purification

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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The Sun in Vedic Astrology and Yoga: Attachment, Ego Purification and Enlightenment

In Vedic Astrology, the Sun, or Surya, is the source of our Inner Light. The Soul Essence Sun Planetseeking to shine through into the world. It is the power which illumines our experiences and the source from which we survive, thrive and grow.

The Sun is the Great “I am”, the “One Without a Second”, and as this great force of Divine Power, it is also where our personal sense of Self Identity is formed. The question is, where do we Identify? Does our “sense of Self” come from the outer story of our lives, such as our profession and other roles in life such as parent, spouse, child? Does the sense of Self arise from various labels that we have accepted as true, such as “The one who is good at details”, “the Black Sheep” or “The class clown”?

Or do we follow the wisdom of the Vedic teachings and turn within to explore our Self as the Radiance light of the Sun?

The Sun is not just the “Soul”, but is also the Inner Fire of Truth which burns away and purifies the False Sense of Self. It burns away the attachments we have formed through various lifetimes, and the Vedic Astrology Birth Chart reveals the Karmic patterning that is being purified in this lifetime. But, it helps if we participate in the process. To do so, we must understand both what our True Nature is, as well as what forms and creates the Limited, False Sense of Self.

Karmic Attachments are the primary source of False Sense of Self. Those Karmic attachments form what is referred to as “The Ahamkara”, or “The Ego”. Is is the False sense of Separate Self.

 

How can we notice our Attachments?

The most obvious identity attachments are the ones we cling to for our happiness and our sense of Self. Sometimes it is easier for others to see our attachments that it is for us. It is the labels we hold dear, the ones that we wish to be seen as and take great pride in. To be “the intellectual”, or “the sexy one”, for instance. To be “rich” or “well traveled” or “very spiritual”. It is whatever we want others to think about us and that would cause us to feel “less than” if we did not appear that way.

I would also like for you to expand your understanding of “attachment”. Sometimes, people think attachments are only what we DESIRE and WANT. If there is something we don’t want, then we might think “I am not attached to that, I don’t want it”. And you might interpret, for your self, that NOT wanting it means you are “not attached”.

It is possible that you are not attached, but you must look at it honestly. In many cases “not wanting it” is actually proof that you ARE attached. You are attached to a Self Identity that is NOT that label or thing. You are attached to some different definition of personality or Identity that you want others to see you as instead.. You are attached to the idea that being and expressing and being seen as “what you don’t want” is not compatible with who you imagine or wish yourself to be.

RESISTANT TO is just another form of attachment. It is attachment to what you think “should be” instead.

The True test of “Attachment” is whether or not there is an emotional charge around it. If someone were to suggest that you had the qualities or expression of “that which you don’t want” and it made you angry or was perceived as an insult: Well, then you are attached.

And if you are wanting to be seen as something, and there is a threat that someone doesn’t see you as that, or that you may lose that status of identity, and you get upset, angry, defensive, etc. Well, then you are attached.

 

The Sun illuminates attachments and Purifies them through Fire

It is the POWER of the SUN which illumines these attachments. The Great Light of our Inner Awareness which allows us to see into the dark corners of our own minds and finally see what is True. It is our striving after a sense of Self and our resistance to another one that shows where and how the Sun is Purifying our False Sense of Self. The emotional charge, the defensiveness, the feeling of defeat, the lack of confidence, the intense striving to “prove its true”, the resistance, and the chasing after are all signs that Purification is taking place. In short, if you are experiencing craving, discomfort or even the most subtle taste of “suffering”, then Purification is taking place.

The SUN creates PURIFICATION as it tries to reveal to you the TRUE Source of Power Within. This process can be uncomfortable. What makes it most “unfun” is resisting. We suffer when we struggle against what is. If we are able to understand, grasp and embrace it, then the Sun’s purification creates growth that we can surrender to, that expands our sense of Self and dissolves the limited sense that we are either attached to or resistant to. As limitation are removed, we begin to taste more clearly our True Self (Sun) as beyond any limited expression. If we resist, we potentially stifle growth and stay stuck and/or the growth happens anyway, but it is filled with “growing pains”.

ATTACHMENT to a sense of identity is being purified by the placement of the Sun in the chart, and we may discover at some point that we are struggling against the process (which is pretty normal). The Karma is there for you to express a certain set of traits and to be seen that way. These are the Karmic energies at play in your life. And part of the “Purification” process is to find a way to make peace with them. That could look any number of ways. Acceptance. Surrendering to these expressions, but letting go of the Identification with them.

These are all things related to the Sun. And as the evolutionary process happens within each of us, if we are able to more fully connect to the Sun in a health way, then the purification process brings about the changes needed to step into the Full POWER of our inner Soul and align with Atman. Resistance melts. Attachments are burned away, and we begin to Radiate the energy of our Soul.

This process is usually at least a little uncomfortable, but it is designed to bring into awareness the attachments and resistances that you must purify in order to become Free and awaken to your Inner Sun/Power.

 

The Process of Ego Purification and the Evolution of the Sun

So, now let’s look a little more closely at The Sun in relationship to the Ego and the purification process:

EGO is known as Ahamkara in the Samkhya Chart of the Tattvas. It is another layer of “Mind”, technically. Ahamkara translates to “Little I-maker”. It is a function that happens within creation that causes the larger True Self (Sun) to identify itself as a limited separate being, or the Jiva. Ego/Ahamkara forms the outer personality of the individual expression and is composed of Karma.

The Sun is the Self, and its true Sattvic essence is a Universal Consciousness/Oneness. When the Sun identifies itself with the Ego instead, a limited experience of identity is created and the natural true Power of the Sun is falsely thought to be come from the Ahamkara/ego instead. This false identification of the Source of Power can then lead to various issues around power, confidence, etc (either lack of, overly, or chasing after, etc)

The Purification process is the Authentic Power of the Sun to burn away the false attachments and false identities with the Ego/Ahamkara, and to connect Self with Authentic Power based upon Universal Oneness and dissolve the illusion of separation and competition.

If the individual is disconnected from the Sun, then he may feel even the Ego has no power, and would remain uninspired and feel he lacks direction in life. Here, the purification of the Sun will cause suffering until the individual is finally motivated to change his circumstances, and Karmic circumstances bring about the experience of connecting with some sense of Personal Power.

For those who do have a sense of Personal Power that is identified primarily with the Ego, they will be attached to their own sense of individual power and may appear as overly prideful, egotistical, domineering. Their power is primarily directed towards selfish gains and self gratification. Here, the Purification process of the Sun will eventually reveal to them that their individual sense of Power is limited. It may happen in a way where the tide will turn and they will suffer when all they have been attached to is taken from them. Or, they may be shown by direct experience that serving only the Ego isn’t fulfilling, and thus they become inspired to use their power for the benefit of others.

As the Purification of the Sun continues, the experience of the Universal Self begins to expand. This brings about a feeling of inspiration and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. The Purification process here helps to remove the final attachments. It can at times be still be uncomfortable, yes, but there is usually an understanding of the process which makes it clear that the discomfort serves a positive purpose, and thus there is less resistance to the process.

Spiritual practices over a long time are concerned in various ways with refining the ego so that it becomes a servant to the Universal Power of Self (Sun), instead of thinking it is an independent force that operates in the world for its own limited, personal gain. As part of our spiritual sadhana, we also are connecting to the Deeper Universal Self and releasing attachment to the Ego as “self”.

 

The Ego is not “Bad”

Let’s also be clear about this point: the Ego is not “bad”. It serves a function to allow the appearance of a “personality” here in this world. But suffering arises when we believe it is our source of Power, and that its needs must be served, rather than serving the Universal Self instead.

Even Saints or Enlightened Beings have a thin veil of an ego in order to operate in this world. The difference is that they have no identification with it, and it has been purified to operate for and as Universal Self (Atman, Sun). It operates out of knowledge of Oneness, and not separation.

This ego of a Realized being is said in yogic texts to be like an “ashen rope”, which describes the Purification process of the Sun’s Fire. A rope when it is burned will keep the shape and appearance of the original rope, but it is delicate and fragile with no true substance. A touch or a breeze will collapse the ashen rope, revealing it as hollow and empty. Yet it appears as a rope even after it has been burned up.

The same is for the Purified Ego of a Saint. It appears in the world as “personality” but it is light (sattvic) and empty. The Ego really no longer exists, even though it appears to operate in the world. Instead, the Self-Realized or Enlightened Being experiences the Oneness (Sun) of all creation and beings.

 

Understanding the Power of the Sun through Jyotish leads to Yoga and Enlightenment

The Vedic Traditions of Yoga reveal to use this deeper Potential of Self and the deeper Reality with which we are connected. And Jyotish or Vedic Astrology teaches us about the Nature of Self through the operations and the Nature of the Sun. When we look look at a birth chart, we can not only see how the Sun may show aspects of the personality and its expression in the world, but it also shows us the Karma which is being expressed and Purified in this lifetime for the native. The area of life being most strongly purified is also revealed through the House which is ruled by the Sun, or where Leo is.

Even though these placements in the chart show highly Karmic themes, also note that the Transit of the Sun through the full Zodiac each year shows the spiraling nature of the Sun to steadily burn attachments within each area of our life in a cyclical nature. And various Dasha cycles will also show times of greater intensity for the purification process as well. There is no part of our life that the Sun will not eventually touch.

This Purification Process is the core of Tantra Yoga and the Kundalini Yoga Traditions. Activating the Inner Fires of Awareness to purify the Ego. Vedic Astrology helps us to more clearly understand this process, as well as more clearly understand the way the Sun operates in the world. By following the Dasha cycles and transits we are given much insight into the perfection and beauty of this evolutionary process which is designed to evolve the Jiva into the Supreme Self.

What has your experience of Purification been?
What attachments in the Sun revealing to you right now in your life?
How can you better participate in this process?

CLICK HERE to learn more about Jeff’s Vedic Astrology Consultations

Jeff Craft (Kali Das) is a certified Vedic astrologer through the American Academy of Vedic Arts and Sciences (AAVAS), and was selected by Sam Geppi to be an Assistant Teacher for his Astrology Certification Courses. Outside of his work with Sam, Jeff is the Founder and Director of the Atlanta School of Tantra Yoga.

His 23+ years of study and personal practice include multiple certification in the fields of Advanced Yogic methods, Vedic Astrology, Ayurveda, Energy Healing and bodywork. Through his many years of personal and professional experience with healing and spiritual transformation, he has developed the Ecstatic Union® Vibrational Healing system. He offers Vedic Astrology Consultations as an integral part of the Ecstatic Union® approach to healing.

 

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.

Tantra and Yogic Living, Ashram and Retreat (Part 1)

(Written October 11th, 2011)

All around us, life continues to move. For most of us, there are obligations that pull our awareness. Tasks that need to be performed. And when we become tired, we have certain ways that we use to de-stress. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have created a series of “habits” which allow us to engage in life. Certain conditionings are there for almost all of us, and they keep us within particular realm of experience that we find “comfortable”

For instance, if we are a person who is not comfortable with confrontation, we will tend to go out of our way to avoid conflict, even if that means ignoring our own values or needs. We may have certain patterns of relaxing such as going to a particular restaurant, or drinking alcohol. We likely keep our social structure within particular limits as well, such as hanging our with particular friends, and doing particular activities.

I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with this. They are, in fact, in most cases things that you simply enjoy. But it is also easy for us to allow familiarity and routine to become so ingrained that the possibility of deviations becomes uncomfortable, or even terrifying. We can become attached to our routines, needing them to feel safe and happy.

The Yogic teachings tell us that we should learn to become “detached”. We should not expect certain results or outcomes in life. They tell us that most of our pain and suffering come from expectations not being met, or attachments being lost unexpectedly.

The simple reality is that it is challenging to change our habits while living in the environment that has helped to create them. Just as they say that an alcoholic should stop hanging out with friends who drink as part of the recovery, for some changes, we often need to get out of our “social” world in order to allow new possibilities to arise.

This can involve consciously choosing a new habit or giving up an old one. It can also be starting a new yoga class, or taking a workshop that will offer you a new perspective on life. These are ways that we can help cultivate growth, healing and change while we are living our daily lives. But sometimes, either out of personal desire for growth or because we realize we can’t do it in our current environment, something more radical is needed.

For the alcoholic who can’t find sobriety in his or her daily living, they seek “rehab”. For someone on the Spiritual Path of Yoga, we head to a retreat, or to the Ashram.

The Ashram is a place which offers a culture based upon Yogic lifestyle. When “everybody’s doing it”, it is easier to fit in and allow “healthier” choices to be part of your experience. Many Ashrams offer the possibility of regular yoga practice, regular chanting and regular meditations. Most will be based upon a particular tradition and will offer those teachings and practices that are a part of that tradition.

For the conscious Yoga practitioner, the Ashram should not just be a place to “escape”, however. It is not a place to avoid worldly responsibility, although it has been used by some in that way. The deeper purpose of the Ashram is to challenge your conditioning and your habitual ways of living, to deepen your personal spiritual practice, to accelerate your spiritual growth, and to learn alternative ways of creating greater harmony of body, mind and spirit.

While there are some Ashrams in the modern age that are more like resorts, a traditional Ashram offers a simplified way of life. It offers you what you “need”, not what you want. It invites you to explore the question “what is it that I really need to live and to be happy?” For those who undertake this experience, many come to realize we need a lot less that we think we do. Food, shelter, clothing are the basics. A supportive community is also helpful.

While we have grown used to, and even conditioned to expect certain things in life, such as nice cars, the latest iPhone, hot and cold running showers, air conditioning and central heat, regular meals at nice restaurants, and two weeks of paid vacation every year, the reality is we do not “need” any of these things.

For our sense of individual self, or what yoga calls the Ego (Ahamkara), what happens when we are faced with conditions in life that we are not accustomed to? What happens when a person used to living alone in a two bedroom house is suddenly faced with sharing a single room and one bathroom with three strangers? What happens when our usual diet may be modified into a purely vegetarian diet, which is served at strict times, and our coffee and alcohol are taken away? What happens when we are asked to get up at 5am, and be ready to meditate with the group at 5:45am?

For most of us, the short answer is there will be some reaction. Even if we gracefully accept the changes, some part of us is witnessing and aware of what is different than our “norm”. And some people may react quite strongly against this. Without realizing it, the ego may revolt. But what this type of experience does for us, the gift of Yogic Ashram life, is it gives us a chance to see the places we are attached.

Yes, I prefer air conditioning, but when it is taken away, I can adapt. I like my private space, but there are some nice experiences that come with getting to know three other people and sharing space with them.

With each change, there is a choice to “surrender” and look honestly at our selves as to how we feel about it. Or, we can not look, and just complain or find a quick way out. Yoga is an invitation to increase awareness, and any place within our own mind that we are attached, conditioned or resistant needs to be examined.

It is not that it is “wrong” to have air conditioning, nice cars and iPods, but Yoga teaches us that these things should not be the source of our happiness. In the Ashram, many of our external attachments are stripped away, forcing us to see ourselves without our worldly distractions. When there is no Tivo to watch for hours at night and we have to engage our own thoughts and feelings or have an actual conversation with someone else, can we still enjoy life?

From another perspective, the Ashram experience can also heighten our awareness of the patterns that are so strong that we actually import them into the Ashram with us. If we pay attention, perhaps some different personality traits will be magnified. We may feel more strongly the need for approval, our natural inclination towards competition, or maybe feelings of inadequacy. We may see whether we are a leader or a follower. We may notice our selfish tendency to take the largest piece of fruit, to not want to share, or ways we justify not following simple rules and requests. Many other traits and behaviors may make themselves known if we are paying attention.

Within an Ashram, we also have a chance to meet other people, often from all over the world. We have a chance to see other perspectives on life, and to have our own judgements revealed and mirrored to us through other people’s actions and our reactions to them.

We are additionally given the opportunity to allow our deeper spiritual inclinations to be expressed and seen, out in the open, in a supportive environment. We have the opportunity to share our musings on life and to be among spiritually like minded community, which can strengthen our deeper spiritual values, and teach us more about how to live them fully.

The Ashram experience is also a chance to simply see and acknowledge the simplicity that life can be and still contain joy and meaning within it. So much of what our Western culture calls “normal standard of living” is really luxury. We can learn ways to enjoy life more simply, and we can also learn to be more grateful for what we have, and not take it for granted.

Many Yogic practices encourage these types of self reflection and awareness. For those that cannot find the time or resources to stay in an Ashram, then go to a retreat or a weekend workshop. If you can’t find the time or resources for that, then take classes, or make conscious efforts to observe your own habits of mind. Make conscious decisions to try new things, and see how you react. Make conscious efforts to do or try something that you know you are nervous about. Push past your limitations, dissolve your attachments and invite a world of infinite possibilities.

Like most things in life, the Ashram experience is what you make of it. If you import all your old habits, and refuse to be self aware, it may simply be a vacation. For some, an Ashram may be a training ground to learn skills of self awareness and self observation. For others, it may take on even deeper implications. For many, this experience, if they are open to it, can change their perspective on life. Even if the external life doesn’t change much, the inner experience of life can be radically altered.

Tantric Yoga doesn’t ask you to give up worldly things. It seeks a balance between both material and spiritual pursuits. Tantra teaches you can and should continue to enjoy that which you enjoy, but learn to be detached from it. Enjoy it, but know that it is not the source of your true happiness. That way, even when the object of enjoyment inevitably is lost (and it will be), your deeper sense of joy which arises from deep within your own Self will still remain, and nothing will truly be lost.

With enough practice and awareness, the world becomes our Ashram, because we carry the Ashram perspective within our own minds and hearts. Tantra teaches that we don’t need to escape from life to find spirituality. Instead we want to awaken our awareness of the spiritual within our daily life and the world around us.

What have been your experiences of Retreat, Ashram or integrating a more Tantric awareness into daily life?

Balancing Shiva and Shakti in Life: Resolving Separation and Duality by Clearing Karmic Conditioning (Video)

Explore Shiva and Shakti as a metaphor for duality.   Learn a powerful perspective that can help you shift out of conflict and suffering and empower you to take responsibility for our own experience so you can begin to consciously move into a more joyful relationship with Life and the world around you.  Discover how Karma directs your experiences and how learning to become more aware of and witness your reactions and Karmic patterns can begin to free you and help you live more consciously.

This is Part 3 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIIPV4_tDL4

Tantric Healing: Clearing Clutter from Heart and Mind

                There is a laundry room and storage area in the basement of my home which has become overly filled with useless things.  It is not a large room to begin with, but the free wall space and shelf space has become full to the point where additional items are spilling out, slowly overtaking any practical floor space.  There is just barely enough room to get in and do laundry and get out.  Occasionally I will trip over some random item en route.

                The open floor space has also become the storage area for the vacuum.  In recent months, another member of my household has decided that “the vacuum is in the way, and must be put somewhere else.”  Whether fair or not, I find this concept amusing.  To my mind, the vacuum is one of only a handful of things in the room which is actually useful, worth keeping and stored in a convenient location.

                It amuses me to think that even the very best canister vacuums to use, the very essence of a clean floor, is the “enemy” when all around the room are stacks of ceramic tiles which will never be used, an abundance of scrap wood which will likely serve no future purpose, close to 20 cans of half used paint from previous projects, and an empty, barely clean birdcage from a pet that died three years ago.  The list goes on to include power tools which have not been properly stored (because you can’t get to the shelf space where they should go), endless random construction items like doorknobs, screws, nails, and of course a studio sized four-burner gas stove and oven that was purchased over 8 years ago for a specific project, and have never been used because the project needs were altered.

                The majority of items will practically never be used, and the items which are worth keeping are not stored in a manner which is an efficient use of space or convenient to get to.  Yet somehow, because the vacuum is in the walk-able floor area, IT is “in the way”.  I laugh to myself as I see all the useless items disappear, and the vacuum cleaner sitting quietly and peacefully alone, snuggled up next to the now inaccessible wall, completely out of the walk path in a now open room.

                This situation, however stimulated in me the following questions.  “How often do we fail to see the real ‘problem’ or ’cause’ of the ‘obstacles’ we see in our lives?  How often do we define the ‘Vacuum’  or the discomfort in the moment as the problem, when the deeper issue is the piles of useless junk which clutter our hearts and minds?”  It is so much easier to look at and respond to the resulting crisis than it is to look at all of the influences, choices and actions which led up to it.  The “vacuum” is not the problem.  The junk that prevents it from having a proper home is.

                An important part of the path of personal growth and transformation is the ability to open self-awareness and observe the role we play in the experiences we have in life.  To stop blaming the Vacuum when what we really need to do is acknowledge and deal with the “mess” that brought about the situation.  Taking personal responsibility for what we have done and what we have not done, and then consciously addressing those areas of our lives, rather than simply reacting to the outcome and acting surprised or as if it has been “done to us” by some outside cruel force of the universe.

                In some cases, the “mess” was created long ago through our conditioning in childhood, or past lives.  As part of the Tantric healing process, we learn to clean up and clear out the past conditioning so we can be free and fresh in the moment.  In this way, we remove the clutter from our hearts and mind, and keep the energy of our life flowing freely, and the enjoyable and useful experiences have room in our lives and our hearts.  When our hearts and minds are cluttered, there is no room for what is joyful and peaceful, because all of life revolves around “finding a place for the vacuum”. 

                Joy, Love and Happiness all should be a part of your life as they are a part of your True Nature. If you are struggling to create a place for them in your life, then stop and look at the ways you can clear up the mental clutter and energetic conditioning from the past to open space for them in your heart.  Simple meditation practices can help calm the mind, giving your greater peace, focus and self-awareness.  Tantric Energy Clearing practices can be learned from a Tantric teacher or practitioner.   Through a combination of healing sessions and self-healing at home, you can use these techniques to clear the inner landscape of your Heart and Awareness, and create space for Joy and Love to arise.

                The next time an “obstacle” arises in your life, stop and ask yourself “How did this experience get created?  Is there some practical way I could have prevented it?  Can I correct the situation to prevent it from happening again?”  And then take the practical steps to clean up “the mess” whether that means cleaning out the laundry room to make room for the vacuum, or seeking assistance to energetically clear our your mind and heart so you can re-harmonize your life.

Mantra Terminology and How to Get the Most from Your Practice (Video)

Topics include: Learn additional reasons for and aspects of the practice of Mantra as part of the Tantric Tradition. Why Om or AUM is considered to be the “master” mantra and when and why other mantras may be used.  Learn terms that relate to the practice such as Japa, Omkar, and Pranava.  How to use Mantra Beads, or the Mala,  to assist your practice. Creating positive spiritual merit or Karma for your Spiritual Path. Ways to refine and get the most from your practice. 

This is Part 7 of 8 in the Mantra Meditation Series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E9VrAoVzXA

Stages of Mantra Meditation Practice (Video)

Learn the stages or progression of Mantra Meditation practice from beginner to intermediate to advanced, and the reasons for the different stages. Better understand the added healing power of group Mantra Meditation Practice and why it can benefit your practice.

Open to the importance of being present to whatever experience you are having in Mantra meditation practice without expectations. Do not assume what your experience should or will be while chanting or practicing Mantra Meditation.

This is Part 6 of 8 in the Mantra Meditation Series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG3ad11JglU

How to Chant “AUM” or “OM” (Video)

How to Chant AUM or “OM” Mantra – Instructions for the actual chanting technique, with details in how to make it most effective.   An overview of different experiences which can arise during practice. Non-attachment to outcome.  Tips to help understand and neutralize the reactions that the ego and mind will have to your Mantra Practice and spiritual development.

This is Part 5 of 8 in the Mantra Meditation Series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTHJeLM0Xq0

To support your practice, check out my Guided Meditation CD entitled “Beginning Meditations: Expanding Peace”. It includes Chanting OM as part of the second meditation and is available for purchase on-line through iTunes and Amazon.com. Follow the link below to see a full description and the links to the purchase options.

http://www.atlantaschooloftantrayoga.com/beginningmeditationscd.php

Karma and Karmic removal for Spiritual Growth (video)

Learn the true nature of Karma as conditioning and discover the ways to clear Karma and release old conditioning to experience a larger state of freedom. Understand how Mantra Meditation using “OM” assists with Karmic removal or Purification. Discover how Mantra Meditation assists in opening to experience the True Self as Sacred Witness or Pure Consciousness, which is the primary goal of Spiritual Growth.

This Video is Part 4 of 8 in the Introduction to Mantra Meditation Series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VKWLqjWO6U