October 31, 2011
What is Grace? Many on the path of Spirituality are seeking it, but do we always recognize it?
Grace is always a positive thing for our Spiritual Growth. There are no exceptions to that rule. And because of that, many people are also assuming that Grace will come in a way that is pleasing to them. And sometimes it does, but we cannot put Divine Visions, moments of Bliss and deep meditation experience in a box of “Grace”, and assume things that are not pleasant are not grace. The more we open to the spiritual Path of Tantra, the more we are always flowing in Grace. The question is, can we see it, and can we accept it in all its forms? Not just the extraordinary, but even when it seems ordinary? Or painful?
Grace can happen as synchronistic moments that point to the next step to take, or that validate something for us. There are moments that are so statistically improbable that one who is consciously expanding his or her awareness can only explain it as Grace, or the intelligence of the Divine Revealing itself.
About 7 months ago, I was laying in bed, thinking about my study of Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology. Thinking about how much I would like to find a way to blend them into my Yogic teaching and my private healing sessions with clients. I began to feel a sense of excitement in the possibility of integrating these techniques together, and as I felt the excitement, the Blackberry on my nightstand vibrated indicating that I had a new message. I reached over to check, and the message was from the Ashram where I did my teacher training inviting me to attend the Yoga Therapy Training Course starting on October 7th, 2011. I smiled.
My initial reaction was this was confirmation and a Divine message to tell me the next step. I felt the “rightness” of it. I felt the same excitement that was present during my contemplation time. Everything pointed to this being the right step, but a small part of me struggled. Doubts began to creep in. Could I afford to take that much time off? What about my clients and students? I discussed it with my partner and a friend of ours. They both said, “Go.”
I began to mentally make my plans, while still struggling a touch. How long should I stay if I go? Should I fly into Mumbai or New Delhi? Is this really the right thing to do? Sometime later that day I received another email. It was from one of my travel email newsletters. The email subject simply said: “It’s time to book your flight to New Delhi.”
This time, I not only smiled, but I had to laugh out loud. I have been subscribed to this newsletter for several years. I had NEVER received an email with this subject line before. And, so that sealed it for me. The Divine intelligence was clearly telling me to go.
Grace can also happen in ways that ask us to look at our attachments and our expectation, or that challenge the status quo. In other words, sometimes we need to have things “Shaken up a bit” in order to grow. This is also grace.
About 5 days before I was supposed to leave for India, someone I had known for over 5 years had a massive heart attack right before my eyes. It happened so fast that there was no real chance to save him. I went through many stages as this unfolded. At first I thought he was being playful. Then I began to suspect something was really wrong. I could not get a response from him. I tried to check his heart beat and his breath, but by this time my own heart was beating so fast that I could not tell if it was me or him. Within a couple minutes of his collapse, I was on the phone with 911, following instructions for chest compressions. No response. The ambulance team finally arrived. Compared to my own state of panic, they seemed to have a rather casual approach to the whole thing. They took over chest compressions, introduced IV’s and asked me to help find a number for his family.
It was pretty clear to me that there was no sign of life. And perhaps they already knew that when they arrived, and thus the reason for their casual behavior. They worked with him for a while, got in touch with his daughter, and then took him out. And then I was left in an empty room, still in a bit of overwhelm.
Over the next several days I made conscious efforts to witness and process what was happening in me. There was sadness at the loss of a friend. There were remnants of panic. Doubts and wondering if I could have done something different that may have changed the outcome.
I also had to witness all of this from the lens of my Spiritual Path and growth. The impermanence of the body. Everyone will die eventually. It was his time. The True Self cannot die. His consciousness just left the body, and will live on. Perhaps being reborn. His suffering with the body and worldly life had ended, but he himself as consciousness was now free. From that perspective, there is no death, only transformation of form.
I thought about the state of my own health, the inevitable end of this body, the loss of loved ones as time moves on. Challenging my possible attachments to others, and my relationship with death itself. And as part of that, my relationship to life as well.
My Tantric path and experience is that nothing happens without cause. This was not a random event, but a Divinely orchestrated moment in my Spiritual Sadhana. I did not see it coming, which made it all the more potent. To experience first hand the transitioning from life to death. To feel the energetic essence moving out of a body, while the body became lifeless. To come face to face with the inevitable impermanence of this experience. To experience my human sadness, but also see through it to deepen my faith in the Grace of God. To realize, once again, that I am not in control. There is a force which is operating behind the scenes that I must surrender to, and my goal in my personal Tantric Sadhana is to lift the veil and reveal to myself directly that Divine Power which is operating the Universe. Or rather, let go of my false sense of control enough, so that the veil will dissolve.
This experience also made the reality of disease and illness forefront in my mind as a headed to India. It made me more interested in learning how to use Yoga as a Therapy to help with diseases. More present to the suffering and pain that is present globally, and more inspired to find some compassionate way to serve others who are wanting to end that pain. That is the result of the flow of Grace.
Grace also presents us with frustrations, and challenges to help us grow.
In 2007, my first time in India, I visited Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparti, India. On the third morning, which I planned to be my last Darshan with him, I went outside to find my sandals were stolen. I was quite shocked and disappointed. I couldn’t believe that in a town that revolves around the spiritual teachings of this man, someone would steal. I told a security guard what had happened and his only reply was “Well. Come back to the afternoon Darshan. Maybe they will be returned.” I doubted that, but I decided to stay anyway. And I am glad I did. My sandals were not returned, but it was the most spiritual inspiring Darshan that I attended with Satya Sai Baba. I felt more Divine Grace and energy in that session than any of the others. My sandals were gone, but I was blessed in the end.
This trip, I took a day to visit the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, India. For those who do not know, this is the first incarnation of Sai Baba (before Satya). Both of whom are considered in India to be incarnations of God, and Self-Realized Masters. I waited in line for over 2 hours to get into the temple. (This, by the way, is a normal to short time to wait. It is often much longer). As I got into the temple, I was instructed to sit on the floor as they were getting ready to start a special ceremony called an Aarti. What auspicious timing. That lasted 30 minutes, and then there was a stampede to get to the main alter to make an offering. I finally got up, made my offering, which was blessed and returned to me, and as I left, I felt and connected to his energy, and asked simply to be blessed in whatever way was most helpful for my spiritual awakening. Within 10 minutes, while I was bowing to another small shrine with his picture, my wallet was stolen by a pickpocket.
So, both visits to Sai Baba resulted in something material being taken away. It would be easy to be angry. To think horrible thoughts about whoever did it. But, for me, while I admit feeling a little surprised, I was quickly able to see it as Sai Baba’s Grace. It was Grace for me to have a chance to realize I am not in control. Grace for me to have a chance to see how strongly I may be attached. It was not sandals or wallet really being taken away, but my attachment to them being removed. In this case, I was much less attached the second time than the first. I surrendered to what happened, and could only wish that whoever got it was able to benefit from what they had taken from me. Tantra teaches that all things belong to God anyway, and God dwells within all Beings. So the Divine grace was simply redistributing wealth within its own Self.
While in India this time, I spent several weeks trying to get my Blackberry internet service activated. It kept telling me it could not process my request. I called customer service, spoke to the shop owner, went to this office, and that office, and was finally told it was a problem with my handset. Further conversation with “an expert” revealed that it was because my handset was registered with another provider, and thus it would just not work. I surrendered, gave up, and decided “well, I guess I am just not supposed to be distracted by this while I am in the ashram.” I let it go.
9 days after my last attempt, and having been told it wouldn’t work, my Blackberry internet service activated without notice. I received a text message saying it has been activated for one month of service. There were only 5 days left at the ashram when it happened. It came just in time to allow me to use it to research my final paper on the internet using my phone. What I could not accomplish with the assistance of multiple people, and hours of my time spread out over three weeks, happened unexpectedly in a flash, without any “doing” on my part 9 days after I gave up. I also checked my prepaid balance. I was not even charged for the service. To me there is only one explanation.
While many may explain these things away as “coincidence”, or “bad luck”, or “good luck”, or even “blame it on India”, to me these are all examples of Divine Grace. Grace offers us the experiences we need to grow Spiritually, and most of us need to let go, surrender and see new perspectives on the nature of Reality a lot more than we need a blissful vision of God. We must learn to trust that we will get the exact experiences we are needing, and not necessarily the experiences we are desiring.
What we begin to realize when we grow spiritually is that Grace is always happening. The real change that happens is learning to surrender to “what is”, and ending the struggle against what life brings us. When we can do this, then everything that happens is for our growth and for our good, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way. We learn to flow with Divine Grace.
As I was feeling inspired to write this blog this morning at breakfast the following quote was written on the board in the Dining hall of ashram:
“Through the practice of yoga you can learn to smile at circumstances, you can learn to see every stressful situation as a challenge, or an opportunity to learn, give, serve and love.” – Swami Niranjanananda
To me, another moment revealing Divine Grace.
The first time I came to India, back in the Summer of 2007, I came with great expectations of India being a land of great spirituality. A place where everyone would be connected to their spiritual history and a deeper path of spirituality through yoga.
This, of course, was naive. What I quickly discovered, initially a shock and disappointment, was that the majority of the Indian people were connected to their cultural norm of religion, but, much like in the US, their true connection and devotion varied. Just like the many Christians who show up to churches only for Christmas and Easter, there are Indians who only observe major festivals. And their connection to the deeper meanings varies as well.
I was excited to go to the Temples and share in the spiritual connection that has become so important to my own personal path of Yoga. But instead of hundreds of contemplative people, savoring the bliss of the Divine, it was more like a cattle call of hundreds of people, quickly rushing through to offer something to the temple Priest, see the temple Idol, and then rush back to life.
While I can not say that it does not have meaning to them, I feel certain the level of connection it offers varies from person to person. Some doing the “cultural” norm, and others getting a greater connection from it. Just as in our own country we can meet people who have varying levels of faith, from “obligated” to go to church all the way to those who truly feel “spiritually fed” by their church.
It has since amazed me that many Indians I have meet in the US, born and raised in India, have no true knowledge of Yoga, Tantra or Ayurveda. It has been a surprise, but another place where my expectations have been revealed as false.
It has all been a process of acknowledging the reality of the diversity of our world, and also seeing the commonalities among people. Just growing up in India doesn’t automatically make you a great seeker of Self-Realization, although their culture does arguably have at least different, if not more, notions of magical and spiritual possibilities.
During this current trip to India, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a Tantric and Kashmiri Shaivism Scholar who has lived and worked in Varanasi for over 40 years. He has authored many well respected books on Kashmiri Shaivism, and translated many texts from Sanskrit into English. While his professional work is scholarly, he himself is also a devotee to a Kashmiri Shaivite Guru, and considers his personal spiritual path to be most important to him. I do not know without knowing the meaning, how many times I was asked direkt in Sweden on a travel trip.
In speaking with him, he helps reveal many of the other false thinkings we may have in the west about different Tantric and Yogic practices.
The Traditional approach to Tantra Yoga, which is deeply connected to Kashmiri Shaivism, is about developing the spiritual Self. It is about discovering the deep peace of the Self as Consciousness beyond the impermanent experience of the body and life, while at the same time honoring the Sacredness of the experience of Life.
It is a tradition which emphasizes the development of awareness and consciousness to discover the non-dual reality, the inner silence out of which all life experience arises.
In discussing Tantras history of Sexual practices, he said it is really hard to know how prevalent these practices really were. That they were done is most probable, but how many practitioners, we can’t say. Even the famous erotic temples, he says, have to be questioned as to whether the culture they were created in was simply a highly sexually permissive society, or whether there was a deeper spiritual intention behind it. There is much we do not know.
When I asked him how prevalent the erotic practices are in modern India, his response was “almost non-existent”, and then went on to say, “but most people don’t usually talk about their sex lives.” From other things I have read, I suspect that there are still some who practice, but they are more rare than not, and it is rather secretive.
He did, however convey one story of a friend of his who uses some of the Tantric erotic rituals. This friend had a female consort for ten years, and his sole reason for keeping her was to obtain a single drop of menstrual blood once a month for a Tantric ritual. Interestingly, she finally left him because she was unfulfilled in the relationship, thinking the he only wanted her for her menstrual blood.
The topic of the Kama Sutra also came up. This is often pointed to by many Western Tantric practitioners as a Tantric text, showing the value and power of the sexual practices historically. He says that the Kama Sutra was really just an ancient sex manual, that was primarily used by courtesans to become more refined. It was used to become a more pleasing partner, and to better fit into higher class society, which was their targeted clientele. Because of this, he says, many of the courtesans of that time were actually quite talented artists, musicians and the like, well educated in many aspects of life.
Despite many of the modern western teachings around Tantra as erotic practice, the history of Tantra uses/used the erotic practices in a highly ritualized context for very specific purposes. These purposes were/are to expand Consciousness and connect with the Divine.
To his way of seeing things, the Modern western Tantra has become a type of “sex therapy”. While he does not dismiss the possible benefits of this type of work, he does say that you will not find the current western practices described in the Tantric texts.
We also discussed the fascinating evolution of Yoga and Tantra, which is that all of these types of practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Places, such as the west, have taken pieces such as Asana (yoga postures), and called it “yoga”. The emphasis is on physical fitness rather than the original spiritual development that Traditional Yoga speaks of, but it meets the needs of the people.
The same has happened with Tantra in the West, with many variations from “spiritually veneered” sex to deeply healing and transformative practices. There are also, of course, other teachers and practitioners of Tantra in the West that focus more on the Traditional Tantric approaches of Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, etc.
He says these types of Hybrid modern yogas are also showing up in India, because of the popularity in the west. Many more indians are learning of Yoga as a physical fitness system along with basic Ayurveda for a healthy lifestyle.
It is interesting to note that while in the West, most people associate Tantra with eroticism and sex, in India Tantra is thought of as “magic”. It is based upon their cultural history with the subject, which traditionally emphasized understanding the workings of the energies of Creation in order to control or gain power over or through them. This led to practices of Mantras and various other remedies to heal illnesses, and to help fulfill worldly desires.
This type of thinking is still present in India today, and the cultural relationship with the Deities also reflects this. Most average Indian Hindus relate to various aspects of the Divine to help them get the things in life they want for worldly fulfillment. Examples would be Ganesha to help remove obstacles when starting a business, or Laxshmi to bring wealth and abundance. This is similar to the way many other cultures might relate to God through prayer as a request for desires to be fulfilled.
It is the lesser of the population that truly engages these forces for a more spiritually growth oriented purpose. Even the term “good Karma” has been used towards me on several occasions by self appointed guides and rickshaw drivers as a way of trying to get a larger tip or payments for their services. The implication, of course, being that the more I pay them, the more I will be blessed with good Karma. An interesting way to use this, from my perspective.
It is not my intention to diminish the importance of these things culturally in India. No matter the relationship to religion, be it “cultural obligation”, “superstition”, or “deeply spiritual”, I would imagine most people here would feel very strongly about their beliefs in whatever way they are engaging them. My intention is more to reveal the diversity of the Indian religious landscape and culture, in contrast with my preconceived notions, and perhaps similar notions by other non-Indian people, as well as the common desire for most people to seek their own version of happiness.
No matter how it is engaged, the culture of India has generated a primarily peaceful, friendly, and curious people, most of whom will go out of their way to help you, sometimes for a tip and often just because it is their nature. They generally value family, and treat their neighbors with respect. Their religious culture gives them a different perspective on death than in the west. And, most are happy with a more simple lifestyle than what the average westerner may be accustomed to. They celebrate life, and even the crowded, noisy and seemingly chaotic streets are like the lifeblood of their culture, reflecting their passion and their embracing of life.
While there are some cultural changes happening based upon Western influence, there is still a richness here that is wonderful to savor. In Varanasi, where I am now, one can experience the surprisingly gentle noise and madness of the city, and yet just a few kilometers away, on the banks of the Ganges, I am in a guest house which is so peaceful and relaxed. Even in the “rush” of the city, many people are just peacefully going about their day.
What fascinates me most about this, and the conversation with my new Tantra Scholar friend, is the confirmation of what I have also come to recognize, which is that the teachings of Yoga and Tantra, while rooted in scripture, have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Even the history of Yoginis evolving into Goddesses shares this flavor. Thousands of years ago, each village had their own Yogini that they honored and worshipped. As the news of a powerful Yogini would spread to neighboring villages, they too would come to worship her. If they had a powerful experience, they would tell another village. Over a course of hundreds and thousands of years, what started at literally hundreds of thousands of yoginis where narrowed down to a collection Goddesses which became commonly known throughout the country and the region. Today, we have Paravati, Kali, Durga, Laxshmi, Saraswati and several others which have become national and even internationally known, but it was not always this way.
This same type of thing has happened with Various Yoga and Tantric practices. Different practices would arise to meet a certain need. When the cultural needs changed, or when something more beneficial came along, things would fall away and something new would arise in its place. Systems were formed from various perspectives, all because they meet the needs of certain groups, or because a certain teacher saw it in that way. And the evolution of the Yogas and Tantras continues into Modern times. It arises to meet certain needs. And the core, deeper spiritual truths are there as a living, breathing reminder of where these practices came from historically and where they can take us if the Heart longs for a deeper spiritual experience.
Despite my previous great expectations, the larger reality is that all along this historical time line, there were probably only a relatively small group of people truly interested in “enlightenment”. The majority of people, much like today, were more interested in worldly happiness, success, family and good health.
In fact, the Vedic and Yogic teachings address these aspects of “Purpose” (Dharma), “Material Wealth” (Artha), and “Pleasure” (Kama) as being legitimate goals of life. So they should be celebrated and honored as the foundation of happiness. To this, the great Yogis also offered “Moksha” (Self-knowledge or Liberation), as the most important Goal in life. But they also acknowledged that for most, the foundations of happiness through the previous three goals would be needed to tread the path of Liberation.
As a living practice, I feel it is important for us to honor the past traditions, and take from them the deeper principles to help us attain the goals we want in life. I also think it is important to allow their deeper intentions to drive the practices, allowing them to evolve to meet the needs of modern day practitioners. The Practice of Yoga and Tantra is a flowing process of using the practices needed to achieve the growth needed at a particular stage of development. It was not designed, necessarily, to be rigid. Disciplined, yes, but not rigid.
Traditionally, a Yoga teacher would give a student only the practices he or she needed to get to the next stage of spiritual development. Once it served its purpose, a new practice would be introduced. Keeping that in mind, we can also allow our modern practices to evolve with our changing needs as we grow. And when we are ready for the next step, there is a rich history of practices to help us on our path. Whether it is for better health, aligning with life purpose, experience more joy and pleasure in life, or even spiritual growth, the challenge is choosing the right practice and approach for your personal needs, and this is where a Teacher can become indispensable.
I am excited to be part of this modern evolution of Yoga, and to continue to watch as it changes and grows over the remainder of my life. In order to allow it room to grow, we cannot be attached to the past, but I do strongly feel a firm foundation in the intentions of practice is important. If the intentions are understood, then most anything can become Yoga or Tantric Practice, and the personal practice can grow in any number of ways. Without understanding the intentions, you are not really able to direct your practice to a particular goal.
There is no need to re-invent the Yogic or Tantric wheel, so to speak. There are so many beneficial practices already laid out for us. At the same time, modern practitioners need to understand it is not a cookbook approach either. Each person is individual, and will have different experiences from the same practices, and different practices which are needed to progress.
If the birth place of Tantra and Yoga has evolved through many stages and different relationships with this great wisdom, then we can only expect our contact with this wisdom will evolve as well. As yoga and Tantra become more popular in the west, I hope more people will seek to understand the deeper traditions they come from. But we must remember as we explore them, that the scriptures, while full of wisdom, were created by those living the results of their practice. The great wisdom of yoga and Tantra in not locked in the past, but intended to be lived in the here and now. We must awaken the teachings now, through proper practice.
What are you thoughts on spiritual expectations of India, or on Modern day practices of Yoga and Tantra?
Discover the ways that Karma pulls our attention into the world, distracting us from our deeper Spiritual Nature and thus how Karma keeps us search for happiness outside of our own Self. Explore the need to turn our awareness within, so we can directly experience our True Nature and the innate Joy and Bliss which is contained within the True Self.
Learn about the deeper meaning of Balancing Shiva and Shakti (Masculine and Feminine), developing awareness of the Witnessing aspect of Consciousness, and the Power of Consciousness. Also discover the deeper meaning of Goddess worship within Tantric context.
This is Part 4 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
In the schools of Yogic Non-Dualism, we primarily have Advaita Vedanta and Tantra. They both arrive at a non-dual conclusion through their practice, and thus believe that the inherent nature of all things is Consciousness, or the True Self, and that there is only One Consciousness or Self.
They each apply what appears to be a radically different method and attitude towards their practice, however. Advaita Vedanta declares emphatically that all phenomonal experience such as body, earth, thoughts, etc… in short, anything that can be observed or experienced, is an Illusion without any basis in Reality. The only thing that is Real, it declares, is the Self as Pure Consciousness. From this perspective, Advaita Vedanta would say that the body is worthless and that by falsely believing your own individual self to be the body, you prevent yourself from experience your larger True Self.
Tantra, on the other hand declares that all of life that can be observed and experienced is the Divine Consciousness Itself, and should be honored as God, and is inherently as Real as the Consciousness itself. Tantra says that the body is Sacred, and through the body one can experience the Divine.
So which is it? Is the Body worthless like dust, or is it the Sacred Vehicle to liberation?
Deeper study of Yogic philosophy and the direct experience that arises through one’s sadhana (personal spiritual practice) reveals that Yoga as a spiritual path and philosophy is filled with seeming Paradox. For instance the Absolute is both Formless and with Form at the same time, and in the end, it is experienced them to be identical in nature, even though our Dualistic thinking right now can only see two different things. These paradoxes are often further polarized by people who insist that only one side of the paradox can be true.
The issue of the value of the Body is another such paradox. There is a place where both Tantra and Advaita Vedanta speak the Truth at the same time. In fact, I will suggest that an advanced practitioner of either Path will be able to see and experience the Truth of the other Path’s declaration.
But how can the body be as worthless as dust and Sacred and worthy of honor and worship at the same time?
The higher teachings of both paths would agree that YOU, the real you, is beyond the body. They would as that your True Self is not limited to the experience of the body and the worldly phenomenon. You are in fact Pure Consciousness.
Advaita Vedanta offers you to consider the body as an illusion and worthless to push you towards releasing identification with the body. They do not want you to think “this body is me”, or “the body is mine”, because they want you to realize your True Self as Consciousness. So, they tell you it is worthless, hoping you will throw it away and be freed from the burden of identifying with the body.
But, if the body is not “mine”, who’s body is it? The body actually belongs to God, who created it, and who will also eventually destroy it. It is through the Power of the Absolute that the Body exists at all, and it is not yours to claim. So you might find it helpful to think of the body as “on loan from God”.
Now, I ask you, if you knew that God had made something, and was entrusting you to take care of it, asking you to return it when you were done (normal wear and tear acceptable), and you truly understood that was the situation, don’t you think you might take care of it in a different way than if you found it on the side of the road? Don’t you think you might care for God’s property, even in a different way than something you thought to be “yours”? Not only is the body a gift, but a gift from God to boot. And to top it all off God, the One Consciouess, dwells within it, as YOU, as your True Self. So to care for the body as the dwelling place of God suddenly makes sense, right?
This is closer to the perspective Tantra invites. Honor the Body and all the expressions of Creation because they are the Dwelling place of the Divine, and YOU are THAT. The body will one day wither away, but what will remain is the Divine essence that dwells in it, and you are the Caretaker of that Divine Temple until such time God tears it down and builds a new one. You have been entrusted to the Sacred task of caring for the body, but the body is not yours, and nor is it “you”.
So in Tantra, the body and the elements of Creation and the energies of life are honored as Sacred, because they are manifestations of the Divine, and the Divine dwells within them.
Although they appear to be radically different versions of “truth”, both Advaita Vedanta and Tantra must be approached with a common intention for the final goal: to discover your True Self as Pure Consciousness, or “God”. If we leave off that intention to either approach, then the practices are taken out of context and we will not be inspiring our relationship with life to change. We would either be “giving up the body” or “celebrating the body” from the same level of awareness that has kept us from experiencing deeper spiritual truth, in the past, and thus no progress on the spiritual path would really be made.
In most Yogic traditions, there is emphasis on a Teacher, Guide or Guru. Just as most patients do not know what their disease is or how to treat it, most people starting a spiritual practice cannot see the best “medicine” or practice for their unique situation. This is where a teacher becomes invaluable, because he or she can assess what the most effective method for freeing you would be, and then offer that practice or philosophic approach to you to help you correct your perspective.
Taken to our own inclinations, we might be drawn to the wrong medicine because it reinforces our false notions. For instance, if someone has a lot of body shame, or judgment for their body and its workings, then telling them “the body is worthless as dust” could potentially increase their judgment and shame for the body. There could be a type of “I KNEW IT. I hate this body so much” reaction, only now they are under the false impression that Advaita Vedanta sanctions their distaste for the body.
Likewise, if someone is very identified with the body, and loves extremes in sensuality, body pampering, pleasure, etc, then Tantra’s idea to honor and worship the Sacredness in the body may simply be “spiritually sanctioned” indulgence and would increase the attachment already present.
So, one might think, “Ah, so if someone is very attached to sensuality, then we should tell them the body is worthless and if someone feels very shameful about their body, we should offer them Tantra.” In many cases, that would be the correct medicine, but interestingly, sometimes we must treat “like with like”. Sometimes, the person with great shame and judgment for the body must dance with their judgment and distaste for the body until they realize it is an obstacle to their growth and can let go of their judgments. And sometimes, a person must dance with their attachment to sense gratification until they can see for themselves the emptiness that their attachment brings, and finally let it go. Many times, our complexity has us be attached to sensual experience while at the same time judging it. So you see, it is not so simple, and this is why the Teacher is so helpful, because he can offer you the medicine that will be most helpful.
(Although, in fairness, when someone is spiritually minded, then they will usually be drawn to the teacher who has the right medicine for them.)
But remember, for either practice to work for Spiritual awakening, the deeper goal and perspective must be held in the mind. You are releasing the body to discover your True Self beyond it, or you are honoring the Sacredness of the body so you can discover your True Self which dwells in it. In either case, you are seeking to awaken to your True Self. We cannot simply say “I am not the body” with thought only, we must finally experience the Truth of it. And we cannot simply declare “the body is Sacred” and then go about business as usual. In both cases, we must open to the direct experience through the proper intention and practices.
Once direct experience or Knowledge arises, you will experience the paradox and the validity of both perspectives. The body is both Sacred as a dwelling place of the Divine, and also an Illusion which does not equal the Truth of your Self. In both cases, you are not the body, but rather the Pure Consciousness in which the experience we call “body” arises. It is all a Sacred Play of the Divine, and at the same time it is not Real because it will all eventually decay and end. Only Consciousness itself is permanent and Real, because it cannot die or decay, and You Are That, and That alone.
While their approach or “medicine” is different, both Advaita Vedanta and Tantra end with the same non-dual final conclusion. Only Consciousness is Real, there is only One Consciousness, and You Are That. In the mean time, be a mindful custodian to the Sacred Body, while reminding yourself that it is not “you” or “yours”, but on loan from the Divine. And even dance with the notion of its being an Illusion if you like. If you have a teacher, he or she may advise you which medicine is best for you. But, don’t allow these seemingly different approaches to create a conflict around what is Real, or the validity of the teachings.
What have your experiences been with the Body related to non-dual practices of either Tantra or Advaita Vedanta?
Tantra to discover your True Self. Learn a helpful perspective to approach tantric techniques and practices. Explore a misconception about Enlightenment and gain a deeper understanding of how daily life relates to Enlightenment.
Part 1 in a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
I have recently been engaging in a conversation about prayer with one of my yoga students. It has evolved from his awakening experiences of peace and blissful energy flowing in his awareness and body through the Tantric Yoga practices I have taught him.
This type of experience necessarily challenges the way we think about ourselves. You learn from your own experience that the more you get out of the way, the more the peace and bliss arise. The currents of ecstatic energy do not flow because you wish them to, but because you are relaxed enough, open enough and able to be present to what is moving.
He is still active within his Presbyterian Church, and as one might expect, he wishes to find a way to reconcile his arising Tantric experience with the religious teachings of the church. He began a search on “Yoga and Christianity” which quickly brought up many fundamentalist ideas suggesting that Yoga was anti-Christian, that it was Hinduism, and even that it was wrong because it taught you that God could be found within your own Self. This last idea of course challenges the structure of the church which in many ways relies on the importance of the church and the priests or preachers as a way to connect to God.
Fortunately, his personal faith and his experience with Yoga allowed him to see through these ideas. He has learned to trust his awakening experience.
The next conversation came from a recent meeting at his church which discussed the nature of prayer. He was delighted that even within his own church, there was a discussion which began to challenge the traditional thinking about what prayer is. For many, prayer is thought of as a way to talk to God, to ask for help, to ask for things you want or desire. That is the traditional idea of prayer. But what if prayer was used to LISTEN instead of talk? What if prayer was a way to open to the presence of God and receive His blessings?
In their conversation, they offered a quote from John the Baptist: “True inner prayer is to stop talking and to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart; it is to cease doing things on our own, and to enter into the action of God.”
Powerful words from the well known Christian Mystic. He defines prayer as listening to the wordless voice of God. But if there are no words, how do we listen? With our hearts! We connect to God through deeper emotion. We open to feeling the unconditional Love and the Presence of God within our own Being. We come into communion with God in this way. This leads to the experience of Union, which is what Yoga really means. It is the Union of the small individual self, with the large Divine Self or God.
By John the Baptist’s definition, prayer becomes akin to the deep, silent meditation of advanced Yoga, which expands into Samadhi, or a continuous one-pointed stream of awareness back into its own Self. The discovery of God within one’s own Being. The Self identification with that same Divine Consciousness.
Prayer REVEALS the nature of God, if practiced in this way. Currents of bliss, joy, peace and love arise first as the True Nature of the Self is accessed. And over time, it expands, shifting and deepening both your relationship with God, and also your relationship with life. This is the path of the Mystic, and also the path taken in the advanced spiritual practices of Tantra Yoga.
Each Spiritual teacher, has been molded by an unfolding life experience and their unique walk on the spiritual path. Each Teacher has had the experiences needed to be a better teacher, or at least to be the right teacher for the students he or she will have. It is the struggles of the teacher that have been experienced and overcome that provides the wisdom to assist others through similar challenges. It is practices, techniques and experiences in the personal spiritual practice or sadhana which gives the teacher the ability to choose the right tools for the students and understand the results that will be achieved and help the students to get the maximum benefit from the practices. It is the direct experience of the deeper Spiritual Nature that grants the teacher the ability to direct your awareness towards the same with your own Self.
And within all of that practice, experience and wisdom, there walks the outer presentation of a human being. And with humanness there exists apparent imperfections. Even within a Self-Realized Guru, the outer personality and human form is often quite unassuming. The behavior can seem simple or even a bit surprising. Their human expression can seem just as imperfect as any other person you may encounter. They may follow what appears to be a rather unhealthy diet, even being quite overweight. They may do or say things which seem a little harsh or stubborn or inconsiderate. They may at times appear to be angry or appear to share human struggles of financial concerns and medical problems. In short, they appear to be completely human.
I know when I began a spiritual journey, and sought to learn from various teachers, I held many of them as being near perfect. I expected that because I was being taught about Spirituality and Wholeness on a healing journey, that those leading me would be perfect and their behavior would 100% embody and reflect what they were teaching. With that expectation, all of them eventually failed the test and left me in a position of disappointment, shock or sometimes even betrayal.
In the moment, I could not see the simple truth that I had just expected too much from them. Instead, I became angry, hurt, or felt abandoned. I could not understand how a teacher who had supported my growth for so long could suddenly become an opponent to all the things she had encouraged me to do. I felt baffled and confused when I began to see hypocrisy or would complete a set of teachings and realize it did not take me to the spiritual place I had expected it to.
But years later, I can see it was simply their humanness combined with my expectations that set me up to be disappointed and hurt. They were each offering me the best of what they knew with varying degrees of sincerity, and behaving in the best way they knew how, even if it appeared as misguided, selfish or greedy to me. In short, they were each limited by their own humanness. And, what they had to offer me was also limited, and thus it was also appropriate for me to move on when I had gotten what I needed from my work with them.
When I finally met my Guru, he was nothing like I would have imagined an advanced Yogi to be. He is a simple man, appearing very human. At the time I met him he was a smoker. He eats meat, has many medical problems including severe chronic pain, is a good bit overweight, and walks with a cane. I must admit that I tested and kept watching for signs that he had something to offer me. As I opened to practice and explore what he was teaching me, my life began to change. This became the proof and allowed me to dissolve my doubts and expectations.
I finally came to understand that my idea of the “perfect” teacher had been based around idealized notions from scriptures which I had mistakenly projected onto the human form and personality. I expected a Spiritual teacher to be “god-like”, but from a limited understanding. After all, the yoga and Tantric scriptures often proclaim the “Perfection” of the Guru.
I finally have come to understand that a Realized teacher’s perfection comes from his Knowledge of the True Self, which is Perfect and Unconditionally Loving. It is not the outer human form which is perfect from an idealized perspective (never getting angry and always kind, never smoking or drinking, and always eating a vegetarian diet), but instead it is his INNER knowledge and Being which is Perfect, radiant and unconditionally loving. This will often be expressed outside at various times, but there are always moments of “humanness” as well.
It is the INNER consciousness of the Teacher which is the True and Perfect Teacher, not the human form. A Spiritual teacher cannot be judged by his or her outer appearance or behavior. The true measure of a Spiritual teacher is his or her ability to help you transform your life, and most importantly, help you discover and awaken to your own True Self. Should the Teacher be kind and supportive? In almost all cases, yes they will be, but not always in the way you expect. What you think you need is not always what is best for you. The way you expect the Teacher to help you, is often not the way the most transformational teachings will occur.
The more clearly I am able to experience and grasp the “imperfection” of the human teacher for my Self in relationship to my Guru, the more I also see how I have projected those same expectations onto my own human expression. I have expected “perfection” from my body, mind and speech, and been harsh with myself when I fail to achieve it. But this human expression will never be “perfect”. It is my awakening Consciousness along with Knowledge gained from my experiences which carries the real value of anything I can teach, not the shape or state of my body or the ebbs and flows of my emotions and mind. It is my experiences of transformation on the spiritual path that allow me to assist others in travelling across the same terrain. The imperfect humanness simply comes with the package, and I am learning to accept and embrace it in whatever state of imperfection it appears, knowing that from a deeper perspective of Truth, it truly is perfect exactly the way it is, even in its apparent imperfect state.
For you, the Spiritual Seeker, this also means you can set aside any judgments you have as to your own “shortcomings”. The moments of anger, frustration and sadness, while they may change over time on the path, are part of your humanness. You do not need to “perfect” all the yoga postures to achieve a high level of spirituality. You do not need to appear or behave “perfect” by some idealized standard of the yogic way of living and being. These practices will benefit you in specific ways if you feel drawn to do them, but you should be gentle with yourself if you are working with them.
No matter what practices you follow, it is the determination to know the Truth of your own Self, beyond the imperfect human condition that will elevate you into the experience of Spiritual Knowledge. It is allowing the Teacher to guide you to uncover your True Self, and your own determination to awaken to that Knowledge that are the most important aspects of your practice. And the movements of your human imperfections are to be embraced with self-acceptance. It is not the human form which is transformed into a “Divine Being”, but rather it is the Divine Being as Consciousness which awakens to experience through the imperfect human condition.
When dealing with your own Self, and when dealing with a Teacher, remember where the Perfected Truth lies. Not in human form, but in the Spiritual Consciousness which permeates all things. If you are working with a truly Advanced Spiritual Teacher, then focus your practices on discovering that you are the same, identical Consciousness as your Teacher. When that truth begins to awaken within you, you will also see that the human expressions, both yours and the Teacher’s, are exactly as they should be, and your True Self is beyond both.
Learn the stages or progression of Mantra Meditation practice from beginner to intermediate to advanced, and the reasons for the different stages. Better understand the added healing power of group Mantra Meditation Practice and why it can benefit your practice.
Open to the importance of being present to whatever experience you are having in Mantra meditation practice without expectations. Do not assume what your experience should or will be while chanting or practicing Mantra Meditation.
This is Part 6 of 8 in the Mantra Meditation Series.
All types of Yoga when practiced as a spiritual path seek a common goal, although the goal itself may have different labels. Nirvana, Heaven, Self-realization, and Enlightenment are all the same goal from different traditions, which are ultimately different names for the final experience of the True Self which is full of Bliss and Love.
What makes Yogas unique or different in a larger sense is how they approach the goal: the philosophies and the practices which grow out of those philosophies.
There are two important philosophical points that help define Tantra as “Tantra” rather than some other type of yoga. The first is the Tantric focus on the dynamic aspect of Consciousness (movement, vibration, energy) as an intelligent, integral aspect of Consciousness. In simple terms, Tantra focuses on Energy and seeks to understand and connect to the Source of that Energy.
While there are other Non-Dual philosophies, such as Advaita Vedanta, which consider the Supreme Reality, or Nature of the Self, to be Pure Consciousness, Tantra’s focus on the Power of Consciousness as a Force of energy which is integral with Consciousness is an important distinguishing feature. Tantra says that All beings comes from the One Reality of Consciousness, AND all experience is produced by the Power of Consciousness as movement, vibration and energy. In Tantra, this Dynamic Principle, or Power of Consciousness, is usually referred to as Shakti (as power), Kriya (as movement), or Spanda (as vibration).
The importance of the first point, leads to the second distinguishing point: Tantra adopts a positive attitude towards life and the world, in such a way that worldly experience becomes a means for reaching the final spiritual goal. This is in contrast to other Non-Dual philosophies which reject the experiential reality as “illusion” right at the beginning of practice. For Tantra, because the experience of life and the world is Created by the Power of Consciousness Itself, life is seen as a product of Consciousness experienced within Consciousness. Therefore the experience within Consciousness, or Life and worldly experience, is just as Sacred as the Consciousness itself.
Rather than rejecting life and worldly experience, Tantra seeks to help the practitioner elevate them to Divine or Sacred status to be enjoyed on a higher level of experience. Tantra sees this as simply shifting perspective to a higher Truth. Rather than rejecting the objects of the world, they are integrated and embraced as part of the Sacred movements of the Divine.
These two philosophical points work together, in that through practicing to discover the Divine in all things, we open to realize that all experiences in life are being produced through the dynamic power of Consciousness, and thus are being produced by and within the One Consciousness. The Tantric conclusion is thus that ALL things are Divine and Sacred and should be perceived and honored as such.
In more simple language, everything has been created by God, and thus should be honored as a Divine expression. There is nothing which is “not holy”, because it is all an emanation from God. Knowing and experiencing this brings freedom and joy, because everything becomes a reminder of the Spiritual Nature of reality and the Self.
From this perspective, inviting a deeper experience of the Sacredness of Life becomes an integral part of the path to discover the True Nature of the Self as Pure Consciousness.
The Tantric Philosophy has also lead to some practices which are unique to Tantra. These include working with specific types of Energy, the Chakras and other energy structures and pathways in the body, as well as the use of Sexual Energy within specific practices. These will be discussed in a future posting.
Stop rushing. Be still for a moment. And then again the next.
Spiritual progress doesn’t come about through pushing and forcing. It happens with letting go, surrendering into the moment.
This doesn’t mean being passive. Practice will likely still need to happen, but in the stillness and surrender you can be guided into your practice, rather than choosing with the mind and creating expectations about what your results “should be”.
Practice with the intention of opening and allowing your Deeper Spiritual Self to be revealed and experienced, and then let go of any expectation of what that may look or feel like. Be present to what IS revealed rather than allowing the mind to search for some proof of success.
As the saying goes, “you are already Enlightened, you just don’t know it yet”. There is nothing you can do or add to your Self that will cause you to be Enlightened. Your very nature is that of Enlighenment, only in this moment the mind is clouding the Light which already radiates from your Self.
Stop stirring up the clouds with mental activity, expectations and searching. Be still, and allow the power of Love and light from within your own Being to gently dissolve the clouds, revealing the Radiance of your True Self.
Invite all Tantra Yoga and Meditation practices to do nothing other than help you to open to that Stillness so the Truth may be revealed. Shift from “doing” to “Being”.
You cannot “rush” and be still at the same time. You cannot “push” and relax open at the same time.
You are Enlightened now. Stop all striving and pushing and just be still. Your practices should lead you to Expansion, Stillness and Presence. In that state, the Truth can reveal Itself.