1. BASICS OF TANTRA
(V Chapter 1)
September 7, 1992
Despite the bad rap that sexuality has gotten ever since the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, one has to admit there is something primordial and wondrous in it. You and I are both moths drawn to this particular flame.
This brings us to your questions about tantra.
The short description is that tantra is a long story. But I will do my best to describe it as briefly as I can. Partly because I feel that your sensibilities are so tantric. Maybe somewhere there is a logical meeting of the ways.
To start with, probably most of what you have heard about tantra is worthless. California, or “Pleasure” tantra is highly cultivated getting off. Traditional tantrics would say that this emphasis on getting off is downright dangerous. I say that Pleasure tantrics might just be backing into something more wonderful than they realize.
In the Sanskrit tradition, there is a distinct difference between yoga and tantra. Yoga involves spiritual practices that aim towards an ideal; as for instance, to be a paragon of virtue. Tantric practices and theory lead to wholeness, in which everything that one is gets allowed and incorporated as one’s unique individuality. In yoga, one imposes a center upon oneself. In tantra, one finds the center by a process of self-discovery through the exploration of extremes.
We all swing between these extremes of flesh and spirit. On the yogic side we are puritanical and judgmental, tending towards rigidity. On the tantric side we are hedonists, tending towards license of morality and feeling. Each of us is involved in a dance between these extremes. Take a look at our letters, for instance. Half the time we are talking about our far out sex trips and the rest we are talking about how things should be.
So much for the general meaning of tantra. More succinct and spiritual is the central tenet that all of existence is sacred and the body is the temple through which that sacredness can be known. It is through the body, through the cultivation of our innermost experience of our conscious physical being that we can come to realize what we are. This is accomplished through the withdrawal of our investment in the world back into the essential luminous blissful being that we are in our eternal state. The object of tantra is to realize who we are by coming to experience our wholeness and distilling it into its essence. To this end, the basic attitude towards the body is that it is sacred and must be treated accordingly. The temple has to be prepared by bringing the body into its optimal state. This is done first, through diet, and second, through physical discipline and exercise.
I don’t need to go much into diet with you, but I can tell you about my own practice. It has two aspects. The first is what I eat. I try to eat food in its most natural state. A diet of 80% raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, and seeds is probably optimal. This diet feeds what could be called the essential body. After this, are the pure foods cooked once. Food is of decreasing value to the body according to how much it is processed, meaning cooked and treated. Anything that is processed more than once has less nutritional value and contributes to the false body, which is prone to all degenerative diseases.
Processed or junk foods with chemicals and preservatives are basically poisonous. All animal flesh is out.
The second aspect of my own diet is not eating: the ancient practice of fasting. I have been doing this for years, and I absolutely love it and swear by it. Besides allowing me to stay thin, there are many benefits to fasting. Basically, it allows the body periodically to go back to zero position, at the same time throwing off diseased cells and poisons. It permits one to drop bad habits and excess and to regroup around essential food. It absolutely controls weight (though this is not the goal, rather a byproduct.) I fast at least twice a year: after Christmas (a welcome respite from holiday stuffing) and in the summer, when all those lovely fruits and veggies are in season. I generally do seven to ten days per fast on freshly juiced fruits and vegetables and herb teas. There are many varieties of such teas to be had, often with medicinal value that can be targeted to one’s own present needs. Often throughout the year I will do short fasts of one, two, or three days. Literature on fasting and all of this is to be found in any health food store.
The second aspect of caring for the body is exercise. This is essential physical exercise rather than body building, which is basically a form of cosmetics. (In the same way I view dieting as cosmetic and fasting as essential.) Essential exercise ultimately has a cosmetic effect, but its goal is not to produce a body to be admired by others. (Pause here, N, to ask yourself why you go to the gym?) I am talking about physical culture of another order. Cultivating the essential body, because it is the fundamental gift and temple of existence, and because it has to be prepared as a vehicle by which one can experience intensely revelatory states of consciousness. This is a matter of high cultivation among the saddhus I meet up at the shrine.
There are many routines of yoga and comprehensive martial arts out there in the world. One should find the one that suits one the best. I myself have two routines. One, called Psychocalisthenics, is very comprehensive and in about 17 minutes per day, systematically tones the entire body. The second is known as the Five Tibetan Rites, which I do every day in five minutes and which supposedly is a fountain of youth! No Tibetans here have ever heard of them. However, I am certainly feeling younger all the time because of them.
I got absolutely fanatical about all of this as a way of dealing with my AIDS panic. It worked for me, as I am still here. But taking care of the body is the first step of tantra in my view. It means taking responsibility for what you are and the field of your inquiry. This is also true of yoga.
In the West however, as I said to begin with, tantra has been cultivated as a form of sexual enhancement, or moving more essentially into sex. Of course, there are all sorts of techniques and positions described in countless books on sexual technique, but I would say there are three primary tenets of this kind of tantra.
The first is not cumming. Tantrics believe in recycling their physical energy. They consider ejaculation to be a loss of the vital energy that is to be used to realize the divine. Tantra could be called the fine art of delayed gratification.
The second tenet of sexual tantra is empty mind and focused awareness. You may have noticed that when you are having sex, your mind is always chattering away in some inner commentary. This “accounting” comes with the turf, but in tantric sexual practice, you do not pay any attention to it. Instead, you focus on the sensation and dance of energies that are happening in the internal and shared sensation. Basically, you focus on the phenomena of love energy, which become the field of mystical realization. You were describing this kind of focus in your letter. N, I’m telling you, you’re a natural!
The third principle is breath. This is the ancient base of both tantra and yoga. There are two things: being aware of how your breathing happens and then beginning to use breath in very conscious and sophisticated ways.
Breath awareness is already quite a business. You’ve probably observed that each mood and disposition has its own breath pattern. When you are expansive and opening, you are filling your lungs joyfully. When you are frightened, you are probably holding your breath, hardly breathing at all (a throwback no doubt to the creaturely state, when the sound of your breath might mean instant death.) All moods and dispositions have breath patterns in between these extremes.
So, first you become conscious of your breathing when you are in sex. Then there is the practice of different kinds of breathing to affect the way you are in your sexuality. There is a certain progression to this. For instance, you get into practicing rapid and deep breathing to free up the vital energies and increase the flow of sexuality throughout your body, a technique we call in the West, “bioenergetics”.
Then, you begin practices involving very slow, even and deep breathing. This introduces the element of contemplation into the matter, because, as I said, observation of the internal experience of love is the field of tantra, the place where the ultimate truths are going to be experienced.
So, N these are the three essential practices of sexual tantra: controlling ejaculation, staying aware, and breath.
I had no idea I was going to go so deeply into this. It is very late and I am exhausted, so I say good night.
2. THE WILD SIDE
(N, Chapter 1)
Sep 7, 1992
Subject: Penetrating the Depths
Shortly after I wrote to you I left John and London, maybe for good.
One day I just packed my bags and took the train to Paris to stay at Diane’s. She’s like a sister to me. She’s had her own share of boyfriend disasters and knew I needed somewhere to chill out. Very generously she asked if I would like to stay in her apartment for a while. She had to return to Boston to visit her mother and there was no knowing when she’d be back. So I moved in. It’s in the Marais.
One night coming out of the shower I seriously looked at myself in the mirror. Living with John had taken its toll. During those countless blissful nights we dozed in bed, my stomach had slowly puffed out, my arms and legs had shrunk, my butt had gone slack. So yesterday I went and joined a gym, even got a trainer, Georges, straight guy but obviously gay-friendly. The locker room seems pretty cruisy there.
Before going out last night I decided to renovate my gay image. I soaped my balls and shaved them smooth, then set the electric razor to a four and buzzed my pubes to an even length. My five-o’clock shadow I left as it was. What I saw in the mirror didn’t look too bad, considering. Looking at my shoulders, neck and chest I saw they were actually broad and some day they would be broader. I visualized my body as not belonging to me at all, up on a stage under lights. Then I visualized it as it could be and as I wanted it to be.
This was difficult. A competing image flared up: skin and bone, with a chest that was a basket of ribs, a pencil neck, and arms like a Javanese shadow-puppet. It was unpleasant to stay with this but I thought: summon it some more. I closed my eyes. The starving figure came back into view with my own features on its face, distorted into a nutcracker profile. Now name it. There was no hesitation: it was a hungry ghost.
I decided to go cruising in the woods. I wore khaki shorts, trainers, and an old Hanes singlet under a grey sweatshirt. I knew the way from years back, when I was still a student, long before John. First there was the pond, then the clearing, then down the steps and into the trees. The moon was almost full; I figured it would be in Sagittarius – auspicious for us fire signs. It felt good to be there. The forest smelled damp and warm and welcoming. The night was balmy enough for me to take off the sweatshirt and tie it round my waist. I could feel my dick starting to get hard.
After a few minutes going along the path the atmosphere changed: you couldn’t hear the traffic, and the ground dropped away down into a dark valley. Against the bright clouds the tops of the trees stood out in black silhouettes.
I could hear someone just come into the wood from the main drag, but it was too dark to see much. When the sounds stopped I figured he was just a few feet away. A match flared out of the dark as he lit up. He was in his late thirties, Turkish-looking, moustache, stubble, handsome, and built like a truck.
We stood for a long time facing each other; all I could see was the glow from his cigarette. Then we stepped up close. The smell of his body had me hard straight away. I inhaled it deep; it was strong, warm, with one dimension like perfume and another dimension like a drain. He pulled off my singlet and unbuckled my shorts. I could feel him looking for a rubber. He turned me around and I heard him spit. The first thrust hurt; I wanted to stop.
Then a bit of magic happened.
Closing my eyes, I slowly let the darkness fill my brain. I was floating in a limitless black space, empty, without features, but with two distinct directions: above and below. I became aware of the earth beneath me as a huge planetary crust with a burning, lava-red core. I traveled down into the core. An intense heat filled the black, velvet-black space. As he thrust deeper it hurt again, but this time the image turned into a cavern, a vast cavern at the centre of the earth, with walls that glistened and flashed like coal, and a lake — a deep, endlessly deep lake that stretched further than I could see.
Nothing else existed, not Paris, not the woods, just this vast interior spaciousness where the forces of life gathered and acted in complete separation from the actuality of a particular time and space in the organised social world. It was a space that you knew and recognised at once, as always there, waiting to be visited whenever the body met the limits of its physical existence, falling asleep, or being born, or waiting to die. It underlay the surface reality of existence in the way that the crust of the earth underlay the actual city, leaving far behind the streetlights and traffic lanes and sidewalks, belonging to a much older time of being, not historical but geological, with a pervading heat that came not from the body so much as from the core of the earth itself, with its molten rocks and lava flows.
In those few minutes that expanded into a geological age, we were both held there, in that vast black cavern, compellingly and completely, as the energies of life played out their forces in this secret, subterranean, wholly magical space.
He leaned over and I felt his chin scrape the back of my neck, and felt his mouth near my ear, and then his tongue against my ear, and I heard him say, in a thick accent, something like ‘here’s someone who really knows this dance’, et voilà, un qui connait déjà bien la danse.
The street was deserted when I turned the lock into Diane’s building. In the apartment I took a book at random from the shelves; it was a medical atlas with intricate, brilliantly coloured plates. In the bathroom I looked in the mirror and lit up a cigarette.
V, I have to stay with this trip. The last image from the woods — the feeling of reaching the core of the earth — came from a place deeper than I’ve ever been. It’s not your style, I know, but at least bear with me. And try not to think I’m just going totally down the tubes.
Your wayward bro,
3. THE TWO WAYS OF TANTRA
(V Chapter 1)
October 20, 1992
Subject: The Paths to the Right and to the Left lead to One Destination
In the description of your sexual experience (the dangers of these behaviors notwithstanding!), you seem to experience a subjective display of the outer reaches of consciousness, perhaps its very container. There is a vision hidden here, an experience of the ultimate nature of consciousness. Realizing this primordial nature is very much the goal of all the spiritual work here in the Himalayan foothills, even though I find it hard to imagine anyone has ever tried your method!
I sense this deep desire for spiritual vision (read true vision of consciousness) in my sexuality as well. This attraction really deserves to be clarified.
I believe this is really what Tantra is all about. I will do my best to describe it more fully, but it is hard to be brief when describing the oldest form of meditation.
Tantra is at least 5000 years old! It goes back much further than writing, even. As its adepts had to memorize everything, they reduced the basic tenets into very condensed forms, like telegrams, called sutras. The principle practices can be found in the 112 sutras collectively called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. Throughout the Sanskrit tradition, holy men have written commentaries to unlock and interpret these telegramatic directions for their contemporaries.
You should try to read into a couple of these commentaries, which you might find listed under the Sanskrit name. These 112 contemplative practices are the basis of all meditation, and they definitely combine to give a very clear sense of tantra in its ancient roots.
Tantra has come down in the contemplative tradition of India in two different streams, called Right and Left Handed tantra. I have had the good fortune to find a master in both of them, and in the end I find value in both. (As a general rule of thumb, either/or is very yogic; both/and is very tantric!) But I must say, there are probably many masters, even my own, who may disagree with me.
Left Handed tantra is what I call wild tantra. Do whatsoever you feel attracted by, especially if you fear it greatly! Let fly, be wild, but stay aware. In time you will live out all your tendencies, and your awareness will bring you into your true center.
One of my great Masters (the one who gave me my Sanskrit name) was truly the bad boy of 20th-century gurus. He was a Master of Left Handed tantra. The true mystery of existence is known by those who live a life full of what they most desire and want. If you explore and live out your sexuality, you will pass through natural stages eventually leading to the transcendence of sex; roughly a pattern of auto-, homo-, hetero-, and finally asexuality. Over a number of years this Left Handed Master took me through an exploration of all these stages, and I would define my sexuality accordingly.
Doing what you feel attracted to is the discipline of Left Handed tantra. It is called “surrender”, which means giving into a tendency with awareness of what happens when you do so. The Left Handed path passes through stages, each making it possible to progress to the next stage. The Left Handed Master broke it down in the following way. First you learn to surrender to your feelings, passions and emotions, including sexuality. Get rid of all inhibitions and blocks. This is the wild part. Then you have to learn how to surrender to love (not necessarily however submitting to the will of a lover!) From this you learn how to surrender to a Master. This teaches you how to surrender to the Self, your own deepest center. And this enables you to surrender to the One, the divine being.
The early stages of this path definitely incline towards the hedonistic side. It made this Master very popular with the hippy crowd. The fine print is that you really have to do it with a Master in the context of awareness and surrender. This path is traditionally considered very dangerous, because of that pendulum swing between excess and condemnation. One can so easily get trapped into addictions and self-destruction of various kinds.
Right Handed tantra is sometimes called Tantric Yoga. It is the internal realization of one’s wholeness through focused concentration and contemplation. Right Handed tantra is high tech! Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called Vajrayana or Tantrayana) is mostly tantric in this sense. This is the form of tantra I am starting to study at the Monastery.
Needless to say, this is a project to which one dedicates one’s life. This is the work that I have done with the Right Handed Master for the last 20 years or so, and it is the project I am presently doing and aspire to complete here at the Monastery.
Voilà, tantra in a nutshell. I don’t know if I have made it comprehensible to you at all. And the whole thing is so complicated, I fear I may have left you more confused than illuminated. (In fact I have grossly simplified everything. Nothing is simple in tantra or its tradition.) But I must say it has done me a lot of good to try to formulate it all.
Tantra is terrifically valuable in that it is the only spiritual discipline that incorporates sexuality and tries to address the huge existential anomaly of it. That is what drew me in the first place to the Left Handed Master. He wasn’t afraid to talk turkey about sex. Long ago, I adopted this criterion as my guru crap detector test: what is the attitude and practice around sex? It helped eliminate many gurus, because most of them are yogi hypocrites, preaching purity and getting it on the side (usually by exploiting their disciples.) They looked great as they paraded forth, paragons of the Seventies. But we have seen a lot of their sex-soaked clay feet in the meantime.
Those of us who have worked with the Left and Right Handed tantric Masters want very much to pass this valuable but dangerous knowledge into the world, but it is difficult. My friend and spiritual sister, Margot Anand, has done a great job of it. She teaches tantra in the context of basically straight sexuality. She has a written a very practical guide for straights, though the very title evokes the allure of California Pleasure Tantra. It is called The Art of Sexual Ecstasy.
I have to run now, but I did want to tell you that R, the Swiss guy, is coming to India next week! He has arranged to come on business, but we will have a chance to spend some more time together. I have been very busy, but I surely look forward to being with him.
4. PRIMING THE CHAKRAS
(N Chapter 2)
10 March, 1993
Subject: Evening Meditations
It’s taken me some time to work out how to develop a spiritual practice that suits me, but over the past few months it’s taken shape, and I need to tell you about it. Yes, it’s disciplined – but I don’t mind that. I’m keeping up with my job, but my main focus nowadays is the meditation work I’ve been learning at the Kundalini Centre here in Paris. As with your own practice, it very much concerns the charkas.
I give it my whole evening, divided into three sessions.
I get ready to meditate on the two lowest charkas (Base and Sacral) by dancing — free-form style: however my body feels like moving that night. I dance until I get to the point where I can start shaking my body and letting go of every damn ache and inhibition that’s in my way. I might just shake my arms, or the whole upper body — it must look alarming. But no-one can keep this going indefinitely, and after a while — this is the point — the body takes over and replaces the shakes you started with a rhythm that comes from its own side, gentler and more undulating. At the moment when the movements change, it’s clear that you are only partly initiating the movements on your side, by your own volition. One of the joys of living alone is that you can dance around however you want, without having to explain it to anyone. By the end of the dance session, which has no set duration, I am ready to sit down and begin my first meditation, on those two charkas.
When that’s through, to prepare for the next charkas (Navel, Heart and Throat, the emotional ones), I do something else. I lie on the bed, and listen to music that I know will work on my emotions every time. My list wouldn’t be your list — there’s no accounting for tastes. As the music plays, I drop the reins on the feelings in my heart. I don’t hold them back. When you’re sitting in a concert hall, or listening distractedly, you can’t easily explore the variety and detail and transitions that are there in the emotional register, as you respond to music.
My goal here is partly to use the music to clarify what the full extent of my emotional range actually is. Sometimes the music has me literally writhing around and moaning on the bed; I can’t help it — and again, I’m glad no-one’s around to see it. I use the music partly to trace what the scope of the emotions are, the lay of their land; but also to exercise my feelings. Many of them have hardly been used or touched on in a while, maybe not in years. I’m giving my emotions a workout. Suppose something in real life comes along that induces the feeling you heard in the music: you’d be already stretched and ready for it; the muscle, as it were, is primed and ready to go.
To prepare for working with the last two charkas — Forehead and Crown — I take a shower. A cold one. I’m still sweaty from the dancing, then a bit lulled by the work with the emotional centres. The cold water wakes me up every time. It turns my brain back on. Then I sit down in front of my altar and drop into a deep silence.
In the kundalini system I am learning, the last two charkas are located at different points in the head. These, too, have their distinctions. There are aspects of your brain that work outside consciousness — think of all those mental calculations, all of them taking place beyond the borders of your awareness, that you make when you drive the car into the garage, or kick a ball, or just walk. Then there are the mental functions of which you are actually aware. That’s when the meditation gets you breathing so slow that the mind virtually stops moving, in the meditation’s closing steps. It has nothing to distract it on the inside; and there’s certainly nothing happening on the outside, in the motionless space. There is in fact nothing else for the mind to do, nowhere else for it to go, except inside itself. It’s here that the last and highest centre gets switched on, when consciousness looks at itself and contemplates its own nature, the third eye. That is where the meditation I’m currently practicing comes to an end.
One effect it has is to help you realize how extensive your subjectivity is, how capacious; it works in so many registers at once. If the afterglow of the meditation stays with you (and I find it does, quite strongly, for some hours), you feel that you’re bringing to each situation and each person that you encounter this wonderfully generous and spacious field of attention. You can feel the distinctness and specialization of the different aspects of your consciousness as it responds to the world around it.
Overall, I’d have to call the result a ‘clarification’ of consciousness: that’s exactly the right word for it. You feel much clearer in your head as you face the world. And not only in your head: the great thing about the charkas is that two thirds of them are to do with non-intellectual functions, the emotional and physical stuff, all that creatural kind of consciousness. The charkas really do justice to the fullness of your emotional, physical, and sexual nature. I guess this is what you meant when you said that tantra deals with wholeness.
Somehow these days I feel like an athlete in training, though not for any contest I know of. Just living. On that note, I can announce that next week I’ll be back hitting the sex clubs. I want to see if I can maintain my mind-set in those unlikely places. After all, they are my native haunts, my special niche in the world. And you know my favourite activities there. Of course I am wondering whether sex will be any different, if you come to it from a consciousness that is at any rate beginning to work on itself.
Expectantly, your bro,
5. STRATEGIES AGAINST THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER
(V Chapter 5)
November 8, 1996
Subject: Back on the Mountain Path
I have been thinking a lot more about jealousy, possessiveness and what came down in my relationship with R. I have waited until I got back to India to see if my better state of mind is holding and also to bring some order to all these deliberations. Here is the way I now summarize it.
Possessiveness is the ego’s intrinsic insanity exposing itself. It is a terrible green-eyed monster, who haunts a labyrinth that is our relational existence. Jealousy throws us into this labyrinth, and the horror and pain of the Monster forces us to find a way out. This is an existential truth, and I wager every human being has to deal with it somewhere along the way.
In looking through this letter and the ones before, I see that there are definite strategies for dealing with this Monster. I see them in ascending order of effectiveness. Probably, it is only the higher strategies that are really effective, because only they really deal with the base of jealousy.
1) Controlling the beloved.
This is of course the way of the world, but existentially it is pathetic. All the rules and codes of marriage and couples support this method. If you legally possess your partner and they stand to die for any violation (as is often the case here in Asia), you exert a pretty effective control. This extreme is somehow engraved in our bio- psychology. Because of our more enlightened times, most people in the West are forced to exert more subtle manipulation and forms of control over their partner. I am still doing this in some mean little ways with dear R.
2) Being realistic.
All my ‘bottom line’ declarations fit in this category. We all have different sub-personalities: the lover, the sex maniac, the ethical and moral one, etc. We are this agglomeration of idiots. We are all doing the best we can with it. This eventually leads to the revelation that he and I are the same. This also includes the realization that comes with the Ontological Union Ritual I described in my last letter, its temple and inner controller.
3) Making agreements.
Based on being realistic, make agreements with the partner that minimize unnecessary pain. I especially liked your suggestion of having an agreement based upon what we can realistically tolerate. I will have to work on this one with R now.
4) Psychological self-examination.
In here are all the psychological observations I have shared about myself in this matter. There are others that I did not go into, such as the fact that when I was between the ages of 2 and 5, my mother was very nervous about my father straying. I’m sure I got imprinted with this insecurity about the male figure in my life.
5) Authentic spiritual work.
There are two parts to this: coming to understand the mechanism of the ego and discovering the true essence. In the first part we have to authentically confront the abyss of existence, which the ego tries to fill up with our identities around relationship, all impermanent. We have to spiritually confront this basic mechanism of our egos.
The second part involves all the essential work that I am doing to find my true center and my connection with the source of life and Being. This is the strategy I am devoting my life to here in India. Only a genuine spiritual path provides a ground and basis for truly dealing with jealousy. I am convinced that it is only this strategy that will lead to real solutions.
N, I believe all of this means that I have found my way out of the labyrinth. I feel it in my bones. But I also feel, with equal conviction and no small dread, that at any moment, I could be thrown right back into the fearful maze and have to find my way out again. This will undoubtedly happen at some point, perhaps many times.
But at least I know the way.
6. CURRENTS OF LIGHT
(N Chapter 3)
July 10, 1999
Re: A Current of Light
Probably the tantric technique that is the most important in my own spiritual practice, is the so called “PC pump”. Important not only because it really does alter your mental state, but because it’s so amazingly – portable! This is a technique you can use in any surroundings, whenever you have a bit of time on your hands. You don’t need the special aesthetic context of a temple or a sacred space of any kind. In a sense it can make ordinary space sacred, too. I love that aspect. But first I need to describe the technique itself.
“PC” stands for pubo-coccygeal muscle, the one you use to cut off a stream of piss. The first thing to do is locate the muscle itself — it’s somewhat elusive. Its action is not quite the same as clenching your ass, though the two tend to go together. The trick is to isolate just the PC muscle, down there in your perineum, right below your dick. Noticing what happens when you cut off a stream a piss seems the best way to get acquainted with this interesting bit of anatomy.
The ‘pump’ happens when you squeeze the muscle on its own. You can work the PC pump fast or slow. Fast, the goal is to strengthen the muscle: this will help with staying hard, and also when you sense you’re about to cum and want to cool down.
A slow method is to combine the pumping action with breathing. I try to link one slow in-breath with one full contraction, and then release the muscle at the start of the out-breath. It’s hard at first — you tend to lose the contraction before the in-breath is finished. But with practice you get in step.
You can start out with a cycle of 9, then with a bit of practice you can build up to 36, and when you get really experienced with the pump, you can work a full cycle of 108.
Of late I’ve made PC pumps a standard practice whenever I have to hang around waiting — standing in line at the bank or the supermarket or the Metro.
And I’ve made an interesting discovery: it’s possible to combine PC pumps with some elementary kundalini. It takes a few seated sessions to get this one going, but after that you can do it standing, walking, whenever the opportunity comes along.
On the in-breath, you visualise a current of light slowly traveling from the perineum up your spine. When your lungs are full, you feel the current of light enter and fill your head. On the out-breath, you visualise the current of light descending down the front of your body to your heart. As it gets there, you pause for a moment, and let the light fill your heart charka. Then, for the remainder of the breath, you let the current drop down the front of your body to the perineum again.
When you get the hang of it, you see the light as a continuous circuit going round and round. I colour the light golden, but any colour will make the visualisation of the light more intense.
If you combine the circuit of light with the PC pump, the effect is especially strong. On the in-breath, squeezing the PC muscle propels the current of light up your spine. When you’re pausing at the top between the in-breath and the out-breath, you relax the PC muscle and the light naturally starts falling back down, filling your heart on the way. I try to do sets of thirty-six slow breaths like this, in all kinds of urban settings and situations.
What I am really trying to do is find modes of meditation that can modify my consciousness, not in the special circumstances of an altar space, but anywhere, any time, in the thick of ordinary life. Working the PC muscle and the current of light is one of the few spiritual practices you can do at any time and in any place. You can take those flat, uneventful stretches of time in the city, when you’re traveling about, or waiting in line somewhere, and put them to very good use.
Doing the meditation doesn’t have the remotest effect on anyone else around you, though you might wish it did. But it really changes your perception — of the city, for instance. In a way you are translating all of the city, as you pass through it, setting by setting, into a theatre of clarified consciousness.
You see, I’m a bit suspicious of spiritual work that you only do in dedicated spaces — that’s fine, but the risk is that once you’ve left that space — say, your altar at home, or your meditation center — and return to ordinary life, the effect that your good work has on consciousness can easily evaporate. Exactly because you do your spiritual work in special, ceremonial spaces, places that are quite distinct from ordinary reality, once you re-enter the pressure of the real world with all its distractions, the whole thing can dissipate. Because your spiritual work is disconnected from the everyday, it can separate out into a kind of oasis, and I think can be weakened by that.
A meditation that you can do in the thick of mundane existence, that seems really powerful work to me. Instead of avoiding ordinary reality, you embrace it. As you perform your meditation in these banal settings — on the metro, waiting in line, or just walking down the street — the whole world around you becomes coloured by the state of mind that the meditation summons within you. Instead of being a hostile or indifferent milieu — the opposite of your altar space — eventually the city itself supports you in your meditation. It’s no longer some alien outer world. The streets, subway, buses, shops, cafés, arcades, the pavement under your feet and the polluted sky over your head, all these co-operate with the aspiration you feel.
Of course you have to switch to basic mental functioning when you’re at work, or talking to people, or generally getting things done. But this range of meditations can really energise the gaps, the lulls, the in-between times and spaces. If we can work with our everyday surroundings, and get all those mundane places and activities to support and refine consciousness, that’s alchemy on a grand scale.
When cycling, the current of light becomes easy through regular practice, and you can move into it at any time, of course you can use it the context of making love. For a long time I had a real problem here: I was learning all of these meditation techniques, but when I’d get caught up in a sexual scene, and it really took me over, I’d forget everything I’d ever learned. You really need a practice that you can activate at a moment’s notice, and in contexts that don’t look spiritual at all. If you get so you can work the current of light on the subway, you can certainly work it in the bedroom or the club. The whole of the city can become your theatre for refining consciousness. So can sex.
7. THE ESSENTIAL RITUAL
(V Chapter 6)
March 3, 1997
Subject: True Communication
R and I have created a beautiful new device, which I could call the Essential Ritual of Communion. Basically it is a form for entering the Oneness space by speaking and listening to each other’s bottom line truth. We have been developing it over our last few times together. I hasten to tell you about it, because it has opened up new levels of intimacy and wonderment.
This exercise has a number of components, each of which supports entry into that space. We sit facing each other in the lotus position with our knees touching. We open the ritual with the transit, the OM chant that brings us into consciousness of our oneness.
I have also told you about the Tibetan practice of Tratak, where we both gaze into each other’s left eye, peering beyond the persona and into the one person that we both are and that we are together. We keep going deeper and deeper with these, as they are the spiritual core of the Essential Ritual.
Besides OM, we work with another Sanskrit seed syllable, RAM, which also has a thousand meanings, but basically means “God.” After we do the OM transit, we do RAMs in the three centers; body, heart and mind. First we do three on the same low tone together so that it vibrates in the belly or body center; then on a middle range tone, where it vibrates in the chest or heart center; then on a higher nasal tone, where it vibrates in the head, or mind center. In this way we focus into those centers, withdrawing our attention and consciousness together into those three basic loci.
This is R’s first concentrated step into the Right Handed tantric practice of withdrawing one’s sense of consciousness into centers.
As we chant the same tone together, we are getting quite good at focusing on the place where the two tones merge as one. This is the crux: the place where our focus enters into the oneness that exists between us. We are doing something deceptively simple, both chanting one syllable on the same note, but inside, the more concentrated we become, the more deeply we focus into the oneness, the more it allows us to experience the counterintuitive truth that our body, heart, and mind are essentially the same.
So, here is how it goes. Seated facing each other, we start with the OM transit to the One Being that we are, we close our eyes and, with the RAMS, enter into this mantramic contemplation of our oneness. After working the three centers, we do a third set of three RAMs once again in the heart center to ground the whole project into the center of the whole self. Then we begin to do the Tratak, the left eye gazing. This we maintain for the rest of the ritual. It is very intense, but it holds the focus in the one-person space. As we begin this gazing, we repeat together very slowly in unison, “You and I are one”. We chant it 12 times, again concentrating upon entering into that place of oneness, which is the actual truth of what we are.
This realization constitutes the most profound intimacy possible. This ritual is an intentional way of entering deep into this awareness with a partner. It is a concrete recognition of our fundamental union, a kind of tuning. Thus it serves as the base for the actual Essential Ritual.
What follows is the practical part of the Ritual, exchanging information about what separates you from the perspective of the oneness. As you are repeating these 12 declarations about being one human being, little voices from the negative quarter are objecting, with very specific charges: “I am pissed that you said x yesterday.” “Last night you did y, and I didn’t like it.” “I don’t feel one with you because of x and y.” So in the next part you share in the most bottom line possible way, with no adornment whatsoever, what makes you feel separate.
The object of this is to say these things out of this oneness perspective, simply observing together the forces of separation. But it becomes very specific. “I feel angry about the way you raised your voice at me.” “Your breath smelled when we were kissing this morning, and I didn’t tell you.” You describe objectively whatever you have charge with, that is, basically whatever makes you feel separate from each other.
One partner is active and speaks while the other listens totally. Then for the identical amount of time, you switch roles. We usually set a limit of five minutes each. The time limit encourages the bottom line. If necessary, you can keep going back and forth (always taking equal time) until the charges get cleaned.
At the end, you have a brief discussion in order to come up with any new agreements that need to be made based on what has been said. In this way, you clean the separation to the point that you really feel one with each other. You come to a point where you FEEL what you are; one being. You celebrate this with a closing OM transit back into this world.
We love to do this. And we are opening up lines of communication that are incredible to me, as I have never experienced them in normal communication, even in deep ‘moments of truth’. It radically deals with separating factors and implements that one-person space that you extol. In this way, two minds actualize their oneness. It is the coming together at all three levels: sex in the body, love in the heart, truth in the mind. Slowly this brings us deeper and deeper into that one – person space. This is real essential communion – the gold.
We now do this exercise before we go into a love session together, but we also do it when we first come together after a long separation (after, that is, we have slaked our sexual appetites.) It has become a forum, a kind of truth telephone to each other, where we are cleaning all the separating elements that have accumulated over these years together.
I hope you can feel my excitement about this.
Hey, and guess what, truth is VERY erotic. This exercise is a way of having high tantric sex in the mind! And it is a total turn on, because you feel so good and united afterwards. What a revelation! Truth turns out to be a major TURN ON!
This is probably the basis for the Platonic dialogue. They never taught this in any of my philosophy courses!
8. ELABORATION ON THE ESSENTIAL RITUAL
(V Chapter 8)
January 10, 1999
Re: Ever Closer
These days a major factor in this journey is the Essential Communion Ritual. R and I are really into this now, enjoying it as much as sex! This may be hard for you to believe, but I now see that sex is a physical way, (perhaps therefore the easiest way) in which essences can come together. The Ritual is equally a way that our essential beings can come together. When we have a good session together it is like good sex, even better, because the spirit has not merely been dragged into it, but is the actual main participant.
We now have elaborated the Ritual into several forms. I want to tell you about them, because I am convinced that they are as important to our practice of tantra as the sex or the seated meditations.
First of all, when we get together for a long time, we do a thorough house cleaning. I learned long ago from the Right Handed Master that sexuality, finances and power tripping are the places where karma enters into relationship. Accordingly, we do three separate rituals. The first focuses on our sexuality. Then we will do another on finances. Though we have hardly any money issues together, we clear what little there is. Then we do one on our power trips with each other. The longer our relationship lasts, the more of this there is to clear. Who has the upper hand? Who is manipulating whom? Such things.
Second, we also now do the Ritual before we have a love session. This is a systematic way to acknowledge, appease, and set aside the Monster Quarter that is trying to destroy the union and militating against it in the moment. Here’s how we do this pre love session clearing.
As we are chanting the RAMs in the three centers, we focus on the one tone we make together. The subtle beauty of this one tone grows all the time. This focus gives us a way to tune into our oneness and at the same time to get in touch with anything that is present as a NO to that union. First, we do these RAMs in the body center. Then we share back and forth whatever came up for each of us. Then in the heart, then the mind. In this way we share the entire NO-saying between us.
When we finish the exercise, we make the choice to either deal with whatever came up, or else set it aside for the love session and deal with it later. This works incredibly well. Once it has been brought forth, R is very adept at setting it all aside.
I would like to say that the more we go on, the higher we get, the less the Monster is there. But the truth is, it is always there. I have come to accept that it is built into each of us, and the relationship. It is never eliminated and is just a given.
I tell you, the results of this are profound. All the relationships I have had up to now were full of strife about issues that were always compounding. We were usually going at each other, posturing, positioning, arguing, fighting. The atmosphere was redolent with little undisclosed trips we had going with each other. But R and I don’t have any of that. We clean things between us, so in the little time we have together we are not at each other, we are soaring together.
There is a third form of Essential Ritual that we do as well. This one focuses not on the way we may be saying NO to our love, but on who each of us is deep within that place that is chronically separate and isolated. After completing the opening steps, we tell each other about our deepest subjectivity whether it is related to the other or not — what is going on deep inside, who we are, and what we feel in the present. I love this so much, because I can go right to that person hidden at my deepest core and share it with him, whatever it is. And he knows he can do the same. It eliminates splitting off a part of myself that is not seen. This is a way of really tuning to each other. It generates incredible empathy and attunement. After this I can really be total with him.
Almost always we come out of these Rituals feeling deeply the space of the one person. I feel grateful and privileged to have something like this with a beloved. I know how much every human being longs for this and how few ever can achieve it.
I think that is one reason sex is so important in relationships, because it is the only way that essential contact can be made and regenerated. This places too great a burden on sex. For us sex is the reward after essential contact has been firmly established. This removes that burden from it, and thus unfettered, it flies ever higher. Clear essential energy is the most beautiful place for love to be known in its purest state.
It is also a real turn on. When we have cleared our energy together, the rush of love between us is consuming. It is different from that passion you see in the movies where people are ripping off each other’s clothes to make love after they have had a fight. It is light years beyond that. It is the truest celebration of essence.
Something is definitely happening. I wanted to share it with you. I hope this little inventory conveys it. We are scaling those peaks, N.
Love you so much,
9. ADDICTION OR JOYFUL MODERATION?
(N and V, Chapter 7)
1 November, 1997
I’ve some bad news to report. Yesterday I’d arranged to be with Marc the whole day, and showed up at his apartment mid-morning. No answer. I figured he’d gone out on an errand, and let myself in. I found him on the bathroom floor, unconscious. He was breathing very slowly; slow pulse, also. Near him I found a small hand-mirror covered in white powder.
I called my friend Régis who’s a psychiatrist specializing in addictions. He arranged for an ambulance to take Marc to his clinic. Régis tells me that probably other drugs contributed to the collapse, but that the main villain is cocaine.
I felt really sick, and still do. They’re not letting me see Marc for another couple of days. He’s going through a crash detox. The poor guy must be climbing up the wall. I’m sick to my stomach, literally. Even if I’m basically all right, Marc is not. I’m wondering whether I’m partly responsible, not for his taking drugs, but because of some kind of complicity with what in retrospect looks like his clear downward slope. Over the past months I’ve noticed a change in him, and it wasn’t a good change, either. I knew it was whatever he was taking. But I never truly called him on it. I should have done.
There’s definitely Monster in this. I’m afraid of its extent and the degree of the damage, past, present and future.
Sorry to trouble you with this news. It will pass, but just for now, I’m pretty much knocked sideways.
November 10, 1997
Subject: Getting through the madness of life and love
I have been thinking so much about you since I received your news. I hope Marc is doing all right, and I look forward to continuing news about you.
I find it helpful in critical situations to separate out actual damage and physical danger from dramatic circumstance. As I am given to hysterics, it helps me to cope, in this case, with my concern for you. The actual fact of the matter is that you are all right and that Marc is going to make it. This bottom line should provide a basis for calming yourself.
Now that this has happened I have occasion to look at some of my own perceptions about addiction and substances. I profit from your situation as well as Marc’s to take a look at my own process.
First of all, I am very leery of substances that are addictive. I absolutely stay away from them, because I am convinced of the trajectory that goes with them. They use up your vital energy twice as fast as your body can replace it; so you always have to have more to get back up from the “downer” that results. It is a built-in vicious circle. I love the wonderful German word for them: Rauschgift, literally ‘ecstasy poison’.
And I also don’t really like chemicals of any kind. (Acid, Ecstacy, and poppers are exceptions, but these I try to keep to a minimum.) There is a negative technological vibe to them, and who knows what long-term effects they may have on this delicate brain of ours. (I once asked the Left Handed Master about psychedelics. He said: “Look what your outer technology has done to this earth. Do you want to do the same to your psyche?”)
There are very clear guidelines about what constitutes chemical addiction. ‘Drugs’ to me mean anything that is chemically addictive. Basically, these substances trigger the biochemical mechanism that makes one physically dependent upon them, the vicious circle. I put them in this order of danger: alcohol, heroin, cocaine, nicotine, mood altering prescription medicines, speed, crystal meth, and amphetamines.
Happily, I have only been addicted to nicotine, but stopping smoking was the hardest thing I have ever done! I went back and forth for 20 years, so I know something about substance addiction. A chemical addiction so vastly compounds a psychological dependence as to make the resulting problems almost insurmountable. So for me, drugs of this kind are out of bounds.
Over the years taking psychedelics to enhance out love trip, R and I have come to some very clear guidelines. We call it Joyful Moderation.
The first rule is this. Do not use anything that can feed the innate tendency for self destruction, the Black Steed. Joyful Moderation is not applicable to the use of substances to which one is, or could become chemically dependent. You cannot be moderate about a substance to which your body can become addicted.
There was a much disputed movement that originated in the US, which, in reaction to AA’s insistence upon complete abstinence, promoted the idea of drinking in moderation as a viable option for alcoholics. AA fought it vehemently. In the end, its founder gave up and joined AA, which also did not work for her. She ended up getting drunk one night and having a car accident that killed two innocent people. She is now in jail, hopefully in a 12-step program without recourse to alcohol.
I think this is Black and White. You cannot be moderate with most of these drugs, and if you are physically susceptible, you absolutely have to abstain.
In substance addiction, you have physical and psychological dependence. In addiction, you have only psychological dependence, and that addiction can be toward anything; from love, sex, shopping, work, gambling, to biting your nails, masturbating, or something like intensity (one of my small addictions).
For this I like the idea of trying to substitute lesser addictions for greater ones. For instance, substitute a ginseng addiction for a caffeine addiction. Best of all however is to substitute positive behaviors. For example, rather than biting your nails, get into the nervous habit of using wooden interdental cleaners.
There is also the concept of positive addiction, which we could call dependence on White Steed methods. I believe I am ‘addicted’ in this way to my health and spiritual practices. At least I feel that I could not do without them. But this is a positive addiction.
Lesser and positive addictions have the effect of serving the White Steed and diminishing the power of the Black Steed. Non-addictive enhancements seem to me to be those which enhance the power and experience of the White Steed. This, thanks to Plato, clarifies what we have been meaning all along by ‘libations’, the term we use for our enhancements.
Here is my summary of Joyful Moderation:
1. No addictive substances, particularly if one is prone to dependent patterns.
2.Deal with problems prior to using libations. Do not use them to override or suppress the Monster Quarter. I understand more and more the necessity of the Essential Ritual. For the most part, R and I are able to clear up our differences by doing the Ritual before we take a libation. This also means periodic major house cleanings using the Essential Ritual format. I have noticed an incredible difference since we have been doing this.
3. Use only psychedelics that are organic where possible, though some libations, such as Extasy and Acid, which are not addictive, may be used with great moderation, recognizing that such chemicals are inevitably hard on the body.
4. Find out what nutritional and herbal substances can be taken to counteract the effect of any chemical psychedelic. For instance, with Extasy, one should take Tyrosine, Phenylalenine, and Calcium-Magnesium. Such information is available to anyone on the Internet. Take supplements that generally nourish the brain, like vitamin C, B, and Ginko Biloba.
5. Use the smallest amount of any substance as possible. The idea is to take as little into the system as you possibly can. If you are not trying to override the Monster Quarter, you don’t need very much.
R and I never take a full dose of anything. When we take Acid, we take a quarter tab apiece. We split an Extasy dose. Overdosing happens when you are trying to override problems, not when you are simply stoking the White Steed.
6. Fast on the days when you use libations. Not eating solid food, but only ingesting liquids (herb teas and juices) allows the substance to be more effective with less intake. Take no alcohol at all.
Fasting during sessions of love lasting for some days enhances the entire erotic effect. Food and the digestion of food actually create a physical distraction of sorts, a fleshly barrier that inhibits the spirituality of high sex. The more I experience this, the more convinced I am that it is true.
7.If you start feeling woozy, fuzzy, or disoriented when you are not high, stop taking anything for a while.
8.8. Stay aware. Consider the experience of a libation over 72 hours, not just the few hours of the high. For instance, I notice that when I take Extasy, I feel amazingly loving, clear, and harmonious, but after about 48 hours, I go through an equivalent period of disorientation and negativity. This (neurochemical) reaction is part of the whole. It is, however, hardly noticeable if I take only a half dose. The total experience is what I have to evaluate and take responsibility for.
9. Be moderate in all of this. Remember the law of equilibrium. If you OD on one side, you will OD on its opposite. Hedonism is never the whole picture; equalization is.
The reason we call our use of psychedelics ‘libations’ is because we see them as an enhancement of our sacred communion. To this end, we also ritualize the taking of the libation. We prepare it. Then we do an OM transit. Ceremonially, we each dedicate the experience to some end, for example, “to reconnect at the deepest level”, “to dance into the light”, or “to penetrate deeply into the roots” (these dedications can get pretty bottom line sexy and are a whole turn on in their own right!) Then each of us holds the tiny morsel that is to be taken between our hands, bring it to the forehead, and do another OM, as we dedicate the experience to our higher evolution. We put the libation in our mouths, swallow it, and then kiss each other.
Since we always do this ceremony when we take a libation, I never feel this is just ‘recreation’. It is what assures that the space will remain sacred. Only then is it a libation.
But N, the basic matter in this whole question of addiction is that, in this day and age, when religion has largely lost its authority to provide an existential base to stand upon, we are all on our own. For this reason, the first of the 12 Steps is to take a stand on God, however that is understood. If we cannot stand on faith, then we are in a great dilemma, one that none of us can avoid. This is what addiction is basically about, a place to stand.
This is why impermanence is the first Buddhist teaching, the basis for the necessity of the mystical inquiry. It is absurd to think we can make any base out of our sexuality, and I guarantee that you or anyone else who tries will fail. What after all is more ephemeral than sexual desire?
Our tantric gamble, the hypothesis of our experiment, is that we can use our consciousness as it is expanded through sexlove, to clarify the true ground of our being, the clear light.
For this reason, if you cannot accept a faith, authentic spiritual endeavor is the only viable alternative to addiction. That at least is the way I see it. And this is the principle by which I drive my chariot through the madness of love and life in general.
10. A WALKING MEDITATION
(N Chapter 11)
February 25, 2000
Subject: The Walking Meditation
A wonderful part of my present practice is the Walking Meditation. I’ve told you about this before, but I want to give you a better sense of how it works.
The basic feature of the Walking Meditation is that you sound a mantram — usually a Sanskrit syllable — in your mind as your left heel strikes the ground. You open your ears to every ambient noise, near and far, and try and hear the mantram in all the sounds around you.
Accompanying the mantram is a sustained thought (more like a feeling than a thought) that repeats each time your left heel meets the ground. You recall that in the Kundalini system I am following the mantram changes with each day of the week, along with the accompanying feeling or thought. For instance, today the mantram is Lam and the thought is that ‘Everything is Consciousness.’ Tomorrow the thought will be that Nothing Exists — meaning that everything you see is a mental-cultural construction, nothing exists substantially, in itself. Or the thought is: ‘I am just one point in the human race.’
I don’t know how many years I’ve been doing it now, but over time it’s changed, and deepened. For one thing, I find myself doing the Meditation when I go almost anywhere at all. It used to be that I’d set out and ‘do’ a Walking Meditation for an hour or so, as a set exercise; now I do it at every opportunity. It’s really a pleasure.
I notice that there is less will-power involved in internally making that sound, nowadays. It used to be like striking a note on a musical instrument, a repeated action you performed, a task. Now the syllable sounds almost of its own accord, each time my heel strikes the ground. Acoustically it’s subtly different, too. The sound seems to have a relation to the high-pitched tone that sometimes enters into seated meditation. It’s like a very high, pulsing overtone.
If I’m not interrupted while doing the Walking Meditation (by bumping into someone I know — or suddenly spotting some hunk on the sidewalk), its force can really build up. Physically you’re just walking, but internally you’re inside a huge flow of being, swimming with its current. You may remember, ages ago, that I told you about a very strange experience I had in Amsterdam, when for a few minutes it was as though I were seeing into the heart of things: everything slowed down, and all the people in the square began to look somehow radiant, and the small actions of everyday life were playing over an immense depth or harmony. At the time I thought it was a one – off experience I might never have again. But the Walking Meditation has a way of bringing that special viewpoint back almost every time. I wish I could describe it better. Somehow with each individual I see, I sense them in terms of their vitality, on a scale of vitality going from birth to death. These days I’m really noticing children and elderly people, not just the studs. It’s as though each body I see is a manifestation of the same vital energy, but at a different point of growth, some near the start of their cycle, some in full flood, some in the ebb and diminishment of life.
There are distinct optical phenomena I want to mention to you, as well — you may have parallel experiences of your own. For instance, if my breathing is ultra slow, and my mind is really receptive, there’s far more detail — sharp detail — in the visual field. It’s like being given glasses of a higher prescription. At the same time, the conditions of luminosity are slightly altered: a sort of extra light gets added to the usual physical light rays, and the extra light can come through people’s faces, whatever their age.
Maybe I’ve never felt really connected to people before now. Thank goodness, it’s never been my lot to feel too alienated – I’ve always had good friends, and generally enjoyed the gamut of the different types of folk there are in the world. But I’m beginning to realize that this also went with a feeling of somehow being a spectator at a play, an observer or anthropologist watching life from the outside. Nowadays there’s a very strong feeling of connectedness to people, whether it’s friends I’m with, or the people at work, or just passers-by in the street. I used to respond quite strongly to social differences, to how those ones are different from me. Doing the Walking Meditation, the feeling is that the other person is fundamentally the same as me. Of course they have a different body, a different life position and class position and a different biography, but in terms of consciousness — the fundamental consciousness that’s inside all of us, the empty consciousness that swims into view during the Walking Meditation — they are not just like me, approximations, they are identical to me. I am fascinated by this feeling, which is something more than sympathy or even empathy. If I can tune into people this way, in the course of a Walking Meditation, they look as beautiful and as lit up as the most gorgeous hunk you might want to cruise. It feels like cruising the human race. I love it!
Your loving bro,
11. THE NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
(V Chapter 10)
October 12, 1999
Subject: Three Bodies
One of these days N, you must study Sanskrit. This ancient language puts things in such a radically elementary way. It is the most primordial and sophisticated of all expressions of the nature of what we call consciousness.
It seems to me that in this matter of the Tantric Body, Sanskrit goes to the essence. In the word which westerners clumsily translate as “consciousness” is to be found what is to me the essential ground of our collective being. The word is satchitananda, and it reveals the structure and nature of consciousness as having three koshas, bodies, layers or reaches: sat, being; chit, intelligence, and anand, bliss.
The outer ‘body’ of consciousness is sat, which means at once being and the truth about a being. Whatever is in the world, starting with our body, is sat. It is concrete, factual truth. Any ‘it’ is sat. All true statements are sat. All image is sat. This is the obvious outer layer of consciousness, much vaunted, even worshipped in the West as ‘the real world’.
Within this outer layer is chit, intelligence, the inner knowing that we often think of as understanding, our innate sense of how our reality is structured, our intuitive knowledge of the way things stand. This is the base of what is called the ‘subtle body’ of consciousness, configured in Right Handed Tantra as the charkas, or centers placed in the central channel or, as in your Kundalini tradition, the spine.
The brilliant core of consciousness is anand, bliss. Bliss is not just a feeling of causeless happiness, but the inner sun from which awareness radiates as intelligence and being. It is called the bliss body. It is the Buddha being. It is The Wonderful. This aspect of consciousness is shared with all sensate beings. Each being radiates its particular world from this core.
From my expanding experience of this radiant bliss body, I am more and more aware of it in every living thing. I can’t even kill insects any more. It is said that this bliss body is also an ongoing continuity, the part of us that does not die, though I have yet to experience this. In my Monastery work, this is now figured as a golden Buddha that sits on the top of my head in a pearl at the peak of the central channel. Its highest form however is seen as this same golden Buddha in the heart, or often as a diamond, characterizing the unmoving nature of real consciousness/bliss within the moving totality of our experience.
The whole project of enlightenment is to disengage one’s identity from sat, draw one’s sense of self into the innate purity of chit, and uncover and identify with anand.
We need to use every tool. I believe that both of us are now experiencing that eventually, through our practices, consciousness does begin to modify. Despite the awful off periods, mine turns more and more away from the obsessions of the mind to the bed of bliss. These “skilful means” permit us to enter the tantric consciousness, which knows the most fundamental of all. With tantra, as with any authentic spiritual practice, you are entering the void as bliss.
As I progress in my understanding of satchitananda, I see the metaphor of spherical layers in the reverse form, rather like the pre-Copernican view of the universe expanding out from the earth as its center. I am naively at the center of this sphere of the material world. It is what I see, interact with and take to be real. Surrounding that is a subtle sphere, which is intelligence, all the way the world of things and facts is manifest as intelligible and organized, the divine mind of the one consciousness. I expand this through education and through the freeing up of what we call intuition. This is encompassed within the real luminous container of the cosmos of consciousness, which is bliss. Thus, as our consciousness moves towards enlightenment, we are actually expanding into the real nature of the cosmos, which is not infinite space (that is the “real world” of sat), but infinite luminous bliss. On the basis of my growing experience, this is a truer metaphor for consciousness, though it is horrendously counterintuitive. Through Right Handed tantra I am experiencing a kind of Copernican Revolution in reverse.
I hope this will give you a basic structure upon which to understand your perceptions and practices. It will certainly give me a structure for bringing you up to date in my next letter on what is happening with R and our adventure into the discovery of bliss.
12. THE TEMPLES OF ECSTASY AND BLISS
(V Chapter 11)
Mar 21, 2000
Subject: The Temples of Ecstasy and Bliss
I have been thinking a lot more about ecstasy and bliss and how they differ.
It now seems clear to me that there are in fact two temples that I have been constructing in my consciousness over these years: the Temple of Ecstasy and the Temple of Bliss. I do not think that they correspond exactly to Left and Right Handed tantra, because it seems I have used both of these means to build each temple. But the focus has been on the sexual relationship to build the Temple of Ecstasy and on the training at the Monastery to build the Temple of Bliss.
In the end, I find that tantra is only indirectly about sex, the glamorous part! Good sex is not its final goal, rather transcendence of sex into bliss. As soon as you think tantra is about sex, you are off onto that dangerous path that all the masters warn about. And they are right, because sex can so easily become a mere addiction. In this way Pleasure Tantra betrays its sources. At some barely perceptible point the lover and the sex become the end instead of the means. Increasingly they obscure the truth rather than to serve to reveal it. Soon you are in trouble. But trouble is part of tantra too, as we have both found out.
Because of this danger, anyone who is going to practice Left Handed tantra should also practice Right Handed tantra in a serious way. I think we both now realize we need it in order to stay on track. Let me put it this way. I would not have gone very far in this project if I had been practicing only Left Handed tantra. By now I would have exhausted the kinky extremes, be restless, and moving off into other sex trips and other lights in the world of religions.
To me the basic purpose of tantra is to unify with the divine blissful ground of being, and the means is the cultivation and ritual use of the body and its kinesthetic consciousness. You must wonder if I have come to this blissful unification myself. I do not know if I have reached the peak, but I am having lots of peak experiences. Nor can I say that I am enlightened, though I am definitely experiencing lots of illumination. I am by no means in a state of permanent bliss. I have bad days. I have days when I do the meditations and I think it is all bull shit. I just do it anyway. Tend the garden.
I pulled out of the Monastery recently for three weeks when R and I went to Kovalam, the beach at the southern tip of India. During that time I reviewed all the Rituals of Completion that I have been doing for the last six years. They all seem very different from the way they were when I originally did them. Each ritual elaborates upon the last, and in some ways clarifies it. To go back and do them all again is in a way like re-reading a novel once you know the ending. I see the grand form, the great organization of this work. Lots of light and joy have come from this.
The Temple of Bliss is nothing if not subtle. One only sees what has happened if one uses that light touch, that relaxed Yin awareness that simply observes how things appear. In no way can one see the nature of one’s mind, or for that matter experience bliss, by concentrating on the world of beings, what is so in ‘the real world’. The enlightening view happens in that cultivated Yin awareness of the primordial — what shows itself and how it shows itself (rather than what is and what is true.) In my growing capacity for this vision, I see that much has happened to me; that this work has indeed made profound changes, and this view is the one by which I can enter the Temple of Bliss and contemplate the eternal light.
On the other hand, there is the Temple of Ecstasy that R and I have created together. It is ecstatic. As you know, the Greek ekstasis means standing out from. When I am with him, I literally feel that I am standing outside of myself, beside myself with happiness. Ecstasy has the character of bliss: it is blissful, but it is not bliss. I don’t think romantic love goes to bliss. It goes to ecstasy, which is blissful, and therefore provides an authentic taste of bliss.
The Temple of Ecstasy is at the top of the Foothills. The Temple of Bliss is at the peaks. In the Temple of Bliss one becomes the witness of the primordial light which is the real ground or base of all experience back in the lowlands. It is the real and eternal nature of consciousness. Returning into the ‘real’ world, one finds it transformed, because the base light is now always consciously present. The ‘real’ becomes mere ornamentation. This is the true nature of non-attachment and freedom.
As I reflect on this, I see that this business of ecstasy and bliss is one of the first things I learned about tantra. I believe I told you once that tantra was first set forth some 5000 years ago in 112 telegraphic sutras called the Vignana Bhairava Tantra. Each of these sutras, when expanded into its full instructions, is an exercise in contemplating bliss. When I worked with these some years ago, there was one that struck me in particular. In this exercise, you focus on an object and fill it with all the love you can muster. You love it totally. Then you remove the object and contemplate what is left.
In this little exercise is to be found the definitive, but finally harsh statement of the role of the sex object or beloved in tantra. It has to do with your center, the source of bliss. When you invest your center into something else there is great suffering (as you have seen in my case), but great opportunity, because so much ecstasy is there. But the real tantric possibility has nothing to do with this object: its real tantric function is to charge your center with ecstasy, which can then be realized as bliss. Life conspires, you may have noticed, to remove cherished objects. In tantra, the object is ultimately there to throw you into ecstasy, but it has to be removed in order to propel you into bliss. Another way to say this is that if life provides you with an opportunity to build a Temple of Ecstasy, at some point it will conspire to remove you into the Temple of Bliss.
When you truly achieve the Temple of Bliss, you move into true compassion. This is why the spiritual work of tantric Buddhism is always dedicated to all sensate beings. This constant reminder keeps you on the trajectory towards true Bliss. Every being that authentically enters the Temple of Bliss moves the Whole of consciousness one step further into the truth of its real nature and essential responsibility.
Excerpts from The ManTantra Letters
The 11 chapters of the book contain an exchange of e-mail letters over ten years between V (Victor Bliss) and N (Nathan James) describing their experiences of Tantra. Here are a few excerpts from the correspondence, which cumulatively give a sense of the whole.
All Contents (click to view):
1) Basics of Tantra 7) The Essential Ritual
2) The Wild Side 8) Elaboration on the Essential Ritual
3) The Two Ways of Tantra 9) Addiction or Joyful Moderation?
4) Priming the Chakras 10) A Walking Meditation
5) Strategies against the Green-Eyed Monster 11) The Nature of Consciousness
6) Currents of Light 12) The Temples of Ecstasy and Bliss