She sits upon a lotus, while four elephants surround her and bathe her continuously with sweet waters. In two of her four hands, she wields ever-fresh lotuses. The other two hands form boon-bestowing mudras. Brilliantly radiant, she saturates creation with beauty. Such is the iconography of the last of the Mahavidyas, Kamalatmika (or Kamala).
She closely resembles the more popular Mahalakshmi (specifically, Gajalakshmi or the Lakshmi with the elephants). However, Kamalatmika differs from Gajalakshmi, displaying alternative fierce forms typical of the Mahavidyas. She is more closely connected to Tripurasundari, the third Mahavidya. While Mahalakshmi is venerated as the consort of Lord Vishnu, Kamala stands alone and independent like the other Mahavidyas. She represents the “downward” movement of the spiritual journey. While Kali symbolizes the upward journey into the transcendent, Kamala marks the descent of transcendent knowledge into the mundane and ordinary.
It is Kamala’s grace that bestows beauty into that mesmerizing sunset, that haunting melody, that exquisite touch of the beloved, that juiciness of the perfectly ripe fruit, and that lingering fragrance of the rose bloom. The allure of sense objects is the magic of Kamala; without her, no object would hold our interest or desire. While the beauty of some objects seems obvious, Kamala’s grace results in opening to the inherent beauty of consciousness beyond the appearance of objects. Thus, even situations, people and objects that were previously unacceptable are welcomed with a renewed vision. No circumstance or action is seen to be “gross”, “dirty”, or “immoral”. Her exquisite beauty is seen in all manifestations as equally valid and beautiful.
Kamala’s grace manifests in unexpected and wild ways. Resplendent beauty cannot be known without unconditional love and acceptance. Anything less is a subtle form of violence. Especially on the spiritual path, much of what we do (worship, meditation, inquiry and so on) can become tools to push away suffering. In spiritual circles, this is a well-known phenomenon, known as “spiritual bypassing”. We try very hard to “let go” of our limitations only to discover that they cannot be let go of. If an issue or perceived limitation is examined with the sole ulterior motive of “letting it go”, the said issue is driven deeper into the psyche (as suppression or repression, or vasana). Sooner or later, it is bound to surface again as deeply patterned thoughts and actions. The lifeblood of an issue is rejection.
How is rejection violent? If we look closely, we will see that just as the sun shines equally on flowers and weeds alike, all phenomena are welcomed in awareness. If something is occurring, it has already been allowed, despite the mind’s labeling of it as right or wrong. Awareness does not evaluate what to let through. It is only the separate “I” that filters experience, calling this acceptable and that not, based on what it has learned through upbringing and previous experience. This has no bearing whatsoever on what must and must not happen, since the “I” passing such a judgment is itself an arising in awareness. Thus, a higher state of consciousness is as much an arising as a lower state. Just as the sun cares not if the flowers and the weeds approve, awareness cares for nothing preferentially. Kamala reveals this paradoxical truth – suffering is the result of rejection.
In my sadhana, practices like inquiry were used with this subtle (violent) intent of being rid of a said issue that caused suffering. Innocently, I believed that I could “inquire it away”. However, Kamalatmika will have none of this if her grace is to be had. Her beauty is unconditional – it must be seen equally in everything. No higher state can be preferred over the mundane and ordinary, for such preference is a subtle form of violence. Her sadhana is one of acceptance in toto. Her beauty does not lie in the external form of the object or situation as much as it does in the life force that fuels the seeing itself. Thus, when anger, jealousy or anxiety arise, there is no preference for peace in its place. Instead, the discomfort is allowed to arise and is felt fully. This is an act of love, and of epic proportions. For without such unconditional love for our own follies, the world will always remain separate and seem like a source of suffering. Self-judgment must be allowed and loved before judgment of the world can be seen. In this act of radical ahimsa of allowing everything to arise and simply be, the exquisite beauty of the arising is deeply felt and seen. This tantric sadhana is one that opens the doors to unimaginable sensuality and radiance. In this absolute allowing, inquiry becomes a tool of curious and loving self-discovery. When the intent of inquiry thus shifts, the separation between awareness (Shiva) and the said issue (Shakti) collapses, revealing their eternal union. The ocean is seen to be one with its waves.
The path of the Mahavidyas begins with Kali’s blow that cuts off the head and brings us to Kamala’s glance that opens the heart. The path does not end here. Instead, a previously hidden secret path is revealed. It is one of softening and allowing, melting and opening. Kamalatmika initiates a deeper level of alchemy, where harsh resistance to the totality of life is transformed into the sweet nectar of love.
Image source: Wikipedia commons.