Awakening the Deity WithinApr 17, 2023
Born with the disposition of a seeker, a love of beauty, and a natural inclination towards feminism, it’s no surprise that I eventually found the path of Shakti, known as Sri Vidya*. After a decade-long career in the world of fashion, I left it all behind to follow the whispers of my soul toward the Eastern arts and sciences, eventually leading me to the source of it all.
Though I’d studied yoga and Ayurveda for years, I felt a lingering sensation that something was missing. These richly vast subjects still harbored a puritanical view that seemed to create more separation than unification. I was not meant to renounce worldly life, but instead, I was to learn how to embrace the totality of existence in this body. I found nothing natural in denying desire and the power of creation. I no longer wanted to carry shame about the undeniable, all-powerful, pulsating life force that we call Shakti. This awareness propelled my hunger to understand what it means to awaken in a female body.
On my first trip to India in 2007, I found it hard to comprehend the absence of female temple keepers. All the pujaris were men. Women were tending to the home – or, if they did take the path of a yogini, they were not visible. But there day came when I received a clear message to explore the Shakta Tantra path, and this led me to the famed Kamakhya temple* in Assam. But even here – at the very center of She – there were only male priests. Still, I was pleased to receive Kamakhya’s powerful darshan.
Directly after this blessing, I landed at another Kamakhya temple that the Goddess herself had instructed a nuclear physicist to build – a man now known as Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati, a great guru on the path of Sri Vidya. Finally, I found myself sitting at the feet of a teacher who understood the value and power of a female pujarini (one who performs puja) – because he himself was the Goddess.
Amritananda’s (Guruji’s) teachings stood out from those of other lineages because he believed that neither gender, caste, nor creed should not hinder a sincere seeker from learning these previously secret practices. He also understood the importance of empowering the feminine through worship and the blessing that it bestowed on all.
When my initiatory process began, I was flooded with smṛti (remembrance). It was so incredibly familiar. I came as a foreigner, yet nothing about it was foreign. I resolved to return to Devipuram for each of the next three years; and no matter what obstacles came my way, I managed to maintain my samaya (commitment). In those three years, universes unfolded. I am so grateful that I did not delay because the doors to Kamakhya were closed. It was the end of an era.
One day, Guruji sat us down and said, “We must let go of the idea that Kamakhya is in one place and instead expand it outward to all the people. The body is a temple that is not limited to a single stone symbolizing a yoni. The whole world is full of Kamakhya. All women are Kamakhya. Any living person possesses the energy of creativity; the creative life force of the divine mother. Kamakhya continues life at all costs. If one can understand this and surrender to the will of the Goddess, then one will know Kamakhya.”
Shortly after our final conversation about Kamakhya, Guruji left his body. On my last trip to India for Guruji’s sathabhishek, I took up a very intense sadhana under his guidance. It was a culminating moment for me. The deity had awakened in me, through me, as me. As I prepared to leave Devipuram, I went to say goodbye to Guruji. I prostrated at his feet and asked if there was anything else. He said, “No.” He had given me everything I needed. Something told me that would be the last time I saw him – and indeed, it was.
Jai Guru. Jai Maa.
*Sri Vidya is an ancient school of shakti/goddess worship
*Kamakhya is a central Shakti peetham built around a yoni-shaped cleft in the bedrock.
This essay was written for the book called “Gifts from the Goddess”. Published in 2017 with select works from my Guru, Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati.
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