Tag Archives: tantra

The Most Essential Quality

 What is Prana Vayu?

hanuman, bhima, madhvaPrana is life force or vital essence. Vayu is air and movement. Pranavayu is the movement of vital energy. Western Yogis have been talking about prana for many years already and it’s a relatively common term now. Modern Sanskrit scholars now tell us that we may have misunderstood the meaning of this word (see Wallis or Dyczkowski for confirmation).

Yoga teachers will commonly cue student to “inhale the prana” and “to visualize prana coming down into the body to give it energy. Ayurveda has followed with this classification of prana being a downward movement connected with the inhalation. Prana vayu is actually a bit of an awkward arrangement of terms since anything with prana moves and anything that moves has prana. This means we can refer to all five movements of the prana  vayus as movements of ‘prana;’ we can also drop the use of prana and just call these movements the vayus.

What modern scholars tell us is that the word ‘prana’ actually refers to the upward outward movement of our exhalation rather than the downward inward movement of our inhalations. The implications of this research is just starting get filtered down to us ordinary yogi and even very respected Ayurveda Institutes have still not taken the time to consider their own teachings and understanding of this topic.

I have written elsewhere about the ignorance of the colonial mindset so I won’t talk about it here. Most ordinary yogis in the west are so far removed from the yogic scriptures that such finely tuned understanding of the terms they use is of little importance. The larger institutes and colleges are typically more concerned with reputation and profits they have little incentive to seek after the truth. It almost seem to be a kind of “little mans syndrome” of academia. Only the the great scholars care about such things and nobody listens to them since we can find the (wrong) definition of of prana anywhere on google.

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So, getting back to exhalation which is connected with prana vayu. When we exhale, our vital force goes out thru our breath and the five senses to illuminate the world much like the Sun as it follows it’s daytime course thru the heavens. It’s rises with the beginning of our exhalation and moves thru the sky (of consciousness) until setting in the 12 finger space above the crown of the head to give way to the movement of the moon which rises full when the sun sets. This is where the exhalation has ended. As we inhale to passively and graciously receive the gift of life one nitya (goddess) leaves the Moon and enters into our bodies to nourish us and give life to the soul (the Sun) thru the body until she is herself drained of life, dark and dry as the Sun gains exaltation begins to penetrate the cold darkness of death with heat of life and the illumination of consciousness.

This is also the meaning of pranayama (prana + ayama): the life force which defeats death bringing life to the sense, allowing them to move. Prana brings movement and warmth to whatever is inert, cold and dead. (I have also seen the opposite interpretation (prana + yama) suggesting that we do the breathing practices in order to still the breath, slow all the vital functions, an ultimately ride the breath to the heavens leaving the duality of earthly existence behind. Of course we continue on with our life, but without attachment, free of the limitations of the three gunas and they individual vital breath. One moves instead in perfect harmony with the universal flow of consciousness.

Kal Bhairava takes over for Yama in Varanasi.

When we exhale prana, that life force which was given to us by god, reaches out to the world through our senses to colour and flavour the objects with whatever flavour we might crave; whatever we have inside of ourselves at the moment reaches out to the world to create a counterpart. When we inhale and bring back all of that sensory material we generally forget that we have just created it, so we react. We forget that we always get back whatever we give. As long as we have forgotten this fundamental rule we will suffer from our karma; once we learn it, life becomes a spontaneous play whatever might be your circumstances.

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“The vital breath is essentially a state of consciousness which manifests as the movement of two breaths; prana and apana (exhale and inhale).” This is a major theme of Tantra: that one thing  appears to be two separate things; or, as is the case in waking life, as a multiplicity of distinct objects. As we look at things more and more closely and understand them for their subtleties rather than accepting them at face value, they begin to merge together as though they were never separate. As it says in the Stanzas on Vibration:

“Whatever else may exist apart from you, if subjected to sound reflection, simply disappears like the fables palace of celestial musicians and you alone, changeless remain….” Stanza 10 goes on to say that , “then the soul realizes that his true nature (dharma) is universal agency and perceiving subjectivity, and so he knows and does whatever he desires.” ~Stanzas on Vibration~

In yoga we often talk about the body, mind and soul. We can think of this as three worlds or three layer of our being. The vayus live in the intermediate region of our highest intelligence but they move between the heaven and earth; the soul and the body; the subject and the object. Vayu is Air and Ether, which allows it pervade and move between all 36 tattva.

11TH_Rudra_Shiva_HanumanThe prana vayus are known as the vehicle of Rudra, an ancient name for lord Shiva that means “the Howler.” Rudra is known as the “Lord of Beasts.”  He is often associated with the 11 Mahurts which signifies his rulership of the mind and the 10 indriyas (5 sensory and 5 motor functions).

There are 5 Prana-vayu (movements of essential vital force), the sacred spaces associated with them. I have described them both in Tantric terms as well as in terms of Ayurveda

  1. Prana: Represented by the Sun. Prana is moving when we exhale; this is a movement upward & outward from the body, when the vital force of the senses reach out to their object. This is the expression of our life force to penetrate the world and forever leaving our mark up it (which will come back to us again thru the 5 fold cycle of the vayus). Prana also represent what we give to the world. Many people who belong to traditional cultures will begin a deep breath with an exhalation whereas modern people are much more likely to inhale straight away when told to take a deep breath. In the later Tantras, this movement became associated with the pingala channel of the nadi system.

  2. Apaana: Represented by the Moon.  Apana vayu is the inward & downward movement which first comes to us thru the crown of our head in the form of grace or shaktipat as we receive the gift of life. In Ayurveda it’s the downward movement that aids elimination.  and moved down the body Ayurveda they say move downward and outward. Like for the elimination of bodily waste. In later Tantras this became associated with the Ida channel of the nadis system.

  3. Samaana: According to Ayurveda, it moves inwards, spinning towards a centre point like meditation. In the waking and dream state, prana-apana is active, however in states of deep-sleep samaana (the Equalizing breath) balances the inhalation and exhalation. The call it the equinox

  4. Udaana: The Ascending breath. This is the central channel; the shushumna. This is the upwards rising force. According to Ayurveda, it also moves outwards like speech.

  5. Vyaana: expansion in all directions radiating from the navel outward in all directions. Often considered as the nadis energy system similar to the meridians of Chinese Medicine.

What is the most essential quality?

The first story

The Trio Brahma vishnu mahesh cute picturesOnce upon a time all of the organs and functions of the body got into a debate about who was most essential. Many were praising the the way the skeletal system gave shape and standing to the body, or how the blood carried nutrients to maintain the body, others marveled the how the heart pumped blood and how the lung found it’s own way to pump air, then pranavayu came along and everyone silent, for they knew that without the warmth of prana and the movement of the vayus that all life would stop. The hearth would not beat, the blood would pool and go stagnant, and the breath stops; the body becomes cold and inert.    

The second story

Once upon a time, the Gods entered into a timeless argument over who was most powerful and essential for the functioning of life and this universe. Shiva happened to be moving about rather than sitting peacefully upon the peak of Mount Kailash. Something always seemed to be happening whenever Shiva was moving about. When Shiva came across this childish argument he sought to quell it by simply pointing out that none were as powerful as him and they should all just go home and forget this pettiness. Of course some of the big gods who were standing around took offense to this; namely Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver. To their protests, Shiva merely revealed his true form as a mystical shaft (lingam) of light and said, “see if you can find where I end.”

shiva1The two who remained standing there laughed at the challenge and quickly set off in opposite directions to find those loose ends, finish off the argument, and, for once, make Shiva look live the fool; because after all, everything has to come to an end. But after eons searching thru the vastness of Shiva’s light they finally decided to meet back in Kashi where it all began. When they got there, Vishnu immediately fell to his feet to offer his most respectful pranam to Shiva. But Brahma, who, despite his capacity for creation, has no eye for consequences, lied and said that he had found an end. It was just over the horizon not so far and it had only taken so long to return because he had decided to rest there for a while and fell asleep. 

Almost nothing enrages Shiva like arrogance and upon this insult all of his his most fearsome aspects rose to the surface and with an upsurge of impulse he chopped of one of Brahma’s five heads. The greatest crimes in India are those that go against pure knowledge and wisdom; they call this killing a Brahmin. Even the Gods are subject to karma so this fierce form of Shiva, whom they call Bhairava, took up the skull and walked the four corners of India for the next 12 years. This is the version of Shiva most emulated by modern Naga babas and Aghore: naked, fearsome to behold, covered in the ashes of the funeral pyre where he makes his bed. Every part of his external image brings fear and revulsion. But if we take the time to get to know a true aghore we will get to know and over come our own fears. For that’s the social role of the Aghore, to show us that this is the worst it can get; this is our greatest fear; but actually, it’s not so bad. 

Aghore
Aghore

After 12 years of wandering like this, Bharava returned to Kashi, and not far from the train station washed himself in a small pond. All of his impurities (malas) dropped away along with the skull which had been his companion for 12 years. He once again brought balance to the three gunas within himself, overcoming their excess and deficiencies freeing himself from the wheel of time and the cycle of cause and effect. In short, even the most fearsome evil was able to overcome the inner turmoil of self and social recrimination and realize himself as that same light of the universe that is in all things without distinction of good or bad or any of the other opposites.

Head Chopping in Hinduism

Ravan tapasya
Ravana offering his own head to Shiva.

In Kashi, whenever Shiva takes this fierce form and starts chopping off heads they call him Bhairava and have given him a rather bureaucratic job of welcoming and signing in all the pilgrims to give them access to the spiritual vision necessary “to cross the river that is so hard to cross.” You could say that he does this by metaphorically chopping off their heads. This head chopping metaphor is a relatively common one in Hinduism. Shiva chopped Ganesh’s head in Ujjain. They have built their own Bhairava temple there to commemorate the great event. Of course it was a little bloody and gruesome, but due to that Ganesha received blessings from all of the gods and was given guardianship over the directions. Kali is also famous for her necklace (mala) of heads. Ravana, the main antagonist of the Ramayana was given his great powers by Shiva when he cut off his own head in offering to Shiva. My teacher once told me that “only Ravana can cut off his own head and get away with it.” Due to his great power of penance his head grew back every time. Ravana was actually said to have ten heads due to the vastness of his knowledge and wisdom. All of this suggests that a jnana yogi needs to acquire, by penance and blessing, knowledge which faces in all ten directions.

kali maIn Jyotish we also have the story of Rahu and Ketu, the north and south nodes. This all happened in the very beginning when the gods and demons (the bureaucrats and bohemians) figured out that they had to work together to retrieve the elixir of immortality by churning the ocean of milk; pretty much all the divine being had to help in some way. In their greed to get the amrit, they didn’t think much about the side effects which was the creation of the physical universe and it’s cycles. Laxmi and Kamadenu came from this churning as did some great toxins that Shiva was able to swallow to save everyone. When the amrit arose and they were getting ready to pass it around a beautiful dancing girl appeared, seductive and scantily dressed. This was a ploy by the gods who knew the demons could be easily distracted by their senses. From the start, they never intended to share the amrit with the demons from. Swarbhanu was watching and saw all of this happening so he disguised himself as one of the gods and lined up with them for the amrit while the rest of the demons were being pushed to the back of the line. But just as Swarbhanu was taking a drink Sun and the Moon alerted Vishnu who swiftly cut off his head, but it was too late, the amrit had made it down his throat and both halves of him were immortal. The called the head Rahu and the body Ketu and gave them an abode in the starry heavens with the planets. The continue their vendetta against Sun and Moon whom they’ve never forgiven. At the time of the eclipse they get their chance to exact revenge thru various methods of disruption. Rahu brings intense desire while Ketu brings an almost equal intensity to his ambivalence. While Rahu brings our focus to the material world an ensures that the wheel of karma keeps turning; Ketu cuts us from our material ambitions allowing us to surrender to what is. 

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The Ground of Yoga: Why is yoga different from everything else we do?

What is the ground of Yoga? What is it that makes yoga unique and special setting it apart from all the other activities we perform on the course of the day or throughout our lives?

According to Patanjali, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

yoga cittavrtti nirodaha

Thru tradition we are advises to ground ourselves in our practice in a similar way.

Om shree ganesha namaha

Any kind of spiritual exercise begins with supplication to Ganesha, famous as the remover of obstacles, and our mind being the biggest obstacle to spiritual realization. The little rat (rodent) he uses as a vehicle is always chewing like the mind. You’ll also see his image or some symbol relating to him at the entrance ways of temples and some homes.

 

A fairly famous way of opening into a spiritual practice like yoga and meditation goes like this:

Om shree ganesha namaha

Om aparvitro pavitrova sharva vashtang

gato o piva yashmaret pundari

kaksham asavantra suchii

Om madhai namaha

Om keshai namaha

Om Rishikeshai namaha

Om pundari kakshan punatu x 3

Om apsarpantu te bhuta, ye bhuta bhuvi sanshitas

ye bhuta vignakartarste nashyantu

Shiva jnana

Om namaha shivaya

After supplicating Ganesha, it goes on to purify the body internally and externally thru supplication to Vishnu the great preserver and operator of the three gunas within the main trinity of gods at the level of Ishwara. After the purification rights (pundari kakshan punatu), we insist that ghosts, latent desires (apsar) and mental impressions of the past be banished from disturbing us from our practice. This will happen by reaching the level of Shiva knowledge (Shivajnana); universal consciousness. So from this we want to practice from a ground of Shiva consciousness.

As we continue our contemplation of the earth tattva, we have to remember that Shiva descended as far as earth and then stopped. He could have descended further, he can do as he likes, thus they say, he likes earth the best. Shiva descends to the most impure gross dense point of earth before making the ascension back thru the tattva.

In this regards, I think of all these people who ask about past lives and such things. If we consider the tattva of tantra, the individual soul exists below the maya tattva, so even our soul is subject to time and the rest, which allows for linear progression and thus past lives. Time, of course takes on a different dimension relative to the birth and death of that soul so when we think about past lives we need to consider that that soul too will make a complete cycle from purity to impurity to purity once again. Such a realization might be the Sankya ideal of kaivalaya for the duality is still there, but Tantra advises to press on beyond the knots, otherwise known as the universal womb, that separate us from from the supreme consciousness, which is the realization of the non-difference between the universal and the individual: moksha; liberation in this life. Patanjali’s yoga cittavrttinirodha is both the the definition of yoga and the means to stopping the fluctuations. We stop (nirodha) the fluctuations (vrtti) of the mind (chitta) by bringing them together in union (yoga). You could say that the project of yoga is to harmonize the mental fluctuations; the cittavrtti.

Going back to the original question of this article, what makes yoga unique. Yoga shares many similarities to creative projects like dance and the arts which also seek a kind of harmony between the artist and the mythical spirits which moves his hand to draw of feet to dance. But there is a subtle. Of course, one could make arguments for dancers at the highest levels reaching a kind of samadhi; but this says little stress, tension and competition that mark the a climb. The truth is that dance very typically has numerous undesirable side effects related to vata and pitta excess and diminished kapha. This is the exact opposite of what yoga is trying to do: cool, calm, lubricate and nourish the body and ultimately the universe. Harmony is something we seek on all levels, but only when we act for something far greater than ourselves or our limited sphere of perception to we strive for yogic perfection: balanced body, balanced mind, balanced spirit.

Sankya will take you to a firm notion of duality, while Vedanta will soften that sense of duality with the Brahman, but will maintain some sense of maya, while Buddhism is said to take you to the void, Tantra is said to carry us beyond the void to the very source of the arising, sustenance, falling away of every mental impression, experience, and the whole universe. I suppose you could say that dance will allow one to harmonize with some few others, Sankya will aid in harmonizing with most others, but only Tantra seeks harmony with the entire universe.

Freedom

I found predictive astrology while I was searching for freedom. As I came to better understand the limits to my freedom it just made sense that astrology would work. I was fortunate to have Sanjay close to give a demonstration and then, of course, to guide and teach me this fascinating science. There is nothing mystical about astrology except this view by even the most rational western scientists that it is indeed mystical. Science is observation and hypothesis for the purpose of prediction; astrology is no different. This is also how I came to astrology: I made a hypothesis that it should work, I tested this with Sanjay’s astrological knowledge, and now I am also capable of using astrological calculations myself for prediction – anyone who took the time to learn Astrology could too.

But astrology only shows how we are limited; it does not shoe us how be free. In regards to the tattva (the elements of existence), astrology represents the lower thirty one from kala to earth. This represents all of manifest existence within the realm of duality. In modern terms, this would include everything that is ruled by the natural laws of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and the rest. All this change and diversity we experience is a result of these natural laws.

According to materialist philosophy, this is all there is. And regarding most orthodox spiritual paths which take the tattva into account, this divisioin represents the separation of God and Man; spirit and matter.

Tantra takes us further. And truth be told, even the Upanishades take us deeper though it’s rarely discussed. Beyond the tattvas of material existence are the tattvas which connect us to divinity. But we should be clear that the lower tattva are not in any way disconnected from the divine. ALL OF THIS is the Brahman. “I am Shiva; I am all of this.” Nothing is really separate from the Brahmin. All of this matter, all of this activity that we carry out is all the activity of Brahmin.

The duality is not a true duality, but only apparent duality. It seems to be that way because the limited body provides a limited perspective, but if we take the time we can learn to view the world in a more expansive, holistic, inclusive way. (It might be more correct to say that we can unlearn this world of division that we have become so accustomed to).

What does Tantra teach?

I often refer to Tantra as the Science of Freedom. This is not a hedonistic sort of freedom as practiced by the neo-tantrics (India has it’s own version of materialistic hedonism called Charvak). The freedom we can gain thru Tantra is directly related to the level of personal responsibility we are prepared to take.

The only value that is really taught in Tantra is a deep love and respect for material existence. If we consider that everything arises from within, this becomes a quest for self love; the world is merely a reflection of what we have inside.

That we are Shiva and this world is merely Shiva’s play is a fairly famous concept. But this universal Shiva nature that is dancing creation, maintenance, and destruction is not dancing in this world but upon the stage of our inner selves. It’s not others who are watching the play but our own senses who are the spectators. This is clearly stated in the Siva Sutras.

Why is Tantra the science of freedom? Because it empowers us to take command of our lives and follow what is in our hearts rather than merely reacting to what the world throws at us. We can either be bound by material existence, or we can be set free by it. This may be the only real choice we ever face. Every moment the choice must be made again. Are we free humans capable of directing our own fate, or are we bound pashus (no different from a draft animal yoked to the plough)?

To be empowered thru Tantra does not make one the slave master profiting from the ignorance of others. Love is never greedy and selfish; love is giving and accepting. If Tantra could be measured, we would be advised to look at how much one is capable of giving rather than the modern measure of success which is accumulation.

As we begin to discover some kind of spiritual truth, the only fitting response is worship of that great Lord from whose body the entire universe arises, is sustained and then falls away. Only by grace will our own Shiva nature will be revealed.

So, we can be bound like a draft animal or we can be lord of the universe. If we wish to be lord of the universe we only have to give up the farm; give up everything we have in this life to worship and we will achieve the whole world.

Shiva is free; just as we are free. There is no bargain going on. Shiva is not bound by any agreement; Shiva is not bound by anything. This means that there is no one thing that can be done to coerce his grace to fall upon us. Shiva reveals and conceals out of freedom of the will. He needs no reason to reveal and he needs no reason to conceal.

This is the great play of Lord Shiva.

Om namah shivaya

 

Tantra Series: Part I: What is Tantra?

 

For most of the past 10 years I’ve been searching for an answer to the question: What is Tantra?

How does one write about a secret without spoiling the whole thing? It’s nothing! It’s everything! It’s the yin of the yang. It’s the inner reality beyond the five senses. Tanta is intuitive and emotional. The heart is an infamous symbol of Tantra. Tantra is the mystery of a mystery.

To say someone knows Tantra suggests only that they know a mystery; and how much can anyone know a mystery? Tantra is the secret of a secret: ones own hidden knowledge and hidden potential, which, once released to the light and shared with others looses some of it’s power and potency. Everything about Tantra is subtle. Tantra is often portrayed as a dark goddess who can be the epitome of a woman scorned. Tantra teaches us that all of our relationships are about give and take; nothing comes for free. If we want something from Tantra then we will surely have to give something up. If we do not give appropriate gift, Tantra will make us pay in her own way. Everything can be seen in this light of relationships and it’s that power of our relationships with things that Tantra seeks to harness. Things in themselves have no power and it’s the strength of our relationship with things that allows us to harness their power. This is why Osho can say that the measure of our spiritual progress can be seen in the quality of our relationships.

Tantra is about getting what we want. This is one of the very difficult prerequisites for Tantra; we have to know what we want. To know what we want we have to also know who we are. As long as there is any confusion about these things, then there is very good chance that we will eventually meet a wrathful, vengeful Tantra. She has many names: Tara, Kubjika, Kali, Tripura Sundari; in the west she would be some aspect or other of Mather nature. She has a face for every person, but no matter how nice she comes to you, she’s always incredibly dangerous and can turn on a person for the slightest infraction.

Admittedly, this danger is the attraction; the risk is the romance. People who are stable and content in life have no attraction to Tantra, because Tantra is change and volatility. This is why she stays underground, in the shadows and depths of the heart. Tantra is about transformation. We have to die before we can be reborn. Tantra is a death cult, a secret society that turns everything on it’s head; countering even intuition.

When we talk about Tantra, western people think of sex and the chakras, while people from the east think of black magic. Tantra is all of this. Purity is internalized to overcome physical impurity. All is one but we see it and understand it as two; a world of multiplicity. Fear and taboo become some of the most powerful tools of Tantra. Sex and fear becomes means of transformation and catalysts of higher knowledge.

Like the great Ravana, we must cut off our own heads and offer it to the gods in order to understand Tantra. Tantra is part of the mystic traditions; it’s broad and mysterious, operating at an energetic level, permeating all things. Some say that Tantra deals with how we use things; it’s that relationship between us and things. Tantra is about Devi worship; worship of the divine feminine, Mother Nature in all her aspects. Desire to gain power or overcome fear are perhaps the most popular paths of Tantra.

Tantra is dangerous for too many reasons. All of which can be summed up as ignorance. The primary ignorance is that we do not know who we really are. As long as a person thinks they are an individual, then Tantra cannot be effectively learned or practiced. As long as we think we are separate and free we will remain forever bound. As soon as we relinquish our freedom to Devi, then we become truly free.

In many way’s Tantra looks at the world in a very pragmatic way in which everything is merely an instrument for us to fulfill our desires and our life’s path. However, this is speaking from a universal perspective rather than a subjective perspective for we too are an instrument of divine order. As many advaitans will point out, there is only we in this universe, there is no ‘I’ or ‘you.’ Those who do not understand this spread terror around the world in the name of their faiths. From a mystic perspective, duality is the original sin; division is the world of demons while everything that supports union is of the heavens. Truth, of course is one. Ultimately, God is one, though there are many names; but nature too is singular, though there be many names and many objects. The universe and the purpose is singular, everything is dependent on everything. The whole world exists and comes into being thru the mystic energy of our own hearts; there is no division.

Tantric and Astrological means to Self-Relaization

Part 7: How do we prevail?

Aath pinde, tat brahmade

[As the world is inside, so it is outside.]”

(Manduka Upanishad)

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Self knowledge, the equal of universal knowledge in most of India, is one of the most prized areas of knowledge. Various sciences and systems have been created just for this purpose. One of the oldest branches of knowledge in India is called Samkya. This is a dualist and materialistic branch of knowledge that sought to map out and categorize the various elements of existence that allow us to have this human experience. After some time, many of the philosophers and rishis began to understand that there was more to life than meets the eye. The material designations of Sankya are fine they said, but something was clearly missing since all this matter is inert, insentient and incapable of the complexity that we see in life. So, the rishis and philosopher looked deeper and eventually expanded the categories of tattvas to include several higher elements that connect us to a divine well-spring of power that infuses matter with sentience.

So, anyone wishing to follow the philosophical schools of India should have some cursory knowledge of the tattwas as outlined by Sankya as well as the more subtle tattwas as outlined in Tantra. In this section I wish to share some of the notes I have made regarding the tattwas. I cannot claim this as original work, but since it’s an area of study that I find myself continuously coming back to, I’ve come to believe that a basis in this knowledge is necessary for the more intellectually minded self seeker.

The Bhagavad Gita has said that there are four kinds of people who worship god: 1. the distressed, 2. seekers of knowledge, 3. seekers of wealth, 4. people of knowledge. In his summary of Chapter 7 of the Gita, Abhinavagupta wrote that, “Pure devotion is the wish fulfilling tree by means of which one may fulfill hopes proper to be desired by the sadhaka.” (p186) And elsewhere it has been said that knowledge is better than practice, meditation is better than knowledge, but renunciation of the fruits of action is better than meditation.

Spiritual inclination is grace! Spiritual effort is grace!

Part 8:

Tantric Upayas: Mean of Liberation

Whatever act I may have performed without knowing its good or bad consequences or knowing the proper order of its performances; whatever act I may have performed without concentration or with any other lapse of my intellect; all of that, O Shambhu, you who are compassionate, forgive me, your miserable and ignorant devotee. Through this strota I surrender myself to you and let me never again become the abode of misery for no good reason.” (Abhinavagupta p264)

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So with all of this in mind we can then then use these clues about our true nature to help lend us the faith and knowledge that we all need to begin or continue our spiritual practice. In tantra the means to self-recognition are said to be four-fold; these can be understood as both different stages of practice, as well as different means that can be used in different circumstances. The point of any Tantric sadhana is to efface the ego while cultivating a sense of universal love and oneness with those (and that which is) around you.

Ultimately we all have to accept that this comes only by grace, but a touch of that grace seem to already apply to those whose aim in life is spiritual. In any case these are the four means of liberation.

  1. Shambhav-upaaya: Philosophical and mental means of liberation. Iccha-shakti; method of will. Theory of reflection. A kind of direct perception or pure understanding that form is merely a reflection of the Supreme. There is no method here other than being established in your own will; seated in the self; seated in the heart or however you want to put it. Matrkachakra: this is the awareness of pure thought without constructs; in other words sound. Pratyahara: this is spontaneous absorption which comes only by grace. When one is established in the self what need to be done. Abhinavagupta described pratyahara as, “When, like a turtle which withdraws its limbs on all sides, the yogi withdraws his senses from the sense objects, then his wisdom becomes steady.” (Gita 2/58) We expect our saints to be living at this level of awareness. Accords with the dream sleep when the mind dwells in the throat.
  2. Shakt-upaaya: Contemplative concentration of void. (ex. Gap between two thoughts) Jnana-shakti. Uninterrupted awareness. Discovery of reality of void thru subtle means of conscious awareness. Practices that involve the mind and various higher levels of consciousness. Spiritual teachers are perhaps expected to be practising here. Accords with the dreamless sleeping state when the mind dwells in the heart.
  1. Anava-upaaya: Depends on breathing (uccaara), sense organs (karana), and mental concentration (dhyana). Concentrate on space between inhale and exhale. One pointed concentration with any sense organ (ex. Trataka). Dyana without form like mantra. Dyana with form like yantra. Devote yourself to God thru puja, japa, homa, study of the scriptures. All the practices that make use of the organs of sense and action. This of course is where most of us are trying to practice and learn. Accords with the waking state when your mind dwells in the navel.
  1. An-upaaya: No method. Only remain aware that nothing has to be done. Abide in one’s own self. Surrender your actions to God. This is the back up plan. This is perhaps the practice of the average person. Accords with the 4th state when the mind dwells in the head.

All of the methods we use for self-recognition and self-improvement will fit into one of these categories. For most of us we can only apply an-upaaya. We’re busy completing our karma, we’re engrossed in what we’re doing and that’s ok. We just have to remember that nothing truly needs to be done; we just have to be. For many people, this isn’t enough, we want to go deeper and try to understand and perhaps perceive the subtler aspects that are indeed ensuring that everything will be ok in the end (or it won’t and that’s ok too). We want to apply some upaaya, some means for greater self awareness; we want to apply ourselves and improve our organs of sense and action (anava-upaaya); we want to use study scripture, practice various forms of meditation and yoga that can help get us or keep us in touch with some divine that we all sense is a part of our lives. We generally feel pretty good about ourselves doing all of this until someone reminds us that nothing really needs to be done. At which point we stop doing so much and sit and do it all in our minds: conscious awareness; subtle awareness; shakt-upaaya. We have to do something so we continue, but we try to keep in mind that the doing doesn’t really matter so much; it’s not really part of the job profile of the individual self the individual soul that is still a part of the universal self that we’re all trying to get in touch with has made many of those decisions (after all, astrology clearly teaches us that the universal self is taking care of most of the doing down here on earth). The individual self can, however, move it’s awareness around and put it where ever it likes. (The oldest texts on yoga talk about entering other bodies.) Some say we are to put our awareness on prayer, others say to look for pleasure and satisfaction in life, a few other dare to claim we should focus on combining the two. All would perhaps agree that we should first have some idea who we really are. In the end, grace is our only hope. By grace some people become seated in themselves and there is nothing more to be done (shambhav-upaya). When we withdraw our senses from the objects of sense we experience the pure taste of whatever flavour we have inside of us; we get that pure flavour we crave on account of the wheels of energies that are operating inside of us.

The withdrawal of the vital channels (pranayama), the conquest of the elements (dharana), freedom from the elements (pratyahara) and the separation of the elements (Svachinanda).

(Shiva Sutra 3/5)

…he who constantly tries to discern the spanda (vibration) principle rapidly attains his own true state of being….” (Stanzas)

Vijnanabhairava it the classical text outlining 112 methods of Tantric and Yogic methods of union or self-realization. Some suttras give very specific instruction, others leave the door wide open for you to follow what comes natural to you: a word, an object, a thought, anything at all; fix your mind on it and don’t let it waver. “The expansion of consciousness that takes place when one is engaged in a single thought should be known as the source from whence another arises. One should experience that for oneself.” (Stanzas 41) Or find that point between two breaths, two thoughts, or two actions and try to rest your mind there. Meditate on being both the perceiver and perceived (the subject and the object). Then establish a state of awareness of that which links the two. Become fully aware of the state of perceiving, free from both subject and object. Abhinavagupta has described it as a bird swooping down upon it’s prey. That moment moves fast and we must be swift.

Much of the Vijnanabhairava teaches a kind of concentration or focus, when we can take this power of focus and put it where we like, then we can do what we want. Of course we also have to have he self knowledge to know if we have the various abilities of mind sense and action to get that thing. This is why yoga seems to focus so heavily on health, exercise, learning and study; because if we’re strong healthy, flexible and knowledgeable we will be able to access and heighten all of our natural abilities. If we have looked at and studied the self merely by observing the various faculties of the self we will be more comfortable in our bodies, our minds, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This comfort allows us to take our awareness away from the body, mind and circumstances and focus instead on those higher aspects of ourself that reach throughout the cosmos rather than remaining trapped in our tiny worlds of suffering and woes. Contemplate each tattva respectively and disattach from it: from least pervasive to most pervasive; from the elements, up thru the senses, mind, intellect, maya and consciousness itself. (See chapter on tattva’s.)

Anything that brings us closer to recognizing and realizing that we are that universe can be considered a means to liberation. Many of the Indian sciences have their own upayas depending on which parts of us we are focused on healing and getting into touch with. But every upaya also affects the whole. So if you’re following Ayurvedic diet to heal your body, that healing is also bringing more awareness of your soul. But of course everything must be followed in balance or you get some excess or deficiency.

In regards to healing, we can often look at to the activity of the senses to see if what is happening on the inside is the same as what is happening on the outside. Food, acupuncture, the clothes and ornaments we wear, the the people we associate with and the activities we perform can all be used to heal. It’s all a kind of worship and ritual. Swami Laxmanjoo made a point when he said that worldly life is pragmatic, worship should be appreciated as theater: art for arts sake. In the Stanzas on Vibration it says: “Constantly attentive and perceiving the entire universe as play, he who has this awareness is undoubtedly liberated in this very life.” With equal gusto it has been advised to ignore the cycle of birth and death; the cycle of life is higher, only it is eternal. If we live for an eternity there is always time and reason for healing and self recognition. It’s cautioned, however, that while participating in sense enjoyment, we are to be enjoying the bliss of self, not the pleasure of the sense object.

The subject is said to be the lord when, in the midst of phenomena, (he experiences them) as his own body. (But he is) a fettered soul when, sullied by karma etc., (he experiences) conflicts (klesha) in the midst of diversity generated by maya.

(Ishvarapratyabhijna)

Part 9:

Jyotish Astrology Upayas

the City of Eight consists of the inner mental organ along with the senses of knowledge and action. Others say that it is [also] made up of the five breaths, the five subtle elements, desire, karma and ignorance.” (Tattvaprakasha)

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Jyotish astrology, as the science of light, also seeks to engage the subtler perspectives and provide upayas for self recognition. Astrology acts as the mirror of the individual self and suggest remedial measures for helping you to realize your connection with the universal self. For anyone with any experience with Jyotish astrology, we often find that our limits in the material world are much greater that we at first suspected. The extent of our fettered is almost unimaginable, but still we get this wonderful experience of free will. So how do we explain this contradiction between our experience and the knowledge.

Astrology is of course an ocean of a science, and the astrologer merely a pearl diver. The ocean is vast, and the diver is just one small simple man. The client has his or her chart (the ocean) and the astrologer also has his own chart, which is but a wet-suit compared to the ocean. If both charts are favorable, the client will receive a good reading and go away happy and receive the fruits he or she expects to receive. Perhaps the person will even get a glimmer of the divine forces to which are inseparably linked. If, however, just one chart is not favorable, many things can easily go awry. The astrologer can have a bad day and miss something, or the data might not be quite right, or the client might not understand correctly. In any case, it’s always our own fate, we cannot blame others for our misery.

Traditional healers generally maintain that they do not actually perform any healing. The client comes (we always hope) with that healing already inside of them. The healers job is merely to point them in the direction of healing. The healer is just an instrument of healing. This is why such a variety of scientific and non-scientific methods all work to heal; because it’s not the method which is providing healing, but the patients own life force. Astrologers need to impress upon people that what they generally decoding for them is what they have inside of themselves; and not necessarily some outside force. There are no upayas that can bring you anything you don’t already have inside, all they can do is help you to reach the highest and best potential of what you already have.

From an astrological perspective, what is outside of us and outside of us are merely reflected versions of each other that are constantly acting and interacting together. We get a combined effect of the reactions that are produced. We often say that an astrology chart is like a pathology report. The astrologer is like the doctor who interprets that report. The client doesn’t really need to know the details of the report, what the client needs is the remedial measures.

In truth, most people know themselves fairly well. They don’t really need an astrologer to tell them about themselves, what they need are ways which will help them understand the interconnectedness of everything. Giving specific selfless service is said to be one of the best ways of overcoming or understanding our suffering. When we serve those who share our suffering or represent our fears then we dissipate that negative quality; life become just a little bit lighter.

Meditation and any spiritual practice in general can been good, but even these things can be fine tuned with astrology. Of course gemstones are easiest for most people with a few extra dollars, but without grace, I can’t imagine the effect to be as strong as with some practice which can include service and ritual, but also tapas, worship, mantra, the study of scriptures and other such engaging practices.

What is important to remember is that “Identification with the City of Eight is bondage.” This may come as a surprise to many people who have been taught to identify with their own inner soul, rather than with their body, but these lessons of the City of Eight suggest that even the deepest essence of our individual soul is binding, as of course it must be, since freedom is not an individual experience but rather a universal one.

Part 10: The Goal

Meheshwar

Somewhere within all of this is supposed to be some goal. We want something for all of this work performed. What exactly we want is not easy to describe. Many words get used such as enlightenment, self-recognition, self-empowerment, freedom, liberation. Many other describe as self-improvement or self-betterment. We are not, after all, merely doing this for our health. So what should we expect? The truth is that we should not expect anything. Of course everything is always changing so there will be change, but fundamentally nothing will change. You will still have the same fate and karmas to perform. As Krishna said in the Gita: “we cannot avoid action, not even thru non-action.”

What changes is our awareness? By gaining deeper more focused awareness we are able to recognize how we are ourselves the universe. This is self-recognition. We come to recognize the eternal subject which is ourselves, as well as the relationships of that subject with the various objects of the world beginning without own body. We are not this limited individual self, we are the universal self in part and in whole.

Some beliefs bring people to an emptiness once the individual self has been over come, Tantra promises a fullness like a pot boiling over. The fullness is the dynamic interplay between subject and object, the movement and change of the world. To be aware of this is said to be freedom. The practice of yoga is the practice of being aware of all those things that connect us with ourselves and the other (which is who all the gods essentially represent) We should be aware of consciousness, breath, energy levels, rituals, mantra and worship. Expanded awareness is the only goal and these are the tools (our body and this world) This is the same awareness which shows us that there really is no distinction between fate and free will.

This is a big concern for many people who feel as though they are being led thru life like a draft animal. Many people who hear about astrology feel like this whole concept of astrology somehow interferes with their free will. Most people is this world are very attached to the ignorance they call free will. This common idea that we are the body and thru the body we can do what we like thru free will is a very narrow and ignorant perception of freedom and will. If we start to recognize that we are all of this, only then will we recognize the place from where that freedom and will arise.

We recognize our free will when we are aware of that all of this is emanating from the free will of that Shiva which is inside of us; that which which is us. Freedom is exercised on the levels between Shiva and maya, not on the level of our minds, bodies and senses. These things are merely the tools for exercising that freedom. Of course once a choice is made, we have to live by the karma of that choice. As soon as an individual soul takes a body, the time and place of that activity becomes crucial for the rest of ones life. This is of course the time and place of our birth and first breath, and whatever karma is given to us at that precious moment will determine the extent of the work to be do in this life. The trick is to recognize all of this and maintain that awareness that we are Shiva, we are the chooser, and have chosen to experience all of this. What is inside is outside so we have as much power inside of ourselves to affect events in our lives and this world as the Sun and the Moon have to affect the life cycles of this universe. It’s a fully reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the world. The more we recognize this, the more harmony comes into our lives and the world. The truth to life and freedom are vast; they range far beyond the mundane details of life. We can be sure, however, that everyone will play their role and each of us will get that taste we most crave; the quality of that flavour will be up to us.

36 Tattvas: Elements of Existence

…. Then he unfolds Himself in the totality of manifestations viz., principles (tattvas), worlds (bhuvanas), entities (bhaavas) and their respective experients that are only a solidified form of Cit-rasa [the juice universal consciousness].” (Pratyabhijnaahrdayam: The Secret of Self Recognition. Trans. Jaideva Singh. Sutra 4)

Macrocosmos & Metaphysical Existence

Shiva Tattvas (Shaktyanda; sphere of shakti functioning in its pure form of citshakti or mahamaya)

  1. Shiva1 – 2. Shakti2

3. Sadashiva

4. Ishvara

5. Sadavidya

Iccha (initial stirring of the will) – Kriya (spontaneous action as opposed to karmic action which seeks to fulfill desires) – Jnana (knowledge)

Vidya Tattvas: these are the tattwas which bind us to our bodily existence

6. Maya3: Five Kanchukas:

7. Kalaa (limits power)

8. Vidya (limits knowledge)

9. Raga (limits fullness)

10. Kaala (experience of time/change)

11. Niyati (experience of cause and effect)

The jiva is limiting himself thru maya and the five kanchukas. The Malas are due to the kanchukas and the two types of ajnana: 1: Paurusa ajnana: innate ignorance regarding the self. 2. Bauddha ajnana: ignorance of buddhi.

One considers the subtle and gross body as the self on account of asuddha vikalpas (ideation, thought constructs, irrational psychological thought). Replacing ajnana with jnana is one of the main goals of kashmiri shaivism and philosophical spiritual practice in general.

Atma Tattvas

Microcosmos – Physical Existence

  1. Purusha (iccha, individual soul, subject) – 13. Prakriti4 (kriya, creatrix, object)

The three Gunas (Sattvic, Tamas, Rajas) are the qualities belonging to prakriti. Possessing gunas is a property of being the object of experience which depends on an experiencer.

Instruments of cognition (Jnana):

Chitta

14. Budhi5 – Intelligence (Mercury)

15. Ahamkara – Ego/ I-sense (Sun)

16. Manas6 – Mind (Moon)

17 -21. Jnana Indriyas:

  1. Sense of smell (Mercury)
  2. Sense of taste (Venus)
  3. Sense of seeing (Sun & Moon)
  4. Sense of feeling/touching (Saturn)
  5. Sense of hearing (Jupiter)

22- 26. 5 Karma Indriyas:

  1. Power of speech (vak)
  2. Power to grasp objects (pani)
  3. Locomotion (pada)
  4. Excretion (payu)
  5. Power of procreation

Tamas:

27 – 31. 5 Tanmatras:

  1. Sound
  2. Touch
  3. Form
  4. Taste
  5. Odour

32 -36. 5 Tattvas:

  1. Fire (agni, tejas) – Sun, Mars
  2. Earth (prthvi) – Mercury
  3. Air (vayu) – Saturn
  4. Water (apas, jala, rasa) – Venus, Moon
  5. Ether (akasha) – Jupiter

Footnotes:

1 Five functions Performed by Shiva: 1. Nigraha or vilaya (act of self limitation/contraction), 2. Srsti (act of self manifestation of the world), 3. Sthiti (preservation of the world), 4. Samhara (absorption/withdrawl of worldly manifestation), 5. Anugraha (revelation or dispensation of grace)

2Shakti’s 5 modes of expression: 1. cit-shakti: conscious force, 2. Ananda-shakti: power as bliss, 3. Iccha-shakti: power as will, 4. Jnana-shakti: power as knowedge. 5. Kriya-shakti: spontanious action as power

Three kinds of defilements: 1. Aanava Mala (mula mala): self-contraction occuring at the first moment of manifestation of the universe. “The impurity of individuality.”(Aphorisms p15) Our true power becomes “obscured by the notions of existence and non-existence…”(Aphorisms p15) Begins once he descend to sadashiva level. Two kinds: a) veils knowledge of divine awareness, but freedom of action remains intact (Parlayaakalas & sakalas who exist below Prakriti) b) leaves knowledge of divine awareness, but veils ability to act freely (those staying above maya tattva). 2. Maayiiyamala: maayaa and the 5 kanchukas. Makes oblivious to real nature. Robs all sign of divinity. Veils only those below Prakriti. 3. Karma mala: Provides us with physical body. Collective residual impressions from past lives. Once karma mala defiles the monade, embodies individuals are created, known as sakalas. *the imprint made in the mind due to action which is motivated out of attachment.

4Prakriti provides Purusha with everything he needs for enjoyment. The physical body, karmendriyas, jnanaindriyas. The three gunas constitute prakriti: Kapha, vatta, pitta. Three modes of activity of shakti are: iccha (rajas), jnana (sattva), kriya (tamas).

5Buddhi is the abode of microcosmic Pranashakti. From here it flows thru the different parts of the body via the nadis. Contracted power of Jnana shakti. Sattvic. Locus of every experience. Five kinds of Pranavayu: 1. Prana (air: moves upward. Receptive: sense organs) 2. Aapana: (Earth: moves downward. Elimination.) 3. Udaana: (outwards. Speech, sound, limbs of the body), 4. Vyaana: (expansion in all directions), 5. Samaana: (Inwards. Anything that spins towards a centre point (ex. Meditation)).

6Manas: Ahamkara is the material cause. Instrument of rationality. Supervises/controls karmindriya and Jnanindriyas.

Putting the Mind on the Self

How does one satisfy all desire by putting the mind on the self?

If we know the self, then we know our desires and our potential; we know what we want and what we can get. It often seems, however, that we don’t know ourselves. This is why we practice meditation and yoga and travel and contemplation and even foolishness; so that we can come to know the self. This is also why many people come to me to have their astrology chart read for them. But something that becomes clearer and clearer to me is that people do know themselves. Pretty much everyone I talk to has self-knowledge. People know their hopes and desires, their skills and abilities much better than I’ll ever know from looking at their chart. If people start disagreeing with everything I get from the chart, I have to assume the chart is incorrect or I am incorrect. It would be madness for me to say that the chart is correct and they merely don’t know themselves. Their own self-knowledge is confirmation of the chart and not the other way around.

Knowing our true selves, it should be easy to put our awareness there and forget about everything else going on. When we do this, we align our abilities with our desires so that what we hope for matches closely to what we receive. This is how we use self-knowledge to achieve satisfaction in life. You could say that once we have knowledge of our true selves we don’t have to worry about anything anymore. We know the program so why worry about the details. The details, of course, being the karma; the daily grind of making effort to achieve results. If we accept karma, not just our own karma, but the concept of karma and its effectiveness of giving results, then it becomes really easy to put our minds in places other than where our next meal will come from, or how we will get educated.

Our physical existence runs on a kind of automatic pilot thru our karma. We use the moment of our birth as the first action, which leads to the next and the next and so on. From our limited perspective, this first action appears to be beyond our control and without our consent. And from that moment onward our lives generally feel split between being the active subject choosing our fate and being a passive object being swept away by the currents of fate and time. In one sense our path is absolutely determined, but in a more immediate sense, we continually affirm our path through our free choice. So what’s going here?

I’m beginning to believe that our material existence is more or less fixed at the moment of birth. Our health, our wealth, our aptitude, our studies, generally everything the typical person associates with their “self” is pretty much fixed. This is the stuff most of us spend our time worrying about. Some will complain that we have to put effort into things or nothing will get done; such worries are the hallmark of modern ambition and are necessary to advance as individuals as well as a society. Or it could be that the effort is also fixed.

Cause will follow effect, which will be the cause for further effect. But when we focus on the cause and effect nothing seems fixed. The very nature of cause and effect is change, but the whole process is fixed. According to Vedanta, whatever is unchanging is truth or true-self according to Tantra. The true self does not change

If we take the example of chair, we find that many things about a chair can change and it will still be a chair. The number of legs can change, the colour, and many things about the design can change. Even some of the firmer qualities can change such as the amount of weight the chair can bear and whether you can move it or not. But at some point there are certain things that are common to all chairs; certain qualities that make a chair a chair. This essence of chairness can be summed up as a thing made for sitting up off the floor. Humans are no different from chairs. We come in all shapes and sizes and abilities but there are certain qualities we all share that make us all human.

On a deeper level we can even say that there are certain qualities that we share with chairs that that are also the same so that we can say things are things. For everything to be there must be some base upon which ‘beingness’ rests that is the same for all beings; both chairs and humans.

It’s this foundation of ‘being’ that we seek through meditation or contemplation or awareness or yoga or whatever your practice might be. Finding the sameness of humans will surely help you to be a better human (a more aware human) in society, while finding the sameness in all beings will surely help you to be a better being on this planet.

So, as I read a birth chart, I see the individual moving thru his or her dasha periods, changing and evolving as they progress as an individual. I also take note of the transiting planets and the changing and evolving world that we have as a ground for action. Both ourselves and the world we live in are being swept away by time and karma. I think often of the scene in the Gita where Krishna shows his true self to Arjuna, the whole of the world rushing to its destruction, being swallowed unflinchingly by the great movement of time (MahaKaala, a god whose important shrine sits outside of Ujjain in the west of India). If I focus only on this change I loose the true individual sitting in front of me. The change is only happening to the object, the mind and body in front of me. My own body and my own fortune too are constantly in motion. If I focus on these things I will only see the object measured in relation to my own bodily object. In this condition we are no more than beasts of burden with the strongest among us doing the least work while the weakest toil.

Life will carry on of it’s own accord. Our functional minds will also complete their tasks over time. Much of this is set for us, but if we begin to search our own minds probing the various layers, we find a layer that is quiet like a placid lake. It’s from this lake that thoughts emerge like trout leaping out of the water; some of which are caught by our lower minds and sustained in thought, from which point we may use this fish to give us the power of action; or we could just put the fish back in the water and leave it disappear into the depths.

The placid lake is our deeper self, our true self, the unchanging consciousness from which all change emerge. This is where we are advised to put our minds. From the silence we can witness the change while keeping our inner consciousness focused on the silence of the true self.

I can see this too in an astrology chart, the layers of our being that don’t change. Just as change occurs on various the individual that persists in the body, the things that make us all human and of course that space in which everything takes place; that space from which everything arises. When we focus on these things our expectations tend to match with the results and we find satisfaction. We experience the peace because we have found the place of peace within ourselves and put our minds there. Otherwise we only experience the change: the suffering of the Buddhist aspirant and the binds of the Tantric that keep us from freedom.