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....

Chapter II - Śakti: the World as Power

THERE is no word of wider content in any language than this Sanskrit term meaning ‘Power.’ For Śakti in the highest causal sense is God as Mother, and in another sense it is the universe which issues from Her Womb. And what is there which is neither one nor the other? Therefore the Yoginīhṛdaya Tantra thus salutes Her who conceives, bears, produces and thereafter nourishes all worlds: “Obeisance be to Her who is pure Being-Consiousness-Bliss, as Power, who exists in the form of Time and Space and all that is therein, and who is the radiant Illuminatrix in all beings.”

It is therefore possible only to outline here in a very general way a few of the more important principles of the Śakti-doctrine, omitting its deeply interesting practice (Sādhanā) in its forms as ritual worship and Yoga.

To-day Western science speaks of Energy as the physical ultimate of all forms of Matter. So has it been for ages to the Śāktas, as the worshippers of Śakti are called. But they add that such Energy is only a limited manifestation (as Mind and Matter) of Becoming in ‘That’ (Tat), which is unitary Being (Sat) Itself.

Their doctrine is to be found in the traditious, oral and written, which are contained in the Āgamas, which (with Purāṇa, Smṛti and Veda) constitute one of the four great classes of Scripture of the Hindus. The Tantras are Scriptures of the Āgama. The notion that they are some queer bye-product of Hinduism and not an integral part of it, is erroneous. The three chief divisions of the Āgama are locally named Bengal (Gauda), Kashmira and Kerala. That Bengal is a home of Tantraśāstra is well known. It is, however, little known that Kashmir was in the past a land where Tāntrik doctrine and practice were widely followed.

The communities of so-called ‘Tāntrik’ worshippers are five-fold according as the cult is of the Sun, Gaṇeśa, Viṣṇu, Śiva or Śakti. To the Knower, however, the five named are not distinct Divinities, but different aspects of the one Power or Śakti. An instructed Śakti-worshipper is one of the least sectarian of men. He can worship in all temples, as the saying is. Thus the Sammohana Tantra says that “he is a fool who sees any difference between Rāma [an Avatāra of Viṣṇu] and Shiva.” “What matters the name,” says the Commentator of the Ṣaṭcakranirūpaṇa, after running through the gamut of them.

The Śākta is so called because the chosen Deity of his worship (Iṣṭadevatā) is Śakti. In his cult, both in doctrine and practice, emphasis is laid on that aspect of the One in which It is the Source of Change and, in the form of Time and Space and all objects therein, Change itself. The word Śakti is grammatically feminine. For this reason an American Orientalist critic of the doctrine has described it as a worthless system, a mere feminization of orthodox (whatever that is) Vedānta—a doctrine teaching the primacy of the Female and thus fit only for “suffragette monists.” It is absurd criticism of this kind which makes the Hindu sometimes wonder whether the European has even the capacity to understand his beliefs. It is said of the Mother (in the

Hymn to Her in the Mahākāla-Saṃhitā): “Thou art neither girl, nor maid, nor old. Indeed Thou art neither female nor male, nor neuter. Thou art inconceivable, immeasurable Power, the Being of all which exists, void of all duality, the Supreme Brahman, attainable in Illumination alone.” Those who cannot, understand lofty ideas when presented in ritual and symbolic garb will serve their reputation best by not speaking of them.

The Śaiva is so called because his chosen Divinity is Śiva, the name for the changeless aspect of the One whose Power of action and activity is Śakti. But as the two are necessarily associated, all communities acknowledge Śakti. It is, for the above reason, a mistake to suppose that a ‘Tāntrik,’ or follower of the Āgama, is necessarily a Śākta, and that the ‘Tantra’ ia a Śākta Scripture only. Not at all. The Śākta is only one branch of the Āgamik school. And so we find the Scriptures of Śaivaism, whether of North or South, called Tantras, as also those of that ancient form of Vaishnavism which is called the Pañcharātra. The doctrine of these communities, which share certain common ideas, varies from the monism of the Śāktas and Northern Śaivas to the more or less dualistic systems of others. The ritual is to a large extent common in all communities, though there are necessarily variations, due both to the nature of the divine aspect worshipped and to the particular form of theology taught. Śākta doctrine and practice are contained primarily in the Śākta Tantras and the oral traditions, some of which are secret. As the Tantras are mainly Scriptures of Worship such doctrine is contained by implication in the ritual. For reasons above stated recourse may be had to other Scriptures in so far as they share with those of the Śākta, certain common doctrines and practices. The Tantras proper are the word of Śiva and Śakti. But there are also valuable Tāntrik works in the nature of compendia and commentaries which are not of divine authorship.

The concept ‘Śakti’ is not however peculiar to the Śaktas. Every Hindu believes in Śakti as God’s Power, though he may differ as to the nature of the universe created by it. Śākta doctrine is a special presentment of so-called monism (Advaita: lit. ‘not-two’) and Śākta ritual, even in those condemned forms which have given rise to the abuses by which this Scripture is most generally known, is a practical application of it. Whatever may have been the case at the origin of these Āgamic cults, all, now and for ages past, recognize, and claim to base themselves on the Vedas. With these are coupled the Word of Śiva-Śakti as revealed in the Tantras. Śākta-doctrine is (like the Vedānta in general) what in Western parlance would be called a theology based on revelation—that is, so-called ‘spiritual’ or supersensual experience, in its primary or secondary sense. For Veda is that.

This leads to a consideration of the measure of man’s knowing and of the basis of Vedāntik knowledge. It is a fundamental error to regard the Vedānta as simply a speculative metaphysic in the modern Western sense. It is not so; if it were, it would have no greater right to acceptance than any other of the many systems which jostle one another for our custom in the Philosophical Pair. It claims that its supersensual teachings can be established with certainty by the practice of its methods. Theorising alone is in sufficient. The Śākta, above all, is a practical and active man, worshipping the Divine Activity ; his watchword is Kriyā or Action. Taught that he is Power, he desires fully to realize himself in fact as such. A Tāntrik poem (Ānandastotra) speaks with amused disdain of the learned chatterers who pass their time in futile debate around the shores of the ‘Lake of Doubt’.

The basis of knowing, whether in super-sense or senseknowledge, is actual experience. Experience is of two kinds: the whole or full experience; and incomplete experience—that is, of parts, not of, but in, the whole. In the first experience, Conciousness is said to be ‘upward-looking’ (Unmukhī)—that is, ‘not looking to another’. In the second experience it is ‘outward-looking’ (Vahirmukhī). The first is not an experience of the whole, but the Experience-whole. The second is an experience not of parts of the whole, for the latter is partless, but of parts in the whole, and issuing from its infinite Power to know itself in and as the finite centres, as the many. The works of an Indian philosopher, my friend Professor Pramatha Nātha Mukhyopāhyāya, aptly call the first the Fact, and the second the Fact-section. The Īśa Upaniṣad calls the Supreme Experience—Pūrṇa, the Full or Whole.

It is not, be it noted, a residue of the abstracting intellect, which is itself only a limited stress in Consciousness, but a Plenum, in which the Existent All is as one Whole. Theologically this full experience is Śiva, with Śakti at rest or as Potency. The second experience is that of the finite centres, the numerous Puruṣas or Jīvas, which are also Śiva-Śakti as Potency actualized. Both experiences are real. In fact there is nothing unreal anywhere. All is the Mother and She is reality itself. “Sā’ ham” (“She I am”), the Śākta says, and all that he senses is She in the form in which he perceives Her. It is She who in, and as, him drinks the consecrated wine, and She is the wine. All is manifested Power, which has the reality of Being from which it is put forth. But the reality of the manifestation is of something which appears and disappears, whilst that of Causal Power to appear is enduring. But this disappearance is only the ceasing to be for a limited consciousness. The seed of Power, which appears as a thing for such consciousness, remains as the potency in infinite Being itself. The infinite Experience is real as the Full (Pūrṇa) ; that is, its reality is fullness. The finite experience is real, as such. There is, perhaps, no subject in Vedānta, which is more misunderstood than that of the so-called ‘Unreality’ of the World. Every School admits the reality of all finite experience (even of ‘illusive’ experience strictly so-called) while such experience lasts. But Śaṅkarācārya defines the truly Real as that which is changeless. In this sense, the World is a changing thing has relative reality only. Śaṅkara so defines Reality because he sets forth his doctrine from the standpoint of transcendent Being. The Śākta Śāstra, on the other hand, is a practical Scripture of Worship, delivered from the world-standpoint, according to which the world is necessarily real. According to this view a thing may be real and yet be the subject of change. But its reality as a thing ceases with the passing of the finite experiencer to whom it is real. The supreme Śiva-Śakti is, on the other hand, a real, full Experience which ever endures. A worshipper must, as such, believe in the reality of himself, of the world as his field of action and instrument, in its causation by God, and in God Himself as the object of worship. Moreover to him the world is real because Śiva-Śakti, which is its material cause, is real. That cause, without causing to be what it is, becomes the effect. Further the World is the Lord’s Experience. He as Lord (Pati) is the whole Experience, and as creature (Paśu) he is the experiencer of parts in it. The Experience of the Lord is never unreal. The reality, however, which changelessly endures may (if we so choose) be said to be Reality in its fullest sense.

Real however as all experience is, the knowing differs according as the experience is infinite or finite, and in the latter case according to vnrious grades of knowing. Full experience, as its name inlplies, is full in every way. Assume that there is at any ‘time’ no universe at all, that there is then a complete dissolution of all universes, and not of any particular universe; even then the Power which produced past, and will produce future universes, is one with the Supreme Consciousness whose Śakti it is. When again this Power actualizes as a universe, the Lord-Consciousness from and in Whom it issues is the All-knower. As Sarvajña he knows all gencrals, and as Saravit, all particulars. But all is known by Him as the Supreme Self, and not, as in the case of he finite centre, ss objects other than the limited self.

Finite experience is by its definition a limited thing. As the experience is of a sectional character, it is obvious that the knowing can only be of parts, and not of the whole, as the part cannot know the whole of which it is a part. But the finite is not alwavs so. It, may expand into the jnfinite by processes which bridge the one to the other. The essential of Partial Experience is knowing in Time and Space; the Supreme Experience, being changeless, is beyond both Time and Space as aspects of change. The latter is the alteration of parts relative to one another in the changeless Whole. Full experience is not sense-knowledge. The latter is worldly knowledge (Laukika Jñāna), by a limited knowing centre, of material objects, whether gross or subtle. Full experience is the Supreme Knowing Self which is not an object at all. This is unworldly knowledge (Alaukika Jñāna) or Veda. Sense-knowledge varies according to the capacity and attainments of the experiencer. But the normal experience may be enhanced in two ways: either physically by scientific instrwnents such as the telescope and microscope which enhance the natural capacity to see; or psychically by the attainment of what are called psychic powers. Everything is Śakti; but psychic power denotes that enhancement of normal capacity which gives knowledge of matter in its subtle form, whilst the normal man can perceive it only in the gross form as a compound of sensible matter (the Bhūtas). Psychic power is thus an extension of natural faculty. There is nothing ‘super-natural’ about it. All is natural, all is real. It is simply a power above the normal. Thus the clairvoyant can see what the normal sense-experiencer cannot. He does so by the mind. The gross sense-organs are not, according to Vedānta, the senses (Indriya). The sense is the mind, which normally works through the appropriate physical organs, but which, as the real factor in sensation, may do without them, as is seen both in hypnotic and yogic states. The area of knowledge is thus very widely increased. Knowledge may be gained of subtle chemistry, subtle physiology (as of the Cakras or subtle bodily centres), of various powers, of the ‘world of Spirits,’ and so forth. But though we are here dealing with subtle things, they are still things and thus part of the senseworld of objects,—that is, of the world of Māyā. Māyā, as later explained, is, not ‘illusion,’ but Experience in time and space of Self and Not-Self. This is by no means necessarily illusion. The whole therefore cannot be known by sense-knowledge. In short, sense or worldly knowledge cannot establish, that is, prove, what is supersensual, such as the Whole, its nature and the ‘other side’ of its processes taken as a collectivity. Reasoning, whether working in metaphysic or science, is based on the data of sense and governed by those forms of understanding which constitute the nature of finite mind. It may establish a conclusion of probability, but not of certainty. Grounds of probability may be made out for Idealism, Realism, Pluralism and Monism, or any other philosophical system. In fact, from what we see, the balance of probability perhaps favours Realism and Pluralism. Reason may thus establish that an effect must have a cause, but not that the cause is one. For all that we can say, there may be as many causes as effects. Therefore it is said in Vedānta that “nothing [in these matters] is established by argument.” All Western systems which do not possess actual spiritual experience as their basis, are systems which can claim no certainty as regards any matter not verifiable by sense-knowledge and reasoning thereon.

Śākta, and indeed all Vedāntik teaching, holds that the only source and authority (Pramāṇa) as regards supersensual matters, such as the nature of Being in itself, and the like, is Veda. Veda, which comes from the root vid, to know, is knowledge par excellence, that is supersensual experience, which according to the Monist (to use the nearest English term) is the Experience-Whole. It may be primary or secondary. As the first it in actual experience (Sākṣātkāra) which in English is called ‘spiritual’ experience.

The Śākta, as ‘monist,’ says that Veda is full experience as the One. This is not an object of knowledge. This knowing is Being. “To know Brahman is to be Brahman.” He is a ‘monist,’ not because of rational argument only (though he can adduce reasoning in his support), but because he, or those whom he follows, have had in fact such ‘monistic’ experience, and therefore (in the light of such experience) interpret the Vedāntik texts.

But ‘spiritual’ experience (to use that English term) may be incomplete both as to duration and nature. Thus from the imperfect ecstasy (Savikulpa-Samādhi), even when of a ‘monistic’ character, there is a return to world-experience. Again it may not be completely ‘monistic’ in form, or may be even of a distinctly dualistic character. This only means that the realization has stopped short of the final goal. This being the case, that goal is still perceived through the forms of duality which linger as part of the constitution of the experiencer. Thus there are Vedāntik and other schools which are not ‘monistic’. The spiritual experiences of all are real experiences, whatever be their character, and they are true according to the truth of the stage in which the experience is had. Do they contradict one another? The experience which a man has of a mountain at fifty miles distance, is not false because it is at variance with that of the man who has climbed it. What he sees is the thing from where he sees it. The first question then is: Is there a ‘monistic’ experience in fact? Not whether ‘monism’, is rational or not, and shown to be probable to the intellect. But how can we know this? With certainty only by having the experience oneself. The validity of the experience for the experiencer cannot be assailed otherwise than by alleging fraud or self-deception. But how can this be proved? To the experiencer his experience is real, and nothing else is of any account. But the spiritual experience of one is no proof to another who refuses to accept it. A man may, however, accept what another says, having faith in the latter’s alleged experience. Here we have the secondary meaning of Veda, that is secondary knowledge of supersensual truth, not based on actual experience of the believer, but on the experience of some other which the former accepts. In this sense Veda is recorded for Brahmanism in the Scriptures called Vedas, which contain the standard experience of those whom Brahmanism recognizes as its Ṛṣis or Seers. But the interpretation of the Vaidik record is in question, just as that of the Bible is. Why accept one interpretation rather than another? This is a lengthy matter. Suffice to say here that each chooses the spiritual food which his spiritual body needs, and which it is capable of eating and assimilating. This is the doctrine of Adhikāra. Here, as elsewhere, what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Nature works in all who are not altogether beyond her workings. What is called the ‘will to believe’ involves the affirmation that the form of a man’s faith is the expression of his nature; the faith is the man. It is not man’s reason only which leads to the adoption of a particular religious belief. It is the whole man as evolved at that particular time which does so. His affirmation of faith is an affirmation of his self in terms of it. The Śākta is therefore a ‘monist’, either because he has had himself spiritual experiences of this character, or because he accepts the teaching of those who claim to have had such experience. This is Āpta knowledge, that is received from a source of authority, just as knowledge of the scientific or other expert is received. It is true that the latter may be verified. But so in its own way can the former be. Revelation to the Hindu is not something stated ‘from above’, incapable of verification ‘below’. He who accepts revelation as teaching the unity of the many in the One, may himself verify it in his own experience. How? If the disciple is what is called not fit to receive truth in this 'monistic' form, he will probably declare it to be untrue and, adhering to what he thinks is true, will not further trouble himself in the matter. If he is disposed to accept the teachings of ‘monistic’ religionphilosophy, it is because his own spiritual and psychical nature is at a stage which leads directly (though in a longer or shorter time as may he the csse) to actual ‘monistic’ experience. A particular form of ‘spiritual’ knowledge like a particular psychic power can be developed only in him who has the capacity for it. To such an one asking, with desire for the fruit, how he may gather it, the Guru says: Follow the path of those who have achieved (Siddha) and you will gain what they gained. This is the ‘Path of the Great’ who are those whom we esteem to be such. We esteem them because they have achieved that which we believe to be both worthy and possible. If a would-be disciple refuses to follow the method (Sādhanā) he cannot complain that he has not had its result. Though reason by itself cannot establish more than a probability, yet when the supersensual truth has been learnt by Veda, it may be shown to be conformable to reason. And this must be so, for all realities are of one piece. Reason is a limited manifestation of the, same Śakti, who is fully known in ecstasy (Samādhi) which transcends all reasoning. What, therefore, is irrational, can never be spiritually true. With the aid of the light of Revelation the path is made clear, and all that is seen tells of the Unseen. Facts of daily life give auxiliary proof. So many miss the truth which lies under their eyes, because to find it they look away or upwards to some fancied ‘Heaven’. The sophisticated mind fears the obvious. “It is here; it is here,”' the Śākta and others say. For he and every other being in a microcosm, and so the Vishvasāru Tantra says: “What is here, is elsewhere. What is not here, is nowhere.” The unseen is the seen, which is not some alien disguise behind which it lurks. Experience of the seen is the experience of the unseen in time and space. The life of the individual is an expression of the same laws which govern the universe. Thus the Hindu knows, from his own daily rest, that the Power which projects the universe rests. His dreamless slumber when only Bliss is known, tells him, in some fashion, of the causal state of universal rest. From the mode of his awakening and other psychological processes he divines the nature of creative thinking. To the Śākta the thrill of union with his Śakti is a faint reflection of the infinite Śiva-Śakti Bliss in and with which all universes are born. All matter is a relatively stable form of Energy. It lasts awhile and disappears into Energy. The universe is maintained awhile. This is Śakti as Vaiṣṇavī, the Maintainer. At every moment creation, as rejuvenescent molecular activity, is going on as the Śakti Brahmāṇī. At every moment there is molecular death and loosening of the forms, the work of Rudrāṇī Śakti. Creation did not take place only at some past time, nor is dissolution only in the future. At every moment of time there is both. As it is now and before us here, so it was ‘in the beginning.’

In short the world is real. It is a true experience. Observation and reason are here the guide. Even Veda is no authority in matters falling within sense-knowledge. If Veda were to contradict such knowledge, it would, as Śaṅkara says, be in this respect no Veda at all. The Hindu is not troubled by ‘biblical science’. Here and now the existence of the many is established for the sense-experiencer. But there is another and Full Experience which also may be had here and now and is in any case also a fact,—that is, when the Self ‘stands out’ (ekstasis) from mind and body and sense-experience. This Full Experience is attained in ecstasy (Samādhi). Both experiences may be had by the same experiencer. It is thus the same One who became many. “He said: May I be many,” as Veda tells. The ‘will to he many’ is Power or Śakti which operates as Māyā.

In the preceding portion of this paper it was pointed out that the Power whereby the One gives effect to Its Will to be Many is Māyā Śakti.

What are called the 36 Tattvas (accepted by both Śāktas and Śaivas) are the stages of evolution of the One into the Many as mind and matter.

Again with what warrant is this affirmed? The secondary proof is the Word of Śiva and Śakti, Revealers of the Tantra-śāstra, as such Word is expounded in the teachings of the Masters (Ācārya) in the Āgama.

Corroboration of their teaching may be had by observation of psychological states in normal life and reasoning thereon. These psychological states again are the individual representation of the c:ollective cosmic processes. “As here, so elsewhere.” Primary evidence is actual experience of the surrounding and supreme states. Man does not leap at one.bound from ordinary finite sense-experience to the Full Experience. By stages lie advances thereto, and by stages he retraces his steps to the world, unless the fullness of experience has been such as to burn up in the fire of Selfknowledge the seed of desire which is the germ of the world. Man’s consciousness has no fixed boundary. On the contrary, it is at root the Infinite Consciousness, which appears

in the form of a contraction (Saṃkoca), due to limitation as Śakti in the form of mind and matter. This contraction may be greater or less. As it is gradually loosened, consciousness expands by until, all bonds being gone, it becomes one with the Full Consciousness or Pūrṇa. Thus there are, according to common teaching, seven ascending light planes of experience, called Lokas, that is ‘what are seen’ (lokyante) or experiencedand seven dark descending planes, or Talas, that is ‘places’. It will be observed that one name is given from the subjective and the other from the objective standpoint. The centre of these planes is the ‘Earth-plane’ (Bhūrloka). This is not the same as experience on earth, for every experience, including the highest and lowest, can be had here. The planes are not like geological strata, though necessity may picture them thus. The Earth-plane is the normal experience. The ascending planes are states of super-normal, and the descending planes of sub-normal experience. The highest of the planes is the Truth-plane (Satya-loka). Beyond this is the Supreme Experience, which is above all planes, which is Light itself, and the Love of Śiva and Śakti, the ‘Heart of the Supreme Lord’ (Hṛdoyam parameśituḥ). The lowest Tala on the dark side is described in the Purāṇas with wonderful symbolic imagery as a Place of Darkness where monster serpents, crowned with dim light, live in perpetual anger. Below this is the Śakti of the Lord called Tamomayī Śaskti—that is, the Veiling Power of Being in all its infinite intensity.

What then is the Reality—Whole or Pūrṇa? It is certainly not a bare abstraction of intellect, for the intellect is only a fractional Power or Śakti in it. Such an abstraction has no worth for man. In the Supreme Reality, which is the Whole, there is everything which is of worth to men, and which proceeds from it. In fact, as a Kashmir Scripture says: “The ‘without’ appears without only because it is within.” Unworth also proceeds from it, not in the sense that it is there as unworth, but because the experience of duality, to which evil is attached, arises in the Blissful Whole. The Full is not merely the collectivity (Samaṣṭi) of all which exists, for it is both immanent in and transcends the universe. It is a commonplece that it is unknowable except to Itself. Śiva, in the Yoginīhṛdaya Tantra, says: “Who knows the heart of a woman? Only

Śiva knows the Heart of Yoginī (the Supreme Śakti).” For this reason the Buddhist Tāntrik schools call it Śūnya or the Void. This is not ‘nothing’, but nothing known to mind and senses. Both Śāktas aud some Vaiṣṇavas use the term Śūnya, and no one suspects them of being ‘Nihilists’.

Relatively, however, the One is said to be Being (Sat), Bliss (Ananda) and Cit—an untranslatable term which has been most accurately defined as the Changeless Principle of all changing experience, a Principle of which sensation, perception, conception, self-consciousness, feeling, memory, will and all other psychic states are limited modes. It is not therefore Consciousness or Feeling as we understand these words, for these are directed and limited. It is the infinite root of which they are the finite flower. But Consciousness and possibly (according to the more ancient views) Feeling approach the most nearly to a definition, provided that we do not understand thereby Consciousness and Feeling in man’s sense. We may thus (to distinguish it) call Cit, Pure Consciousness or Pure Feeling as Bliss (Ānanda) knowing and enjoying its own full Reality. This, as such Pure Consciousness or Feeling, endures even when finite centres of Consciousness or Feeling arise in It. If (as this system assumes) there is a real causal nexus between the two, then Being, as Śiva, is also a Power, or Śakti, which is the source of all Becoming. The fully Real, therefore, has two aspects: one called Śiva, the static aspect of Consciousness, and the other called Śakti, the kinetic aspect of the same. For this reason Kālī Śakti, dark ss a thundercloud, is represented standing and moving on the white inert body of Śiva. He is white as Illumination (Prakāśa). He is inert, for Pure Consciousness is without action and at rest. It is She, His Power, who moves. Dark is She here because, as Kālī, She dissolves all in darkness, that is vacuity of existence, which is the Light of Being Itself. Again She is Creatrix. Five corpselike Śivas form the support of Her throne, set in the wishgranting groves of the Isle of Gems (Maṇidvīpa), the golden sands of which are laveci by the still waters of the Ocean of Nectar (Amṛta), which is Immortality. In both cases we have a pictorial presentment in theological form of the scientific doctrine that to every form of activity there is a static background.

But until there is in fact Change, Śakti is merely the Potency of Becoming in Being and, as such, is wholly one with it. The Power (Śakti) and the possessor of Power (Śaktimān) are one. As therefore He is Being-Bliss-Consciousness, so is She. She also is the Full (Pūrṇa), which is no mere abstraction from its evolved manifestations. On the contrary, of Her the Mahākālī Stotra says: “Though without feet, Thou movest more quickly than air. Though without ears, Thou dost hear. Though without nostrils, Thou dost smell. Though without eyes, Thou dost see. Though without tongue, Thou dost taste all tastes.” Those who talk of the ‘bloodless abstractions’ of Vedānta, have not understood it. The ground of Man’s Being is the Supreme ‘I’ (Pūrṇōham) which, though in Itself beyond finite personality, is yet ever finitely personalizing as the beings of the universe. “Sā’ham,”—“She I am.”

This is the Supreme Śakti, the ultimate object of the Śāktas’ adoration, tfhough worshipped in several forms, some gentle, some formidable.

But Potency is actualized as the universe, and this also is Śakti, for the effect is the case modified. Monistic Vedānta teaches that God is the material cause of the world. The statement that the Supreme Śakti also exists as the Forms evolved from It, may seem to conflict with the doctrine that Power is ultimately one with Śiva who is changeless Being. Śaṅkara answers that the existence of a causal nexus is Māyā, and that, there is (from the transcendental standpoint) only a seenling cause and seeming modification or effect. The Śākta, who from his world-standpoint posits the reality of God as the Cause of the universe, replies that, while it is true that the effect (as effect) is the cause modified, the cause (as cause) remains what it was and is and will be. Creative evolution of the universe thus differs from the evolution in it. In the latter case the material cause when producing an effect ceases to be what it was. Thus milk turned into curd ceases to be milk. But the simile given of the other evolutionary process is that of ‘Light from Light’. There is a similarity between the ‘conventional’ standpoint of Śaṅkara and the explanation of the Śākta; the difference being that, whilst to the former the effect is (from the transcendental standpoint) ‘unreal’, it is (from the Śākta's immanent standpoint) ‘real’.

It will have been observed that cosmic evolution is in the nature of a polarization in Being into static and kinetic aspects. This is symbolized in the Śākta Tantras by their comparison of Śiva-Śakti to a grain of gram (Caṇaka). This has two seeds which are so close together as to seem one, and which are surrounded by a single sheath. The seeds are Śiva and Śakti and the sheath is Māyā. When the sheath is unpeeled, that is when Māyā-Śakti operates, the two seeds come apart. The sheath unrolls when the seeds are ready to germinate, that is when in the dreamless slumber (Suṣupti) of the World-Consciousness the remembrance of past enjoyment in Form gives rise to that divine creative ‘thinking’ or ‘imagining’ (Sṛṣṭikalpanā) which is ‘creation’. As the universe in dissolution sinks into a Memory which is lost, so it is born again from the germ of recalled Memory or Śakti. Why? Such a question may be answered when we are dealing with facts in the whole; but the latter itself is uncaused, and what is caused is not the whole. Manifestation is of the nature of Being-Power, just as it is Its nature to retnm to Itself after the actualization of Power. To the devotee who speaks in theological language, “It is His Will.” As the Yoginīhṛdaya says: “He painted the World-picture on Himself with the Brush which is His Will and was pleased therewith.”

Again the World is called a Prapañca, that is an extension of the five forms of sensible matter (Bhūta). Where does it go at dissolution? It collapses into a Point (Bindu). We may regard it as a metaphysical point which is the complete ‘subjectification’ of the divine or full ‘I’ (Pūrṇāhantā), or objectively as a mathematical point without magnitude. Round that Point is coiled a mathematical Line which, being in touch with every part of the surface of the Point, makes one Point with it. What then is meant by these symbols of the Point and Line? It is said that the Supreme Śiva sees Himself in and as His own Power or Śakti. He is the ‘White Point’ or ‘Moon’ (Candra), which is Illumination and in the completed process, the ‘I’ (Ahaṃ) side of experience, She is the ‘Red Point’. Both colours are seen in the microcosmic generation of the child. Red too is the colour of Desire. She is ‘Fire’ which is the object of experience or ‘This’ (Idaṃ), the objective side of experience. The ‘This’ here is nothing but a mass of Śiva’s own illuminating rays. These are reflected in Himself as Śakti, who, in the Kāmakalāvilāsa, is called the ‘Pure Mirror’ of Śiva. The Self sees the Self, the rays being thrown back on their source. The ‘This’ is the germ of what we call ‘Otherness,’ but here the ‘Other’ is and is known as the Self. The relation and fusion of these two Points, White and Red, is called the Mixed Point or ‘Sun’. These are the three Supreme Lights. A = Śiva, Ha = Śakti, which united spell ‘Ahaṃ’ or ‘I’. This ‘Sun’ is thus the state of full ‘I-ness’ (Pūrṇāhaṃ-bhāva). This is the Point into which the World at dissolution lapses, and from which in due time it comes foidh again. In the latter case it is the Lord-Consciousness as the Supreme ‘I’ and Power about to create. For this reason Bindu is called condensed or massive form of Śakti. It is the tense state of Power immediately prior to its first actualization. That form of Śakti, again, by which the actualization takes place is Māyāand this is the Line round the Point. As coiled round the Point, it is the Supreme Serpent-Power (Mahākuṇḍalinī) encircling the Shiva-Liṅga. From out this Power comes the whisper to enjoy, in worlds of form, as the memory of past universes arises therein. Śakti then ‘sees’. Śakti opens Her eyes as She reawakes from the Cosmic Sleep (Nimeṣa), whioh is dissolution. The Line is at first coiled and one with the Point, for Power is then at rest. Creation is movement, an uncoiling of MāyāŚakti. Hence is the world called Jagat, which means ‘what moves’. The nature of this Power is circular or spiraline; hence the roundness and ‘curvature’ of things of which we now hear. Nothing moves in a really straight line. Hence again the universe is also called a spheroid (Brahmāṇḍa). The gross worlds are circular universal movements in space, in which, is the Ether (Ākāśa), Consciousness, as the Full (Purṇa), is never dichotomized, but the finite centres which arise in it, are so. The Point, or Bindu, then divides into three, in various ways, the chief of which is Knower, Knowing and Known, which constitute the duality of the world-experience by Mind of Matter.

Unsurpassed for its profound analysis is the account of the thirty-six Tattvas or stages of Cosmic Evolution (accepted by both Śaivas and Śāktas) given by the Northern Shaiva School of the Āgama, which flourished after the date which Western Orientalists assign to Śaṅkarācārya, and which was therefore in a position to criticize him. According to this account (which I greatly condense) Subject and Object in Pure Being are in undistinguishable union as the Supreme Śiva-Śakti. We have then to see how this unity is broken up into Subject and Object. This does not take place all at once. There is an intermediate stage of transition, in which these is a Subject and Object, but both are part of the Self, which knows its Object to be Itself. In man’s experience they are wholly separate, the Object then being perceived as outside the Self, the plurality of Selves being mutually exclusive centres. The process and the result are the work of Śakti, whose special function is to negate, that is to negate Her own fullness, so that it becomes the finite centre contracted as a limited Subject perceiving a limited Object, both being aspects of the one Divine Self.

The first stage after the Supreme is that in which Śakti withdraws Herself and leaves, as it were, standing by itself the ‘I’ side (Ahaṃ) of what, when completed, is the ‘I-This’ (Ahaṃ-Idaṃ) experience. But simultaneously (for the ‘I’ must have its content) She presents Herself as a ‘This’ (Idaṃ), at first faintly and then clearly; the emphasis being at first laid on the ‘I’ and then on the ‘This’. This last is the stage of Īśvara Tattva or Bindu, as the Mantra Śāstra, dealing with the causal state of ‘Sound’ (Śabda), calls it. In the second and third stage, as also in the fourth which follows, though there is an ‘I’ and a ‘This’ and therefore not the undistinguishable ‘I-This’ of the Supreme Experience, yet both the ‘I’ and the ‘This’ are experienced as aspects of and in the Self. Then as a preliminary to the division which follows, the emphasis is laid equally on the ‘I’ and the ‘This’. At this point Māyā-Śakti intervenes and completely separates the two. For that Power is the Sense of Difference (Bheda-Buddhi). We have now the finite centres mutually exclusive one of the other, each seeing, to the extent of its power, finite centres as objects outside of and different from the Self. Consciousness thus becomes contracted. In lieu of being All-knowing, it is a ‘Little Knower’, and in lieu of being Almighty Power, it is a ‘Little Doer’.

Māyā is not rightly rendered ‘Illusion’. In the first place it is conceived as a real Power of Being and as such is one with the Full Reality. The Full, free of all illusion, experiences the engendering of the finite centres and the centres themselves in and as Its own changeless partless Self. It is these individual centres produced from out of Power as Māyā-Śakti which are ‘Ignorance’ or Avidyā Śakti. They are so called because they are not a full experience but an experience of parts in the Whole. In another sense this ‘Ignorance’ is a knowing, namely, that which a finite centre alone has. Even God cannot have man’s mode of knowledge and enjoyment without becoming man. He by and as His Power does become man and yet remains Himself. Man is Power in limited form as Avidyā. The Lord is unlimited Power as Māyā. In whom then is the ‘Illusion’? Not (all will admit) in the Lord. Nor is it in fact (whatever be the talk of it) in man whose nature it is to regard his limitations as real. For these limitations are he. His experience as man provides no standard whereby it may be adjudged ‘Illusion’. The latter is non-conformity with normal experience, and here it is the normal experience which is said to be Illusion. If there were no Avidyā Śakti, there would be no man. In short the knowing which is Full Experience is one thing and the knowing of the limited experiences is another. The latter is Avidyāand the Power to produce it is Māyā. Both are eternal aspects of Reality, though the forms which are Avidyā Śakti come and go. If we seek to relate the one to the other, where and by whom is the comparison made? Not in and by the Full Experience beyond all relations, where no questions are asked or answers given, but on the standing ground of present finite experience where all subjectivity and objectivity are real and where therefore, ipso facto, Illusion is negatived. The two aspects are never present at one and the same time for comparison. The universe is real as a limited thing to the limited experiencer who is himself a part of it. But the experience of the Supreme Person (Parāhantā) is necessarily different, otherwise it would not be the Supreme Experience at all. A God who experiences just as man does is no God but man. There is, therefore, no experiencer to whom the World is Illusion. He who sees the world in the normal waking state, loses it in that form in ecstasy (Samādhi). It may, however, (with the Śākta) be said that the Supreme Experience is entire and unchanging and thus the fully Real; and that, though the limited experience is also real in its own way, it is yet an experience of change in its twin aspects of Time and Space. Māyā, therefore, is the Power which engenders in Itself finite centres in Time and Space, and Avidyā is such experience in fact of the finite experiencer in Time and Space. So much is this so, that the Time-theorists (Kālavādins) give the name ‘Supreme Time’ (Parakāla) to the Creator, who is also called by the Śākta ‘Great Time’ (Mahākāla). So in the Bhairavayāmala it is mid that Mahādeva (Śiva) distributes His Rays of Power in the form of the Year. That is, Timeless Experience appears in the finite centres as broken up into periods of time. This is the ‘Lesser Time’ which comes in with the Sun, Moon, Six Seasons and so forth, which are all Śaktis of the Lord, the existence and movements of which give rise in the limited observer, to the notion of Time and Space.

That observer is essentially the Self or ‘Spirit,’ vehicled by Its own Śakti in the fonn of Mind and Matter. These two are Its Body, the first subtle, the secord gross. Both have a common origin, namely the Supreme Power. Each is a real mode of It. One therefore does not produce the other. Both are produced by, and exist as modes of, the same Cause. There is a necessary parallelism between the Perceived and the Perceiver and, because Mind and Matter are at base one as modes of the same Power, one can act on the other. Mind is the subjective and Matter the objective aspect of the one polarized Consciousness.

With the unimportant. exception of the Lokāyatas, the Hindus have never shared what Sir William Jones called ‘the vulgar notions of matter,’ according to which it is regarded as some gross, lasting and independently existing outside thing.

Modern Western Science now also dematerializes the ponderable matter of the universe into Energy. This and the forms in which it is displayed is the Power of the Self to appear as the object of a limited centre of knowing. Mind again is the Self as ‘Consciousness,’ limited by Its Power into such a centre. By such contraction there is in lieu of an ‘All-knower’ a ‘Little Knower,’ and in lieu of an ‘All-doer’ a ‘Little Doer.’ Those, however, to whom this way of looking at things is naturally difficult, may regard the Supreme Śakti from the objective aspect as holding within Itself the germ of all Matter which develops in It.

Both Mind and Matter exist in every particle of the universe though not explicitly displayed in the same way in all. There is no corner of the universe which contains anything either potential or actual, which is not to be found elsewhere. Some aspect of Matter or Mind, however, may be more or less explicit or implicit. So in the Mantra Scripture it is said that each letter of the alphabet contains all sound. The sound of a particular letter is explicit and the other sounds are implicit. The sound of a particular letter is a particular physical audible mode of the Śabdabrahman (Brahman as the cause of Śabda or ‘Sound’), in Whom is all sound, actual and potential. Pure Consciousness is fully involved in the densest forms of gross or organic matter, which is not ‘inert’ but full of movement (Spanda), for there is naught but the Supreme Consciousness which does not move. Immanent in Mind and Matter is Consciousness (Cit Śakti). Inorganic matter is thus Consciousness in full subjection to the Power of Ignorance. It is thus Consciousness identifying Itself with such inorganic matter. Matter in all its five forms of density is present in everything. Mind too is there, though owing to its imprisonment in Matter, undeveloped. “The Brahman sleeps in the stone.” Life too which displap itself with the organization of matter is potentially contained in Being, of which such inorganic matter is, to some, a ‘lifeless’ form. From this deeply involved state Śakti enters into higher and higher organized forms. Prāṇa or vitality is a Śakti—the Mantra form of which is ‘Haṃsaḥ’. With the Mantra ‘Haṃ’ the breath goes forth, with ‘Saḥ’ it is indrawn, a fact which anyone can verify for himself if he will attempt to inspire after putting the mouth in the way it is placed in order to pronounce the letter ‘H’. The Rhythm of Creative Power as of breathing (a microcosmic form of it) is two-fold—an outgoing (Pravṛtti) or involution as universe, and an evolution or return (Nivṛtti) of Supreme Power to Itself. Śakti as the Great Heart of the universe pulses forth and back in cosmic systole and diastole. So much for the nature of the Power as an Evolutionary process. It is displayed in the Forms evolved as an increasing exhibition of Consciousness from apparently, though not truly, unconscious matter, through the slight consciousness of the plant and the greater consciousness of the animal, to the more highly developed consciousness of man, who in the completeness of his own individual evolution becomes freed of Mind and Matter which constitute the Form, and thus is one with the Supreme Consciousness Itself. There are no gaps in the process. In existence there are no rigid partitions. The vital phenomena, to which we give the name of ‘Life,’ appear it is true with organized Matter. But Life is not then something entirely new which had no sort of being before. For such Life is only a limited mode of Being, which itself is no dead thing but the Infinite Life of all lives. To the Hindu the difference between plant and animal, and between the latter and man, has always been one rather of degree than of kind. There is one Consciousness and one Mind and Matter throughout, though the Matter is organized and the Mind is exhibited in various ways. The one Śakti is the Self as the ‘String’ (Sūtrātmā) on which all the Beads of Form are strung, and these Beads again are limited modes of Herself as the ‘String.’ Evolution is thus the loosening of the bonds in which Consciousness (itself unchanging) is held, such loosening being increased and Consciousness more fully exhihibited as the process is carried forward. At length is gained that human state which the Scripture calls so ‘hard to get.’ For it has been won by much striving and through suffering. Therefore the Scripture warns man not to neglect the opportunities of a stage which is the necessary preliminary to the attainment of the Full Experience. Man by his striving must seek to become fully humane, and then to pass yet further into the Divine Fulness which is beyond all Form, with their good and evil. This is the work of Sādhanā(a word which comes from the root ‘sādh,’ ‘to exert’), which is discipline, ritual worship and Yoga. It is that by which any result (Siddhi) is attained. The Tāntrik Śāstra is a SādhanāScripture. As Powers are many, so may be Sādhanā, which is of various kinds and degrees. Man may seek to realize the Mother-Power in Her limited forms as health, strength, long life, wealth, magic powers and so forth. The so-called ‘New Thought’ and kindred literature which bids men to think Power and thus to become power, is very ancient, going back at least to the Upaniṣad which says: “What a man thinks, that he becomes.”

Those who have need for the Infinite Mother as She is not in any Form but in Herself, seek directly the Adorable One in whom is the essence of all which is of finite worth. The gist of a high form of Kūlasādhanā is given in the following verse from the Hymn of Mahākālarudra Himself to Mahākālī:

I torture not my body with penances.” (Is not his body Hers? If man be God in human guise why torment him?) “I lame not my feet in pilgrimage to Holy Places.” (The body is the Devālaya or Temple of Divinity. Therein are all the spiritual Tirthas or Holy Places. Why then trouble to go elsewhere?) “I spend not my time in reading the Vedas.” (The Vedas, which he has already studied, are the record of the standard spiritual experience of others. He seeks now to have that experience himself directly. What is the use of merely reading about it? The Kulārṇava Tantra enjoins the mastering of the essence of all Scriptures which should then be put aside, just .as he who has threshed out the grain throws away the husks and straw.) “But I strive to attain Thy two sacred Feet.”

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