I honor the God and the Goddess the eternal parents of the universe.
The Lover, out of boundless Love takes the form of the Beloved
Embracing each other, they merge into One, as darkness merges with the light at the breaking of dawn.
I honor the union of Shiva and Shakti, who devour this world of name and form, like a sweet dish. All that remains is One.
- Jnaneshwar, verses from Amritanubhava
A fundamental element of Yoga philosophy recognizes two aspects of the divine, masculine and feminine, God and Goddess, the illumination and that which is illumined, an inseparable pair. Shiva and Shakti are the two fundamental principles of the cosmos. This basic polarity is intrinsic to both mysticism and understanding marriage.
God and Goddess refer to different aspects of who we are. Numerous Indian scriptures are composed as a dialog between Bhairavi and Bhairava, God and Consort, Shiva and Parvati. She asks him to explain some mystery of existence and he expounds in intricate fashion. These do not imply the wisdom of man and ignorance of woman, but rather illustrate our personality seeking counsel from our highest consciousness, or the interplay of our various aspects. As an example, in the Ramayana, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the ten-headed demon and imprisoned in his home to the south; her consort Rama undertakes an arduous journey to recover her and conquer the demon. In a mystical sense it is about the individual self becoming captivated by the five sense organs and the five senses, and becoming rooted in the lower chakra’s; there follows the process of sadhana told as a journey by our highest Self to become united with our whole being again, to reunite not only with jiva, the individual self, but also bring our senses, ego and personality into right relationship with the divine. The characters, both masculine and feminine, are expressions of aspects of who we are as humans.
In these essays, the terms masculine and feminine are used more in an archetypal sense than a social sense. This conceptual framework, which has gained popularity in recent decades, is a useful tool in understanding the dynamics of relationship and marriage. The principles of masculine and feminine are distinct, yet complementary and equal ways of living in the world. For the purpose of these essays, they are used as modes of interacting with the world and ultimately as ways of knowing God. The masculine and feminine archetypes exist in all people, even if we tend to express ourselves predominantly in one or the other. It is this polarity that fuels romantic attraction in a couple. Understanding this polarity is key to clarifying the bewildering paradox of marriage: the two poles make for irreconcilable differences and yet also generate marriage’s powerful attraction.
The masculine is characterized by focus, linear purpose, awareness, direction, and is the still axis around which the manifest world moves. The ultimate masculine experience is emptiness, immersion in consciousness or God. Masculine spiritual practices are meditation, the study of philosophy, contemplation and reflection. The feminine embodies light and love, dynamism, radiance, fullness, all that moves, and all of Creation. The ultimate feminine experience is connection, openness, flowing with love, exalting in Creation, expressing abundance. Feminine spiritual practices include chanting, performing puja, hatha yoga, acts of devotion, and dance.
It is important to re-emphasize that both archetypes find expression in each of us, regardless of our gender identity. A man or a woman can be both expansive and focused, guided by feelings and rationality, dynamic and still, find fulfillment in both radiant love and still consciousness. In Shaivism this is represented by the form of God, Ardhanarisvara, who is half Shiva and half Shakti, which expresses this unity.
In the modern era, the complex ways that these archetypes find expression in individuals are evolving in our society and culture. A biologically formed man can just as easily express the feminine side of the polarity and a biologically formed woman can express the masculine. Furthermore, this predominance of one of the polarities over another in an individual can be fluid and change. Gender fluidity and queer identity is not only being explored in modern culture, Indian mythology is sprinkled with gender-bending tales, such as the male deity Vishnu taking the form of the seductress Mohini, so that he can have a sexual encounter with Shiva, and the deity Ayyappan, born of such a union, is celebrated and worshiped by the Hijra, India’s intersex and transgender community.
In general, marriage does not play a role in queer expression, and as such, these essays work with the masculine/feminine polarities and do not address alternative modalities. By focusing on the predominant, underlying archetype most common to birth-given gender, these essays do not intend to generalize, stereotype, or pigeon-hole anyone into one way of being. Rather, the archetypes of masculine and feminine are presented here as a conceptual framework that makes it possible to make sense of the dance of marriage. For simplicity, these essays refer to the masculine-expressing person as “man” or “husband,” and the feminine-expressing person as “woman” and “wife,” but it is to be emphatically understood that a person’s biological sex does not restrict his or her capacity to express masculine and feminine archetypes.
Embracing these two fundamental polarities is also part of understanding how the power of Yoga can transform marriage into a conscious and deliberate spiritual path. In numerous Indian philosophies, there are principles, or Tattvas, used to describe the unfolding of the cosmos, descending from Shiva – the undifferentiated supreme consciousness – into the vast complexity of the Universe (and in particular, human life). At the same time, they provide a map for the individual human returning from ego-awareness and from being enveloped by the senses to the One, to unity, returning to the supreme state of infinite love and pure consciousness. Yoga, in Sanskrit, means “to yoke”. You can think of it as to come into union, or rather, to return to union. This can apply to countless seeming pairs of opposites: the individual soul and God, heaven and earth, Guru and disciple, kundalini and Shiva, limited consciousness and universal consciousness. The Indian scriptures are filled with the descriptions of God and Goddess, and their interplay; masculine and feminine therefore form and fundamental component in the philosophy of Yoga
This philosophical framework can apply to marriage: you are two players in a divine dance, using the power of your love to navigate the implausible, yet compelling journey to a perfect union—merging with the love you share; recognizing your own Self in your beloved. It is no different from an individual merging with the deepest truth, with God. There is a deep yearning in humans for God, for completion, for connection, for feeling the fullness of one’s own being as reflected in the presence of the beloved. As Jnaneshwar wrote over 700 years ago, “The lover, out of boundless love, becomes the beloved.” This is the goal of Yoga, and this, too, is the path of marriage.
Next essay: Ego and Surrender