Radical Love: the Maha Vidyas of Tantra

Chennai - Musée du gouvernement - Mahishasuramardini - 20-02-2007 - 13h28
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“I am a part of the divine.”

I remember listening to my teacher Rod Stryker share this as one of the five qualities of reality as revealed by Shankara, the father of Tantra.

It was during a 5-day ParaYoga training on Tantra during which I experienced waves of resistance as the teachings warred with my old worldview. Over the past two years, I’ve struggled with that teaching. As my practice has deepened, my worldview has shifted from one of separateness to one of connectedness, resulting in a shift in my relationship to the teachings.

A few weeks ago, I was at a coaching training,  and after a particularly juicy day in which I had an experience of the depths of my anger, I laid down to do yoga nidra (deep guided relaxation). At first, my mind was racing: feelings of joy that with the support of our leadership group, I had allowed myself to fully feel an emotion that was scary for me, and feelings of guilt about having given myself so completely over to my anger in the experience. Finally, my mind settled and toward the tail end of yoga nidra, the words “maha vidyas” came into my mind.

Sitting up, my brain filled with images of the Maha Vidyas, or wisdom goddesses. Maha Vidya means great truth, and in the Tantric tradition, the great truths of life are represented by 10 goddesses. As I thought back to expressing my anger earlier that day, I saw myself as a fierce Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and brandishing an ax. Though much has been said about her scary aspects, Kali’s gift is one of growth and transformation. Being present with my anger stripped away my illusions, much like Kali strips away avidya, or wrong knowledge. Dropping the illusion that feeling anger was wrong created a feeling of freedom and transformation from which I could express what was true for me from a place of clarity.

The Maha Vidyas are a key to embracing and loving the parts of ourselves that are hard to love, by seeing and appreciating the divinity within. Some of the Maha Vidyas are known for their positive aspects. Tara is known for peace. Tripura Sundari represents the essence of beauty. Bhuvaneshvari represents the openness from which all creation and creativity is born. Yet not all of the maha vidyas are so readily appreciated. A few of them have characteristics that initially don’t seem divine. What about Dhumavati, who at first glance appears to be a goddess of suffering and inauspiciousness? She is a great portal into viewing all parts of ourselves as divine.

India - Sights & Culture - Shiva offering
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Think of the parts of yourself that you view as inauspicious. What’s divine there? I’ll go first: in the past I’ve had a hard time seeing the part of me who can be judgmental as divine. I judged my Inner Judge as having quite an edge that was not yogic or spiritual. However, she is not hard to love when viewed through the lens of the Dhumavati. Why? My inner judge has amazing powers of viveka (sanskrit for discrimination). I choose to love all of my judge which includes that discriminative power. When my inner judge arises, rather than beat myself up, I ask, why is my power of discrimination needed in this situation? With practice, the judgment about what I’m seeing in front of me disappears, I use my power of discrimination, and I can move forward with clarity. This is the power of Dhumavati. She represents the essence of knowledge gained from experience and that which releases loss in order to realize our spiritual potential.

Another example is Chinnamasta (also called Chamundi), who is depicted as having cut off her own head. Yikes. And yet the gift she has is pure awareness, the power of transformation in action, and dissolution of the ego to realize the highest state of aliveness. I’d like a slice of that, please! Regardless of whether or not you have a relationship to Tantra, all of us can look inward and gaze softly at the parts of ourselves that we have a hard time accepting. What are the treasures in those aspects of you? How can you use those gifts to serve yourself and others?

The teachings on the wisdom goddesses are a gift to us all. They are a perfect embodiment of divinity that is not always pretty on the outside, but has deep, long lasting gifts to bestow. The Maha Vidyas help us to look deeper into the parts of ourselves that we may not see as favorable, and see and love the gifts that lie therein. When we are able to do this for ourselves, we serve as models for those around us to come into a greater experience of acceptance and love.

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Do you see accepting all of yourself as part of your yoga practice? Do you think its important to see divinity in all aspects of life? Which Maha Vidya most resonates with you?

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Nicole Taylor Linehan, RYT, MA, has practiced yoga and meditation for 10 years and taught for over 4. In addition to following her passion as a yoga and meditation teacher, she is a managing editor in Philadelphia, Pa. Nicole has studied ParaYoga with Yogarupa Rod Stryker for two years and is wholeheartedly devoted to living and spreading the teachings. Her life's purpose is to transmit vibrancy through coaching, yoga, and meditation. Visit her on the web at www.evolvephiladelphia.com.

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