teacher, and almost no spiritual literature written by or for women. ... But lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. If recorded history is distinguished from “lived” history, one finds there are little-known examples of spiritually liberated women in religious and sacred traditions.” 
Happily, this situation has changed for the better nowadays as certain feminist historians have come forward with more and more works bringing to light the stories and teachings of holy women of the past and present, thus insuring that these women do not simply disappear from the legacy of human spiritual excellence. The present book—the idea for which first came to me upon reading the above quote from John White some years ago—may be seen as an attempt to pull much of this research together into one place, and to discuss many women who are apparently unknown to many of the feminist researchers.
My bringing forth the names of the many holy women of past and present involves a huge irony, in that they themselves have no desire to be known or written about! I am “identifying” women who are utterly dis-identified from their own roles, accomplishments, and self-images. Authentically holy beings themselves want no recognition, for they have completely transcended any obsession with their personalities (persona / “mask,” the bodymind “facade” or “front”). As Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said, “personalities are not important.” The holy ones are only interested in serving God and sentient beings. They simply abide as straightforward functioning, “nobody special.” They have no lust for fame, nor any desire to be exalted into a position of power or authority. They would much rather that the reader be oriented to that Supreme Reality—call this God, Brahman, Tao, Spirit or Buddha-nature—unto whom their own lives have been completely dedicated. These women, therefore, are like pointers or mirrors for that Absolute One Who is our Source and Substance. “Don’t get fixated on us or obsessed with us,” these women would say, “rather, put your attention on That One who manifests us, That One who is your own Real Being.” To put this another way, truly holy people are not objects unto themselves but more like windows onto the Sun of Reality. The greatest spiritual adepts are simply the clearest, largest windows which let the illuminating, healing qualities of the Sun shine through them for the sake of other beings.
In short, then, it is not for the sake of the women featured herein that I have written this book. No, it is we who need these stories of spiritually-realized women, and our need, as I have said, is desperate. We and our children need the example of truly good, virtuous people, the championship “spiritual athletes” who have attained genuine excellence in their lives by going beyond all egotism into true Godliness. It is crucial that we have before us for emulation women and men who are exemplary spiritual role-models. They constitute our real heroes and best friends. They are inspiring case studies of what it means to be truly alive, fully developed, and authentically “successful” human beings. In an age wherein our audio-visual and printed media, with the help of public-relations specialists, obsessively dote on celebrities (actors, singers, artists, politicians, athletes and the wealthy), most of whose psyches are often woefully immature (only a very few have begun to venture into the trans-egoic levels of the human maturation process), we are in dire need of having genuine hero(in)es brought to our attention as frequently as possible as personifications of real virtue and excellence. What happens when the vast majority of our girls and women are conditioned into thinking that bodily appearance and shopping are the most important elements in life, and are never told by school textbooks or our popular media about the many powerful women saints—veritable human angels—around Jesus, the Buddha, and Mahāvira, or those women of later times such as Amma Synclectica and the other Christian Desert Mothers, Brigid of Ireland, Clare of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Rita of Cascia, Xenia of St. Petersburg, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiyya, Akka Mahādevī, Lāl Ded, Shidō, or Yeshe Tsogyel—not to mention a host of contemporary, living women of spiritual excellence? What happens when the vast majority of our boys and men never hear of the radiant examples of Gautama the Buddha, Milarepa, Anthony the Great, Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Qādir al-Gīlānī, the Baal Shem Tov, or Shirdi Sāī Bābā, but instead are hypnotized over and over again in movie theaters or in front of television sets with the examples of morally-mediocre, gun-wielding “heroes” and the sometimes even more insidiously attractive, mesmerizing “villains,” who all are quite worldly and resolve their conflicts by intimidation and/or slaughter? Just to look at the rates of suicide, alienation, unwanted pregnancy, ennui, apathy, gang-fighting, poor grades, drug-use, rape, and so on ad nauseum among our youth and in our culture at large makes it quite clear what happens when a society loses all sense of the truly heroic by forgetting the world’s greatest citizens and instead focuses on a motley group of rather confused souls...
I hope these words don’t sound too old-fashioned or harsh. Actually, numerous educators (frightened over the lack of values of the current and upcoming youthful generations) and psychologists (alarmed over the increasing incidence of mental disorder, especially in the young) would back me up here: the incessant parading of uninspiring pseudo-celebrities before our children and ourselves has viciously undermined the spiritual, moral, emotional, intellectual and social fabric of our society. This exaltation of the “rich and famous” has promoted a rampant greed, superficiality, alienation, fear, and mediocrity. As a society we seem to have sold our souls in exchange for the adrenaline-rush of hyper-stimulation, simulated and actual violence, pleasure, and getting “high”; we have abandoned inner strength and spiritual depth for the flimsy facade of being “chic, cool, hip.” The good news in all of this, I believe, is that we have the power as a people to not be taken in by our media’s hypnotic programming. But a radical, widespread de-hypnosis program requires that our schools and media begin to promote for us a very different set of heroes. We urgently need to have before us as our role-models those shining examples of joy, compassion, wisdom, integrity (moral strength), fearlessness, unattachment and groundedness in the depths of Spiritual Reality—and these are none other than our spiritual masters, saints, sages and “good people.”
And when we bring to the fore truly edifying role-models, let us not only draw on representatives from different spiritual traditions, let us have as many female heroines as male heroes, because there is no superiority of one over the other.
On this last point, many feminists have decried the fact that “women’s stories have not been told,” that is to say, history names and lauds many males, but largely leaves out the names and accomplishments of women. This is especially true in the field of religious studies. Unfortunately, the feminists in recent decades interested in promoting “her-story” have not done very much better themselves: though there have come to light in the past two decades some books each containing profiles of one or a handful of women spiritual leaders, the general books written on “women in religion” or “great women of history” by feminist scholars tend to focus mainly on the sins of patriarchy and gloss over or ignore altogether many of the most illustrious women of the sacred traditions—perhaps because the existence and achievements of the spiritual heroines are quite unknown to them.
This book does not hesitate to happily mention names, even when there is not much known about the women singled out—because it is important simply to preserve the names of our venerable fore-mothers, and whatever else may be known about them. It is crucial that these exemplary women and whatever we know of their lives and teachings not be forgotten by human civilization.
The secret of life which they have discovered and lived—selfless love and attunement to the Spiritual Reality—is a magic key by which we can unlock the door of our dark prisons of mediocrity and torment, and emerge into the joyous light of the Sacred.
A book by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins, The Feminine Face of God: The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women (1991), profiling some religious women of the present day, argues that holy women of the past “are no longer adequate. Women need stories from spiritually mature women in our time and culture who are demonstrating the sacred in today’s world.”
While I heartily agree that we need more exposure to contemporary spiritual Heroines (and this online book Women of Spirit certainly names hundreds of names in our era), I beg to differ on the matter that holy women of the past are obsolete. My own observations of many contemporary spiritual teachers and the arising of myriad religious cults and teachers through the centuries, East and West, is that they often are “reinventing the wheel,” going through diverse insights and emotional states, experimenting with various forms of prayer and meditation, and so forth—ignorant of the successful experiments in holiness made by illustrious women and men of the past. The superficial cultural, technological, job and family circumstances of women living today in the western world of the 1990s may indeed be quite different from women living, say, in India during the 5th century BCE or Spain in the 16th century CE, but the inner psychological environment is really not very different: identity-confusion, egocentricity, insecurity, anger, sorrow, greed, fear—these are fundamentally the same, in all cultures, all times, and all places. Whereas holy women of other eras and cultures may not be quite as accessible to today’s Euro-American woman or man, with a little effort we can penetrate this superficial barrier, and benefit immensely from the exemplary lives and profound teachings of holy women everywhere and everywhen. Many of these women had to endure dysfunctional families, injustice, oppression, bad health, divorce, loss of loved ones, rapidly changing societies, alienation and so forth, just as many women of today are experiencing. Their experiences and learnings and ultimate spiritual triumph are timelessly relevant.
In the wake of massive exposure to the studies of mythology by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, there is much attention given these days by social scientists and certain people in various communications media to the importance and power of “myth” and the “hero’s journey.” Most of the ancient myths, however, are quite outlandish and have very little relevance to the majority of persons seeking genuine fulfillment and transcendence of the anxiety, alienation, and superficiality of conventional life. And the movies and television shows of our time which try to enact the myth of the “hero’s journey” with very few exceptions tend to show heroes lacking any real spiritual depth and usually resorting to violence in order to solve their problems. But in this book the reader will find a huge number of women exemplars of the Triple Goddess—“maid, mother and crone”—who have actually undertaken and completed “the heroine’s journey,” not as fiction, but as a living reality. Such women show how one can activate the power of myth, in this case, the mythical spiritual quest for the Summum Bonum, and bring it into actuality. It is most edifying to learn of what inspired these heroic women, what difficulties they endured, what “demons” and “monsters” they overcame (especially in the form of their own ego-tendencies), what treasures they found (maximum aliveness, love, peace, joy, Divine Power and Spiritual Awareness), and how they returned to share these treasures with as many sentient beings as possible. The tales of these women spiritual adepts, to put it bluntly, constitute some of our most exciting and relevant (applicable) literature. This is literature which can truly transform those who hear these stories on a deep level of their being.
It might seem a bit excessive to have included so many women in this book. I have probably named well over a thousand women here, more holy women than have ever been gathered together in any book ever written. Of course, many of these women are mentioned only in passing, with a brief phrase or sentence of description, but several hundred are given more attention, with a full paragraph, or page; and a dozen women have several pages devoted to them. There is a definite purpose in my bringing forth so many exemplary women: I want to demonstrate that a huge number of saintly women (and saintly men) have flourished, so as to entirely remove from sainthood the stigma of “freakiness” that it has in the minds of the majority of people living in the dominant secular humanist culture of today.
Our saints represent the truly normative experience of humanity—they are our “best specimens,” as scholars such as Evelyn Underhill, William James and others have observed. We all do well to follow their lead in the path of sanctity and ourselves become saints. Of course, the irony is that we ourselves become saints by transcending these very “selves,” these knots of egotism, fear, desire, and clinging. But this great work of self-transcendence can be accomplished—and the saints are the living, shining proof of this! Thus, let us read about them, meet them whenever and wherever we find them in the flesh, and follow in their footsteps on the path of love, discovering how each of us can uniquely find and express spiritual excellence...
There is a very practical reason for studying and/or meeting holy ones. They have discovered the secret of happiness in this life and beyond. And they know that this secret of happiness is inherent within everyone. It is not dependent on special circumstances, possessions, or privileges. Because this genuine happiness is not contingent on outer factors, the holy ones can live simply, very simply. This is a most useful skill for our own day, wherein, with radical endangerment to our environment due to a wasteful lifestyle and overproduction and overconsumption of goods, we need to drastically simplify our own lifestyles. The enlightened ones, masters of what Duane Elgin has termed “voluntary simplicity,” have a lot to teach us in these matters. To be more industrious about recycling, to consume less energy and fewer products, to use less water (in regions where this is an issue), to eat lower on the foodchain (that is, vegan, and thus conserve our rapidly shrinking land and water resources, stop the horrifying abuse to factory-farm animals, and obviate the different kinds of damage to our own DNA and the ecosystem which our meat-based diet engenders)—all of these and other intelligent steps require some changes and “inconveniences” on our part. To facilitate these changes, it is of tremendous help that we have going for ourselves a solid inner strength and sense of wellbeing, an ability to abide simply and enjoy the basic miracle of being alive, without needing to be involved in our dangerously consumptive habits and all manner of busy “having and doing.”
In short, saints and sages are very useful role-models for this voluntary simplicity, this treading lightly upon Mother Earth.
Hopefully all these foregoing words can resolve the issue about whether saints’ examples and teachings are “relevant” to those of us in the modern world. Let it be said that a wholesome goodness, peace, love and joy are always relevant, no matter how cynical and skeptical and corrupt a people have become. In our especially cynical era, it is easy to dismiss the tales of these holy women and my reverent approach to them as “saccharine.”
In an article some time ago in a major journal of religious studies (I will not embarrass the author by mentioning his name) it was actually argued that “selflessness” was an inappropriate ideal for our day! Now, obviously, there have occurred throughout the centuries—especially in certain circles of Christianity—rather neurotic forms of compulsive self-mortification (self-torture), compulsive self-sacrifice of one’s needs, and/or compulsive “generosity,” which lead certain people to become incapable of relaxed good cheer, healthy self-esteem, assertiveness of their needs, and gracious receiving of services or gifts from others. We all know people like this—people suffering from what is sometimes referred to as a “martyr complex.”
I know people like this. They are not saints. Their attempt to be selfless is actually an unfortunate form of self-obsession and self-loathing based on feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and usually a very distorted image of a demanding Deity (a “critical parent,” in psychologist Eric Berne’s terminology).
Therefore, whenever I speak of “selflessness” in these pages, I am not referring to such tragically serious, heavy, awkward ways of feeling and functioning. I am speaking instead of an utterly natural, simple, free, unconditioned, straightforward radiance of love and peace and bliss and goodness that shines spontaneously and unefforted in the relaxing or letting go of all obsession with one’s bodymind. This abandoning of self-obsession is one of the simplest, clearest definitions for spiritual realization or enlightenment (i.e., “lightening up”). This is genuine, not neurotic, selflessness. It is still capable of “being easy with oneself,” asserting one’s needs (this is especially important for women, since, in feminist words, “we have been ‘nothing’ for so long”), and receiving from other people (not always having to be in the “giving” mode).
Having said all this, I should hasten to mention that sometimes certain spiritual adepts, even when they appear to manifest psychological health much or most of the time, nevertheless still sometimes behave selflessly in ways that some psychologists might be tempted to judge as pathological. Take the instance of self-mortification. On the face of it, the various forms of self-mortification or self-sacrifice (such as lengthy abstinence from food, water, sleep and/or sex, exposing oneself to extreme temperatures or harsh environments, flogging oneself, wearing abrasive or painful clothing, and so on) surely must be signs of mental disorder, or so most psychologists would say. Yet we must discriminate here and realize that there are two ways in which someone could be motivated to engage in such behaviors. One motivation is that of the self-obsessed, self-punishing, guilt-driven, heavy personality profiled above. But there is an entirely different kind of motivation which may be operating here, involving the old sense of sacrifice, or “making sacred”: an atonement for the pain or ignorance of others. It is an ancient spiritual secret that someone else’s burden of dis-ease, karma, bad energy or demons (or whatever we wish to call the handicapping factors in their life) may be lightened or even eliminated by “taking on the condition” and processing it in one’s own experience via pain-sensations. These pain-sensations may be adopted either actively via self-mortification or passively through the ready acceptance of certain illnesses and afflictions.
In Christianity, this is known as “redemptive suffering,” and many saints have emulated Jesus—who gave up his life on the cross for the sake of humanity—in adopting this way of sacrifice on behalf of others’ well-being. This phenomenon of redemptive suffering or “taking on others’ karma” is also practiced in certain circles within other religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sūfism, Taoism, Judaism, and Native American traditions.
Thus, when we look deeply into the motivational system at work, we find that not all self-mortification is necessarily driven by a self-obsessed, pathological, guilt-ridden personality. Now, I do not consider redemptive suffering to be a sina qua non for holiness, but a reading of the cross-cultural spiritual literature strongly suggests that holy souls of many traditions, ancient and contemporary, often spontaneously do adopt others’ suffering out of the goodness of their hearts, just as an adult is only too happy—no matter how fatigued—to carry an exhausted toddler.
This kind of selflessness or sacrifice should not be critiqued but praised to the highest, and, in our own cases, spontaneously emulated whenever we are spiritually empowered to enact it. The big variable here is the factor of spontaneity. Spontaneous sacrifice or sacred action is free-flowing, full of delight and love, not reeking of the “stink” of a chagrined ego which is “dutifully” doing some job in order to “show you how holy I am” or to please a critical-parent Deity. Real selflessness is operating here in the form of this spontaneous action which is liberated (lightened-up) from the burden of heavy, egocentric doership.
One of the dangers of my profiling so many women in this book, most of them rather briefly, is that the fullness and richness and glory of their lives may be severely reduced to become mere items in a kind of “catalogue.” We must counter this possibility by trying with all our might to put ourselves into their time and place, and—by utilizing our powers of empathy, active imagination, and intuition—unfold the essence of their lives in our own hearts so that these women and their qualities and deeds may truly come alive for us as living, breathing friends! This is the only way to obtain that fuller, richer sense of the glory of the Divine Presence that is active in their lives and potential in our own lives. Moreover, I would sincerely urge all of us to select a few of these souls, as well as certain appealing male saints, and immerse ourselves in their lives—via any resources we can find, such as biographies and autobiographies, their teachings and testimonials, and any paintings, photographs, theatrical productions, movies and/or videos available on them. (I have mentioned some of these resources in the endnotes.) We will certainly be the richer for having done so, empowered to go more deeply into our own lives to find that One Who is our Source and Substance. This book, hopefully, will be a good resource for introducing us to these splendid women and men, so that we may once again have some uplifting, liberating mentors and role-models to guide us on our way of spiritual realization. Having said this, I must also declare that it is virtually impossible to convey in words the glory of a saintly human life, no matter how eloquent or poetic one might be—and I do not consider myself to be singularly gifted in literary abilities.
If the reader gets the chance to spend time in the immediate presence of the great contemporary souls profiled herein (through reading of them in depth, encountering them in dreams or visions, or actually meeting them in person), it will become quite clear just how magnificent is the authentically holy, saintly life. An even more dramatic impression of the spiritually realized life will be gained when one enters into it oneself—and, of course, as mentioned earlier, the cost of the entry ticket consists in dying to this little “oneself” and awakening to the Infinite Self—as Jesus put it, one must lose one’s life in order to gain the everlasting life.
In writing this book, I am not in any way asserting that female spiritual teachers are somehow better than male teachers, though it is my distinct impression that women teachers may be somewhat less prone to the kind of sexual misconduct that a number of male clergy and spiritual teachers have shown throughout the centuries, including the present century.  While I am primarily talking about holy women in this book, I happen to think that there have flourished throughout the ages a good number of extremely holy men—and many are alive today. It would be a real shame if these unspeakably wonderful men were ignored or under-valued in the great rush to “embrace the feminine” that is occurring in many circles of our society these last few years. At various places in my text and in the endnotes I have mentioned these eminent male spiritual figures, and I am hoping that my readers will make the efforts to learn more about some of them as well.
Along this line, the writings of certain feminists which utterly reject the patriarchal traditions are leading some people today to refrain from any study or association with teachers or texts from the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sūfī or Jewish traditions. This, too, is a shame, since many of these teachers are beautifully inspiring spiritual presences. The holy women of these traditions, especially, should not be patronizingly viewed as mere “pawns” or “lackeys” within the patriarchal religions just because they have remained in these traditions or have not taken a strong stand on feminist, socio-political issues. Their mission may be to heal or inspire or counsel on spiritual levels—which is, of course, the basis for any real integrity and effectiveness in dealing with any socio-political issues. Just as we would not expect a great painter to also necessarily be a great physicist, so also we need not expect the holy women of the patriarchal traditions to be talented as revolutionaries for socio-political change or prime spokespersons for the women’s liberation movement. In her introductory essay to a book reporting the first international conference of Buddhist nuns, an American-born Buddhist nun, Rev. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, reminds us that supreme enlightenment—a completely purified awareness—is always our top priority. She also expresses a strong caveat worth reproducing here:
“It is very important that women are now gaining a sense of their identity and dignity as women. At the same time, we need to understand that in the Buddhist view beings take on different forms in different lifetimes. Even though we have assumed a female form or a male form in this particular rebirth, it is by no means a permanent condition. Intensely identifying oneself with one particular gender or another may have as its basis a sense of familiarity from past life experience or may be justifiable in relation to certain experiences in early childhood, but it is nevertheless ultimately just another example of ego exerting its territoriality. To get caught up in female chauvinism or male chauvinism is not a great deal different in essence from getting bound up in racism or nationalism. All these preoccupations are based on mistaken perceptions. One misunderstands the basis of identification as being permanent when it is actually impermanent. Mistaken identifications such as these lead to countless problems. ... Awakened awareness, being pure and undiluted, is ... beyond attachment and aversion to forms, and therefore is beyond attachment and aversion to differences of race, sex, and so on. ... Enlightened mind transcends the gender issue.” 
In the final analysis, therefore, I do not think it really matters whether holiness comes in the form of a female or a male body. The true nature of our universe is revealed in moments of clearest intuition and/or deepest meditation to be free of conceptual distinctions such as “male” and “female.”
On the level of phenomenal appearances and conventional experience, characterized by the timeless dance of yin and yang (to use the ancient Chinese concept), there are certain feminine or masculine characteristics that seem quite distinct. We shall have occasion at various places in this book to discuss these characteristics. But it is clear to me that those qualities which we usually think of as “masculine,” such as strong leadership, productivity, sternness, bravery, and abstract philosophizing, are often found in holy women, just as qualities which we usually regard as “feminine,” such as nurturance, receptivity, maternal instinct, heart-centeredness, psychic sensitivity, gentleness, sweetness and emotional expressiveness, often appear in holy men.
It therefore seems that real holiness, in the sense of wholeness, involves a bringing together of both masculine and feminine qualities, perhaps at different times or in different situations, as needed—and, above all, such holiness/wholeness entails the cultivation of the enlightenment qualities spoken of in the sacred traditions, which I have listed earlier. Consequently, even though I will be endeavoring to emphasize female spiritual excellence, my aim here is not to fuel any particular cause which would elevate females above males, but a kind of “para-feminism.”
The promotion of authentic wholeness/holiness in all beings—this is my central concern in relating to you the life stories and teachings of these holy women. In short, my work here is more concerned with facilitating in some small way the liberation of all sentient beings rather than with specific “female liberation.” Of course, I must hasten to add that I consider the feminist social-political-spiritual cause of equal rights to be of extreme importance in shifting us into a more egalitarian partnership society, freeing us from the androcratic, dominator social system which has been and still is perpetrating so much terrible, unspeakable injustice, inequality, alienation and suffering, for females, for the poor, and for all sentient beings involved in Mother Earth’s delicate web of life (see below, for more about these “sins of patriarchy”). But it is concern for the spiritual awakening of all beings that is the chief motivating factor for the various holy women who are featured in these pages, women who have transcended all hang-ups over distinctions regarding gender, caste, color, or nationality, and who seem to have no desires to be famous or conspicuous for their spiritual realization or for being prominent women in a “man’s world.”
On this topic of spiritual liberation/enlightenment and holiness, I would venture to say that among many feminists chagrined by the only-too-real sins of patriarchy tainting the major spiritual traditions of East and West, there are recurring attempts to found new religions, new paths to the sacred. These are almost always born out of good intentions and usually feature a dogma-free, non-patriarchal, egalitarian approach, with various rituals and practices often quite lovely and/or meaningful. Yet, the founders of these new movements, it seems to me, usually do not have a conception of real liberation or holiness as has been provided for us by the most respected and apparently “perfectly” accomplished spiritual masters of the sacred traditions—for instance, the Buddha and his female and male arhats (perfected ones), Lao-tzu, Jesus, Anthony the Great and the Desert Mothers and Fathers, Nāgārjuna, Bodhidharma, Qādir al-Gīlānī, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiyya, Śaṅkara, Yeshe Tsogyel, Milarepa, and Lālla Ded, to mention the leading lights of ancient times, or, more recently, such eminent spiritual masters as Śrī Ramana Maharshi, Shirdi Sāī Bābā, the Ba’al Shem Tov, Seraphim of Sarov, Hsüan-hua, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Anandamayī Mā, Ammā (Mātā Amritānandamayī), et al. In other words, it may sometimes seem like a great idea to start a new religion, and base this on ideas and rituals that strike one’s fancy—it is quite another thing altogether to be a perfectly-awakened free being, and provide one’s fellow beings with an efficacious path to authentic spiritual liberation.
The ways of spiritual realization are subtle, indeed, and should not be entrusted to mere teachers who have not yet really achieved the caliber of spiritual master. A world of difference exists between the two, for true spiritual masters have unmistakably made a distinct quantum jump beyond all vestige of narrow selfishness into a wholly other way of Being. They are no longer identified with the narrow self, but the Self of all.
Along this line, in encountering the many women spiritual teachers who are emerging in our day, whether from within or outside the patriarchal sacred traditions, we need to be careful. Whereas, on an ontological level of “pure being” or “essence,” we are all equal, and no one can be ranked as superior to another, it is obvious on a practical level that not all of these women are coming from the same depth of holiness, not all of them are living the various enlightenment factors with the same breadth and depth. Indeed, there may be only a relative few who are living from the level of most complete enlightenment and utter freedom from the subtle and not-so-subtle pulls of selfishness. In other words, there may only be a few genuine spiritual adepts or “masters” among these many women teachers.
This distinction between a spiritual master or true adept and a spiritual teacher is most important. Therefore, as in all things, some wisdom and discrimination is needed on our part. Just as many people in 20th century Europe and America indiscriminately regarded all Hindu gurus, Zen rōshis, Tibetan lamas, and Sūfi sheikhs as wise and saintly, simply because of their foreign mystique, time has shown that, like the priests, ministers and rabbis within our Christian and Jewish traditions, some of them were truly empowering for us (thank God for them!) whereas others exploited or disempowered their followers in various ways (though perhaps this was our “karmuppance”). So also, the many emerging women teachers of today need to be evaluated, not in terms of their subtle-energy charisma, spiritual glamour, appealing marketing campaigns, gimmicks, psychic powers, or mere eloquence (after all, one can read a few wisdom-books and do a little meditation practice and thereby cultivate “a good rap”)—but these women need to be evaluated in terms of whether they are truly helping us, via their example, their counsels, and whatever Divine Grace coming through them (a most important factor), toward noble ends. Chief among these ends, I would assert, are 1) getting free of egotism, clinging/aversion tendencies, and the various unwholesome psychological states/behaviors and 2) getting empowered with genuine peace, equanimity, freedom, bliss, spirit of loving service, and various other Godly qualities of real enlightenment.
In amplifying this point, let me briefly explain how, in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is common knowledge that there are a number of high-level devas, celestial “shining beings,” who live in heaven realms invisible to most of us. These devas are not yet fully free and liberated. They still take themselves to be “somebody special,” they are still processing unfinished karma issues, such as those concerning pride, attachment to pleasure, and aversion to discomfort. Eventually these devas “fall from their heaven realms” after they exhaust most of their good karma which brought them there, and they usually wind up taking human birth. (This is akin to someone having to go back to work after spending all their savings.) While on the earth as human beings, these former devas, because of the strong residue of deva-karma, can appear quite radiant, intelligent, charismatic, charming, humorous, talented and beautiful—so much so that when these deva-like humans learn a little about spirituality—a subject with which they will often have a great affinity, even if they also have a strong streak of asura/”demon”-karma as part of their personality make-up—these devas can quickly cultivate an eloquence on these matters (a “good rap”) and even obtain various lower-level psychic powers. Even without any real eloquence or psychic powers, they will often be extraordinarily “charismatic” with a lot of vital energy characteristic of devas (asuras also have this charisma—just look at many of our totalitarian leaders who have strong asura-karma). Thus, they will appear to be “as gods,” and will be mistaken for great spiritual leaders. The majority of people in our naïve western society, woefully under-educated about the deeper levels of spirituality (because, for instance, we are rarely if ever taught by our parents, teachers or media-personalities about the deeper issues of spiritual life!) are particularly gullible to fawning over the appearance of such former-deva-level teachers. Such teachers can appear in Judaism, Christianity, Islām, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American traditions, New Age movements, or wherever. Most people simply cannot recognize spiritual masters of a higher level, call this the level of a totally free-being, a Buddha, Christ, Jñāni, or perfected adept, who is no longer driven by any kind of karma (such as the attachments to pleasure and self-image, and the aversion to discomforts which afflict most of the deva-like beings).
This is another one of the reasons why I have mentioned so many women saints and teachers in this work. Thus far, only a few women have appeared in the spiritual limelight in the West. Even in today’s world of widely available books and telecommunications I have noticed that a few women teachers, especially in Christianity and in the New Age arena, where “deva”-type teachings are rampant, are being disproportionately featured through intense marketing and public-relations campaigns while other women—true spiritual masters and veritable powerhouses of spiritual energy—are relatively unknown. By thoroughly presenting names of holy women of different traditions, past and present, and giving readers a more detailed perspective on the spiritual scene, perhaps our ignorance on these matters may begin to be dispelled.
Notes To the Reader
This book need not be read linearly from start to finish. You may wish to skip around a bit, reading about women from your favorite tradition, or from a tradition about which you have been wanting to learn more. Whatever your preference, this is meant to be a kind of reference and resource book on women in spirituality, so you may use it as such. As a prerequisite or follow-up to this book, the reader may wish to consult some works on comparative religion or various encyclopedia articles [and articles widely available on the Internet] for more background historical and doctrinal information on the various religions covered herein, since it would be beyond the scope of the present book to do this. 
Some of my chapters are much briefer than others. For instance, the chapters on women in Taoism and Jainism, which are quite short, and the chapters on women of Islām/Sūfism and Judaism, which are still rather brief compared to the space I have devoted to Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist women.This is because not much material has yet emerged for Western readers on holy women and women’s religious groups within the former religions, whereas we have an abundance of material on the latter, especially on the denominations of Christianity.
The reader will find some major religions of the past not represented here at all, for instance, the Egyptian, Greek, Celtic and Confucian religions. Even though the Confucian religion is still extant, I have not explored it in this book simply because my own research has not turned up any really notable holy women, and, as is well known, women have a decidedly lower place within the Confucian family and social hierarchy.
The Egyptian, Greek, and Celtic religions I have not featured here simply because they have not survived as continuous, living traditions (though there are pockets of people trying to resurrect these paths today—see the last chapter herein; note, too, that Peter Kingsley and Professor Huston Smith have argued that the ancient Greek path of gnosis, especially as found in the words of Parmenides, Empedocles, Socrates and Pythagoras, represents a major Western wisdom-religion which has been of no small influence on many spiritual leaders of the West in later centuries).
The Egyptian and Greek religions, though they have not featured major women spiritual masters in leadership positions, nevertheless have rich mythologies with important feminine archetypes, evidently diversified aspects of the ancient Great Goddess Inanna of the Sumerian civilization, a Goddess who blended both light and dark, sky and earth principles, and who became later known as Ishtar of the Assyrians and Baylonians, and Astarte or Asherah of the Phoenicians. The Egyptians, in their devotion to the many faces of the Goddess, revered Isis, consort of Osiris; Hathor, the nourishing cow-goddess; Mut, consort of Amon-Ra; Ma’at, goddess of truth, natural order, justice, and law; sky-goddess Nut; and others such as Tefnut, Neith, Buto of the North, Nekhebet of the South, et al. The Greeks, in their most ancient Aegean/Cretan period, saw the mother goddess Gaia work with the primordial Chaos to spawn the universe. The Greeks also revered the mother goddesses Rhea (sometimes identified with the Egyptian goddess Nut) and Dictynna; and the virgin Britomartes. Greeks of a slightly later age would look to the following goddesses among the dozen main figures on Olympus ruled over by Zeus: Hera (identified with the Egyptian Mut and sometimes Isis) Athene (Egyptian Neith), Aphrodite (Egyptian Hathor), Demeter and her daughter Persephone, Hestia, and Artemis, not to mention other goddesses and female archetypal figures such as Hecate and the Muses.
The Celts, like the people of the Middle East, evidently had one original Great Mother, though her name we will probably never know, since it was never written down, and our evidence of the Celts comes from a later date at which point the diversification of goddess aspects had occurred, with each becoming personified—thus we have Brighid, Dana, Anu, Arianrhod, Cerridwen, Modron, Epona, and others.
Any good book on the world’s mythologies will provide further information on these and other ancient traditions and their goddesses.
As substantial as the present book may appear to be, I still regard it as an unfinished work. Years from now a second edition will undoubtedly be needed to account for other holy women who come to light, as a result of a) further historical “uncovering” research, b) continued opportunities for women spiritual teachers to come into power, and c) contributions from readers who can help compensate for the major gaps in my knowledge.
On this last point, if any of my readers have further information to add to this project, I would be most interested and grateful to hear from you. (Indeed, anyone who wishes to help with a second edition would be more than welcome, since a project of this sort really requires resources beyond the capacity of the lone researcher.)
Interdimensional Beings and UFOs: A Relevant Phenomenon?
Before covering what I consider to be some really important topics for this Introduction, such as nondual spiritual realization, renunciation and voluntary simplicity, transcendence, integrating emotions and creativity and sexuality within spirituality, and the fascinating topics of extraordinary “miraculous”/wondrous phenomena and subtle-energy phenomena, we need to take several pages to discuss a few other phenomena, phenomena beginning with one that some people might consider literally too “far out.”
The late 1980s saw a resurgence of interest in a topic related in several important ways to our study of women and religion, and so I must discuss it here—the topic of interdimensional beings and their UFO manifestations. In case you come from an alien culture, the term “UFO” denotes “Unidentified Flying Object.”
We must grant the topic some attention if only because our most ancient historical peoples themselves affirm this phenomenon.
Unfortunately, this is a topic surrounded by so much nonsense, pro and con, that it is virtually a taboo subject among serious scholars and is shunted off to the remote fringe of academia as too outlandish to even mention except in the most dismissive ways. As a result, many people feel reluctant either to approach or to discuss this subject publicly. And yet public interest has certainly grown in the topic since the late 20th century. And surely aliens or angels—or whoever it is that appear from ancient times onward to have mastered the powers of “light and flight,” as one observer noted—need to be discussed, openly and widely. Their relevance to human history, myths, technology, parapsychology, anthropology, and especially the study of religions, would seem to be enormous.
The U.S. Air Force’s Project Bluebook and the subsequent Condon Report in the late 1960s both discounted the need for any further study of UFOs and falsely dismissed UFOs as irrelevant and/or nonexistent. But their conclusions within a few decades were shown to be invalid from the start by demonstrable “bad faith,” obvious biases and lack of honesty. Indeed, as made clear by investigators such as Professor J. Allen Hynek, the chief scientific consultant appointed by the U.S. government on Project Bluebook, these two official U.S. government studies served as immense cover-ups of the true facts. Going on the recommendation of the Battelle Institute to keep this topic secret, the CIA’s Robertson Panel orchestrated a long-running, deliberate campaign of ridicule and vilification, aimed at any person or civilian group that tries to study UFOs seriously. Meanwhile, the National Security Agency, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other U.S. intelligence organizations—despite their public claim to not be studying UFOs—have been lying all along: through the Freedom of Information Act it was clearly shown in the 1980s via numerous documents that these groups were engaged in hundreds of “above Top Secret” investigations of UFOs from the 1940s down to the present.
The basis for such deception is that, as the Battelle Institute speculatively concluded, if the really uncomfortable “disturbing truth” about UFOs and aliens were known, there would occur devastating psychological, political, economic and religious instability. Furthermore, in 1980s and 1990s the work of serious civilian UFO-research groups and leaks from covert intelligence agencies yielded massive, extraordinary evidence regarding an “alien presence” which is not only real in our era but has apparently been influencing humans on and off for at least the last 3,500 years.
Along this line, as will be clear from my discussion of the new, “feminist archaeology” in the next section, this topic of UFOs is highly relevant to the rise of many of the patriarchal religions, especially those with a strong apocalyptic bent.
Because of the aforementioned deliberate, massive program of ridicule and ostracism by government agencies (especially those in the U.S. and England) and by certain insecure, close-minded academics and fact-challenged “scientists” (especially of the reductionist materialism orientation), combined with the contaminating influence of the irresponsible tabloid media and far too many gullible folks on the popular “lunatic” fringe of the UFO movement, there are still a great many people who think that the whole idea of visitations by aliens is not worth serious attention, and suitable only for crackpots.
Such people have not read the serious studies of the phenomenon by persons of impressive credentials and unshakable integrity, and I invite them to do so, especially the work of scientists Jacques Vallee, Stanton Friedman, and the late J. Allen Hynek. Hynek, the aforementioned top scientific consultant to Project Bluebook, in his communications to the public initially took a scornful, dismissive stance toward all UFO reports. But in a remarkably humble, courageous turnaround, he reversed his position and affirmed the validity of alien visitation and UFOs as a serious topic for study. Important research has also been done by academic historian Thomas Bullard, news reporter Linda Moulton Howe, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, and many others.
Many anomalies concerning human evolution, ancient archaeological wonders, the birth of certain religious movements, many thousands of inexplicable animal mutilations, and the inexcusably secretive behavior of various governmental military/intelligence agencies can be accounted for by the hypothesis of longstanding alien intervention in human affairs. Especially from the late 1980s onward a vast amount of information and circumstantial evidence was brought together by some highly respected researchers which, if presented before a court of law, would likely convince a jury of reasonable peers that different groups of aliens have been and are “meddling” in human affairs.
This evidence has converged from a number of fronts: 1) studies and reports on UFOs, accessed via the Freedom of Information Act, that have been undertaken by various intelligence agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere (again, these same groups have lied by saying that they have not been studying UFOs); 2) statements by former military, intelligence, and political personnel who—in breach of the “national security” censure imposed ruthlessly by government agencies—claim, sometimes only on their deathbed, that aliens and their varieties of craft certainly do exist and have contacted humans; 3) many thousands of animal mutilations since at least 1967 (surgically-precise removal of reproductive organs with zero traces of blood, etc.) with so many unusual features that the vast majority of cases must have been performed by alien agency (not by “Satanists,” as initially sometimes alleged)—and many of these mutilation incidents have occurred while UFOs were being witnessed in the vicinity; 4) over 100,000 well-documented worldwide sightings of unexplained UFOs and in many instances sightings of aliens themselves, by highly reliable eye-witnesses including pilots with exceptional vision and detection equipment, military personnel, police officers, physicists, and radar operators (most of these latter persons are chronically “silenced” by their superiors) (note that most of the millions of reported sightings of UFOs can be explained in prosaic terms, yet, as was found for instance with the Project Bluebook investigations, roughly one-third of their cases could not be explained except as nonhuman craft; and remember that there are many other sightings of UFOs which never even get reported due to “fear of ridicule”—a most tragic situation: witnesses should be getting empathy and support, not derision!); 5) many hundreds of well-documented cases of humans being abducted by aliens, which reveal myriad common features, and are most likely not the product of mere “fantasy,” “projection” or human “suggestion”—as is commonly charged by skeptics; 6) physical traces produced by aliens and/or their craft (e.g., wounds and marks on humans produced by microwave radiation and other sources, calcification of soil, burnt or broken foliage, ejected metals and fluids, associated regional power blackouts for the electrical grids, etc.); and 7) anthropological and archaeological evidence from ancient and contemporary cultures regarding alien contacts. 
In short, the evidence for the existence of these aliens and their meddling activity is there in great abundance: those who refuse to read it, or who read it with their minds already closed against the facts, are not justified in dismissing it or calling the serious researchers “crackpots.” In fact, it is the close-minded, derisive and prejudiced academics and pseudo-skeptics themselves who have earned the reputation of “crackpots” for their irrational, rigid attitudes in denying and rationalizing away all the high-quality evidence! It is worth recalling the advice frequently given by the late respected skeptical inquirer Marcello Truzzi that a true skeptic must keep an open mind, a healthy agnosticism, and not declare something impossible before it is properly, thoroughly investigated without bias or prejudice.
As to who the aliens are, where they are from, and why they are interacting with us, this is a complex affair. Aliens of at least four different “types” have been repeatedly sighted, many in “close encounters.” Some are quite benevolent, others rather mischievous, and others apparently rather callous or insensitive. Jacques Vallee, a longtime colleague of J. Allen Hynek, and considered by some since Hynek’s passing to be “the premier scientific investigator of UFOs,” maintains (like Hynek) that the “extraterrestrial hyposthesis” for the origin of UFOs is undermined by too many factors, and he proposes that the UFO phenomenon is:
“a physical manifestation of a form of consciousness that is alien to humans but is able to coexist with us on earth. When the object we call a UFO is visible to us in the reality of everyday life, I think it constitutes both a physical entity with mass, inertia, volume, and energy, and a window toward another mode of reality. ... If reality is no longer restricted to three axes of space and one axis of time, the Visitors could be from anywhere and any time. The fact remains that a strong symbolic relationship seems to have existed since the dawn of history between these Aliens and humans on the earth itself.” [Emphasis added]
As to why these interdimensional aliens are interacting with us, two likely motives emerge: interest in genetic developments among humans and certain animals (especially cattle, sheep and horses), and interest in uplifting humans or else confusing humans in their spirituality. This positive or negative influence seems to depend on the type of alien encountered and the maturity of the human(s) involved. A relevant phenomenon for our present work is that the vast majority of “space brothers” who contact human beings appear (vaguely) to be male—where, we might ask, are their “space sisters”? Much more rarely encountered.
William Bramley’s The Gods of Eden: A New Look at Human History (1990) is one of the most interesting works on the subject of the alien influence on human religions from ancient times. A major theme in Bramley’s major themes is his distinction between on the one hand, the “maverick” religions (“maverick” / not “branded,” owned, or controlled), and, on the other hand, the “Custodial” religions. The “maverick” religions were promulgated by the most impressive spiritual adepts such as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, the ancient Vedānta sages, et al., who perfectly intuited an Absolute Reality or Supreme Being, and who not only lived in complete attunement with this Reality, but also outlined a spiritual path to genuine spiritual freedom and enlightenment for their followers. On the other hand, we find the “Custodial, revealed religions,” which appear to have been created and fostered over the millennia—from at least the time of Sumerian culture up through modern times—by aliens (“Custodians”) appearing out of the skies in luminous vehicles to certain frightened humans, calling themselves “God” or “Gods,” and programming these humans with religious symbols and beliefs, and often rousing them to undertake warfare against other groups.
According to the investigations by Bramley, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee, and Zecharia Sitchin of the ancient scriptures and legends of Sumerians, Hebrews, Egyptians, early Greeks, Celts, early Native Americans, and other peoples, along with recent back-door government intelligence leaks, and myriad human abductee reports, the following rather disturbing scenario emerges: certain aliens or “Custodians” have apparently genetically engineered homo sapiens sapiens for a hybridization program between aliens and humans. These Custodians apparently have had a strong interest in not revealing to humans the ultimate spiritual truths such as discovered and shared by Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, the Hindu sages, and other sages about our Real Identity as pure Awareness/Spirit. (The aliens, technologically and psychically powerful though they may be, may not even be fully aware of this Absolute Spirit/Awareness).
Instead, these Custodians have instigated religions among humans from time to time which, though they usually involve some sound ethical teachings, also unfortunately promote quite unhealthy apocalyptic (doomsday) thinking, obsession with the physical body or a quasi-material “heavenly” body (obscuring our Real Identity which is nondual Awareness or Spirit), anthropomorphizing of the Deity (making “him” to be separate from humans and creation, also jealous, wrathful, and demanding), obsession with mythic symbols and story-lines rather than promotion of authentic holiness and spiritual awakening, dominant male priesthood elites, secret societies, caste systems of the privileged over the “inferior,” “us-them” factionalism (Bramley and Fort believe that the Custodians utilize a Machiavellian divide-and-conquer strategy to disempower humans and keep them incessantly at each others’ throats over religious, racial, and tribal/national issues), “just wars,” fanaticism, hyper-emotionalism, authoritarian complexes, and a generally inferior, mediocre, exoteric, not-very-liberating brand of religion. Why would certain aliens perpetuate such mediocrity and strife among humans? According to Bramley and others, the answer is fairly simple: to prevent any en masse spiritual liberation of humanity from the cycle of reincarnation into the domain of Pure Spirit, so as to insure that there are always a vast number of ignorant, karmically-driven souls animating the bodies of the human “slaves.”
This paranoid-sounding scenario undoubtedly will provoke many readers who have not examined the evidence. I bring up Bramley’s distinction between the authentic “maverick” spiritual paths and the “entrapping Custodial religions” simply to suggest that not all religions are equal in terms of their ability to promote true spiritual liberation.
As the famous philosopher Ken Wilber has observed, while all religions may be said to possess a kind of “legitimacy,” some spiritual paths are much more “authentic” than others. This is a topic I will discuss further in a subsequent section herein.
Most likely the existence of aliens and their meddling with humans will become open, official knowledge within a few decades, due to increasing public education by the informed researchers and perhaps by the governments themselves.
Some researchers consider this upcoming, widespread revelation of the existence and activity of the aliens the “greatest story ever,” “the most important event in the history of humanity.” While I do consider it an extremely important phenomenon, I would venture to say that the alien presence is not the most important event in human history. Rather, in my opinion the most important event in human history consists in the fact that a great many human beings—our real heroes and heroines—have attained to an authentic spiritual awakening from the entire dream of egocentricity and worlds of delusion (which include alien phenomena, governmental cover-ups, etc.).
These spiritual champions have, through an unbelievably purified awareness, completely transcended all worldly, extraterrestrial, heavenly, or any other kind of phenomena to awaken unto the Supreme Noumenon or Great Divine Reality, the Source of All. In classical Christian terminology, these intrepid spirits have gone beyond all “creatures” to realize the nature of the Creator, the God-Self at the core of the heart-mind. Judging from the rather fallible behavior of many aliens, and the very mediocre level of their “divine revelations,” it seems that many of them could learn from some of our best human sages and saints how to spiritually awaken and thus fulfill the true purpose of life!
The Real Story of Our Origins, and the First Holocaust
I have several times made reference in these pages to the “sins of patriarchy” and the terrible consequences of an androcratic, dominator social system wherein women, among other marginalized groups of sentient beings, are unjustly oppressed. Methodist minister Susan Cady and her colleagues have defined “patriarchy” as follows (after Thomas Berry):“Patriarchy is that interlocking system of oppressions—racial, sexual, political and economic—which aims to subjugate and control the earth, the poor, females, people of color, feeling and spontaneity. Patriarchal spirituality is the extension of that system into our hearts and minds. It is a demonic aspect of classical western spirituality [and much eastern spirituality, I would add].” 
Let us go way back in time to look at human civilization before the rise of the patriarchies, when a very different state of affairs prevailed...
Astonishing archaeological evidence has come to light in the latter 20th century strongly suggesting (not yet fully proving) the existence of a “Golden Age” for our ancient Neolithic human ancestors. From 7000 BCE (“before the Common Era”) to about 3500 BCE, that is, long before the Sumerians—who were traditionally thought to be the creators of our earliest culture, circa 5500 BCE—these ancient Neolithic peoples were flourishing.
They were spread from Africa to Scandinavia, from Spain to central Asia, especially thriving near the Aegean, Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, in places like Jericho in Canaan, Çatal Hüyük and Hacilar in Anatolia/Turkey, and Vincā in the Balkans.
The staggering implications of these findings for our present living have been articulated by a number of thinkers, such as Marija Gimbutas, James Mellaart, Rachel Levy, Merlin Stone, William Irwin Thompson, Monica Sjōō, Riane Eisler, et al.  For those of us who have been raised with the rigid notions that Divinity is male, or that females are ineligible for certain kinds of leadership because they are “the weaker sex,” (“inferior,” “deficient,” and “impure”), or that humans descend from warrior-like, competitive, meat-eating ancestors and hence are “naturally” aggressive and self-seeking, and that therefore societies must always be structured into “have versus have-not” socio-economic classes—the archaeological evidence is revolutionary!
It now is quite clear that, for tens of thousands of years of incipient human existence, from cave-dwelling Paleolithic times (the Cro-Magnon stage 35,000 years ago; perhaps even from Neanderthal times 200,000 years ago) down to agrarian Neolithic times (7000-3500 BCE), and on an island like Minoan Crete stretching all the way down to 1500 BCE, our God was ... the Great Goddess! Mother of all life-forms, Creatrix of earth and the spirit worlds (forming them out of her own cosmic body), intimate nourisher and sustainer of all beings, regulator of the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and human birth-death-rebirth, maternal protector, emanatrix of various other goddess figures, and, later, mother of a divine son-consort (who, with the help of human patriarchal priests, would ultimately come to usurp her place). The Great Goddess inspired her children, female and male, to live in awe of her mysteries and in harmony with her rhythms. And these early ancestors of ours who worshipped Her, especially the Neolithic people, apparently lived in complete peace with each other, in matriarchal societies which are better described as “partnership” or “gylany” (“woman-man-linking”) societies, to use the terms recently proposed by Riane Eisler. 
In these ancient cultures, it is highly significant that one finds no evidence of any warfare or weaponry used against fellow humans, neither is there any evidence that humans exploited one another materially or tried to enslave one another or elevate themselves over one another in hierarchic, dominator social systems (such as an elite privileged few and their exalted “cronies” enjoying a socio-economic status far above a mass of “peasant” workers). Though the social structure of Neolithic society was matrilineal, wherein the family line was passed from mother to daughter, and priestesses greatly outnumbered priests, men and women were virtual equals. After all, how could a Mother Goddess disvalue her own sons? Contemporary biological and genetic evidence shows that, contrary to what males have believed over the last 5,000 years, men are really the “inferior sex” (e.g., they die younger, they have less stamina, they are less resistant to stress, there are more male infant stillborns, etc.) and that nature is more genetically streamlined to produce females (the XX chromosome) than males (the XY chromosome).  Yet in the matriarchal societies of ancient times, the women (who seem to have been of nearly equal size and strength compared to males) did not exploit “mankind” but honored men as partners.
An eye-opening revelation for those of us raised on “his-story” books which tell almost exclusively of “man the hunter” is that women not men, were probably the creators of our culture. Many scholars are now convinced that while men were out on the hunt together, it was women in their collectives who fashioned our first tools, beautifully designed our first pottery, weaved our first textiles and baskets, made our first leather goods, planted our first seeds (inventing agriculture!), discovered fire and its constructive uses, developed metallurgy (copper and gold), first herded and domesticated our animals (as sacred to the Goddess), created our earliest sculpture (fashioning countless figurines of the Goddess), and came up with language, writing, healing arts, calendric science, shrines, temples, and our earliest religious rites! 
With regard to the topic of interdimensional aliens and UFOs covered in the previous section, the question of whether or not our “fore-mothers” were assisted by alien “Custodians” is an intriguing question which, to my knowledge, has not yet been addressed. Thus far, due to that unfortunate compartmentalizing of knowledge which sorely afflicts society in the 20th century, there seems to have occurred no official dialogue between these feminist archaeologists and those UFOlogists who have carefully researched the “ancient astronaut” phenomenon.
Though the Neolithic culture may not seem a sophisticated one by our present-day standards, since they lacked industrial technology and the computer chip, the people of the ancient Neolithic world (and earlier Paleo-lithic world) seem to have lived together peacefully, cooperatively, and, despite the harshness of much of their circumstance, relatively happily for many thousands of years. What higher compliment can one give a society?
And then came the great change... The Kurgan or Indo-Āryan or Indo-European invaders of grossly inferior culture and violent ways appeared on the scene, having come from the peripheral regions of northeast Europe and central Asia in intermittent waves (circa 4300-4200 BCE, 3400-3200 BCE, and 3000-2800 BCE). These Kurgans or “Āryans,” along with other invading tribes such as the proto-Hebrews from the southern African desert, were meat-eating, war-mongering, weapon-wielding nomads who worshipped male, often-wrathful sky-gods—and such “gods” appear to have been none other than powerful yet fallible aliens! These nomadic Kurgan people were structured in patriarchal, “dominator” social systems, ruled by cruel strongmen chieftains and high priests, and in these dominator systems the Mother Goddess and her human daughters’ powerful menses and life-giving blood, psychic powers, autonomy, and solidarity with other women in the female collective were despised. One half of the human race—arguably the “better gender”—was considered inferior by these invaders.
Ironically, the Kurgans were able to dominate women (and peaceful men) because they had stolen the metallurgy techniques used in women’s collectives to produce their own fearsome iron weapons. (In the earliest Kurgan or Āryan script, adopted from the people they conquered, there was but a single sign to denote “man,” “iron,” and the war-god “Mars.” )
The Kurgans, Hebrews, and other invaders—who, judging from their myths and scriptures, were inspired and guided by certain aliens/Custodians calling themselves “God” and coming from the skies in “heavenly” type of vehicles (fairly identical to modern UFO reports)—disrupted the lives of the superior-cultured, peaceful, agrarian, largely vegetarian, Goddess-worshipping people and wreaked destruction upon these innocents. These Kurgan and Hebrew and other invaders destroyed or took over the large villages of the Goddess-worshippers and their temples and shrines, massacring thousands (sometimes whole populations) of men, women, and children, enslaving the rest, and capturing, raping, and “owning” the virgin girls and women as their booty. A reading of the Old Testament, for example, will reveal many typical atrocities which were wreaked by the nomadic Hebrew invaders in the name of their male war god (Yahweh, who in most accounts is obviously not the Supreme Spirit of the universe, but rather aliens masquerading as “God”)—atrocities even “commanded” by this god—against the peaceful Neolithic peoples who were farming the land of the Canaan area, a rich land “flowing with milk and honey.” Incidentally, I am certainly not intending to be anti-Semitic with such statements; I am well aware that a very different and vastly nobler version of Divinity would be conceived by the more sophisticated among the Jewish prophets such as Isaiah; and I am also quite aware that numerous genocidal programs have been directed toward Jews over the millennia by so-called “Christian” crusaders and religious and political leaders, and by Nazi German “Āryans”—apparently the work of secret societies inspired by these Custodians employing their “divide and conquer” strategies to keep humans in an inferior position. 
The invasions by ancient Kurgans-Āryans, Hebrews, and other tribes seem to have their roots, according to one feminist theory, in the fact that “men the hunters,” with the flourishing of female-originated agriculture in the Neolithic age, no longer were as important in the scheme of things—except as impregnators, a fact which was only later discovered and exploited by men. We take several pages here to learn from feminists Monica Sjōō and Barbara Mor (after William Irwin Thompson, et al) the important dynamics which probably led to the unfolding of this nightmarish historical development of patriarchal domination:“So long as Stone Age hunting was a major survival occupation, it kept men busy on the peripheries of the women’s camp. ... Hunting gave men a spiritual and group identity within the worship of the Great Mother. But women’s invention of agriculture and domestication of animals, together with settled village life, created a steady food abundance that rendered hunting more or less obsolete. There was suddenly a large male labor force hanging around, needing occupation. ... Hunting was no longer necessary, and men could no longer find purpose and spiritual identity through it. Men’s work around the settled village was at first unskilled labor, helping the women. ... With the buildup of stored grain, with ever-increasing Neolithic abundance in settled village sites, appeared a new male profession: grain guardian. Organized marauding began in the later Neolithic, and as stored wealth increased, and marauding increased, the males guarding grain supplies organized more and more into a kind of standing army. Stock breeding also led to the discovery of paternity—of the male’s role in breeding, and the importance of genetic selection. ... This new, probably awesome male sense of paternity was the seed that was [later] to grow into the Father God. But the actual growth of male power derived from men’s increasing takeover ... of women’s ancient crafts and tasks. ... For a time, as men shared tasks but did not take them over, there must have been a truly egalitarian society, with women and men working side by side in the same jobs, furthering together the abundance of food, textiles, building materials—consolidating the first towns and small cities with their surplus production. But this was not to last....”
In the words of William Irwin Thompson:
“The more insignificant male activities were, and the more women’s activities produced wealth, the more some men were attracted to steal and other men attracted to defend the new acquisitions. The men discovered a new way to get together and warfare was born.” 
These war-mongering men took up a nomadic lifestyle, having learned from the women techniques of herding and domesticating animals, and they roamed about the grasslands of Eurasia and Africa on horseback with their iron weapons, slaughtering or enslaving people, appropriating booty (including virgin girls/women), and, apparently with the help of alien visitations and “revelations,” inventing their new religious beliefs and rituals...
Monica Sjōō and Barbara Mor continue:
“In warfare, men refound the group and spiritual identity they had lost with the loss of Stone Age hunting life. A new god, the male War God, could be erected to numinize it, to make it seem ‘holy.’ But no one could deny warfare had its very secular, practical side: it was the primary builder of male wealth, and thence of a ruling elite. Most of all, for the first time, it gave men the power to control women; i.e., professional warfare allowed organized and iron-armed males to destroy the ancient female collectivity. ... The Great Mother of All, in the Bronze Age [of patriarchy] was reified into ‘a mere vessel of Male Seed.’ Woman, in male eyes, was no longer a powerful creator in her own right, but a piece of property. His new wealth, his new power over life, his new military ability to maim, terrify, and slaughter by the hundreds and thousands gave man a haughty contempt for life; once he had been in awe of life, but now he found how easy it was to push life around, to kill it. Man’s new contempt for life extended to woman, of course, since for millennia she had stood as the numinous symbol of life’s sacredness, life’s holy power. But now he had the power, and he found he could also easily invent his own sacredness, by fiat. God became male—a warrior male—in his image. In early patriarchy, women’s ancient community tasks were turned into slave labor. ... In the next stage of economic development these slave tasks became the industrial occupations of the workers, while the ruling men (and their [disempowered] “wives” [property]) were exempt from labor. The ruling men reserved for themselves the ‘manly’ occupations of war, hunting, sport, and priestly observances—while ‘workers’ kept the world going. ... Under patriarchal legal, religious, and economic-social systems, some men dominate others. But all men benefit from their organized domination of the community of women. Which is no longer a community. Patriarchy breaks up the female collective by forcibly capturing and imprisoning each woman’s female energy within the patrilocal family. Within this isolation cell, each woman’s creative energy becomes servant energy, directed and owned by men. In the [Aryan] Hindu Code of Manu—typical of all patriarchal family law—the woman must never be free, from birth to death, of subjugation to a male relative. She passes from the guardianship of her father, to that of her husband, and finally to her oldest son.
“They control her education [or lack of it!], her property, the total disposal of her mind and body... Under the Code of Manu, the Hindu woman becomes a nonperson. The breaking up of the powerful ancient women’s collectives was the only way by which men could have broken women’s strength and independence—but still keep a vaguely living body around to do the dirty work in bed and bathroom [sex and childbirth are now, under patriarchy, considered “dirty” and “ritually unclean”]. What better way to turn the Great Goddess into a sex-serf than by isolating each individual woman, keeping her under total control within the male-dominated and defined family household—where she is never allowed freedom of movement, of thought, of desire—where her body, her mind, her labor, and her children are seen as property, wealth belonging to the man. Where the only thing she can do with her sex-serfdom is pass it on conscientiously to her daughters.” 
Within several thousand years, over a period roughly spanning from 4300 BCE to 2800 BCE, the patriarchal invaders (Kurgan/Hebrew/etc.) had almost completely imposed their own ways onto the Goddess-worshipping, partnership/gylanic Old Society, except for places like Crete and Malta, which would fall a bit later. This produced hybrid cultures such as the Sumerians, Hittites, Egyptians, Greeks, Celts, Teutons, Galls, and Jews.
In these hybrid cultures the chief deities were now male, such as the frequently lustful and violent Greek Olympian god, Zeus, and the often stern, blood-thirsty Hebrew god, Yahweh. The Goddess and her personified aspects was/were now no longer supreme, but were either a) relegated to a status of equal or slightly sub-equal partners with the male gods, b) demoted to clearly inferior or marginal status vis-à-vis the male gods, or c) in the case of Judaism, vanquished altogether from orthodox religion (but regularly attracting the attention of the majority of Jews, such as in the form of the Canaanite Hebrew goddess, Asherah, who was openly worshipped until her image was removed from the Jerusalem temple and her outlying shrines destroyed by King Josiah circa 800 BCE).
Moreover, the invaders’ patriarchal or androcratic “dominator” social structure now prevailed, so that male control, war, slavery, misogyny (hatred of women), biophobia (fear/disgust toward living things), competition, and exploitation of “have-nots” by “haves” were the order of the day. Many of our present-day social ills and our lack of an ecological spirit can be clearly traced back to this patriarchal development.
Most of the cultural inventions of the Neolithic “Old Europeans” were appropriated in crude form by the androcrats, and new epics and scriptures were professed by the priests (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis and the Vedas) in which the male sky god/gods (aliens in disguise?) have usurped the Goddess’ role (presuming to create life directly out of the divine male body) and the Goddess and her creations (such as the waters, cosmic eggs, stones/mountains, trees, animals such as the bull, bird and serpent, and priestesses)—are, in these patriarchal epics and scriptures, either appropriated, destroyed or vilified. The Genesis tale for instance, steals and/or distorts much of the imagery and symbolism of the ancient Goddess religion, such as the primal waters and a God who fashions creatures out of “clay” (this was, of course, the Goddess’ and woman’s function), a peaceful garden, the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, the serpent, and so forth. According to Sjōō, Mor, et al, the serpent in Goddess religion was an especially rich symbol of rebirth/eternal life, cosmic continuity, and phallic procreativity; and the serpent-tree-bird association, found in various regions of the Old Society, symbolized the “ascending life energies and mystic powers of the adept in the world’s oldest yoga-techniques of ecstasy and illumination.” Predictably, the patriarchal priests, wishing to stamp out all vestige of the Goddess-religions of the Old Society, turned the serpent into a symbol of evil. (According to Bramley, Sitchin, et al., the ancient Sumerian-Mesopotamian legends, on which Genesis is based, tell of how the serpent/snake, because of its auspiciousness, was originally the symbol for Enki/Ea, the kindly alien/Custodian who was mainly responsible for the genetic engineering of homo sapiens sapiens. Enki/Ea resisted other Custodians’ plan to turn humans into their “slave-labor race” by trying to give humans genuine spiritual knowledge [to liberate their spirits from the cycle of reincarnation in human bodies]. But he along with the humans was punished by the malevolent Custodians who did not wish the humans to be like them, that is, “like gods.” Moreover, Ea’s brotherhood of human initiates would later be co-opted, split up and factionalized as elite secret societies which no longer favored the interests of the rest of humanity but instead fomented chronic warfare among tribes and races, profiting handsomely thereby.) 
In short, the “his-story” of patriarchy is not a pretty story—it is a tale of horror and exploitation, misogyny and biophobia. Far more attractive is the “her-story” of earlier times, which provides us with an inspiring picture of peaceful, gracious, cultured human ancestors—though, for various reasons, it must be admitted that theirs cannot be idealized as any utopian, perfect situation (see below).
For the last five thousand years the vast majority of humans in the so-called “civilized” world have lived under the androcratic, dominator values of the “blade,” in which the strong exploit the weak, the fruits of the earth and of workers’ labors are appropriated and hoarded by the privileged class (males and their enslaved wives), and the males value themselves as superior to the females and superior to men who abide by egalitarian or feminist values.
Vestiges of the Goddess and her gylanic/partnership societal values of the “chalice” (Eisler’s term) have surfaced here and there, for instance, 1) with the peace and love-oriented lives and teachings of the truly great male spiritual leaders—Gautama the Buddha, Mahāvīra, Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Pythagoras, Socrates, Jesus, the Vedānta sages, and the illustrious mystics and saints who followed in their footsteps; 2) with the emergence of spiritual groups in which women played prominent roles (e.g., the Christian, Buddhist, and Jaina institutions of renunciates, Christian deaconesses, canonesses, medieval Bèguines, and early Christian movements such as the Montanists and Desert Christians), and 3) with the age-old phenomenon of women functioning as oracles, visionaries, shamanesses, and, especially, naturopathic healers and midwives (their use of herbs, bathing, and various home remedies were quite efficacious).
However, anything suggestive of feminist/gylanic values or women’s power has usually been suppressed and/or replaced in fairly short order by androcratic, dominator institutions valuing male supremacy, father-godhood, war, competition, and exploitation. (As we shall learn more in these pages, in medieval India, the Goddess and some of her values made a powerful resurgence and still have a prominent place in Hindu devotional life; the same is true with the Tibetans and their bodhisattva/goddess Tārā and with Catholic and Orthodox Christians and their Mother Mary, a veritable “goddess” in the heartminds of many faithful).
Texts have been written (by men, of course) which brainwash people into thinking that male-dominant values are somehow natural or, much worse, “Divinely ordained”; and women have been routinely suppressed into nonperson status. Women have been mutilated (e.g., clitoridectomy and infibulation are still inflicted upon millions of women in Muslim countries) and murdered in the millions for attempting to demonstrate their autonomy in spiritual, medicinal, or political-economic domains. For instance, hundreds of thousands of women (if not millions) were tortured and burned as witches and heretics up through the 17th century in the West by some paranoid, scapegoating, sadistic Catholic and Protestant male clergy in alliance with the emerging medical men who envied the sorceresses’ powers—these are some of the most frightful tales of atrocity on record. Even the recognized “good witches” were destroyed because their efficacious hygienic education and healing powers actually cured many of the diseases which these Christian fathers thought were “necessary punishment” from God and the Devil for being alive as a sinner in this “evil” world. 
Numerous reasons underlie the rise of patriarchal cultures and religions and their continual suppression of women’s role in these religions. Regarding the earlier-mentioned hypothesis of alien-“Custodian” interference in human affairs for the purpose of undermining humanity’s spiritual freedom, it may be that the aliens realized that if women were in charge of society (or equal partners therein) the divide-and-conquer strategy would never work, given an evidently greater innate capacity for empathy and nonviolence on the part of women. And so the aliens chose as their “prophets” authoritarian males who would be more suggestible to the idea of being leaders of a “chosen people,” inferior to other people.
We also heard the argument that a major reason behind the rise of this horrible scenario of androcratic dominance was “man the hunter” feeling rather useless in the Neolithic agrarian age, wherein food surpluses rendered his hunting activity relatively unimportant. Man also realized, watching the mating and offspring of domesticated animals, that he had an equal role in procreating children. This eventually brought about a genetic-sociobiological prejudice on his part favoring patrilineal descent. This, in turn, would lead a man to try to control female sexual behavior, viewing woman as his “property,” so as to prevent her from interacting with other males, thus insuring that any children springing from her loins really did bear his own genes, and not those of another male. (For in patrilineal societies it is considered to be foolish, on a genetic level anyway, for a man to raise some other man’s genes. In matrilineal societies, of course, this is not an issue.)
When men further generalize and exploit this pattern, they come to control and suppress women in other areas of behavior as well, such as religious and political participation and leadership.
Another major factor in the suppression of the female is that women’s menstruation—during which time she can be very powerful psychically, emotionally, and sexually —is feared and denigrated by ignorant males as a sign of impurity, and her generally greater emotional depth of feeling is likewise misunderstood and denigrated. In this way women come to be considered generally inferior by males—even though, as has been pointed out, modern scientific research has revealed that women are, genetically speaking, superior to males in several ways, and archaeological evidence has shown them to be the creators of our first culture as well.
Yet another reason for the suppression of women is that women’s natural sexual attractiveness triggers defense mechanisms on the part of insecure, and/or ascetically-oriented males—such as reaction formation and projection —and women themselves as a whole come to be mistakenly identified with the “worldly” and “sinful.” Of course, what should be “blamed” is not women themselves, but the males’ own inner image of woman-as-mere-object, woman-as-irresistible-lover, and their own binding attachment to sexuality.
Other factors in the suppression of women, not as much discussed as the others, are that women may actually have a greater degree of 1) psychic visionary ability (see text below, passim), 2) “priest(ess) skills” (which are rather like those needed in working with food and materials in the cooking area), and 3) capacity for nurturance—all of which lead males to envy women and endeavor to undermine women’s influence. 
To discuss here any further these reasons would go beyond the scope of this work. As mentioned near the outset of this section, a number of feminist scholars have written insightful accounts of this phenomenon, discussing one or more of the above-mentioned dynamics, such as Monica Sjōō and Barbara Mor, Marija Gimbutas, William Irwin Thompson, Merlin Stone, Rachel Levy, and Riane Eisler. Katherine Young has also written an insightful account of this phenomenon, discussing several of the above-mentioned dynamics.  The reader is urged to consult these and the many other works which have emerged in recent years so as to gain the facts about this very bizarre, exploitative phase of human development, hopefully one which will go the way of extinction as more and more of us collectively realize the need to shift back/ahead into a partnership-gylanic, non-dominator, collectivist social structure (e.g., see the fast-growing, worldwide collectivist model of organizing worker-owned businesses, as a corrective to unjustly hierarchical, elitist corporations).
In any event, the bottom line is that, in the area of religion and spirituality, which is the general focus of this book, “her-story” has not been told by the male patriarchs and their historians. The primordial Goddess-religion is forgotten or else denigrated as a “mere fertility cult” (say feminists, this is akin to calling Christianity, with its ubiquitous crucifixes, a “death cult”). And the female holy figure throughout the centuries is rarely, if ever, mentioned in studies of the “great traditions” of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islām.
But there are clear signs that all of this is beginning to change very rapidly ...
Future historians of religion—if indeed human civilization has much of a future!—will look at the latter half of the twentieth century as a time when, after centuries of male domination, women began to more conspicuously emerge and gain long-due appreciation for their rightful place in many of the traditions of spirituality as practitioners, teachers, and ministers, and the Divine feminine began to be restored to our conception of the Deity, balancing the masculine aspect.
The emergence of the spiritual female is especially noticeable in two countries: the United States and India. In the U.S., women have begun to take up positions of responsibility, not only in various denominations of Christianity and Judaism, but also in such increasingly important movements as American Buddhism, Yoga-Vedānta, and Native American spirituality. Moreover, a distinct kind of “women’s New Age spirituality” has also begun to flourish widely here (and in Europe) in the 1980’s, imbued with various elements from Native American Shamanism, Hermeticism, New Thought, Theosophy, Spiritualism and the major traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Sūfism, Judaism, and Christianity). To some extent this women’s “New Age” spirituality overlaps with a new and burgeoning version of the primordial Priestess-Goddess spirituality known as Paganism (“from the land”), Neo-Paganism, or Wicca (“witchcraft” or “white magic,” not to be confused with Satanism, or “black magic,” a very different kind of “religion”). (This Priestess-Goddess spirituality is also rampant in the United Kingdom and some places on the European continent.)
Not as well known to Westerners, the empowerment of the feminine in spirituality has also been occurring over the last one hundred years in other countries, particularly India.... India, that mystic land, home of the ancient, Goddess-worshipping Dravidian people, which has given birth to so many forms of spirituality, including not only the ritualistic Vedic Brahmanism, but also the more psychologically sophisticated and sublimely spiritual Vedānta, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Sānkhya-Yoga, and Tantra Hindu schools, Jainism, Theravāda Buddhism, Mahāyāna Buddhism, Vajrayāna Buddhism, Sikhism, Sant Mat, and a number of Hindu sects honoring goddesses or the supreme Goddess (Mahādevī) in her differing forms.
Notwithstanding the presence of these last-mentioned Indian cults of the Divine Feminine which seem to be a resurgence of India’s earliest history, India has been dominated over the millennia by the patriarchal, androcratic, misogynist element—the male priest and warrior castes. However, the past one hundred years have witnessed a significant number of illustrious and quite astonishing female‚ spiritual adepts arising to infuse new life into the spiritual scene of India and indeed, the world at large.
We shall be learning much more about these developments in the pages ahead, but before we embark on our narrative of “Who’s Who” in spirituality, first, because we live in a society which is so spiritually naïve, untutored, and inexperienced, we need to clarify at the outset some important issues related to the spiritual life. If not addressed here, such issues may lead to certain readers experiencing needless confusion and even antipathy upon encountering some of the phenomena discussed in the lives of our holy women friends. Hopefully, the short essays in this next section will inform the field of religious studies, the emergent field of feminist studies, and shed light on the overall spiritual realization process in general, thereby to some extent serving the reader’s own spiritual awakening.
Clarifying Basic Issues
(Nonduality, Renunciation and Transcendence, Emotions, Sexuality, Procreativity and Creativity, Miracles, and Energetic Phenomena).
One of our first tasks is to clear up the confusions and prejudices over such terms as “monotheism,” “pantheism,” “polytheism” and “monism” by introducing the notion of nonduality, which will help to bring us out of a hopeless theological muddle and much bickering between/among various religionists. Nonduality (or nondualism), articulated by the most “mature” adepts of the sacred traditions, including many of the women featured in these pages, is arguably the clearest, most balanced spiritual worldview ever presented to humanity. In that centrally important issue in religious studies—namely, where a given religion puts the locus of the Sacred, nondualist spirituality does not employ any “exclusivism”: it does not put the Sacred either exclusively in this world or exclusively in some other world or in a merely “Other” transcendent Principle or Deity. Nondualism is thus imbalanced neither toward a life-denying escapism (a “quietist” search for a plane of non-experience, a vacuous emptiness), nor imbalanced toward an attachment to the worldly, the changing forms and things of physical-plane experience (or, for that matter, “other-wordly” subtle-plane experience—i.e., heavens, personal deities, angels, etc.). Moreover, nonduality allows for both a spontaneous worshipping of the Divine Being in a “personal” way if one so wishes and also a Supra-personal realization of Absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss through a dying to the sense of being a separate personality or ego-self.
Prominent historians and scholars of religious studies posit the idea that the earliest people practiced a kind of archaic religion involving animism, that is, seeing all forms, both animate and inanimate, as imbued with the numinous presence of life or consciousness. This worldview is that of immanent pantheism, wherein “God” exists as all events and beings. This spiritual approach is also called by scholars “panenhenic” religion, or “nature mysticism.” Polytheism, not necessarily inimical to animism or pantheism, begins to regard the spirits or gods of certain domains as especially important, such as the spirit of the earth, or sky, or sun, or dawn, or fire, or the spirit ruling over the hunt, or representing the animal hunted.
With certain primarily nomadic, patriarchal peoples of later times there arises the monotheistic idea of a single, transcendent spirit, “God,” separate from “His” creation. Depending on the people’s views and/or temperament, this God is regarded either as a formless, Supra-personal or Meta-Personal Presence, beyond all qualities (the Godhead, Yahweh as the “I Am That Am,” or Allāh), or as possessing some kind of “personality”—usually male (such as the anthropomorphic, only-too-human-like Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian triune God-the-Father-Son-Spirit). The monotheistic notion of “only one God” is considered by Jews, Christians and Muslims to be the only true religion and the most evolved theology. Yet Margot Adler, for one, in her Drawing Down the Moon, an account of contemporary Neo-Paganism, brings forth the views of various Jungian psychologists and other scholars maintaining that polytheism or pantheism need not be considered as less evolved or inferior theologies compared to monotheism, but that polytheism and pantheism offer certain advantages over monotheism. At the very least, polytheism and pantheism can be seen to complement monotheism. According to this way of thinking, polytheism and/or pantheism provide a kind of healthy alternative to monotheism for many people. 
It is at this point that the theology of nondualism may be elaborated as a solution to the divergence between monotheism on the one hand and polytheism or pantheism on the other. Nondualism, also sometimes called panentheism, is that sublimely balanced spirituality which has been taught and exemplified by most of the really exceptional women and men saints and sages of the major traditions. According to this most refined level of theological/philosophical thinking, the principle of Reality, Divinity, Spirit, Consciousness, Tao, Buddha-nature or whatever one chooses to call that essential, most real and basic Principle of existence or Ground of Being, is neither exclusively transcendent nor exclusively immanent. Rather, the Spiritual Reality both transcends all forms and is immanent within/as all forms.
In other words, the Spiritual Reality is not limited to being, on the one (monotheistic) hand, 1) a strictly formless presence or possessing a definite “personal” form (Yahweh, Viṣṇu, “God-the-Father-Son-Spirit,” etc.), or, on the other (pantheistic) hand, 2) the mere totality of all phenomena or creaturely forms. Rather, in the nondual panentheistic view, God/Reality is both formless and formful, Supra-personal and Personal.
This pinnacle realization of nondualism, which sees that God/Reality is both transcendent and immanent, formless and formful, Supra-personal and Personal, does not operate on the basis of the old Aristotelian “either-or” logic, but on an inclusive, “both-and” logic. In nondual spirituality, the Sacred is not limited to some exclusive realm, either transcendent or immanent, “up there” or “down here.” With nondual spirituality, the Absolute One (God/Reality/Buddha-nature) is realized—not intellectually but rather intuitively, experientially, or gnostically—as both formless Spirit and also form-ful Nature, changeless Awareness and also dynamic Energy-Matter, imperceptible Noumenon and also the perceptible play of phenomena (manifesting on physical, mental, “subtle,” and “causal” levels), the Supremely “Personal” Beloved-Mother-Father and the Supra-personal Absolute Itself.
In more experiential, phenomenological terms, as you sit here reading this book, Absolute Reality or the Divine Spirit is right now manifesting as all “your” sensations and perceptions of a world, all “your” thoughts, memories, plans, emotional reactions of like and dislike, intuitions, self-images and self-concepts, and even as any visions of a personal God, angels, saints, heavens, hells or the like—in short, Absolute Reality is showing up as all the phenomena, high or low, of your experiential world. Absolute Reality is also right NOW/HERE as the mysterious, unknowable (but eminently be-able) Principle which is doing and registering the seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, thinking, remembering, imagining, or knowing of all these phenomena. Absolute Reality is your changeless, fundamental, invisible, featureless Awareness which is always right HERE at the core of your heartmind, zero distance from yourSelf, the sole Ground of Being.
The point expressed in parentheses above, namely, that the inherent Absolute Reality is not ever objectively knowable but is eminently be-able, is a most important issue, which cannot not be over-emphasized: Absolute Reality can never be inwardly found or grasped or known as a kind of “thing” because It is no-thing at all! Awareness is beyond/before the subject-object distinction and cannot be made an object of dualistic perception. As the Ch’an/Zen masters say, “the fingertip cannot touch itself, the eyeball cannot see itself.” Awareness need not try to be aware of ItSelf. You can only abide as or “come from” your true nature as THIS ABSOLUTE AWARENESS. To repeat: You can be THIS but not objectively “know” THIS. And if this sounds “blasphemous,” if it seems preposterous and presumptuous, some kind of “Oriental nonsense” that our real identity is the Divine Identity of all, then we have simply failed miserably to remember and apply the maxims of our great western spiritual masters, such as Moses and Jesus and Socrates and Muhammad, who told us, “Ye are Gods,” “The Domain of God is within,” “Know thyself,” and “He who knows himself knows God.”
Your real Self, the God-Self or Absolute Reality at the core of you and at the core of everything, is not affected by the play of whatever happens in the realm of phenomena in your “inner” (“mental”) or “outer” (“physical”) worlds. No, Absolute Reality is changelessly HERE as the pure “I,” regardless of the changing states of consciousness (i.e., the so-called “waking” state, the dream state, or the dreamless sleep state).
To put it most briefly, Absolute Reality is right now the formless No-thing of pure Spirit or Awareness hosting the formful “every-thing” that is happening as guest in “my” experiencing. And this passing sense of an egocentric “me” is but a temporary form of experience for and witnessed by this Absolute Reality. In other words, the narrow ego-sense is but a kind of “play” for the infinite Absolute, which is never modified at all.
It seems fairly clear that the greatest mystic sages from the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Sūfī, Taoist, and other traditions have all come to this same nondual, “both-and” intuition. (Mahāyāna Buddhist sage Nāgārjuna would even give us a more sophisticated “fourfold” logic, designed to explode any false identification with the mental realm and to awaken us unto perfect spiritual freedom: Reality is transcendent, immanent, both transcendent and immanent, and neither transcendent nor immanent!) This is the quintessential spirituality, the “perennial philosophy,” lived and articulated in their “final teachings” (if not their “preliminary, expedient teachings”) by such renowned male and female sages/masters of the East as Gautama the Buddha, Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Seng-ts’an, Dōgen (and many other Ch’an/Zen masters), Kōbō Daishi, Shinran, Saraha, Nāropa, Milarepa, Yeshe Tsogyel, Śaṅkara, Vāsiṣṭha, Jñāneśvar, Lālla Ded, Rāmakṛṣṇa, Ānandamayi Mā, Ramana Mahārshi, Shirdi Sāī Bābā, Papa Rāmdās, Anasūyā Devī, and Amma (Māta Amritānandamayī)—and also a number of spiritual masters in the West (despite the traditional, heavily burdened dualistic theologies dominant in the West), such as Qādir al-Gīlānī, Jalālludīn Rūmī, Ibn ‘Arabī, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Baal Shem Tov, et al. Even St. Paul, not normally considered a nondual mystic, nonetheless has intuited fairly well this fact of nondualism: “There is one body, and one Spirit... One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:4,6).
I would mention that a nondual, panentheist/“panenbuddha” spirituality subsumes the distinction made by certain scholars of religions (R.C. Zaehner, for one) between traditions of “mystical monism” (such as Vedānta Hinduism, Ch’an/Zen and Vajrayāna Buddhism), and traditions of “mystical theism” (such as found in Judaism, Christianity, and Sūfism). 
Especially as exemplified in the Vedānta masters (Śaṅkara—if he indeed wrote some of the devotional poetry attributed to him—Jñāneśvara, Lālla Ded, Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, Śrī Ramana Mahārshi, Papa Rāmdas, Ānandamayī Mā, Amritānandamayī, and others), and also with the Japanese reformer of the “Pure Land” sect, Shinran, and such Western sages as Ibn `Arabī, Rūmī, and Meister Eckhart (in some of his more “nondual” moments), it is clear that one can simultaneously be both a “monistic” mystic and a “theistic” mystic: that is to say, one can operate out of the nondual, panentheistic orientation and feel no different from Being/Reality, while also worshiping the Supreme Being—ardently or playfully—as apparently distinct from “oneself.” As the Vedānta sages would say, this is the level of parābhakti, the “supreme” devotion, or abheda bhakti, devotion without a sense of difference or distinction between “God’s” Spirit and “my” Spirit, THAT ONE and THIS ONE. There is only the One Awareness/Spirit in Love with ItSelf.
To the charge, often made by exoteric, institutional religionists of the western traditions, that this “God Alone” doctrine is heresy, and that the personal self exists as a reality independent of God, I would say, echoing Jesus and the great adepts of history, that these religionists have not yet “fully laid down their life,” they have not completely “died” to self. Short of undergoing this complete kenosis (Greek; “self-emptying”), they have no sound basis on which to make their theological assertions.
This theology of nondualism allows for authentic psycho-spiritual sanity—and the quest for ultimate sanity or balance is really the main reason for drawing up a theology. Theologies are, after all, not ends in themselves—despite the obsessive thinking of many scholastics—but are basically intended to promote a certain kind of sublime Reality-orientation in the way human beings live their lives. With the dawn of “final,” nondual, panentheist spiritual realization, there is, on the one hand, 1) no longer any tendency to over-emphasize or over-value the changing, finite world—or any heavenly world or fixed form of Deity; and on the other hand, there is 2) no desire to practice any kind of life-denying, biophobic, “inward and upward” escapism in the attempt to enclose or dissolve oneself into an insulated, abstract, vacuous realm of formless experience.
Thus are remedied both the “spiritual searcher’s anxiety” and the “complacency of the worldly-minded,” both the sense of unworthiness and the sense of pride. Rather, in perfect, nondual spiritual awakening, there flashes the simple, natural, unselfish realization that Spirit is no-thing and every-thing; Supra-personal and Personal; oneself, all-selves, no-self and the only Self. God alone IS, God is the only Being. All creaturely beings, all selves, all events, all worlds are but the form-full facet or apparent modification of the formless Reality Who dreams up a universe(s) ex nihilo, “out of the no-thingness” of Its primordial mystery (which is indeed quite no-thing, not at all a “thing” or entity or object). The awakened One—that is to say, Absolute Reality operating with complete clarity in/as a human being whose self-obsession has vanished (a Christ, a Buddha, a Jñāni, an Auliyā)—is now at home (“at source”) as both the formless, featureless Presence/Absence and the stupendous play of formful, diverse experiencing, free of the felt-sensed distinction of knower-knowing-known. Right HERE is simple, pure Being-Awareness-Bliss. Right HERE, God Alone IS, as both primordial formless singularity and formful worlds of multiplicity.
There is a more subtle level of realization which some spiritual geniuses have articulated: sages of the advaita (nondual) vedānta tradition of Hinduism, for instance, have asserted that the nirguna (quality-less, formless) and saguna (with qualities, formful) aspects of the brahman/Reality are actually ultimately identical. The tantra Hindu tradition likewise affirms that Śiva and Śakti (Formless Godhead and the Divine Power’s Play of Forms) are identical. The early Mahāyāna Buddhist Prajñāpāramitā literature posits the same ultimate identity between formless and formful aspects of the Reality or Buddha-nature: in the pithy little Hrdaya-Sūtra (Heart Sūtra) of that extensive body of scriptures, the crucial point is that forms, sensations, perceptions, volitional impulses and ego-consciousness—in short, the entire human personality and any world-appearance— “are emptiness and emptiness is form (sensation, etc.). Form (sensation, etc.) is not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form.” Following this line of thinking, the Buddhist Tantra tradition of Tibet (the Vajrayāna) establishes the identity of wisdom (prajñā)—which sees through to the “emptiness” (śūnyatā) of everything—and compassion (karunā)—which sees and feels compassionate solidarity with all sentient beings.
How can the transcendent, formless principle be identical with the immanent, form-full principle? This is a most difficult paradox on the face of it, expressed in logical terms as “A is not-A.” By way of resolving this, we might simply say that, on the one hand, the formless transcendent principle is so formless and transcendent that it cannot be found “anywhere” other than right HERE as pure experiencing. And, on the other hand, forms themselves (including sensations, perceptions, and any other elements of experiencing), when penetrated with one-pointed mindfulness and insight (not to mention when examined by the penetrating gaze of subatomic physics) turn out to be mere phantoms, incessantly changing processes, vibrating energy or consciousness, not fixed things, more like formless “no-things.”
In sum, pantheism, polytheism and monotheism, and panenhenic, theist, and monist mysticism, all may have something to contribute to the human experience, but none of these, save for the monist mysticism which allows for a “nondual devotion” are really complete. Hence, nondual panentheism is the ultimate theological solution. But let us be aware that this nonduality must be authentically lived in perfect spiritual realization, and not just comprehended on the intellectual level. Spirituality is a participation sport, not something for arm-chair analysts and spectators!
This leads us to our next topic which needs clarification...
Renunciation and Transcendence.
Many of the women and men of the present and past who live the qualities of “wholeness / holiness” elucidated earlier in these pages, and who espouse a lofty, nondual panentheistic orientation, more often than not live a renunciate lifestyle. Such persons practice that earlier-mentioned “voluntary simplicity” to a radical degree, often taking vows of complete poverty, and frequently renouncing romantic relationships and sexuality as well. Many of these individuals live within the context of formal religious institutions for renunciate nuns or monks.
Just as I have earlier distinguished between a healthy—nay, heroic—kind of self-mortification and a rather psychopathological form of self-torture, so also it seems that a renunciative lifestyle may be motivated by either noble or neurotic aims.
The renunciate lifestyle—especially the matter of celibacy—has come under severe criticism by many psychologists and by certain feminist scholars in religious studies as being the unwholesome product of patriarchal religion—something life-denying, unnatural, and more-or-less pathological. 
The transcendent-oriented spirituality of many of these renunciates, which aims at an identification with a formless Noumenon (criticized by feminists as the “spirit in the sky”) and detachment from all phenomena, is also criticized by the feminists as imbalanced, “biophobic,” and a source of much of our trouble today.
What some feminist scholars propose is a transition to a Wiccan/Pagan Gaia consciousness (“earth is a living organism”) as originally expressed by the ancient Goddess-oriented societies which emphasized a life-positive (not life-denying) appreciation for the beauty of this manifest world. These were societies which honored Mother Nature-Moon-Earth’s cycles and seasons, animals, trees, stones, women’s powerful time of menses and life-rich blood, the sacred dance, the ritual use of hallucinogenic substances, free sexuality and bisexuality, and experience of astral-psychic realms wherein one can fly in one’s subtle body and contact the spirit of animals and one’s departed ancestors.
These ancient societies, as briefly mentioned in a previous section, promoted a spirituality which is implicitly based on a theology of Divine immanence (—I say “implicitly based” because such societies evidently did not do explicit theologizing—this in itself a behavior more characteristic of later, patriarchal, cerebral religions).
There is a lot to be said in favor of the tremendous value of this Goddess-spirituality which does not promote any life-denying, escapist projecting of oneself beyond all forms into some exclusively formless and transcendental domain of “non-experience.” Countless works have been coming forth in the past decade arguing for the richness and value of this ancient Goddess-spirituality, and so I need not go deeply into the subject here. 
This immanentist Goddess spirituality is also quite compatible with “process thought” and “liberation theology” which are now dominant in many circles of Christian theology, thus heightening the popularity of Goddess spirituality among many westerners. Suffice it to say that, in light of the horrifyingly tragic and utterly inexcusable degradation of Mother Earth’s waters, soils, skies, and food-chains, and wanton extinction of tens of thousands of irreplacable species of her life-forms, as well as the yearly slaughter of trillions of members of the chicken, turkey, pig, cattle/cow, sheep and sea creature species by callous humans for unhealthy “food,” it is a real Godsend/“Goddess-send” to have, in recent years, this emphasis on an earth-honoring, life-positive spirituality. (Let us all pray and do whatever we can to turn the tide of insanity and rectify our wrongs to our Earth-Mother and her creatures.)
Moreover, many of us have directly, genuinely experienced the true nature of the felt-sense of the body as spiritual energy,  and we have also met a number of quite neurotic ascetics and “other-worldly” persons in our encounters with various spiritual traditions. So we can also affirm the value of a spirituality which is not imbalanced toward neurotic self-mortification and an exclusively transcendent or formless orientation, but which can glory and exalt in/as the immanent Divine, God NOW/HERE, spread out wondrously as all these miracles of nature, animate and “inanimate,” human and other-than-human, to be enjoyed naturally, playfully, sensually (honoring the senses), aesthetically, pleasurably, ecstatically and enstatically. If enlightenment has a lot to do with “lightening up” and “being completely natural” (no artificial, strained posturing), then this kind of spirituality which delights in the “Divine play of forms” (what many Hindu teachers call God’s līlā) is surely an essential part of our worldview and lifestyle. Furthermore, if we and thousands of other species are to survive much past the next generation, a Gaia-consciousness, or sense of the immanent Divine within nature, and an ecological-sensitivity is absolutely essential for all of us. 
Most of the qualities of “holiness” or “spiritual realization” which I have gleaned from my research and listed earlier do not in fact, preclude an immanentist spirituality oriented to the world as Sacred.
And when we look at the hagiographical literature, we find that many of the holy ones worldwide have, in fact, not “left the world” to become formal renunciates (monks, nuns), but have spontaneously worked within society as healers, teachers, farmers, craftspersons, cooks, homemakers, educators, government workers, musicians, writers, and so on. (Actually, a great number of people we would call “formal renunciates” have still participated in society, especially as teachers, healers, counselors, or nurses.)
Numerous illumined ones have also shown a deep love for the beauties of nature, such as the ancient Taoist, Ch’an/Zen/Son masters of China, Japan, and Korea, the Persian Sūfi love poets, Hindu masters such as Shirdi Sāī Bābā, Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, Swāmi Vivekānanda, Anasūyā Devī, Ammāchi, and Christian saints such as Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Gertrude the Great, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, to name just a few.
Numerous saints and spiritual masters have also not felt the need to renounce a married, sexual relationship. We have the examples of great Buddhist lay masters of India, China, Tibet and Japan such as Vimalakīrti, Saraha, Layman Pang, Yan Bing, Marpa and Shinran, Taoist sages such as Chuang-tzu, the Jewish prophets such as Moses, and, in more recent times, the Hasidic Jewish masters of Eastern Europe (the Baal Shem Tov, et al), Prophet Muhammad (who, after his first wife’s passing, eventually came to have nine wives and several concubines, in keeping with Arab customs of his day), and many Sūfi masters, such as the amazing ‘Abdul Qādir al-Gīlānī, who, under inspiration from the Prophet, at age 51 adopted the householder’s life, marrying four women who gave birth to a total of 49 children! The Hindu Śaiva saint Tiruvalluvar was so inspired by his saintly wife Vasuki that he considered the married state to be, in its optimal form, a much higher state than that of renunciation. As we shall see, a number of Hindu and Christian women saints of the past were married, and several contemporary holy women of these traditions, such as Anasūyā Devī, Siddhi Mā, Phoebe Palmer, Agnes Sanford, and Grace DiBiccari, have married and raised children. The same is true for many contemporary spiritual leaders from Buddhist, Sūfi, Native American and other traditions.
But despite this apparent “involvement with the world” on the part of many of these saints/sages, it remains true that they and other truly illustrious spiritual masters would have us always remember to cherish above all that formless, transcendental Reality—that One Pure Awareness Who is not separate from our innermost Spiritual Identity, and who manifests as this play of nature—since this formless, changeless One paradoxically “precedes” the play of changing forms from the “beginningless beginning” as their Source and Substance, and thus is “senior” to them.
This last remark leads us to the fact that many spiritual masters of the major traditions have indeed often spoken—especially on the “preliminary” or “expedient” levels of their teaching—in a manner which does emphasize a radical detachment from “worldly” experience and a realization of the formless, transcendental Reality. And many of these masters, men and women, have spontaneously adopted that celibate, radically simple, “uninvolved,” renunciate lifestyle. This is not because they have bought the patriarchal party-line which denigrates Mother Earth and the feminine principle. Rather, it is because a penetrating intuition on their part reveals that a strictly immanent, pantheist, body-oriented or earth-oriented spirituality cannot help us to attain the highest wisdom (gnosis, jñāna, prajñā, marifa), the subtlest, most complete purification and deepening of awareness (theosis, nirvāṇa, moksha) which entails a perfect freedom, peace, bliss, love, and other enlightenment qualities so essential in the great work of helping all sentient beings to awaken from their painful dream of separate selfhood unto the Reality of Who They Truly Are: Absolute Spiritual Awareness.
Let us explore this subject of detachment further. On a very rudimentary level it is obvious that the body is not immortal, and at a certain point we must completely let go our possessions, friends, and family-relations, and attachment to earthly processes and bodily sensations so as to shift (“after death”) into the next level of our functioning. At higher levels, it is realized that even the ego-mind is not immortal, but is a limited subtle-energy process, an incessantly changing stream of thoughts, memories, reactions, etc., and to identify with this ego-mind is a confining limitation. And earth herself, while very old, and probably destined to exist for another few billion years at least—if not blown to smithereens by a large asteroid, is also just an aspect of the space-time universe which will ultimately, eventually pass away. Thus, any kind of exclusive, limited identifying ourselves with this body, mind, family, or even planet is ultimately not a very intelligent thing to do. It is an extremely poor investment in a crumbling enterprise!
Genuine spiritual masters, aware of the transiency of all phenomenal things, are offering us a much wiser investment—an investment of our attention and energy in That Transcendental Reality Which is Eternal/Timeless, before/beyond the bodymind organism and the earth. Our spiritual “good friends” are inviting us to make the same incredible discovery they themselves have been overjoyed to find: that is, to realize the Unborn, Undying, Unconditioned domain of Absolute Reality, found at the core of Who We Truly Are. They invite us to transcend the limited, mediocre self-sense of being an organism or entity and to wake up to our true identity: an infinite, invincible Reality, pure Spirit-Awareness, not subject to change or the dissipating forces of decay and death, and so amazingly glorious as to render all our worldly (or even heavenly) pleasures ridiculously trivial by comparison.
This Reality is not some abstract father god principle up in the sky, as some feminists might charge—It is simply HERE. To live this Reality is not to indulge in “escapist abstractionism,” but to simply stand free in one’s truest nature as formless Spirit-Awareness pervading all forms as their real nature. Enlightenment, in other words, is to abide as the omnipresent Center, not stuck in or attached to any separate, fixed, egocentric position in psychological time-space. To mistake ourSelf as any-“thing” less than our transcendental Spirit, our formless, spacious, unlimited, no-“thing” identity as Pure Awareness, is to guarantee not only that we live our lives on the basis of a colossal lie, but also that we suffer a rude shock and no small amount of confusion at bodily death wherein everything we take to be “me” or hold onto as “mine” sooner or later falls away in the Dazzling Light of Reality.
The simple fact is that every night, in deep dreamless sleep, we completely abandon our body, mind and world for the sake of abiding as our pure Awareness/Spirit, abiding blissfully in/as our True Identity or formless singularity (spiritually awake adepts have learned to be “lucid” in this state, unlike unenlightened souls, who are more-or-less “non-lucid” and dull during this nightly absorption in Spirit-Awareness).
The eminent masters of the various traditions are interested in promoting that quintessential freedom of Spirit, the unobstructed, non-dwelling Awareness, beyond all narrow identifications with bodies, minds, heavens, relative states of consciousness, or any kind of limited processes, so that this single Absolute Reality or Spirit can, in Her immanent aspect, dance freely, lovingly, blissfully, humorously within Her own play of forms, awakening more and more of Her “sparks of consciousness” out of these forms back into Her Divine Consciousness. The universe is, as many adepts have declared, a stupendous game of hide’n’seek wherein the One Divine Reality, the single “I,” is spontaneously disguising Herself as “all these beings” in a glorious world-appearance, a kind of Divine Comedy or Dream-Play in the Mind of God, eventually to awaken from these roles back unto Her own unfathomable singularity. An apparent individual being (“you,” “me,” “he,” “she” or “it”) is simply one of the zillions of roles which the Absolute Reality is playing. In each of these “individual” cases, sooner or later the innermost I—Absolute Reality—awakens from the dream of separate selfhood back unto Her Absolute, Infinite Awareness, and realizes Herself to be All in All, the One Who Alone IS.
This may all sound quite far-fetched, or mere theory, but there are thousands of documented cases of spiritual adepts East and West reporting this very discovery of ego-death and resurrection in the nondual, unitive life of Pure Awareness. And they have lived profoundly transformed lives, spontaneously fearless, desireless, compassionate, wise, blissful and peaceful, which lends considerable credence to the truth of their claims that they are now merged in and “being lived” by Spiritual Reality!
So, in sum, the spiritual adepts are inviting us to awaken to our formless/transcendental Identity of pure Spirit or Awareness, not in order to escape life, but so as to ultimately allow for a perfectly nondual, panentheistic (transcendent-immanent, formless-formful) spirituality. This spirituality is nothing other than the sublimely enlightened and simple life of humbly compassionately “being nobody, being everybody,” “being happy, making happy.” Only by first radically transcending the root of all selfishness and identification with any form(s) even the manifest world(s) (Mother Gaia), can one truly come Home to abide as and flourish as the Only Being, nondual Reality, the all-pervasive Light, the all-powerful Love, Pure Spirit-Awareness.
Some feminists—averse to all distinctions of rank or superiority—and many students of comparative religion today as well, forget that there is a kind of natural hierarchy (a “developmental-actualization hierarchy”) of increasing maturation in our experiencing. The perceptive Ken Wilber, for one, has mapped out for us these levels of increasing maturity, based on the exquisitely sophisticated models yielded by the Indian Vedānta tradition:
1) In terms of the human developmental process, one moves on the “outward path” from the pre-egoic to the “normally adjusted” egoic and then, in the truly “mature” cases, one shifts to the “inward path,” which begins with the trans-egoic or transpersonal subtle levels (astral-psychic and archetypal) and causal (formless) levels; this maturation process finally culminates, in a few cases of fully-realized masters, in the impeccable identification of oneself as pure Spirit, beyond all projections of oneself in/as form, yet simultaneously immanent as all forms. This is the acme of the nondual spirituality discussed above.
2) In terms of the structural development of religious consciousness, Wilber shows that “not all religions are equal,” that is to say, individuals or groups or cultures may be “ranked” in their level of maturity (“authenticity”) from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to psychic to subtle to causal levels, perhaps finally culminating in a realization of the Absolute Self/Reality (ātman/brahman in Hindu parlance). 
In other words, there is more to life than meets the physical eye or the astral-psychic eye. Remarks made by certain people highly critical of the renunciate way of the saints and sages (for instance, proponents of Goddess-Pagan-Wiccan-Gaia spirituality) indicate to me that they do not fully understand this matter of the various levels of spiritual realization. 
Though we need to be grateful for and completely honor our miraculous bodies and precious Mother Earth, as well as the astral-psychic realms revealed by contemplative, shamanic, dream, hallucinogenic, or sexual experience—all of which are Sacred aspects of immanent Divinity—we also can and must realize our most primordial and abiding identity as the transcendental, formless Spirit/Awareness, spaceless, timeless, imperceptible, changeless Reality. This transcendental aspect of Reality, though it is spontaneously immanent in/as the play of forms on various phenomenal levels (physical, subtle and causal), is their Source and Substance.
Indian Vedānta masters Śrī Ramana Mahārshi, Shirdi Sāī Bābā, Śrī Nisargadatta Mahārāj, Anandamayi Mā, and Ammāchi have invited us to live this sublime state of realization as a kind of “wakeful sleep,” wherein we operate out of the context of the perfect peace, silence, bliss, wholeness, unlimited depth, contentment, courage, and care-free abandon of the dreamless sleep state—the formless Godhead, yet with our eyes open, our minds and bodies spontaneously, appropriately functioning within the dream-like world which is being conjured up moment by moment in the Mind of God (the universal consciousness-energy).
In the sacred traditions of contemplative/multi-level spirituality, it is highly recommended that virtually all aspirants attain to some degree of mastery of formless, selfless consciousness before trying to live a nondual, panentheistic spirituality within the world-appearance. Otherwise, there will remain the very dangerous tendency to fall back into an exclusive identification with egocentricity, the narrow “me,” the limited body-mind-self-sense, and all its greedy, fearful, angry, and restless reactions toward a world (“heavenly” or “earthly”) perceived as solid and separate from “me.”
This emphasis on a transcendental-then-nondual (strictly formless then formless and formful) realization of the Absolute Reality is, in answer to feminist critics, not a matter of “unnatural, male cerebral abstraction” or escapist fixation on a “patriarchal-male-father-god-in-the-sky.” It is the fruit of subrating (going beyond) a limited narrower, less mature sense of identity (even one as sublime as ecstatic mergence in Gaia consciousness) via the discovery of an even subtler (“subtler than the subtlest”), less limited, hence more free, more expansive, more powerful, more mature Identity as Absolute Spiritual Reality. This ultimately mature Identity is fully transcendent as well as fully immanent, wisely abiding as “no-one,” and compassionately involved with “every-one.”
Eliot Deutsch, a philosopher who has discussed the significant contributions of Advaita Vedānta Hinduism, has explained this crucial gnostic-intuitive process of subration in the following terms:
“[In subration,] one disvalues some previously appraised object or content of consciousness because of its being contradicted by a new experience. ... An object of consciousness is subrated or is subratable when it is or can be so disvaluated, denied, or contradicted by another experience. When one sees a figure in a wax museum and takes it for a living person, and then later discovers ... that it is not a living person but a wax figure, one has subrated one’s prior experience of the object: one has rejected one’s initial judgment of it and replaced that judgment with another which, one believes, conforms with reality. Subration is thus a mental [or intuitive] process through which one rectifies errors. ... Subration is an axio-noetic process that involves psychologically, a withdrawal of attention from an object as it was originally judged to be and the fastening of attention either to the same object as reappraised or to another object that replaces the first object as a content of consciousness, and the placing of a higher value upon the content of the new judgment. ... Subration is uniquely qualified, according to Advaita, to serve as a criterion for the making of ontological distinctions. ... Reality is that which cannot be subrated by any other experience.... If the term “reality” is to have any distinctive philosophical significance or special ontological meaning it must refer to that ... which is non-subratable, to that ... which is disclosed in the highest ... quality of our human experience. ...
“The only experience, or state of being, whose content cannot be subrated in fact and in principle by any other experience—which no other experience can conceivably contradict—is the experience of pure spiritual identity [emphasis added]; the experience wherein the separation of self and non-self of ego and world, is transcended, and pure oneness alone remains [lived as an intuitive sense of “unity in diversity”]. This is the experience [or “nondual pure experiencing”] celebrated by the Advaitin as one of perfect insight, bliss, and power; as one of infinite joy and understanding. ...
“By the criterion of subration, then, Reality is that which is when the subject/object situation is transcended. The Real is that which is the content of non-dual spiritual experience. It is the timeless unconditioned, undifferentiated oneness of being. The Real is ... Brahman. ... Appearance is that which can be subrated by other experience. ... Appearance ... is that which is, or in principle can be, a datum of experience within the subject/object situation. The Apparent is that which is the content of sense-mental experience. It is the differentiated multiplicity of being. ... From the standpoint of Reality there is and can be only Reality.... Distinctions are themselves subratable and hence are confined to the order of Appearance.” 
Thousands of spiritual adepts both women and men, as they grew into greater spiritual maturity, have subrated the experience of the ego-sense, the experience of this “solid” body, the experience of this “real” world and the astral, heavenly bodies/worlds and seen them to be a stupendous “dream” spontaneously arising in the Absolute Consciousness, the Unborn Spirit.  This colossal “dream”-appearance (actually considered to be a mere bubble in the matrix of Divine Consciousness) is fundamentally characterized by what Gautama the Buddha first formulated as “the three marks of existence”—impermanence, insubstantiality, and “dissatisfactoriness.” This dream-appearance is dissatisfactory (dukkha) in the sense that one cannot stake one’s ultimate well-being on subject-object experiencing in such changing worlds. No form of phenomenal experiencing, “high or low,” physical, mental, or astral-psychic-heavenly, brings ultimate satisfaction or real spiritual freedom. In fact, the discovery of one’s real Freedom and Bliss is only to be found in one’s timeless, spaceless “Spiritual Identity” as Pure Awareness.
Again I must repeat that this Supreme Spiritual Reality is not, as sometimes mistakenly believed, the male-father-god-in-the-sky but is This One Who Alone Truly Is, before/beyond all worlds and gods/goddesses and forms of experience, yet Who is also immanently Alive as the inmost, changeless “I” of all living beings (the Divinely-dreamed figures). In other words, this ONE Reality is directly, most intimately and immediately HERE, and also manifesting omnipresently throughout the cosmos, on all levels (“physical, subtle, and causal” planes of existence). Hence, realization of This One is not only real freedom and true bliss, but also, on the immanence-side, genuine love for and intimacy with all beings—who are This One’s spontaneous, loving expression, or “God in disguise.”
In the pages ahead, we will encounter a number of holy women’s stories which occasionally seem oriented more toward the Transcendental Divine than the Immanent Divine. They are extolling an identity or orientation detached from all phenomena, not identified with any-“thing,” in the via negativa attitude in line with the ancient Hindu Upaniṣad’s dictum, neti neti “[I am] not this, not this.” For instance, when the highly esteemed 8th-century female Sūfi saint Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiyya was invited by her attendant to come out of her meditation cell and witness the glories of creation, Rābi`a replied, “Come within, rather, and view the Creator. Contemplation of the Creator keeps me from beholding His creation.”
This is the liberated attitude of one who, having found the Source of all, is, for a while anyway, no longer interested in “the all,” only interested in the transcendent, formless Source, the absolutely intimate, non-separate Beloved, “nearer to us than our jugular vein,” as the Qur’ān declares (“Closer to us than our own mind.”)
In time, as this wonder over our transcendent Source has matured into such unbelievably refined states of formless, unmodified, selfless consciousness known by the classic Hindu, Buddhist, Sūfi, and Christian yoga-adepts/contemplatives as nirvikalpa samādhi, nirodha, ahadiyya, or the ecstasy of “Divine Darkness,” there then can begin that even more refined process of living this formless-transcendental awareness within the world-appearance, with eyes and ears open, and mind and body active in spontaneous service to one’s fellow beings (who are regarded as fellow aspects of oneSelf).
This is that final stage of spirituality, the “wakeful sleep” already mentioned. In this perfection of the spiritual process, having at last dis-identified from all phenomena and thereby dissolved the narrow identification with the petty “me” (the obsession with one’s body-mind), one moves beyond the dissociated attitude of “I am not any of this, none of these forms are who I truly am” into that fully integrated, utterly free attitude of “I am all this—everything is an aspect of the One Self/Reality.” This is the magnificent culmination of the spiritual awakening process—known variously as sahaja-samādhi (the “natural oneness”), jīvanmukta (“liberation while alive with a body”), Buddhahood (Awakeness), wāhidiyya (“oneness”), and so on.
Herein, “body” and “spirit” (“form” and “formlessness”) are realized to be polar aspects, even just “dream-concepts” of the nondual Reality. The body (and its “world out there”)—a mass of impermanent sensations strung together in consciousness via the memory process—is realized to be quite empty, a literal “no-thing,” and Spirit is realized to be no mere vacuousness, but Alive Fullness, Expressive Capacity.
In the nondual, fully realized state of sahaja samādhi, the “natural” or “extraordinarily ordinary” state of oneness or God-absorption, the eyes and ears may remain open, and the faculties for sensory input, motor output (behavior) and various kinds of mentation are functioning (perhaps radically transformed), yet all one’s experiencing is pervaded by a sense of perfect freedom, “unobstructedness,” non-identification with the limited bodymind, and the pervasiveness of brahman, absolute, spiritual Reality. Thus, in the spiritual awakening process, it may be said, using Vedānta parlance, that one moves from a state of samsāra (ignorance and attachment to worldly existence) to a realization of nirvikalpa samādhi (formless trance), and then one finally stabilizes in sahaja samādhi (a sense of the formful pervaded by and Sourced in the formless). The Ch’an/Zen masters beautifully schematize this spiritual awakening process as the “ten-oxherding pictures,” wherein the initial stage is worldly occupation, followed by a search for the transcendent principle, then a strong realization of this fully formless principle, and then finally culminating in the “return to the marketplace” (of forms/sentient beings) with “bliss-bestowing hands.” The Ch’an/Zen masters even more brilliantly and simply sum up this process of going from 1) form-oriented consciousness to 2) formless consciousness to 3) fully free, enlightened, nondual transcendent/immanent, formless/formful spirituality: “First there are mountains and rivers, then there are no mountains and rivers, then there are mountains and rivers.” To denigrate the second stage (e.g., as “biophobic”), or to mistake the first stage for the last, are signs of woeful ignorance.
Here I venture an observation: My readings on the ancient Goddess-spirituality-cultures suggest to me that the main form of spirituality being practiced in Neolithic times and being created anew in the Neo-Pagan and Wiccan circles of today is that of the subtle-energy/astral-psychic level of development achieved through shamanic-hallucinogenic-sexual rites that accomplish an orgiastic or psychedelic oneness with all life and with the Mother Goddess of life-death-rebirth. This spirituality may bring genuine transpersonal, ego-free “peak-experiences” which are not just “pre-egoic” states, either, but actual “trans-egoic” states, and perhaps lasting for considerable durations suggesting “plateau living” rather than just momentary peak experiences. Yet this Pagan/Wiccan spirituality seems mainly oriented to the principle of creative and transformative energy manifesting on physical and subtle (astral-psychic) levels. And the Goddess—at least, in the way most of her Pagan and Neo-Pagan devotees speak of her—seems to be equivalent to that primary “emanative vibratory energy,” known in India and the West as Śakti, Prakṛti, Praṇava/Om, Shekhinah/Chokhmah, Logos, “dynamic universal-consciousness-energy.” This Śakti-emanative-energy is still soteriologically one step below the Absolute, formless principle—Śiva, Ātman/Brahman, Ain Sof, Godhead, Spirit, Awareness, albeit ontologically and intuitively speaking, this Mother Energy is ultimately identical with this Absolute principle (remember, Śiva is Śakti).
Thus, the Neolithic Goddess spirituality (and Neo-Paganism today) is still somewhat caught up in “the dream” of limited phenomenality, no matter how refined it may seem—and this kind of spirituality actually will seem very refined and wonderful in comparison with the non-mystical, mythic-rational-institutional aspects of Christianity, Judaism, Islām, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., and in comparison with the utterly boring, one-dimensional, secular-humanistic “scientism” of the Western world of the last two centuries! With Neolithic Pagan spirituality, it is as though virtually an entire culture’s psyche realized the astral-psychic level, yet also got “stuck” or “fixated” on that level, not able to realize the very highest state of Spirit/Awareness—perfect, nondual freedom (of course, there may have been a small or even large number of individuals who discovered this highest level of nondual realization, but they left no record of it).
Now an old idea in the nondual Sacred Traditions affirms that the Kosmos is the Divine One’s awesome, inscrutable Play or līlā, and that Divine Reality or God/Goddess does not make any mistakes, but instead orchestrates everything with a stupendously exquisite Intelligence  If one resonates with the idea (the “useful lie”) that everything happens perfectly for some good reason in this “Divine Comedy” or “Divine Dream of Life,” then it may just be that the gruesome rise of the andro-cratic dominator systems, creating as they did so much suffering, turned the collective, relatively peaceful “astral dream” of Neolithic human life into something of a nightmare. And thus functioned to motivate people to wake up more fully, beyond the astral-psychic level.
The religion of the dominators was a regression down from the astral-psychic/subtle spirituality of the Old Society into magic-mythic-rational levels, but provided a kind of grosser, denser base on which to “get our footing” so that some individual aspects of the Divine could genuinely wake up from the dream of phenomenality into perfect God-Realization.
This line of thinking is based on the fact that most people, while enjoying a pleasant dream, feel no real motive to wake up... but when the dream becomes unpleasant, people find it intolerable and tend to wake up! Divine Reality or God/dess may have been trying to spiritually awaken her children (i.e., the relative aspects of herself) into a more profound level of divine communion by bringing in the nightmare of patriarchal dominance.
In short, it seems to me that, whereas Neolithic Paganism was imbalanced toward immanent pantheism, and whereas much patriarchal yogic mysticism (and, on a much lower, merely mental level, patriarchal scholasticism), has been imbalanced toward the transcendental-formless Divinity, we can now learn from their distorted examples and aspire to realize that “Middle Path,” the Great Way of nonduality. On this Middle Path, God is no-thing, every-thing, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” Śakti and Śiva are not-two, “All this is brahman/Reality,” and “Thou Art That” (tat tvam asi). This is the way, par excellence, for realizing the perfect balance of Wisdom and Compassion, Freedom and Love, the Sacred as Formless and Formful.
On the matter of woman’s freedom to express her sexuality, which seems to be a core issue for feminists who criticize the renunciate lifestyle of many forms of traditional spirituality, it must be admitted that we have very few past or present models of sexually active women esteemed as “holy.” To the contrary, we actually witness the curious phenomenon of many women who spontaneously refused or renounced a married, sexual lifestyle to opt for a renunciate, celibate, meditative lifestyle. My sense is that these women chose the “uninvolved” vocation, not because they were pressured or conditioned to do so by “patriarchal, life-denying, ecstasy-suppressive religions,” but simply because, on an experiential, energetic level, they realized that this was a much more powerful way of bringing to perfect fruition the various enlightenment qualities as outlined earlier, thereby becoming more empowered to inspire, heal and serve their fellow beings.
The schools of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, which arose from the 7th century of our Common Era onward, and about which we shall hear more in this book, have provided us with some bonafide saints—women and men, who utilized sexuality in their path of enlightenment—but we must always remember that sexual practice in these traditions is only to be used by masters or by highly advanced aspirants who are completely free of selfish desire.
This is a very different scenario compared with the sexuality of the usual person (read: unenlightened, attached), which is an expression of either casual indulgence, biological-drive-reduction, or egocentric lust (no matter how seemingly romantic it may appear). Though “tantric sex” has come into vogue in the West in recent decades, very few westerners would actually be considered ripe aspirants for practice within the genuine traditions of Hindu or Buddhist sexual tantra. Indeed, according to classic Hindu tantric texts, our frequent use of four of the “dangerous elements”—meat, fish, wine, and our sexual activity—because we are so attached to them, are sending us straight into the hell, ghost, or demon realms, not into tantric Liberation!
Regarding the topic of enlightened sexuality, it is clear that we need to beware the extremes of 1) the degenerative, lustful, self-obsessed sexuality of the usual Western person, as well as 2) the “strategic celibacy” of the neurotic, other-worldly person. We can live a wholesome, self-surrendered sexuality, a natural, selfless communion with the immanent and transcendent God (Radiant Love, Absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss). This natural, sacred sexuality is the essence of the Buddhist and Hindu tantra traditions, and is undoubtedly the kind aimed at by the more enlightened Pagans/Wiccans as well. Yet, even this holy sexuality may itself eventually, naturally, spontaneously drop away in the intensely nonsexual (or pansexual?) final realization of the transcendental God —a level of spiritual attainment far more mature than anything I have seen in Neo-pagan or Wiccan literature. 
In any case, with high-level teachings on sacramental sexuality from certain Tantra masters and Pagans/Wiccans now widely available, it will be interesting to see whether we get a significant number of fully realized beings in the near future who are blending their perfectly-realized nondual spirituality with a lifestyle of sacred (unattached) sexuality, free of cultural and/or religious taboos. 
Studying the contemporary women featured in this book, it is notable that many of them spontaneously choose to channel or sublimate their sexual energy into their spiritual mission. Longstanding traditions of powerful nondual spirituality such as found in India and China have spoken of the efficacy of raising up the subtle-energy life-force (variously called prāṇa-śakti, ojas, qi, ki) within one’s sexual energy, via sublimation and frequent or total abstinence, into the higher levels of one’s subtle-energy-body, so as to be able to “better help one’s fellow beings”—ostensibly through a more radiant, passionate, healing life-energy-field which is a consequence of such sublimation. A large number of Buddhist, Christian, Taoist, Hindu and Jaina nuns and numerous laypersons are not only quite content to be celibate, but actually amazingly blissful in discovering the tremendous power which comes from sublimating this energy into a higher form.
I would point out that the celibate saintly women I have met are not “life-denying,” cold, de-vitalized, “dried-up” persons, either. Like the Buddha, like Jesus, like so many of the genuine masters of East and West over the last 2500 years, they are radiant, vital, charged and “pregnant” with life-force, they are peace-full, bliss-full, and life-embracing. But the life which they embrace is not the worldly life, nor is it the sensual-ecstatic, shamanic-astral-psychic life either, it is that Absolute Spirit-Life Principle which is embraced/realized through utter ego-death, through the complete “losing of one’s life.” To read of these women and men (even more impressive, to meet them and feel the obvious force of the Divine Grace radiating out of them), is to sense the power and glory of Life in its highest expression. That these beings may not be sexually active seems no great loss. They are available in intimate spiritual communion to anyone and everyone who approaches them with sincerity and love for the all-pervasive God.
On the matter of celibacy, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a western-born Buddhist nun, a sweet, radiantly blissful lady still in the “prime years of her life” (and a former California surfer-girl!) has written some words which shed light on the matter from not only spiritual, but also psychological and even political angles:“To understand the importance of celibacy, we need to honestly appraise what normally happens in a close relationship. Whether between women and men, women and women, or men and men, the problems of attachment in relationship are basically the same: clinging, unfulfilled expectations, the pain of separation, and so on. A common pattern is initial fascination and subsequent disappointment... Ceaseless power struggles, both subtle and overt, also typically attend intimate relationships. Often the longing for a companion is a wish to complement one’s missing or underdeveloped qualities. ... Celibacy, on the other hand, represents a decision to rely on one’s own inner authority. ... In relationships, there is a tendency to synthesize one’s own experience of seeing, hearing, and knowing with that of another. The resulting perception is a synthesis which lacks the freshness of independent perception. ... The independent woman [or man] makes decisions without ... the incessant concession-insistence syndrome. Remaining single, she is free to experience life directly, participating wholeheartedly with undivided attention. The resultant unperturbed mental space is very beneficial for meditation and for growth as a whole being. Singleness is far from implying selfishness, however. ... One becomes free to respond genuinely to animate and inanimate surroundings without restriction. This allows more free leisure time to be devoted to the needs of suffering beings. Instead of devoting one’s time and energy exclusively to immediate family members, one can use these resources for worthwhile projects such as attending to the needs of sentient beings as a whole. ... The decision to remain celibate is particularly significant for women. It is the ultimate rejection of life as a sex object. ... It means opting out of the body market and going on to something more meaningful. ... The Buddha taught that sexual attachment is the major force that propels beings from one rebirth to the next. To become free from repeated birth in cyclic existence, therefore, it is necessary to overcome sexual attachment. ... Those deeply interested in spiritual development inevitably begin to see romance as overrated. ... It is time to begin discussing the merits of celibacy publicly.” 
On this issue of celibacy vis-à-vis enlightened sexual activity, one needs to very, very honestly examine for oneself which path is truly serving one’s spiritual opening and the welfare of those around oneself. Celibacy will work for some people. It will not work for others. And if one is feeling genuinely pulled (at the most authentic level) to be involved in a sexual relationship, one does well to heed the Buddha’s (and many other masters’) teachings to beware attachment to sexual feelings (and concomitant narrow, egocentric identification with the body). Sexual communion with another human being (and raising a family) can be a time of profound spiritual deepening with one’s partner and a kind of prayerful inter-connectedness with all life; it can also be more or less egocentric, exploitative, and lustful. One must be ruthlessly honest to know the truth of what is going on for oneself in one’s own life. It is just far, far too easy to forget one’s real Identity as Pure Awareness and reinforce a mistaken, narrow sense of identity as the “me.” The reader does well to examine all the kinds of conditioning at work in her/his life regarding sexuality, to ascertain which path will bring genuine spiritual freedom and God-Realization.
A consideration for female spirituality somewhat related to sexuality is emotional expression. A tremendous double standard and irony have been at work here. On the one hand, men from different religions have accused woman as being the “weaker sex” because of her purported “excessive emotionality.” This charge seems to be mainly based on a certain kind of facility women have in expressing tears of joy and sorrow. (Curiously, within devotional circles of Christianity, Sūfism, Hinduism and Pure Land Buddhism, this capacity to freely weep is actually considered to be a “gift,” much sought-after in prayer by fervent persons—both male and female—within these traditions.)
On the other hand, through the millennia males have chronically indulged in the emotions of anger and lust, yet denied and suppressed the expression of these powerful emotions in women. Yet when a woman expresses her anger, she is a “shrew.” When she expresses lust, she is a “whore.”
Many feminists have rebelled against the patriarchal religions’ image of the ideal woman as a perennially docile, sweet, gentle, passive creature—such as was found in the cariacaturized image of Mother Mary within traditional Christianity. These feminists have rejected this “ideal” that exalts a disempowered, inauthentic “bliss” and are instead now reclaiming woman’s right to be expressive of the full gamut of emotions—especially the powerful emotions like anger and lust—whenever these spontaneously arise.
Several comments are called for on this topic of emotions and their expression. First, women have every right to feel and harmlessly express whatever emotions they wish, just as males do. This is a totally legitimate claim, a basic human right, and much reworking of our mythological and storybook images of women and men (such as found in children’s reading material) will have to be carried out to rectify the distortions which have grown up over time, distortions giving us the frequently shown image of women as inexpressive, passive, tearful, and/or volatile, while males are often depicted as the “angry (or at least stern), lustful warriors.”
A second point here is that, whether they occur in males or females, anger and lust, and any other reactive emotions are, as the Buddhists would say, “unwholesome mental factors” adversely coloring one’s consciousness (and the collective unconscious) with negativity and limitation. They are unenlightened expressions of aversion and attachment, fueling the egocentric self-sense, driving an illusory sense of “me, a somebody” through noxious and sometimes terrifying rounds of rebirth. It is quite possible to be free of binding emotions so that one is no longer impotently stuck in them or blindly driven by them. The thousands of spiritual adepts are profound exemplars of this freedom from selfish emotional reactivity...they have become powerful beacons of “the only true emotion—love.” (Remember here that, especially in situations of gross social injustice, our holy friends may sometimes express sadness, anger or anxiety, but such emotions do not “solidify” and create a “stuckness” and habit-pattern in the flow of consciousness-energy.)
This insight concerning the possibility of ultimate freedom from (not absence of) emotions, leads us to our third point, namely, the highest way of working with emotional energy consists in neither suppressing nor acting out this energy, but rather, being with this emotional energy, exploring it, owning it, and reintegrating it. We would go beyond the scope of this chapter to explore this practice in any great depth. Suffice it to say, the clear-cut experience of this author in working with himself and others, and the experience of an increasing number of other meditation-instructors and psychotherapists, is that emotional energy need neither be “stuffed” nor “ventilated,” which are the two usual, polarized ways of dealing with emotions. For instance, if one came from a “dysfunctional family,” then pounding pillows and screaming in rage at the image of one’s parents simply reinforces and “grooves” a certain kind of heavily conditioned, unexamined, ego-reactionary emotional pattern without getting to the subtlest dynamics of this rage at the root of one’s psyche. In other words, one simply reinforces a habit-pattern of getting angry. A much more enlightened and empowering way of dealing with emotions is to care-fully examine them, with a kind of “connoisseur” sensitivity and Buddhist mindfulness as they arise... One can, with a potent combination of childlike curiosity, wonder, and “affectionate awareness,” watch, welcome and embrace an arising emotion, and explore its manifestations in the domains of a) specific somatic tensions (“exactly what do you feel [e.g., tightness, burning, cold, heaviness, shakiness, dull ache, numbness], and where, in or around the body, do you feel it?”), b) internal, verbal “voiceover” (“exactly what are you telling yourself about this situation, and in what tone of voice?”), c) subliminal imagery (“give yourself permission to see in your intuitive mind’s eye exactly what kind of day-dream-like imagery is arising for you concerning this emotionally-charged situation and all the parties involved?”); and d) subtle-energy dynamics (“does your subtle-energy body feel contracted, shattered, fragmented, polluted, weak, ennervated, closed-off, or too diffuse?”).
By carefully, sensitively working with the attention in these ways, and utilizing certain “antidotes” like deep relaxation, corrective self-talk, dissolving-in-light visualizations, invoking the healing power of archetypal guides/angels, and so forth, one’s emotional energy, as well as certain types of physical pain, can be “entered into,” explored, opened up, de-fused, and re-owned. The result is that the emotional energy is no longer appearing “out there” in the field of one’s experience as a fragmented, dissociated aspect of oneself, oppressing oneself (e.g., “this anger is burning me up,” “this sadness is really weighing me down”). Instead, this emotional energy “unfreezes” and becomes available as one’s own free-flowing life-force, one’s aliveness, one’s vitality. One can literally feel oneself reclaiming and breathing in this liberated emotional energy, thereby becoming more whole/holy.
A fourth point here is that even after learning how to unfreeze emotional energy like this, there may be situations in which one needs to freely role-play certain emotions to educate or influence others. For instance, there is a kind of “teacher’s anger” that adults often utilize with children, and teachers with students, so as to give instant corrective feedback. Certain colorful male spiritual directors have been famous for their demonstrations of this teacher’s anger (“ruthless compassion”) on a number of dramatic occasions—one is reminded, for example, of the explosive expression of rage manifested by Indian masters like Sāī Bābā of Shirdi and the Akkalkot Mahārāj, or by numerous Chinese Ch’an Buddhist masters during the Sung dynasty onward. Jesus was said to have rebuked Simon Peter quite formidably on several occasions, and of course he demonstrated considerable “wrath” toward the callous merchants in the temple at Jerusalem. Women spiritual teachers may have an equal need to freely demonstrate this same kind of teacher’s anger to their charges on certain occasions.
In short, then, women, like men, may feel free to express any emotions they so wish. But we all need to be aware that there is a way of going beyond mere indulgence of old, egocentric, reactionary habit-patterns of behavior and, by means of a kind of mindful sublimation/transformation of energy, coming into a much more powerful and satisfying way of being—an exquisite wholeness, freedom, and purity of consciousness. Out of this enlightened awareness (a true “lightening up,” unburdened of old, unnecessary emotional baggage) can come the masterful “actor’s repertoire” of emotional expressiveness for the sake of giving feedback, illustrating teaching stories, inspiring people, and so forth, all for the purpose of edifying any sentient beings one might encounter. (And, of course, one must always remember the highest wisdom, expressed, for instance, in the Buddhist Diamond Sūtra, that there are no fixed beings separate from oneself, that is to say, there are no “others,” just the One Spirit in whom “we live, move and have our being.”)
Procreativity and Creativity.
In examining the various patriarchal “major religions,” an interesting phenomenon emerges: men have been much more conspicuous than women in the work of doctrinal and/or literary expression, founding and reform of institutions, missionary activity, and building-projects. Why should this be so? Suppression of women’s educational opportunity and leadership role by androcratic males is, it seems to me, clearly the major factor.
Tsultrim Allione (née Jean Rousmaniere Ewing), one of the first Western women to ordain as a Tibetan Buddhist nun back in 1970, and now a family woman (mother of three), offers another explanation as to why women have not been so “busy” as men in this regard:
"Women [may] manifest enlightenment differently from men; that is, women may be satisfied with ‘being,’ and men may have a desire to ‘do.’ Therefore, the energy of a male who has reached great spiritual heights may be to build monasteries and retreat centers, open libraries and create schools, whereas a woman might work for others on subtler levels, working with energy and not ‘doing’ anything which would call attention to herself, though this may be a product of patriarchal suppression.” 
I would add here, speaking as a male, that many of the intellectual and institutional projects “spawned” by men seem to be manifestations of an unconscious, perhaps even genetic, drive to create, to manifest in form, perhaps as a compensatory behavior to make up for our inability to give birth to new life through our own bodies, as woman are capable of so doing. Hence, our compulsion to write books, construct vast intellectual edifices, organize new religious movements, and build churches, monasteries, and so forth.
Nevertheless, we should also know that many male saints and sages have written no books and founded no institutions, and that a number of women saints, especially in the Christian tradition, have written significant works, founded important religious orders, and built many charitable institutions, schools, and so on. As mentioned earlier, archaeological evidence indicates that women of our Old Society—not men—were the first to create pottery, sculpture, language, writing, medicinal healing, shrines, temples, and religious celebrations as well. So it seems quite clear that women are not only procreative, but can also be as creative and constructive as men, if not more so. In the final analysis, therefore, I believe that the relatively lesser creative/constructive output of women has been due to the suppression of their educational opportunities and their leadership roles by androcratic males in the social context of the dominator systems that have been a feature of the mainstream societies for the last four or five millennia.
Concerning the topic of procreativity, we should hear Allione’s argument (in some places couched in Buddhist terms) for the importance of developing more appreciation for the uniquely female way of mothering and homemaking as an entirely valid expression of spirituality:
“The tremendous spiritual potential of motherhood as a soteriological [liberating] path has not been given enough appreciation and support. Someone commented to me when I had finished this book what a great accomplishment it was and what a lot of work it represented. I replied that compared to the work, thought, and energy I have put into even one of my children this book was easy. ...I would like to see more teachings given which really help in dealing with relationships and childrearing in a positive way. Such things as seeing motherhood as a constant attack on [challenge to] selfishness, an admirable ever-present testing of the Bodhisattva Vow to save all sentient beings before ourselves, provides ground for spiritual development. The arts of psychic and medicinal healing, a sacred sense of the home and preparation of food as a divine act, the one-value approach to diapers and a bouquet of roses and so on [seeing all such situations as fundamentally “empty” and wondrous aspects of primordial Buddha-nature], are all potential methods for spiritual paths for mothers. The possibilities are endless, but I have never heard a male [Buddhist] teacher discussing these possibilities. This is natural since these experiences do not generally fall upon men, and I think it is the duty of women who are spiritually awake to make connections between their lives and the teachings. The path of a mother should be given its deserved value as a sacred and powerful spiritual path. ... We must ... struggle to find spiritual ways that are adapted to us as women and which validate and develop us as women not as asexual entities who must deny their inherent nature in order to be acceptable on the spiritual path. When we do this we will certainly be of greater benefits to others than if we are trying to ape men, following traditions that were created by men for men.” 
A topic in need of clarification is that of miracles, which are attributed to so many of the female and male spiritual adepts. The term “miracle” originally means “that which inspires wonder.” Many adepts have said that, truly speaking, the world-appearance itself is the greatest miracle or wonder. (How does it arise ex nihilo, out of nothing, like a colossal dream? How stupendous!!) But within this overall context of the world-appearance, we use the term “miracle” to refer to any anomalous perceptual sensitivity or behavioral output which goes beyond our current understanding of what is normally, humanly possible. A good number of women and men of past and present have realized, through extraordinarily deep states of contemplation/meditation/yoga/devotion, an exceptionally refined level of consciousness, characterized by freedom from distractions, an amazing degree of concentration and attention-span, physical and psychological harmlessness (call it purity or goodness), maximum harnessing of “bioenergy,” and, in many cases, a radical breakthrough or return to the transcendental, formless principle of Pure Awareness/Spirit.
This transformation of consciousness seems to naturally, spontaneously occasion subsequent healing power, clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, post-cognition, levitation, transfiguration, bi-location, control of the elements, creation of people’s dreams, and so on. Instances of such occurrences in the cross-cultural hagiographical literature number into the many, many thousands. These include cases (such as the levitations of Joseph of Copertino, Italy) where no one seems to have even wanted such phenomena to occur, and yet still they occurred, witnessed by some of the most honorable and objective persons of his day! This, incidentally, constitutes a very sound kind of evidence for the existence of such phenomena, whereas we can rightly be suspicious of “wonders” which are reported by overly-zealous devotees who want such things to happen.
Another kind of internal evidence for the existence of these wondrous powers are the countless warnings in spiritual teaching literature not to be fascinated with these powers or use them for selfish purposes; why would such strong warnings be given about non-existent, impossible attainments? Does a mother repeatedly warn her child not to play with golden unicorns?
Another kind of evidence for the authenticity of miraculous happenings is that the same kinds of powers are reported worldwide in different cultures which apparently have not been exposed to each other.
Contemporary parapsychologists investigating paranormal or psi phenomena have amassed a huge amount of evidence (see, for instance, the work of Robert Jahn, William Braud, and Stanley Krippner) indicating that such wondrous things do occur, and many highly esteemed, allopathic-trained doctors, such as Dr. Randolph Byrd and Dr. Raffaello Cortesini in Rome, head of the Vatican’s Consulta Medica which examines the medical evidence for miraculous healings, have directly witnessed or studied the evidence for absolutely inexplicable healings and found them to be quite genuine. 
Therefore, given the massive evidence, when one hears in these pages of miracle-working holy women, one need not immediately recoil in disbelief or derision, but keep an open heart-mind, and remember that life is, on every level—physically, biologically, psychologically and spiritually—quite mysterious. The full account of how and why things are the way they are has not yet come in. In the United States two hundred years ago, or in certain “primitive” cultures of today’s world, telephones and automobiles could be considered quite miraculous, quite wondrous. Yet in the U.S. today these things are commonplace.
So also in the higher realms of psyche and spirit. Certain spiritual masters are using (or are being “an instrument for”) a kind of technology of consciousness which allows them to clairvoyantly know events at a distance or in the past or future, bi-locate, heal bodies and souls, levitate, radiate light, influence people’s dreams, and so on, according to “the Divine Will.” That such wonders have occurred, and still are occurring, should be no real surprise.
If we have any doubts about the existence of such things, let us investigate for ourselves... And, of course, the very best way to investigate is by the participant-observer methodology, following in the footsteps of these great women and men, undergoing the kind of heart-expansion, “attentional-retraining” and radical purification of awareness they themselves have undergone, so that we might directly determine whether or not such wonders are possible. For instance, that Theravāda Buddhist encyclopedia on meditation, the Visuddhi-magga, or Path of Purification, and texts such as Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras  list a whole array of miraculous powers (Pali: iddhis, Sanskrit: siddhis), and even give the specific “recipes” of instruction for how to develop them as tools to help sentient beings—yet this purification and the concentration processes involved are so extraordinarily sublime and demanding that most individuals would undoubtedly prefer to wallow in their mediocrity and not undergo such a major change in the way they perceive and behave. But short of such commitment and transformation on our part, any summary judgments of rejection and dismissal we might make concerning “miraculous” phenomena would simply be premature, irrelevant, and signs of inexcusable laziness, ignorance, and bad science.
Somewhat related to miraculous phenomena are a class of behaviors that many holy persons have experienced and/or manifested, which would strike the average person, not to mention the conventionally-trained psychiatrist or psychologist, as signs of a mental disorder should s/he witness such things. I am speaking of those unusual inner and outer behaviors which are evidently the manifestations of an aroused and quite potent life-force in the human being. In India, where the “science of consciousness” is in certain circles far more advanced than in the West, this life-force is called kuṇḍalinī-śakti (or prāṇa), a manifestation within individuals of the primordial creative aspect of God known as Mother Śakti, and these expressive behaviors are called kriyas, “(expressive) yogic actions.” In the Christian tradition, these things are known as the “workings of the power of the Holy Spirit.”
They include spontaneous, often quite involuntary and uncontrollable laughing, crying (“the gift of tears”), shouting, fainting/swooning, deep trance states (nirvikalpa samādhi) and even Near Death Experiences (NDEs), trembling, inner heat or “electricity,” inner visions or locutions, external movements (sometimes quite bizarre), adopting of yogic gestures and postures (some quite advanced), and even more “impressive,” “miraculous” phenomena such as visible luminosity around the body, levitations, miraculous healings of one’s body or others’ bodies, and so on.
I have made a deep study of these things in the spiritual literature, ancient and contemporary, and witnessed a fair amount of it in colleagues (also experiencing some of this to a small degree—mainly in the form of internal heat and electricity and absorptive trances during meditation and in the presence of certain spiritual adepts or “power places”) and it is quite clear that such unusual phenomena happen among both women and men, and in all those traditions that are invoking God and/or higher energies through deep states of meditation, concentration, prayer, chanting, devotion, fasting, vigils, and so forth. These kriya-phenomena can be induced through visions of, or the strongly-sensed presence of, God/deities, angels, and saints, through group energy in a strongly-charged situation (such as in monasteries meditation retreats, revival meetings, or very powerful, “charged” holy sites), or through the apparent “transmission” of spiritual energy from master to disciple (this transmission of energy is known in India as śaktipāta). As I have documented in another work,  instances of these energetic phenomena are described not only in the Hindu tradition, but also in the Hebrew and Greek Bible (Old and New Testaments), and Christian literature through the ages, from medieval Catholic monasteries to modern day Pentecostal tent-meetings; they occur in the Sūfī tradition as the effects of baraka (“grace” from the spiritual master [the murshid/pīr/shaykh] or from Allāh “Himself”), in Hasidic Judaism as the blessing power of the charismatic tzaddikim, in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayāna tradition as wang (“empowerment” from great lamas/gurus or from one’s tutelary deity), and so forth. The important discovery by scientists like Robert Becker, Elmer Green, and other members of the recently-formed International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, that we are not just biochemical machines but also (and maybe even more importantly) electro-magnetic fields and currents, provides a model which can begin to scientifically account for such cases of “energetic empowerment.”
In the following pages we will learn of a number of women from different traditions who manifest these energetic-empowerment phenomena.We should not glibly dismiss these women as hyper-emotional “hysterics” or as in some other way “mentally disordered.” As I have stated a moment ago, a great number of men in the spiritual field have also experienced these kriya-type phenomena. Certain souls simply seem destined to experience some unusual behaviors as they awaken into a more profound, higher-energy state of consciousness. Our task is not to a priori judge, criticize, stereotype and pigeon-hole such people or the phenomena manifesting in their lives, but to try to understand (hopefully, through our own direct experience) what specific energy (energies) and dynamics are involved. Rather than dismiss such manifestations as signs of insanity, we should turn Godwards (Goddesswards) as deeply as possible and not be surprised if we, too, eventually wind up experiencing such things as part of our spiritual awakening process.
I should not end here before discussing the phenomenon of troubled, malevolent souls, a.k.a. “demons,” which will occasionally be mentioned in these pages, but the existence of which is strongly doubted by certain skeptical and science-minded people today. (Yet, surprisingly, a number of psychologists, hypnotherapists and other mental health professionals have found the concept useful). I certainly don’t subscribe to the kind of Manichean thinking which afflicts numerous religious fundamentalists in our own day—namely, that there is a principle of Evil rivaling the power of God. (Judging from the anxiety of a number of fundamentalist Christians, for example, it is clear that they have more fear of the devil than love for God!). But it does seem clear from the annals of sacred literature that certain people, especially spiritual adepts, have occasionally had to deal with affliction from forces which are best termed “demonic.”
The same Hindu and Buddhist literature which speaks of the devas, or celestial beings, mentioned earlier herein, also speaks of the existence of proud, manipulative, callous and sometimes quite malevolent subtle-plane personalities which they variously term asuras or rākshasas, and which have the power to afflict humans, animals, and the confused, oppressed spirits of the ghost (preta) and hell (naraka) realms. My extensive study of the cross-cultural spiritual literature has turned up many instances of adepts being harassed inwardly in visions and locutions, and even outwardly, on a bodily level, by these troubled, hostile demonic forces. For instance, the Buddha, Jesus, the Christian and Sūfī anchorites of the desert, Milarepa of Tibet, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, et al, and a number of contemporary figures, such as Padre Pio of Italy and Hsüan Hua from China, have had to put up with noxious and even terrifying phenomena, often witnessed by others, such as loud screaming and insults directed at them which seem to come out of nowhere, having their body thrown about, inexplicable foul odors emanating from no identifiable source, excrement flung by no apparent physical agency onto nearby walls, and so forth.
Psychologically speaking, some of us might want to theorize that such forces represent unacknowledged, heavily cathected “shadow” material in the subconscious mind of the adept which is getting projected outward as some kind of apparently separate “demonic entity” or psychokinetically as the phenomena attributed to the demons. Of course, on the deepest level of spiritual truth (paramārtha-satya), everything is a projection of mind, that is, the Cosmic Mind. The illustrious Tibetan adept, Milarepa (d. 1135) knew this well: when frequently attacked by demons during his solitary periods of meditation on Mt. Chomolungma (Mt. Everest), he could fearlessly face them, and talk with them compassionately as fellow aspects of the One Mind, inviting them to stop creating so much negative karma by their behaviors (they eventually were “converted” by him and became Buddhist “guardian angels”!). But the fact that ultimately everything is of the One Mind does not make demon attacks any less terrifying to those who do not have Milarepa’s degree of equanimity and compassion. It is said in some of the spiritual literature that the Absolute Awareness will sometimes test the human manifestations of Itself who are at certain stages in the process of spiritually awakening by confronting these spiritual aspirants with either the pleasure of “divine consolations” (visions, ecstasies, etc.) or the pain and terror of “demonic afflictions,” all for the purpose of gauging and/or strengthening the aspirant’s power of equanimity, that is, fearlessness and desirelessness.
In short, as in the case of “miracles,” we should not be too quick to say that demonic afflictions do not happen, or that they are merely the products of a morbidly projecting subconscious mind on the part of deranged persons. Demons and their afflictions may actually exist on the relative levels of experience (“Of course they do!” say psychics) as integral aspects of the “cosmic play” being staged by the Almighty in its universal game of emanating multiple aspects of Itself which then endeavor to awaken from the dream of apparent separateness back unto Absolute Awareness.
The existence of demonic malevolent spirits, like the existence of devas, can also be compared with the existence of the pretas, the “hungry ghosts” or troubled spirits described by Hinduism and Buddhism and other traditions. These troubled spirits are usually former humans who are no longer associated with a body, yet have a strong sense of “unfinished business,” or an “incomplete gestalt,” and are hanging around the earth plane, attaching themselves to humans and in a certain sense nourishing on humans’ life-energy to maintain a sense of vitality. These spirits, in other words, have joined the constellation of sub-personalities in our psyche which hypnosis has shown that we all developed over the years, especially in our early childhood, and which constitute our own unique, overall personality configuration. (For instance, a person may have sub-personalities such as “the industrious one,” “the irresponsible joker,” “the shy one,” “the complainer,” “the philosopher,” “the romantic,” “the self or other-destroyer,” and so forth—all serving certain felt-needs which a person’s subconscious is maintaining. The possessing spirits join this assemblage of sub-personalities in a person, and begin to affect the person’s feelings and behavior just as the different sub-personalities are capable of doing.)
Communicating with these attaching spirits, nourishing them with ritual food, appeasing them, and sending them on their way “into the Light” is one of the oldest healing practices, practiced by shamans in all cultures, and by healers in Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Native American, the new religions of Japan, and other traditions.
Edith Fiore, who was trained as a behavioral psychologist (the most materialistic, down-to-earth branch of psychology), and other conventionally trained therapists have affirmed in their clinical, empirical practice that this phenomenon of spirit-possession is a real condition, often happening to a client after s/he has spent time in places where there are a lot of spirits, such as in hospitals, funeral parlors, cemeteries, or houses afflicted by poltergeists, and the syndrome is evidenced by sudden new personality characteristics, unusual mood swings, chronic tiredness, new diseases or phobias, or the taking on of characteristics of a deceased relative or associate. These symptoms, fortunately, can often suddenly be cleared up when the therapist engages in a “de-possession” program, which initially involves the building of rapport with the spirit attaching to the client (talking with the spirit while the client is in a light, usable hypnotic trance), telling the spirit that its body has died, that it has a wonderful life ahead in a new existence, that loved ones are present and waiting to go with it arm-in-arm into the light, and so on. In the process, Fiore and other clinicians have found that the spirit usually has some “karmic connection” with the client from a former life (e.g., revenge, guilt, unrequited desire). Because of their own observations of what comes through the clients in trance-states, and the dramatic clinical results they are obtaining (i.e., the sudden, dramatic clearing up of their clients’ problems) when this de-possession work is done, Fiore and many other professionally trained therapists now staunchly believe in the existence of possessing spirits and influence from past lives. Several years ago she and others (such as Roger Woolger, another leading theorist and practitioner in this field) joined together to form the Association for Past Life Research and Therapy (APART), which now has well over 300 members.
In many circles of spiritual healing within Christianity and Japanese new religions (e.g., Mahikari), quite similar results are being obtained via rather similar or other methods, though many Christians, unfortunately, often fail to distinguish between spirit-possession and demon-possession, the latter a much more infrequent and serious condition. 
The bottom line here is that if strong clinical evidence suggests that there are troubled spirits, as the ancients maintained, then perhaps there are also the demons, the more malevolent spirits, as the ancients have also maintained. And, of course, we do well to believe, following this line of thinking, that, as the ancients also maintained, there are helpful—albeit usually invisible—angels and guides as well, helping us in various ways (such as relieving us of the deleterious effects of spirits and demons when we ask these angel-guides to help us get free—it turns out that, according to Fiore, more than 90% of spirit-possessed persons seem to subconsciously want the spirit-presence with them; for instance, earlier in life when one had one’s tonsils removed, one might have been terrified and in an out-of-the-body (OOBE) state, inviting a near spirit into one’s personality make-up in order to gain more psychological support; so it seems that the angels will not help us get free of the troubling spirits unless we ask them to help us).
In all these strange-sounding matters of unfamiliar energetic phenomena and/or demons and spirits, it is helpful to remember the reassuring words of St. Paul, lest we be frightened by any intensification of our spiritual life: “All things work for the best for those who love the Lord.”
To put this another way, if we are sincerely intent upon spiritually waking up and realizing our true identity as Pure Awareness or Spirit, for the sake of helping all beings awaken from their dream of separateness, then we will be clearly granted the intuition that our changeless God-Self is infinite and invincible.
Nothing can hurt us.
We are at Home. We are at Peace.
INTRODUCTION to the Women’s Wisdom
Teachings & Testimonials
Let us ponder not only the lives and deeds but also the words of our wisest women of past and present, East and West. In various ways, they have dived deep to discover the Real. Here in this work we make available their revelations and counsels about that glorious domain they have encountered ...
The teachings and testimonials given here (equivalent to about a 400-page book), if heeded carefully and allowed to take root in our lives, have the power to awaken us into the clearest states of consciousness, the depths of Spiritual Reality—call this God, Love, Truth, Buddha-Nature, Christ-Consciousness, Tao, Brahman, or Sat-Chit-Ananda (Absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss). These are words of truth, having genuine power. Such words can liberate us from needless limitations, frustrations, worries, regrets and all other forms of ego-centric, self-ish misery, bringing us home to our real identity ... the Supreme God-Self.
Never before has such an extensive collection of teachings from the women of our sacred traditions been gathered together in one place. Here will be found the incomparably rich insights and sharings of many leading spiritual lights from the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Sūfī, Jewish, Christian, Quaker, Theosophical, Native American, and New Age traditions, including such major figures as Lal Ded, Mīrābāī, Brahmajñā Mā, Ānandamayi Mā, Anasūyā Devī, Ammā (Mātā Amritānandamayi), Mother Meera, the Buddhist women arhats, Shidō and the “Mirror Zen” nuns, Jiyu-Kennett Rōshi, Yeshe Tsogyel, Alexandra David-Neel, Achan Naeb, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiya, Catherine of Siena, Juliana of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Jeanne-Marie Guyon, Agnes Sanford, Kathryn Kuhlman, Margaret Fell, Nelly Sachs, Rabbi Léah Novick, Mary Baker Eddy, Eileen Caddy, and many dozens of others. As evidenced by this partial sampling of names, we shall be hearing from the really outstanding women spiritual masters known to us as well as from prominent female spiritual teachers of what might be called “lesser attainment” who, nevertheless, are authentic spokeswomen for certain timeless truths. A total of more than 170 women are represented in these pages.
Such a collection of women’s wisdom from past and present is long overdue. I would hasten to add that this is by no means a fully comprehensive anthology, either—a number of great women spiritual masters and teachers are not represented here. An even more thorough job would require at least one additional volume, if not several volumes, and require further translations of materials which have not yet been translated into English, as well as resurrections of materials long out of print. We must always be aware, too, that many saintly women have preferred to live the sublime spiritual way without having written about it or else their verbal teachings have not survived for posterity.
In the present work, I have, from the riches of material available to me, endeavored to bring forth a full-spectrum array of various gems of wisdom, devotion, and inspiration. These priceless teachings are a veritable treasure-trove. Let us make use of them and, like our holy women, begin to enjoy the glory of our True Nature, Spiritual Reality.
The teachings given here will naturally reveal diverse approaches to spirituality and different styles of speaking about the experience. Some of the passages given herein are autobiographical testimonials, while most of the passages are more straightforward, exhortative teachings. We can learn from both. Some passages are given in beautiful verse, while others are in prose, sometimes rather weighty and even technical, spiritually speaking. Certain women, depending on their temperament and conditioning (by family, culture, and/or religion), speak more from a sagely wisdom angle, often in the rather technical language of the “science of consciousness,” or the highly intuitive, even paradoxical language of gnosis, while other women speak more from an impassioned devotional angle and/or with a sweet, “homey” style. Some women utilize both parlances.
Again, certain women speak in a theistic, personal mode, while others, such as the Buddhist and Taoist women, speak in a Supra-theistic, Supra-personal mode. Some of these women are speaking from the highest level of nondual realization, wherein it is realized that the Divine Being is both Noumenon and phenomena, “formless and form-full.” Other women are emphasizing exclusively either ) the transcendent, formless Divine Being through the via negative (the negating way, “God/Self is none of this, nothing perceptible”) or else ) the immanent Divine through the via positiva (the positive way, “God/Self is manifest as all this”). Because of these latter emphases, some of the teachings here will, in order to inspire the listener with the virtues of equanimity and non-attachment, seem to denigrate the world as a passing “dream,” something to be transcended, while other teachings will extol nature as Divine manifestation.
Many of our women teachers are highly eloquent, while others speak in a less polished manner (yet ultimately no less moving). Because most of these women were not speaking or writing in English, we have to depend upon the skills of translators—God bless them for all their many labors in bringing these teachings to us! Some translations have improved upon the original writings in terms of their eloquence, while other translations have had the opposite effect—yet let us remember that sometimes it is virtually impossible anyway to preserve the style and all the various nuances when translating from one language into another.
In any case, our intention in reading these works is not mere literary criticism or entertainment, but a profound spiritual realization, a radical enlightenment, a complete waking up from the plight of egotism. And therefore let us be more than willing to overlook any shortcomings these words may have on a strictly stylistic level.
It is possible, of course, to find some contradictions in this body of teachings. Remember that some of the teachings are coming from a level emphasizing the immanent Reality (“God is in all”), while other teachings prefer to point back toward the original, transcendent Reality (“God is beyond all”)—any failure to distinguish these two different levels will be a major source of confusion. (The very best teachers, it seems to me, utilize both levels of teaching, depending on the needs of the teaching situation.)
Again, there are teachings for different stages of spiritual progress. For instance, words reflecting the contentment of final realization will have a very different flavor than utterances emphasizing the plight of unenlightened worldly living and the urgent need to awaken spiritually. Teachings of the former variety will, in effect, communicate the idea that “All is well; what is there to do or worry about?” Whereas teachings given to those still trapped in their egotism will urge, “Don’t you realize the terrible danger afflicting you? Make the supreme effort to get free, to find God/Reality!”
I am reminded here of the story told by Buddhist master Ajāhn Chah about the disciple who asks about the apparent contradictions in his teachings... Ajāhn Chah says, in effect, “Well, it is like this: imagine a person walking along a narrow, high road, with two deep ditches on either side: sometimes, if he is leaning to the left, I must yell, ‘Lean to the right!’ whereas if he leans too much to the right, I have to yell, ‘Lean to the left!’
In the very same way, all these different spiritual teachings are given so as to help my disciples stay balanced.”
Most important is that we bring an open mind to reading these teachings. Let us sincerely try to stay free of any prejudices which tend to come from the religious context in which we were raised or currently belong. Let us practice a deep, authentic empathy by putting ourselves inside the heart-mind of the particular woman who is speaking, and therein get a sense for the importance of the words being uttered. It is imperative that we not let our belief systems and the “demon of intolerance” get in the way. For example, we need not judge a Buddhist woman as “confused” or “ignorant” or “inspired by Satan” simply because she does not frame her teachings in reference to Lord Jesus. Similarly, we must not judge another woman as a victim of some kind of mental disorder when we hear her speaking in the impassioned, symbolic speech of the “forlorn bride” madly awaiting her Divine “bridegroom” (e.g., Jesus, Kṛṣṇa, Allāh), using the ancient parlance of “bridal mysticism” found in so many spiritual traditions.
In my many years of studying spiritual masters, saints, sages and their teachings, it is quite clear to me that what matters most in genuine sanctity is not the specific cognitive object of one’s spiritual beliefs—be this Jesus, Buddha, Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Allāh, Yahweh, Tao, the Great Mysterious, or the Great Goddess. No, what is much more important is: Just how cleansed is our heart-mind of egotism and selfish reactivity? Just how free are we from the binding effects of hate, fear, anger, disgust, pettiness, jealousy, lust, frivolity, and all the other unwholesome states of consciousness?
Numerous people from various religions (or no conspicuous religion) have indeed succeeded in abandoning the “selfish self” and have learned to live from the context of the all-pervasive God-Self, regardless of the object of their belief. Thus, for instance, certain Catholic beliefs and devotions strike many secular humanists as ridiculously naive, if not utterly insane, and yet these same beliefs and devotions have allowed for some of the most joyous, courageous, self-sacrificing, charitable, peaceful, fulfilled, and inspired people the world has ever seen. Similarly, some of the Theravāda Buddhist teachings on vipassanā meditation may sound very psychological, even dry and technical, to a fundamentalist Christian who is used to “marching for Jesus” on a hyper-emotional, quasi-political campaign to “spread the Gospel,” and yet countless Theravāda Buddhists of southeast Asia have definitely attained to that “peace which passes all understanding,” the “kingdom of heaven within,” whereas their fundamentalist critics may be far, far away from this state of real sanctity, caught up in the turmoil of their own unenlightened minds.
In a certain very real way, therefore, we do well to see all these words and teachings as various kinds of spiritual “medicine” for the disease of ungodly egotism. And it behooves us not to criticize someone else’s medicine simply because it is not the one with which we are familiar.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to criticize someone else’s way than to authentically, deeply live the way our God-Self wants us to live. So we need not demean other people’s spiritual beliefs. We can instead listen carefully, sensitively, with that requisite openness and sincerity of heart and mind, so as to see if there is something of use in the teachings of the various sacred traditions for our spiritual awakening. We may find that, though we were raised with one kind of religious teaching, a slightly different teaching from another culture might be just what is currently needed for the next stage of our spiritual development. And even if only ten percent of the teachings found herein are useful, that is indeed something most precious! Take such a dose of medicine, apply it, and GET WELL.
In listening to the various teachings given by the women of the different sacred traditions, we have a chance here to practice a real ecumenism. That is to say, we have a chance to go beyond the artificial distinctions imposed by the “organizational men” of the different religions who took the illustrious founders’ basic messages of love, goodness, selflessness, fearlessness, and desirelessness, and turned these universal messages into different “party lines” of doctrine and dogma which separate themselves from and stand hostile toward the doctrines and dogmas of other organized religions. Here, then, is the opportunity to penetrate the superficial religious differences which have arisen over time and place, and get to the heart of the human spiritual experience. Curiously, this spiritual core-experience, as our wise women express it, turns out to be not very different at all from the way in which the most eminent male spiritual leaders have formulated the truth—thus our women teachers reinforce the idea that it is human liberation, not just women’s or men’s liberation, which is essential.
I would venture to say that the shared content of all these spiritual messages from our noble women and men is simply this: Let go of the needless, the passing, the superficial, and all reactive states of mind, and endeavor by any and all means to discover that “Pearl of Great Price,” the eternal, changeless core of Divine Reality deep within our heart, within the hearts of all apparently separate beings. This Divine Reality is That Sole Being in whom all beings live, move and have their being. S/He is the One Who is supreme Love, Light, Freedom, Power, and Bliss. S/He is our own inmost Beloved, our true “I,” the Life of all lives. S/He is the Open Awareness in which flourish all personal consciousnesses.
Note to the reader: After many entries in this text will be a bracketed number corresponding to an identically-numbered endnote indicating the reference for the particular teachings which have been excerpted and presented here. In many cases, page numbers from the original source are given in parentheses after a quoted passage, so that the interested reader may more easily find the passage in its original context.These endnotes to the teachings are found in a separate "Endnotes" section after the endnotes to the main chapters featuring the biographic details.