Balance Between Faith And Reason
Group Discussion [ July 2004 ]

Devi Bhakta

Dear Mary Ann:

I want to thank you also for your stimulating and thought-provoking posts -- which have really driven this thread. [ See Discussion on The Symbolism of Khadgamala]

Personally, I'm always trying to negotiate the very dichotomy you're talking about: On the one hand, if we want to achieve any results in our sadhana, we cannot re-invent the wheel; we must trust in our faith and follow the path laid out by those women and men who have traveled before us. On the other hand, it seems rather foolish (and even cowardly) to simply accept everything on faith, because "that's the way it is" -- we must try to understand the hows and whys of that path; to think about the symbolism and what it possibly implies and/or perpetuates in relationships between flesh-and-blood human beings of whatever gender.

It's not easy, that is for certain. And I must agree that if, in a devotee's mind, Sword = Patriarchy; Coitus = Sexual Oppression; Power = Domination by Force, etc., then that devotee is facing some pretty serious mental obstacles to using the Khadgamala Stotram effectively. It might be wise to stick with other tools in their sadhana "toolbox" -- prayer, japa, seva, as you suggested.

Westerners approaching Hinduism find a system in which the symbolic values assigned to certain images differ both traditionally and historically from the values assigned in the West to the same symbols (take the swastika as one very obvious example). There are two choices: We can either accept the symbols with the values intended by the people who created them (in which case we can effectively use those symbols within the Hindu systems); or we can reject those symbolic values and replace them with our own values (in which case we must also create a new system within which to apply those symbols).

The best solution, I believe, is a compromise.

When practicing a given puja, ritual, japa, etc., we should accept it as we receive it. By this I don't mean that we are being sheep. It's more like learning a new language. If a native speaker tells us that X is the phrase for "How are you today?" we do not say, "Well, why does the verb go there? Why is it so gutteral? Why are there honorary and common forms of the word 'you'? It's elitist!" No ... you do not ask such questions IF you are serious about learning the language. You repeat it, accept it on faith until you have your sea legs in that language.

There's plenty of time to argue the logical lapses or biases in the language once you're comfortable using it. In fact, the more you meet the language on its own terms, the better your questions and arguments will become. And in the meantime you've picked up a useful new skill. If you'd have persisted in questioning every detail of the language early on, you might have found some diverting conversation, but at a terrific cost -- never gaining the many payoffs that come with speaking a new langauage. Same with Shakti Sadhana -- accept it on its own terms. See how it works, as is. Experience whether the symbols work as they're supposed to. Observe the effect on your mind. Then, once you've got the hang of it, you can authoritatively critique it from the inside.

Regarding your arguments about the socio-sexual implications of the symbols as they currently strike you intellectually -- they are certainly interesting, and very possibly valid. They deserve an open and vigorous airing. You have every right to work through these issues and to lay them before others -- to challenge their complacency. It is valuable work, especially in a social and intellectual context. But if you also want to realize positive and mind-expanding spiritual benefits, a certain amount of compartmentalism is required.

Remember, Tantric forms of Shakti Sadhana are very scientific: One's bhakti is channeled very systematically and focused very tightly in a ways that can seem unfamiliar and counterintuitive to someone raised in a Christian, Jewish or Muslim system. Once you've completed your formal japa or puja, you can express your social and intellectual impressions about Hindu symbology however you like -- in the course of your seva, whatever. But if you try to substitute intellectual critique for spiritual techniques in Tantra, you've hamstrung yourself from the get-go. You'll never learn the language, and you'll never gain the fluency that is necessary for truly effective internal adjustment and reform.

Finally, you note *** I am happy to read that all who worked to bring this "power tool" to the group members feel so strongly about its value. ***

In light of all the above, I would say that the way "other members feel about its value" is utterly irrelevant. Just as an unread book is just a block of paper; so is the Khadgamala. You cannot assess its value without first meeting it on its own terms. If, as noted above, the imagery is simply too objectionable to accept, then it is silly to waste your time on it. That doesn't necessarily mean you are "not ready," or "not competent." There is no stigma to not using the Khadgamala -- it is simply a shortcut, a "power tool" as I (perhaps unwisely?) noted. It's there for those who want or need it. Use whatever tools you like and feel comfortable with. It is not a competition. There is no right or wrong.

Aum Maatangyai Namamhe

Sankara Menon

But people forget one thing, the symbolism varies from culture to culture. In Ibo (a nigerian tribe) Usha means bitch. In Sanskrit it is a beautiful discription of the rising sun.So lets not import western imagery into eastern philosophy. Thats my humble opinion.

Mary Ann

I appreciate everyone's posts on the K. Stotram. When I said I'm happy that the people who worked on the project value it so much, I meant I'd rather go to a restaurant where the people who prepare the food take care and pride and put love and creativity into the making of the food - even if I choose not to it because they use dairy and I'm avoiding dairy.

For me, the sword making one "lord of the cosmos" and the coitus imagery just do not call me to this particular stotram other than to question it as I have. Desires to be lord of the Cosmos and have a lot of coitus basically make Hollywood (and Bollywood?) go 'round :) No disrespect intended. Just an observation. I don't feel the meaning of those words or imagery is much different between East and West.

For me, it's bhajans/music, seva, mantra, yoga, books, Amma, and all of you.

Sankara Menon

Its OK. If you are not comfertable let go thats not for you. That is a basic tenet of all Sadhana.

But I would not agree to the superimposition of western ideas on eastern concepts. Thats not correct. All the misinterpretations of Hinduism arose in the past because of the superimposition of western ideas and symbols to eastern concepts. I can go on and on about the coitus aspect. But that will be of no use in this issue.

As our homepage says

"Make information available. Let people take it or leave it, think it is true or false. It doesn't matter. All that matters is: Are you convinced that this is the way? Let people judge you as they think fit. Tell them: 'Come here if you like. Don't come if you don't like. Only try to see for yourself. Don't blindly accept what others say."

Thats what the creators of this page did. It is for those who want it. Others are welcome to ignore it.

Mary Ann: let me make it clear; you are entitled to your views. I respect you for that even if I disagree. Lets agree to disagree and get along. You accept those that are acceptable; reject what you do not. Let us be co-travellers on the path without conflict.

Let us laugh together when we are happy and share the happiness and cry together and comfort each other when in distress. THAT is sadhana. Ultimatly all these will just make us empathic.

Maybe we will talk privately on the coitus symbolism. (not to convert for I do not seek that) but to share.


I would go even further and simply say that concretising symbols into absolute meanings is what mars their interpretation.

Symbols represent energy. The swastika is a prime example of this you can see it in the whirling atoms, the spinning earth, plantery orbits and the image of a spiral galaxy.

From the very small to the very great it emerges as a symbol of the universes power. It is also AUM and I see it used as AUM a lot.

Pure spiritual symbols are universal and found everywhere. Man-made symbols and associations are another matter.

What you refer to as "western" symbols and ideas are really Christian ideas/symbols and probably don't pertain to most of us here- I hope!

Things based off of geometry and natural phenomenon are universal. It's human limitation which blocks us from seeing it. Same thing with deity images, the spiritual world is a mirror where if one sees muck, than they are muck!

Mary Ann

"Breathe in and confirm your trust in your awakened nature, your capacity for calm and compassion. ... God may be a notion for some, but God as the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and compassion is not a notion. For me the energies of peace, wisdom, and stability are the energies of God, of Holy Spirit. When we generate peace, loving-kindness, and understanding in ourselves, we are generating the energy of God within us. ... Mindfulness in action enables you to overcome all dangers." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Creating True Peace - Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World

I cannot know what it feels like to be from the East and to experience the superimposition of Western concepts onto Eastern ones in ways that distort and disregard what is true for those in the East. I hope I have not offended anyone with my comments.

I am under the impression that some symbols are universal, that the human collective unconscious contains ancient symbols we all instinctively or intuitively understand. Do you think this is a mistaken notion?


Mary Ann wrote : I am under the impression that some symbols are universal, that the human collective unconscious contains ancient symbols we all instinctively or intuitively understand. Do you think this is a mistaken notion?

Naturally, there are symbols unique to an individual, ethnicity, location - and there are universal symbols shared by all the humanity. No mistake here.

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