Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Tantra

There's another way to facilitate non-attachment.

Through acceptance.

Through a conscious acceptance -- rather than the sanyassin's rejection -- one begins to demystify and thus weaken the influence of things once thought foreign, dangerous, and dark.

Like Harry Potter repeating the dreaded name of Lord Voldemort when nobody else will, the conscious acceptance and examination of those things that have influence over us is the first step towards gaining control.

To be sure, it's not a rigid control I'm thinking of. It's not control through confrontation, by directly pushing against those forces pushing against you. On the contrary, it's like judo -- using your opponent's momentum to your advantage. To be successful, you must bring your opponent close.

It's scary in the beginning.

For me, the process began with my reawakening. I had been out of the Center for about seven years, when out of the blue a psychic presence reappeared in my daily consciousness. It was the very same inner flame that had sustained me through much of my time as Guru's disciple.

By that time, though, things had changed.

I was no longer a celibate renunciate. I was a husband and father. I had spent four years in the Navy and, naturally, cursed and drank like a sailor. I was in graduate school and planning a career. It was all counter to what I had thought were the necessary prerequisites to the maintenance of a psychic awakening.

What was I to do?

I wasn't going to renounce my family and run back to the Center. I wasn't going to quit school ("I love college!"), shun alcohol, and suggest to my wife that we live "as brother and sister." And in any case, the fact that I had thoroughly embraced the world didn't seem to matter to the new psychic movement that had awakened within me.

Instead, I was faced with the task of trying to weave the two together -- my reborn spiritual life with my outer life.

As a practical matter, it seemed strange. During my time in the Center, I was in the practice of resisting inharmonious impulses by mentally pushing them into Guru. When a random or disagreeable thought caught my attention, I'd empty it into Guru with a sense of gratitude. I'd do this to his picture on my shrine, to him personally when I was in his presence, or into my psychic sense of him during the day.

I was always resisting such forces and emptying myself into Guru.

With my reawakening, however, I began to do the opposite. I began to accept. As I walked to school each morning doing my walking meditation, I mentally embraced or to be more precise, with an almost Pacific-like sense of broadness I embraced every movement within me (good and bad).

What I had once, in years past, emptied into Guru, I now absorbed myself (albeit into a much broader sense of my self).

It wasn't, of course, just during my walk to school that I employed this broad mode of acceptance (rather than resistance and rejection). I accepted all that I experienced. When I'd lose my temper at home and blow a gasket, I accepted the experience and somewhere I quietly registered the observation that "this is being mad."

After leaving a party, I'd note to myself: "this is being drunk." During sex, I'd notice -- in just a second of almost clinical remove -- "this is having sex." Through it all -- surprisingly to me at first -- the psychic flame that had rekindled within me continued to grow, undisturbed by any action I took.

Apparently, there was not necessarily a causal link between my physical, emotional, and mental actions and my further psychic development. This both shocked me at the time and opened up new vistas.

Old distinctions I had once held between "inner" and "outer" or "spiritual" and "worldly" began to disappear. For the first time, a non-dualistic sense of the Divine -- i.e., the concept that all is Brahman (not just the good stuff) -- began to feel like a living reality and not just some philosophical idea.

I had discovered the Tantra.

Arguably the most controversial subject in the modern practice of yoga, Tantra is the art of conscious acceptance.

In practice, it's the opposite of sanyassa or rejection, but its practitioners are at risk of suffering from the same mistake -- mistaking the means for the end. The difference, however, is that while the renunciate revels in his rejection of the world the tantrika indulges himself. As the much quoted Georg Feuerstein puts it, "Their main error is to confuse tantric bliss ... with ordinary orgasmic pleasure."

Like his sanyassin cousin, the tantrika is prone to buying into that system's self-reinforcing myth. For the sanyassin, the self-serving myth is that sex is inherently bad. That by having sex, one falls; one is stained forever. For the tantrika, the myth is that sex is inherently good, that it's "mystical." Thus, for the practitioner of what many derisively call "pop-tantra" or "California tantra" the sex drive must not just be accepted, but must be given free reign.

The word "tantra," however, simply means "to weave" and it's this core principle that's important. To accept and to weave into the fabric of one's day-to-day consciousness all aspects of existence -- the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the divine and the undivine.

In doing so -- in accepting rather than rejecting -- such distinctions begin to lose their meaning.

(Wikipedia provides a good overview of tantra here. See also its entry for "Neotantra." For a list of books on the subject of Tantra, see the Vedanta Society's site here.)

What a photo of a young Anandamayi Ma above. Do take the time to visit the wonderful collection of photos at this site.


Niklas said...

This reminds me so much of what we do in the Diamond Heart Approach. The main teaching is to not reject any state that is arising but rather develop a loving curiosity about it and consciously hang with it however long it remains. It's amazing how powerful hanging with "negative" feelings can be, not trying to manipulate them to go away.

Maryanna said...

Thank you so much for the link to the beautiful photos and thank you for your great blog. I check it often and enjoy it very much.

Y. said...

You're very welcome, Maryanna! And thank you very much for the nice words!

Eduardo said...

I've been devouring this blog for a week now, I can't stop. Thanks Yogaloy, this is true bliss to me and it has helped me to cope with the sense of loss I developed shortly after leaving the Centre. Though my stay was only 2 years long, I felt intensely sad and empty and guilty for leaving the Path, but something inside me told me to do it, to leave the nest, to stand in my own two feet and to seek my inner happiness and salvation in my own terms.

I've been holding on commenting after some of your posts because I wanted to keep reading and absorbing them first, but this one resonated so hard with me I couldn't help it anymore and had to make a pit stop.

After I dropped from the Centre in Auckland and shortly moved to Wellington for a new job, I was under a lot of inner turmoil, restlessness and this empty feel. It felt like when I moved out from my parents' place for the first time, suddenly on my own. I was scared and excited and happy and sad at the same time. My wife suggested I take a moment between jobs and just go to the Vipassana retreat in north NZ. She had been there almost 2 years before, and came back begging me to try it, to give in to the experience of intense solitude and silence and being with yourself completely, without a "spiritual teacher". So I took her advice and went there for 10 days.

Too long of a message this would be if I wrote everything I felt there, sitting by myself for long hours, just meditating on the sensations of my own body and nothing else. But this I learned in my spine and flesh: Happiness comes when you learn to see the reality, accept it and forgive it. Then you witness how pain comes and goes, experiences and people and good and bad situations come, stay for a little while and then leave you. You can be there, only observing, and accepting them is what makes their transition through your life a true experience.

I also learned through this technique to see myself doing something. "I am walking. This is what walking feels like. A pain arises in my left foot. I accept it. It will leave me one day. I have nothing to ask to my pain to do, I want nothing to change, yet it changes." and so on. Acceptance, forgiveness, all is the same consciousness of being there, of being present, only observing, not rejecting or judging. This realization through a physical experience of my own, not because some guru or master or teacher wrote it, but through me. This is how I reached your same conclusion, of the way of living a regular life that is enriched by the spiritual, a life without the need to reject or stay away from experiences; but through taking away the importance that one gives them; which is another way of saying, through accepting them.

Thanks, this has been very healing to me.


Y. said...

You're welcome. Thanks for the kind words! Sounds like you have a smart wife.