Goddesses in Tantra

The Ten Divine Paths of Knowledge of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Part 2)

Author: Stefanie Aue

Issue No: 95

The worship of the feminine has a long tradition in Tantra. This is also reflected in the ten paths of knowledge of the “Dasha Maha Vidyas”, which represent the spiritual paths aiming at evolution and enlightenment. The continuation of the article from Tattva Viveka 94 presents the second half of the canon of tantric goddesses with their specific characteristics and spheres of activity.

In the first part of the article we have already seen how we can turn to different Great Macrocosmic Forces in different life situations and thus always receive the appropriate help and support. If something needs to be transformed, we turn to Kali. If we are lost or do not know which path to take in our life, we turn to Tara. If we long for a fulfilling love relationship, Tripura Sundari is the goddess we can turn to. Ultimately, however, all ten Maha Vidyas, all ten paths of knowledge, lead to the same goal: the revelation of the Supreme Self.
Let us now look at the remaining five Great Macrocosmic Forces: Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika.

The Ten Great Macrocosmic Forces – Dasha Maha Vidyas

  1. chinnamasta

Arguably one of the most fearsome goddesses of the Dasha Maha Vidya canon is the Great Macrocosmic Force of Courage, Chinnamasta. Not only is it astonishing that she is depicted headless in her pictorial representations (more on this below), but the related implication that our physical body and mind are finite, but our consciousness exists beyond, can seem strange to the viewer. This representation alone suggests that the spiritual path of the Tantric aims to access universal consciousness beyond “cerebral” rational thought.

Chinnamasta, whose symbol is a severed head, requires her devotees to transcend the mind and ego and dissolve them into pure consciousness. All that we think we know, all logical conclusions, our identification with the various roles we play in our lives, are nothing more than limitations we impose on ourselves. Freed from the worldly limitations of the simple mind, consciousness finally realizes its true nature beyond death and suffering. We need not fear the loss of our body and our thoughts, for they are merely the limitations of our true identity. In this, the only way to our higher consciousness is the sacrifice of identification with our mind and thus with all thought processes surrounding our self-image and the “I-am-my-body” or “I-am-my-thought” idea. The severed head symbolizes the discernment between body and mind, between body and consciousness, as well as the liberation from the shackles of identification with the body and the mental. In this process, we separate ourselves from our ordinary identity and sacrifice our ego for a higher reality.
Chinnamasta is not only depicted with a severed head, she furthermore holds it in one of her hands and drinks the blood flowing from the open wound. This sight alone may seem daunting to the viewer, but the goddess herself seems happy, even blissful, as can be seen from her facial expression. She represents the joy of transcending one’s own body and mind rather than the pain of losing them. From this point of view, we could say that the head is not dead, but even more alive than before.

Consciousness is not limited to the body and the mental. It can very well function without them.

That is why consciousness limited to the body has been called, among other things, a cage or a tomb in various spiritual traditions. In the body, consciousness is limited to the experience of the senses. Detached from the body and mind, consciousness experiences the freedom of infinity, which includes the entire universe. Although the idea of losing body consciousness seems frightening, the idea of being limited only to one’s body and thoughts – and thus subject to time and death – should instead frighten us much more. The Great Macrocosmic Power Chinnamasta is the one who liberates us from the captivity of our senses, body and mind, and manifests as the Great Liberator and Savior for the Tantra practitioner devoted to her.

Particularly important in her depictions is her severed head, which she holds up in one of her hands and with which she drinks the middle bloodstream that flows from her open neck. The middle bloodstream stands for the main energy channel of every human being, in Sanskrit “Shusumna Nadi”. In another hand she holds the sword that separated the head from the body, symbolizing the ability to distinguish between everything that is real and everything that is illusory – between truth and illusion. She has two companions, each of whom drinks from another bloodstream that springs respectively from the left and right of the main bloodstream. The right bloodstream represents the solar energy channel of a human being, or “Pingala Nadi” in Sanskrit, and the left bloodstream represents the lunar energy channel of a human being, or “Ida Nadi” in Sanskrit.
Chinnamasta and her two companions stand on an intimately entwined pair of lovers, Kama and Rati. Kama is the god of love and Rati is the goddess of bodily and sensual pleasure. Together they personify the desire to procreate, which forces the ego to reincarnate again and again. Chinnamasta stands triumphantly on the lovers, showing their victory over all the lower desires and sexual urges and their transformation into sublime erotic energies and their control in terms of Brahmacharya, the erotic continence (see also my article in Tattva Viveka Special Issue No. 2, Sacred Sexuality, Sexuality in Tantra).

  1. dhumavati

“Dhuma” means smoke. So Dhumavati is the one who is made of smoke. Her nature is not enlightenment, but obscuration or veiling. However, by veiling the known, she reveals the unknown. Goddess Dhumavati is the oldest among the Dasha Maha Vidyas and is portrayed as a widow. She is the only one of the Great Macrocosmic Forces described without a male counterpart. She is Shakti without Shiva and therefore contains all possibilities within herself. Dhumavati embodies every form of rejection and is associated with poverty, disease, misery and suffering. Therefore, she is also considered the great calamity that we all fear in our lives. She has a hunched stature and is known as a troublesome and quarrelsome figure. She is also often portrayed as a witch. However, this external lack of wealth, abundance and beauty leads the devotee to seek fulfillment within, beyond the already limited physical universe.

Thus, frustration on the outside makes us seek the inner truth.

Dhumavati brings darkness into one aspect of our lives and at the same time triggers new potential to grow in another direction. Thus, she is the happiness that comes to us in the form of unhappiness.
Dhumavati is also known as the Great Macrocosmic Force of the Blissful Void, in which all forms have dissolved and cannot be further differentiated. This void is free from any duality of subject and object. In truth, the void or immaterial state is pure consciousness. Therefore, Dhumavati is pure, perfect and full consciousness in which no single object exists anymore. The void is not a mere nothingness, but the end of the movements of the mind. Dhumavati is the ultimate stillness itself. Just as the waves on a lake can represent the restless mind with all its chaotic thoughts, the calm water of the lake with its mirror-like surface represents the mind freed from thoughts.
All the negative forces of life such as disappointment, frustration, humiliation, failure, loss, sorrow and loneliness are within the sphere of influence of the Great Macrocosmic Force Dhumavati. All these negative experiences overwhelm the ordinary mind, but the tantric uses them as a way to transcend his worldly desires. Those who recognize the great goddess Dhumavati and her lessons in these experiences are blessed with true realization. Dhumavati bestows upon her devotees great patience, endurance, power to forgive and detachment. By the grace of Dhumavati, the imperfect, transient, unhappy and confused state of ordinary egoic existence is revealed, then transcended by the practitioner. These negative experiences help us to break free from the spell of the superficial pleasures of the physical world. If we recognize them as the wisdom of the Goddess Dhumavati, we can use their potential and transmute them into energies of joy.

Dhumavati is depicted as an emaciated and gaunt old woman. With her wrinkled face, missing teeth and crooked nose, she looks extremely unattractive. In some depictions, she is even portrayed with fangs. She wears old and dirty clothes and her breasts hang down. Dhumavati sits on a chariot, but no draft animals are harnessed in front of it – another symbol of the hopelessness of the situations in which she can be invoked. Her symbolic animal is the crow, which is usually depicted on her chariot or has taken a seat on it. The crow as a scavenger stands for death and in connection with dark, negative powers, mischief and black magic.

In one hand she holds a worf basket, an agricultural tool used to separate the chaff from the wheat, and with the other she makes the gesture of knowledge. The basket of worms indicates her ability to distinguish between the inner essence and the outer illusory, because transient, reality that appears only momentarily like waves on the ocean of emptiness.

As an ugly form of Maha Shakti, she teaches the tantric to look behind the apparent beauty and discover the inner truth.

As a witch, she is not a negative entity for the tantric, but she introduces us to the side of life that we perceive as negative, but at the same time frees us from our attachments and reveals our inner reality.

About the author:

Stefanie Aue is editor of Tattva Viveka. As a social and media scientist as well as a yoga teacher and tantra-for-women group leader, she is interested in social and individual transformation processes.

This article was written with the collaboration of Chloe Hünefeld.

This article was originally published on the German website: Göttinnen im Tantra

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