If Shiva and Shakti are meant to be pre-gender or beyond gender, why is Shiva usually called "He" ? Why Shakti "She" ? In fact, Why Goddess or God? Those also denote gender.
Maybe I should not say anything here, since this is nearing the point where Shaktism and Vaisnavism differ, but...
Nirguna brahman, means brahman without the material qualities, the gunas. And as all qualities we know are those material qualities, nirguna brahman means outside of everything we know. The body, the brain, everything there is around us, is built from the three gunas. Nirguna brahman is beyond all that, contains nothing of those qualities. It is something pretty hard to grasp, since it appears to be almost like nothingness. Vaisnavism deal with spiritual, or transcendental, qualities of nirguna brahman. That's a concept that is beyond our compehension, and therefore transcendental. It is said that there are spiritual qualities there. Those qualities are not the gunas, or the material qualities. They are not opposed to the gunas, part or, a combination of or contained in the gunas. They are just different. So nothingness refers to no materia, neither gross, nor subtle and no material concepts at all. Transcendental qualities are a kind of nothingness, from a material viewpoint. They can't be described by any material concept. It is completely outside of the material. If we look at those spiritual "qualities" or energies, there it can be seen as "God" have two different energies, or polarities. I call them "male" and "female", just to make them easier to grasp. Those two energies unite and the offspring of that unition creates the material existence. The material existence is also patterned on those two energies of male and female, so everything here is like an echo of that duality. Sexual union in the material world is a kind of mirroring of the union of the two transcendental energies when the material existence came into creation. When we look at God, we also see those two supreme transcendental enegies, and thus that's the origin of male and female. Shiva is seen as the "God" of the male energy principle, and becomes he, where Shakti is the female energy principle and becomes She. Did anything make sense there?
Prisni said: "Sexual union in the material world is a kind of mirroring of the union of the two transcendental energies ..."
Maryann replied: "I QUESTION WHETHER MALE AND FEMALE ARE TRANSCENDENTAL ENERGIES. THEY ARE A RESULT OF EMBODIMENT, AND PART OF THE GUNAS, IT SEEMS TO ME, JUST BASED ON WHAT YOU'VE SAID. WHY ARE MALE AND FEMALE CONSIDERED TRANSCENDENTAL?"
I think Prisni got it right by saying "mirroring" -- the idea is that the human body is a microcosm of the Divine Macrocosm. That is why one can find what is without by looking within. The two "poles" of humanity are female and male, or so we say the two poles of the divine are Female and Male. Shaktism is distinguished by its doctrine that the Kinetic, Creative Energy of Devi is worshiped as the critical aspect of the Divine, rather than Shiva, who is considered (if I may borrow a term from electrical theory) merely the Static Ground upon which She acts. Necessary? Yes. Divine? Yes. But not the object of our particular approach to devotion.
You said, "the human body is a microcosm of the Divine Macrocosm..."
Allow me to make two comments:
First, to clear up this confusion about male-female, gender-energy, in the pranamaya kosha there are three main nadis - ida, pingala and sushumna. The energy or prana that flows in Ida tends to slow down body and mental functions. It is cooling, referred as the 'moon breath' and is considered by some to be feminine in nature (let's not get sidetracked with a debate on this potential issue). The energy or prana that moves through Pingala tends to speed up the body functions. It is heating, referred to as the 'sun breath' and is considered by some to be masculine in nature. These energies tend to move in opposite directions (something like the debate that is going on here). The prana is Ida is Tamasic, the prana is Pingala is Rajasic. But through intense purification practices, the direction of flow of these pranas changes and they start to flow toward each other. They meet and merge to form a new energy or prana. This energy is Sattvic.
The name of prana in Ida is Tha: The name of the prana in Pingala is Ha. The union or yoga of the two pranas is Hatha Yoga. The prana resulting from the union of the two pranas is called Kundalini and is taken up through the Sushumna revealing ever more subtle spiritual awareness as it progresses up through the main chakras.
So male and female refers to neither gender nor energy, nor even to separatation. it is a way to characterize the functions of prana. Prana is prana but when prana perfoms a specialized task it is given a specific name - but it is still the same prana. To argue about male-female is to argue about nothing. Arguing is just a play of the ego and has not reference to reality.
Second, when you refer to Shiva as "merely the Static Ground on which She acts", you trivialize Shiva while upgrading She. This type of insecurity is rife in religious/spiritual discussions:
One defends their path by labeling other paths as less.It is perhaps a natural thing to do because a chosen path has resonance within and prompts poetic and other creative expressions that more fully portray that path. But the path that is not one's own is somewhat alien to the psyche and thus somewhat misunderstood. A path that is not one's own does not resonate deeply enough to stir the psyche and the various modes of creative expression with the result that descriptions of it are superficial, incomplete and perhaps disparaging.
It might have been better for you to have described Shaktism in its own right and not defensively in relation to something else. You could have said simply that the worship of Shiva is "not the object of our particular devotion."
As it is, an argumentative Shaivite could counter your description by saying. "Why would one a worship kinetic,creative energy when one could just as easily worship the source and ground of that energy?" A Jnana Yogi could say, "Why worship Shakti or Shiva when one could move beyond all names and forms and worship their ground, Brahman."
But the wise would say, "Let each worship according to their ability and to how the Divine chooses to appear to them".
Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May the whole world attain peace and harmony
I really enjoyed your post. Particularly where you said:
" a chosen path has resonance within and prompts poetic and other creative expressions that more fully portray that path. But the path that is not one's own is somewhat alien to the psyche and thus somewhat misunderstood. A path that is not one's own does not resonate deeply enough to stir the psyche and the various modes of creative expression with the result that descriptions of it are superficial, incomplete and perhaps disparaging. "
That is so beautiful! I love the word resonance, and resonate in this context, prompting poetic expression...yes! Sometimes when I read poems of the worship of the Goddess I am so moved, comparatively when I read other liturgy I have the sensation of just missing something, of a search not yet answered. I love that feeling of something "stir(ing) my psyche" deeply.
This is what draws me to Her, this is what I crave when I do not practice my faith. It is so hard in this culture that I live in to find enough to feed my soul. That is why I feel protective about my perspective and sometime so alienated when people start talking about Shaktism or the worship of the Goddess as though it were the same as Christianity or some abstract concept of, I don't know, say solar wind. (This is not some subtle insult, I'm sure you understand.)
I *need* my Goddess. Without Her I feel as though I am starving in a world where there is no food for me. I feel orphaned, cynical and grasping. Clearly I am a better person when I seek and accept Her in my life.
And thank you also for this:
"But the wise would say, "Let each worship according to their ability and to how the Divine chooses to appear to them"."
Thank you, Prisni, for your detailed, and clear explanation. I think I understand what you are saying. I can understand that maybe this is so: whatever embodies itself as male and whatever embodies as female exists prior to embodiment, and selects either male or female form in embodiment. We see this in many, most, and maybe all species of flesh and blood. Other flesh and blood species, however, to my knowledge, do not build elaborate belief systems of worship or denigration of the two gendered forms. It is the human tendency to build belief systems around the genders that I question. I had thought that in the eastern traditions you write of here, there was a belief that a transcendental energy takes male form, and another transcendental energy takes female form, which does not seem transcendental at all, but the beginning of the construction of a belief system of worship/denigration, or elevating one over the other. From reading your post, I see that this tendency to elevate one over the other may not necessarily be a result of believing that there is transcendental energy that embodies itself as either gender. However, the limits placed on the genders by society and culture and some scripture seem far too limited, which is why I have the notion that there is a belief that one transcendental energy takes male form, and another takes female form. From your post, I'm not sure this isn't true. I am more inclined to think that there are many transcendental energies that converge and select embodiment (or that the selection of male and female is not actually significant to the energy/energies), and that each individual body has many inner qualities that are free from gender stereotype until society and culture and scripture do their work of constructing beliefs based on gender, thereby limiting the individuals from reaching greater spiritual realms here in embodiment.
"Other flesh and blood species, however, to my knowledge, do not build elaborate belief systems of worship or denigration of the two gendered forms. It is the human tendency to build belief systems around the genders that I question. I had thought that in the eastern traditions you write of here, there was a belief that atranscendental energy takes male form, and another transcendental energy takes female form, which does not seem transcendental at all, but the beginning of the construction of a belief system of worship/denigration, or elevating one over the other"
I see where you are aiming. It is a kind of problem for many westener, that there is already a conception of reality, and then the attempt to understand hindu thought according to that conception. To that I can just say that it is not possible. Hindu thought is beyond western conception. It is not a belief system more than western science is a belief system. It is a system of describing reality and different from western thought. And from there it can be discussed if it is good in describing reality or bad.
Here I like to bring up the two systems of seeing material elements, as earth, water, fire, air, ether compared to the system as seeing material elements as molecyles, atoms, subatomic particles and so on. There is often a tendency to think that one way of describing it is correct, and the other faulty. I rather want to see it as two different systems for description. Both are similarly valid, it just depends on what you want to use the system for. If you want to create a chemical industry, the western system is superior. But if you want to understand reality, the hindu system is superior. None of the system is a "belief". It is two different systems of describing reality.
"However, the limits placed on the genders by society and culture and some scripture seem far too limited, which is why I have the notion that there is a belief that one transcendental energy takes male form, and another takes female form"
The transcendental energies, as viewed by us, in our current state, appears to us as "female" or "male". It is not that the transcendental energies take embodiment, or form. It is our perception of them that creates the genders as we know them. The forms we perceive are illusory. The genders in itself are illusory in the way we see them. Illusory means, "not what it seems". Like when you see an illusionist (magician) at stage. You can see him disappear in a puff of smoke and being replaced with a lion, see rabbits appear from thin air, get swords stuck into his assistent and similar kinds of things. But that is illusory, since what happens it not what it appears. No one gets wounded by sharp swords stuck into her. It is a show to cheat us. Similarly the material world is illusory. Not that it does not exist, but the way we see it. We are cheated to believe it looks like we see it, and we also tend to want to see it as we do. That is where western science goes wrong. It tries to explain reality in terms of the illusion, not in what can be beyond the illusion. It tries to explain how a rabbit appears from thin air, never asking the question where our perception failed, and where the rabbit actually came from (the magicians sleeve, maybe?).
"From your post, I'm not sure this isn't true. I am more inclined to think that there are many transcendental energies that converge and select embodiment (or that the selection of male and female is not actually significant to the energy/energies), and that each individual body has many inner qualities that are free from gender stereotype until society and culture and scripture do their work of constructing beliefs based on gender, thereby limiting the individuals from reaching greater spiritual realms here in embodiment"
You are free to create your own model of reality if you want to. I am not going to have a battle with you about it. What I present is the model of reality as I have been taught, coming from generations of philosophers in India. But actually, it is more than that. When looking at the magicians stage show, and is being told how the magician disappears in a puff of smoke, where he goes, and where the lion was before, you can actually see it yourself, and verify it to be true. If you just know where to look and how to look. So Indian philosophy says where to look and how to look to see what is behind the illusion. It is not something made up to be a belief for the sake of that. It is a system that changes your perception. Just as you need a change of peception to see the magicians cheating. And once you have learned to see in the new way, you are not in illusion about that anymore.
Hello Prisni: Thank you again for your thoughts and information in response to my posts. You write very clearly, and make it easy to understand the concepts you describe. I felt a perceptual shift today in pondering your post. I have been exploring how societal laws actually contain spiritual beliefs. I've been looking at what you call the Hindu "model of reality" and wondering, if the model is sound, or is what it claims to be, why has the practice in Hindu society been to elevate male over female? That has been my question, ultimately, which has not been answered in this debate (maybe it is unanswerable?). I find Hindu spiritual concepts worthy of exploration, and I seek greater freedom from the power imbalances enacted in society and relationships. That has been my focus in exploring these issues. I have thought it possible to locate and address the places where there is a break between the model (spiritual conceptions) and the practice (behavior in the external world), and to repair or heal that break, the way such repair is possible through yoga to unite places in the human body that have been out of communication with each other due to tension, misalignment, etc. causing poor oxygenation and poor circulation. Healing this break MAY result in a new model, ultimately, however, that isn't something I want to do battle with you over, and I appreciate your not wanting to do battle with me.
"I've been looking at what you call the Hindu "model of reality" and wondering, if the model is sound, or is what it claims to be, why has the practice in Hindu society been to elevate male over female?"
Why do men want to dominate women? They want to have command over Shakti, and they think by dominating the partical expansion of Shakti, in the form of the wife, or women in general, they get that command. They use their superior physical force to enforce that domination.
But Shakti has her own tricks. Every man that want to dominate her, will also fall victim for her. By sexual desire, he will fall victim for the same partial expansion in the form of a beautiful woman. He will be completely controlled by her.
A philosophical explanation of why men are dominating in the world? I don't know. If I was a guru, I would have to know and give an answer, but fortunately I am not, so I can say that I don't know.
Maybe one way of seeing it, which is quite technical, is that the supreme is sometimes seen as having three potencies, sat, chit and ananda; eternality, knowledge and bliss. In Vaisnava philosophy those potencies are also called sandhini shakti, chit shakti and hladini shakti, which here clearly indicates that they are energies. Another name for hladini shakti is "internal potency". Radha is a manifestation of that hladini shakti, or internal potency, and Radha is Durga, and is Shakti, which is the female potency.
Looking at it this way, the female potency is internal, and the male external, so it makes some kind of sense that men dominate externally and women internally if it is just the nature of those energies.
In all those subject matters, it is possible to make unlimited complications. And I am sure if anyone searches the net on "sat" "chit", "hladini" or something similar, there are a lot of deep philosophical excursions available. But I like to simplify thing, even if it sometimes gets a little bit naive. This even though that I suspect that what I write is not always considered simple.
I wasn't asking the question of why men dominate. I had only questioned the validity of the Hindu claim of their model of reality as being true, better, etc. in the face of the actions of individuals in relationships and in society, which do not show the success of the model.
Just as Gandhi said that woman must shed her "inferiority complex," man must shed his "superiority complex," in order to balance the inner and outer.
Science has shown that women's brains have more active synapses, that the two brain hemispheres are in contact and working together more than in men's brains, which are left-hemisphere dominant. As man begins to look within and connect with his own right brain hemisphere, he will stop wielding power negatively in the world through subjugation of woman (the qualities that reside in the right hemisphere of the brain are those that are usually called "feminine"), and as woman begins to wield her power in ways that are respectful to herself and to others in the world (not in negative ways sexually or otherwise), a new balance will develop. Each individual being has its own responsibility in this balancing act, and each can do the inner work of it independent of the other if need be. This is where being the change we want to see in others comes in. Then we can all "head" into even higher and deeper realms so far only dreamed of!
"...the mukta-jivi or siddha purusha will say.... " let us worship the atma in you which is the same in me
Not only is the same 'atma' in each person but the 'atma' is, in reality, Brahman reflected in each and all. Through sadhana our consciousness rises above Maya, moves beyond names and forms, and brings us to the understanding that it is the same 'atma' in all, then to the understanding that the 'atma'is Brahman, and finally to the understanding that we are Brahman.
OM Namah Sivaya
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