A group Conversation :
Shaktism: Not Anti-Shiva, But Definitely Pro-Devi [ 2004 ]


Delhigopalan
Of late some questions have been bothering me. While I take the liberty of placing them before you, it is far from me to hurt any one. Rather my attempt is to learn from you.
Is it correct that both Father and Mother are equally vital for a healthy spiritual growth of a child?
Should love for the Mother lead a person to ignore Father totally? Is that course justified?
I am not spiritually well versed as some of our friends are. I am a beginner and would like to learn from the wise and not otherwise!
In my humble understanding Shiva is Father and Shakti is Mother. Am I right? I feel without Father one is 50% orphan.
Looking forward to spiritually stimulating responses!


Devi bhakta
Greetings Gopalan:
Thanks for a great question. I think the broad, theoretical answer is easy; however, the practical implications -- i.e., what are we to do with this theory -- are tougher:

*** Is it correct that both Father and Mother are equally vital for a healthy spiritual growth of a child?***
If you're speaking of Father/Mother in the divine sense, Shiva/Shakti, then yes, metaphysically speaking, they are "One." If you are speaking of the human family -- well, reality shows us otherwise. Often one parent or the other provides the spiritual impulse or instruction, while the other is mainly inactive in that area. Sometimes there only *is* one parent caring for a child, but this reality need not cripple a child spiritually. Also, again from a metaphysically viewpoint, the major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam seem to get by just fine with just a Father.

***In my understanding Shiva is Father and Shakti is Mother. Am I right? I feel without Father one is 50% orphan. Should love for the Mother lead a person to ignore Father totally?***
Again, the short answer is easy: Of course not. But in the religious context, this leads to a theological question. Vaishnavism recognizes both a Father and a Mother, and even calls them "equal" -- but in practice, while the Mother has the nominal "power", the Father has the authority that directs that power. Shaivism also recognizes the Mother, but -- while, again, paying Her lip service as "equal" -- consider Her mainly a conduit for reaching the true object of devotion, Shiva. Shaktism, being theologically very similar to Shaivism, acknowledges the importance of the Father but the true object of devotion is the Mother.

Of course, Shaktism would be unbalanced if it prescribed "ignoring the Father totally," as you say. But there does come a point where we must ask: Okay, all of these approaches to Hinduism acknowledge both Father and Mother. But what makes each approach different? What makes a Vaishnava a Vaishnava? What makes a Shaiva a Shaiva? And how is it a different proposition to call oneself a Shakta? Because there are differences: Compare the Bhagavad Gita to the Devi Gita. Compare the Bhagavata Purana to the Devi Bhagavata Purana. These are different religions -- both within the great family of Hinduism, yes, but they are different. Our question here should be: What do those differences mean, both practically and theologically?

A couple of posts back, Adi was kind enough to share a nice essay on Shakti by Frank Morales. I should note that he is not actually "one of the leading journalists of India"; in fact, he's a young American from Wisconsin by way of Brooklyn, New York (see http://www.dharmacentral.com/aboutfm.htm). But he is extremely knowledgeable in Hindu matters and his essay is a good, solid introduction to Shakti and the Shiva-Shakti principle. And yet, on a practical level, how should we act upon this information?

*** I am a beginner and would like to learn from the wise and not otherwise! ***
I think any honest member among us would say the same. We are all seekers. We are all learning, all the time.

I had a chance to think a little more about Gopalan's question about love for the Mother eclipsing the Father, as well as Adi's several messages that attempted in various ways to remind us that Shaktism does not omit Shiva from its theology.

But before we get too deeeply into this debate, I think it's important that we define our position, so that ee're all talking about the same thing here.

First of all, I don't thing anyone among us is saying that Shakta (or Shaktism) is "right" and Shaivism is "wrong." But I *am* saying that they are different. The question is not whether Shavism ignores/denies Shakti, or where Shaktism ignores/denies Shiva. The very idea is absurd: Each cult reveres its object's complementary form.

But the question is one of practical application: Shakti and Shiva may be identical at the highest level of abstraction - but their respective cults are undeniably different. If Shiva and Shakti are true "equals" in every theological sense, then why are there seperate cults of Shaivas and Shaktas? Why have the sages, for thousands of years, allied themselves and their writings with one group or the other? Were they all simply benighted fools? It seems unlikely.

In his seminal work, "Shakti and Shakta," Sir John Woodroffe explained: "There is a Vaishnava and Shaiva as well as a Shakta [denomination]. … There are certain things common to all. There are certain matters wherein they differ. …

He added: "A quarrelsome attitude as regards other creeds is the mark of a lower mind and of what the Shaktas call a Pashu [the kind of personality we might nowadays refer to as `Neanderthal']. I believe that a different position is assumed by all higher Sadhakas [spiritual practitioners], to whatever denomination they belong. [For example,] the Shakta … says that `it is only a fool who sees any difference between Rama [Vishnu] and Shiva.' [But] each has his path which, if sincerely pursued, will procure for him the fruit of it.'"

A wise and sincere Hindu (of the Shaivite persuasion) once told me that "only the ignorant" make any distinction between Shiva and Shakti. And that's ultimately true: At the highest level of abstraction, Hindus agree that Brahman [the Supreme Divine Principle] is known by many names: God, Goddess, Visnu, Shiva, Devi, Jehovah, Christ, Allah, etc. All of these names are merely human designations for the same ultimate totality. All are merely different rivers flowing into the same sea.

But the thing is, you generally have to pick a specific river in order to get to that sea: And so there are Christians, Muslims, Shaivaites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, and so on, by faith and practice. Sometimes these rivers cross and intersect, but they are ultimately seperate rivers, and it is a fool's errand to try navigating two or more at once. Even a spiritual mega-athlete like Ramakrishna, who sampled all of these paths and more at various points in his life, tended to take them only one at a time.

So back to my friend the Shaivite. When he told me that Shiva and Shakta are non-different, he was expressing an important high- theological truth -- but perhaps not a very practical truth. Because if Shiva and Shakta are identical for all spiritual purposes, then the practice of Shaivism and Shaktism must be identical too. However, in studying these two denominations, we very quickly discern that they are not.

So: Were the rishis and sages and saints who wrote the Bhagavad Gita ignorant, because they conceived Brahman as Krishna? Were those who wrote the Devi Bhagavata Purana ignorant because they conceived Brahman as Devi? Most likely not; on the contrary, they were probably spiritually advanced beyond most of our imaginations. But they understood that the spiritual aspirant must choose a path, or a river, and stick with it in order to realize its profundities, realize its manifold Truths, and partake in its fruits.

Well, that's my two cents anyways. Does it make sense? Shaivites and Shaktas alike recognize the ultimate unity of Shiva and Shakti. But still, even at the highest levels of spiritual advancement, there are still Shaivites and Shaktas. We've acknowledged that both share to same theology to a certain point. So the question becomes: As a matter of practical sadhana, what makes a Shaivite a Shaivite, and what makes a Shakta a Shakta?

Aum Maatangyai Namahe

prainbow61
Is this question a red herring? That is, I always wonder why the reverse is not being asked...If an individual perceives Shaktism as "anti-Shiva" then does that same individual perceive Shaivism as anti-Devi?

I see that bias in the U.S. culturally, appreciating women is seen as being against men, but the resources focused on appreciating the accomplishments of men are invisible, because that is the cultural norm.

In my history books in school I could only find two women whose accomplishments were noted: Betsy Ross and Harriet Tubman. But when I have advocated for more inclusion of women who have made great accomplishments, that is seen as radical and somehow anti-male.

In my Art history text book there were entire chapters devoted to male artists, particularly of the Impressionist period and only a single sentence devoted to my favorite Impressionist artist, Mary Cassatt: "Mary Cassatt was the greatest American painter of the Impressionist era."
Period.

If she was the greatest painter of that era, I asked, why was there only 1 sentence devoted to her work in my American Art History text book? Is this anti-woman.

Ah, I'm such a radical!

Why do I ask such questions? Why do I focus so much on including women? I must hate men. Yes, that's the only explanation.

Nora
Thank you for your note. This bias does not only been seen in US but globally Prainbrow( this is my believe ) Anything pertains to woman issues are considered as second rated.

Being a Shakti devotee, Im often been branded as a feminist and anti shiva ( even to a person who is married to a shivite ). Some says trying to concentrate on Shaktism, we are being ignorant and fools. Are we? And an assumption that Shaktism is not a true form of hinduism. So that means we are not a true hindu.

Now who is a true Hindu then?

Bhavaanidaasan
Anti- and Pro- anything are transitional stages in the voyage of the soul.

Transcendency is inevitable, though it is quicker in the case of some and slower in others for want of discipline and practice. If we are obsessed with anti- and pro- postures , the transit camps will become destinations

Devi_bhakta
I think this is an excellent point, and thanks for posting it. It seems to me that Hinduism (in its purely spiritual, not its political form) is especially tolerant of the fact that there are countless "true" paths to the Divine; that the efficacy of the path depends more on the purity of the believer than the purity of the belief.

Religions really are "transit camps," as you put it; means rather than ends in themselves. To get stuck on any one conceptualization as more "right" than another is self-defeating. It binds one tightly to the world; and actually is a coomon technique employed by people bound to the world.

For example: The Ayodhya crisis between Indians and Muslims does not reflect a true clash of spiritual beliefs, but rather a social and historical conflict. The same was true of the Muslim-Christian conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, or the Protestant-Catholic conflicts in Ireland. Or, for that matter, the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Pro- and Anti- are properties of Maya. They are not Eternal. This is true. Shiva and Shakti are One; they are but different temporal conceptions of Brahman, as are (as I've noted below) Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, you name it.

My question was, ultimately, this: Granting that Shiva and Shakti are but different perspectives on the same Ultimate Reality, it is still important for us who are still on the path to ask -- since the sages have for centuries distinguished between Saivism and Shaktism -- what does that distinction mean to everyday practice? to the way we conduct sadhana?

You will admit that even the purist Hindu believer -- infinitely tolerant and respectful of her Christian and Muslim sisters and brothers -- nonetheless conducts her worship differently than do her Christian and Muslim counterparts. And within Hinduism, a difference of approach is often discernable between, say, devotees of Krishna and devotees of Shiva.

My only question is -- and it is really the subject of this whole Group -- how does the Shakta approach (yes, to the One and Only Brahman) differ from other Hindu approaches. It is not a matter or truth or untruth, of right or wrong. It is a question of practical approach.

Prainbow wrote :.*** I always wonder why ...If an individual perceives Shaktism as "anti-Shiva" then does that same individual perceive Shaivism as anti-Devi? ... Why do I ask such questions? Why do I focus so much on including women? I must hate men. Yes, that's the only explanation.***

Your point is well taken. I tried to elaborate on my feelings in my post to bhavaanidaasan just now.

But I wanted to reply to you separately, because your post approaches the "why" of my question. I've been trying to get to the heart of the Shiva-Shakti Unity. Things like the fact that Ardhanareeshwara -- the combined male (right half) and female (left half) form of the Divine -- (theologically) considered a form of Shiva, but not Shakti: Why is that? The author of the book "Women, Androgynes & Other Mythical Beasts" (a great study of gender in Hindu mythology; it's on my Amazon list [see "Bookmarks"]) notes that most interpretations of Shiva-Shakti equality are "lopsidedly male."

So I'm basically doing some "fishing" on that question: If Shiva and Shakta are the same, then what is the difference between Shaivism and Shaktism? I think Colin had the right idea when he said Hindustend to look for commonalities whereas Westerners tend to try finessing the differences. But the fact is, so much of Hinduism -- when you really examine it closely -- vests "Power" in the Divine Feminine but "Authority" (i.e. the force that controls and directs the flow of Power) in the Divine Masculine.

That's fine. As we've discussed, these are all just human conceptualizations anyway. But the fact is, for now all of us must live in the human world, and many human conceptions -- money, politics, gender roles, real estate, etc. -- play a life-and-death role for the vast majority of souls embodied and living upon this Earth.

So what I'm getting at (to repeat what I just posted to bhavaanidaasan), what makes the Shakta approach different? You may have read "Restoring the Goddess" by Barbara G. Walker (if not, yup, it's also on the Amazon list). Walker isn't talking specifically about Hinduism, but she is very concerned about what it *means* -- socially and psychologically and practically -- to focus one's worship on a Feminine rather than masculine conception of the Supreme Divine.

And so that's what I'm wondering about. In the Devi Mahatmyam, we have Sri Durga, who appears to be both "Power" and "Authority" in their ultimate form. She has no consort -- i.e. no Masculine Priciple directing the flow of Her power. Well ... what does that mean? In the case of Kali, she has a consort, Shiva, who -- in some conceptions -- lies powerless what She runs rampant -- uncontrolled Energy. What does *that* mean?

And what does it mean to choose Shakti as one's approach to the Divine Unity? In approaching a Shiva linga, can one choose to focus worship on the Yoni, against tradition? the In approaching Ardhanareeshwara, can one choose to worship the Left rather than the Right side, against tradition?

The late Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Shaivite leader of tremendous repute and vast erudition, wrote, "Shaktas worship Shakti as the Supreme Being exclusively, as the dynamic aspect of Divinity, while Siva is considered solely transcendent and is not worshiped."

So the question isn't one of Shaktism being "Anti-Shiva," as I said. It's more a matter of emphasis. And again I will ask: So what does that *mean*?

Colin Robinson
Hello Devi bhakta

You've raised some very interesting and important matters, and I'm glad ofthe opportunity to comment on them. I'm going to respond with one message to two of yours that deal with closely related questions.

The story you summarize from the Uma Samhita section of the ShivaPurana goes back to the Upanishads...I'll gladly dig up the details later if they'd be useful to you

. I know of the Kena Upanishad's account of how Indra was enlightened by Uma Haimavati. If you can dig up other accounts I would be very interested to see them.

In his seminal work, "Shakti and Shakta," Sir John Woodroffe explained: "There is a Vaishnava and Shaiva as well as a Shakta [denomination]. … There are certain things common to all. There are certain matters wherein they differ. …

I'm glad you mentioned this work, and agree very much that it's a seminal one. I would add only that Indian writers (with some exceptions) have a tendency to look for the things common to all these schools, whereas western writers about India tend to be more interested in the differences.

Without getting into the Exclusivity Doctrine and all that, the fact is, the Christians are people who have embraced Christ as Supreme. The Shaktas are people who've embraced Shakti as Supreme.

This isn't quite the way Woodroffe characterizes the Shaktas. He says:

"The Shakta doctrine is concerned with those Spiritual Principles whichexist before, and are the origin of, both men and women... Nor does it say that the 'female principle' is the supreme Divinity. Shiva the 'male' is co-equal with Shive the 'female,' for both are one and the same... The characteristic features of Shakta-dharma are thus its Monism; its concept of the Motherhood of God; its unsectarian spirit and provisions for Shudras and women, to the latter of whom it renders high honour, recognizing that they may be even Gurus; and lastly its Sadhana skilfully designed to realize its teachings." (Shakti and Shakta, Dover edition NY 1978, pp 173 to 174)

Woodroffe's interpretation of Shakta-dharma actually fits with the title you've given this thread -- "Shaktism: Not Anti-Shiva, But Definitely Pro-Devi".

If Shiva and Shakti are true "equals" in every theological sense, then why are there seperate cults of Shaivas and Shaktas? Why have the sages, for thousands of years, allied themselves and their writings with one group or theother?

I'm not sure that they have allied their writings with one group or the other.

The division between Shaiva writings and Shakta writings in India is by nomeans as clear cut as the division between (for instance) Jewish and Christian writings in Europe. Yes, there are some writings which glorify Shiva and can be classified as Shaiva, and others which glorify Shakti and can be classified as Shakta. There are also writings which glorify both, and are thus more difficult to classify. One example is the text I quoted from in my last posting, the Uma Samhita of the Shiva Purana.

All are merely different rivers flowing into the same sea. But the thing is, you generally have to pick a specific river in order to get to that sea: And so there are Christians, Muslims, Shaivaites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, and so on, by faith and practice. Sometimes these rivers cross and intersect, but they are ultimately seperate rivers, and it is a fool's errand to try navigating two or more at once.

In the book _Shakti and Shakta_, Woodroffe quotes an article about Tantra from an Indian Vedantic journal, the _Prabuddha Bhrarata_. The article describes "Hindu religious consciousness" as a single great river "like a mighty Ganges emerging from the Himalayas of Vedic wisdom". It has tributaries, currents and backwaters, but it is one sacred river all the same. (page 186)

In this view of things, the schools are not ultimately separate rivers, so it might not be a fool's errand to experience two or more.

Having said all this, I should add that I do understand why you may feel called to focus your attention on one particular vision of the Divine and on the writings and images in which that vision is expressed. Actually I have been doing so myself for quite a few years...

Om Shantih,

Devi_bhakta
Colin wrote :*** I know of the Kena Upanishad's account of how Indra was enlightened by Uma Haimavati. If you can dig up other accounts I would be very interested to see them.*** Well, it's an interesting "trail of evidence" that I was referring to. I hope it's not too far off the mark.

As you mention, the tale begins in the Kena Upanishad, in which a "yaksha" (forest spirit) suddenly appears in a strange floating cloud, in order to teach the gods a lesson -- that their apparently infinite divine powers ultimately come from another source, without which they are nothing. When the other gods are duly humbled, Indra finally approaches the cloud formation to find that a luminous goddess called Uma Haimavati has replaced the yaksha. She reveals to Indra that the yaksha was actually Brahman Itself.

This tale is revisited in the 12th Skanda of the Devi Bhagavata Purana, which states that Uma Haimavati was not a mere emissary of Brahman, but Brahman Itself (like the Yaksha). Uma Haimavati being a form of Devi, the DBP concludes that Devi = Brahman.

The Shiva Purana (V.49) tells the same version of the tale, again explicitly identifying Uma (Devi) with Brahman.

There are several sources or theological bases for this claim. The "Harivamsha" contains a hymn to Nidra -- a goddess of yogic sleep -- which calls her the "foremost Yakshi among Yakshas" (app. I.1, lines 24-25) who "expounds Brahman." The commentary to this section notes that Nidra is the very same Uma Haimavati of the Kena Upanishad.

The "Mahabharata," in its famous "Durga Stotra," praises Devi as "the knowledge of Brahman" (Brahmavidya), referring to her in the same line as "Maha-Nidra."

Also, Swami Vimalananda's commentary on the 10th Patala of the "Yogini Tantra" identifies Devi -- here called Maha-Kali -- as having proved Herself to be no less than Brahman by appearing to Indra as Uma Haimavati. Vimalananda also notes that Devi's form as Uma Haimavati is identical to Her form as Aniruddha-Saraswati, but -- beyond the general idea that every goddess is a manifestation of Devi -- I don't know what story or scripture that name refers to.

*** I would add only that Indian writers (with some exceptions) have a tendency to look for the things common to all these schools, whereas western writers about India tend to be more interested in the differences. ***

That's a useful idea; it certainly seems to be true.

Now. I should really clarify a statement I made that may have been misleading. I wrote, "Without getting into the Exclusivity Doctrine and all that, the fact is, the Christians are people who have embraced Christ as Supreme. The Shaktas are people who've embraced Shakti as Supreme." You replied, "This isn't quite the way Woodroffe characterizes the Shaktas."

At that point, I was not attempting to paraphrase Woodroffe; I was simply shooting off my own mouth, and I fear I may have planted the seeds of misunderstanding by doing so. I am certainly not saying that anything like the "Exclusivity Doctrine" (i.e. Christianity's insistence that you either find the Divine through Christ's teachings or you're damned into hell) exists in Hinduism. I simply meant -- and I still think it's true -- that Shaktas are those who worship the Supreme Divine via a form of Devi, just as Christians worship the Supreme Divine via Christ.

You quoted Woodroffe as saying, "The Shakta doctrine is concerned with those Spiritual Principles which exist before, and are the origin of, both men and women ... Nor does it say that the 'female principle' is the supreme Divinity. Shiva the 'male' is co-equal with Shive the 'female,' for both are one and the same ..."

Okay, this is getting into the theme of my previous two posts, so I'll simply refer you to those and not repeat all of that. Suffice it to say, yes, I agree, Shaktism recognizes Shiva, although -- as the Uma Haimavati episode indicates, there *is* a Shakta tendency to insist upon Devi as the "Supreme Divinity," just as there is a tendency to insist upon Siva or Krishna, etc., as Supreme in other Hindu sects. Woodroffe, remember, was writing from the Tantric perspective in "Shakti and Shakta," whereas more sectarian documents like the Devi Bhagavata Purana (while including much Tantric philosophy) focus also on Advaita and Bhakti approaches.

That distinction probably also explains why Woodroffe's position seems to stand in direct opposition to that of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (quoted in my reply to prainbow) that "Shaktas worship Shakti as the Supreme Being exclusively, as the dynamic aspect of Divinity, while Siva is considered solely transcendent and is not worshiped."

On the practical front, as you note, Woodroffe writes: "The characteristic features of Shakta-dharma are thus its Monism; its concept of the Motherhood of God; its unsectarian spirit and provisions for Shudras and women, to the latter of whom it renders high honour, recognizing that they may be even Gurus; and lastly its Sadhana skilfully designed to realize its teachings." (Shakti and Shakta, Dover edition NY 1978, pp 173 to 174).

You comment that Woodroffe's interpretation of Shakta-dharma "actually fits with the title you've given this thread -- "Shaktism: Not Anti-Shiva, But Definitely Pro-Devi." Thank you for noticing. You also note that "the division between Shaiva writings and Shakta writings in India is by no means … clear cut." I agree. And I would say that the whole point of my question was to make people think about what that division may be and what it means. Because, as prainbow's post suggests, Woodroffe's definition of Shakta as "rendering high honour to women" does not always play out in the actual lives of those who call themselves Shaktas, nor do we always see an "unsectarian spirit."

As for Shaktism's "Sadhana skilfully designed to realize its teachings," well, that's precisely why I'm asking these questions. How do we translate the ideals of Shaktism into a practical discipline that will lead us to realize its high social and religious ideals? What does it mean to choose the Shakta path that is *different* from choosing, say, the Shaivite or Krishavite path?

I think you're definitely approaching the crux of the matter when you say, "the schools are not ultimately separate rivers, so it might not be a fool's errand to experience two or more." That may be the "right" big-picture answer, if there is one. But I am extremely glad to see that you understand my "small-picture" query as well, my specific interest in exploring what exactly makes Shaktism unique -- and what those unique features ultimately "mean" in practice and in the way one's spiritual nature opens and unfolds.

You note that you have been pursuing these same issues for years, and I can only thank you once again for choosing to honor this Group with your findings.



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