Does the Goddess ever question Herself [ May 2003 ]


Are there any Hindu texts that reflect introspection on the part of the Goddess?

Particularly, are there any texts in which She examines Her great passion, great power, great potential or actual destructiveness?

Also, here we have posted an image of a "Widow" Goddess. In my tradition also we have images and metaphors of the Goddess as bereaved. I'm wondering if it is even possible to have a concept of the Goddess as childless. Is there a childless Goddess?

I appreciate all of the learned discussions in this forum. the current discussions have been just a little over my head, but interesting nonetheless. I have enjoyed them.


Dear Prainbow:

Thanks you for your post; I am glad you're enjoying the current discussions. You mention that they are "just a little over my head"; do please feel free to request any clarifications that may help. I would hope that any and all members who are interested in our Group's discussions will not hesitate to make whatever inquiries are necessary to help them more fully understand Shakti Sadhana.

As for your specific questions, I'll toss out some preliminaryobservations and let those who have additional knowledge either correct me, or add whatever they can:

*** Are there any Hindu texts that reflect introspection on the part of the Goddess? ***

None that I know of. I imagine that what you're thinking of is episodes such as in the Jewish Torah, when God regrets having wiped out most of Earth's life forms in the Flood; or in the Christian Gospels, where Jesus, on the eve of his arrest, becomes extremely afraid and questions whether he's really cut out for his role ("Take this cup from my lips," etc). Such scenes are to be expected in a dualistic religion where the human is here, and God is a separate and infinitely superior Being "out there."

In the Hindu scriptures, however, it's rare for Deities to question themselves. Understand that, in the Hindu conception, the Deity is a gateway to or facet of Brahman, who is at once the thinker, the thought and the act of thinking. The Deity understands and embodies this central Truth, and so is usually engaged in helping a human being or some lesser divinity to grasp it. Perhaps the most famous model is the great dialog between Krishna (God) and Arjuna (human, or perhaps lesser divinity) that makes up the "Bhagavad Gita": Arjuna is the only one given to introspection and self-doubt. Krishna is instructing him (as Hindu deities always do) that such acts and emotions are merely the symptom and result of failing to understand that we are all part of the One Brahman, and that all is well.

*** Particularly, are there any texts in which She examines Her great passion, great power, great potential or actual destructiveness? ***

Well, you recently mentioned reading the Devi Mahatmyam. There, as you've probably noticed, one will find precious little analysis of Her power, let alone introspection. There is really not even an attempt to "convince" the reader/listener that She is Supreme; it is simply assumed and taken for granted. She is what She is, and She does what She does. She is the embodiment of the forces of the Universe (some of which you list above), not the *possessor* of such powers -- and so these are not characteristics to question or examine, they are what She is.

The Devi Bhagavata Purana might offer slightly more of what you're looking for. It *does* want to convince you that Devi is the Supreme Deity you want and need. It retells the legends of the DM in their entirety, not once but twice, always hammering away at (a) Her Supremacy; (b) Her Femininity; and (c) why the reader/listener is crazy is they don't drop everything and immediately become Her devotee. These glosses offer some suggestion of why She is a better object of worship than Her male counterparts -- primarily, because She is wiser, more compassionate, more forgiving, and more powerful.

But still, the overall narrative style attributed to Devi Herself is more one of distinctly unsubtle *telling* ("None is greater than me!" etc.), accompanied by unsubtle *showing* (chopping up demons, etc). For this, we need blame neither Shakti nor the Shaktas: Holy scriptures in general -- in part due to the times and places in which they were composed, and in part due to their intrinsic nature -- tend not to be subtle or introspective. They tend to simply illustrate and reinforce a belief system: "X" deity is best, and here's why.

On the other hand, human commentaries upon the great Shakta scriptures do attribute human emotional characteristics to Devi, not surprisingly those which are traditionally associated with the Feminine: love, empathy, compassion, etc. NOTE: Remember, I am simply speaking from my own studies and research. It's entirely possible that other members may be able to refer you to material such as you seek.

*** Also, here we have posted an image of a "Widow" Goddess. In my tradition also we have images and metaphors of the Goddess as bereaved. I'm wondering if it is even possible to have a concept of the Goddess as childless. Is there a childless Goddess? ***

I will try to post something today on some of the more useful Hindu interpretations of Dhumavati, as seen from a modern perspective. Again, the fact that Dhumavati is a widow is usually given a metaphysical explanation rather than an emotional one. But the Mahavidyas are Goddesses who contain tremendous depths: They bring Goddess traditions from all over India together into a single sadhana; collectively they represent perhaps the fullest conception of the Goddess ever devised by humanity; they symbolize the seeker's spiritual evolution; they symbolize Creation's cosmic evolution (the shifting of gunas, etc.); they symbolize the phases and trials in the lives of human women; and on and on. The more one meditates upon them, the more they reveal -- that's why they're called the "Wisdon Goddesses." It is truly staggering.

As to your final question: Strangely enough, the Goddess is both always childless and never childless. In one sense, She is the Creative Principle, the Mother of all that is Manifest and Unmanifest -- you and I and everything in the Universe are her children. But this aspect is almost always abstract -- except in the case of Aditi (who is sometimes shown giving birth, sometimes to a human form, sometimes to stars and planets) and possibly Lajja Gauri (who is shown in a birthing position, sometimes with sagging stomach flesh that suggests we're seeing a moment immediately after birth has been given). The Goddess is never actually shown as or said to be pregnant. When She gives birth in the Hindu legends, it is invariably by some unconventional means -- such as Parvati's creation of Her son Ganesh from the dead skin and sludge left over from scrubbing herself in the bath. In addition, many Goddess forms are said to be virgins. Perhaps related is the fact that Shaktism does not predicate its reverence for women and the feminine on actual motherhood or biological fertility:

"All women embody Shakti. … [Every woman] is the goddess, that is, the incarnation of the living, present, ultimate cosmic energy, although she may be unaware of it. … Her mystery lies in the *creative powers* with her. … That fantastic creative dynamism -- which gives rise to atoms and galaxies, makes wheat sprout and bacteria proliferate -- is present and active at all times (not only during pregnancy, and whether the ovum is fertile or not) in all women; in all females." (Van Lysebeth, André, "Tantra: The Cult of the Feminine," Samuel Weiser Inc, 1995. Translation of "Tantra: le culte de la Féminité, 1992).


paulie rainbow wrote:

"Are there any Hindu texts that reflect introspection on the part of the Goddess? Particularly, are there any texts in which She examines Her great passion, great power, great potential or actual destructiveness?"

Did you know about the Puranic myth in which Parvati does yogic work in order to transform herself from dark to golden? There's a well know version of this in the Skanda Purana, and the story is also found in the Kalika Purana. Parvati's initial darkness has assocations with _tamas_, and with destructive and self-destructive power.

In the Kalika Purana, both Shiva and Shakti are transformed by the their relationship. She becomes golden, and he moves beyond his aversion to passion.

Kali's tongue is sometimes interpreted as a sign of embarrassed self-consciousness on the part of the Goddess. Swami Swahananda (of the Sri Ramakrishna order) writes:

"She is represented with a protruding tongue which is bitten by the teeth... The Divine Power is as if ashamed because of Her restlessness in creating the universe in spite of Her transcendent nature and hence Kali bites her tongue..." (from the book _Hindu Symbology and Other Essays_, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1987)


Dear Prainbow:

I mentioned the work of Stone and Eisler in my post to Colin; from them, I have also learned something of your great conception of Goddess as Inanna. You note that your post wasn't informed by Christian myth, but it is interesting (as these authors have developed) to see how much your tradition informed Christian myth!

What do you call this tradition today? I know that you are interested in exploring Hindu Shaktism to help add an extra dimension to your devotion for Inanna. Please do feel free to post observations from your own tradition, if you wish, as it seems likely that such an "interdisciplinary" study would be useful to all of us.

The brief tale you related in your post is extremely beautiful - "The Goddess experiences sacrifice and grief and introspection. Our ceremonies celebrate, not only the change in seasons but the passages of human life, as She gives something up, grieves and moves on, so do we." I for one would be interested in seeing more.

While the high metaphysics of the Shiva-Shakti Unity makes for an interesting debate, we indulge at the expense of much of what makes Shaktism "human" -- the myths that help people to get through the daily trials and tribulations of life, the visions of beauty and inspiration that Her devotees celebrate, whether individually or in gatherings of every size.

In Christianity, there is the "Trinity" known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Hinduism, the closest parallel might lie in Vaishnavism, where the loving, endearingly "human-like" Krishnacorresponds to Jesus; the more distant, heavenly Vishnu is the Father; and the Holy Spirit -- without form or attribute -- is Brahman.

The Holy Spirit, like Brahman, may be the highest goal of the spiritual seeker. But neither ever provided concrete inspiration for the artist, the musician, or architect, to create the images, hymns, cathedrals and temples that draw the earthbound soul ever closer to That which is Eternal. To get from the ground to the highest floor,one requires a stairway or elevator, providing solid ground along the way. For most mere humans, a single mighty leap, straight to the top, is impossible.


Adi_Shakthi16 wrote : do you think 'black' represnts passion or 'tamas' but in theccase of our goddess kali and krishna ... black represents the 'infinite', I would think!!! Is kali, my mother really black? the naked one, of blackest hue, who lights the lotus of the Heart.? SINGS SHRI RAMAKRISHNA ALL THE TIME
Could anyone elaborate on the metaphysical aspects of Mother kali's blackness- behind that terrifying form is indeed a very benevelent goddess, the saviour! is she passionate or compassionate? the one who takes away your ego and fills you with brahma-jnana?"

Kali Devi is at once dark and radiant because she is the Goddess of the depths and the heights.

Black or dark blue suggest deep places -- the ocean, the earth, the tomb, the womb. Radiant light suggests the sky, the sun, the heavens.

Kali is both descent and ascent, moha and vidya.

According to Sri Ramaskrishna, even tamas can bring us closer to the divine. He speaks of tamasic devotion, meaning a burning, passionate longing for realization -- the sort of longing he himself experienced before he had his first vision of Kali.

In the story of Parvati, when Siva mentions her blackness and calls her "kali" she is gripped by the dangerous passion of anger. Yet her anger becomes a burning desire to make herself golden.

The road to the heights begins in the depths.

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