There is a woman in the Sikh history whose name is Bibi Bani. She was the daughter of the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das, the wife of the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das, and the mother of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. Yogi Bhajan, my spiritual teacher, taught that there are three ways for a woman to achieve liberation in this lifetime. One is to serve a person of God; another is to give birth to a child of God, and the third is through your own meditation and spiritual practices. Many people today will start a yoga practice or spiritual practice, but when they get married they say, “ I don’t have time.” Things shift and their spiritual practices go by the wayside.
I am a householder and through the life of Bibi Bani I have been truly inspired to see how we can achieve liberation through serving our family. There is a beautiful story about Bibi Bani. She was taking care of her father, Guru Amar Das, who was the Guru for the Sikhs at that time. He often sat on a small platform doing his meditation practice and she always came to serve him. One time when she did this she noticed that one of the legs of his meditation seat was cracking and about to break. She knew that meditation is the highest practice, and she did not want his meditation to be disturbed at all, so she held the cracking piece of wood together with her hands. She continued to hold it for hours until he finished his meditation. When he came out of meditation he opened his eyes and saw his daughter holding the leg of his meditation platform. Her hand was totally bleeding by that time and shaking and barely able to hold the weight.
He saw this and was in awe of this incredible act of love. He really felt the divine feminine coming through her. And this has been a beautiful example for me in my life—to support each other as a family in our spiritual practice. Her capacity to go beyond the physical pain and give herself in that way is so beautiful. And Guru Amar Das actually told her that because her act of love was so pure, he wanted to give her a blessing. She told him, “If the next Guru can be my child so that I can continue to serve in this way, that would be the greatest blessing.” And so she was given that blessing. Truly the spiritual energy of her practice and who she was came through as the Guruship continued with her divine energy of service.
I am also really inspired by something I read recently from my spiritual teacher. He talked about how Mother Mary was such an incredible example of the divine feminine. Her role was also as the mother of this incredible Light on the planet, Jesus, but when he was born there was no space for her to give birth to him; nobody would take them in. Even the inn keeper told them to go to the barn and there Jesus was born, with all the animals and only hay to keep warm. And then Yogi Bhajan said that even though circumstances were rough then, now if you look at it, Jesus has the most real estate on this planet that the governments cannot even tax. Yogi Bhajan said that when Jesus was at school, the boys sometimes teased him referring to some rumors that he was an illegitimate child. So he came home and asked his mother, “Who is my father?” And she said, “Your father is God in heaven.” He believed her and lived his life accordingly. So what I bow to is this capacity of a mother to instill that belief in her child, and to serve her child in that way. As mothers, we really can give spiritual energy to our children, and I think this is a beautiful example.
Another woman in Sikh history who has inspired my path is Mai Bago. She lived at a time when the Sikhs were fighting the Mogul Empire. There is a story of forty Sikhs who left the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, because they didn’t want to die. And it is said that the wives of the village, when they saw their husbands returning, could not believe that they had deserted the Guru and their cause. Guru Gobind Singh was fighting for the religious freedom and cultural freedom of the entire region. Seeing their husbands’ cowardice, the women began to put on their husbands’ clothes and armor and gather their weapons to go to battle. The men just couldn’t believe that their wives were doing this. There was one woman in particular who led the women and her name was Mai Bago. She then convinced the men, these forty soldiers, to follow her back to the battle. They returned at a very crucial time and were instrumental in helping to save the life of the Guru. They eventually all died in the battle but Mai Bago survived. I’m inspired by her story as a Sikh woman but also as a woman who stood up with courage and bravery and service. And so these are the women of the past who have inspired me.
I am also very inspired by my mother, by how she has served her husband, my stepfather, and supported him throughout the years. She prays for him every day and it is really incredible to see how her love has just increased over the years. The level of her prayers is so powerful and seems to just surround him with light and energy, and our entire family as well. She is an incredibly strong woman and has been throughout the years, and that strength has given her the opportunity to be in a very, very joyful place right now in her service. I truly believe in a woman’s power of prayer. My mother has been very inspirational to me as I pray for my own husband and the capacity for us to create a sense of love, joy and freshness in our relationship.
And so my inspiration comes from women who are in relationship with others, and also I think it is important that we have a relationship with ourselves, connection with our divine feminine. I’m very grateful to Yogi Bhajan who has given so many teachings, yoga sets and meditations for women to simply connect with the Divine energy within. You do not have to be in relationship with anyone or married or have children to have a sense of the divine feminine, that you are the caretaker and mother of all. You have to nourish yourself and remain in a sense of abundance in order to do this.
Another modern day woman saint who has inspired me is Mother Teresa. I think about her often, about how every day she would pray and pray to God to show her how to be an instrument of His will on this planet. There are many, many stories about her but one that really stays with me is when she was living close to a war zone. Her prayers had guided her to give relief to the people. Everyone knew it was a dangerous situation with fighting going on right in the middle of the city. But she said, “Let’s go,” and the moment she and her sisters went in, a ceasefire happened without any coordination or communication. Obviously she was connected to that greater divine knowledge of the universe. Mother Teresa and her nuns were able to go in for a couple of hours and serve the people, and then they got out safely. I always remember that that universal knowledge, intuitive knowledge, is available to us, showing us how we can serve as women, if we just take the time to ask God for guidance. And Mother Teresa is an incredible example of that capacity.
The mantra I sing, “Adi Shakti,” is one way that I connect the Divine feminine energy of the universe:
Adi Shakti—the primal Power of the universe, I bow, I bow
Sarab Shakti—all-powerful divine feminine energy, I bow to you
Pritham Bhagvati—the primal one who cuts away all negativity, I bow to you
Kundalini Mata Shakti—the one who raises the energy in the spine, I bow to you
Trying to explain who Shakti is, to me, is like asking a thread, “Tell me what the blanket looks like.” The thread is so woven into and one with the blanket that it cannot distinguish itself from the blanket. I feel like I am so much a part of the divine feminine energy, and my understanding and my experience of it, as it is coursing through and supporting all of creation. As we do our meditation practice, our yoga practice, we tap into that energy. It is a very powerful energy, a very potent energy, but at the core of divine feminine energy is the capacity to bring us calming energy, peaceful energy, Zen energy, being able to relax and feel the flow. With this Shakti we have the opportunity to create, grow and tend, and at the same time we are in the state of receptivity, of being the cooling energy of the planet, a state of intuition and listening in stillness. As a woman, I feel that it is very important and necessary to have a daily meditation practice to be able to maintain both of these qualities of the gardener, so to speak, and the garden.
© 2013 by Snatam Kaur Khalsa. This article was edited from an interview with Snatam in February 2013 by Light of Consciousness. Snatam Kaur is a singer, songwriter, recording and performing artist renowned for her devotional music. Her latest release, Heart of the Universe, with Peter Kater, produced by Spirit Voyage, was reviewed in Light of Consciousness Spring 2013. The Adi Shakti Mantra is available on her album Divine Birth. This August Snatam will be teaching a course with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, The Radiant Power of Women, at the Omega Institute. In June and July she will teach at Summer Solstice and Khalsa Youth Camp in Northern New Mexico. In July she will teach a course, Realign with the Light in Santa Cruz, CA. For more information visit snatamkaur.com and spiritvoyage.com and www.3ho.org.