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.

Nothing to be Done

Spring is a time to be completely grateful to be able to connect to and feel what we are—that we are connected to the earth and connected to the seasons and the air that we are breathing. So many people just have no clue about any of this. Not only that, people live in their tiny little patterns of tension, which they have no understanding of, and no sense of what is possible for them in their own lives, the richness that is available to them, if they could only like take a breath and actually feel it.

Thumbnail for 1954How simple is that? To just be able to take a breath and feel it. And then take another breath and feel that. And another breath. And feel that. If we just remembered to feel the breath that we’re breathing then all of the things that we get entangled in every single day, all the stuff that we want that we are not getting, and all the stuff that we don’t want, would just fall away. We would feel what is really alive in us.

Our lives are so filled with paradoxes that, for most people, the circuit breaker gets thrown in the family about 18 generations ago and it never gets turned on again. It just genetically stays turned off, because basically there appears to be many, and in this appearance of many, it appears to be complicated. But, in fact, in the appearance of many, there is only one, and in the appearance of all complication there is utter, utter, utter simplicity.

There appears to be so much that we need to do, and yet there is nothing to be done. If we could only understand that while there may be actions that we have to carry out, there may be some things, some cleanups that we have to do, there really is nothing that has to be done. In the release of all of this accumulated stress of the complexity that we have to deal with and the alienation from the many and the struggle with the things that need to be done, if we could just release all that, we would have the energy to simply be aware of our breath.

As we become more relaxed and in our bodies, we will be able to feel the extraordinary vibrancy of the breath within us, and we will experience the subtle breath within our breathing. Attending to, having the energy to hold our mind present in our bodies and in our breath and the subtlety that is within our breath, we will become aware of this profound and sacred potentiality that is present within us, present within our life, present within and around us everywhere. It only requires our attention in order for it to begin to coalesce into a creative energy that expresses itself into some unimaginable transformation in the field of our experience.

So, everyday for just a little while, however long is appropriate to you, sit down and really relax your body and bring your awareness into it. Bringing your awareness into your body, become aware of your breath. With the awareness of your breath, take some time, be aware, bring your mind back over and over again until you have the sense of the vibrancy that is within that breath and the sophisticated pathways by which that breath is articulating your mind and your body. You will understand that this body is not yours, that this mind is not yours, that the many don’t exist, that the complexity is a delusion, that the struggle is suffering, nothing but suffering. Suffering is nothing but your imagination, and relief from it all is available whenever you are ready. Fortunately for everybody, this is not rocket science. This is utterly simple and available to anyone who choses to engage it.

Throw Away the Wish List

Every single day, the thing we have to remember is that life is not about our wish list. We’re not in this world to get something. We’re really not. If we live from our wish list, we’re going to be miserable. Somebody once asked Jay Rockefeller if he had enough money; his response was “Almost.” The thing about getting close to our wish list is it’s always just beyond our grasp, because it’s an illusion, because that wish list comes from the dark. It has nothing to do with anything.

In the book Incognito, David Eagleman points out that because of the lag time between our having an experience and our brains actually absorbing the experience, we never actually live in the present. We never live in the present. He also talks about how in our visual field there are huge holes. There’s big spot in our retina where there are no sensors. Our brain is wired up to ignore the big holes in our visual field; we don’t notice it, but it’s there and it’s prominent. But we never see it, because our brain is taking the data that it does get and building an image out of that data that is a complete image. It’s the same way a computer works. Furthermore, if the brain has already absorbed a particular set of data points, unless we focus directly on a change in that picture, it will continuously feed back to us the same picture.

Drawing of side view of headSo essentially, our brain, based on its fundamental programming is constructing a view of reality, even of our concrete physical world, and building an image which has nothing to do with anything. If it can do that with a concrete physical world, think what it does with our subjective part of it! Then we react to that discovery with surprise and disappointment, never noticing that that’s exactly what we’re relating to, and then we go through our life endlessly reacting to our reactions and being buried in all of the tensions of that.

The most fundamental part of the spiritual practice that I share (and really, any spiritual practice) is to wake up every morning and open our heart to the reality of our life. Not what we wish it was, and not what we regret that it isn’t, and not what we think it ought to be. But open our heart to the reality of our life.

Opening our heart to the reality of our life, we can take in the tensions—-not an easy thing for us to do, especially in the beginning—-and break them down and really find love within ourselves for the people that we share this experience with. We understand they are in our life, and have been in our life for many lifetimes, representing what we haven’t digested and what we haven’t surrendered that is actually nourishment that has come to us and needs to be. We can deal with our life day by day, finding within ourselves a simple joy and a simple gratitude for things like the opportunity to consciously take a breath and feel it; gratitude for a glass of water and how that feels being absorbed. There are so many unbelievably simple things that we ignore that, if we paid attention to them, we would discover are really nice. But we’re so trapped in our desires, we’re so hung up in our wish list and our struggle with it, that we end up condensing our creative energy instead of flowing with it.

We have to take responsibility for opening our own hearts and loving our own life. In that effort, the effort that we have to make to open ourselves and love our own life, we will begin to feel worthy, really deeply worthy of love, and other people will experience that love in our life and love us, too.

It’s not about doing it tomorrow. It’s about doing it today. It’s about doing it now. There is no other time but now. We have to open our hearts and love our life, throw away our wish list and have the courage to see what magic and what blessings are waiting to reveal themselves to us. Doing this will allow us to find a total transformation in the quality of our experience.

“I Will Do Your Bidding”

The Bhagavad Gita, which is a very important and beautiful and very ancient text on human spirituality, begins with Arjuna on the battlefield looking at his family. His family represents the disappointments of his ancestors--the accumulation of tension in that system over how many eons that human beings reincarnate. For each of us, in a real way, our family represents the fundamental obstacle that we have to engage and transcend in order to become completely awakened. Our family is an intractable situation, in which, for the most part, people lack any real respect for one another. Family is the context in which the old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” functions most fully.

Arjuna is called to do battle with his family. It’s going to get ugly. He says, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. Whatever I’m working for is not that important.” Krishna says to him, “You have to do it, because first of all, because, if you don’t, you will be enslaved. You will totally lose any kind of freedom whatsoever. Secondly, you’ll lose your dignity and self-respect. And, thirdly, you’ll lose any respect anybody else has for you now. You have to do this.” This is a metaphor for each of our personal lives.

Krishna goes onto explain that nobody escapes work. The modern translators use the term “action.” Nobody escapes action. The discussion is then, “Should I be acting? Should I be a man of action? Should I be a man of inaction? Should I engage the world? Should I be completely removed from the world? “

Krishna says everybody has to work. Nobody escapes work. We have to do it. It is in working that we develop the capacity to extract from our life the nourishment bound up in the tensions that we convert into energy. Working is about moving our energy and sustaining ourselves. We sustain ourselves by doing physical work to move the energy.

Cosmic Vishnu

Krishna is sending Arjuna out to war to do this extremely intense work. In the eighteenth chapter, Krishna reveals his cosmic form. Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna as the life of the life of every being, not just human beings. He shows that he is the life of the life of all deities and all devatas, the life of the life of all angels and devils and ghosts and spirits and human beings. Arjuna says, “Oh, I get it.”

Krishna also says, “Don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen to these people. The fact of the matter is, who lives and dies in this upcoming battle is already written. This is not your business. Your business is to do your duty, and all the while, understanding and being devoted to the divine cosmic form and awareness of the breath of life, which is our foundation, our home and our ultimate end.”

So, if you have some interest in spirituality and some feeling within yourself to grow closer to the truth to become closer to yourself, what you need to do is shift your focus beyond the ordinary world that you walk around in. You have to shift your struggle from the fight with your husband and your kids and the bank and the mortgage. You have to establish yourself, your mind, your commitment firmly in your intention to experience the breath of life. You have to sustain yourself in that awareness, even as that awareness sustains you in an experience of total well being no matter what kind of chaos is going on in the world.

Krishna explains to Arjuna that in every aspect of our life, in every day of our life, through every circumstance of our life, rather than getting tangled up in all of the superficial tensions of the circumstance, we need to hold ourselves with dignity and grace in the awareness of the grace that allows us some dignity. Whatever our circumstance, if we live in contact with the breath of life, aligned with that purpose within ourself, that highest expression of creative energy, flowing in that and allowing that to flow in us, cultivating our awareness of the flow itself, we will become ultimately aware of our own truly divine and completely transcendent nature.

After Krishna has revealed his universal nature to Arjuna and Arjuna’s own universal nature to himself, Arjuna says, “I will do your bidding. I will do what you ask.” This may appear to mean he’s saying, “Well, I’ll take orders from you.” That’s not at all what he means. He’s saying, “I will live in contact, alignment and flow with my own universal divine nature, which is nothing other than the supreme deity, which is the essence of all there is.” When he says, “I will do your bidding,” there is no other that he is referring to. There is only the ultimate reality, which has a billion, names: Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Devi, Durga, Kali. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you smile while you’re calling it.

Depth Over Time

At the core of each of us is an energetic mechanism, a condensation of creative energy, that is filled with power and potential. It’s a power that has nothing to do with the circumstance that we have attracted as a life. While our life manifests from that power, it completely transcends our material circumstances. At the same time, this energetic mechanism does exist in its own broader field of creative energy, in the same way that a wave exists in the context of the ocean. As this wave of creative energy that we are moves in its own space, it is also interacting with the totality of that ocean.

So, there is a very profound possibility that is present for us as we are more and more deeply in touch with our own creative energy and its circulation in and through us. It’s possible for us to begin to connect to the total environment, which is information. The energy is information, and the information is energy. To access it, we have to strip away the layers of accumulated tension or karma (what I call the disappointments of our ancestors), and everything that we’ve done to ourselves as an effect of that set of disappointments, all the compensation mechanisms. Then it’s possible that we can be in touch with a very deep place inside us. That place will inform us of our environment in ways that right now are very difficult for us to understand.

Our eyes pick up one ten-trillionth of the spectrum of light. That is all we see. The same is true for all of our senses. It’s not really possible from our superficial mental experience to really connect to what’s happening around us and what’s happening in our life. So, we go along living on the surface, reacting to the dramas of our family, and whatever else is going on around us—our school, our job, our spouse, our children.

All the drama is not our life. It is only an effect of our life. Our life is deep within us and moving in us all the time. It is very much like how the waves are the ocean, but they in many ways obscure the vastness of the ocean. They obscure our ability to see deeply into the ocean. So, as we are able to open our energy centers or chakras, and become quiet and experience their resonance, we become informed about our environment and about ourselves in ways that are ordinarily difficult to grasp. This information is simply available within us. All we have to do is call upon it.

There is guidance and instruction inside us, as well as information about the ultimate reality that we can experience from within ourselves. Mastery exists within us and no one can teach it to us. We have to dig it out of ourselves. That mastery comes from years of releasing tensions and allowing our creative energy to flow to the degree that our energetic mechanism is fully awakened and informing us about who and what we really are. It will inform us about everything: all of our past lives, our present, our future, and the future of the people we are surrounded by. It will inform us about what’s important and what’s useless.

Tremendous wisdom and understanding is available from within us. Access to this dimension of our being is real power. It takes real work, although it’s not particularly hard work. Sometimes it’s boring work, but most of the time it’s unbelievably sweet work. It does take time. We have to have enough value for our own life that we are willing to put in the time to discover the unbelievably extraordinary, unimaginable possibility that is living in the center of our heart, each and every moment of this lifetime and every other lifetime.

Rudi used to say that the most astonishing thing to him about people is that they live with this unbelievable potential for the whole of their life and remain clueless about it. We are so distracted by all the superficial movement going on around us that we never really make contact with ourselves. Since we’re not really making contact with ourselves, we don’t really make contact with anything else.

There is an unimaginable possibility living in the middle of you. I hope you will hear what I’m telling you and make the effort that it takes to make that possibility come alive.

There Is Nothing to Change but Yourself

If you ever want anything to change, the only option you have is to change yourself. There’s no other choice. There’s nothing other than yourself that will ever need to be changed. In fact, if we all did change ourselves, the world would be an infinitely finer place. If we all developed ourselves to the degree that we could make contact with our own hearts and release our own tensions to find a depth and quality of flow within ourselves, if we could find that part of us that is truly beautiful and hold it in our awareness and breathe into it and allow it to expand throughout our body and the entire field of our energy, we would be completely transformed. If we could hold that for a little while, a day, a week, a month, our entire life would change. Not only that, our entire future would change, and all the futures of all the people that we have yet to connect to and share with would also change.

My teacher Rudi used to talk constantly about spiritual work. Finding the deepest, most beautiful, most powerful part of us and holding that awareness as we go through our days and allowing that vibration, that feeling to grow in us, and expand in us, and teach us about ourselves, is work. It’s not overly hard. It’s just work.

One of my friends recently sent me an article that talked about how anybody who has ever mastered anything has put in at least 10,000 hours of real practice. In the process of achieving this mastery, our physiology and our neurochemistry definitely change. So, this is work. The work is, first of all, to make the effort to clear out our own tensions, to clear out our own confusion. We need to clear out the sleepy-headedness of ordinary life. We need to begin to lift ourselves up to a place where we begin to make contact with the real us, instead of being freaked out by the real us!

Then, reaching into ourselves, reaching deeply inside, we wake up our energetic mechanism and dissolve the tensions. We hold that experience and that flow until we get to a place where our heart opens and our mind opens and our guts open and our energetic mechanism becomes alive. Then we can experience a dimension of circulation going on within us that completely transcends our body.

Coming to eyes-open class in that state of openness, your energetic field can meet my energetic field and there will be a transfer, a transmission, a transfer of knowledge and understanding that cannot be communicated in words. There will be an awakening of the finest parts of your energetic mechanism, which cannot be nourished out in the ordinary world, because it is too dense. Finding that union of energetic or magnetic fields, and holding that experience and that flow, and growing that understanding, releases you completely from the prison of your personal life and your personal history, and awakens in you unimaginable possibilities that are extraordinarily beautiful.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It only happens by conscious choice. When you embrace the possibility that has somehow, for some mysterious reason plopped itself right in your lap, and commit to it and cultivate it, everything is possible.

So, if you want your life to change, you have to change yourself. There is nothing else to change. Nothing else will change. Everyone who tries to change the world is eaten by it. It’s only those of us who open within ourselves and begin to consume our own life deeply and change ourselves that escape being eaten by the world and realize the finest possibilities that are available to a human being.

I hope you choose to do it.

Real Life Is Within You

The most important thing for a human being to understand is very simple; that we are in this world to grow. If you understand that, there doesn’t have to be any confusion anymore, or any displacement, or any suffering or agitation. If you really understand that, then it’s possible for you to have peace in yourself and peace in your life very quickly. Growing means fully awakening the energetic mechanism that underlies your physiology.

When we are growing and the energetic mechanism is fully awakened, the flow within the mechanism is expanding as the field of the mechanism itself is expanding. This means we are taking in more experience. Experience is energy, and we are digesting and absorbing that energy, which is feeding and nourishing us and feeding our energetic mechanism and allowing it to expand. As this expansion happens, finer and finer energies become accessible to us because the tensions that we are encased in are breaking down as the flow is expanding. We can really feel and experience and be nourished by the very fine energies that are available in the atmosphere and available within the field of our life to touch us in deep and meaningful ways.

At the same time, the tensions are breaking down, all the difficult circumstances that we face, all the challenges, all the pain, all the suffering, all the disappointment also is breaking down, the heavy denseness within us is breaking down. That energy too is nourishing us and creating pathways by which the pathology that is accumulated within us can be exported out of our body, out of our mechanism, out of our system so that our whole range of motion, our whole respiratory capacity, our whole experience of the breath of life itself, is continuously expanding and refining itself as it does. That’s so fantastic!

The work you have to do in this growing is not rocket science. It’s actually unbelievably simple; it just needs to be done. This is the hard part for people—doing it. You have to make contact with your energetic mechanism every day. You have to really be in touch with yourself. It’s not your thoughts that you have to in touch with, because that’s all noise, or your feelings, although it’s better to be in touch with your feelings. Both thoughts and feelings will dissolve as you are simply in touch with the energy. It doesn’t matter at that point how you are feeling about the energies that are coming into you. That becomes irrelevant. What is important is that you are being deeply nourished by it, because you have opened in yourself to a place that is deeper than everything that’s coming at you.

Taking in these finer energies, we’re awakening new pathways by our conscious effort. We are awakening new energetic pathways, we are training our mind, we are training our neural pathways to move the energy through us in ways that is genuinely nourishing and dissolving tension, instead of creating tension and building our ego. And it’s work. Sometimes it is delicious, divine, such beautiful work. Sometimes it’s hard and hurtful, and digesting painful experiences is not easy. Uncovering painful places within us is not easy, but it’s so important.

A lot of the time it’s just practice. It’s a practice that we do out of our love of life and our appreciation for the extraordinary opportunity that has, who knows why, landed itself in our lap, to really make something of our life. Most of the time we go through life with such a small mechanism that even the most petty bullshit nonsense causes us to completely shut down. Lots of people stay shut down forever. This is not the way to have a real life.

To have a real life, you have to have some determination, first of all, to have a real life, to grow. The next thing is that you have to be willing to dig into yourself, to reach inside and make contact and hold the contact sot that you are really absorbing and digesting and transcending all of your experiences. Then you have an ever-increasing quantity of experience, you live a big life, and you have an ever-increasingly refined quality of experience because you are grounded within yourself in that place in which everything is really beautiful all the time. So you are digesting the external from a place that is pure love, unconditional love, a place that sees the symmetry and the beauty and the elegance and the mystery and the magic in it. It is a place that is aware of this magic all the time.

Real life is not at Fred Meyer. You will not find real life at Fred’s. You’re not going to find it at Costco. It ‘s not just walking down the street. All of that is imaginary life. That is the accumulation of all the delusion that exists in humanity over the ages. The reality of life is within you. Real life is within you. True life is within you. It’s not complicated or hard to find. Feel your breath. Be aware of your breath and feel it moving in you. It’s that simple.

As you find this sweetness, which grows and expresses its power and its magic, its beauty, the delusion will resolve and the reality will be where you live everyday. How cool is that?

The Meaning of Inner Work

My teacher, Rudi, used the term “ inner work” in reference to spiritual practice, which could be understood as making an effort and working for an accomplishment. But Rudi, in talking about “inner work,” was not talking about that at all. There is a kind of an effort, but the effort is a natural introspection that arises from our cultivation of the awareness of our own energetic mechanism. By awakening the channels, the senses automatically naturally rotate within, and that rotation brings us into contact with our own essence. So, in effect, what we are doing is not making an effort, but cultivating an awareness. This awareness doesn’t lead to an accomplishment—it leads to a realization, or layers of realization.

In our physical engagement with our spiritual practice, we realize our ignorance. Dealing with our ignorance, we realize our physical capacity. Realizing our physical capacity, we can begin to understand our creative potential. Understanding our creative potential, we encounter our attachments—our hopes and fears. Encountering our hopes and fears, realizing our hopes and fears, and dissolving them, brings us into contact with a deeper layer of resistance in us. Realizing and dissolving that deeper layer brings us into contact with what Rudi called “nothingness,” what the Buddhists call “emptiness,” what the Shaivas call “consciousness,” which is sometimes in all those traditions referred to as “the Void.” Our practice brings us into that dimension of unmanifest, pure creative energy, which is without beginning or end, without any limitation whatsoever. It is pure awareness that is also self-aware and unimaginable possibility.

This unimaginable possibility is not an accomplishment, because it’s already inside you. It is a realization because, turning your attention inside and becoming sensitive, you come to a realization of the depth and the range of what is going on inside you.

If you get lost in the idea of an accomplishment, you will get on a treadmill and go around in circles for a hundred million years. That’s why so many times I have said surrender is the key, because this is not an effort of effort, this is an effort of awareness. It is the cultivation of an awareness of what is going on inside you right now and realizing the cosmic implications.

In this realization, there is tremendous relief and a great sense of joy. There is no amount of shedding of worldly engagement that can any way bring any pressure on us or any tension to our mind. The process is a process of continuously becoming enlightened—lighter and lighter, more and more light. The experience of all of the tensions which we have accumulated in this life, and all of the tensions that we have brought forward into this life from the family system that we have been swimming in for thousands of years, is dissolved.

If you work with the idea of making a big effort, what you will end up with is a complete desensitization to your own energetic mechanism. It does not take a big effort; it just takes a conscious awareness to open all of the chakras and activate all of the channels and begin to experience a simple sweetness and a joy. That simple sweetness and joy is like Drano: it dissolves all the clogs. How fantastic! How unbelievably fortunate that we have the opportunity to dissolve our clogs as we are growing our own happiness and cultivating the innate capacity of the breath of life within us to awaken, in all the lives that we are connected to, a similar experience of joy and a dissolving of tension.

Even though my title is a “teacher,” I don’t teach anybody anything. I will share with you my own experience, and also I am sharing with you the blood of my blood, the life of my life. I am making my entire energetic mechanism available to you, if you have the ability to access it. I make it available to you so that you will have the extra energy that’s necessary to awaken your own energetic mechanism and begin a transformation process in you. But I won’t teach you anything; you will have to learn this yourself.

In order to learn, you have to have a passion for growing. To be alive, you have to have a passion for something. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time here in this world. I suggest you begin to have bit of passion for growing, which is the only reason we’re in this world to begin with. Out of that passion, you will develop a curiosity and a hunger for an understanding of the life that is flowing in your body, and the life that is vibrating as your mind, and the life that unrolls itself from within you in the form of your life experience. To grow, you have to have some curiosity about that, and some commitment to understanding it. Then, paying attention, you will realize.

This is really what life is all about—realizing. This is where the nectar is in life, in realizing. It’s where the juice is. It’s where the joy is. It is the most important thing we are in this world to do.

Patience and Concentration

It’s very important to have a deep commitment to your practice. It’s so important to understand, to somehow get, that there is unimaginable depth within you. You then have to honor that depth through your practice by dissolving the tension of your day and the tension of your life, by dissolving and working through the disappointments of your ancestors. You finally come to the place where you really can completely open your heart and your energetic mechanism to participate in the profound abundance that is the essence of life itself.

This just doesn’t happen quickly. It’s like growing a tree. Growing anything that is great in its dimension and its stature just doesn’t happen quickly. You have to be willing to walk into the unknown within yourself every day and open within yourself every day. Every day you connect to something deeper and something deeper and something deeper, which will eventually open into a profound depth. In our culture now, they tell me, we have a 2-minute, an 8-minute, and a 20-minute attention cycle. That’s pathetic, it’s just pathetic, and it’s happening all over the world.

In contrast to that, the accomplished people of south Asia a couple of thousand years ago understood the micro movements of the breath in conjunction with the moon. They got that there is an integration going on within our breath that is coordinated with the motion of the moon in the sky. They understood this perfectly, and we don’t even have the slightest clue.

How many of you can concentrate long enough to catch hold of the shift that goes on ordinarily in relationship to your breath? Well, that’s just not what’s going on for us, and in a way it’s very sad. What peace and what joy and what richness of creative expression might flow from you if you can be patient and concentrate long enough to really experience the circulation of your breath and the creative energy within you, and come to some authentic contact with that which is truly alive within you?

Through spiritual practice, and in spiritual community, we clear away all the tensions, all the self-rejection, all the inner struggle. We do this to come to understand the extraordinary and simple energetic event that we are. Then, moving beyond the tensions, we are giving that energetic mechanism space to really grow in the field of our life. Growing it brings us to a completely mature understanding of exactly what we are and what this life is.

Creating the Space in Our Life

Nityananda once said that not everybody can be the guru at the same time. Somebody needs to be a disciple. What he meant by that is that each of us is called in our life to a unique experience that is un-comparable to any others. Our experience cannot be judged by promotions or by our financial circumstances. Ultimately, it cannot be judged by any circumstance other than the depth of our connectedness to the power of life itself within us, and the understanding that we have from the depth of that connection about the nature of life itself.

All spiritual practices in every tradition are about making contact with life of our life, and from this contact with the life of our life, understanding what we’re doing here and understanding what life is. This isn’t a cerebral exercise in any way. It’s not about figuring out anything, it’s not about analyzing anything. There is no knowledge to grasp. It is about making contact and holding that contact. It is about making the space within ourselves and the field of our experience for the life of our life to expand and to demonstrate its own rhythm, its own inherent motion and its own natural truth. In this way, because we hold that space, we hold that contact, we simply come to know. There’s nothing to figure out. It’s a knowing that arises out of contact, alignment and flow.

Spiritual practice is about clearing all the garbage out of our heads and our hearts, and clearing all the tensions out of our life. For boys, it’s clearing away the boy things, their egos and ambitions, their contests and their triumphs. For girls it’s about getting rid of their girl things—the fence around the nest and so on. It’s about getting rid of all of those things, so that the life of our life has the space to really breathe and to really move, and, in its breath and movement, to teach us. It is not teaching us something intellectual or cerebral at all, but teaching us the feeling to hold in our hearts. It teaches us the space to hold in our minds and the rhythm with which to move in this world that is free of the delusion of accomplishment or acquisition. It establishes us in an unbroken appreciation for the unimaginable possibility that is available and expressing itself in the space that we establish and hold through our practice.

This requires a conscious effort. There’s no pill we can take that’s going to do that for us. There’s no chemical at all. There’s no book we’re going to read that’s going to explain it to us. It’s impossible. It is the conscious effort of making contact with the life of our life and holding that contact in the space of our heart, which should be ever-expanding.

This isn’t so easy because it’s hard to remember for boys to remember that we’re not our boy things. It’s hard. It requires vigilance, and the same is true for girls and their girl things. So, with vigilance, we release tensions and allow our creative energy to flow, and in that flowing it fills the field of our experience with so much richness, beauty and joy it elevates us beyond all of the insanity that permeates the whole planet. And by holding that space, we have the possibility of doing good to others and completely changing the world.

Clearing the junk out of our hearts and minds and the tensions out of our life is not so easy. It takes work, it takes commitment , dedication, and practice, practice, practice. That commitment and dedication and passion for growing and practice, practice, practice through the days of your life will allow the power of life itself within you ever more fully to fill the space of the field of your experience. It will completely release you from all of the entanglements of this life, to become completely established and absorbed in the ultimate truth. That’s the coolest thing we can possibly accomplish in this world, and I hope you do it. The reason that I sit here everyday is to support you in your effort.

Our True Responsibility in Spiritual Practice

When we engage in an authentic spiritual practice, we have the responsibility to change ourselves. With that personal responsibility, there is a requirement of additional thoughtfulness. Otherwise, what tends to happen is that as we are empowered by our contact with creative energy, our egos get energized. Then what our sense of personal responsibility does with that power facilitates change in us, but that change gets expressed in conventional pathways. Our commitment to our own lives collapses into a kind of self-centeredness that is aligned with the conventional values of our culture.

I can’t think of a time when the circumstances I have felt personally responsible for haven’t turned into a disappointment. Any sense of commitment we have to worldly endeavor almost always gives rise to some profound sense of failure. The fact of the matter is that maybe it isn’t a failure. Maybe it’s just that the possibilities that are available to us in the world from our ordinary states are intrinsically limited. That kind of endeavor isn’t a place where we should be looking for fulfillment in the first place. In the beginning, middle and end, fulfillment exists only in us.

I used to think that sadhus went into caves in the mountains for long term retreats in order to have some kind of spiritual attainment. Now I don’t believe that’s why they went on retreat. It’s my opinion that they went on retreat to get away from people so that their natural awareness of the profound abundance at the core of their being would not be disturbed by all the insanity that goes on in the world.

The solution to all of our personal problems and issues is present within ourselves. We truly need do nothing other than establish contact with our own deepest resource, align ourselves with that deepest resource every day, and flow in that resource in our daily lives as it flows within us. Contact, alignment and flow are the essence of a fulfilled life. That is what we need to take personal responsibility for.

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.

Cultivating an Intention

I’ve talked about the importance of intention and how powerful it can be. It is only powerful when you cultivate it. If you keep it on the shelf in your refrigerator, it’s completely useless. Think about what it means to cultivate intention. My advice is to make it as big as possible. Have a strong, clear, big intention for yourself. In strategic planning terms, have a big hairy goal. Be visionary.

After you’ve got an idea of what your intention is, don’t hold it too tightly, because your intention is going to evolve. It WILL evolve, if you work it. That’s good.

To cultivate your intention, sit someplace comfortable, relax your body, and then take your attention into your heart and state your intention. State it with conviction. Your heart is going to say back to you something like “No way.” You can expect the ego to give you every kind of lame excuse, rejection or wimpy acquiescence there is. All of these demonstrate resistance to the intention that lives within you. Everybody has it. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s just the way we are.

State your intention, and whatever the response, take a breath, relax again, and state your intention again with conviction. Keep doing that. Relax, try to feel yourself go deeper and say it again, until you feel that the intention has reached the bottom of you. You want it to go as deeply into you as it can go. When you have reached the bottom, you heart will be open and the statement of your intention with conviction will be a source of tremendous joy to you. You’ll feel “Yes! That’s right! This is it!”

When you have reached that depth of contact with yourself and clarity about your conviction, you will find that it is not difficult to express this conviction in the world. It does take work. Everything takes work, but it’s not hard. It’s not suffering. It’s a work that is permeated with joy and that tends to express itself in elegant ways.

Attachment and Moving On

In most eastern spiritual literature, attachment is talked about as a problem. I don’t exactly agree with that–I think that eliminating attachment is not necessary. What IS necessary is letting go when something is over. Being connected is not a problem. Staying in places that are no longer alive is a problem. Living with habitual tendencies that are no longer fulfilling your responsibilities or nourishing you is a problem.

The really sneaky thing about attachment is that there are so many attachments inside us that we don’t have a clue about until we grow a little. When we’re kids, we have one set of attachments. When we’re teenagers we have another. When we get into our twenties, a whole other set of attachments rolls out. That’s true for our whole lives. Attachment is going to come out and keep biting us.

Traditionally, the issue of attachment was dealt with by going into the mountains or a forest and just not dealing with people at all. Early Buddhism was about getting away from people, and much of Indian meditation is about solitary meditation. That was fine, when it was possible, but in our culture, if you’re going to go out into the forest and remove yourself from any contact with people you’re probably going to starve to death. That’s one of the reasons we have spiritual communities. Within the context of your interactions with human beings, you can become a very discriminating person, and that’s a positive thing.

So don’t think automatically that connectedness and attachment are bad things. Let’s think about not holding on. When it’s time to move on, you need to develop some awareness and ability to do so. You have to develop the strength to be able to simply move on when it’s time. That will deal with the whole issue of attachment.

Painting Our Own Canvas

One of the core texts of Kashmir Shaivism, the Pratyabhijnahrdayam, describes a sadhana for recognizing the ultimate reality. That sadhana is to absorb all of the objects that we encounter in our life into ourselves. By absorbing all of those objects, those energies, those processes into ourselves, we begin to appreciate that there is nothing outside our own consciousness, which is consciousness itself. By observing that we are connected with all of the objects that present themselves in our lives and having the experience of the feeling of the contact that each object in our life brings up within us, we begin to understand that there is total interconnectedness between objects and their energetic nature and ourselves. Slowly we assimilate all the objects into our own consciousness, and we begin to appreciate that our consciousness is unbounded and infinite, and has no beginning and no end.

Our attitudes, opinions and judgments deny us the opportunity to absorb our experiences and to resolve the residual resonances of those experiences within the circulation of our own creative energy because we are constantly building walls within ourselves. Until all experiences are assimilated and all the residual vibration of all the limited experiences resolves, we still have some karmic experience to pass through. So we should be taking down walls instead of building them.

Rather than spending any time getting engaged with all of your judgments and attitudes, take these kinds of tensions as a reflection of some circumstance within yourself that is appropriate for you to dissolve. Allow the experiences that you pass through in your day to be part of the learning process that we call life, so that you will be nourished and your understanding of the ultimate reality that you are will expand and expand.

This experience of the truth of your own individual consciousness is available to you, and it begins when you start to practice genuine love and respect for everybody in this world. You have to realize that each person is here to, and has the right and responsibility to paint their own canvas. Whether we appreciate their art or not is irrelevant. There is enough work for us in painting our own.

A Simple Matter of Love and Respect

The proliferation of experts in the media who bombard us with opinions these days is a reflection of the way we operate in our own lives. Each of us tends to have an opinion about everyone else’s problems. We also tend to have the opinion that if they just did what we said, everything would be fine. We believe that others need our opinions.

It’s interesting to see the way the world works, because it’s populated with people who are frozen in their opinions and attitudes in relation to everyone else in their life. This network of frozen-ness extends throughout the whole world. Every person thinks they know better than everyone else. That’s one of the main reasons the world is in the sorry state it’s in today.

Swami Muktanananda always used to say, “I welcome you all with love and respect.” He used to talk about the highest sadhana (spiritual practice) being simply to treat everyone with love and respect. To do that, we have to come to a place within ourselves where we don’t have any judgments, attitudes and opinions about anyone. We allow them the space to work out their own tensions and to be nourished as they do that. In creating this space for each other, we are accessing that space and making it more available for ourselves.

Our opinions and our attitudes and our judgments of others also obstruct us. They are an expression of the most limited aspect of us, which completely undermines the opportunity we have to experience the finest place within us. That finest place is also the ultimate reality. It would be a good thing to free ourselves from the burden of our attitudes and judgments and opinions because, at the same time, we are freeing everybody else of them.

Pouring Water into Water, Part 2

Every day when I light a stick of incense to offer in my puja I see a human life. For each of us, as the hours and days and months and years of our lives pass, the subtle fire of life inside us is emitting smoke that is the form of our life and fragrance that is the feeling we hold within.

Our life is burning away, and like a stick of incense placed on the altar, each of us, every day, can offer our life into life. In releasing ourselves into life, we discover a deeper vibrancy, a vibrant silence whose essence is ultimate abundance and well-being. It’s not material abundance, but ultimate spiritual abundance–unconditional love.  We can find that from within ourselves as we take up the water of our life and offer it into the river of Life itself. It’s going to happen anyway, so why not do it  consciously? Why not participate in the pure awareness beyond thought and form that is the essence of that vibrant silence?

Sickness, old age and death are inevitable. If we practice long enough, we can come to a place where we are aware of our own ego clinging and stop struggling to hold ourselves together. Then we can accept our life as it is and reach into a deeper place within it,  and, at the moment when we come to the end of this stick of incense that we are, we will release ourselves from this physical fire into the abundance of the ocean of life and be completely and totally at peace.

Pouring Water into Water, Part 1

About a year ago I was in Rishikesh, India with a friend of mine. He’s a Brahmin, and when we were on the banks of the Ganges, he had to wade out into the river to say a mantra and make an offering to his ancestors. In that offering, he took the water of the river into his hands and offered it, pouring it back into the river.

That offering is an analogy for our lives. Taking water from the river and pouring it back into the river, thinking that you are making an offering, is the kind of egotistical thing that human beings do. The water is the water of the river to begin with, and in the middle and the end. There’s no place it was ever going but the river.

The water in our bodies is the water of the river.  Each of the elements that compose the container for this water was created in a star farther away than our eyes can see, a few billion years before our sun came into being. The elements of our body are not ours, and billions of years after we’re gone these elements will remain.

The only thing that is really our own is our complete connectedness to the ultimate reality, the pure, fine, vibrant silence–the rich and joyous silence of the core of our being. Silence that is uncreated and unceasing. Silence that was there before the universe and will be there after the universe is gone. That silence is pure being, pure consciousness, the very essence of all phenomena and life itself. That’s our own. Everything else we are going to give back. It’s impossible that the water that our bodies contain won’t pour itself back into the ocean of life.

Working under Pressure Doesn’t Work

We can’t accomplish much in a five minute meditation. We need to allow more time–a half an hour, forty minutes. It takes time for our bodies to relax deeply enough that we can start to make contact with our own vital energy, the place from which any enduring change is going to happen.

There are physiological changes that happen when we meditate. They’re inevitable. They’re also temporary–the temporary effect of our vital energy. There are also emotional changes that happen, and they’re also effects.

Enduring change happens in our vital force. It happens when we make contact with that vital force, when we literally and quite palpably make contact. When we bring our vital energy to a state of quiet, that facilitates a shift, and allow for the release of any and all patterns of constraint and the emergence of a creative flow. This flow is an enduring change that manifests itself in our physical bodies, in our mind and emotions, and throughout the whole field of our life. It manifests as intellectual acuity, an expanded range of emotional expression, and greater physical vitality and mobility.

It takes time for us to know ourselves. There is no point in pushing it. There is a point to being disciplined and focused and persevering, but all of this must be done with patience. Otherwise the pressure we are putting on ourselves and our environment only perpetuates the pathologies that we are hoping to relieve ourselves of through our efforts. Our ambition, our drive, our impatience undermine the healing we aspire to in our physical bodies and in our hearts and minds.

Work is necessary, but work done in a pressurized environment for the sake of some imaginary goal or some temporary power will never bring us to a place where we are in contact with the abundance that is our own vital essence.

A Clear Pathway

It is extraordinarily simple, and really important and powerful for each of us to understand that we are in this world to grow. That growth does not happen from any circumstance that we desire. It happens when we understand that there is no circumstance that we require and that only the awareness of the vibrancy of life itself circulating within us is needed. As that grows and transforms the entire field of  our awareness, the vibration in us will bless us in ways that are unimaginable, with better things than we could ever want. But as long as we’re chasing things outside ourselves, we’re screwed, to put it bluntly.

Our bodies and our minds have to be aligned in this understanding, so that the spirit, the vibrancy that is the soul of our life has a clear pathway to express itself in the field of our experience. Otherwise, as it wakes up it gets entangled in a whole ton of ego complication which has nothing to do with anything and takes us decades to work through. Decades.

The fact of the matter is that most people don’t understand what spiritual practice is. Some energy comes into their existence and activates all of their desires and ambitions and egotism, none of which have anything to do with spirituality at all. Cutting through that is the whole work of any kind of spiritual growth, so that we can continuously and quickly come back to stillness and endure in the  awareness of the vibrancy of life itself from within. That’s what growth is about.