Kali: Mother of Time

KALI is the Mother of Time. One of the meanings of the word “Kala,” the root of Kali’s name, is “time.”

Time is something we can’t conquer as humans. No matter how strong, wealthy, or clever we are, time devours us in the end. It comes for us relentlessly, devouring our lives as children, as adults in middle age, and finally devours life itself in our old age when we die. But Kali devours time itself – She is beyond time.

This fearsome external form is in service of vanquishing the demons of ignorance and desire.

By devouring the seeds of desire and karmic action, She frees us to recognize our inherent divinity.

In this sense, it’s easy to see why Kali has such a terrifying external form. It can be frightening to face our own mortality, to think about our lives slipping away second by second. Whether we are healthy or whether we are dealing with disease, death is a reality for us all. But what is really the cause of our fear? What is it that dies? In reality, we are not separate from Her. When we die, our consciousness merges with Her. In death, our bodies merge with Her as we decay into the Earth, which is no less than Her own body. No part of us is separate from Her.

To the ego, which fuels the illusion of separation, and which is attached to this life and this body, unaware of the limitless wonder of oneness with Her, She can be truly terrifying! There is no stopping Her. She vanquishes everything we are attached to as humans – every desire, every action, even life itself.

Just as shadows are made and also destroyed by sunlight, Kali is the shining center, the master of illusion. This fearsome external form is in service of vanquishing the demons of ignorance and desire. By devouring the seeds of desire and karmic action, She frees us to recognize our inherent divinity. Kali is the shadow – her name also means “black mother” or could also be translated as “the mother of the darkness” – but She is also the source of light that casts the shadow. Kali is the sun and the moon, the night and the day. She is all of existence, and through this She shows us that it’s not enough to face the darkness. We are born into this world through the dark womb of our mothers, but at some point, to be alive we must be born and stretch our limbs and open our eyes to the light of day.

kali10Kali devours the ego in order to remind us that we are not separate from Her. Our bodies, the earth, our mind, our spirit – all of this is the emanation of the Divine Mother. The ego tries to hide that reality, because to recognize it fully would be to render the ego meaningless… and the ego really, really wants to survive! The more we resist, the harder it gets. And we can talk about darkness and light, but these are all only plays of language for limited understanding. Kali is beyond dualism, just as She is beyond time. There is no shadow, no light. Only Kali.

The only way to overcome this fear is to surrender. In surrendering to the Divine Mother, we see immediately that this force is the intense Love of the universe itself, the process of life in all its cycles and manifestations. We see our place in it, both in the limited ways our bodies engage with this lifetime, and in the cosmic whole beyond time itself.

Sadhana (spiritual practice) is rewarding but difficult, especially over time. Time causes us to face our demons – feelings of boredom, entitlement, greed, inadequacy, confusion, and more. If we remain consistent and work through these issues, time can turn into an ally.

It may be reassuring to know that this process hasn’t been easy for anyone, and everyone has their own limitations and challenges, even the greatest sadhakas and saints. What may seem difficult to you may be easy for someone else, but what may be easy for you may be quite impossible for someone else. Yet even as time reveals challenges, it also helps us develop strengths. Clinging to Kali through all of it, surrendering to Her and to the process, can be helpful, indeed.

It may also be reassuring to know that we can’t force it. Time exists and moves forward, and all we can do is flow along with it. The spiritual life is the same. We can’t force spiritual liberation. We can’t will it to happen, any more than we can will time to stop moving. Strong sadhana provides a safe framework for surrender. Surrender and practice, practice and surrender – this is all we can do. The rest comes when we are ready, in time, no sooner and no later. There is no substitute for hard work, and there are no short cuts.

This is where it helps to have good guidance, especially if you wish to pursue any kind of formal sadhana. However, worshipping Kali as a bhakta (devotee) requires nothing more than simple guidance and a strong and sincere heart. Mother Kali teaches us sometimes very difficult lessons, but She also accepts all worship from Her beloved children. When She is approached with simple devotion, without fear or reservation, She showers Her children with blessings, protection and love.

Learn a mantra for worshipping Kali »

Featured artwork credit: Kali, Ragarajpur, Orissa, artist unknown. Courtesy of Kulasundari Devi.