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Lunar Shakti Calendar

Lesson 1: March 28, 2009
Sunset Crescent in the Ram

Chinnamasta Shift

Chinnamasta is a Mahavidya, one of the ten emanations of Kali in Hindu goddess religion. Her equivalent in Buddhist and Tibetan lore is Cinnamunda (pronounced chee nah MOON DAH), shown in the same manner but with Buddhist embellishments such as the dorje, thunderbolt sceptre, or without the severed head, spurting blood, and two attendents (below). In Tibetan Tantra, Cinnamunda is regarded as an expression of Vajravarahi, one of the Diamond Sky Dakinis of the Vajra Jewel. As such, she is called a Buddhadakini, "Fully Enlightened Dakini," a designation given to very few yidams.

Yidam: Throughout these lessons, I will refer to the Mahavidya or Diamond Sky Dakini presiding over a lunation cycle as a yidam. This word is a contraction of the Tibetan yid-kyi-dam-tshig, "samaya (commitment) of mind."Another translation could be "mind anchor." A yidam is an image that anchors your attention in the mindstream, so that ordinary thought which tends to stray hither and thither can be solidly engaged with the inherently pure and self-liberating nature of mind.

Yidam is the Tibetan equivalent to the Sanskrit ishtadevata, "revered tutelary deity." In general, all the deities who preside over the lunar cycles can be called devatas when referring to their function of enlightenment through instruction. Bear in mind that an entity such as Chinnamasta (if you can call it an entity) represents two distinct ways to experience the subliminal power of your own mind: by direct and immediate cessation of thought, or by instruction in thought. The first experience is sudden enlightenment by direct introduction to the nature of mind. The second experience is transception, direct access to the subliminal concent of mind.

In the practice of observation of the lunar shaktis month by month, emphasis is on the latter experience: taking instruction from the subliminal aspect of your own mind. For further commentary on the yidams, see Your Mind Is Not What You Think It Is (forthcoming).

Obviously, Chinnamasta is one of the more shocking of the Mahavidyas. The act of self-decapitation is grisly and repulsive. What are we to make of it? Scholars scramble to assure us that it is purely symbolic: it denotes

"freedom from conceptuality and its limitations" (Miranda Shaw, Buddhist Goddesses of India),

"the recognition that the seer [head] is not an object, and that anything cognized by the mind as an object of perception, including the ego or self-image, must be apart from our self-nature" (David Frawley, Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses),

"removing false notions, ignorance, and limited consciousness" (David Kinsley, The Ten Mahavidyas: Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine), and

"the intricacies of the occult path and the philosophical and esoteric basis of Tantric practice" (S. Shankaranarayanan, The Ten Great Cosmic Powers).

All scholars agree that the act of self-beheading represents the most radical form of enlightenment by severing the false sense of self-centeredness and separation at its root in the mindstream—the root being, the concept of an "I". Vedantic and Vajrayanic teachings concur that clinging to the notion of a self (atmagraha) is the root of all illusions. Chinnamasta strikes at this root, but how she does so is deeply mysterious, truly a feat of occult intervention.

In practice with the lunar shaktis, we learn the lore of each yidam, month by month. Steeping yourself in this lore prepares the mind to receive instruction. The way instruction comes to you is something to be experienced firsthand, spontaneously as the practice develops. It varies with individuals regarding time and depth of recognition. In general, though, the process is the same for everyone. Inceptive attunement to the yidam of the month begins with clues, images, and fleeting themes that emerge in the course of the day and night. Nothing has to be sought out, forced, or teased by a deliberate act of mental focussing or "meditation." The method of this practice is contemplation, not meditation.

Now, to proceed with Lesson 1, we will go through the lunation cycle keeping the count of six intervals. I will record my own impressions over the course of the month. Doing so, I will also expand on the interpretation of Chinnamasta, adding an entirely new slant that has not so far been indicated by any scholar. It is a fabulous opportunity to begin the study of the lunar shaktis with this yidam, for Chinnamasta represents the secret of Kala Tantra, as distinguished from Planetary Tantra.

As I have already noted, Planetary Tantra is generic, accessible to all, but Kala Tantra is advanced practice to be undertaken by those who can endure its rigorous and radical features. I will use the Chinnamasta shift to clarify this difference between basic practice in Planetary Tantra and advanced practice. It could be said that Chinnamasta is the yidam who instructs on this difference.

D 1 - 4: March 28, 29, 30, 31

Begin the process by taking these four days to peruse the images and associations of the presising yidam, Chinnamasta. Use Miranda Shaw's magnificent book, Buddhist Goddesses of India, or internet sources, whatever. Simply let you attention float over this material. Don't ponder, don't try to work out what it means. Absorb this material, textual and visual, and contemplate the yidam but leave your mind open and clear. You can load the mind with "data" from outside and still leave it open to receive from inside the inceptive clues or cues for the cycle. To CLEAR means to leave the mind open on the inside.

Concurrent with this process, if you have the proper viewing conditions, take a moment at dusk to scan the western horizon for the emergent crescent. This is the right-hand crescent: so called because it will fit into the curve formed by the thumb and index finger of your right hand. Remarkably, the appearance of the sunset crescent happens in the same way that you detect the initial clue of dakini instruction: you just catch sight of the crescent at a glance, without effort. The first glimpse of the sunset crescent is always startling, a little jarring. This is especially true if you have been looking for it, scanning the sky, but not yet seen it, then you become distracted by some thought or other, and presto, the next moment that you look, there it is! It just jumps out, exactly in the way that dakini instruction rerupts into the mindstream.

When you spot the sunset crescent in the first four days, you may not be able to discern the shape of the constellation where it stands. It takes many years of skywatching to be able to do so. Nevertheless, you will know beforehand that the crescent stands in the Ram, to give the constellation its Greco-Latin name. You don't have to visualize anything here. Don't try to picture the crescent superposed on the body of a sheep. The received name "Ram" is just a way a locating devise. Some of the sidereal mythology of the Ram, drawn from many diverse cultures, might be relevant to the Chinnamasta shift, but that remains to be seen. I will comment along those lines, as appropriate.

You may recall that I associated the beheading motif of Chinnamasta with the Ram in the process of discovering the Tantric Zodiac. Review that passage if you care to do so. It is relevant to the thematic cueing of the current cycle.



Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2014 by John Lash.