God As Mother : A Narration.
by Sri Swami Atmeshananda
Little Sankari was excited. This was her first trip to Singapore and to Asia. Her father, Siva and mother, Liza had planned their holiday to visit Singapore, which Sankari had heard about so much. It was a long flight for the trio from Reykjavik in Iceland where Sankari was born, to Singapore – almost halfway round the world. Born to parent from mixed origins, there was little that Sankari could learn about Hinduism in her homeland. The mother, a devout Christian, had indeed taken Sankari to the church regularly and thus Sankari was acquainted with the bible. But as for her father’s religion, the less said the better. Siva was much devoted to his work and although Sankari had seen her father standing with folded hands every morning and evening in front of some photos, she never thought that he was religious. Neither did the father take much interest in talking to his daughter about his religion. But he respected the views of his wife and the couple was very amiable and caring parents. But when the trip to Singapore was planned, the gather seemed to be excited – perhaps it brought back memories of his stay in Asia long ago before he left for Europe to pursue his studies.
Soon after arrival in Singapore Sankari got very excited – the aroma of cooking at roadside coffee shops, the varieties of color in the surroundings, the clean roads and places and the cacophony of various sounds produced by the unintelligible languages spoken produced an instant charming effect on the little girl. Her natural calm demeanor broke all bounds and she went on shelling inquisitive questions to her father. The father gave appropriate answers to all these questions happily. After a long period he found an outlet to his expression!
After taking rest at the hotel, the trio started visiting places of interest. But Siva could not wait longer to visit his favorite place – the Hindu temples –, which were so dear to him when he was a young boy. He was aware that there would be a good deal of questioning by his little daughter when he visited the Temple – after all, she had never been on all these years. After visiting some places they went to the most awaited item on Mr. Siva’s itinerary – An Amman Temple.
Going inside the Temple Mr. Siva bowed low before the Goddess Mariamman. Sankari had no knowledge of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Her only idea of God was that He was a Male Person. Surprised, she asked ‘ Papa, whose image is this and why do you bow down before her?”
“It is the image of Mariamman, the God-Mother who protects us all. In Hinduism, the Divine Mother has different names and forms to suit the faiths of different types of devotees; but all ultimately point to one principle – GOD”
“But, papa, God is a man, how is it that He is a Woman?”
“Well, that is interesting. Let me tell you a story told by Sri Ramakrishna, the greatest of all prophets of India in recent past. Once a devotee went to the Temple of Mother Kali, the Divine Mother. There he saw the Divine Mother adorned with a sacred thread, which men usually wear when they are initiated into the most sacred of mantras – sacred invocations – the Gayatri. The devotee asked the priest of the Temple “What? You have the sacred thread on the Mother’s neck?” The priest answered, “Brother, I see that you have truly known the Mother. But I have not yet been able to find out whether She is Male or Female; that is why I have the sacred thread on Her image” This shows that God is a Principle beyond our limited understanding. But to give our thoughts a more concrete form we think of God as male and female. The specialty of Hinduism is that it gives expression to all the various feelings of its followers. In the primitive religions God was thought of as a tyrant, a person who always punishes the wrongdoers and is stern person. But as culture progressed the concept of God as more merciful and as father made humans less fearful of God and developed a sweet personal relationship with him. We started to recognize the unbounded mercy of God and began to think of Him as more benevolent persons. You must know that Indian culture is one of the oldest cultures, which has continued to grow richer and richer in spite of the various onslaughts trying to pres it down. As such, religion, which is the backbone of the people, began to grow and gave expression to different modes of practicing religion. Worshipping of God as Mother is, therefore, one of the most refined ways of looking at God.
“Well, you mean to say the mother is greater than father?”
“If you would have it, so be it. I am not jealous of your mother – no, not the least. I know how much trouble your mother had to go through to bring you into the world and make you what you are now. Mother is the first person you come to know even before you came into this world. She is the nearest, dearest, the one who takes care of her child without caring for herself. That is why the great sage Sankaracharya of India prayed thus:
“O Mother, in this world, in the midst of thy numerous worthy sons, I happen to be a rare specimen of wantonness. Yet, O thou beneficient one, it is not proper for Thee to have abandoned me, thy child. For, a bad son may sometimes be born, but never has there been a bad mother?
Hinduism recognised this greatness of the mother and adopted her as the highest ideal. I can say that other religions also have recognized the mother ideal, but not as much as Hinduism. Even the Vedas, the oldest scripture available to us today, extimated to be more than 5000 years B.C is full of praise for God as Mother. In the reg-veda, the oldest of the Vedas, we find one of the woman-rishis ( sage ) saying :
“ I am the Empress of the universe…. Whatever action men do is through My power … Whom I love I make a powerful man, the creator brahma, a sage, or a brilliant man…” This shows that the Divine Mother is responsible for creation and maintenance of this universe.
“well, dad, there you are. You seem to suggest that God as Mother is the one who created all of us. But my knowledge of religion says that God is a Man. He created man first and from one of the ribs of man created the woman. You theory leaves my ideas confusing”
“sankari, that prompts me to explain further. But, aren’t you bored listening to all the philosophy?”
“No, dad. I am really anxious to know more about Mother. And, you should know, that I am a girl. It surely helps me to realize my own nature. Go on”
“well, for Hindus, there is no contradiction between God as a Male and God as female personality because our scriptures say that all creation is outcome of the thought of who is of the nature of sat, cit and ananda ( existence, knowledge and bliss ) But in order to explain the existence of all beings the scriptures identify our ancestors as Brahman, who creates the Universe. But he does not create alone. He takes the help of his Power or Shakti. This morning we went to the potter. Have you observed how the potter uses clay to make the pots? Without the clay, even with the wheel, he cannot make any pot. Without gold, the goldsmith could not have shaped the beautiful jewellery which you are wearing. In the same way, Brahman, with the help of Shakti, shapes all beings. She is, therefore, the material cause of this universe. She is the essence, the energy of all; with her, he is ever endowed with energy”
“dad, sorry to interrupt you, can I ask you a question?” “Yes dear !”
“Just now you said that the creator is Brahman and Shakti is the material cause like clay to the potter. Do you mean to say that Brahman is greater than Shakti” That mean that the male is greater than the female” “well you are very intelligent. But you must know that an example has its limitations. It can take you only up to a certain point. It cannot completely explain everything. In order to explain an example, another example has to be made us of. Now that you have grasped my thought let me go further and give you more examples. You have seen open fireplace back home, isn’t it? What do you see in it?
“yes, in fire you see both light and heat which is nothing but the power to burn. So also you see brilliance and heat together in the Sun; beauty and light in the Moon. In the same manner, when you say that Brahman is the cause of this Universe, it involves Shakti, His power also. Our scriptures say that Brahman and Shakti are eternally united, never separated. As whiteness cannot be separated from milk, so also Brahman cannot be separated from Shakti. As such, God can be worshipped as both He and She – the male and female.
“Our saints and sages have recognized this female aspect very much. The Devi Mahatmyam, one of the scriptures dealing with the greatness of Mother, says that the Devi or Goddess is the power of the Supreme Being and of inexhaustible valour. She is the primeval Maya, the seed of the universe and its pervader. If she becomes gracious, She brings about people’s final liberation from all worldly bondage.”
“ I told you about Sri Sankaracharya. He was a staunch advocate of the Philosophy of Advaita which says that only Brahman exists – all else is illusion. But even such a person accepts that Mother is the one who breaks and opens the door to liberation from misery. Listen to what he says “ She is the Queen of the Supreme Being Brahman is the seed of liberation for the good”
“Listen to what Sri Ramakrishna says. He once had a vision of Kasi (or Varanasi ) which is in Northern India and considered to be one of the holiest of all places for a Hindu. Sri Ramakrishna was cruising down the Ganga river when she came to a famous crematorium called Manikarnika ghat. Narrating the vision he told later “ I saw a tall, white person with tawny matted hair walking with solemn steps t each pyre in the burning ghat, raising carefully every Jiva and imparting into his ear the mantra of Supreme Brahman; while sitting on the pyre on the other side of the Jiva, the all-powerful Universal Mother, Mahakali, the great Kali, untying all knots of bondaga, gross, subtle and causal of the Jiva produced by past impressions, and sending him to the indivisible Spehere by openng with Her own hands the door to liberation..” So, there is this ‘division of labour’ between the Lord and His Divine Spouse in liberating the individual soul. The Lord gives the saving mantra. But who removes the bonds of ego, ignorance and a lot of impurities? It is the Mother. She holds the key to the doors of liberation. Sri Saradadevi, the spiritual spouse of Sri Ramakrishna, regarded by all as the Holy Mother, says ‘if my child comes home after playing in mud, I as mother, will clean his body of the mud and take him into my lap’ The father may hesitate – but a mother will never”
“Dad, once while you and mother were discussing something, I overheard you saying that in India women are treated with neglect. If you religion gives so much importance to the motherhood, how can it neglect its women?”
“A question well put. You deserve a treat for putting that question. But let me answer you first. It is indeed unfortunate that the condition of women of a country where the dignity of motherhood is upheld so much by its scriptures, is so pathetic. Who is responsible for this? Is it the religion ? Or, is it the society? Or is it the politics” Well, to me the answer seems to be that a lesser understanding of its glorious religion by its society headed by selfish individuals is the cause for the present downfall of women. Swami Vivikananda, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna foresaw it nearly a century ago and said that unless and until the status of woman is restored back to the high pedestal, there is no liberation to the Hindu race. Men and also women have understood motherhood in the physical sense only, ignoring the tremendous power hidden within it. A woman has different roles to perform – that of a mother to her children, a wife to her husband, a pillar to support the household with her careful planning and so on. There is tremendous power combines with infinite patience hidden in her. She must manifest it to the full extent and everyone must give the opportunity to let her do so. In recent times, Sri Ramakrishna pioneered this movement of recognition of motherhood by himself worshipping hie own wife as a manifestation of Divine Mother. He was a worshipper of Mother Kali, you know. Though he practiced different paths of religion he came back to roost at Kali’s feet, as Her beloved child. But there is a speciality with Sri Ramakrishna. He regarded Kali as one with Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. While Brahman has no form and is static, Kali has a form with attributes. He therefore said “God himself is Mahatmaya, who deludes the world with Her illusion and conjures up the magic of creation, preservation and destruction..” ‘That which is Brahman is verily Shakti. I address That, again, as the Mother. .’ ‘He who is attributesless also has attributes. He who is Brahman is also Shakti. When thought of as inactive, He is called Brahman, and when thought of as the Crerator, Preserver and Destroyer, He is called the Primodal Energy, Kali.’
“So therefore, Dad, God as Mother is, according to you, the last word in religion. Am I right?”
“Partially, yes. To regards God as Mother, according to Sri Ramakrishna, is the last word in Sadhnaa or spiritual striving. IT is not for us to ordinary men to pretend to know the full import of that opinion. Whether it is the last word or not, it is the smoothest and surest way of realizing God. First, God as Mother is more loving towards the devotee than God as Father. Surely, the child’s attitude that a devotee feels to Mother-God. All formalities will be swept away in the gushing waters of the child’s love for its Divine Mother. If you are a Mother’s child, you can cry a ‘real cry’ and ask for the highest in life’.
“Dad, then, according to yourself, mum is greater then you. But, anyway, for the present, you are more important for me ( I haven’t yet finished my shopping, you know!) And, can I pray to the Divine Mother for receiving her grace ”
“Well, Motherhood is indeed great. But greater still is the very concept of the Divine Mother. She is the one who creates, reserves and destroyed the universe. If properly we utilize Her presence in everyone – in the living as well as non-living beings, the world will be a better place for us to live. Where ever you find manifestation of Power, know it to be hers. You man use or misuse this power. Pray to Her to rant you knowledge, devltion and faith in yourself. We firmly believe that the Divine Mother manifests Herself in a special way in the Temple and accepts the worship of Her devotees. She listens and responds to our prayers. Sri Ramakrishna used to converse with Mother Kali at the Dakshineswar Temple in Calcutta, India. He used to teach a simple but effective prayer.
“O, Mother, I throw myself on Thy mercy; I take shelter at Thy Hallowed Feet … Be gracious and grant that I may have pure love for Thee, a love unsmitten by desire, untainted by any selfish ends – a love craved by the devotees for the sake of love alone. And grant me the favour, O Mother, that I may not be deluded by Thy maya …… O Mother, there is no one but thee whom I may call my own. Mother, I don know know how to worship; I have neither devotion nor knowledge. Be gracious, O Mother, and out of Thy infinite mercy grant me love for Thy Lotus Feet.”
You see – here the prayer is for one’s spiritual welfare – a pitiful prayer where one wants only the Mother – not the material things which makes one forget God and thus become miserable. If properly repeated, such prayers will truly help us in achieving higher happiness. After all, the life that we live in this world is short- let us live a life of inner peace and harmony. If we have peace within ourselves, we will find peace outsife also. Well, let us go for lunch – I am famished’
“ I did not know that I have a hidden philosopher for a father, mum”
“Neither did I know that I have a devotee for a husband, Sankari”