Shakti is known by many names and aspects. She is known as prana when associated with the organization and growth of matter in all forms of life. She is known as kundalini – the power that lies dormant in everything, including map, and which can be unleashed through yogic and tantric practices, as well as all other spiritual practices. She is known as Kali, the dissolver (not the destroyer) of the world, who withdraws everything into her womb at the end of the allotted life span. She is known and depicted in many pictures and statues as Parvati, the epitome of the loving, faithful wife of Shiva. She is called the primordial power -Adya, the universal mother -Ishwari, the consort of Ishwara, the lord of the universe. She is also known as Avidya rupini (the form of ignorance) for it is she who produces ignorance and individuality. Conversely, she is also known as Vidya rupini (the form of knowledge) for she is the means to removing bondage and knowing liberation or enlightenment. As the Kularnava Tantra says: “By that which one falls, so one will raise oneself.”
In other words, she is the mind of each of us, which can either enslave us or free us. She is known as Maya (the creator of illusion) for it is through her power that one fails to see unity and know higher awareness. At the same time, it is through the power of Shakti that the world is experienced. Without Shakti, you would not be able to experience the world, for it is she who creates the mind and body. It is through Shakti that Shiva can experience himself. Shakti is also Parabrahman, the absolute, when she becomes Brahman at the time when Shiva and Shakti unite. Endless different forms of her are worshipped in India – Uma, Gauri, Durga and so on. Her forms are infinite, for there is no end to her power and the things that she manifests. Her forms are as numerous as the reflections of the moon. She is continually active, creating, sustaining and then reabsorbing or dissolving everything into Shiva, only to be recreated. This is a continual process without end.
Remember, as we have already pointed out, the concept of Shiva and Shakti is not confined to India. We have already said that tantra is universal and indeed it is. For example, in a book of ancient Greece called the Phaedrus by Plato it says: “What is on earth (Shakti) is merely the resemblance and shadow of something that is in a higher sphere, a resplendent thing that remains in an unchangeable condition (Shiva).”
This clearly illustrates the principle of Shiva and Shakti. There are many other examples. Consider the ancient Gnostics. rhese were really a European tantric sect, which interpreted Christianity with far deeper meaning than understood by most people. They interpreted it in the light of higher experience. But let us not get distracted; we want to point out the similarities between Shiva and Shakti and this ancient system of gnosis (enlightenment). One of the Gnostic mystics, Simon the Magus, is reputed to have said the following: “The universal eons (cyclic periods of creation as given in tantra) consist of two branches, without beginning or end, which spring up from one root (the absolute) . . . the invisible power and the unknowable silence. One of these branches is manifested from above and is the universal consciousness ordering all things and designated male (surely this is Shiva); the other branch is female and is the producer of all things (Shakti).”
The text continues, but we will not. The Gnostics even divided human beings into three distinct groups, which is exactly the same as tantra. The lowest group, in terms of awareness, are those who worship and only know of the existence of the material world. This group is called pashu, or instinctive man in tantra.