We Humans Have Three Mothers"That is why my daughter once told me that we humans have three mothers - the physical mother who gave birth, the spiritual Mother within who nourishes and guides us, and Mother Earth who sustains all life."
From: "jagbir singh"
Date: Tue Jan 18, 2005 9:36 am
Subject: The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
--- In email@example.com, "jagbir singh"
The Sakti or Devi is thus the Brahman revealed in the mother aspect (Srimata) as creatrix and nourisher of the worlds. Her first name in the Sri Lalita Sahasranama is Sri Mata. The reason such names are taken from that scared text is because the Great Adi Shakti Herself acknowledged during Guru Puja at Camp Interval, Quebec, Canada on July 23, 1994, that Her original name is Shri Lalita Devi. Thus the 1000 names of Shri Lalita Sahasranama are attributed to Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi in the www.adishakti.org website. ...
That is why my daughter once told me that we humans have three mothers - the physical mother who gave birth, the spiritual Mother within who nourishes and guides us, and Mother Earth who sustains all life. (But such knowledge is only admissible if it is experienced and cross-examined against the religious texts.) It is the Sacred Mother within that we now pay attention to and not Her external manifestation.
Earth (Prthivi) (PDF format)
The Vedic attitude toward the earth springs from mankind's primordial experience of being on the one hand a guest, and on the other an offspring, of Earth. The earth is undoubtedly mother, is close to Man, but at the same time she is also alien, other and aloof. The earth is the foundation, the basis out of which emerges all that exists and on which everything rests. The earth is the basis of life and, when considered as a divine being, she always occupies a special place among the Gods.
Man is of the earth and earthly, but the earth is not simply nature, is not merely geographical or material; it is part of Man himself, so that Man can no more live without the earth than he can live without a body. At the same time, though he stands on the earth, he also stands above her. Man is more than earth. The earth is the mother of Man, but Man is also lord over the earth. Man could be said to be like the eldest son of a widowed mother, in the traditional Indian setting.
The tension between Man and earth is conspicuously present, but there is no separation. Vedic Man would find any attempt at dominating or subjugating the earth incomprehensible. The earth is an object of worship and not of exploitation, an object of awe and not of curiosity (or research, as would be said in academic circles). Investigation of the earth is of the same nature as personal introspection. To harm the earth is a masochistic vice. Man is from the earth and part of the earth, yet he surmises more and more that he is not only of the earth, not just an earthly thing.
Worship addressed to the earth is not adoration of a creature as an absolute; that is, it is not idolatry. It is rather the veneration of the highest value in the hierarchy of existence, for "undoubtedly this earth is the firstborn of being." The earth as such is rich and the owner of treasures. Man's work is not to make a shift in ownership, despoiling, as it were, the earth of her possessions and transferring them to the toiler. Man's work is to enjoy the blessings of the earth, because the earth is his home, his own family, his body. . . .
The famous Prayer to the Earth, (is) one of the most beautiful hymns of the Veda. The earth is here called not prthivi but bhumi. This hymn depicts the universal mother, dispenser of every sort of good. It presents a striking cosmogonic and the anthropological sequence.
The origins of the earth come first. When she was as yet hidden in a fluid state in the bosom of the primeval waters, the seers were already seeking to discern her by means of sacrifice.
A geographical description, or, as we could equally aptly call it, a highly poetical vision of nature, follows. The earth is composed of hills and plains, of snow-clad peaks, of deserts, oceans, and rivers, of lakes and streams, trees and plants, rocks and stones. The seasons appear with unfailing regularity and bring to her their own gradations of climate. Even included is an account of her fragrance which is described distinctively according to whether it emanates from plants or from water, from the lotus, from animals, from human beings, or even from the Gods. We are also told of her underground treasures of jewels and gold.
Third, earth is the dwelling place of people. It is upon her that in the beginning the first humans were scattered abroad. It is upon her that they sing and dance and find their happiness. It is she who diversifies Men's speech into different languages. It is upon her many paths that men and women pass to and fro and it is her highways that men use for their wagons and chariots.
Further, the earth is protected by the Gods; she is the conveyer of Agni, Universal Fire, and the place where men offer ritual sacrifice. It is upon her breast that men build their altars and construct their tabernacles and shelters and ritual posts. It is she in whose praise priests chant their hymns. The earth points beyond herself by means of the cultic acts of Gods and Men.
She is, furthermore, the dwelling place of all living creatures, mention of whom is not omitted. She is the home of cattle and horses, of the beasts of the forest, of deer and birds, reptiles and two-legged creatures.
She is, finally, a cosmic giant, a cosmic power, the receiver of prayers and the bestower of blessings, the protector and the inscrutable judge. Ecology was a sacred science for Vedic Man.
The Mighty Earth (Prthivi mahini)
1. The mighty burden of the mountains bulk rests, Earth, upon your shoulders; rich in torrents, you germinate the seed with quickening power.
2. Our hymns of praise resounding now invoke you, O far-flung Earth, the bright one. Like a neighing steed you drive abroad your storm clouds.
3. You in your sturdy strength hold fast the forests, clamping the trees all firmly to the ground, when rains and lightning issue from your clouds.
RV V, 84
Hymn to the Earth (Bhumi Sukta)
1. High Truth, unyielding Order, Consecration, Ardor and Prayer and Holy Ritual uphold the Earth; may she, the ruling Mistress of what has been and what will come to be, for us spread wide a limitless domain.
2. Untrammeled in the midst of men, the Earth, adorned with heights and gentle slopes and plains, bears plants and herbs of various healing powers. May she spread wide for us, afford us joy!
3. On whom are ocean, river, and all waters, on whom have sprung up food and ploughman's crops, on whom moves all that breathes and stirs abroad — Earth, may she grant to us the long first draught!4. To Earth belong the four directions of space. On her grows food; on her the ploughman toils. She carries likewise all that breathes and stirs. Earth, may she grant us cattle and food in plenty!
5. On whom the men of olden days roamed far, on whom the conquering Gods smote the demons, the home of cattle, horses, and of birds, may Earth vouchsafe to us good fortune and glory!
6. Bearer of all things, hoard of treasures rare, sustaining mother, Earth the golden-breasted who bears the Sacred Universal Fire, whose spouse is Indra — may she grant us wealth!7. Limitless Earth, whom the Gods, never sleeping, protect forever with unflagging care, may she exude for us the well-loved honey, shed upon us her splendor copiously!
8. Earth, who of yore was Water in the oceans, discerned by the Sages' secret powers, whose immortal heart, enwrapped in Truth, abides aloft in the highest firmament, may she procure for us splendor and power, according to her highest royal state!
9. On whom the flowing Waters, ever the same, course without cease or failure night and day, may she yield milk, this Earth of many streams, and shed on us her splendor copiously!
10. May Earth, whose measurements the Ashvins marked, over whose breadth the foot of Visnu strode, whom Indra, Lord of power, freed from foes, stream milk for me, as a mother for her son!
11. Your hills, O Earth, your snow-clad mountain peaks, your forests, may they show us kindliness! Brown, black, red, multifarious in hue and solid is this vast Earth, guarded by Indra. Invincible, unconquered, and unharmed, I have on her established my abode.
12. Impart to us those vitalizing forces that come, O Earth, from deep within your body, your central point, your navel; purify us wholly. The Earth is mother; I am son of Earth.
The Rain-giver is my father; may he shower on us blessings!
13. The Earth on which they circumscribe the altar, on which a band of workmen prepare the oblation, on which the tall bright sacrificial posts are fixed before the start of the oblation — may Earth, herself increasing, grant us increase!14. That man, O Earth, who wills us harm, who fights us, who by his thoughts or deadly arms opposes, deliver him to us, forestalling action.
15. All creatures, born from you, move round upon you. You carry all that has two legs, three, or four. To you, O Earth, belong the five human races, those mortals upon whom the rising sun sheds the immortal splendor of his rays.
16. May the creatures of earth, united together, let flow for me the honey of speech! Grant to me this boon, O Earth.
17. Mother of plants and begetter of all things, firm far-flung Earth, sustained by Heavenly Law, kindly and pleasant is she. May we ever dwell on her bosom, passing to and fro!
18. As a vast abode, Earth, you have become great. Great is your movement, great your trembling, your quaking. The Lord all-powerful ceaselessly protects you. O Earth, grant us to shine like burnished gold, and let no enemy ever wish us ill!
19. Agni resides on earth, within the plants. The Waters contain Agni; in the stones is he. Agni abides deep in the hearts of Men. In cattle and in horses there are Agnis.
20. Agni blazes and flashes from the height of heaven. To the God Agni belong all airy spaces, Agni it is whom mortal men enkindle, conveyer of offerings, lover of the clarified butter.
21. May she who is clothed with Fire, whose knees are blackened, grant me sharpness of wit and furnish me with splendor!
22. May Earth on which men offer to the Gods the sacrifice and decorous oblations, where dwells the human race on nourishment proper to the requirements of its nature — may this great Earth assure us life and breath, permitting us to come to ripe old age.23. Instill in me abundantly that fragrance, O Mother Earth, which emanates from you and from your plants and waters, that sweet perfume that all celestial beings are wont to emit, and let no enemy ever wish us ill!
24. Your fragrance which has entered into the lotus, wherewith the immortal Gods at the Sun-daughter's wedding were redolent, O Earth, in times primeval — instill in me abundantly that fragrance, and let no enemy ever wish us ill!25. Your fragrance which adheres to human beings, the good cheer and the charm of women and men, that which is found in horses and in warriors, that which is in wild beasts and in the elephant, the radiance that shines about a maiden — O Earth, steep us, too, deeply in that fragrance, and let no enemy ever wish us ill!26. Earth is composed of rock, of stone, of dust; Earth is compactly held, consolidated. I venerate this mighty Earth, the golden-breasted!
27. Her upon whom the trees, lords of the forest, stand firm, unshakable, in every place, this long-enduring Earth we now invoke, the giver of all manner of delights.
28. Whether we stand upright or sit, whether we stay quite still or walk, whether we walk with right foot or left, never may we stumble upon Earth!
29. O purifying Earth, I you invoke! O patient Earth, by Sacred Word enhanced, bearer of nourishment and strength, of food and ghee — O Earth, we would approach you with due praise!30. Pure may the Waters flow over our bodies! That which defiles — I fling it upon our foes! I cleanse myself, O Earth, as with a filter.31. Your regions, Earth, to eastward and to northward, southward and westward, may they receive me kindly, whenever on their paths I travel. Never, when standing on your surface, may I totter!
32. Do not thrust us aside from in front or behind, from above or below! Be gracious, O Earth. Let us not encounter robbers on our path. Restrain the deadly weapon!
33. As wide a vista of you as my eye may scan, O Earth, with the kindly help of Sun, so widely may my sight be never dimmed in all the long parade of years to come!
34. Whether, when I repose on you, O Earth, I turn upon my right side or my left, or whether, extended flat upon my back, I meet your pressure from head to foot, be gentle, Earth! You are the couch of all!
35. Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth, may you of that have quick replenishment! O purifying One, may my thrust never reach right unto your vital points, your heart!
36. Your circling seasons, nights succeeding days, your summer, O Earth, your splashing rains, our autumn, your winter and frosty season yielding to spring — may each and all produce for us their milk!37. This cleansing Earth, who trembles before the Serpent, who guards the fires that dwell within the waters, who castigates the god-insulting demons, has chosen for her mate Indra, not Vrtra, surrendering herself to the powerful one, the potent.
38. On her are erected the platform and the sheds of oblation; on her is reared the sacrificial post. On her the brahmins, knowers of the rites, recite their hymns, intone their melodies.
On her the priests set forth the sacrifice, that Indra may drink Soma.
39. On her those sages of old, the Seven Seers who fashioned these worlds, performing the sacrifice by dint of holy rite and creative Fervor, sang hymns and lo! the cows came to birth!
40. May Earth afford us all that copious wealth for which we long! May Bhaga play his part and Indra go before to show the way!
41. May Earth, the stage where mortals sing and play with varied shouts and noises, which resounds with cries of war or beatings of the drum, drive far my foemen and rid me of all rivals!
42. Earth is the source of food, of rice and barley; from her derive the five tribes of men. To rain-steeped Earth, the Rain-giver's wife, be homage!
43. Her castles are built by the Gods, her plains the arena in which men wage war. The matrix of all things is Earth. May the Lord of life dispose for our enjoyment all her regions!
44. May the Goddess Earth, bearer of many a treasure and of wealth stored up in diverse hidden places, the generous sharer of riches, impart to us, in addition to gold and gems, a special portion of her favor!
45. May Earth who bears mankind, each different grouping maintaining its own customs and its speech, yield up for me a thousand streams of treasure, like a placid cow that never resists the hand.
46. The snake and the scorpion which viciously bite, which, chilled by winter, lie slothfully hidden, the wriggling worm, all that stirs in the rains — may it, creeping, not creep on us! Instead, may you grant us the blessing of all that is wholesome!47. From your numberless tracks by which mankind may travel, your roads on which move both chariots and wagons your paths which are used by the good and the bad, may we choose a way free from foes and robbers! May you grant us the blessing of all that is wholesome!
48. She carries in her lap the foolish and also the wise. She bears the death of the wicked as well as the good. She lives in friendly collaboration with the boar, offering herself as sanctuary to the wild pig.
49. The creatures of your forests, dwellers in woods, lions, tigers, man-eaters that prowl about, hyena and wolf, misfortune stalking around, demons both male and female, chase them far!
50. All evil spirits, male and female alike, drive far from us, O Earth, the ones that grab and the ones that devour, all vampires and all demons! Drive each and every one to distant realms!
51. Over the earth the winged bipeds fly, swans and falcons, eagles, birds of all kinds. On her the wind comes rushing, Matarishvan, raising the dust, causing the trees to tremble and dragging in his victory train the Fire.
52. May she in whom the bright and also the dark, the day and the night, associate, though separate, the far-flung Earth, oft times by rain made fertile, graciously settle each one in his well-loved abode!
53. Heaven and Earth and the space in between have set me in a wide expanse! Fire, the Sun, the Waters, the Gods, have joined to give me inspiration.
54. Behold me now, victorious! My name is the highest in all the earth. Ruling in all regions, I subdue all! I conquer!
55. When at the Gods' command, O Goddess, you unfurled yourself, revealing your grandeur, then you were imbued with beauty and charm. You shaped and fashioned the world's four regions.
56. In village or forest, in all the places where man meets man, in market or forum, may we always say that which is pleasing to you!
57. Just as a horse scatters dust, so Earth, when she came into being, scattered the peoples — Earth, gracious leader and protectress of the world, who holds in firm grasp both trees and plants.58. The words that I speak are sweet as honey! My glances meet with fair glances in return. Vehement am I, swift and impetuous! Those who gnash their teeth I utterly vanquish!
59. Peaceful and fragrant, gracious to the touch, may Earth, swollen with milk, her breasts overflowing, grant me her blessing together with her milk!
60. The Maker of the world sought her with oblations when she was shrouded in the depth of the ocean. A vessel of gladness, long cherished in secret, the earth was revealed to mankind for their joy.
61. Primeval Mother, disperser of Men, you, far-flung Earth, fulfill all our desires. Whatever you lack, may the Lord of creatures, the First-born of Right, supply to you fully!
62. May your dwellings, O Earth, free from sickness and wasting, flourish for us! Through a long life, watchful, may we always offer to you our tribute!
63. O Earth, O Mother, dispose my lot in gracious fashion that I be at ease. In harmony with all the powers of Heaven set me, O Poet, in grace and good fortune! " AV XII, 1
Professor Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience
The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
Frank Morales, Ph.D.
Prologue: Shakti Ascending
The Twentieth Century witnessed the re-emergence of appreciation for the feminine aspect of God. The concept of God as Goddess, while long the norm in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), Yoga spirituality and other pre-Christo-Islamic religious traditions, has achieved wider acceptance in the Western world only in recent decades. As the Twenty-first Century begins, we find ourselves entering an era in which the more feminine qualities of compassion, nurturing, tolerance and love are rapidly replacing the outmoded anthropomorphic notion of God as a judgmental and vengeful old man in the sky so prevalent in the Abrahamic religions.
Coupled with the new acceptance of the importance of the feminine aspects of the Divine, we have also seen a growing recognition of the realm of nature as something that is itself a reflection of God’s love in this world. Nature is no longer seen as something apart from God, wild and untamed. But rather, nature is now increasingly recognized as being an essential and especially sacred part of God’s grace upon us. And more, an increasing number of both theologians and lay-persons alike are beginning to see nature as being distinctly feminine in essence – a fact that Sanatana Dharma and Yoga philosophy has known and taught for over 5000 years. The Earth is not a static dead rock floating in space that exists solely for man’s economic purposes. The Earth was not created by God to be partitioned into artificial geographic regions, over which men will then foolishly war with one another. Rather, she is a living being, a mother, a woman, a Goddess, whom we are to love, respect and nurture - as she so patiently nurtures us. In the Hindu tradition, Mother Earth even has a name: Bhu-devi. In Sanatana Dharma, the dual issues of respecting the ways of nature and respecting women are ultimately inseparable concerns.
This work is dedicated to exploring the nature of the feminine aspect of Divinity as seen from the unique perspective of Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma is the world’s most ancient continuously practiced spiritual tradition. It is a wise and venerable tradition. It is a tradition that contains within its ancient teachings some of the most profound, rational, and progressive ideas about the natures of both woman and God. Sanatana Dharma represents a philosophy and world-view that has spiritual liberation as its primary goal. In addition to Sanatana Dharma’s vision of achieving the spiritual liberation of all living beings, Sanatana Dharma contains within its philosophical traditions a more immediate visionary framework for the liberation of women. Within the concept of Shakti, we find a profound and spiritually oriented philosophy of women’s liberation. It is my hope that this brief introduction to the concept of Shakti will encourage my readers to explore further the teachings of Sanatana Dharma.
The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God
The intricate dynamics of power and gender has grown to become an increasingly important topic within the realm of present day society - and justifiably so. Though representing half of the human race, women’s voices, needs and inner psyches have, more often than not, been relegated to a place of unimportance in the history of the Western world. Throughout the history of post-Classical European civilization, the nature of the feminine was misunderstood, neglected and, in some cases, practically demonized. Consequently, for millennia women have been deprived of much of the power - political, economic, spiritual, even sexual - which men so take for granted. Recognizing the imperative need to correct this historic imbalance, many modern feminist leaders attempted to devise an ideological framework through which they felt that the roots of this imbalance could be properly understood. Additionally, there have been many attempts to wrest control over the primary mechanisms of power, specifically in the political and economic sectors. As a result, what were at one time conceived as the exclusive domains of the male gender have now begun to open up to women.
Feminism as a political movement has, unfortunately, had very mixed results. On the one hand, feminism succeeded to a large degree in opening up to women previously exclusively male arenas. On the other hand, the positive and life-enhancing qualities of the feminine aspect of human nature – and especially the spiritual dimension of the feminine - has been to a very large extent denigrated by the very feminist leaders who claim to speak for women. In the modern West, power is no longer equated with the testosterone laden half of the human race. The question, however, is should this have ever been the view of Western civilization?
For, while it may have been the tradition in the post-Classical West to naturally equate power with the masculine, this is not at all a universally held outlook. One world-view that offers us a fresh and radically different approach to the issue of power and the feminine is found in the philosophy and culture of Sanatana Dharma (otherwise known as “Hinduism”) - and specifically in the Vedic concept of Shakti. Within the metaphysical framework of Shakti, we discover the concept of the feminine as being nothing less than the very manifestation of power itself. Power itself, by very definition, is intrinsically feminine according to the Dharmic world-view. In the following work, I’ll accomplish three tasks: 1) an examination of the concept of Shakti as it is found throughout the history and various schools of thought of Sanatana Dharma; 2) I’ll explore the historical implications that this concept has contributed in forming the traditional Dharmic view of the nature of the feminine and the subsequent role of women in the social context; and finally 3) I will share some thoughts on the important role that the principle of Shakti can potentially play in helping to bring about a reemergence of the much neglected and crucially needed feminine in our own Western culture. In addition to serving as a liberating force for women specifically, I believe, the principle of Shakti has the ability to bring about a spiritual renewal of each of us as individuals, as well as of our increasingly global society as a whole.
The Vedic Concept of God as Saguna Brahman
Each of the major world religions has divergent and exclusive views on what constitutes the ontological and substantial nature of the Absolute (For a definite examination of the essential differences between the world’s major religions vis-à-vis Sanatana Dharma, please refer to my work on the topic: “A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism”). The three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam hold an Anthropomorphic-Monotheistic conception of the Absolute. For these religions, the Absolute consists of one, superlatively powerful being, who interacts with his creation, intercedes actively in human history, and exhibits many of the same emotive features (including anger, judgment, jealousy, vengeance, etc.) of his human devotees. Jainism is Anthropotheistic in outlook. For Jains, the Absolute consists of the sum total of liberated beings. For Buddhists, the only Absolute worthy of adherence is the nothingness (shunya) that constitutes the true nature of reality. Sanatana Dharma is a Panentheistic Monotheism. For Sanatana Dharma, the Absolute is seen in terms of the concept of Brahman, who is both perfectly transcendent, yet simultaneously imminent in all of creation. All that is perceivable and conceivable has its very existence secured due solely to the sustaining presence of Brahman. Brahman is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omni-present, wholly good, and the source of all attributive excellences to their maximally conceivable degree. Both philosophically and in terms of history, Brahman has been seen in both personal (saguna) and impersonal (nirguna) terms by the great rishis (seers), yogis and acharyas (preceptors) of Sanatana Dharma. Seen in predominantly saguna terms, the highest concept of Brahman (God) in Sanatana Dharma consists of God as a Monistic-Duality. God is One (sat-ekam), unitary, indivisible, and inviolable in essence, yet God is to be simultaneously conceived as a dual co-Absolute moiety of masculine/feminine.
As a somewhat comparable example, we know that in Christianity, even though God is taught to be one supreme, anthropomorphic, monotheistic being, he is at the same time viewed as three distinct aspectival beings in the form of the Trinity – “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit”. God is seen as being three, and yet one. In a somewhat similar manner, in Sanatana Dharma, the Supreme God is simultaneously one, and yet is also a dual being, composed of both masculine and feminine aspects, co-Absolute, co-Infinite, co-Eternal, and together constituting the source of reality. God is seen as being two, and yet one. While Christianity proffers a Trinitarian ontology of God, Sanatana Dharma upholds a “Dualitarian” ontology. God, for Sanatana Dharma, is actually God/Goddess. God is two – yet simultaneously One. The feminine aspect of God, Shakti, is thus seen to be a crucial and indispensable component of the Godhead in both ontological terms, as well as in the functional process of cosmic creation. Indeed, significantly, the very word “Brahman” itself is neither an exclusively masculine nor exclusively feminine noun, but takes the neuter form in Sanskrit grammar. This fact very clearly demonstrates the mutually correlative relationship in which God and Goddess hold one another.
In a strictly philosophical sense, of course, when the terms “feminine” and “masculine” are used in both the context of Dharmic ontology, and throughout the contents of this paper, these terms are not in any way referring to genders in a sexual or biological sense. Rather, the terms are referring specifically to purely metaphysical categories and conceptual constructs, the substantial content of which does not refer to “men” and “women” in the normative sense.
The Nature of Shakti
The Sanskrit word Shakti can be translated as meaning “power”, “force” or “energy.” It is derived from the parasmaipada Sanskrit verb root “shak,” which means “to be able”, “to do”, “to act”. This energetic power is witnessed in all the various phenomena of life. It is the nourishing force responsible for the growth of vegetation, animals, human beings, and of the very Earth Herself. It is what is responsible for the kinetic movement of all things. The planets revolve around the sun as a result of the hidden power of Shakti. It is Shakti that makes the winds blow and the oceans churn. Shakti is manifest as the very affective ability of all the forces of nature. She is the heat of fire, the brilliance of the sun, the very life force of all living beings. In human beings, she is seen as the power of intelligence (buddhi), compassion (daya) and divine love (bhakti), among her many other functions (Sharma, 1974; Goswami 1995). It is the power of Shakti that “...keeps the gods in their position, makes a man virile or makes a sage of a man” (Sharma, 1974). Without the enabling presence of the metaphysical principle of Shakti, all physical creation would be rendered impotent.
Most significantly, Shakti is an exclusively feminine principle. Shakti is synonymous with the great Devi, or the Great Goddess of Sanatana Dharma, and is also found to be secondarily manifest in all the many natural and indigenous, pre-Abrahamic religious traditions of the world. As the great Devi, she is omnipresent in Hindu society via her many forms. She is propitiated by all segments of Hindu society, but especially by women. According to Professor Klaus Klostermaier, “...childless women implore her to conceive. In times of epidemics, it is the goddess who is implored to grant health and relief “ (Klostermaier, 1990). Shakti has always been a living force throughout the long history of Sanatana Dharma.
The Importance of Shakti Throughout the Tradition of Sanatana Dharma
The importance of goddesses is evident throughout all the various sects and schools of thought of Sanatana Dharma (Gatwood, 1985). Additionally, the presence of goddesses is seen throughout the long literary tradition of India. In the Rig Veda (c. 3800 BC), for example, at least 40 goddesses are mentioned. These include: Sarasvati, goddess of wisdom; Ushas, the dawn; and Aditi, who is depicted as “birthless” (R.V., 10.7.2.). The very word “Shakti” itself appears in the Rig Veda some 12 times. Two of the word’s derivatives, “shaktivat” and “shakman,” respectively appear twice and five times. Part of the Rig Veda text is known as the “Devi Sukta” and is certainly a recognition of Shakti as a cosmic principle. Shakti is directly addressed as the great Devi in the Atharva Veda (1.6.1). Shakti is also seen in the later Itihasas, or Epics of India. She is found in the Ramayana, one of these epics, where “...she is called Devi, and is respected by all” (Sharma, 1974). In the Mahabharata, the other great epic of India, there are two hymns dedicated to glorifying her. The various manifestations of the goddess are ubiquitous throughout another set of Hindu scriptures known as the Puranas. Indeed, the Devi Bhagavata Purana is entirely dedicated to her. One would be hard pressed to find a sacred work anywhere in the entirety of Hindu literature in which there is not at least some mention of a feminine power.
Sanatana Dharma’s respect for Shakti is not limited to the religion’s literary heritage. The various schools of Vedic philosophy (shad-darshanas) also took this principle quite seriously. The Mimamsakas, for example, are a school of philosophy that held that Shakti was no less than the inherent power of all things. The Naiyayika school of logicians attempted to explain Shakti in terms of being the function or property of any cause. For the Vedanta school, the most important tradition of Indian philosophy, Shakti was “...conceived as the activity of a cause revealing itself in the shape of an effect” (Dev, 1987). Of all the various schools of Vedic philosophy, however, the school most influential in helping to formulate a theory of Shakti is the Samkhya school.
Samkhya teaches the dualistic doctrine of Prakriti/Purusha. According to this principle, there are two radically distinct metaphysical principles at play during the creation of the cosmos: matter (Prakriti) and spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter that is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. It is material substance in the form of pure potentiality, pure energy. It is as a direct result of the devolution of this original matter-energy substance that the universe, with all its diversity of names and forms, comes into being. Prakriti is seen as being “...the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy” (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally inert, immobile, and pure potentiality by nature. It is only as a direct result of her contact with the kinetic Purusha principle that she then unfolds into the variagatedness that we see before us. Sudhir Gupta explains this process of devolution from the perspective of a Shakta, or a devotee of Shakti, the Great Goddess:
The universe with all its diversity and multiplicity remains equated in the divine volition as conception before manifestation. It is manifested in the course of basic evolution, started under the influence of the creative volition of the Divine Mother. The Universal Mother in Her Absolute Self admits of no mutability, change or division. (Gupta, 1977)
Thus, Shakti is seen as being antecedent to the principle of Prakriti, with Shakti being the instrumental cause, in the form of the Devi, or the Great Goddess, and Prakriti serving as the material cause. Shakti, as a transcendent being, exists prior to matter (Prakriti).
Thus, Shakti is seen as being antecedent to the principle of Prakriti, with Shakti being the instrumental cause, in the form of the Devi, or the Great Goddess, and Prakriti serving as the material cause. Shakti, as a transcendent being, exists prior to matter (Prakriti).
The Dynamic of Ontological Duality
The dynamic of Prakriti/Purusha is seen mirrored in another closely allied concept: the divine consort dynamic, or what I call Ontological Moiety. According to the teachings of Sanatana Dharma, Shakti, energy, cannot exist in a vacuum, devoid of meaning and purpose. If there is a discernable energy in any form, it must be an energy that is purposefully mediated and directed by a conduit. Without such purposeful mediation, this energy will lose all functional capacity. Thus, the metaphysical interplay of the symbiotically interdependent dyads of energy/conduit, feminine/masculine, goddess/god, Prakriti/Purusha, Shakti/Shiva, represent the natural dynamism necessary for the functionality of conceptual and perceptual reality as we know it.
In a clear reflection of this dyadic dynamism that I call an Ontological Moiety, almost every male divinity (deva) of the Hindu pantheon necessarily has a metaphysically feminine counterpart, a consort, a goddess. This Ontological Moiety, god/goddess principle is a foundational idea that is an indispensable element of every major sect of Hinduism. We see that in every major tradition of Sanatana Dharma, the Supreme Being is ultimately, not just God, but God in the form of God/Goddess. In Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism, the three largest traditions of Hinduism, the Supreme is ultimately seen God/Goddess. In orthodox Vaishnavism, for example, the highest ontological Supreme is expressed as the God/Goddess Shriman Lakshmi-Narayana. In Vaisnavism, Sri-Lakshmi is viewed as being co-Absolute, co-eternal, and co-omnipresent with Narayana, and is able to offer liberation, grace, and bhakti in Her own right. Indeed, it is said that the esoteric truth of God’s nature is that Narayana is never unaccompanied by Sri-Lakshmi. Even when Narayana descends upon the Earth in the form of avataras, Lakshmi always has Her own avatara who accompanies Narayana. Rama has Sita. Krishna has Radha. The Divine Couple are inseparable. (For a further analysis of the nature and role of Sri-Lakshmi in the Vaisnava tradition, see my paper on the subject: “Visnu-shakti: An Ontological Analysis of the Role of Sri-Laksmi as the Transcendent Feminine Power of the Vaisnava Tradition”). Similarly, for Shaivism, the Ontological Moiety is Shakti-Shiva. In the Shakta tradition, it is Praktriti-Purusha.
These goddess-consorts are said to personify nothing less than the essential energy of the god, without which, the god will be rendered impotent and powerless. Thus, rather than speaking of gods and goddesses in Sanatana Dharma as merely personified divinities, it is more correct to speak of these god/goddess dyads as integral and symbiotic moieties. In the words of Ernest Payne:
The energy of Vishnu and Shiva was personified as a goddess and identified with Prakriti, the primary source of the universe. The connubial relations between Devi and her husband were held to typify the mystical union of the eternal principles, matter and spirit, which produces the world. (Payne, 1933)
So essentially integral is the relationship between a particular male divinity and his Shakti that one is thought incapable of having a meaningful existence without the other. The relationship between god and goddess is similar to the relationship of the sun with sunshine, respectively. The sun is the medium that gives stability and purpose to the energy of sunshine. Both the sun and the sunshine represent two functionally distinctive elements of the one same unitive object. If one of the dual elements were missing, the composite whole would be rendered devoid of conceptual integrity. It is not possible to comprehend the existence of one without the other. The male and the female, masculine and feminine, god and goddess, give mutual meaning and being to each another, both in this world, and in the transcendent realm.
We have a vivid example of the interdependence of God/Goddess found in the grammatical rules of classical Sanskrit. It is said that in her manifestation as Shiva’s consort and source of energy Shakti is embodied in the “i” of his name. According to the rules of Sanskrit, if a consonant is not followed by a specified vowel, it is automatically assumed that this consonant is then followed by the vowel “a” by default. Consequently, without this empowering “i” in his name, Shiva becomes shava, or “a lifeless corpse”. It is the empowering presence of Shakti that gives Shiva his very life. Thus it is the feminine principle that is the animating force of life itself.
Both the feminine and the masculine are necessarily present in the Divine. This is dramatically illustrated in the image of Ardhanarishvara, the representation of God as being half man and half woman. Veneration of God necessarily entails veneration of the Goddess. They are two aspects of the same one being and are, as such, mutually dependent upon one another in the form of an Ontological Moiety. God and Goddess, masculine and feminine, are one.
Shakti as Co-Creator
The intimacy of God and Goddess can be more clearly illustrated by examining one of the sacred stories involving the co-creative function of Devi that is found in the Devi Bhagavata Purana. Importantly, although this scripture is clearly a Shakta Purana dedicated to glorifying the great Goddess, the Devi Bhagavata Purana describes Vishnu/Krishna as being the supreme God (IX. 2. 12 - 23) who “...is said to be the root and creator of all” (Dev, 1987). For even the great Devi, ultimately Vishnu/Krishna is seen as being the absolute source of all existence and the one true God. According to this account, Krishna was at one time the only being in existence. Desiring to create the universe, He apportioned His inexhaustible essence into two co-Absolute parts, the left being female and the right male. That female was none other than Radha, the eternal consort and Shakti of Krishna, and who is described as being the Mula Prakriti, or the root source of all existence. From the transcendent conjugal sport of Radha and Krishna a golden egg was born that was the repository of the material from which our universe was created. Thus Devi existed antecedent to even Prakriti as Prakriti’s causal and material agent. Creation, then, is depicted in the Devi Bhagavata Purana as proceeding from Krishna, the Supreme Being of Sanatana Dharma, via the power of Radha, His consort and Shakti. Thus both God and Goddess are responsible for the manifestation of Creation.
Interplay of the Masculine and Feminine
The relationship that is enjoyed between God and Goddess in Sanatana Dharma is one of the mediator of power (shaktiman, the masculine principal) and the power itself (Shakti, the feminine). Each is ineffectual without the existence of the other. While the possessor of power is the guiding force as to the power’s direction and purpose, it is the power itself that provides the ability to perform any task. To use a rudimentary example, we might say that God is similar to the computer while the Goddess is the electricity that makes the computer’s functioning possible. Both are different, yet essential, components if a computer is going to have any functional meaning. Shaktiman is the principle that gives guidance and direction to power. Shakti is the vital, life-giving force of God, as well as the personification of His power, inner effulgence, and essence. As Shrivatsa Goswami explains this concept:
On the transcendental plane this functional duality implies the split of the Absolute into power or potency (shakti), the subjective component, and the possessor of power (shaktiman), the objective one. On the phenomenal plane too there exists such a duality. (Goswami, 1985)
Together, the Deva and Devi, the God and Goddess of Sanatana Dharma, are the “Able” and the “Ability”, respectively. While distinction can be seen between a) the power of ability and b) the able one who projects the power of ability, they are at the same time one and the same. For one gives meaning to the other. In the same way, though an apparent distinction can be seen between God and Goddess, they in actuality together constitute the one Supreme Being in the form of an eternal, transcendent Ontological Moiety. Moreover, this principle of Shakti is not relegated solely to the realm of the Divine, but is clearly reflected in the lives of each and every human being.
Made In Goddess’s Image: The Feminine Principle Instantiated
What is true on the macrocosmic level is also the rule on the microcosmic. As above, so below. Human beings too are said to participate in the interplay of shakti and shaktiman; and in so doing, replicate the perfect wholeness of God/Goddess in their lives. For in Sanatana Dharma, every woman is said to be a partial manifestation of the divine Shakti. Every man, likewise, is a replication of the divine Shaktiman. The Atharva-veda readily confirms this fact: “Women and Men are both born from the Supreme Being; Women are manifestations of the Supreme Being, as are men” (8.9.11cd). The power of Shakti, the feminine principle, is believed to be directly present in creation in the form of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. As the contemporary feminist author Elinor Gadon explains, “the truth of the Goddess is the mystery of our being. She is the dynamic life force within. Her form is embedded in our collective psyche...” (Gadon, 1989). As a natural consequence of this view, Sanatana Dharma encourages all people to have both respect and reverence for women. While Shakti is primarily present as personified in woman, however, she is also present in man in the form of his vitality and strength.
The Shakti Principle in Spiritual Practice
There are many traditions of spiritual unfoldment in India that teach the notion that Shakti resides within each and every human being, and that spiritual liberation can be achieved by the proper utilization of the feminine principle within. One example of such a tradition is the path of Kundalini-yoga. According to Kundalini-yoga philosophy, Shakti resides at the base of the spine in the form of the kundalini energy. The goal of this path of Yoga is to raise this vital energy through the various energy centers (chakras) of the subtle, or astral, body. As each energy portal is open, the yogi achieves newer and higher levels of spiritual realization and power. Once this Shakti has reached the top chakra located at the crown of the head (sahasrara-chakra, “the chakra of the thousand-petaled lotus”), full self-realization, personal empowerment, and liberation can be achieved. This very process is itself, interestingly, described as the union of Shiva and Shakti (Dev, 1987).
In addition to Kundalini-yoga, there is an entire denomination of Sanatana Dharma dedicated to the realization of the Great Goddess, known as Shaktism. The tradition of Shaktism is most influential in West Bengal and Assam. Its influence, however, has been felt throughout the length and breath of South Asia. While some references to Shaktism can certainly be found in the ancient Vedic literature (Sharma, 1974), it is the works known as the Tantras that are considered most authoritative by adherents. Philosophically, the teachings of Shaktism seem to occupy a middle position between the dualism of the Samkhya school and the extremely monistic interpretation of Vedanta posited by the great philosopher Shankara (8th century CE).
Unlike the philosophy of Shankara, for Shaktism the world is not seen as being merely an illusionary phenomenon (mithya); it is in fact extremely real. In Shaktism, it is believed that Shakti (the goddess Prakriti) evolves Her own being into 36 tattvas, or constituents of reality, in order to create the universe. The present diversified universe that we see around us is nothing less than the creative manifestation of the uncreated Goddess Prakriti, or Shakti. Prakrti, both in the form of this world and the human body, is in fact viewed as a potential vehicle for salvation. In practice, Shaktism stresses the potentially sacramental nature of the human body due to its being the locus of spiritual unfoldment as a result of the presence of Shakti-devi (Kumar, 1986). For Shaktas, as for the majority of Hindus, women are greatly respected as being the personifications of Shakti in human - and therefore very spiritually accessible - form.
The Immediate Impact on Women
How has this uniquely positive view of the feminine affected the Hindu perspective on the nature and role of women in the Vedic community? How do metaphysical principles translate to social reality? Men and women are clearly different in a variety of ways. What the precise extent and implications of these difference are, however, are very crucial questions. When acknowledging natural distinctions between the genders that are empirically verifiable realities, it is important to not leap to extreme conclusions about the implications of such differences. To make the irrational claim that there are no differences between the genders, and that any such discernable differences are nothing more than mere social constructs – as many of the more shortsighted feminist theorists attempted in the 1970s – is a claim that is no longer taken seriously by anyone, including most modern women’s rights advocates. On the other hand, to artificially accentuate gender differences in such a manner as to unjustifiably claim the superiority of one gender over the other, or as an excuse to oppress women, is clearly going too far in the opposite extreme. What the concept of Shakti has to offer humanity is a balanced, integrated, and healthy approach to the nature of gender, in which the natural distinctions between men and women are acknowledged and celebrated, but without one gender being artificially relegated to a place of inferiority merely due to these discernable differences.
Like all other ancient and authentic religious traditions, Sanatana Dharma teaches that, while women and men naturally share much in common (such as the same degree of aptitude for intelligence, moral goodness, spiritual development, courage, etc.), their different psycho-physical states and outlooks should not be overlooked. In very general terms, while men tend to exhibit more aggressive, cerebral (i.e., more mentally absorbed), and self-promoting tendencies, women have a propensity to be more nurturing, intuitive, mature, wise, and giving. While there are certainly always exceptions to any general rule, these very general characteristics are, nonetheless, not negated by the exceptions. Both masculine and feminine qualities are positive and necessary, and it is in the holistic combination of all of these qualities that we find the most effective basis for creating a society that is healthy, progressive, nurturing, just, and spiritually oriented.
Interestingly, it is precisely the positive feminine qualities of nurturance, intuition, maturity, wisdom, and generousness that are to be aspired toward in spiritual life - by both men and women. Both men and women should strive to become more loving, more nurturing, more intuitive and giving in all of our inter-personal activities. As is inevitably true for every other religion and culture known to history, individual Hindus have sometimes had difficulty putting their high spiritual ideals into actual practice. Overall, however, the record of Sanatana Dharma vis-à-vis the treatment of women has been an overwhelmingly positive one in comparison to almost any other religion in the world today. As a result, according to Klaus Klostermaier:
"Traditional Hinduism is still strongly supported by women; women form the largest portion of temple goers and festival attendants, and women keep traditional domestic rituals alive and pass on the familiar stories of the gods and goddesses to their children." (Klostermaier, 1994)
As we will see, Hindu women have not only historically enjoyed the respected status of being the repository of Shakti, but have very often actually had the opportunity to wield quite a bit of actual power and authority in the everyday world.
The Principle of Shakti and Women of Power
Unlike the accounts that are clearly observed in the majority of Western religious literature, Vedic literature is overflowing with colorful accounts of heroic, strong and brave women. There are many accounts of such women in the Mahabharata, one of India’s most ancient classical epics. We find Queen Draupadi, for example, who is depicted throughout the epic as a brave and iron-willed woman. There is also Queen Kunti, who perseveres with her honor and her faith intact despite a life riddled with tragedies. Similarly, in the epic Ramayana, we meet Sita, the wife - and Shakti - of Rama, an incarnation of God. Though arranged marriages were the norm in Vedic society (as they were throughout most European cultures until only recent decades), we find that Sita chooses her own husband in a svayamvara ceremony. Also of her own free will, she chooses to accompany Rama to the forest when He is sent into exile, thus exhibiting her strength, fearlessness, and commitment to loyalty (this, despite the fact that the people of Ayodhya offered to make her queen during Rama’s exile). While living in the forest, she continues to display her independent nature, as when she convinces Rama to chase the gold-spotted dear. Vedic literature is replete with such examples of strong, and heroic women. Images of powerful women in Sanatana Dharma are not limited to the realm of literature alone.
They are also witnessed throughout the living historical record of India as well. Women in the Vedic tradition have historically easily risen to heights of power within various monastic and religious hierarchical structures, parallels of which would have been unheard of in Western religion and society until only extremely recently. In the earliest Vedic era, for example, women were commonly awarded the sacred thread (upavita-sutra) of priests (brahmanas) (Gobhila Grhya-sutra 2.1.9; Klostermaier, 1994). Women were accepted as priests, shared with men the privilege of reciting the Gayatri mantra, and officiated in sacred fire ceremonies (yajna). One section of the Rig Veda (V, 28) mentions that there were multiple female rishis, or revealers of sacred truth. In this section one is specifically named as Vishvara. Of the 407 rishis responsible for revealing the Rig Veda, at least 21 of these were women. There were also very formidable women philosophers such as Sulabha Maitreyi (Mahabharata XII.320), Vadava Prathitheyi (Ashvalayana Grhya-sutra 3.4.4; Shankhayana Grhya-sutra 4.10), as well as Vachaknavi, who debated the sage Yajnavalkya of Upanishadic fame (Madhyandina Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8). Interestingly, the famous Sanskrit grammarian, Panini, observed the distinction in the Sanskrit language between a) “aachaarya”, a male preceptor; b) “aachaaryani” (the wife of a preceptor), and c) “aacaaryaa” (a lady preceptor), indicating that women were thoroughly accepted as spiritual teachers (Ashtadhyayi 4.1.14). Such women saints as Andal (8th century), Mirabai (1498-1546 CE), Jahnavi (16th century), and many hundreds of others were leaders of the devotional Bhakti movement “...that initiated the religious liberation of women [and] was largely promoted and supported by women devotees” (Ibid., 1994). Both Andal and Mirabai were celebrated for being very independent minded women. Mirabai, in fact, was originally a Rajasthani princess who rebelled against her entire royal family in order to devote herself to devotion to Krishna and the path of self-realization.
Women have continued this long tradition as leaders of various Yoga and Hindu communities to this day. Such examples of this phenomenon can be seen in the forms of such modern day women gurus as Sri Anandamayi Ma, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Amritanandamayi (“Ammachi”), and Meera Ma, among many, many hundreds of others (Johnsen, 1994).
Indeed, both historically, as well as today, there is no stratum of authority anywhere within the leadership hierarchy of Sanatana Dharma that has not been held by women at one point or another. For every leadership position held by a man, the same positions have been held by women. This fact is even reflected in the sacred Sanskrit language, in which, for every masculine title of authority, there have always been feminine equivalents. For as long as there have been yogis, there have been yoginis (women yogis). There have been both sadhus (ascetics), and sadhvis (women sadhus); both svamis (masters), and svaminis (women svamis); panditas (scholars) and panditaas (women scholars); bhikshus (mendicants) and bhiksunis (women mendicants); rishis (seers), as well as rishikas (women seers). Considering that Indian culture has always been a culture in which religion has arguably been the most important social institution in society, it is no small accomplishment for women to have risen so high, and to have attained such religiously important titles, in the echelons of Vedic leadership.
Shakti and the West
Such respect for the feminine has not been as readily visible in the history of the Western world, unfortunately. The documented treatment of women in the Western religions has been a truly horrendous record - to state the situation quite lightly. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have not had anywhere near the same abundant degree of women in leadership throughout their respective histories. Indeed, in Abrahamic religious institutions, the norm historically has been to actively and systematically bar women from any and all positions of authority. To this day, for example, women are barred from the priesthood, and any other important position of real authority, in the Roman Catholic Church. There are no women priests, no women monsignors, no women bishops, no women archbishops, no women cardinals, no women Popes. Thousands of wise and independent women healers and herbalists were burnt at the stake by the church during the post-Classical Dark Ages. In strict Islamic nations today, women are not even allowed to drive cars, go to the market unaccompanied by a man, or strive for an education. Throughout the radically patriarchal Islamic world, it is inconceivable that a woman could ever seek to become an imam, or a religious leader of any sort. It has only been in the latter third of the twentieth century that a reemergence of the feminine has slowly begun to take place in European and American societies, and to a very limited degree in some Western religions (specifically Reform Judaism and liberal Protestant denominations).
Honoring Our Common Mother
For too long has the nurturing influence of the Divine Feminine (Shakti) been in exile from the Abrahamic world. Thus the more masculine qualities of aggression, competitiveness, authoritarian control, and distrust have shaped the collective psyche of the Western world. Recognizing the terrible price that this gaping deficiency has wrought upon the world in the forms of war, terrorism, the environmental crisis, and the exploitation of women and children, many present day women thinkers are openly calling for a reclaiming of feminine spiritual values in many different sectors of life. In the words of Eleanor Rae: “while the feminine is not limited in its context, there are nevertheless certain key places where it is most appropriately rediscovered. These are in women, in the Earth, and in the Divinity” (Rae, 1994). By recognizing the sacred nature of women as personifications of the feminine aspect of Divinity, and by seeing the Earth, not as a lifeless object, there solely for our exploitation, but rather as the living personality of our common Mother (known in Sanskrit as Bhudevi), we can end much of the needless violence and suffering brought about by denying the feminine in our culture. Agreeing with this assessment, Vandana Shiva has written:
The violence to nature as symptomatized by the ecological crisis, and the violence to women, as symptomitized by their subjugation and exploitation, arise from this subjugation of the feminine principle. (Shiva, 1989)
Ultimately, the ecological, civilizational, and social crises the Earth is currently facing; the need of a greater role for women in positions of religious authority in society; and the much needed re-emergence of the principle of Shakti in the Abrahamic religions, are all one and the same concern. In the metaphysical concept of Shakti, we find a spiritually based philosophical framework in which many practical concerns can be both understood and powerfully addressed.
In a crystal-clear display of the ancient concept of Shakti coming full circle to occupy the center stage of current social and intellectual debate, it has finally been recognized that the feminine aspect of the very Divinity Him(Her)self has been too long neglected. In the works of such people as Matthew Fox and Vicki Noble, we are now witnessing a call for the reemergence of the concept of the sacred feminine power of God - of Shakti. In such remarkable developments as these, I venture to say that we are not so much witnessing the “Hinduization” of Western thought, as we are seeing the rediscovery of the metaphysical feminine principle as an integral, a natural, and an inseparable component of healthy religious expression, and of our very being.
These more recent developments in the West, as well as their origin in the long and positive history of the concept of Shakti in Sanatana Dharma, have shown us that the idea of a sacred feminine power originating from Divinity and, therefore, necessarily inherent in all things, is a very relevant subject for further exploration. This is true both on a social, as well as on a very personal, spiritual level. While arising from the ancient and esoteric depths of the philosophy and sacred stories (divya-katha) of Sanatana Dharma, the Shakti Principle is actually a force that has the ability to affect all human culture: politically, socially, and at the deepest levels of our consciousness.
Today, much of humanity is again beginning to hear the loving whispers of our Divine Mother call out to us from within the deepest core of our collective being; from the teachings of the world’s most ancient religious tradition: Sanatana Dharma; and from the very depths of the Earth Herself. Shakti-devi is ready and eager to re-embrace us and bring us back to both a personal and a cultural state of well-being - if we will only allow Her to do so.
I wish to thank the following people for their encouragement, support and inspiration: Ms. Frances Elizabeth Morales, Param Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, Mr. Vishal Agarwal, Dr. David Frawley, Mr. Sashi Kejriwal, Ms. Heather Lim, Dr. Anita Bhagat Patel, Dr. Manan Patel, Professor Mekhala Natavar, Professor David Knipe, Professor Keith Yandell, Professor Ramesh Rao, Dr. Patricia Bauhs.
About the Author
Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales, Ph.D. earned both a doctorate and a Masters degree in Languages and Cultures of Asia from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, Dr. Morales earned a B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from Loyola University Chicago. His fields of expertise include Philosophy of Religion, Hindu Studies, Sanskrit, History of Religion, Comparative Theology, Contemporary South Asian Politics, and the interface between Hinduism and modernity. Dr. Morales is currently recognized as one of the nation’s leading authorities on Hindu philosophy and religion, as well as South Asian studies. In addition to directing his own institute (The Center for the Study of Religion and Civilization), Dr. Morales works in conjunction with several educational institutes and think tanks globally. Dr. Morales maintains a very demanding schedule consisting of lecturing, consulting and writing. Dr. Morales has been a guest lecturer at over two dozen major universities throughout the USA, including Cornell, Northwestern, Illinois Institute of Technology, and University of Virginia. In addition, Dr. Morales has served as a South Asian affairs consultant for such corporations as Ford Motor Company, Lucent Technologies, Goodwin Procter Law Firm, and the Global Health Corporation. His first book, “Experiencing Truth: The Vedic Way of Knowing God”, is scheduled for publication in 2006. In addition to his academic duties, Dr. Morales has been a practicing orthodox Hindu for 30 years, and is an ordained Hindu priest. The practice of Yoga and meditation are of central importance in his life. His website is www.dharmacentral.com.
QUOTES OF SHRI MATAJI
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
"Because of Mother Earth the Universe exists because She, the Mother Earth, was created out of all the Cosmos. The whole Cosmos is supported by Mother Earth . . . The mere existence of this Mother Earth makes the whole Cosmos to exist and have a meaning."
Shri Nalini Devi
Pune, India — October 18, 1988
Nalini - She who is tender
"To say something about the connection of Sahaja Yoga with this Mother Earth, it is very important that we must understand the value of the Mother Earth. She has been very kind to all of you, She has been sucking your vibrations. She has been, otherwise also — She has given you everything that you see around. So today, we have to understand the connection, and the symbolic expression of the Mother Earth within ourselves. I have told you before also that Kundalini, which is in three and a half coils is placed within a triangular bone. Now this abode of the Kundalini is called as Mooladhara, and is represented in this Universe as Mother Earth. Or in the Puja it is represented as the Kumbha.
So far, in the movement of our consciousness, we have been trying to understand the God Almighty and all other five elements that we call as important. And also, the consciousness has been moving towards the understanding of all the other four elements but the Mother Earth. That had to be such, because unless and until the understanding of all these four other elements are brought to a certain degree, the Mother Earth cannot express itself. Like if all your Chakras, four Chakras, are caught up, you cannot raise the Kundalini, you cannot give Self-Realization. You cannot have a mass evolutionary process.
That’s why we had yagyas, all other methods of exciting the four elements. They worshipped the water and they worshipped air, the sky, the firmament, the light. And that’s how they came up to the time of Christ where light was worshipped. But today when we are in this modern Sahaja Yoga, we are actually at the level of the Mother Earth, because this is the Age of the Aquarius.
And Aquarius is the same as the Kumbha — is the Mother Earth. So we are at the level of the Mother Earth. You can also see in the consciousness of human beings — I’m saying not only men, but women also and men — the consciousness is moving more towards the feminine expression of life."
Shri Muladharaika-nilaya Devi
London, U.K. — August 21, 1983
Muladharaika-nilaya. — Dwells in Muladhara Chakra inside body.
"The Three Grades of Yoga ...
The most elementary group is devoted entirely to physical exercises in concentration because these appeal more readily to those — always more numerous — whose intellects are uncultivated. . . .
The second or intermediate group of yoga practices rises beyond the gross body to the higher level of educating the feelings in devotion and training the thoughts in concentration. It includes various mystical exercises in meditation whose ultimate aim is the attainment of emotional and mental peace; it may also embrace the inculcation of constant yearning for the presence of God. . . . With the profits in self-preparation gained from the business of these earlier methods he climbs to the third step, the yoga of philosophical discernment.
This is the highest group of the yoga family; it is finally supermystical but initially purely intellectual and rational. It is the hidden doctrine. . . . In this third stage the student strives, along with concentrated and disciplined feeling and thought, to sharpen his reason and apply that sharpened intelligence to a guided philosophical consideration of the meaning and nature of the whole world and of all life. Hitherto he has been preoccupied entirely with himself, with his own little ego; now he expands the entire horizon of his outlook and makes the world-problem his own problem. He must train himself thoroughly to impress these new ideas upon every atom of his being. He must think deeply and think hard about these subtle truths until thought becomes established as insight. When these efforts finally and successfully mature, he practices the ultramysticic contemplation exercises and seeks by the sheer power of his now-illumined intelligence to fathom the final mystery of all — the relation between the grand ultimate reality of the world and himself. He has reached the climax of an adventure where his whole mind and body must now travel and strive and toil in unison. This peak-path is the yoga of the uncontradictable. It first proves its own ultimate tenet of the secret identity of man with the universal reality, and then shows him how to realize this amid practical life.
Higher than this his mind cannot go; and his remaining years will be engaged in unremittingly establishing the truth of his own consciousness in living with it every moment and every day. . . He has then finished with the formalities of religion, with the visions of meditation, with the reasonings of philosophy."
Paul Brunton, (Ph. D.)
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga
"The Earth is the birthplace of our species and, so far as we know, our only home. When our numbers were small and our technology feeble, we were powerless to influence the environment of our world. But today, suddenly, almost without anyone noticing, our numbers have become immense and our technology has achieved vast, even awesome powers. Intentionally or inadvertently, we are now able to make devastating changes in the global environment — an environment to which we and all the other beings which we share the Earth are meticulously and exquisitely adapted.
We are now threatened by self-inflicted, swiftly moving environmental alterations about whose long-term biological and ecological consequences we are still painfully ignorant — depletion of the protective ozone layer; a global warming unprecedented in the last 150 millennia; the obliteration of an acre of forest every second; the rapid-fire extinction of species; and the prospect of a global nuclear war that would put at risk most of the population of the Earth. There may well be other such dangers of which, in our ignorance, we are still unaware. Individually and cumulatively they represent a trap being set for the human species, a trap we are setting for ourselves. However principled and lofty (or naïve and shortsighted) the justification may have been for the activities that brought forth these dangers, separately and together they now imperil our species and many others. We are close to committing — many would argue that we are already committing — what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation.
By their very nature these assaults on the environment were not caused by any one political group or any one generation. Intrinsically, they are transnational, transgenerational, and transideological. So are all conceivable solutions. To escape these traps requires a perspective that embraces the peoples of the planet and all the generations yet to come.
Problems of such magnitude, and solutions demanding so broad a perspective, must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists — many of us long engaged in combating the environmental crisis — urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit, in word and deed, and as boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth. . . .
As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the Universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the scared. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus there is a vital role for both religion and science.
We know that the well-being of our planetary environment is already a source of profound concern in your councils and congregations. We hope this Appeal will encourage a spirit of common cause and joint action to help preserve the Earth."
Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion, January 1990
(Text sent by scientists to religious leaders.)
"If I hold any belief with conviction, it is roughly this. Muslim writers have seen one category of seekers after God as salik or wayfarers, whom God guides on the active way through asceticism and prayer. Their journey begins with learning to read the "signs on the horizon" — developing an awareness of the effects of God’s actions in the world. "O God," wrote the ninth-century Egyptian mystic Dhu ‘l-Nun "I never hearken to the voices of the beasts or the rustle of the trees, the splashing of waters or the songs of birds, the whistling of the wind or the rumble of thunder, but I sense in them a testimony to Thy unity . . . O God I acknowledge thee in the proof of thy handiwork and the evidence of thy acts . . ."
There is rather more to this than the simple thought that "Nature" is a wonderful thing and someone must have made it. While theologians through the ages have been troubled by the question of whether God is immanent (implicit in the universe) or transcendent (totally separated), the folk experience of divinity is not far removed from that of the solitary Hindu mystic who experiences oneness by reaching into the inner core, the atman, that he believes exists identically in all creation. . . .
What these traditions are saying affect the part and you affect the whole. All things are one. It is almost a commonplace today that physicists have arrived at much the same conclusion: all creation is inter-connected. I stand with them."
Jennifer Westwood, Sacred Journeys
Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997 p. 15.
"The earth wisdom of the surviving native traditions of our planet speaks of a simplicity which our world lacks. It is a wisdom which addresses the heart, recognizing our kinship with each other and the rest of creation. It is sacramental and incarnational rather than transcendent in its approach to spirituality. It has a humility which frequently underscores our ‘civilized’ Western paranoia. For the native traditions, the Earth Mother is a reality: the earth which feeds us and gives us plentifully all that we need.
The ‘primitive’ experience of the Goddess is not one of fear and torment, it is one of perfect familiarity and respect. When the Nez Perce Indians of North America were presented with the prospect of agriculture as a means of survival, their spokesman, Smohalla, very rightly replied: ‘My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream and wisdom come in dreams. You ask me to plough the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s breast? Then when I die She will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone. Shall I dig under her skin for bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body and be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like the white man. But how can I cut off my mother’s hair? It is bad law and my people cannot obey it. I want my people to stay with me here. All dead humans will come to life again. We must wait here in the house of our ancestors and be ready to meet in the body of our mother.’ . . .
The cult of the earth mother celebrates the fact that we are surrounded and enclosed by the creation of the Mother. If we threaten creation, then it fights back, as James Lovelock, using the ancient Greek earth mother’s name as metaphor for the planet, has expressed: ‘Gaia . . . is no doting mother tolerant of misdemeanors . . . she is stern and tough, always keeping the world warm and comfortable for those who obey the rules, but ruthless in her destruction of who transgress.’ Ge or Gaia combines both the nurturing and destructive aspects which polarize the Goddess being the nurse of the young, the providing mother, and also the sender of ghosts and demons, the Goddess of death whose realm lay within her own body. One of her title is Melantho (the Black One).
The West has exiled itself from the primal experience of native spirituality. There is no space to detail the destruction wrought by colonization where natural spiritualities, habitats and culture have been ruthlessly overlaid by Western patterns, ‘because they were good for progress.’ This is not a feminist argument only, but one which is arising in many hearts. The manipulative and destructive patterns of the West have now been successfully inculcated throughout the Third World — a heritage which we still have to reap."
Caitlín Matthews, Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom
"It is interesting that the old insight that there is a direct relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm is used increasingly in both Western and ‘alternative’ thinking. Peter Russell begins his book with a comparision between the cancer of the body — a disease most specifically of Western lifestyles and attitudes — and the cancer of the environment, implying the damage that Western technology is doing to the earth: ‘technological civilization really does look like a rampant malignant growth blindly devouring its own ancestral host in a selfish act of consumption.’ And he argues that the only hope of preventing either of these is through a major of consciousness, at both macro and micro levels. In this view, it becomes increasingly clear through the work of such writers that we are part of a personal, social and spiritual whole, and how lethal the present fragmentation is."
Jean Hardy, A Psychology with a Soul
"Judging by accounts of the astronauts, space travel expands the human mind. Jim Irwin of the Apollo 15 lunar mission said he "found God on the moon." Al Worden started channeling poetry when he returned home. Alan Bean said, "Everybody who went to the moon became more like they were deep inside themselves." (Bean became an artist.) Rusty Schweichert, who cried while looking at the stars from outer space, "fell in love with the Earth," and found himself asking soul-searching questions like "Who am I?" Edgar Mitchell of the Apollo 14 flight was "overwhelmed with a divine presence," experienced Earth and the universe as "an intelligent system" in a way that was at odds with his scientific training, and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
In destroying the Earth, we may stumble upon the gates of heaven. In being driven to explore outer space, we may discover the secrets of inner space. All the mistakes we have made so far may one day be looked upon as the blunderings of adolescence, the errors we had to make before our childhood’s end."
Michael Grosso, We May Stumble Upon the Gates of Heaven
(Michael Grosso, Ph.D., studied classics and philosophy at Columbia University, but after some startling personal encounters with the paranormal, he began to study reports of UFOs, Martian visions, alien abductions, near-death experiences, miracles of Padre Pio and Sai Baba, and other psychological anomalies. He directs the Cultural Imagination Centre in Warwick, New York, and is the author of The Final Choice, Frontiers of the Soul, and Soulmaker. The above essay is an excerpt from Frontiers of the Soul. Source: Georg and Trisha Lamb Feuerstein, Voices on the Threshold of Tomorrow [The Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 1993, p. 6-1.])
"There have been two periods in the twentieth century in Europe and America when recoil from our materialistic, scientific, aetheistic world has brought about a reaction in the shape of religious and spiritual awareness and mysticism. The first was at the turn of the century, when Western confidence was in many ways at its zenith, when it seemed that real human progress was possible and happening, and that human knowledge would triumph; this period has already been discussed as the time at which psychosynthesis was founded. The second period was in 1960s, when psychosynthesis became internationally known. Then, a reaction against many of the values of Western civilization, its misuse of nuclear energy, the arrogance and wealth which impoverished the rest of humanity, its assumption of dominance and control, brought about a movement of counterculture, a movement towards simplicity and respect for the environment, towards spirituality and an acceptance that humanity is only one element in the universe and must, if it is to survive, become part of nature, instead of striving to be master of the universe. In both these periods, the religions of the East played an important role."
Jean Hardy, A Psychology with a Soul
"Most Americans are thoughtful, caring, generous. We try to do our best by family and friends. We’ll even stop to help a fellow driver stranded by a roadside breakdown, or give spare change to a stranger. But increasingly, a wall separates each of us from the world outside, and from others who have taken refuge in their own private sanctuaries. How can we renew the public participation that’s the every soul of democratic citizenship?To be sure, the issues we face are complex. It’s hard to comprehend the moral implications of a world in which Nike pays Michael Jordan millions to appear in its ads while workers at its foreign shoe factories toil away for pennies a day. The 500 richest people on the planet now control more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, half the human population. It is possible even to grasp this extraordinary imbalance? And, more important, how do we begin to redress it?"
Paul Rogat Loeb, Soul of a Citizen
"According to the Native American tradition, the world is nearing the end of an age whose trials and tribulations were foretold long ago. We now have the opportunity to set the pattern for the coming age, to choose between a peaceful, co-existence or full-scale destruction.
Despite over a hundred years of prosecution and prejudice, the Native Americans are now seen as having mastered the secret of how to live in harmony with nature. For them nature was the stage where the world of spirit manifested in the world of matter and where the human, animal, spirit and celestial world all came together. By adopting a particular animal as its symbol, a Native American tribe would identify itself with the characteristics of that creature, thus reinforcing their bond with the natural and supernatural worlds. . . .
This way of thinking survives today. According to Thomas Yellowtail, a contemporary Crow medicine man, "a man’s attitude towards the Nature is of special importance, because as we respect our created world, so also do we show respect for the real world that we cannot see." . . .
Without written texts, Native American tribes gave vent to their spirituality by participating in ceremonies. Central to the ceremonial and to community life was the symbol of the medicine wheel, a sacred circle of stones, representing the seasons and the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The wheel reminded the tribe that life is movement and change. To remain in one place was to cease to grow.
Life was transitory, a test of character in preparation for the next world. For the warriors, a noble death in battle was to be valued more highly than a life of self-preservation and inactivity. . . . This belief that life was a test of character was naturally reflected in Native Americans’ sense of values. Their word was their bond, a code which they were dismayed to discover was not shared by many of the white settlers.
It was the white man who introduced the idea of land as personal property. The tribes had always shared the land as a community, believing that, if they honored the land and the animals, the tribe would prosper: central to this was the idea that the destiny of mankind would be determined by the respect it paid to nature. "Each man will pass from this earth in his own time. Some of the prophecies talk only about the end of time; others speak about the break-up of the modern world .. and a return to the traditional ways of our ancestors … each one of us must choose at this present moment which path to follow." (Thomas Yellowtail)"
Paul Roland, Revelation: Wisdom of the Ages
"Most Americans are thoughtful, caring, generous. We try to do our best by family and friends. We’ll even stop to help a fellow driver stranded by a roadside breakdown, or give spare change to a stranger. But increasingly, a wall separates each of us from the world outside, and from others who have taken refuge in their own private sanctuaries. How can we renew the public participation that’s the every soul of democratic citizenship?
To be sure, the issues we face are complex. It’s hard to comprehend the moral implications of a world in which Nike pays Michael Jordan millions to appear in its ads while workers at its foreign shoe factories toil away for pennies a day. The 500 richest people on the planet now control more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, half the human population. It is possible even to grasp this extraordinary imbalance? And, more important, how do we begin to redress it?"
Paul Rogat Loeb, Soul of a Citizen