Tantric Tradition

The Stages of Tantric Practice

In a talk given at the Movement Center on November 16, 2013, Swamiji discussed the historical context for the emergence of tantric sadhana as well as the stages of tantric practice. 

Here is an excerpt from that talk (clicking on the image will take you to the YouTube video):

SC Tantric Sadhana

The full version (a one hour, 45 minute talk) is available for purchase for $19.95.

I Bow to My Teachers…and I Also Bow to My Students

I want to talk today about something very simple: the practice of bowing.

Whenever I come to meditate or to teach, I always bow. I bow to my lineage gurus, and I bow to all teachers who have made themselves available, who shared the benefits and insights of whatever difficult work they have done, to uplift the lives of people. Bowing to such people in profound respect is an important part of the tantric tradition. It is not in any way a demonstration of subservience.

Bowing is important for two reasons. The first is that the goal of our work is to have the palpable experience of the interconnectedness of the total unity of all. One of the reasons that a teacher is crucial is that if we can establish ourselves in the awareness of the interconnectedness between us and one person, then it is possible for us to take the leap from that experience of interconnectedness with one person to the experience of interconnectedness with all people, and from all people to all life forms, and from all life forms to the very living conscious field in which experience asserts itself in the first place. So, we’re not just bowing in respect for our teacher’s realization, their willingness to unconditionally accept and love us, and their allowing their own energy to be the nourishment for the awakening of our potential. We are also bowing to express our unity, which is the basic nature of reality.

In bowing to our teachers, we also bow to the work, the conscious effort that is necessary and appropriate in our endeavor to release ourselves from all of those limiting patterns that we were born into. Those patterns filter all the input and all the energy that we take in, and filter all the output, so that our understanding is always somewhat limited and our self-expression never truly meets the mark that we hope it would.

There’s one final thing about bowing that is also important. When I bow to my teachers, I am expressing my devotion. Devotion is the chemistry that unifies all the disparate aspects of my life and allows me to experience all the different ways in which I am called to express myself and the understanding that I am here to grow spiritually.

So, I bow every time I come to meditation. I bow to remember to reconnect to the wisdom aspect of our spiritual endeavor, which is the understanding that we are all completely interconnected. I also bow to remember the devotion aspect of my spiritual quest. That experience makes me feel really, really grateful, grateful for my teachers, grateful for my students, grateful for my life, and grateful for life itself. So please know that I don’t just bow to my teachers every morning. I also bow to my students.

The Tradition of Initiation

In the Vedas, a person who performs Vedic ritual sacrifice was called a Brahmin. Brahmin means “twice born.” The Brahmin is twice born because he receives an initiation that qualifies him to perform the sacrifice. It’s the beginning of his education and the beginning of a commitment that he makes to peel away the layers of the tensions that bind us together as a person. Those are tensions that we have accumulated through so many lifetimes, and that have manifested in this lifetime as the disappointments of our ancestors we’ve inherited. The desires that we manifest, the aspirations that we have, the areas that we go into in our lives, both constructive and destructive, are really an expression of the deficiencies in the nourishment of our upbringing. Those deficiencies are not there through anybody’s fault; they’re just what is.

In the Vedic times, for Brahmins, this initiation lifted them out of the family circumstances they were born into and immediately liberated them from the disappointments of their ancestors. They were born again into a different circumstance called a guru kul. The guru kul is the family of the guru, the family of the teacher. The tradition recognizes that the guru kul makes available the nourishment that wasn’t provided in the birth parents’ home. That nourishment dissolves the tensions that limit a person in every dimension of their life. It makes it possible for them to become completely spiritually developed and mature, totally fulfilled, and liberated in life.

The central part of the initiation experience is when the guru takes his own conscious energy, his own awareness power, and plants it in the student, so that the energetic mechanism of the student acquires the nourishment needed to start to break down all of the accumulated tensions. As those tensions are broken down, the vital force within the person is awakened and expanded.

This was the critical moment in Vedic initiation, and the practice continued through all the various traditions in India. The Vedas were followed by the Upanishads, and then the six classical philosophical systems, including yoga, which ultimately matured in the Tantric tradition.

The Tantric tradition was unusual in its complete maturity because it asserts that there was only one consciousness in the universe. Even though there are many minds, there is only one consciousness. It is that one consciousness that the teacher is established in and through which their life force is transmitted to the student. That is called “shaktipat” in the Tantric tradition. The term means “descent of grace.” In the Tibetan side of the Tantric tradition, in Dzogchen, it’s called direct transmission.

This experience that I share when I teach eyes open class is not different from the Vedic initiation. It is the transmission of the understanding that there is a singular dynamic awareness from which all phenomena arise, and that all phenomena are interconnected. So this interconnectedness, the understanding, the experience, the awareness of this interconnectedness, is what is being transmitted as shaktipat, or initiation. It is the continuing awareness of that connectedness that represents a leverage on all the tensions that we’re walking around with.

So, no matter what our condition is, no matter what our experience is, no matter what kind of confusion we’re experiencing, we have a reference point we can always go to. This experience is also an energetic resource we can draw on to lift ourselves out of whatever limited state that we have fallen into.