The Mother Divine
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aka "Kashmir Shaivism For Dummies"
An excerpt from Spirituality for Dummies
By Sharon Janis (Kumuda)
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath

I’m astounded by people who want to “know” the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.
— Woody Allen

When you’re talking about universal creation, you have to move into a bigger picture view that goes beyond just one planet, one time frame, and one physical dimension. The theory of universal creation I introduce to you here offers a big picture view of the universe that has a place for just about anything you can possibly think of.

Whether you’re talking about Christian ideas of heaven and hell, Tibetan descriptions of different realms of existence, new age messages from the “other side,” or various worlds of gods described by the cultures of Greece, Egypt, and India, all these different realms can coexist within the theory of universal creation that I share with you in this chapter.

Instead of trying to memorize the specific details covered in this section, let the words enter your awareness gently, without straining or feeling frustrated if you don’t fully understand the stages of creation being described. This kind of teaching is not meant to be memorized as you would study for a test, or to be used to build a rigid belief system. Theories of universal creation should be used to bathe your mind in higher-concept spiritual philosophies that have the potential to transform your outlook and uplift your life.

Different ways to view life

Each religious tradition has its own ideas about the nature of life. Different people and traditions see life differently, whether as a game, as a series of challenges, as an opportunity to grow, or as a divine play. Some believe that life is made of suffering, while others say it is of the nature of supreme bliss. Seen from a more universal perspective, these views are neither right nor wrong, but merely different faces of the ultimately unknowable nature of life.

One common analogy used to describe how seemingly opposing theories can fit together within an unknowable bigger picture is the story of six blind men who came upon an elephant.

The first man touched the elephant’s leg and announced, “The elephant is a pillar.” The second man touched the tail and disputed the first, saying, “Oh, no, it is like a rope.” The third touched the trunk of the elephant and said, “It is like a thick branch of a tree.” The fourth touched the elephant’s ear and said, “It is like a big hand fan.” The fifth blind man touched the belly of the elephant and declared, “It is like a huge wall.” And the sixth man touched the tusk of the elephant and said, “It is a solid pipe.”

Different philosophical approaches to the nature of the universe are like the different interpretations of these six blind men. All these blind men are both right and wrong, with each giving a different piece of the puzzle of what an elephant really is. Each viewpoint is valuable to consider and contemplate, but you wouldn’t want to limit your understanding of the elephant or the universe to any one definition or close the door to other possibilities.

The map in Figure 14-1 is based on the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, which is said to have developed around 900 A.D. in the state of Kashmir, which is in the northwestern corner of India. This chart shows how divine universal Consciousness becomes all the levels of creation, down to the physical world and your experience of it.

Now, even though Figure 14-1 may look like a sequential process that moves from supreme consciousness at the top to the physical universe at the bottom, the truth is that the whole chart is happening all at once. Universal Consciousness is always there — pure, eternal, and unaffected by the creation that is described as being projected like a big multidimensional movie upon its screen. And just as a movie screen is unaffected by the nature of the movie being projected on it, so the screen of pure consciousness remains unaffected by all the universal creations that play upon its screen.

Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand how this process of universal creation works. Sages from many traditions have spent decades of intense spiritual practices to catch even a glimpse of a higher universal view of creation. Just to come upon elevated spiritual teachings shows that you’ve already achieved a certain resonance with higher truth and are ready to open up to its gifts in a new way.

Is Figure 14-1 a perfectly accurate and all-inclusive map of reality? No, of course not. Is there such a thing as an all-inclusive map of reality? No way. If a map were all inclusive, it would not be a map, but the thing itself. Is this graph of universal creation a set of ideas that can open many doors to understanding how the entire universe – including you – can be divine? Yes indeed!

The following sections describe each stage of creation as numbered on the chart. Again, these stages are both sequential and eternal: They take place in order and are also happening all at once. The goal of spiritual efforts in the context of this philosophy is to move your awareness from the bottom rungs of this ladder of universal creation — representing the physical world and sensory experience — up to the higher realms of spiritual realization and universal freedom.

Stage 1

In stage 1, pure Consciousness exists as the underlying field of all creation. Universal creation begins with a blank slate of pure Consciousness – existence without content, potential without expression. This indefinable source of all creation is like the space within a tiny seed that contains the energetic potential of a huge tree, complete with branches and leaves.

Even after it becomes the physical universe, this Consciousness remains pure and eternal. Jesus expressed his identification with the eternal nature by saying, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

Stage 2

In stage 2 of creation, the separation from oneness begins. The move to creation begins with an initial energy pulsation, a subtle throb of and a hint of creation to be. You could think of this stage as being like the initial process that takes place in a cell that will one day become a living animal or human being. This stage is like the moment when the spark of creation is struck in a cell, before it begins to multiply.

In stage 1, you have the cell of pure Consciousness. Once this creative spark enters that cell in stage 2, it divides into two cells, which are represented in this chart by stages number 3 and 4.

Stage 3

During stage 3, a glimmer of the world begins to take subtle form. You can think of this stage as being similar to the state of your computer right after you push the button to turn it on. None of your individual folders or icons are visible or available on the screen, but the computer’s processor is starting to access the information, and is humming with the promise of your upcoming computer experience.

Stage 4

In stage 4 of this chart of universal creation (see Figure 14-1), awareness begins to take form. The experience of this stage of universal creation is similar to the experience you may have just before waking up, as your awareness prepares to move from the darkness of deep sleep into the colorful world of your bed and beyond.

When you’re about to awaken from a good night’s sleep, a vibration of your upcoming wakefulness starts to pulsate through the still field of your sleeping, unconscious mind. You begin to grasp a subtle remembrance of a world outside yourself, without feeling any separation between yourself and the world. You’re in a peaceful state of awareness that is free from the complications, expectations, and judgments of ego-based thoughts and desires. The scheduling, thinking mind is not yet in place to diffuse your peaceful awareness into the upcoming responsibilities and concerns of the day.

At this point, you’re still one with pure creative Consciousness and free from any sense of limitation. You’re completely powerful, with nothing holding you back in any way. You sense a world that exists outside of yourself, yet at the same time you know that you’re completely one with everything.

Stage 5

Once creation gets to stage 5, maya enters the picture, and that’s when everything hits the fan. The Sanskrit term maya is often translated as “illusion,” which is the closest English translation for this deeply metaphysical word. Maya comes from the root verb ma, which means “to measure, limit, and give form,” and is sometimes translated as “that which measures.” The idea is that the measurings of time and space are the basis of maya.

With maya in the picture, time and space are now measured and therefore limited. Within the previously all-pervasive and eternal universal Consciousness, five cloaks of limitation come into the picture and reduce universal freedom to limited experience.

Until this stage, universal Consciousness is unlimited, pure, and perfect within itself — eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and perfectly contented. Now, with the forgetfulness that comes from the power of illusion, the dream of this world begins. Universal Consciousness becomes covered with the five cloaks, which translate into Sanskrit as pancha (five) kanchukas (cloaks), or pancha-kanchukas. (I always like to share the fun-sounding Sanskrit terms with you.) And these kanchukas do pack a punch! The five powers that become limited by these five cloaks are omnipotence, omniscience, perfection, eternality, and omnipresence. These cloaks act like veils that cover and limit the full powers of supreme Consciousness.

Once the cloaks are in place, supreme Consciousness can do certain things but not others, can know some things but not others, can be in some places but not others, is satisfied with some things but not others, and can exist in one time but not others. When your true nature as universal Consciousness is covered by these five cloaks of illusion:

  • Omnipotence (universal authorship) becomes limited abilities. Your previous ability to do anything and everything turns into limited action, where you can do some things but not others.
  • Omniscience (universal knowledge) turns into limited knowledge. Your omniscience of being aware of everything at once becomes limited knowledge, where you know some things and don’t know others. Before this stage of creation, you were all-knowing, but now you have to study to learn things. Without this cloak, there would be no need for schools or universities, because the awareness that is everyone would already know everything.
  • Perfection (universal satisfaction) turns into limited desires. Supreme Consciousness has no need for the roller coaster of fulfilled and unfulfilled desires. It experiences perfect satisfaction and contentment within itself. However, once this cloak of limited satisfaction comes into place, the universal experience of perfect contentment is compromised by desires, fears, fulfilled and unfulfilled hopes, attachments, aversions, and expectations.
  • Eternality becomes limited time. Before this stage, supreme Consciousness experienced everything all at once as an eternal awareness and presence, but now it is limited by time constraints of past, present, and future. This limitation of time brings a whole slew of problems. When your true nature as eternal Consciousness becomes bound by the illusion of time, you begin to hope for something in the future or worry about things that happened in the past. You become locked into an idea of yourself as a separate being in time. From within this limited experience of sequential time, you can’t see things objectively or from a bigger picture perspective, but only in bits and pieces and in time-based succession. With this cloak, you feel that you belong only to this time, that you didn’t exist before, and that you won’t exist in the future.
  • Omnipresence becomes limited placement. Before this cloak, you were completely free and all-pervasive. You existed everywhere all at once. Now, you have to travel to go somewhere, and you know how much of a hassle that can be. One modern analogy for the experience of omnipresence is the world wide Web of the Internet, where everything is existing and available to tap into all from one place – your computer. But once the cloak of limitation is placed over omnipresence, you can only be in one place at a time instead of being everywhere all at once.

This fifth stage of creation is where all-powerful Consciousness becomes trapped in its own dream, so that it appears to be at the mercy of outer forces over which it has no control. This stage sets the stage for the dance of limited world experience to take place.

You may wonder why supreme Consciousness would give up its divine freedom and take on these illusory limitations. The answer may be that only through these cloaks of limitation can the supreme all-knowing Consciousness get to have exciting limited experiences such as being surprised, happy, or disappointed – in and as you and everyone else. Only through forgetting that it is the dreamer of the dream of creation can universal Consciousness experience the play of the world, with all its colorful and exciting twists and turns (not to mention pizza).

Stage 6

With the cloaks of illusion and limitation in place, your mind, intellect, and self-awareness take form. In this stage of universal creation, the all-pervasive, infinite, eternal pure Consciousness becomes you, as you know yourself to be. Shrouded by illusion and forgetting its own nature, the limited individual experiences a world of duality through the mind’s faculties of self-awareness, mental comprehension, and intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: In this stage, the self-conscious ego takes birth, which is not the sense of “I” as the highest “I Am” consciousness, but rather the ego’s “I am this but not that” awareness of being a separate, limited individual who thinks of everything in terms of: me, me, me, me, and me.
  • Mental comprehension: Along with this limited “I” consciousness comes a thinking, perceiving mind, which is also called the “lower mind.” This thinking mind builds worlds of experience from the internal and apparently external materials of images, concepts, and words. 
  • Intelligence: Mixed in with this mental bundle at stage 6 is the superior mind, or intellect. In Sanskrit, this higher intelligence is called buddhi, which is related to the name of the spiritual figure Buddha, who is said to have achieved the great unfoldment of this superior mind. The buddhi brings forth intuitive perceptions and intelligent understandings that penetrate deeply into the nature of things. This superior intellect can become the doorway for the lower, limited person to re-enter the higher realms of experience.

Calming your mind and ego by reading potent spiritual philosophies and doing practices such as meditation and inward reflection can help to strengthen and polish your higher intelligence.

Stage 7

Once your mind, intellect, and ego are in place, the senses and physical world take form. On the bottom rung of this creation ladder are the physical senses (smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling by touch, and hearing), the physical universe, which is composed of elements such as earth, air, fire, water, and ether, and all the actions each person expresses into the physical world.

Tadaa! Perfectly free universal Consciousness now takes the form of all the strange and amazing creations in this world.

Even though the chart in Figure 14-1 appears to show a sequential transformation of consciousness moving down the chart over time, the whole multi-leveled process is also happening all at once.

It isn’t so much that pure Consciousness stops being pure Consciousness when the world takes form. Rather, even as pure Consciousness descends into the lower stages of having personal experiences in a physical reality, it never moves from its highest state of pure being.

A popular Indian prayer says, “That highest Consciousness is perfect; and this creation is perfect. Perfection arises from perfection. Even if you take some of the perfect from perfection, still it remains as completely perfect.”

Imagine moving your personal consciousness up the chart in Figure 14-1, walking back up the ladder of creation from the physical world and senses, through the mental conditions, beyond illusory limitations, and into the great freedom of your true nature as universal Consciousness. Imagine being an enlightened person who can live in the entire map of creation all at once, being aware of all the levels of consciousness at the same time.