Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
Shakti in Sanskrit means, power or energy. In Hinduism energy belongs to the domain of Prakriti or the female aspect of Creation. Popularly known as the Mother Goddess, Shakti is worshipped in her various manifestations by millions of Hindus.
God is pure and undivided consciousness. You may even say from a perceptual perspective that He is nothingness. In His purest state devoid of qualities He is Nirguna Brahman, that is (nir+guna) devoid of any distinguished features or appearances. Divisions of time and space and the impurities of ego consciousness created by the gunas do not exist in Him. For inexplicable reasons, as He wakes, He sets in motion Prakriti, the universal energy, that was so far latent in Him, and then enters into it. From this union arises ultimately all this reality that we know as the universe. This is something like the modern theory of the origin of the universe. The big bang is actually what sets in motion the latent energy hidden in the cosmic egg (Hiranyagarbha).
All the matter that exists in this universe, that is tangible, sensible, unstable, with in the domains of sensory world and can be transformed from one state to another, is an aspect of Prakriti only. Matter is energy in its grossest form. (The scientific world took thousands of years to arrive at the same conclusion.). The human body and the mind and the various constituents that go into their making are also manifestations or aspects of Prakriti only, but at a higher level.
The energies of the divinities are still higher on the evolutionary scale than the energies in the human beings, while the energies of the Trinity stand probably above the rest. At the highest level is the combined source of their distinguished energies. This is the energy of the Mother Goddess, acting as the Shakti of Isvara. Isvara is the awakened Brahman, Brahman in his dynamic and creative aspect, who provides the field for the play of Shakti. This in brief is the structure and origin of Shakti.
How Shakti manifests things and beings
Now about Her ways of working and how the diversity arises in the manifested universe. According to our beliefs, creation arises out of the union of the Pure Self (Purusha) with matter or energy (Prakriti). Pure Self enters into matter and then awakens the various energies in the matter leading to the formation of a false self called the ego.
This happens over a period of time through the differentiation and combination of the five Mahabhutas (the five gross elements), Panchendiryas (the five sense organs), the karmendriyas (the five organs of action), the tanmantras (the five subtle elements), manas (mind), ahamkara (deluded self) and buddhi (discriminating intelligence).
This is how individual beings come into the world and evolves gradually towards liberation. Before the individual beings are created this way, the same process takes place at macro levels, resulting in the creation of worlds and higher divinities.
Prakriti develops the ego consciousness by this process to make it an important tool in its armory. The ego is driven by the interplay of the three gunas, namely sattva, rajas and tamas, nourished by the activity of the senses and motivated by the force of desires. These things give it a false sense of identity, through the formation of mind and the mind's awareness of the body.
Prakriti, bondage and delusion
Thus the mind and the body become the field in space and time for the ego to distinguish itself from the rest of the creation and act as if it is the real self and as if it is different and separate from the rest of the creation. This is what we call ignorance that leads to the deluded belief that the individual ego is the real self where as in reality it is not. All the while, the Real Self exists inside, having lost itself in its own reflection in the buddhi or higher intelligence, doing practically nothing, but keeping the body, the mind and the false ego alive and breathing by its mere presence.
The delusion of the individual ego leads to the bondage of the self. The bondage of self does not mean that the Soul suffers. The Self is pure consciousness and there is no suffering in it. No one can touch it and no one can punish it. We say it suffers because it is caught in the cycle of births and deaths and cannot go back to its source. It is a suffering for the soul from our point of view, not for the soul actually. Whether it exists in the heavens or in Timbaktu, for the soul the experience is one and the same. It is eternal, unchanging and pure bliss consciousness.
What actually suffers or believes that it is suffering is the false self or the ego. Suffering however does not prevent the ego from indulging in its desire driven actions unless the suffering becomes too unbearable to force to turn to spiritualism. Normally otherwise, it is so attached to the world that given an opportunity it would not mind to live for thousands of years. But unfortunately this is not possible because of the logistics and the physical limitations.
So at the end of each life, the ego becomes frustrated at the approach of old age and dies against its own wishes. It dies unhappily because it leaves behind a lot of tasks unfinished, dreams unrealized and the fruits of its past actions untasted. Nature too does not seem to like this happening since it would not let the self escape from its clutches and since perpetuation of delusion by all means is its chief design.
So it has worked out a compromise by which each created ego is permitted to come back again to the earth through another rebirth and continue its unfinished work. When a being dies, its ego would not dissolve completely. A small portion of it survives containing its basic tendencies, desires and impulses, which becomes attached to the soul as a kind of program file and after passing through the doors of death, heaven or hell as a subtle body is reborn again. This is in essence the cycle of Prakriti.
At the human level, Prakriti keeps us in delusion through the combination of elements and through the interplay of the triple gunas. At the higher levels She enacts the same drama by becoming the Shakti of various worlds and divinities. Since these divinities are awakened souls she would not delude them, but become a force in their consciousness to help them in their assigned responsibilities.
Thus in the world of Brahma, She becomes Saraswathi to assist Brahma in his acts of Creation. In the world of Vishnu, She becomes Lakshmi to help him manage the world by providing the required amounts of wealth and resources. In the world of Siva, she becomes a yogini or a siddhi and helps him in his task of destroying our illusions.
At the same time, being divine in origin and nature, she also helps individuals who worship her directly and seek liberation from bondage through her grace. Since she is the cause of illusion the logic is she is in a better position to relieve us from the bondage. Hence the ascendance of Shaktism as time went by.
Is Shakti really female? Shakti is pure energy, neither male nor female. This interpretation is purely human, figurative and relative and should not be taken literally. It is also wrong to believe that Self is male and the energy is female. Purusha exists in males as well as females and so does Prakriti exists in males also. They are like the two sides of the same truth. It is also difficult to say who is superior to whom. Without energy Self is practically immovable and without Self energy does not have any field for its movements. The Truth at the highest level: pure energy (PRAKRITI is undivided consciousness (PURUSHA).
Suggestions for Further Reading
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