“Brahman and Shakti are one!” This utterance from Sri Ramakrishna, the Kali Avatar, affirms the complete identity between the static and active modes of Brahman. “God is with form, free of form and beyond both as well,” He declared. Therefore, Shakti is Brahman in a creative mode, in an expressive mood. Yet, since Brahman is essentially without attributes, beyond form, and free from acts of creation, preservation and destruction, Shakti too cannot be held accountable for directly perpetuating any process. She is Mother of the Worlds, the Seeress who is never seen, characteristically unattached and, as She Herself declares in the Rig Veda, “...never touched by My magic creation.” How then does the universe appear? How does the diverse world of name and form come into manifestation? It all occurs through the power of the Divine Mother’s Maya. As Sri Krishna, Brahman in form, states in the Bhagavad Gita: “Living beings, unaware of my true nature, assign to me the duties of creator. But I do not act. Operating my Maya, I simply place the wheels of nature in motion and Prakriti does everything else. I simply stand back, supremely detached and fully in control.” Thus are both Brahman and Shakti transcendent of the creative process and the play of opposites.
Brahman and Shakti form the immutable substratum underlying the creative process. The perfect equilibrium of Brahman does not allow for separation or fragmentation, for It is beyond time and space — two elements that are necessary for manifestation. In order for the Infinite to project the finite or, as the Tantra suggests, for pure Being to play in the mode of becoming, Maya’s veil of root ignorance, called mulavidya, must inundate creation at every level. The result is forgetfulness of the Absolute and enamorment with the relative. Therefore, enlightenment, or realization of Brahman, is necessarily dependent upon piercing through the veil of root ignorance and seeing beyond Maya. As Maya is the main constituent of manifestation itself, this proves to be a difficult maneuver for the aspiring soul who is finished with worldly desires and who seeks freedom from the transmigratory process of karma and reincarnation. To cleave through the illusion of relativity is the main objective of the Truth-seeker and it is not only possible, it is imperative. As Sri Ramakrishna envisions: “Imagine that there is a beautiful, many-petaled flower with several layers. Someone with a sword then comes along and cleaves through it with one stroke.” This wondrous flower is the relative world of name and form, the sword-bearer is the aspirant seeking freedom and the sword is the power of discrimination which destroys the illusion of relativity and unifies all its profuse diversity.
In any one simple statement that fell from Sri Ramakrishna’s lips, there is a universe of inspiring implications. Each of these little thrusts of stored-up spiritual potential accost the mind like tiny timed explosions, or implosions, that chip away at the granite block of egotism and ignorance. As He said, “The mind is the cause of bondage, it is also the gate of liberation.” Here, the bondage that seals the gate of liberation is primal root ignorance called mulavidya — the cloud of unknowing present at the very initial inception of the universe. It saturates the universe of name and form and pervades the unawakened mind, thereby posing it its greatest obstacle. This inexplicable presence is inherent in Maya which is, as Sri Ramakrishna so revealingly points out, “Brahman’s power.” Brahman’s dynamic, self-willed and self-sufficient essence, the Mahashakti, wields this enigmatic and irrepressible force of Maya with its powerful constituent of root ignorance and its many other evolutes. To be able to identify Maya without becoming inextricably intertwined, it is helpful to trace its movements back to the source. Further description will be beneficial for this process.