Posts Tagged ‘Dasha Mahavidya’

Dasha Mahavidya – Tripurasundari

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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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

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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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

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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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

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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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.

Dasha Mahavidya – Matangi

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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Emerald green in color, she sits on a throne and rests her delicate feet on a lotus. Clad in red robes and a garland of flowers, she glows brilliantly, with drops of perspiration on her face that emanate from her own radiance and render her even more alluring. A crescent moon crowns her head of long and wildly flowing hair. She is four-armed and wields a bloodied scimitar in the first, a veena (stringed instrument) in the second and a parrot in the third, while the fourth forms a boon-bestowing mudra. Another parrot rests on Her lap, looking up at her intoxicated eyes. This is the iconography of the ninth Mahavidya, Matangi.

Other iconographies of Matangi also exist, some with fiercer (a disheveled sixteen-year old girl sitting atop a corpse, wielding a pair of scissors in one hand and a bowl of blood in another) or gentler (a radiant, sweetly smiling, dark complexioned young woman playing the veena and surrounded by the music of parrots) forms. In all cases, Matangi is thought to depict another form of Goddess Saraswathi symbolizing knowledge and most importantly, the power of expression, i.e., speech. Matangi, like Saraswathi, is worshiped by all forms of expression – music, art, writing, debate and so on. Her sadhana is simple; it is the outpouring of any of these modalities of expression. With practice and engagement, the particular form of expression is refined over time.

According to Vedic lore, speech occurs in four stages that also correspond to the four states of consciousness. The manifest or gross form of speech is called “sthula” (also known as the physical structure of matter) and corresponds to “jagrat”, the waking state that operates in the world of matter. Sustaining the gross speech is its vital life-force called “sukshma” (subtle) and this corresponds to “swapna”, the dream state (the play of mind that is subtler than the physical world). Nurturing the sukshma is the still subtler “karana” (causal), which the consciousness beyond the life force, and this corresponds to “sushupti”, the deep sleep state (pure consciousness without the gross objects of the physical world or the subtle objects of the mind). Further upstream is the  “mahakarana” (primordial), which corresponds to “turiya”, the fourth “state” that transcends the three states of waking, dream state and deep sleep.

Furthermore, “vak” (speech) in its three states of manifestation is located within the various subtle neurobiological centers along the spine. The as-yet unmanifest speech turned toward manifestation (paraa vak) is located at the muladhara (root center) at the bottom of the spine, sustaining the spine and the other centers. This center is ruled by Tripura Bhairavi, the fifth Mahavidya who represents the pent-up energy and force of tapas (practice or austerity).  Next comes pashyanti vak or the speech that perceives that is located in the manipura (navel center) and is governed by Tara, the second Mahavidya who represents the glory of “Om”. Expressed or articulated speech (vaikhari vak) is located in the vishuddhi (throat center) and is governed by Matangi.

Matangi is represented as a dark goddess because in order to find expression, the wordless, objectless and pristine truth (mahakarana or turiya) has to descend into the “darkness” of physical matter through decreasing levels of subtlety. Just as turiya is seemingly “lost” in the absolute identification of the waking state, speech most often defiles the pristine state of its origin. The great light that transcends all colors and forms becomes colored as it descends into articulation. It is thought that Matangi has her name from being the wife of Shiva, also known as Matanga. However, matanga is the process whereby the unmanifest speech first perceives itself and then touches the thinking mind to be transformed into expression. Matangi is the shakti of this process of matanga.

In various tantras, Matangi is also known by her fierce name, Uchistha Chandali. Chandali is a derogatory name given to a woman of the lowest section of society that subsists on the left-overs of the other classes. It is a common practice in some tantric sects to worship Matangi with food left-over from their plates served with dirty hands and other taboo offerings such as menstrual blood. The significance of Matangi as Chandali surpasses these superficial customs. Chandali represents what is left over of the Supreme mahakarana or turiya that descends into expression. She remains undiminished, eternal and infinite no matter what is created “out of” her supreme brilliance as turiya or mahakarana. Thus, the sadhana of Matangi calls for no ritualistic cleansing or preparation. She will accept all offerings “as is” since she is the source and the end result of all creation.

The tantras also describe similarities between Matangi and the elephant-headed deity, Ganapathi. Like Matangi, he is often referred to as “Uchistha Ganapathi”. Matanga is a synonym for elephant and like Matangi, Ganapathi is hailed for his wisdom, memory and intelligence. As expression, he represents all four aspects of vak – as para vak, he rules over the muladhara, as the “Om”, he represents pashyanti vak in the manipura and in the visuddhi as vaikhari vak. As Uchistha Ganapathy, he represents mahakarana or turiya, the never-diminished “left-over” of expression. Thus, Matangi and Ganapathi represent the same aspect of divinity, the power of expression.

In Sri Vidya Sadhana, Matangi takes the prominent role as the minister of Lalitha or Tripura Sundari, the central goddess of the path and the third Mahavidya. Tripura Sundari permeates and transcends all the triads of states of consciousness, gunas and action. As Matangi controls the descent of the transcendent Supreme into their triads of expression in the states of consciousness, gunas and actions, she is the gateway to the knowledge and wisdom of Sundari. As this “Rajamatangi” or minister, she has two distinct personalities that represent fluency and brilliance of speech (Vagvadini) and the path of energy up the three centers along the spine that results in the fluency of articulated speech (Nakuli). In the silence created by the strike of Bagalamukhi, these two personalities transform ordinary expression into wisdom. The stem of the veena in her hands symbolizes the sushumna (the subtle energy channel that traverses along the spinal cord) and the strings by the energy channels emanating from the sushumna. In the hands of Matangi, the sadhaka becomes the veena, blessed with the loss of internal conflict discord and disharmony.

Just as a parrot with no human faculties can imitate human speech, a sadhaka surrenders his/her discursive thoughts, allowing expression to flow from the play of the Divine Mother. In this surrender, a miraculous shift takes place. While inquiring into direct experience, first we see that our experiences of the world are limited to the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. In direct experience, all we can ever know is, for example, the color and fragrance of an object such as a flower. The labeling of the experience as a “rose” or “lily” is not part of the direct experience – that is added from memory and learning.* Furthermore, all experiences arise and fall in a sequence that gives the illusion of the experience being “true” – first the seeing of the color and shape, then the memory of “rose” or “lily” and then the thought that says “this is a rose”. By step three, the direct and vivid experience of the color is lost as the mind takes center place.  Bagalamukhi takes away this illusion of inference such that direct experience of our bodies, minds and the world is made possible. With this inquiry, our identity as the person begins to fall away, giving way to the vast awareness that is our true nature. The “I” that bound us to our personality, body and mind is also seen to arise in awareness. Nothing in our experience is found to be “outside of” awareness; objects are then known to be not separate or different from awareness. 

As inquiry progresses, the deeper association between language and inference becomes clear. While previously, language seemed to indicate the truth (“rose” or “lily”) in definite and fixed ways, the association loosens up and it becomes obvious that expression is always only inference, and can never be the truth. In fact, language comes to be seen as not referring to truth in any way. How could the Supreme Truth ever be adequately expressed in limited language? Thus, our own views and ideas begin to be seen in a new and joyful light of “not really true”. All expressions are gradually seen to be equally (or neither) true or false ,as attachment to the pairs of opposites (such as true/not true, pure/impure, beautiful/ugly, good/bad, black/white, day/night and so on) begins to be severed by her great scimitar. This is why Matangi can be offered “impure” things like left-over food or menstrual blood – no object or offering is ever “outside” of her – she is the basis of all opposites and transcends them all. Pure and impure offerings are of the same “substance” – her, and yet can never refer to her as her true supreme nature. All offerings are only inferences and do not actually refer to purity! Thus, the darkness represented by her “descent” into matter (where expression had previously been equated to physical and mental objects as the absolute truth) begins to lift as all is seen through the eyes of awareness. Paradoxically, expression begins to become refined by the wisdom and kindness generated by this inquiry through the loss of “tightness” around expression and language.

In this fire of inquiry, all experiences are gleefully and indiscriminately offered up to her as Uchishta Chandali – the good, the bad and the ugly thoughts, ideas, memories, dreams and speech that form the basis of our states of consciousness and expression. As the great fire, she willingly consumes them all and burns them into the uniform ash of mahakarana or turiya, preparing us for the last of the Mahavidyas, Kamalatmika.

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* This description is from my practice of the “Direct Path” as expounded by Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon and Dr. Greg Goode. For those interested in the Direct Path, I highly recommend the following books: “The Direct Path – A User’s Guide” and “Standing as Awareness”, both by Dr. Goode. In my case, the Direct Path has most definitely contributed to a deeper understanding of tantra and the sadhana of the Mahavidyas.