In June I experienced the rare blessing of two and a half days in the presence of a truly enlightened, realized master, and indeed left feeling blessed in unspeakable ways. Of course you are probably wondering who it is that I'm referring to(!) - it was Ammachi, the great female saint and avatar from south India. Every summer she makes a tour of a set of U.S. cities, offering her blessings (darshan), inspiring presence, uplifting chanting, and simple, clear teachings. I could speak at length about Amma and about my experiences with her over the past six years, but I wish to use her presence as a starting point for this article. One of the numerous amazing things about Amma is that she is said to be a direct embodiment of the Divine Mother. In Germany there is another Hindu female saint, Mother Meera, also said to be the living presence of The Divine Mother. Mother Mary, still revealing her teachings in dramatic apparitions, also has been thus characterized. From the first time, years ago, that I heard the powerful reference to incarnations of The Divine Mother, I sought to understand their meanings and implications.
What makes this interest in The Divine Mother even more compelling to me is the fact that some of the ancient Tantra lineages are devoted to The Divine Mother. Indeed there have been those throughout the history of Tantra who have felt that The Divine Mother path is the highest path. Enlightened modern saint, Swami Kaleshwar, is such an example. Initially and through most of her childhood, Ammachi was a devotee of Krishna, yet at some point she had an awakening that aligned her with The Divine Mother. Learning this aspect of Tantra history and having profound encounters with Ammachi led me to wonder even more deeply: What is Tantra actually about? Who is The Divine Mother, and what is her relationship to Tantra? For some years it was more than I could grasp, but more recently, aspects of this are beginning to make sense to me.
First of all let me say that, as best I can discern, to truly be on The Divine Mother path is no flippant, casual experience - it seems (according to the teachings) that a dilettante cannot really get close to The Divine Mother or make direct contact. Like most paths there are stages wherein the possibility of delusion awaits the aspiring student. The most obvious delusion on this path is the flippant attitude of thinking that someone is an embodiment. Although it is true that The Divine Mother's presence is indeed everywhere and in all of us, to be a clear, awakened, embodiment is another matter yet. Nevertheless, the influence of The Divine Mother has always been with humanity - in very ancient times it was paramount; today I see a resurgence of the connection, and "She" is offering us great help and blessing. So, much like Tantra even misrepresented and misunderstood, The Divine Mother is bringing benefit to humanity and to individuals. Before I speak more about who She is and how She is helping us, let me say a bit about the distortion and misrepresentation of The Divine Mother.
There is a fundamental relationship between the terms Divine Mother and The (Divine) Goddess. At the highest levels The Goddess has been spoken of as a characteristic or expression of The Divine Mother. At more mundane levels, The Goddess energy is present in all living things, most noticeably to us in female humans. In the modern Western presentation of goddess identity in some women is where the distortion of understanding the true meaning of The Goddess and of the Divine Mother seems most prevalent. Even though there is a beauty in embracing, owning, and personalizing The Goddess energy within one's self, such personalizing can, and often is, contaminated and thus distorted by personal, cultural, societal, and psychological needs.
While there is a very positive cultural shift that is empowering women to advocate for deserved respect and for reclaiming ancient sisterhood ways, there are also women who are possibly motivated more by unconscious personal insecurity and thus claim "goddesshood" as a compensation for that insecurity. As is so typical of life in America, there are women declaring themselves as goddesses and goddess priestesses with very little understanding of the deeper teachings of The Goddess. So the emerging "goddess" culture is perhaps serving the need for personal healing and substantiation, as well as sisterhood and feminism as much as it is serving a spiritual path related to The Goddess aspect of The Divine Mother.
The Goddess qualities of The Divine Mother can be related to the essential pleasurable and sexual/sensual nature of life. At its most expanded level the reference is to an aspect of life, a sensuous energetic consciousness that invites us to find pleasure in life and to lovingly relate to the physical aspects of the world. Obviously this orientation has a direct relationship to Tantra, and like Tantra, approaching pleasure via Goddess mythology and culture can be a mixed blessing. As I mentioned in previous articles, in ancient Tantric training the teachers were there to guide the student through the realms of desire and pleasure in ways that held neither attachment nor aversion. Holding onto pleasure, grasping for it is a trap, a place for the evolving soul to get stuck, just as is pushing pleasure away or fearing it.
Attachment to pleasure in the name of The Goddess is an incomplete understanding of the deep path of The Goddess. Also identifying with either the pleasure or with being the special one who is the most sensual and pleasurable is yet another limited interpretation. Her divine, full teaching is all about completely embracing pleasure without any attachment or aversion - this requires learning to surrender control, disengage the ego, quiet the mind, reside in each present moment, love each moment fully, and live in gratitude and joy. If this sounds like Tantra, it is! It's a simple step to grasp why some Tantric traditions worshiped The Goddess and the Divine Mother. The teaching directs one to joyously living life in this form, in these bodies, on this planet, fully engaged and fully loving each experience.
As the classic TV ads used to say, "But wait! There's more!" and indeed there is more, much more. For even though it is a profound teaching to embrace the pleasures and sensuality of life without attachment, identification, or aversion, the path offered by The Divine Mother is even more inclusive, and potentially more challenging. The feminine, mothering aspect of God is the unlimited energetic source, the vast still spaciousness that mates with Divine consciousness to produce everything that has form, all levels, all shapes and sizes, from atomic particles to galaxies - all are her children, and she embraces them all unconditionally with Divine Mother love. She loves all life equally, and she nurses and guides all forms through their life journey, from birth to peak to death, all with infinite patience, compassion, and understanding. She provides each with the precise elements and resources that reflect their consciousness and support their immediate cycle of generation or disintegration. The Divine Mother simultaneously cares for all her multitude of children, and amazingly, She is everywhere, ever present, ever serving with the connected knowing of a mother for her child.
The Tantric self-loving, self-nurturing practices are an aspect of The Divine Mother and of The Goddess - how can we treat ourselves with kindness and caring; how can we celebrate the experience, the gift of being this incarnation in this form that we are? Even meditation can be understood as a gift we give to ourselves - the gift of coming home to Self, releasing all attention to the world and offering to ourselves unconditionally focused attention, awareness, and acceptance, as does The Mother. And in the profound intimacy of being fully present with Self (just as with others) we offer ourselves motherly compassion for the great challenge of bringing Light into human form, and open to the guidance of how to meet that challenge with gentleness, ease, health, and empowerment. In the silent spaciousness of meditation, the realm of The Divine Mother, we ask for Divine Guidance for how we can best serve our own awakening to love and liberation from fear-based consciousness and its karmic consequences.
Thus the path of The Divine Mother is a path of service and compassion, requiring a deep humility and demanding a relinquishing of ego and self-importance. It is a path of cultivating the capacity of the heart, for as the capacity to love expands so does the ability to love all forms unconditionally. Additionally it is a path of great courage and fortitude to transcend selfishness, greed, vanity, attachment, and aversion, and instead cultivate willingness to listen to and to follow inner guidance with the intent that all thoughts and actions are in service to all of life. "Let my will be Thy Will" could be understood as a prayer for this path. Praying to The Divine Mother for her support and grace can help us release expectations, control, and agendas, to release selfishness, shifting from, "What's in it for me?" to "What am I experiencing, how can I love this experience, and how can I serve?"
Advancing on this path can eventually lead to the choice of the Bodhisattvas, the ones who have volunteered to reincarnate to be of service and to emulate the Divine Mother. I repeat here the following prayer by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (translated by Glenn Mullen):
The Bodhisattva is like the mightiest of warriors; but his enemies are not common foes of flesh and bone. His fight is with the inner delusions, the afflictions of self-cherishing and ego grasping. Those most terrible of demons that catch living beings in the snare of confusion and cause them forever to wander in pain, frustration and sorrow. His mission is to harm ignorance and delusion never living beings. These he looks upon with kindness, patience and empathy. Cherishing them like a mother cherishes her only child, he is the real hero, calmly facing any hardship in order to bring peace, happiness and liberation to the world.
Certain Tantric teachers say that although The Divine Mother is always with us, caring for us, to make personal contact with Her is yet another matter altogether, requiring great intention, focus, purification, surrender, and humility. Any selfishness in the heart will cloud the vision, and indeed a vast, high vibrational awareness is required to perceive Her. And it is said that although we can and must pray for her support, it is She who grants the rare appearance and direct connection to the one who is finally sufficiently open. The blessing is that by her grace, one can experience loving oneness with all life, the essence of the spiritual Tantric teachings.
Furthermore the path of The Divine Mother includes the path of The Goddess, loving all that is pleasurable and finding pleasure in all, and further embraces with compassion and service all that is painful and of suffering - the shadow as well as the Light. Just as the great Daikinis enlightened saints on the Goddess path and have served to awaken serious students on the Tantric path, so too the feminine Ascended Masters such as Tara, Quan Yen, Mother Mary, and current incarnations of the Divine Mother such as Ammachi, Mother Meera, and Mother Theresa have returned to serve humanity, anchoring steadfastly, and transmitting compassion and unconditional love. To the degree that we are able to resonate with these enlightened role models, we too can embody those qualities and live a sacred Tantric life.
Lastly, the path of The Divine Mother is the path of trust. By the grace of The Divine Mother the past is forgiven and no longer holds power over us. We can learn to trust that we are never irrevocably stuck in the effects of the past. She also teaches us that when we bless negativity it has no power or ability to harm the essence of who we really are. Therefore we can learn to trust our intrinsic safety in all conditions and situations, and know that the blossoming of our essence is being forever nurtured and protected by The Divine Mother.
And as we learn to cultivate "sacred inner space," whether alone or with others, from the inner stillness and the quiet, peaceful joy arises creativity and guided action. We can trust that out of Being there will naturally arise doing, that out of union with and experience of the Presence, there will arise Divine Inspiration. Thus The Divine Mother by Her very nature teaches us how to live our life from the surrendered place, yet be creatively active. Embraced by Her divine love, resting in a sense of wonder and the miraculous, we can learn to trust that we will always know just what to do in service of love, peace, and joy.