The Occult World of a Tantrik Guru
3. The Tantrik Goddess
Shri Gurudev Mahendranath
The previous section, Tantrik Initiation, gave some intimate visions of the Guru-Shishya Tattva or relationship. And not without purpose, for the right guru is essential to guide the disciple in a way of life and a higher path of which they have little knowledge and no experience.
In the Tantra of Blowing the Mind, the Goddess asks the Lord Shiva what he considers the most important thing in Tantrika. Shiva replies:
“Radiant Goddess, of that which in most important to a Shakta, I would designate as being the Guru-Shishya relationship. Who travels in a strange land without an experienced guide and who would dare to study the highest wisdom except under a competent teacher? Without a guru, little can be attained.”
Thus we have a basic presentation of a fundamental principle, put into the mouth of the Lord. Shaktas accept this, not because it occurs so often in Tantrik texts and scriptures, but because it is an obvious truth. The Shakta cult was more suspicious of scriptural texts in that Tantrika, for its whole way of life, is one of practical experimentation. They had learned, even in the days when India was young, that scriptural authority can soon lead to stagnation. The injunctions given for one generation in a certain time or place may not hold good for subsequent generations. Man’s only real authority in the past is the success which is attained and not what someone said hundreds or thousands of years ago.
In Tantrika, and especially the Shakta cult, we must try to break away from the delusion that things are true or have the ring of authority simply because they are old. Too often a text is considered more true or of more reliable authority because it is the older or oldest. Truth does not relate to time and what is really true can be taught just as much today as in some distant past. To put it another way, a modern text can be perfectly true and as reliable a guide as one a thousand years old.
There is a tradition among the Shaktas that Tantras come and go. By this they mean that Tantras suddenly appears and hold good for a current period and then disappear. Other Tantras come and take their place. This has a practical application from a point of view just mentioned, that a Tantra of one era may become invalid in a later era and a new Tantra becomes necessary to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the people. Thus it is taught that there is some intervention by the Absolute to eliminate the outdated and bring new texts into being. This could account for the fact that there are no very ancient Tantras in existence today and no ancient texts are expected to be discovered. This is a blessing to mankind for it tends to eliminate the stagnation and misery caused in many religious patterns which refuse to break from ancient traditions even when they are obviously outmoded.
We speak, in this way of life, of the Mother Goddess as Shakti. We know that the Absolute or Supreme Reality can be neither male, female or neutral, for neither sex or any designations can be applied to it. When, however, we try to conceive the formless in manifestation, we think of it as either a God or a Goddess. Shaktas prefer to see this manifestation as the Mother or Shakti.
The word Shakti means power. It is, according to the Tantriks the Power by which the Absolute manifests itself. The worship of Shakti therefore implies the worship of God as the Mother. In symbolism, the universe is seen to issue from a womb, as in human birth and this implies Motherhood. One who worships Shakti is called a Shakta.
There are still millions of Shaktas in India. They worship the Absolute in the form of a Goddess. The Shaktas are one of the five main groups of devotees of the Hindu religion which are classified as devotees of Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganapati and Surya. (The devotees of Vishnu include all Rama and Krishna bhaktas.) In spite of the vast number of Shaktas in India, very, very few would associate themselves with Tantrika or Tantrik rites. Like all other aspects of Indian culture life, the popular Shakta cult has degenerated considerably. There does not exist today a true Tantrik community anywhere in India. This is because some vital aspects which distinguish Tantrika are missing from the existing forms of the popular Shakta cult.
There is a form of Tantrika associated with Vishnu and has a body of scriptures know as the Pancharatra. In these texts Vishnu is giving the teachings, as guru, to his consort or Shakti, Lakshmi, the Goddess. This cult does still exist but barely survives as it has become almost lost in the mainstream of Hinduism.
Another cult which must be mentioned is the Shri Vidya cult. It still exists in South India but has become almost completely dominated by the Brahmin caste. They worship the Mother Goddess -generally Tripurasundari- in the form of a yantra. This cult is often associated with the Pancharatras and clear divisions are difficult to see in these days. Neither this cult nor the former are associated with any of the aspects of erotic worship such as occurred in Uttara-Kaula (Northern Tantrika). This aspect is still part of the tradition of all Tantrika, but has vanished from the Indian scene due to the adoption of Christian and Muslim concepts of “respectability.” It is the Shakta cult and ideas of the Northern Tantriks which will be dealt with in these articles.
History has tended to imply that the worship of the Mother Goddess was once almost universal throughout the world. This was also associated with the matriarchal form of society, but in some areas there was a community life where there was complete sexual equality and one sex did not dominate the other. This was true of the Tantrik society of pre-Aryan India.
About three thousand years ago, so historians would have us believe, human society took a sharp turn to male domination and the patriarchal form of society. This period in history is said to be the evil turn when wars of aggression began and continued down to the present day. We have no resources available to investigate these claims of historians, but the suggestions do not seem improbable. If they are actually true we can see that human society and so-called civilization has changed for the worse and abandoned the touch of feminine administration and judgment which served to temper and restrain the aggressive nature of the male. Apart from the aspect of warlike aggression, man tends to be wasteful and woman more frugal or economic. Even this has an importance today when we see the rich resources of the earth being wasted and squandered in a luxury life which is operating to everyone’s disadvantage. Women tend to project into the future and think for future needs. Men want a big show today and leave nothing for tomorrow. In association with the phony paper money economy, the future of mankind is very dim. Tantrika is a simple, careful and carefree way of life based on the needs of mankind on all levels. Neither in material nor spiritual life can anything be wasted or squandered. Even the moments of our lives are precious and should be used to our advantage and progress. The cult of Shakta is not a religion in the clouds, but a practical way of life. Its most important task, much needed in the modern age, is to teach us how to live.
Let us return to the Indian scene. There is a holy day assigned to every deity in India, but the Goddess is a grand exception. In the religious calendar of the Hindus, four periods of nine days each are specially set aside for the worship of Shakti. We have no reason to suppose that Shakti or Tantrika was exclusive to India, but because it has flourished and still has forms of survival. The Indian background can help us to a better understanding. The four festivals of the Goddess are known as Navaratri or Nine Nights. It is a tradition of Tantrika that the rites are better if performed at night, while Vedic rites were associated with the daytime. The four festivals are held, each for a period of nine nights during the lunar months of Magha, Chaitra, Ashada and Ashwina. The nine nights occur during the bright half of these months when the moon is increasing in luminosity. By comparison we have the same four divisions of the year in the Western Tradition and similar festivals. The Hindu calendar is based on lunar months so the periods are movable and do not coincide every year with the same periods in the Western calendar. In modern times the first three Navaratri periods do not receive much public attention and are mostly conducted by devotees of the Goddess in their homes. The Ashwina festival falls now at the end of the Hindu year and becomes one of the greatest, if not the greatest, religious festival in all India. This particular festival has not only its public aspect, but rites are conducted in private houses also.
The festival is usually associated with the Goddess Durga and popularly known as the Durga Festival. The Goddess as Kali has a different special day set aside for Her worship. It is known as Kali Chaudash. It is celebrated on Ashwina Vad 14, the last day but one of the Hindu year. Mention has been made of Kali Chaudash in the series on Esoteric Magick which appeared in VALUES recently, Kali Chaudash is a typical Tantrik festival.
The cult of the Mother Goddess must have flourished greatly in India in ancient times as well as in other great centers in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. In the opening lines of the Book of the Tao, Lao Tse refers to the Tao being the “Mother of All Things.” Several references in other parts of the book associate the Tao with the concept of Motherhood – that is, Cosmic Motherhood. Stories related in the Markandaya, Brahma-Vaivarta and Skanda Puranas, reveal that the worship of the Mother Goddess in other distant lands was well known to the Hindus. The widespread worship of the Goddess flourished centuries, if not millennia before Christianity and its debasement of women.
It can be noted here that the Hebrew, Christian, Muslim religions are all based on a belief in masculine superiority. All of them have male gods and very little room, if any, for the idea of a goddess. In these religions there is not even the concept of a female counterpart to pair with the celibate male god. A male-dominated religion was unknown in India until the Vedic Aryans entered, conquered and established themselves around 1500 B.C. since then, Indian religion drifted to accept the male domination and entirely so after the Muslim invasions. Many of the backward customs which still prevail in India today, were originally a strategy to hide women from lecherous Moslem’s and adopt clothes which hid the female form and figure in public. Whatever might have been the circumstances given rise to purdah (literally, “a curtain” to hide women from they eyes of visitors), the practice seems to have continued for centuries longer than was necessary. Today, most of the practices and customs relating to hiding, segregation and denying women any say in their own future, are falsely presented as being part of their Hindu religion and thereby giving authority to which it has no legitimate claim.
The Western tradition in occult science and history mostly revolves around Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, West Europe (then known as Gaul) and Northern Europe (the land of the Norsemen). Thus, most other Western traditions associated with America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc., have their roots in the tiny land areas of Europe. Much of the earliest traditions have become almost lost, yet there is something very wonderful in how ancient traditions and customs have persisted and even ancient names preserved.
Just as India had its great epics recorded in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, so Europe had its epics which recorded the lives and adventure of gods, heroes and lesser people. These epics are a form of mystic literature which even today are not always fully appreciated or understood. In modern times they have helped us to see how people lived in these ancient days, how they thought and how problems were solved. One form of literature is conspicuous in the Western tradition and that is scriptures. Neither the ancient Greeks, Britons or Norsemen had any religious literature. All we know about their religion and spiritual ideas are found in the epics which their bards composed and sang. Thus the dogmatic utterances of religion which have plagued mankind in recent centuries and millennia were unknown in the ancient Western tradition.
Much of the ancient sages and epics have been translated into modern languages and many still wait to be undertaken. Until the Mabinogion was translated into English, the British and their skilled peoples know only of reference made to their islands by the Greeks and Romans. Most of the references were unreliable. The group of islands known known as Great Britias were known to the Romans as Albion. This name is said to have been given to the Western Isles because Albion, a giant of enormous proportions, is said to have lived there. Another source claims that Albion was so called because the islands were known as “the Land of the White Goddess.”
So little today is known about the life and religion of Albion before its culture was broken up and destroyed. Of the Druids and their teachings little survives and some references by Julius Caesar are now considered to be false. Caesar wrote about Britain and the Druids soon after he invaded and conquered the country and either made bad guesses or relied on rumors for his information. Although authentic records are lacking, there is evidence of a Goddess manifesting in some form in the Druid cult. It was still in evidence in much later years in the practice of chivalry. Although the word chivalry comes from a French word meaning horse (cheval) it implies not only a knight mounted on a horse, but respect honor and protection offered to women. This concept was widely accepted, especially in the era of King Arthur, but it had its origin in more ancient tradition. It was most certainly nothing even remotely associated with the minority movement of the Jesus Freaks who had wormed their way into the Western Isles. Chivalry is a common Pagan concept for it actually belongs to ancient religions and cults which honored women and in some cases recognized their equality. Christianity as a religion could have been known but little in Britain even as late at King Arthur’s time. Even in 1000 A.D. the Jesus religion was only known among the ruling classes and meant nothing to the ordinary people who populated the islands.
Nearly all British history has been presented as the lives of its kings and queens. A more stupid and useless parade of clowns is difficult to imagine. Only here and there a real man or woman emerges above the sordid scene. In the Druid tradition we look in vain for kings and queens. The administration of each area, if not the entire country, was under the leadership of the Druids. These men combined the qualities of priest, warrior, physician and directors. They had to know how to direct civil affairs and also how to defend themselves from the constant harassment of sea rovers, pirates and rip-off men. While there is no reason to doubt that the religion of the Druids was based on a belief in one supreme Deity, this deity was symbolized by the sun. But this does not mean they worshiped the sun or thought the sun was their deity. Fire also was another symbol of that Deity. The Roman writers tell us that there was also an array of numerous lesser gods. This, in general, is common to most Pagan cults and closely akin to Indian tradition.
These are only a few of the many observations which will help us to see and understand that Tantrika is just as much part of the Western tradition as it is of ancient India. It should lead us to realize that the ancient world had an ancient Pagan way of life which was indigenous to each locality, but universal and cosmic in it real nature and expression.
The academic histories produced in the West in recent years were much different from the historic myths and legends sung by the ancient bards. All modern history had to conform to two strict principles. First, it had to be “respectable” or it if was obviously “not respectable”, yet could not be ignored, it had to be presented in a respectable way so that the reader was left in doubt and confusion as to what really happened. The second demand and conformity required it to be in line with Christian dogmas. If any history was written which was so blatantly non-Christian it required presentation in such a way that the reader would be impressed by its inferiority. All other religions and patterns of life had to be distorted to stress their inferiority to Christianity.
Another shady aspect of ancient Western history was the dismissal of certain aspects of ancient life in Europe with a sigh of relief and an attitude which expressed some sorrow that it happened. No research was required for these things the European wanted to forget. There was a constant Victorian fear that the truth of the ancient past might completely upset their fondest ideas of the perfection of the Jesus system. One even had to try to imagine that the stupid clergy of the Jesus clowns were a vastly superior race to the Druids and Magi of the ancient world.
Max Muller emerged from the Victorian era as a sort of super-genius. Such an idea was much exaggerated, but he did perform a useful function for which the Europeans should be grateful. Europe as that time was only just “discovering” mysterious lands known as Japan and Darkest Africa. Japanese fans other junk began to pour into British shops. Who were these Japanese? Gilbert and Sullivan introduced them to the British people in the comic opera “The Mikado”, a fantasy of weird people, strange costumes and frequent executions. All so very un-British. A male chorus introduced this perversion of Japan’s culture with the lines: “If you want to know who we are, we are gentlemen of Japan.”
How the public laughed. Not a word was mentioned about Japan’s religious or spiritual life. Max Muller introduced for the first time in English some of the gems of Indian literature. Other translators soon followed his example. This was the first time in European history that the public as well as scholars were able to know something about living religions in other lands and which were the way of life of living people. Hitherto, the academic world had written so much about religions, but it had always been religions which were dead and gone, plus the implied conclusion that they had been conquered and overcome by the “superior” teachings of the Jesus Freaks. Now, for the first time, Max Muller’s translations made people aware that there was at least, another religion and way of life in existence and one which was not in any way inferior to their own. Other efforts followed, and Buddhism, Taoism, etc. were presented to the world. The important thing for us to remember today is that the availability of this knowledge is so very recent and occurred within the span of only one hundred years. Yet the modern world still has much to rediscover, and we in turn, need to develop the ability to put all things in their correct perspective.
If this sounds easy, a word of warning is necessary. We must always remember and be alert in our awareness, that we have been conditioned and brainwashed into different patterns. All too easily we revert to use these brainwashed patterns of our past and subconsciously measure new ideas by them. So insidious has been the conditioning of people -East and West- that few realize how pathetically conditioned they are. The danger of this ignorance is that people who are actually thinking in their brainwashed patterns are under the delusion that they are thinking independently. Much of the sadhanas of a Tantrik disciple is intended to overcome these defects and recondition him or her to think for themselves.
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