Sri Vidya Sadhana – the confluence of Tantra, Yoga and Vedanta

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The path of sadhana is always mysterious, twisting and turning in proportion to our surrender and the always present element of Divine Grace. How I was led to Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such mysterious tale. Even though japa and mantra sadhana have long been among my daily practices, tantra had never held much appeal for me, perhaps because it has been so distorted from it’s original teachings, particularly in the West. However, since beginning Sri Vidya Sadhana, the pristine teachings of Tantra have drawn me into their fold to such an extent that what I thought were “my” paths (yoga and Vedanta) have exploded into much greater understanding.

A year ago, there was a subtle but definite resistance to dissolving the I-sense. In meditative practices, often my focus remains on this I-sense, which easily dissolves into samadhi or transcendence. But for several days in a row, I noticed a definite “barrier” that stopped short right at that I-sense, rigid and unyielding. One particular day, this wall brought up such frustration and longing that abandoning practice, I lay down sobbing. By then, I had had many peak experiences of energy movements, visions, deep insights and ecstatic bliss, but still, there were times when old and nonserving patterns came up in daily life in the form of attachment to “I” and “mine”. As I bitterly wondered what the use was of such mystical experiences if there wasn’t a meaningful change from within, it was as if an outside thought appeared in my mind. It was a gentle suggestion to take up Sri Vidya Sadhana. I had no doubt that this thought was planted by my beloved guru, Mahavatar Babaji, for this is precisely how he has worked to lead me along the path. As I researched Sri Vidya, I was astonished to see that this great practice could be obtained through deeksha (initiation) in the lineage of Babaji himself, further strengthening the knowledge that surely it was his wish. In the time since that initiation, this practice has been transforming my life in radical ways.

Shiva represents consciousness. By himself, Shiva is inert. Shakti is creation; She provides movement and dynamism to Shiva. Neither can create without the other; thus, Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanariswara – half Shiva and half Shakti. Shiva is the “nothing” while Shakti is the “everything” – yet, the nothing and the everything exist simultaneously, inexorably entwined. Yoga is the path of Shiva, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti become as though separated in the process of creation. The purpose of yoga is to bring them back together (yoga = to join). Tantra is the path of Shakti, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti exist together, and that the most effective way to experience Shiva is through Shakti in her infinite manifestations (tantra; tanoti = expansion, trayoti = liberation). While the yogi renunciates in order to know Shiva, the tantric embraces the totality of life experiences knowing them to be Shakti, the Divine Mother Herself. Not one aspect of life is shunned away from – everything from the subtlest to the grossest experience that arises is seen to be Her. The traditional practice of tantra lies in the effective use of mantra (name) and yantra (form) to know the nameless and formless Brahman. While Advaita Vedanta sees all of creation to be an illusion, the tantrik (from the point of view of the embodied jiva) sees creation to be very much real, a play of the Divine Mother on the fabric of immutable consciousness that is the Divine Father. Shakti is simultaneously seen as being benign and beautiful as well as ferocious and terrible – there is no aspect of creation that it is not Her. Tantra teaches one to see Her beauty and to love Her in Her infinite forms no matter how depraved or heinous. By expanding the limited mind beyond the dualities of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, right/wrong, like/dislike, the tantric arrives at the same place as the adept yogi or the Vedantin – Oneness; seeing that Brahman is the nondual reality, in and through the mirage of duality.

While the energy and peak experiences that come with a practice like Sri Vidya Sadhana are numerous, the real fruit of an effective sadhana is what happens in day-to-day life. Gradually, the distinction between “mundane” and “spiritual” falls away – there is no aspect of life that is not spiritual, be it working, playing, sleeping, praying or meditating. The effects continue to grow and expand daily, beginning with surrender. While bhakti has been a strong element in my sadhana, the type of surrender that Shakti demands and gets is in a league of its own. The more I become drawn in to Her, the more childlike I feel myself becoming, relying on Her for everything. As a young child feels, there is a constant longing for communion with Her, to sit in Her cosmic lap and to be schooled by Her. There is the strong impulse to give up everything to Her as an offering – the body in fasting and breath in pranayama, limitations, pain and selfish desires as incense, and deep-rooted vasanas (samskaras) as flowers.. nothing can remain as “mine”, not even the sadhana itself. There is an intense growing need to burn in the inner ritual fire of bhakti and austerity, to let it hone and chisel my being as it will and leave behind nothing. What happens with such longing and surrender is that there is increasing acceptance of everything to be Her Grace, be it external such as a routine situation (like a traffic jam when already running late or the loss of treasured relationships) or internal, within the mind/emotion (like an old unforgiven hurt that surfaces to cause anger or pain).  Surrender is the fastest path to equanimity, acceptance and love, in that order. The Divine Mother is so compassionate that all I need to do is ask, and She gives more than I ask for. I ask for clarity to look at my limitations, and She grants it along with compassion for myself and others so I may understand that such limitations are universal and that I may behave with tolerance. I ask for Her love and She shows me in a thousand different ways every day that love shines bright all around. I ask for courage, strength, wisdom.. and it is done, showing up in unexpected ways. Most of all, I beg Her for knowledge of Brahman, and She patiently points me to myself, again and again.

As someone that adores the clean logic of Vedanta, the austerities of Yoga and the esoteric inner rituals of Tantra, Sri Vidya Sadhana is the practice that beckons to me, probably picked up from a distant lifetime and guided by the benevolent guru. In the growing understanding of the dynamism of the Sri Yantra, there is an intuitive seeing of the Bindu that remains still in and through all of creation (represented by the intersecting triangles) that is in constant motion. This experiential seeing steadily chips away the veil of separateness and expands one into fulfilling the destiny of evolution – to realize first-hand the divinity within.


Dasha Mahavidya – The Ten Great Sources of Wisdom

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The central theme of traditional tantra is the knowledge of the Self through adoration of Shakti; Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such path to the Self. Along this path of diving deeper into one’s own self, Shakti manifests in several forms of knowledge/intuitive wisdom. These forms are known as “Dasha Mahavidya”, where ten primary forms/sources of knowledge are known deeply personally and experientially.

These Mahavidyas are: Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Baglamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika.

They are called “maha” (great) because each is a complete path and destination. Each one opens to knowledge of the remaining nine, as well as the Bindu of the Sri Yantra. It is said that devotion to and practice of any one of these will reveal our true nature and the reality of all of creation.

There are volumes written about the Dasha Mahavidyas, encompassing points of view of the yogas, tantras and the Upanishads. Scholars spend their entire lifetimes dedicated to understanding and grokking the significance of each of these Mahavidyas. My somewhat hesitant writings here thus pale in comparison. Everything expressed here is what has risen from my own practice of tantra, usually in times of intense clarity and insight that happen spontaneously. As with all of the paths of self-unfoldment, these insights will also evolve and refine.

The basis of these writings are the tantric practices of Tattwa Shuddhi and Sri Vidya Sadhana. Tattwa Shuddhi (literally, cleansing of elements) comprises of dissolution of elements corresponding to the various chakras into progressively subtler elements and then into the mahatattva (great element), Prakrithi (Shakti) and Purusha (Shiva). After internal cleansing rituals, the elements are returned to rest in the opposite direction.

In the “dissolution” part of this practice, it gradually becomes intuitively known that Shakti/Prakrithi is the witness, the first separation from the Absolute. Even when we become aware of “witnessing”, there is a sense that it is not all, or the final “it”. With deepening inquiry, one is eventually propelled to ask, “Who is aware of the witness?” and in time, we open up to the direct knowing of this awareness, that is, Purusha/Shiva. While it feels that Shakti is the “individual” witnessing principle, with a retained “I” in it, the individuality of the witness collapses as Shiva, and there is only knowing awareness that is not fixed to this and that, I and not I.

In witnessing, there remains an experience, and a knower of the experience. However, with further openings and deeper delving into this knowing awareness (Shiva, in this analogy) to be one’s true self/identity, we gradually come to see that every experience that arises is awareness itself, only seemingly separated from the knower. In every experience, when we look deeply, the “knower” is added ad hoc, in a swift play of illusion by the mind, the master magician. If we can stay with the experience, free from the mind’s interference, the knower is not seen to be separate, but known directly to have risen as the experience itself. Thus, Shakti is never separated from Shiva. If Shiva is the void, Shakti is what makes up the contents of the void, giving it form; yet, the void and the form are known via each other. Shakti is indeed Shiva, like the waves of the ocean being the ocean itself.

As in Tattwa Shuddhi, we then return to daily life, elements aligned once again as before. However, there is a distinct difference in how these elements are “held” in experience; they are transparent and not as solid/real as they did on the way up. The borders between “in here” and “out there” become blurred and disappear.

Along this path of openings and awakenings arise the Mahavidyas, setting the inner void ablaze with intuitive arisings and wisdom. They reveal themselves as the inner essence of time, vibration, space, silence, wisdom, compassion, oneness, dissolution, eternity, and beauty. Each of these powerful forms of Shakti is a complete path, leading to Shiva and back into Herself; each will bring the sadhaka to his/her knees in awe and surrender.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Dasha Mahavidya – Kali

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Kali is the first of the ten Mahavidyas, representing time (kal/kaal = time).

She is depicted as a dark goddess, ferocious and terrifying in appearance. She wears a garland of human arms for a skirt and human heads as a necklace. She lives in cemeteries and graveyards – wherever there is death and decay. She has piercing eyes and her tongue lolls out of her great mouth. She carries several weapons in seven of her ten arms (the scimitar being the one of her choice) and a freshly severed human head in the eighth. The lower two hands form the mudras of protection and boon-giving. She is intoxicated from the continuous consumption of blood and dances wildly upon corpses and her own beloved Shiva, who lies completely still and seemingly powerless under her forceful steps.

Kali is the first among the Mahavidyas because the process of creation begins with time. From a macrocosmic perspective, in the beginning there is only Purusha – undifferentiated, timeless potential. The cosmos begins with the “Big Bang”, and simultaneously, linear time and along with it,  all duality. Light and dark, good and evil, high and low, truth and untruth – each is made possible only because of its counterpart. For creation to be sustained, death is necessary – life is only possible through death. What is born must necessarily die in time. Time and death are thus synonymous. The linear sequence of time is maintained only with dissolution of one moment to give rise to the next. Maya thrives thus as a sequence of time-related phenomena, each event dependent upon all the other events, nothing occurring independently and everything influencing everything else and the whole. The cemetery is the perfect representation of this process.

Similarly, at the level of the individual, the separate “I” or ego is born and sustained through events in time. The ego is born in early childhood prior to which an infant has no concept of itself as an individual. With unfolding of life events, influences from society and development of memory and imagination, the identification as this “I” becomes stronger. As the separate self, the individual is propagated through thoughts and memories of the past and projections into the future, both of which are illusory and nonexistent. Attaching the “I-ness” (and it’s related emotional signature) to an event creates a vasana, and through the Maya of Kali as time, the ego becomes enmeshed within this web of vasanas. Such a separate self is dragged helplessly through time, circling again and again from life to death and back to life. Kali dances in this cemetery of one’s being where the separate self that is born (in every moment from the actions and impressions from the last moment) dies and is reborn again. Every desire arising from a vasana gives birth to the “I-thought”, which then dies temporarily with the fulfillment of the desire, only to be born again with the next vasana-driven thought/desire. And on it goes, with Kali dancing merrily, cutting off the head of the I-thought and feeding upon the lifeblood of the separate self again and again, nudging Shiva to wake up from this apparent identification with the ego. She repeatedly severs the hands that represent vasana-driven selfish actions, pointing the way to action that can arise from wholeness with the death of the separate self. The compassion of the Divine Mother is so infinite that she provides the opportunity to step out of her illusion and the quagmire of samsara in every single moment. With every step of her dance, she destroys the moment before and holds the future in darkness, allowing one to be reborn forever into the eternal now. She remains willing to continue the dance as long as identification with the “I-thought” continues, patiently waiting for the sadhaka to wake up to his/her true (Shiva) nature.

The sadhana of the Mahavidyas is not for the weak of heart. Each of these forms of Shakti represents an aspect of creation at both the macrocosmic and individual (ego) levels. While some worship the Mahavidyas for power, dark magic and siddhis, they get further enmeshed in her Maya and succumb eventually to her insurmountable power. It is not possible to win her grace through force or cunning. Only the willingness to give up the “I-ness” enables her grace to shine forth. This is the secret of tantra – one’s spiritual progress is in direct proportion to the degree of surrender. Moreover, it is not necessary to worship all ten Mahavidyas – each is a gateway to liberation, opening to the grace of all the others. After all, she is one manifesting as all.

Kali is known for cutting through the ego’s ties quickly and efficiently. However, she does not concern herself with the comfort of the ego. She is therefore not particularly interested in granting boons of wealth, relationships and other superficial matters pertaining to the separate self. In fact, these matters can frequently take a turn for the worse when her sadhana is taken up. Her only interest lies in liberating her devotee from Her own snare. To such a devotee that desires nothing else, she reveals her softer side as Bhadra Kali (Bhadra = auspicious) – calm, serene and radiant.

My sadhana took a dramatic turn when seemingly out of the blue, Kali beckoned me into her fold. Even as the heart melted in devotion to her fierce form, all external aspects of my life took a beating in the form of deep cleaning. Nonserving relationships were cleanly severed and let go of, even seemingly treasured ones. Only in retrospect was I able to see that hanging on to them was obscuring the way ahead. All ambiguity and less-than-clear aspects of life were shaken off (and continue to be). Everything related to “I-ness” was swept away mercilessly, without care for how painful it was at the time. Simultaneously, I sank deeper and deeper into Her dark, silent fold where finally time stood still and the false “I” was seen through. She hovers over my being, relentlessly guiding, shoving and manipulating, wanting nothing but to experience her Shiva through this body-mind. At last, the unease of being in her ferocious presence has been replaced by gratitude and love, and willingness to be decapitated by her merciful blade once and for all.

Kali’s bija (seed) mantra is “klim”. When thus invoked, she withdraws Her Maya of time and liberates one from linear time-related phenomena and all dualities associated with it. Free from incessant thoughts of the past and anxieties about the future, the sadhaka blessed thus by Kali is open to experience the primordial vibration represented by Tara, the second Mahavidya.

(Image: Kali by Raja Ravi Verma. Source: Wikipedia)

Dasha Mahavidya – Tara

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Tara is the second of the Mahavidyas, representing the Eternal Word.

Like Kali, Tara’s ferocious form is enough to startle one in sadhana. She too stands upon the supine, corpse-like Shiva, and is often shown to wear a garland of human skulls and with a tongue that lolls out of her great, blood-stained mouth. Unlike Mother Kali who is black, Tara is dark blue representing limitless space; she wears an animal skin instead of human arms and in her four hands she carries a sword, a pair of scissors, a human cranium and a lotus. The weapons symbolize the destruction of the ego while the lotus promises unconditional protection. While Kali’s hair is wild and disheveled, Tara’s is tied in a single topknot, representing one-pointedness and austerity. Her big belly represents her hunger for selflessness and the blood dripping down her sword represents the cutting off of all doership, freeing her devotee of samsara.

A beloved ritual of aghoris (fearless tantrics) is to practice at the stroke of midnight in a lonely crematorium surrounded by pyres burning lifeless bodies. Sitting naked in this lonely place, the aghori performs his/her rituals for one sight of beloved Mother Tara, known in this form as Smashan Tara (smashan = crematorium). Invoked thus, she is said to appear dancing upon a burning corpse with one foot upon the its heart (representing desire, the root of the birth-death cycle) and the other upon its legs (representing worldly ambition driven by greed, hatred, jealousy and selfishness). Manifesting thus, she takes it upon herself to school the aghori for the rest of their life and sadhana, setting him/her upon her cosmic lap and taking care of his/her every need. The test of strength for the aghori is to adore this ferocious and powerful form of the Divine Mother without a shred of fear or repulsion.

Tara is known in three different forms – Ugra (ferocious) Tara, as described above and very similar to Kali, Nila Saraswati (blue Goddess of knowledge) and Ekajata. The word “tara” has several meanings, one of which means “to cross”. She is the vehicle for crossing over from ordinary consciousness to super-consciousness, from the mundane to the spiritual, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. However, this crossing is not one-way; she is the vehicle for crossing back from self-realization into living fully in the world. She facilitates both the ascent as well as the descent of Kundalini in yogic and tantric sadhana. Another meaning for “tara” is star. Thus, she acts as a beacon on a dark night, guiding the lost soul to herself. While known as the goddess of protection, Tara represents another seemingly disparate concept – knowledge. She is closely associated with the power of speech, and this is how she is hailed as the second of the Mahavidyas.

The first movement of creation is a stir, a vibration or a throb. This primordial throb begins a series of vibrations that take the form of sound, the precursor of all objects. This primordial throb or vibration is represented by the sound “Om” or “Aum” and is known as the Eternal Word or “nithya vak”(John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). It is this primoridal throb that yogis aspire to reach in perfect stillness. Knowing this and resting in direct and continual submission to this, all desires find root in it and the separate self is seen through. Sense organs return to their origin as do the organs of action; in time the egoic doer is destroyed and actions arise directly from this primordial throb. Unhindered by the ego’s demands, Shiva and Shakti come together and flow through the sadhaka’s being, creating and manifesting in divine harmony. Tara is this primordial throb, and she as Om is the vehicle for “crossing over”. As Om, she is Nila Saraswati, the blue goddess of knowledge that bestows the true understanding of this sound and taking the aspirant beyond the shackles of worldly existence. Nearly all mantras begin with Om; thus is Mother Tara revered and worshiped in many great faiths and religions.

Some schools describe Tara as appearing to be white, blue or multi-colored. White Tara represents the primordial throb in its pristine form. Her blue form symbolizes her descent from her white purity into creation, while her multi-colored form signifies her infinite forms that make up all of the cosmos – the good, the bad and the ugly. She is all, in and through all. As Ekajata (“single mat/braid of hair”), she represents the single force of creation behind its myriad forms.

Mother Tara appears in yogic sadhana first as the awareness of the sound of “Om”. This sound is truly indescribable. A vibration arising from the depths of the being, it is most akin to the sound made by the strings of the Veena. When it first arose in my awareness many years ago, it was at once disconcerting and miraculous – a loud, continuous hum that persisted through wakefulness and sleep, a form of ajapa japa. In silent meditation, it would roar through the body; it would seem that all the cells were vibrating in tune with this soundless sound. It dominated the contents of the mind, forcing its way into the thought stream to silence the mind noise and throwing out waves of joyful ecstasy. Eventually, one does get used to this sound that comes to underlie even the most hectic activity, and the humming gets woven into the fabric of daily life.

Tara is known for her benevolence – one need only ask and she readily provides. So great is her compassion that it is said she is one of the easiest Mahavidyas to connect with. Her sadhana therefore is relatively easy. She shies away from insincerity and dishonesty. She adores the devotee that remains rooted in speaking the truth, who keeps his/her mind guarded against jealousy, greed and hatred and is equally unaffected by praise or blame.

Tara’s bija (seed) mantra is Om. Adoring this great Mother thus, the sadhaka of the Mahavidyas traverses to the next phase of sadhana symbolized by the radiant form of Tripurasundari.

(Image: Uploaded by Dhruvjeet Roy. Source: Wikipedia)

Dasha Mahavidya – Tripurasundari

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In Tantra, no form of Shakti is as adored as that of Tripurasundari, the third of the Mahavidyas. Supremely radiant and beautiful, Tripurasundari is effulgent and bears the hue of the rising sun. Wielding a noose, a goad, a sugarcane bow and five flower-laden arrows in her four hands, she sits upon a throne the seat of which is formed by Sadashiva. The four supports of the throne are formed by Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Isana. Wrapped in resplendent red, the three-eyed Divine Mother supports and transcends her creation with a playful smile. So magnificent is her presence that sadhakas of Sri Vidya long for nothing else, all desires eventually merged into a single one – for her Grace.

Brahman is the transcendent reality. In the nothingness prior to creation, desire is what leads to the first divine sound or vibration of manifestation, represented by Tara. Without desire, there would be no creation, or sustenance of it. Without desire, there would be no movement on the macrocosmic or microcosmic levels. The circular movement of the cosmos is driven by desire, as are the basic physiological mechanisms of life-forms. Desire is the prism through which the nothingness of the Supreme manifests as its everythingness. This primordial desire is represented by Tripurasundari. While this first desire as Tripurasundari remains untouched as pure love, it is distorted by refraction through vasana conditioning – as selfish clinging to me and mine, self-aggrandizing, greed, sensual enjoyment and endless chasing of sense-objects. However, this desire is also that which gives the impetus for spiritual seeking.  Thus, desire drives the divine not only to fragment itself in creation but also to return to itself.

As desire, Tripurasundari is known as kaamakala (kaama = desire). As the supreme driving force of creation, she is known as Rajarajeshwari (reigning queen of all). As the love that binds all creation, she is known as Kaameshwari. As the playful, Grace-bestowing mother, she is known as Lalita. As the source of all beauty, she is known as Sundari. As both the immanent and transcendent forms of the divine, she is known as Tripurasundari (tri = three, pura = cities, sundari = beauty). Tripura (three cities) is significant for it denotes the threefold mystical fields of Sat, Chit, Ananda representing the qualities of Brahman projecting itself into manifestation. The cosmos itself is said to consist of three upper worlds (janah, tapah, satyam) and three lower worlds (bhuh, bhuvah, suvah), connected by the seventh material world of mahas. Consciousness is often described in its three states of waking, dream state and deep sleep. Creation consists of the play of the three gunas – tamas, rajas and sattva. The body is said to comprise of the gross/physical, the subtle and the causal bodies. All actions comprise of the triad of iccha (will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (action). In every experience, there is the triad of the experience itself, the experiencer and that which is experienced. The Divine Mother forms the points of every triad in her immanent form. As the fourth transcendent force (turiya), she is also the substratum for those immanent points. As desire, She gives rise to the divine spanda or primordial vibration represented by the bindu of the Sri Yantra, which then gives rise to the points of the myriad intersecting triangles.

Her form is the color of desire, red. The noose in one of her four hands represents the binding force of love. By the goad in the second hand, she spurs activity and movement. The bow in her third hand represents the mind and the five arrows represent the sense organs of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Seated on the throne borne by Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Isana, she is the doer of the actions represented by them – creation, sustenance of creation, destruction and transcendence. She sits upon Sadasiva, forever entwined with Him and indicating that emptiness and form remain as one.

Sri Vidya (the supreme knowledge) is the sadhana dedicated to Mother Tripurasundari, where the knowledge of all the other Mahavidyas coalesce into the magnetic bindu of the Sri Yantra. The Sri Vidya mantra is considered as the sound form of Tripurasundari and the Sri Yantra, her geometric form. The Sri Vidya seed mantras correspond to the triple aspects of Tripurasundari – the vibrations of desire, love and force. Amplification of these seed mantras results in the fifteen-lettered panchadasi mantra and with addition of another secret seed sound, the powerful sixteen-lettered sodasi mantra. Like the form of Tripurasundari resting on Sadasiva, the Sri Vidya mantra consists of seeds pertaining to both Shiva and Shakti. In the physical world, while the sun represents the supreme source of light, the moon symbolizes bliss and love. The moon bears several names, one of which is Soma. Soma is the divine nectar of the Gods, with extensive reference in the Vedas and the Puranas and is said to be the stuff of the moon, inducing divine bliss. In sadhana, this comes forth as the minty sweet nectar that drips down from the activation of the ajna chakra and the pineal gland, sending waves of ecstasy and deep, lasting peace. A gift of Grace, this amrita or nectar is said to signify the union of Shiva and Shakti in the sadhaka and the opening of the thousand-petaled sahasrara chakra at the crown. While the sun symbolizes Shiva, the moon is the embodiment of Shakti as Tripurasundari. The phases of the moon are said to correspond to the syllables of the Sri Vidya mantra, the full moon bearing the fruit of the all-powerful sodasi mantra.

The sadhana of Tripurasundari calls for rejection of all undesirable and unattractive qualities within ourselves. This is most effectively accomplished through surrendering to Her will, the practice of equanimity, and through unceasing worship of her as the silent seed within the depths of our being as the soul-center. As our sadhana progresses and we have had a glimpse of the pristine soul as the “I AM” behind the veils of the mind and conditioning, our practice undergoes a profound change. Beyond the stage of witnessing where identification with the ego remains, there is a sudden shift in identity as we see with utmost clarity and certainty that we are not the body, the mind, the emotions or the person at all. In this “falling back” into the I AM as the very identity of being, there is a definite turning point in one’s sadhana or rather, a turnaround by 180 degrees.  The main practice is now to abide in the “I AM”, returning again and again to this “true” identity, from dwelling in the ever-changing reflections of the subject  (I AM) as mind-objects to the pristine subject itself. While all previous methods were aimed toward the evolution of gunas from tamas to rajas to sattva, there was still a certain clinging to the ego as one’s identity. The discovery of the I AM and further, this shift in identification to soul-consciousness takes us beyond the gunas altogether. The triune of experience, experiencer and the object of experience begin to merge into a single stream of “experiencing”, without a clear subject-object distinction. The goal of sadhana shifts to losing personal will by the simple practice of abiding as soul rather than a person, so that Divine Will flows through unhindered through the instrument of the mind and body.

Mother Tripurasundari eventually begins to dominate our triple states of consciousness of waking, dreams and deep sleep, pulling us by her noose into the bindu of the fourth still state, turiya. Gradually and paradoxically, the gunas within us continue to transform and evolve, and doership is slowly given up. All actions are seen to arise from svabhava, or the play of gunas; no personal gain or loss is sought or seen. The grander scheme of the cosmos at play is thus gradually revealed as the unfathomable vastness of the next Mahavidya, Bhuvaneshwari.

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Dasha Mahavidya – Bhuvaneshwari

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Such supreme beauty does Mother Bhuvaneshwari radiate that Her devotee stands dumbstruck and unable to ask for anything in Her auspicious presence. Bearing three eyes, She is effulgent like the rising sun. Like Tripurasundari, She bears a goad and a noose in two of her hands while the other two form boon-bestowing mudras. Ardently adored by the practitioners of Sri Vidya, Bhuvaneshwari represents the Mother of all creation (Bhuvana = world, or everything that is in creation, Ishwari = Supreme Ruler). While Kali represents time, Bhuvaneshwari represents space.

If Brahman may be conceived of as vast self-effulgent limitlessness (Prakasha), the desire for creation and for self-limitation is represented by Sundari. The resultant limiting of the limitless Being into time and space concepts arise from Kali and Bhuvaneshwari, respectively. The turning of the Divine toward manifestation, to see Himself reflected in a myriad forms is the function of Bhuvaneshwari. Creation begins from this divine vision of the Supreme as this great Mother. From Her self-imposed limitation of space arise the three gunas, the twenty-four tattvas, the seven worlds above and the seven below, all that is seen and unseen, imagined and unimagined, thought and unthought. While Sundari represents Iccha shakti or desire-force, Bhuvaneshwari represents Jnana shakti or knowledge-force. She is the perceptive power of all beings and perception results in knowledge. How vast must be the vision of the Divine? So too is space. As our vision and perceptions broaden, so does the space holding them.

Another name for this great mother is Maya (Ma =to measure). One of the primary differences between Tantra and Vedanta is how Maya is viewed. To the Mayavadin, all of creation is an illusion, to be done away with, the immutable Brahman the only goal of practice. To the Tantric, Maya is anything but an illusion. She represents the willingness of the unlimited consciousness to take on limited forms, taking on individual characteristics and yet remaining untouched by it. She conceals Her true nature and acts as Maya, seemingly entangled in Her own limitations of names and forms in space. Even as She arises as knowledge-force, this knowledge remains limited as long as it is within the space of creation. Thus, a spiritual practitioner can acquire great powers and knowledge of worlds seen and unseen, commune with divine beings and travel astrally to various planes. Yet, he/she can remain entrapped within the clutches of Maya, within the realm of names and forms. It is the Grace of Bhuvaneshwari that bestows the supreme boon to see Her true form, standing behind the finite names and forms, beyond space as the infinite awareness. In the sadhana of the Mahavidyas, Bhuvaneshwari arranges the events and circumstances in the spiritual journey and Kali determines the precise timing of each. Since space sustains the macrocosm, so too does the sadhana of Bhuvaneshwari lead to the support of all of the microcosm, the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phillipians, 4:7).

As we arrive at the “I Am”, prior to thought, emotion and body and through the 180-degree turnaround, the source of this “I Am” can be traced back in deep meditation to rest in the region of the physical heart. Abiding as this “I Am” and drawing all senses inward like a tortoise that draws its limbs within (Bhagavad Gita, 2:58), we come to rest in the vast spaciousness of this heart space even as we go about our daily activities. Even while nothing seems different on the surface of mundane life, everything is different as we begin to unlearn all that had kept us in Maya’s hold. In this Self-abidance, Maya is transformed into Bhuvaneshwari. The seed mantra of Bhuvaneshwari, Hrim, is the very yearning of the created for its creator. In Sri Vidya Sadhana, hrim is the powerful seed sound added to the various segments, revealing knowledge in various forms as one progresses in practice. One cannot but relax deeply in this heart space; healing begins to take place in this profound relaxation that occurs at a cellular level, and what occurs is a radical transformation of the ordinary body-mind into instruments for Her will and action. In the vastness of this heart space, Kali as time stands still and Tara reveals Herself as the primordial vibration as the “I Am”. Here, Tripurasundari reveals Herself as the supreme and universal desire for liberation. In this Self-abidance, events of daily life fall into place in an effortless rhythm, anxieties and fears melt away and dreams take on the luster and radiance of this heart space. The seduction of the pull into the dead past and the imagined future finally loses its power as it is seen to arise and fall in the eternal Now. Synchronicities become commonplace and miracles no longer hold our awe. For nothing matches the splendor of abiding in the vastness of the “I Am” in the sacred heart space. While previously we were identified as the character in the movie, we now know ourselves as the ever-pure, immutable screen. Worship of Bhuvaneshwari enables us to have a complete turnaround in our worldview; in this Self-abidance we come to see that we are part of a much greater whole and that we do not live in the universe. The universe lives in us.

Continued abidance in the “I Am” has the peculiar effect of seeing everyone and everything else to also be this vast spacious screen as well, albeit with mistaken identities as characters in the movie played upon the screen. Yet, the Grace of Mother Bhuvaneshwari is so complete that this critical shift in identity is also seen to be but an intermediate phase of the journey. The screen begins to reveal a secret trap door, beckoning us to take a look. For beyond this door stands the next of the Mahavidyas, Tripura Bhairavi.

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Dasha Mahavidya – Tripura Bhairavi

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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Seated on a throne or a red lotus, the most striking feature of Bhairavi is her radiance. Like the sun, Her effulgence is blinding. Smeared with blood and wrapped in red, She bears a weapon in one of Her four arms and a rosary in the second while the other two form mudras that allay fear and offer protection. Like Kali and Tara, She wears a garland of human heads or skulls.

In the process of creation, the first movement is that of desire, represented by Tripurasundari, or iccha shakti. Perception of this desire resulting in the space for creation to occur is symbolized by Bhuvaneshwari, or jnana shakti. The actualization of infinite divinity taking up finite forms by the process of energizing Itself in specific ways is depicted by Tripura Bhairavi, or kriya shakti. This process is one of tapas, which is immense concentration or self-awareness of the Absolute resulting in transmutation of that force into energized action. In the Vedas, this self-awareness is equated with the light of consciousness that is aflame in every being, known as the “chid-agni”. On an individual level, this agni is the seat of power, aspiration, energy and intelligence in every being, directing all outward actions and inward thoughts, the working of the mind as well as of the organs, the tissues, and the cells. The functioning of this agni determines the life course, health, prosperity and overall functioning of the body/mind. On a cosmic level, agni is the driving force of all gods and enables the workings of nature in the form of rain, lightning, seasons and calamities.. In the Vedic ritual of a fire sacrifice or “homam”, agni is the intermediary between man and deity, carrying the desires and offerings of men to the gods and carrying back the rewards/fruit of such a ritual from the gods back to men. As this supreme vehicle, agni is known as Jatavedase. Tripura Bhairavi is the shakti of Jatavedase. In Tantra, She is also known as Durga, the one who assists in “crossing” between planes. As this Shakti, Bhairavi represents the force of tapas.

What is tapas? The classic definition of tapas is austerity. However, the drive behind this austerity is focus or concentration. Tapas is common in daily life when we become absorbed in a task to the exclusion of everything else. In these instances, there is absorption into that action or thought without diffusion of attention into other areas, resulting in temporary forgetfulness or ignorance of everything else but that. This concentration or tapas of the infinite Divine is what brings forth limited forms into existence. Necessarily, this results in such self-absorption and self-identification as the various forms that there is ignorance of the whole. It is not that the light of total knowledge is not available; it is that it is forgotten in the primordial ignorance of this forgetfulness. This force of the divine representing tapas is that of Bhairavi. She is fierce in Her form for She also symbolizes fear. Fear is the by-product of separation; identification as the limited form results in a sense of separation arising from the veiling of everything else. Fear is the root cause of all wrong-doing and evil. If all of creation were to be seen as an indivisible whole, One, there would be no “other” to fear. Thus, Bhairavi is fearful to those who revel in this separateness. To those engaged in the tapas of self-knowledge, She destroys all fear and propels the sadhana.

Another name for Bhairavi is Kundalini. Lying dormant in the muladhara chakra at the root of the spine, She represents the potential for the limited to realize its unlimitedness by the undoing of tapas. When She remains self-absorbed in tapas, She is known as Tripura Bhairavi. When She releases her energy and the heat of tapas and reaches upward, She becomes Tripura Sundari. Thus, Bhairavi and Sundari represent two sides of the same coin – the terrible and the beautiful,  separated and united by the power of tapas. For, on the spiritual journey, it is the tapas of practice, the longing of bhakti and the single-pointedness of the path to the exclusion of everything else that coaxes Kundalini to wake up. While She lies at one end of the spine at the base, Sundari resides at the other end in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown. Bhairavi represents the fire and heat of self-effort and Sundari symbolizes the nectar of Grace. The heat of Bhairavi’s force is tempered by the descent of Sundari’s grace, the ascent and descent of self-effort and Grace being a dance of immense proportions in the sadhana of the Mahavidyas.

The characteristic of fire that makes it the perfect agent for purification is that it turns everything it touches into uniform ashes. And so it is with Bhairavi – every blemish and imperfection encountered in Her upward march is burnt mercilessly, progressively purifying the being for Sundari’s nectar. The bliss of the nectar cannot be borne by one not baked by the tapas of Bhairavi’s flames. This nectar, the soma of the gods, is the nourisher of the being and energizes the flames of tapas that consumes it. As Bhairavi leaps upward, She transforms the triads of gunas (tamas, rajas, sattva), body (physical, subtle, causal), states (waking, dreaming, deep sleep), and all experience (experience, experiencer and that which is experienced), the three worlds above and below, and all perceptions arising from actions and senses. This dance of Bhairavi and Sundari is directed by Bhuvaneshwari from Her seat in the heart space and facilitated by Kali’s tranformative power. And it is in this dance that results in unveiling of Maya’s limitations that a jnani becomes a karma yogi.

On the path of sadhana, the real movement of Bhairavi can be noticed with continued Self-abidance. In the shift of identity, tapas takes on a new meaning. All previous practices are seen to have been preliminary in that they were preparation for this shift. With this shift, the older practices may be continued or they may drop off on their own. The rigor of tapas becomes one-pointed and life is lived for this practice of Self-abidance alone. Bhairavi, pleased and uninhibited by the lack of any other objective, takes up the task of directing the sadhana Herself. Thus, this abidance becomes increasingly effortless, with progressive opening to the grace of Sundari. In this abidance, old and ingrained habits and patterns lose the fuel of identification and are quickly burnt to ashes. Slowly but surely, ordinary actions are transformed by the dance of the Devis as they, along with thoughts, perceptions and sensations are sacrificed into this fire of abidance (Bhagavad Gita, 4:25-33).

While Bhairavi wields the weapon of destruction of impurities in one hand, She holds a rosary in another, which is symbolic for the unmanifest Word or para-vak. While Tara represents the manifest word or pasyanti vak, the para-vak of Bhairavi is pure potentiality, prior to name and form. The sadhana of Bhairavi results in transformation of the raw potentiality of sexual energy into the ojas and tejas of divinely inspired action and the sheer power of para-vak. She thus represents the power of brahmacharya, the cornerstone of tapas in sadhana.

Propelled and graced thus by Bhairavi and Sundari, the sadhaka arrives next at the feet of Chinnamasta, arguably the most ferocious of the Mahavidyas.

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Dasha Mahavidya – Chinnamasta

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Brilliant as lightning, She stands luminously naked, her body covered carelessly by a garland of human skulls. In one arm, She bears a scimitar and in the other, Her own freshly severed head. Three streams of blood spout forth from the neck, the central stream feeding Her own mouth, the other two lapped up by Her two attendants, Varnini and Dakini. Such is the dramatic iconography of the terrifying Chinnamasta. In some depictions, She dances (or sits calmly) upon a couple in embrace – Kama, the lord of desire and his beautiful wife, Rati.

Chinnamasta represents the force of creation as well as the force of transcendence. The limitation of the limitless light of Brahman (prakasha) in space (akasha) is symbolized by Bhuvaneshwari and in time by Kali. The involvement of the Supreme in all of creation as immanence even while transcending all forms is represented by Tripura Sundari. The primordial, unexpressed, unmanifest sound (nada) self-absorbed in itself in all of creation is symbolized by Tara, while nada (primordial sound) turned toward creation in all of the myriad vibrations as consciousness is represented by Tripura Bhairavi. Chinnamasta represents the coming together of prakasha (light) and nada (sound) to begin the process of creation. In the physical world, the forceful union of light and sound is depicted by lightning. Thus, Chinnamasta is known as the Goddess that shines like a streak of lightning. Brahman is described as the triune of Sat-Chit-Ananda (truth-consciousness-bliss), moving into creation as the other triune – of physical body-subtle body-causal body. The movement of Brahman into creation is forceful enough to seemingly behead the higher triune from the lower triune; the knowledge of Sat-Chit-Ananda is forgottten and the separate self is born, identifying itself as the physical-subtle-causal body, instead of as its true nature, truth-consciousness-bliss. However, this is the play (Lila) of the divine; it is in this forgetfulness that the One can revel as the many. Chinnamasta is this force of separation of the higher from the lower on the macrocosmic level.  

At the time of creation of the individual being, it is Chinnamasta that brings the macrocosmic energy into the individual being through the brahmarandhra, the topmost point of the head. With the descent of Life thus, the brahmarandhra closes, and the individual “forgets” that the energy that runs the cosmos also runs his/her being. In this, the identification as the separate entity is complete. This energy, once descended, courses through innumerable nadis (lines of energy) running throughout the being and bringing life and intelligence down to the cellular level. Of all these nadis, the three most important ones are those that arise from the root or base of the backbone and run along the spinal cord – the ida and pingala flanking and entwining the central sushumna and criss-crossing at various levels along the spine. These three channels are well-represented by the Greek symbol of medicine, the caduceus. The ida and pingala end in the left and right nostrils while the sushumna terminates in the brow center. In ordinary beings, the ida (lunar, cool) and pingala (solar, hot) currents dominate the energy circuit and life is torn between dualities of good and bad, joy and sadness, right and wrong, and so on. The sushumna remains dormant until awakened by various means and is symbolized by Chinnamasta, while Ida and Pingala are Her two attendants, Varnini and Dakini. Once awakened, the sushumna (through the tapas of Tripura Bhairavi) opens progressively up to the brow center where Chinnamasta severs open the brahmarandhra; in Her self-beheading, the identity as the separate self dies. In Her infinite compassion, She nourishes Her dualistic attendants. In being nourished thus, all opposites and paradoxes are reconciled in unity consciousness.

Thus, Chinnamasta is both the force of separation and of unity of the created from the Creator. In fierceness, She is much like Kali; while Kali is known as Chandi, the fierce one, Chinnamasta is known as Prachanda Chandi, the fiercest. Yet, the two are distinct in their modes of action. Kali is the power of action and emotion, and Her mode of action is that of evolution through time, which is often gradual and progressive. On the other hand, Chinnamasta resides at the brow center (ajna) and is the power of will and inner vision, and Her mode of action is also one of evolution, but is instantaneous and forceful. Kali’s work, combined with the tapas of Tripura Bhairavi, and support of Sundari and Bhuvaneshwari prepares the sadhana for this definitive beheading by Chinnamasta. All too often, grosser vices of the ego (tamasic and rajasic) are replaced by subtler (sattvic) ones that are far more difficult to recognize and surrender. We can go from being ignorant to being excessively “full” of intellectual knowledge gained through reading, satsang, discussions and so on. This “fullness” (known as shastra vasana) can pose the most challenging obstacle to liberation and true “knowing”. Hence the saying, “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” that calls to becoming “empty” of such knowledge. The beheading in the iconography of Chinnamasta symbolizes this breakthrough, the result of emptying and cutting through the mind’s self-inflicted veils. It is Her lighting bolt that results in instantaneous destruction of ignorance (identity as the separate self) and transformation into knowledge (of one’s true nature).

As the thunderclap, She is known as Indrani, the Shakti of Indra. In the Vedas, Indra is given the position as the Lord of Lords. He rules over the triple worlds of matter, spirit and life, and governs over the Universal (One or Divine) Mind. As Indra’s Shakti, Chinnamasta rules over the Universal Mind and acts through the human mind, as the power of perception behind all senses. Thus, sense organs are called “indriya”, after Indra, the ruler of the mind who operates through Chinnamasta. In sadhana, as we continue with the practice of Self-abiding, deeply hidden vasanas (conditioning) arise from the subtle and causal bodies in the form of impulses pertaining to the “indriyas”, the sense organs. The mind that registers sense organ perceptions continues to bring up long-ingrained and habit-enforced reactions and impulses. Of all sense-driven impulses, the sexual impulse is the strongest in sentient beings. Whether procreative or perverted, this impulse is the most difficult to control after prolonged sadhana. Even when the impulse no longer arises in the conscious mind, it can continue to arise in the subtle and causal bodies. This procreative energy is the most potent of all; however, in its ordinary impulse and release, it is ill-utilized to fulfill baser desires. Cultivated and directed upward by the grace of Chinnamasta, the procreative impulse loses its hold at the conscious and subconscious levels. At last, it ceases to be an obstacle to sadhana and is instead used to ascend to greater and greater heights. Thus, Chinnamasta reigns supreme over Kama and Rati, whose combined force is irresistible and essential for propagation of life. By this symbolic beheading, the sadhaka is reborn into a different life, one far removed from ordinary consciousness and desires.

It is only the fierceness of Chinnamasta that can instill sadhana with the courage needed to face the next Mahavidya, Dhumavati.

Dasha Mahavidya – Dhumavati

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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She is fearfully unattractive. Some might even call her ugly or abominable. Uncouth and dirty, her skin is of a smoky hue and she wears no ornaments. Her limbs are bony and long, she has gaps in her rotting teeth, her hair is disheveled. She wears the attire of a widow, her once-white robe filthy and flung uncaringly over her thin frame. Her eyes are haunting and she bears a grain sorting winnow in one hand while the other is formed in a boon-bestowing mudra. She rides alone on a horseless cart with a crow as her banner.

Such is the fearsome and disgust-evoking iconography of Dhumavati, the seventh of the Mahavidyas. Possibly the most misunderstood of them all, She is feared or worshiped for attaining siddhis in left-hand tantra. Except for a handful of temples, She is not worshiped in common culture being considered “Alakshmi” (the opposite of Lakshmi who stands for abundance and goodness). Yet, Dhumavati reigns supreme when understood in the right context and especially when known experientially. Very simply, She represents the Non-Being that is eternal and both prior to Being as well as what remains after Being comes to an end.

The beauty of the Mahavidyas is that each of them represents two sides of the coin of various aspects of wisdom – the positive and the negative. Thus, Chinnamasta represents both the separation of Creation from the Creator as well as the end of that separation. Bhairavi represents fear as well as its dissolution. Sundari represents the transcendence of the Creator from His Creation as well as His immanent presence in Creation as itself. Similarly, Dhumavati represents the darkness of ignorance as well as that of its potentiality as wisdom, just as the potentiality of a tree is present in its seed. This is one aspect where Tantra differs from Yoga and Vedanta – Tantra is not merely about transcending our limitations but about embracing them. In this intimate embrace and allowing of our negativities, that which we desperately push away and resist becomes transformed. Tantra is inner alchemy, the conversion of all that is unwanted and impure in us to pure gold. Yet, this alchemy is not one of efforting and manipulation but that of complete surrender. 

On a cosmic level, it is said that Being (Creation) arises out of Non-Being. It is hard to imagine Non-Being, because it is outside of the scope of time and space which form the basis for mental understanding. The birth of Being from Non-Being is represented by Chinnamasta, the forceful thunderclap that results in the beginning of time (Kali) and space (Bhuvaneshwari) and arises from the tapas of intense concentration of Non-Being (Bhairavi). The coming into Being would be purposeless if it had full knowledge of its origin from Non-Being and its true nature as that Non-Being (Creator). A movie is best enjoyed when we lose ourselves in it and identify completely with the characters in it! Thus, Chinnamasta results in “cutting off” of this knowledge of our true nature. However, when the Creator creates, He descends into it and becomes the very thing. Thus, Creation (Being) is never actually cut off from the Creator; it is just that the spark of self-awareness remains embedded in ignorance. Dhumavati represents this darkness of ignorance; however, She is not totally black in color but is depicted as being of a smoky hue due to the spark of light that remains embedded in the darkness. Her ugly appearance represents the ignorance-bound distortion of truth. Moreover, this ignorance is so deep-seated that the witness principle that is always present as self-awareness also remains obscured. This witness principle is Shiva (Purusha). Since Shiva appears to be nonexistent in this dense ignorance, Dhumavati is depicted as a widow. Mythological stories describe Dhumavati consuming her consort (Shiva) in Her insatiable hunger, which is the power of the force of ignorance (greed, lust, hatred, cruelty and so on). Dhumavati willingly houses Herself deep in matter, driving evolution through increasing degrees of self-awareness from inconscient forms to animal life forms to humans.

On an individual level, Dhumavati represents the inertia and tamas that weighs us down again and again. Even after prolonged sadhana, the darkness that lies hidden deep within the subconscious can (and does) continue to haunt us. As long as we desire to transcend Her force, She will continue to taunt us, for Hers is not a force to be transcended but surrendered to. In several forms of sadhana, the focus is to plunge deep into the very source of ignorance. In this inquiry, one can dive deep into the dark Void of Non-Being (Dhumavati). This Void takes us away from the pain of existence and here we experience deep peace and bliss. It is tempting to stay here, away from the other darkness of our hidden demons (also Dhumavati). Thus, She is both the darkness of ignorance as well as the merciful darkness of the Void. Like Her winnow that holds the grain along with its impurities of stones and dirt, She holds both of these aspects of darkness within Her austere form. When this Void is known, there is often the strong temptation to remain here, to not engage in life at all and to view the world to be a non-existent illusion (Maya). This nihilistic viewpoint drains one of “juice” and sooner or later, Dhumavati emerges again, bringing up all the submerged stuff of our unresolved darkness. In this, Dhumavati’s compassion is unmatched. Her insistence upon our full processing and embracing of our dark side is manifested so that we can sever all those filaments in the cord of  our perceived separation from the Creator. Neither plunging into nihilism nor standing separate from life will do – all of it must be seen as the play of the One in the Many. The Creator does not stand apart from His Creation – He becomes one with it. Therefore, the true meaning of Maya is that the world appears to be a certain way due to distortion of truth; it is not that the world does not exist. This distortion of truth (Maya) is the result of avidya (ignorance of the true nature of Being).

How must we worship Dhumavati in inner sadhana? Her worship is that of allowing and opening to all that arises within and without. On the path of self-inquiry, we first learn to abide in the sense of “I Am” prior to thought. Over time, there is a gradual shift of identity from being a person to being this witness prior to body and mind. Further, there is a sense of a greater witnessing that is even beyond this I-sense that can on occasion lead to experience of the great Void. As we rest here, the advice of the sages is to “stop doing” – the doing of a deliberate practice such as bringing attention to this or that or manipulating the arising experience in any way. Inner stillness is the necessary requisite for the welcoming of Dhumavati. Remaining still, we allow all thoughts, emotions, reactions and stories to arise as and when they do. Instead of getting engaged in the story, we notice the arising with curiosity and “do nothing” to force the thought or emotion away. The energy of the stuff is deeply allowed to arise “as is”, without engagement by the mind, without labeling. The energy of the fear, shame, guilt, anger and the rest of the “darkness” is embraced fully in the loving space of “not doing”. All these aspects that were pushed away are welcomed into the stillness, and fully acknowledged to be our very own self, just as the so-called positive aspects are. They are all equally us. Every time these aspects are fully allowed and embraced thus, there is a deep relaxation that occurs that can be felt in the body, like the uncoiling of a tightly wound spring. This inner practice goes on all the time, even when engaged in outer activity. In every moment, we can welcome our reactions and conditioned mind into this vast Void – Dhumavati is known as the darkness within darkness. This welcoming and loving embrace of our darker/shadow selves is the alchemical process where Dhumavati as Alakshmi transforms into Lakshmi. Thus, as this great Void, She is the Non-Being prior to existence (the evolution of sadhana) and that which remains after its dissolution (“doing nothing”).

In this sweetness of self-acceptance, surrender to the great silent Void and inner intimate worship, Dhumavati, the great compassionate Mother graces us with the fortitude to come to the presence of the next Mahavidya, Bagalamukhi.

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Dasha Mahavidya – Bagalamukhi

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Seated on a golden throne and draped in golden robes, She has a golden complexion and radiates a golden luster. Two armed, She wields a mace that is poised to strike the tongue of the devotee held in the other. Such is the iconography of Bagalamukhi, the eighth Mahavidya. “Bagala” is a distortion of the root “valga” (bridle) and “mukhi” refers to face, whereby Bagalamukhi refers to the goddess whose face has the power to hypnotize or control.

Like Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi is worshiped extensively for attainment of occult powers or to win conflicts like lawsuits or debates (because of the belief that She can stun the opponent’s intelligence and/or tongue). Yet, Her true blessing is a gift that surpasses any gains in the material world. Her grace is actually the turning point in one’s sadhana and the beginning of real awakening. She is known as “vak sthambanakari” or the “one who paralyzes speech”. Speech here refers to the faculty that facilitates expression.

Speech is not limited to the production of sounds by the complex brain-vocal cord-respiratory apparatus. Speech encompasses all expression, including the more upstream process of thought, which in turn arises from “knowledge” gained through experience and learning. This upstream expression creates memory and imagination resulting in automatic labeling of everything that arises in current experience. In this immediate (almost simultaneous) labeling of currently arising perception, a split or duality is created between that which is perceived (not I, but that out there) and the one that perceives (I). Thus, in the dualistic power of this “speech”, time and space come into existence. From memory (thoughts about the past) and imagination (thoughts about the future) arise more thoughts (speech or expression) of how a currently arising perception or experience “should be”. From this “should be” arises the downstream effect of duality – good and bad, right and wrong and so on. We view ourselves and the entire world through this lens of “should be”, which effectively obscures “what is”. This discordance between what “should be” and “what is” creates continuous conflict, both internally and externally. We are at constant war with ourselves, others and nature merely because of our idea of how things should be, the effect of the faculty of expression or speech.

While Dhumavati forces us to face all the darkness within, Bagalamukhi shows us what surrendering to this darkness means, facilitating the awakening to “what is”. On the spiritual path, the very knowledge we accumulate through learning eventually becomes the biggest obstacle to knowing. We may start off on the “path” based on the guidance of mentors/gurus and teachings, which is helpful to a very large extent. However, all paths have the inherent trap of creating the imagination-based idea of what the goal “should be”. Innocently, we tend to keep chasing the distant dream that someone else awakened from in a specific way, wanting it exactly that way. Thus, somewhere along the way, our interest can become fully vested in the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself. We can create the imagery of the finger to be the moon and begin to worship and idolize it. We can begin to make this finger our very goal, believing that is what the moon “should” look like. Instead of looking directly at our own currently arising experience, we can make the whole “path” about theories and concepts (which are nothing but thoughts arising from memory or imagination). We can read every book and teaching, become experts at the topic of self-realization, have endless debates and arguments or have exciting mystical experiences to narrate to everyone else. In this, we have simply gone from being material materialists to spiritual materialists.

Before we get on the “spiritual path”, we either modify every currently arising perception by forcibly thinking something else (distraction) or get carried away by the thought or perception and act according to its dictate (slavery). After we get on the “spiritual path”, we continue to modify every currently arising perception by distraction (by various techniques) or become slaves to it (by acting on it). In reality, nothing much has changed with regard to modifying currently arising experience to what “should be”. Only the garb has been changed, from the so-called material to the so-called spiritual! Essentially however, we continue to be at war between “what is” and what we think “it should be”.

At the center of this war is the “I”, the greatest of all illusions. With the arising of the “I” does thought arise. And all thoughts, without exception, refer to the “I”. The “I” is made up of memory and imagination, the shoulds and should nots, the judgments and the comparisons – in essence, thought does the job of protecting the fragile identity of “I”. A continuous reaffirmation is needed to keep the “I” going, for it is that elusive. Except in deep sleep, the “I” takes center stage in every moment, fighting to keep its identity intact with “I think”, “I feel”, and so on. The very nature of the “I” is insecurity and a sense of incompleteness. It always seeks completion, whether it is in the form of a car, a house, a better job, more money, better kids and mate, drugs and substances or crime. Both prior to, and after taking up a “spiritual” path, the “I” continues to thrive. The very effort to “kill it” strengthens it, for the I is the one that needs to annihilate itself – to feel complete and secure! And so the conflict continues.

Bagalamukhi’s force is called upon to stun and silence this non-stop conflict of the mind. With her mace, She stills all mental modifications (distraction and slavery) with a sudden loss of reference to memory (past) or imagination (future), i.e., knowledge. It is this immense gift of Grace that results in the stilling of the mind needed to part the veils of illusion. The “I” is looked for in direct experience and it cannot be found! The “I” that was previously revealed is also seen to simply arise and fall in passive awareness, attached to thought. The “I” is not separate from thought, and neither is separate from the passive awareness. Thus, the nature of the “I” is seen through at last. With no continuous reference to the “I”, we fall off into the unknown. Finally ripped from the “should be” of knowledge, we finally see directly that in any experience, there is only experiencing. In any perception, there is only perceiving. That which perceives is the perceived, and there is no other. Thoughts (and “I”) may still come up but they are finally seen to be what they are – ripples on the ocean. They are no longer believed. In this seeing, there is absolute unknowing, and absolute freedom. The extraordinary thing about it is how ordinary it is!

To really know this, knowledge (“speech”) is the sacrifice. With the blow of Her mace, Bagalamukhi takes away speech and bestows the gift of silence. She enables us to see that “I” can never surrender – any surrender the “I” does only strengthens itself. On the other hand, the cessation of all mental and psychological modifications of “what is” is surrender occurring on its own. True surrender is the seeing through the “I” to reveal the vastness of “what is”. And this is the beginning of seeing our true nature. This endless falling into the unknown of “what is” is true worship and Tantra in all its glory.  In every moment, there is only this – the is-ness of perception or rather, perceiving. This “knowledge” is no longer accumulated but the “knowing” is lived from one moment to the next.

Bagalamukhi  thus grants the greatest boon of silencing all points of reference of should be (speech). Her merciful mace prepares us for the grace of true knowing from the next Mahavidya, Matangi.