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Beauty, Power and Grace

21 Feb 2016   Shanti Gowans
India's classical heritage is filled with a rich culture of tradition, beauty, music, dance, language, attire, medicine,
architecture, and other arts, and Hindus attribute all aspects of traditional Indian culture to divine intervention. They believe that they live in a land guided by the divine, with a lifestyle created by the divine. 
 
The Hindu spiritual landscape is polulated by characters of empowerment, and Hindu mythology is filled with accounts of divine, semi-divine and demonic beings,coexisting with human beings on Earth, and also in the celestial and nether realms.
 
The most important aspect of this tradition is its moral compass and spiritual culture. All life revolves around these principles. Umpteen stories and legends form part of a universal languagethrough which these principles are told.  
Their timeless celebration of symbolism and love, arises from imagery that ranges from endearing to the scandalous.
 
These stories emerge from Indian's ancient epics and comprise the literary heart of Hinduism,namely, the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas, where divinity assumes innumerable forms, reflecting the universal truth:  that all souls have an essential nature beyond the physical body that they presently inhabit. The soul's qualities transcend the confines of gender and experience. Cultures that attempt to enforce an idealistic view of masculinity or feminity on men and women are the source of much of the world's misery. No man is psychologically or even physically an absolute male, or is any woman the perfect image of the architypical female as socially constructed. Both the man who tries to suppress any feminine characteristics, as well as the woman who similarly tries to uproot all masculine tendenancies puts their true personal identity at risk. Societies that enforce stereotypical roles for men and women jeopardise their vibrancy, creativity and even humanity. Natural, inherent qualities of men and women are to be celebrated and each invdividual is meant to discover and make his or her own individuality bloom. Male and female are but different expression of one sypreme, absolute Truth.  
 
So let's start with what is this Truth.
 
The Nature of the Absolute
 
Ultimate Reality can be best understood as non-relational consciousness.
In Hinduism it is known as Brahman.
Brahman is devoid of any activity,
impotent to create.
Yet the ground of being is Brahman,
the all pervasive field,
the source, sacredness and unity of all life.
 
It is pure awareness,
the basic 'stuff' of the universe,
the changeless principle of all changes.
In it there is no distinction of subject and object,
of 'I' and 'This'.
It is the pure awareness that precedes thought, violition and feeling.
There is an immediacy to this consciousness. 
In it the knower, knowledge and known
are one and the same,
and inseparable.
It never becomes an object. 
There is not in it the opposition of subject and object,
as in the case of the various things of the world.
It is best defined as that which is:
Truth, Consciousness, Bliss, in Sanskrit: sat, chit, ananda.
 
Consciousness is responsible for
the manifestation,
maintenance
and reabsorption of the universe.
 
Creativity is the very essence of divinity.
It contains all that is to be, namely:
Chit: the power of self revelation
Ananda: absolute bliss
Iccha: will
Jnana: knowledge
Kriya: the power of assuming any and every form.
 
The universe is an opening out
or expansion of the supreme
as shakti.
Shakti is the power behind consciousness,
spiritual energy of incalculable force 
that can proliferate into any form,
from the subtlest to the grossest.
It is both transcendental and immanent.
Another term for shakti is 'Prakruti'.
 
Manifestation as the World Process
 
Prakruti polarises consciousness into
Aham (I) and Idam (This),
subject and object,
indistinct something (this and that), in the depths of consciousness (self).
The dream.
 
The universe is actually consciousness
vibrating at different frequencies, 
becoming more material (gross)
as it unfolds.
 
Manifestation is the existence in two dimensions,
that of consciousness and its contents,
Self  and matter, I and This.
It describes the nature of the human being in contraction.
 
Beauty, Power and Grace are the many faces of the goddesses.
 
In a world of unfathomable mysteries,
the vision of the Goddess personifies
the qualities that attract us to nature's boundless wealth,
beauty, power and grace.
 
Throughout time, human beings have perceived a personal presene behind the forces of nature and identified than as gods and goddesses. Prior to recorded history, female figurines, ripe with cretive power, were amongst the first sacred objects fashioned by human hands. Ancient societies found a dominant place for the feminine in their sacred lore, and many of their most powerful deities were goddesses. Theories abound conceiving what developments in human society or psychology resulted in the rise of patararchy and the steady decline of the Goddess worship. Yet, how can anyone truly appreciate the divine while denying the divine feminine.
 
There is, for instance, the Goddess Draupadi, the divinely born wife of King Yudhisthara, who burns with rage upon hearing that she has been 'lost' in a gambling match to the wicked Duryodhana.
 
There is Mother Yashoda, who peers into her infant's mouth, checking for dirt and is astonished to catch a glimpse of the entire universe.
 
There is Ganda Devi, the goddess who becomes synonymous with the sacred river, who rides upon a great crocodile and purifies those she encounters.
 
And then there are the more dreadful appearances…
 
Kali, with her black body garlanded with skulls and severed arms, drinks the blood of her victims on the battlefield.
 
Bagalamukhi, the crane-headed one is known to suppress gossip and false speech.
 
Dhumavati, the widowed goddess is depicted as ugly, crow-riding hag, who brings misfortune, casts the weak aside and can be called upon to invole dark forces. 
 
Durga strikes a power pose, mounted upon a lion with numerous arms, wielding a fearsome array of weapons. Appearing as a beautiful woman she attracts the demons towards her only to annihilate them in the end.
 
The Bhagvad Gita famously proclaims the following about divinity:
"Of women, I am fame, prosperity, speech, memory, intelligence, faithfulness and patience."
 
Thus Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and Ganga and Yamuna, the great river goddesses, all personify these qualities and powers they bestow. 
 
The goddesses are usually seen as manifestations of one Supreme Goddess. The Shaktas believe that the supreme truth is most adequately expressed as a fully independent female Goddess, whereas the Shaivas and Vaishnavas worship her as shakti, or power of the Godhead. 
 
Hinduism in spite of its countless gods and goddesses, has a substructure that is initarian, The authority of the Upanishads, Indian's sacred wisdom, intuited one undifferentiated truth underlying all existence. The dialities of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, failure and success, praise and shame, birth and death, male and female exist primarily in the material world. The divinity that underlies duality is neither male nor female.
 
Sathapatha Brahmana symbolises unity by the psychic embrace of the primordial primal couple thus:
"In the beginning there was One soul. But alone it was not happy, it desired a second. So it grew until it took the shape of a man and a woman locked in embrace. And so the one Atma manifested into two, each containing the other, and from that pair came the universe". 
 
Reviving India's traditional culture and sharing these with people all over the world has been a fun mission.

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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

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