In the context of this series of articles about the 10 Great Cosmic Powers we will analyse and evidence in a synthetic way the principal philosophical and practical aspects, which refer to the profound spiritual tradition of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers (Dasha Mahavidya). Essentially speaking, this tradition actually represents a tantric spiritual practice (tantra sadhana) which has a purpose of acquiring a “magical” control over the subtle forces and energies that unceasingly animate and impel both the human being’s microcosm and to the Macrocosm in its multitude of aspects, through faithful connection to one or more of the 10 aspects (Great Cosmic Powers) of the divine expression into manifestation.
The foundation of this tantric spiritual practice, very secret and concealed to the profane knowledge, resides in the idea of not avoiding life’s tests and difficulties through isolation and retreat in a deserted place, away from the world in order to reach spiritual perfection. On the contrary, the tantric tradition states that Mahavidya Upasana (in other words, the complete fervent and devoted adoration of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers) is good to be practiced in our daily life, thus offering the possibility to control and then completely transcend all problems, sorrows or suffering that most people confront.
In this respect, the tantric tradition (tantra shastra) expounds several methods and techniques practically adequate to all circumstances and human typologies. This is why it is not necessary to search for methods or means for spiritual transformation outside the sphere of our social actvities in which we live our life. It is enough that we puruse the activation of as many as possible sublime and harmonious aspects of our higher nature, seeking to fulfill any beneficent and positive desire we have through the elevation and sublimation of subtle energies which animate it. The purpose being, on the one hand, of experiencing complete refined pleasure which is now sacred in the fire of sublimation, on the other hand, this purpose is also that of endless spiritual beatitude and liberation which transcends all aspects of Creation. Therefore, the tantric spiritual practice is not addressed only to the initiated ones, as it also offers astonishing possibilities of spiritual accomplishment to any human being, who wishes ardently to attain liberation.
Tantra is not witchcraft
Nevertheless, the tantric texts abound in cryptic forms, in metaphors or allegories that most times represent unpassable obstacles for those who are not initiates in the mystery of this spiritual practice. This explains the mistaken understanding and erroneous conceptions which marks the opinions of many prestigious researchers and orientalists. These errors are especially due to the misunderstanding of the very occult language, and, from this, the sequences of the processes and stages of the spiritual training that are mentioned in numerous tantric works and texts, many of these dealing with the subject of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers (Dasha Mahavidya). The principal erroneous conception of people regarding the tantric system, a conception which confirms an immense ignorance on their part, is the accord that tantra is associated with a multitude of “abominable practices”, among which are mentioned the sacrificial rituals and orgiastic sexual practices etc. In fact, tantric spiritual teachings can be described in a very meaningful way as a glorious transcending of any phenomenal tribulations, being thus a profound non-dualistic (advaita) philosophical and religious system. Therefore, authentic tantric spirituality has nothing to do with witchcraft or magic that is practiced by certain outside sects or groups, whose deviated and sometimes even macabre practices were unjustly confused with the profound spiritual doctrine of tantra.
They all lead to God
The purpose of spiritual accomplishment through the tantric sadhana is the state of plenary union with the Supreme Reality of God the Father, whose nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Pure Existence-Pure Consciousness-Pure Bliss). In the tantric tradition this nature of the divine reality is called Cit and denotes, from a certain perspective, the infinite power or force of the Consciousness of God, expressed in manifestation as the 10 Great Cosmic Powers. At a transcendent level, Cit (or Absolute Consciousness of God) is like a “hard and compact monolith infinite in grandeur”. Nevertheless this essential character is differentiated in the context of Creation under the aspect of some particular attributes and expressions, such as maya for example (the force of illusion “covering” the intrinsic reality of all things in manifestation). In fact, the Supreme Reality (Sat-Chit-Ananda), that is beyond any conceptual attribute or understanding, is projected in Creation under a finite and determined form through the aspect of dynamism of the Divine Consciousness as Power (Cit).
From this point of view, the Great Cosmic Powers (Mahavidya) represent nothing other than “reflections” of Cit, as divine ideas or expressions forming Creation, having thus a universal nature. Considered to be feminine divine entities whose consciousness is very close to that of God the Father’s, they are like some fundamental “administrators” of the divine Creation. For this reason, their nature is more subjective rather than objective (in other words, the perception of their influence and manifestation becomes known pre-eminently in the subtle field of consciousness).
Nevertheless, the Hindu pantheon contains many representations of these great feminine deities, which illustrates in a symbolic way each of their principal attributes and characteristics in the Macrocosmosic manifestation.
In the tantric spiritual practice, the physical aspects often represent an important starting point on the path of the gradual elevation of the individual consciousness. Besides the numerous iconographic representations and graphic symbols (yantra, mandala) the tantric tradition also gives a special importance to the adoration of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers and the secret technique known as “the 5 M” (the 5 Makara). The letter M (Makara) is the first letter in Sanskrit terminology that designates the 5 products which symbolise nature’s elements (pancha-tattva). The profound spiritual purpose of this technique is, starting from the level of physical plane (with the elements characteristic to it), the individual conscience accesses in a gradual way, through sublimation and plenary resonance with the archetypical aspects of these elements, to the transcendent state of consciousness of the Great Cosmic Power which the tantric adores. Then, with a final frenetic spiritual impetus, it will be possible to access (through the overwhelming grace of God the Father, which in the tantric tradition is identified with Paramashiva), the Transcendent Supreme Void, the origin and quintessence of any manifesting divine energy. Therefore, the principle which is adopted here is that of the gradual elevation of the individual consciousness starting from the lower planes of manifestation up to sublime and complete experience of the divine transcendence, without neglecting or forbidding any aspect of daily life on the path of such accomplishment.
The mystery of perfection lies within you
This approach of spiritual practice and experience within the framework of the adoration of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers has however a unitary, holistic nature, where the parts of one whole (in other words the different elements and specific procedures which are realised and the states of consciousness which determines them) are harmoniously interpenetrated in order to confer the image of the Whole. This aspect is especially evident by the awakening and ascension of the infinite cosmic force which in our being is essentially known as Kundalini Shakti. Kundalini may be latent (not dynamically activated) at the level of Muladhara Chakra or it may become active (for instance through the spiritual practice of adoration of one of the Great Cosmic Powers, adoration which is full of aspiration and belief) In the subtle structure of our being, purifying, dynamically activating and elevating all the corresponding planes of consciousness (chakra), up to the level of Sahasrara Chakra (the area on top of the head). This polarisation of the activation of Kundalini has however an opposite aspect inside the human being. Thus, when Kundalini Shakti is “asleep” at the level of Muladhara Chakra (at the base of the spine), the human being is somehow “awake” to the outside world, which is illusory and ephemeral in relation to the Transcendental Supreme Reality. On the contrary, when Kundalini is “awake” and becomes dynamic, ascending and unifying in the end at the level of Sahasrara, with the Supreme Consciousness of Shiva, which here has a static nature, the yogi becomes “dead” to the exterior world, but becomes astoundingly lucid and awake in relation to the Divine Reality, plenary identified with it.
Each of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers (which are: Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika) has her own specific sadhana, but this includes in synthesis three fundamental elements: 1) adoration of the deity’s image (the Great Cosmic Power which was chosen for adoration); 2) focusing on her yantra (geometric representation that corresponds to the subtle energetic field of influence of the respective Great Cosmic Power); 3) mental emission (laya or japa yoga) of the mantra associated to that Cosmic Power.
The adoration of the Great Cosmic Powers (Mahavidya Upasana), should not be mistaken with another order of feminine deities, called Matruka. On one hand, there are 10 Great Cosmic Powers (Mahavidya), while there are seven or eight Matrukas (depending on the traditional cult of the repective area): Mahesvari, Vaishnavi, Brahmani, Kaumari, Indrani, Narasimhi and Varahi. On the other hand, the Great Cosmic Powers represent the gigantic spheres of consciousness of the divine energy that encompass in their manifestation the entire Macrocosm, while Matrukas represent the feminine powers (in the oriental spiritual tradition they are named consort) of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon.
Having established some such fundamental references of the tantric concepts and the specific spiritual practice of the 10 Great Cosmic Powers (Mahavidya), in other articles related to Maha Vidya Yoga we will succinctly and analytically present the principle characteristics and areas of influence of each of these great deities of the tantric tradition.