Lively, insightful commentary on contemporary issues facing spiritual practitioners.


Book, film, and audio reviews of contemporary Gaudiya media, as well as a wide variety of media of interest to the spiritually minded.


News from around the world with an emphasis on alternative press that is especially relevant to spiritual practitioners.


Excerpts from classical Gaudiya texts, with and without commentaries, hosted by teachers with whom readers can interact and ask questions.


Philosophical articles on Gaudiya Vaisnavism that focus on the tradition’s scriptural conclusions as well as its feeling for the nature of ultimate reality.

Home » philosophy

Where Sakti Rules

Submitted by on October 6, 2016 – 12:33 am21 Comments


By Swami B.V. Tripurari

The yoga tradition of Sri Caitanya with its emphasis on shakti, the feminine power, among other things, played a major role in uplifting the position of women in what was a largely patriarchal society. No doubt this social upliftment was fueled in part by the role of the feminine in transcendence envisioned by Sri Caitanya. Women in today’s society may thus be encouraged both in their social struggle for equality and in their spiritual struggle for enlightenment to learn of his ideal, even when gender distinctions in transcendence are categorically different from our material gender distinctions.

While material gender distinctions are based upon the soul’s misidentification with matter, causing one to misconstrue one’s self to be a woman or man, the spiritual gender distinction of Sri Caitanya lies in acknowledging the subtle difference between that which constitutes power (shakti) and that which constitutes the powerful (shaktiman). The two are experienced as simultaneously one and different, an experience that transcends logic. When viewed through the philosophical eye of yoga they are one, but when viewed through the yogic eyes of devotional ecstasy they are two, Radha and Krishna. They are one soul in two bodies dancing in divine play. Radha is the personified feminine aspect of Sri Caitanya’s deity and Krishna is the personified male aspect.

In one sense the feminine aspect of this divine dyad is more important to us, closer to us. In the Vaishnava schools of devotional yoga where devotion is not only the means but the goal as well, materially embodied souls like ourselves are considered feminine in nature regardless of the bodily dress we wear in this world. We are, that is, an expression of the shakti aspect of the divine couple. In this sense we are closer in constitution to Radha than we are to Krishna. She is our source.

Whereas Krishna is the deity of divine love—perfect love’s object—Radha personifies perfect love itself. Thus she is not only our deity, being one aspect of the divine dyad, but moreover she is also our ideal of devotion. Without an example of the ideal, a role model to follow, theory alone is not that helpful. Yogeshvara, “Master of Yoga,” as Krishna is addressed in the Bhagavad-gita, only teaches the theory of bhakti-yoga, but it is Radha who teaches it by her example and personifies the perfection of devotion. She does so within the divine lila, play, and furthermore it is her shakti that empowers our earthly teacher and example, the guru.

Thus relative to the bhakti yoga practitioner, Radha’s position is more important than Krishna’s. However, even if we view her position from the absolute vantage point—through the lotus eyes of Krishna—her position is hardly diminished. After all, in Sri Caitanya’s vision, Krishna has fallen in love with Radha, and while the greater yogic world bends its knees to Krishna, Krishna has become weak in the knees at the mere mention of Radha’s name! While the yogic community idolizes Krishna for good reason, the bhakti yoga of Sri Caitanya is preoccupied with Krishna’s idol—Radha. Welcome to the land of love that knows no reason.

This realm is represented in the widely celebrated Hare Krishna mantra that Sri Caitanya asked his devotees to chant. A mantra that appears first in the Upanishads, the Hare Krishna mantra is a mantra of divine names recommended for the present age of strife and discord. It consists of three names Hare, Krishna, and Rama, all of which are in the vocative case. The names Krishna and Rama are uttered four times each, while the name Hare is uttered eight times: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

Krishna means “irresistible.” Rama the immediate other self Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother in his pastoral lila. Hare is the vocative for Hari, which means “he who takes away.” All of these are names for Krishna, to whom the mantra calls out—“O Hari, O Krishna, O Rama! However, Hare is also the vocative of Hara, a name for Krishna’s shakti, Radha. Understood in this way, Hare means she who steals away the heart of he who is irresistible, the connoisseur of divine romantic love, and in this conceptual orientation to the maha mantra the Rama is taken as another name of Krsna: “one expert in divine romantic love.” Thus this simple mantra of divine names takes one deep within the yogic world of divine love where shakti rules over shaktiman. It seeks to unite Radha and Krishna in love within their divine play, and in doing so facilitates the chanter’s prospect for following Radha and falling in love with Krishna, who has fallen in love with her.


  • prahlada bhakta dasa

    So beautiful!
    Jaya Radhe Vrndavanesvari!

  • David B

    The shaktas and tantra lineages were the first to worship shakti. Caitanya would refuse to even look at the face of a women during his sanyasa days. Let’s not exaggerate Caitanya’s mood. Social upliftment is only a recent western concept superimposed into traditional gaudiya vedanta.

    • I would not take that description of Sri Caitanya literally, and that said the description concerns only his sannyasa life. Sri Caitanya uplifted outcastes and crossed over socioreligious considerations of the day, giving positions of spiritual and societal respect to those who were otherwise not considered worthy of it. I do not think it correct to assume that social upliftment 500 plus years ago in India needs to play out as it does in the 21st Century of the Western world in order to be recognized as such.

      • Das ist gut

        Perhaps it is significant that Jahnava Mata did not much cross the conventions of her surrounding society, yet she was the spiritual leader of many men and women alike for many years. As a truly and literally “liberated woman” she did not need to take help of society for any upliftment, yet the liberated males and females of her day did not hesitate to give her honor appropriate to her exalted status.

        We see from His discussion with Ramananda Raya that Lord Chaitanya did not consider social conventions to be of much importance when compared to the loftier realms of divine love. Yet He generally moved within those conventions, for instance praising Haridas Thakur who kept himself humbly constrained by his social status.

        Yet, since social conventions are subordinate to spiritual ones, this also opens the door to a Bhaktivinode Thakur removing his sacred thread, or to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati placing the sacred thread on mlecchas and instituting Vaishnava-sannyasa.

        It is ludicrous for a Western-born mleccha male to accept the sacred thread and then to insist that women be held to social roles extrinsic to the practice of Krishna-bhakti. Yet we see this happening from time to time. There is something praiseworthy about the humble Western-born male who considers himself unfit to take on brahminical status in this life, but our acharyas have shown that the social conventions exist subordinate to the spiritual ones. A woman may be a mother or a nun and in either position be far more advanced than the males around her.

        Too many Western converts to Gaudiya Vaishnavism manage to bring with them their dualism and their patriarchal sensibilities. Let us remember that Lord Chaitanya didn’t teach a salvational dualism. In proclaiming achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, He taught an inconceivable monism-cum-dualism — which former practitioners of Abrahamic religions seem often to distort by privileging the male above the female and the separate Lord above the intimate union between lover and beloved. The proper appreciation of shakti can be a powerful antidote to such incorrect sentiments.

    • David B

      I think, it is fair to use the word ‘upliftment’ when lower varnas are given brahminical status as did BSST, artificial as it may seem. It is hard to conceive that giving nama to an outcaste muslim is a social upliftment of any kind. If nama can reach all levels, how would you call that social upliftment? Varnasrama existed in medival India with all its oppressions and suppressions for the greater good. I think, upliftment here is in the spiritual level as opossed to mere social level. The uplifted western societies have the highest instances of mental illness, depression and addictions, what a costly price for all that ego inflation and freudian concepts.

      • I think Mahaprabhu’s outreach uplifted persons from the social system of varnasrama dharma to a prema dharma society in the making. His distribution of nama educated people as to the superiority of Vaisnava dharma over varnasrama dharma. Education is uplifting, and in this instance with it came privilege not perviously afforded some members of society. For example, Haridasa was offered the sraddha prasada over any of the brahmins, women were privileged to give diksa involving Vedic mantras, etc.

        As for Western society, you seem to dismiss psychology and identify today’s social upliftment with ego inflation leading to greater instances of mental illness, depression, and addiction. Never mind that the unspecified statistics your refer don’t exist because there are no such statistics from medieval Indian society to compare the extent of these problems of that era with their measure in modern society. Furthermore, I think that women, homosexuals, and Afro Americans to name a few are experiencing significant social upliftment in Western society.

        • David

          It’s interesting that we love to pick and choose what is literal and what is non-literal from Chaitanya’s pastimes. There are many shaktas and tantra lineages in India where women played and still play an integral part in chanting mantras or giving diksha. I don’t think it was Chaitanya’s innovation or western contribution.

          We sometimes confuse 60s kama dharma of the west with Chaitanya’s prema dharma. It is akin to the difference between being a fan of a mega porn-star vs worshiping shakti – a blatant and unworthy comparison.

          Our uplifted western society is still suffering from significant racial issues and gender bias. Any layman new reader will agree with this. This doesn’t require advanced statistical analysis. In fact, social life has not changed a lot. I think we are confusing social setups with spiritual concepts.

          • We may continue to struggle with racial and gender issues, but most women and most Afro Americans will agree that they have been socially uplifted significantly over the last century. Women have a say—they can vote—and in a month one will be the president of the United States for the first time. From slavery to the presidency for Afro Americans is also significant. My reference to statistics was in response to your statement that they demonstrate that there is more addiction, depression, etc. today than in premodern times, not in regard to gender and racial issues.

            The fact that sects other than Mahaprabhu’s played a role in granting new privileges to women, privileges that the dominant varnasrama society did not afford them, does not change the fact that his teaching also played a role. Mahaprabhu objected to the discrimination against widows that made them out to be impious and such widows alone among women in need of following ekadasi. In doing so he primarily established the spiritual truth concerning the vrata and as a byproduct introduced a teaching that helped to deliver widows from this discrimination. And social upliftment is not a Western concept, as you seem to think. There are universals that constitute material well being/improvement, and material well being follows spiritual well being. So we differ.

            I know the difference between kama and prema, thank you.

  • Madhava Dasa

    Dandavat Pranams Guru Maharaja,

    Such Beautiful insights you bring forth from Vedanta! Through your pure heart, you give glimpses into the nature of the Absolute and gracefully reveal the ultimate transcendental love story.

    Jaya Sri Rādhā
    Your servant,
    Madhava Dasa

  • Nitai

    In the first paragraph, you are using current terminologies in order to highlight a personal interpretation of the past. But it is not appropriate to talk about or suggest “social upliftments” for medieval Bengali women in the modern sense of the term. Although many occasional teachings and actions of Caitanya keep a valuable potential for changes in the male critical gaze and hence into society, he was not directly engaged in a social vindication of women. Indeed, Mādhāvī-devī was considered to be only an ardha-jana by the Gosvāmīs’ school.

    Furthermore, Caitanya did not oppose in a frontal way the strong brāhmaṇa orthodoxy or their conceptual rigidity of varṇāśrama-dharma. And gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas still strives to establish a diffuse reflection of that hierarchical social structure, i.e. daiva-varṇāśrama (an original conception from nineteenth century). This concrete verticality can hardly give rise to a kind of participatory democracy which is implicit in the idealistic prema-dharma. In fact, post-Prabhupāda parties in the West demonstrate that suffer from what might be diagnosed as “radical sannyāsīsm”, the absolutism of male renunciates. There is not a real place for womens’ voice.

    • Really. I am simply pointing out that a byproduct of Sri Caitanya’s prema dharma was social improvement for many of his devotees who hailed from the lower rungs of the varnasrama social society. If you don’t think the material lives of his devotees were improved and that the social life of prema dharma is not an improvement over that of their social life in varnasrama, I disagree. Terms like ardha jana in reference to women apply to the time of the formation of the sect but ignore the social implications of the essential teaching that has played our over time as the tradition gained greater footing in India and abroad. Indeed, the seed of the movement is found in the rasa pancadhyaya, the social implications of which are very clear in terms of the role of women. Here is a good article for right wingers: http://harmonist.us/2009/05/the-bhagavata-leans-left/

      I could not understand what you were trying to say in your second paragraph.

      • David

        I think real freedom or upliftment is not right wing, left wing or any American or European wing. Real freedom or upliftment is freedom from one’s own mind and senses. Until this freedom is attained, all prema talks will be tinged with kama.

        • No doubt!I mean that I agree that all talk of freedom that falls short in its scope of transcending the mind and senses is materially tinged. And prema is greater freedom than that. Still it should be talked about.

  • David

    swami bv tripurari,

    Are you saying that the western civilization has figured out things in better and smarter ways than Chaitanya or the rishis of the ancient past?

    It is quiet late for a women to be president of the US. India has already had many women leaders in the political arena.

    • No. Please note that “figuring things out” is not a static affair. And we also have modern rishis.

      In his own time Sri Caitanya uplifted people spiritually and socially. You disagree. On top of that you seem to think that any form of social upliftment in modern times is not really upliftment at all. I disagree and have cited examples of what I consider social upliftment.

      Yes, a female president is late for the USA, but that does not mean it is not a example of social upliftment. In this case for women, who less than a century ago were considered unfit and not allowed to vote.

      • David

        If “figuring out” is an ongoing act by modern Rishis, what is the need for parampara and shastra?

        Can’t we just do self-study and figure everything out? There is no need of a Guru. Any one can figure anything out and recruit followers.

        • “Figuring out” is sastra yukti. And this applies not only to spiritual insight but also moral insight in consideration of time, circumstance, and audience. But not everyone can engage in sastra yukti. It requires ruci. Thus the need for the guru parampara. So you got that backwards.

          • David

            If it is all about Ruchi for sastra yukti. Why do you even require a Guru Parampara?

            Guru is a teacher of shastra and shastra has everything figured out. This gives value to Guru Parampara.

            Where does Krishna state in Gita about shastra yukti and figuring out? To me, these are buzz words leading to deviant paths. Tasmat sastra pramanam te verse from Gita doesn’t put Guru above shastra.

          • It is not ruci FOR sastra yukti, but rather having attained ruci one can effectively engage in sastra yukti (Brs.1.1.45), or reasoning as to sastra’s implications, its essence, its spirit, and dynamic nature. Sastra is a passive agent of divinity and the sadhu is an active agent. Both are required. There are two Bhagavatas, book and person. Both are required for attaining prema (Cc 1.1.100). The ongoing commentarial tradition is the essence of the guru parampara, and the ability to comment is sastra yukti/sastra nipunah, a quality of the uttama adkhikari (Brs 1.2.17).

            And with regard to moral life Krsna states in the Mahabharata, “It is difficult to grasp the highest understanding of morality. One ascertains it
            by reasoning. Now there are many people who simply claim ‘morality is scripture.’ Though I don’t oppose that view, scriptures do not give rules for every case.” (MB 8.49.48-49)

          • David

            Thank you Swami. I enjoyed the discussion.


    All glories to you Mhrj, all glories to sri sri guru&gauranga & yr wonderful preaching!!!

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

Subscribe without commenting