The Indian Magna Mater
I The Divine Mother
by Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe)
The worship of the Great Mother as the Grand Multiplier is one of the oldest in the world. As I have elsewhere said, when we throw our minds back upon the history of this worship, we discern even in the most remote and fading past the Figure, most ancient, of the mighty Mother of Nature. I suspect that in the beginning the Goddess everywhere antedated, or at least was predominant over, the God. It has been affirmed (Glotz: gean Civilization, 243) that in all countries from the Euphrates to the Adriatic, the Chief Divinity was at first in woman form. Looking to the east of the Euphrates we see the Dusk Divinity of India, the Adya-Shakti and Maha-Shakti, or Supreme Power of many names—as Jagadamba, Mother of the World, which is the Play of Her who is named Lalita, Maya, Mahatripurasundari and Maha-kundalini, as Maha-Vaishnavi, the Sapphire Devi who supports the World, as Mahakali who dissolves it, as Guhyamahabhairavi, and all the rest.
This Supreme Mother is worshipped by Her devotees from the Himalayas, the“Abode of Snow,” the northern home of Shiva, to Cape Comorin in the uttermost south—for the word Comorin is a corruption of Kumart Devi or The Mother. Goddesses are spoken of in the Vedas as in the later Scriptures. Of these latter, the Shakta Tantras are the particular repository of Mother-worship.
To the Shakta, God is his Supreme Mother. In innumerable births he has had countless mothers and fathers, and he may in future have many, many more. The human, and indeed any, mother is sacred as the giver (under God) of life, but it is the Divine Mother of All (Shrimata), the"Treasure-House of Compassion", who alone is both the Giver of life in the world and of its joys, and who (as Tarini) is the Saviouress from its miseries, and who again is, for all who unite with Her, the Life of all lives—that unalloyed bliss named Liberation. She is the Great Queen (Maharajni) of Heaven and of yet higher worlds, of Earth, and of the Underworlds. To Her both Devas, Devis, and Men give worship. Her Feet are adored by even Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra.
The Shakta system, in its origin possibly Non-Vaidik, is in several respects an original presentment, both as regards doctrine and practice, of the great Vedantic Theme concerning the One and the Many. As an organic and dynamic system it interprets all in terms of Power, from the atom of Matter, which is said by modern science to be a reservoir of tremendous energy, to the Almighty, which is the commonest name in all Religions for God. It is the cult of Power both as the Partial and as the Whole, as the worshiper may desire. God is here regarded under twin aspects; as Power-Holder or the"male"Shiva, and as Power or Shakti, the Divine Spouse and Mother.
The symbolism of the Shaktas'"Jeweled Tree of Tantra“Is brilliant, and meets the demand of Nietzsche that the abstract should be made attractive to the senses. It is largely of the so-called"erotic" type which is to be found to some and varying degree in Hinduism as a whole.
The symbols employed are either geometric—that is, Yantric—or pictorial. A Yantra is a diagrammatic presentation of Divinity, as Mantra is its sound-expression. The former is the body of the latter. The higher worship is done with Yantra.
Pictorial symbolism is of higher and lower types. The former is popular, and the latter may be described by the French term peuple.
I will now describe a Yantra and the greatest of Yantras, namely the Shriyantra. We have no longer to deal with pictures of persons and their surroundings, but with lines, curves, circles, triangles, and the Point.
The great symbol of The Mother is the Shriyantra, from the center of which She arises like the solar orb at morn, but in a blaze of light excelling the brilliance of countless midday suns and the coolness of innumerable moons. The center is the Point, or Bindu—that is, The Mother as Concentrated Power ready to create. Around Her is the Universe, together with its Divinities or Directing Intelligences. From the Point the World issues. Into it on dissolution, it enters. The extended Universe then collapses into an unextended Point, which itself then subsides like a bubble on the surface of the Causal Waters, which are the Immense.
I. The Divine Mother
The Real as Shiva-Shakti may be regarded from three aspects — namely, as Universe, as God, and as Godhead. The Real is the World, but the Real is more than the World. The Real is God. The Real is God, but it is also more than what we understand by the word God. The Real is, as it were, beyond God as Godhead. This does not mean, as some have supposed, that God is a"fiction,” but that the Real as it is in its own alogical being is not adequately described in terms of its relation to the world as God. I will deal, then, first with its aspect as Godhead, then as the Supreme Self, or Person, or God, and thirdly, with Shiva-Shakti as the manifest and limited Universe.
Pervading and transcending the Existent is the"Spiritual Ether,” also called the“Immense“In which is the Measurable, which Immense is also called the"Fact" (Sat), in which are the Fact-Sections (Kala) which Fact is also called alogical Experience-Whole (Purna), in which are all Experience-Modes (Vritti) of the limited Selves.
The ultimate that is Irreducible Real is, in the system, not mere undetermined Being, but Power which is the source of all Determinations. This Power is both to Be, to self-conserve, and to resist change, as also to be the efficient cause of change, and as material cause to Become and suffer change. Relatively to the World, Immutable Being is as Divinity called Shiva the Power-Holder, and His Power is Shakti or The Mother Shiva, but in the supreme alogical state, Power to Be and Being-Power-Holder are merged in one another.
What is the nature of the Alogical Experience? In the Yoginihridaya Tantra it is asked.”Who knows the heart of a woman? Only Shiva knows the heart of Yogini"—that is, the Divine Mother so called, as being one with, that is in the form of, all that exists, and as being in Herself the One in which they are.
Since the Irreducible Real is the Whole, it cannot be conceived or described. It is neither Father nor Mother, for it is beyond Fatherhood and Motherhood and all other attributes. It is alogical.
Though it cannot be conceived or put into words, some concepts are held to be more appropriate to it than others. And thus it is approximately said to be infinite undetermined Being, mindless Experiencing, and Supreme Bliss unalloyed with pain and sorrow. As Being and Power are merged in this alogical state, Power, in its form as Power to Be (Cidrupini ), is also Being-Consciousness and Bliss. Shiva-Shakti, the"two in one,” are here the Nameless One.
The experience of this alogical state is not, however, that of an“I" (Aham) and“This" (Idam). The next or causal aspect of the Real is a Supreme Self. Its third and effectual aspect is the limited selves or Universe.
The physical Ether is a symbol of this alogical state, in which the twofold Shiva-Shakti are the One in the unitary state, which is called the"Ether of Consciousness" (Cidakasha).
Physical Ether is the all-extending, homogeneous, relative Plenum in which the Universe of particulars exists. The"Spiritual Ether,” or"Ether of Consciousness,” is the undetermined, all-diffusive, though inextended, absolute Plenum (Purna), in which both these particulars and the physical Ether itself exists. Ether is the physical counterpart of Consciousness, just as the Notion of Space is its psychical counterpart. These are such counterparts because Consciousness becomes through its Power as material cause both Matter and Mind. Each is a manifested form of Spirit in Time and Space. The shoreless Ocean of Nectar or Deathlessness is another symbol of the alogical Whole.
We now pass to a consideration of the same Real in its aspect as related to the Universe, which is the appearance of the Immense as the Measurable or Form. The Real is here related to the Universe as the Cause, Maintainer, and Directing Consciousness. Form is Maya, which, however, in this system (whatever be its meaning in Mayavada) does not mean“Illusion.” All is power. All is real.
The alogical One is here of dual aspect as Shiva and Shakti. The two concepts of Being and Power are treated as two Persons. Shiva is the Power-Holder, who is Being-Consciousness-Bliss, and Shakti is Power and the Becoming. She, in the alogical state, is also Being- Consciousness-Bliss. Without ceasing to be in Herself what She ever was, is, and will be, She is now the Power of Shiva as efficient and material cause of the Universe and the Universe itself. Whilst Shiva represents the Consciousness aspect of the Real, She is its aspect as Mind, Life, and Matter. He is the Liberation (Moksha) aspect of the Real. S4>e is in the form of the Universe or Samsara. As Shiva- Shakti are in themselves one, so Moksha and Samsara are at root one.
Shiva, in the Kularnava Tantra, says that His doctrine is neither non-dualist nor dualist, but beyond both. We have here a non- dualistic system as regards its teaching concerning the Alogical Whole, in which Shiva-Shakti are fused in one. We have again a kind of Duo-Monotheism. It is Monotheistic because Shiva and Shakti are two aspects of one and the same Reality. It is dual because, these two aspects are worshipped as two Persons, from whose union as Being and Power the Universe evolves.
The experience of this state, relative to the Alogical Whole, is a disruption of unitary alogical experience. I say"relative"because the Whole is always the Whole. Such disruption is the work of Power. She, as it were, disengages Herself as Power, from the embrace in which Power-Holder and Power are fused in one, and then represents Herself to Him. On this representation, Consciousness-Power assumes certain postures (Mudra) preparatory to the going forth as Universe, and then, when Power is fully concentrated, manifests as the World.
The term Consciousness, which is inadequate to describe the alogical state, is here approximately appropriate, for the experience of this state is that of an“I“And“This.” But it is to be distinguished from man's Consciousness. For the experiencer as man is a limited (and not, as here, a Supreme Self ) and the object is experienced as separate from, and outside, the Self (and not, as in the case of the Lord and Mother, as one with the experiencing Self). The experience of Shiva as the Supreme Self, viewing the Universe is,” All this, I am.”
As contrasted with the alogical, all-diffusive, Spiritual Ether, the symbol of the second aspect of Shiva-Shakti, as the Supreme Self and Cause of the Universe is the metaphysical Point (Bindu) or Power as a Point. What, then is the meaning of the latter term? In Being- Power about to evolve there is a stressing of Power which gathers itself together to expand again as Universe. When it has become concentrated and condensed (Ghanibhuta Shakti) it is ready to evolve. Bindu, or the Point, is, therefore, Power in that Concentrated state in which it is ready and about to evolve the Universe. Though infinitely small, as the Absolute Little, when compared with the Absolute Great or Spiritual Ether, it is yet a source of infinite energy as (to borrow an example from modern science) the relatively Little or Atom, or other unit of matter, existing in the relatively Great or the physical Ether, is said to be a source of tremendous energy. Just as, again, the relative point or atom is as a fact in the relative Ether, so the Absolute Point is conceived to be in the Absolute Ether. I say"conceived,” because, as both Spiritual Point and Spiritual Ether are each absolute, it is only figuratively that the one can be said to be“within“The other. The“Isle of Gems" (Manidvipa) in the"Ocean of Nectar" (Amritarnava) is another symbol of this state.
There is a painting that exhibits both the Alogical Immense and the Point of Power or Bindu“In“It. The former is here symbolized by the shoreless"Ocean of Nectar" (Amritarnava)—that is, Immortality. This symbol of all-diffusive Consciousness is similar to that of the all-spreading Ether. In the blue, tranquil Waters of Eternal Life (Amritarnava) is set the Isle of Gems (Manidvipa). This Island is the Bindu or metaphysical Point of Power. The Island is shown as a golden circular figure. The shores of the Island are made of powdered gems. It is forested with blooming and fragrant trees — Nipa, Malati, Champaka, Parijata, and Kadamba. There, too is the Kalpa tree laden with flower and fruit. In its leaves the black bees hum, and the Koel birds make love. Its four branches are the four Vedas. In the center there is a house made of Cintamani stone which grants all desires. In it is a jeweled Mandapa or awning. Under it and on a gemmed and golden throne there is The Mother Mahatripurasundari as the Deity of the Bindu, which as shown later, becomes the three Bindus or Puras. Hence Her name"Three Puras"or Tripura. She is red, for red is the active color, and She is here creative as Vimarsha Shakti, or, the“This"of the Supreme Experiencer, which through Maya becomes the Universe. What man calls Matter is first experienced by mindless Consciousness as a“This,” which is yet though the"Other"one with the Self. Then, by the operation of Maya, the“This“Is experienced by mind as separate and different from and outside the Self, as complete"otherness.” She holds in Her four hands, bows and arrows, noose and goad, which are explained later. She sits on two inert male figures which lie on a six-sided throne. The upper figure is Shiva (Sakala), who is awake, because, he is associated with his Power as efficient and material cause. On His head is the crescent Digit of the Moon, called Nada, the name for a state of stressing Power, His Shakti being now creative. He lies inert, for He is Immutable Being. He is white because he is Consciousness and Illumination (Prakasha). Consciousness illuminates and makes manifest the forms evolved by its Power, which in its turn by supplying the form (as object unconscious) helps Shiva to display Himself as the Universe which is both Being and Becoming. Under him is another male figure, darker in color, to represent colorlessness (vivarna), with closed eyes. This mysterious figure (Nishkala Shiva) is called Shava or the Corpse. It illustrates the doctrine that Shiva without his Power or Shakti can do and is, so far as the manifested is concerned, nothing. There is profundity in the doctrine of which this Corpse is a symbol. To those who have understood it a real insight is given into the Kaula Shakta system.
This representation of Shiva and Shakti as of the same size, but the former lying inert, is perhaps peculiar to the Kaula Shaktas, and is the antithesis of the well-known"Dancing Shiva.”
I will here note some other symbolism, pictorial and geometric or Yantric.
Pictorially, Shakti is shown either as the equal of Her Spouse — that is, as an Androgyne figure in which the right half is male and the left female—or as two figures, male and female, of equal size. Inequality is indicated where the Shakti is smaller than the male Divinity. The meaning of this difference in dimension of the figures of Shakti lies in a difference of theological and philosophical concepts which may yet be reconciled. In the Shakta view, the Power-Holder and His Power as She is in Herself, that is, otherwise than as the manifested form, are one and equal. But He is recumbent. Alternatively, Shakti is The Mother as the Warrior Leader or Promachos with Shiva under Her feet. Where the figures are unequal it is meant to assert (a fact which is not denied) that Supreme Power as manifested is infinitely less than Power unmanifest. That Power is in no wise exhausted in the manifestation of the Worlds which are said to be as it were but dust on the feet of The Mother.
Passing to Yantric symbols, the Male Power-Holder Shiva is represented by a triangle standing on its base. A triangle is selected as being the only geometric figure which represents Trinity in Unity—the many Triads such as Willing, Knowing, and Acting in which the one Consciousness (Cit) displays itself. Power or the feminine principle or Shakti is necessarily represented by the same figure, for Power and Power-Holder are one. The Triangle, however, is shown reversed—that is standing on its apex. Students of ancient symbolism are aware of the physical significance of this symbol. To such reversal, however, philosophic meaning may also be given, since all is reversed when reflected in the Waters of Maya.
Why, it may now be asked, does the Shakta lay stress on the Power or Mother aspect of Reality? Like all other Hindus, he believes in a Static Real as Immutable Being-Consciousness, which is the ground of and serves to maintain that which, in this system, is the Dynamic Real. He will point out, however, that The Mother is also in one of Her aspects of the same nature as Shiva, who is such Static Real. But it is She who does work. She alone also moves as material cause. He as Immutable Being does and can do nothing without Her as His Power. Hence the Kaula Shakta. symbolism shows Shiva as lying inert and to be, if deprived of His Power, but a corpse (Shava).
Even when associated with his Shakti as efficient cause, Shiva does not move. A not uncommon picture, counted obscene, is merely the pictorial symbol of the fact that Being, even when associated with its active Power, is Immutable. It is She as Power who takes the active and changeful part in generation, as also in conceiving, bearing, and giving birth to the World-Child. All this is the function of the divine, as it is of the human, mother. In such work the male is but a helper (Sahakari) only. In other systems it is the Mother who is the Helper of Shiva. It is thus to The Mother that man owes the World of Form or Universe. Without Her as material cause, Being cannot display itself. It is but a corpse (Shava). Both Shiva and Shakti give that supreme beyond-world Joy which is Liberation (Mukti, Paramananda). They are each Supreme Consciousness and Bliss. The Mother is Anandalahari or Wave of Bliss. To attain to that is to be liberated. But Shakti The Mother is alone the Giver of World-Joy (Bhukti, Bhaumananda), since it is She who becomes the Universe. As such She is the Wave of Beauty (Saundaryalahari). Further, it is through her Form as World that She, as also Shiva, are in their Formless Self attained. If, however, union is sought directly with Reality in its non-world aspect, it must necessarily be by renunciation. Liberation may, however be attained by acceptance of, and through the World, the other aspect of the Real. In the Shakta method, it is not by denial of the World, but, by and through the World, when known as The Mother that Liberation is attained. World enjoyment is made the means and instrument of Liberation (Mokshayate Samsara). The Shakta has both (Bhukti, Mukti). This essential unity of the World and Beyond World, and passage through and by means of the former to the latter is one of the most profound doctrines of the Shakta, and is none-the-less so because their application of these principles has been limited to man's gross physical functions, and such application has sometimes led to abuse. For these and other reasons primacy is given to The Mother, and it is said: “What care I for the Father if I but be on the lap of The Mother?”
I note here in connection with primacy of The Mother-God that in the Mediterranean (Aegean) Civilization the Male God is said to have been of a standing inferior to The Mother, and present only to make plain Her character as the fruitful womb whence all that exists springs (Glotz, 243, et seq.).
Such, then, is the great Mother of India in Her aspect as She is in Herself as the alogical world-transcending Whole (Purna), and secondly, as She is as the Creatrix of the World. It remains now but to say a word of Her as She exists in the form of the universe.
The psycho-physical universe is Maya. The devotee Kamalakanta lucidly defines Maya as the Form (Akara) of the Void (Sunya) or formless (not Nothingness). Is it Real? It is real, because Maya, considered as a Power, is Devi Shakti, and She is real. The effect of the transformation of that Power must also be real. Some make a contrast between Reality and Appearance. But why, it is asked (apart from persistence), should appearance be unreal, and that of which it is such appearance alone be real? Moreover, in a system such as this, in which Power transforms itself, no contrast between Reality and Appearance in the sense of unreality emerges. The distinction is between the Real as it is its formless Self and the same Real as it appears in Form. Moreover, the World is experienced by the Lord and Mother, and their experience is never unreal. We are here on a healthy level above the miasma of Illusion. The experience of man (to take him as the highest type of all other selves) is not the Experience-Whole. He knows the world as the other than Himself, just because Power has made him man—that is, a limited Experiencer or center in the Whole. That is a fact, and no Illusion or Deceit. When He realizes Himself as“All this I am"that is, as an“I“Which knows all form as Itself—then Consciousness as man expands into the Experience-Whole which is the Fact (Sat).
Man is Shakti, or The Mother, in so far as he is Mind, Life in Form, and Matter. He is Shiva in so far as his essence is Consciousness as It is in Itself, which is also the nature of The Mother in Her own alogical Self.
This union is achieved by rousing the sleeping Power in the lowest center of solid and leading it upwards to the cerebrum as the center Consciousness.
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