Sunday, December 18, 2011


As much as I complain about my cat waking me up at ungodly hours, I have to give him credit, because I would not have memorable (or lucid) dreams if he didn't do that. In those moments when I put him off the bed and roll over, many dreams occur. I woke up this morning with the phrase in my head, "Kala means time, and Kali devours it."

I did not invent this phrase. I recall that it was on the back of a card I once kept hanging from the rearview mirror of my car. The non-text side contained a photo of a Kali statue that I had never seen before--it was not a Dakineshwar or Kaligat Kali, nor was it the one in Amritapuri. Kali was a light blue color, not the usual black. The text on the reverse explained who Kali was, and that was the opening sentence.

The word "kala" has been kicking around my consciousness for several days. The other day, for no good reason, I was thinking about the name given to me by Mata Amritanandamayi, "Nischala", and how people always confuse it with "Niskala". "Nis" is the Sanskrit root for "Not". "Chala" means "motion"; "Kala" means "time". "Nischala" means "without motion", or more to the point, "stillness", and is one of Kali's one-thousand names. "Niskala" means "without time". Not merely "timeless" but "beyond time". This is a name of Lalita Devi as well as Kali, and Lalita Devi is the creator of the universe--the universe that Kali devours. (And of course, they are actually the same deity in some regard, as all Hindu deities are one). "Lalita", incidentally, is a version of the Sanskrit word for "play". So, Lalita Devi is the "Goddess who Plays". The creator of the universe is playing a game, and you're in it. If you give that some serious thought, it's quite profound.

I recently subscribed to Umberto Eco's Twitter feed. I don't know if Eco writes it, or if someone posts for him, as the posts are in English. Eco can speak English, but only writes in Italian, so I tend to think it's the latter. Eco of course specializes in semiotics, which is the study of signs and sign processes. Semantics is a branch of semiotics that deals with the meaning of signs, and deals mostly with language. One of his recent tweets said, "Semiotics has become a sort of moral critical duty when it was clear that mass media were the new sacred texts." Deconstructing language and its meanings is important. There is a tendency in our culture to accept what we hear at face value, and not to think about what it really means. A great example of this was brought up in another Twitter feed I follow, @Numinousviews. Yesterday, he posted "The question shouldn't simply be does one believe in God or not. One should first ask what does one understand the word God to mean?" I've been reading a lot of 100 level papers about the debate between religion and science. Many students are using the available material well, but they continue to debate about the same old tired, "Can science prove there is a God or not? Can science prove the Bible stories are true or not?" and using that as a benchmark of "truth". I'm not blaming them for that, as this is the first time they've been asked to look at the question, and for many, this is not a major subject of interest. But the real question is "What do you mean by the word God?" All language is symbolic; it stands for our interpretation of the world. "God" is a metaphor for what we don't understand. Religion is a tool for negotiating what we don't understand. Science is also such a tool, but it deals with the observed outer world. Religion deals with the "numinous", as does psychology, at least in the Jungian sense. It deals with the "psyche", or world of the mind.

Returning to the original "Kala", when I think of both Kali and Lalita, I think of the Srichakra (or Sriyantra), which is a symbol of Sri Lalita. It contains 9 interlocking triangles, 4 pointing up (representing Shiva--the god, not my cat), and 5 pointing down (representing Shakti--Kali is the most "extreme" form of Shakti, which is a metaphor for the energy of consciousness). So, it is the Union of everything in the Universe. There is a prayer that is used by adherents of Sri Vidya called the "Sri Devi Khadgamala Stotra". It looks at the 9 triangles of the Srichakra as 9 "circles" or "chakra swamini", and represent deeper and deeper levels of awareness in the universe. Each level contains the names of deities, with the outer circles referring to desires (karshini) and worldly powers (siddhe), and the inner circles representing the dissolution of any kind of form. The innermost triangle, associated with Mahatripurasundari,(i.e., Lalita, great goddess of the 3 worlds--ours, the heavens, and the hells) is in a circle characterized as "para para rahasya yogini", which in a clumsy literal sense means "prior, prior to form (or that capable of being affected by disease)". Because, when one gets to the core of consciousness, there is no form, no motion, and no time. No-thing.

1 comment:

harry said...

I'm reminded of the scene in Ibsen's Peer Gynt in which Peer peels an onion to find truth at its core but finds that it all just layers...

(Takes an onion and pulls off layer after layer.)

There lies the outermost layer, all torn;
that's the shipwrecked man on the jolly-boat's keel.
Here's the passenger layer, scanty and thin;-
and yet in its taste there's a tang of Peer Gynt.
Next underneath is the gold-digger ego;
the juice is all gone-if it ever had any.
This coarse-grained layer with the hardened skin
is the peltry-hunter by Hudson's Bay.
The next one looks like a crown;-oh, thanks!
we'll throw it away without more ado.
Here's the archaeologist, short but sturdy;
and here is the Prophet, juicy and fresh.
He stinks, as the Scripture has it, of lies,
enough to bring the water to an honest man's eyes.
This layer that rolls itself softly together
is the gentleman, living in ease and good cheer.
The next one seems sick. There are black streaks upon it;-...

(Pulls off several layers at once.)

What an enormous number of swathings!
Isn't the kernel soon coming to light?

(Pulls the whole onion to pieces.)

I'm blest if it is! To the innermost centre,
it's nothing but swathings-each smaller and smaller.-
Nature is witty!

(Throws the fragments away.)