From the talks of Swami Chidananda Saraswati

Excerpt from God As Mother, Divine Life Society, Shivanandanagar, 1991 (pp. 13-20).

Salutations again and again to the blessed Divine Mother, the Supreme Inscrutable Power, the mysterious achintya-shakti (inconceivable power) of Para-Brahman (the Supreme Absolute). Salutations to the great Devi (Goddess) who is the source of all manifestation and embodiment. Salutations to the great divine power, divya-shakti, from whom have flowed forth all the countless, innumerable universes; in whom all names and forms dissolve and vanish; and through whom all beings attain their eternal union with the great reality, the supreme transcendental being, Para-Brahman.

This conception of the great power-the cosmic spirit as the Mother-is very easy to understand. For the first impression of any soul who has come out into this world is that of the mother. The earliest recollection which a being can ever have is that of lying in his or her mother’s lap and perhaps looking up and gazing into her love-filled eyes. To the child, in the mother is centered a whole world of tenderness, love, nourishment and care. It is where one runs for comfort, clings to for protection and nourishment-and there he gets comfort, protection and care. Therefore, the ideal of love, care and protection is in the conception of the mother. Therefore this notion transferred to the cosmic being is the most natural, most logical and most easy-to-be understood step, and thus it is that the glorified conception of the Great Mother who loves all, nourishes all, cares for all and protects all, has come into being in the philosophic conception of the Hindu.

Today we shall devoutly offer our humble worship at the Mother’s blessed feet in the form of a few words describing some aspects of Her glory. In doing this let us ever be aware that even this privilege of worshiping Her-glorifying Her and dwelling upon Her greatness is only due to Her compassion and grace. Without Her grace, most difficult it is to get an opportunity to think of Her, to remember Her, to speak of Her, and to utter Her glorious names, calling upon Her as Mother. All gracious is She, infinitely compassionate is She. Love is her nature and thus She has bestowed upon us all this great blessing and the joy to dwell upon Her in thought and through word, to devoutly adore Her upon this most auspicious and glorious day.

The Mother is whatever is. The essence of pure existence is the Supreme Being or Para-Brahaman. Mother is whatever we know. That which is beyond our knowledge, that is the purusha, the Supreme Being. That which we know through our mind and senses is nothing but the manifestation of Mother. She is not only the universe which we know, this little world and the countless stars, the sun and moon-all these the terrestrial and the stellar, the lunar and the solar systems that comprise this little universe-all this is but an infinitesimal speck in the vastness and infinity that is Mother. Innumerable such universes have their rise and fall within Her infinite nature. She is all power and also the great transcendental power at the back of all manifestation, the primal cause for all manifestations and embodiment. She is the very creatrix not only of this world but even the creator, preserver and desolver of the world. Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (Shiva) have their being in the Mother. She is the Mother of all-of countless Brahmas, Vishnus and Maheshwaras. In as much as She is all power, all powers are Her play; and therefore all the three dynamic manifestations-Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara-also are modifications of Mother as Adi-Shakti (the primordial power). She is also Brahma-Shakti, manifest to us in and through the form of Saraswati; Vishnu-Shakti, manifest in and through the form of Lakshmi; and also Shiva-Shakti, manifest in and through the form of Parvati.

Delusion and Deliverance

In this aspect of all power, She has a twofold form. The devout Hindu worships Her as both. It is a beautiful conception-and what a wonderful depth of significance there is in this conception of Mother in Her twofold aspects-that of the cosmic delusion as well as of the cosmic deliverance! She binds down all to this mysterious illusory appearance, this world-play, and turns them in Her own playful manner in the wheel of birth and death. As such, She is known by the name Avidya, the delusion that is opposed to spiritual wisdom or knowledge. She is also the cosmic deliverance. In this aspect She smiles upon Her children and She releases them form the delusion of Her other aspect, Avidya. In Her aspect as this cosmic deliverance, we know of the Mother as Vidya-Maya. Artists have therefore visualized Her in the form of a radiant being, a goddess having in one hand a noose or a type of rope with which She binds, an in the other hand a sharp knife by which She snaps bondage if She is propitiated. Thus She is a mysterious combination of Avidya-Maya and Vidya-Maya. Therefore She is called indescribable.

In both these aspects She has set up the drama of universal phenomena. Lovers of the Mother who have worshipped Her and obtained Her grace and have been vouchsafed with a vision of Her real nature have lovingly depicted Mother and Her play in this secret way. The devotees of the Mother sweetly and intimately conceived of this world-play with the Mother as both the one who initiates it, and the one who ends it.

The Puzzling Kali

When we step into the further consideration of particular aspects of the Devi, immediately we are confronted by a terrible problem. For the very first conception of Mother, especially as it is done during the Devi Puja, is in a form and in an aspect which leaves ordinary minds quite bewildered-not only those who are foreign to our culture and genius, but even Indians, even Hindus, many of them enlightened and educated, are unable to understand what is this conception of divinity whom we call Mother as an all-destructive, terrible, and fearful being.

In Bengal, the whole of Dussera is the worship of Durga and Maha-Kali. To very many people, Kali is a name that strikes terror. We Hindus even think that Kali-worshipers are tamasic and that Kali is a dread deity. I can say from my own personal experience that if a picture of Maha-Kali–with Her dark body, lolling red tongue, with Her garland of skulls, dressed in a skirt made of severed human hands, with a sward dripping blood in Her hand-if such a picture is kept in an orthodox South Indian house, the ladies of the house will see that the picture is forthwith removed from the house. If their feelings about Kali are right, then how comes this conception of Kali as the Mother? How can you worship Her?

This is a natural mistake that requires to be corrected. Mother is never terrible, never fearful, is always all-loving and all-compassionate. The explanation for the Divine Mother, Para-Shakti, being conceived of, among other aspects, also in Her aspect as Kali, is a very simple one. It is not difficult; it is not deeply metaphysical; it is not obscurely philosophical; it very natural and very simple.

I shall first start by giving a very up-to-date and modern, and therefore easily graspable analogy. We have the modern antibiotics. They are called the lifesavers of the modern age and millions of people look upon them with feelings of gratitude. But though these life-saving drugs which are benign and cure disease are the benefactors of humanity, I shall show how they may be also regarded to be terrible and destructive. They are destructive to the germs that they attack in the system and destroy. Would it be correct to call these life-saving antibiotics very destructive? If it were right to call them destructive and terrible, then you may also be equally right to call Kali the Mother terrible and destructive.

Destroy To Save

For She destroys but to save. She destroys ignorance, nescience, in order to bestow knowledge. She destroys darkness so that we may realize light. She destroys all pain, all sorrow, all misery and all the earthly travails and tribulations, and bestows upon us bliss, joy and immortality. Thus She is a destroyer of all those factors that bind the jiva (individual soul) to this terrible samsara (wheel of birth and death). She is a terrible destroyer of all terrible things and the benign bestower of blessedness and beatitude. Thus is that the Mother is conceived of as the destroyer of one of Her own aspects; just as by the power of will-and will is also a portion of the mind-we overcome certain weaknesses and evils in the same mind. As Vidya-Maya, Mother as Kali destroys avidya (ignorance) and takes us to the transcendental Brahman.

Thus we find that Mother Kali stands for a glorified being, a Mother who is intent upon giving deliverance from delusion. It is in this aspect that the lover of the Mother worships Her as Kali. He calls upon Her: “Oh compassionate Mother! I am at the mercy of this all-powerful mind. I am tyrannized by the ego and the senses. I have become enslaved by the six enemies (anger, hatred, fear, greed, pride, & jealousy) and this whole family of vasanas (mental modifications), vrittis (mental waves) and samskaras (metal habits). They are ever battling against me. Therefore, Thou alone can’st save me from these terrible foes.” He invokes Her aid and power to help destroy all these factors, so that when he cannot battle and overcome them, he gets the strength of the Mother and She graciously comes to his aid and in Her symbolically terrible form She helps him overcome the senses and attain mastery and victory over the mind.

The Real Worship of Mother Kali

Excerpt from A Guide to Noble Living, Divine Life Society, Shivanandanagar, 1991.

The phenomenon of destruction necessarily preceding a new birth is found in every aspect of creation and evolution upon this earth. Similarly, in the realm of the spirit, when the seeker has set himself to rise into the transcendental state of paripurnata or perfection, fullness, bliss, eternal life and infinite peace, light and joy-when he starts upon this process, he finds that he is bound down by many things which do not allow him to rise up to that desired state of spiritual felicity and bliss. Numerous elements of this old human self, many undesirable factors of the lower aspect of mundane life, hold him down, trying perpetually to keep him bound to ignorance, darkness, delusion and anatmic (un-divine) tendencies. This lower aspect of the individual soul is known by the name papa-purusha (man of sin) or pasu (beast)-which needs be destroyed and given as pasu-bali (animal sacrifice) on the altar of Daivi-Shakti (the Divine Mother or Power).

If an aspirant really and earnestly desires to attain to supreme peace and bliss, then he must be resolutely prepared to do the preliminary breaking process that is absolutely essential before he can be free to rise up from the old personality and soar into the empyrean realm of spiritual consciousness, full of bliss and peace. If his earnestness makes him ready to die to his lower self, then he can be called a real worshiper of Kali, the fearful Mother Divine, the consumer of all the blackness in the form of the impurities of the soul. She wields Her sword and Her terrible form in order to destroy that which stands as an obstacle to our attainment of spiritual bliss. She is terrible, fearful and destructive to all that is lower in us, impure and unspiritual in us, and all that is base and bestial in us.

The individual finds that he cannot fight and overcome these enemies of the higher self through his own puny individual efforts. Therefore comes the necessity and the meaning of Mother worship. He invokes that aspect of this supreme divine power that might be capable of doing this process of pasu-badha (animal-sacrifice) in his own individual case. Therefore he turns to the Mother and lovingly addresses Her: “O Mother! Come to me as the terrible. Come to me with your fearful sword. Come to me as a destructive power in Thy fearsome aspect which will be capable of destroying in me that which is unspiritual, unholy, and that which is animalistic and base and anantmic (un-divine).” He welcomes the terrible so that She may release him from the clutches of the evil and the impure that is in him-the papa-purusha that is in him. This is a voluntary invitation of the destructive aspect of Divine Shakti so that She may, out of love and compassion for us, do the work of destroying all the six-fold enemies in us, our egoism, our impurity, our attachment and all the hosts of things that form the lower aspect of the individual.

Therefore the worship of Kali is a little bit difficult, because we find that while one part of the seeker, out of his aspiration and desire for liberation, feels that he should free himself from the base aspect of his personality, yet there is the power of delusion and attachment in him, and this aspect makes it difficult for him to completely destroy his lower self, his attachments and cravings with a resolute mind. While he wants Mother Kali to come and do the work of destruction, at the same time he yet clings to his lower self! Therefore, his worship of the Divine Mother Kali is not wholehearted.

He is the real worshiper of the Divine Mother who sets himself resolutely to crush out all attachments, to crush out his delusion, to crush out his cravings, to crush out likes and dislikes, to annihilate his egoism, and thus actively cooperate with the power which he invokes through Mother worship. Else it will be a hypocritical worship.

A real seeker and worshipper of the Divine Mother should ever exercise his vichara (self-inquiry), viveka (discrimination) and vairagya dispassion) with a resolute and determined mind. It is the exercise of all these higher faculties in order that the lower faculties may completely be destroyed, that forms the real worship the Divine Mother. The sadhana (spiritual practice) which the seeker does in order to destroy the impurities of his mind and heart; the sadhana which he does to burn up his egoism and attachments of the lower nature constitute the real worship of the Mother for him. It is the doing of one’s sadhana with wholeheartedness, intense sincerity and with the entire integral being that constitutes the real worship of the Mother.

In every seeker this worship of the Mother is a process that constantly goes on. To the extent to which he resolutely opposes the cravings and attachments that try to keep him bound down to his lower existence-to that extent also he daily succeeds in doing a real worship of the Divine Mother.

Let us all pray to the Divine Mother that She may give us all the necessary strength, inspiration and inner power to put ourselves wholeheartedly upon Her side and join in the work of the Divine Shakti in regenerating us, in annihilating our pasutva (animal instincts) and bestowing upon us Divya-Jyoti (Divine Light).

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