I am full of conflicts. Was follows war. There is misery, there is arrogance. I give birth. I
miscarry. I become asthmatic. I am constrained. My sister dies. My father dies, my mother dies. I
am deep in loss. I am a taut wire. I begin meditation. I meditate on a symbol of wholeness, one
that contains, without conflict service and freedom, life and death, light and dark, peace and
anger: the Indian Goddess.
Ironbiter writers of ongoing conflict and ongoing need for refuge. Through introspection, she
finds a deep, constant, unfailing presence in the Goddess’ forms. Poetic images and tantra yoga
teachings of India and Tibet help her picture her mind’s fecundity, struggle, and abiding truths.
Rachel Fell McDermott writes in her introduction: “Although She breaks life down, making hope
illusory, She is also time, change, and renewal. She is the Goddess, and Her daughters, too,
evolve through dread events and slowly birth new insights. Such has happened to Suzanne
Ironbiter…Her ultimate message is a call to vigilance and rebalancing of excess, while yet
realizing that the Goddess contains everything against which She, the divine, Herself fights. This
is wisdom indeed for our time, embedded, gem-like, in familiar stories that catch the eye by their
Suzanne Ironbiter has been a student of yoga and the traditions of India for more than forty
years. She holds a doctorate in religion from Columbia University and teaches at Purchase College
of the State University of New York. A previous edition of the first cycle of Devi inspired
Mallika Sarabhai and Darpana Performance Group’s acclaimed dance-drama, The Journey Inward: Devi
Indo—Tibetan psychology tells me that truth shines for a moment when my mind enters an in—between
time. If I have my mind well—trained and disciplined in meditation, it stays with this clarity and
keeps it in focus. Otherwise, my mind begins generating a cycle of divine energies. Further
scattering generates bewildering coil demon energies. Finally, my attention gravitates toward a
particular birth in time.
According to Indian myths, we live in the darkness and bloodiness of the Kali Yuga, the violent
last phase of a dying time cycle. As our physical, technical and cultural infrastructures break
down and change, our individual and collective dramas intensify. Our work is to develop insight
into the mythic drama driving our minds in time, in our histories and biographies, between
illumination and destruction, clarity and chaos.
Indo—Tibetan prayers, rituals, philosophical sutras, and deity stories and images train and yoke
the mind to focus toward a clear view of moral and spiritual reality and, through that focus, to
be able to see things as they are in the world and in our minds. The process of clarification is
slow, often repetitive with variations, sometimes with flashes of illumination, sometimes with
bewildering obscuration, cycling for many lifetimes, or, in the case of this book, many rounds
with temporary conclusions.
Although She breaks life down, making hope illusory She is also time, change, and renewal. She is
the Goddess, and Her daughters, too, evolve through dread events and slowly birth new insights.
Such has happened to Suzanne Ironbiter, who, since the first edition of Devi in 1987, has lost her
husband, become increasingly alarmed by environmental degradation, and experienced the hatreds of
nations after September 2001.
This timely second edition is prompted in part by Mallika Sarabhai’s acclaimed dance—drama, The
journey Inward based on Ironbiter’s dramatic, personalized, feminized retelling of the Devi
Mahatmya, the sixth—century Sanskrit narrative about the Goddess’s exploits (Part One of Devi in
both first and second editions). In Durga: Demon—Slayer, Ironbiter internalizes the Goddess’s
exploits, making Durga and Kali expressions of her own anger; the battle with the demon, in the
second tale, is a symbolic manifestation of outrage against Mahisha, the spirit of craving. For
years I have used this transformed Devi Mahatmya to great benefit in my undergraduate seminar,
Hindu Goddesses, where students read how an ancient Indian text can inspire a modern Western woman
to change. Sarabhai’s theatrical rendition, first performed in December 2001 in Ahmedabad as a
protest against terrorism and the dangers of othering, proves, even more forcefully, that this
internalized reading can galvanize fervour across the artificial boundaries of ethnicity.
Newly added to this second edition are several new sections. Mata Pita: Incarnations and
Conversations, is a refashioning from a feminine, Goddess—centred perspective, of several familiar
Hindu epic stories: Sati, Siva, and Daksa; Sita, Rama, and Ravana; the Mahabharata war; and
Bhagirathi’s role in bringing the cleansing waters of the Ganges to earth. But unlike the
personalized Durga of her earlier work, here Ironbiter’s Ma, or Devi, takes birth to fight
corruption, the work of her “loud children,” in the external, historical world. For instance,
Daksa is the smart, arrogant aggressor of t0day’s business monopolies, Ravana the Greedy poisons
the earth and rapes her minerals, and the world that cries out for the balm of Ganga, is pierced
by the sounds of saws, factories, dams, drills, and mines.
Beyond this environmental focus, the Goddess also pays special attention to the needs of women,
for today’s Daksas continue to destroy my their daughters when they stand up to them, and even
Sita, Ma Incarnate, knows that she will be vulnerable to men’s judgments, and disowned. In
Paravac: Secret Voice and Mani.• The Jewel, Ironbiter comforts herself as it were, through the
wisdom of the Goddess, who counsels her on living with and transforming her anguish at the death
of her husband. In one of the most moving parts of the book, Ironbiter is told by Mother to
harness her grief by learning from the sixteenth—century Rajput princess Meerabai, who sang to the
Lord Krishna of the agony of her separation from him. Love in union, love in separation: tasting
this oscillation is a way of experiencing Vac, the primal Voice that the famed philosopher
Abhinavagupta and the grammarian Bhartrhari wrote about so many centuries ago.
Ironbiter’s ultimate message is a healing rereading of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.30 and a call to
vigilance in the world, while yet realizing that Ma, the Goddess, is everything against which She,
the divine, Herself fights. This is wisdom indeed for our time, embedded, gem—like, in familiar
stories that catch the eye by their unexpected sparkle.
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