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Role of Shakti and bhakti in advaita-mukti

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According to the shAkta and other bhakti sampradAya--traditions, advanced devotees are granted krama-mukti--progressive liberation, in the lokas--worlds, of their IShTadevatAs--preferred deities.

The krama-mukti is in the order: sAlokya--living in the same world, sAmIpya--living in proxmity and serving the God, sArUpya--becoming the God's form and enjoying his/her state of bliss, and sAyujya--merging with the God but still retaining individuality and enjoying his/her bliss and lIlAs.

A question arises: Can such devotees thus liberated in krama-mukti, attain the ultimate, advaita-mokSha of Self-Realization, if they want it, through Shakti/bhakti?

Advaitins say that such mukti through bhakti is not possible. They say that these advanced devotee souls must return when the worlds of their deities perish in MahApralaya, and commence their sAdhana afresh in the NivRtti mArga of jnAna, through dhyAna--meditation and Atma-vichAra--Self-inquiry. In other words, Advaitins seem to deny the power of Shakti in granting advaita mukti to the devotees who sought liberation through bhakti.

According to shrI RA GaNapati, author of the Tamil book NavarAtri NAyakI:

• the Advaitins are not right. They forget, if not deny, that Shakti (of whose form the personal Gods are) is capable of elevating such souls to the advaita-mukti of Self-Realization, right from the worlds of their Gods, instead of letting them return.

• The Advaitins' refusal of Self-Realization only through bhakti-yoga is based on their concept of mAyA and NirguNa Brahman. If Brahman is to be NirguNa, it cannot have an attribute of mAyA, so they say that the NirguNa Brahman becomes Ishvara who is SaguNa Brahman, unites with mAyA, and creates the world.

• Where did this mAyA arise from? To this question, the answer of the Advaitins is that mAyA is anirvachanIya--whose origin cannot be known. But what about NirguNa Brahman? Is it not itself anirvachanIya--in describable in its nature and origin? Are there then two vastus--entities, Brahman and mAyA that are anirvachanIya?

• Instead of giving the benefit of anirvachanIya to mAyA, the author shrI GaNapati says, that the Advaitins could have very well said that NirguNa Brahman itself is anirvachanIya, and mAyA is only its inherent Shakti. [In other words, if Brahman is immanent in the jIva-jaDa prapancha--universe of animate and inanimate beings, Shakti is immanent in that very Brahman, and thus she is immanent in the jIva-jaDa prapancha as well.--sd]

• Who guides an Advaita sAdhaka, until he attains nirvikalpa samAdhi, as he struggles to sustain the state of turIya? What faculties enable the sAdhaka in his dhyAna and Atma-vichAra? Only his buddhi and mind? Are they not aspects of Goddess Shakti?

• Who guides the worldly activities of a jIvan-mukta--liberated while living, who is always in sahaja samAdhi? Who fills him with such altruistic love towards all that lives? Is it not Shakti whom the Advaitin dismisses as mAyA?

• As the sAdhaka continues to perform his upAsana--worship, with persistence, (with the thought of his God always in mind with unbreakable continuity as in the taila-dhAra--flow of oil--sd), his pApa-puNya--sinful-meritorious karma are balanced in karma-sAMyam. His dirty vAsanas--impressions, are removed in malaparipakam. In the end, his mind becoming parama-nirmalam--supremely blemishless, the Shakti of Ishvara's kAruNyam--compassion, will descend on him (this is described as shakti-nipAtam or shakti-pAtam) and the sAdhaka will attain (advaita) mokSham. This is the doctrine of Shaiva SiddhAnta.

RamaNa MaharShi clarifies that such shaktipAta is also there in Advaita mArgam:

"Yes. Malaparipaka, karmasamya and saktipata mean the same, A man is running the course of his samskaras; when taught he is the Self, the teaching affects his mind and imagination runs riot. He feels helpless before the onrushing power. His experiences are only according to his imagination of the state "I am the Self", whatever he may conceive it to be. SaktipAta alone confers the true and right experience. (Talk 275)

• Goddess Shakti, who is described as brahma-jnana-pradAyaki--one who grants the knowledge of Self/Brahman, and is adored as shrI VidyA by the shAktas, is deseribed as avidyA in Advaita. But she is not bothered herself that she is JnAnAmbikA to some and AjnAnAmbikA to others, for, the entire loka-vyAparam--transaction of worldly life, is only through her lIlAs. She is the author of the story of the world from Creation to Dissolution. Just as the villain who comes in a story does not affect the author, she is unaffected by mAyA and avidyA [or the nature and propensities of her characters--sd].

• If we say the kArya-prapancha--universe of activity, of the jIvas is the kAryam--action, of mAyA that is tuchCha--trivial, what about the beauty and happiness found in the universe in all its facets and activities? BhagavAn RamaNa's devotees have described him crying when he heard about how Goddess GaurI (PArvatI) sat in intense tapas at TiruvaNNAmalai in order to merge with her Shiva, as described in the text 'AruNAchala mahAtmyam'. [Devotees have also described his gushing tears when he receives with utmost bhakti, prasAdams from temples such as Madurai MInAkShI temple.--sd]

• Including (the rasa of) shRnggAram--erotic sentiment, when viewed in the angle of Brahman, is not tuchCha; there everything is only uchcha--elevated. Therefore, it is not necessary to separate mAyA with an intention of elevating Brahman? When it can remain in two different facets at the same time, why bring in mAyA as something apart from it?

Saint Appar describes it with the brevity of a ratnam--precious stone:

nErizhaiyaik kalandiru~ndE pulankaL ai~ndum vendrAnai
"One who conquered all his five senses, even while merging with a woman."

The entire shAktam can be said to be contained in this statement.

• A small story narrates this truth too:

shrI KRShNa performed all his lIlA-vinoda--amorous activities, with the GopikA-strIs--cowherd women. Thereafter the GopikAs wanted to celebrate the fulfilment of their wishes by hosting a meal to an uttama--great man. KRShNa said, "On the other bank of the YamunA river is sage DUrvAsa RShi. There is no one greater than him. So you host him the meal and come back."

The GopikA women found that the river was full and there was no ferry in sight. KRShNa said, "So what? Swear to the YamunA on my brahmacharyam--continence. She will part her waters and give way." The women who have all enjoyed the KRShNa-lIlAs, believed in the words of their Lord and spoke to the river: "Hey YamunA! If it is parama-satyam--supremely true, that our prema-kAnta RAdhA-RamaNa is a naiShTika-brahmachAri--supreme celibate, let us cross your waters." And the YamunA shrank her waters and let them cross her.

After they fed DUrvAsa RShi, they found the river to be full again, with no boat in sight. DUrvAsa said, "So what? You swear to YamunA, "If it is true that DUrvAsa is one who has for his achanam--food, just a handful of the dUrvA grass, you let us cross the waters", and she will help you. DUrvAsa has just had consumed large quantities of food, and yet the YamunA river let the women cross her waters."

Aren't thus the KRShNa lIlA-vinodas and DUrvAsa's dining, the Shakti-lIlA--sport of Shakti, while these people themselves were always anchored in the actionless Atman?

[This story is told in a slightly different form here:
The Advaith: Story of Radha, Brahmachari-Krishna and Upavasi-Durvasa: Raja Rao --sd]

• Another story from the life of shrI RAmakRShNa ParamahaMsa approaches this truth in a different angle.

Mother KALI was the last hurdle in shrI RAmakRShNa's enlightenment. shrI RAmakRShNa tried again and again to remove the image of Mother KALI from his mind but he could not. Finally Totapuri (a sage from Punjab) said to Sri RAmakRShNa, "Close your eyes and when you see mother KALI then cut her head with an imaginery sword." The moment shrI RAmakRShNa did this, He realized the absolute truth and stayed in Samadhi state for 3 days.
(Totapuri, Paramhansa Totapuri & Sri Ramakrishna Enlightenment)

Does this mean that Shakti, who is described by Adi Shankara in his 'AnnapUrNa aShTakam' as mokSha dvAra kavATa-pATanakarI--one who opens the gates of mokSha, was a hurdle to shrI RAmakRShNa's advaita-mukti? Or is it yet another lIlA of hers?

[No words to describe the lIlA of Mother KALI, who wears severed human heads of ego for her garland, consenting to her devotee to sever her own head?--sd]


No wonder thus that ParAShakti is the brahma-jnana-pradAyaki for every sAdhaka, despite his affiliation. This is the reason Adi Shankara BhagavadpAda prescribed the path of bhakti as a prerequisite to the sAdhana in NivRtti (jnAna) mArgam for his Advaitins, and to help them in the worship of Gods, composed stotras--hymns, on almost all major Gods.

KAnchi ParamAchArya, one of the greatest ShankarAchAryas in Shankara's tradition, was not only a jIvan-mukta par excellence, but a most ardent devotee of Goddess KAmAkShi and God ChandramauLIshvara. His devotees have had darshan of the sage in these forms, just like some devotees of BhagavAn RamaNa had darshan of him as the God of AruNAchala.

KAnchi ParamAchArya in his lecturers on the life and work of Shankara says that Shankara's bhakti mArga prescription is for the Advaita sAdhaka to obtain chitta-shuddi--purity of mind, only which would enable him to enter the NivRtti mArga of jnAnam.

We should note that Shankara as ShaNmata-sthApaka--establisher of six devotional paths, has prescribed panchAyatana pUja--worship of five Gods (Shiva, Shakti, ViShNu, GaNapati, and SUrya), in order that the sAdhaka would admire and adore the shakti-lIlAs of all Gods, instead of being devoted to just one of them to the exclusion of the others and complicate his Self-Realization with a sojourn in the worlds of the Gods. Being thus a devotee of all Gods speeds up the arrival of chitta-shuddhi, so the devotee can enter the JnAna yoga path and find his Self in this birth itself.

Still, Shankara's advaita sAdhaka knows that he must get the grace of Shakti in the form of shaktinipAta (as BhagavAn RamaNa explained above), so he will have the right experience of the Self and ensure his Realization as the Ultimate.


PS: For more discussions: Different views of śakti or mAyA? - Hindu Dharma Forums
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While we are familiar with devatA-upAsana in the male forms of Brahman in the Vedas and UpaniShads, there are plenty of references to shakti-upAsana in the Vedas and UpaniShads which can easily escape our notice. Here is a compilation of such shakti-upAsana:

Shakti upAsana in the Vedic Texts: A compilation

Agni is described in Rg Veda as

pitA mAtA sadaminmAnuShANAm
"always father and mother to humans..."--RV 6.001.5

mAteva yadbharase paprathAno janaMjanaM
"(Agni) sustains all beings like a mother..."==RV 5.015.4

Compare this with devI gItA 3.45
('devI gItA' constitutes the last ten chapters of the seventh skandha of the 'DevI BhAgavatam')

tAm agnivarNAm tapasA jvalantIm vairochanIm karma phaleshu juShTAm |
durgAm devIm sharaNam aham prapadye sutarasi tarase namaH sutarasi tarase namaH ||

She is of the color of Agni--fire, shining with tapas--austerity, descended from virochana--sun, who dispenses the fruits of karma.
In this Goddess DurgA DevI I take refuge, she is one who moves with rapid speed.

which lines also occur verbatim in the Rg Veda khila 4.12.13.


RAtrI sUktam aka DevI sUktam, Rg Veda 10.127
(From the translation by Prof.R.L.Kashyap, SAKSI publication)

01. The divine night approaching has looked forth, in many places with her eyes. She has put on all glories.

02. The immortal goddess has pervaded (A aprA) the wise space (uru), the depths and the heights (udvata). With light she (the dawn UShas) drives away the darkness. (tamaH is spiritual darkness and jyoti is the light of spiritual sun).

03. The goddess advancing, has prepared the way for her sister dawn. Away too will go the darkness.

07. The darkness, thickly painting, black, palpable, has approached me. O Dawn, clear it off like debts.

UShas sUktam, Rg Veda 7.083
(From the translation by Prof.R.L.Kashyap, SAKSI publication)

01. The daughter of heaven, is seen coming and shining. She dispels the great gloom for the vision of all. She, sUnarI--the perfect guide, creates the light.

04. O great goddess, by your shining, may you create in us, the plentitude, so that we can see the Sun and understand. O distributor of ecstasy, we desire that may we be to you like the children to a mother.

06. (Give) to our luminous sages the divine hearing, immortality, the delightful riches, the plentitude of Ray-cows to us. Your are the impeller of opulent and you are with the true words. O USha, drive away our foes.

UShas in Rg Veda 1.124.13, is invoked for protection thus:
bhadraM bhadraM kRatum asmAsu dehi |

Co-operating with the rays of the true (sun), confirm in us every propitious act; earnestly invoked by us today, disperse, UShA (the darkness), that wealth may develop upon us, (already) affluent (in sacrificial treasures).


Kena upaniShad 3.12 tells a story of how UmA-haimAvatI as the Shakti of Brahman, humbled the pride of Agni, Vayu, and Indra.


Shakti's descriptive names in Vedic texts

• The three epithets of Goddess Shakti which mean mother are ambA, ambikA and ambAlikA. The three mothers together have the name tryambikA, which is also a name of Shiva, with reference to his three eyes. Yajur Veda (1.8.6) describes mother AmbA as a sister of Rudra. In TaittirIya AraNyaka 10,18.1, Rudra-Shiva is described as the husband of AmbikA--AmbikApati; he is also described as HiraNyapati and UmApati.

shivA, tryambakA, gaurI, nArAyaNI

• One of the most famous shloka on shrI as Goddess LakShmI occurs in the DevI stotra of the Rg Veda KhilA 2.6.30:

sarva mangala mAngalye shive sarvArtha sAdhike |
sharaNye tryambake gaurI.nArAyaNI namo astu te ||

In this shloka enumerates the three forms of Shakti as DurgA, LakShmI and SarasvatI, and reiterates that she is sarvArtha sAdhike--one who grants the desires of devotees in all the puruShArthas: dharma, artha, kAma, and moKSha.


Atharva Veda 19.53.54[/u] refers to Shiva as kAla, the originator of time, and the ShvetAshvatara upaniShad 6.2.16 confirms this action of Shiva as the kAlakAra--maker of time and this UpaniShads says that Shiva is beyond time.

‣ The feminine name kALI first occurs in ShAngkhAyana AraNyaka 11.3.4 of the Rg Veda: kALIM strIM muktakesham muNDAm--"a blue-black woman with loosened hair".

‣ KALI first appears as a proper name in KAThaka gRhya sUtra 19.7 in a list of deities Agni, Soma, Indra, Skanda, Rudra, ShasThI and BhadrakALI--to be invoked with perfume offerings at the marriage ceremony.

‣ In MuNDaka upaniShad 1.2.4, KALI is named as one of the seven quivering tongues--lelayamAnA iti sapta jihvAH of Agni, along with KarAlI, ManojavA, SulohitA, SudhUmravarNA, SphuliNginI, and VishvarUpI.


• The six wealth-giving powers of bhagam which includes mokSha were listed already in this thread (post no.16). Rg Veda 1.164.40 uses the term bhagavatI to mean one who is beneficient.

• In Shatapatha BrAhmaNa 1.8.6-7, Manu is described as having been left alone in the world after the flood had swept away all creatures. Desirous of an offspring, he performed a sacrifice, which after a year, produced a woman. Asked who she was, the woman replied to Manu, "I am your daughter." Manu asked her again, "How, BhagavatI (illustrious one), are you my daughter?" BhagavatI being the creatrix of humanity, Manu became creative through her.

• The KAThaka gRhya sUtra 24.19 and an invocation at MAnava gRhya sUtra 2.14.30 refer to Aditi, "mother of the Rudras, daughter of the Vasus", as BhagavatI.


This epithet of Shakti means that she is the great protectoress from worldly adversity (durga), and is at the same time herself inassailable and hard-to-approach (durgA).

Atharva Veda 12.4.23 uses the name as a reference to the earth.

• She appears in the name in the RAtri hymn of Rg Veda Khila.

BRhad devatA, which is a summary of the Rg Vedic deities and myths, in shloka 2.77, which enumerates the middle forms of VAch reads:

[She on becoming DurgA (and) uttering a stanza may own a (whole) hymn]. Her other names are YamI, IndrANI, SaramA, RomashA, UrvashI; she first becomes SinivalI and RAkA, AnumatI, Kuhu;

TaittirIya AraNyaka 10.1 gives her gAyatrI mantra:

kAtyAyanAya vidmahe kanyAkumAri dhImahi |
tam no durgIH prachodayAt ||

Rg Veda khila 4.12.13 noted at the start of this post seeks our taking refuge in her: durgAm devIm sharaNam aham prapadye.

The link thus forged by TA 10.1 between DurgA and SavitR on the one hand, and by RVK 4.12.13 between DurgA and Agni on the other, united by the concept of DurgA as the flaming one, is strengthened by several passages in the Dharma SUtra literature such as BaudhAyana 4.3.8, ShAnka-likhita 105, and ViShNu 56.9.


The Vedic RShis, who were brahmavids, jnAnis and jIvanmuktas of the highest order, and were mantra-dRSTa--seers of Vedic mantras, as well, discovered the manifest deva-rUpa and devI-rUpa--divine male and female forms, of the ekam-sad--One Reality, and propagated the truths of these bahudhA--varied, manifestations through an impeccable system of oral tradition.

Living a life of dharma in gRhastha and saMnyAsa Ashramas of life, they experienced and adored through the hymns revealed to them, the three levels of manifestation of reality in the deva-devI forms of Brahman, as adhyAtmika in the level of Atman/Self, adidaivika in the level of antaHkaraNa--inner faculties, and adibhautika in the physical/elemental level and proclaimed the intimate, intricate and interactive connections between these forms through which Brahma-Shakti blessed and guided a seeker towards the ultimate liberation of mokSha and seeking peace in the shAnti-pATha of the upaniShads with triple invocations of shAnti, one for each level..

The Hindu populace of the ancient days, understood the connections between the three forms of manifestation of Realilty, at inner and outer levels as taught by their ancestors, and thus their religion of Hindu Dharma became a way of life at all levels of life. Whatever texts of knowledge the Hindu Society spawned, be it spiritual, literary, political or scientific, they were all based on the progress of jIva through these three levels of Reality, thus incorporating a holistic perception of the Universe.

With the advent of Western Science, the connection at the adibhautika--physical/elemental, level of the Devas and DevIs is either broken or disregarded out of ignorance, resulting in the fall of Veda yajnas and Veda chanting in this age of Kali, with all round polution and unrest. With progress in the scientific researches into the realms of the mind, even the adidaivika level felt in the antaHkaraNa is losing its appication and significance, and this has moved the jIvas immersed in material, worldly life, far away from their Self.


01. Devi-mahatmya: the crystallization of the goddess tradition
By Thomas B. Coburn (google books)

02. Worship Of God As Mother In The Indian Tradition
by Swami Satyasthananda , April 2009
Worship Of God As Mother In The Indian Tradition::Indian Culture And Traditions
I just do not understand why you are bringing Advaita over here????

Give me a single advaita person who refuted Shakti??? A true advaita does not refute any of the devotions. he criticizes it so that you go above it which is the ultimate goal, but never refutes its usefulness. seems like you were bitten by an inexperienced advaiti, thats why you think advaita refutes bhakti, true bhakti transforms to knowledge, and true knowledge transforms to true bhakti, both are needed. and devi upasana is advaita only. just the point of viewing is different from advaita philosophy,
Remember the greatest advaitin Sankara was the greatest shakta upasaka, he composed soundarya lahari.

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