A Conversation About Sri Vidya [ Part 1 ]

Devi Bhakta
It's an excerpt from a wonderful conversation with a great Srividya adept and guru in southern India with whom I had the honor and pleasure of conversing at length and at leisure.

Q: So is Shakti Sadhana ultimately a misnomer? Is Shiva always the end goal?

A: No. At the end Shiva and Shakti are One, with the Shakti principle predominating. That's why at Guru Paduka [the Chakra above Sahasrara], it's Ardhanareshwara.

Q: If they are One, then why do you say "with the Shakti principle predominating"?

A: Because that's the way it is. That's why it is said, shakti vinaa shiva shava: "Without Shakti, Shiva is a corpse." If you've noticed, in all depictions Devi is on top. Even in coitus with Shiva. That is what it means: The Shakti principle predominates.

Q: Okay, so what is Shakti without Shiva?

A: She is Energy, satchidananda. She can create another Shiva at Her will.

Q: She can?!

A: She can. At Guru Paduka level, She is Ardhanareshwara/i; then at the Mahaabindu level She is formless, attributeless - pure bliss. In permanent orgasm - that's the only way the "bliss" on reaching that level can be explained in mundane terms.

Q: But so much of what one hears and reads ends with Shiva. Devi is conceived as something like a taxicab, and Shiva is where She drops you off. That kind of thing.

A: Okay, we will have to explain that in detail. The Urdhwamnaya Dhyana will solve a lot of problems for you. Tell me, how many faces has Shiva?

Q: Normally, Sadashiva is said to have five faces.

A: Yes, but really it is six; only the sixth is hidden. Each face has a name, and from each of the faces a group of mantras emanated numbering millions. The mantras of the four groups are the mantras of East; West, North, South. These are the mantras that are normally called the Amnaya Mantras.

Urdhwamnaya - the "upper" one - and anuttaramnaya - the one above the upper one! - are available only to the upasakas of the Mahaa ShodaShakshari; thus we have the Urdhwamnaya Dhyana. For those initiated as far as Mahaa Shodashi, The six faces are the four facing the four cardinal points, a fifth looking up, and a sixth below and ever hidden - it is called anuttaramnaaya; that which is above the one above, i.e., the one below.

Now, then. The Urdhwamnaya Dhyana says:

"On the most enchanting golden island, in the middle of the ocean of nectar, in the grove of kalpavrikshas, in the nine-pillared ruby hall, on a throne studded with precious stones and having the effulgence of an infinite number of suns and moons, the Urdhwamnaya aspect of Shiva sits, half being Ambika [Devi], appropriately ornamented. She is ever 16 years old, with a smiling face, three eyes and the crescent, wearing otherworldly, divine ornaments and clothes. With Her four hands, She holds a drinking vessel (perhaps a brandy snifter!); trishoola; book; and displays the chin mudra. She is attended to by all the Devas including Mahaashoda (whom you shall come to know later). So shall one meditate upon the Shiva who is Ardhanareshwara."

But here is the important part. Look back at the last line: "So shall one meditate upon the Shiva who is Ardhanareshwara." Okay? So that dhyana was of SHIVA as Ardhanareshwara! But the next line continues, pum roopam vaa smareddevI strIroopam vaa vicintayet: "DEVI can be meditated upon as a man or woman." adhava nishkalam dhyaayetsachidaananda lakshanam: "or SHE can be meditated upon as attributeless; as a sign of absolute bliss." sarwa tejomayam dhyAyet sa caraacara vigraham: "SHE shall be meditated upon as the quintessence of all Energy and of all Living and Non-Living Beings."

Q: Could you clarify, what is the chin mudra?

A: Well, the common knowledge is holding thumb and forefingers so that they make an "O"; and the other fingers straight. But in SriVidya, the chinmudra is slightly different: The forefinger goes to the root of the thumb, and the thumb presses the forefinger to the junction of thumb and palm. Vivekananda came all the way to Kerala and learnt it from the saint Chattambi Swamikal. After meeting him, he said "I have met a man!!" [...]

Q: While we are on the subject on mantras, can I ask you the proper dhyana to accompany the great Panchadasi Mantra?

A: Yes. It is:

dhyAyet kAmeshwarAnkastAM kuruvindamaNiprabhAM shoNAMbarassrugAlepAM
sarwAMgiNavibhUShANAM saundaryashevadhIM seShucApapAshAMkushojjwalAM
swAbhAbhiraNimAdyAbhih sevyAM sarwaniyAmikAM saccidAnandavapUShAM
sadayApAMgavibhramAM sarwalokaikajananIM smerasyAM lalitAMbikAM

dhyAyet kAmeshwarAnkastAM = She shall be meditated upon as seated on the lap of (which means "in coitus with") Kameswara.
kuruvindamaNiprabhAM = red colored
shoNAMbarassrugAlepAM= having red vermillion marks
sarwAMgiNavibhUShANAM= having all ornaments
saundaryashevadhIM= the epitome of beauty
seShucApapAshAMkushojjwalAM= shining by the light of the light of pasha (the noose) and ankusha (the goad)
swAbhAbhiraNimAdyAbhih sevyAM = being served by Anima (one of the eight Siddhis) and other siddhis (Mahima, Laghima, etc)
sarwaniyAmikAM= the controller of everything
saccidAnandavapUShAM= having the body of eternal bliss
sadayApAMgavibhramAM= having a kind smile
sarwalokaikajananIM= Mother of all the worlds
smerasyAM lalitAMbikAM= Lalitambika (here referring to Her Panchadasi form) shall be meditated upon thus."

So that's the dhyana. But consider the line saundaryashevadhIM - "the epitome of beauty." MY Panchadashi has to be a Saundarya shevadhi to me, the epitome of beauty - TO ME. You see, the depiction has to relate to the sadhaka personally. If YOU think a certain depiction or conception of Her is the epitome of beauty, then that is the One for YOU. It's a personal, one on one relationship. Similarly, there are innumerable Lalitas, depending on the number of sadhakas with the attributes - likes and dislikes - of THAT sadhaka.

For example, as an Indian, I might visualize Her as, say, a great silver-screen beauty like Hema Malini. A Westerner, on the other hand, might visualize her as, oh I don't know, a Madonna or Liz Taylor -- someone whom we LOVE; someone who just melts our heart. As you keep on reciting, the image becomes clearer and clearer, and then it starts taking on a three-dimensional quality, and then She becomes lierally alive -- just as alive and well as any other person in our life -- and that's called "sameepya" or "nearness."

Then finally what happens is, we start taking those attributes and slowly start looking like Her -- which is called "saaroopya," and then we *become* Her. That's "sayoojya." [...]

Q: What is the relationship between Meenakshi/Matangi and Panchadasi? They are very close, I think?

A: Mathangi/Meenaakshi is the Supreme Advisor to Lalitha, just asVaaraahi is her Supreme Commander.

Q: The military parallel there is interesting, don't you think?

A: I would say a political rather than a military structure. The political leader governs. Likewise, we have to RULE ourselves with discipline and fight our enemies within, and at times outside us. And so part of what She sends Her devotees is the discipline we need to move closer to Her.

Q: But the military implication is still there, wouldn't you agree? To have a "Supreme Commander" implies that you have a large army.

A: Yes. Her army consists of the innumerable shaktis.

Q: And if you need a "Supreme Advisor," that assumes you are a leader with certain tasks to carry out and interests to satisfy; some of which may conflict with the tasks and interests of other leaders?

A: She is a leader with interests of humanity as Her goal, for which she may require advise - on how to make humanity progress faster and better.

Q: Listen, I am sorry if I am asking the wrong sorts of questions. But I find them intriguing: Leader of whom? Or of what? Advisor on what? Commander of whom? To do what? And why?

A: No, they are the right sorts of questions. They make you think. Indeed, a person should know all of these things to be a sadhaka. [...]

Q: Now a sticky question, if you care to tackle it: In terms of Shaktism, is a Brahmin considered to be born or made?

A: You have heard the famous saying, Eko satya vipraah bahudhaa vadantIM : "The truth is one, the wise call it by many names."

Here vipraah denotes "Visheshena prayaanam karoti iti Viprah" - who cleaves a path of their own is vipraah. Similarly "brahmana" does not get that right to be called "brahmana" just because he was born in a Brahmin family but by dint of sheer merit to be called a brahmana. He who knows brahma is a Brahmana.

Brahmajnaaneeti brahmana - that is, one who has REAL experience of Brahma - alone is a Brahmin. Now, you will find that Brahminical hegemonists use viprah synonymously with Brahmin. But in truth, both denote different types of people. That birth ALONE does not give any right is spoken to in various shrutis and smritis. Birth gives you a higher place to start off; that is all. The story of Satyakama Jabala is an example. Thus viprah is a person who has not yet become a Brahmana.

Similarly, most of the Rishis were non-Brahmins BY BIRTH. The Rishiof Haadi Vidya is Lopamudra - a non-Brahmin. The Rishi of Gayatri - considered the Greatest Vaideeka mantra is Vishwamitra - another person who was not BORN a Brahmin. Thus anyone who cleaves his own path is a viprah and anyone who gets to know Brahma is a Brahmin.

Ah, again, thank you for sharing this. It is so rare, really, in this life to have the opportunity to discuss Devi in such depth, with such passion and detail. Sometimes I wish for more of that.

I love this: "She is a leader with interests of humanity as Her goal"

That's a sentiment that I could use reminding of more often.Sometimes I think She doesn't notice at all, or that there is no hope for humanity to progress. I often wonder...

It's nice to stop and consider these things.


Dear Prainbrow:

It is true that we lesser mortals will feel that way. I too have felt that way time and again. But as time goes on and the larger picture emerges we see that SHE has not only been watching but guiding and protectingas well.

rajeshwari iyer

I was surprised that Gayatri Mantra originated from Sage Vishwamitra. Why he is considered a Great sage - If I understand purans correctly , he was a kshatriya by birth and lost his battle against sage Vasishta over Nandini the cow. This gave him determination to be more powerful than Vasista and decided to give up his kingdom to meditate in a jungle. His only goal was tobe an equal of Vasishta and to oppose him in anything he said and defeat him in every possible way.

Did he succeed in his mission. Was his goal justified? When someone who has revengeful goal then why do we give him respect and consider him great sage.

Sarabhanga Giri

Namaste Raji,

The Devata of Rishi Vishvamitra is Savitri ~ Gayatri or Surya. The Devata of Rishi Vasishtha is Varuna ~ the dark Ocean of Time itself, and the very fabric through which the Solar Lord navigates.

Which is truly the greater God?

The Kshatriya Varna of Vishvamitra is Aryan Nobility, whose rank and glory is conferred by God through the Priest. The Brahmana Varna of Vasishtha is the Aryan Priesthood, whose rank and glory is conferred by God and sustained by Nobility.

Which is truly the most important player in this eternal drama?

A Brahmana of Bhrigu's clan was married to a Kshatriya princess. The wise Priest prepared a special offering for his new bride, so that she might conceive a son with the qualities of a Brahmana. The Priest also prepared a special offering for her mother (the Queen, and his Mother-in-Law), so that she might conceive a son with the qualities of a Kshatriya.

The Queen, who is Maya, switched places with her daughter, so that she gave birth to Vishvamitra ~ the son of a Kshatriya with the qualities of a Brahmana ~ and her daughter Satyavati bore Jamadagni ~the son of Brahmana and the father of Parasurama, the warrior Brahmana and serial killer of Kshatriyas.

Ultimately, Vasishtha, being propitiated by the gods, became reconciled to Vishvamitra, and recognized his claim to all the prerogatives of a Brahman Rishi. Vishvamitra, too, having attained the Brahmanical rank, paid all honour to Vasishtha.

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