(Continued from Hatha and Tantra Yoga)
I love the descriptions of Tantra by the widely respected yogic scholar Georg Feuerstein who penned one of my favorite books, “Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy”. For those of you who have seen me perform my song “Yoga In the Nightclub” in my current show “Natamba” (and if you have not yet, please come out!) you know that I use elements of the following quote from Dr. Feuerstein in my extended version of the house music track:
“What Tantric masters aspired to was to create a transubstantiated body, which they called adamantine (vajra) or divine (daiva) – a body not made of flesh but of immortal substance, of Light. Instead of regarding the body as a meat tube doomed to fall prey to sickness and death, they viewed it as a dwelling-place of the Divine and as the caldron for accomplishing spiritual perfection. For them, enlightenment was a whole body event.”
As such, the body is more akin to place of alchemy, a caldron to transform the base metals of crude desires into the gold of spiritual perfection. Tantra was not an endorsement of bestiality and debauchery, but a highly ritualized practice that keenly witnessed the nature of desire and a fiercely confronted it at its root in order to use its powerful charge to fuel the fires of inner transformation. Tantra was not about freely doing what one spontaneously desired, but about developing razor-sharp insight in order to understand the impulses that arose through the body and learning acute discernment as to what those impulses fed. Enlightenment for Tantric practitioners is not an intellectual thing, nor something that is beyond form, but a full body experience.
The Yoga Bija celebrates the power that the physical body can provide a spiritual aspirant:
“The fire of Yoga gradually bakes the body composed of the seven constituents [such as bone, marrow, blood, etc…]. Even the deities cannot acquire the exceedingly powerful yogic body. The [yogin’s] body is like the ether, even purer than the ether.”
The obvious shadow to a practice that embraces the physical as a means to enlightenment, and why Tantra is considered the razor’s edge of the razor’s edge, and by far not for most spiritual practitioners, is that aspirants can easily fall prey to the subtlety of greed, the tricks of desire and the illusions of wanting. Just as modern bodybuilders can become overly attached to their physical form, so too can those who use their body as a vehicle for spiritual transformation start to think that their body and themselves are the divine. We see this often in Hatha Yoga, where the goal of the practice seems not to be the release of attachments to desire, but the cultivation of the best yoga butt in Lululemon pants.
It is also easy, I guess, for newspaper reporters to let their imaginations get carried away with the idea of sexuality being integrated into spiritual practice, while forgetting to dig a little deeper to find that in fact only a small sect of Tantric practitioners actually used the physical practice of sexuality in their spiritual pursuits. On the issue of sexual practice, Tantrism split into the Left Hand Path, a group that practiced ritual sex, and the Right Hand Path, a group that understood sexuality more symbolically than physically enacted.
The development of Hatha Yoga as part of Tantrism was developed to help support the body’s potential so it could meet the challenges of, and change in concurrence with, spiritual transformation. Spiritual bliss is seen not as a purely mental state, but something that involves the whole body/being. The Hatha Yogi therefore cultivates a body of light that is both metaphorically and actually baked in the heat of transformation, and ultimately freed of all notions of separation and desire.
As a warning to this shadow of attachments to the body and desire, and an admonition that body-practice alone is not the goal of yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, considered the most popular manual for this path, clearly states: “All means of Hatha [Yoga] are for [reaching] perfection in Raja-Yoga. A person rooted in Raja-Yoga [truly] conquers death.” (IV.102)
Even the purified body of the Hatha Yogis is subject to the laws of nature and will eventually pass. If one is a true yogi, one must be rooted in Raja Yoga, that is, yoga that brings aspirants to the goal of full realization, seeing Hatha Yoga as a part of such, but not an end goal in itself.
(Continued tomorrow with The Catch: Tantra’s Sex Appeal and the Need for a Guru)