Traditionally, the rêsi are seers who live in secluded places outside of society. They engage themselves in mystical forms of practice (such as the making magic potions and all sorts of healing medicines) which derive from the Indian Hindu type of individual ascetic, also known (in Sanskrit) as ṛṣi or yogi. As such, the brahmin rêsis stand in stark contrast with the Buddhist bhikṣus, who live in a monastic community and abide the monastic code of discipline (Sanskrit: vinaya).
In Indonesia, the earliest sources mentioning the rêsis date from 6th and 7th century legends and myths in chronics (Javanese: kitab kunå). The historiography of the rêsis can, therefore, be placed somewhere around the early stages of the Hindu-Buddhist period (6th century – 14th century) in the Indonesian archipelago.
Just like the ṛṣi in ancient India did not belong to any particular established form of religion, so too were the rêsi in Indonesia not incorporated into a specific religion, but rather did they become important characters in the teachings of Kejawen, or Javanese mysticism. The Kejawen teachings tell about the rêsis and their attainments of supernatural powers (Sanskrit: abhijñā, siddhi; Javanese: sidi). These supernatural powers include several kinds of magical powers, such as:
– levitation, bilocation, walking on water and through walls (Pāḷi: iddhividhā);
– being able to hear conversations of humans, gods, and animals from a far distance (Pāḷi: dibbasota);
– mind reading and teleportation (Pāḷi: cetopariyañāṇa);
– remembering past lives and forms of existence (Pāḷi: pubbenivāsānussati).
Rêsis in Indonesia are not always referred to as such, but rather will people call them reverend masters, or ‘bathara‘ (Javanese: ‘batårå‘; Sanskrit: ‘bhaṭṭāra‘), like for example Bathara Narada (Sanskrit: Ṛṣi Nārada) and Kyai (Rêsi) Bagaspati (kyai means ‘honorable’ in Javanese).