Prayers to the Goddess by Nataraj Chaitanya

Prayers to the goddess

by Nataraj Chaitanya, June 2022

In the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, two seemingly different aspects of reality are examined: Shiva and Shakti.

The universe is born out of the love-play of Shiva and Shakti, the divine Lover and Beloved. Appearing as two separate things, they are really one. They are inseparable, like fire and its heat. We can think of Shiva like the container and Shakti as the contents inside of that container. Shiva is the spacious ground of Being–Awareness itself. Shakti is Becoming–the dynamic thrust of life, ceaselessly expressing Herself, and She is infinitely creative. As spanda shakti, the power of awareness, She is constantly desiring to experience herself through different forms and states. She becomes everything, including us. In that process, She contracts Herself and projects herself onto her own screen, She also conceals her underlying luminosity, power, and love.

In order to see through the density of names and forms and into the pulsating beauty that is the heart of life, we continually need Grace, what the tradition calls anugraha shakti. Even to want to experience the divine, or to entertain the idea of a deeper, more meaningful level of reality, we need Grace. 

The worship of the Shakti is a journey of unveiling that great light and power inside of our own being. It’s a celebration of the power of Grace. It’s playing hide and seek with the divine, and staying constantly vigilant for the flow of shakti in our lives. 

Swami Shankarananda writes, “The Kashmir Shaivite masters did not reject the world. They were not elitist, their emphasis was on love and devotion. At the center of Kashmir Shaivism is the opening of the heart to the divine Shakti. The world is seen as the embodiment of the divine Mother, the eternal feminine who is always one with Shiva. (Consciousness is Everything, p.37)

I’ve always loved puja and chanting because they are powerful invocations of grace. To perform puja is a way to honor life. It’s a recognition of the divine presence in our life. It elevates a seemingly ordinary moment into the realm of the sacred. During the festival of Navaratri, special time is set aside to honor the Devi, the Divine Mother. This time is aligned with the turning of the seasons, and seeks to honor the divine as the ever-changing world itself. It is a time filled with puja and mantras to honor the Goddess.

The great beings of our tradition were and are incredibly practical and compassionate. They have extended grace to us in the form of the scriptures, teachings, and practices that we as sadhakas seek to imbibe. In moments when we feel caught in separateness, averse to change, or cut off from grace, we are instructed to worship life as it is, however it might be presenting. We honor life as the Mother. When caught in Relative Reality, worship Shakti to return to Absolute Reality (Shiva).

Guruji writes in his book, Consciousness is Everything,  “The proper attitude towards Her is devotional: to love and adore Her, not reject or control Her as in some forms of yoga or Vedanta, Focusing on the heart, the yogi of Shaivism sees the Mother, the Shakti, everywhere, and celebrates her sport.” (Consciousness is Everything, p.37)

To become aware of this at the highest level is to feel totally in continuity with the flow of life. This state of deep immersion, samavesha, gives dawn to the realization that we are the vehicle by which Chiti, the Goddess, experiences Herself. The Shakti is the force living through us. She is the very breath that breathes our body.

In the hymn Tantroktam Devi Suktam the text praises the Goddess as having taken the form of beauty, light, and love (ya devi sarve bhuteshu…). It goes on to recognize the Goddess as our hunger, sleep, and confusion. She is forgiveness, memory, and change itself. She is absolutely everything we can perceive through our body, mind, energy, and senses. 

The Svacchanda Tantra says, “The parashakti Chiti spreads everywhere in the universe; she is matter in material objects and consciousness in conscious beings. She takes on attributes, yet She is without attributes. It is She who is sporting everywhere. How can anything be different from Her?” 

Shakti is what binds us. She is Mahamaya, the Great Enchantress. She is the force in the universe that makes us feel limited and bound, yet She is also the unifying field–the binding agent, or glue. She can bring us back together, or create greater separation.

During a recent difficult time, I turned to reciting the Devi Stotram to worship the moment as an embodiment of the divine. Many of the lines conclude with “namas-tasyai, namas-tasyai, namas-tasyai namo namaḥ.” In the scripture where this hymn occurs, the Devi Mahatmya, the gods have assembled to sing the glory of the Devi. She has slain the demons who were plaguing the universe–a task no god or man could do. The gods, the mightiest forces in the universe, sing to her: “We bow to you! We bow to you!  Again and again, we humbly bow!” 

As I chant, I take great comfort in knowing that even the gods need help sometimes. It helps me to accept myself and my current state. They, like me, call upon the force of Grace. Crying out to That Compassionate Force in the universe is a step toward true empowerment. With each passing line of the text, I try to lay my limited sense of self down, like flowers at the Devi’s feet. Whatever is arising inside of me, I allow it to become my offering. I lay down my anger, my tension, and my strife. I offer my sorrow, and my fears about the uncertain future.  Again and again I bow.

This is my prayer.

This is my puja. 

As the chant concludes, I contemplate the following questions: 

How can I be more open to grace?

What is the Shakti asking me to awaken to through this experience? 

Is my next action a movement of expansion or contraction of Shakti? 

How can I know myself fearlessly without illusion?

Insight dawns. 

I hear Guruji’s voice in my inner world: 

Cherish your Awakening.”

This moment was born out of that initial experience. I feel and remember that the power of shaktipat has the energy to carry me through anything. The Shakti was there then, and She is here now. 

From the acorn-moment of Awakening, a forest of diversity has sprung forth–and isn’t that something to be grateful for?

Nataraj Chaitanya after taking initiation with Swami Shankarananda in Ganeshpuri, India.

1 Comment
  • Manohar
    Posted at 11:55h, 01 July Reply

    Beautiful and candid account.

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