By Consul B. John Zavrel
I bow to the Supreme Goddess who abides in all beings
in the form of the Mother,
To that great Mother of all things,
I pay homage again and again!
'Two thousand years of male dominated religion is enough. The 21st century is dawning. It's time to tear down the No Trespassing sign from the Garden of Eden, find those forbidden trees and fearlessly eat fruit of Knowledge and Life. Mother Sophia is waiting.
In the past 2,000 years, Christians and Muslims, and most recently the Communists, conspired to wipe out our memories clean of tens of thousands of years of Goddess spirituality in the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central and East Asia, and Australia. I offer this book as a small token of my overwhelming gratitude to the people of India, who in spite of continual invasions by hostile cultures seeking to impose their own religions on the subcontinent, fought to keep the light of inner traditions of the Mother of the Universe alive. I bow especially to the masters, the great yogis and yoginis, who embodied the Mother's light in their own lives, and demonstrated by their own example the possibility of the enlightened life. Again and again I offer my loving respect to the Shakta teachers who took me and my husband under their care and brought us into the living presence of the Mother Divine.'
With these words, the American writer Linda Johnsen closes her new book, The Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe. The central theme of her latest book is a comprehensive and loving look at the worship of the Mother Divine during the course of history of mankind.
It has happened only in the last 1,500 years that the ancient religion of the Goddess has been extinguished almost everywhere on earth. Everywhere, except in India, the one culture where the Mother of the Universe is still worshipped today as she was throughout the world for most of human history.
Linda Johnsen takes us to India to reveal a continuous stream of living Goddess spirituality still flourishing in exotic temples, ecstatic festivals, and in the hearts of millions of devoted worshippers. In this ancient mystical tradition the Goddess herself reveals who she is, tells why she created us, and shows how we can find our way back to her lap. At the core of this tradition lies an amazing revelation of the limitless potentials of true human consciousness.
In the mid-1970, Swami Rama of the Himalayas, a well known Shakta master, attacked Darwin's theory of evolution. 'We have been watching apes for thousands of years. Who has ever seen an ape turn into a man? Never believe it!' Swami Rama was not a primitive fundamentalist. He was an advanced yogi who, under laboratory conditions, demonstrated extraordinary conscious control over his heart beat, body temperature and brain waves. He respected the methodology of modern science, but he completely rejected the notion that evolution is driven by chance or blind necessity.
Swami Rama, like all Shaktas, believes the cosmos is consciousness. There is a living, intelligent organizing principle which drives evolution in this world as well as in all the subtle worlds that coexist with ours. Shakta scriptures, based on traditions thousands of years old, agree with Western science that the Earth is billions of years old, but when human beings or any other species come into existence, it is because the divine force wills it, not because an ape randomly mutates into human form.
The Mother of the Universe is more than a genetrix to Shaktas. She is always brimming over with ananda lahari, 'waves of bliss,' something very much like what we humans call love. Shaktism can be traced to neolithic times. Major Shakta texts surviving to the present day include the Devi Bhagavatam (Ancient Annals of the Luminous Goddess), Tripura Rahasya (The Mystery of the Triune Goddess), Lalita Mahatmyam (The Greatness of the Goddess) and Saundarya Lahari (Waves of Beauty and Bliss). Actually, there are thousands of other scriptures in the tradition, a treasure trove of mystical literature devoted to the Goddess.
In her book, Linda Johnsen devotes a chapter to several of the major forms of the Goddess, as She has been worshipped in India for thousands of years: Sarasvati, the goddess as wisdom and inspiration; Lakshmi, the goddes as wealth and good fortune; Durga, the goddess as conquering power; Lalita, the goddess as consciousness, and Kundalini, the goddess as the illuminating energy of awareness.
In the Goddess tradition of India truth itself is called Shiva, and the living experience of truth is called Shakti. In one of the major Goddess lineages the perfect unity of Shiva and Shakti is called Maha Tripura Sundari, the Supreme Goddess or, literally, 'the Supreme Beauty who dwells in three cities.' The three cities are the physical, subtle and causal planes of existence, or on the human level, the physical, mental and spiritual components of our being. Often she is simply called Lalita, 'she who plays.' The borderless cosmos is her playground. We are her toys. At every moment, whether we have the eyes to see it or not, we are totally immersed in and surrounded by and filled with and guided by Supreme Beauty. Satyam shivam sundaram: 'Absolute Truth is Ultimate Good is Supreme Beauty.'
In the Goddess tradition therefore, the sages are those pure souls who remain in a state of constant delight. They do not experience ugliness anywhere. It is not that they don't recognize the sorrow and evil the rest of us see all around us-they see through it. Suffering is part of the play. In theater, everyone knows the greatest dramas are the tragedies.
In India, Goddess sadhana, 'spiritual practice,' is rooted in asceticism and nonattachement. This sadhana begins with Ten Commitments, a set of do's and don'ts that form the foundation of yogic life:
1. Don't harm others.
2. Don't be dishonest.
3. Don't take anything that isn't yours.
4. Don't overindulge in sensuality.
5. Don't be greedy.
6. Do cultivate physical leanliness, emotional purity and mental clarity.
7. Do be content with what your karma has brought you.
8. Do discipline yourself.
9. Do study your psychological and spiritual makeup.
10.Do love the Supreme Being with your whole being.
The concept of the Shakta universe is vastly different from the Western scientific one of today. The masters of the Goddess tradition perceive the world very differently than you do. If you have no experience with meditation, these concepts may seem challenging. However, if you keep your mind open to the information presented in Linda Johnsen's book, your understanding of yourself, the universe, and the Goddess may shift in surprising ways.
In order to understand the subtler channels we begin receiving in meditation, it is necessary to understand one of the most central tenets of Tantra, the 37 tattvas or cosmic levels. Much of today's confusion about higher states of consciousness exists because these categories have been forgotten. Yet it is the ladder of the tattvas which leads to the feet of Lalita, the Supreme Goddess.
The ancient Hindu sages did not smash atoms together in particle accelerators in order to understand the nature of matter, though they did have a sophisticated concept of the atom-called paramanu or 'smallest particle' in Sanskrit, described in texts like the Vaisesika Sutra. What they did instead was categorize the world into elements based on subjective experience. For example, we experience solid stuff and liquid stuff and things in the process of transforming themselves, such as fire. There is gaseous stuff like air and then there's space itself, which although it appears to be empty, according to yoga masters is actually a substance. These principles represent the first five cosmic elements with which many ancient civilizations were familiar, usually lamely translated as earth, water, fire, air and space.
Linda Johnsons lists the 37 tattvas and explains them in a remarkably readable, understandable manner. For a reader not familiar with these basic concepts, these pages will provide much food for thought. Several color illustrations of the Goddess and many interesting stories make for a fascinating reading, a book which is more than a book. It is a fountain of wisdom and inspiration.
'When I told Swami Rama of the Himalayas, the first yogi I ever met, that I was Norwegian,' recalls Linda Johnsen, 'he laughed and shouted, "We're cousins!" He was referring to our shared Indo-European heritage. Yet in the light of that spectacular heritage, which shone so brightly in the Hellenistic world, flickered out in the first few centuries of our era. In Greek times many slaves could read; after the West entered its Dark Age, even emperors were illiterate. Astronomy, medicine and the other sciences collapsed, and the status of women (who were priestesses and professors in the Hellenistic period) crumbled. A new religion had caught the West in a stranglehold, reaching even Norway by 1000 A.D. The priests of this religion recited the teachings of its founder in a language common people could not understand. This was useful in preventing Europe's beleagured peasants from learning enough about Jesus's words to realize that many of their leaders, both political and spiritual, were disregarding Christ's actual teachings at every turn. Unfortunately, this continues to the present day, as politicians posing as Christians self-righteously press on the American public an agenda which is in almost every detail the opposite of Jesus'.
The worst tragedy of Europe's Dark Age of Christianity was not only that thinking was no longer allowed (questioning the church was a capital offense), but that direct personal exploration of mystical states was strictly forbidden. To this day most Christian churches actively discourage involvement in Eastern-style meditation techniques, techniques which help one develop and deepen one's connection with Spirit. Of course not even the church could keep the human soul in chains-some lone saints made extraordinary spiritual breakthroughs. Those who couched their experiences in Christian terms were canonized (after they were safely dead); those who didn't, were executed. Perhaps the inevitable result of severing so many people from their inner spiritual roots was that when Western science began to flourish again in the 17th century, it quickly became completely soulless.
'We Westeners have inherited a drasticaly impoverished world-view in which the Goddess, and all the cherished feminine values and rich inner experience her worship entails, have been lost,' stressed Linda Johnsen. 'According to the ancient Egyptians, when her husband Osiris was lost, Isis set out to find the scattered parts of his body and restore him. Today it is up to us to locate and restore the tradition of the living Goddess. We would do well to begin our search in India, where for not one moment in all of human history have the children of the living Goddess forgotten their Divine Mother.'
In opening up a universe of vibrant Goddess spirituality, this book offers a vision of what our own Goddess heritage must have been, revealing how much the West lost when we turned away from the Divine Mother. Re-lighting our candle from the flames of India's vibrant Goddess tradition, says Linda Johnsen, we can re-ignite the spirituality of the West.
The Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe, by Linda Johnsen
May we recommend these other interesting books?
Mantra and Meditation, by Usharbudh Arya (now Swami Veda Bharati)
Science of Breath, by Swami Rama
God, by Usharbudh Arya (now Swami Veda Bharati)
Light of Ten Thousand Suns, by Swami Veda Bharati
Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama