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Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess
Author: Shambhavi L. Chopra

Publisher: Wisdom Tree
ISBN: 978-8183280969
Pages: 342
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Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess: Lightning Dance of the Supreme Shakti


Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess could be a great book from a devotional standpoint. There is certainly a strong bhakti (devotional) element to the text, and Chopra's enthusiasm is genuine. However, there are a number of problems I have with this book.

Let's start with the positives. Chopra effortlessly jumps straight into the expansive concepts of the Divine Mother in bite-size pieces. This is quite admirable, as few books really have tackled the deeper dimensions of Kali and the yogic and/or Tantric approach to the Divine Mother.

Each chapter is only two or three pages, making this a book that is fairly easy to read in small chunks, to provide a kick-start to daily meditation, etc. This bite-size approach allows Chopra to explore a vast array of manifestations of Kali - though be clear, she isn't speaking about specific goddesses, but rather conceptual manifestations that relate to various aspects of her own approach to the experience of deity, such as the creative process, colors, flowers, and various aspects of human existence. She does briefly talk about the basic symbolism of Kali midway through the book, but it's quite limited in scope.

So if you have read about Kali and are looking for something that takes a different approach, this book does frequently have jewels of wisdom that those of us who have done deep practice will recognize as being authentic, and those who haven't yet gotten to that place can use as signposts towards authentic experience. There are beautiful expositions diving into some of the more mysterious aspects of Kali as she takes form in human experience and awareness.

That being said, there are a few negatives that I just couldn't get past.

First, Chopra's translation of many Sanskrit terms is often incorrect. As a Sanskritist, this shortcoming was particularly glaring for me. I could see that she was often jumping from literal translation to figurative connotation, but unfortunately she removes all discussion of that very important intermediate space either for the sake of expediency or from lack of knowledge. Either way, it was often frustrating to run across terms for which she claims to be giving a literal translation, and is way off the mark.

Second, Chopra spends the entire book framing up a discussion of Kali that revolves around her own experience. Normally this wouldn't be a problem - plenty of authors do this beautifully. However, the tone here seems to be reinforcing Chopra's claims of her own enlightenment. While saying constantly that Kali has allowed her to give up her ego, she constantly uses "I" and "me" in what often come across as self-centeredness. A good antidote for readers of this book on this count would be Arvind Sharma's short book on Ramana Maharshi.

She seems to give the impression that all of this has sprung forth spontaneously through her own self-guided meditation practice for most of the book, and yet something rings hollow about that. It's not until the very end of the book that she begins talking about her teachers and how they have actually guided her (which, again, seems at odds with what is presented throughout the first part of the book). The essentialized nature of her approach to the Divine Mother is often very consumer-friendly, and frequently reveals beautiful insights. But this approach also sometimes sacrifices specificity for universality, a disservice to the long philosophical and practical tradition of Shaktism and Tantra. However, I appreciate that she has insisted upon certain conditions for successful practice - such as cultivating devotion and the like. But there are no practical guides or exercises given. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it makes the title a little misleading for those expecting guidance on tapping into these experiences that Chopra speaks so breathlessly about. I imagine that if you are one of Chopra's devotees, these ubiquitous personal anecdotes will be like divine nectar for you, but if you're not, you start to wonder why she spends so much time talking about herself and praising her own sadhana, rather than talking about the Goddess.

Finally, if you are looking for a book that will give you a good introduction to who Kali is historically, what her symbolism means in a broader context, and other such basic approaches, I would not recommend this book. Instead, I'd recommend Ajit Mookerjee's Kali: The Feminine Force, which is an easy read and gives a good introduction with both specifics and expansive concepts. Chopra's book, while it definitely gives the reader something to meditate on and think about in terms of embracing the more expansive, non-dual concepts of Kali, spends too much time praising and deifying the author's own process, which for me was quite distracting the way it was employed, and ultimately took away focus from the stated purpose of the book. It's also quite non-linear, so if you prefer a linear or straightforward approach to material, this is not the book for you.