The Goddess Spark

 

 I am reminded of one of the Goddess’ greatest devotees – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. In the initial phase of his sadhana, not only did he have a woman, Bhairavi Brahmani, as his guru, he worshipped Ultimate Truth as feminine in the form of KaliThough he would eventually move towards a nondualistic, and therefore un-gendered, perception of reality, Truth would never lose its femininity for Sri Ramakrishna.  

In a radical, and feministic, interpretation of the Advaita perspective, he said, ‘When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive — neither creating nor preserving nor destroying — I call Him Brahman or Purusha, the Impersonal God. When I think of Him as active — creating, preserving, and destroying — I call Him Shakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The Personal and the Impersonal is the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.’

 

While worshipping ‘the Supreme Being’ as feminine, so deep was his absorption that hwould see Her everywhere, even in his own wife, SaradaOnce, on the night of the ritual worship of Kali as Phalaharini, one who ‘destroys the fruits of actions’, Sri Ramakrishna conducted a secret puja where he asked Sarada to take the place of the deity and worshipped her in the form of Shodashi, the Devi as a sixteen-year-old, also known as Tripura Sundari

 

During the Shodashi Puja, Sri Ramakrishna consecrated Sri Sarada Devi’s body by placing mantras on various parts of it, making it mantramayi, encasing the Goddess in human form. Was it because he wanted to manifest the special characteristics of Tripura Sundari in the Mother of this age?’ writes Pravrajika Vedantaprana in her essay ‘Sarada Shodashi’ (Eternal Mother, Ramakrishna Sarada Mission 2004).

 

A way of looking at Sarada’s Shodashi Puja is how it acted as a trigger for her own inner transformation. Once Sri Ramakrishna invoked the Goddess in her, she felt inspired to grow into her role by consciously cultivating the qualities of the Devi within herself. It is said that we all have enlightened nature, the pure atman – the point of spiritual practice is not to create it, but uncover it and bring it into conscious being. The essence is present, but it has to be roused and set in motion. This is what I believe happened with Sarada, under the watchful guidance of Sri Ramakrishna. 

 

When we conduct the ritual puja, it might be useful to keep in mind the powerful psycho-spiritual trigger such an event can be. If done with complete absorption and inner connection, it might well present us with a precious opportunity to expand the boundaries of divinity by igniting the Goddess’ spark in the human feminine.

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Iceberg Seekers

Sri Sarada Devi

Countless women have walked the inner paths of spiritual realisation despite the thorns
placed in their way by patriarchy, discrimination and unequal opportunities. Their journeys have been characterised by courage, determination, ingenuity and creativity. What is amazing is the inventiveness women have displayed when they couldn’t get past their gender roles. They formed their own jugaad, in the Indian spirit of cobbling together a
workable solution with whatever you have, and found ways to lead spiritually rich lives
under the skin of their worldly selves.

This is a phenomenon I call ‘iceberg seeking’, and which is in direct contrast to the mainstream ‘male’ model of checking out and taking off. The tradition of ascetic wandering is ancient, and was already well-established when Siddhartha Gautama walked out of his home some 2,500 years ago. The women who the men left behind might have heard an inner call, too. But there were babies to raise, fields to tend, animals to rear. And so, they practised through it all, deepening under the surface of their daily selves like icebergs, their true attainment invisible, and therefore uncelebrated, unlike their male counterparts whose nirvanas were well-documented and whose teachings found numerous followers.

Sri Sarada Devi, wife of the nineteenth century mystic Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was such an ‘iceberg seeker’. She practised, taught and shepherded her husband’s students, all from behind her veil. Modern urban women, with a million pressures on their time, could learn from her ‘spiritual time management’. The fabric of her day was woven with the thread of continuous awareness and sacred remembrance, which looped around all other activities that required her attention.

Another example is Dipa Ma, who, too, brought her practice within the embrace of her
life. A remarkable twentieth century teacher of vipassana meditation, she hauled herself
out of the torpor she had sunk into after her husband’s death through a dedicated practice
of vipassana. Realising she couldn’t leave her young daughter and go for long retreats,
she carefully rationed free moments in her day to strengthen her practice of unbroken
mindfulness. Later, when she began to teach, she tailored the rigorous vipassana regimen to busy women’s needs, asking them to pause and meditate at least for five minutes to begin with.

Teachers like these are exceptional role models because they lived in their worlds and
practised amidst the chaos that surrounded them. They didn’t need the solitude of a cave
to make it work, and perhaps, neither do we. Like them, we might also try and measure
our mind-moments through our ‘busy-ness’ and focus on cultivating our inner potential
for mindfulness, compassion, selflessness, and self-inquiry. And do what we can to create
enriched, fulfilled, and truly empowered lives.