The Radiance Sutras comes from a tradition that, even a thousand years ago, considered women to be equal to or even superior to men as both students and teachers. It is based on a celebration of male and female polarities, and there is no competition, only complementarity. The presence of both men and women makes the teaching come alive.
Kashmir Shaivism is a name sometimes given to this lineage, and Swami Lakshmanjoo was a living master in the oral tradition. Referring to the teaching presented in this text and related kundalini yoga texts, Lakshmanjoo writes, “Our Saivism teaches us that this thought can be practiced more fruitfully by women than men.” He cites Abhinavagupta (who was writing around 1000 AD) as saying:
yoktah samvatsaratsiddhiriha pumsam bhayatmanam sa siddhistattvanisthanam strinam dvadasabhirdinaih
“That attainment which is said to be achieved in one year’s time by those terrified is achieved in twelve days by those divine ladies who are established in the true path of Saivism.”
These citations are from Kashmir Shaivism, by Lakshmanjoo, page 107, published by The Universal Shaiva Trust. The quote is from Jayaratha’s commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka.
“Those terrified” refers to those who have awakened to the vastness of the universe and are dedicating themselves to liberation. These quotes are phrased a bit awkwardly, but I present them “as is” so you can see that these scholars perceived and gave credit to the gift many women have for the work.
This was an unusually enlightened thought for the time, and is reminiscent of a perception expressed a couple of centuries earlier by Padmasambhava, one of the Tantric adepts who took Budhism to Tibet, where he is known an Guru Rinpoche. Padmasambhava is thought to have lived from around 730 to 805 AD, and said,
“The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female, there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, the woman’s body is better.”
Over the years, I have seen this again and again – a woman in our groups will simply . . . step into embodying her enlightenment. It is as if she is already awakened, and now she is letting it shine through every cell of her body.
We have also seen women recite one of these sutras and embody it fully, transmitting the electricity of its revelation, and then ... keep going, improvising along the same lines, adding layers of deeply felt texture. Those of us who teach in this tradition have been marveling over the dynamic creativity flowing from modern women yogis and how they seem to have the originating current that is the source of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra on the tip of their tongues.
If women are particularly brilliant at tantra yoga, men are gifted in a different way. The masculine tends to have a quality of slow and steady progress. Men have to work harder to gain the insights and embody the revelations. Because of this, once they step into their vibrant reality, it is more stable. These are only generic statements, and individuality always trumps the generic.
Another mystery is what I can only call universal initiation. So many people coming to yoga and meditation today seem to have already been practicing, secretly in their hearts, and showing up for a yoga class or workshop is just an external manifestation of an inner quest. Their bodies are vibrating with Shakti and Shaktipat. Beginners seem not to be beginners at all; they appear to have lifetimes of experience behind them and they show up ready, willing, and eager to jump in.
We must get ready and be always ready to welcome these radiant young people on their adventure.
*Abhinivagupta is considered one of the great geniuses of this tradition, author of Tantraloka and Tantrasara, and many other works. He lived from around 950 to 1016 AD, in Kashmir.
**There is kind of a pun here in that abhinava - अभिनव - has the meanings of "fresh, modern, blooming, tender, young, new." And Abhinivagupta's teachings FEEL ultra modern, almost from the future rather than from the past. His teachings also invite us to be tender and fresh in our approach to experience, rather than jaded and burnt-out.