Category: Thantra

June 19th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


The series of ten Mahavidyas begins with Kali and ends with Kamala. Both are aspects of the Divine Mother who are widely worshiped in their own right apart from the context of the Mahavidyas. In this way they differ from aspects such as Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, and Matangi, who lack similar independence and a widespread popular following.

One way of analyzing the Mahavidyas places Kali first because she represents the transcendental experience. This same scheme places Kamala last as the aspect most closely connected to the here and now. The error here is to regard Kali and Kamala as separate. In truth, the Divine is one, and the enlightened soul perceives unity, not difference.

Another approach categorizes Kali as fierce (ugra) and Kamala as gentle (saumya), but that is an oversimplification. Kali is not without tenderness and beneficence, and Kamala, although overwhelmingly auspicious, is not exclusively so. Again, Mother is One, and she is all.

Kamala is portrayed as making the gestures of boon-giving and fearlessness.  She sits on a lotus and holds lotus blossoms in her two upper hands. Even her name means “lotus.” She is flanked by two elephants. Obviously Kamala is Lakshmi, who is portrayed in the identical manner, but in the context of the Mahavidyas there are also significant differences.

Lakshmi is a very ancient form of the Divine Mother. In Vedic times she known as Sri. As she appears in the Vedic hymns, Sri represents light, radiance, luster, glory, and prosperity. She is the divine resplendence and power inherent in every deity.

In late Vedic times, in a hymn known as the Srisukta, Sri is identified with Lakshmi, who may originally have been a non-Vedic agricultural goddess. The Srisukta already associates her with the lotus and the elephant. The lotus represents cosmic order, life, and fertility. The universe unfolds like the blossoming of a lotus, and the creation is accordingly vibrant, beautiful, and good. The lotus also represents purity. The plant is rooted deep in the mud, but the exquisitely beautiful flower it produces is untainted. Similarly, water beads up on the lotus leaves and immediately runs off, so the lotus represents serene detachment as well as incorruptibility. Besides purity, the lotus is a symbol of spiritual authority, and the lotus on which Lakshmi-Kamala is seated is in fact a throne.

The elephant stands for similar qualities. The water showered from its trunk represents rain, and rain is tied to fertility, growth, increase, well-being, and wealth. The elephant, being the mount of kings, is also a symbol of authority.

Purity and authority. These are two qualities that we find negated by the preceding Mahavidya, Matangi. Are these two aspects of the Divine Mother antithetical? Or is there a way to make them fit together? In many of the world’s religions, doctrinal differences smaller than this have led to hostility, schism, physical violence, and war. But the system of the Mahavidyas embraces even radical differences and manages to fit them together harmoniously.

To understand this better, we need to keep in mind that there are at least three different views of Lakshmi, depending on the sectarian standpoint of the viewer. Sri is the original Vedic goddess, who by late Vedic times had absorbed and assimilated to herself the probably non-Vedic Lakshmi. So today Lakshmi is a Vedic, or orthodox, aspect of the Divine Mother. In all likelihood, the probably non-Vedic Lakshmi also retained her original standing among her worshipers, and in that form we know her as the Tantric goddess Kamala. In the aspect in which she is best known and most widely worshiped today, Lakshmi is the consort of Visnu. This third context is that of Vaisnavism.

This adds a new layer of complexity. Vedic Sri represents the divine resplendence, power, and glory inherent in any deity. As such, Sri had connections with every male god—with Indra in regard to sovereignty and fertility, with Kubera in regard to wealth and prosperity, with the Vedic Visnu in regard to the dharma, or moral excellence. However, in the later orthodox Vaisnava religion, Lakshmi becomes subordinate to Visnu. She is now his obedient wife, portrayed iconographically as smaller and therefore less powerful than he. However, in the Pancaratra system, an early form of Vaisnava Tantra, Visnu is the inactive male principle and Lakshmi is the active female power. It is she who runs the show.

Even more so, as the Mahavidya Kamala she is all-powerful. Kamala is not a divine consort but the independent and all-supreme Divine Mother. She is not the spouse of any male deity. Interestingly, she is rarely identified with the other female forms found in orthodox Vaisnavism, such as Sita, Radha, or Rukmini. If any consort names are ever applied to her as epithets, they are Saiva names such as Siva (“the auspicious one”) and Gauri (“she who is gently radiant”). However, Kamala is not completely auspicious or one-sided. Sometimes she is called Rudra (“the howling one”), Ghora or Bhima (“the terrifying one”), or Tamasi (“the dark one”). Like Kali, the Tantric Kamala embraces the light and the darkness, for she is the totality.

This helps to explain how Kamala, although overwhelmingly associated with lotuses, which represent purity and authority, can be reconciled with Matangi, who asks us to violate the outward purity laws and to question the authority that imposes them. In the end, spiritual life is about regaining our lost autonomy. Once we have realized our identity with the Divine, through whatever form of practice, we experience our own perfection. Questions of purity and impurity evaporate. To know the reality of divine consciousness in its unconditioned oneness is to become purity itself—the ultimate purity beyond the limitation of thought. Questions of authority likewise evaporate in the experience of absolute oneness, where there is no second. This is the experience of liberation or enlightenment, wherein any imposed authority vanishes in the radiance of divine autonomy (svatantrya).

Lakshmi, or Kamala, is the Divine Mother’s most popular aspect, for she relates to the world of the here and now. Devotees pray to her for good fortune, prosperity, abundance, and well-being—for all the good that life has to offer. There is no harm in this, as long as we wisely ask only for enough and no more. Lakshmi, our Mother, urges us also to pray and strive for the well-being of all our brothers and sisters. Then beyond that she calls us to strive for a higher wealth, the riches of dharma. This dharma includes devotion, kindness, compassion, truthfulness, and all other forms of moral excellence. Virtue is our higher treasure, more precious than gold. It will lead us to seek the still higher knowledge of Self-realization that is the ultimate goal of human life.

In conclusion, all the Mahavidyas are states of spiritual awakening that we will experience within our own minds and hearts along the course of our journey back to the Divine. How often we’ve heard it said that God is love. Lakshmi or Kamala represents that love. To be saturated with the presence of Kamala is to become an embodiment of divine love. Then we come to understand her great secret: love is unique and unlike anything else, for the more of it you give, the more of it you have. And with this great secret Kamala offers us a direct path to the Divine.    12767434_993965894000691_1245160780_n

Posted in General, Thantra

June 18th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


At first glance Matangi looks very much like Sarasvati. The main point of similarity is thevina that she plays.  Like Sarasvati, she may be shown holding a book and a japamala as well. Together these symbolize the interrelated aspects of sound, knowledge, and power. The sound of the vina represents creativity, which is the power of consciousness to express itself. The mala also represents the power of sound, but in the form of themantra. The book stands for the wisdom and knowledge transmitted through the word. The parrot that accompanies Matangi also has associations with speech.

It is a well-known truism that knowledge is power.  Our own experience verifies that the more we know about something, the greater will be our ability. The more we understand how something works, the better we will be able to make it work to our advantage. This fact underlies every acquired skill relating to any field of learning and any form of technology. It follows that the more we know about the internal instrument that is the mind (antahkarana), the more mastery we will gain over it also.

Like Bagalamukhi, Matangi is often associated with yogic or magical powers that can be invoked to exert influence over our environment or over other people. Again, knowledge is power, but this sort of power is something that the genuine spiritual aspirant should have no interest in cultivating. Rather than to seek mastery over others, it is higher and nobler by far to seek control over the impulses of one’s own lower Self.

Still, others try to exert power over us, and this points us to the difference between Sarasvati and Matangi. From the earliest days of the RIgveda, Sarasvati has been one of the most venerated forms of feminine divinity. As such, she is the Vedic goddess par excellence. In contrast, Matangi is in many ways the quintessential Tantric goddess.

Throughout Indian religious history the Vedic thread represents orthodoxy and the establishment, centered on a priesthood charged with performing the Brahmanical rituals. The Tantric thread, in contrast, lies outside the boundaries of Vedic orthodoxy. It is not the strict religion of the male-dominated establishment but one that has always been open to men and women alike and to members of any caste. It excludes no one and embraces those at the margins of society. Tantra is remarkably egalitarian, perhaps in response to an orthodoxy rigorously governed by ideas of ritual purity.

Many of Matangi’s myths involve questions of purity. These narratives often associate her with tribal peoples, hunting, and forests, which stand at the periphery of civilized society. Matangi is definitely an outsider, and the questions of purity revolve especially around matters of caste and food.

Her keeping company with candalas, or untouchables, calls to mind an incident in the life of Sankaracarya, who was born an orthodox brahmana. Once he was walking with his disciples along a lane in Varanasi when they spotted a candala approaching. Fearing the outcaste’s polluting touch, Sankara ordered the poor creature out of the way. Surprisingly that lowly fellow re­sponded with a discourse on the unity of atman and the intrinsic worth of all human beings. Sankara was so humbled that he was moved to compose a poem declaring that the divine Self shines forth equally from the high-born and the untouchable.

The question of ritual purity is a vital one  when it comes to food. The food that is to be   offered to a deity is prepared with great care and according to strict rules of physical and mental cleanliness. It is then offered to the deity, who consumes a portion. The rest, rendered blessed, is distributed to devotees as prasada, or divine grace. One willingly and gratefully partakes of  it. Apart from prasada, any other leftover food is called ucchistaand is regarded as highly polluting. A person who comes in contact with it is  rendered ritually impure. Interestingly, it is this very ucchista that Matangi demands as an offering. This is a dramatic reversal of normal procedure. Additionally a devotee offering ucchistato Matangi should also be in a ritually impure state, defiled by the leftovers of others and unwashed.

What is going on here? In a society so attentive to the rules of ritual purity, there is a danger that this idea of purity can become an end in itself, and slavish observance can become a form of spiritual bondage. When Matangi demands the transgression of rules, she is not encouraging irreverence at all but a response to the constraints of indoctrination. From our earliest days we are conditioned to hold certain ideas about what is proper and what is not. Our sense of right and wrong may become devoid of compassion. People who run around being conventionally pious all the time are usually unaware of their own failings and can easily become deluded by the pride of their own perceived moral excellence.

Tantric teaching speaks of eight fetters, and the one that is particularly relevant here issila, undue concern over proper conduct. Like every other fetter, sila is a mental attitude that imposes its influence on us and impinges on the essential freedom of the Self. Sometimes it takes a jolt to break free from these ingrained attitudes. Our ordinary awareness is heavily conditioned—saguna. The consciousness that is our divine nature is entirely unconditioned—nirguna. Sadhana is basically a process of deconditioning.

The distinction of purity and impurity imposes a dualism on the way we view the world. Only when we see through our lower notions  can we appreciate the Tantric teaching that the true nature of impurity is not the ritual pollution we have been trained to fear but our own existential limitation. We have been so involved with trifling concerns that the crux of the matter has eluded us entirely.                                                                                                                Impurity(mala).

In Tantric teaching the word for impurity is malaMala arises through the atman’sassociation with maya, the Divine’s own power of limitation. The imperfect finite soul is only a contracted form of the perfect, infinite Self. Mala is the impurity of our finitude, and it takes three forms.

The impurity called anavamala is the consciousness of limited individuality: “I am small (anu) in my own sense of separateness, lack, and inferiority.” Anavamala is the imperfection of a diminished sense of self. It is also the root impurity that gives rise to the other two malas.

As the sense of individuality evolves into a sense of separation, it produces the sense of “I and other.” This further condition of impurity is known as mayiyamala: “I am apart from what I experience around me.” Mayiyamala plunges us into the world of duality, and our mental activity gets caught up in a process of contrast, comparison, and exclusion. Focusing on the diversity around us, we are distracted from the unity within that is our original, divine nature.

The third impurity involves the interaction of the limited interior I and the multiple exterior other. This is karmamala, the bound and binding state of human action: “I act out of necessity, driven by my own sense of want.” Our actions are never free and spontaneous; they always bow to the conditioning that binds us, and their effects in turn prolong the bondage.

As long as the malas color our awareness, they hold us captive. As long as we chase after the conventional notions of purity and piety and shun their opposites, we are caught up in a reactive chain. Matangi’s example teaches us to face our false notions head on and be free.12735806_993966207333993_1941343210_n

Posted in General, Thantra

June 17th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


In Tantric teaching the word for impurity is malaMala arises through the atman’sassociation with maya, the Divine’s own power of limitation. The imperfect finite soul is only a contracted form of the perfect, infinite Self. Mala is the impurity of our finitude, and it takes three forms.

The impurity called anavamala is the consciousness of limited individuality: “I am small (anu) in my own sense of separateness, lack, and inferiority.” Anavamala is the imperfection of a diminished sense of self. It is also the root impurity that gives rise to the other two malas.

As the sense of individuality evolves into a sense of separation, it produces the sense of “I and other.” This further condition of impurity is known as mayiyamala: “I am apart from what I experience around me.” Mayiyamala plunges us into the world of duality, and our mental activity gets caught up in a process of contrast, comparison, and exclusion. Focusing on the diversity around us, we are distracted from the unity within that is our original, divine nature.

The third impurity involves the interaction of the limited interior I and the multiple exterior other. This is karmamala, the bound and binding state of human action: “I act out of necessity, driven by my own sense of want.” Our actions are never free and spontaneous; they always bow to the conditioning that binds us, and their effects in turn prolong the bondage.As long as the malas color our awareness, they hold us captive. As long as we chase after the conventional notions of purity and piety and shun their opposites, we are caught up in a reactive chain. 12767434_993965894000691_1245160780_n

Posted in General, Thantra

June 16th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


Of all the Mahavidyas, Bagalamukhi is the one whose meaning is the most elusive. Her symbology varies widely, and its interpretation shows little consistency. The opinions of one informant often bear little relation to those of another, and even while making spiritually valid points they can seem rather arbitrary and disconnected. There is no satisfactory explanation even for Bagalamukhi’s name. The word bagala is not found in the Sanskrit lexicon, and attempts to link it to baka (“crane”) are less than convincing.

One of her common epithets is Pitambaradevi, “the goddess dressed in yellow.” Herdhyanamantras also emphasize the yellow color of her complexion, clothing, ornaments, and garland. Her devotees are instructed to wear yellow while worshiping her and to employ a mala made of turmeric beads. Even her few temples are painted yellow. Although her verbal descriptions consistently emphasize the color yellow, her pictorial representations are strangely sparing in their use of the color. More often Bagalamukhi is shown wearing red or orange. There is no consensus on what the color yellow is supposed to mean either. The most plausible explanation out of several is that yellow, being the color of the sun, represents the light of consciousness.

The rest of Bagalamukhi’s symbols evoke similarly vague and widely divergent interpretations and produce no clear picture of what this Mahavidya is all about. This situation calls for fresh thinking. The explanation that follows is in large part unique but is based on a trail of clues found in her mantra.

Bagalamukhi is consistently associated with siddhis, which are yogic powers with magical properties. For a genuine spiritual aspirant such powers are obstacles to be avoided. That said, one such power is stambhana, the power to immobilize, to paralyze, to restrain an enemy. Proper understanding of what stambhana means spiritually is essential to knowing who Bagalamukhi is.

The first thing to keep in mind is that according to all schools of Indian philosophy the world of our experience consists of three levels—the gross or physical, the subtle or mental, and the causal or potential.

Illustrating the principle of stambhana at the gross level, there is an incident from the life of Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, that took place around 1889 in the village of Kamarpukur. There a devotee named Harish returned home after a series of frequent visits to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshinesvar and, after his mahasamadhi, to the monks at the Baranagore monastery. Harish, who sometimes behaved erratically, had neglected his wife and family during that time. To remedy the situation, his wife administered drugs and spells, and Harish became visibly deranged. One day he caught sight of Holy Mother on the road and began to chase her. When she reached the family compound, she found that no one was at home. She began to circle the granary, all the while with Harish in pursuit. After going around it seven times, she could run no farther. Then, as she told it, she stood firm and assumed her own form. Putting her knee on his chest, she grabbed hold of his tongue and slapped his face so hard that he gasped for breath, so hard that her fingers reddened. At that moment the usually gentle Sarada Devi revealed herself in the form of Bagalamukhi and enacted the physical stance of stambhana.

This concrete symbolism represents a principle that penetrates through every level of our existence and beyond, all the way back to the essence of our being. In this incident we witness the actual presence of Bagalamukhi as a living counterpart of the painted images and verbal descriptions that show her stopping an adversary by grasping his tongue and striking him.

The tongue represents speech, or vak, which is elsewhere personified as a goddess. Vak is more than the spoken word; it is the divine creative power that encompasses the entire range of consciousness. Shown holding on to her adversary’s tongue, Bagalamukhi has the ability to render motionless the creative and destructive power of consciousness in any of its manifestations. These encompass motion, thought, and intention, the manifest forms of speech at the gross, subtle, and causal levels.

Beyond them the supreme level of speech is consciousness-in-itself, the ultimate, unconditioned reality. Emanating from it, intention, thought, and motion are the three stages of creativity that account for this world that we experience. The Chandogya and Taittiriya Upanishads contain passages explaining how Brahman, seeing itself as One,intended to express itself as the many, then thought out a plan, and then set it in motion. Tantric teaching defines these three stages as icchasakti (the power of will), jnanasakti(the power of knowledge), and kriyasakti (the power of action). This is how consciousness works at the cosmic or universal level.

At the individual level that same consciousness works within each of us, infusing everything we feel, think, or do. This internal awareness is also vak, the power of speech, but again the spoken word is only the end-product and grossest manifestation.

There are four levels of speech. The highest is para vak, the supreme, infinite consciousness without qualities or conditioning. It is our divine nature, our true Self—ever present, unchanging, and illuminating all of our experience. Next, pasyanti vak, isthe visionary stage, the urge for self-expression. Everything in our life’s experience begins here in a flash. Every feeling, every idea we formulate, everything we act upon, begins in an instantaneous flash of awareness. When we begin to think about whatever has flashed, ideas begin to take shape in logical sequence. This level of awareness is calledmadhyama vak, the intermediate, formulative phase. As the ideas become more and more definite, they assume a form expressed in language. This is vaikhari vak, the level of articulate speech. Vaikhari vak is both subtle and gross. The subtle form is the thoughts in our mind, now shaped into words, phrases, and sentences but not yet uttered. The gross form is what comes out of the mouth—the expression of our consciousness embodied in physical sound.

As long as we identify with the body and the mind, our experience of self is that of an individual amid the duality of “I and other.” We often feel the need to control the other, and sometimes that is legitimate, but not always. At a higher level we realize that control of self is a nobler and better, but much harder, discipline. Bagalamukhi symbolizes our innate power to go within and take control of our own awareness. That taking control isyoga, which Patanjali defines as the cessation of constant modulation (cittavritti) within our own field of awareness. Only by taking hold of the activity within our awareness and stopping it can we be freed from worldly bondage and rest in the peace and joy and glory of our own true nature.

Stambhana in the highest sense is yoga. After duly observing the ethical practices ofyama and the ennobling disciples of niyama, we are ready for asana. Sitting quietly stops the motion of the body, which in turn calms the metabolic functions and prepares us to quiet the mind. The remaining states of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are a continuum of ever decreasing activity, culminating in the experience of the Self as pure, unconditioned consciousness. Pulling us by the tongue, Bagalamukhi is drawing us there.12767434_993965894000691_1245160780_n

Posted in General, Mantra, Thantra

June 15th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan

Dhumavati personifies the dark side of life. We know from our own experience that life can be exhilarating, joyful, and pleasant—something we want to embrace and live to the fullest. But at other times we find that this same life can be depressing, sorrowful, painful, and frustrating. At such moments we respond with pessimism, sadness, anxiety, or anger. It is then that we no longer want to embrace life but rather to avoid its misery.

This is where Dhumavati comes in. Her name means “she who is made of smoke.” Smoke is one of the effects of fire. It is dark and polluting and concealing; it is emblematic of the worst facets of human existence. The concepts embodied in Dhumavati are very ancient, and they have to do with keeping life’s inevitable suffering at bay. Before there was the Mahavidya named Dhumavati, there were three earlier goddesses who were her prototypes. They are closely related to each other and have many characteristics in common. They share many of these same characteristics with Dhumavati as well, but with her there is also an important difference.

Dhumavati’s oldest prototype is the goddess Nirriti in the RIgveda. The early seers envisioned a principle of cosmic order and universal moral law that they called rita. The moral dimension of rita later came to be called dharma. The name Nirriti is a negation ofrita. Whereas rita denotes order, growth, abundance, prosperity, harmony, well-being, and the goodness of life, Nirriti is the opposite. She personifies disorder, decay, poverty, misfortune, dissension, sickness, and the whole range of life’s ills, culminating in death. Nirriti was not worshiped in the same sense as other Vedic deities; rather she was ritually appeased so as to be warded off. In the Rigvedic hymn that mentions her (10.59) the refrain is,  “Let Nirriti depart to distant places.” The idea was to keep her far away.

Closely related to Nirriti is Jyeshtha, whose name means “the elder.” She represents the state of decline that comes with old age, and naturally she is depicted as an old woman. She is instinctively drawn to households in which there is strife—where family members quarrel or where the adults feed themselves and disregard the hunger of their children. It is probable that she, like Nirriti, was propitiated to keep her at a safe distance.

One of Jyeshtha’s epithets is Alakshmi, This name indicates that she is everything that Lakshmi is not. She is Lakshmi’s dark mirror image. The Candi informs us that it is Alakshmi who visits misfortune upon the homes of the unrighteousness. She stands for poverty and bad luck and all the miserable things that can happen to people.

All three of these names refer to an inauspicious goddess who is portrayed as dark-skinned, signifying her tamasic nature. It is clear that she is the prototype of the Mahavidya Dhumavati, because of the striking similarities not only of character but also of iconography.

A common feature is the association with a crow. The crow sometimes appears emblazoned on Dhumavati’s banner; sometimes it sits atop the banner. Occasionally the bird is shown as huge, serving as her mount (vahana). In some illustrations a flock of crows accompanies her. In any case the crow, as an eater of carrion, symbolizes death. It is a fitting companion for a goddess of misfortune, decay, destruction, and loss.

Dhumavati, like her prototypes, is associated with poverty, need, hunger, thirst, quarrelsomeness, anger, and negativity. She is consistently shown as old and ugly, with sagging breasts and crooked or missing teeth. She is dressed in filthy rags. We can draw two inferences here. One is that the unpleasant experiences of life will eventually engender a sense of disgust that will turn us toward the Divine. The other is that the Divine is present everywhere, even in what we ordinarily consider foul or ugly. How can there be a place where the infinite Mother is not?

Unlike her predecessors, Dhumavati is characterized as a widow, and this gives a clue to her unique nature as a Mahavidya and distinguishes her from the earlier goddesses, who are to be avoided. The difference is that Dhumavati has some positive aspects.

The state of widowhood in Indian society carries a range of complexities. Conventionally widowhood is an unenviable state. Without her husband, a widow has lost her former social standing and may come to be viewed as a financial burden on the extended family. This is symbolized by the cart in which Dhumavati sits; it has nothing to pull it. Occasionally an illustration shows two birds yoked to the cart, but far from expressing empowerment, they appear to be struggling against something too big and to heavy to pull.

In the context of traditional Indian society, the fact that widows can be socially marginalized can also indicate that for them the worldly concerns of life are past. Widows are free to follow a spiritual path, to go on pilgrimages, and to engage in sadhana that would have been impossible during the years of family obligations. No longer constrained by the demands of the married state, they are in a position to apply themselves wholeheartedly to spiritual practice. There is an implied parallel here between the enforced position of widowhood and the voluntary state of renunciation known as samnyasa.

Apart from the specific conditions and observances of traditional Hindu society, is there any broader lesson we can extract that is relevant to our experience? Since the Mahavidyas are all taken to be wisdom goddesses, intent on helping us toward enlightenment, there should be some practical insight that Dhumavati can impart.

A primary lesson is that misfortune may look different in retrospect. It is universally acknowledged that something that seemed painful or unfortunate at the time might have been for the best after all, in short a blessing in disguise. Most of us need look no further than our own lives or the lives of people we know for examples of disappointments, misfortunes, frustrations, defeats, or losses that led to positive transformation. Similarly, adversity can build character and turn an ordinary soul into an extraordinary one.

Another lesson is that with the ticking of the clock we inevitably face losses of one sort or another, and we must come to terms with them. Dhumavati represents the erosive power of time that robs us of loved ones, of our own youthful strength and vitality, of our health, and of whatever else contributes to our fragile happiness.  Everything that we so desperately cling to for security is by nature transient. In the end we all face our own mortality. That is the fundamental problem of human existence.

The image of Dhumavati, old and ugly and alone and miserable in her cart of disempowerment, tells us what to do. The lesson is to cultivate a sense of detachment. Note that Dhumavati holds a bowl of fire in one hand and a winnowing basket in the other. The fire symbolizes inevitable cosmic destruction: all things shall pass away. The winnowing basket, used to separate grain from chaff, represents viveka, mental discrimination between the permanent and the fleeting. Even though her stalled cart represents an external life going nowhere, Dhumavati empowers us inwardly to reach for the highest, and there is nothing to stop us once we are resolved. In the end, she points the way to liberation.12735806_993966207333993_1941343210_n

Posted in General, Thantra

June 14th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


The name Bhairavi means “frightful,” “terrible,” “horrible,” or “formidable.” The basic idea here is fear. Ordinarily we associate fear with darkness. It is not uncommon to be afraid of the dark, or rather of the dangers that lurk there unseen, but that is not the sort of fear that Bhairavi provokes, for she is said to shine with the effulgence of ten thousand rising suns.

Bhairavi may be terrifying, but she is anything but dark. If this is puzzling at first, we need to find another example where brilliant light and terror meet face to face. That example is found in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Arjuna had been urging Sri Krishna to reveal himself in his supreme, universal form, but when Krishna complied and Arjuna beheld it, the experience was too much for him. The Gita describes the divine glory as the splendor of a thousand suns rising   at once in the sky. In that blazing radiance Arjuna beheld the boundless form of the Divine with arms, eyes, mouths, and bellies without end. Arjuna saw gods and celestial beings and whole worlds looking on with dread and wonder, some praising, some trembling in fear. On every side he saw worlds disappearing into fiery mouths, like moths hurtling into the flames of their destruction. In this overwhelming experience of the Divine, Arjuna came face to face with the birthless, deathless, infinite reality in which universes are born, subsist, and die. He was so struck with terror that he begged to see his beloved Krishna once again his familiar, gentle human form.

This experience of Lord Visnu’s universal form, his visvarupa, closely parallels the experience of the Divine Mother as Bhairavi. Just as Visnu’s forms range from the cosmic to the personal, so do Bhairavi’s. Reality is One, but it appears to us as many. We can think of Bhairavi in cosmic terms or in an individualistic sense. As a cosmic goddess Bhairavi is closely identified with Durga in her fierce form, known as Candika. Because Durga presides over the birth, sustenance, and death of the universe, she projects three primary facets, called Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasarasvati. These extremely subtle and immeasurably powerful aspects of consciousness  manifest on the material level as the three gunas, the basic building blocks and driving energies of the universe.

In her individualized aspect, Bhairavi is the power of consciousness dwelling in every human being. Then she is known as Kundalini. Basic to both the cosmic and individual aspects is identification of Bhairavi with tremendous power. In other words, in either aspect she can appear as overwhelming.

The innate capacity to know—to experience—the Divine lies latent within every human being, and spiritual life unfolds through various stages of discovery. When we set out on the spiritual path, we start our seeking by making a conscious effort of some sort, but then what we find isn’t necessarily what we expected. If we have not sufficiently prepared ourselves to receive it, the light of spiritual knowledge may blaze so strongly that we may have all of our familiar and comfortable assumptions about the world and ourselves suddenly shattered. We may have our world stood on its head, and for a while we may lose our bearings. But the extraordinary nature of spiritual discovery is that it causes us to see the world in a new light and to have a different relationship with it.

Though Bhairavi can be disconcerting or even downright frightening, she is in the end beneficent. Again, we are reminded that she is the color of fire, and what does fire do? At the physical level it burns. Its blaze of heat and light consumes whatever has form, and in this awesome manifestation of destructive power it is both magnificent and terrifying. Yet when controlled, fire can be beneficial, warming us when we are cold, cooking our food, and so on.
Fire as the light of consciousness likewise can be frightening or reassuring. This light of consciousness is sometimes called tejas, which means “resplendence.” It is through the light of awareness that we have knowledge of the world, that we experience our own existence, for better or for worse.

Another word frequently encountered in connection with fire is tapas. This is often translated  as “austerity,” “mortification,” or “penance,” but all those words carry negative connotations. A more accurate translation would be ardor. Ardor is also the Latin word for flame, and along with the idea of heat and light it conveys the idea of enthusiasm, passion, and joy. In order to practice tapas, that self-purifying discipline that leads us Godward, we need that encouragement. According to one account, Bhairavi incites every form of passion, and she also grants the power to control it. That power is called yoga.

In the Mahabharata (12.250.4) Vyasa defines the highest tapas precisely as “fixing the mind and perceptive faculties one-pointedly on a single object, the indwelling Self. Vyasa’s definition of tapas is not all that different from Patanjali’s definition of yoga asthe restraint of activity within one’s own awareness” (cittavrittinirodha). It is easy to understand how tapas can be conceived of as “self-restraint,” “concentration,” or “meditation.” As we practice tapas, this metaphorical fire burns away all the impurities, limitations, and illusions of our small, ego-based self and prepares us for enlightenment. Even so, most of us harbor the fear of losing our cherished individuality; we cling to our small and imperfect selfhood out of fear. But little by little we progress. Because Bhairavi is so powerful, we must proceed with due caution. She dwells in each of as Kundalini, but we must not force her to rise, lest we harm ourselves. The best tapas is not any esoteric practice but simply the repeated attempts to rein in the mind and direct it toward the Divine. The rest will take care of itself.

Each of the Mahavidyas has more than one form. Most have a variety of representations and a proliferation of names, but none can claim as many as Bhairavi. Accordingly her images are widely divergent, and there is no single iconography to define her. Sometimes she is in the cremation ground, seated on a headless corpse. Like Kali, she has four arms. With two of her hands she holds the sword of knowledge and the demon’s head that represents the destruction of the ego. Her other two hands may display the abhayamudra, urging us to have no fear, and the varadamudra, the gesture of granting boons. More often they hold a mala, signifying devotion, and a book, signifying knowledge. The trident represents the pervasively threefold nature of her manifestation and can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

It is often said that Bhairavi represents divine wrath, but it is only an impulse of her fierce,   maternal protectiveness, aimed at the destruction of ignorance and everything negative that keeps us in bondage. In that aspect she is called Sakalasiddhibhairavi, the granter of every perfection.

It is the Mother’s light that shines on every facet of our existence, making it knowable. That light sustains the created order, even though we find shadows here and there in this realm of duality. When the light grows stronger it roots out darkness from every corner. It eventually grows so bright that the created forms dissolve into pure radiance, and what remains is the state of spiritual illumination in which we have no more individuality, no more limitation—only our identification with the Infinite.

If Bhairavi represents overwhelming brilliance,           12767434_993965894000691_1245160780_n

Posted in General, Thantra

June 13th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan

(“she who is decapitated”) is a form of the Divine Mother shown as having cut off her own head. The blood that spurts from her neck flows in three streams—one into her own mouth and the others into the mouths of her two female attendants, Dakini and Varnini. At the same time, Chinnamasta she stands on the body of another female figure who is copulating with a male who lies beneath her.

This image may be shocking at first, but in fact it symbolizes sublime spiritual truths, and each feature of the iconography has an important point to make.

Several interpretations are given to the significance of the severed head. First, the head contains the mouth, which is the organ of language or sound. Speech (vak) or sound (sabda) is creative energy (sakti). The RIgveda notes that in the beginning, speech (vak) was coextensive with Brahman (10.114.8). The Sathapathabrahmana calls vak the unborn one from whom the maker of the universe produces creatures. In nondualistic Tantric teaching, consciousness and the power of consciousness are one and the same reality. The creative power of consciousness by which the universe becomes manifest is represented by the garlands of skulls  that Chinnamasta and her two female attendants wear. Such a garland is called varnamala, a garland of letters, for each skull represents a sound of the Sanskrit alphabet. Far from being a symbol of death, the garland of skulls is in truth a symbol of divine creativity.

The head is also the part of the body associated with identity. There are stories in Indian tradition of transposed heads, in which the identity of the person goes with the head and not with the rest of the body. The severed head, iconographically, symbolizes liberation. Each person’s individual identity is a state of conditioning or limitation, dependent on qualities. By severing the head, the Mother reveals herself in her true being, which is unconditioned, infinite, and boundlessly free. This idea of freedom is reinforced by her nudity, which symbolizes that she cannot be covered or contained by any garment. Because she is infinite, she is also autonomous.

Chinnamasta wears an unusual sacred thread in the form of a serpent. In stead of being a symbol of Brahmanical orthodoxy, this peculiar sacred thread indicates the opposite: she stands outside of the normal rules of society and pious obligation. Also, because the serpent sloughs off its skin (its outer appearance) without dying, it symbolizes immortality and imperishability.

Chinnamasta stands on the copulating couple, Kama and Rati. The name Kama here refers specifically to sexual desire; Rati means sexual union. The female, Rati, lies on top, in the same way that Kali is shown as the dominant partner with Siva. At the highest level, the feminine principle (Sakti) is consciousness in its active mode—projecting, sustaining, and dissolving the creation; the masculine principle (Siva) is the inactive ground of all existence, the eternally changeless light of awareness. To repeat the Tantric formula, without Siva Sakti would have no being, and without Sakti Siva would have no expression. Kama and Rati symbolize that same principle. They are usually shown lying on a lotus, although sometimes on a cremation pyre.

There are two interpretations of Chinnamasta’s relationship with Kama and Rati. One holds that she because she stands on top of them, she has overcome sexual desire. This is the more common interpretation, and one that places a practical ideal before the spiritual aspirant. Here Chinnamastarepresents self-control and the turning of the mind away from the flesh and back toward the spirit.

The other interpretation, which complements the first, has a cosmic dimension. It takes the copulative act to represent the divine creative capacity. In the Taittiriyopanishad we read that Brahman, seeing itself alone, desired (akamayata) to be many, to propagate (bahu syam prajayeyeti) (2.6.1). In commentaries on the Svetasvataropanishad (1.4) desire (kama) is also identified as the single cause of the cosmic manifestation. Thus, the Divine Mother wields absolute power. She has the freedom to manifest, or not to, as she so chooses. She controls her own desire and her own creative power. From this cosmic point of view, Chinnamasta has power over the creative urge; if she wishes to express it in the form of the universe, she is free to do so; if she wishes to suppress the manifestation, she may do that also.

Each of these activities is a phase in the overall scheme of issuing forth (pravritti) and reabsorbing (nivritti); the two are the complementary halves of a single process, which is called spanda, the eternal pulsation of consciousness.

The two goddesses who attend Chinnamasta play a role in the life of the cosmos. Dakini, on the left, is black; Varnini, on the right, is red. Chinnamasta, in the middle, is white. Black, red, and white represent the three gunas, or basic universal energies. Sattva,symbolized by Chinnamasta’s whiteness, is the highest of the gunas, of course, but all three belong to prakriti, the principle of materiality on which all nature rests. Nothing exists apart from the Mother, whose power of diversification takes form as the grand display of the universe.

The blood spurting from Chinnamasta’s neck represents the life force (prana) or cosmic energy that animates the universe and sustains all life. The first stream flows into Chinnamasta’s own mouth. She is self-existent and dependent on no other. The streams that flow into the mouths of her attendants represent the life-force in all living creatures. All life is nourished by the Mother. In another interpretation, the three streams represent the flow of consciousness through the ida, the pingala, and the susumna, associated in turn with the Dakini on the left, Varnini on the right, and Chinnamasta in the middle. Gaining mastery over the flow of one’s own awareness through yogic practice leads to the experience of the supreme Self.

In line with this interpretation, Kama and Rati represent the kundalini that has been aroused. As it travels upward along the susumna, it cuts through the various knots of ignorance. When it reaches the sahasrara, the force has grown so strong that the head can no longer contain it. The head “blows off,” and as it is shown resting in Chinnamasta’s left hand, it represents the state of transcendental consciousness.

Chinnamasta’s symbolism relates overwhelmingly to ridding ourselves of wrong ideas and the limitations imposed on us by ignorance of our true nature. Despite the violence of the imagery, it is important to note that Chinnamasta does not die; she is very much alive. The message here is that the Self is indestructible (akshara) and eternal (nitya) by its very nature (svabhav).

In practical terms, if the act of decapitation is viewed as an act of self-sacrifice, then the message for us is that selfless acts will not hurt us. To the contrary, any selfless act will indeed diminish the ego, but what is the ego? Only the wall of separation, limitation, and ignorance that keeps us imprisoned by our own false sense of who we are. Chinnamasta, then, in the act of self-decapitation by the sacrificial knife urges us to relinquish a smaller, powerless identity for one that is infinitely greater and all-powerful. To be rid of the ego is to cast off the veil of maya.

In summary, the imagery of Chinnamasta is about the nature of the Self and the regaining of Self-knowledge, otherwise known as liberation.12735806_993966207333993_1941343210_n

Posted in General, Mantra, Thantra

June 12th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


Tripurasundari is sometimes spoken of as an adimahavidya, or primordial wisdom goddess, which puts her in the company of Kali and Tara as representing one of the highest experiences of reality. She is not the ultimate, absolute, or nirguna state devoid of all qualities; still, she represents the experience of consciousness in a high state of divine universality.

Her other names include Sodasi, Lalita, Kamesvari, Srividya, and Rajarajesvari. Each of these emphasizes a particular quality or function.

According to the description in her dhyanamantra, Tripurasundari’s complexion shines with the light of the rising sun. This rosy color represents joy, compassion, and illumination.

Tripurasundari has four arms, and in her four hands she holds a noose, a goad, a bow, and five arrows. The noose indicates the captivating power of beauty. The goad represents the ability to dissociate from ego-based attachment. The bow represents the mind (manas), and in this case it is no ordinary bow but one made of sugarcane. The five arrows, representing the five sensory faculties (jnanendriyas), are made of flowers. In other words, what we perceive and cognize is by nature good, sweet, juicy, and delightful. The world is a place of beauty, to be savored and enjoyed. To reinforce that idea, a profusion of jeweled ornaments adorns Tripurasundari’s body, symbolizing not only her splendor but also her inexhaustible abundance.

Tripurasundari is often shown sitting on the recumbent body of Siva, who  rests on a throne. Siva is the absolute consciousness-in-itself, the sole reality and support of everything that has name and form. On that sole support sits Tripurasundari, who is Sakti. This is a graphic illustration of the great Tantric teaching that without Siva Sakti would have no being, and without Sakti Siva would have no expression. Consciousness and its power are one.

The four legs of Tripurasundari’s  throne are the gods Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, and Mahesvara. Brahma is the power of creation or cosmic emanation (srishti); Visnu, of cosmic maintenance (sthiti); Rudra, of destruction, dissolution, or withdrawal (samhara). In a distinctively Tantric addition to this threefold activity, Mahesvara symbolizes the divine power of concealment (nigraha). When the nondual reality makes manifest the finite many, the infinite One becomes hidden from our awareness. Conversely, Siva, in the form of Sadasiva, is the power of self-revelation (anugraha), also known as divine grace. When we go beyond the appearances and division of name and form, we again experience the ineffable divine unity that is our true being. These five deities—Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, Mahesvara, and Sadasiva—represent Tripurasundari’s five divine activities (pancakritya).

In the Sakta Tantra, it is Mother who is supreme, and the gods are her instruments of expression. Through them she presides over the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the universe, as well as over the self-concealment and self-revelation that lie behind those three activities. Self-concealment is the precondition as well as the result of cosmic manifestation, and self-revelation causes the manifest universe to dissolve, disclosing the essential unity.

With this in mind, the eighteenth-century commentator Bhaskararaya proposed that the name Tripurasundari should be understood as “she whose beauty precedes the three worlds,” meaning that she is divinity in its transcendental glory. However, the name is usually taken in an immanent sense to mean “she who is beautiful in the three worlds.” Present here is the idea of a triad, a grouping of three that plays out in many  different aspects of the phenomenal world.

The triangle is the dominant motif of Tripurasundari’s yantra, the SricakraThe innermost triangle represents the first stirrings of cosmic evolution. This takes place within divine consciousness. Pure, nondual consciousness is aware of nothing other than itself, for there is no other. It is pure subjectivity—the ultimate “I” (aham). As we learn from the Upanishads, the One, seeing itself alone, declares, “Let me be many; let me propagate myself.” Within the pure awareness of “I” (aham) arises the idea of ”this” (idam). Now we have subjectivity and objectivity within the same singular reality of consciousness. And where there are two, there is always a third—the relationship between the two. Hence, the triangle of the knowing subject, the known object, and the act of knowing that relates them.

Tripurasundari represents the state of awareness that is also called the sadasivatattva. It is characterized as “I am this” (aham idam). Cosmic evolution is the outward flow of consciousness (pravritti). Spiritual practice reverses that flow, so for the yogin this stage is a very high level of attainment, close to final realization. It is an experience of the universe within the unity of consciousness. A beautiful expression of this occurs in the Bhagavadgita (6.29): “One who is joined in yoga sees the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self; his is the vision of sameness everywhere” (sarvabhutastham atmanam sarvabhutani catmani / ikshate yogayuktatma sarvatra samadarsanah). In this state a person experiences the same sense of selfhood felt within his or her own heart as pervading everything. This experience of the Self in all beings, called sarvatmabhava, takes one beyond the confines of the individual ego to the realization that “I am all this.”  This is the level of awareness known in the Tantra as sadasivatattva. This direct experience of the Divine simultaneously in oneself and throughout the whole of creation results in a feeling of universal love (visvaprema). One who lives in this exalted state of oneness feels no separation from others and therefore becomes a fount of compassion.

Even in our ordinary state of consciousness, Tripurasundari is the beauty that we see in the world around us. Whatever we perceive externally as beautiful resonates deep within. That is the meaning of the flower arrows and the sugarcane bow. Deep within dwells the source of all beauty, that ultimate truth of which the outer world is only a reflection, of which our experience is a recognition. True beauty lies not in the object perceived but in the light of awareness that shines on it and makes it knowable. One who lives mindful of Tripurasundari abides in a purity of consciousness and experiences a joy that can be tangibly savored. Yet if the creation is wonderful, how much more wonderful must be she who created it.

For the unenlightened the world appears imperfect. Perfection is wholeness and unity, but the world appears to be a vast assemblage of diverse parts. The unity of the divine cause is veiled by the multiplicity of its effects. We perceive beauty but feel also the pain of its fleetingness, forgetting that the source of beauty lies indestructible in the heart of our awareness as the Divine Mother, Tripurasundari.

Her sadhana is therefore the purification of our awareness—cleansing the mind of unworthy thoughts and the patterns of thinking that underlie them, recognizing beauty everywhere, seeing the miraculous in the commonplace, and rising to the conviction that nothing is alien to ourselves. As the Upanishads teach, “All this universe is truly Brahman” (sarvam khalv idam brahma); so too is this Self (ayam atma brahma).

Posted in General, Mantra, Thantra

June 12th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


The fourth Mahavidya is Bhuvanesvari, whose form closely resembles that of Tripurasundari. Even more than the goddess who is beautiful in the three worlds or transcends them, Bhuvanesvari is identified with the manifest world and our experience of it.

Her name consists of two elements: bhuvana, which means this living world—a place of dynamic activity—and isvari, which means the female ruler or sovereign. The name Bhuvanesvari is most often translated as “Mistress of the World,” but bhuvana is more than the earth we stand upon. It is the entire cosmos, the bhuvanatraya, consisting of the heavens, the atmosphere, and the earth. Because this is a living, dynamic phenomenon, Bhuvanesvari embodies all its characteristics and their interactions.

Some of her other names make this same point. She is called Mahamaya (“she whose magical power is great”). Maya here is the power to create a magical appearance for the delight of the spectator; that is what a magician does. She is called Sarvarupa (“she whose form is all”) and Visvarupa (“she whose form is the universe” or “she who appears as the universe”). All that we experience in this life is in fact the Divine Mother. As Bhuvanesvari she is consistently associated with the here and now.

Her images closely resemble those of Tripurasundari in several respects. Bhuvanesvari’s complexion resembles the color of the rising sun; she wears the crescent moon on her brow, and she is heavily bejeweled. This last feature affirms the value of the physical world. Sometimes she is shown holding a jeweled drinking cup filled to the brim with gemstones, reminding us that she is the source of all abundance.

The lotus on which she sits tells us that she is the source of the creation. Her full breasts symbolize her nurturing, maternal nature. As Mother she sustains all that she has given birth to, and her attitude toward all her children is most gracious.

This world, with its profusion of diversity, is her joyful play, to which she remains ever attentive. That is indicated by her three eyes, which represent her knowledge of past, present, and future. Nothing escapes her all-pervading awareness.

Bhuvanesvari is often shown holding a noose and a goad. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that it is Mother who binds and Mother who sets free, and these two implements illustrate her captivating and liberating powers. With her noose she fulfills the functions of avidyamaya, casting us into the confusion by which we mistake appearances for reality. According to another interpretation the noose represents the pancakosa, the five sheathes that surround and conceal the atman. They are the physical body (annamayakosa), its life-breath (pranamayakosa), the perceiving mind (manomayakosa), the determinative faculty (vijnanamayakosa), and the causal sheath or sense of individuality (anandamayakosa). With her goad she pushes us to overcome any hindrances—any passions or negativities or wrong ideas that conceal our true, divine nature. She urges us to reach beyond the limitations of human life drawn by body, mind and personality, and to aspire to true Self-knowledge.

The lotus is one of the most pervasive symbols in Indian iconography and its meaning can vary according to context. Here the lotuses in Bhuvanesvari’s upper hands represent growth and the vigorous energy pervading the cosmos. They also symbolize purity and perfection. Although the lotus plant has its roots in the mud, its blossom is untainted in its beauty. The lotus thus represents the state of spiritual perfection to be attained through sincere and ardent practice. Our ordinary lives may appear mired in worldliness, but we are in essence untouchably pure.

Because Bhuvanesvari is so closely associated with the manifest universe, it follows that the emphasis is on her creative power. As the physical universe begins to emerge out of the void, the first of the five elements (mahabhutas) to manifest is space (akasa). It only makes sense that there would have to be space before the remaining four elements would have a place in which to exist. Space is also the medium of sound, and this sound is none other than the creative word. The two ideas are very closely related. In the RIgveda, which is the most ancient of all Indian sacred texts, space is personified as Aditi, the great mother goddess of early Vedic times. Aditi, whose name means “undivided,” had as her physical symbol the vast, shining expanse of the sky. This space, which appears to stretch on without limit, is a visible symbol of infinity. Aditi, the great mother who gave birth to the gods, and who is all that has been, is, and will be, was also identified with Vak, the goddess of the creative word, who in turn is identified with Sarasvati and later with Durga. Western philosophy recognizes this same concept of creative power as logos. In line with this thinking, another name of Bhuvanesvari is Vagisvari, “the sovereign of the creative word,” who rules over the process of cosmic manifestation.

Along with the idea of space comes the idea of pervasion, and so Bhuvanesvari is celebrated as the all-pervading divine presence. And all-pervading means just that. We think of exterior space as beginning where our physical body ends and then stretching out into the unimaginable reaches of the universe. That is one form of space. But there is also an inner space—the space within our own awareness—and that too is infinite.

The inner space is the space of the heart. The word heart does not refer to the physical organ or even to its location in the chest. Heart means the center of awareness, the very essence of consciousness. For each of us the heart is the abode of the infinite Divine Mother. This means that wherever we go in this world, we are never away from her presence. We may often forget, and most often we do, owing to the myriad distractions which claim our attention and involve our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Still, the light of awareness is ever present, illuminating and making possible all experience. Without the Mother’s presence, there would be nothing.

In a treatise entitled Self-Knowledge (Atmabodha), attributed to Sankaracarya, the penultimate sloka (verse 67) takes up this same theme: “Risen in the space of the heart, the Self, the    sun of knowledge, dispels the darkness; all-pervading and all-supporting it shines and causes everything to shine” (hridakasodito hy atma bodhabhanus tamopahrit / sarvavyapi sarvadhari bhati bhasayate ‘khilam).

Practically speaking, Bhuvanesvari, by her all-pervasiveness and identification with the universe, invites us to cultivate an attitude of universality. Any religion that lays claim to possessing the exclusive truth is indulging in a dangerous fantasy. All religions link humankind to a single reality that lies beyond this world of our petty differences yet abides in every heart and mind. Some choose to call this reality God or Heavenly Father or Divine Mother, but in truth he, she, or it is that which cannot be named, for to name is to limit, and who are we to limit the Illimitable? And why? For our own personal comfort or satisfaction, either individually or collectively? Does it serve us better to cling to our own parochial ideas of the Divine and ever to squabble among ourselves? Or to open ourselves to the Infinite, which we can never describe, but which in truth we are.12767434_993965894000691_1245160780_n

Posted in General, Mantra, Thantra

June 11th, 2016 by jinesh narayanan


In the succession of #Mahavidyas, #Tara comes second, immediately after Kali, whom she closely resembles. Just as Kali herself has many different aspects, so does Tara. Tara is prominent both in Tibetan Buddhism and in Tantric hinduism, and her many aspects include forms that are either gentle (saumya) or fierce (ugra). The Hindu Sakta Tantra seems to prefer the fierce forms.

So close are the representations of Tara and Kali that often their identities blur. Of course, divinity is a single reality, and that has been proclaimed from the time of the Rigveda onward: “Truth is one; the wise call it by various names.” The recitations of Kali’s and Tara’s thousand names (sahasranama hymns) have many names in common. Not only that, Ramprasad, in his great devotional songs, used the names Kali and Tara interchangeably.

Images of Tara often show her seated on a white lotus in the midst of the primordial waters that envelop the entire universe. From this we understand that she is the Mother of the three worlds—of the heavens, the atmosphere, and the earth.

Like the common representations of Kali in the form of Dakshinakali, Tara is four-armed and holds a sword in her upper left hand and a severed head in the lower one. The sword symbolizes the power of consciousness to cut away whatever is misleading, divisive, fragmentary. It is called jnanakhadga, the sword of knowledge. Our ordinary awareness is engaged in a constant swirl of perceiving physical objects and formulating subtle objects—the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and concepts that we derive from our perceptual experience. Our unenlightened awareness centers on the idea of individual selfhood conditioned as ego or personality. That ego is represented by the severed head. Through the power of consciousness to reveal the true Self, to let us know who and what we truly are, the Divine Mother uses her sword to cut away the limiting ego. She who causes all our mistaken ideas of who we are, along with false notions of our imperfections, inadequacies, and limitations, is also she who frees us from the bondage of that conditioning. Once freed, we experience our own true being—identity with the unconditioned Infinite.

In her upper right hand Tara wields a pair of scissors, which symbolize the same cutting action as the sword; in particular they represent the ability to cut off attachments. Her lower right hand is often shown holding a blue lotus, said to represent her open heart.

Tara is bejeweled, signifying her beauty and infinite wealth. There is nothing lacking, for she is absolute perfection. Her complexion is dark blue like the night sky. That also signifies her boundlessness.

Not only is she infinite; she is all-knowing. Her three eyes signify the knowledge of past, present, and future.

Unlike Kali, whose hair flows loose and wild, Tara wears hers in a carefully coiffed topknot (jata). Whereas Kali’s hair represents absolute freedom from constraint, Tara’s is a symbol of yogic asceticism—that is to say, of the yogic ability to manage and direct the movement of the mind, to achieve Self-knowledge through self-mastery.

Her tongue is in constant motion, framed by fearsome teeth and a mouth that appears terrible. Like Kali, she is all-devouring, unrelenting time.

She wears a tiger-skin around her waist. This is a symbol of her liminal character—she stands as the edge of civilized order. She can be wild and uncontrolled. She is uncircumscribed—nothing, including the laws of human society, can contain her. Still, this minimal clothing, some say, shows that she represents either the last stage before liberation or the first stage of cosmic emanation. She is not completely naked like Kali, whose utter lack of clothing symbolizes infinitude and total freedom.

A nimbus or halo of light surrounds her head, signifying her glory. Rising above it is the ten-headed serpent Akshobhya, who represents Siva-consciousness—a state utterly free of agitation—consciousness in a state of rest (visranti), the state of absolute being-awareness-bliss (saccidananda). This is the ultimate reality as well as the Mother’s own true nature (svasvarupa) and ours. Patanjali says the same thing in the Yogasutra (1.2), where he defines yoga as the cessation of all activity within the individualized field of awareness (yogas cittavrittinirodhah). When consciousness ceases its activity, it ceases to be modified and conditioned as thought-waves (vritti). These thought-waves are the projections and the contents of consciousness. In the stillness only pure awareness remains, the experience of undivided, nondual wholeness.

Tara sits on the body of Lord Siva, who lies motionless beneath her. This can be interpreted in more than one way. It can mean that Mother is supreme, but it can also indicate the mutual necessity of her relationship with Siva. He is the foundation which supports her, and she is the dynamism that makes possible the play of the universe. Siva and Sakti are not only mutually dependent—they are a single reality. Consciousness and its power are not just inseparable; they are identical. Without Siva Sakti would have no being, and without Sakti Siva would have no expression.

The serpent Akshobhya reinforces this point. Mother, in her supreme glory, is identical to Siva—consciousness-in-itself, motionless and unperturbed, the eternal, self-luminous reality. The meaning of this symbol affirms Tara’s closeness to Kali, who heads the list of the Mahavidyas. Kali represents the highest form of wisdom or liberating knowledge, and Tara, in her own way, represents a close second. It is possible to read the serpent Akshobhya as a symbol of the human’s innate capacity for enlightenment, and Tara herself as the penultimate stage in the process of enlightenment, which is in fact the dissolution of the human ego.

Both Kali and Tara are strongly associated with death and dissolution. Whereas Kali is often said to be the power of time (kala) that inexorably causes all created things to perish, Tara is more often associated with fire, and particularly the fires of the cremation ground. One of her names is Smasanabhairavi, “the terrible one of the cremation ground.” It is important to remember that fire represents not only destruction but also purification and transformation.

Much of Tara’s symbolism can be related to death—but in its broadest perspective. The death it refers to is the death of the ego, the false idea of selfhood that keeps the individual in bondage, ever reactive and in thralldom to all of life’s ups and downs. Like Kali, Tara is sometimes shown wearing a girdle of severed human arms, a symbol of her ability to relieve us of the burdens of karma. The scissors and sword, rather than being understood as agents of death, should be thought of as tools to dismantle and remove the ego, the sense of mistaken identity that defines, limits, and binds.

Tara’s name is derived from tri, which means “to cross.” One of her epithets is Samsaratarini, “she who takes across the ocean of worldly existence.”Tara is thus the all-gracious liberator.

Added to all this, the figure of Tara also embodies maternal tenderness. Her mother’s love is unconditional, and her liberating mantra is given freely to all.

Posted in General, Mantra, Thantra