Deity Meditation: Lalita
Meditating on the image of a deity is a very old practice (its generally thought that it emerged from early Buddhist practice around the 5th century BCE). Meditation is not really a seperate “technique” as its often presented to be in contemporary writings (more of which another time) but is an aspect of one’s overall sadhana – inseperable from the visualisation/recollection of any interiorised image or form. The root of the Sanskrit dhyana – often translated as “meditation” is dhi – “to see”. Indeed, the seperation of “meditation” from other forms of sadhana is a relatively recent one, and can be seen emerging at the turn of the twentieth century with the prioritising of internal mental practices over bodily-oriented practices and external ritual.
The basic idea of deity meditation is that by focusing/contemplating the form of a deity (either using an iconic image or a textual description), the practitioner comes to identify with that deity and eventually takes on that deity’s qualities or gains that deities’ perspective. Generally speaking, there is a progression from meditating on the anthropomorphic image of a deity to meditating on more abstract qualities. Some texts reccomend that practitioners begin by meditating on “bits” of the deity and then working towards meditating on the entire form of the deity. Here’s an example of a meditation on various aspects of Lalita’s body:
“At the rising of the sun I meditate on the face of the playful goddess
Her lips are red, Her nose is adorned with a pearl
Her eyes flash this way and that, seeking delight
Her smile is dazzling
At the rising of the sun I worship the hands of Lalita the playful
Her tender fingers are adorned with diamond rings dancing with rainbow colours
Her hands are adorned with gold bangles that tinkle melodiously
She holds the sugarcane bow, the arrows of desire, a noose of silk
She gives the gesture of granting boons
At dawn I bow to the lotus feet of the playful one
Her feet seem to dance without moving
Her toenails shine like finest ivory
At dawn I praise the supreme goddess Lalita
She who fulfills the desires of her devotees
She who is the cause of creation, existence and destruction
She who is the Universe
At dawn I utter your names O Lalita
Kamesvari, Tripurasundari, Mahesvari, Kamala, Para”
What the practitioner is doing with regard to this meditation is attempting to fix a mental image in her or his “mind’s eye” and, at the same time, recalling those qualities which are associated with Lalita. So in the first stanza, one is visualising a beautiful face – or at least, bits of a beautiful face: red lips, a nice smile, lovely eyes. These can be any images that come to mind at the time of the meditation.
Basically, the first stanza is saying, look at Lalita’s face (or bits of her face) – she’s lovely, and she’s playful. So one might find oneself thinking of images that represent playfulness.
The second stanza is about Lalita’s hands. There are rings on her fingers which send out flashing colours, and her bangles makes a tinkling sound. So one can visualise shimmering colours and imagine hearing tinkling bells. She holds the Sugarcane bow (mind) and the five arrows (five senses) in one hand – a reminder that she is the source of all sensory experience. As for “She holds a noose of silk” – well, in the original text (by Sankara) I based this on, it was just a noose. I made it a “noose of silk” because silk has more sensuous associations than just ordinary rope. The noose is the weapon used by Lalita to draw her devotees to her. The gesture of “granting boons” (i.e. fulfilling the desires of devotees) is made by holding the open palm outwards, fingers pointing downwards.
So there’s a bit more complex associations in this second stanza.
The third stanza is about meditating on the sacred feet of the goddess. Bowing to the feet being a sign of respect, of course. Again, one can visualise a nice pair of feet, but it would also be appropriate to call to mind memories of dancing.
The fourth and fifth stanzas are a bit more abstract and can be done at the same time. One might approach the 4th stanza by recalling that everything (including yourself) is part of Lalita, and by reciting the three names given:
Kamesvari – “mistress of passion”
Tripurasundari – “lovely goddess of the three cities”
Mahesvari – “Great goddess”
Kamala – “Lotus-like one”
Para – “Above all”
Obviously there’s a lot of associations around those titles, investigation of which will further deepen the practice.
So, to recap. This set of stanzas has the aim of helping the practitioner form mental images associated with Lalita and making an association between these images and some of Her qualities – that she is lovely, seductive, continually in motion (her eyes, darting this way and that, the shimmering colours on her hands, the sounds made by her bangles, her dancing feet) and above all, that She is playful – and takes delight in everything. The key quality of Lalita is playfulness – which is the quality the practitioner is trying to identify with and so enhance in one’s own experience. By identifying with Lalita’s quality of playfulness, one is basically adopting the attitude of playfulness towards everything. As part of this practice, you might want to reflect on what becoming playful means to you.