Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Tara Comes to Town

by Dirk Gysels

Divine Mother:
‘He who sees Truth is fed by me.
He who hears me, breaths.
The uncontemplative ones may disregard Me,
But I tell you: open your heart to faith.
I myself am speaking thus to you.’
Swami Veda Bharati, message board, 13 April 2012

Preparing the journey

It began on an early winter Sunday morning at the breakfast table.

“We will go to the inauguration of Swami Veda’s Divine Mother temple”, I blurted out, startled by my own words.


After the initial shock, the enthusiasm of Silke and Eileen started to grow in leaps and bounds.

Yes, why not?  We all like the sattvic atmosphere of the Ashram very much.  Moreover, over the years, even 7 year old Eileen, had been cultivating tender feelings for the Divine Mother. She joins us in our regular darshans of Mata Amritanandamayi and Mother Meera. And she had fond memories of the calves, the children and Swami Veda.

Preparations, inner and outer, started. On Facebook, Swami Nityamuktananda confirmed her presence at the inauguration. At the same time, she expressed her doubts about the temple to be ready. Writing at the beginning of February, construction was still in full swing and not about to be finished. This could not deter us.

We trusted that the Divine Mother would eliminate all obstacles: Swami Veda couldn’t wait for another Navarathri to inaugurate the Mandir !

The celebration starts

Upon arriving, on the morning of Friday, March 30, I could still hear construction noises but, at first glance, the temple looked quite ready.  And indeed, Swami Ritavan assured us that everything would happen on schedule.

Saturday was the big day. Well prepared by the early morning ritual of 90 minutes gentle asanas and a full hour of meditation,  we climbed the steps to the two temples. Some work was still going on in the temple of the Mother, so all of us headed for the Shiva temple.

And there She stood, in full majesty: an elegant white marble murti, in Greco-Buddhist style with flowing robes, her eyes blindfolded, but with extra eyes on her hands and her feet. Swami Veda personally supervised the Jaipur sculptors in the forming of the image. Swamiji told one of his students that he wanted the image to have soft contours and a divine motherly feel, without the hard edges that are sometimes seen in Tara deities.

In front of Her, the Sri Chakra in its three-dimensional pyramid form, awaiting consecration.
Many years ago, when visiting the magnificent temples of South-India, I had the experience how a murti has the potential to open me up to a world larger than surface appearance.

But nothing had prepared me to the seismic shift in my awareness when I first saw the blindfolded Lady of Compassion.
Through the top of my head a vast Presence entered my being. The experience was so sweet and overwhelming, and at the same time so sudden and effortless. I felt that I belonged to Her and that She would never forsake me. It was a kind of open-eyed mystical experience, the answer to heartfelt prayers throughout the years to really ‘meet’ the Mother!  What a blessing…..

Also our daughter Eileen was thrilled! The reason was obvious. At birth, we gave her the name Eileen Tara, with Tara being her spiritual name. When she was a toddler, she received a 5 metal Nepalese Tara murti from Silke. She likes the statue very much and, at times, even dresses her up and worships her with incense.  Before our arrival we didn’t know that Swami Veda had chosen to install goddess Tara in his Ashram. What a pleasant surprise!

Why would Swamiji haven chosen Tara?

The name Tara carries a special aura. Don’t we find already echoes of Her name in Astarte, worshiped from the Bronze Age onwards in the Middle East as the Goddess of the Morning Star?

In Sanskrit as well, Tara denotes a star as it traverses in space and acts as a Beacon of Light to wayfarers. Tara ferries travelers across the waters of samsara. In Tantra, She personifies the level of primordial sound. In Her sukla or white Form, She is the pure, unsullied mantra force in its pristine glory. As such, She is the union of primordial light and sound.
In Mahayana Buddhism, White Tara is the Mother of Liberation, shedding tears of compassion for all suffering beings. White Tara is the Wisdom matrix of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of all 10 directions. The Tibetan Karmapa lineage states that Her blessings are swifter than these of any other deity.  No less a person as the present Dalai Lama compares Her to Mother Mary. Isn’t it remarkable that one of Mary’s epithets is Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea?

Tara’s trans-cultural presence serves Swami Veda’s worldwide family very well. A young man from South China visited the Ashram. He entered the temple. He asked me the name of the deity. ‘Kwan Yin’ I replied. On his knees he went.
There are indeed many unifying streams in religion…

When all participants had arrived, Swami Veda came, wearing dark sunglasses as if to mirror the blindfold of the Divine Mother. With the help of the pundits, the consecration ceremony of the crystal Sri Chakra started.  Sri Chakra expresses the energy matrix of all conscious forces in ourselves and in the world at large. In the bindu at its center throbs the Heart of the universe, the Divine Mother as Maha-Tripurasundari, the Wondrous Delight of infinite Grace-consciousness, Who is at play everywhere as waves of Beauty and Bliss. Two days before the celebration, seated around the Homa-fire, Swami Veda had initiated six ladies of the Ashram in its worship.

The consecration was a joyful affair. The Sri Chakra was brought over to a spot in front of the still empty pedestal of Tara.  The crystal pyramid was anointed with sacred substances and bedecked with flowers. It felt like the anchoring of an auspicious energy in the atmosphere of the Ashram.

Tara comes home.

Then came the long awaited day. Tara would finally be able to enter Her permanent home. A young priest from Delhi was given the opportunity to draw her symbol, the trikona yantra in ochre on the pedestal. Through repetitions of mantras, the yantra was charged with sacred energy. Now the pedestal was ready to carry the one meter statue of Mother Tara. I marveled at this wonder of sacred engineering: daily rituals and invocations charge the hidden yantra, the murti and the Sri Chakra in front of the statue. Synergetically, for the benefit of the entire ecosystem, they will emit their uplifting vibrations into the surroundings.  For this to happen, the murti had to come alive. Enlivening a sacred object is done by a process called Pranapratishta.  The establishing or awakening of life in a statue is not an empty ritual of touching certain parts of its body.

It is written that great souls are able to infuse the murtis with their own purified life energy.

Swami Veda led the audience through a collective preparation for this auspicious event: “We now proceed to the pranapratishta, invoking the presence of Sveta or Sita Tara. She is Saumyasvarupam, granting peace and solace. She is Karunamayi, the Lady of Compassion.” Swamiji’s explanation was succinct and clear.

For the occasion, Swamiji invited us to repeat with him a combination of two mantras: The first part, extracted from the Devi Mahatmyam, invokes saumya, the moonlike, soothing and nourishing, ambrosial qualities. The second part combines the well known Buddhist Tara invocation with the tantric bijas that are said to express Her essential nature. We were also encouraged to recite the familiar Saundarya Lahari mantras that are part of our Ashram evening prayers.
Reciting the mantras together with the assembled sangha was like partaking in an orchestra playing a grand symphony for the Divine Feminine. It was pure magic. Like many other I was driven to tears feeling the presence of the Mother vibrating in my chest, even more so because Swamiji, at the height of the ceremony, invited us to visualize the Sri Chakra in the cave of the Heart.

In utmost concentration and dedication, Swami Veda was waving both hands towards the Statue. Then he touched various spots on Her body while reciting the appropriate mantras. Some attendants with a more refined sense of sight than I have, experienced from that moment onwards a greater brightness in the countenance of Tara.

At the end of the celebration, a priestess took some of the offered flowers and brought them to the feet of the statue of Shankaracharya.  This is highly significant. Adi Shankara was not only the genius proponent of Advaita, he also restored the true spirit and practices of Sri Vidya. For certain, Swami Veda wanted to honor this link.

The 1000 names of the Divine Mother

After the pranapratishta, Swamiji led us in the recitation of the 1000 names of Lalita.

With a voice full of vigor, he set the momentum for the akhanda japa. From April 1 onwards, for 21 days non-stop, pundits, ashramites and visitors alike, aloud or mentally, would sit down in the temple reciting this holy litany.

To some extent, Silke and I were already acquainted with the Sahasranam. Its recitation is one of the core practices around Ammaji [Mata Amritanandamayi]. She says that it creates auspiciousness and that it awakens each and every nadi in our subtle body. But a continuous recitation of 21 days really blew my mind.

Some of the elderly Ashram ladies seemed to have made their second home in the temple. Without missing a day, for hours on end, they were reciting.

Swami Ritavan as well spent many hours every day doing his silent swadhyaya of the 1000 names.

So what happens when this holy litany, eulogized by many sages, in the proximity of an awakened murti is chanted with a focused mind for weeks on end?

I felt it created an overflowing reservoir of sattva inundating the Ashram and its surroundings.

I experimented with the two ways of reciting the hymns. The vocal chanting was quite exhilarating. At a certain moment, the hymn itself takes over the chanting. One enters a flow that only comes to rest when one cycle is over.

The silent recitation is more grounding. One can follow one’s own rhythm. It felt like balsam to the heart. At times my attention was drawn to the translations, insights into the characteristics of the Divine Mother flashed in my mind. But I knew that in my ignorance, I could only scratch the surfaces of an infinite treasure house of hermetic wisdom.

The children of Lalita

Between the temples of Tara and Shiva, a festival tent was set up to shelter the attendants from the heat. Next to the chairs, a long, low rectangular table stood. Sitting at it, some 12 to 14 gleaming faces of children, mostly girls, in their best dresses.

These girls would embody the Goddess as Kumari, a prepubescent maiden. Kumari represents the virgin pure consciousness, immanent in all of creation. The worship of Kumari has a textual basis. The Devi Mahatmyam asserts that the Goddess is visibly present in all female beings in the universe.

Whenever possible, Swami Veda honours the age-old tradition of Kumari worship on the last day of the spring Navarathri, the 9 nights of the Divine Mother.

It is a sad fact that everywhere on our planet, women from all backgrounds and ages are still discriminated, brutalized, exploited. We are still collectively blind to the grace, dignity, forbearance, beauty and selfless love that women embody. Kumari puja, the worship of the Divine in young, innocent girls is a reminder of this lack of awareness.

Swami Veda walked from child to child. They had to put their feet on the table. Swami poured water over them and placed these cute little feet on his head. Engulfed by this act of humility, the children became quiet and indrawn. It was very touching to observe.  I sensed that Swamiji really ‘saw’ the goddess in each child.

Suddenly, the idea occurred that there was an even deeper significance. With the Lalita Sahasranama being recited on the background, it felt that Swami Veda was honoring Bala, the 7 to 9 year old ‘daughter’ or manifestation of Lalita.

In Sri Vidya, the goddess is not only worshipped as a young lady, but also as a child. Lalita is the Playful One. True to Her name, She must be childlike.  With children, we can be close, without defenses, spontaneous. Children open our hearts, they evoke our highest affections. Bala creates similar feelings in her devotees. So was Swami Veda actually worshiping the presence of Bala in these children? Only he can tell.

Although the Ashram has ample space for children to play, they seemed to be very attracted to the Tara Mandir. They played on its steps, they performed their japa in the temple or just dropped by to greet Tara and offer Her a flower.

And…. they were around when Swami Veda arrived after the evening meditation for his daily worship. They even postponed their dinners not to miss Swamiji. Acting as a loving grandfather, they all got their hug, a kiss, a pat on the back, a friendly word, a candy from him. They guarded Swamiji’s stick and sandals when he was in the temple. Swamiji not only loved their presence, he even reprimanded some parents when their kids were not there!

“A child can teach you what love is,” Swami Rama asserts.

“When a child doesn’t come running to you, you are not a good meditator,” Swami Veda often says.

And running, they all did.

Making sense of the Devi

The Himalayan tradition is an initiatory tradition. When by continuous purification of behavior, body, prana and mind one climbs the rungs of the ladder of sadhana, at a certain moment, the Grace that has always been there comes to the forefront.

Grace takes you by the hand and leads you to the Shrine of the Presence of the Guru who is at that level indistinguishable from the Divine Mother. At that time, one truly enters the Domain of Sri Vidya. Sri Vidya is not just one unified Wisdom. In fact, under the umbrella of Sri Vidya, 10 vidyas find shelter. They all represent initiatory pathways to Enlightenment and beyond.  One way to conceive of these vidyas is to see them as forms of Shakti spreading out from one point in 10 directions in the infinite Sky of Consciousness. In whatever direction one’s awareness expands, one travels on a path of Sophia, Wisdom. One swami told me that our tradition follows the Mahavidya of Chinnamasta. We cannot go into the vast symbolism of this goddess who holds Her decapitated head in Her own hands. She stands for the pathways of kundalini and the mystery of (initiatory) death and rebirth into eternal life. The swami confided to me that Bengali Baba, Swami Rama’s master, in his subtle body, is ever meditating on Her.

Swami Veda chooses to establish Tara because we, beginning sadhakas, are able to relate to Her. Chinnamasta will be for a few lives ahead of our present incarnation (at least for me!).

One evening, Swami Nitya gave a remarkable satsang.  It proved to be a great help to make the reality of the Divine Mother acceptable to our modern mindsets.

Swami Nitya invited us to look at the human mother from a spiritual perspective.

Conceiving life, being pregnant, birthing and weaning a baby, caring for a child is in itself an initiatory process.

What happens in the 9 month gestation period? The ‘I’ dissolves. The ‘I’ becomes a ‘we’. During the pregnancy, the basic egocentricity melts away.

Furthermore, in the actual (natural) birthing process, the woman cannot but surrender. One surrenders completely to the new life that is about to be born.

When the birth is difficult, the woman is even prepared to give up her own life in order to save the baby; so the life of another person becomes more important than one’s own existence.

When a woman goes mindfully through the process of gestation and delivery, she will realize how her own life depended on the life of her mother and of all the women before (and of course all the men as well). She sees the interconnectedness of all life throughout time and space. The Buddha had a name for this: dependent origination of all phenomena.

Hence, by becoming a mother an enormous spiritual leap is possible.

Men, Swami Nitya asserts, are only able to go through similar processes by mimicking them. They have to go through hard tapasya like the Native American Sundance and similar practices.

On an ontological/ cosmological level, the Divine Mother exemplifies to the fullest degree these qualities of selflessness, sacrifice and interconnectedness.

In Sri Vidya, we interiorize the Devi and become Her.

In our life experience, from the day we were born and probably even before that, the primal mould created in the developing mind of in an infant is ‘Ma’. Regardless of what kind of mothering you experienced in childhood, your inner Loving Mother brings warmth and nurturance to encourage you on your way. Your Loving Mother archetype draws out the best in you and helps you to succeed. She teaches, guides, explains and gives you unconditional love. She provides the intimacy that exists between a mother and her child and she helps you to be intimate with others.

The trans-cultural Mother image, embedded in our psychic DNA predisposes us to envision the Divine as Ma.

However true this may be, if I took one message home with me: the Divine Mother is not cheap. It takes tremendous dedication and one-pointed sadhana to receive a life-transforming glance from Her lotus eyes… a goal well worth striving for!

Divine Mother:
‘The words are called prayers,
But My Divine Mother, My God, is beyond words.
Where feelings overwhelm the senses, there words cease to be.
Only awareness remains.
Such awareness is meditation, a prayer without words’
Swami Veda Bharati, message board, 15 April 2012