Rishis are those beings who have perfected their understanding and vision of all things spiritual through intense tapas, or yogic practice. Rishis are considered to be channels for the intelligent spiritual light to pass through them from the Gods. When the Rishi focuses on a particular deity, that god and the Rishi unite and the deva, or god, illumines the mind of the Rishi and reveals the mantra for the sake of mankind and for the earth overall.
The Rishis see the manifest world, but their extraordinary quality is that they perceive the world of vibration and light. How do they see? By shifting from living through the understanding of the individual perspective alone and thereby accessing the universal vision within them. In essence, the Rishis see a broader scope of life. They see all as energy and with their panoramic and X-ray view they translate this larger vista and understanding for the world. The revelation that comes to them takes the form of a mantra.
Yes, Rishis are illumined beings. A Rishi can be either male or female. There are many male embodied Rishis and many female embodied Rishis. In the RG Veda there are at least 400 Rishis, 25 of whom are females. The gender of the body doesn’t make the difference. What allows one to become a Rishi is the intensity of the focus on the yogic practice, tapas, and the sincerity with which the aspirant connects with the luminous light. One becomes a Rishi by the grace of the gods, devas.
Mantras are the expression of the intuition rising out of the depths of the soul of the Rishi. As mentioned above, the Rishi communes with a god, deva, and that luminous source reveals a teaching in the form of a mantra to the Rishi. The Rishi then shares that mantra with her/his students and the world at large. Mantras can be prayers to a deity, a form of respecting a god, a specific celebration concerning the actions of a deva, or in some cases, a mantra can be a call for a cosmic power to be revealed to the Rishi.
At times a Rishi, in her/his communion with the intelligent light, will hear the mantra. While at other times, she/he will hear the inspiration and will give that inspiration words and a meter to the mantra. Due to the supreme vision that the Rishis have access to, they may also be called drashtāra, seers of the truth.
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