An American Academy of Religion Experience
By: Chandra Alexandre
Montreal was an incredible venue for exploration of Her mysteries. The air was cold, a reminder of the just-passed liminal time of Samhain and the coming of Yule. Academics and others interested in the study of religion, new religious movements, the intersections of various faiths, and the development of spaces for cutting-edge dialogue all gathered from far and wide in the Palais des Congrès from November 7 - 10th for a few days of meetings, panel presentations, Q&A, and networking.
My presentation, "Crafting Puja for Maa," on the devotional experience of those practicing the Sha'can tradition took place on Sunday afternoon as part of a panel in the New Religious Movement's section entitled, "The Turn East Revisited: New Religions from Asian Traditions." Over 50 people came to listen to the variety of presentations offered, with quite a diverse set of topics covered, from the Church of Zion, to our Shakta Tantra, to meditation practice as new religious movement, to Soka Gakkai.
I was pleased to begin with an introduction describing the nature of the study (what follows is a transcript from the presentation; and you can find the video here):
Developing an understanding of Western Śākta Tantra, or more appropriately, understanding a developing Śākta Tantra applicable to Western shores and sensibilities, and the experience of those claiming this spiritual space, is the focus of this presentation. Engaged through the lens of Sha’can, a 10-year-old tradition birthed in San Francisco from both a Śākta Tantrick lineage and Western perspectives on spirituality and the Divine, this study looks at the ways in which reverence for the immanence of spirit manifests in devotees of the Divine Mother, Kālī Mā, and in turn provides ritualized as well as lived spaces and practices by which the fundamental and activating energy of śakti is being realized today.
Around the globe, the ancient traditions of Goddess worship still practiced—continuously practiced—in Hindu South Asia and among the Diaspora are igniting the curiosity and informing the worship of women and men living, working and serving outside of India who are either without religious or cultural access to the Divine Female/Divine Feminine, or who are left without spiritual satisfaction in the Hindu faith of their forbearers. For some, herein lies a glimpse at possibilities for the Feminine and female beyond patriarchal limitations, beyond monotheism, and into culturally meaningful practices and embodied spirituality that helps to give meaning to both the pedestrian and the magnificent moments of life. For others, the possibilities lay in the places beyond a religious identity that stifles, that connects no longer to soul and spirit, and instead inspires deeper connection to truth through a critically-tuned mind keen to overcome internalized oppression, the remnants of colonialism, and blind acceptance of faith.
In seeking the Divine today, indeed many in the developed world are finding that the living Goddess—regardless of how She is perceived in Her homeland—calls them, doing so directly, often through unexpected means and in unexpected (sometimes unfamiliar) forms. Here, many are finding resonance with the traditions of Hinduism and are awakening or re-awakening to Her, Devī, with an integral consciousness; that is, one that both transcends and includes origins and individuals. No matter whether Hindu by birth or raised Catholic, my research reveals (and personal story supports) that people are coming to the Dark Goddess of India today because She is beyond labels, a powerful catalyst for transpersonal healing and often a radical role model whose worship inspires self-reflection, transformation, psycho-spiritual growth, renewal and a greater sense of purpose. Because of Her, individuals and communities are seeking out and creating spaces that acknowledge the benefits of honoring a simultaneity of particulars and Her transnational character. In such a milieu, the Hindu Goddess Kālī Mā is becoming a transaction between contexts, a liberator helping the marginal and outcaste of all varieties reclaim both ideological and literal spaces.
In this conversation and by engagement in the realities of lived experience, the Sha’can tradition arises to offer perspective at the intersection of Śākta Hindu tradition and the inner landscapes of the developed world, acknowledging roots in an articulated eco-feminism of Tantra well documented in the academic literature.
I then offered a brief history of the tradition, particular context for its arising with some contributing influences, and shared demographics of the 24 respondents from the US, Canada, and the UK who had participated in the online survey or sent in a completed questionnaire (thank you again to everyone who took time to participate!). Some of the findings were quite interesting. For example, did you know that the vast majority (74%) of practitioners (including those who practice Sha'can along with other faiths) characterize the tradition as either a new tradition to be counted on its own or a syncretism of faith?
While some in our extended community said they were, "still trying to figure out what it is," most others shared that the tradition, "felt Hindu and earth-based," reinforcing the notion of a Śākta Tantra relevant to Western shores and sensibilities. Some thought Sha'can made, "the gods of India more accessible to anyone from a western culture," and some noted the potentials for Indo-Americans and more contemporary (globalized diaspora) Hindus, "who might be searching for something that their path doesn't address."
Other specific comments on the experience of worship included the following:
- “It is what I imagine pre-Brahmanical worship would have been like; everyone can be a pujari.”
- “…reverential humility and emotional exaltation, yogic energetic awakening…centered on the tantric tradition.”
- “The elements felt very Hindu…but much more hands-on.”
- “The worship assured me that I am not the only one that feels a pull to Maa…”
- “I have had many direct experiences of Maa in my worship of her in our public pujas…”
- “The emphasis is on the personal experience of the Divine Feminine, manifested by Kali Maa.”
- “I love the embodied practice—so different from what I was raised with.”
And from my own reflections, the process of engaging this research question revealed and confirmed several points that can be taken deeper still:
- Innovations of the tradition transcend its roots yet pay homage to its origins
- Viable community methods translate to personal worship and practice
- Connection to ancient sources of wisdom and a living Goddess tradition help create meaning, but do not tie worshipers to those sources
- Shakta Tantra is alive in the West, with one manifestation arising through Sha'can—a (r)evolutionary, co-created, and evolving tradition
The question and answer period following the presentations allowed for some lively discussion, particularly on a question that has been articulated in the academic community for some time—no matter if one's pursuits are in religion, ethnography, medicine or other disciples—and one that is framed well by what is commonly called the insider/outsider debate. Simply put, this conversation highlights the perceived objectivity of the researcher and what one can discern from a scholarly inquiry when one is "inside" the tradition or culture being studied. There are good cases to be made on both sides of the argument, and certainly, in this instance, my being both researcher and initiator of the ten-year-old Sha'can tradition raised some questions for a couple of audience members.
While it is unfortunate that the New Religious Movements section of the AAR seems to be struggling with this question still (and seems from my experience to be relatively intolerant of practitioners as academics in this arena, at least from a programmatic perspective), the words of one participant stand out in my mind as a wonderful retort. He noted that no one seemed to have trouble with this question in other realms of the AAR (he specifically mentioned a panel of Islamic feminists who were well received and not questioned about their insider status), and that to a colleague outside of the sphere of the study of religion, the AAR was, "Sunday school for academics."
Hinduism is tenuously positioned in the academy: in contrast to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even Buddhism which are dominated by recognized scholars that actually practice the faith, Hinduism is more often taught by scholars viewing the religion with the clinical dispassion of one studying ancient Sumeria--neither passionate about the theology of Hinduism nor concerned about the beliefs and sentiments of the faithful. Indeed part of the "blame" for underrepresentation in the Academy lies with the Hindu community which has long focused its academic pursuits in the sciences and engineering; this, albeit slowly, is changing.
But until we see a real shift in the imbalance, we as Hindus, especially in the West, continue to grapple with misguided portrayals of Hinduism which do not reach far beyond caste, cows, curry...And as such, we pose [the question]: Do academics that study religion as non-believers share a responsibility to consider or respect the religious beliefs ascribed by adherents to their scripture?
As I stated in concluding my presentation, Śākta Tantra articulated through Sha’can is a rooted category of challenge to the dominant culture in which it is found and from which it comes. Thus, to some extent, my experience can be seen as a necessary stirring of the pot, so to speak. Regardless, we within the spheres of our own devotion and practice know that the tradition is helping to build self-worth and positive identity frameworks; is fostering the development of participatory and engaged spirituality; and is providing tools for the affirmation of śakti in the world. Ours is now an important new manifestation of an ancient tradition, a spirituality relevant to the circumstances of today, and a path grounded in the potentials of tomorrow.
With our work ahead of us no matter how we serve, I invoke that we may continue to sing Her praises, expand our worship with one another, and provide sites of strength, safety and empowerment while at the same time continuing to resist patriarchal notions of what it means to be a devotee of the Divine Mother. Certainly, with all of this, I welcome your comments, thoughts, and feedback to: email@example.com.
See a short video from the presentation ... >>
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Delighting in the Mysteries
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SHARANYA is dedicated to promoting a vision of the world as a global community, alive in its diversity, united in its essential humanity. We recognize the spark we all share no matter what our address, be it New York or Kolkata.
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Your contributions make all the difference as we work to keep engaged 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.
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Thank you for helping the spread of
Maa's love in the world. Jai Maa!
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In all that we do, we seek to remember the united soul of humanity as we strive to support an evolution of consciousness through engagement in the communities and diversity of perspectives that promote sustainability of Earth and her inhabitants.
Today, in a culture in crisis, with dislocated global citizens, the looming dark cloud of climate change, diseases of the heart and soul, and other ills plaguing our planet, people are looking for a safe place to call home; they are looking for community, for others who share their deep-felt concerns and worries, and above all else, they are looking to find a family where people are committed to making a better future through the hard work of personal growth, community building, and service to others.
Can I make a donation for Maa's worship if I live
Our mission is to empower seeds of change on personal, collective, and planetary levels towards respect, responsibility, and the fullest awareness of an interconnected, interrelated cosmic reality that promotes peace, truth, and a (r)evolution of consciousness that works toward wholeness. We welcome any and all of your contributions to our efforts...join us!
outside the Bay Area or can't attend this month?
Jai Maa! 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 with your donation and be sure to provide a current mailing address.
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Kali Puja (11/29): Work the Magick & Attend a Puja!
Be with us on
the last Sunday of November
to celebrate Her mysteries!
At 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...
Were you curious about our Kali Puja Festival but couldn't be there in person last month? Wish to join us in spirit this month? Experience some of what our worship is like by viewing the new...
Come Join Us!
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 $21-11 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.
An R.S.V.P. is requested if you would like to participate, and you may do so by making a contribution online. All regular monthly 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 (blessed food).
For all events, 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).
New! Temple Etiquette and Good Things to Know for Puja!
** PLEASE NOTE: The December 13th puja is canceled. **
Join us in November for the last public puja of 2009; or we'll look
forward to seeing you in January 2010!
Not in the San Francisco Bay Area?
All are welcome at our mandir (temple). Maa embraces all: sarvam sarvatmakam...for everything is the essence of everything else.
If 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...
A Wisdom School for Her Mysteries & Dedicated to
(R)evolutionary Shakta Tantra
Kali Vidya is offering a series of classes that you can work through independently or with your current worship circle.NEXT CLASS STARTS JANUARY 5, 2010
Learn more about the offerings at our mandir... >>
Inner Shakti Shiva: A Yoga Romantic Love
From Your Perfect Lips: A Spiritual-Erotic Memoir
by Stuart Sovatsky
Get into the perfectly romantic narrative and languidly attuned gaze and what reveals itself is the sheer poignancy poetry wonder of the relentless never-happened-before—Sanatana Dharma, The Eternal Ordering-Way that contains all forms of Indian spirituality and even sciences. Shimmering with hopes and hints of a divine passion that nourishes forgives matures each being toward an evermore enlightened version of itself. Awaiting your devotion, hovering just beneath the surface, outside of all lesser narratives myths possibilities and the fallen world that results inexorably from repeated listening to acting on them and repeated dismissing yea fearing the romantic hope.
That a-dharmic world is with us now: A barely sustainable broken place the ancient forest-dwellers 10,000 years ago warned of with its roots growing too much down and not enough up, or the reverse, leaving the mercurial romance of reality to atrophy into a dreaminess or barren cynicism. Broken relationships marriages homes lives.
That is the world in which we meet, where romance is no longer the one thing nor gender worship continuous and strong a hundred generations back, the way without a second the very air we breathe. But no matter, awake and above the fray, in their eternal romance are Shakti and Shiva and each one of us is Shakti and Shiva.
Imagine an alternative Christ whose message of love and redemption is conveyed, not by a story of heroic self-sacrifice and martyrdom, but by the passionate love between Man and Woman, the Perfected Couple as Religion, a Mystico-Erotica as its most sacred scripture. As God proclaimed of Himself in his Song of God,“I am the passion in beings that is attuned to [Sanatana] Dharma.” A rare kind of eroticism in which desire shudders throughout the body in myriad crescendos of awe heat and bliss rendering all bodiless religions and myopic sexologies vestigial to an age on the wane that had become dedicated to exacting the truest of confessions from a shadow. How so?
Far beyond the thrall of the teenaged awakening, Nature has hidden in us numerous rare and mysterious erotic reflexes and transformative puberties (except for “Kundalini,” completely unknown to modern times—did we really believe we had discovered everything there is about the erotic universe?), the fleshy basis of all spiritual yearning that only an ever-deeper passion might awaken: Shuddering genital reversals vajroli mudra, shakti chalani, that emerge in meditative depths or only after the second hour of embrace, spinal surges Kundalini-shakti, davvening,Quakering, Shakering, zikr-ing, holy ghosting, involving perhaps twenty year novitiates of sublimative maturation, excessively devotional surrenders requiring an ease with tears at the thought of it all, and even more distant throat-choking pharyngeal hypoglossal arousals khecari mudra, soaring into consummate pineal emissions soma-rasa, nectar of the gods, inebriating the inmost soul with breathless beauties everywhere, perhaps a dozen lifetimes away.
In a different economy of bodies and pleasures we might call these awakenings postgenital puberties as in the ancient name for Yoga: shamanica medhra, “the going-beyond-genital-awakenings”—but beyond into what? Always oscillating, Shiva worships Shakti worships Shiva worships Shakti. Man worships woman worships man worships woman. Thus becoming god, becoming goddess from the inside out molting their human skins born out of their arduous longing for this other, the beloved, the ache of it all endured, this life into That into this into That, a weaving maturing of souls verging on oneness, circling auguring ever-deeper into the Source of incarnation itself, close and even closer winding toward the vertiginous center everything quickening the hopes and fears of each lover there ever was or will be.
The awe of creation, the power of it, life itself. Immortality inward outward the other puberties endlessly beyond words English or Sanskrit to this edge Where Happening itself happens this miracle then this, in which we guide word choice action toward that purr in your voice that breaks into sighs hand gripped onto your pelvis breaking free no end can be seen. The romantic narrative begins easily:
Your eyes, my wonder, your lips, my hunger, your wisdom,
my mystery. I love you yes till death do us yes and yes again yes
yes the only word I know. That dusky taste of your interior thigh,
my forever and ever.
I will never leave you, for where else is there to go?
Read other articles and musings on the divine ... >>
Our Community Welcomes You
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!
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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. And of course, stay in touch with us in all the old-fashioned ways too!
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Our Sanctuary is your sanctuary.
Everyone is welcome in Maa's house!
In the sacred texts of Tantra, we learn of Her expression of virtues. She is Divine Mother, and we honor Her as such. Yet, it is also true that sexuality, the fecundity of menstrual blood, the wild and untamable nature of reality, and all things antinomian come together in Her. Through Her, Dark Goddess, we see the potential for liberation because Devi is able, as dictated in the scriptures and by the lineage of the ancients, to lead aspirants to the highest and most engaged reality.
Learn more about our work and worship... >>
Kali's Heart Mantra
This most-auspicious 22-syllable mantra vidya given in the Devirahasya Tantra (The Secret Goddess Tantra) is a potent vibrational elixir that brings together the most powerful bijas of Devi so as to permeate the three worlds of physical, subtle, and causal realities in order to transform them.
When reciting, we offer from our heart the three flowers of these realms: jasmine (white), oleander (red), and lotus (black), which also correspond to the three types of menstrual blood in Tantrick tradition: kunda, gola and svayambhu, respectively.
Use this mantra when you are ready to cut through the limitations of your day-to-day life and consciousness. Be ready, however! This mantra is more than effective.
Listen to the mantra >>
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Quote of the Month
Kālī’s usually black visage mirrors that of the Black Virgin, who is also often dark in complexion, although most depictions of Kālī do more immediately and directly draw one’s attention to her intensity. As Fred Gustafson clarifies: “What the Madonna suggests implicitly, Kālī emphasizes explicitly.”
With a bloodied machete in one of her many hands, a freshly severed head in another, and with boons and blessings bestowed from two more, Kālī directly engages humanity in the interrelationship of life and death, blood and creation. The Black Madonna, however, does so more subliminally. Usually portrayed seated or standing with a child in her arms (and no weapons), she engages on a different, yet equally powerful and transformational level.
Through Kālī and the Black Madonna, an understanding of the cycles of life as necessarily including death becomes clear. David Kinsley notes for goddess Kālī that she particularly forces humanity to confront the fact of death in order to reach the joy of life. He writes, “Kālī’s boon is freedom, the freedom of the child to revel in the moment, and it is won only after confrontation or acceptance of death.” These goddesses in their essence are the ultimate power of creation and destruction. They bring to life the cosmological great womb from which all things proceed and to which all return.
Add to our community musings! >>
Calendar of Events & Recent Happenings
2010 Puja Calendar
We welcome you to worship, meditate, attend classes (either in person or online, and participate in other events at our sanctuary. Let us know if you'd like to help out at a puja, learn more about our tradition, or have ideas to share with us. Your participation in worship is helping to create a living Tantrick tradition of the West today. Mark your calendars to join us soon!
- Jan 31
- Feb 28
- Mar 28
- April 25
- May 23
- June 20 - Yoni Puja & Solstice Ritual
- July 25
- Aug 29
- Sept 26
- Oct 17
- Nov 6 - 7th Annual Kali Puja Festival
- Dec 5
Reserve your place at
upcoming worship events...Jai Maa!
Ongoing Open Community Puja
Kali Puja - Devi (Goddess) Worship
Our ongoing puja, or worship ceremony, is open to all! Held in our sanctuary space located in San Francisco, we gather to celebrate the Divine every month at the Cultural Integration Fellowship (CIF). Click here for directions.
See other upcoming events and celebrations >>
To the Kaula & Community
Gratitudes and Blessings...
For you who are Her light in the world, willing to face the challenge
and risk that it takes to be such...
Engage your heart with us in Her name... >>