Tuesday, 9 October 2018

New Moon and the Start of Navaratri

Tonight is the start of Navaratri, a ten day festival to celebrate the feminine, Shakti and the forms of her wisdom and virtue in our lives.  It starts with the goddess Durga which can be seen as a form of Kali who destroys impurities and things that no longer serve us. For the first three days you can meditate on this or perform pujas connected to Kali.  She is often seen as fierce and has weapons like  bow and arrow and spear riding on a tiger to ruthlessly seek out what is not serving us any longer.



For the second part of the festival the goddess is Lakshmi who is seen as the Mother and is often seen as connected to spiritual wealth.  She is often depicted on a fountain of milk holding symbols of wealth and abundance.


For the last part the goddess is Saraswati who represents wisdom and knowledge. She is generally shown playing a rudra vina a stringed instrument as she is connected to music and the arts.

On the tenth day all forms are worshipped. The are the consorts of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.

So, find a woman, and the goddess inside yourself (men and women) and revere her. Celebrate the feminine it all its forms.

Monday, 1 October 2018

The UK Landscape of Tantra



As you may know I have been something of a “tantra geek” for decades, trying to figure out what tantra really is. At one level this is simple; tantra is the practices to awaken you to your Essence-nature. However this doesn’t really engage with the range of things that people tend to associate with tantra.

This weekend I have been at a tantra workshop in London with over 100 people and I only knew two of them. Generally, at workshops I see the same faces, so what was different? I realised that the vast landscape of tantra that I had come to appreciate was unknown to most people in the tantra world I usually inhabit. I was in a different continent. The workshop was at Triyoga in London with Christopher Wallis author of Tantra Illuminated and was mostly the London yoga crowd; youngish women who had some intuition that yoga is about more than tying your body in knots or trimming your thighs; the sense that yoga has its origins in tantra.

For the general public tantra means something to do with Sting and with sex.  For most people, for whom the word “workshop” isn’t a place where practical tools are stored and used; tantra means pleasure, sex, orgasmic states usually somedance and eye-gazing and generally lots of rather yummy things. The rise of tantra festivals tends to support that. Recently some people seem to have got the idea that tantra is in some way connected to kink, BDSM or polyamory.

As tantra embraced all aspects of our being and was always connected with transgressive practices, none of this is actually wrong. It is however, only a part of a bigger picture of tantra in the UK.  I want to try and give a bigger picture of tantra in UK.

A major factor in distorting the picture of what tantra is comes from the fact that tantra is “packaged” in workshops and sold in the marketplace of events that will make you feel better. Sex sells. The West is great at propagating things through society by turning them in to a commodity and then promoting it. “How to have bigger orgasms” will be an easier workshop to sell than “Facing your own death”! Though the latter is more tantric as far as traditions of tantra are concerned. Teachings easily get turned in to a form of therapy, so yoga joins the fitness industry, meditation and mindfulness joins the mental health world; and tantra is a form of sex or relationship therapy. As tantra is awakening to your essential nature; it can be an uncomfortable process. Literally one of dis-illusionment. Waking up to reality. The by-product is deep joy but that or even pleasure can never be the aim of tantra. Damn! The deepest traditions are all non-dual so everything must be embraced.


People who attend tantra workshops will naturally believe that what happens in a tantra workshop is tantra. The reality is that most of the content of a tantra workshop comes from humanistic personal growth methods from the therapy world. Even things, like the system of seven chakras in the body with certain characteristics comes mostly from Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, not traditional Indian sources.  

The most visible tantra in the West, often called Neo-Tantra in the last 20 years comes from people connected with; or at least inspired by Osho. Much came via the SkyDancing approach developed by Margot Anand. To those who sat with him; Osho was inspiring and a great facilitator of a meeting of East and West.  Many amazing people emerged from the Osho world. He however, had little connection to the Indian traditions of tantra; neither by direct lineage, by teaching or by extensive practice. He was a great orator, showman and reader of books (not writer; he never actually wrote a book). Many of his practices owe more to Western Reichian therapy of the 70’s with an emphasis on energy rather than on consciousness or awareness. Our ideas of tantra as being principally about energy, sexuality, and the feminine come from here with some help from the emerging feminist and goddess-spirituality world.

In this map of the UK tantra landscape; as well as the very visible “continent” of neo-tantra there is another gradually increasing “island” which is more connected to Yoga and its maturation in the West. When yoga was brought to the West about 120 years ago by figures like Vivekananda it was sanitised for conservative Westerners. His guru was Ramakrishna a tantric Kali-worshipper but this was played down. Tantra has been around in the West for longer than most realise; The Tantrik Order of America was founded in 1905 and in Britain, via early Orientalists like Sir John Woodroffe, there was some interest in tantra and a great deal of interest in Indian philosophy for the last hundred years.

Generally, in line with the times it was the more conservative, Vedic traditions which dominated yoga closely connected to notions of purity and health with hatha yoga as a way of purifying the body. Yoga naturally was marketed as healthy for mind, body and spirit and was placed in gyms and health centres. It brings the notion of the discipline of regular practice – whereas neo-tantra is more comfortable with the idea of do whatever you feel like whenever you want to. Yoga, connected with the right hand path is more masculine, more ascetic and renunciate and easily connects to striving; which easily feeds the ego.  Some yoga teachers are now interested in learning more about its origins within tantra and study Sanskrit or learn more about mantras; an essential component of traditional tantra. Within the broad field of yoga much is from twentieth century inventions like Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga and other practises such as Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga.

It was in the modern yoga world; at Triyoga that I was seated in a large group listening to Christopher Wallis giving a taste through the texts of the last two and a half thousand years of experiences that gave rise to yoga and tantra. Tantra yoga is a householder tradition not renunciate and monastic but embracing of all aspects of life. It is slower and gentler without self-harming or self-negating practices.  Christopher; along with Christopher Tompkins are the most widely known of modern scholar/practitioners who are engaged in the process of translating and understanding the many ancient texts which have never been studied.  They connect to the third continent of tantra. Tantrik Studies.

From the perspective of most neo-tantra with its emphasis on direct experience and the old 70’s humanistic therapy slogan of “Get out of your mind into your feelings/body!”; the study of texts and the traditions of tantra is a waste of time. It is true that one of the meanings of tantra is “practices” or “methods” so doing it is important. It is also true that most spiritual traditions require three things; the correct view; the correct practices and then the correct goals. The generations of practitioners and lineage-holders through history have accumulated a great deal of relevant experiences and information to help and even more, can alert us to the pitfalls and dangers on the path. Therefore the study of the thousands of texts of tantra is important. I am astonished at what a small proportion of the texts have ever been translated and studied. Perhaps only 10% as it is a very long, slow and skilful process to do so. 

As it is intensive of time and resources it is usually connected to universities. In some, like School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London, it is primarily done by academics who are not practitioners. In other places like Oxford University there are more who are also practitioners including Prof Alexis Sanderson the foremost scholar of Kashmir Shavism.  There are also others who have independently learnt Sanskrit and translated tantric texts for many years such as Mike Magee and the Hindu Tantrik Site. These days, scholars all over the world are linked by the internet. Most neo-tantra is implicitly dualistic as it starts from Shiva-Shakti or feminine-masculine and is therefore coming from a place of separation. The deeper spiritual traditions, including my one of Kashmir Shavism are non-dual starting from Oneness. There is only Consciousness (or the Divine).

Some of practitioner-scholars of tantra overlap with the yoga world; like the “two Christophers” (though neither are based in UK) . Some of the yoga world overlaps with the neo-tantra world such as the Romanian originated schools based on MISA such as Agama Yoga and, in UK, Tara Yoga who run a London Tantra Festival. Outside of this map and not quite fitting on any of the continents is the world of Tibetan Buddhism which is all tantric. It is strong on ritual and visualisations and has generally derived from the monastic traditions of Tibet and therefore does not fit with modern neo-tantra and its emphasis on sex or yoga or the text-based studies. It has a long history in UK with Samye Ling starting over 50 years ago. Rigpa, as with Agama Yoga has recently been in the forefront of scandal over improper sexual boundaries from teachers. 

Somewhere on the edges of the three circles are things like Sufism - the tantra of Islam. Kabbalah -the tantra of Judaism, Paganism the remains of the Celtic tantra and Goddess spirituality the resurrection of ancient women-centred practices.

As tantra embraces all aspects of life we can embrace, or at least be aware of every area of tantra in UK without thinking one is better than the other. Tantra has always evolved but has some core principles that really do not change over time.

I hope this brief map can help give you the wider territory of tantra.  Namaste!


  








Saturday, 22 September 2018

Equinox

Today is the Autumn Equinox, the mid-point of day and night. The sun is overhead at the equator at midday travelling further South to give us a winter.


Celebrating this; links us to nature's cycles and a deeper connection to our own cycles, the balancing of darkness and light, the power of letting go, and the acknowledgement that everything changes. 
Tantra as a spiritual practice is always ultimately about Oneness and the skilful use of polarities like Shiva and Shakti  - or consciousness and energy. It is tempting to put the two together and think in terms of a harmonious balance of Shiva and Shakti. This can be misleading. Putting together two different types of qualities can  cause more problems than doing so may solve. The familiar yin yang symbol of a black and white sector whirling together has limitations but it is better than mixing black and white together and getting grey! 

This is true even with the Equinox as a balance of light and darkness. They are not exact opposites - one candle will dispel the darkness, but one bit of darkness doesn't remove all light.... On a planetary level from the perspective of space there isn't day and night just a beautiful blue-green planet spinning in space. 

Whatever the equinox means to you, may you be blessed, may you be loved, and may you be held gently in this golden autumn light.





Sunday, 20 May 2018

Words, words, words



We have become a very wordy culture. Perhaps it is all the texting and social media posts that have contributed. Perhaps it is the real absence of silence in our culture and opportunities to reflect in beyond words.

I have become interested recently in how words are used. They can be used to conceal as much as they reveal and the ubiquity of words and the speed of texting and speaking can hide what is behind them; particularly assumptions and claims. In our fast-moving culture uses of words and shades of mean can also change quickly.

For example, a couple of years ago it was almost unknown to hear anyone say “I feel triggered by/when……. “ . The first thing to notice, of course is that “triggered” is not a feeling or emotion in the way anger, fear, sadness, shame are. This is one of the peculiarities of the English language that the word “feel” can be used to express a thought, intention, desire, preference or emotion. The word “triggered” in this sort of context comes from recent understandings of trauma and in particular PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It refers to the fact that a relatively innocuous event in the present can cause the neurology to re-experience a past traumatic situation which will include being overwhelmed so the system can’t process it (which is what trauma is), and often have a visual component; a flashback.  The recent use of the word “triggered” seems to be adequately covered by the words, “upset”, or “hurt” unless the user has actually been catapulted back in to a real past trauma. The use of the word slightly medicalises the experience and takes it out of the hands of the experiencer – because in a real situation of being in a flashback you cannot choose whether to go there; it is automatic. It points to a person seeking the position of victim. The only real remedy is therapeutic work on the original trauma.

A similar thing has been happening over a longer period of time with the word “depressed”. Depression as a psychological condition is very real and to many degrees quite debilitating. In fact, at one end, there is psychotic depression which often needs hospitalisation. 
Nowadays someone can claim to feel depressed that they have run out of biscuits! Similarly, I have noticed that sometimes people claim to have “a migraine” when it is more accurately a bad headache or be allergic to a food when it can be an intolerance or even a preference to not eat it.

This has always happened as language evolves. The word “gaudy” which now means “tastelessly bright, harsh or lurid” in the sixteenth century came from roots meaning “joyful” or “rejoicing”. There was certainly no negative connotation.

Of more interest to me at present it the use of words to signify a position. Currently there are many competing theories and ideologies and ideas in the world and many diverse subgroups and subcultures. In fact, I am not sure there is really one single culture at all anywhere in the world outside of a few isolated, traditional communities. Words can signify an alignment with a theory or position or group without every having to examine any of it.

For example, the word “heteronormative” is used increasingly. If we take the word itself then “hetero” is from the Greek meaning essentially “other” or “diverse” and “normative” has two related meaning that have become conflated here. The first meaning is prescriptive; creating certain standards or rules of behaviour. The second meaning is descriptive; for example, the median salary in a range. It means closer to “standard” or “usual” without any implication of correctness. English is the normative language spoken in England but there are many locations (including Oxford Street in London in summer) where that is not the case. The mixing of these two can easily suggest that everyone should speak English. So, in the use of a term like heteronormative there seems to be an implication of how things should be rather than a simple description of how things are. If out walking in England I meet someone I may speak to them in English. It is perfectly possible that they are in fact Polish and cannot understand or respond in English. I am not implying that they should speak English. This is normative in the descriptive use. Most people in England will speak English to some degree; that is simply statistics.  But the term “heteronormative” is not used to suggest that otherness is the usual condition. It implies a whole range of other assumptions connected to theories and ideas, which are not articulated and may be disputed.

To illustrate this, I will connect heteronormative to a set of ideas that I find very important. The Advaita or nondual tradition in spiritual teaching simply says that there is only Oneness. Atman and Brahman are one. There is no division and no boundary. This is the ultimate spiritual reality so anyone who believe in otherness creates an illusory division. The most profound teachings of tantra; in the Kashmir Shavite tradition are all non-dual.  Therefore, there can be no heteronormativity; no sense of otherness and certainly therefore no privileging of otherness. There is only One. Heteronormativity is to live in the illusion of separation. At the same time it is actually our everyday lived experience (except perhaps for some enlightened mystics); we notice day and night, hot and cold, comfortable and uncomfortable and usually male and female through the contrasts of difference. In sublime states; we lose the sense of “I” and of all separation.

In doing this I have claimed the term for my interests rather than subscribing to a different subculture. However; ultimately the meaning of a word is its use. So, the question has to be; its use within which group and what are the assumptions behind the use of the term in that group? The other very important question is the power of that group in relation to perceived other groups who may be more dominant or at least more numerous. 

Continuing with the hetero and homo theme; the word and even the concept of homosexual really only began between the two World Wars (see The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz). Most cultures for most of history have not concept of heterosexuality or homosexuality.  It seems now that there is an ever greater need to create terms and use them to claim an identity. It is precisely this reification of being and then the claiming of rights in relation to a supposed other (as a way of creating social justice and presumably social cohesion) that people like Jordan Peterson are questioning. I doubt if may readers can really distinguish between demiflux and demifluid! We now have the terrifying rise of incels; usually young males in Western culture who are involuntarily celibate. They feel empowered to create an identity and air their grievances to the point of killing people on at least three occasions in North America (See Link).


In the spiritual world the basic question of self-enquiry popularised by Ramana Maharshi with the question; “Who Am I ?” ; can lead to profound realisations. All labels and identifications impede this deeper realisation. Words obscure as much as they reveal. We are spaciousness; emptiness appearing as form; a wave in the ocean of consciousness.
 
At the moment I am reading The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche. He has lived for decades with the Sanskrit verses of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra and his translations are sublime. He writes of the process of getting to know a Sanskrit word over years; getting to know the images which go with the meanings in the definition. These are words to live with and grow through.  Namaste!



Monday, 30 April 2018

Beltane and May Day

Tonight is a full moon and from this evening it is Beltane and tomorrow, May Day; a celebration of sexuality and fertility and the union of the Goddess and the God. 

It is a time of fertility and abundance. Celebrations include, circling the Maypole for fertility and jumping the Beltane fire for luck.  The myths of Beltane state that the young God has blossomed into manhood, and the Goddess takes him on as her lover. Together, they learn the secrets of the sexual and the sensual, and through their union, all life begins.

Beltane is the season of maturing life and deepening love. This is a time to celebrate the coming together of the masculine and feminine creative energies. Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desired the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms and unite.

The flowers and greenery symbolise the Goddess and the Maypole represents the God. Beltane marks the return of vitality and passion of summer. The word tantra in Sanskrit comes from a root meaning of weaving and this is "English tantra"; dancing around the maypole and weaving the ribbons around the maypole as the two sets of dancers move in opposite directions. 

I wont be dancing around a Maypole but I will do an Agni Hotra fire ceremony in Sahaja's tantric temple. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Equinox

Today is the Spring Equinox, the mid-point of day and night . The sun is overhead at the equator at midday travelling further North to give us a Summer;  much needed, under the snow we now have.

The familiar symbol, known as the yin yang symbol but properly called the taijitu is about a thousand years old from China. Similar designs are found in Iron-Age Celtic culture in 3rd century BCE.

It shows a dynamic  harmony, within the circle of the polarities of black and white moving together.

Tantra as a spiritual practice is always ultimately about Oneness and the skilful use of polarities like Shiva and Shakti  - or consciousness and energy. It is tempting to put the two together and think in terms of a harmonious balance of Shiva and Shakti. This can be misleading. Putting together two different types of qualities can  cause more problems than it may solve. The familiar yin yang symbol of a black and white sector whirling is better than mixing black and white together and getting a static, uniform grey!

Within each, there is a dot of the opposite which points beyond  separation to the reality that int he heart of each is the other.  In some forms of this symbol there is an empty circle in the very centre of the symbol to show that this duality is based in emptiness.

Enjoy the dance. Today there is an equal balance of Yin and Yang and the turning of the year towards light and Spring. This can inspire us to believe that, along with the Earth, we too might change, release the past, and give birth to new passions, ideas and projects.  Soon will be Easter and then May Day as Life comes riotously into abundance.

On a planetary level from the perspective of space there isn't day and night just a beautiful blue-green planet spinning in space.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Jordan Peterson and Tantra


Unless you have been living in a cave you will have heard of Jordan Peterson. He is all over the Web and particularly You Tube with at least 300 videos – (often put up by others and badly titled). The subjects cover a vast range from The Bible, relationship advice, extended commentary on Disney's The Lion King, diet, gender, equality and above all, his dislike of the effects of post-modern deconstructivism particularly on young people.   

He is a clinical psychologist and a Jungian. This in itself is rather unusual but it means he can bring both research results (he has authored 120 research papers),  and archetypes to bear on whatever he has in his sights; as well as clinical experience. Most Jungians are rather quiet, introvert and write books (such as Robert Bly and James Hillman) but Jordan Peterson is passionate, outspoken and very open (See interview with him and his daughter on his depression) .He is also spiritual, coming from his life experience and philosophical enquiry.

He rose to prominence from his objection to a Canadian law which would force him to use an invented pronoun to refer to transgender people. He argued that language evolves rather than being legislated and what you call someone comes from a relational connection not a law. He immediately became the target of protests - but received a great deal of support from transgender people who disliked being used for political purposes.

He says a great many things that to some seem very controversial and to others; like me mostly seem rather obvious. But he states them in a powerful way usually backed by research. As a result of his stand and outspokenness he is often misunderstood in the heat of the debate. The most famous example is a recent Channel 4 interview (See Link on Analysis of this).

His most watched video An Introduction to the Idea of God has had 1.6 million views. 
Apparently 80% of those who watch his You Tube videos are men; even though many of those videos are lectures he gave to psychology students 80% of whom are female.  Clearly JP is saying something to young men. Has a message which is particularly pertinent for that group; grow up, take responsibility, find a moral and ethical framework to live by, discover the complexity and depth of life.  Nearly all women would want this of the men in their lives; given that our society tends to keep men as perpetual disgruntled, and sometimes fatherless adolescents - as most of the school shooters in USA are. 

Turning to tantra. Jordan Peterson's philosophy of life covers every aspect of;  "Life, the Universe and Everything" and this is absolutely true of tantra as well. This means that there should be many points of connection and correlation.   He has not; (as far as I know) made any direct reference to tantra but the list on his website of his approximately 50 recommended books includes two from Carl Jung on Psychology and Alchemy and the momentous Mysterium Coniunctionis. Alchemy is the part of the European tradition of tantra. The list also includes Mirace Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. 

These books are not particularly accessible or seen as directly relevant to most young people (neither is tantra unless they think it is only about sex!) but aspects of his philosophy; such as the need to walk the edge between order and chaos (See here) illustrated by the familiar Yin-Yang symbol are clearly tantric. His call for men to step up to engaging fearlessly with the world rather than hiding in nihilistic or dis-empowering philosophies is straight from the Shiva traditions of tantra with the call to wake up; become aware and embrace the virya; the warrior whose role is to engage the power of  presence.  He believes that meaning can come from dialogue and not from the deconstruction of all meaning. He also believes that not everything comes from social construction and societal pressure but to an extent there is a biological and neurological underpinning. This is absolutely standard from neuroscience and from research, but unfortunately, the general climate of anti-intellectual and anti-science; which gave us Trump and "fake news", is usually not interested in debates about evidence.  

He described his own politics as those of a “classic British liberal … temperamentally I am high on openness which tilts me to the left, although I am also conscientious which tilts me to the right. Philosophically I am an individualist, not a collectivist of the right or the left. Metaphysically I am an American pragmatist who has been strongly influenced by the psychoanalytic and clinical thinking of Freud and Jung.” He also said  ”I’m and Existentialist". He believes in virtue, respect, gratitude and hard work. 

He can certainly be criticised for making sweeping statements on a broad range of areas of social concern. Many people prefer academics and clinicians to stay in their own ghettos. Much of what he says appeals to men who are in some danger of moving towards a far Right  way of thinking as they feel so marginalised. Curiously, this is taken as a criticism. Rather like saying that Christians shouldn't talk to sinners when that is exactly who they should be talking to!  His style can be somewhat hectoring; but as a lecturing style to students, this engages them when otherwise they would be tempted to sleep through the lectures. He talks of topics that are of real concern to people; like relationships and career and the nature of creativity.  He dialogues with anybody with genuine enquiry. There are dozens of videos of these dialogues with Russel Brand or Ben Shapiro or Camille Paglia and many critics and activists; black, white, trans and so on. 

Jordan Peterson brings a mixture of a background in a Jungian sense of the mystical with research date and trait theory. His somewhat depressed personality may affect his sense of what is possible and it grates on much New Age optimism. He is pragmatic, seeks the middle way and recognises that life involves suffering. Classic Buddhist notions. The place where he doesn't interface with classical tantra is his lack of practices other than a sort of stoicism in the face of the difficulties of life and taking responsibility for ones own life.  This is a good foundation but needs more.  One of the core meanings of the word tantra is "practices" or methods and Jordan Peterson is weak on practices but strong on the basic principles of Shavite tantra. Chaitanyamatma or "consciousness is everything"; or as Jordan Peterson would put it; Wake up! Grow up! Show up and take responsibility in your own life!