(Digest of pp.737-743, Deivathin Kural 6th Vol. 4th imprn.)
The mutuality of Shiva and Shakti should be in our minds all the time. When hard core ideas from philosophy are made into poetic extravaganzas, both for the poetic excellence and for the liberties taken with a view to making the devotees revel in their devotion, it is natural to exaggerate or make out-of-the-way comparisons. Thus at one time it may be said that Shiva is greater than Shakti and at another time quite the opposite. In every one of these presentations one should not forget the equality, nay, the identity of the two. Keeping this clearly in his mind, our Acharya, though he built into the first sloka the idea that it was Sakthi who made Shiva move, he takes care to see that the prodding for the ‘movement’ does not come from outside. She is inside Him and therefore the word ‘spandanam’.
According to that shAstra, Shiva and Shakti
together form the parabrahman. All the universe is a
reflection of that parabrahman. By saying this it does not mean that the
reflection is outside of brahman. Nor does it think of
a ‘kevala-shivam’ ( shivam
and shivam alone) that has no connection with the universe. Since the
parabrahman, according to this school, is shiva as well as shakti,
the reflection (AbhAsa) is due to the
presence of shakti. And even then, it is not like light and its reflection,
wherein we think of the reflection outside of the light. No. There can be
nothing outside of shakti. Siva-shakti is one. Within
that one there comes an internal spandanam and the duality is presented. Again
the presentation is not outside of brahman. Just as a reflection shows
itself in the mirror,
there is nothing outside of the mirror. The word ‘spanda’ is
Among the various shaiva darshanas, what comes nearest to our Acharya’s advaita is this spanda-shAstra. On moksha both say the same thing. But instead of saying that the universe is mithyA, created by mAyA, this school includes not only mAyA as well as the Ishvara of advaita vedanta in their shakti. According to them there are 36 fundamentals. Of these shivam is the first and shakti is the next. But immediately they say that the shivam which is ‘sat’ (Existence) has always the ‘cit-shakti’ within it. Therefore shivam is sat-cit. The Ananda appears when the play of reflection, producing the universe, starts as a sport.
In order to accommodate those who cannot take the strenuous jnAna-mArga of advaita, our Acharya has adopted in this work of bhakti, the concepts of spandanam and those of pashu, pati and pAsham from the shaiva shAstras. In sloka No.99 he says: He who worships ambaal, throws off the attachment (pAsham) to the animal self (pashu) and enjoys the nectar of the bliss of param-Ananda. Obviously when composing the SoundaryalaharI. he must have had in mind several objectives, such as: This hymn to Ambal should raise Her to the skies so that in the devotees it should generate bhakti towards Her exclusively (ananya-bhakti); it should reach the pinnacle of poetical excellences and respect all poetic traditions; it should also be concordant with the religious traditions of ShrI-vidyA-tantra; even though it may not stress the advaita point of view exclusively, since anyway shRI-vidyA and advaita are not discordant, it should be able to touch upon advaita though tangentially. Instead of saying that the Acharya had these objectives we might say that ambaal had already predetermined his objectives for him.
Even though these are the basic purposes which we see have all been fulfilled in the hymn, it should be said to the credit of our Acharya that, because of his steadfast holding to advaita, and of his great respect for ShrI-vidyA, and of his natural poetic talent, he did not regiment himself as to be circumscribed by preconceived limitations. It is our good fortune that he allowed his talent and imagination to express itself freely and soar as high as it liked. Such a freedom has resulted in one of the most excellent hymns which excels in poetry, in mysticism, in devotion, in spirituality and in religious tradition. And in this process, the flood of ideas that gushed forth from him includes without bias some of the philosophical concepts and thoughts that came to the forefront, long after his time, like those of Saiva-siddhanta, Kashmir Shaivism, visishTAdvaita, and dvaita.
The schools that I just mentioned of course took their present form only after the time of our Acharya. But the original ideas from which these schools sprang were there from earliest times. In fact advaita also had its origin long before our Acharya. But it was he who streamlined it and presented it as a siddhAnta. In the same way the Acharyas of the other schools who came only later to our Acharya, pulled out the ideas which were already there and established their siddhantas. It is the greatness of Adi Sankara that he was able to see by his erudition and farsight the other points of view also even before they had been established as a popular school.
(Digest of pp.743-760 of Deivathin Kural, 6th Vol. 4th imprn.)
I was saying that our Acharya , had included ideas from the non-advaita schools also. These ideas as well as those of advaita had their origin long before their chief proponents propagated them formally as a siddhanta. So Soundarya lahari being a work of bhakti leaning a little on the side of the Shakta schools, has these ideas also in it. It talks about the ‘spandanam’ of brahma-Shakti and praises, in superlative terms, the Shakti that caused it. But there is no such idea of ‘spandanam’ in the advaita shAstra of Adi Sankara.
The Brahman of advaita is motionless, and changeless. This immutable Brahman was, according to advaita, neither moved from outside nor perturbed from the inside. The multiple presentations that resulted through the Creation process was just due to mAyA, which, with the base (adhAra) of Brahman, somehow initiated it. It is only an appearance according to advaita and that is why mAyA is criticised and recommended to be negated. Our Atman is nothing but that very nirguNa Brahman. If we do not know it, it is because mAyA has done its work of hiding the Reality from us.
But it is that very same mAyA that the Soundaryalahari now has taken to the skies and praised as Shakti, as a power greater than even the Triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Though it does not use the word ‘mAyA’ here, it uses the word ‘Shakti’ and from the very fact that Shakti is the root cause for creation of the universe, it is clear it must be the same as the mAyA of advaita.
In advaita the nirguNa Brahman is unrelated to the saguNa Brahman which produces and monitors the whole universe by mAyA Shakti. For, nirguNa Brahman just is; it can never be related to or predicated with anything. The miraculous way in which mAyA exhibits that Brahman, as Brahman with name and form and all the associated multiplicity, is analogous to the way we see in a dimly lit twilight the appearance of a snake in a rope. Clearly there is no relationship between the appearing snake and the rope which is the support for the appearance.
However, the Shaktam that the Acharya projects to us has a mAyA Shakti which is not unrelated to Brahman. There is no brahma-Shakti talked about in advaita. Here in ShAktam, it is brahma-Shakti that is important. That is the ambaal. One of her aspects is the magic wand of mAyA. Not only that. She is Herself the jnAna-Shakti (the power of cognitive self-recognition) which is diametrically opposite to mAyA; and further it is the icchA Shakti (the power of wilful self-emanation) and kriyA Shakti (the power of creative act) also. She stands inseparable from the Shivam which is the nirguNa Brahman of ShAktam which, however, is a shade different from the nirguNa Brahman of advaita.
The identity of Shiva-shakti is important here. Identity does not mean just a union. It is a total oneness. It is identity in the sense there is only one. Being one and only one is what is called ‘Aikyam’ or identity. In Lalita Sahasranama, after calling Her Shivaa, the next name is Shiva-Shaktyaikya-rUpiNI. This Shiva is only a close fit to the brahman of advaita. So, unionizing with Him, and relating with Him, ‘moving’ Him, She has done as a couple, all the Creation of the Universe and the monitoring of it. Whenever there is a Shakti , there must be a locus standi (Ashrayam, Base) for it. The concept of, say, a Shakti of ten pounds of weight does not arise unless there is something to which the weight can be related or referenced. A fragrance or a colour is certainly an abstract Shakti, but it has to have an Ashrayam for it to exist as a fragrance or a colour. Thus for every shakti there is an Ashrayam. The Shakti that is the origin for all the known Shaktis has itself an Ashrayam and that is the Shivam-brahman.It is the Shakti of that brahman. So it cannot be separated from its Ashrayam. You cannot separate the whiteness from milk, or the taste of milk from milk. So by the expansion of Shakti whatever happens there is Shivam also in that expansion. In all actions of Shakti Shivam has to be present.
When Shakti, the ambaal, grants moksha to the jIva, the jIva attains the changeless nirguNa state, say the Shakta works like the ShrI-vidyA. Even then that nirguNa state has also the Shakti in it!. It is said that Shakti itself revels in enjoyment of bliss in its own creation of the universe of duality. But it is not even right to say that the play of creation is for enjoyment. Because if you accept this, it would mean that when there is no creation, Shakti is without that bliss! So instead of saying that She indulges in Creation for enjoyment of bliss, we should rather say that it is the very Bliss that is part of Her that exhibits itself as the creation.
Let me now explain the subtle difference between the mAyA of advaita and the different Shaktis of the Shaiva and ShAkta schools. Starting from the Shivam-Brahman, they talk of 36 principles.According to the Shaiva-siddhanta school, the first five are called pure ‘mAyA’ and the latter 31 belong to the category of impure ‘mAyA.
Shivam is the first. Next there come three different shaktis, namely, cit-shakti, jnAna-shakti, vidyA-shakti. These correspond to three different dimensions of cit. When it pertains to the non-dual shiva-shakti, it is cit. When it pertains to the seed-knowledge of duality for the purpose of creation it is called jnAna. In the next stage it is aware both of its non-dual state and its potential for the sprouting out into multiplicity, and then it is called (pure) vidyA. After these three, come the next, now the fifth in order, namely the kriyA shakti which is the executing part. Only thereafter, starting from the sixth principle, it is mAyA and all its evolutes.
All this importance given to Shakti in the Shaiva and Shakta schools is avoided in advaita, with all the evoluted appearances from Brahman being branded as the effect of mAyA and we being asked to discredit them.
But even in the way the Shaiva and Shakta schools go, the question can be asked; Somehow or other, it is the hierarchy of these Shaktis that bind us to this samsAra. Why then praise that Shakti and worship it with hymns like Soundaryalahari?
This is the key question. The answer is, mAyA Shakti even in the Shakta schools does not end there. It is also the jnAna Shakti as we saw above. And the bottomline of it all is that this same Shakti as jnAna Shakti graces us with Knowledge and Enlightenment in the end. And in the meantime She shows Infinite Love towards us in order to take us back into her fold. That is the greatest anugraha that She does for us. And that is why we worship Her and pray to Her for Release.
(Digest of pp.760 -766 of Deivathin Kural 6th vol. 4th imprn.)
(The Paramacharya devotes one more discourse now on mAyA;
now dwelling on the status of mAyA in advaita,
vis-à-vis, the path to Enlightenment -- VK)
All the Shakta schools, adopt an interesting strategy with respect to mAyA. Whatever bondage is created by mAyA, they make it all related to the divine. Though jnAna and mAyA are at opposite ends, the very world, mind and senses created by mAyA are channelised into Love and the pure Beauty of the Mother Goddess, so that one is blissfully involved in the worship and prayers aimed at Her. Once the mind is unified in this noble direction, it is then not difficult to get involved into enquiry about the Self.
Thus our Acharya also has adopted the same strategy of going towards jnAna by resorting to the very objects created by that which is opposite to jnAna. In other words, the thought of God, worship, listening to stories about His glory, temple worship, getting emotionally enraptured in stotra recitation, raising the tempo of spiritual involvement by continuous japa leading to the correct mood for meditation – these constitute the means by which one follows the bhakti path thus preparing oneself for the path of jnAna that is the ultimate. And hence the Saundaryalahari.
The mAyic effect cannot be easily discarded. A tremendous amount of discretion (viveka) and dispassion (vairagya) might be needed. In the absence of these the distractions of the sensory world will be constantly pulling us away. And when such pulls are very strong, one should not despair of the hopelessness in making progress in spirituality. It is for this reason that the Acharya, without asking us to discard the mayic effects totally, as he would do to a more spiritually mature seeker, asks us to get involved in bhakti, puja, worship, devotional recitation and music. If everything of the world is made to relate to the divine in this way, the mAyA-created world can be gradually won over. It is like using a certain type of gloves when working with high voltage electricity. The shock of the system will not be there and at the same time one has a control over it.
Now what I am going to tell you may surprise you in that it comes from me. I was talking about the mayic creations. They provide the background for the spiritual sAdhanA. There is a sAdhanA, a sAdhaka, and the karma of sAdhanA. This triplet is certainly all mAyA. So what we do is to use mAyA itself to fight mAyA. This is indeed a strategy to reach advaita-bhAva. The very fact of a guru teaching you is nothing but Duality. But that itself can lead to advaita-siddhi. Like a lion roaring in the dream and waking you up, so also the mayic dream in which we are all in can be wiped off by a guru’s words doled out in the world of duality.
Granting that the very act of ‘sAdhanA’ implies duality, the Acharya, does not hesitate to bring in, into his stotras, the many sAdhanAs that have goals even contradictory to advaita. When every propitiation of the divine is certainly a dvaita act, why shy at the rituals of the non-advaita schools? So without reservation he allows his imagination to go the path of other siddhAntas also. That is why, we hear in Soundaryalahari, ideas from dvaita, visishTAdvaita, shaivam and shAktam.
Another important point has to be mentioned. Since all creation is mAyA, according to advaita, it is not to be thought that advaita avoids all talk about Shakti. In Chandogya Upanishad, at one point, it says: The paramAtmA is full of all karmas, all desires, all fragrance and all tastes. It desired – ‘akAmayata’ –and that is how the One became the Many as said in Taittiriyopanishad. Not finding any satisfaction in being alone, it wanted a partner and this desire resulted in it becoming two as pati and patni – so says Brihad-Aranyakopanishad (I -4- 3 ). Those two were the father and mother of the entire human race, according to the same Upanishad.
The Brahma-sUtra (II-1-30) also says: ‘sarvopetA ca tad-darshanAt’ – The Upanishads say that the paramAtman is thus endowed with all shakti.
Our Acharya does not just gloss over such statements. Just because they talk about mAyA he does not overlook their mention. In his bhAshya he emphatically says: “shakti-yuktA parA devatA”. Since he himself has defined mAyA as anirvacanIya (that which is inexpressible or unexplainable), he is not afraid of questions like: ‘Where did the Shakti come from”. In the matter of brahman one cannot ask questions like ‘How is it possible?’ in the same manner as one would ask when being presented with material matter and worldly concepts. The profound and majestic truths about brahman cannot be learnt by logical quibbling, but only by what the Vedas have declared. (Brahma-sUtra-bhAshya: II – 1 – 31).
Therein he says: The talk of creation arises only when, instead of being in that samAdhi state as brahman, we begin to think and talk about brahman. When the nirguna brahman which is nothing but pure cit, is talked about in relation to Creation which is just avidya-kalpitam (imagined by ignorance), it is said to have ‘sarva-shakti-yogam’ says the Acharya. ‘Shivas-ShaktyA yuktah’ is just this !
Following this the Brahma sutra says: ‘lokavattu leelA kaivalyam’ (II–1-33). The world creation is just leela. The Acharya concludes his bhashya on this with the words: “When the vedas talk about srishTi, it is not about the nirguNa absolute brahman. It is only a view, name-and-form view, of Duality imagined by ignorance ; it is only a phenomenal reality”. But though he goes in this strain, he also admires the leela of the Lord. “It may appear as a great achievement from our angle – this Creation – but for Him it is only just a play” !
(Digest of pp.766-774 of Deivathin Kural, Vol.6, 4th imprn.)
There is also the Upanishad authority for saying that the non-dual brahman sprouts out the world of duality by sheer internal vibration. This is in Katopanishad. All this world arises from the life force called prANa and moves thereon. The word for ‘moves’ that is used is ‘Ejati’. Ejanam and Kampanam both mean movement, but not by any external force. We may also interpret it as vibration from the inside. Brahma sutra also uses the word ‘kampanAt’. When the Acharya writes the bhashya for this he writes: This prANa which causes the vibration is not simple air. It is the very brahman itself !
(It is to be noted that in this portion of the bhAshya,
Adi Sankara has used the very words ‘spandam’ and ‘pratyabhijnA’,
are the words for
without anywhere hinting that the words come from there.)
We can get many more such authorities to confirm that as far as the phenomenal reality is concerned, there is a creation with mAyA as the cause. Whenever these passages occur, they also concur with many of the thoughts of the ShAkta scriptures.
Let us not think that the Acharya’s outpourings in the Soundaryalahari is just a mixture of several viewpoints! We should keep an open mind and let ourselves go along with the flood of poetry that comes and simply concentrate in the ambaal with faith and humility. Then we can get the maximum joy out of it.
(Now follows a general, but remarkable, advice of the Paramacharya on
‘How to approach the Soundaryalahari’ . VK)
When the scriptures or shAstras talk about deep philosophical principles which have themselves a divine character, they present certain descriptions allegorically. We should not misunderstand these allegories. In fact the word ‘allegory’ itself is not the right word here. When esoteric principles are deliberately personified, that is ‘allegory’. The profound ideas of the shAstras or the purANas are not just mental creations of the author. It is parAShakti Herself who opens out those principles in those forms to great rishis or persons who have reached the siddhi in the mantras.
this world is taken to be real, then more real are the principles and stories
that help us throw off our shackles and reach our
To get back to what I was saying earlier, these divine forms which personify esoteric fundamentals, might contradict what we consider to be normal, right, decent, and beautiful in the ordinary mundane world. Just because of that it is not correct to conclude that the original reality itself is not right, decent and beautiful.
Similar things can be said of the poetic traditions and the culture of classic literature. Or even of sculpture, painting or architecture.
In all these, our norms cannot be the standards of ordinary worldly life. Works like Soundarylahari, which are simultaneously devotionally divine hymns and poetic excellences, have to be approached in the right manner in order to obtain the fullest benefit from them. Our minds have to be open and clean. The ShrI-vidyA shAstras describe in esoterically romantic terms how Shiva, who is nothing but the Absolute Brahman, coupled with Kameshvari, the personification of the icchA (Will) of Shiva, cause creation to happen. Such matters occur in Soundaryalahari also.
All these years the upAsakAs (intense devotees) without any prejudice followed the path of ShrI vidyA and have been able to discard all the faults like desire and the like. And Muka-kavi puts this with poetic emphasis in his pancha-Shati: “Mother, you caused ‘desire’ to rise even in Shiva who burnt to ashes the very desire personified in the form of Manmatha; that is why You are able to eradicate the internal faults like desire in jIvas and give them Enlightenment”.
The punchline here is the fact that our people of ancient times had the right approach to such works of art, poetry and devotion. The Guru-shishhya-paramparA took care to see that such works were handed over only to those who could be expected to have the right approach. Whether the work was religious or poetical, mystical or secular, they would, when communicating with the public, only touch such delicate works and not elaborate upon them in detail. Accordingly, when the common man meets with any situation wherein there is an idea, concept, story or character, apparently repugnant to him, he does not get distracted, because his main aim always was to take only those things which suited his taste and which were recommended to him by elders.
Thousands of years have passed like this. And our people have followed the traditional paths without ever giving place to indecent imaginations or wrong interpretations. The common man knew that there must be some sense in those deep and profound things because great men say so and he would not unnecessarily probe into them. Not that he was not rational-minded; it only means that he had an unshaking faith in tradition and also he was aware of his own limitations.
But then the printing press arrived; and times changed. ….
(Digest of pp.774-793 of Deivathin Kural Vol.6, 4th imprn)
The printing press came as a revolution. And it became the order of the day for anybody to write on anything, publish it and put it in the hands of anybody. One of the earliest effects was that profound ideas got mundane interpretations in the hands of the uninitiated. As independent human beings each one felt that whatever strikes his mind is right and each one made his own interpretations. Neither the authors of books had the strength of practice behind them; nor the readers had any intention to try and experience what they read. Several readers were just curious and nothing more. Or they were interested in a so-called ‘academic research’ mostly for purposes of self-glorification and recognition in the material world. How can any spiritual benefit arise from these?
Thus arose two major setbacks in the culture. The first one is that those who were traditionally equipped to do the upAsanAs and were also fit to do them, preferred the glamour of modern days to break off from their traditions. And the second one is that all and sundry took to these difficult upAsanAs without proper guru or training. It is not clear, I must confess, which is the major disaster.
I know that I may be criticised and commented that I have a ‘vested interest’ in saying all this. But having started to talk on Soundaryalahari publicly, I cannot but give you this warning. Let me conclude by saying that there is nothing wrong in approaching shAstras like Soundaryalahari as an aid to get Mother Goddess’s Grace and thereby to go upward in the spiritual ladder. It is enough you know that it is great. Just with that approach if you recite it, ambaal will give you the necessary mental strength and maturity to reach higher levels of spirituality. Automatically the ultimate object of realisation would also be obtained by Her anugraha.
The mantras and their esoteric meanings have to be safeguarded like nuclear secrets. If you really want to get them, approach the proper guru and if he thinks you have the requisite qualifications he will tell you. In this connection I will tell you an important matter. I am touching it, so that you may not ‘touch’ it ! The name Kundalini and all the associated cakras are being talked about by every one now, especially ever since Sir John Woodroffe wrote about ‘The Serpent Power’. I am not finding fault with him. I only thank him for bringing to light the fact that our ancients had great things to tell the world in spite of modern advances in science. My only warning to you is that without a proper initiation no mantra or japam will help anybody. It is like having costly electrical and electronic equipment in your house without a power connection. The same thing with these mantras and kundalinI yoga. Without the guru power they will not work.
That is not the only thing. There is more in it. The power that comes through these electrical words of the mantras, can also give you a shock because you may not be properly insulated. Only when it comes from the guru, it gets properly secreted within bounds; if it exceeds the bounds, that is if the insulation is not there, it will only burn you ! My own suggestion to book-writers is that when they publish such things, let there be a popular edition which avoids the profound matters of mantra secret. And let there be a limited circulation book which does get into those secrets, but such ‘classified’ books must be made available only with the authorization of the proper guru. I think, from my platform, it is my duty to say this.
Finally what is wanted is a rapport with the author. A devotee, a poet and a vidhushaka (the Royal Fool or Clown in the King’s Court) – these three have a great licence to do or write what they want. Of these our Acharya was both a devotee and a poet. So there is a bhakti-bhAva in everything he writes and there is also a poetic licence exhibited in pieces like the Soundaryalahari. In classical literature, there is always a respectable status for this freedom which a poetic or devotional piece enjoys. Of the many such licences we can refer here to nindA stuti (where you actually criticise the deity you are supposed to praise), praise one of the divine couple to the extent of bringing down the other of the pair and so on. If we look at these with a humility and an open mind for poetic exaggeration, we may also enjoy them. Now come to the first sloka.
Shiva is the husband and ambaal is the wife. It is only by Her power that even He moves – this is the content of the first sloka. One might ask: Just to boost up the glory of Mother Goddess does one have to descend to such a level as to bring God Himself to the level of saying that He is simply a nonentity? The esoteric principle here is that the immutable Brahman expresses itself only by the unfolding of the cit-shakti. The poetic principle involved here is that the beloved, being the fair sex, is always to be given the credit and so ‘He moves only when She moves Him’ is also acceptable. Thus on both counts, the presentation is enjoyable.
Acknowledgement of Source Material:
Ra. Ganapthy’s ‘Deivathin Kural’ (Vol.6) in Tamil published by Vanathi Publishers, 4th edn. 1998
Ó Copyright of English summary. V. Krishnamurthy
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