Archive for June, 2014

Dasha Mahavidya – The Ten Great Sources of Wisdom

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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The central theme of traditional tantra is the knowledge of the Self through adoration of Shakti; Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such path to the Self. Along this path of diving deeper into one’s own self, Shakti manifests in several forms of knowledge/intuitive wisdom. These forms are known as “Dasha Mahavidya”, where ten primary forms/sources of knowledge are known deeply personally and experientially.

These Mahavidyas are: Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Tripura Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Baglamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika.

They are called “maha” (great) because each is a complete path and destination. Each one opens to knowledge of the remaining nine, as well as the Bindu of the Sri Yantra. It is said that devotion to and practice of any one of these will reveal our true nature and the reality of all of creation.

There are volumes written about the Dasha Mahavidyas, encompassing points of view of the yogas, tantras and the Upanishads. Scholars spend their entire lifetimes dedicated to understanding and grokking the significance of each of these Mahavidyas. My somewhat hesitant writings here thus pale in comparison. Everything expressed here is what has risen from my own practice of tantra, usually in times of intense clarity and insight that happen spontaneously. As with all of the paths of self-unfoldment, these insights will also evolve and refine.

The basis of these writings are the tantric practices of Tattwa Shuddhi and Sri Vidya Sadhana. Tattwa Shuddhi (literally, cleansing of elements) comprises of dissolution of elements corresponding to the various chakras into progressively subtler elements and then into the mahatattva (great element), Prakrithi (Shakti) and Purusha (Shiva). After internal cleansing rituals, the elements are returned to rest in the opposite direction.

In the “dissolution” part of this practice, it gradually becomes intuitively known that Shakti/Prakrithi is the witness, the first separation from the Absolute. Even when we become aware of “witnessing”, there is a sense that it is not all, or the final “it”. With deepening inquiry, one is eventually propelled to ask, “Who is aware of the witness?” and in time, we open up to the direct knowing of this awareness, that is, Purusha/Shiva. While it feels that Shakti is the “individual” witnessing principle, with a retained “I” in it, the individuality of the witness collapses as Shiva, and there is only knowing awareness that is not fixed to this and that, I and not I.

In witnessing, there remains an experience, and a knower of the experience. However, with further openings and deeper delving into this knowing awareness (Shiva, in this analogy) to be one’s true self/identity, we gradually come to see that every experience that arises is awareness itself, only seemingly separated from the knower. In every experience, when we look deeply, the “knower” is added ad hoc, in a swift play of illusion by the mind, the master magician. If we can stay with the experience, free from the mind’s interference, the knower is not seen to be separate, but known directly to have risen as the experience itself. Thus, Shakti is never separated from Shiva. If Shiva is the void, Shakti is what makes up the contents of the void, giving it form; yet, the void and the form are known via each other. Shakti is indeed Shiva, like the waves of the ocean being the ocean itself.

As in Tattwa Shuddhi, we then return to daily life, elements aligned once again as before. However, there is a distinct difference in how these elements are “held” in experience; they are transparent and not as solid/real as they did on the way up. The borders between “in here” and “out there” become blurred and disappear.

Along this path of openings and awakenings arise the Mahavidyas, setting the inner void ablaze with intuitive arisings and wisdom. They reveal themselves as the inner essence of time, vibration, space, silence, wisdom, compassion, oneness, dissolution, eternity, and beauty. Each of these powerful forms of Shakti is a complete path, leading to Shiva and back into Herself; each will bring the sadhaka to his/her knees in awe and surrender.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Action and Inaction, Doing and Nondoing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

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On the path of karma yoga, the crux of existence comes down to how we perform actions at any given moment. On the surface, the journey is always from here to here, as Yogani wisely says. However, this path is very often convoluted, and takes unexpected turns and twists despite our best intentions to “do” karma yoga. In these twists, we come to understand first-hand the true meaning of nondoing in doing and inaction in action as explained in the Gita.

Once the process of unfolding begins, it takes its own uncharted course. For me, that course has been a deep dive into the subtle and causal bodies, coming to rest often in ever deepening pools of stillness and peace. Sinking here in meditation, there is a freezing of the body in a paralysis-like state often associated with cessation of breath and loss of consciousness. Coming out of it, there is deep peace untouched by any activity going on around me. This “state” frequently wafts into daily activities where there is a sort of jarring out of a deep reverie wondering what I’m doing or why I’m there, amidst conversations or other activity. Thoughts, sensations and emotions are seen like passing clouds and bubbles, not touching the deep stillness. This is all associated with a loss of drive and ambition, related most likely to loss of fear and anxiety around being “someone” with specific qualifications or achievements, title or status. The deep peace pervades the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states, unshakeable and groundless. Increasingly, it is difficult to relate to the rat-race of the marketplace – not particularly conducive to one with a busy career and family.

This phase appears to be quite common. I was discussing this with a dear friend, Anurag Jain, a wise yogi, fellow-lover of the Gita and founder of Neev Forum for Integral Living. In his characteristic and unassuming fashion, he asked me what I thought about Krishna’s words in the 4th chapter (4:16), where he discloses the secret of karma yoga – inaction in action. Like a complicated lock falling into place with the right key, I immediately “got” what he was referring to.

As discussed here, the evolution of karma yoga involves losing identity as the doer of action. And this evolution requires the additional yogas of bhakti and/or jnana. With deepening self-inquiry, one dives into the subtle and causal bodies, with a shift in identification from the limited body-mind to a greater, non-localized sense of being. The distinctions between “inside” the body and “outside” blur and fade and this shift is often accompanied by subtle and not-so-subtle movements of Shakti (energy), intuitive openings and a growing sense of “knowingness”. The sense of doership simultaneously fades, since the sense of being is no longer associated with this particular body-mind. Most traditions talk primarily about this part of the journey; to see that we are not the limited body-mind. And this is where many can get stuck, as I’ve experienced. The bliss and deep peace of being are so vast and all-encompassing that there is no compelling need to “do” anything (since I’m not the doer anyway). Engaging in the world becomes difficult and a chore. It takes supreme effort to be interested in clothes and cars and titles and statuses and paychecks and who-is-doing-what.

The conundrum is this – many of us are prompted to enter the spiritual path after we have established careers and long-term goals and have committed to partners and family. And we never count on drastic changes that can (and do) occur on this path; of phases of craving solitude more than anything, of deep confusion and pain of the so-called “dark night of the soul”, of the terror and fears that surface as the subconscious mind is churned, of the need to stand and face oneself and one’s own perceived utter failures and disappointments and to own it all. We assume that the spiritual path will make us holy and serene like in the pictures; moreover, our family members assume these qualities for us – and thus, we are all shocked when we are less than holy or serene at times. Mostly, we do not count on going so deep within that the surface ripples do not even touch us – we certainly do not count on losing the identity as the doer and what that really means in the context of a busy life.

Going from doing to nondoing is only half the journey. The other half involves returning once again to doing. But this time, the doing is different, for while it appears that one is doing, he/she does nothing at all and the action flows through him/her. Life and its processes become the Sri Yantra – stillness of the Bindu amidst dynamic activity of the intersecting triangles. In this (necessary for many) hiatus resulting from this shift of identity to not being the doer, the only thing to do is to surrender all vestiges of personal will. And to submit to Shakti to use this body-mind in any way She chooses. Inaction in action is this exactly – just like the heart and the digestive system work without volition, external actions also just happen with this body-mind being the vehicle for it without any personal ownership of it all. How long this “return journey” will take, I do not know.

Yet, there is a deep trust in the process and in Her. For it is now evident that the secret to inaction in action is surrender.

Dasha Mahavidya – Kali

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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Kali is the first of the ten Mahavidyas, representing time (kal/kaal = time).

She is depicted as a dark goddess, ferocious and terrifying in appearance. She wears a garland of human arms for a skirt and human heads as a necklace. She lives in cemeteries and graveyards – wherever there is death and decay. She has piercing eyes and her tongue lolls out of her great mouth. She carries several weapons in seven of her ten arms (the scimitar being the one of her choice) and a freshly severed human head in the eighth. The lower two hands form the mudras of protection and boon-giving. She is intoxicated from the continuous consumption of blood and dances wildly upon corpses and her own beloved Shiva, who lies completely still and seemingly powerless under her forceful steps.

Kali is the first among the Mahavidyas because the process of creation begins with time. From a macrocosmic perspective, in the beginning there is only Purusha – undifferentiated, timeless potential. The cosmos begins with the “Big Bang”, and simultaneously, linear time and along with it,  all duality. Light and dark, good and evil, high and low, truth and untruth – each is made possible only because of its counterpart. For creation to be sustained, death is necessary – life is only possible through death. What is born must necessarily die in time. Time and death are thus synonymous. The linear sequence of time is maintained only with dissolution of one moment to give rise to the next. Maya thrives thus as a sequence of time-related phenomena, each event dependent upon all the other events, nothing occurring independently and everything influencing everything else and the whole. The cemetery is the perfect representation of this process.

Similarly, at the level of the individual, the separate “I” or ego is born and sustained through events in time. The ego is born in early childhood prior to which an infant has no concept of itself as an individual. With unfolding of life events, influences from society and development of memory and imagination, the identification as this “I” becomes stronger. As the separate self, the individual is propagated through thoughts and memories of the past and projections into the future, both of which are illusory and nonexistent. Attaching the “I-ness” (and it’s related emotional signature) to an event creates a vasana, and through the Maya of Kali as time, the ego becomes enmeshed within this web of vasanas. Such a separate self is dragged helplessly through time, circling again and again from life to death and back to life. Kali dances in this cemetery of one’s being where the separate self that is born (in every moment from the actions and impressions from the last moment) dies and is reborn again. Every desire arising from a vasana gives birth to the “I-thought”, which then dies temporarily with the fulfillment of the desire, only to be born again with the next vasana-driven thought/desire. And on it goes, with Kali dancing merrily, cutting off the head of the I-thought and feeding upon the lifeblood of the separate self again and again, nudging Shiva to wake up from this apparent identification with the ego. She repeatedly severs the hands that represent vasana-driven selfish actions, pointing the way to action that can arise from wholeness with the death of the separate self. The compassion of the Divine Mother is so infinite that she provides the opportunity to step out of her illusion and the quagmire of samsara in every single moment. With every step of her dance, she destroys the moment before and holds the future in darkness, allowing one to be reborn forever into the eternal now. She remains willing to continue the dance as long as identification with the “I-thought” continues, patiently waiting for the sadhaka to wake up to his/her true (Shiva) nature.

The sadhana of the Mahavidyas is not for the weak of heart. Each of these forms of Shakti represents an aspect of creation at both the macrocosmic and individual (ego) levels. While some worship the Mahavidyas for power, dark magic and siddhis, they get further enmeshed in her Maya and succumb eventually to her insurmountable power. It is not possible to win her grace through force or cunning. Only the willingness to give up the “I-ness” enables her grace to shine forth. This is the secret of tantra – one’s spiritual progress is in direct proportion to the degree of surrender. Moreover, it is not necessary to worship all ten Mahavidyas – each is a gateway to liberation, opening to the grace of all the others. After all, she is one manifesting as all.

Kali is known for cutting through the ego’s ties quickly and efficiently. However, she does not concern herself with the comfort of the ego. She is therefore not particularly interested in granting boons of wealth, relationships and other superficial matters pertaining to the separate self. In fact, these matters can frequently take a turn for the worse when her sadhana is taken up. Her only interest lies in liberating her devotee from Her own snare. To such a devotee that desires nothing else, she reveals her softer side as Bhadra Kali (Bhadra = auspicious) – calm, serene and radiant.

My sadhana took a dramatic turn when seemingly out of the blue, Kali beckoned me into her fold. Even as the heart melted in devotion to her fierce form, all external aspects of my life took a beating in the form of deep cleaning. Nonserving relationships were cleanly severed and let go of, even seemingly treasured ones. Only in retrospect was I able to see that hanging on to them was obscuring the way ahead. All ambiguity and less-than-clear aspects of life were shaken off (and continue to be). Everything related to “I-ness” was swept away mercilessly, without care for how painful it was at the time. Simultaneously, I sank deeper and deeper into Her dark, silent fold where finally time stood still and the false “I” was seen through. She hovers over my being, relentlessly guiding, shoving and manipulating, wanting nothing but to experience her Shiva through this body-mind. At last, the unease of being in her ferocious presence has been replaced by gratitude and love, and willingness to be decapitated by her merciful blade once and for all.

Kali’s bija (seed) mantra is “klim”. When thus invoked, she withdraws Her Maya of time and liberates one from linear time-related phenomena and all dualities associated with it. Free from incessant thoughts of the past and anxieties about the future, the sadhaka blessed thus by Kali is open to experience the primordial vibration represented by Tara, the second Mahavidya.

(Image: Kali by Raja Ravi Verma. Source: Wikipedia)