Dasha Maha Vidya
The Ten Great Wisdoms
Dasha Maha Vidya Yoga
Dasha Maha Vidya Yoga, the “Yoga of the Ten Great Wisdoms,” is an essential element of Tantra Yoga. It consists of the adoration of the ten basic energies of manifestation and of our lives. The Universal Energies of eternity, compassion, space, knowledge, love, beauty, purity, vacuity, courage, sacrifice, fascination, stopping, transformation, concentration, harmony, healing, splendor, wealth, abundance, and celebration are some of the aspects of the ten Maha Vidya. They can be awakened in the aspirant by using rituals, meditations on mantras (sacred words) and yantras (sacred diagrams), and other techniques.
1. Kali—Goddess of Time
Kali, the first of the Dasha Maha Vidya is the Hindu Goddess of Time. She represents the evolutionary aspect of the Divine. The name Kali comes from the Sanskrit word kala, meaning “time.” Kala represents the process of objectification perceived as movement and event from the initial state of pure subjectivity. Therefore, Kali is the one who “spins the wheel of universal time,” who cooks and ripens all things, who is the spiraling process of evolution. Her name also means “she who is black” or “she who is death,” and she is known to destroy the illusions of the ego in order to remove the obstacles in the way of Self-realization. Although sometimes represented as a daunting figure, she has a strong nurturing energy and is known to her devotees as the Mother of the Universe.
Ramakrishna, a devotee of Kali, wrote:
“Is Kali, my Mother, really black?
The Naked One, of blackest hue,
Lights the Lotus of the Heart…”
And: “Kali is none other than Brahman. That which is called Brahman is really Kali. She is the Primal Energy. When that Energy remains inactive, I call It Brahman, and when It creates, preserves, or destroys, I call It Shakti or Kali. What you call Brahman I call Kali. Brahman and Kali are not different. They are like fire and its power to burn: if one thinks of fire one must think of its power to burn. If one recognizes Kali one must also recognize Brahman; again, if one recognizes Brahman one must recognize Kali. Brahman and Its Power are identical. It is Brahman whom I address as Shakti or Kali.”
2. Tara—The Goddess of Compassion
The name Tara comes from the Sanskrit root tr, meaning “to traverse” or “to take across,” which refers to Tara’s role in helping us traverse difficult situations. She is like a boat that takes us across the ocean of samsara. The name Tara is also believed to come from taraka, meaning “star,” which denotes her guiding aspect—she is the guiding light in any challenging circumstance or emergency. She is a savior and protector.
The second Maha Vidya is also related to the power of sound. In fact, she is pranava (the primordial vibration), the precursor to the creation of objects. Tara is the nada, the sound-root of all sounds and the source of all speech. Therefore, she is the storehouse of all knowledge and is often equated with Sarasvati (the goddess of knowledge). Tara is also invoked in connection with the acquisition of knowledge and the attainment of a potent capacity for speech. Tara contains all mantras within herself and through her grace, we are taken into Stillness, the ultimate source of all sounds.
In the Hindu tradition, the Tara mantra (OM) is written in honey or ghee on the tongues of newborn babies. This is said to bring a superb power of speech, noble thoughts, and high inspirations.
Tara Has Three Main Aspects:
- Ugra Tara: The terrifying aspect of Tara, similar to Kali. The Tantras say that she gathers all the ignorance of the three worlds (physical, astral, and causal) into a bowl made from a human skull and then destroys it smoothly and swiftly.
- Nila Sarasvati: The power of the word piercing shadowy space. The light of knowledge that pierces the darkness of ignorance.
- Ekajata: The goddess with a single matted hair, signifying that all the scattered vibrations of sound are channeled in the act of creation.
Tara’s Cosmic Functions:
- The power of compassion
- The savior and protector—the quickest to help in dangerous situations
- The pranava—the holder of all mantras, the goddess of mantric knowledge
- The granter of compassionate and powerful speech
- In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara is the counterpart of Avalokiteshvara (the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion). In the Mahayana tradition, she is the mother of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
3. Tripura Sundari—The Goddess of Dazzling Beauty and Bliss
Tripura Sundari’s name comes from the Sanskrit words tri meaning “three,” pura, meaning “city,” and sundari, meaning “beauty.” Therefore, its literal translation is “the beauty of the three cities.” The “three cities” are the three worlds—physical, astral, and causal.
David Frawley says, “The being who delights in these three world experiences, yet inherently transcends them, is Tripura Sundari.” When Pure Bliss (the underlying background of everything) manifests, it becomes what we call beauty. Beauty is the most tangible manifestation of Bliss, and Tripura Sundari is the beauty that manifests in all three worlds.
Tripura also signifies the threefold aspect of Sundari. She is Kameshvari (the Goddess of Love), Lalita (the Goddess of Grace), and Sundari (the Goddess of Beauty).
4. Bhuvaneshvari—The Goddess of Space
The Sanskrit name Bhuvaneshvari comes from bhuvana, meaning “world,” and Ishvari, meaning “Supreme Goddess” or “Supreme Mother.” Therefore, Bhuvaneshvari is the Supreme Mother of the worlds. As akasha (Ether), she not only creates worlds, but also sustains, supports, and nourishes them. She is an all-pervading force, the holder of space.
Another name for Bhuvaneshvari is maya. The word maya comes from the root ma, meaning to measure—through Bhuvaneshvari’s action, the immeasurable is measured as space. In the Vedas, Bhuvaneshvari is known as Aditi—the Great Cosmic Mother, infinite and indestructible. She is known as primordial space, the origin of all manifestation, and the cosmic womb. Light comes to life in her, and therefore she is the mother of all suns and solar deities. The Divine Mother Bhuvaneshvari creates space so that all things in the manifest world can eventually arise.
In fact, Bhuvaneshvari is the whole Universe embodied as a deity. Her ardent worship attracts the cosmic vision of Reality, allowing us to surpass any limits. Bhuvaneshvari helps aspirants overcome blockages and expand their level of consciousness. When the Absolute manifests, in a metaphysical sense there is a delimitation—akasha (space, vastness), the place of all phenomena.
Bhuvaneshvari represents God’s initial creative vision. In other words, she represents the plan of creation, the Divine’s first intention for the manifest world. In the microcosm of the human being, Bhuvaneshvari resides in dahara akasha (the inner space of the Heart).
5. Tripura Bhairavi—The Goddess of Self-Sacrifice
Tripura Bhairavi’s name comes from the Sanskrit words tripura, meaning “three cities,” and bhairavi, meaning “terrifying” or “frightful.” Therefore, she is the “terrifying goddess of the three worlds.” But, she is dreadful only to those who cling to individual consciousness and separateness, who feel content in running in circles, unconsciously repeating the same selfish patterns. She is terrifying for indolent, lazy beings, as she burns up all their blemishes and weaknesses. She is the terrible force of destruction of impurities.
For those who strive towards spiritual progress, who want to overcome their limits by tapas (perseverant practice), she is the Bhairavi who destroys fear. A deeper meaning of tapas is the ardent aspiration that consumes and burns away all the devotee’s attachments, illusions, and everyday desires. As a natural consequence of her divine action, Tripura Bhairavi grants the capacity to completely control the senses, thoughts, and emotions, and helps the devotee successfully engage in spiritual actions that require discipline and sustained effort. She helps us during fasts, vows of silence, meditation retreats, pilgrimages, periods of celibacy, and all intensive spiritual sadhana (practice). Therefore, every time obstacles or hardships arise during spiritual practice we should sincerely and ardently request the help of Tripura Bhairavi.
6. Chinnamasta—The Goddess of Endless Courage and Striking Force
Chinnamasta’s name literally means “the severed head.” She is the divine power that takes the human being beyond the mind, beyond the identification “I am the body,” to reveal the essence of Pure Consciousness. To be without a head is a Tantric metaphor for going beyond the mind. The image of the beheaded goddess has a more dramatic impact on our psyche and conveys her significance more clearly than something simply theoretical.
Chinnamasta’s Cosmic Functions:
- The lightning that instantaneously destroys the ego or, in other words, all of our identifications—she represents the striking power of the Supreme.
- The deity that leads her devotees beyond the mind—her seat is in ajna chakra.
- The power of lightning—the light that unifies the sky and the Earth, freeing aspirants from the limitations inherent in the manifest world.
- The Lord’s weapon—vajra (the thunderbolt), she destroys instantaneously.
- The consort of the god Indra, the personification of instantaneous spiritual enlightenment. (She is known as Indrani or Vajra Vairochani, meaning “the one who is brilliant and holds thunder in her arm.” Consequently, Chinnamasta is the bright lightning of instantaneous spiritual intuition that destroys and permanently casts away the veil of ignorance, opening up the path to the Self.)
- The capacity for direct perception, the pure vision that goes beyond any veil of ignorance and limited perception, thus revealing that we are infinite divine consciousness beyond any name or form
- The unobstructed flow of kundalini shakti through sushumna nadi. She pierces Rudra granthi (the last knot of ignorance), which is in ajna chakra. She is the open Third Eye, the light of ajna chakra.
7. Dhumavati—The Goddess of the Void
Dhumavati’s name comes from the Sanskrit words dhuma, meaning “smoke,” and vati, meaning “consisting of.” Literally, Dhumavati means “the smoky one” or “the one who is composed of smoke.” She is the smoky swallower of the Universe. She is the void. She is the only goddess that does not have a shakta (consort), because she is completely beyond duality.
Dhumavati is the goddess who awakens feelings of solitude and distaste for material things. That is why her worship is considered appropriate for those who renounce the world. She represents the foremost “state” before creation—she is the one at the very beginning. She is also the ultimate darkness of the dissolution of the Universe. Dhumavati is the dark night, the great night, the terrible night of delusion that prepares the dawn of spiritual rebirth. She is so powerful in showing the miseries of life (life identified with forms) that she effectively awakens feelings of renunciation of the world and the aspiration to seek the Truth. She encourages spiritual awakening.
8. Bagalamukhi—The Paralyzer Goddess
The eighth Maha Vidya, Bagalamukhi’s name comes from the Sanskrit words bagala, which is a distortion of the root valga meaning a “bridle,” and mukha, which means “face.” Therefore, Bagalamukhi literally means “one whose face has the power to capture.” Bagalamukhi’s name refers to her power to stun, stop, or paralyze. She is the power of arresting any movement, action, thought, or word in its course. Thus, she opens us to the ineffable nature of the present moment. Her paralyzing power applies to motion, thought, and initiative. She induces sudden immobility in actions. Bagalamukhi also stops or smashes devotees’ misconceptions and illusions.
Bagalamukhi’s Cosmic Functions:
- The divine wisdom that stops negative thoughts and emotions born of the ego—she stops the discursive mind and brings it to rest.
- The power that arrests the movement of manifestation in its course—she is the still point between any kind of movement.
9. Matangi—The Goddess of Expression
Matangi’s name comes from the Sanskrit root mati, meaning “intelligence.” It refers to her attributes as a goddess who bestows knowledge, talent, and expressive play.
Matangi’s Cosmic Functions:
- The Word expressed as vaikhari vak (speech)—she resides in vishuddha chakra (the throat chakra)
- Thinking power, wisdom, memory, fluency, and felicity in speech
- The power of expression. She is the counterpart of Ganesha, who is well known for his sagacity, thinking power, and memory. Like Ganesha, Matangi can be invoked to remove obstacles and give accomplishments, as well as to grant knowledge. “Matangi” also means a female elephant.
- The Goddess of Wisdom. She is the same as Sarasvati, with the difference that she directs devotees towards inner knowledge, taking them beyond social limitations and conventions. She makes us outcasts as she takes us out of the “caste” of ordinary thinking.
- Ruler of all forms of knowledge, counseling, and teaching. She is the one who grants the continuity of spiritual instruction in the world, the progression of transmission from masters to disciples.
- The Goddess of Music
10. Kamalatmika—The Lotus Goddess
Kamalatmika (also known as Kamala) get her name from the Sanskrit word kamala, meaning “lotus.” Kamalatmika can be translated as “she of the lotus.”
The lotus flower that is associated with Kamalatmika shows many of her characteristics:
- Fertility, fecund vigor, and beauty
- Purity and spiritual blossoming—lotus blossoms open petal by petal, signifying the gradual opening of our consciousness to our essence, atman (the Supreme Self)
- The relationship between the gross and elevated levels of manifestation—with its roots in the mud and its stem in the water, the lotus follows its love for sunlight and blossoms in the air
Lotuses are also characteristic of the goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is said to adore lotuses, be lotus-eyed, and is usually depicted surrounded by lotuses. Indeed, Kamalatmika is none other than Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity and wife of Vishnu. Of all the Dasha Maha Vidya, Kamalatmika is the best known, most popular, and has the oldest tradition of worship outside the Maha Vidya context. She is the last of the Maha Vidyas, and has almost completely auspicious, beneficial, and desirable qualities.
Kamalatmika’s Cosmic Functions:
- Wealth, power, safety, fortune, and beauty. She is the goddess of plenitude, opulence, happiness, fortune, wealth, fertility, and devotion.
- Manifested beauty revealed in all its glory. Sri Shankaranarayan says, “Even the most alluring object would become a thing of disgust if her vivifying presence were not there.” The deeper meaning of Kamalatmika is very related to Tripura Sundari. Tripura Sundari is the basis of Divine Love, the living bond that ties the creator and the created and is expressed as an outflowing of bliss and beauty (the basic sap of all things). Kamala is the goddess of exquisite beauty.
- The water of fulfillment, the flowing of divine grace and love. Kamalatmika nourishes and supports whatever we aspire to do. She can be invoked both for worldly goals and for spiritual transformation. However, she is not a genie blindly granting wishes—she does not fulfill neurotic wants and selfish desires.
Learn more about the different branches of yoga in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive.