The primary focus of this article relates to the
possibilities of women being accepted as religious teachers / masters /
gurus in various traditions and cultures. At page
bottom are a few links to women's roles in general in some religious
traditions, not deeply explored, but good for background.
Cruising through history we find that in almost any
culture it is literally his story. This applies in religion and enlightenment and masterhoodshipness as
well as it does in any
other field outside the home. Women are of course honoured in most cultures, when not
raped and beaten. But such honour comes at a price. When you see what
particular heights they are encouraged to pursue and emulate –
chastity, devotion to husband, service, sacrifice, etc – it is
apparent that for those who do not naturally fit with the stereotypes it
could be very stultifying indeed. And "honour" here does not necessarily equal
In the field of disciplehood it has been
suggested that women have an advantage. Their nurturing
motherhood-related chemicals equip them well for the path of the
devotee, which can be as liberating as anything else if sincerely
followed. But even if it is true that women have an advantage as disciples, very few
have gone into "postgrad" work as masters, in any culture.
Before the 20th Century this was especially so. Now, with the rise of women's
possibilities in other fields, there has been a corresponding rise of a
female presence in the
guru biz. Yay!
But there are limitations to this. The drag of tradition is an albatross
that weighs heavily on everyone but may be most constricting for women.
Traditions do vary but in their treatment of women they are surprisingly
similar. Or is it so surprising?
More subtly, it has been suggested that most women are not suited by
their natural energies to be masters. Women may become enlightened via
the devotee path but masters need to have an outgoing
energy and women's energy is more ingoing, receptive. Or so the argument
goes. Is that the case?
I dunno but i note that outside of the established and set-in-their-ways
mainstream religions, opportunities are expanding for women in the guru
biz. In Mini-Advaitaland, fully one quarter of those listed
Well, that's impressive, especially as this area is totally outside
women's traditional purview. Even in big time
Advaita 13% are women. Figures for Devotionals
and Middle-Paths are 17% and 9% respectively,
as of this writing.
Progress is being made, though much remains to be undone.
The closer women stay to tradition, the
more they will tend to embrace qualities that will not help them wake
up, the great masters of the past notwithstanding. For it is not the
masters who have created the traditions but their followers. Even
present-day masters, to the extent they are traditional, are
perpetuating forms of ritual and attitude that may be helpful for a few
but enslave far more than they help. One exception to this may be the
Tibetan tradition, which in gender balance is statistically not so different but seems to
me to be freer overall. Though it relies extensively on ritual and form,
it understands the need to go beyond form. Likewise Zen, whose female
practitioners have been fruitful and multiplied since it came to the West.
A complex question, whose answers may take another hundred years. Stay
Meanwhile a survey, of traditional and non-trad female
role models, may be useful. And eventually of course we may be able to
dispense with role models altogether, as a role model is virtually by
definition someone who takes you away from yourself, someone to imitate.
Female spiritual roles and achievement in traditional religious practice:
Hinduism, ancient, modern
Buddhism overall, modern*,
All Eastern, mainly
* = an outstanding site
Currently listed in rated categories:
* = has
a decent rating ()
pick o' the pack (+)
Advaita: Gangaji**, Catherine Ingram, Byron
Packer**, Metta Zetty*
Middle Path: Suma Ching Hai, Helen Schucman, ShantiMayi**
Devotional: Ammachi**, Anand Murti Guru Maa Ji, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda,
Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Jetsunma Ahkön
Norbu Lhamo, Karunamayi*, The Lady, Mother
Meera*, Shri Mataji
Fringe: Helena Blavatsky, Anne Hamilton-Byrne,
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Judi Rhodes
§ . § . § . § . § . § . § . §
. § . § . § . §
And in unrated: Too many to keep
up with! But significant numbers exist in all the larger
categories (Z, T, I, N and O) and a few in all others.