Seeing is one thing,
looking is another.
If both come together,
that is god.
If you look for an elephant,
he comes as an elephant.
If you look for a tree,
he’s a tree.
If you look for a mountain,
he’ll be a mountain.
God is what you have in your mind.
Reflecting on the theme of beauty back in May reminded me that I wanted to start a series of posts on the subject of visualisation – particularly with respect to tantra sadhana which – together with gesture and utterance – is one of its central practices. Continue reading »
The King of Mantras, O dear One! is at all times engendered by the union of Śiva and Śakti, and by that of the Yoginīs, the Vīras, and the Vīrendas. Thus constituted, delighting in the utmost bliss, the Goddess, whose nature is vibration [spanda], of innate beauty, once known, is to be freely worshipped.
Yoginīhṛdaya 2, 17-18 (transl. André Padoux & Roger-Orphé Jeanty)
At the end of the last post in the Saundaryalahari series, I promised that I would say something on the subject of mantras. This is a vast subject, and even with over a quarter-century of study & practice at my back, it is still a topic which I would approach only slowly. Before diving into the historical & philosophical complexities of mantra, I thought I’d begin then, with some reflections on my own early encounters with mantra-practice. Continue reading »
“Enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in endless eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly through throat and trachea to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.”
David Abrams, on air, The Spell of the Sensuous
“The tantric practitioner lives within the maṇḍala, lives within the yantra, lives within the vision of divinity such that the symbolic world of the text becomes the lived world of the body. Representation in text, icon and rite coalesce in the experience of the lived body.”
Gavin Flood The Tantric Body
To continue from the previous post in this series I now want to focus on approaching particular tantric body-practices. Continue reading »
“The most immediate and concrete means of persuading people of the reality of divine power is to involve their bodies.”
Thomas Csordas, Somatic Modes of Attention
I’m going to progress this series by considering various themes related to the “tantric” body-in-practice. This is a massive subject, and I’ll begin by outlining what I mean by the “body-in-practice” and why this is a useful way of considering practice(see Tantra keywords: Embodied for some earlier reflections). Attempting to discuss the various different modes of tantra practice can be a tricky proposition, as it is, I often find, difficult to seperate them easily – as they work across different domains. In exploring Nyasa for example, at some point one will have to deal with how nyasa intersects with mantra-vidya. In considering mudras, it might be desirable to discuss how mudras ‘work’ across several registers simultaneously – from the broadly cosmological, the social, and the personal; as energetic movements through space and and at the same time, public, dialogical gestures. Continue reading »
In twining creepers I see your body,
in eyes of startled does your glance,
in the moon the glow and shadow of your cheek,
in the peacocks’ crested plume your hair,
in the flowing waters’ quick ripples
the capricious frown on your brow,
but no single object holds
an image of your likeness.
Desire (kāma) is the will to take possession [of the other] (to make the other oneself). Veiling everything with his desire, the desirer can accomplish everything, since everything has as its ultimate principle desire itself.
Abhinavagupta, Mālinīvijayavārttika (1.281)
Now to verses 21-22 of Saundaryalahari. Continue reading »
The worship of oneself must be done with elements that are pleasing to the senses.
Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down, prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity of mine be some form of worship of you.
In the previous post in this series I gave a brief discussion on what could be thought of as a ‘tantric’ perspective on the senses. Now I will move onto describing the “short form” of this practice, which takes the form of a short puja sequence. Continue reading »
“Just as one who sees something out of the ordinary experiences a feeling of amazement, so the feeling of amazement in enjoying contact with the various manifestations of knowable reality is continually produced in this great yogin with the whole wheel of the senses increasingly revealed, motionless, disclosed, by virtue of penetrating into its most intimate nature, the compact union of ever-renewed consciousness and wonder, extreme, extraordinary.”
Ksemaraja, commentary on Śivasutra, 1.12, quoted from Torella, 2012
“All wisdoms have celebrated the instant, the wise man leaves aside memory; he has few projects, makes himself at home in the present, inhabits its differential.”
Michel Serres, The Five Senses
I’ve been taking this foray into “heart practice” slowly, beginning with a central theme in tantra practice – that of the goddess dwelling in the heart. I’m now going to progress things slightly, with a look at a practice I tend to refer to as the “adoration of the senses”. But first, some thoughts on the senses themselves. Continue reading »
“Salutations to Sri Mata
Salutations to Sri Maharajni
Salulations to the Queen seated upon the lion-throne
Salutations to She who resides in the fire of consciousness
Salutations to She who shines with the red brilliance of a thousand rising suns
Salutations to She who bears the noose, the goad, the sugarcane bow; the five sense-arrows
Salutations to She whose red brilliance engulfs the universe.
One of the ways in which I have, for some years now, approached tantra sadhana is to start with something (relatively) simple, and then extend it with other practices as time, circumstances, and insights allow. There’s a tendency in western occulture to make a distinction between “basic” and “advanced” practices – where “basic” practices constitute something that you do for a set period and then never bother with again, and the “advanced” practices which are really, where the action is. In terms of my approach to tantra practice, I tend to think instead of “core” practices – which can be deepened and enriched over time. Continue reading »
“Using the plow of truth,
sowing the seeds of love,
plucking the weeds of falsehood,
pouring the waters of patience;
they look directly into themselves
and build fences of virtue.
If they remain rooted in their good ways,
The Bliss of Siva will grow.”
Appar (seventh-century Tamil poet-saint, from Pandian, 2009, p21)
“Ethical encounters are jubilant, joyous encounters of both affectivity and liberty.”
Patricia MacCormack, Posthuman Ethics
A great deal has been written about tantra as a transgressive practice and the perceived necessity of moving beyond normative values in order to discover “freedom”. However, the idea of tantra as an ethical practice seems to me to be relatively unthought. For this post then, I want to make some preliminary reflections on the possible ethical dimensions of contemporary tantra practice. Continue reading »
The Heart is the subtle vibration of the triangle which consists of the incessant expansion and contraction of the three powers, and it is the place of repose, the place of supreme bliss. This very Heart is the Self of Bhairava, of that which is the essence of Bhairava, and of the blessed supreme Goddess who is inseperable and nondifferent from him.
Abhinavagupta, commentary on Paratrisika-laghuvritti, transl. Paul Muller-Ortega
So, Mind, call out “Kali! Kali”;
meditate on the Mother’s form.
In this way, that cloud-coloured Syama
will dance, always
dance, in your heart.
Kalyankumar Mukhopadhyay (transl. Rachel Fell McDermott)
Placing one’s chosen deity in the heart is a core element of tantra practice (see, for example Reading the Saundarya Lahari – III-2 for some related discussion and an example from the Todala Tantra.) I have been doing this now (as the beginning phase of formal puja, as formal meditation, and, increasingly, as a day-to-day, moment-by-moment rememberance) for nigh on twenty-five years, so it’s probably high time for me to make some reflections on this particular aspect of sadhana. Continue reading »