"She is the eternal Brahman as well as that which is noneternal"

Vanamali, Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother
"She is Maha Maya, Maha Vidya, and Mula Prakriti. She is the cause of all causes. She is the eternal Brahman as well as that which is noneternal. She is the power of will of the supreme. It is she who creates the cosmos and displays it to the Paramatman (the supreme soul or Brahman). O Brahma! O Shiva! Today we are indeed fortunate that we have received this blessed vision of the Divine Mother. I recall how I was once in the form of an infant, lying in the cosmic waters on a peepul leaf. At that time it was she who rocked me lovingly in her tender arms. Let us bow down to her and receive her blessings. "

Aum Sarvabhuteshwaryai Namaha!

Maha Devi
Ya Devi sarvabhuteshu, buddhi rupena samsthita, Namasthasyai, namasthasyai, namasthasyai namo namaha!

O Goddess who resides in all creatures in the form of intelligence, Hail to thee, hail to thee, all hail to thee!

It was the dawn of the first day of the present Brahma-the very first dawn of this present cycle of creation. There was nothing but water everywhere. Brahma, the creator in the Hindu trinity, opened his eyes to find himself seated in the center of a lotus in the middle of a vast expanse of water. The stalk of the lotus moved forlornly to and fro in the waves of a mighty ocean. The whole scene was bleak and lonely. There was no sun or moon or stars or earth. Brahma looked around for something that would give him a clue as to how he got there and what was the purpose of his existence, but he could find nothing. After some thought he decided to try and find the source of the lotus. For a thousand years he searched in the water but could find nothing. The stalk of the lotus seemed to thrust endlessly down into the water. Exhausted with his futile search, he came back up to the surface and sat on the lotus, wondering what he should do. Then came a celestial voice asking him to practice tapas (meditation). Content with this, he took his seat on the lotus and meditated for another thousand years. At the end of this period of time he heard the voice again, commanding him to create. He was perplexed as to how to proceed with this command and was wondering what to do when out of the waters appeared two gigantic demons, named Madhu and Kaitabha, who challenged him to fight.

Brahma was dreadfully frightened and hurriedly climbed down the stalk of the lotus, seeking some help. When he reached the end of the stalk, he saw a blissful vision. A most beautiful being appeared to be sleeping on the coiled-up body of a serpent. He was the color of a dark blue rain cloud. He wore a luminous yellow garment and had four arms, which held a conch, a discus, a mace, and a lotus. Around his neck was a garland of wildflowers. He was fascinating, and Brahma instinctively knew that he was looking at Narayana (Lord Vishnu), the lord of the universe. The lotus flower on which he had been sitting appeared to grow from the navel of this wonderful being. But unfortunately he appeared to be in deep sleep, and Brahma did not dare to awaken him. The demons were thrashing about the ocean and intimidating him with their baleful looks, so Brahma decided to take recourse to the goddess Bhuvaneswari.

He praised her thus,

O Maha Maya! Bhuvaneswari! You are the imperishable one. You are the nectar of the gods. By you alone is the universe created, by you supported, and by you consumed at the end of time. At its emanation, you take the form of the creator; for its protection, you take the form of steadfastness; and at the end of this epoch, you take the form of destruction. You are Maha Vidya (the great knowledge), Maha Maya (the great illusion), and Maha Medha (the great memory). You are the primordial material (Mula Prakriti) of everything, manifesting as the three gunas. You are Kalaratri, the great night of destruction, as well as Moharatri, the terrible night of delusion. You are all auspiciousness, modesty, intelligence, tranquility, and forbearance. You are terrible with your sword and spear, cudgel and discus, conch and bow, sling and mace. Yet you are gentle, gentler than other gentle ones, exceedingly beautiful, the supreme queen! Whatever and wherever anything exists, whether it be real or unreal, you alone are the power. How then can I adequately praise you? By you, Vishnu, the sustainer of the world, the protector of the world, has been brought under the influence of sleep. Kindly condescend to awaken him, the lord of lords, so that he may slay these two great asuras. Pray remove yourself from the form of Lord Vishnu so that he can kill the two demons who are threatening me. Hail to thee, hail to thee, all hail to thee!

Pleased with Brahma's hymn, the goddess in the form of sleep left the body of Vishnu from all quarters. It is said that in this episode it was Maha Lakshmi who had taken on the form of Yoga Nidra, goddess of the mystic sleep, and it was she who now condescended to leave the body of Lord Vishnu. One by one she left his eyes, his mind, his hands, and every limb.

As soon as she had left his body, the great lord of the world woke up and revealed himself in all his inexpressible grandeur. He fought with Madhu and Kaitabha and killed the two mighty titans by pulling them onto his thighs and cutting off their heads.

The goddess was still in the sky, and it was her shakti that had enabled Vishnu to kill these mighty demons. As Brahma and Vishnu gazed at her, they were joined by Shiva, and all three of them hymned her. Pleased with their hymn, she cast her benign glance over them and told them to go ahead with their respective duties of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Brahma looked at her in distress and said, "O Mother! There is nothing here except this wide expanse of water. With what am I to create?"

Hearing this, the goddess smiled and told them, "Beyond the ken of the material world there lies an island made of priceless gems, resting on a sea of bliss. In the center of that island is a temple of light, where I sit on my throne of limitless dimensions, made of numberless universes both material and nonmaterial. If you draw your awareness up your spine into my antechamber, I will take you to that island and admit you into my throne room."

So saying, she beckoned them into an aerial chariot, which had just appeared. The car was decorated with jewels and pearls and tinkling bells. The three gods got into the vehicle and were transported to the Island of Jewels or Mani Dwipa. On the way they passed the worlds of other gods and even saw themselves sporting in their own worlds. There was Brahma in Satyaloka, and Vishnu lying on the celestial serpent in Vaikunta, and Shiva in deep meditation on the icy peak of Kailasa. The three gods were totally bewildered when they saw this and asked each other, "Who is this Brahma and who this Vishnu and Shiva?" None of them could think of a satisfactory explanation.

Before they could make further conjectures, the chariot reached the Island of Jewels. They saw all the glorious features of this island and were taken to the chintamani griha, the sanctum sanctorum of Maha Devi. They were struck with wonder to see the form of the goddess Tripurasundari (most beautiful in all the three worlds). She was the color of the rising sun, and her beauty was indescribable. Even the birds in that place chanted her mantras. While they gazed at her in wonder they saw that her four arms had become a thousand. She was thousand-eyed and thousand-footed. Her form filled the entire universe. As they gazed in astonishment, she regained her original form and smiled at them.

Vishnu was the first to recognize her and spoke to the others.

She is Maha Maya, Maha Vidya, and Mula Prakriti. She is the cause of all causes. She is the eternal Brahman as well as that which is noneternal. She is the power of will of the supreme. It is she who creates the cosmos and displays it to the Paramatman (the supreme soul or Brahman). O Brahma! O Shiva! Today we are indeed fortunate that we have received this blessed vision of the Divine Mother. I recall how I was once in the form of an infant, lying in the cosmic waters on a peepul leaf. At that time it was she who rocked me lovingly in her tender arms. Let us bow down to her and receive her blessings.

As the three gods came closer to her they were amazed to find that the entire universe of movable and immovable things was reflected in her toenails. They themselves were there, as were the two demons Vishnu had just killed.

They extolled Devi with beautiful hymns.

O Mother, we realize that this whole universe rests in you. It rises from you and folds back into you. It is you who creates the elements at the time of creation and, through them, this manifest universe, in order to beguile Purusha, who is the sole enjoyer. His nature is pure consciousness, and he is untainted by any desire to create. You alone have the power to create. Without you there would be no objects and no universe. You alone have the knowledge to create ( jnana shakti), the will to create (iccha shakti), and the ability to create (kriya shakti). Even we cannot fathom your inconceivable glory, let alone those who are steeped in ignorance. You have created countless universes by your power. On our way here we saw many such, with other Vishnus, Shivas, and Brahmas. Such is your divine power and majesty. We-Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva-create, preserve, and destroy only through your command and grace. It is your endless might that supports this entire universe. You are in essence one with Purusha, the attributeless self, but by the power of your maya, you appear in the form of this universe of attributes. You alone are the ancient, eternal Prakriti and the mother of the universe. The three of us are products of your creation and thus we also come under the power of the gunas. Rajas is predominant in Brahma, sattva in Vishnu, and tamas in Shiva. It is because of this that we are able to carry out our work of creation, preservation, and destruction.

O Devi! You are the intelligence of the intelligent, the fame of the famous, the beauty of the lustrous, and the wealth of the wealthy. You are the source of both desire and dispassion, leading to bondage and liberation. You have expanded and manifested this whole phenomenon of the visible cosmos for the liberation of the jivas. When the jiva comes to realize fully that all this is your work and your lila (play), then it understands that it is only a participant in this divine drama. With the dawn of this understanding it comes to the end of its role in the cosmic comedy.

O Divine Mother! Help us overcome your maya and continue our work according to your commands.

Thus saying, the gods bowed before her and begged her to explain everything to them. The goddess then described her divine nature to them.

This entire universe that appears so real to the finite intelligence is no more real than a reflection in a mirror. All the entities in all the worlds, from the gods to the barely conscious creatures, are but fragments of my glory. I am worshipped by all beings in many such universes. Though many worship me, few know me in truth. Creatures imagine that they exist apart from me, but this is not true. The realization that they are integral parts of my being comes only through deep, sustained devotion to me. When the mind is directed solely toward me, the jiva discovers its unity with me. When obstructions limiting the jiva fall away, it recognizes that it is not limited by the body and has never been and will never be anything but my very self. The devotee who cleanses the mind with tranquility, concentration, and loving devotion will discover me at the root of all things, self-luminous, transparent, and perfect. With this realization, all doubts will vanish. Such a person will go beyond suffering and will not know the meaning of fear.

There is no difference between Brahman and me. We are the same. Without Brahman there would be no maya, and without maya there would be no creation. At the beginning of creation Brahman and maya must appear to have difference between them, or else there would be no creation. Out of this apparent duality, all the differences visible and invisible have come forth. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the universe that is not a part of me. When you perform the act of creation, O Brahma, it is my shakti that will enable you to create. It is my shakti that will enable Vishnu to take care of the universe and Shiva to destroy.

Sattva is prominent in Vishnu, so he is superior to Brahma, in whom rajas is prominent. If any difficulty arises in the world of Brahma's creation, Vishnu will take an incarnation and go down to the earth in order to uplift the Sanatana Dharma, which is the eternal Law of Righteousness that is imprinted in the consciousness of all human beings, but which decays and fades from the mind in the course of time. Vishnu, being the sustainer in the Trinity, is always the one who chooses to go to Earth in many forms in order to uphold that cosmic law. He will take birth in the wombs of women and sometimes in the wombs of birds and animals in order to destroy the demons and uphold dharma. There is no difference between Hara (Shiva) and Hari (Vishnu). He who worships one worships the other, and he who makes a difference between them is ignorant of the truth.

Everything springs from the supreme reality of the Brahman. He is neither cause nor effect. I am his maya, the power of illusion that creates this world of duality. From me come the three illusory powers of time, space, and causality. The first to come out of me is avyakta and then ahamkara (this is the cosmic ahamkara or cosmic ego), which is the essence of the three gunas, without which no creation is possible. There is nothing in this world that is devoid of the three gunas, including the three of you. Everything that is visible is endowed with them. Whatever was or will be cannot exist without them. Only the supreme self or Purusha is without the gunas, and he is not visible. I myself am Adi Shakti or Mula Prakriti. At times I'm with gunas and at times without. I'm always the cause and never the effect. When I take on my causal nature I'm with gunas. When I am enfolded into the supreme essence I am without gunas. From this supreme essence comes the sound hreem, which is my seed mantra and which contains everything else. The whole manifested world comes from the vibrations of sound. The cosmic ahamkara proceeds from this. From this comes the five tanmatras (subtle elements), and then the five tattvas (gross elements), the five jnanendriyas (organs of knowledge), the five karmendriyas (organs of action), and the four aspects of the mind (manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta). Out of these twenty-four tattvas the whole universe of forms is created. At the end of one cycle of creation this universe, including the three of you, will be dissolved and will fold back into me, Maha Maya, the primeval energy, and I myself into that supreme essence.

It is not possible for the embodied self or jiva to know me in my nirguna (without gunas or qualities) state, nor is it possible for the mind born out of the cosmic ahamkara to know the nirguna Brahman. Purusha and Prakriti pervade everything and exist in everything. Nothing in this universe can subsist without both of them. The universal consciousness that is felt in all beings is Purusha, the highest self. The energy that is felt in all beings is Prakriti, the universal Shakti. Both are nirguna, undecaying and without impurities. The jivas are all saguna or endowed with qualities. How can they ever see that which is nirguna or beyond all qualities? Purusha, Prakriti, Brahman, and myself can be realized through deep meditation, when the mind has transcended the three gunas.

This universe is both eternal and noneternal. It is noneternal inasmuch as it is always changing. But I am in all things and I am eternal, so in that respect the universe, even though ever changing, can still be considered as eternal. The unreal can never come into existence. The real can never cease to be. The forms change but I am that supreme reality that upholds these various forms. So do not confuse yourselves with questions about the reality and the unreality of this world. Plunge yourselves into your respective functions and have recourse to my name by which alone you will be able to discharge your duties.

Now I will give you my nine-syllabled mantra by which you will be able to realize me and carry on with your work.

So saying, Devi gave them the nine-syllabled mantra, which must be preceded by the pranava (the mantra aum) and followed by namaha: Aum Aim Hreem Kleem Chamundayai Vicchai Namaha! This supreme and most esoteric mantra of Maha Devi, she told them, could lead to liberation by being chanted constantly.

Devi blessed the three gods and told them to go to their own worlds and commence their work in this present cycle of creation. She also presented them with her shaktis. She gave the shakti known as Maha Saraswati to Brahma, whose predominant trait is rajas, since he is the one to undertake the task of creation as detailed by Maha Devi. He was to take Maha Saraswati and go to his abode of Satyaloka. To Vishnu, in whom sattva is preponderant, she gave the beauteous Maha Lakshmi, and she told him to go and live in the world known as Vaikunta. To Shiva, whose prominent guna is tamas, she gave Parvati and told him to go and live in Kailasa. She told him to use rajas and tamas in order to undertake the act of destruction but also to resort to sattva and perform austerities.

"All three of you are my devas, born of my gunas," Devi told gods. "You will undoubtedly be worshipped and respected by the whole world."

This parable tells us that the whole of creation is but a revelation and a manifestation of the sole divine essence. Advaita, the philosophy of a nondual Brahman, proclaims that Brahman alone is real and the world unreal-Brahma satyam, jagat mitya. But here we see that Maha Devi asserts something quite different. She seems to make a wholesale, indiscriminate sanctification of everything on the earthly plane so that there is no need to think that liberation can be gained only through an ascetic renunciation of the world. We are all in immediate contact with the divine here and now if we can only look upon everything as part and parcel of the divine's ever-changing, everlasting self-revelation. Here the popular picture of maya as the dreaded delusory power of the supreme, which is so difficult for even the sternest ascetic to overcome, takes on a surprising aspect. She, Maha Maya, is herself the revelation, the incarnation of the divine energy of the absolute. Life with all its dualities, its extremes of peace and strife, of dread and bliss, is holy and divine and is only a screen for the divine within it. Just beneath the veil of maya, the magic mirage of the universe, dwells the supreme spirit. The energy of maya is nothing but the energy emanating from that spirit. Maha Devi emerges in the forefront, masking the absolute but also displaying its inner potentialities.

As Devi herself tells the three gods, the process of creation is a conversion of the static repose of the absolute into a procreative power. First there is the absolute Purusha, which is complete inactivity, inertia, and void. From that we come to the infinite activity and dynamic differentiation of a universe with an abundance of creations and variety of forms, all seemingly bound by time, space, and causality. These three delusions are the very essence of maya. They are the most elementary frames of our limited human perceptions and conceptions. We view the world with this three-framed glass. But they do not apply to the transcendent absolute. The three are only aspects of a single, unique, and eternal essence. The truth is voidness and plenitude, everything and nothing.

The absolute rests in transcendental quietude, all-comprehensive and enigmatic. It is serenely unaffected by the tensions produced by the three gunas. It never feels the joys and agonies of their mutual interactions. The restless effects of the threefold play of creation, manifestation, and destruction are subsumed in its eternal repose. This glorious presence is indifferent to the processes of the universe and the dualities experienced by the individual. So also the atman, the self of the individual, rests unconcerned with the sufferings and delights of the personality, enshrouded within the various sheaths of the physical body, the astral body, and the mental and intellectual bodies.

When viewed against the background of eternity, the drama that is enacted on the stage of space and time is as insubstantial as the play of light and shade. It is all a creation of the mind that passes, flows, and vanishes into thin air. The true work of maya is the production of the phenomenal world, which has its basis in nescience or avidya. Maya is what produces this extraordinary universe that we experience within our limited, individualized consciousness. We experience it both when we are awake and asleep, remembering and forgetting, enjoying and suffering, always grasping for that which is ephemeral and unable to grasp the reality of its existence. This is the paradox of maya. The universe, like our own personalities, is as real or as unreal as the dualities that seem to emerge from the supreme center and are ignored by it. Brahman and maya coexist. Maya is the continuous self-manifestation and self-disguise of Brahman-its self-revelation as well as its concealing mask. Hence everything in the universe is divine. Nothing can be scorned or cast aside as unworthy. Maha Maya herself is the sum total of all and is worshipped as the mother and life energy of even the gods as well as of all creatures.

The yogi should concentrate on this truth and realize that the individual personality is one with the universal self, who is none other than Maha Maya. That which is mortal in us is also that which is imperishable. What is change and what is above change are one and the same. Thus the yogi should learn to accept the maya of his frail, transient existence as the dynamic radiation of the eternal, absolute self.

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva then took leave of Maha Devi and ascended the chariot, which took off into the ether. When they turned around to look at the island they found that there was no Mani Dwipa, no Devi, and no ocean of nectar!

Inner Traditions (Aug 26 2008) pp. 32-42

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