The Goddess's Promises in "Devi Mahatmyam
2003


Devi bhakta

An interesting off-board question from a member:

*** Q: As I read the "Devi Mahatmyam," I am beyond myself in the promises she makes to her devotees. Do you take these promises as literal help or in a figurative type meaning? ... I am cautious here since the imagery is so powerful of an all-encompassing help. I guess as a person from the West would ask, "What is the catch?" ***

Well, there are no end-all, be-all answers to your question, of course. We all must put in our time, contemplate or meditate upon the passages and arrive at our own understanding.

As for me, I would say these promises work on different levels for different people. On the most non-religious level, they are simply a literary convention in the "mahatmyam" (glorification) genre, which exists for many forms of the Divine. They are sectarian documents -- they are attempts to spread the "good news" about whatever deity the composers wish to promote.

So in "Sanskritizing" India's indigenous Goddess tradition, the Devi Mahatmyam's composers didn't just adopt the Sanskrit language but also a revered Sanskrit form. To put it rather crudely, the thought pattern was essentially, "If Shiva and Vishnu are offering these sorts of things to their devotees, then Devi's going to have a hard time competing if She doesn't do the same!" So here you simply have Devi offering no less than what the Supreme Diety of any religion would offer -- it's just another way for the Shaktas who composed DM to say, "She's the One."

But it's more than just that. Devi's promises to Her devotees illustrate that She works on all levels, depending on the needs of Her supplicants -- She provides simple daily needs for simple folk who wish for no more; material comforts for those living in the mundane world, victory and power for rulers, and Supreme Realization for spiritual aspirants. Whatever it is you seek, She's the one to seek it from, the Devi Mahatmyam seems to be saying.

Notice the two devotees in the DM's frame story -- the king and the merchant (showing that She's equally concerned with people in all walks of life). The dispossessed king seeks to regain his kingdom -- and so Devi restores it, and then some; she makes him a Manu (showing that she often gives Her devotees even more than they ask for). But the dispossessed merchant is totally disillusioned with the world, and wants only moksha -- to escape the cycle of birth and death, and merge forever with the Divine. And Devi grants his wish as well. The message? Whatever point you may be at in your spiritual evolution, Devi will provide what you seek.

Remember this: She is both Maha-Vidya, the Supreme Knowledge, and Maha-Maya, the Supreme Illusion. And so it's no problem for Her to deliver whatever her devotees wish, in either sphere.

*** Q: Shaktism seems to be ready for everyday life interactions - far beyond the needs of those secluded in an ashram I would think! ***

You're right. Shaktism is especially well-suited to those of us immersed in the workaday world. It goes back to Devi's identity with Maya, the Visible World. Many Hindu traditions deny the world as something false, a trap or snare for those illusioned by transient material attractions. Some even seem to share the Judeo-Christian proclivity and blame women for this: They attract men with fleeting charms, then "trap" them in family responsibilities and financial cares. Thus human women, in thuis view, symbolize Maya-- think of the tales about how Shiva is the Ascetic God, reluctantly lured into family life by Parvati's power. That's a Shaivite allegory for spiritual aspiration compromised by the mundane world.

But here's where Shaktism and Tantra come in and say, No. The world is real. It is Maya, the Goddess Herself.

Maya is not Illusion, but Veiled Reality. She makes it possible for us to live in this world and partake of its pleasures. But She is also the Knowledge that can transcend Maya. She is Everything, both in and beyond the manifest Universe.

Which is why Shaktas and Tantrics tend to be householders, not monks or nuns or swamis. They are people living in the world, dealing with "real life", its joys and frustrations and limitations. To them, Devi says Reality is not an obstacle to Spirituality -- on the contrary, it is (when understood correctly) perhaps the most powerful vehicle for reaching spiritual goals. Shaktism is the art and science of making this happen. Does that work for you?

Aum Maatangyai Namahe

Colin

Namaste Devi bhakta and list members.

Devi bhakta wrote: An interesting off-board question from a member: *** Q: As I read the "Devi Mahatmyam," I am beyond myself in the promises she makes to her devotees. Do you take these promises as literal help or in a figurative type meaning? ... I am cautious here since the imagery is so powerful of an all-encompassing help. I guess as a person from the West would ask, "What is the catch?" ***

I think I know what this member is referring to. For instance, Devi Mahatmya chapter 12 verses 12 to 13 --

"During autumnal season, when the great annual worship is performed, the man hearing this glorification of mine with devotion shall certainly through my grace, be delivered without doubt from all troubles and be blessed with riches, grains and children."

(from Swami Jagadiswarananda's translation, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1953.)

As for me, I would say these promises work on different levels for different people. On the most non-religious level, they are simply a literary convention in the "mahatmyam" (glorification) genre, which exists for many forms of the Divine.

Yes, but this raises the further question of why such a literary convention exists for any forms of the Divine. I'd suggest that it exists because worship really can help people to overcome their problems and attain their objectives. However, the way it does this may be less sudden and dramatic than some of the literature implies.

In West Bengal, millions of people hear the glorification of the Devi in the autumn season every year, without being instantly blessed with riches and grains. And yet, I don't think verses like the one I've quoted would keep getting read out unless they resonated with _something_ in the experience of the people who hear them.

Several months ago, I read a short article called "A Mother's Faith in Kali" (in _Emerald Egg of Oz__, publication of the Church of All Worlds, Australia.) The author, who signed herself 'Sister Usha', described her mother's life as a Calcutta prostitute.

She wrote: "Being a prostitute is an extremely difficult job. Most of your customers are reasonably nice men, but some are not...This type of life is enough to break the spirit of most women. Yet my mother was a woman of remarkable strength and courage. She devoted her life to finding a better life for her daughter (me) than what she had for herself. She worked hard for many years trying to prevent me from following her in poverty. Where did she find the strength? Answer: by worshipping Kali..."

The mother's own life didn't have a fairy tale ending, yet she accomplished her goal of putting her child on the road to an easier and happier life. An instance of the power of the Goddess, or of the power of the human spirit? Is there any difference?

Om Shantih,



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