Vajrayogini: History & Worship
By: Nirmala Nataraj
worship of the Great Mother spans history and culture. My own personal
spiritual journey has similarly run the gamut from exploring the great earth
religions and fertility cults of Europe to
finding refuge in the Buddhist and Hindu temples that filled my early life. At
the center of my own worship, the Great Mother has always been present-whether
She has manifested as Ma, any one of the mighty goddesses of the western
pantheon, or Vajrayogini.
and Buddhist iconography dotted the walls of my childhood home, and aside from
Ma, one of the strongest spiritual images that remains in my memory is that of
Vajrayogini (literally, "diamond female yogi" in Sanskrit), the female Buddha of
wisdom and great bliss. Vajrayogini is considered the Queen of Dakinis ("sky
dancers," or female Tantric enlightened beings), and it has been said that the Yoga
Tantra practice of Vajrayogini enables anybody-especially those who are plagued
by strong desires and attachment-to attain enlightenment rapidly, as the
instruction of the practice comes directly from Her.
sadhana originated in India
between the tenth and twelfth centuries and was followed by both Hindu and
Buddhist practitioners. Tantrism itself is a method of psychospiritual
advancement that was developed in India before the purported arrival
of Indo-Europeans over three thousand years ago. With the pressures that were
brought to bear on Indian religious life by the eighth-century Central Asian
invaders, Tantric systems were maintained in the south of the subcontinent and
also in Bengal, where they formed an important aspect of goddess worship in India.
Indian (and later, Tantric Buddhist) traditions have preserved these systems
and the iconography of the goddess since ancient times, but it is not exactly
known how old they are. Despite the similarities between Hindu Tantrism and
Vajrayana (or Tantric, or Tibetan) Buddhism, there are also some fundamental
differences. The purpose of Vajrayana Buddhist practice is to attain the
perfect enlightenment of Buddha, whereas in the Hindu Tantric system, the basis
is realizing the ten Mahavidyas, or aspects of Devi, as the highest forms of
is inarguably the supreme deity of the Tantric Buddhist pantheon, and even Her
divine consort, Heruka-Cakrasamvara (often depicted as a spear on the goddess's
shoulder) doesn't come close to approaching Vajrayogini's metaphysical and
has no other counterpart in Buddhism, and is a wild spirit who dances
ecstatically in the sky of sunyata, or the great emptiness that underlies all
phenomena. The similarities between Vajrayogini and Kali are so obvious that
many scholars suspect they are only slight variations of the Great Mother of
Hinduism. Typically, Vajrayogini is blood-red in color, naked except for
elaborate ornaments of human bone and a necklace of skulls (corresponding to
the 16 vowels and 35 consonants of the Sanskrit alphabet). In Her right hand, She
holds a flaying knife used to cut off attachments, and in Her left She carries
a skull cup filled with mahasukha (the great bliss), which She pours out like
wine to Her devotees. Perhaps another aspect that links Her to Kali is the fact
that both goddesses are depicted as two of the ten Mahavidyas.
the Mahavidyas, Kali, Tara, and Chinnamasta have the most significance,
especially in Tantric practice. In Buddhism, Vajrayogini is essentially the
same entity as Chinnamasta (also known as Krodha Kali), and both goddesses
appear in severed-head forms and other identical imagery...
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in the morning.
You align your spirituality and devotion
personal and planetary healing.
You see spirituality as a source of
By transforming yourself, you help transform the world.
make all the difference as we work to keep spirituality and a unique
spiritual expression of service viable in the world. At SHARANYA, our
Goddess Temple survives because of you, because of your support. For
all of the ways in which you love the Divine and make Her manifest, we
are deeply grateful.
There are many ways
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us for worship. You can be with us in community. We also have many
ongoing projects fostered and facilitated by the generosity of our
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donation. Read about our work and consider volunteering a special talent, skill, or making a tax-deductible offering today.
Even if you can't be with us in person, you can always join our puja in spirit through a contribution of flowers or Maa or Shiva...
we'll gladly send you a red "Jai Maa!" wristband to proudly wear in celebration of your devotion.
Thank you for your
commitment to making spirituality a vehicle for social justice and
life-affirming change. Thank you for helping the spread of Maa's love
in the world. Jai Maa!
Looking forward to seeing you at a puja, class, or commuity event soon!
* Can I make a donation for Maa's worship if I live outside the Bay Area or can't attend this month?
Absolutely. Should you wish to contribute to the worship, know that we
will call your name into circle so that your intention will be with Maa
and held by community in sacred space. We can also mail you a flower
from the ceremony to put on your altar if you desire. Just let us know
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* I would like to offer flowers for Maa and Shiva. Can I do that?
That would be wonderful! Whether or not you can attend,
offering flowers is a lovely way to share your devotion. Please contribute what you wish.
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Kali Puja: Devotion to Devi (This Sunday!)
New! Temple Etiquette and Good Things to Know for Puja!
SHARANYA, we are dedicated in our worship to Goddess Kali in Her myriad
forms, including those as She is expressed through the world's various
traditions that honor the Dark Goddess, the one who holds the wisdom of
the full spectrum of human beingness. Ceremony is held in the Sha'can tradition
and lead by Rashani (ordained clergy) with help from community. Our
puja infuses methods and practices from East and West in order to
create a sacred space for worship, deepening, and opening on the path
of the bhakta, or devotee of the Divine. Learn more about what our ceremonies are like with this brief introduction.
What to bring... Offerings for the main altar are welcome. It is
customary to bring flowers, fruit, wine, vegetarian offerings, or
sweets and to refrain from wearing black to our public rituals. If you
wish to wear a special color for Kali, we invite you to don red, a
color associated with Her power in the phenomenal world as shakti, the activating force and the energy of creation. You are also invited to bring an object you would like to have blessed.
A sliding scale donation of $15-21 is suggested to cover the cost of the space, puja supplies and prasad
(blessed food); however, no one is ever turned away for lack of funds,
and any donation is graciously accepted--we appreciate so much the
offerings you make to support our work and the community.
Note: Pujas are preceded by our teaching circle, Daughters of Kali.
An R.S.V.P. is requested if you would like to participate. All Kali Puja ceremonies begin at 5:30 p.m. No one is admitted after 5:45pm.
Worship usually ends at 8:00pm and is followed by community time and
sharing of prasad. Children are welcome, but no childcare is provided.
Cushions and chairs are available (arrangements can be made for
wheelchair access - kindly let us know in advance).
If you have been to a puja and wish to tell others about
your experience, we would love to have you share!
Please offer a testimonial here!
Not in the San Francisco Bay Area?
you are not in the Bay Area or cannot attend events for any reason,
please join one of our online communities and participate in learning
more about Maa through Kali Vidya: A Wisdom School for Her Mysteries. Kali Vidya is offering a series of classes that you can work through independently or with your current worship circle.
Learn more about this and other offerings at our mandir... >>
Worshiping Vajrayogini: Healer, Savior, Goddess Divine
As might be expected,
many of the practices and mantras that are associated with Vajrayogini are
often considered secret, and traditional practitioners are uncomfortable with
the breaking of that secrecy around these practices, as initiation rites in
Vajrayana Buddhism, and in traditional Hindu Tantrism, are rigorous and require
an enormous amount of spiritual commitment and fortitude from the devotee.
Mystical experience is required in order to experience Buddha-nature prior to
full enlightenment. A body of esoteric knowledge passed via lineages of
transmission was accumulated over centuries to prepare Tantric students for the
next stage. The knowledge is now more accessible, but, as with all wisdom,
enlightenment is hardly an experience that can be transmitted by a teacher or
set of books-it's one that can only be received.
Sadhana describes worship of Vajrayogini as a complex and exacting process.
Typically, She is worshipped through visualization of offerings and recitation
of verses. Devotees begin by visualizing a glowing red "VAM" in their hearts,
as it is the seed-syllable of Vajrayogini in Her essential form. The syllable
then quivers with energy, which draws down a mass of Buddhas from their
dwelling place. These Buddhas (which include gurus, Buddhas, and Boddhisattvas)
are then to be worshipped with ritual offerings such as flowers, incense,
lamps, perfumed powders, and food (the upacaras, similar to the offerings made
to Kali at Her temple in Dakshineswar). Worship can become even more elaborate,
but it typically culminates in continuous repetition of an eight-part mantra.
While exact methods of worshipping the goddess are veiled in Tantric
secrecy, it is also possible to worship Vajrayogini as Tara.
This beautiful goddess is also strikingly similar in appearance to Kali. While
Kali is black, Tara is blue (although She is a
goddess who appears in different colors, such as the compassionate Green Tara
and the volatile Red Tara). Both wear a necklace of severed human heads and a
girdle of arms, and both sport lolling tongues with blood oozing from their
mouths. Essentially, they are manifestations of each other, and Tara is often called Kalika, Mahakali, and Bhadrakali.
However, Tara is often thought to be the more
approachable manifestation of the Goddess. Tara Herself first appeared in India and is one of the most popular Buddhist
deities in Tibet;
Her mantra is second only to Avalokiteshvara's...
Listen to the mantra >>
Our Community Welcomes You
Come sing and worship with us!
Interested in lending your love of Maa, your creativity, your inspiration to Kali Puja? Feel free to bring
us your ideas and energy. We have many ways for you to become
immediately and directly involved in a vibrant and growing spiritual
community, and look forward to your unique expression of joy in Her
name. We welcome your suggestions too; your experience, expertise, and
desire can inform many of the ways we do Her work in the world!
Click here to learn more about joining in the celebration of Her through SHARANYA...and be with us in cyberspace if you're not able to join us in person. Get timely updates, notifications of events, and your mantra of the day by being part of our online world:
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Upcoming Events & Offerings
SHARANYA's Kali Puja (1/25) Open to everyone. Come join us in worship of the Divine Mother, Goddess Kali Maa, by all Her names! RSVP requested (and you can donate online to help support our regular public ceremonies and Goddess Temple project). See puja information in this newsletter for additional details.
Amavasya (1/26) 7-9pm New Moon - Evening of dhyana
(meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony. Location: Terra's Temple in Oakland. RSVP requested.)
Devoted to Mahadevi (The Great Goddess) - (2/5) (Open class... >>)
Infinite Admiration: A Relationship Puja & Kundalini Kirtan (2/6) 7-9pm
Our interpersonal puja will close with tantric kirtan guided by Stuart
Sovatsky's 35 years of intensive yogic worship of Mother Kundalini... For more information and to RSVP... >>
Purnima (2/9) 7-9pm Full Moon - Evening of dhyana
(meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony (Closed community
celebration; extended spiritual family and guests welcome. Location: Terra's Temple in Oakland. RSVP requested.)
PantheaCon (2/14) 11pm
SHARANYA's annual P-Con Kali Puja Experience! Come join the fun as we
celebrate Kali Maa through mantra, ritual, chant, and devotion. (San
Jose at the Doubletree Hotel)
Devoted to Mahadevi (The Great Goddess): Class Three (2/19) (Open class... >>)
Amavasya (2/24) New Moon - Evening of dhyana (meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony.
SHARANYA's Kali Puja (2/22) Open to everyone. Come join us in worship of the Divine Mother, Goddess Kali Maa, by all Her names!
And join us in the creation of ritual, art, poetry, and other forms of Magick and inspiration!We look forward to being with you in person, on line and in spirit in glorious 2009.
May the blessings of the Goddess be forever in your heart!
Learn more about the tradition that inspires our worship... >>
Kalli Rose Halvorson & Friends (This Saturday!)
January 24, 2009 - 6:30 - 9:00pm
(SHARANYA's Sanctuary in San Francisco)
Please join us as the year of the Earth Rat draws to a close, under a
fragrant balsamic Moon redolent with the subtle, fragile, delicate chi
of death, dissolution, and rebirth. The Taoist astronomy for this SHARANYA benefit offers a perfect context for storytelling, prayer, mantra, song, and kirtan
(call and response chanting) celebrating Kali and Shiva's grace during
Kalli Rose's current health opportunity, a process held by Maa's
embrace of fearlessness, blessing, initiation, and sacrifice. A
potential legal and social justice action that could help to remove the
curses on Goddess may also garner support this evening. This gathering
will be Kalli Rose's final Bay Area offering before moving "into the
green" of Oregon.
Rose is a lifelong lover of music, seership, and feminist spirituality.
Her work as an astrological shaman has been inspired by the tantric
union of Kali and Shiva since 2000. She has been an avowed tantric
Buddhist under the guidance of Kali Ma (Tröma Rinpoche) since 2005.
us for this benefit offering by an amazing spirit, teacher, singer,
poet and lover of the Divine! Make a donation (sliding scale $21 - $41;
no one turned away for lack of funds) to reserve your place; or,
to get additional information, contact us.*****
Sacred Sound: An Introduction to Sanskrit
Want to learn more about sacred sound and the
mantras we use in our Kali Puja? Interested in getting more Sanskrit under your
belt to help deepen your spiritual practice?
Beginning this Sunday (January 25th at
11am), SHARANYA will again be offering introductory Sanskrit classes for those who wish to
learn the devotional language of Devi Kali Maa. The focus is on learning
pronunciation, vocabulary, transliteration, and basic grammar in order to
facilitate your worship and deeper understandings of the mantras you use and yoga poses you hold. Those
wishing to go still deeper over time can explore readings of the scriptures in
devanagari, the language of the gods.
Classes meet once a month at
11:00am - always on the day of puja and prior to Daughters of Kali. First
course is six sessions of 75 minutes each, at the end of which you will be able to:
Cost is $45. Join us in San Francisco if you can (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org) and stay tuned for additional offerings through Kali Vidya, our on-line mystery school!
- Pronounce the alphabet correctly
- Pronounce your favorite mantras
- Read simple mantras and slokas
- Write simple mantras and
- Transliterate basic text
basic meanings of offered devotional prayers
Learn more and RSVP... >>
One Mantra at a Time...
Mantra at a Time" is your commitment to engaged spirituality. Do the
work of social justice in the world by making a commitment to honor
your spiritual growth and development so that you may both be and do
the work of life-affirming transformation from a place that's more
deeply connected to your essence, authenticity, passion, compassion and
inspiration. Join SHARANYA in making spirituality, your own unique
connection to the Divine, the impetus for getting out there and doing
something in the world that makes a difference...not because someone
tells us to, but because we are compelled and motivated to from a place
of connection to our inner yearning, to our inner knowing of what's
possible when we act and create from our hearts, that place of balance,
justice, and truth that lies within each one of us.
goal is to gather a world-wide network of change agents committed to
engaged spirituality (no matter what that life-affirming spirituality
may be called) and the work of social justice. By committing to "One
Mantra at a Time," you are agreeing to do your spiritual
homework...doing the stuff of spirituality so that you can be a better catalyst for change, more capable
of alleviating the various crises of our world.
To help support your efforts and what's most meaningful to you, SHARANYA is offering a
daily mantra (sacred sound or saying, prayer or intention). The mantra will, if nothing else, be a gentle
reminder to breathe from your heart when engaging the day. In this way
we seek to support your efforts to be the beautiful being you
are, with the powerful ideas you have, in a time and place that's
increasingly ready to receive the good you have to share.
Visit us for
the mantra of the day and other updates at SHARANYA Mandir via Twitter. You may also wish to join us for social action through engaged spirituality online here.
Want to know more about our work in the world? Answers to some of your most FAQs... >>
Infinite Admiration: Puja & Kundalini Kirtan
celebrate, learn, explore, and sing with us! Make a donation (sliding
scale $21 - $41; no one turned away for lack of funds) to reserve your
February 6, 2009 (Friday) 7-9pm
(SHARANYA's Sanctuary in San Francisco)
For 25 years, Stuart Sovatsky has been transforming thousands of troubled relationships and leading Infinite Admiration Relationship Pujas
throughout the US, Europe, India and Russia that led to the Dalai
Lama's Office endorsing his 40-country "World is One Family" Congress
interpersonal puja (worship ceremony) employs simple story-sharing
taken into a meditative intimacy to reveal deeply empowering
reverberations of admiration rarely, if ever, experienced. This is the
place where 'needs' get met, if only we stay devoted with our heartful
attention to get there. This conversational puja will bestow its
blessing equally upon singles and couples and is the basis of Stuart's
success in conflict transformations in marriages, families and
will close with tantric kirtan guided by Stuart's 35 years of intensive
yogic worship of Mother Kundalini that prompted Silvia Nakkach to call
him "one of two or three deepest kirtan leaders in the US" and Tantra
scholar, Jim Ryan, to state, "Stuart is the John Coltrane of Sanskrit
or, to get additional information, contact us.
Learn more and RSVP >>
For all of us who are willing to travel the path...
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI!