The Divine and Tantra
An extract from The Power of Tantra Meditation, by Artemis Emily Doyle and Bhairav Thomas English
Tantra views the Divine as having one reality composed of two indivisible aspects. They are understood as two to aid the mind in comprehending the incomprehensible, but they are one in reality. In Tantra, these two are known as Śivā and Śakti; Static and Dynamic; Consciousness and Energy; Nothingness and Everythingness. Ultimately speaking, Śivā and Śakti are equal and inseparable, but in some Tantrik subcultures, Śakti and Śivā may be emphasized and considered more important than the other. Specific traditions accentuate one divine aspect over the other to help the practitioner comprehend the sādhanā specific to that path. Once a full non-dual recognition is actualized, no such distinction is necessary. These apparent opposites exist within every jiva (individual soul).
Śivā is translated literally as the "Benevolent One." The early pre-Aryans saw him as a Divine being who would shed blessings upon them. Within Indian Hindu mythology, there are numerous deities, often all having a male or female counterpart. This coupling of opposites is often romantic and is indicative of a core belief of the Divine encompassing all, even apparent opposites.
Śivā is male presenting and has a human form. However, this kind of humanization of the Divine should not be mistaken for the Divine. It is a symbol made to make the Divine more relatable and simpler for the mind to comprehend. Ultimately Śivā is neither masculine nor feminine, nor does he even have a body; his body is of the Unmanifested Universe. Every jiva and object in this world, both sentient and insentient, is made up of Consciousness; thus, every object and being is partly containing the element of Śivā.
Śivā is the empty vast infinite space within which Śaktī creates the world. It is from Śivā, that Śaktī takes form and cultivates the spark of life. Śaivism is the term used to indicate traditions that worship Śivā as the Ultimate. Tantriks who subscribe to Śaivism are known as Śaivites. For them, he is the creator, destroyer, preserver, concealer, and revealer of the Universe. Within Śaivism, there are many sects, and despite their differences, these sects are united in their love for Śivā.
Śaktī is known as Maha-Devī (the supreme Goddess) and is the immanent aspect of the Divine and the creative force of the Universe (Feuerstein. 1998). Tantrika-s who worship Śaktī are known as Śakta-s, and for them, she is all that is manifest and the fundamental energetic substratum which holds the Universe together. Śaktī's gender is feminine, but this is only a cultural interpretation. Just as with Śivā, ultimately, Śaktī is neither feminine nor masculine. For some practitioners, Śaktī is a more critical Deity than Śivā, which is reflected in the saying: "Śivā is a mere corpse Śava) without Śaktī" (Kinsley. 2008).
In Tantra, Śivā has a handful of characteristics that he is associated with, while Śaktī has 1000's. All of the manifestations of the material and subtle worlds are a form of Śaktī. Śaktī takes the form of multiple different Goddesses and sometimes stands on the corpse of Śivā. This symbolizes that without Śaktī, there is no action, no manifestation, no life. Without Śaktī, life is nothing but a corpse, for Śivā is Consciousness, but without life force (Śaktī), he cannot be realized.
In Tantra Śaktism, the Dasmahāvidyā-s (Ten Wisdom Goddesses) are an essential collection of incarnations of Śaktī. These represent significant manifested realities in the world. Through specific mantra-s, yantra-s, and puja (ritual), the sādhak works with a specific Goddess who brings worldly and spiritual boons. These Dasmahāvidyā-s are classified as benign or wrathful but are always symbolizing an aspect of Śaktī the Divine Mother.
Śaktism has countless sects, cults, rituals, and myths. Multiplicity is understood to be the nature of Her being. Even though each order worships Her in differing forms, there is a shared understanding that they are diverse aspects of the One Supreme Goddess.