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Tantric Art and the Primal Scene

Kali: The Feminine Force by Ajit Mookerjee


Review by: Daniel Benveniste
The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Autumn 1990), pp. 39-55
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of The C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco
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Tantric Art and the Primal Scene

Reviewed by Daniel Benveniste


Tantra is a way oflife in which the Tantrika seeks transcendence
not in withdrawal from the world but in a fully embodied entrance
into it. The Tantric way of life reflects a view of the \\!odd that is
shared by various sects amongst the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain
traditions. While some of these sects arc strictIy Tantric in character,
Tantric influences on art, myth, ritual, science, and philosophy
have, over the last two or three nlillennia, become an inextricable
part of the cultural pattern of all traditions on the Indian subcontinent. Distinctive attributes of the Tantric way include I)
worship of the goddess; 2) recognition of an inner cosnlic energy
(the Kundalini) lying dornlant in the human organism which can
be awakened in the service of identifying oneself with the supreme
reality; and 3) a belief that transcendence comes not from separation
and withdrawal but fronl the unification of the opposites. Tantric
art is the visual representation of this magnificent tradition. This art
is characterized by paintings and sculptures of deities, geometric
forms, sexual practices, schematic depictions of the universe (cosmograms), scenes frolll ll1yths, and other representations of the spiritual
path. A common thenle ret1ected in Tantric art is the unification of
opposites, represented by the juxtaposition of the male and female,
of sex and death, of peaceful and wrathful deities.
This ancient artistic tradition received little attention in the
western \vorId until 1967, \vhen Ajit Mookerjee began publishing a
beautiful series of illustrated books on this subject. His most recent
book is ](ali: The Feminine Force.

The Sail Fl1U1Cist:o lung Institute Library ]ounuu, Vol. 9, No.4, 1990

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Ajit Mookerjee. /(ali: The Feminine Force. Rochester, VT, Destiny


Books (Inner Traditions International), 1988.

... to become aware of one's own incredible potential, [and]


to realize and experience joy in being one with the cosmos ...
There is no place for renunciation or denial in tantra. Instead,
we must involve ourselves in all the life processes which
surround us. The spiritual is not something that descends
from above, rather it is an illumination that is to be discovered
within. (Tantra Asana. New York, George \\Tittenborn, 1971,
pp.15-16)

This illumination unfolds within both the mental processes and the
physicality of the body.
In the Tantric tradition, the body is thought to correspond
quite directly to the structure and functioning of the universe. "The
complete dranla of the universe is repeated here, in this very body.
The whole body with its biological and psychological processes
beC0l11eS an instlunlent through which the cosmic power reveals
itself According to Tantric principles, all that exists in the universe
must also exist in the individual body." (Mookerjee. J(undalini.
London., Thames & Hudson, 1982, p. 9) A common image in
Tantric Jainis111 is a cosmogram depicting the universe in the fornl
of Purusha., the Primal Man. The correspondence between the
personal and cosmic bodies is further extended in the Tantric tradition by the idea that the personal body is the ulti~llate yantra,
or tool, through which one nlay seek the tnlth.
This search for "'tnah" involves the awakening of an inner

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Tantra and Tantric Art


Mookerjee traces the Tantric tradition archaeologically back
to the Harappan Culture which flowered in the Indus Valley five
thousand years ago. The earliest codified Tantric texts are about
two thousand years old; a great many of the texts we have today
were \vritten between the seventh and eleventh centuries A.D.
Tantra is not a one-day-a-week religion; it is a cultural pattern
and a way of life. It has its own art., science., ritual and philosophy
that crosses the religious boundaries of the nl0re fornlalized traditions of Hinduism, Jainisnl, and BuddhislTI. Tantric nleditation
elTIploys mantras and yantras as instrunlents of spiritual transformation. A mantra is a vocalized sound which, when chanted
properly, is designed to evoke certain altered states of consciousness.
A yantra is a picture or diagram which is used as an object of
meditation, also to evoke such altered states. These altered states
are then said to open the doors to transcendent experience, wisdom.,
and great understanding.
Mookerjee says that the aim of Tantric practice is

psychic energy lying dornlant at the base of the spine. The energy is
called the Kundalini and is represented as a sleeping snake coiled
around a phallus (Lingam)~ with the snake's Inouth open over the
top of the phallus. The ailn ofTantric meditation is to awaken this
Kundalini and allow Her to move up through the body along the
pathway of the seven chakras~ or energy centers; so that She~ as
Power Consciousness, may re-unite with the Cosmic Consciousness
that is Shiva, the ultimate lord of creation~ preservation, and
destrrtction. Unlike other spiritual traditions the Tantric path does
not reject the body as profane but regards it as the vehicle of
transcendence.

The recognition of sex as a cosmic union of the opposites is


revealed not only in the Tantrika's more open (though definitely
not casual) attitude toward sex but also in the frequently graphic
depictions of copulating lovers in Tantric art. This therne of the
union of the opposites is one that pervades the Tantric literature.
There are numerous references to male and fenlale, death and birth,
creation and destruction~ lingam (penis) and yani (vulva), pleasure
and suffering, and self and other, all transcended in the union of
these opposites. To fully cOlnprehend the mysteries of creation and
destrrtction and the transience of hurnan existence, meditation and
ritual sex practices (sexual asanas) are conducted by the Tantrikas in
the dead of night in the crenlation grounds~ amidst the rotting
bones and t1esh of the recently cremated.
Phillip Rawson cites a passage from the Karpuradistotram that
amplifies this theme.

o Goddess Kali, he who on a Tuesday midnight having uttered


your mantra, makes an offering to you in the crcmation ground
just once ofa [pubic] hair trom his temale partner [sakti] pulled
out by the root, wet with semen poured from his penis into
her menstmating vagina, becomes a great poet, a Lord of thl'
vVorld, and [like a raja] always travels on elephant-hack. (The
Art of Tantra. New York, Oxt()rd Univcrsity Press, 1978, p.
31 )
Throughout the Tantric literature there is a play between the
themes of one-ness and two-ness, unity and duality. It is from

Ajit Mookcr}cc, KaJi: The Ft'1llillille Foret'

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Rather than subduc, tantra teaches us to realizc and harness


the potcntial of the senses. Sexual instinct, an all pervading
urge, is the physical basis of creation and of mankind's evolution. Sex is the cosmic union of opposites from which everything and every being arises. Its importance demands its
fulfillment. (Tantra Asana, pp. 35-36)

one-ness that \ve are born into this divided \vorld~ and it is to
one-ness that we seck to return. ~1ookerjee quotes the Devibhagavata all this topic.
The one without a secoml perennial Brahman becomes dual
at the time of aeation. As a single 1Jmp becomes dual by the
diftcrcnce of Upad hi (condition), as a single face becomes dual
in the fi)l"]ll oL1I1 image in the mirror, as a single body appears
dual with its shadow, even so our images arc many owing to
the ditlcrence of minds (which arc madc up of ~1aya) ... At
the time of tinal dissolution I am neither male nor female or
nCllter. (Trmtm A rt. Basil. Switzerland, Ravi Kumar, 1983, p.
103)

Divided into two parts, I

cre~ltc.

(Tantra Asal1a, p. 75)

The one-ness referred to is neither this nor that, aught nor naught,
death nor imnlortality, day nor night. Oneness is the transcendence
of the opposites. Oneness is nothing, that is~ no-thing. The world is
said to have cmcrged when this nothing was heated and the first
'\.ksire'l"l arose. lInages of one-ness are typically depicted in the t()flTI
of geometric diagrams such as concentric circles representing the
universe; descending triangles representing the temale's lite-giving
genital triangle; a six pointed star representing the dialectical
convergence of the descending-tcminine-t]iangle and the ascendingmasculine-triangle. Other pictorial inlages demonstrate the lila or
divine play between the opposites conceived either as rivals in
battle or lovers in erotic embrace.
](ali: The Feminine Force is 112 pages long and includes 104
illustrations, eighteen of which are extremely good color reproductions. The eight chapters of the book are entitled "Sakti-worship,"
~~Fe]ninine Divinity," "Fen1inine Force," "Manifestations of Kali,"
"Divine Mother,~' "Supreme Reality," "Kalighat Paintings," and
"H ymns to Kali."
In the first chapter Mooke~ee presents a history of the female
deities of India. He begins with the clay mother goddess figurines
of the Harappan culture c.2500 B.C. and moves quickly through
their development to the more moden1 conceptions and depictions
of Sakti. Sakti (or Shakti) is the personification of the teminine
principle. She is associated with the teo1inine energy and" ... the
priolal creative p]inciplc underlying the cosmos." (I(ali, p. II) She is
depicted in lnany f(xms and has ]11any names, but they are all Sakti.
The universe is both a l11anifestation of Sakti herself and of what is

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And again:

Ajit Mookcrjcc, Kali: The Fmziniue Force

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contained within Sakti's womb. Sakti is the source of life-the


creator, the protector, and the all-consunling one. She is worshipped
in the stones, the water, and the soil itself This goddess has not
abandoned her worshippers and retreated to a distant heavenly
realm. She is omnipresent.
Mookerjec's description of the nlultifaceted Indian goddess,
Sakti, brings to mind Erich Neunlann's The Great Mother (Princeton,
N], Princeton University Press, 1955, 1963) in which terrible,
maddening, and death dealing aspects of "the nlother archetype"
are laid side by side \vith birthgiving, inspiring, and nurturing aspects.
The second chapter is about the relationship of the personal
body to the cosmos. In this chapter Mookeliee develops the Tantric
notion that the spiritual life and transcendence are to be sought
here in the n1idst of the earthly world, not in a retreat from it.
Mookerjee says, "Since, according to tantra, the body is the link
bet\veen the terrestrial world and the cosmos, the body is, as it
were, the theatre in which the psycho-cosmic dranla is enacted."
(Kali, p. 35)
In this chapter are some an1azing pictures and descriptions of
yoni (vulva) worship. In one stone carving two worshipers are seen
bowing their heads before a great disembodied vulva. In another
stone sculpture a devotee is depicted drinking the yoni tattva, or
"sublime essence," from the moist vulva of a giant woman. There is
also a description of a pilgrimage site where a natural cleft in the
rock is always kept moist by a natural spring running through it.
This site is worshipped as the yoni (vulva) of Sati (another manifestation of Sakti). Fronl July to August, after the monsoons, the
\vater fron1 the natural spring nlns red with iron oxide, and a great
celebration is held. At the celebration, the reddened water is taken
as a ritual drink symbolic of Sati's menstrual blood. The shrine of
Sati's yoni is in honor of only one of the fifty-one pieces of her
dismenlbered body said to have been spread out at various sites
across the landscape. A pilgrimage from one site to another is seen
as worship of the entire body of the goddess in the landscape.
While this pilgrimage can be made on a large scale trek across the
landscape of the goddess's body, it can also be made, just as flilly, on
a slnaller and more personal scale. For, as the Purascharanollasa
Tantra says, "All the pilgriluage-centers exist in \\TOnlan's body."
(Kali) p. 25) In the Tantric tradition godhood is worshipped in
both the personal and cosmic bodies. Mookerjee also tells us that,
"When a high-priest and poet of fifteenth century Bengal, Chandidas, fell in love with a washer-maid, Rami, against society'S

\\'ho dares misery love


And hug the torm of death
Dance in destruction'5 dance
To him the Mother comes. ([(ali, p. 71)

While some may find Tantric art and poetry morbid, others
will find wisdom in the assertions concen1ing the dialectic of creation
and destnlCtion which in the terminology of thc depth psychologies
pertains to construction and deconstruction, synthesis and analysis.
There are sevcral particularly macabre paintings reproduced in
this chapter. One, of special interest to me, is a picture of the

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strong opposition, he approached his temple deity the goddess,


Bashuli, who told him, 'No deity can after you what this woman
is able to give you.'" (Kali" pp. 25-26) Thus, the goddess, a narcissistic vision of the perfect cosInic woman, steps aside to n1ake
room t()r her devotee to form a relationship with a real woman.
Thc' third chapter is a detailed account of the mythological
battles of Sakti in her forms as Durga, Parvati, and Kali. Two
predominant then1es en1erge from these accounts of the goddess's
strength: the strength of her grace and beauty and thc strength of
her death dealing all-consuming \vrath.
The fourth chapter offers a briefdescription of the n1any forms
of Kali, such as the Black Kali, the Virgin-creator Kali, and the
Dasa-Mahavidyas (ten Great Wisdoms), each of which has a different
form and function. There is also a discussion of the historical
cmergence of Kali in the Indian pantheon. The first known reference
to Kali is in a text entitled the Devi-Mahatmya c.400 A.D. There
Kali is said to have been born out of the forehead of Durga, a
ferocious goddess in the midst of a battle against the anti-divine
forces. When Kali was born, she too emerged ready to fight, armed
with a sword and noose.
Kali's head birth recalls the Tantric vision of the Kundalini
emerging from the top knot; the Chinese belief that the spirit-body
separatcs from the physical body at the crown of the skull; the
Egyptian belief that the soul leaves the body out the top of the
head; and the Greek myth of Athene's birth from a cleft in Zeus's
head. (Athene, too, emerged fully armed, letting loose a mighty
battle-shout. )
In the next chapter, on the Divine Mother, thcre are numerous
references to the tripartite character of Kali, the mother goddess
who creates, nurtures, and destroys. This chapter begins with a
passage from a poem by Ramakrishna's disciple, Vivekananda:

Ajit Mookcrjcc, Kn/i: Tbt' ri:milli,u' Fmn

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cosmic couple-Shiva and Devi-copulating in the midst of a


funerary ground. In the background are two blazing funerary pyres.
In the foreground are three wild dogs, two of them chewing on
severed human heads. Three other heads are scattered about on the
ground anlidst a field of beautiful flowering plants. In the center,
the god Shiva is seen naked, lying on his back, with his eyes closed.
Squatting on top of hinl, with his erect penis entering her, is the
goddess, Devi, wearing only her jewels. In her right hand she
carries her own head, which she has freshly severed frolll her neck
in an act of surrender. As blood drips fronl her neck she smiles
sweetly. In her left hand she carries a sword and a skull cap cup. The
blood spurts upward like a fountain from her decapitated body. She
gathers this blood in her cup. Though her head has just been
removed, the eyes are open and her body is pink signifYing her
continuing vitality. Shiva, on the other hand, is ashen \vhite signif)ting
that he is "the dead god"-the god of death. Coiled around his
right arm are two snakes with their heads hanging down; around
his left arm, two snakes with their heads raised up. Coiled around
his neck and top knot are two additional snakes, one with its head
down and the other with its head up. As a Tantrika, Shiva maintains
his sexual asana (position for nleditation) without releasing the
ejaculate. Instead he uses the sexual energy to awaken the Kundalini
and then directs the Kundalini up through the seven chakras. He
releases it through the topmost seventh chakra (the Sahasrara chakra)
which is sonletimes rderred to as the "Mouth of God." In this
picture we see emerging fronl Shiva's topknot (the location of this
chakra) a tiny head \-vhose nl011th spe\\lS fc)rth the river Ganges-the
Rivcr of Life. In this fashion the Kundalini participates in thc
creation of a lifc that is Inind-born. This parallels the birth of a
psychological life through the sublimation of the aroused libido.
Likc nlany of the European alchemical woodcuts, this painting
is a collage of opposites. It depicts sex and aggression, the male and
the female, death and life, genital sex and sublimation, eyes open
and eyes closed, snake heads up and snake heads down. This Tantric
vision of thc opposites pertains to the Tantric path to transcendence
through affirmation and inclusion rather than through negation
and separation. God-hood is here, not elsewhere, is both male and
female, and is both creative and destrrlCtive. To elaborate the idea
that creation and destruction may be contained in a single image
Mookc.rjee recounts Ramakrishna's vision of the Divine Mother.
"He sa\\' an exquisitely beautiful woman, heavy with child~ emerge
from the G~mges, give birth and tenderly nurse her infant. A nl0mcnt

later, she had assumed a terrible aspect, and seizing the child in her
jaws, cnlshed it. Devouring her offSpring she re-entered the water."
[<.ali, p. 83)
"Supreme Reality" is a short chapter which speaks to the oneness
from which all duality emerges and the desire of the Tantrika to
return to that oneness by dissolving difference and obliterating
boundaries. It opens with a passage from the Devi Upanishad in
\vhich the question is asked, "Great Goddess, who art thou?" to
which she answers that she is the absolutc, the creator of ll1aterial
substancc, and coslnic consciousness. She is bliss and non-bliss,
knowledge and ignorance, the five elen1ents, and all that is different
from them. She says,

This "Supreme Reality" or "Great Goddess" seell1S to me akin


to what Joseph Henderson refers to in Thresholds of Initiation
(Middle'town, CT, vVesleyan University Press, 1967) as the "Primal
God Image." It is also reminiscent of Lacan's fragmented and
undifferentiated pre-mirror-stage state, Mahler's normal autistic
phase, and the psychoanalytic concept of prill1ary narcissism. I view
each of these theoretical fantasies of the infant's pre-verbal "consciousness" as parallel, on the imaginal plane, to the Tantric vision
of the "5uprell1e Reality."
If we recognize n1yth and cultural tradition as dcrivative
material.emerging from the personal and shaped within the cultural,
thcn the, silnilarities betwcen, say myths and drean1s, is not due to
some vaguely described mystical connection or biological inheritance
but rathGr to their con1n10n derivative origins in the personal psyche.
50, for example, the cosmic vision of world origins, as expressed in
myth and ritual, cannot help but parallel the personal quest to
uncover .or undcrstand one's personal origins.
Additional parallels can be tCJund between motifs in Tantric
art and those common fantasies associated with later stages in
psychosexual devdopnlent, The ocdipus complex is a metaphor for
enculturation during which the child learns about sex differences,
generational differences, and all the associated prohibitions.
Depending on the particulars of this experience the child develops
a social stylc that is uniquely its OWI1. Throughout this process the
penis comes to represent the "phallus"-that is, an organ of social
potency. The penis is a phallus because its fC]rnlal characteristics

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I am the entire world.


I am' .the Veda as well as what is diftercnt from it.
I anf unknown.
Bt'low and above and around am 1. (J(al~ p. 85)

Ajit Mookerjee, KaJi: The Femi1Jine Force

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separate while the female genitalia contain. Thus, while the inlage
of the vagina signifies containnlent, holding together, and synthesis,
the penis signifies penetration, separation, discrimination, and
differentiation. The sexual organs are fundamental because they are
the site of powerfill sensory input as well as being the basic discriminating difference, upon which socialization is oriented. \Ve all are
assigned to one gender group or the other at birth, and we begin to
realize the consequences of this assignment once the oedipal phase
is complete. But in wrestling with the vicissitudes of enculturation
via the metaphor of bodily experience, gender and generational
differences slip back and forth between fusion and differentiation.
This confusion of gender identity gives rise to all the familiar and
puzzling fantasies of analytic work: the penis-bearing \\,on1an, the
hermaphrodite, the pregnant male, castration, and the rcst.
Tantric literature addresses the slipping and sliding of "the
\\Torld" bet\veen unity (flIsion) and duality (differentiation)') and
Tantric art is loaded with depictions of hermaphroditic gods as \vell
as sharply defined tnale and female gods. The mythology is also
rich in overt castration then1es, incest scenes, and other dramatizations of psychosexual reality.
Kali's phallic character is often depicted as a sword wielding
goddess standing on the body of Shiva who is lying on his back
with his erect penis pointing upward toward the goddess. ([(ali, pp.
63, 70, 74-76) Her phallic nature is also reflected in the depiction
of her long protruding tongue ([(ali, p. 62), a phallic baby emerging
from her vagina (Kali, p. 44), a skirt ofsevered hunlan arms dangling
from her waist ([(ali, p. 60, 82') 90, 95, 105), and even by the
graphic depiction of a penis in place of a vulva ([(ali, p. 28) In one
representation ([(ali, p. 28), the god/goddess is depicted \vith one
full woman's breast, one nlaIe breast, an erect penis, and only one
testicle. Syntheses such as these seem to consciously suggest equilibriun1, or the balance of nlale and female while conveying an
uneasy sense of mutilation. (Again, this mutilation reminds us of
how the Tantric tradition tends to juxtapose not only the opposites
of male and fenlale but also those of creation and destntction.)
In the next chapter Mooke~ee introduces us to the work of
the Bengali folk artists. He highlights that part of their \\fork which
ridicules the foolish nature of men and attests to the assertiveness
and strength of women. Mooke~ee uses this chapter to give us a
sense of the relationship between the cultural view of the cosmic
feminine and the more political view of \\,'omen. It is also a way for
the author to tip his hat to the culture he was born and raised in.

(His first book \-vas The Folk Art of Bengal published in 1939.)
"Hymns to Kali," which comes next, is a collection of songs to
the goddess. In introducing this chapter Mookerjee says:
The vast Sakta literature contains many poems to illustrate the
goddess's 'world play' (lila), the realization of which dispels all
fear. For the i\1other is only terrible to those who are living in
the illusion of separateness; who have not realized their unity
with her, and ktlO\Vn that all of her forms are f()r enlightenment.
(Kali, p. 97)

Psychological Commentary
Tantric art is rich in primal scene components, and its concept
of Kundalini is conlparable to that of the Libido. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud said, "I believe that a large part of
the mythological view of the world, which extends a long way into
the most nlodern religions, is nothing but psychology projected
into the external world." (London, The Hogarth Press, 1901, p.
258) In this formulation Freud helps us to see the very human
roots of myth-making.
In myths of world creation, the world typically begins in chaos
and by various methods and transfonnations subsequently achieves
cosmos (order). There are many ways of affecting this transformation,
but it is often by way of a simple separation of the primordial chaos
into a duality. This duality is thcn subject to further ditlerentiations

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I regard this lila, the goddess's world play, as a cosmic metaphor


for the construction and deconstruction ofall psychic representations
whether they be dream images, complexes, symptonls, the ego, the
sense of self or even a \vorld-view. Thus, enlightel11l1ent, or at least
understanding, is the boon of recognizing the wholly constnlCted
nature of reality and the hegemony, or power dynamics, of that
construction. Analysis (which literally means "loosening"), is a
systenlatic nlethod of deconstruction \vith the intention of maximizing our understanding of this lila.
Ajit Mookcrjee is not a psychologist. He is an Indian art
historian. Yet the subject matter of his work, as well as his view of
this work give the depth psychologist and psychotherapist 111uch to
consider. In Kali: The Feminine Force Mookerjee presents us with a
richly illustrated discussion of the female deities in Tantric art. In
particular, the theme of lila- the world play of creation and destruction so central to the Tantric tradition - has n1any far reaching
implications for the depth psychologist.

Ajit Mookerjee, KaJi: The Femi1line Forr:e

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which ultimately reach a transformative threshold, beyond which a


new order is established. While unity is death and the closure of
psychological space, duality gives rise to desire. This, of course,
brings to mind the preceding discussion of unity and duality in the
Tantric vision of creation. ("Divided into two parts, I create."
Devibhagavata, Tantra Asana" p. 75) Cosmogonic myth-making is
a projection of a personal organizing principle onto the external
world. This cosmogonic tendency is one that can be seen in creative
works, autobiographies, the anamneses of patients in psychotherapy,
and in Tantric art.
Erich Neumann says, "The fact that the dawn ofconsciousness
and the creation ofthe world are parallel processes which throw up
the same symbolism indicates that the world actually 'exists' only to
the degree that it is cognized by an ego." (The Origins and History of
Consciousness. Princeton, N], Princeton University Press, 1949, 1954,
p. 329) Nunberg's "synthetic function of the ego" appears to be the
cognitive organizer of this "cosmogonic tendency." And the shape
of such constructions appears to be conditioned by the uniqueness
of a primal scene fantasy residing at its core.
The primal scene is Freud's term for the child's observation of
the parents engaging in sexual intercourse. Since the primal scene
fantasy refers to the child's experience of that event, such fantasies
need not be grounded in an actual visual encounter with the parents
literally having sex. Primal scene fantasies may emerge in response
to noises in the night, or simply a closed door. They are f.:1ntasiFs of
what lies beyond the prohibition!
i
To assert that primal scene tantasy resides at the core of the
human being's cosmogonic tendency and therefore at the core of
world creation myths is to acknowledge I) that nlyths are the
creative work of individual people withIn a culture; 2) that myths
contain what psychoanalysts call "derivative" material; 3) that the
ego is first a body-ego; 4) that through the symbolic function the
child's organization of the world is constellated around various
maturationally determined zones and functions of the body; 5) that
curiosity in the prinlal scene and the construction of the primal
scene fantasy is the child's attempt to come to terms with sexual
difference, with generational difference, with sexual and aggressive
impulses, with the origins of life, and with the family order; and 6)
that these issues are paralleled in creation nlyths which pertain not
to sexual difference but to the separation of the cosmic opposites,
not to generational difference but to the difference between the
gods and the mortals, not to the sexual and aggressive impulses but

The Linga and Yoni


]anine Chasseguet-Smirgel (C1-eatilJity and Pave1'Jw11. New York,
W. W. Norton, 1984) brings into high relief the notion that the
oedipal child is absorbed in the struggle to come to terms with
sexual and generational differences. \Vorld mythology and other
creative works reveal these same themes but usually do so in a wide
variety of veiled or disguised forms. Unlike these, the Tantric
tradition has a tendency to leave the struggles ,"vith sexual and
generational difference cast in the forn1S of their original sexual and
familial contexts. For exampJe~ Kali is frequently described as having
a phallic character. On page 28, ~1ookerjec reproduces a pichlre of
a stone statue of Kamakalavilasa who is seen standing on her knees
and with her hands above her head supporting the head of Nandi,
Siva's bull, who is symbolic of Siva's great phallic power. Kamakalavilasa is depicted naked with full breasts and a large crect penis. In
lWode11l Art in India (Calcutta, Oxford Book and Stationery Co.,
1956), also by Ajit Mookerjee, plate 58 is of a scroll painting in
\vhich we see a naked evil spirit who has the breasts of a \voman and
a pellls.

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to ethical order and right social relations, not to the origins of life
but to the origins of the universe, and not to the family order but
to the stnlCture of the world. The cosmogonic myth, to a certain
extent, is a primal scene fantasy projected into the cosmos and
reworked by generation after generation of visionJries and culture
reformers.
When a culture's spirit is given artistic expression in pictorial
or mythologic form, the primal scene fantasy residing at the core of
the creative work usually lies blanketed as Freud recognized, under
layer upon layer of secondary process. In some traditions, however,
this blanketing appears to be only a thin veil. In these traditions the
sexuality of the cosmic parents is of conscious concern to both
adepts and devotees. The Tantric way is one such tradition.
Primal scene components can, of course, be detected in all
manner of human expression. For example, it abounds in the general
mythology of the Hindu tradition, where, as in Tantric art, it is
thinly disguised. The Tantric texts contain vivid descriptions and/or
depictions of the gods and goddesses making love, of phallic women,
of castrations, of the vagina dentata, of incest, of fused sex and
violence, and of a host of other themes all reminiscent of imagery
associated with personal strrlggles to C0I11e to terms with oedipal
and preoedipal dynarnics.

The yoni, or female sex organ, is worshipped in the Tantric


tradition for its creative power. It is commonly represented as a
triangular or teardrop shaped bowl. Mookerjee explains that when
the yoni is pointing upward, that is, when it faces the sacrificial altar
it becomes "U rdhvayoni," the erect yoni. A common Tantric
representation of the cosmic opposites in union is that of the linga
and yoni which is a stylized representation of the penis and vulva
wherein a phallic object stands erect in the middle of a teardrop
shaped bowl. Mookerjee quotes his professor, Stella Kramrisch, as
saying "The linga in the yoni emerges from the yoni." Kali, p. 47)
He then goes on to say,

The linga emerging from the yoni has been the subject of
considerable depth psychological speculation, particularly by Indian
analysts. T. C. Sinha notes, in his 1949 paper "Some Psycho-analytical
Observations on the Siva Linga" that "the idol obviously represents
a vagina (Gouripatta) and a penis (linga) during coitus." (Sanlkisa,
vol. 3, no. 1, p. 38) He recognizes that some have suggested that it
represents the infant's view of coitus from within the womb; and
that G. Bose even said it was derived from the fantasy of the child's
desire to have intercourse with the mother from within the womb.
He says that Flcurnoy, in his paper entitled "Siva Androgyny"
attributes the conception of the linga and yoni to the bisexual
nature of the human being. Sinha goes on to present case material
of a male patient who had the fantasy of possessing a penis within
his anus with which he could satisfy his own homosexual desires.
This man reportedly enjoyed looking in the mirror and watching
himself push his tongue out through his lips. H. Whitman Newell
states that the image of the lioga and yoni, " ... synlbolizes castration
of both sexes in the act ofCOiUIS." ("An Interpretation of the Hindu
Worship of Siva Linga," Bulletin of the Philadelphia Association for
Psychoanalysis, vol. 4, no. 4, 1955, p. 86)
Having briefly reviewed these previous interpretations I now
offer my own interpretation that the linga and yoni represents the
fantasy of the fenlale phallus.
In The Origins and History of Consciousness) Erich Neumann

Ajit Mookerjee, Kidi: The Feminine Force

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This fundamental relationship of linga and yoni has been


obscured by patriarchal interpretation, yet the emphasis on
tinga-worship could not suppress the widespread rituals surrounding the ever-creative yoni. For the goddess is the matrix
of all that exists: whatever is, in the world of things, from
Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) to a blade of grass, owes her
its origin and is dependent upon her. (Kali) p. 47)

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describes the emergence from the uroboric or undifferentiated state


of primary narcissism by saying that "When the phallic character of
the breast emerges, or the Mother is seen as the phallus bearer, it is
a sign that the infantile subject is beginning to differentiate himself.
Active and passive strivings gradually become distinct; the opposites
make their appearance." (Origins, pp. 32-33) In an excellent review
of the literature on the psychoanalytic notion of the "phallic mother,"
Nancy Mann Kulisch describes this fantasy as having been attributed
to 1) the boy's attempt to ward off the threat of castration, 2)
evidence that the mother is all powerful, 3) an attempt to avoid the
recognition of the existence of the vagina, 4) an attempt to avoid
the realization of the father's role in sexual intercourse, 5) an attempt
to avoid the feelings of inadequacy evoked by the adult vagina, and
6) the drive to become both sexes. ("Gender and Transference,"
International Review of Psychoanalysis, vol. 13, 1986, pp. 394-395)
Thus, it appears to me that in the vision of the maternal or
female phallus, the penis is to the vagina as consciousness is to
unconsciousness, as social power is to helplessness. This should not
be misconstrued to suggest that women are unconscious or helpless.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not speaking of men
and women. I am speaking of the masculine and the feminine. I
take as a basic assumption that the psyche is bisexual, that consciousness is to unconsciousness as figure is to ground, and that
figure and ground are often symbolically represented as penis and
vagina. The phallus as consciousness or social power is that which
emerges from the cosmic womb, and repudiates elenlents back into
unconsciousness to defend against the feelings of helplessness. The
linga and yoni, like consciousness itself, is a defensive construction.
The fantasy of the maternal phallus reassures us that there is no
vagina, no castration, no difference between the sexes, and that the
desire to beconle both sexes is possible. It gives us comfort and
supports the notions that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,
that one can pull a rabbit out of a hat, that there is a treasure in the
dragon's lair, and that there is a god in heaven.
To see the vagina for what it is, is to see what it isn't. The
vagina is the vessel enclosing an enlpty space but perhaps n10re
importantly the vagina is the empty space itself. The vision of the
empty space may elicit a dread akin to gazing into the abyss of
naught. It is a tunnel with no light at its end, a hat with no rabbit,
a dragon's lair with no treasure, a black heaven with no god-it
is, a relinquishing of the centric notion of god for the acentric and
Tantric notion of Mahabindu, the metacosmic void. It is here that

we experience the terror and the miraculousness of our existence,


and the recognition that we are born from out of the void and
will one day return to the void. We are each contained within a
bubble of mortality, inflated with illusions, floating through
naught, and destined to eventually collapse silently back into
nothing. And yet, miraculously, during the course of our lives, we
each enter into two-ness with the universe, become conscious,
relate to others, and take our place in culture.

The Human Roots of Myth-Making

Tantra claims that a person can become 'whole' (and in the


extended mystical sense 'liberated') only \\then he annuls sexual
differentiation and dissolves his gender identity into a certain
kind of bisexuality. The realization of both masculinity and
femininity within the tantrik's own body, the experience of a
constant, doubled joy of 'two-in-one,' the rec'reation of a
primordial androgyny, looms large as the goal of a bulk of
tantrik practices. (Samsika, vol. 35, no. 4, 1981, pp. 88-89)

Further in the article he notes a fourth century Buddhist text as


saying "the adept who has sexual intercourse with his mother, his
sister, and his daughter, goes toward highest perfection, which is
the essence of Mahayana." ("The Person in Tantra," p. 92) The
Tantrika's attempt to annul sexual differentiation and obliterate
generational difference is neither a Perverted acting out or a psychotic
closure of symbolic space but rather a cultivated meditation on
being and non-being within a higWy structured cultural context.
To annul sexual and generational difference would be to destroy
consciousness, culture, and the cultural pattern of Tantra itself but
this is, of course, not its intent at all.
The goal of Tantra is spiritual liberation, not anarchy. While
spiritual liberation ultimately implies a dissolution of the personal
psychic structure and death, the path to this liberation is not one
endless Bacchanalia. The path is a well studied exercise aimed at
awakening one's own potential, participating in the miracle ofone's
own life, and realizing one's own god-hood. Mookerjee says, "The
spiritual is not something that descends from above, rather it is an
illumination that is to be discovered within." (Tantra Asana, p. 16)
Thus, the annulling of difference described in myth and art is not
intended as a code for daily living, but rather as a metaphor of a
truth for the aspirant to meditate on or, on occasion, to perform

Ajit Mookerjee, KaJi: The Femitline Force

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C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco

Sudhir Kakar, in his paper "The Person in Tantra and Psychoanalysis," says,

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Oaniel Benveniste reviews

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C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco

within the linlits of a ritual enactment.


The overt primal scene components in Hindu mythology and
the art ofTantra have the effect of giving us a strong, personal, and
aftectively laden basis upon which to relate to the gods. They have
the effect of blurring the distinction bet\vecn the mortals and the
inlnlO1"tals. vVhen we see the mortal nature of the gods, it seems to
allow us to inlagine our own immortal naUlre or at least a parental
nature, which, from the perspective of the child.. is omnipotent and
god-like. The use of hodily imagery and primal scene components
also gives us clues as to the very human roots of myth-Inaking.
They remind us that the ego is first a body-ego and that all
subsequent symbolic stnlCtures and representations of the \\/orld
are cut frOITI the cloth of bodily experience and projected into the
\vorld.
When we finally abandon the mystical notion of a cosmic
reservoir of mythic synlbols existing somewhere olltside ourselves,
or the biological notion that we somchow inherit mental representations, we are ready to recognize that the recurring nature of
various images and thenles in myth.. ritual, art, and personal dreanls
is due to the very human process ofsymbolization and our tendency
to create sYI11bolic representations OLlt of our tinlclcss interests in
the body, birth, sex, and death. Jung called the repository of
propensities to organize the world in ternlS of recurring images and
themes, "the collective unconscious." Freud called it the "collective
mind." Coming fronl the Jungian tradition, Joseph Henderson has
proposed a "cultural unconscious" intermediate to the collective
and personal unconscious. ("The Archetype of Culture," in The
Archetype, Proceedings of the 2nd International Congress for Analytical Psychology. BasellNew York, S. Karger, 1964, pp. 7-9) The
cultural unconscious pertains to the reservoir of shared cululral
experience, I110ral principles, social custonl, religious synlbolism,
and so on, which nlay influence the symbolic stnlCtures of all those
within the culture but will tend to be restricted to those within the
culture's sphere of influence. Thus, sYlnbolic representations from
this strata are neither purely ofa personal nature nor are they shared
with all of humanity. Among the Freudians, Jacques Lacan has
proposed a "sYI11bolic order" which in S0I11e ways corresponds to
Henderson's "cululralunconscious." The synlbolic order is the social
and cultural stnlCture into which one is born. It is a cululre's set of
rules.. its openings and linlitations as encoded in its linguistic
structure. (Ecrits: A Selection. New York, W. W. Norton, 1977)
Lacan's concept of the "symbolic order" and Henderson's concept

This paper is dedicated to my dear.friend, Ajit Moolmjee, who died


on April 9th, 1990, at his home in New Delhi. -D.B.

Ajit Mookerjee, Kid'-: The Feminine Furre

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55

C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco

of a "cultural unconscious," though not identical, go a long way


in helping us to further understand the recurring images and
themes shared by cultural ITI}'ths and personal dreanls.
Understanding the relationship between myths and dreanls
enables us to recognize myths and sacred art not as incontestable,
god-given, ancient bits of wisdom but rather as creative productions fashioned in the minds of mortals and laced with derivative
material. This recognition neither strips them of their charm nor
of their evocative power. It doesn't reduce them to formula or
explain them away. The wisdom they convey is undeniable, yet
with the recognition of the human roots of myth-nlaking we are
able to find new meaning in ancient myths, bringing them to life
in new ways in the minds of modem readers.
In Tantric art, myth, and ritual the process of symbolization
fronl personal body experience to cosmic vision is so direct that
the profane is seemingly impregnated by the sacred. Thus, one's
spiritual nature is not delivered from above but rather takes the
form of an awakening or an illumination fronl within. The result
is a world-view in which the so-called miracles of transformation
or supernatural events pale next to the true miracles of existence,
self awareness, human relatedness, and the ability to contemplate
our own death.