Thursday, December 03, 2009
I was looking for a site that discussed some of the key concepts of Kundalini from the perspective of the ancient teachings, when I ran across the above . It is indeed technical (as many of these ancient ideas tend to be), but I found it fascinating as a window into many of the ancient perspectives. After all, when we experience Kundalini we are in fact linked inextricably with these traditions, especially if our experience has yogic or tantric overtones. I am choosing a few passages from this text,and presenting them here as a reminder of some of the major sources of traditional thinking about Kundalini. Often when we read some of these writings, we do not understand every word, yet there is a kind of intuitive reception of the essential message.
I do not agree with every assertion of the essay--in particular, the familiar injunction that you must have an external guru in order to experience Kundalini awakening, here called (wonderfully) the "descent of Grace." Other writers acknowledge that there is also an "internal guru" who can awaken the energies and lead you through the process. And this speaker also allows for a few exceptions. I feel that this (the presence of the internal guru) best describes my own experience, and that of others I know. And I like his notion that we are given as much of the divine energy as we are capable of receiving into our systems. Our capacity for reception is what determines the intensity of our experience.
Moksha, by the way, is a term for enlightenment.
An Interview with Deba Brata Sensharma
by Maryellen Lo Bosco
Although interest in Tantra has been growing in the West over the last decade or two, few people have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the subject, and indeed, too many people have gross misconceptions about this vast body of spiritual science. Tantric practices are probably as ancient as the indigenous peoples of India, but only much later on became clearly defined as a philosophy. From around the 9th century A.D., up to the 15th century A.D., Advaita (nondualistic) Shaivism, one of the major tributaries to the river of Tantra, flourished in the Kashmir Valley and birthed great philosophers and Tantric masters in the school of what came to be known as Kashmir Shaivism.
Dr. Deba Brata Sensharma
Although the Muslim invasion of Kashmir effectively wiped out the practice of Tantra there, the scholastic tradition survived and has recently been brought to the West. Kashmir Shaivism is a beautiful and elegant philosophy, but a difficult one to grasp; not surprisingly, there are only a handful of serious scholars writing on Shaiva Tantra. Deba Brata SenSharma is among them. Dr. SenSharma is a student of the late Gopinath Kaviraj, a mystic who was probably this century's leading expert on the Shaiva traditions. Currently Dr. SenSharma is devoting all of his time to writing, after a 30-year career of teaching Indian philosophy and Sanskrit.
He has published The Philosophy of Sadhana, (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), which examines Tantric sadhana (practice) in the light of shaktipata, or the descent of divine grace, (and will soon publish a new book on Kashmir Shaivism with SUNY). While shaktipata is an implicit idea in the other Indian philosophical schools, it is an explicit and central concept in Shaiva Tantra. Shaktipata in its broadest sense is said to be transmitted through everything that brings us to the spiritual path and moves us closer to the goal. But in the specific context of Shaivism, it is the grace of God that comes through a genuine guru-through initiation and afterwards.
The ultimate goal, according to this Tantric philosophy, is somewhat different from either Yoga or Vedanta. The yogi seeks an end to pain by discerning the difference between consciousness (purusha) and manifestation (prakriti) and to realize his or her identification with purusha, the seer. The end goal of Yoga is kaivalya - sometimes translated as isolation. The Vedantins seek to unmask maya (the root cause of the manifest world, which is called unreal, because it is subject to death, decay, and destruction) and become established in the Self (Brahman, the Real). But the goal of the Shaivists is to recognize their true nature as Shiva (consciousness) and then turn to all of creation and see it as divine.
As a scholar and seeker, Dr. Sensharma had the good fortune to meet a number of saints and sages, including Anandamayi Ma, Hari Har Baba, and Swami Vidyaranya, who along with his teacher, Gopinath Kavaraj, helped shape his spiritual outlook. As he told me during our conversation, "I was, and even now, am like a black bee on the lookout for the spiritual aroma, wherever I may find it." In the interview that follows, Dr. SenSharma talks about some of the central ideas of the Trika school, which is the correct name for the philosophy that has been popularly labeled "Kashmir Shaivism." He also shares some of his experiences with his own teacher.
Q. The ultimate goal of Shaiva Tantra is Self-recognition, or to realize that "I am Shiva." The ultimate goal of Yoga is kaivalya-isolation. Is that different? Do adherents of different philosophical schools have different goals and end up with different realizations?
A. There is a level to which all these systems go. For instance, the practitioner of Vedanta is interested in realizing his Brahman nature. As soon as he realizes that, the world disappears. That is one idea. The Samkhyan is interested in kaivalya. He wants separation of purusa from prakrti. The Yogi also tries for that. And they get it. But here it is different. In Shaivism it is integration. You want to divinize the entire creation. You want to experience it as if it is your own glory, your own projection. The ideal here is a broader one.
Q. Is the actual experience of a fully accomplished Yogi so different from what a Shaivite practitioner experiences?
A. Sometimes it is different. It all depends on what you want. Let me illustrate with an example. There is a term, moksha (liberation), or mukti (freedom), which is used repeatedly in all the systems. But there is another ideal: "amritatva" (literally, "that is the nectar," which refers to the nectar of immortality). The Upanishads say amritatva is the ultimate goal of life. The Upanishads use this word 52 times, but use the word moksha only twice. Why? Are the two ideals, moksha and amritatva, the same or different? What I feel is that they are not the same. Moksha is based on negation. You want to negate what is unreal (maya-or the world as we normally perceive it) and live in the real (Brahman, or the Self). That is the goal of Vedanta philosophy. But in striving for amritatva, you want extension of yourself. You want to enjoy the bliss underlying the creation. Everything should appear to you as if it is of the nature of Brahman.
There is a famous mantra occurring in the Rig Veda, which loosely translated means, "The air, the breeze which is blowing, is giving bliss. The water is oozing bliss. The entire universe is full of bliss." I consider this to be a superior idea. You want to divinize the entire creation, to taste its bliss nature. You want to integrate it. That is what Shaivites want. I feel that this idea of amritatva is far more comprehensive and more significant than becoming Brahman and losing one's identity.
Q. One of the central ideas in Shaivism is the concept of spanda-"the doctrine of vibration"-which holds that the universe is born out of primordial vibration. Can you define spanda and how it is related to mantra science, which also seems to figure prominently in Tantric schools?
A. It is difficult to explain this concept briefly, but it can be said that divine Shakti, an integral aspect of Shiva, functions ceaselessly to reveal the divine glory of the Lord, both as transcendent being and also simultaneously as the cosmos. The incessant activity of Shakti (consciousness made manifest) is called spanda-vibration or pulsation, or it is sometimes called urmi, which means web. Physicists tell us that several particles like electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., moving round the nucleus in an atom cause vibration or pulsation. The atom has infinite energy locked up inside it, which keeps on dancing within. In the same way, pure consciousness (Shiva) has Shakti ever-vibrating in its bosom. The dance of Shakti occurs during creative involution, when that energy is thrown out and creates the cosmos. The Yogis experience spanda as waves of bliss, a rasa (juice), oozing from the core of Shiva.
Mantra is ultimately related to this idea. Actually, divine, vital energy is encased in mantra, which is not just an aggregate of phonemes. Mantra is a seed that contains the totality of divine Shakti. When the guru gives a mantra to a disciple, he awakens that latent potency, which may actually be experienced by the disciple during initiation. It is like a seed planted in the disciple's udhara (mind-body organism) which, if carefully nurtured, develops into a full-fledged tree of spiritual realization.
Q.Why is shaktipata given so much emphasis in Tantra?
A. Shaktipata is the turning point in the spiritual life of an aspirant. Without it there is no ascent, no going over to the other side of maya. It is a divine dispensation. It may come anytime, to anyone. It may come with your knowing it; it might come without your being aware of it. Though other schools of spiritual thought do not explicitly say so, they too admit the necessity of approaching a spiritual master for initiation in a particular path of sadhana.
Q. Is shaktipata transmitted when you receive any kind of initiation, even though you may not be aware of it?
A. Yes. If you go to a guru, he may touch you, he may not touch you, or he may just see you. You can sometimes get mantra initiation even in a dream. In Varanasi (Benaras), we used to go to Hari Har Baba. People used to approach him freely, but he would never speak a single word. He would never look at you. But there were people who received a mantra from him.
Q. You've explained in your book that when a guru gives shaktipata, he or she doesn't vary it according to the aspirant. The intensity of this "descent of divine grace" is actually determined by the sadhaka-according to that person's ability to receive it or absorb it. Can you elaborate on that?
A. Actually, shaktipata descends uniformly on all people. It is always coming; it's a continuing process. It's not received by people with the same intensity because of their incapacity to hold it. Now if I have the capacity to hold very intense shaktipata, I can get it. If I don't have that, I will only get a little. Shaktipata is always available, because Shiva is supposed to perform his five kriyas (functions) eternally, and dispensing grace (anugraha) is one of these functions. So shaktipata is eternal, looking at it from His point of view. From our point of view, we are not aware of it, because we have not prepared ourselves to receive it. But unless we receive shaktipata, we cannot begin our spiritual journey. That is said again and again in the texts.
Q. You've said that shaktipata can sometimes be received directly from God, without the intervention of a guru. In what instances might that happen?
A. It's rare. Such shaktipata is the utkrishta-tivra (extremely intense) variety. The moment you get it, you lose the body.
Q. Wouldn't the recipient have to be somebody who has already done a lot of intense practice, someone who's already quite purified?
A. It may be because of that, you never know. Changes can be going on inside of you that you are not aware of. Even if you have not done sadhana previously, it may still manifest suddenly. You may not have done anything in this life. There are many instances like that. Anandamayi Ma didn't go to any guru. It developed from within. In the beginning, people thought that she must be mad-God-intoxicated, some people thought.
Q. But Anandamayi Ma didn't leave her body . . .
A. It was not extremely intense. In such cases, the person won't leave the body. One will continue, because one has a purpose. Actually, God wanted her to live, so that she could give the message to suffering humanity.
Actually, the devotee and devoted are not two, from the ultimate standpoint. But it is difficult to concentrate on your own self, because the self is not visible. You have an image, and you concentrate on that. Ultimately, when you reach that, when you can identify with that, you will see that the image is nothing but yourself. Devotion is an intermediate step. Devotion may also be easy, if you have that inclination of mind. But the image is also nothing but Shiva.
There are no hurdles. There have been saints in Christianity, and their realizations were almost of the same kind. Kavirrajji took great interest in them. He used to mention them, because he knew German and French. He studied the medieval, Catholic saints, and he saw no difference. The Sufi saints also had similar experiences. Spirituality is one thing you cannot fake. It is only earnestness that
It is possible for Western people to follow this particular path, because all that is required is purity of mind and body and a sincere desire for spiritual upliftment. I personally know Western people who have advanced to a great extent. What is required is genuine longing, faith, and patient waiting for the descent of divine grace.
(To be continued)
(Image found on website mentioned above)