WHAT IS KALI?
The Theosophic Gleaner for June refers to the lecture of Sister Nivedita (Miss M. Noble) on "Kali and Her Worship,"* reporters in the April number of the Prabuddha Bharata, and says that it fails to find out wherein the genuine explanation is given of the much talked of "Goddess", and that it is left as ignorant about Her as it was before the perusal of the lecture. [* We have since received also Swami Abhananda's New York lecture on the Mother-hood of God, for review and he also makes out his Kali to be Prakriti or Maya, and sub-divides this again into Avidya Sakti and Vidya-Sakti, and as he goes on to say 'as fire and its burning Power or heat are inseparable, so Being and energy are inseparable and one,' in the Personal God, which is also raid to rest on the Absolute, the Ocean of absolute intelligence, extend and bliss, in a unmanifested form. This so called Personal God or Ishwara can be nothing more than Pure and unadulterated Maya or matter and the Swami's worship of Iswara and Kali becomes worship of matter or Maya.]
Kali means Fire
We cannot also avoid noticing the amount of confusion which ordinarily prevails in regard to this conception. For an historical review of the word and its usage, we would refer our contemporary to the section in Dr. Muir's Sanskrit texts Vol. No. 4, in which he treats of Durga. We would also summarize our own conception of the Goddess. The word literally means 'Fire,' and it is one of the appellations of God Agni and its worship is the worship of "Fire," a fact which ought to bring this worship much nearer to the worship of our Parsee brother than anything else. The word Rudra is also used to denote Fire or Agni; and the conception of Rudra of even today is as the God of Fire and Lord of sacrifices. (Medapatim, Pasupatim). The word Kali however came gradually to mean the Power or Sakti of Rudra and the Power or Sakti was also personified as "Mother," "Amba," "Ambika," and She is spoken of at one time as the sister and sometime as the Mother, and at another as consort, of Siva or Rudra though finally the last conception prevailed.
Kali is Love and Light and Power.
In its final evolution, it means, the Power of God as Primal force (Kriya Sakti), as The Supreme Will, (Ichcha Sakti), as the Supreme Intelligence (Gnana Sakti) and as the Supreme Love (Arul Sakti). The relation of Sakti to God is described as Abinna or Samavaya and is likened to the relation of heat to fire or Sun. It is as such that God is manifest to the world and can be known at all. Out of His Supreme Love, (Arul Sakti) which he entertains for the creatures which are lying dormant and suffering in the Kevala Bhanda condition. He wills, that they should undergo evolution and the multiplication of the worlds and all sentient life is brought forth. And He creates, sustains, and reconstructs and liberates finally; and all these Powers of His are described as Saktis and by different names. This original Sakti is called Nishkala, is pure, and formless, imperceptible, and infinite. You may as well try to reach the sun and understand, its real magnitude and splendor as to try fathom the nature and majesty of this Supreme Power. Yet how do we know and feel this Power?
Kali is Sudda-Maya-Sakti.
An infinitesimally small part of this Power descends and is reflected in another lesser power of Sakti which is both perceptible and imperceptive, Sat and Asat, which has form and shape; and this power is called Maya. And here we may refer to our table of Tatwas printed at page 244 of Vol. I. This Mayasakti, it will be noticed there comprises from the grossest earth to the highest & finest sakti called Nadam and Vindhu, which means 'sound' and 'form.' Mayasakti is first divided into Suddha-Maya and Asuddha-Maya and as it descends it becomes grosser and grosser and less and less powerful. It will be noticed that 'nadam' 'sound,' is the first thing that is produced in evolution, and "Powers of Sound," its constructive and descriptive aspects, are those that are symbolized in the various rhythmic dances of both Siva and His Consort Kali. This 'Nadam' is the 'Nada Brahm' or 'Sabda-Brahma' of the Purva-Mimansa Vadias as symbolized in the Veda. This 'Nadam' again is the Pranava or Omkhar and this Omkhar Sakti is called also Kudila or Kundalini, and is the presiding power or Sakti in Gayatri. Here you have to distinguish even at the very first start this Suddha maya sakti familiarly called Kudila
sakti from the one ray of the true Siva Sakti which is reflected in it. This Kudila is highly powerful, in itself is the highest power of Nature (matter), but in the presence of the Supreme-Siva-Sakti, this is inert. The Kudila or Maya-sakti may be likened to the finest and most polished piece of diamond; and what is its nature? It is merely a colorless opaque substance and nothing more. But we always associate 'brilliancy' and 'light' with this diamond; and whence is this color and brilliancy derived? Of course not from itself but from the light of the sun. In the absence of the solar light or other kind of light, nobody can distinguish this so called brilliant diamond from its surrounding darkness. Here the opaque crystal of the diamond is Maya Sakti. Light is Kali or Sakti and sun is Siva. And the distinction between one kind of crystal and another, consists in their different powers of refraction and reflection. So it is in regard to this Maya sakti or Kali. In its various forms, through its thousand facets, it possesses the power of reflecting the primal Siva Sakti more or less and in myriad hues. And its highest forms, 'Nadam' and Vindhu are so indistinguishable that they are called Siva and Sakti also.
Kali is Kudilai or Kundalini.
And this highest sakti Kudila or Kundalini is the Sakti or Kali that is reached at by the perfect Gnana Yogi. And these even so far forget the distinction we have drawn above, that they identify this Suddha-maya with the true Siva Sakti, and to this highest class of yogis belong; Srikanta and others and their Parinama Vada would be intelligible also in this light. Descending from (nadam) Kudilai, the Kali or Durga or Sakti of the highest Gnana. Yogis, we go down 5 places and reach up to Suddha-Vidhya which are forms of Suddha-Maya, and in which the power of True Sakti, are reflected and they form, Siva, Sakti, Sada-Siva, Maheshwara, and their Saktis, which are Potent Powers and Lords of creation and Sustentation and Destruction, clearly set forth in the Vedas and Upanishads and Puranas, but very rarely distinguished from each other by the ordinary student of Indian Religion.
Kali is Asuddha-maya Nirguna Sakti.
The next five divisions of Asuddha Maya (28 to 26), are rarely noticed at all by other schools. But these five constitute the Pancha Kauchukam or material coat of Purusha or Atma or individual soul. This Maya coat or Sakti is Nirguna; and this Individual soul with this Nirguna coat has generally the form of Rudra or Ishwara, and is accordingly mistaken by certain class of Vedantis, for the Supreme God Himself; and this individual's Sakti is also invoked as Kali or Ishwari. We may here premise that these classes of Maya Saktis or Kalis from 36 to 2, both inclusive are rarely known to any other schools besides the Saiva Schools.
Kali is Prakriti or Guna Sakti.
And when we come to No. 23, we reach the goal of most of the sectarians, Jains, and Sankhyas, Mayavadis, and Pancharatris. This 25th is Prakriti Pradhana – whose essential nature is said to be the three gunas. Some of them would recognize nothing else than Maya as the existent; but others regard the soul clothed in Prakriti as the highest Padartha and to them Prakriti is in abinna relation with soul; soul itself becoming by Parinama, Mulaprakriti. And to them, this Prakriti-Maya Sakti or Kali becomes a mother and goddess of very great Potency, and we find Bagavan Ramakrishna Paramahamsa lavishing all his affection and praise on this so called Personal God, Maya Sakti, Kali & c., and this Maya Sakti is the Kali worshipped by the great Guru's Sishyas, including sister Nivedita. The worship of this Maya-Sakti by itself is not a bad thing and when rightly pursued, it will land the novice into higher paths, but there is always a danger in invoking purely material Force; and the degradation to which this Sakti worship has fallen will illustrate the risks of this path, a path, called Vama or left-handed, which though practiced in the north, has been totally given up in the south; and we may positively declare that the worship of Kali in its three forms, as Mahadevi, or Lakshmi or Saraswati, in the south is perfectly pure and holy. Going down a step below, we come to a form of worship which is the prevailing form in Europe and even in India.
Kali is Buddhi or one's Egoistic Intelligence.
It is the worship of the Buddhi, or the Intellect which leads one into agnosticism and sometimes negation. They ignore a soul or any spiritual principle of Love and Gnana in the universe; and the highest, these men of intellect could postulate is an ideal of moral and mental Purity, an ideal sufficient in itself, if with this ideal these professors could undertake to carry humanity with them and elevate them to a higher and a purer life. But unfortunately, this beautiful moral code (on Paper) has rarely any vitalizing power and has failed in practice; and in Buddhism, we have an example of the grandest failure. It was only the other day that Dharmapala described in the pages of the Mahabodhi Journal his vexation at the failure of his mission even in his own land, and to the very little power for good which Buddhism possessed and exercised there.* [* We may refer to the extract from a Ceylon Daily, which is going the round of the Madras papers, that the Singhalese are the most homicidal nation on the face of the earth.] And two classes of these worshippers of the Intellectual & moral Ideal we can note. In the East, as in Buddhism, it has taken a pessimistic turn, and has landed in blank asceticism. In the West, these philosophers strive to bring the greatest happiness (physical and social) to the greatest number; and we find its modern apostle Max Nardau speaking up for pure pleasures, for the masses, and for grand Music Halls, and theatre and such sort of sensual enjoyments.
Worship of mother and wife and daughter.
And to the positivist philosopher, his home is his shrine, and his wife and mother and daughters are the Maha Devis and Devis, great and little Goddesses. Here also we note this Kali worship. Going below, we come to the worship of the more sensual pleasures in grosser and grosses form, and this is all the worship of the Kali, the fire of Desire in man.
Kali is our animal passion and ignorance.
And it is this Kali, of animal passion and desire which if allowed to have free play would make its votary completely desolate, as desolate as the habitation* [* The habitat of Kali in Southern India is generally a sandy waste
(பாலைவனம்)] of this dread goddess Kali; and South Indians take care to locate her outside all human habitations, at the extreme end of the village & town; and the conquest of Siva and Siva-Sakti over this Demoness Kali is set forth by the poet and by the painter and sculptor. And now that we have enumerated the different classes of Kalis from the lowest to the Highest, and presented such a vast range, our contemporary is at liberty to choose for himself the Kali whom be most likes; but evidently he does not believe in any higher power than his mahatmas – and so the notions of Fatherhood and Motherhood of God cannot appeal to his fancy.
The Siddhanta have the highest conception of Sakti and Uma, Love and Light of God and the following stanza up all our notions about the supreme majesty of this Love Power, and its presence in all forms of Mother Nature (matter or maya).