Tuesday, 21 May 2013

SRI LALITA SAHASRANAM: GLORIES



## COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED FOR THIS BLOG POST##

A glorious, glorious practice, the chanting of the Sri Lalita Sahasranam. First, to orientate yourself, here's a bit from Wikipedia:


Lalita Sahasranama is a text from the Brahmanda Purana. It is a sacred text to the worshippers of Lalita Devi. Lalita means "She who plays", with the root form of the word meaning "spontaneous" from which the meaning easy is derived and implicitly extends to "play".

The art and practice of Sahasranam Stotras is a truly beautiful thing to do. Sahasranam means "1000 names" or "many names" and it is a way of expressing pure devotion in a formalised way, a recitation of the beauty and mystery of the chosen deity. Sri Lalita Devi is Divine Mother in one of her most playful and beneficent moods, and this chant is extremely easy to do, either in the shortened form or as a list of each attribute chanted separately with a "Namah" at the end and "Om" at the beginning: giving a garland of powerful, life shaking mantras.

The long version is called the Sri Lalita sahasra namavalih and both are collected together in the Ramakrishna mission version of the text, with an erudite introduction. In fact both form part of a far longer practice, the mysterious sadhana of Sri Vidya. This would lead you into a whole other world, believe me, but it is a practice that demands very undeviating dedication.

An easier option, by the way, for those with not so much time, is to chant the Sri Lalita Trishati, which is 300 stotras tied to glorification of the core Sri Vidya mantra. And, before you ask, no I  do not have a text to send to you!

The Devi Mahatyam, or Chandi Path, is the undoubted queen of ways to worship the Mother, but the Sri Lalita Sahasranam runs it a close second, if you even want to couch it in these kind of terms. It is an essay in sweetness, very easy to do, and has a playful, zestful quality. It is the only sahasranam which does not repeat itself! Its language is ornate, with an abundance of alliteration, but the text contains many hidden strings of mantras and messages.

Chant this particularly on Fridays and on Full Moon. The chant comes alive in darkness as well. Be a hero or heroine about this: no begging, no expectation, no demands, just Love. Chant because you can! This is part of extremely secret knowledge. Only the very few of humanity ever get the chance to hear this, let alone chant this! So be part of the few. Light your lamp of devotion, bow to Her. She is everything, She is all of you. She is the secret and the destination. She grants waves of bliss, a calm heart, a peaceful mind, a well of joy. What great fortune to chant this!

There are many descriptions out there of the benefits of chanting this. Some are fearful that you need initiation for this. We in the west are much more fearless about it, and believe that the desire to chant this sincerely bears its own fruit, and is a sign of the Mother's playful favour. This is not a chant you should approach fearfully in any way, unless you are simply trying to use it to grab as much wealth as you can or destroy your imagined enemies. In which case, a bit of spiritual growing up may be required first.

Above all, it is a chant that reminds you that life is fundamentally good, pure, noble, and playful - all qualities of Sri Lalita Devi. Leave asise your tiresome chant of 1,000 reasons why you can't chant it, and chant instead a 1,000 names of hope, and faith. Now also do not think you will get around to it when you are finally purified of your usual lust, anger, bitterness or despair. That is silly. If this were the case, who on earth would ever be qualified to chant? But also... apply your common sense. You do not need elaborate prayers to draw the Mother's grace, it is already always around you. Just a simple "Ma" said with sincerity can mean a whole lot more than woebegone or distracted attempts to say "look at me, Mother, I'm chanting... now give me this, give me that." 

I was first attracted to this text back in 1990, quite far into my spiritual journey, when I  had very little knowledge of which tune to use, how to pronounce Sanskrit properly etc etc, so I simply used to read the text (easily available through a Ramakrishna mission book) and after a while, such was my restless mind, moved onto something else.

But the name "Lalita"  has always borne an indescribable charge for me that is hard to explain. It is thrilling, it is deeply embedded in my DNA it seems to me. Don't know why, can't really rationally explain it, but there is a deep connection that must stretch beyond this incarnation. The same applies with that other beautiful name of the Goddess: Tripurasundari. Do you feel this too?

Try this chant out, either in its short or long form, but my advice would be to try this without expectation  as a song of love, a song of intimacy, a dance of letters, of intention.

If it seems to daunting or you are worried about initiation etc, do not chant! It's that simple! And do not pester the blogger to do the heavy lifting for you and chant for you, while you put your feet up and have a cup of chai. Put in your own self-effort and grace, anugraha, kripa, will come.

One of the great blessings of this chant is that it opens the Heart Centre. If your life is all in the mind, you will get quite a shock to realise that the next step up from purely mundane existence is when two centres of awareness open up in you... that mental screen you know all about, but then also the sensitive organ loosely located in your heart area, the doorway to the infinite in you.

This is where Bhakti, devotion springs from. It is the hub of silence, the entry to golden secret waves of bliss that you will feel inside you, and then extending all around. This chant is a wonderful way to open up the heart.

Give it a try if you can get hold of a copy. Chant with devotion, with no expectation , and also when you can, read the meaning... there are some wonderful descriptions of the mother embedded in the sacred mantras, amazing sounds, curvcs, movements of the prana. You can end up feeling extremely intoxicated chanting this! And it does not take so long, either.

If you love the Mother, sing your song to Her today.Then offer Her your service, each and every time you chant. Good luck!



Wednesday, 15 May 2013

MAHAKALI DEVOTION


## COMMENTS DISABLED FOR THIS POST ###

Am typing this in the middle of a tropical rainstorm in Singapore, and its unbridled and gleeful ferocity reminds me of Kali.

Not for nothing does a famous song by the Kali devotee Ramprasad mentions "my mad Mother Kali", and of all the incarnations of the Divine Mother, the Primordial Shakti, Kali represents not just the fierce and wild, but the rampaging movement of the Divine.

Westerners have always struggled with the basic problem of what happens when things go wrong, good times break down, businesses fail and good people suffer, and are more comfortable finding consolation in a dualistic view of God... Everything good is God, everything bad is the devil.

But Kali is a figure that embraces the terrifying as well as the benign. If you've ever truly been around destruction, whether in warfare or by some dreadful event, there is a wildness there. Kali's wildness often strides across our lives. When we turn our devotion to the Devi, sooner or later we can find that we start off worshipping Lakshmi, the bringer of auspiciousness and comforts, only to find that life takes a tumble... The sudden precipitous plunges in the reputations of celebreties and politicians... The unexpected departures of partners and friends... Upsets, incidents that seem to reflect a raw energy, a primal electrical shock that breaks every foundation.

That's one aspect of Kali, and through different ages and countries some reflection of the Fierce Mother shows up. Can one love such a force, actively embrace its power as an example of the strength of the hidden?

I think we not only can but must. A pretty life filled with neatness and order gets you absolutely nowhere in the end but suburbia. Spiritual life is difficult, often dangerous, but its an adventure which we all instinctively recognise. For within each of us is the capacity to worship it all, all the good, all the bad, all the troubles and joy... Worship this as the great Maya, the wonderful illusory dance we witness while we are alive.

Someone very close to me once had a dream in which Kali came to her bed one night, and for her, this experience was the essence of bliss and ecstacy... And she was never the same again. Kali, then, is not doom or gloom, but she is untameable, supremely free, and to glimpse her even for a second (lightening and thunder rumbling right now across the night sky as I write this) is to gain a matchless gift. Next time your world comes tumbling down, see if you can spot Her at play...




There are lots of secrets about Kali-Ma. She has penetrated western consciousness for at least 200 years in a particularly shameful way- the British imperialists decided to label her worship as devilish, and this image even resurfaced in one of the dreadful Indiana Jones movies of the 1980s - a bloodthirsty goddess with crazed supporters out to kill everyone.

That said, She is wild and untameable and holds the Bhairav, the fierceness of a tigress about to pounce. She is the village goddess, She is the supporter of those who do not fit into any category. She sweeps all away, and none too gently... but to Her devotees, She is revealed in true loveliness.

As one beautiful Yogananda chant puts it:

Who tells me Thou art dark, 
Oh my Mother Divine?
Thousands of suns and moons
From Thy body do shine!

(hear a good version of this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFXAzHK_S38)






Her colour is dark, her hair free. Her very name is linked with Kala, time, the great devourer. Her tongue is loose - some say with shame at trampling her husband, some say with the unquenchable thirst for blood, and that tongue will sweep up the negativities of a devotee, often with a masterly series of blows that hurt when they happen, but heal when they are over.

It is important to realise therefore that She has a benign (dakshina) side as well as fearful (smarshan) side, and here the iconography becomes important. If She steps out with her right foot and holds Her sword in a left side, this is the dakshina form. The other round, and She is Smarshana Kali, the embodiment of the power of destruction and unstoppable.

Shyama Kali is tender and worshipped in Hindu households as the dispeller of fear and granter of boons.
Raksha Kali, the protectress is who we turn to in terrible times.

Tantrics worship Siddha Kali to attain perfection, Phalaharini Kali to destroy the results of their actions, Nitya Kali the eternal one to help achieve perfection. Even robbers thieves and dacoits get in on the act and some worship Dakait Kali. Across India, in villages and towns, Kali murtis exist and are worshipped - much to the apparent ire of the Mother in Sri Aurobindo's ashrams, who did not particularly like the fear that Kali seemed to evoke in superstitious villagers.

She seems to crop up along the fringes of western magic, paganism, and is little understood... and young western women who want to declare their freedom often like to align with Her energies in a very superficial way. There are echoes of her, the Primordial Mother, in many other traditions... such as the Yoruba deity Oya, or the strange Santa Muerte, or some of the very few "Black Madonnas" found in southern Europe.

She is absolutely the opposite of a submissive or well behaved feminine presence, and it is interesting that the land of India, which demands so much from its image of saintly, withdrawn women who pander to men's every needs, nevertheless is a crucible for veneration of the exact opposite of polite and withdrawn. Kali chooses who She favours, not the other way round.

Devotees

Kali Maa has attracted many famous saints in recent times. Ramprasad, the Devi-intoxicated Bengali poet in the eighteenth century, sung of Her praises throughout his life and his songs are just as popular today:

Mother, am I Thine eight-months child?
Thy red eyes cannot frighten me!
My riches are Thy Lotus Feet
which Shiva holds upon His breast;
Yet, when I seek my heritage,
I meet with excuses and delays.
A deed of gift I hold in my heart,
attested by Thy husband Shiva;
I shall sue Thee if I must,
and with a single point shall win.

If thou dost oppose me
Thou wilt learn what sort of mother's son I am.
This bitterly contested suit between the mother and Her son
What sport it is! says Ramprasad.
I shall not cease tormenting Thee
Til Thou Thyself shall yield the fight
and take me in Thine arms at last.

Kamalakanta  is another famous poet from the end of the eighteenth century, and a householder like Ramprasad who sang of "My Mother full of Bliss." These songs are still sung today with great enthusiasm throughout India. In the west, one chant always seems to surface wherever you go, which is simply

Kali Durge Namo Namah





But the West really learned about Kali through the life and teachings and school of Yoga of the great Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, whose extraordinary sadhana and brilliant circles of disciples is well-described and easily accessible, and his link with the great murti of Kali at Dakshineshwar. Kali came alive for him, a living palpable presence, and I've always yearned to see this great temple. She used to walk on the balcony in absolute beauty and loveliness - and Ramakrishna had many exalted experiences of Her. This is his famous description of what happened when he finally cracked and picked up a sword hanging in the temple to end his own life, maddened by being unable to see Her:

"It was as if  houses, doors temples and all other things vanished altogether;
as if there was nothing anywhere.
And what I saw was a boundless, infinite conscious sea of light.
However far and in whatever direction I looked,
I found a continuous succession of effulgent waves coming forward,
raging and storming from all sides with great speed.
Very soon, they fell on me
and made me sink to the unknown bottom.
I panted, struggled
and fell
unconscious."




Less well known is the story of a great devotee, Bhamakepa, who spent most of his life at Tara Peeth in west Bengal, a great shakta site, and who died in 1911. Extraordinary stories of his devotion to the Mother in all forms abound and his life story is worth checking out. He was not a learned man, but  a true Tantric adept. People called him mad from an early age because he showed no interest in worldly life, so he added "khepa" or "mad" to his name.

He wore no clothes, and lived in the famous smarshana or burial ground at Tara Peeth, a place filled with Tantric adepts and gawping tourists during the daytime... and strange rituals at night. When asked why he wore no clothes he replied "My father (Shiva) is naked. My mother (Tara) is also naked. So I am practicing that. Furthermore I don't live in society. I live in the cremation ground with my mother. So I have no shame or fear!" Unusually he was fed prasad before it was offered to goddess, after Tara appeared in a dream to the Maharani of Nahore and threatened to leave the place because he was being beaten by the temple priests.

There are some great stories about the various miracles he performed... always with a kind of roughness or fierceness that hid a heart of pure love and compassion. My favourite one is when a beautiful woman decided to tempt him (this is a familiar theme in the mythology of many saints, but one with a twist this time). In stead of ignoring her, he lunged forward, shouted "Ma!", bit her breast and she fell unconscious. Now imagine trying to package this kind of personality in the 21st century when Gurus wear silk robes and charge for courses!