The Four Traditions in Sri Vidya
by Devi Bhakta
I have noticed that some of the recent threads here reveal a certain confusion about the various traditions contained within Srividya
upasana. My intention here is to briefly explain those traditions for those who don't know. For those who do know, I invite you to
correct, improve and/or clarify these explanations as you see fit. The below information is based on some unpublished notes by Sri
Amritananda Natha, and augmented by others within that path.|
The traditions existing within the Sri Vidya can broadly be categorized as the Samayachara, the Dakshinachara, the Kaulachara and the Vamachara traditions.
It should be understood at the outset that Srividya is Srividya. Brooks sufficiently defines Srividya as an "influential school of goddess-centered Sakta Tantrism. Centering on [but not confined to] the goddess's three [principal] manifestations – the beneficent deity Lalita Tripurasundari, her mantra, and the visually striking sri chakra – Srividya creates a systematic esoteric discipline that combines elements of the yogas of knowledge, of devotion, and of ritual."
What has to be emphasized here is that these four traditions within Srividya are essentially all the same – the difference is only in the tools that are used. In fact, I will use a metaphor that has annoyed people before, but one that I believe is accurate and useful in explaining these concepts: Think of the traditions as four toolboxes available to the initiated Srividya upasak.
Why toolboxes? Because a toolbox is something you open when you have a job to do. You reach in and take what you need for the job at hand. Just because a certain tool is in there, doesn't mean you need to pull it out for every job. It's quite likely, in fact, that you will *never* need to use most of these tools. But they are there in case you do.
SAMAYACHARA: Worship Focused in the Mind Samayachara refers to the internal mode of worship, and to worship employing homas; the fire ritual. We perform the homas and internal visualizations whether or not external puja articles are present. If they are not present, we can simply visualize them and still perform the entire puja.
In recent times, some confusion has arisen about Samayachara. It has been presented by some as a Brahminical or Vedic (or at least non- Tantric) form of Srividya; as the highest or purest or most evolved form of Srividya.
This is nonsense. Samaya is a part of almost any Srividya upasana, even if the "Brahminical bully boys" would like to claim it as their own pure island. Think about it: If one argues that Samayachara consists of a distinct set of lineages within Srividya, then one can legitimately ask if there actually is a Samayachara at all. If there is, what is its guru parampara? If it starts with Lakshmidhara, then who are his successors? What is the lineage? Does one exist at all? Or did it end within a generation or so, with Lakshmidhara?
In fact, Samayachara is simply one of Srividya's toolboxes; nothing more, nothing less. For example, I have been blessed enough to take diksha in Samayachara, Dakshinachara and Kaulachara paramparas. They are complementary, not conflicting. There is no inherent conflict between the traditions, and those who understand the paths properly know that none rejects the others.
DAKSHINACHARA: Worship Situated on an External Representation of Devi
In the Dakshinachara tradition, you worship the Sri Chakra. It is a bahya puja, meaning that you are worshiping something outside of yourself; usually a vigraham, i.e., an idol or yantra. However, the suvasini puja is also done. The suvasini is a woman who represents the Devi; but in this tradition the puja is done only to her feet.
KAULACHARA: Worship Focused in the Body
Samayachara and Dakshinachara traditions are, in the main, not very controversial; nearly any religious system could approve. But the Kaulachara marks a place where some people begin to get uncomfortable. Because here the focus turns to the human body itself as the microcosm that allows us to interface with the Macrocosm. Here is where we come face to face with the reality of Tantra – which is neither luridly "sexy" (as its Western "practitioners" would have it) nor decadently debased (as its Eastern critics claim). Tantra is not a religion; it is a methodology that can (but need not) be used in approaching many religious systems within Hinduism and Buddhism.
You see, the central theme of Tantra has nothing to do with sex or booze; instead it is the seamless web – the idea of the absolute interrelatedness – and ultimate Oneness -- of all things that exist, seen or unseen. Stepping down a peg, the main practical corollary of all this is the Macrocosmic/Microcosmic parallel – that life on the micro-level (individual lives and acts) can be used to extrapolate an understanding of life on the Macro (cosmic and divine) level (and vice versa). Stepping down a final peg from theory to practice, we may add that this basic web of beliefs is realized through powerful ritual acts involving body, speech and mind.
The Kaulachara "toolbox" does indeed include such sensational rituals as the panchamakara, the yoni puja and so on. But such rituals are, in fact, "exotics" – used once in a great while by some sadhaks in some circumstances, and by many others not at all. Perhaps the most common "body worship" acts in Kaulachara are the nyasas, which are totally unobjectionable – making the Christian sign of the cross is a type of nyasa, for goodness' sake.
In the Kaulachara tradition, the idol is replaced by a living woman or a man or a couple. You can also think of Her as the Union of Shiva and Shakti. You can worship Her as a woman, as a man, or as both. There are no restrictions in this regard. When we give Her a bath, we not only chant the Durga and Lakshmi Suktams; we also chant the Purusha Suktam and the Rudram. The word "She" contains the word "He". So you need not worry that you are only worshiping the Mother Goddess and ignoring the Father God. You are worshiping both.
In the Kaulachara tradition, the notion of the self is completely negated. You see everyone as yourself. You invoke the Goddess into your spouse, into the suvasini or into anyone. You yourself become the Goddess in the Viraja homa, even as you are worshiping Her. That is why it is said that Kaulas accumulate no karma – it is not a boast, but a logical result when one sheds the "self" to which karma generally attaches itself.
There can be no sense of shame in this process. That is why Dattatreya is known as Digambara, the Naked One. Dattatreya Digambara is one of the great mantras of Dattatreya. Shridi Sai Baba, Satya Sai Baba, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Ganapati Sacchidananda – all of these teachers come from the Dattatreya tradition.
It is worth noting here that the Kaulachara follow all three concepts, one progressing into the next, starting as Kaulas and then later internalizing everything; external worship ends, becoming more dakshina or samaya in nature – but the achara remains Kaula. Cp. Lalita Sahasranama: "samayachara talpara."
The last Achara is called the Vamachara tradition. In contrast to the other three Acharas described here – which are based on the worship of the protective, nourishing, healing kind of aspects of the Divine – the Vamachara tradition worships the terrible aspects of the Divine, the laya pradhana, where dissolution is the main aspect. It is dissolution of the upasaka into the ultimate, resulting in absolute merger.
It is the Vamachara tradition that employs, among other things, rituals in the cremation grounds. There you will find vairagya, complete detachment. One's energy leaves the Visshudi Chakra, going up to the Command Centers and never coming down. It is very difficult to arrive at these centers without passing through the lower chakras. For example, until one has experienced Anahata Chakra, the heart center, to arrive at the Ajna Center is very dangerous: One will experience an inordinate number of fears that cannot be shaken off. One cannot be given the astra vidyas, the so- called "atom bomb" mantras and teachings -- because atom bombs can't be put into the hands of crazy people.
Suffice it to say that the Vamachara path is very dangerous without a proper guru. The aghoris are Vamacharis. Some Vamacharis do use their energies for healing. One we know in Benares uses his healing energy to cure the lepers etc. Normally we like to think of God in the beautiful sense; but the Vamacharis prefer to think of God in the terrible sense.