My name is Joy, I've just joined. I am attracted to the goddess aspect of any religion. This one for certain because it's roots are strong. I was wondering if anyone could give me some tips on where to start....
If you were to recommend a "first five things to read" to a new (Western) group member who is not knowledgeable about Hinduism, what would those five things be?
First Five Books: Shakti Sadhana
1. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism" by Linda Johnsen I hate the "Idiot" format, but this is an exceptionally good, accurate introduction, in an easy-to-understand format. And it's really no use trying to understand Shaktism without first having a reliable grasp on Hinduism.
2. The Bhagavad Gita
I know, I know. It's not a Shakta text. But (a) Shaktism is a part of Hinduism; and (b) only scholars and theorists are interested in drawing hard-and-fast lines of deliniation between the different schools. Relax and sink into this gorgeous masterpiece of world literature and religion. I like Juan Mascaro's translation best for capturing the spirit and poetry of the original, though there are more literally accurate texts.
3. The Ramayana
Again, this is essential for getting your bearings. You have no business mouthing off about Hinduism unless you've made at least an attempt at reading the Epics (Ramayana is one; Mahabharata is the other, of which Bhagavad Gita is a tiny section). Every Hindu -- regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status -- knows at least the basic stories from childhood. The most user-friendly, length-friendly version of Ramayana for introducing a Westerner is R. K. Narayan's.
4. The Devi Mahatmyam
Having gotten some feel for the larger Hindu context, you can now start getting into Shaktism proper. The very best version I've seen -- with parallel Sanskrit, Roman transliteration, English translation, and clear explanatory commentary -- just came out last year: "In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning," by Devadatta Kali.
5. "Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition," by David Kinsley. After reading all of the above, check out this book to expand your fluency in Hinduism's feminine pantheon. THEN you can move on the the stuff like TRIPURA RAHASYA, DEVI GITA, SUNDARALAHARI, the various Tantras, etc.
That is a good question. Here are my top 5 not a very systematic list or approach but they will provide good information:
1. Tripura Rahasya Tantra
2. The World as Power (J. Woodruff)
3. Devi Gita
4. Tantra The Path of Ecstasy (G. Feurstein)
5. Shakti the Power in Tantra (R. Tigunait)
I had a brief discussion with Bhasuranda Natha about your questions regarding introductory sadhana below. His advise was to start with the Khadgamala Stotram and go slowly and eventually you will reach your goal. To paraphrase his words from our conversation, "It took me to various places and people, but it is not for the weak. It will raise you to heaven only to slam you back. Thats how the path is."
Other than that, pray for a Guru and start with Balatripura Mantra (after it is given).
The version of the KS on our Home Page includes the Karan/Anganyasa & Manasa Puja. This should be plenty to work with for quite awhile.
"As a companion query, what might be appropriate first sadhana practice(s)?"
Sadhana is practical mysticism. It consists of performing those actions that decondition your mind, that increase the vibration of the mind, and that remove obstacles to the movement of prana, especially kundalini.
My list of the first five is:
1. You are what you ingest so watch your diet and everything else that you take into the body. This means no smoking, no alcohol, no recreational drugs, resist taking over-the-counter remedies, be wary of pharmeceuticals.
Reject tamasic foods - beef and pork, garlic, onions, mushrooms, processed foods, stale or rotten or unclean foods, and half-cooked or twice cooked foods.
Reject rajasic foods - other meats, fish, eggs, tea, coffee, cocoa, chillies, prepared mustards, spices, highly seasoned foods, white sugar, radishes, deep fried foods, and foods that are excessively hot, bitter, sour, salty and pungent.
Select sattvic foods - milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, coconut, dried ginger, sugarcane, molasses and honey.
2. (a) meditate daily. The best time for meditation is early morning, 4:00 - 6:00 am. This is known as Brahmamuhurta. Dusk is also a good time for meditation.
2. (b) You are what you think. Think positively all the time. If you have negative thoughts/emotions regarding some person or event then you have not understood the sitiuation properly..
3. Practice a physical exercise that is designed to unblock nadis and encourage prana flows - yoga, tai chi, chi gong.
4. Be properly rested. This refers to getting enough sleep (8 hours is too much). But it also refers to going through your day with a peaceful, detached mind that is able to discriminate between the divine and the profane in yourself and in everything that you encounter.
5. Be aware of your breath. Breath diaphragmatically all the time, inhale and exhale through the nose all the time, and practice pranayama.
I am currently taking a course in Hindu Tantra in my university, that brings me very deep into the subject material in terms of exploring translated texts like the Kularnava tantra and the Damar Tantra among others and alos in terms of stotras, namavalis and mantras. I've studied a book called "Auspicious Wisdom" that deals entirely with Sri Vidya and in there the role of the guru in Sri Vidya and other tantric lineages is presented as extremely important. I am from the Caribbean - Trinidad to be exact - there too we are initiated by a pundit who will guide us somewhat, but the idea of a lineage and the Kula values are not there. So that left alone there, I would not be able to explore mantra sastra and yantra puja and so on. My question is, should I garner knowledge of Mantras and yantras from books and other sources and encourage myself to understand the true esoteric meaning of various bijas and yantras, would i be able to pratice these successfully? Seeing that Shiva is considered to be the supreme and original Guru, can I worship Him as my own guru and take it that whatever information and knowledge I encounter is through His will?
Yes you can accept shiva as Guru and as you go along a flesh and blood guru shall appear to help if you are eligible
More on Guru
 Question about Lalita Sahasranama
I started reciting Lalitha Sahasranama in stotra form daily since about 7 months. I just recite them without any specific procedure. I just want to know if any particular procedure is to be followed, if any naivedyam is to be offered, etc.
 SRIRAMA DONGRE
Japa : How and Why?
[6 ] Mantrah :
Why do we need to recite the Mantras properly?
Are All Mantras Equal?
What is Tantra
Tantra : A Belief System
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