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What is Shaktism?

Question: "What is Shaktism?"

Shaktism is one of the more commonly known sub-divisions within Hinduism. Shaktism shares the core beliefs held by all Hindus but with a notable emphasis on a feminine aspect of divinity, rather than a masculine one. This is the primary point that distinguishes Shaktism from other Hindu sects. Interestingly, while Hinduism is extraordinarily diverse, Shaktism is sometimes criticized by Hindus for being heretical or superstitious.

Most denominations of Hinduism are polytheistic in theory and henotheistic in practice. That is, the vast majority of Hindus accept the real existence of many gods but only honor and worship one primary deity. In the case of sects such as Vaishnavism, this deity is Vishnu. In Shaivism, it is Shiva. However, in Shaktism, there are many options for worship, all of them female. Adherents of Shaktism typically choose their preferred representation of Devi—the generic supreme goddess—and focus their devotion on her. Devi’s guises include deities such as Kali and Lakshmi.

Rather than considering a particular “god” as supreme, Shaktism believes that there is a supreme goddess who comes in the form of various incarnations, known as avatars. In this way, Shaktism shares an emphasis on avatars with sects such as Vaishnavism, though they do not place as much importance on this doctrine as Vaishnavists. As with all Hindu denominations, Shaktism is open to a variety of interpretations. Some of these find common ground with other religious groups. Tantric Shaktism, for instance, is said to be very similar to Tantric Buddhism—also known as Vajrayana—as they share some considerable points in common.

The core distinctive of Shaktism is that the “supreme deity” is best described as female. However, Shaktism does not literally believe that this supreme deity is biologically female. Shaktism believes this ultimate god to be something “other” than merely male or female, but it strongly emphasizes the feminine aspects and female avatars of the ultimate goddess-nature, Devi.

Shaktism, then, shares some interesting parallels with other Hindu sects and certain forms of Buddhism. However, as a faith system, Shaktism is still subject to the same flaws and errors as all strains of Hindu religion. Reincarnation, karma, and so forth are ultimately false, and so Shaktism cannot be a legitimate replacement for the gospel.

Recommended Resource: Encountering World Religions by Irving Hexham

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