You meditate, do yoga, or other practices not only to relax and for physical health but to transform your own consciousness, right? To become a better person, to show up more fully in your life, to be more present for those you care about, and to deal more skilfully with those that are difficult to care about.
While physical yoga creates a resilient body, mantra creates a resilient mind. The mantric tradition is meant to take you beyond the constraints of what is psychologically binding you to ordinary states of consciousness: to insecurity, to fear, to pride. Through mantra we awaken to spiritual fields of energy and in doing so restructure our sense of self! Mantra allows us to open up latent aspects of our consciousness by “purifying” through sound: liberating some obstructions (maybe the energies around some memories, habits, patterns) or just stimulating more resilient structures from which the self can better function. Structures which are thought to be the archetypal forms of consciousness. Imagine consciously cultivating and expanding inner qualities such as discrimination, strength, and fearlessness!
Meet the field of archetypal energy called “Durga”. Durga is complex. She is Adi Shakti: primal, boundless energy. Her name in Sanskrit suggests "Fortress" or "The Inaccessible One". As a deity, she’s sort of fertility goddess meets warrior princess meets maternal saviouress. In fact, she’s even more than that. In many Yogic tales, she is the source of all other Gods and Goddesses. We recently explored this energy, among others, in a "Sound and Meditation for Centering Workshop" at Yoga on the Park.
There are a number of stories about Durga and in most of them she is a demon slayer par excellence. In one such story, Mahisha, half man, half buffalo, has unleashed mass destruction upon the earth. The gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva feel helpless so they release their energies back to the primordial source. Their forces coalesce into the radiant brilliance that is Durga.
She has 1 000 arms.
She wields multiple weapons of light from the gods.
She rides a lion.
She single-handedly (or many-handedly, I should say!) destroys Mahisha's army and then engages him in a battle that lasts thousands of years. Mahisha rages, shape shifting from a buffalo, to a lion, to an elephant, and back to a buffalo. She finally pins him down with Shiva’s trident at which point their eyes lock. He is released from the buffalo’s body as a hero wielding a sword but too late, she beheads him.
I really wasn't very familiar with such stories when I started to explore this energy. The mantra is "Om dum Durgayei namaha", "dum" being the seed sound (bija) for this entire field of energy. After weeks of evening practice, one night my chanting came to an end and I shifted into quietness to meditate. As I did, “Durga” opened up inside of me. I startled in surprise as the experience expanded because it felt so… other. It just didn’t feel like “me”.
I felt as if there was a seal around my body, concentrating energy inside of me.
I felt like a container for a pathway of brilliant light.
But my mind! My mind felt luminous, clear, and “sharp”.
Since ancient times, Durga has been considered to be the archetypal energy within consciousness that overcomes negative forces. She is the clarity of the discriminating mind connected to the intuitive heart. Durga is the energy that tames the lower instincts and transmutes their energies, fuelling discernment and lucidity. She is the aspect of yourself that protects you. And she is the force within Being-ness that restores equilibrium.
Mahisha, which means “buffalo” in Sanskrit, represents the primitive instinctual energies and corresponding egoic obstacles to wholeness and happiness … including anger, fear, and laziness. Possibly you are familiar with some of these? Like our own egos, he actively twists himself into a variety of distorted shapes. If you have a child, you watch this lovingly unfold on a daily basis as one psychological defense mechanism transforms into another in an effort to maintain some semblance of “face”. (“A giant spider made the mess on the wall!... Uh no, um, it was you mom!”) With the adults in your life, these defense mechanisms can sometimes be a little less endearing.
On a much deeper level, Mahisha is the supreme embodiment of the force of destruction for the buffalo is often associated with death itself. So this battle is more than just about good over bad and re-establishing balance, it's ultimately about unifying all facets of consciousness. Durga is also known as Mahavidya or Great Knowledge. Before Mahisha dies, he has a clear vision of infinite awareness beyond his own limited perceptions. The penetrating light of Durga's gaze causes Mahisha to revert back to his true form, that of a hero with a sword (a symbol of natural order and truth). In that moment he transcends his small sense of self, symbolized by losing his head.
The yogic path, beyond the benefits of physical relaxation and wellbeing, is meant to bring up our "stuff" in order to liberate a pathway for expanded consciousness. Sometimes it might feel like a bit of a battlefield! When we are faced with our own "demons" (angers, fears, uncontrollable desires), it's best to bring out our best weapons. And herein lies the power of the mantric tradition: by tapping into these sounds we bring to life latent creative structures within our own consciousness. Structures which expand the sense of a strong center, deeper than most chaotic, disorganized states we may get ourself into. As we work with “Durga”, we step into the experience of the Self behind the self: the active dynamism of the light of Consciousness. It is a felt sense of openness, lucidity, and awareness as the ultimate source of power. And this is why Durga is often portrayed with one hand in Abhaya mudra: the gesture that communicates, "Have no fear".
Would you like to learn more about Durga? If so, you can sign up to access a library of free resources I am creating including additional insights and how to pronounce the mantra. Simply go to the menu at the top of this page, click "LOG IN/REGISTER" and create a password. You'll have access immediately. I'll be adding resources monthly!
If you would like to go deeper still, I am available for private sessions. Find out more here.
Come experience firsthand! I've been leading monthly mantra and meditation sessions at Yoga on the Park in NDG. Discover how mantra refines your consciousness and leads into deep states of meditative absorption. The next workshop is Sunday, May 21 from 1:30-2:30. Information here. There will be another chanting and brief meditation session at Cafe Zephyr hosted by Transitions NDG on Monday, May 22 from 7-8:30pm. Info here.
1. Photo of Durga Puja (Durga standing on buffalo head):
Author: VedSutra, Source: http://vedsutra.com/media
2. Photo of Simhavahini Durga image Mysore:
Photographer: Christopher J. Fynn
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.