Rebecca Somerville discussesthe Goddess in Yoga
Atrip through The Goddess: Divine Energy exhibition atthe Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Januarythis year, revealed her many manifestations - as divinemother, fearless warrior, diabolical annihilator ofego, protectress, healer, symbol of fertility and renewaland ultimately, as the principle of dynamic energy throughwhich everything in existence functions.
According to Vedic cosmology (samkhya) which sharesmany of its doctrines with yoga, the One (supreme cosmicspirit known as Brahman), in order to experience itself,undergoes an initial split by forming a male polarity(God: Brahma, Siva, Vishnu, Purusha), which immediatelycreates a female polarity (Goddess: Devi, Parvati, Lakshmi,Prakruti). The arrival of this active feminine energyon the scene initiates an explosion of creativity thatexpands to form the universe and all that it contains.This idea is paralleled in other mystical paths too,that describe the casting out or splitting off of thedivine feminine energy so that creation can occur. InKabbalah, this creative feminine force is known as Shekinah.The Bible describes her as Eve (although the castingout has been misinterpreted as banishment rather thanexpression). In science, this idea is synonymous withthe expansion of the universe ensuing from the Big Bang.
This idea is also supported in pithy Taoist style inchapter 42 of the Tao de Ching, where it states: "Taogives birth to the One, the One gives birth to Two,and from Two emerges Three. Three gives birth to allthe things. All things carry the Yin and the Yang, derivingtheir vital harmony from the proper blending of thetwo vital forces." Whatever names or numbers wegive her,
The Goddess represents the creative force in the universe- the fuel for evolution. The timeless analogy of aspider spinning a web out of thread that comes fromher own body gives us a clue to her function in yogiccosmology. As web spinner, she is the creative forceand as webbing, she is the world of form itself. Shesits at the heart of every yoga practitioner and hersis the path that we follow on our journey of reunification.This is why Devi or Maha Devi and her manifest energy(Shakti) are so revered in yoga.
In a cosmic scale, the One is represented by the GodBrahman and, on a human scale, it is the state of enlightenment.The male/female polarity that develops out of that Oneis echoed throughout creation and represented in differingways to appeal to our individuality. The male polarityis represented, for example, by Krishna, Siva, Vishnu,the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet, the right sideof the body, the left side of the brain and underpinningall of these are its affinity with structure, form,and the idea that it is the base from which the feminineenergy extends. The female polarity represented by Radha,Shakti, Lakshmi, the vowels in the Sanskrit alphabet,the left side of the body, the right side of the brain,for example, connotes fluidity, creativity, function,and the divine energy that creates life from the male"seed".
In yoga and Hinduism, the Maha Devi has a multitudeof names for her many forms. There is a goddess forevery attribute that we need to realise and explorein order to become conscious of our Oneness again.
This is why the yoga path is an exercise in learningabout oneself. It is not an egocentric practice - onthe contrary, the more we know ourselves, the more ofa communion we make with all of existence, with thegreat Goddess herself.
The AGNSW exhibition celebrated the manifold ways inwhich the great Goddess has been depicted by yogins,Buddhists and the Nepalese over the centuries, in orderto appeal to the different levels of our consciousness.
The Goddess and her numerous manifestations are representedfiguratively to best appeal to our emotional mind, sothat we are easily able to form a connection with oneor many of her attributes. She is portrayed as a beautifullyadorned female figure, the personification of compassion,or wrath, or charity, or abundance, for example. Theseicons are pregnant with symbology - lotus flowers fortranscendence, medicinal herbs for healing, water pitchersfor fertility and so on - both for their aesthetic appealand to trigger an awakening in the mind of the devotee,and help to bring a particular energy to consciousness.
To appeal to the deeper psyche, she is also representedin abstract (yantric) form and in her vibrational/essential(mantric) form. For example, Sri Yantra, is known asthe 'mother' of all yantras, from which all others arederived. It is the abstract symbol for creation andcomprises a series of nine interpenetrating triangles(five descending, (representing the female polarityand four ascending, representing the male polarity).If meditation on this form doesn't blow your mind, itwill help integrate the many factions of your consciousnessback to its original state of unification, representedin the yantra by a central dot (bindu).
Our enlightenment is therefore the distillation ofour experience back to its essence. We take it fromits complicated outer form, we remove the impuritiesand reduce it, through the eight limbs of yoga, backto its blueprint. Or to put it in the context of divineenergy, Maha Devi expands into the many worlds and forms,right down to the tiniest of creatures, like us. Weare fragments of her eternal form. On our journey towardsenlightenment, by integrating her principle energies,we are restoring her original form and ultimately reunitingher with her beloved God.
Rebecca Somerville is a yoga teacher in Sydney NSW.