Kali's complexion is dark as the clouds, and shining radiantly on her forehead is the crescent moon. She has three eyes and wears a blood red cloth. One of her hands is in vara mudra (granting of boons); the other is in abhaya mudra (dispelling fear). She is seated on a red lotus. Mahakala (Shiva) laughs and dances in eternal time before her, drinking wine prepared from flowers as he worships primordial Kali.

Mahanirvana Tantra 141

A tantric scripture, Rudrayamala, tells the story of Brahma's son, Vashishtha. After practicing severe austerities for six thousand years, he still had achieved no spiritual progress. Disappointed he went to Brahma and asked him what he should do. Brahma was encouraging and told him to be patient and persistent in his worship of the Mother Goddess. So Vashishtha went hack and practiced the austerities of Vedanta for another thousand years, but still the Goddess did not appear before him. Angry because of his failure, Vashishtha uttered a great and terrible curse, upon which his beloved Goddess at last appeared before him and said:

"Why do you curse without cause? You don't understand how to worship me at all. How, by mere yoga practice can either man or deva get sight of my lotus-feet? My worship is without austerity and pain. My sadhana is pure and beyond even the Vedas. Go to Tibet and practice my sadhana as it is practiced there, and you will have success."

Then she disappeared, and Vashishtha set out for Tibet. Arriving there, great doubts arose in his mind when he saw tantric initiates perform the rituals which included wine, meat and women.

"How is it that the pancha tattwas are practiced by naked siddhas who are high and awe-inspiring?" he exclaimed. "How can inclinations such as these be purifying to the mind? This is outside the Vedas! How can there be spiritual progress without vedic rites?"

An enlightened soul explained to him that vedic austerities (worship of Shiva or consciousness) alone were not enough to gain spiritual liberation. The tantric way (worship of shakti or nature) was greater and led a man to enlightenment in a very short time.

"The fruit of this method is beyond all others. There is nothing which surpasses it. If there be Shakti, the vipra becomes a complete yogi with six months practice. Without Shakti even Shiva can do naught."

Having heard these words of the guru, Vashishtha started practicing the tantric rituals of pancha tattwa, and thus he became a poorna yogi (complete yogi).

"Without Shakti even Shiva can do naught."

There are two aspects of the cosmic principle or God. One is the static, transcendent and unchanging which we call Shiva or consciousness; the other is dynamic, immanent and changing, which we call Shakti or energy. Mind and matter are in reality nothing but energy, or negatively charged electrons playing around a positively charged nucleus. Further than this even modern science can't go in defining the atom. Ancient philosophy recognised long ago that this is what creation (Shakti) is all about: a divine play (lila) of contraries. The Chinese, for example, called these two modes of Shakti, yin and yang.

To reach enlightenment, super consciousness, Shiva or Tao, we must transcend the dynamic aspect of the universe, Shakti or mind and matter. This doesn't mean that we should reject and negate the world. It doesn't mean that we should close ourselves up in a dark cave, practice fasting and austerities and torture our bodies. For this world is also an aspect of God, and there is nothing sinful about or in it. There is no 'hereditary sin' in tantra, and no 'forbidden tree'. The snake is not a cursed animal, but the holy symbol of kundalini shakti which when awakened leads to spiritual enlightenment. Tantra teaches us not to reject the world, but to use it as a stepping stone with the purpose of transcending or going beyond it.

The secret pancha tattwa ritual has been much misunderstood. It isn't an orgy of drunken men and women. The tantric scriptures tell us clearly that this ritual is only for certain advanced sadhakas who regard the world as the holy body of Shakti, and surrender all actions and experiences to her. The true sadhaka doesn't perform this ritual as an excuse to over-indulge, any more than the true Christian takes holy communion because he wants to get drunk. The Christian takes wine during communion because it symbolises the blood of Christ. Similarly the tantric worshipper, who sees Mother Shakti in all, unites with a shakti for she symbolises the union with his beloved Goddess and helps him to transcend the gross, manifested world. The tantric scriptures also tell us clearly that 'extra - ritual' or 'useless' drinking is not allowed - the ritual should be performed as worship.

Creation comes and goes; during the day of Brahma the universe comes forth from itself like a web from a spider, Shakti being awakened and active. Shiva and Shakti are one and the same, as a line coiled around a point is one with it. But during creation the line is uncoiled; Shakti is awake and the point divides into three - knower, knowing and known. At the end of the day of Brahma, which may last for millions of years, the whole universe is withdrawn again into itself, and Shakti rests in Shiva during the night of Brahma until she comes forth again. The cause of creation is 'the will to be many', the desire of Shiva to experience himself. Only through Shakti can he do this, hence this endless wheel of creation and withdrawal of creation. Creation is Shiva as Shakti, presenting himself as object to himself as subject. Thus the purpose of creation - and life - is experience. Those who are free of desire are outside the wheel forever and will never again appear in the world of form unless they choose to. This is moksha (liberation). But the choice is free; the world is there to be experienced during the day of Brahma for those who wish to, and there is nothing bad about that. It is the nature of the cosmic principle to desire to experience itself.

From another aspect, creation is consciousness negating and limiting itself. Because of creation or Shakti we are not conscious of our identity with Shiva or super consciousness; Shakti is veiling consciousness. Thus mind and matter are called maya shakti (illusion). Now, what is illusion? It doesn't mean that this world doesn't exist - for it certainly exists viewed from our present state of being. The finite experience is real as such, but unreal in relation to the infinite and absolute experience. The world as a changing thing has relative reality only. From the transcendental standpoint this world is unreal, but from our standpoint it is real. We can't deny that we and the things around us exist.

Maya shakti (prakriti or nature) is composed of the three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. The function of tamas is to veil consciousness, of sattva to reveal it, and of rajas to make either tamas suppress sattva or sattva suppress tamas. The further evolution goes, the more sattva guna increases. In the mineral world tamas is dominating. Man has less tamas and more sattva, and is the only being who can rise to consciousness itself. Consciousness doesn't change, but its mental and material envelopes (or vehicles) of mind and matter do, giving consciousness more room the more evolved the mineral, plant or animal is. 'Brahman sleeps in the stone.'

But Shakti is not only veiling consciousness; she also unveils consciousness to us through kundalini shakti (the serpent power). 'Who else can untie the knot of maya than the one who tied it?' The symbol of kundalini is a snake, coiled three and a half times, lying dormant in the mooladhara chakra. This power has to be awakened to achieve super consciousness; this is the aim of all yoga practices. 'How long will thou sleep in mooladhara, oh Mother Kulakundalini?'

Worship of Shakti, the Mother Goddess, is a very powerful sadhana. The sadhaka who loves her as his own mother, feeling himself to be her child, will have all his desires fulfilled. What mother can turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of her little child? Even if he wishes for the moon she will surely give it to him. Ramakrishna used to often say, "Ask anything of the Mother and see if she refuses you." This is the secret of Shakti worship and the reason why it is so powerful and fulfilling.

The month of Ashwin (October) is the most important time for the worship of Shakti. All over India during Navaratra, nine nights of worship devoted to the Goddess Durga, many special traditions are observed. During the first three nights the divine mother is worshipped in her destructive aspect as Maha Kali, who destroys the evil propensities that lurk in the minds of devotees. On the next three nights she is worshipped in her creative aspect as Maha Laxmi who implants the divine qualities conducive to spiritual unfoldment in the minds of devotees. On the last three nights she is worshipped in her knowledge aspect as Maha Saraswati who bestows true understanding through intuition. On the tenth day, Dasahara, Mother Durga's victory over the forces of darkness, ignorance and evil is celebrated with great devotion and festivity.

At Bihar School of Yoga our revered Swamiji is Shivamaya (consciousness of truth). Shakti in her limitless forces and gunas - which include the monotype casting machine known as Ugra Kali (violent Kali), linotype casting machine known as Soumya Kali (peaceful Kali), the monotype punching machine known as Chhinnamasta (headless or egoless Kali), two automatic printing machines called Satsang (spiritual gathering) and Smriti (power of memory), cutting machine called Tapasya (austerities), and our newly purchased folding machine named Sadhana (spiritual practice) works night and day so that the inspiring message of yoga may reach the far corners of the world, enlightening the hearts and minds of mankind everywhere. This is our Shakti Pooja and Yoga magazine is prasad (the offering).