In European and Chinese thought, the feminine principle is associated with passivity and the masculine with action. In Hinduism, however, the feminine is associated with creativity and action, and the masculine with manifestation.
The primary image of the feminine principle in Hinduism is the goddess Durga. In a myth called the Devi Mahatmya, a buffalo-headed yogi has become a monster whom none of the gods can overthrow. So the gods stand in a circle, send their energies back to where they came from, and a great black cloud appears. Out of it comes Durga, the goddess with eighteen arms. In each hand is a symbol of one of the gods. With the combined power of these symbols, she alone is able to defeat the monster.
In this story, masculine power is a specific form of the life energy that is feminine. As Joseph Campbell says in Pathways to Bliss, the feminine is the source of the energy and the masculine is its specification in any particular direction. She is the energy out of which creation arises, he is every visible manifestation of that energy. She is the whole; he is each individual part. This intuition from many spiritual traditions is probably why the feminine has long been associated with the dark sea of the unconscious, and the masculine with the ego consciousness which emerges from this maternal matrix.
Although the masculine and feminine principles are metaphors for the basic energies of every psyche, most of us associate them with the genders. As a result, Campbell says it’s much easier for a woman to identify with masculinity than for a male who is committed to his particular form to identify with femininity. All she has to do is take on a specification of the power that is already hers, but he has to give up his ego identity and personal field of power which feels like disintegrating into a formless void. This, of course, is exactly what the Buddha did, and that, says Campbell, was a heroic act of the first order.
In a perfect world, both forms of energy would be valued equally and every child would be helped to discover and activate his or her own unique blend of interests, skills and powers without regard to gender. But most of us have not yet attained that heroic level of consciousness. An immature ego with limited consciousness equates power with physical prowess and power over others. Sensing the magnitude of feminine power and fearing anything more powerful than itself, it represses the feminine principle in the psyche; and if it identifies with maleness, it will also tend to dominate and exploit females.
A well is a symbol of the feminine principle, the womb of the Great Mother, the human psyche. We all contain Durga’s power: the totality of human potential. Our ego is only one form of that potential. We can choose to identify only with the familiar and comfortable qualities that are sanctioned by our families; or, if we want to, we can choose to activate our fullest power by accepting everything about ourselves we associate with the feminine principle, including tender feelings, instincts, caring, nurturing, evil, suffering, the capacity for intimate relationships, an understanding heart, intuition, etc.
In empowering Durga we can attain our destiny. What monsters hold you back from attaining your destiny? What do you have to lose by enlisting Durga’s help to overcome them?