About In My Meditation Today

These blog posts, not in chronological order, are a description of my journey. They also describe interpretations of Hindu deities and mythology that are uniquely mine and have helped me on this path. I would love to hear what you think about my interpretation in the comments section below.

Be yourself !

In My Meditation Today: Being allowed to be unabashedly, unapologetically you  is the biggest gift you receive. Not requiring a person to change, to conform, to contort themselves into people they are not – is giving a person the permission to exist. Could you think of a greater gift???

This blog is the third blog post in a series of posts in which I have paid tribute to three powerful women who had featured roles in my life. This one is a tribute to my mother-in-law. Although inevitably she had a smaller role in my life than my mother or grandmother, the lesson she taught me was still phenomenal.

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“ Ewww – this Sambhar has cumin in it!!!” the words escaped my mouth before I could pull them back.

I was barely twenty-one years old and had been a married woman for about 72 hours. I was in a strange house, with a man who was my husband but who I had only known for the aforementioned 72 hours.

My dad, my grandma, my brothers & sister-in-law and aunts had all left earlier in the day.

Although this was a very traditional arranged marriage and hence was the union between two families that were supposed to be similar, everything was different from what I knew and loved.
I was in a very rural part of the state of Kerala. I had grown up in Mumbai. The dialect of Malayalam that spoken in my in-law’s place might as well have been a different language. And the food was different! There was less salt, more pepper, a lot of cumin and garlic in everything.
Even in the most “ sacred” of South Indian dishes – Sambhar – a lentil and vegetable curry that is an indispensable part of a special meal and thoran – a stir fried vegetable dish flavored with coconut and mustard seeds and whole red chilies and curry leaves did not escape the garlic and cumin!
Having been taught the niceties of our cuisine by my Mom, before she died, this food was a sacrilege. It broke all the rules of traditional Malayalee cooking that I had learned from my Mom.

Despite my youth, and the shock to my system from everything that I was facing and experiencing, for e.g, my mother -in law pouring a handful of coconut oil in my nicely shampooed hair because she thought it looked too dry, I had managed to not complain about this shock to my taste buds or anything else, for all of 36 hours.

The evening that those fateful words came out of my mouth was the first evening that we were spending in the home that I was expecting to spend the early part of my married life. It was a rental house close to my husband’s practice. My mother-in -law and my husband’s aunt had accompanied us to help me settle into the house. The meal was prepared by a young man who was the cook/ all round helper in my physician husband’s household. Perhaps, the fact that Cook was not an in-law helped me to finally express my outrage at the assault on my taste buds.

To appreciate my mother-in-law’s reaction, you have to understand that my mother-in-law had almost no formal education. She was a woman who had found her calling when she was forced into taking greater responsibility for the family farm when glaucoma took my father in law’s sight. She took to this expanded role like a duck to water. There were plenty of critics, but it seemed as if she did not let any of the criticisms or demands hit her where it hurt or make her question her actions. Somehow, life had created circumstances for her in which she learned just to be who she was. My mother-in-law truly was a person who lived unapologetically, unabashedly, doing what she thought she needed to do regardless of what anyone else thought.
However, she had had the least exposure to life and culture outside her tiny rural village in Kerala. Given the traditional expectations in Indian culture, it would have been perfectly reasonable for her to have said, “ Well, we cook Sambhar with cumin and garlic, so you just have to learn to live with it. That is what my son likes, and that is what you should learn to cook.”

Instead, what transpired was that she called the cook into the dining room and said, “ Sreelatha does not like cumin in Sambhar, so make sure you stop cooking it with cumin.”
Thirty-eight years into my marriage, her reaction still astounds me!
With that command my mother-in-law, simultaneously established that I had power in the house and showed me how to exert it.
Whether she realized it or not, that night, in those couple of minutes, my mother-in-law gave me permission to be unapologetically, unabashedly me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Amma

In My Meditation Today: Your highest wisdom and deepest truth reside in the deep stillness within you. Always. If you feel unworthy, or question your path, all that has happened is that your connection to that wisdom is broken or blocked. Sit still. Go into that deep still place within. In that silence, you will hear your voice, your true voice. As I have become more familiar with that silence within, I have discovered hidden treasures. The most precious of them all – an ability to reconnect with the spirit of my Mom.

I have been planning this blog for months. I thought knew what I wanted to write in it. But, I struggled with it. I loved the way I was able to write about my Grandma. It felt like an apt tribute. It feels different with Mom. I wanted it to be as beautiful and powerful, but it just was not flowing.

Not surprising I guess because this is about my Amma. She was my closest friend and only true confidant for the 19 years that she was with me. Every conversation I had with a friend, she knew about. Every verse that moved me in English class, she would hear about. Each new version of every dream I had, she would be asked to weigh in on. And then …in eight minutes.. the eight minutes that it took the plane that she was in to take off and crash into the seas surrounding Bombay, she was gone.

My Mom, Dad and Grandma. Picture taken at my brother's wedding barely a month before she died on Dec 31st 1977
My Mom, Dad, and Grandma. This picture was taken at my brother’s wedding barely a month before she died on Dec 31st, 1977

So, each time I began to write this post, it would veer off into stories about how I missed her; what I wished I had said, or not said; questions that I wanted to ask her but never had; triumphs I wanted to share with her, etc. When I finally realized that the problem was that I was making the post about me and my loss instead of her and her life, I gained a little traction.

So, here finally is my attempt to tell you about her.

My Mom is the reason that I am the mother I am today. She was honest. Honest about her fears, about what she was sure of and what she did not know. She spoke to me like an adult all the way through which is quite remarkable considering that I was barely technically an adult when she died.

She nurtured the unwavering spirit of independence in me; I know it frightened her at times and made her uncomfortable, but she never let that crush my spirit.

The deep, unshakeable belief that I have, that you cannot break a child’s spirit, that you cannot twist them to fit into a mold that you want – that comes from her.

She also taught me through example why having a profession and interests besides your immediate and extended family, is an essential part of becoming a whole woman. One who expresses all of herself. She showed me that it was ok for a woman to have a profession not because she needed it but because she wanted it.

She even taught me that at times it was ok to feel angry and mean and say it out aloud, “ I know you think I should behave differently,” she said to the bossy, judgmental teenager that I was, “ But this is how I feel, and I am not perfect.”

Now, let me tell you about her encounter with a money-lender…

It was late afternoon & she & I were alone in an apartment in a suburb of Bombay. The doorbell rang. When I opened the door, there was a short, squat fair-skinned old man and next to him was a humongous bouncer. “ I am Sidhwa,” the old guy said to mom, as he sat himself down on the couch, “ Your husband has borrowed a lot of money from me. Do you see this bouncer here? If he does not give me the money back in a month, this guy is going to take care of business.”

Mom & I were sitting next to each other on a futon that was low on the floor. I was about 15 at the time. My heart was beating fast and loud; my hands balled into fists, and eyes wide, I looked at my Mom.
She patted my hand, as she said softly,

“ Yes Mr. Sidhwa, my husband owes you money. Yes, he has not paid it back as he promised and that is wrong. But people fall upon hard times and sometimes have to borrow money and cannot pay it back as promised. That is where he is right now. As soon as he has the money, I know that he will pay you back every penny he owes you. But hear me well Mr. Sidhwa, if you touch a hair on his head or harm him physically in anyway because he owes you money, I guarantee you that you will not see a penny of the money that you are owed. I will see to that.”

To say Mr. Sidhwa was nonplussed is to put it mildly. He was used to seeing wives burst into tears, fall at his feet, beg and plead with him to spare their husband. Not quite sure what to do he said,

“ Well, I will come and tell everyone in your school that your husband owes money.”
“ Go Ahead,” said mom,” They know about it already.”
Flustered now, “ I will go and tell everyone in your son’s college” he screamed,
“ That is also ok,” she said.
“Well, you think you are very clever Madam! I am going to go and talk to your husband!” he said as he & his bouncer stormed out of the apartment.

Yes – that was my Mom; her Durga, grounded, fierce, undaunted and confident in full display. Small wonder then, that given my lineage, with my grandma and my mom, my Durga, grounded, fierce, undaunted and confident has been known to show up occasionally  🙂

Yes – Amma was with me physically only for the first 19 years of my life, and I have missed her oh so much for years. However, truth be told, she never really left. It was just that I never quite knew how to connect with her. My grief and shock had broken the connection to that deep silence within. As I learn to listen in that silence, I realize that she has been there. Always.

“Leela “- I Thank God for her Legacy

In My Meditation Today: We keep thinking that the savior is outside us, whether in the form of a partner, an employer or a coach.

What if the second coming or the promised reincarnation of the divine is not an external event?

What if the reincarnation is an event that occurs when we overcome a fear within and confront an injustice in the world and say “ No – Not on Our Watch!”?

What if Kali / Durga is manifesting within us and expressing herself every time, we recognize a diminishment of our divinity, rest back into our sense of knowing, trust our wisdom and act based on that knowing?

What if Devi is manifesting in the world every time we pick ourselves up after a devastating blow and learn to laugh again?

This post shifts the focus from the Grand Story of the Divine Mother and brings the focus back into our lives, specifically my life. The next three posts pay homage to my grandma, my mom, and my mother-in-law in that order. We have just traveled through a significant myth in which we saw the Divine Mother incarnate again and again to confront evil. As we walked through the myth, I tried to emphasize my belief that the underlying truth in the myth, is that the Divine Mother is not an entity outside of us. She is our highest self. She is the part of us that in the deep, still recesses of our mind knows that we are all powerful and that all is well.

We have instances of this truth manifesting around us all the time. We all have situations in our life when we are an incarnation of the divine. It is important to record and honor these moments in our life. It is as important to recognize the light  in us as it is to acknowledge our shadow.
Since my Grandmother, my mother and my mother-in-law would never have dreamt of thinking about themselves and their lives in these terms; I am taking it upon myself to do it for them.

Leela:

The quiet sleepy bank in a small town in Kerala was bustling with unusual activity for a quiet Saturday afternoon. The men in the office were helping move wooden desks to create a temporary bed. Others were bringing around a wooden screen that typically separated the cashier’s table from the tellers’ desks to create privacy around the bed. A janitor was picking up a bucket to bring in some hot water. A pregnant young woman was standing by the wall; her arms wound tightly around herself as if she was protecting her and her baby from a possible assault and a small, slight woman dressed in white with a huge sandalwood and vermilion spot on her forehead, was shouting out orders and directing all the activity.

My Grandma Leela leading me to the Altar on my Wedding Day. My dad is right behind.
My Grandma Leela leading me to the Altar on my Wedding Day. My dad is right behind.

The activity came to a sudden halt, and everyone except the little lady dressed in white froze in fear as the bank manager who had stepped out for a leisurely lunch break walked back in the door. Before he could say anything, she said, “ Oh, I am so glad you are back. I hope you do not mind that we are rearranging the bank to create a labor ward. Don’t worry. I have plenty of experience delivering babies and a midwifery certificate to boot. Now that, the bank has decided that it cannot provide maternity leave to pregnant employees, we will need a space to assist them when they go into labor. How do you like the arrangement? We had to get this done now, because, I can see that Mrs. M. is very close to labor and you know, I am seldom wrong about these things.”
“ Now, Leelamma,” the flustered manager said, “You know that I did not mean Mrs. M could not ever take maternity leave. I just did not think she needs to yet. However, I respect your judgment. He turned to the young pregnant woman and said, “ You should have told me! Please go home now. Leelamma, please accompany her home.”

That was how Mrs. M finally was allowed to take the maternity leave she was entitled to after repeated denials of her requests over a period of several days.

The anecdote above is not a made-up story. My Grandmother Leela was the small, slight woman in white. She would probably brush me off as crazy if I had told her that she was Devi Incarnate that day.
I do not think that that was the only instance in her life when she manifested the Divine mother.

She was a Devi Incarnate in the bank that day when she stood up to and fought injustice.

She was Devi Incarnate when she chose to do what she felt she needed to do as a young widow with six children and decided to marry again despite living in a culture where that was unthinkable.

She was Devi Incarnate as she chose to work outside the home in pre-Independence India.

She was Devi Incarnate when the fact that her entire village opted to boycott a wedding in her house because of her marriage did not faze her or indeed stop her from helping those self-same villagers later in their time of need.

She was Devi Incarnate as she sobbed uncontrollably, felt her heart break, but had the strength to let her mentally-ill son be admitted to the local psych ward.

She was Devi Incarnate when she found the strength to stand up and take on the responsibility of her young granddaughter (me) and nurse her through her first pregnancy and delivery after the most devastating blow of all – the death of her beloved daughter – my Mom, her rock, in a plane crash.

She was Devi Incarnate when she rose yet again, like a Phoenix from the ashes of the disaster of her mentally ill son’s suicide, and somehow found the strength to laugh and smile again.

As I think back on all the challenges in my grandma’s life and describe how her indomitable spirit rose to face each one, I worry that the post comes across as depressing.

I worry that readers might think that I am just comforting myself about dismal circumstances and fitting my narrative to her life.

Am I, though? As I recall her courage, her determination to make the best of her circumstances, her ability to pick herself up, dust herself off and live another day, am I just putting lipstick on a pig?

I think not. I see her spirit in my mother, my aunt, in my daughter and me, and I thank God for her legacy.
I thank my good fortune for vivid examples of seeing Devi Incarnate in her form, squaring her shoulders, planting her feet, and saying “ Bring it on.” Granted the voice that said those words might sometimes have been muted, the shoulders may have occasionally slumped or the knees buckled but never, not once, did she just lie down and give up and let life run over her.

As women, I, my daughter, my granddaughter, my nieces have lives that are incomparably better today. We have opportunities and access to lifestyles that my grandmother could not have dreamt of.
Despite that, the need to invoke the divine in us and stand up, feet planted firmly, shoulders squared back, hands on our hips, ready to take on anything that life may throw at us does not go away. It is therefore infinitely comforting to know, that we have in our lineage this indomitable spirit. These memories that we can draw on as we strive to express our divinity in the world.

Let me end this by reminding you that we all manifest our divinity every time:

We overcome a fear within and confront an injustice in the world and say “ No – Not on Our Watch!”

We recognize our power, rest back into our sense of knowing, trust our wisdom and act from it.

We pick ourselves up after a devastating blow and learn to laugh again.

So may you continue to manifest the divine in your life and most importantly learn to recognize and acknowledge your divinity.

“I Alone Exist Here in This World”

In My Meditation Today: I was struck recently by how difficult it is for me to welcome love into my life. A kind gesture or expression of love from almost anyone results in an internal conversation that questions motives. This questioning points to the deep-seated belief within me that I am not good enough. This emptiness – a stubborn refusal to let in the knowledge that I am an expression of the divine and that I am as perfect a reflection of source as a beautiful sunset or a moonlit sky.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each part Kaushikidescribes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.

We are at the last episode in the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. Nishumbha has been killed, and the vast armies decimated. Shumbha is left to face the Devi by himself.

Defiant in defeat, Shumbha yells

“ O Durga, puffed up with misplaced pride in your own strength of arms, don’t be so haughty! It is by relying on the strength of others that you fight, with this inflated sense of your own importance!”

Durga responded with

“ I alone exist here in the world; what second, other than I is there?

O wicked one behold these my manifestations of power entering back into me!”

The seven shaktis that Devi had called forth reenter her body and the Goddess says,

amazing-736885_1280“ When I was established here in many forms, it was by means of my extraordinary power. That has been withdrawn by me. I stand utterly alone. May you be resolute in combat.”

The last terrible battle in the myth begins after these words of encouragement from Devi. Shumbha hurls many weapons at her, and she retaliates; she destroys his shield and sword and kills his horse; he rushes towards her and pounds her on the chest with his fist; she returns the blow, and he falls to the ground. He then jumps up and seizes Devi and climbs “high into the sky.” The two battle there until Devi decides that it is time to end it. She throws him to the ground, and as he gets up and rushes towards her, she pierces his chest with her spear. He crashes to the ground causing the entire earth to tremble. Once he is dead, the ominous clouds that had gathered clear, the rivers begin to flow within their banks and a sense of deep peace and calm envelops the world.

As I mentioned in the last post, Nishumbha represents attachment and Shumbha represents our ego. Dr. Wayne Dyers defines ego as “Edging God Out” -it is essentially our refusal to admit that we are perfect as we are. The edging out or EGO results in the sense of emptiness inside which we attempt to fill with everything except a sense of being enough. Shumbha and Nishumbha tried to fill the emptiness by conquering  heaven and earth and collecting the best of everything. Despite all of this, when they heard about the Devi and her beauty, they had to have her because all that they had gathered for themselves still left them feeling empty; they had edged God out, and all the goods in the world could not fill the void caused by that edging out. Their encounter with Devi is, in fact, their first step back into their own divinity. They fight it with all that they have because as we have seen before, it is easier to live with a sense of unworthiness and lack than to acknowledge your greatness. Once you recognize your greatness, you have to live up to it, and that is unknown and scary territory. It is important to note that none of these stories advocate poverty or suffering. So, the message is not a diatribe against the desire for material goods, but an acknowledgment that possessions of any kind cannot / will not resolve the yearning that we feel inside to feel whole and good and worthy. That only comes from the understanding that we are expressions of divinity, perfect just as we are in this moment and the next.

A couple more points to make. Devi blesses Shumbha to be resolute in battle just as she did before starting the final battle with Mahishasura earlier. These are some of my favorite lines in this myth. Despite his wickedness which she also acknowledges, she respects him and wishes him well in his misguided life, Secure in the knowledge that she alone exists in the world and that therefore that he is, in fact,  one with her.

The statement “ I alone exist here in the world” is considered the “Mahavakya” – the great saying or essence of the Devi Mahatmya – the message – that all of us are expressions of that singular entity. It is the full understanding and total acceptance of that message that will allow me and you to allow the love and kindness that comes our way into our unquestioning open hearts.
That, dear readers, is my wish for you this holiday season.
May your heart open and acknowledge your perfection this holiday season.

God’s Love

In My Meditation Today: God’s love is not a soft, gentle, fluffy Santa Claus emotion. It is fierce and unyielding. She does not flinch while stabbing you in the gut or hitting you with a metaphorical 2X4 if that is what is needed to wake you up. She does this as she breaks your fall, and holds you broken and bruised, waiting with infinite patience and unflinching faith to welcome you healed, whole and fully established in your power on the other side of what seemed like an impassable chasm.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each part durgadescribes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.

We are coming down to the last two episodes of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. With Rakthabija, Shumbha and Nishumbha have lost their last great general, So the fight is now between the two brothers and what is left of their army. In this chapter, the battles alternate between Nishumbha and Shumbha.
At first, both of them rush at her showering her with arrows. Devi is unphased. She blocks all the weapons coming her way and drops Nishumbha unconscious to the ground with a volley of arrows. Seeing his brother knocked to the ground, Shumbha is enraged and rushes towards the Goddess. This battle goes on with Shubha rising when Nishumbha is on the ground and Nishumbha rising as Shumbha falls unconscious on the ground. Then, after a long battle with Nishumbha, Devi ends it by piercing him through the heart.The next chapter describes the slaying of Shumbha and marks the end of the central part of the Myth.

Nishumbha and Shumbha are shown to be very closely allied in the description of this battle. As one falls the other rises. Nishumbha represents “mamata” or attachment (also the word used to describe a mother’s love for her child). Shumbha is the ‘ ahankara” or sense of self – more correctly the sense of a separate self. Shumbha is everything which makes one feel separate from all that is. Nishumbha represents our attachment to everything that Shumbha uses to establish that separateness – gender, nationality, physical appearance, likes and dislikes, family roles, etc. These are powerful forces within us, and consequently, the description of the two brothers in the myth does not depict the “demons” as ugly, pathetic abhorrent creatures. It gives them their due. “ He shone forth and filled the entire sky with his eight incomparable arms.” IT acknowledges their power.
It is the sense of separateness and one’s attachment to all of these characteristics that we use to distinguish ourselves one from another that maintains the illusion of separation from all that is.

So when Devi pierces and penetrates Nishumbha’s heart, she is killing Shumbha’s attachment to his separate identity. As Devadatta Kali says as she describes this slaying in ” In Praise if Goddess. The Devimahatmya and It’s Meaning”,

“Sometimes spiritual awakening dawns only after the experience of great pain, a severe wounding of the heart.”

Unlike earthly mothers like me, Devi can do that because she rests in the truth that Spirit is eternal. So it is that she does not flinch while stabbing you in the gut or hitting you with a metaphorical 2X4 if that is what is needed to wake you up. She does this as she breaks your fall, and holds you broken and bruised, waiting with infinite patience and unflinching faith to welcome you healed, whole and fully established in your power on the other side of what seemed like an impassable chasm.

Are you Committing Spiritual Suicide

In My Meditation Today: In truth – suicide is not just the ending of one’s physical life. Giving up on our dreams and settling for a life that is safe but mediocre if not downright unhappy is not that different. That is still a slow but sure death of your spirit. And perhaps that is the worse death?

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each part describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.Kaushiki

The eighth chapter of the myth is the third episode in the last section of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. This is the second post on this Chapter of the Myth. In the last post, we saw that Devi had called in reinforcements to fight the massive army that Shumbha & Nishumbha had sent out.
The seven goddesses with Devi are running roughshod over this vast army and just as it seemed as if they were getting the upper hand, a powerful demon called Raktabija walked into the battlefield. Raktabija was a demon with a unique power. Every drop of his blood that fell to the earth created another fully grown demon who was as powerful as him. As the different Goddesses begin to attack him with their weapons, he bled, and hordes of cloned Raktabijas filled the battlefield. As the Gods saw this, they were filled with terror. The all – knowing Devi senses their terror and laughs. She summons Kali – the terrifying version of her who appeared in response Shiva’s unsolicited appearance on the battlefield. “Chamunda, Open your wide-mouth and quickly drink up the blood from my weapons. Roam around the battlefield and devour the great demons sprung from Raktabija. So shall this daitya drained of blood, go to his destruction.”   The strategy works in the battle, and Raktabija is vanquished. I have avoided describing a lot of the grisly scenes in the myth, but it seemed important to dip into the gore in this case.

Traditional explanations of the allegory talk about Raktabija representing desire – insatiable desire. According to many traditional interpretations, desire is wrong and never satisfied and therefore the place to aspire to is to be without desire. I find that a deathly boring place to be. Who wants to live without desire? That is equivalent to living without dreams and hopes.

A much better description of Raktabija and his hordes, I think is the unstoppable power of the mind to take you into a downward spiral of thought which is particularly noticeable when you are in a negative spiral. It is equally true when you are busy living in the future. In both cases, our mind and thoughts are taking us away from the only moment that matters – the present moment. Thus the role of Raktabija is to create a web of ideas that makes you feel unsure of yourself; takes us away from the present moment. It makes you lose trust; that is what the fear of the Devas represents. Here they have the Goddess who has fought so many successful battles for them; the Devi they prayed to for support and at the first sight of trouble they began to imagine a future with a defeated Devi.
Raktabija represents our mind that creates that loss of faith; that wants to intervene after we have said that we are surrendering the outcome of a crisis to God.
Devi, on the other hand, is not bothered either by Raktabija or the loss of trust of the Devas. She knows her power. She is committed. If you call on her, she will be there as a thought, a person in your life, a book you find or even a post on FB. She will not give up on you even when you want to give up on yourself. Remember that the next time you are tempted to give up a dream.

The 1500 Year Old Feminist Angle

In My Meditation Today. This is less meditation and more contemplation. The stories we tell our children, ( or the television shows or movies we watch with them), are more than “fun” activities. The stories we select, the characters we like, the commentary we provide as part of these rituals are codes. The codes tell them what we like and what we do not; what makes us happy and what makes us sad; what we are comfortable with and what makes us nervous; what our expectations are and what disappoints us. Whether it is sexism, racism, homophobia, hamsa-symbolor  Islamophobia, we do not have to teach our children prejudice and or shame. explicitly. It is all learned through osmosis.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.

The eighth chapter of the myth is the third in the last section of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. I am devoting two posts to it because there are two distinct aspects of it that I want to explore. In this post, I examine the surprisingly feminist slant in this myth that was written almost 1500 years ago.

In this chapter,  Shumbha & Nishumbha’s battle with Devi continues. Despite her victory over Dhumralochana, Chanda & Munda, Shumbha & Nishumbha refuse to admit their powerlessness. They continue to send in bigger and bigger armies to try and capture her. It is almost as if Devi is enticing more and more demonic forces to battle with her. Can you see how this could be the description of a spiritual journey? As one steps onto the path and expresses a willingness to do the work, more and more of our hidden inadequacies and fears rise to the surface to be acknowledged and accepted and brought into the fold. It is important to understand that in Hindu Mythology, it is a blessing to be killed by the Divine Mother ( or any divine entity) because it ensures that your energy then becomes one with hers. Thus there is no rejection or destruction. There is instead a welcoming into all that is.

As Shumbha & Nishumbha send in their biggest army yet, Devi summons reinforcements. She calls forth seven energies from Hindu “ Male “ deities Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, and Kumara. Three from Vishnu ( Vaishnavi, Varahi, & Narasimhi), Brahmani from Brahma, Maheshwari from Shiva, Aindri from Indra and Kaumari from Kumara. Each goddess is equipped with weapons associated with her particular male counterparts. Although the actual shape or name of the weapon may be different, each one is a tool to help the aspirant go from ignorance to true knowledge. For instance, Brahmani carries a pot filled with water and her role on the battlefield is to sprinkle this water on the demons. The water – knowledge- renders them powerless – releases them from ignorance.

In his book “ Encountering The Goddess” Tom Coburn describes how the myth emphasizes the supremacy of the Goddess over the over the “male” deities whose power she summoned. The text is very clear about the fact that the powers Devi calls forth from the God’s are powers she has invested in them. That she is the source of all of creation is re-emphasised in chapter nine just before her epic battle with Shumbha.

The fact that the army that is about to fight the vast array of male demons consists of just seven Goddesses that Devi summons and herself is not the only exquisitely feminist angle in this chapter. After she has prepared her army, and is about to go into battle, seemingly out of nowhere, Shiva comes to her and says – “ Let the asuras be slain quickly for my satisfaction.” Devi who has managed the entire battle so far is not about to mDurga_2eekly accept Shiva’s command.
As Shiva finishes speaking, much like in the last chapter, a terrifying version of her emerges and says to Shiva, “ You, yourself become my messenger to Shumbha & Nishumbha and tell them to go to the netherworlds or let my jackals feast on their flesh.” She does not give a quarter, puts Shiva in his place and earns the name “ Shivaduti” – she who has Shiva as her messenger.

These are powerful images that show female mythological characters who are completely at ease with their power and care little about how they appear to the world, and I never heard them as a young girl.
There were a lot of strong women role models, but there was not a single one who was comfortable with or even wanted to be seen as a POWERFUL woman. I sensed how nervous men and especially women around me were even thinking about powerful independent women. I learned through osmosis that it was unsafe to be a powerful female.

I have largely overcome that legacy or a lot of it. I just wish that the generations after me can get to where I am with less pain and more speed. Perhaps one way to do that is to examine the stories we are telling our young girls and boys and becoming aware of the covert agenda that is inherent in our choices.

Sometimes I am a Bitch and that is A-OK.

In My Meditation Today: Sometimes I am a bitch, and that is A – OK. No part of my life deserves to be pushed away. It is time to stop beating up on myself for getting angry, or not being in a good mood, or being demanding. Every moment that I live and every emotion I feel in each of these is a moment of life, and that is to be revered and appreciated.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each section describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a fight to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and goryblack-mahakali

The seventh chapter of the Grand story of the Divine Mother is one of the bloodiest in the myth. Shumbha and Nishumbha are in a frenzy after Devi’s summary dispatch of Dhumralochana and his army. So they send Chanda & Munda with a much bigger army to bring in the “vile woman” unharmed if she will submit or beaten into submission if necessary,
When they reach the foothills of the Himalayas where Devi has taken up residence, they find her riding her lion. She has a smile on her face until the demon army rushes towards her. As they move towards her with swords raised and bows drawn, Devi’s peaceful demeanor changes. She scowls and screams and Kali, her expression of invincible power coupled with unabashed rage emerges from her scowling brow. Kali is not a pretty sight. She has a gaping mouth and a long tongue that hangs out, she is emaciated and black as night; Her eyes are red; she carries a skull-topped staff and wears a garland of human heads; her breasts are uncovered, and she wears a tiger skin as a skirt. Kali screams and stomps and rushes towards Chanda & Munda’s vast army and devours them both literally and metaphorically. She is shown flinging hoards of demons, chariot, weapons and all into her mouth and pulverizing them with her teeth; others she slices with her sword or pounds with her skull-topped staff. As she single-handedly destroys his army, Chanda rushes towards her in a rage. She gets him by his hair and chops off his head. Munda meets the same fate in the next few minutes. With both their leaders slain, the rest of the army flees. Kali then picks up the heads of Chanda & Munda and hands them to the Devi saying “ Here is a present from me to you, Chanda & Munda the beasts. You can now take care of Shumbha & Nishumbha yourself.”

The image of Kali is highly symbolic.  Kali is the feminine form of Kala – which means both dark or blue-black as well as time. The darkness is considered a representation of primordial energy – the womb of creation. At the other end of the spectrum, time is the ultimate destroyer, the force that turns mountains into sand, then a seabed, a forest and a desert in an endless cycle of creation and destruction. Her long disheveled hair represents freedom from convention; the severed head she carries in her hand is the severed ego – everything that is stopping us from realizing the magnificence of our being. The garland of  50 heads she wears represents the 50 alphabets of the Sanskrit language and symbolizes her knowledge and wisdom.  Her unblinking eyes represent unbroken awareness of the truth of all existence. In the context of our inner world, Kali is understood to be the force that creates, if necessary forces transformation. She annihilates demons such as fear, self-doubt and a lack of self-love and forces one to step into one’s power.

Besides the symbolism in Kali’s form, what I love about this story is the unabashed display of power, yes feminine power. Kali is not worried about how she looks. She is not worrying about what someone else thinks of her. She is angry and not ashamed about it. She is hurting and killing people but is not apologetic because she knows that that is what is best for them. She is focused on getting her task done regardless of how it ugly and violent it may seem to others.

The story is not about advocating violence and actual killing of enemies. As we have mentioned before, the entire myth is an allegory, and the battle is in your mind. Every time you hesitate from doing something you know is right because you are worried about hurting someone, or even worse because you are unwilling to live with the discomfort of sometimes being a “bitch” – you deny the Kali within you. You are stopping her from manifesting and creating the change, killing the demon that needs to be killed for you to move to the next phase of your spiritual evolution.

This story for me is about learning to be completely comfortable with all aspects of me. In particular, it is about being comfortable with my anger and my power. It is first about acknowledging the power I have and being willing to wield it regardless of what anyone else thinks. That is what Devi does when she unleashes Kali on the army. She knew her power. She was aware that it was ugly, in fact, it was the polar opposite of the indescribably beautiful, smiling image the demons first encounter. She is completely in love with all aspects herself and therefore does not hesitate to reveal her ugly, angry, bitchy self.

Could you imagine how different young women would be if they grew up with a story like this that gave them permission to be ugly, powerful, angry and demanding?
The interesting thing is that I grew up thinking about Kali as a person not to be like.  When I was little and I ran around with unruly hair – which was quite often – I was often told not to be “ Bhadrakali.” Women who get angry and yell are often referred to as Kalis where Kali is used as an example of a person not to be. The docile and amenable Seeta, on the other hand, is what everyone wants their daughters to grow up to be. She is pleasing; she does not make you uncomfortable; everyone loves her and you for having created this lovely little princess who does everyone’s bidding.

The notion that there are some emotions that it is right to experience and others that are wrong is so ridiculous if you think about it. Every moment that I live and every emotion I feel in each of these is a moment of life, and that is to be revered and appreciated. So sometimes I am a bitch – and that is A-OK.

True Empowerment

In My Meditation Today: True empowerment is resting back into the knowledge that we are all expressions of the divine and letting that knowing inform us of the eternal nature of our being. What follows is an understanding that no circumstance in life – no matter how horrendous – ever comes close to harming us let alone destroying us.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each section describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard and ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.

The sixth chapter of the Myth is the second story in the third part of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. Sugriva, the messenger, has returned to Shumbha & Nishumbha’s Palace with the story of Devi’s challenge – i.e. that she can only marry a man who defeats her in battle. Aghast at her audacity, Shumbha, is now determined to possess her. He sends Dhumralochana (the smoky-eyed one) with an army of 60,000 soldiers to capture “the wretch” and bring her to the palace, dragging her by her hair if he had to.

The Devi is sitting on a swing in her backyard when the demon Dhumralochana approaches her.  He starts off deferentially, “ Your highness. Please come to the presence of Shumbha & Nishumbha.” The deference quickly disappears as he bellows ” If you do not come to my master with delight right now, then I will immediately take you by force, upsetting you by dragging you by your hair.”durga

“You have been sent by the lord of the demons. You are mighty and surrounded by your army. If you take me by force, what can I do about it?” the Devi says seemingly innocently.
Hearing that Dhumralochana rushes towards her in a rage. Devi stands up inhales and exhales with a powerful sound of HMMMM and Dhumralochana crumbles into ashes. Most of his sixty thousand strong army either scatters or die at the hands of Devi’s lion.

I love the images in this story. The irresistible yet playful and delicate Devi on a swing; the coarse, uncouth, powerful, loud mouthed thug who is completely deluded about the power he has and ease with which Devi, destroys him. She does not have to lift a finger to turn him into ashes. Delicious and powerful images which I really would have liked to have heard and known about as a young girl growing up.

In the allegory – Dhumralochana – the smokey eyed one – represents the delusion of Maya – he represents ignorance. Devi, on the other hand, represents a fully empowered being who is fully cognizant of her powers.

Two compelling points in this story for me.
1. Once you are truly empowered, i.e. you have let the truth of the eternity of your existence sink into your bones, you can invite disaster in, knowing that no one and nothing can destroy your essence.
2. Remember Devi’s stance as disaster rushed towards her. Aware of her power, she stood up, squared her shoulders took a deep breath and exhaled. Faced with the power of her knowledge about the truth of her being, the enemy/the circumstance, the ignorance that the demon represented did not have a chance to overpower her. It quietly crumbled.

Hence – real empowerment is resting back into the knowledge that we are all expressions of the divine and letting that knowing inform us of the eternal nature of our being.  What follows is an understanding that no circumstance in life – no matter how horrendous – ever comes close to harming us let alone destroying us.

Stop Seeking it Outside..

In My Meditation Today: I noticed how a part of me was forever seeking validation from the outside – from my spouse, my children, my co-workers, – wanting assurances from them that I was ok – that I was worthy of being loved and admired. I decided to turn that search for validation inward and validate myself every time I noticed myself looking outward. I am more than OK, I am an amazing human being, and I deserve not only to be loved, but I deserve to be cherished. Most importantly – I do not need anyone else to do it for me.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each part describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because the fight to live always expressing your highest potential is hard, ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.

In the fifth chapter of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother, the Devas find themselves in a familiar situation. The demons Shumbha and Nishumbha and their armies have taken over their kingdoms and driven the demi-gods out. Dispossessed and desperate the Gods remember the Divine Mother’s promise to respond to any entreaty for help in their time of need, and they travel to the foothills of the Himalayas to pray to her. The hymn that the Devas recite to ask for Devi’s help is one of the most significant sections of the myth for me. It is the most explicit description of the presence of the Devi in all that we see and experience in the world.

You are sleep and awareness; hunger, and thirst; shadow and light; abundance and misery; intelligence and the confusion that causes errors; power and humility. You are everything that is manifest physically, emotionally and spiritually they say.

As the Devas finish praising the Goddess, she appears in front of them and reassures them that she will take care of Shumbha and Nishumbha. She sets up residence in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her radiance and beauty are irresistible, and Chanda & Munda – Shumbha & Nishumbha’s servants who are Durga_2passing by are dazzled by her beauty. They go and tell their Masters about this most beautiful example of womanhood and urge Shumbha and Nishumbha to add her to their collection of superlative objects. Intrigued by the description of this unsurpassed beauty, the demon kings send a messenger to invite Devi to their kingdom to marry one of them. Sugriva, the messenger, approaches the Devi. He starts off with a description of his Master’s wealth and prowess and ends his message with the invitation from Shumbha to marry one of the kings.
Devi responds “ Everything you say about Shumbha and his brother is true but I am afraid I cannot accept the invitation yet. You see, in my youthful foolishness, I promised that I would only marry a man who can defeat me in battle. So before I can marry either Shumbha or Nishumbha, they will have to face me in battle.”
Astounded by the temerity of a “mere woman” challenging his masters to battle, let alone suggesting that they might lose to her, Sugriva threatens to drag Devi off by her hair. Unperturbed, Devi reiterates the fact that she cannot break her vow. Anyone who wants to marry her must defeat her in battle. The chapter ends with Sugriva stomping off in a rage after uttering several threats to Devi.
I LOVE this part of the myth at so many levels. In the first place, there is the reiteration of truth that the Divine Mother manifests as all of our experiences. There is thus no experience or emotion in life that is to be pushed away or rejected as inferior or bad, Therefore my developing concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance.”

Then, there is a clear demonstration of the objectification of women in Chanda & Munda’s description of the most beautiful woman in the three worlds.

Finally, there is the perfect response to the objectification in the delicious conversation between Sugriva & Devi – an excellent example of a woman who is so confident about her worth and herself that she had no qualms in clearly stating the price for winning her over. This depiction of a female protagonist is one of the many reasons I fell in love with the Grand Story of the DiKaushikivine Mother. In so many ways it is the complete antithesis of the myths that most young Indian girls grow up hearing and being encouraged to emulate. The heroine in Ramayana – the mythological character most often cited as the role model for a Hindu wife, is shy, docile, needy and completely powerless. Her biggest virtue is her chastity and loyalty to her husband. She is a safe and non-threatening role model. Even though she is an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, she is never depicted as a woman who wields the power of the Goddess. Small wonder then that it is Seeta who is held up in Hindu households as the ideal wife. It is a model that will not upset the status quo and will allow the patriarchy to go unchecked.
On the other hand, the heroine of this myth is powerful, purposeful and focused. Devi knows her value; she understands her power; she is clear about her purpose and never wavers from it. She does not look to the outside world for validation; she does not need it; she is complete in herself.

After years of unconsciously seeking to be a Seeta, I know that I am well on the way to becoming a Durga when I begin to understand that I am an amazing human being, and that I deserve not only to be loved but to be cherished. It is especially clear when I know that I do not need anyone else to do it for me.