Shakti and Shakta

by John Woodroffe | 1929 | 243,591 words

A collection of papers and essays addressing the Śakti aspect of the Śākta school of Hindu philosophy by John Woodroffe, also known as Arthur Avalon....

Preface to First Edition

THE present work deals with its subject only in a very general and, as far as the matter permits, popular way. I refer those who wish to pursue it further to the other works on Tantra Śāstra which are published under the name “Arthur Avalon” to denote that they have been written with the direct co-operation of others and in particular with the assistance of one of my friends who will not permit me to mention his name. I do not desire sole credit for what is as much their work as mine. I, in particular, refer my reader to the series of Articles on the Mantra Śāstra which I wrote for the “Vedānta Kesarī” now reprinting (since published as “Garland of Letters”) and to the “Serpent Power” shortly to be published (published in 1918, 2nd (present) Edition, 1925). In this last there is given, for the first time, the rationale of Yoga through the Kuṇḍaliṇī Śakti, the outlines of which are indicated in Chapter XVI of this volume.

The Śākta Tantra is a Sādhanā Śāstra of Monistic (Advaitavāda) Vedānta. It is to me a profound and powerful system, and its doctrine of Śakti or Divine Power is one of the greatest evolved, through spiritual intuition, by the human mind which, according to its teaching, is a manifestation of the Divine Consciousness Itself (Śiva).

The Doctrine is laid on grand lines and what is not, in this Vast Land of great distances?

I write this on a high plateau in Palamow, and look across a wide stretch of tall grass with tips of waving silver, the home, until about nine years ago (when the place was first opened), of the wild bison. The green and silver of the Prairie is splashed here and there with patches of orange flower, which the blazing sun jewels with its points of light. The near distance shows the water of a mountain tarn and two clumps of trees—the groves of worship of the ancient Kolatrian peoples. Here a sparse remnant adore to-day, as did their ancestors thousands of years ago. Of Brāhmanism or other Aryan faith, there is no sign. Beyond, the grassland rises to meet the great length of a mounting hill-forest, dark green against the blue of distance, in which other Hill tops beckon forward the curious mind with their lure of mystery. And this lure is all around, for the upland is some fifteen hundred feet below with wooded valleys, valleys on the East black with great Sal forests, which, as those of the upland, are the haunt of bear, tiger and sambur,—wild forests, lit only here and there by rare open spaces, and the glinting stream and white sands of the Koel River. Beyond the valleys, and all around the upland are a circle of Hills rising on the East, wave upon wave. Here man, who has not known himself and his greatness seems nought, and Nature all, a feeling which deepens as night falls on the earth with quick assault, the dark dome of heaven sparkling with the light of countless rising stars, fading again at Dawn as the Visible Devatā, the resplendent joyous Sun, the Eye of Viṣṇu, arises from out the “Eastern Mountain”.

Such a vast scene is but one of many in this, itself vast, secular, and awe-inspiring land. Such a view, we may imagine, was displayed before the eyes of the incoming Aryan peoples. Upon them the influence of the Soil fell, filling them with awe. The Spirit, manifesting in this Sacred Earth, at length revealed Itself in their minds. Within them arose the Inner Sun, which is the Light of all, unveiling to the eye of mind truths hidden in its subtle garb of thought. These tenuous veils again fell away, when, by the intuition of the forest-sages, was realized the Spiritual Ether of Consciousness, whose Mother-Power (Śakti) as Will, Thought and Action ever personalizes as the life of this magnetic stretch of earth which is India, as the world of which it is an head-ornament, and as (in the words of the Indian Scripture) the countless other universes, which are but the dust of Her Sovereign Feet.

11th October 1918.


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