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Monday, February 1, 2016

Tantra: Coming Out of the Illusion of Sense Cravings


The first two levels of initiation within the kaula school of tantra help us unveil the mystery of the right-hand path. The left-hand disciplines constitute the final stage of the sadhana,but this initiation is conferred only after the preliminary practices have been completed and the master has found, after repeated testing, that the student has no craving for sense gratification and upholds the sacredness of the left-hand path.

Each stage of kaula sadhana depends upon the one before it. After the first initiation, for example, we have to complete a well-defined course of mantra sadhana, known as purascharana,which helps us experience our relationship with the Divine Mother, and it is only after we have completed this practice that we are qualified to receive the second initiation. Yantra sadhana, the next level of practice, brings us into direct contact with the multi-layered forces within the microcosm and the macrocosm that lie beyond our normal realm of consciousness.At this level of initiation, yantra sadhana is accompanied by rituals, visualization, contemplation, mantra recitation, and fire offerings. The principles of self-restraint and specific disciplines cultivating a strong and healthy body, practicing breathing exercises, eating vegetarian meals,observing silence, curtailing sleep, bathing at least twice a day,and refraining from excessive socializing - play an important role in this sadhana. Adhering to these disciplines familiarizes us with our strengths and weaknesses, and in the process we gain considerable control over our primitive urges. But even though we attain the ability to subdue our subhuman tendencies, their subtle traces are still hidden somewhere deep in our unconscious. And tantrics believe that as long as this is the case there is always a possibility that we will come under their influence.

It is true that the practices of the first two levels of initiation help us acknowledge our subhuman tendencies.However when taken to an extreme - eating too little, sleeping too little, depriving ourselves of company and all forms of entertainment - these observances sap our vitality and create the illusion that we have attained freedom from the cravings of the senses. Left-hand tantrics poke fun at this.They use the analogy of a horse race: you have a strong, healthy horse, but it has not been trained and you do not know how to ride; the cinch is loose and you have only a feeble grip on the reins - and yet you are in a race. After falling off and hurting yourself repeatedly, you decide that the horse is too strong and conclude that the only way you will ever win the race is if the horse is weak enough for you to control it.

According to left-hand tantrics, this is silly and selfdefeating.The horse is the senses; the mind the reins.You can win the race for spiritual and worldly success only by nourishing and training your senses. You must also have a good grip on the reins, which is possible only if you have sharpened your intellect and cultivated your power of will and determination. During the early training period (the first two initiations) you may need a horse you can dominate,one that is not bursting with energy that you have no skill to control. But to win the race you must have a strong, healthy horse and the ability to control it. Gaining this mastery is the goal of left hand kaula practices.

Tantrics that follow the left-hand path live in the world,enjoy it to its fullest, and yet remain above it. Their disciplines make sure they will have a strong, healthy body and mind and that their intellect will be crystal-clear so they can detect the deceptive behaviors of their mind and senses.And because they know the pitfalls on this path they center their sadhana around the master, from whom they never conceal anything. In fact one key guideline on this path is: "Do not assume that your master is a great and enlightened sage and therefore knows all about you. Even if he knows, it is still your duty to tell him your weaknesses. But there is no need to tell him your strengths."

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