Chhinnamasta, Dasa Mahavidya: The Wisdom Goddess

Chhinnamasta, 18th century Kangra painting

Understanding Chhinnamasta, one of the Dasa Mahavidya, the 10 Wisdom goddesses.

The Divine has both forms benign as well as terrifying. Such is the world, both the benign and the terrifying co-exist. There are ten forms of the Dasa mahavidyas, or the Wisdom Goddesses. While there are beautiful and benign forms (saumya) like Kamala, a part of the Srikula tradition, there are also the terrifying forms of the Divine Mother (Kalikula). Chhinnamasta, one of the Dasa Mahavidyas is also the most violent form of the Divine Mother. And at the same time one of the most fascinating.

The Goddess, depicted in this Kangra school painting from 18th century Bengal, is painted in a beautiful blood red. She is standing on Kama, lord of love and his wife Rati, passion, in sexual union. If a picture says a 1000 words, then symbol says a million. 

Meditation is an inherently violent process

In the Samaya tradition, the symbols unveil themselves to the meditator through direct experience. The Samaya tradition of the Divine Mother, is related to the Raja, Kundalini, Laya and Srividya Tantra traditions. The symbol of Chhinnamasta is an unique and exceptional symbol unveiling the greatest of all mysteries. What appears to the worldly one as life is in fact death.The Goddess, standing on the symbol of duality, has mastered this world of opposites. She, who has beheaded herself and appears to be death is in fact life itself. She is red, the colour of blood, the symbol of life. Why does the Goddess behead herself? Why this violence and self-destruction? 

Meditation is inherently a violent process. The process of getting to know oneself, can only occur by “destroying” the petty little self-identities or ahamkara leading to the expansion of the conscious mind. The head represents logic and ego.The process of meditation is not for wimps! It requires great courage to face the self identities that limit us and prevent us from evolving in to sages. Only with the destruction of all limitations does the seeker evolve and grow beyond the dualities. Going beyond dualities means being a Witness. Chhinnamasta is the symbol of the final destruction of the limitations created by ahamkara. Such an adept becomes more and more conscious, until he expands his consciousness to universal consciousness. Thus what seems to be death is in fact eternal life. 

What a caterpillar calls death, the master calls a butterfly.   

The following series of questions and answers have been taken from a Facebook conversation. The questions asked by different persons, were answered by RadhikaG, Teacher of the Samaya Tradition.

Question: Is Chinnamasta the same as Chamunda Devi? Chinnamasta Devi is in which order of the ten forms ? She gives life and takes life? 

RadhikaG: Chhinnamasta is truly fascinating. The position is the 6th. If she is same as Chamunda? The symbolism is different, but some say she is the same. Ultimately, all the goddesses are One. The Samaya tradition is about understanding and realizing the symbolism behind the deities. It is not about bhakti, worship and external rituals of the goddess. I did not say anything giving or taking life. When we realize the deeper meaning behind the symbol, then we understand that what we considered to be life, that is the material world is in fact death. And in meditation when we are afraid of seeing ourselves and "destroying" our petty self identities, we are in fact afraid of life, mistaking it for death. This becomes clear only to the adept who goes to the Guru Chakra and beyond.

Question: What is the concept of Samayachara? Is it, understanding the different deities and its symbolic meaning? Symbolism always stands in trigunas. Samayachara has to stand in gunas or above that. If we understand the symbolic meaning of deities still it always connected to rupa or trigunas. If an upasaka stands in sattva, rajas, tamas guna then how he will be samayachari? Because rupa only stands in time. As i come to know that samayachari has to stand above samaya. Now the question is, who is Chinnamasta or Chamunda? Samayachari has any deity like this? He has any mantra like what we say, a chinnamasta mantra? He may know the symbolism or meaning is different. The question is then, what is the difference between mishra, kaula and samaya? 

RadhikaG: Very good question! Samayachara is beyond time, true, but an upasaka stands in time and in the gunas, because he lives in the dualistic world. Remember the story of Adi Shankara? He explained to a king, the world is an illusion. The King said, "If a mad elephant charges at you, then it is also an illusion, so you will stand unafraid in front of the charging elephant?" And Shankara said, "No, I will run, because I too am part of the illusion." An upasaka of Samayachara learns to live both in the internal and external world, known as Advaitadvaita, that means as long as he has a physical body, he lives in Dvaita and internally he masters Advaita and becomes a Witness. Only a Sakshi, Witness, goes beyond gunas. In your question you mention, "As i come to know that samayachari has to stand above samaya". Samaya, समय is time. However the word SamayA, समया is different from Samaya. Samaya means time, and SamayA means "near, same". Thus SamayA means " I am with you"; the divinity is with you, in you, is you.

Question: As a samayachari you are saying we have dasa matru swarupa like chinnamasta, dhoomavati or tripura etc and it has symbolic meaning. My question is, do we have to worship different deities in Samaya also. Upasana itself says "thaila dharavat akhanda dhyanam" in inner. Internally how a person will be able to master in advaita when he says he has ten dieties? When you are saying, is with you, in you and is you then how he can make ten forms. It is correct, we have to run because we are living in duality, but in upasana we are not living in duality. There is no ten forms, it is only one shudha buddha mukta swarupa ekam advitiyam brahma. So the question is, shall a samayachari has to accept dasa matru bhava or not? Hari om.

RadhikaG: Samaya tradition is an internal tradition, there is no external worship. Some students need form, before they are ready for formless inner sadhana. There is no need for 10 forms or worship when one is ready. We explain the symbols in Samaya to make the students aware of the deeper meaning and this helps the student to leave the external forms behind and dive deep within.

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Saundaryalahiri - the waves of bliss and beauty

Question: I had seen so many symbolic meaning like this for different deities. But some time i feel each deity has some connection to our body part. If we think in the same way, what is the symbolic meaning of Saraswati. it has any connection with our body or its only symbolic representation? 

RadhikaG: In Nyasa, as you may be familiar with the practice, the deities are associated with the different parts of the body. This makes the upasaka, realize that the divinity is not outside but inside. This is a step inward and thus a Mishra practice. The entire body is divine, the body itself is the temple. Eventually the deities drop away and only consciousness remains. A Srividya adept experiences his entire body as a flood of pure consciousness, the body as a wave of bliss and beauty. This is when he realizes the meaning of Saundaryalahiri - the waves of bliss and beauty and he becomes THAT - a wave of bliss and beauty in the ocean of consciousness or shakti.

Question: When i was trying to study in this subject i have got some different meaning. As an example Sarasvati. Sarasvathi means sara svati. Sara means water and swati its swarupa, its shows whose swarupa itself is water. She is carrying veena that is kachapi. The word meaning of Kachapi is "kam jalena chrinathi ithi", it means apana vayu. So Sarasvati means its clearing your body with water and apana vayu. It is the main reason we always says Sarasvati means shuddha or white. So i feel each deity is not only representing a symbolic representation it is giving more than a symbolic meaning. May be it is bhairava, lakshmi, ganapathi or any deity, we have direct connection to our body, more than a nyasa.

RadhikaG: Interpretation and study are different. All the books and practices are available today in internet and stores. Yet the teacher is required. For what does one need a teacher? For correct interpretation. Swami Rama, master of Samayachara, says, "You need a teacher, not to teach you, but to interpret, to give you right interpretation. And if he’s experienced, and if he had a teacher, and if he has learned from his teachers, he will give you right interpretation."

Question: I went through Osho's interpretation of Chhinnmasta, but this makes much more sense to me. Osho has focused on the symbolic representation of death vs life, whereas in this interpretation there is no death, the self representing ego and intellect (logic) has merely been severed from the body (physical self) and has thus become a witness. The flow of blood symbolizing connection between the both is still intact and both parts are still as alive as before, perhaps even more so. For me, this interpretation has turned the image of Chinnamasta from a shocking image to a beautiful image.

RadhikaG: Excellent observation, indeed, in the Chhinnamasta visual there is no death, only life. One truly begins to understand and experience life only when one has consciously or unconsciously raised the kundalini. The modern term for kundalini, is unconscious mind. The two blood streams are ida and pingala. The central blood stream is sushumna. If one observes carefully the head is drinking blood from sushumna. The adept is completely balanced and in sync with the rhythms of life.