Spiritual practice is a continuous discovery, a journey, a yearning for the Divine. This blog post is in the honour of Shakti who represents the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, there where Shiva represents Divine Consciousness. The woman and her mystery is a theme that pervades the heart of many cultures. She is the source of all life, of pleasure, and transcendence. The Mother Goddess Shakti is ever-present in everything that lives. The mystery lies in life itself. The Divine flow of Shakti tingles down through all of us as our Shiva consciousness observes.
WHO IS SHAKTI?
You may already be familiar with the concept of Shiva and Shakti. Or perhaps you have freshly stumbled upon it now. So, what’s that all about? Simply put, Shiva represents Pure Consciousness and Shakti the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, which together make up the Universe. Shakti is always dancing around Shiva. Without each other, they cannot exist. Men represent the Shiva aspect and women the Shakti aspect although both have a shiva (yang, “vertical”) and shakti (yin, “horizontal”) aspects. In Tantra Yoga, there are two main branches: Shaivism (worship of Shiva) and Shaktism (worship of Shakti). Shiva-focused spiritual practices concentrate transcending the mind to the higher levels of consciousness through meditations and living ascetic lives of detachment. Shakti-focused practices concentrate more on enjoying the gifts of life with presence and awareness, thereby inviting the force of Shakti can bring the practitioner to liberation, self- realization, and union – in other words, samadhi (enlightenment).
The word shakti origins from the verb sak, meaning “the power to produce an effect, capability, efficiency or potency.” Translating from Sanskrit to English, Shakti means “the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire Universe.” In some interpretations, the word means not a goddess, but a force (Rajmani. 1998:5).
SHAKTI IN THE SCRIPTURES
While exploring the concept of Shakti in various literatures, I found that the earliest clear statement using the word Shakti to describe her relationship to the Absolute is found in the Svetasvatara Upanisad: “Sakti is said to be vividha, manifold; jnana, knowledge; bala, power; and kriya, the capacity to act; these are characteristic to her.” The list here below pertains to ancient Hindu scriptures, which can be very inspiring and insightful when studying the beautiful and vast tradition of yoga.
The word and concept further appear in Pancaratra Agama (300 BC and 600 – 850 BC, to give you an idea of how old these are!), Vyakarana Agama, Mimamsa Vedanta and Kavya Sastraa, Vedas, Upanisads, Puranas (*Markandeya, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Narada, Devibhagavata & Kalika) and other Indian Philosophical Literature. Particular texts that deal with the concept of Shakti are the Netra Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Malinivijaya Varttika, Nityasodasikarnava, and Yogini Hridaya. I am not saying that they all interpret Shakti coherently in relation to each other (because they don’t). Some of the most coherent discussions on the topic can be found in the Saundaryalahari, a Sanskrit book in which the beauty of Parvati is praised in 103 shlokas (verses).
Another term for shakti is prakrti (manifestation of the Universe). In the Kavya Sastra (Indian poetics) the term is used as “the unique potential to the seed of the essence of a poet.” (Rajmani. 1998) Devotees recite stotras (hymns of praise) in her honor. In Pauranic Tantric texts, she personifies and praises devotees or punishes demons.
There is also a lot of contemporary literature you can find about Shakti. In the book “Shakti, The Power of Tantra,” Tigunait lists some of the difficulties revolving around the definition of Shakti: the historical & literary boundaries are not well defined, the relationship between the main branches of Tantric literature is not well understood, there is a lack of thematic and comparative studies available, there is no criteria defined as to which characteristics make a text Sakta (pertaining to Shakti), and there is no easy access to the secret oral interpretation (1998:3). These traditionally secret teachings are at least more accessible here. As to make the universal structure complete, Shakti is always accompanied by a Shiva. In Hinduism, she is the power that underlies the male principle. She is his consort, he is hers. For example, Parvati as the wife of Shiva, or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. Shakti is never independent of Shiva. The weapons and symbols she holds correspond to her Shiva. She is the power of the Absolute Reality and of Shiva in his many forms: Brahma, Visnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Varuna, Yama, Rudra. She may be beautiful and compassionate like Tara, or appear terrifying as represented by Kali. In Thailand, throughout the Yoga courses at Agama, we learn that certain manifestations of Shiva & Shakti correspond to a particular chakra, or energy center.
The Mimamsakas (analysts of the vedas) say that although fire produces heat, under the influence of specific mantras the fire stops producing heat while the fire remains. Then there must be something in the fire which makes it blaze: Shakti.
A pattern of competition and fear can easily emerge among women. Embracing and embodying Shakti is a beautiful way to transcend these patterns. For a woman to see herself in the eyes of every other woman can be such an elevated and evolved way of moving through life bringing many blessings along with it, as it’s a powerful reminder of something greater we all share. Things like Shakti groups and women’s circles reinforce the power of Shakti. Something magical happens when women join forces. There is a mysterious power that comes alive when a group of women with a shared vision unite. We can all help retransform unfavourable relationship patterns among women by cultivating sisterhood, lifting each other up, and engaging in practices that honour Shakti – The Divine Feminine.
RELATING TO SHAKTI IN DAILY LIFE
The dynamic presence of Shakti can be continuously felt throughout all of daily life. It is important to be in the here and now, fully present, in the flow, allowing whatever comes to just arrive and pass through. To create space to connect at a deeper level. There are many ways of learning alone, or with each other. It is very empowering as a woman to experience sisterhood, and at the same time a lot of empowerment can come from times of solitude. The more empowered a woman is, the more she can be seen and adored. And Shakti wants to be seen!
Transcendent, she is indescribable, unimaginable. The Universe is born from her and dissolves back into her eventually. She is in everything that lives, yet she is not the life itself- or is she? The work with Shakti; trying to be fully present with all states of being within and around; aware, attentive but still in the flow and using this power, this intensity as a stepping stone to go beyond.”
I personally love the way Shakti shines through in my movements—be it through dance, moving through nature (something so simple as a walk through the forest can be really quite ecstatic!), or a gentle tingle up my spine – a feeling like Kundalini Shakti is saying hi, and slowly awakening. I tend to start dancing at the sound of music (it works like a reflex), letting the unpremeditated movement freely come through. I have been getting to know Shakti a little better as she moves through me and at the same time couldn’t have done so without the Shiva consciousness (it’s within us all) there to witness it.
The mystery of Shakti could very well be responsible for the evolution of the entire Universe. Shakti is unreal and at the same time present in everything that exists in this reality. Shakti manifests in infinite ways; same essence, different forms.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time!