Rick Archer recently interviewed Kavitha Chinnaiyan, M.D. on Buddha at the Gas Pump. The conversation revolved primarily around her first book, Shakti Rising: Embracing Shadow and Light on the Goddess Path to Wholeness
The interview opened with a short discussion on Direct vs Progressive, the topic of last fall’s SAND panel I was on. I found Kavitha’s approach sensible. Not sure why she was using a Buddhist term, but it seems a popular framing these days.
The 10 Mahavidya (great knowledge) are from Tantra and embodied by 10 goddesses. Key to understand is that the gods are embodiments of features of consciousness whereas goddesses are embodiments of the powers (Shakti) that drive creation. The first cannot function without the power of the second. In fact, consciousness itself does not arise without Shakti (liveliness).
As they discuss in the interview, these goddesses are usually portrayed with a destructive emphasis. The Wikipedia article on the topic would be a good example. There also is an emphasis on their names, forms, and stories rather than the wisdom they embody, the actual Mahavidya. “The Goddess Who Paralyzes Enemies” doesn’t point to the embodied Shakti. I found Kavitha’s approach more balanced so I wished they’d gone over more of them. But I enjoyed the discussion.
She observed that creation is just a show. What they kill is ignorance (ego identification), portrayed by the skulls. Destroy the shadow of ignorance to reveal the light. No one is killed as it is all me (mother) and all are my children.
My path is Vedic rather than Tantric so I have less expertise here. My experience has been of the Pancha Devata or 5 primary forms of God which arose progressively and spontaneously when needed to show me the next step. They embodied fundamentals in consciousness such as love, power, and action. The goddesses are what energizes these fundamentals, hence the gods all have “consorts.” (Think power behind the throne.)
This points to something else they discussed at several points – appropriate time. For example, Kavitha said it’s not necessary to worship yantras (geometric forms) as they appear when neural pathways change. I associate geometries with the Vijnanamaya kosha (intellect body) where relationship and structure are added to vibration as part of the movement into form.
This revealing is a function of clarity of consciousness or the sattva side of the equation rather than the development of stages of consciousness (Atman). They appear when there is sufficient refinement and purification to perceive on that level. The brain would indeed evolve to adapt.
Kavitha mentions an interesting point about Shri Yantra. The Shri Yantra was a higher teaching by the Shankaracharya at Jyotir Math. This is a seat of Vedanta and Sanatana Dharma, so it’s interesting they were practicing Tantra there (and may still be). The Shri Yantra is part of Mahavidya as implied above. The significance of this point? Several major teachers have come out of this math, including Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
She also spoke of Tantra’s 5 primary functions of nature: creating, sustaining, destroying, hiding, and revealing. The first three are also fundamental in the Vedic approach, embodied by Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva respectively (and their Shakti’s Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati respectively). This also relates to the 3 gunas.
The other 2 are interesting. Maya is the concealer in Vedic terms. Or from a consciousness perspective, Chhandas, the object side of the dynamics of consciousness. It has a concealing aspect until it’s recognized as consciousness, revealing it.
Kavitha observes that it’s not the masculine that needs to be addressed – it’s the shadow or dark aspects of Shakti. The veils on the Mahavidya.
She observed that aversion to self can lead to a desire to destroy it but we need a stable self to embody enlightenment. I quite agree. Like myself, she felt samadhi is fundamental. To go beyond the mind and touch our true nature is the key to spiritual growth.
The way Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism are currently taught, they take a Unity perspective (Shiva-Shakti union) with a Brahman backdrop. Pure divinity beyond Brahman is not recognized.
I realized this article is weak without an exploration of the 10 Mahavidya but the interview only touched on a few. What’s available on-line really doesn’t capture the knowledge so I got a copy of Shakti Rising.
I’ll write a follow-up article after I go over the book and research within. The book description mentions “each with a veiled face representing a destructive quality that perpetuates ignorance and suffering, and a true face representing the wisdom that stimulates profound transformation and liberation…” In other words, a dark and light side.
More to come.
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