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 XXXI - Conclusions

BRAHMANISM or Hinduism, as in its later developmnent the former has been called, is not merely a religion. It is a Socio-Economic System, the foundation of which is the Law of Caste and Stages of Life.[1] That System has its culture of which several forms of Religion, resting on a certain common basis, are but a part. Dealing, however, with Brahmanism in its religious aspect, we may say that it, together with Jainism and Buddhism, are the three chief religions of India, as opposed to those of the Semitic orgin. All three religious systems share in common certain fundamental concepts which are denoted by the Sanskrit terms Karma, Saṃsāra and Mokṣa. These concepts constitute a common denominator of Indian Belief as next stated.

The Universe is in constant activity.[2] Nothing which is Psycho-physical is at rest. Karma is Action. The Psycho-Physical as such is determined by Karma or action, and therefore, man’s present condition is determined by past Karma, either his own, or that of collectivities of men of which he is a member, or with which he is in relation, as also by the action of natural causes. In the same way, persent Karma determined the future Karma. The doctrine of Karma is thus the affirmance of the Law of Causality operating not only in this but in an infinity of Universes.

As you sow so shall you reap. The present Universe is not the first and last only. It is true that this particular Universe has a beginning and an end called dissolution,[3] for nothing composite is eternal; but it is only one of a series which has neither beginning nor end. There has been, is now, and ever will be an Universe.

Mental action as desire for worldly enjoyment, even though such enjoyment be lawful, keeps man in the Worlds of repeated Birth and Death, or (to use the English term) of Reincarnation. These worlds the Greeks called the Cycle of Becoming,[4] and Hindus the Saṃsāra, a term which literally means the unending moving on or wandering, that is, being born and dying repeatedly.[5] These worlds comprise not only Earth but Heaven and Hell, in which are reaped the fruits of man’s actions on Earth. Heaven and Hell are states of enjoyment and suffering which exist here on earth as well as in the after-death state as the result of man’s good and bad actions returning. When man dies there is no resurrection of the gross body. That is resolved into its subtle elements, and the specific relation between man and a particular gross body comes to an end. But there is always some body until bodiless liberation[6] is achieved. On death man in his subtle body enjoys the state called Heaven or suffers in that called Hell. Neither is eternal, but each a part of the Cycle of the Becoming. When, then, man has had Heavenly enjoyment or suffered the pains of Hell in his subtle body, in the after-death state, according to his merits or demerits, he is ‘reincarnated’ in a gross body on Earth. He continues thus to be ‘reincarnated’ until he has found and desires the way out from the Cycle, that is, until he ceases to desire world-existence. His desire is then not only for release from the sufferings and limited happiness of the Cycle but also (according to Vedānta) for the attainment of the Supreme Worth [7] which is Supreme Bliss. There is, in short, a change of values and states. Man, as Nietzsche said, is something to. be transcended. He cannot transcend his present state so long as he is attached to and desires to remain in it. This liberation from the Cycle is called Mokṣa or Mukti. For all Three Systems are at one in holding that, notwithstanding the Law of Causality, man is free to liberate himself from the Cycle. Causality governs the Psycho-physical. Spirit as such is Freedom from the Psycho-physical. All three Systems assume a State of Liberation.

Whether the Universe as a play of force is the work of a Personal God is a question which Philosophers have disputed both in the East and the West. One set of Buddhists [8] professed belief in Deity as the Lord. Another[9] affirmed Svabhāva which means the proper vigour of Nature and what is called creation is truly spontaneity resulting from powers inherent in the Psycho-physical substance eternally.[10]

Māyāvāda Vedānta reconciles to a great extent these two views by its doctrine that the Personal Brahman or the Lord is the self-less absolute Brahman as conceived by the Psycho-physical expericncer, though the latter ss the Absolute exclusive of all relations is not the former. In Śākta doctrine Brahnian is the Lord or Creator and Director of the Universe but in its own nature is more than that.

Whether there is or is not a Personal God or Lord[11] as held by some systems), belief in such a Lord is no essential portion of the Common Doctrine. Both Jainism and Buddhism are atheistic in the sense of being Lordless,[12] though the latter system, in some forme of the later Northern schools, takes on a theistic colour. In fact, the notion of a Personal God is no essential part even of Brahmanism itself. For, putting aside downright atheists in the Western sense, such as the Indian Cārvakas and Lokāyetas who denied God, Soul, immortality and future life, it is to be observed that some schools[13] posit no such Lord whilst others[14] do.

Two other concepts of first rate importance are Dharma and its correlative Adharma. These two terms, in the Brahmanic sense, mean right activity and its opposite. They are therefore connected with Karma of which they are two species. The term Dharma comes from the root Dhri which means to uphold and maintain, for right activity does that. All three systems posit right[15] and wrong[16] activity and their results as well-being and suffering respectively. Dharma is thus the Law of Being as Form. Morality is part of man’s nature. It may therefore be said that the substance of the Brahmanic concept is held by all. Dharma as a technical term is not here included amongst the common concepts, because, its sense varies in Buddhism in which it has its own peculiar meaning, whilst in Jainism the word means something wholly different from what it does in any other system.[17]

Each of the common concepts must be interpreted in the case of any particular Indian faith in terms of its own peculiar tenets as regards these concepts and other matters such as the Reality[18] and Dissolution[19] of the Universe, Karma[20] and Liberation. Thus, the latter is defined differently in Buddhism, Jainism and in the various Brahmanical schools. According to all systems, Liberation is described as the release from the bondage of Birth and Death, Limitation and Suffering. In some systems[21] it is not positively said to be Joy,[22] but is described as a pure painless state of That which, in association with mind and matter, manifests as the empirical self. The Jainas regard it as a state of happiness. Some Buddhist descriptions are to the same effect, but in general Buddhism deprecates the discussion of so inconceivable a state. The Vedānta, on the other hand, positively describes it to be unalloyed and unending Joy so that the nature of such Joy, whether as arising through the identification of the individual self with the Supreme Self or in association therewith, is variously affirmed by the non-dualist, qualified non-dualist and dualist Brahmanic Schools.

Brahmanism adds to these concepts of the Cycle, (Saṃsāra), right and wrong action (Dharma, Adharma), Causality (Karma), and Liberation (Mokṣa), that of the Ātman.

All recognized Brahmamic systems affirm the Ātman, though they differ on the question of its nature[23] as also whether it is one[24] or many.[25] It is on this question whether there is or is not an Atman that the Brahmanic[26] and Buddhistic Schools are in dispute. The point in issue as formulated from the standpoint of Vedānta may be shortly stated to be as follows:—

Every one admits the existence of a psycho-physical Flux either as the Individual or the Universe of his experience. Indeed, one of the Sanskrit names of the world is Jagat, which means “the moving thing.” For the Universe is in constant activity. At every moment there is molar or molecular change. As an object of sensible perception the Universe is transitory; though some things endure longer or shorter than others. The question is, then, whether, besides psycho-physical transience, there is a spiritual enduring Essence of the Universe and of man, which manifests in the latter as the empirical self whereby knows itself as permanent amidst all its changeful experiences. The Buddhists are reputed to have held that there is nothing but the flow. Man is only a continually changing psychophysical complex without a static centre, a series of momentary mental and bodily states, necessarily generated one from the other in continuous transformation. In this Flux there is no principle of permanence on which “as on a thread”[27] the worlds as beads are strung. Man may have the notion that he is a Self, but this does not, it is said, prove that there is an Ātman as ‘substratum’ of such empirical self. To this Vedānta asks—If so, who is it that is born and dies and re-incarnates? It then answers its question by saying that the embodied self[28] is born and dies, but that the Ātman as such is not a Self and is neither born nor does it die. Birth and Death are attributed to it when it appears in connection with psycho-physical bodies. It is the embodied Ātman which is born and dies. The Ātmam as it is in its own bodiless natum is unborn and eternal.

Change and changelessness are term of logical, that is, dualistic thinking, and have no meaning except in relation to one another. All activity implies a static condition, relative to which it is active. There can be no Universe except by the combination of the active and non-active. Without activity the Universe does not become. Without some principle of stability it cannot exist even for a moment as an object of the senses. The alogical Ātman as such eternally endures. The Universe as the Psycho-physical is the product of the Ātman as Power. As such product it is transient. It presents, however, the appearance of relative or limited stability because of the immanence of the Ātman. The Ātman manifests as the relatively stable and empirical self, and That which manifests as such self is also the Brahman as essence of the Universe which is the object of such self. For Atman and Brahman are one and the same.

According to the second standard, Ātman is the seat of consciousness. In the Vedānta, however, Ātman is consciousness itself. Whatever may have been its origin, as to which nothing is of a certainty known (Mother Goddess Worship is as old as the world), Śākta doctrine is now a form of Vedānta which map be called Śakti-vāda, or Śākta Vedānta.

Kulārṇava Tantra speaks of that “Monism of which Śiva speaks” (Advaitantu Śivenoktam, I. 108). See also Mahānirvāṇa Tantra, Chapter II, 33–34, III, 33–35, 50–64; Prapañcasāra Tantra, II, XTX, XXIXAdvaitabhāvopaniṣad. For the identity of Jīvātmā and Paramātmāin liberation (Mukti), which the Vedāntasāra defines to be Jīvabrāhmanoh aikyam, see Mahānirvāṇa Tantra, VIII, 264, 265; V, 105). See also Prapañcasāra Tantra, II, where Hrīṃ is identified with Kuṇḍalī and Haṃsaṃ, and then with “So’ham.” See also ib., Chapter XXIV: “That which is subtle I am” (Yah Sukṣmah So’ham); and Jñānārṇava Tantra, XXI, 10. As to Brahmāsmi, see Kulārṇava Tantra, IX, 32, and ib., 41: So’ham bhāvena pujayet. The Śākta disciple (Sādhaka) should not be a dualist (Mahārudrayāmala, I Khanda, Chapter 16; II Khanda, Chapter 2). Similarly, the Gandharva Tantra, Chapter 2, says that he must be devoid of dualism (Dvaitahīna) (see Prāṇatoṣiṇī, 108). In fact, that particular form of worship which has earned the Kaula Tantras their ill name is a practical application of Advaitavāda. Kaulācāra is said to properly follow a full knowledge of Vedāntik doctrine. As the Ṣaṭcakranirūpaṇa (see “Serpent Power”) says, the Jīvātmā or embodied spirit is the same as the Paramātmā or Supreme Spirit, and knowledge of this is the root of all wisdom (Mūlavidyā).

Śākta Vedānta teaches its doctrine from the practical standpoint which Māyāvāda calls Vyavahārika. It lays stress on the concept of Power. Ātman is not mere Being only. Even in the dissolution of the world Being is Power, though Power or Śakti is then consciousness as such (Cidrūpini). Ātman manifests as the universe by and out of its power. Ātman and Power are never separated, and so it is said that “there is no Śiva without Śakti or Śakti without Śiva.” Śiva without Power is but a “corpse.” Both Śiva and Śakti are of the same nature since they are both Being-Consciousness-Bliss. But Power manifests as the Becoming or Psycho-physical universe. Power is both Power to Be, to self-conserve, and resist change, as well as Power to Become the universe and as material cause the universe itself. Power to Be is the static aspect of Śiva-Śakti. Power to Become is the changeful aspect of Śiva-Śakti.

In Māyāvāda the world is said to be produced by the Power of the Lord—or Īśvara. But whilst Īśvara is Brahman or Godhead as conceived by the Psycho-physical experiencer, Brahman, on the other hand, is not Īśvara. The former is beyond (in the sense of, exclusive of) all relations with the universe, and so, though wrongly, some people call Īśvara “Unreal” and the universe created by Him an ‘illusion.’ According to Śaktivāda, not only is Īśvara Brahman, but Brahman is Īśvara, and no question of the reality of either Īśvara or the world arises. We may, however, say at once that Godhead is real, God is real and the universe is real. The use of the term ‘illusion’ only tends to mislead even in Mayāvāda. According to the concise definition of Kamalakanta, a celebrated Sādhaka, Māyāis the ‘Form of the Formless’ (Śūnyasya ākara iti Māyā). The world is the Divine Mother in form. As She is in Herself She is formless.

Discussion on the subject of the reality of the World is often vain and tedious, because, the word ‘Real’ has several meanings, and that in which it is used is not stated. The terms “Absolute” and “Transcendental” should also be clearly defined. The distinction between Māyā-vāda and Śakti-vāda hinges on these definitions.

Both “Absolute” and “Transcendental” mean “beyond relation.” But the term “beyond” may be used in two senses: (a) exceeding or wider than relation; (b) having no relation at all. The first does not deny or exclude relation, but says that the Absolute, though involving all relations within Itself, is not their sum-total; is not exhausted by them; has Being transcending them. The latter denies every trace of relation to the Absolute; and says that the Abaolute must have no intrinsic or extrinsic relation; that relation, therefore, has no place in the Being of the Absolute.

Śakti-vāda adopts the first view, Māyā-vāda the second. From the first point of view, the Absolute is relationless Being as well as Manifestation as an infinity of relations. This is the true and complete Alogical-Whole. Inaumuch as thc Absolute exceeds all relation and thought, we cannot say that It is the Causethat It is the Root, of Creation; and so forth; but inasmuch also as It does involve relation and thought, we can say that It is the First Cause; that there has been a read creation, and so forth.

The Māyā-vāda view by negating all relation from the reality of Brahman negates from its transcendent standpoint the reality of causation, creation, and so forth.

“Beyond” may, therefore, mean (1) “exceeding,” “fuller than,” “not exhausted by,” or (2) excluding, negating, expunging. By diagrams:—

In Śakti-vāda, the Supreme Reality is fuller than any definition (limitation) which may be proposed. It is even beyond duality and non-duality. It is thus the Experience-Whole, the Alogical. The Māyā-vāda Pure Brahman is an aspect of It: but It is not the Whole (Pūrna).

The expression “wider than relation” may be thus illustrated: I am related in one way to my wife; in another way to my children; in yet another way to my brothers, friends, and so on. I am not fully expressed by any one of these relations, nor even by their aggregatefor, as a member of an infinite Stress-system, I bear an infinity of relations. Pragmatically, most of these are ignored, and it is thought that I am expressed by a certain set of relations which distinguish me from another person who has his own “set.” But Brahman as Absolute can have no such “Set.” It is expressed, but not fully expressed, even by the infinite set of relations whieh the cosmos is, because relations, finite or infinite, imply a logical, and therefore segmenting and defining thought; but Brahman as Absolute = Experience-Whole = the Alogical.

Since Brahman = Experience-Whole = Cit as Power-to Be-and-Become, it is nothing like the unknown and unknowable Being (“Thing-in-Itself”) of Western Sceptics and Agnostics.

In all Indian Systems, the world is real, in the sense that it has objective existence for, and is not a projection of, the individual mind. In all such Systems, Mind and Matter co-exist, and thie is so even in that form of Ekajīvavāda which holds that Brahman by Its own veiling and limiting Power makes one Primary Self of Itself, and that all other selves are but reflexes of the Primary Self, having as reflexes no existence apart from that of the Primary one. The world of matter is not a projection of an individual mind, but its reality is co-ordinate with that of the individual mind, both being derived from the Self-veiling and Self-limiting operation of Brahnmn appearing as the One Jīva or Primary Self. Brahman, in appearing as Primary Self, also appears as its (logical) Correlate or Pole—the Not-Self; and this Not-Self is the Root-Matter on which the Primary Self is reflected as multiple selves and their varied relations. Matter, in this fundamental wnse, is not therefore the product of the first or primary individual (Self); it is with Self the co-effect (logically speaking) of a common fundamental activity which is the veiling and limiting action of the Supreme Being.

The version commonly given of Ekajīva-vāda—namely, that the one Primary Self is Me, and that You, He and the rest, and the world of objects are the projection of Me— is loose and unpsychological. In the first place, Me cannot be there (logically conceiving) without its Correlate or Pole—the Not-Me; so that, by the very act by which Me is evolved from Brahman, its Correlate is also evolved, and this Correlate is Root-Matter. In the second place, projection, reflexion, and so forth presuppose not only the projecting or reflecting Being (that which projects or reflects), but also something on which the projection or reflection is cast. Projection out of nothing and projection into nothing will give us only nothing.

Where then there is Matter there is Mind. Where there is no Matter there is no Mind. One is meaningless without the other. Each is every whit as real as the other. But there is no Indian system which is Realist in the sense that it holds that Mattor exist when there is no Mind to perceive it. Such a state is inconceivable. He who alleges it, himself supplies the perceiving Mind. In the First Standard,[29] Mind[30] and the so-called “atoms”[31] of Matter are separate, distinct and independent Reals.[32] Matter does not derive from Mind nor the latter from the former. In the Second Standard,[33] both Matter and Mind are equally real, but derive from a common source the Psycho-physical Potential[34] which as such is neither. ‘Psychic’ here means Mind as distinct from Consciousness in the sense of Cit. This Psycho-physical Potential is a Real[35] independent of Consciousness which is the other Real. In the Third Standard as non-dual Vedānta the position is the same, except that the Psycho-physical Potential is not an independent Real but is the power of the One Supreme Real as God. The world is then Real in the sense that it has true objective Reality for the individual Experiencers for the duration of their experience of it. No one denies this.

The next question is the problem of Monism. If ultimate reality be One, how can it be the cause of and become the Universe. It is said that Reality is of dual aspect, namely, as it is in relation to the World as Īśvara, the Lord or God, and as it is in itself beyond such relation which we may call Brahman. According to Māyāvāda, Īśvara is Brahman, for Īśvara is Brahman as seen through the Veil of Māyā, that is, by the Psycho-physical Experiencer. But Brahman is not Īśvara because Brahman is the absolute alogical Real, that is, Reality, not as conceived by Mind but as it is in itself beyond all relation. The notion of God as the Supreme Self is the highest concept imposed on the alogical which, as it is in itself, is not a Self either supreme or limited. The Absolute as such is not a cause. There is, transcendentally speaking, no creation, no Universe. The Absolute is and nothing happens. It is only pragmatically a Cause. There is from this aspect no nexus between Brahman and the World. In the logical order there is. What then is the Universe? It is in this connection that it is said by some to be an “illusion,” which is an inapt term. For to whom is it an “illusion”? Not to the Psycho-physical Experiencer to whom it is admittedly real. Nor is it an illusion for the Experience-Whole. It is only by the importation of the logical notion of a Self to whom an object is real or unreal that we can speak of illusion. But there is in this state of Liberation no Self.[36] More correctly we say that the World is Māyā. But what is Māyāin Māyāvbāa? It is not real, for it is neither Brahman nor an independent Real. Nor is it unreal for in the logical order it is real. It is neither Brahman nor different from it as an independent reality. It is unexplainable.[37] For this reason one of the scholastics of this System calls it the doctrine of the Inscrutable.

In the doctrine of Power (Śaktivāda), Māyā is the Divine Mother Power or Mahāmāya. The two aspects of Reality as Brahman and Īśvara are accepted. The Lord is real, but that which we call ‘Lord’ is more than Lord, for the Real is not adequately defined in terms only of its relations to the Universe. In this sense it is alogical, that is, “beyond Mind and Speech.” As the one ultimate Reality is both Īśvara and Brahman, in one aspect it is the Cause, and in the other it is not. But it is one and the same Reality which is both as Śiva-Śakti. As these are real so are their appearance, the Universe. For the Universe is Śiva-Śakti. It is their appearance. When we say it is their appearance we imply that there has been a real becoming issuing from them as Power. Reality has two aspects. First as it is in itself, and secondly as it exists as Universe. At base the Saṃsāra or worlds of Birth and Death and Mokṣa, or Liberation are One. For ŚivaŚakti are both the Experience-Whole and the Part which exists therein as the Universe. Reality is a concrete unity in duality and duality in unity. In practice the One is realized in and as the Many and the Many as the One. So in the Śākta Wine ritual the worshipper conceives himself to be Śiva-Śakti as the Divine Mother. It is She who as and in the person of the worshipper, Her manifestation, consumes the wine which is again Herself, the Saviouress in liquid form.[38] It is not only he who as a separate Self does so. This principle is applied to all Man’s functionings and is of cardinal importance from a Monistic standpoint notwithstanding its well-known abuse in fact.

Real is again used in the sense of eminence. The Real is that which is for itself and has a reason for its being in itself. The Real as God is the perfect and changeless and the “Good.”[39] The Universe is dependent on the Ens Realissimum, for it proceeds from it and is imperfect as limited and changeful and in a sense it is that which does not endure and in this senw is called ‘unreal.’ Though, however, the Universe comes and goes it does so eternally. The Supreme Cause is eternally creative. The Real is then both infinite Changeless Being as also unbeginning and unending process as the Becoming. In this system the Real both is and becomes. It yet becomes without derogation from its own changelessness, as it were a Fountain of Life which pours itself forth incessantly from an infinite and inexhaustible source. Both the infinite and finite are real.

Real is again used in the sense of intereut and value and of the ‘worth while.’ In this sense, the worshipper prays to be led from Unreality to Reality, but this does not mean that the world is unreal, but that it is not the supreme worth for him.

In whatever sense, then, the term Real is used the Universe is that. All is real for as Upani ṣad says, “All this Universe is verily Brahman.”[40] The Scriptural Text says “All.” It does not say “This” but not “That.” The whole is an alogical concrete Reality which is Unity in Duality and Duality in Unity. The doctrine does not lose hold of eit,her the One or the Many, and for this reason the Lord Śiva says in the Kulārṇava Tantra, “There are some who seek dualism and some non-dualism, but my doctrine is beyond both.” That is, it takes account of and reconciles both Dualism and Non-Dualism.

Reality is no mere abstraction of the intellect making jettison of all that is concrete and varied. It is the Experience-Whole whose object is Itself as such Whole. It is also Partial Experience within that Whole. This union of Whole and Part is alogical, not unknowable, for their unity is a fact of actual experience just as we have the unity of Power to Be and Power to Become, of the Conscious and Unconscious, of Mind and Body, of freedom and determination, and other dualities of Man’s experiencing.

Footnotes and references:


Varṇāśrama Dharma. For this reason it was commonly thought that an individual non-Hindu cannot become a Hindu because there is no place for him in the caste system. The Patna H. C. have, however, recently held that Hindu Law recognized conversion to Hinduism and conversion makes the person converted a Hindu in every sense, e.g., for marriage. (Thompson or Maharaja of Tikari.)


A Sanskrit term for world is Jagat or that which moves, since the Universe is in constant motion.


Pralaya. The Mīmāṃsādoctrine as to this is exceptional.


Kuklos tōn Geneseōn.




Videha Mukti.




The Aishvarika School.


Svabhāvikas. The first term means belief in a Lord and the second is derived from Svabhāva or own nature.


As Brian Hodgson has pointed out (Nepal 23).






Mīmāṃsā and Nirīśvarasāṃkhya.


Seśvara Sāṃkhya or Yoga School and the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and Vedānta.






In Jainism the word means a principle of motion (Dharma) as its opposite (Adharma) is the principle of rest.


Brahmanism and Jainism are opposed to Buddhistic subjectivism.


The views of the Mīmāṃsān Dissolution are peculiar to it.


Thus, Jainism speaks in its own peculiar was of the term ‘matter.’


Mīmāṃsā, Sāṃkhya-Yoga and Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika




In Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika it is the Seat of Consciousness, and in Sāṃkhya and Advaita Vedānta it is Consciousness.


As in Vedānta.


At the Ātmans and Puruṣas of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and Sāṃkhya-Yoga respectively.


The Jainans also combated the Buddhistic doctrine of Anātmā.


















In Sāṃkhya one; in Śaiva Darśana many.


As the Buddhists said, in Nirvāṇa even the knowledge that the phenomena have ceased to appear and are therefore unreal is not found. See Das Gupta: Indian Philosophy, p. 142.




Tārā Dravamayī.


The meaning of Śiva.


Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: