Some of you may have noticed that we've changed our club picture of Tara. The reason is, several Goddess devotees objected to its overtly "sexual" nature -- and since we want of all Her devotees to feel comfortable here, we respected their concerns.
I'm particularly gratified that people came forward to express their feelings on this issue. Often, when a member dislikes a particular image or discussion of Devi, they simply quit the club and disappear. This has happened several times in recent months -- for example, when we chose Lajja Gauri (an elemental form of Parvati, usually shown nude in birthing position, with full genital display) and when a member attempted to post excerpts from the Yoni Tantra (an ancient guide in which Shiva advocates the complex ritual worship of a human woman's genitals as the supreme form of Goddess worship).
Ultimately, the whole debate comes down to the tension between the two main (and often intertwining) threads of Shaktism -- pure Bhakti (devotional worship of Goddess) vs. Tantric worship techniques. For many non-Tantric devotees, any hint of sexuality in one's conceptualization of Devi is blasphemy, pure and simple. A while back, I tried to explain and defend the approach of our Tantra-oriented members; and those of you who want to hear that side of the story can read that (or any number of other defenses by various members, scattered throughout the Message archive).
For now, I'm interested in giving "equal time" to the pure Bhakti viewpoint. And so I was glad to find (in Cobern's "Encountering the Goddess") the following passage, in which a Bengali bhakta explains why he believes Devi should be approached *only* as Mother. It should be noted that the Bengalis -- natives of West Bengal in northeastern India; heirs to a highly sophisticated culture and extremely fine and subtle literary and artistic tradition -- are particularly drawn to the Goddess in their religious observances.
The bhakta expressing his views here is C. R. Banerjea, a schoolteacher. He begins by repeating Ramakrishna's coy old criticism of Shakara -- a Bhakta's indictment of a Tantric -- for "wanting to become sugar rather than to taste it." (Although it should be noted that Ramakrishna, though primarily a Kali bhakta, was also an initiated Tantric.)
Banerjea then expresses a concern that Tantrics have "smuggled" a concern with knowledge (jnana) into a devotional (bhakti) context. Banerjea believes these two separate paths of yoga should not be combined. While acknowledging that the Goddess is indeed knowledge itself, he warns that She is also Mahamaya, the Great Illusion -- and that she is, thus, something beyond mere knowledge.
To try and approach Her merely by the path of knowledge is to risk dire entanglement in illusion and ignorance -- the devotional route is the only safe and effective approach to Devi.
Banerjea says, "She is the highest knowledge (Paravidya), beyond Brahman (Ultimate Reality)," and so she must be approached with pure devotion and love -- or as he phrases it, with "an affection that lies in your heart and grows a little day by day."
And now to the most important point: The devotee's love, Banerjea clarifies, *must* be the love of a child for its Mother. For members who aren't aware of this, in mainstream Hinduism, bhakti (devotion) is said to take several forms, depending upon the bhakta's (devotee's) temperament: The most common approaches are the devotion of a subject for its ruler; a servant for its master; a child for its parent; an intimate friend for her/his friend; and a lover for her/his lover.
However, Banerjea counters that only *one* of these approaches is appropriate for Shakta (Goddess worship) -- and that is the devotion of a child for its Mother. Furthermore, the final approach -- in which the devotee would consider Devi to be a lover -- is especially improper:
"The Goddess is, above all else, Mother. Anything that smacks of eroticism in relation to her is clearly wrongheaded, and potentially dangerous. The 'Devi Mahatmyam' itself demonstrates this danger, for the third episode teaches, among other things, that those who approach the Mother as consort or as lover must die."
So: Now you have both sides of the story -- or at least a broad introduction to the argument. So let me put the question to all of our members:
Should Devi only be approached as Mother? If so, why? Is Banerjea's argument correct? If not, why? How do you approach Devi and why?
Any and all replies to any or all of these questions will be most welcome and appreciated!
Aum Maatangyai Namaha
Should Devi only be approached as Mother?
No - Even though that is how I relate to Kali
If so, why?
Each must follow their own path to Mother's Lotus feet. She and the devotee should not be interferred with.
Is Banerjea's argument correct?
If not, why?
He is correct to state how he is to approach Her, but not how other's percieve the path to Her Throne of Grace.
How do you approach Devi and why?
As She unfolds the path in you heart. She is consciousness in all it forms.
A member wrote, "I have never seen the divine mother being approached as one's mystical lover - the way Krishna is worshipped by the gopis of Brindavan or Smt. Radharani! ... The only devotee who approaches the divine mother as a divine lover is LORD SHIVA HIMSELF."
That does, indeed, fall into line with Banerjea's opinion -- and Silent Soul's. Baba notes that he doesn't see a problem with the bhakti of lover, but that he would not attempt it himself. I would say the same.
But is that really the issue here? Aren't those members who have been offended by "sexual" portrayals of the Goddess missing the point? Sure, a nude Tara engaged in copulation with Shiva is pretty explicitly sexual. But one doesn't have to delve very far into the philosophy of Tantra to understand that this arresting symbolism has *nothing at all* to do with sex in any human understanding of the term.
Portrayals of the Goddess nude or engaged in copulation are meditative images designed to shock the devotee out of her/his preconceptions; not to indulge sexual passion, but to overcome and sublimate it, taking that earthbound energy and directing it instead upward to spiritual goals.
More certainly, very few bhaktas would presume -- or dare -- to develop a lover's bhakti with Devi. But Tantrics seek no dualistic relationship at all -- they seek to become ONE with Devi, riding the spiritual force of Her desire to the Ultimate Union.
Am I oversimplifying the issue or does that make sense? If one looks at an ancient, highly symbolic, sexually charged image of the Goddess (even coital or genital display, etc) and sees only pornography, hasn't one totally missed the point?
I think they have, but I do understand that explicit Tantric imagery is a bit much for many people, and I don't want to force the issue just for the sake of provocation and controversy. But it's obviously a major "unspoken issue" in Shakta, and as such I think it merits discussion.
So please, all member comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.
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