Excerpts from ‘Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses’
by Dr. David Frawley
Published by Motilal Banarsidas Publishers Private Ltd., Delhi



The Goddess as knowledge

As in many spiritual traditions, the feminine aspect of Divine reality represents knowledge and wisdom (Sanskrit Vidya). The three Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of the Hindu tradition - represent the three faculties of speech, mind and breath - and are called Trayi Vidya or the three wisdoms (feminine). The Greek idea of three graces is similar.

The true worship of the Goddess involves knowledge which is her real form. It is not merely an outer worship, but an inner worship which is meditation. Meditation on the Goddess is a form of self-inquiry or a means of acquiring knowledge.

It is not merely an adulation of the feminine form or qualities. It may start with an image of the Goddess but reaches far beyond the limits of name, form and personality to the impersonal absolute.

The Goddess represents what is hidden, secret, subtle and sensitive.
She represents what has to be searched and discovered.
As the word she represents both the teaching and its comprehension.
She is thus the inner guiding power.
She represents what is to be known.
What we are drawn by an inner fascination to discover.
She is the mystery and allure of higher knowledge which causes us to lose interest in
what the mind can know, the familiar realms of senses.
The Goddess takes us beyond the realm of the known and the domain of time-space into
the secrets of eternity-infinity.

In the process of spiritual learning the Goddess becomes the muse who guides us and inspires us. She is the priestess who unfolds the inner truth. Yet true knowledge as part of an integral comprehension of reality is always related to energy and beauty. The Goddess is not only knowledge but power and delight.

Knowledge of her reveals her powers which are awesome and transformative. Understanding of her reveals bliss, which is the joy of going beyond all the limitations of the body-mind.

Yet the Goddess does not merely give us knowledge. She is knowledge. The inner knowledge is the body of the Goddess, which she unfolds as her various adornments and eventually as her own being. Wisdom is the ultimate form of beauty and delight, the most sought after object in creation, and hence the ultimate embodiment of the Divine feminine.

Ultimately the Goddess is not merely knowledge but pure consciousness itself (Samvit). She is knowledge that puts the mind to rest and returns us to the source.

Through her we discover the serenity of the self.

Ten Wisdom Forms of the Godesses
Form and Formless.

Concrete and Abstract.
Human and Non-Human.
Terrible and Beautiful.

Hindu deities represent the Divine consciousness functioning on all levels of the universe. Both outwardly and inwardly. They represent the various principles, energies and faculties which make up this great universe, manifest and unmanifest.

The Goddess, who represents creation on all levels, possess this same diversity, which is expressed through her Ten Wisdom Forms (Dasha Mahavidya) and their different functions.

Ten great knowledges

Dasha Mahavidya means the ' Ten Great Knowledges'. They reveal the inner workings of both the universe and the psyche, once the veil of appearances is pulled down.They represent the deeper truths of life hidden behind our attachment to the outer form of things. Their messages are sometimes inspiring and sometimes frightening because they represent life itself, but they are always instructive to those who are looking for something beyond the ordinary realm.

The ten forms of the Goddess function not merely to teach us superficially or intellectually but to challenge us to look deeper. As great cosmic forces their energies can be difficult to bear and their extreme appearances may jolt us. Their forms are often disturbing they are not meant to be merely pleasant. They are meant like mysteries to enter or shock the mind into awakening. They are not meant merely to console or inspire but to promote within us the deepest search. Their forms are ambiguous, contradictory and paradoxical. They are provocative energies designed to take hold of our minds and through their enigmatic nature neutralize the thought process which keeps us in bondage.


Ten Goddesses
Each is an approach to self realization

Life itself is something awesome and mysterious. We do not know why we are born or when we will die. We do not even know how we move, breathe or drink. Most of what we are seeking is merely transient and does not answer the ultimate question of our destiny: what, if anything in us, transcends death.

Our knowledge only grasps the surface of the world, and we do not have any sense of tour ultimate identity. To approach the higher knowledge we must set aside our lower knowledge aside, which is not to reject it altogether but to recognize its limited place. The wisdom forms of the Goddess are part of a spiritual science, which we can examine only when we have set aside our outer knowing and it's grasping for information and ideas.


Also an art
requires creative participation

Yet this spiritual science is also an art. It cannot be approached mechanically but requires creative participation. We must become that reality and experience within ourselves all of its manifold dimensions. We must become the Goddess as her power comes to work through us. This way of Yogic knowledge is a theatre or play in the mind. It contains all of life and all of the universe as flowing through our nervous system. It is perhaps the ultimate of all experiences, as through it experience itself is dissolved into the transcendent.

Each of the Ten Forms of the Goddess represents a particular approach to self-realization, to knowledge of that within us which transcends time and transient identity. Yet each of the ten has within itself many layers. Unless we are willing to look deeply, we may become caught in a secondary aspect of the form and function of the Goddess.


The Goddesses
Represents powerful cosmic forces.

As representatives of powerful cosmic forces, the Goddesses can be approached to gain wealth, health, fame or other ordinary goals of life. However, if we approach them with a selfish intention, their inner powers cannot come forth. We cannot manipulate these deep cosmic forces.

We can only benefit from them if we honor the wisdom at their origin.

Hence these knowledge Forms should not be approached superficially or casually. For them to really work, we must first surrender to the Divine mother herself and gain her grace. It is her power, her Yoga Shakti that does the work. We can be receptive to its current and learn its rhythms, but we cannot direct its flow. We must not try to use these teachings out of personal willfulness, or they will not be liberating for us. The Ten Forms of Goddess make up a complete and integral teaching but several of them have their special worship as representing the supreme Mother Herself.

The various traditions of the Divine Mother

Sundari, also called Lalitha or Rajarajeshwari, is the most popular form of the Divine Mother in South India. In the North and west of India, in Tibet and Kashmir and in Buddhist lands, Tara has this importance. In the North and East of India, Bengal and Assam, which is the region of India where the worship of the Goddess has always been the most popular, Kali represents the Great World Mother. Kali is the first and foremost of the Ten Wisdom Goddesses. All ten can be portrayed as the various aspects of Kali. They are often placed around Her as their central deity. Hence the Dashamahavidya is one of the most important forms of Kali worship.

Origin of the Ten Wisdom Goddesses

The first clear reference to the Ten Wisdom Goddesses occours in the Shiva Purana (V.50). According to this story a demon called Durgama took control of the four Vedas, by a boon of the Creator, Lord Bramha, and through them gained power over the entire universe. This caused a tremendous drought on earth for many years in which all creatures suffered greatly. Hence, the Gods called upon the Goddess to save the world. The Goddess, who always responds to the wished of Her devotees, first eliminated the drought and filled all the waters of the earth. Then the Gods asked an additional boon to destroy the great demon and reclaim the Vedas. In Her battle with the demon, the Goddess brought ten great forms out of her body-the Dashamahavidya, and then took the forms of innumerable Goddesses. She defeated the demon and returned the Vedas to the Gods. As a conqueror of Durgama, the Goddess was named Durga.

The Ten Wisdom Goddesses, are originally associated with the myth of restoring the Vedic teaching, which through the process of time had fallen under the forces of decay and corruption. From the Vedas to the Tantras, is an unbroken line of Mantric and Meditation teachings centered in the Goddess, who Herself is a Divine Word and the Vedas, and who periodically renovates the teaching in order to sustain in this world born by time and death.

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