Seated on a golden throne and draped in golden robes, She has a golden complexion and radiates a golden luster. Two armed, She wields a mace that is poised to strike the tongue of the devotee held in the other. Such is the iconography of Bagalamukhi, the eighth Mahavidya. “Bagala” is a distortion of the root “valga” (bridle) and “mukhi” refers to face, whereby Bagalamukhi refers to the goddess whose face has the power to hypnotize or control.
Like Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi is worshiped extensively for attainment of occult powers or to win conflicts like lawsuits or debates (because of the belief that She can stun the opponent’s intelligence and/or tongue). Yet, Her true blessing is a gift that surpasses any gains in the material world. Her grace is actually the turning point in one’s sadhana and the beginning of real awakening. She is known as “vak sthambanakari” or the “one who paralyzes speech”. Speech here refers to the faculty that facilitates expression.
Speech is not limited to the production of sounds by the complex brain-vocal cord-respiratory apparatus. Speech encompasses all expression, including the more upstream process of thought, which in turn arises from “knowledge” gained through experience and learning. This upstream expression creates memory and imagination resulting in automatic labeling of everything that arises in current experience. In this immediate (almost simultaneous) labeling of currently arising perception, a split or duality is created between that which is perceived (not I, but that out there) and the one that perceives (I). Thus, in the dualistic power of this “speech”, time and space come into existence. From memory (thoughts about the past) and imagination (thoughts about the future) arise more thoughts (speech or expression) of how a currently arising perception or experience “should be”. From this “should be” arises the downstream effect of duality – good and bad, right and wrong and so on. We view ourselves and the entire world through this lens of “should be”, which effectively obscures “what is”. This discordance between what “should be” and “what is” creates continuous conflict, both internally and externally. We are at constant war with ourselves, others and nature merely because of our idea of how things should be, the effect of the faculty of expression or speech.
While Dhumavati forces us to face all the darkness within, Bagalamukhi shows us what surrendering to this darkness means, facilitating the awakening to “what is”. On the spiritual path, the very knowledge we accumulate through learning eventually becomes the biggest obstacle to knowing. We may start off on the “path” based on the guidance of mentors/gurus and teachings, which is helpful to a very large extent. However, all paths have the inherent trap of creating the imagination-based idea of what the goal “should be”. Innocently, we tend to keep chasing the distant dream that someone else awakened from in a specific way, wanting it exactly that way. Thus, somewhere along the way, our interest can become fully vested in the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself. We can create the imagery of the finger to be the moon and begin to worship and idolize it. We can begin to make this finger our very goal, believing that is what the moon “should” look like. Instead of looking directly at our own currently arising experience, we can make the whole “path” about theories and concepts (which are nothing but thoughts arising from memory or imagination). We can read every book and teaching, become experts at the topic of self-realization, have endless debates and arguments or have exciting mystical experiences to narrate to everyone else. In this, we have simply gone from being material materialists to spiritual materialists.
Before we get on the “spiritual path”, we either modify every currently arising perception by forcibly thinking something else (distraction) or get carried away by the thought or perception and act according to its dictate (slavery). After we get on the “spiritual path”, we continue to modify every currently arising perception by distraction (by various techniques) or become slaves to it (by acting on it). In reality, nothing much has changed with regard to modifying currently arising experience to what “should be”. Only the garb has been changed, from the so-called material to the so-called spiritual! Essentially however, we continue to be at war between “what is” and what we think “it should be”.
At the center of this war is the “I”, the greatest of all illusions. With the arising of the “I” does thought arise. And all thoughts, without exception, refer to the “I”. The “I” is made up of memory and imagination, the shoulds and should nots, the judgments and the comparisons – in essence, thought does the job of protecting the fragile identity of “I”. A continuous reaffirmation is needed to keep the “I” going, for it is that elusive. Except in deep sleep, the “I” takes center stage in every moment, fighting to keep its identity intact with “I think”, “I feel”, and so on. The very nature of the “I” is insecurity and a sense of incompleteness. It always seeks completion, whether it is in the form of a car, a house, a better job, more money, better kids and mate, drugs and substances or crime. Both prior to, and after taking up a “spiritual” path, the “I” continues to thrive. The very effort to “kill it” strengthens it, for the I is the one that needs to annihilate itself – to feel complete and secure! And so the conflict continues.
Bagalamukhi’s force is called upon to stun and silence this non-stop conflict of the mind. With her mace, She stills all mental modifications (distraction and slavery) with a sudden loss of reference to memory (past) or imagination (future), i.e., knowledge. It is this immense gift of Grace that results in the stilling of the mind needed to part the veils of illusion. The “I” is looked for in direct experience and it cannot be found! The “I” that was previously revealed is also seen to simply arise and fall in passive awareness, attached to thought. The “I” is not separate from thought, and neither is separate from the passive awareness. Thus, the nature of the “I” is seen through at last. With no continuous reference to the “I”, we fall off into the unknown. Finally ripped from the “should be” of knowledge, we finally see directly that in any experience, there is only experiencing. In any perception, there is only perceiving. That which perceives is the perceived, and there is no other. Thoughts (and “I”) may still come up but they are finally seen to be what they are – ripples on the ocean. They are no longer believed. In this seeing, there is absolute unknowing, and absolute freedom. The extraordinary thing about it is how ordinary it is!
To really know this, knowledge (“speech”) is the sacrifice. With the blow of Her mace, Bagalamukhi takes away speech and bestows the gift of silence. She enables us to see that “I” can never surrender – any surrender the “I” does only strengthens itself. On the other hand, the cessation of all mental and psychological modifications of “what is” is surrender occurring on its own. True surrender is the seeing through the “I” to reveal the vastness of “what is”. And this is the beginning of seeing our true nature. This endless falling into the unknown of “what is” is true worship and Tantra in all its glory. In every moment, there is only this – the is-ness of perception or rather, perceiving. This “knowledge” is no longer accumulated but the “knowing” is lived from one moment to the next.
Bagalamukhi thus grants the greatest boon of silencing all points of reference of should be (speech). Her merciful mace prepares us for the grace of true knowing from the next Mahavidya, Matangi.