consciousness

Tantra: Self-Mastery of Life Force Energy and the Forces of Creation

Tantra is MysteriousEnerting the Mystery of Tantra Yoga

Tantra is steeped in deep mystery. The things that are known or heard about it in day to day life are often spoken of out of context, with little understanding of what the practice or philosophy is really designed to do.

Over hundreds and likely even thousands of years, Tantra has become associated with Black magic, sexual deviance, group sex, sensual indulgence, ecstasy, orgasmic bliss among other things. People speak of Kundalini, magical powers, chakras, spells being cast, and many other concepts and acts as being part of Tantra.

There are debates as to whether it is about sexuality or spirituality along with talk of White Tantra, Red Tantra, Pink Tantra, Left-handed Tantra, and Right-Handed Tantra. And the unfortunate modern confusion where some people think it is only for better orgasms, which creates further confusion for people who imagine that they “must have a sexual partner” to learn and benefit from Tantra. (Not true.)

Why Is Tantra So Controversial?

Tantra is one of the most controversial of Yogic practices, and much of that controversy comes purely from lack of understanding. The controversy and confusion is fueled by false imaginings, anecdotal stories and modern packaging designed to entice the “sex sells” culture that we live in. Additionally, there are modern Tantric teachers using sexually indulgent teachings for their own desires, celebrities talking about 7 hour “tantric” orgasms and even students of Tantra misunderstanding the process and speaking about it out of context.

Certainly, Tantric practitioners or those associated with Tantra have been involved in a variety of activities. Everything listed above has, I am sure, been experienced or practiced in the name of “Tantra”. And I am sure there has been a wide range of motivations for how to use Tantra. But for a moment let’s step outside of these “behaviors” and “reported experiences”, and take a broader perspective of what the Tantric Practitioner is really learning in order for these other things to happen.

How can someone “cast a spell” (for good or evil?), for instance. Or create high states of orgasmic bliss? Or awaken magical powers? Because quite frankly, these are not “ordinary” parts of most people’s lives. And many might even dismiss them as being superstition or fantasy… How would these things even be possible?

The Goal of Tantra and the Tantric Approach

First, let’s understand something clearly: The system of Tantra in it’s deepest understanding is a path towards Wholeness and a return to Divinity that teaches that the experience of Life is Sacred and SO ARE YOU. We could call the culmination of sustained Tantric Wholeness as “Enlightenment”, “Self-Realization”, or “Moksha”. THIS is what the FINAL goal of Tantra really is. (See The Tantric Path: A Simple Perspective that Every Tantric Student and Practitioner Needs to Know for more information)

And Tantra also knows that we must start right here in the world, right where we are with the life we are currently living. To support our life in the world, Tantra teaches us a spiritual path that allows us to use our daily life and responsiblities in the world as PART of the path itself. Thus, Tantric practices can cover any and every part of our experience, including sex, money, career, body, mind, spirit, health, etc. In Tantra, every moment is an opportunity to find greater peace and open to the Love that is all around us, and most especially, the Love that IS our True Nature.

But how do they do it? Forget casting spells, orgasmic bliss, and magical powers, etc for a moment. That is not ultimately what a sincere Tantric Practitioner is really learning, even though any of those abilities or experiences are possible and might well be a part of the Tantric path. Much like the “Feed a man vs. teaching him how to fish” concept, the real learning isn’t in just being able to cast a “spell” for healing, or to have the orgasmic bliss. No. The real lesson is in understanding how it would be possible to do this at all.

What the Tantric Practitioner is REALLY learning

So what is the common THREAD among all these things? What is the ONE THING being learned that allows all of these things to be experienced and created? What a Tantric practitioner is REALLY learning is how to connect with, harness and direct the Life Force energy and the forces of Creation that exist within his or her own body and Consciousness, as well as the external world.

Self-Mastery of the Forces of Creation in Tantra YogaIf you learn how to cast a spell, well, you can cast a spell. But if you learn how to harness the Forces of Creation and the Life Force Energy, and to bridge that through your own body and consciousness… Well, now you have a whole toolbox to work with. You can do many things, including completely Transforming your entire experience of Self and Life towards greater joy, vibrancy and peace in order to reach Enlightenment.

But, for the wise Tantric Practitioner, each new ability or practice learned is an “Experiment” which creates an experience that leads towards a deeper understanding of what is possible and what the True Nature of Self really is. Learning how to master this Life Force Energy leads to understanding how it is possible to begin with. Which leads to “Who I AM” to be able to “Master it” at all.

Do Not Confuse Authentic Tantric Practice with Outer Appearances

Most of the stories that have popularize Tantra come about from experiences or practices of Practitioners who are “on the path” towards their goal. They are describing a place in their practice BEFORE reaching the Final Goal. Or perhaps they have lost sight of the most meaningful goal, and fallen into using the powers for selfish ends. Either way, when we take their behavior and their experiences and mistake them for “Tantra”, then we just wind up confused.

It would be a bit like hearing that doctors in training dissect human cadavers and drawing the conclusion that “Doctors cut up dead people” without any context for that statement. And then the rumor spreads “Oh no! Did you hear about the people called doctors? They CUT UP DEAD BODIES, MAN! That’s so wrong! (or so cool. I want to be a doctor too!!)”. Doctors in training dissect bodies to learn how the body functions so that can understand how to work with it for healing the sick. But the final goal of medicine is not just to “cut up dead bodies”. (Or live ones either)

In the same way, in Tantra the outer appearance of various practices do not really convey the Deeper motivation or lesson of the practice itself. To say that a Tantric practitioner practices magic, or engages in sex, or sits on dead bodies in the burial ground does NOT convey the purpose of their behavior. And without that understanding, society will place its own judgments upon it and fail to see what is really being learned or accomplished.

Tantric practitioners engage the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energy within Consciousness through a variety of “experiments” that we call “practices” so they can learn how these energies function. And this “training” is just a step along the way to ultimately bring about the greatest possible healing of Self through what is learned by direct experience: The Return to Wholeness.

Tantra as Self-Mastery of Life Force Energy and the Forces of Creation

There are Tantric practioners who have practiced black magic, I am sure. But Tantra is not about black magic. There are Tantric Practitioners who have investigated or even obsessed about the sexual energy in some pretty “outlandish” ways. But Tantra is not about sex. There are Tantric practitioners who have awakened magical ability and psychic powers. But Tantra is not about magical abilities and psychic powers.

At the core, Tantra is about learning to interface with the Powers of The Universe as a function of Pure Consciousness in order to Understand the Nature of Reality and Self. And in this process, we cultivate the Qualities of the True Self, which are Ecstatic Love, Joy, and Peace. To make it even simpler, Tantra is a path to re-discover who and what you really are.

Through Tantric practices, you harmonize and balance your life as a necessary part of the path. This can mean more loving relationships, greater self-acceptance, and freedom from shame. It can mean increased clarity around your soul’s purpose and greater passion operating in the world. It can mean greater connection to your own Intuition, inner Wisdom, and even perhaps psychic powers. And, yes, it can even mean more satisfaction and meaning in your sex life.

Perhaps you will even become motivated to use what you learn to assist in the healing of others, and not only yourself. All of these things are possible and most are likely. They are “gifts” along the path for doing the work towards wholeness. They are manifestations of the awakening Wholeness itself. And they are still not the “goal” of Tantra, but they are an interesting and enjoyable part of the journey. They are experiences that deepen your understanding of life force and Creation, and what is possible, and your relationship to The Universe. And it is all made possible by harnessing and directing the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energy within the practitioner.

How to Properly Learn Tantra Yoga

So what needs to happen to walk this Tantric Path? How can YOU begin to explore this for yourself and engage these fascinating practices? That’s where a Tantric Teacher comes in.

In addition to learning HOW to harness and direct the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energies within the body and consciousness, there needs to be guidance from a Tantric Teacher. There needs to be ethical training for how to use this wisdom and Power for your own maximum benefit while avoiding trouble for Self and others. There needs to be someone who can help you create the practices and experiences that will reveal what is possible and what the Nature of Reality really is.

There needs to be someone to help you navigate the challenges, frustrations and confusions that will arise on the path. Someone to assist you in destroying any obstacles that have limited your Wholeness in the past or that are causing resistance now. And there needs to be someone to remind you of the Truth and the Final Goal when you may get lost. These are just some of the ways that the Tantric Teacher offers support and enables you to accelerate your growth and practice. In the end, the Teacher’s primary role is to empower you to connect to your own Inner Wisdom and discover the Truth and Power of your own Self.

After over 25 years on my own Path, I have integrated all of my studies and practices along with the needed guidance and support into a comprehensive approach to Tantric Practice that I call Ecstatic Union®. It brings everything needed together in one system and one path. And it addresses every stage of practice from beginner to advanced.

But like all journeys, it begins with the First Step: Look for Ecstatic Union® Foundational Training announcements beginning in January 2015!

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The Tantric Path: A Simple Perspective that Every Tantric Student and Practitioner Needs to Know

Is Tantra Yoga Complex?Abstract Tantric Goddess

In a recent survey I offered, I was asked this question. “Why is Tantra So Complex?”

Have you ever wondered this? Or perhaps just noticed there is a lot of information about Tantra available, and perhaps don’t quite know what to make of it? Well, Tantra CAN appear complex. So many practices. So many dieties. So much controversy and conflicting information on the Internet.

And in fairness, while I never thought about it as “complex”, I DID experience confusion earlier on in my practice because of the vast information that was available about Tantra. After 25 years of study and practice, I am able to see past the complexity and understand the simplicity and beauty of Tantra. And it wasn’t until I gained clarity that I was able to look back and realize I was confused prior.

Here’s the truth: it is really our own mind attempting to process a large quantity of ideas and concepts that makes it seem complex. It is the belief that each of the statements about Tantra and all the diversities out there are each “some separate and new concept” where one contradicts the other, or multiple practices that feel overwhelming like “I don’t know which direction to go?!?” The mind confuses us. And when we are confused, our practice is confused. And this prevents genuine progress on the Path, because we don’t truly know which direction to face or where we are really headed.

Tantra Yoga teaches us that the Truth cannot be found within the mind, or by the mind. And the confusion that arises from the apparent complexity shows we are searching with and within the mind for an answer to a deeper question that the mind will never comprehend.

Turning Towards Unity to Understand Tantra

There is an analogy that is often used in Yoga to describe the nature of the Self as Consciousness. It states that the nature of the Self (Consciousness) is like the Ocean. The Ocean is all one body of Water. But on the surface, there are waves. And each wave appears as a separately arising thing or event. But it is all water, connected to the single Ocean. When we dive deep, we experience “vast water and stillness”. When we are on the surface, we experience lots of individual waves and activity that causes us to forget that it is all water. Instead, we focus on the waves.

These individual waves are like the individual beings and forms in life: Appearing separate but all connected by the same nature of a single Consciousness. There is One Consciousness, like the one ocean, and that One Consciousness dwells within all Beings and experiences. It is not separate from the waves. And the water or consciousness is the true reality and nature of experience.

At the experience of the Individual, this same ocean metaphor can be used, where our deeper nature is still the full Ocean of Consciousness, and the waves are the movement of Consciousness that appear as separate experiences, thoughts and feelings. That what we experience as the ups and downs of life, are in fact waves and ripples arising in the One Consciousness appearing as the world. But the nature of the Individual remains as Pure Consciousness (or the Ocean/Water).

I invite you to consider this same metaphor in relationship to Tantra. The Goal and Source of Tantra are like the One Ocean. It is a singular thing that is equal to Consciousness. And each of the practices, deities and contradictory statements about Tantra are the waves at the surface. If you continue to look only at the waves on the surface, and try to understand the whole ocean, you never will. And if you look only at the outer practices and expressions of Tantra, you will also never understand Tantra (even though your mind may convince you that you do).

In order to really understand Tantra, you must dive into the Ocean and into the depths where you will be able to experience the Wholeness that is the Essence of Tantra. And from that place, you can understand that all of the “complexity” of practices, deities, and apparent contradictions all arise from a single place and a single process. Until you are able to see the SINGLE process, then the diversity will continue to confuse you.

The reality is that Tantra Yoga is wanting to take us to a place of Simplicity and Unity. We will not find the Truth by creating complexity of thought. The Truth is simple. SO SIMPLE that the mind cannot grasp it. It can only be EXPERIENCED, which is what Tantra yoga is designed to create.

Creating a Simple Understanding of Tantra

Instead of focusing on the vast number of practices and ideas, let’s simplify the SINGLE PROCESS that Tantra is accomplishing. For now, forget about Tantric concepts like Mantra, Kundalini, Chakras, Energy, Asana, Pranayama. Forget about notions of Sacred Sexuality, lingams and yonis. Forget about whether you are single or in a relationship or whether you need a partner to practice Tantra (you do not). Forget about all the fantastical things you may have heard about Tantra such as orgasmic bliss, full body orgasms and awakening psychic powers. Forget it all, and let’s look at the “Wholeness” or “Ocean” of the Unifying Single Process that Tantra is creating.

First, let’s remember that the Tantric PATH was offered to us for a single primary purpose. And the term “PATH” also implies there is a “Destination”. After all, we walk along a path because it is supposed to lead us somewhere, right?

So, on this Path, we have THE DESTINATION and we also have “The starting place”, which is wherever you are in this moment.

The Purpose of the PATH is to lead from where you are now to the Final Destination. The Final Destination in Tantra is called by many names: Non-Duality, Wholeness, Enlightenment, Self-Realization and Moksha to name a few. These all essentially mean that you will have a sustained experience of your True Self as Pure Consciousness. You will know yourself, by direct experience, to be “The Ocean and not just the waves”.

According to Tantra, the reason that we suffer and the reason that we do not already know we are “The Ocean” come from a single Cause: “Ignorance of our True Nature”. (With a reminder that ignorance doesn’t mean you are “stupid”. It simply means that you are not aware.)

So we now have a single Purpose: The Destination of Self-Realization
and a single obstacle to eliminate: Ignorance of our True Nature.

To that, Tantra offers a SINGLE PROCESS, whereby we eliminate Ignorance of our True Nature in order to reach the final destination of Self-Realization.

All of the practices and philosophies that are connected to an Authentic Tantric Path are a part of the Single Process of eliminating Ignorance and revealing the True Self. There are, to be fair, multiple forms of ignorance, which is why there are many different practices: each practice addresses different forms of ignorance with the needed approach. But the SINGLE FUNCTION of each and every practice and philosophical concept is to eliminate the SINGLE OBSTACLE of Ignorance.

A Simplified Understanding of the Spiritual Path

To simplify the SINGLE Process of an Authentic Spiritual Path, let’s break it down into two general components:

  1. The Action/Implementation: These are the practices/tools/philosophies that help eliminate the obstacle of Ignorance and teach us how to Awaken to our True Nature as Consciousness. (Including what we are doing and why we are doing it.)
  2. The Effect/Results : These are the responses/reactions/experiences that we have while following the path on our journey towards the Truth, and how we manage and use those experiences as part of the journey itself.

The reality being that this creates a cyclical spiraling effect of a SINGLE PROCESS, where they flow into each other. Practice something. Get a response. Take that into practice. Get a response. etc. When Done properly, there is a Spiraling inwards towards the True Self.

And we can break the Effect/Result/Experience into one of two things:

  1. An opening (however slow or fast) which reveals to us greater freedom/love/peace/wisdom/clarity as we touch into True Self more fully.
  2. An arising experience of a limitation or obstacle which reveals a place where we need to heal and transform our Karma in order to move deeper into Freedom/love/peace. This will often come in the form of judgment/resistance/sadness/fear/anxiety/anger. etc in a variety of expressions and forms. In other words, we discover a layer of Ignorance that needs to be removed.

Putting it all together, this is a simple way to understand Tantra:

Tantra is a Spiritual Path that implements a SINGLE PROCESS designed to eliminate a SINGLE OBSTACLE (Ignorance of your True Nature) in order to reach a SINGLE DESTINATION (Self-Realization of your True Nature).

To Engage this Single Process of the Tantric Path in the simplest terms we need:

  1. The proper practices
  2. The proper way to manage the responses that are created through that practice
  3. The proper context and understanding of the Path to work with #1 and #2 in an effective manner.

If we forget this simple perspective as we navigate the Tantric Path, then the illusion of diversity will confuse the mind. A confused mind will lead to confused results because our “Spiritual Compass” will have us turning in lots of different directions, instead of clearly walking down the Path in the proper direction.

Light Destroys Darkness. Truth Destroys Ignorance.

Reaching For True SelfTo offer another analogy to the simplified Single Process, we can also think of our True Nature as “The Light of Truth”. And the Ignorance as “Darkness”.

The Implementation of Practices or Philosophy allows us to access the Light of Truth within the Self. As that Light is shown into the Darkness of Ignorance, we will either experience the Light directly and touch into the True Self. Or, The light will shine upon a limitation and bring it into awareness. Further activation of the Light eventually destroys the Ignorance that is revealed. Light (Truth) destroys Darkness (ignorance), and repeatedly activating the Light of Truth through the SINGLE PROCESS is the Path.

Tantra contains both the Destination (The light of Truth) and the Process (Revealing the Light of Truth) to get there within its own Wholeness. And while it is a Single path to a single destination, we must also keep in mind that each step towards the final destination on our journey will potentially change the scenery we are experiencing. It is a DYNAMIC SINGLE PROCESS. But, the Underlying process doesn’t change, even if the scenery changes. We just continue to remove the arising Ignorance in its new form until we reach the SINGLE DESTINATION.

(You can learn more about the process of Light/Truth destroying Darkness/Ignorance in my blog post about Ego Purification)

The Guru or Spiritual Teacher Destroys Ignorance and Darkness

Interestingly, the word “Guru” used in the Tantric Traditions to refer to a “Spiritual Teacher” also points to this Single Process. Guru is a compound word with means “Light” and “Darkness”. Thus, the Spiritual Teacher, or Guru, is the one who activates the “Light” within the “Darkness” of the student in order to destroy Ignorance and awaken Knowledge of the True Self.

All of the practices and philosophies that are taught by the Teacher are different tools to accomplish the task and support the activation of Light. Just as it takes different tools to build a house (hammer, saw, drill, paint brush, etc), it will also take different tools to reach the Final Destination of Tantra. But in both cases, ALL of the tools are being used to create a SINGLE result through a Single Process.

Therefore, a good Teacher understands the Single Process and the Single Destination, and how to introduce appropriate tools, concepts and practices within the context of that Single Process that will effectively remove the Single Obstacle. Everything taught should support and further the Single Process of removing the Single Obstacle as we move towards the Single Destination.

If we stay focused on this Single Process of Tantra following a clear and consistent set of Good Tantric Teachings, then the mind remains focused and the Practice of Tantra remains Simple. Otherwise, we become distracted. Best to keep it simple.

Ecstatic Union® is a Tantric approach to the Spiritual Path that has this Single Process build into the very core of its teachings and practices. It starts with the development of a strong foundation, and then leads the practitioner step by step along the path in a clear and focused manner. It integrates and layers Tantric Wisdom and Transformational Practices in context to the Single Process designed to eliminate a Single Obstacle in order to reach a Single Destination, while teaching you how to navigate and manage your current life experiences as part of the Single Process in order to use them as fuel for the Tantric Path.

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Divine Grace and Tantric Practice

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 Love That Arises in Silence – Tantric Practice

(Written October 20th, 2011)

Yesterday, for the first time in my life (that I am at least consciously aware of) I spent an entire day from waking to bedtime, without uttering a single word. This was part of a day of silence in the Ashram, so almost everyone participated. Although, most people began speaking again after dinner, I continued with the practice.

The practice of silence has been part of yogic traditions for probably as long as there has been yoga. I will admit, even in my daily life, I prefer as much silence around me as possible. I would rather sit in a silent room than watch TV on most occasions. I would rather not speak at all than to force a conversation of pleasantries. And I have even become pretty sensitive to the types of music I listen to on a regular basis. (Spending hours a day with massage and new age music played at low volumes will probably do that to most people.)

So, I welcomed the practice. I went to bed the previous evening, having already turned my “silence” practice on, and when I awoke, I was already in the mode. The first thing I noticed, was that it was very comfortable for me. During the morning meditation, having already turned my awareness away from speech, I became aware of the inner realm of thought very easily, and it was also easy on this particular morning to direct my awareness into the silence within as well.

I also noticed I become more sensitive to other sounds. The sounds of birds chirping, or any little bit of racket that may have been in the outside environment. I was present to new things. Within the meditation, there were times when something in my mind let go just enough, that it felt like the outer world merged into my mind, and the sounds of birds and the wind blowing were like thoughts arising within my own mind.

After morning asana practice, I spent some time outside connecting with nature. I discussed this in a previous post called “My Tantric Nature.” And then the flow of the day began. People going about walking from place to place, without speaking. And I began to notice something very odd. People, having adopted a practice of silence, seemed to enter their own private world. People were looking at the sidewalk instead of saying hello. It seemed that without words, most people didn’t know how to connect, or perhaps thought it was inappropriate to do so. No eye contact. No smiles. No winks of joy shared. Just blank faces, looking any where but an another person.

In Tantra, there is a practice called Eye Gazing, or Soul Gazing. It is sitting in silence, sending your awareness deep into the Soul Essence of another person, and allowing yourself to feel, to connect, to experience another Being without words, as they also connect into your deepest Self. This practice, at least in the beginning, is often met with discomfort. It is normal for people to laugh or giggle, or to close their eyes. It is normal for obvious discomfort to come across their face and body, and to see them squirming. I explain over an over to new groups of people, that these reactions are a part of our conditioning. It is rare in our culture for us to be so intimate with another. Even with the ones that we love such as friends, family and significant others.

Most of us say we want love, to feel it, to know it, to give it. But when given the chance to sit, and honor the Essence of the other people with love and reverence, something stirs within us that pulls us out of it, that causes us discomfort. The reality, is that for most of us, this fear of deeper connection is always there, just below the surface, but we don’t feel it because we distract ourselves with thoughts, with TV, with activity, and of course, with words. We don’t allow there to be enough silence, enough stillness to acknowledge it.

The same is true for many people with regards to their own thoughts and feelings. We find ways to distract ourselves, and never get still enough to feel or connect consciously to our own inner world. The moment silence is imminent, most people will jump up, turn on the TV, grab a book, begin to talk about anything that comes to mind: anything to not have to feel what is happening in our deeper experience.

As I watched the blank faces parading through the ashram, and the gazes away from each other, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness. Sadness for not having an opportunity to connect, and sadness to see so many unable to make the connection without words. Without words, they seemed to have nothing to share. It never occurred to share their silent Essence. That same silence which pulses beneath Creation lives within our own Beings, ready to be tasted, touched and felt. That silence contains the Love we are seeking. It is not the words that convey love, but the Essence of a Pure Heart.

As I continued my day, I enjoyed the silence. I watched for moments when I might ordinarily speak, and then questioned whether speaking was necessary. In most cases I found the answer to be no. When a desire to speak would arise, I would watch as I reminded myself there was no talking today. And I witnessed the desire for whatever pass through, unspoken, and not responded to. And after the moment passed, I realized I was no worse off. I was still content, even joyful in my silence, and the thing I thought I wanted to communicate, or thought I wanted to ask made me no less joyful for not being shared. I was content to experience what was around me, without commenting, or feeling a need to inquire deeper into it with words. I was content without feeling the need to request something else to make it more or less “satisfying”.

What are these words we speak? And why do we speak them at all? How much of what is said is really useful to our deeper happiness, and how much is just habit and social convention and expectation?

The Tantric traditions describe three primary stages of speech. There is the gross speech of our everyday lives. This is the speech we use to share ideas from person to person, and vibrates at the most dense level. We then have a more subtle form of speech that we call thought. This is the speech that continues the dialogue in our own inner world. And beyond that is the most subtle form of speech, which exists as the arising impulse of vibration, that eventually becomes the thought, which then becomes the words spoken.

The normal world conditions us to focus on Gross speech. And over time, we come to identify with and give great importance to the Reality of this outer form of speech. Most of us also give, even without realizing it, great importance to our thoughts.

When one takes up the practice of silence, the outer speech is given up. This initially leaves us with our thoughts, and the opportunity to contemplate our relationship with gross speech. It gives us the opportunity to experience life without outer words, so that we might see how we have come to identify with them in a way that keeps us looking into the outer world. It gives us a chance to see how the words themselves are associated with our desires, attachments and aversions, and the way that words reinforce the same as “reality”.

When the inner thoughts become the primary world, and outer speech is stopped, then the next step is to get beyond even the thoughts themselves, and into the arising vibrations which are pre-thought. A realm of feelings, and intuitions, and knowledge that really has no “word” as we call it, just vibrations. And dissolving even those vibrations, we are taken into the realm of the practice of silence: inner silence itself. This Silence is the Holy Grail of meditation, but it is not just emptiness and nothingness, but is great peace, joy and love.

This is the basic general idea of meditation, and practicing silence gives you an opportunity to explore these levels of meditation in your daily living. To discover this peace and silence within the world around you is a goal of Tantra. We practice meditation so that we can transfer the depth of experience into our daily lives, not just to escape for a few minutes of peace.

Throughout the whole day, my voice only made one sound: the sound of laughter. After dinner, there were a few people speaking around me, and a story someone told made me laugh. So even Gross speech has its place. It caused me to laugh.

It is not that gross speech is “wrong” or bad. It is not that it should be given up entirely forever by everyone, but practicing silence should hopefully help us put it in perspective, so we don’t make it the “great reality”, and so that we see its limitations. So that we see the ways it can distract us, and become mindful so we don’t use words in this way. To become mindful of the ways words can harm, so we don’t use speech for negative purposes. So we learn to harness what, when and why we speak into conscious choices which enrich our lives, rather than just allowing mindless chatter to fill the silent space around us. So that we connect the words “I love you” with the deep love that arises within the Heart of our deepest Essence upon recognizing the Sacredness of the Being in front of us. And so we can learn to connect with others is this heart felt way even without words. So that silence gives us more presence to connect with others through smiles, honoring and love.

As I flowed through my day of silence, many moments of deeper love, gratitude and joy arose, as I touched into spaces of deeper silence within my own Being. This brought me to one other point of sadness: I will never be able to convey the experience of that Love and Joy with words.

My Tantric Nature

(Written October 19th, 2011)

I took some time to sit in nature this morning, which conveniently is the grounds of the Ashram itself. Today is also a day of silence, where only a few people running the Ashram are speaking. In my own silence, I witnessed Nature all around me, expanding my awareness into it, smiling into it, and welcoming it.

Birds chirping and flying about. A small field where yellow butterflies dance across blades of grass. Various trees, standing strong, silent and still. The sun in the sky and a light mist of fog still blanketing the mountains which are not too far away.

Again, I am reminded of the power of nature, even in its peaceful play. I reflect on the stillness and the silence which lays beneath Creation, supporting it like the ground where seeds are planted, only this stillness is the ground of Consciousness itself, and the seeds are the Divine thoughts which have arisen within it to bring about the current experience.

I feel into the pulsations of Creation, and am again reminded that nothing in nature is rushing. Nothing in nature is forcing or pushing. The grass is not trying to grow any faster or slower, it just grows. The sun is not racing to get through its day.

Nothing in nature is wanting to be anything other than what it is. The tree is not wishing it was a bush, or a flower. The birds do not aspire to be anything other than birds.

Nature is the ultimate example of WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). Even the creatures which camouflage themselves are simply expressing as their nature, exactly as they are. The challenge is to be still long enough to see it.

Everything in nature is peaceful, accepting of its nature, and spontaneously expressing that nature, without any hesitancy or desire to change.

Nature can teach us a lot about our own selves. We are a part of nature, yet our minds pull us out of sync and cause us to rush, to force, to resist, to chase after and to hesitate. When we become still as Tantra Yoga teaches us to do, and connect into the Nature of all Creation, and seek to discover that same Nature within our own being, then we too learn to accept life as it is. We too learn to acknowledge our own nature, and express it without apology. We too learn that there is no need to force. There is no where else to be other than where you are right now.

We learn to separate our Authentic Expression from the conditioned mind which pulls us away from it, rejects it, or puts a spin of expectation and attachment into it. And then we gracefully embrace our Authentic Nature, allowing it to express, and accepting it. If we are a squirrel, we will store nuts for the winter. If we are a bird, we will fly and eat seeds and insects. If we are a musician, then the very core of us drives us to play, to write music, to sing and to feel the music as life itself. If we are a dancer, then we must allow our bodies to move and express what words cannot say. If we are a linguist, then we must explore the nature of language and communication through words. If we are a mother or a father, then we must be the fullest expression of love and nurturing to a child. The list goes on and on.

Everyone has a Nature which should be uncovered, refined and expressed. If we can look past the mind stuff which distracts us and carries us away from it. If we can look past the mind stuff which judges our innate expressions and pushes it into submission. If we can look past the mind stuff which tries to twist and control our Authentic Nature for its own purposes and agenda. Then can we fall into the rhythm of Nature and Creation. Then can we just be, and not resist or be attached.

And when we surrender into that level of freedom, the ground on which Creation rests becomes more obvious, more apparent. And then, we discover the stillness, the silence and the peace that has always been supporting life, and we discover that this peace and stillness and the freedom, joy and bliss which arise within it are our very Nature. Always shining and pulsing beneath the surface of experience. Ever present, even when the external world fades away. It is the ground of all experience. It is Consciousness Itself. God. The Divine Essence. This is the real “Nature”. Not the birds, oceans and trees, but the cause of all of life, which is Consciousness Itself.

Like waves arising on the ocean, various forms and experiences arise within Consciousness. And then they return to Consciousness, like the waves which crash and return to the sea. No matter how big or small the wave, the nature of the ocean itself does not change. Just so, the nature of Consciousness, from which all experience arises, never changes.

Authentic, spontaneous expressions arising and dissolving over and over again within this Ground of Consciousness create the flow and rhythm of life. This is the experience of Tantric Nature. Awakening yourself to this experience and aligning yourself with this Reality is the work of Tantra Yoga.

Tantra and Yogic Living, Ashram and Retreat (Part 2)

(Written October 17th, 2011)

In an Ashram setting, certain rules and regulations are expected. In Part 1, we talked about the ways this experience can show you your attachments, your expectations and your habits.

Following the Ashram lifestyle will likely follow in a few different paths. You may find yourself getting into the routine, and allowing the new lifestyle to simply become your “norm”, adapting your expectations to the meet what will happen. A level of adaptability is a good quality, and shows flexibility and a less attached mind.

You might also adapt in a way where you “try to fit in”, and thus are really more forcing a match, perhaps even becoming attached to it, or using the lifestyle as a way to shift your awareness away from dealing with the life you have or had outside of it.

You may also adopt this new lifestyle, and have a genuine epiphany of the value that it brings to your life, your happiness and your spiritual growth, in which case you may stay in it or continue to return because it feeds you so deeply.

You may also rebel against the structure of it, and revolt or simply get out of it as quickly as possible. This could be a way of avoiding developing a deeper awareness of yourself, or perhaps it just feels too restrictive.

Any number of situations could happen, but a common theme in a conscious experience will be that is takes you out of your normal experience, and it churns your heart and mind. Like the churning of butter, the Ashram experience has the potential to separate out that which is important to your from that which is not, and taking what was into an entirely new form. To allow your deeper longings, desires and values to float to the top to be savored for their richness.

A traditional Ashram is designed to remove temptations from sensuality in all forms. Simple food, conservative dress to prevent body parts being exposed, and many activities focused on daily living and spiritual practices. Reduce temptation and occupy your mind so it won’t wander. This approach comes from the notion in Yoga that we need to reduce our desires and cravings, because they are distractions from our spiritual life.

The basic idea of them being distractions to our Spiritual Nature is fair enough, but Tantra also says that we should not repress our desires. We must acknowledge them and make peace with them in some way or another. In the Ashram, this may mean witnessing and contemplating our desires without being able to act on them. Allowing ourselves to witness what happens within our bodies, minds, awareness and our energy when we are not able to directly touch into the object of our desire, be that a big juicy steak, a beer, the smell of our favorite perfume, or an erotic encounter. It gives us a chance to explore the nature of desire itself as an energy that arises within us, and to make peace with it. To see it for what it is. To see that even the most urgent of cravings can be witnessed and moved through. We will not die if we don’t get what we are desiring.

But something else can also happen in this isolation and simple life. We may also have a longing arise which is new to us. We may connect with a new way to appreciate the ways we naturally wish to enjoy life. We may realize the value of having private time alone. We may come to appreciate a simple moment to be naked without having to quickly change so as not to offend roommates. We may learn to appreciate the freedom to speak to a loved one on the phone without having to keep our voice quiet, or feeling we have to censor our conversations.

We may also, in the restricted living, have a deep longing arise which connects us to a deeper sense of purpose. Some part of us that finally is ready to scream to be heard, that wants to live with greater purpose, joy and fulfillment than before. To live in a way that the Ashram life itself will not allow, because it has to express itself in the world. But it could not find its voice in the noise of worldly living. It needed the silent, contemplative space of the Ashram to direct your awareness in deeply enough to see it.

No matter what you come away with, a conscious Ashram experience should reveal deeper layers of yourself as both a human being and a spiritual being. It should churn up your values, showing you what is most important to you. It should help you better understand what you need to feel fulfilled and joyful. And perhaps, it will reveal ways you can more deeply align with a a joyful sense of purpose in your life.

Our desires are not wrong. Some are distractions, and can truly lead us away from the fulfillment that Tantra yoga promises. Many sensual desires run this risk, which is why they are discouraged in Traditional Yoga. But other desires are meant to be savored and joyfully unleashed, especially when it means expressing the core of our Being in a non-attached way. Especially when it leads us into purposeful, fulfilling living.

Most of us are full of desires that do not serve our greater happiness. But often, we also have suppressed longings and desires that reveal our greatness, our talents, our gifts and our abilities. These are the desires that fuel our life with passion and purpose. These are the desires that make us wake up in the morning excited to be alive.

Tantra teaches us to suppress nothing. Acknowledge all desires, from the darkest to the most bright. The secret is to make friends with them all. To see that they do not define the deeper Truth of who you are, and then with non-attached discrimination choose to fulfill the desires that will best serve your deepest fulfillment, and your spiritual growth.

When entering an Ashram, or consciously walking on a Tantric path, we must make room or the unexpected to arise. A lifestyle which intentionally reduces desires may actually awaken you to your deepest desires of purpose and fulfillment. It may even awaken you to the secret desire everyone has: To know your True Self and to live joyfully from that Knowledge of Self.

Yoga, Tantra and Spirituality in India and Modern Times

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?

Deeper Meaning of Shiva and Shakti, plus Desire & the Search for Happiness (Video)

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUBhbatVFjo

Non-Dual Tantra vs. Advaita Vedanta: Sacred Body or Illusion?

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?

Kundalini, Tantra Yoga and Spiritual Development

There is a lot of talk these days about Kundalini. What is it?

Sometimes labeled “Sexual Energy”, Kundalini is in fact much more than this. Kundalini is the Full Creative power which resides within each one of us as Unlimited Potential. When awakened, it begins a new phase of transformation for the spiritual aspirant. The Tantric traditions declare that one cannot realize the final goal of Spiritual practice without the awakening of this Kundalini energy.

Prior to beginning any formal Tantric practices, for most people, the Kundalini remains dormant. It exists only as Potential, but not as direct experience.

Through the Tantric practices, one begins to prepare the body and nervous system for the Kundalini awakening. In the beginning, Tantric practitioners utilize the energy that is available to them, which is the Life Force, or Prana that is active within each living thing. There are even specific practices which seek to awaken and harness sexual energy.

The spiritual development and the awakening of Kundalini can be understood through an analogy of the development of the butterfly.

When the butterfly starts its life, it emerges in its larval stage as a caterpillar. It is destined to be a butterfly, but it does not yet know that. It lives its caterpillar life, eating leaves and searching to satiate its hunger. It goes through cycles of maturing, growing and shedding it’s cuticle or skin and moulting into a larger stage.

After many cycles of growth when the caterpillar is fully developed, hormones begin to be released, signifying the transformation is ready to begin. They go in search of a safe place and molt for the last time, creating a chrysalis as a hard protective layer made from its old body structure. Within the chrysalis, it begins to transform itself into a butterfly.

At the end of the transformation, it breaks out of its protective casing, and emerges as its fully developed potential: a butterfly. After a period of time to let the wings dry, it is ready to take flight and experience its new full expression and freedom.

The spiritual development of the human being is much like this. In our spiritual infancy, we are like the caterpillar. We roam about focused on fulfilling our innate desires, such as hunger, pleasure, and procreation. Through lifetimes of growth, change and development, we will even develop new desires and interests, desire for power and fame, addictions and aversions. All the while, we are destined to become a Spiritual “butterfly”, to fulfill our natural development, but we are not yet aware of it. We simply go from desire to desire, always seeking, completely identified with our experience of Spiritual infancy.

As we get to be more mature as a “caterpillar”, we may start to question the life we have been living, and wonder if there isn’t more to Who We Are. We begin to suspect there is a larger experience or greater potential to this experience, at which point, we may seek out some guidance. We start to learn a more conscious or spiritually aware way of living, thinking and experiencing. We begin to “shed” the old behaviors and beliefs that do not serve our further development.

It is during this phase that we will likely be drawn to various types of personal growth, healing work, and spiritual practices. They work in our growth to help release the limitations and prepare us for our final transformation. For Tantric development, this phase will also include consciously working with the Life Force or Prana energy. This includes the sexual energy, but is really more than that. It is all energy that is within us, and that energy is neutral in and of itself, yet very powerful.

As we work with the Tantric practices, we are making final preparations within the body, mind and awareness for the final transformation. We free up the energy from the places it had been previously limited or trapped. We develop the capacity of the energy channels in the body to flow freely, and to hold and circulate increasing amounts of Life Force energy. We begin to get glimpses and experiences which reveal the deeper truth of our True Nature. This is a necessary, and powerful time of development, but the truth is, even though major transformation happens, this is still the later phase of the “caterpillar”. The deeper transformation has not yet begun.

When the individual has developed enough maturity, the “spiritual hormones” are triggered, signaling the time to stop seeking and prepare for the upcoming metamorphosis. There is a different relationship with life. The adult caterpillar goes in search of a safe place to undergo the transformation, in the same way that the more matured spiritual seeker will now find “safety” within a spiritual teacher and/or a deep spiritual connection. This Teacher often appears in human form as someone who either is further along the Path or already knows their True Nature. In rare situations, the Teacher may not be in a physical body. This Spiritual energetic connection with this Teacher or Guide will provide the safe space for the final development to happen.

This Teacher, in whatever form He or She appears, will reveal to the seeker the deeper truth of their True Nature. “You have thought you were a caterpillar, but you are really a butterfly. Now I will help you awaken the butterfly nature that has always been in you.”

This begins the Chrysalis phase of spiritual development. A spiritually protected and inwardly directed phase of transformation. It is at some point during this phase, anywhere from beginning to end, that the Kundalini energy is finally awakened. Up until this point, all of the transformation and energetic experience has been Prana or Life force energy. Not until the full preparation and development is complete can the Kundalini be awakened.

Kundalini is awakened by the Grace of the Teacher, or the Grace of God. It is not accomplished through the individual will of the student. It cannot be imagined or “visualized” into awakening. It is through Grace and Surrender alone. The Kundalini, once awakened, begins a relatively rapid transformation of the individual, removing all notions of being a “caterpillar”, and awakening the Being into its Full Potential as a “butterfly”.

The caterpillar, not knowing it, has had tiny little “wing discs” just under the surface of its skin the whole time. These “wing discs” are like the dormant Kundalini which resides in each one of us at the base of the spine. They are potentially “wings”, but have not yet begun to develop, just as the dormant Kundalini is our Spiritual potential, yet to be awakened and developed.

Inside the Chrysalis, at the direction of the awakened Kundalini, the “wings” begin to develop. All old structures are transformed and released, and the fully developed “butterfly” takes form under the Spiritually protected watch of the Teacher or Inner Spiritual Connection.

As the butterfly reaches full development, it prepares to break through the protective casing, which now serves as a final limitation to be released. The butterfly frees itself, and then stabilizes itself as the wings dry. Once the wings are dried, the Butterfly is ready for its freedom of flight. It has awakened to its full potential and discovered its Truest Expression.

In the case of the “Spiritual butterfly”, or the human being, this True Self is Pure Consciousness with the nature of Unconditional Love, freed from all limitations. Enlightenment, or Self-Realization, as discovering your own True Self, is not so much a “becoming” of something, but is instead the letting go of all you are not. You do not become something different, but instead discover what you were all along. You were always the “butterfly”, you just didn’t realize it because you thought of yourself as a “caterpillar”.

You are not the “caterpillar”, not the limited human form you now experience and think yourself to be. You are the “butterfly”, the unconditioned Self, free of all form and limitation. Your very nature is Freedom, Joy, Bliss and Love. This is the Nature of the Self.

Each of these phases can potentially take lifetimes, although the final phases of spiritual development are usually relatively quick, compared to the many lifetimes spent in the “caterpillar” stage. It is important to note that the true Transformation or metamorphosis actually begins to take place from birth. There is a total cycle of development that starts from the first lifetime and ends in Spiritual Awakening. Even those that only think they are a “caterpillar”, with no thoughts of anything else, are in fact growing and transforming. Once day, when they are mature enough, they too will undergo a deeper transformation and realize their True Self.

With this in mind, it is important to understand that each individual is at the stage of development where they are. Just as a caterpillar cannot become a butterfly on day 2 of life, neither can we rush our development. We must honor the process and be patient, and understand that it will happen in its own organic time. We cannot “awaken Kundalini” before the pre-destined time in our own natural developmental cycle, so before that phase of development, we must learn to be content in whatever phase we are in. This could be the use of Life Force energy and the various healing and Tantric Practices that help prepare the body, mind and awareness for the final Transformation, or it could be a little before or after that.

Each phase of development has its own mystery, power and beauty. The more present and accepting of the phase of development you are actually in, the easier and smoother the process will become. Honor where you are on the Path, and continue to savor the experiences and awareness that are available to you in the Here and Now. This will do much more for you than wishing you were more advanced. Embrace this moment and it will gently lead you into your True Nature.

As they say “When the student is ready, the Teacher will appear.” This is true of ALL phases of development. We will encounter the teacher(s), healer(s), healing methods and spiritual lessons that we need at each phase of our development. Be present to what you are experiencing and learning now, and set the intention to continue to grow and awaken. Set your goal to awaken to your True Self, if that feels like a genuine desire within you. And then keep taking one step at a time, and see what shows up, what changes, and what direction the Path takes you.

When the time is right, the conditions for Kundalini awakening will be ripe, and you will find yourself under the watchful guidance of a Teacher who can assist you in the final phases of awakening. Be mindful of false teachers. Be patient, and keep your eye on your personal spiritual Goal. Desire to be the “spiritual butterfly”, the Awakened Self. Be determined to know your True Self, and then keep taking one step at a time until your transformation is complete.

And above all, Trust that you will one day awaken. Whether it is this lifetime or a future one, you cannot help but to discover your deepest Truth eventually, just as the butterfly cannot stop its own transformation. You already are the Highest Self. You just can’t see it yet. And the Path of Tantra Yoga helps you discover Who You Really Are.




Latest CDs from Jeff Craft

Beginning Meditations: Expanding Peace by Jeff Craft

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