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  • Writer's pictureDurga Dasi

Sacred Humanity (Part 2)

Updated: May 1, 2022

(A three part series adapted from my final paper for the "Subtle Anatomy" course I completed for Ramakrishna Seminary at Kali Mandir.)

In both the Devi Mahatmya and the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam descriptions of Devi are given, sparing no body part. Of course, there’s deep spiritual meaning to each one, and we could suppose the entire depiction as symbolic. From the perspective of a sadhak, however, the detailed outline of a human body attributed to the Great Mother is not to go unappreciated. If She, the Great Goddess Herself, would don a fleshly form, could the body be in and of itself unclean, impure, or “bad”? To deem it as such would suppose She dare defile Her own innate purity.

Of course, one could go on to argue that there is no “good” or “bad” because everything is Brahman.


“Everything” must be inclusive of these very bodies, these sacred temples that house our weary souls as we travel life to life in search of our Mother.

Georg Feuerstein shares an important insight, “The common Sanskrit word for ‘body’ is deha, which stems from the verbal root dih (‘to smear’ or ‘be soiled’). It hints at the defiled nature of the body. Yet the same verbal root can also signify ‘to anoint’, which gives the noun deha the far more laudatory meaning of ‘that which is anointed’. The older Sanskrit word for ‘body’ I sharīra, derived from the verbal root shri (‘to rest upon’ or ‘to support’) … [the] means of which the Self can experience the world… a temple of the Divine…” [1]

2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay… in earthen vessels… to show that this power is…God…” (my paraphrase).

The Haudenosaunee Nation (Indigenous to Turtle Island, or “North America”) has a beautiful prayer, in which they thank every aspect of creation for fulfilling their role in Creator’s plan; thus not only deeply appreciating the human body, but also the physical manifestation of “All Our Relations”. Here is a portion of that prayer, as shared by Robin Wall Kimmerer:

“We now turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth… now our minds are one.”[2]

This is the conclusion of a prayer that is preceded by a generous list of gratitude to categories of materialized creation.

These examples serve to render a holy reading of insight from myriad spiritual traditions. Even those that would accuse us of being born into sin cannot negate the sanctity of these holy vessels into which we are born.

One of my favorite authors, Devadatta Kali, says, “Human life has four aims to give it meaning… the purusharthas. They are dharma, artha, kama and moksha. You know what dharma is – the fulfillment of moral duty. I place it first to guarantee that righteousness will be the guiding principle for all else that follows. Artha is economic activity, such as the pursuit of a livelihood and the acquisition of material comforts. Up to a point, that is a necessary part of human existence. Next, kama means the fulfillment of desires, and again if dharma comes first, then the desires that follow will be legitimate and non-harmful, spiritually speaking. These first three aims form a class by themselves and relate to life in the world. The fourth aim, moksha, is liberation from this world.” [3]

What I deeply appreciate about this text is that though our ultimately our goal is liberation, in no way does it dictate the human body nor experience as inherently evil; rather, it invites us to create channels of devotion in and as each aim. The intention isn’t to negate the human experience, but to offer it with meaning by the cleansing of dharma… which, for the bhakta, must include devotion. I find this passage to be ripe with invitation into humanness… into the messiness of life and to offer all of it to the Divine Mother by intention followed by sacred action.

In the West, we’ve experienced so much stripping of that which is sacred. Indigenous peoples have been killed for and denied access to our rituals and rites of passage. Imperialism seeks to conquer the “savage” here and abroad. This has caused a spiritual starvation, causing seekers to settle for unnourishing, cheap substitutes that parade as cultural appropriation; causing harm to the cultures stolen from AND to those who are stealing. These sacred traditions, such as headdresses and mantras, are then cheaply repackaged and sold for profit.

Consider neotantra which would bind spirituality to mere sexual pleasure. As infuriating as it is to behold, this phenomenon is quite sad. So many folks settle for an insignificant climax, never realizing that they could participate in profound union with Great Spirit.

For the bhakta, though, the practices of Tantra would invite and allow us to enjoy the physical pleasure of union and realize such as a precursor to an unbreakable union with Beloved. Though it pales in comparison to the Ultimate Reality, our moment-to-moment existence fortifies our circuitry for that which we truly seek.

[1] Feuerstein, G. (1998). Tantra: The path of ecstasy. Shambhala. [2] Kimmerer, R. W. (2016). Braiding sweetgrass. Tantor Media, Inc. [3] Kālī, D. (2006). The veiling brilliance: A journey to the goddess. Nicolas-Hays.

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