Shakti: The Verses
The Definition of Shakti (The Garden of Maya: Part 2)
विश्वस्य बीजं परमासि माया ।
सम्मोहितं देवि समस्तमेतत्त्वं
वै प्रसन्ना भुवि मुक्तिहेतुः ।
Vishvasya Biijam Paramaasi Maayaa |
Sammohitam Devi Samastam-Etat-Tvam
Vai Prasannaa Bhuvi Mukti-Hetuh
“You are the supreme Goddess, the Shakti who is the eternal power of Vishnu*. You are the seed of this creation (which is illusory). She projected this universe with her supreme “Maya” concealing the “Brahman”. With the power of her illusion, she has mesmerized the whole world but if she becomes content, she only becomes the reason for absolute liberation.”
In my previous article on Maya (see The Garden of Maya: part 1), I tried to portray the Vedantic concept of Maya and its nature. This Maya is formless and intertwined with its creation.
I am not discussing the Vedantic thoughts in this current article rather I will focus on the various form of worship designed to appease Maya.
The inception of the Shakti Cult
Ancient thinkers developed the understanding of Maya and premeditated various methods to go beyond the “Avaran” or the illusory sheath.
We can classify them on the first level, into two groups. The first corresponds to the renunciation and deep contemplation of the “I” awareness. They practiced the method of “seer” and the “seen” (Drig Drushya Viveka**).
The seen and the seer is different. By following this simple approach, a seeker rejects starting from this world to his body and attains the stage where he becomes united with the final seer or pure consciousness.
The second method is much more colorful, tangible, and elaborate and this method is successful in attracting the common people as the Vedanta is quite tough for a common mind to grasp.
This method is generally known as outward worship (Vahiranga Sadhana) while the Vedantic philosophy dealt with inward worship (Antaranga Sadhana).
I have started this article with praise to the Mother Goddess or Maya aka Shakti which describes a small part of its quality and magnitude.
People; who couldn’t follow the seeker’s path, changed their way and pursued the path of belief or devotion. They believed in the existence of the manifested “Maya Shakti” as the consort of “Brahman”. They imposed motherhood onto her and introduced several layers of worship to appease “Maya”.
Belief is connected with the mind and not with the intellect so based on the multiple shades of human emotions, the process of worship diversified into various forms. People pulled the divine manifestations into many idols that resemble their imagined form and mingled it into their mundane life.
Even among the different tribes, idol worship has taken a high position. The ideology was similar in nature where as the visible forms were different.
Few ancient seers; with the help of their profound concentration, created thought forms that became viewable to a few clairvoyant believers and they made idols resembling the thought forms. The most vivid and strongest thought forms became the most revered deity of all.
As the doctrine of Maya is the most obvious among all the other concepts, it took the highest position, especially in early Indian spiritualism.
In India; though it followed a male-dominated social structure, still it has female idols as a majority. This anomaly proves how the Indian people were consumed by the idea of Maya and the need for liberation.
A majority of these people equally valued earthly endeavors and strived for a better living. They always prayed and attempted for both earthly comforts (“Bhukti”) and liberation (“Mukti”) as the end of it.
That’s why we find both of these needs in plenty among the Sanskrit psalms devoted to Mother Goddess.
The best among these methods is Tantra.
In Tantra, we find numerous descriptions of deities with their specific attributes. Some are severely fierce, some are strikingly strict and the rest are soft and affectionate.
Tantra appreciates outward worship but promotes inward journeys. This is the beauty of Tantra. It transcends the human mind from a mere believer surpassing the intellect to the highest level of awareness.
But it never ignored the basics. It cultivated an organized form of idol worship differentiated on the basis of mental and intellectual evolution.
There were a plethora of descriptions for various feminine energies. But idols are made for a few. Many remained as visual forms and worshiped with psalms and syllables accompanied by offerings pertaining to the likes of the deity as prescribed by the primeval seers.
But the most predominant among all the deities are the goddess “Kali”, “Durga”, “Lakshmi”, “And Saraswati”. All other feminine deities are a part of these few. It was written in the scriptures by the seers that all the other female forms emerged from “Durga”. In the ancient scripture named “Markandeya Purana”, a chapter was dedicated to the Mother Goddess (Mahamaya) called “Chandi” or “Durga Saptasati”. It contains seven hundred slokas or hymns committed to Goddess “Durga”.
The core concept of tantra is based on the “Purusha” and “Prakriti” which is the same as the Vedantic “Brahman” and “Maya”.
According to Tantra, every human body contains the existence of masculine and feminine energies. The feminine energy or “Shakti” aka “Maya” is dormant in common people and resides in “Muladhara Chakra***” somewhere near the coccyx. The “Purusha” or “Shiva” aka “Brahman” resides on the “Sahasrara Chakra***” or near the motor area of the human brain.
The sadhaka has to awaken the feminine energy (“Shakti”) following some specific methods of yoga and lift it to the top for the union of the both. This is actually the dissolution of “Maya” in the “Brahman” which results in self-realization as the existence-consciousness-bliss.
At this moment when the sadhaka evolves into the basic level of consciousness, the need for an idol diminishes and ultimately vanishes with further evolution.
For those; who have attained the level of the “Shiva-shakti” union, the “Samsara” or this cyclical illusory world slowly fades away.
Though it is a thought form still we cannot deny the utility of it in our lives. Not every one of us is smart enough to grasp the Vedantic concepts.
For those people; Idol worship is an effective tool to transcend from material to spiritual ground.
An idol is the point of concentration. When concentration slips into meditation, the idol ceases to exist. A state of blissful silence pervades our minds. A moment of union is felt as we are unable to differentiate the subject and the object of meditation.
Vedanta and Tantra, both take us to the same goal only differing with the process they follow.
Precursor of Idol worship
Tantra previously followed a process of “Yantra” worship. “Yantra” is a complex geometrical shape inscribed on gold, silver, or copper plates. It was also drawn on leaves with special inks to perform rituals. In “Yantra”, the lines, angles, and shapes represented unearthly forces that govern the macrocosm and microcosm.
The objective is to understand and design of this creation and rise above it. Next, the idols were introduced to make things easier to understand a “Yantra”, a devotee need to have a sharp intellect.
With time emotions overrode the objective and people started accepting the description of idols literally and embraced it into their daily lives.
The supreme consciousness is untouched and untold. There are no ways to read the mind of it. It can play in any way. It can design its own rules and game plans.
Whether it’s with an idol or without it, the journey will continue and they both have the ability to take us to the highest level of self-realization.
But for that, we have to walk for ourselves.
* Vishnu is the sustainer of this creation. He balances the opposite forces and stabilizes it. The word “Vishnu” literally talks about the center which is holding all the creation and attracting towards it. Its strong influence (which is also an attribute of Vaishnavi Shakti) is all-pervading. He holds this special attribute amongst the three (creation, sustainability, and destruction) of “Brahman”.
** Drig Drushya Viveka is a compilation of Vedantic concepts believed to be written by Adi Shankaracharya. It discusses the method of the seer and the seen for self-realization.
*** The author shall discuss chakras in his upcoming articles.