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 VII - Is Śakti force?

HERE are some persons who have thought, and still think, that Śakti means force and that the worship of Śakti is the worship of force. Thus Keshub Chunder Sen (New Dispensation, p. 108), wrote:

Four centuries ago the Śāktas gave way before the Bhaktas. Chaitanya’s army proved invincible, and carried all Bengal captive. Even to-day his gospel of love rules as a living force, though his followers have considerably declined both in faith and morals. Just the reverse of this we find in England and other European countries. There the Śāktas are driving the Bhaktas out of the field. Look at the Huxleys, the Tyndalls and the Spencers of the day. What are they but Śāktas, worshippers of Śakti or Force?

The only Deity they adore, if they adore one at all, is the Prime Force of the universe. To it they offer dry homage. Surely then the scientists and materialists of the day are a sect of Śakti-worshippers, who are chasing away the true Christian devotees who adore the God of Love. Alas! for European Vaiṣṇavas they are retreating before the advancing millions of Wester Śāktas. We sincerely trust, however, the discomfiture of devotion and Bhakti will be only for a time, and that a Chaitanya will yet arise in the West, crush the Śāktas, who only recognize Force as Deity and are sunk in carnality and voluptuouness, and lead natures into the loving faith, spirituality, simplicity, and rapturous devotion of the Vaiṣṇava.

Professor Monier Wiliams (“Hinduism”) also called it a doctrine of Force.

Recently the poet Rabindranath Tagore has given the authority of his great name to this error (Modern Review, July 1919). After pointing out that Egoism is the price paid for the fact of existence and that the whole universe is assisting in the desire that the “I” should be, he says that man has viewed this desire in two different ways, either as a whim of Creative Power, or a joyous self-expression of Creative Love. Is the fact then of his being, he asks, a revealment of Force or of Love? Those who hold to the first view must also, he thinks, recognize conflict as inevitable and eternal. For according to them Peace and Love are but a precarious coat of armour within which the weak seek shelter, whereas that which the timid anathematise as unrighteousness, that alone is the road tlo success. “The pride of prosperity throws man’s mind outwards and the misery and insult of destitution draws man’s hungering desires likewise outwards. These two conditions alike leave man unashamed to place above all other gods, Śatkti the Deity of Power—the Cruel One, whose right hand wields the weapon of guile. In the politics of Europe drunk with Power we see the worship of Śakti.”

In the same way the poet says that in the days of their political disruption, the cowed and down-trodden Indian people through the mouths of their poets sang the praises of the same Śakti. “The Chandi of Kavikangkan and of the Annadāmaṅgala, the Ballad of Mānasā, the Goddess of Snakes, what are they but Pæans of the triumph of Evil? The burden of their song is the defeat of Śiva the good at the hands of the cruel deceitful criminal Śakti.” “The male Deity who was in possession was fairly harmless. But all of a sudden a feminine Deity turns up and demands to be worshipped in his stead. That is to say that she insisted on thrusting herself where she had no right. Under what title? Force! By what method? Any that would serve.”

The Deity of Peace and Renunciation did not survive. Thus he adds that in Europe the modern Cult of Śakti says that the pale anæmic Jesus will not do. But with high pomp and activity Europe celebrates her Śakti worship.

“Lastly the Indians of to-day have set to the worship of Europe’s Divinity. In the name of religion some are saying that it is cowardly to be afraid of wrong-doing. Both those who have attained worldly success, and those who have failed to attain it are singing the same tune. Both fret at righteousness as an obstacle which both would overcome by physical force.” I am not concerned here with any popular errors that there may be. After all, when we deal with a Śāstrik term it is to the Śāstra itself that we must look for its meaning. Śakti comes from the root Śak “to be able,” “to do.” It indicates both activity and capacity therefore. The world, as world, is activity. But when we have said that, we have already indicated that it is erroneous to confine the meaning of the term Śakti to any special form of activity. On the contrary Śakti means both powcr in general and every particular form of power. Mind is a Power: so is Matter: Mind is constantly functioning in the form of Vṛtti. Reasoning, Will and Feeling (Bhāva) such as love, aversion, and so forth are all aspects of Mindpower in its general sense. Force is power translated to the material plane, and is therefore only one and the grossest aspect of Śakti or power. But all these special powers are limited forms of the great creative Power which is the Mother (Ambikā) of tfhe Universe. Worship of Śakti is not worship of these limited forms, but of the Divine will, knowledge and action, the cause of these effects. That Mahāśakti is perfect consciousness (Cidrūpinī) and Bliss (Ānandamayī) which produces from Itself the contracted consciousness experiencing both pleasure and pain. This production is not at all a “whim.” It is the nature (Svabhāva) of the ultimate.

Bliss is Love (Niratiśayapremāspadatvam ānandatvam). The production of the Universe is according to the Śākta an act of love, illustrated by the so-called erotic imagery of the Śāstra. The Self loves itself whether before, or in, creation. The thrill of human love which continues the life of humanity is an infinitesimally small fragment an faint reflection of the creative act in which Śiva and Śakti join to produce the Bindu which is the seed of the Universe.

I quite agree that the worship of mere Force is Āsurik and except in a tradient sense futile. Force, however, may be moralized by the good purpose which it serves. The antithesis is not rightly between Might and Right but between Might in the service of Right and Might in the service of Wrong. To worship force merely is to worship matter. He however who worships the Mother in Her Material forms (Sthūlarūpa) will know that She has others, and will worship Her in all such forms. He will also know that She is beyond all limited forms as that which gives being to them all. We may then say that Force is a gross form of Śakti, but Śakti is much more than that “here” (Iha), and the infinite Power of Consciousness “there” (Amutra). This last, the Śakti of worship, is called by the Śāstra the Pūrnāhambhāva or the experience “All I am.”

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