The Primacy of Shakti

Note an expansion of this article in the recent book of David Frawley:

Inner Tantric Yoga: Working with the Universal Shakti (Lotus Press, July 2008)

The ultimate goal of human life is liberation or moksha, the realization of the Pure Self or Brahman beyond all time, space and karma . In that alone is complete and lasting peace and freedom. This is made clear in many great spiritual teachings since the Vedas.

This supreme reality of pure unity is not hard to describe and the quest for it is something that we know in our hearts, where we seek oneness with all. The important and difficult question that arises, however, is how to get there? That pure Self is so far removed from our ordinary life experience that it requires a radical change of our entire way of life to even approach.

Brahman is nirguna (devoid of qualities), nishkriya (beyond action) and nishkama (beyond desire). It is extremely difficult to access even for those with the sharpest minds and the purest life-styles. Brahman, moreover, is beyond all paths, all efforts and all striving. It is outside of time, space and causation and cannot be produced by anything. The very one who seeks it must himself disappear before finding it. Yet even having that thought about its ultimacy does not take one there or even insure that one is going in the right direction.

Only if our minds can be fully concentrated within the heart can we know That Supreme Being. Those whose minds are clear and internally focused can certainly enter into that formless Brahman. But if there is any unfulfilled desire, we cannot reach it, or if we touch it, we cannot abide in it. The problem is that we are full of desires, even if our minds are strong. Desire is the essence of all that we do and the very force behind our lives.

We do not live in Brahman or the unmanifest beyond time and space but in the manifest realm of life experience, filled with its energies, attractions, repulsions and attachments. In our ordinary minds and emotions, we are products of time and space. We are caught in place, person, form and karma as the very foundation of our personal and social reality.

We cannot go beyond this manifest realm unless we first recognize the power behind it. It is not within our power to go beyond the realm in which we exist and of which we are a product. Only the power that has created us can do this for us. So the real question, what is the power behind the universe, behind our bodies and minds and how can we work with it to reach the Ultimate?

The real power behind this manifest universe is Shakti or the energy of the Goddess, which is Brahman’s force of expression and manifestation. Shakti or the power of creation controls everything that occurs within her field. The formless Brahman beyond creation has no concern about this realm or anything that we do within it. It can neither help us nor hinder us in any way. From its point of view, there never has been any birth or death, individual or cosmos, bondage or liberation. Even our seeking of liberation has no meaning for it.

Our lives depend entirely upon Shakti, which grants us vitality, feeling and awareness, through which we operate on all levels and can set in motion both our outer actions and inner sadhana or spiritual practice. Shakti controls the entire manifestation, just as electricity allows all appliances to work. She rules over the processes of birth and death and the unfoldment karma. She provides our souls with the bodies and minds and the worlds in which to experience life. All that we eat, breathe, perceive, feel or know consists of some portion of her energy and an aspect of Her dynamic processes that surround us on every side. All that we seek to acquire for sustenance, happiness, knowledge or growth is part of Her and comes from Her.

Yet Shakti also controls the way beyond manifestation, the return to Brahman. Even to seek Brahman, to seek what is beyond Shakti, we must work with Shakti. Shakti provides us the power of meditation and the discriminating insight through which we can transcend time and space. This means that the best means for both spiritual realization and for gaining all the other goals of life is to worship Shakti, to work with and for the Goddess. There is no other way as effective, if there is any other way at all. If the Brahman is the goal, the Shakti is both the path and the power to traverse it. We can awaken and follow her current to Brahman, or remain asleep and get caught in her outside streams that move in different directions.

Therefore, the issue is not Brahman, which is beyond everything, but Shakti that manifests everywhere. Shakti is all around us, flashing forth in everything, whether we recognize Her play or not. The issue is how to gain the grace of that Shakti – How to ally ourselves with the right Shaktis to facilitate our development as a soul.

We must recognize the primacy of Shakti, or few if any of us can ever come to Brahman, or even successfully gain the ordinary goals of life. Even great Vedantins first worshipped Shakti, as in the case of the great teachings of the text the Tripura Rahasya, or had to recognize Shakti eventually, as in the case of Tota Puri, the guru of Ramakrishna.

Everything is controlled by Shakti. Shakti is closely connected to all aspects of life that we depend on, which attract us and keep life going and developing. Think about it carefully. Birth, reproduction and sexuality are all through Shakti. Food and nourishment are another play of Shakti. Breath, life (Prana), emotion and feeling are all owing to Shakti. The great elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether are all forms of Shakti, which is their underlying energy. The prime gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are root forces of Shakti. Or successes, gains, goals and achievements in any endeavor are only possible because of Shakti or the power to accomplish them that we have been able to discover how to work with.

Energy, science and technology are means of working with Shakti on an outer level and have transformed our world. The mass media is a play of Shakti in the field of communication, which has broken down barriers of communication everywhere. The Earth itself with its rich diversity of life is Shakti in manifest form as the land on which we live. The stars are the flashing forth of the cosmic Shakti through the unbounded expanse of space. Even subatomic particles are alive with powerful subtle forces of Shakti, which forms the ocean or matrix from which they dance in and out of.

All the things that we are attached to or involved with are forms of Shakti or are rooted in Shakti. Whatever we love, seek or desire is some aspect of Shakti that endows forms with color, beauty, charm and delight. It is not the object, person, place or experience in itself that is the real source of our fascination with them but the energy, rasa or essence, the Shakti working through it. We are under the allure of Shakti in one way or another, whether we recognize that underlying Shakti or not.

We cannot get beyond anything unless we first honor the Shakti behind it, which means to touch its core energy in consciousness. You cannot renounce anything that you are really attracted to, however hard you may try. But you can recognize the Shakti behind it and following that out, get beyond the limitations of the form, like the bee that can gather the pollen and does not remember the form. The Shakti within any individual object or experience is ultimately the same Shakti within all.

We cannot get out of the realm of Shakti unless we recognize and honor the Shakti, which is both in this realm and beyond – unless she decides. If she is not willing, our efforts will be in vain. If she is willing, then we will be guided along the way and she herself will lead us forward. We can then just follow her flow and need not calculate or push our way onward, carried forward by her flow. Yet for this to occur we must first learn to look within and discover the deepest movement of the Shakti inside ourselves. This we will discover as our own most inward seeking of truth and divinity.

Shakti is the way to God or Brahman. Even if you only want to practice Yoga, you must awaken and honor the Kundalini Shakti to take you forward. If you are devoted to God or the Goddess in any form, you must have that Shakti of devotion to take you forward. For any yantra, puja or mantra to work, its Shakti must be first be invoked in order to give it power.

Even if you are wholly dedicated to Self-realization or Jnana, it is only possible through the grace of Shakti and her power of knowledge, her Buddhi Shakti through which the higher discrimination works. Without that Shakti supporting you any efforts towards Self-realization or statements of Self-realization that you may make will have no energy, strength or conviction.

In that primal Shakti there is no duality between the manifest and the unmanifest. It is the same Shakti in its active and inactive modalities. That Shakti holds the formless Brahman in the world of form, not by limiting it but as part of its overflow which is her dance. So whether a devotee worships Shakti for home and happiness or for the highest liberation, it is the same movement of Shakti on different levels and in different ways.

Even if you want to change the world through political action, you must first gain the Shakti or power to do so. If you want to be a great artist, you need the corresponding capacity of Shakti, the power and skill in art. Everything has its key Shakti, which contains not only the energy but the code of its manifestation like DNA, both its motivation and the energy to bring it about.

So during whatever spiritual practices you choose or whatever in life you seek that will bring you peace and happiness, do not forget the primacy of the Shakti and you will never lose your way. The true Shakti will gather all the outer Shaktis and lead you to your inner goal.

There are two main ways of working with Shakti. The first is to recognize the different Shaktis in the universe, externally and internally, their qualities, energies and movements and how to work with them. This is like a doctor learning the powers of healing on different levels, including both those of diagnosis and treatment.

The second and simpler way is simply to worship Shakti directly, seeing the supreme Shakti in all things. If one honors the Shakti behind all Shaktis then one will gain their support as well as learn to understand their specific forms. Yet these two aspects of working with Shakti are related, by learning to discover the unique Shakti in each thing, one also touches the supreme Shakti that is everywhere.

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