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:
- 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.)
- 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:
- An opening (however slow or fast) which reveals to us greater freedom/love/peace/wisdom/clarity as we touch into True Self more fully.
- 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:
- The proper practices
- The proper way to manage the responses that are created through that practice
- 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.
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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The first time I came to India, back in the Summer of 2007, I came with great expectations of India being a land of great spirituality. A place where everyone would be connected to their spiritual history and a deeper path of spirituality through yoga.
This, of course, was naive. What I quickly discovered, initially a shock and disappointment, was that the majority of the Indian people were connected to their cultural norm of religion, but, much like in the US, their true connection and devotion varied. Just like the many Christians who show up to churches only for Christmas and Easter, there are Indians who only observe major festivals. And their connection to the deeper meanings varies as well.
I was excited to go to the Temples and share in the spiritual connection that has become so important to my own personal path of Yoga. But instead of hundreds of contemplative people, savoring the bliss of the Divine, it was more like a cattle call of hundreds of people, quickly rushing through to offer something to the temple Priest, see the temple Idol, and then rush back to life.
While I can not say that it does not have meaning to them, I feel certain the level of connection it offers varies from person to person. Some doing the “cultural” norm, and others getting a greater connection from it. Just as in our own country we can meet people who have varying levels of faith, from “obligated” to go to church all the way to those who truly feel “spiritually fed” by their church.
It has since amazed me that many Indians I have meet in the US, born and raised in India, have no true knowledge of Yoga, Tantra or Ayurveda. It has been a surprise, but another place where my expectations have been revealed as false.
It has all been a process of acknowledging the reality of the diversity of our world, and also seeing the commonalities among people. Just growing up in India doesn’t automatically make you a great seeker of Self-Realization, although their culture does arguably have at least different, if not more, notions of magical and spiritual possibilities.
During this current trip to India, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a Tantric and Kashmiri Shaivism Scholar who has lived and worked in Varanasi for over 40 years. He has authored many well respected books on Kashmiri Shaivism, and translated many texts from Sanskrit into English. While his professional work is scholarly, he himself is also a devotee to a Kashmiri Shaivite Guru, and considers his personal spiritual path to be most important to him. I do not know without knowing the meaning, how many times I was asked direkt in Sweden on a travel trip.
In speaking with him, he helps reveal many of the other false thinkings we may have in the west about different Tantric and Yogic practices.
The Traditional approach to Tantra Yoga, which is deeply connected to Kashmiri Shaivism, is about developing the spiritual Self. It is about discovering the deep peace of the Self as Consciousness beyond the impermanent experience of the body and life, while at the same time honoring the Sacredness of the experience of Life.
It is a tradition which emphasizes the development of awareness and consciousness to discover the non-dual reality, the inner silence out of which all life experience arises.
In discussing Tantras history of Sexual practices, he said it is really hard to know how prevalent these practices really were. That they were done is most probable, but how many practitioners, we can’t say. Even the famous erotic temples, he says, have to be questioned as to whether the culture they were created in was simply a highly sexually permissive society, or whether there was a deeper spiritual intention behind it. There is much we do not know.
When I asked him how prevalent the erotic practices are in modern India, his response was “almost non-existent”, and then went on to say, “but most people don’t usually talk about their sex lives.” From other things I have read, I suspect that there are still some who practice, but they are more rare than not, and it is rather secretive.
He did, however convey one story of a friend of his who uses some of the Tantric erotic rituals. This friend had a female consort for ten years, and his sole reason for keeping her was to obtain a single drop of menstrual blood once a month for a Tantric ritual. Interestingly, she finally left him because she was unfulfilled in the relationship, thinking the he only wanted her for her menstrual blood.
The topic of the Kama Sutra also came up. This is often pointed to by many Western Tantric practitioners as a Tantric text, showing the value and power of the sexual practices historically. He says that the Kama Sutra was really just an ancient sex manual, that was primarily used by courtesans to become more refined. It was used to become a more pleasing partner, and to better fit into higher class society, which was their targeted clientele. Because of this, he says, many of the courtesans of that time were actually quite talented artists, musicians and the like, well educated in many aspects of life.
Despite many of the modern western teachings around Tantra as erotic practice, the history of Tantra uses/used the erotic practices in a highly ritualized context for very specific purposes. These purposes were/are to expand Consciousness and connect with the Divine.
To his way of seeing things, the Modern western Tantra has become a type of “sex therapy”. While he does not dismiss the possible benefits of this type of work, he does say that you will not find the current western practices described in the Tantric texts.
We also discussed the fascinating evolution of Yoga and Tantra, which is that all of these types of practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Places, such as the west, have taken pieces such as Asana (yoga postures), and called it “yoga”. The emphasis is on physical fitness rather than the original spiritual development that Traditional Yoga speaks of, but it meets the needs of the people.
The same has happened with Tantra in the West, with many variations from “spiritually veneered” sex to deeply healing and transformative practices. There are also, of course, other teachers and practitioners of Tantra in the West that focus more on the Traditional Tantric approaches of Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, etc.
He says these types of Hybrid modern yogas are also showing up in India, because of the popularity in the west. Many more indians are learning of Yoga as a physical fitness system along with basic Ayurveda for a healthy lifestyle.
It is interesting to note that while in the West, most people associate Tantra with eroticism and sex, in India Tantra is thought of as “magic”. It is based upon their cultural history with the subject, which traditionally emphasized understanding the workings of the energies of Creation in order to control or gain power over or through them. This led to practices of Mantras and various other remedies to heal illnesses, and to help fulfill worldly desires.
This type of thinking is still present in India today, and the cultural relationship with the Deities also reflects this. Most average Indian Hindus relate to various aspects of the Divine to help them get the things in life they want for worldly fulfillment. Examples would be Ganesha to help remove obstacles when starting a business, or Laxshmi to bring wealth and abundance. This is similar to the way many other cultures might relate to God through prayer as a request for desires to be fulfilled.
It is the lesser of the population that truly engages these forces for a more spiritually growth oriented purpose. Even the term “good Karma” has been used towards me on several occasions by self appointed guides and rickshaw drivers as a way of trying to get a larger tip or payments for their services. The implication, of course, being that the more I pay them, the more I will be blessed with good Karma. An interesting way to use this, from my perspective.
It is not my intention to diminish the importance of these things culturally in India. No matter the relationship to religion, be it “cultural obligation”, “superstition”, or “deeply spiritual”, I would imagine most people here would feel very strongly about their beliefs in whatever way they are engaging them. My intention is more to reveal the diversity of the Indian religious landscape and culture, in contrast with my preconceived notions, and perhaps similar notions by other non-Indian people, as well as the common desire for most people to seek their own version of happiness.
No matter how it is engaged, the culture of India has generated a primarily peaceful, friendly, and curious people, most of whom will go out of their way to help you, sometimes for a tip and often just because it is their nature. They generally value family, and treat their neighbors with respect. Their religious culture gives them a different perspective on death than in the west. And, most are happy with a more simple lifestyle than what the average westerner may be accustomed to. They celebrate life, and even the crowded, noisy and seemingly chaotic streets are like the lifeblood of their culture, reflecting their passion and their embracing of life.
While there are some cultural changes happening based upon Western influence, there is still a richness here that is wonderful to savor. In Varanasi, where I am now, one can experience the surprisingly gentle noise and madness of the city, and yet just a few kilometers away, on the banks of the Ganges, I am in a guest house which is so peaceful and relaxed. Even in the “rush” of the city, many people are just peacefully going about their day.
What fascinates me most about this, and the conversation with my new Tantra Scholar friend, is the confirmation of what I have also come to recognize, which is that the teachings of Yoga and Tantra, while rooted in scripture, have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Even the history of Yoginis evolving into Goddesses shares this flavor. Thousands of years ago, each village had their own Yogini that they honored and worshipped. As the news of a powerful Yogini would spread to neighboring villages, they too would come to worship her. If they had a powerful experience, they would tell another village. Over a course of hundreds and thousands of years, what started at literally hundreds of thousands of yoginis where narrowed down to a collection Goddesses which became commonly known throughout the country and the region. Today, we have Paravati, Kali, Durga, Laxshmi, Saraswati and several others which have become national and even internationally known, but it was not always this way.
This same type of thing has happened with Various Yoga and Tantric practices. Different practices would arise to meet a certain need. When the cultural needs changed, or when something more beneficial came along, things would fall away and something new would arise in its place. Systems were formed from various perspectives, all because they meet the needs of certain groups, or because a certain teacher saw it in that way. And the evolution of the Yogas and Tantras continues into Modern times. It arises to meet certain needs. And the core, deeper spiritual truths are there as a living, breathing reminder of where these practices came from historically and where they can take us if the Heart longs for a deeper spiritual experience.
Despite my previous great expectations, the larger reality is that all along this historical time line, there were probably only a relatively small group of people truly interested in “enlightenment”. The majority of people, much like today, were more interested in worldly happiness, success, family and good health.
In fact, the Vedic and Yogic teachings address these aspects of “Purpose” (Dharma), “Material Wealth” (Artha), and “Pleasure” (Kama) as being legitimate goals of life. So they should be celebrated and honored as the foundation of happiness. To this, the great Yogis also offered “Moksha” (Self-knowledge or Liberation), as the most important Goal in life. But they also acknowledged that for most, the foundations of happiness through the previous three goals would be needed to tread the path of Liberation.
As a living practice, I feel it is important for us to honor the past traditions, and take from them the deeper principles to help us attain the goals we want in life. I also think it is important to allow their deeper intentions to drive the practices, allowing them to evolve to meet the needs of modern day practitioners. The Practice of Yoga and Tantra is a flowing process of using the practices needed to achieve the growth needed at a particular stage of development. It was not designed, necessarily, to be rigid. Disciplined, yes, but not rigid.
Traditionally, a Yoga teacher would give a student only the practices he or she needed to get to the next stage of spiritual development. Once it served its purpose, a new practice would be introduced. Keeping that in mind, we can also allow our modern practices to evolve with our changing needs as we grow. And when we are ready for the next step, there is a rich history of practices to help us on our path. Whether it is for better health, aligning with life purpose, experience more joy and pleasure in life, or even spiritual growth, the challenge is choosing the right practice and approach for your personal needs, and this is where a Teacher can become indispensable.
I am excited to be part of this modern evolution of Yoga, and to continue to watch as it changes and grows over the remainder of my life. In order to allow it room to grow, we cannot be attached to the past, but I do strongly feel a firm foundation in the intentions of practice is important. If the intentions are understood, then most anything can become Yoga or Tantric Practice, and the personal practice can grow in any number of ways. Without understanding the intentions, you are not really able to direct your practice to a particular goal.
There is no need to re-invent the Yogic or Tantric wheel, so to speak. There are so many beneficial practices already laid out for us. At the same time, modern practitioners need to understand it is not a cookbook approach either. Each person is individual, and will have different experiences from the same practices, and different practices which are needed to progress.
If the birth place of Tantra and Yoga has evolved through many stages and different relationships with this great wisdom, then we can only expect our contact with this wisdom will evolve as well. As yoga and Tantra become more popular in the west, I hope more people will seek to understand the deeper traditions they come from. But we must remember as we explore them, that the scriptures, while full of wisdom, were created by those living the results of their practice. The great wisdom of yoga and Tantra in not locked in the past, but intended to be lived in the here and now. We must awaken the teachings now, through proper practice.
What are you thoughts on spiritual expectations of India, or on Modern day practices of Yoga and Tantra?
Discover the ways that Karma pulls our attention into the world, distracting us from our deeper Spiritual Nature and thus how Karma keeps us search for happiness outside of our own Self. Explore the need to turn our awareness within, so we can directly experience our True Nature and the innate Joy and Bliss which is contained within the True Self.
Learn about the deeper meaning of Balancing Shiva and Shakti (Masculine and Feminine), developing awareness of the Witnessing aspect of Consciousness, and the Power of Consciousness. Also discover the deeper meaning of Goddess worship within Tantric context.
This is Part 4 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
In the schools of Yogic Non-Dualism, we primarily have Advaita Vedanta and Tantra. They both arrive at a non-dual conclusion through their practice, and thus believe that the inherent nature of all things is Consciousness, or the True Self, and that there is only One Consciousness or Self.
They each apply what appears to be a radically different method and attitude towards their practice, however. Advaita Vedanta declares emphatically that all phenomonal experience such as body, earth, thoughts, etc… in short, anything that can be observed or experienced, is an Illusion without any basis in Reality. The only thing that is Real, it declares, is the Self as Pure Consciousness. From this perspective, Advaita Vedanta would say that the body is worthless and that by falsely believing your own individual self to be the body, you prevent yourself from experience your larger True Self.
Tantra, on the other hand declares that all of life that can be observed and experienced is the Divine Consciousness Itself, and should be honored as God, and is inherently as Real as the Consciousness itself. Tantra says that the body is Sacred, and through the body one can experience the Divine.
So which is it? Is the Body worthless like dust, or is it the Sacred Vehicle to liberation?
Deeper study of Yogic philosophy and the direct experience that arises through one’s sadhana (personal spiritual practice) reveals that Yoga as a spiritual path and philosophy is filled with seeming Paradox. For instance the Absolute is both Formless and with Form at the same time, and in the end, it is experienced them to be identical in nature, even though our Dualistic thinking right now can only see two different things. These paradoxes are often further polarized by people who insist that only one side of the paradox can be true.
The issue of the value of the Body is another such paradox. There is a place where both Tantra and Advaita Vedanta speak the Truth at the same time. In fact, I will suggest that an advanced practitioner of either Path will be able to see and experience the Truth of the other Path’s declaration.
But how can the body be as worthless as dust and Sacred and worthy of honor and worship at the same time?
The higher teachings of both paths would agree that YOU, the real you, is beyond the body. They would as that your True Self is not limited to the experience of the body and the worldly phenomenon. You are in fact Pure Consciousness.
Advaita Vedanta offers you to consider the body as an illusion and worthless to push you towards releasing identification with the body. They do not want you to think “this body is me”, or “the body is mine”, because they want you to realize your True Self as Consciousness. So, they tell you it is worthless, hoping you will throw it away and be freed from the burden of identifying with the body.
But, if the body is not “mine”, who’s body is it? The body actually belongs to God, who created it, and who will also eventually destroy it. It is through the Power of the Absolute that the Body exists at all, and it is not yours to claim. So you might find it helpful to think of the body as “on loan from God”.
Now, I ask you, if you knew that God had made something, and was entrusting you to take care of it, asking you to return it when you were done (normal wear and tear acceptable), and you truly understood that was the situation, don’t you think you might take care of it in a different way than if you found it on the side of the road? Don’t you think you might care for God’s property, even in a different way than something you thought to be “yours”? Not only is the body a gift, but a gift from God to boot. And to top it all off God, the One Consciouess, dwells within it, as YOU, as your True Self. So to care for the body as the dwelling place of God suddenly makes sense, right?
This is closer to the perspective Tantra invites. Honor the Body and all the expressions of Creation because they are the Dwelling place of the Divine, and YOU are THAT. The body will one day wither away, but what will remain is the Divine essence that dwells in it, and you are the Caretaker of that Divine Temple until such time God tears it down and builds a new one. You have been entrusted to the Sacred task of caring for the body, but the body is not yours, and nor is it “you”.
So in Tantra, the body and the elements of Creation and the energies of life are honored as Sacred, because they are manifestations of the Divine, and the Divine dwells within them.
Although they appear to be radically different versions of “truth”, both Advaita Vedanta and Tantra must be approached with a common intention for the final goal: to discover your True Self as Pure Consciousness, or “God”. If we leave off that intention to either approach, then the practices are taken out of context and we will not be inspiring our relationship with life to change. We would either be “giving up the body” or “celebrating the body” from the same level of awareness that has kept us from experiencing deeper spiritual truth, in the past, and thus no progress on the spiritual path would really be made.
In most Yogic traditions, there is emphasis on a Teacher, Guide or Guru. Just as most patients do not know what their disease is or how to treat it, most people starting a spiritual practice cannot see the best “medicine” or practice for their unique situation. This is where a teacher becomes invaluable, because he or she can assess what the most effective method for freeing you would be, and then offer that practice or philosophic approach to you to help you correct your perspective.
Taken to our own inclinations, we might be drawn to the wrong medicine because it reinforces our false notions. For instance, if someone has a lot of body shame, or judgment for their body and its workings, then telling them “the body is worthless as dust” could potentially increase their judgment and shame for the body. There could be a type of “I KNEW IT. I hate this body so much” reaction, only now they are under the false impression that Advaita Vedanta sanctions their distaste for the body.
Likewise, if someone is very identified with the body, and loves extremes in sensuality, body pampering, pleasure, etc, then Tantra’s idea to honor and worship the Sacredness in the body may simply be “spiritually sanctioned” indulgence and would increase the attachment already present.
So, one might think, “Ah, so if someone is very attached to sensuality, then we should tell them the body is worthless and if someone feels very shameful about their body, we should offer them Tantra.” In many cases, that would be the correct medicine, but interestingly, sometimes we must treat “like with like”. Sometimes, the person with great shame and judgment for the body must dance with their judgment and distaste for the body until they realize it is an obstacle to their growth and can let go of their judgments. And sometimes, a person must dance with their attachment to sense gratification until they can see for themselves the emptiness that their attachment brings, and finally let it go. Many times, our complexity has us be attached to sensual experience while at the same time judging it. So you see, it is not so simple, and this is why the Teacher is so helpful, because he can offer you the medicine that will be most helpful.
(Although, in fairness, when someone is spiritually minded, then they will usually be drawn to the teacher who has the right medicine for them.)
But remember, for either practice to work for Spiritual awakening, the deeper goal and perspective must be held in the mind. You are releasing the body to discover your True Self beyond it, or you are honoring the Sacredness of the body so you can discover your True Self which dwells in it. In either case, you are seeking to awaken to your True Self. We cannot simply say “I am not the body” with thought only, we must finally experience the Truth of it. And we cannot simply declare “the body is Sacred” and then go about business as usual. In both cases, we must open to the direct experience through the proper intention and practices.
Once direct experience or Knowledge arises, you will experience the paradox and the validity of both perspectives. The body is both Sacred as a dwelling place of the Divine, and also an Illusion which does not equal the Truth of your Self. In both cases, you are not the body, but rather the Pure Consciousness in which the experience we call “body” arises. It is all a Sacred Play of the Divine, and at the same time it is not Real because it will all eventually decay and end. Only Consciousness itself is permanent and Real, because it cannot die or decay, and You Are That, and That alone.
While their approach or “medicine” is different, both Advaita Vedanta and Tantra end with the same non-dual final conclusion. Only Consciousness is Real, there is only One Consciousness, and You Are That. In the mean time, be a mindful custodian to the Sacred Body, while reminding yourself that it is not “you” or “yours”, but on loan from the Divine. And even dance with the notion of its being an Illusion if you like. If you have a teacher, he or she may advise you which medicine is best for you. But, don’t allow these seemingly different approaches to create a conflict around what is Real, or the validity of the teachings.
What have your experiences been with the Body related to non-dual practices of either Tantra or Advaita Vedanta?
(This post was inspired by and in response to a post by Mark McElroy entitled “The Race for Last Place”. Click Here to read his post.)
I have been silently enjoying your posts on the Tao, but today I feel the motivation to pipe in.
I have observed in my years of studying different spiritual paths, that the more I learn and experience, the more I see the commonalities within them. You pointed this out yourself in an earlier post. All the major religions, and especially the main Mystical Traditions, are all giving “The Way” their own labels, and their own set of “pointers”. I only say that because my main study and perspective is Tantra Yoga as a path of non-duality, and that is the perspective that the rest of my sharing will be based upon, even though I will continue to honor “The Way” as one metaphor.
This idea of “selflessness” and “putting others first” is indeed very complicated.
For me, I have to remind myself when looking at this that the “Sages” have a different perspective from the get-go. Their Self-Identity is from a different vantage point than the average person who has not discovered “They Way”, or as Tantra might say, “the True Self.”
Tantra would explain the average person as being identified with the ego, or sense of individuality. Ego says “I am the person known as Jeff. I am the thoughts and feelings and desires that pass though the awareness of Jeff”.
But the Self-Realized Yogi or Sage, knower of “The Way”, sees beyond the limitations of the ego state. Some would even argue they have dissolved the ego. Either way, they have shifted their identity from the individual self as ego to the larger Self, of which Tantra says there is only truly One. “We are all One”. We are connected through “The Way”, or the permeating Consciousness that experiences, reveals and creates all things.
While the ego identified individual will base most of their happiness on the life circumstances they find themselves in (i.e. What they have or don’t have. Who likes or doesn’t like them, etc), the Self-Realized Sage finds complete balance, fulfillment and a deep inner joy that is based purely upon knowing the Truth of their Own Being.
The Nature of the Truth Self is joy and the Sages then experience that the outer world is not the source of happiness.
So, I suggest that when the sages “Place themselves last”, this means that they stop serving the individual ego of the person they were before knowing The Way, and begin to serve the larger Self, which is actually within All Beings. From this perspective, serving others has no “Selfish” motivation for gain by the original individual, but is instead understood as serving the Sacred Nature of Life, or the Consciousness that permeates all of Creation. In other words, serving others becomes experienced as literally and directly serving God, of which the Sage knows him or herself to be.
So, to work with the quote from Jesus (“So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16) ), when the Sage sets aside or dissolves his individual ego and lets it be “last” to be served, and instead places the large Self “first”, then the True Self or “They Way” is being served first. If the individual ego is served “first” then the Large Self, or God, is placed last in the order of importance.
This wisdom works for the Sages, because they experience the deeper Truth of it. There are many practices which attempt to work with this principle. “Service” is in fact one of the most widely used spiritual practices in the world. It can be beneficial, to use this practice as a way of deepening your spiritual path, but there must be a striving to connect with the deeper intention. There must be a level of surrender, and a sense of serving God, or “They Way” or whatever Higher Power someone relates to, and not just serving “individuals”. (Although, focusing on the suffering of others as a way to diminish awareness of your own suffering and increase gratitude is one Buddhist practice that can have benefits as well, and can deepen service as a spiritual practice.)
“Ego” serving “ego” does nothing more than create the very complicated scenarios that you described in your post. There must be a sense of serving the larger whole without the individual ego gaining or losing anything. That’s where the “selfless” part really comes in. To serve others without any thought of what you will get from it. Otherwise it slips into expectations, disappointments (I did all this for him/her and I got nothing back!) and pride (I am such a selfless and generous person! Yay me!).
If I look back over your examples, in each case there would very likely be “ego” engagement and needs being fulfilled or demanded. A sense of placing either one’s own individual needs first, or placing the needs of the other first. For each person, no matter how subtle or not so subtle, there was likely a hope for something in return, even if it was unconscious.
For the Sage, the Self-Realized knower of The Way, individual needs dissolved when ego identification ceased. They arrive at a place of Wholeness, in which they feel complete within their own Being. They are “In the world, but not of the world.” All of their needs are satisfied by the deeper experience of the Self. So, when they give or serve, it is from a place of fullness, because they have nothing else they need. They are just sharing out of the love that overwhelms their own hearts. They are unaffected by whether you like or don’t like what they offer. They do not care if you thank or praise them.
They approach their service with a sense of Compassion for those they serve. And they serve in ways that we often may not be able to understand. Serving by listening. Serving by smiling at us. Serving by being a beacon of Light in the darkness of experience.
Whereas the “ego” may think compassion to be the taking away of suffering through giving people what they seem to lack, or finding a way to end pain, the Sages know that the true suffering is caused by not knowing the True Self, or the Way. As the Buddha said something to the effect of “Enlightenment is the only True Healing.” (Enlightenment or knowing the True Self or The Way). Prior to that, some type of suffering is inevitable.
In the spirit of “The Way”, I also acknowledge that my words are just words at minimum, and at most they are well written “Way Pointers”. But, they are not “The Truth” in and of themselves. They are an expression of how I understand things, and the experiences that I have had in my own spiritual journey.
Loving the Tao posts, and thanks for letting me share.
Tantra to discover your True Self. Learn a helpful perspective to approach tantric techniques and practices. Explore a misconception about Enlightenment and gain a deeper understanding of how daily life relates to Enlightenment.
Part 1 in a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
I have recently been engaging in a conversation about prayer with one of my yoga students. It has evolved from his awakening experiences of peace and blissful energy flowing in his awareness and body through the Tantric Yoga practices I have taught him.
This type of experience necessarily challenges the way we think about ourselves. You learn from your own experience that the more you get out of the way, the more the peace and bliss arise. The currents of ecstatic energy do not flow because you wish them to, but because you are relaxed enough, open enough and able to be present to what is moving.
He is still active within his Presbyterian Church, and as one might expect, he wishes to find a way to reconcile his arising Tantric experience with the religious teachings of the church. He began a search on “Yoga and Christianity” which quickly brought up many fundamentalist ideas suggesting that Yoga was anti-Christian, that it was Hinduism, and even that it was wrong because it taught you that God could be found within your own Self. This last idea of course challenges the structure of the church which in many ways relies on the importance of the church and the priests or preachers as a way to connect to God.
Fortunately, his personal faith and his experience with Yoga allowed him to see through these ideas. He has learned to trust his awakening experience.
The next conversation came from a recent meeting at his church which discussed the nature of prayer. He was delighted that even within his own church, there was a discussion which began to challenge the traditional thinking about what prayer is. For many, prayer is thought of as a way to talk to God, to ask for help, to ask for things you want or desire. That is the traditional idea of prayer. But what if prayer was used to LISTEN instead of talk? What if prayer was a way to open to the presence of God and receive His blessings?
In their conversation, they offered a quote from John the Baptist: “True inner prayer is to stop talking and to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart; it is to cease doing things on our own, and to enter into the action of God.”
Powerful words from the well known Christian Mystic. He defines prayer as listening to the wordless voice of God. But if there are no words, how do we listen? With our hearts! We connect to God through deeper emotion. We open to feeling the unconditional Love and the Presence of God within our own Being. We come into communion with God in this way. This leads to the experience of Union, which is what Yoga really means. It is the Union of the small individual self, with the large Divine Self or God.
By John the Baptist’s definition, prayer becomes akin to the deep, silent meditation of advanced Yoga, which expands into Samadhi, or a continuous one-pointed stream of awareness back into its own Self. The discovery of God within one’s own Being. The Self identification with that same Divine Consciousness.
Prayer REVEALS the nature of God, if practiced in this way. Currents of bliss, joy, peace and love arise first as the True Nature of the Self is accessed. And over time, it expands, shifting and deepening both your relationship with God, and also your relationship with life. This is the path of the Mystic, and also the path taken in the advanced spiritual practices of Tantra Yoga.
Each Spiritual teacher, has been molded by an unfolding life experience and their unique walk on the spiritual path. Each Teacher has had the experiences needed to be a better teacher, or at least to be the right teacher for the students he or she will have. It is the struggles of the teacher that have been experienced and overcome that provides the wisdom to assist others through similar challenges. It is practices, techniques and experiences in the personal spiritual practice or sadhana which gives the teacher the ability to choose the right tools for the students and understand the results that will be achieved and help the students to get the maximum benefit from the practices. It is the direct experience of the deeper Spiritual Nature that grants the teacher the ability to direct your awareness towards the same with your own Self.
And within all of that practice, experience and wisdom, there walks the outer presentation of a human being. And with humanness there exists apparent imperfections. Even within a Self-Realized Guru, the outer personality and human form is often quite unassuming. The behavior can seem simple or even a bit surprising. Their human expression can seem just as imperfect as any other person you may encounter. They may follow what appears to be a rather unhealthy diet, even being quite overweight. They may do or say things which seem a little harsh or stubborn or inconsiderate. They may at times appear to be angry or appear to share human struggles of financial concerns and medical problems. In short, they appear to be completely human.
I know when I began a spiritual journey, and sought to learn from various teachers, I held many of them as being near perfect. I expected that because I was being taught about Spirituality and Wholeness on a healing journey, that those leading me would be perfect and their behavior would 100% embody and reflect what they were teaching. With that expectation, all of them eventually failed the test and left me in a position of disappointment, shock or sometimes even betrayal.
In the moment, I could not see the simple truth that I had just expected too much from them. Instead, I became angry, hurt, or felt abandoned. I could not understand how a teacher who had supported my growth for so long could suddenly become an opponent to all the things she had encouraged me to do. I felt baffled and confused when I began to see hypocrisy or would complete a set of teachings and realize it did not take me to the spiritual place I had expected it to.
But years later, I can see it was simply their humanness combined with my expectations that set me up to be disappointed and hurt. They were each offering me the best of what they knew with varying degrees of sincerity, and behaving in the best way they knew how, even if it appeared as misguided, selfish or greedy to me. In short, they were each limited by their own humanness. And, what they had to offer me was also limited, and thus it was also appropriate for me to move on when I had gotten what I needed from my work with them.
When I finally met my Guru, he was nothing like I would have imagined an advanced Yogi to be. He is a simple man, appearing very human. At the time I met him he was a smoker. He eats meat, has many medical problems including severe chronic pain, is a good bit overweight, and walks with a cane. I must admit that I tested and kept watching for signs that he had something to offer me. As I opened to practice and explore what he was teaching me, my life began to change. This became the proof and allowed me to dissolve my doubts and expectations.
I finally came to understand that my idea of the “perfect” teacher had been based around idealized notions from scriptures which I had mistakenly projected onto the human form and personality. I expected a Spiritual teacher to be “god-like”, but from a limited understanding. After all, the yoga and Tantric scriptures often proclaim the “Perfection” of the Guru.
I finally have come to understand that a Realized teacher’s perfection comes from his Knowledge of the True Self, which is Perfect and Unconditionally Loving. It is not the outer human form which is perfect from an idealized perspective (never getting angry and always kind, never smoking or drinking, and always eating a vegetarian diet), but instead it is his INNER knowledge and Being which is Perfect, radiant and unconditionally loving. This will often be expressed outside at various times, but there are always moments of “humanness” as well.
It is the INNER consciousness of the Teacher which is the True and Perfect Teacher, not the human form. A Spiritual teacher cannot be judged by his or her outer appearance or behavior. The true measure of a Spiritual teacher is his or her ability to help you transform your life, and most importantly, help you discover and awaken to your own True Self. Should the Teacher be kind and supportive? In almost all cases, yes they will be, but not always in the way you expect. What you think you need is not always what is best for you. The way you expect the Teacher to help you, is often not the way the most transformational teachings will occur.
The more clearly I am able to experience and grasp the “imperfection” of the human teacher for my Self in relationship to my Guru, the more I also see how I have projected those same expectations onto my own human expression. I have expected “perfection” from my body, mind and speech, and been harsh with myself when I fail to achieve it. But this human expression will never be “perfect”. It is my awakening Consciousness along with Knowledge gained from my experiences which carries the real value of anything I can teach, not the shape or state of my body or the ebbs and flows of my emotions and mind. It is my experiences of transformation on the spiritual path that allow me to assist others in travelling across the same terrain. The imperfect humanness simply comes with the package, and I am learning to accept and embrace it in whatever state of imperfection it appears, knowing that from a deeper perspective of Truth, it truly is perfect exactly the way it is, even in its apparent imperfect state.
For you, the Spiritual Seeker, this also means you can set aside any judgments you have as to your own “shortcomings”. The moments of anger, frustration and sadness, while they may change over time on the path, are part of your humanness. You do not need to “perfect” all the yoga postures to achieve a high level of spirituality. You do not need to appear or behave “perfect” by some idealized standard of the yogic way of living and being. These practices will benefit you in specific ways if you feel drawn to do them, but you should be gentle with yourself if you are working with them.
No matter what practices you follow, it is the determination to know the Truth of your own Self, beyond the imperfect human condition that will elevate you into the experience of Spiritual Knowledge. It is allowing the Teacher to guide you to uncover your True Self, and your own determination to awaken to that Knowledge that are the most important aspects of your practice. And the movements of your human imperfections are to be embraced with self-acceptance. It is not the human form which is transformed into a “Divine Being”, but rather it is the Divine Being as Consciousness which awakens to experience through the imperfect human condition.
When dealing with your own Self, and when dealing with a Teacher, remember where the Perfected Truth lies. Not in human form, but in the Spiritual Consciousness which permeates all things. If you are working with a truly Advanced Spiritual Teacher, then focus your practices on discovering that you are the same, identical Consciousness as your Teacher. When that truth begins to awaken within you, you will also see that the human expressions, both yours and the Teacher’s, are exactly as they should be, and your True Self is beyond both.
All types of Yoga when practiced as a spiritual path seek a common goal, although the goal itself may have different labels. Nirvana, Heaven, Self-realization, and Enlightenment are all the same goal from different traditions, which are ultimately different names for the final experience of the True Self which is full of Bliss and Love.
What makes Yogas unique or different in a larger sense is how they approach the goal: the philosophies and the practices which grow out of those philosophies.
There are two important philosophical points that help define Tantra as “Tantra” rather than some other type of yoga. The first is the Tantric focus on the dynamic aspect of Consciousness (movement, vibration, energy) as an intelligent, integral aspect of Consciousness. In simple terms, Tantra focuses on Energy and seeks to understand and connect to the Source of that Energy.
While there are other Non-Dual philosophies, such as Advaita Vedanta, which consider the Supreme Reality, or Nature of the Self, to be Pure Consciousness, Tantra’s focus on the Power of Consciousness as a Force of energy which is integral with Consciousness is an important distinguishing feature. Tantra says that All beings comes from the One Reality of Consciousness, AND all experience is produced by the Power of Consciousness as movement, vibration and energy. In Tantra, this Dynamic Principle, or Power of Consciousness, is usually referred to as Shakti (as power), Kriya (as movement), or Spanda (as vibration).
The importance of the first point, leads to the second distinguishing point: Tantra adopts a positive attitude towards life and the world, in such a way that worldly experience becomes a means for reaching the final spiritual goal. This is in contrast to other Non-Dual philosophies which reject the experiential reality as “illusion” right at the beginning of practice. For Tantra, because the experience of life and the world is Created by the Power of Consciousness Itself, life is seen as a product of Consciousness experienced within Consciousness. Therefore the experience within Consciousness, or Life and worldly experience, is just as Sacred as the Consciousness itself.
Rather than rejecting life and worldly experience, Tantra seeks to help the practitioner elevate them to Divine or Sacred status to be enjoyed on a higher level of experience. Tantra sees this as simply shifting perspective to a higher Truth. Rather than rejecting the objects of the world, they are integrated and embraced as part of the Sacred movements of the Divine.
These two philosophical points work together, in that through practicing to discover the Divine in all things, we open to realize that all experiences in life are being produced through the dynamic power of Consciousness, and thus are being produced by and within the One Consciousness. The Tantric conclusion is thus that ALL things are Divine and Sacred and should be perceived and honored as such.
In more simple language, everything has been created by God, and thus should be honored as a Divine expression. There is nothing which is “not holy”, because it is all an emanation from God. Knowing and experiencing this brings freedom and joy, because everything becomes a reminder of the Spiritual Nature of reality and the Self.
From this perspective, inviting a deeper experience of the Sacredness of Life becomes an integral part of the path to discover the True Nature of the Self as Pure Consciousness.
The Tantric Philosophy has also lead to some practices which are unique to Tantra. These include working with specific types of Energy, the Chakras and other energy structures and pathways in the body, as well as the use of Sexual Energy within specific practices. These will be discussed in a future posting.
Stop rushing. Be still for a moment. And then again the next.
Spiritual progress doesn’t come about through pushing and forcing. It happens with letting go, surrendering into the moment.
This doesn’t mean being passive. Practice will likely still need to happen, but in the stillness and surrender you can be guided into your practice, rather than choosing with the mind and creating expectations about what your results “should be”.
Practice with the intention of opening and allowing your Deeper Spiritual Self to be revealed and experienced, and then let go of any expectation of what that may look or feel like. Be present to what IS revealed rather than allowing the mind to search for some proof of success.
As the saying goes, “you are already Enlightened, you just don’t know it yet”. There is nothing you can do or add to your Self that will cause you to be Enlightened. Your very nature is that of Enlighenment, only in this moment the mind is clouding the Light which already radiates from your Self.
Stop stirring up the clouds with mental activity, expectations and searching. Be still, and allow the power of Love and light from within your own Being to gently dissolve the clouds, revealing the Radiance of your True Self.
Invite all Tantra Yoga and Meditation practices to do nothing other than help you to open to that Stillness so the Truth may be revealed. Shift from “doing” to “Being”.
You cannot “rush” and be still at the same time. You cannot “push” and relax open at the same time.
You are Enlightened now. Stop all striving and pushing and just be still. Your practices should lead you to Expansion, Stillness and Presence. In that state, the Truth can reveal Itself.