I am a Shakta, and for me, MAA (an informal word a child uses for its Mother, like “Mama”) is the representation of Infinite Being, of pure existence from which all things emerge.
Essentially, we are all MAA, we are all just in different phases/states/stages of realized awareness about the nature of Her existence. The best of gurus teach their disciples to listen to their own Atman (and how to listen, through sadhana) as the supreme guide, because Atman is not separate from Brahman/MAA/Infinite Being (these words are interchangeable), rather than relying on them totally. They may give us guidance and advice, but ultimately they will encourage us to first begin to hear, and then begin to listen to MAA directly. We must each come to our own realization, do our own sadhana, make our own mistakes, and release our own “I” in order to emerge from the darkness of non-awareness.
As Swami Vivekananda said, “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.” Learning to remove one’s hands from one’s eyes permanently requires practice and effective guidance.
As long as we are desiring Her, we cannot be one with Her, because to experience desire is to experience separation.
While it’s important to develop a regular spiritual practice to help us wake up to that awareness, and to clarify, focus, and tune the mind and body, it is just as important to let go of any attachment to the idea that we can somehow will our way to oneness. Having the insight or experience is one thing – holding onto it and focusing it in the right direction is another, as Abhinavagupta and others have reminded us in the Tantras and other sacred texts. One must learn to fully surrender and let go of the experience in order to master that place of oneness – that is, not to control or subdue it, but to abide there as a normal state of existence.
It’s a grand paradox – we can only realize oneness through consistent effort and desire, and yet it requires release of desire and effort to actually begin to experience that oneness. When we learn to continously live in that state, we recognize everything and everyone around us as not separate from ourselves, not separate from MAA (or Shiva, or God, or whatever your terminology for oneness). The beauty of difference – of the multiplicity of the reflected manifestation of supreme reality – becomes also the beauty of oneness.
Kamakhya is often identified with Maha Tripura Sundari, or Sodasi or Lalita as she is also known. In this sense, Kamakhya is beautiful and grants everything we desire. She doesn’t hold anything back from Her beloved children. People come to Her to grant them good marriages, children, healing from disease, increased wealth, and so on. Even in our small temple space, when people pray to MAA and touch the stone yoni pitham in which She resides, and pray with absolute sincerity, I have seen wonderful things happen for ordinary people, including myself – intense healing, wealth restored, clarity in relationships, and so on.
However, Kamakhya is also Kali, as revealed in Kalikapurana, Yoginitantra and Kamakhya Tantra. All three have some variation on this verse found in Kamakhya Tantra:
“Kamakhya, in truth, is none other than that goddess, Mother Kali, who exists in all things as the form of wisdom.”
That wisdom is the knowledge of Self. Kali gives us the means to attain that knowledge.
Through devotion to Her, Kamakhya as Maha Tripura Sundari (or Ṣoḍaśī) teaches us how to desire, and that is one side of it. Through fulfillment of our mundane and spiritual desires, we realize that there is something more. These desires can never be totally fulfilled – each desire births a new desire. We then eventually learn that we won’t be satisfied until we are completely merged with Her. We desire to be one with Her, and fully realize Infinite Being. However, as long as we are desiring Her, we cannot be one with Her, because to experience desire is to experience separation. To experience longing is to not experience oneness.
The word for this intense longing is viraha. The root of this word is rahas, which means a secret. It also means to make love – and this image of love-making is seen throughout the imagery of Shiva and Shakti, whose divine union is the spark of creation. It is also present in the image of Ardhanarishwara, the ultimate union of Shiva-Shakti which is represented by the complete merging of lover and beloved, perceiver and perceived, subject and object, Atman and Brahman.
The secret of that longing, that viraha, is to become one with Infinite Being. The image of lovemaking is a common metaphor used in classical mystical traditions such as Tantra, Sufism, and Kabbalah to symbolize merging the individual soul with Infinite Being – or, more accurately, to remove one’s illusion of separateness and therefore realize one’s inherent state as merged with Infinite Being. We are making love with Divinity constantly – but we must wake up to enjoy it! But in order to wake up fully, we must release our desire to do so, because we have to totally release even that small amount of separation.
To release that desire, we call upon Kali, who destroys desire, along with any sense of separation, the ahamkara (literally, the “I-maker”), often rather incorrectly referred to as “the ego” (more on that misnomer in another post – for now we’ll use ‘ego’ as convenient, if imperfect, shorthand). Kamakhya grants our ultimate desire as Kali by destroying desire, and the ego which generates desires. We must relinquish the feeling of doership – that is, the idea that ‘we’ (that is, the differentiated personal identity referred to as ‘I’) are even doing anything. Once one, through grace, has achieved supreme knowledge of the Self – that is, Infinite Being – there is nothing more that one can desire. The ultimate fulfillment of desire is also the cessation of desire, and that is the greatest gift of MAA Kamakhya, MAA Kali, and why She is the great Goddess who takes all forms, the supreme queen of the Gods, Mahamaya Parameshvari.
The only way to move through it is to surrender totally through your practice
To destroy the ego, one must be courageous, the vira or “hero” (this word isn’t related to viraha, but it is a wonderful sort of synchronicity). Being courageous doesn’t mean being totally and utterly free from fear. Nor does it mean being a badass, as we say in California. Rather, it means a willingness to face one’s fears and overcome them with honesty, humility, detachment, and courage. The process of making that journey is the practical concern and also the means of Tantra, regardless of the marg.
Practice – sadhana – in its variety of forms is important in all this for a number of reasons, and yet, you can’t force or will realization to happen. If you think you can, well… good luck with that!
The only way to move through it is to surrender totally through your practice, moving deeper into that surrender day by day, and wait patiently for the moment when you can begin to see the glimmers of light through the parting of the proverbial fingers currently held over your eyes.
Hopefully, in that moment, we will have all practiced enough with good guidance to release our desire to hold onto that moment, and accept this gift with grace and detachment.
These are my own experiences, and others may experience things differently. There is room for all of it. Jai MAA.
Photo credit: Yoni Pith after puja, Kulasundari Devi for Sri Kamakhya Mahavidya Mandir