In Tantra, no form of Shakti is as adored as that of Tripurasundari, the third of the Mahavidyas. Supremely radiant and beautiful, Tripurasundari is effulgent and bears the hue of the rising sun. Wielding a noose, a goad, a sugarcane bow and five flower-laden arrows in her four hands, she sits upon a throne the seat of which is formed by Sadashiva. The four supports of the throne are formed by Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Isana. Wrapped in resplendent red, the three-eyed Divine Mother supports and transcends her creation with a playful smile. So magnificent is her presence that sadhakas of Sri Vidya long for nothing else, all desires eventually merged into a single one – for her Grace.
Brahman is the transcendent reality. In the nothingness prior to creation, desire is what leads to the first divine sound or vibration of manifestation, represented by Tara. Without desire, there would be no creation, or sustenance of it. Without desire, there would be no movement on the macrocosmic or microcosmic levels. The circular movement of the cosmos is driven by desire, as are the basic physiological mechanisms of life-forms. Desire is the prism through which the nothingness of the Supreme manifests as its everythingness. This primordial desire is represented by Tripurasundari. While this first desire as Tripurasundari remains untouched as pure love, it is distorted by refraction through vasana conditioning – as selfish clinging to me and mine, self-aggrandizing, greed, sensual enjoyment and endless chasing of sense-objects. However, this desire is also that which gives the impetus for spiritual seeking. Thus, desire drives the divine not only to fragment itself in creation but also to return to itself.
As desire, Tripurasundari is known as kaamakala (kaama = desire). As the supreme driving force of creation, she is known as Rajarajeshwari (reigning queen of all). As the love that binds all creation, she is known as Kaameshwari. As the playful, Grace-bestowing mother, she is known as Lalita. As the source of all beauty, she is known as Sundari. As both the immanent and transcendent forms of the divine, she is known as Tripurasundari (tri = three, pura = cities, sundari = beauty). Tripura (three cities) is significant for it denotes the threefold mystical fields of Sat, Chit, Ananda representing the qualities of Brahman projecting itself into manifestation. The cosmos itself is said to consist of three upper worlds (janah, tapah, satyam) and three lower worlds (bhuh, bhuvah, suvah), connected by the seventh material world of mahas. Consciousness is often described in its three states of waking, dream state and deep sleep. Creation consists of the play of the three gunas – tamas, rajas and sattva. The body is said to comprise of the gross/physical, the subtle and the causal bodies. All actions comprise of the triad of iccha (will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (action). In every experience, there is the triad of the experience itself, the experiencer and that which is experienced. The Divine Mother forms the points of every triad in her immanent form. As the fourth transcendent force (turiya), she is also the substratum for those immanent points. As desire, She gives rise to the divine spanda or primordial vibration represented by the bindu of the Sri Yantra, which then gives rise to the points of the myriad intersecting triangles.
Her form is the color of desire, red. The noose in one of her four hands represents the binding force of love. By the goad in the second hand, she spurs activity and movement. The bow in her third hand represents the mind and the five arrows represent the sense organs of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Seated on the throne borne by Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Isana, she is the doer of the actions represented by them – creation, sustenance of creation, destruction and transcendence. She sits upon Sadasiva, forever entwined with Him and indicating that emptiness and form remain as one.
Sri Vidya (the supreme knowledge) is the sadhana dedicated to Mother Tripurasundari, where the knowledge of all the other Mahavidyas coalesce into the magnetic bindu of the Sri Yantra. The Sri Vidya mantra is considered as the sound form of Tripurasundari and the Sri Yantra, her geometric form. The Sri Vidya seed mantras correspond to the triple aspects of Tripurasundari – the vibrations of desire, love and force. Amplification of these seed mantras results in the fifteen-lettered panchadasi mantra and with addition of another secret seed sound, the powerful sixteen-lettered sodasi mantra. Like the form of Tripurasundari resting on Sadasiva, the Sri Vidya mantra consists of seeds pertaining to both Shiva and Shakti. In the physical world, while the sun represents the supreme source of light, the moon symbolizes bliss and love. The moon bears several names, one of which is Soma. Soma is the divine nectar of the Gods, with extensive reference in the Vedas and the Puranas and is said to be the stuff of the moon, inducing divine bliss. In sadhana, this comes forth as the minty sweet nectar that drips down from the activation of the ajna chakra and the pineal gland, sending waves of ecstasy and deep, lasting peace. A gift of Grace, this amrita or nectar is said to signify the union of Shiva and Shakti in the sadhaka and the opening of the thousand-petaled sahasrara chakra at the crown. While the sun symbolizes Shiva, the moon is the embodiment of Shakti as Tripurasundari. The phases of the moon are said to correspond to the syllables of the Sri Vidya mantra, the full moon bearing the fruit of the all-powerful sodasi mantra.
The sadhana of Tripurasundari calls for rejection of all undesirable and unattractive qualities within ourselves. This is most effectively accomplished through surrendering to Her will, the practice of equanimity, and through unceasing worship of her as the silent seed within the depths of our being as the soul-center. As our sadhana progresses and we have had a glimpse of the pristine soul as the “I AM” behind the veils of the mind and conditioning, our practice undergoes a profound change. Beyond the stage of witnessing where identification with the ego remains, there is a sudden shift in identity as we see with utmost clarity and certainty that we are not the body, the mind, the emotions or the person at all. In this “falling back” into the I AM as the very identity of being, there is a definite turning point in one’s sadhana or rather, a turnaround by 180 degrees. The main practice is now to abide in the “I AM”, returning again and again to this “true” identity, from dwelling in the ever-changing reflections of the subject (I AM) as mind-objects to the pristine subject itself. While all previous methods were aimed toward the evolution of gunas from tamas to rajas to sattva, there was still a certain clinging to the ego as one’s identity. The discovery of the I AM and further, this shift in identification to soul-consciousness takes us beyond the gunas altogether. The triune of experience, experiencer and the object of experience begin to merge into a single stream of “experiencing”, without a clear subject-object distinction. The goal of sadhana shifts to losing personal will by the simple practice of abiding as soul rather than a person, so that Divine Will flows through unhindered through the instrument of the mind and body.
Mother Tripurasundari eventually begins to dominate our triple states of consciousness of waking, dreams and deep sleep, pulling us by her noose into the bindu of the fourth still state, turiya. Gradually and paradoxically, the gunas within us continue to transform and evolve, and doership is slowly given up. All actions are seen to arise from svabhava, or the play of gunas; no personal gain or loss is sought or seen. The grander scheme of the cosmos at play is thus gradually revealed as the unfathomable vastness of the next Mahavidya, Bhuvaneshwari.
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