Tantra Practice: 3 Steps to Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation.

Via on Sep 5, 2011

Many teachers of Buddhism and yoga promote and teach the practice of Mindfulness. When practicing mindfulness, for instance by watching the breath, one maintains attention on the chosen object of awareness. Whenever the mind wanders away, one faithfully returns back to refocus on the breath.

The term for Mindfulness in Sanskrit is Smrti—to recollect, to remember to be in the present moment, now and in the future. In Tantric practice, one will also remember the nature of the breath, that the breath is Consciousness. As Kabir said: the Divine is the breath within the breath.

Thus we may term Tantric meditation Meaningful Mindfulness; the remembering not only to meditate on the breath but also remembering that the breath itself is Consciousness; the Inner Witness; the Real Self.

This form of meditation has the capacity to take us into a deeper state of silence and spiritual depth than mere Mindfulness. And, when remembering, when having attained  continuous mindfulness one attains Dhruva Smrti; that is, one experiences continuous remembering. Remembering of what? The remembering that all objects of one’s attention are Sacred, are Divine, are bliss.

Step 1. Developing a Tantric Worldview.   

Tantric Philosophy says: SHIVA SHAKTIATMAKAM BRAHMA. Brahma is the composite of Shiva and Shakti.

This Sanskrit sutra contains the basic concept of Tantric philosophy, that Brahma, the Supreme Entity, is One but has two aspects, namely Cosmic Consciousness, or Shiva, and Cosmic Energy, or Shakti.

In this physical world of duality, these two appears to be separate, but after attaining knowledge of nondual Brahma, one sees only One. There is no differentiation, only One without a second.

On a metaphysical level, the ultimate reality, Brahma, is expressed in the “polarity” of Shiva and Shakti. Within our own conditional reality, this is expressed as the dualities of male and female, objective and subjective, masculine and feminine, without and within.

Shiva and Shakti, as the perfect unity-principle, also symbolize integration, in Jungian terms, for example, the integration of animus and anima. In Taoism, the Chinese version of Tantra, they are the esoteric twin pair yin and yang.

Psychologically, this unity-principle represents our need to integrate our male and female energies. Neurologically, it represents the integration of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Ontologically, it is expressed when scholars seek to integrate spiritual and scientific knowledge. Ecologically, it represents the interrelationship of all of creation.

And spiritually, it represents the way we contemporary yogis integrate spiritual exercises, such as meditation and chanting, and physical exercises, such as asanas, into our daily lives. As within, so without. As above, so below.

 

Step 2.  Developing Tantric Vision through Madhuvidya.

As you can see, Tantric metaphysics has far-reaching implications for how we can find balance and harmony in our daily lives.

Deeply contemplate this Tantric unity-principle of the cosmos.

Envision how the Tantric principles of wholeness embrace everything, even contradictions and unpleasant experiences. Use this vision to embrace aspects of life you are afraid of, reject or hide. Move beyond conflict and pain, and discover joy and peace in polarity.

Everything in this world contains Cosmic Consciousness, or Shiva, and Cosmic Energy, or Shakti. All things and beings are created by Shakti, or Comsic Energy, and all things have in them the latent force of Shiva, or Cosmic Consciousness.

Thus, all things are, in essence, Brahma. In this physical world of duality, things and people appear to be separate, but after attaining knowledge of nondual Brahma, one sees that all are One.

Try to find as many situations as you can during the day when you can contemplate this union of Shiva and Shakti as Brahma, this duality in Oneness. Try to feel that your food is Brahma before and during a meal. Try to feel that your friend is Brahma when talking to him or her.

Try to see and feel Brahma in everything and everyone you encounter. The more you remember doing this, the more you will become connected to the world around you in a deeply spiritual and sacred way.

This is Madhuvidya, or honey knowledge, the remembering that everything is Divine Honey. Everything. This is Meaningful Mindfulness.

Step 3: Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation.

So when a Tantric yogi sits with his or her eyes closed in either lotus position, half lotus or in any other relaxed position with the back straight and meditates on the breath, with a a mantra, focusing on a chakra and the meaning of the mantra, that whole process becomes one continuous meaningful remembering.

And even after sitting meditation, one may continue the remembering by repeating the mantra during japa practice all day long. One may keep doing this over and over until one feel relaxed and natural and the mind is focused on the breath. Then imbue the breath with Meaningful Mindfulness; that is, start to feel that the breath is Consciousness, Divine, God, Sacred, Love, whatever heartfelt feeling comes to mind that also represents Divinity in your life.

When one sits down to eat, feel that the food is Sacred, Divine, God, and so on. Whenever any action is performed, that action is also Divine, also sacred.

And when this practice is natural and continuous, it becomes Dhruva Smrti, the state of always being in the presence of Meaningfulness, of Divinity, of the Sacred. Of always being in the Now.

This is easier said than practiced, of course, but the habit of sitting every day, twice a day, then doing japa during the day, remembering the Divine before acting, before seeing, touching, etc., and also during the act itself, then singing kirtan, and doing yoga exercises on the breath, with a mantra, one is gradually reminded of the inner meaning of life; the inner mindful meaning of life: that it is Sacred, Blissful, always.

And if forgetting, one can always go back to the meaning, to the mindful remembering. Always. To paraphrase Rumi: if you wonder whether there is Divinity, whether God responds to your meditation, your longing for That, then remember, it is the longing itself, the practice itself, that is the message, the return message from the Divine.

Yes, the effort itself, even the process of forgetting and then returning, is part of the practice, is Meaningful, is Divine. Always.

 

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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21 Responses to “Tantra Practice: 3 Steps to Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation.”

  1. Ramesh says:

    Dear Sati, thank you so much for your keen observation and insight. Yes, I think you have pointed out one of the "sore spots" of Tantra, but Tantra also has remedies for these potential pitfalls. That said, what you are concerned about is a real issue and has, for example, been expressed most strongly in the neo-tantra movement where sensuality has become a false vehicle for liberation. That is one way in which Tantra can lead one astray, thinking that sexual bliss is the only and ultimate bliss; that is, to mistake duality for nonduality through sensory gratification. Traditionally, we also see this expressed in the Left-hand Tantric school, most notably in the Aghora schools, in which the adept is engrossed in Maya, in the world, in the powers of nature, in sex, drink, etc in order to overcome the same. However, very few are able to do so as that path is very demanding and difficult in that it easily snares the sadhaka in the clutches of the world of power and thus samaskara/karma/samsara. The same can be said for the Right-hand path of Tantra in which the worship of Shakti in the form of idols are emplyed. However, as in the Left-hand school, the wise adepts on this path, and Ramakrishna is the most famous here, know well that the Goddess is a gateway to the nondual realm, a focus of adoration, a representation. However, many get stuck in the realm of pure idol worship. In the Middle path of Tantra, Madhya Marga, which I happen to practice, it is clearly stated and taught that Shakti as two aspects, Vidya maya and Avidya maya, in which the latter creates the entanglements of the world of samsara. It is also clearly known that Shati, as the world, as nature, as the sensory world, is relative, is the world of attachment, and that it is Shiva (consciousness) that one seeks, that the Ground of Being beyond form is the real Brahman, is that which liberates. So all these sophisticated understandings are also part of Tantra, but I did not go into those issues in my article.
    Similarly, on the path of Advaita, the challenge is to not neglect the world, as it is seen as illusory, empty, etc. So all paths have their "weak spots," and it is important for the spiritual seeker to be aware of those.
    So, my understanding of Tantra is that the world (Shakti) represents dualism, a limited expression, but also the energy for transformation towards embracing Shiva (Consciousness) Because there cannot be the world without Shiva, there cannot be the world without bot Shiva and Shakti, or Purusha and Prakrti, and together, they are in their deepest essence Brahma. In other words, to have sex can be spiritual, transformative act, it can also be the worst from of samsara–it all depends on our state of consciousness. Moreover, just have socalled Tantric sex, is to me an illusion and a trap, as deep meditation is also needed to achieve tantric transformation. So, there are many subtle issues here to be aware of. Lastly, while Advaita is nondualism, Tantra is advaita-dvaita-advaita–that is, nondual, dualistic, nondualism. It thus represents the full spectrum of reality, and those have a good teacher as guide will be aware of all the stages, all the expressions and what they represent.

  2. Ramesh says:

    Dear Sati, thank you for your detailed comment and for sharing your spiritual experiences with us. As you noted, many of them occurred during ordinary situations, not during spiritual practice per se. Which has sometimes been my experience as well. This, to me, is a practical indication that spirituality, like butter in milk, is an inherent aspect of all of creation, of all experiences given there is the ripening of samskara to experience spiritual grace.. That the potential for consciousness is everywhere. So if consciousness is everywhere, and if that nondual state is Real, then how can the relative be illusory, asks Tantra? it is simply relative, but not illusory. Still, Tantra agrees that Maya has an illusory aspect, as well. So, it is just a matter of perspective, a matter of degree, a matter of philosophy, of speaking. So to answer your question: does tantra agree that the relative realm is an illusion? Yes and No. As your teacher said: Whatever is true is false. Whatever is false is true.
    Philosophy has to include paradox because the mind cannot grasp reality from a nondual perspective, from a perspective in which what is real is false, what is false is real, what is good is also bad, or neither good nor bad.
    So yes, this world of maya is relative and illusory if we think it will give us ultimate pleasure. But for a spiritual point of view it is also a play of relativity, real, and not at all illusory.
    In other words, it all depends on the perspective. And that is what I find appealing with tantra–it is very detailed and ecological in its ontology, very complex and flexible. A set of beautiful paradoxes.
    Shankara was a tantric, yet his Advaita philosophy differs. Still, his nondual experience was the same as the next enlightened sage, yet when the intellect is employed different nuances are set forth which gives us different philosophies, different emphasis on reality. Thus yoga means union to Tantra and the absence of fluctuations of mind to Patanjali.
    My bias is Tantra and I think its sophistication lies in its balance of subjective approach through objective adjustment–the insight that this world is relative truth and contains the energy (the Shakti, the body, the mind) that, if cultivated and transmuted properly, can lead us to enlightenment, or to ignorance (or illusion, if you will) if not cultivated properly.

  3. integralhack says:

    Ramesh,

    That was a wonderful post–almost poetry–and touched me deeply. Just as engaging was your discussion with Sati. It's a wonderful thing to see two people reach such spiritual understanding even when some differences remain. It seems you both got on the "paradox train" after all and it leads to a recognition (Madhuvidya) beyond philosophies or "views" that are from the construct of "I."

    Buddhism also got on the Paradox Train long ago. The Heart Sutra states: "Form itself is emptiness, and emptiness itself is form." Buddhist Tantrikas find this to be fundamental just as you do.

    Ramesh, your statement that Tantra's "sophistication lies in its balance of subjective approach through objective adjustment" is just brilliant, btw. Frankly, that seems like a prescription for problems outside the spiritual realm–ethical, political, etc.

    I'm due for some objective adjustment through a subjective process myself!

    -Matt

  4. Ramesh says:

    Matt, thank you so much for your contribution and for pointing out that paradox is fundamental to the spiritual journey, philosophically and also practically. Anandamurti, my guru, pointed out that the essence of spirituality is mystical and only the experienced mystic truly knows the mystery as it cannot be known through the senses nor the intellect. It was also him who coined the phrase "subjective approach through objective adjustment." Thus he pointed out that many traditional yogis lacked objective adjustment and retreated from the world rather than lived in it to change it for the better through service and activism. Again, I think that if our view is that this world is sacred rather than an illusion, we are more prone to act in service of the world. But as Sati points out, we must then act as if the world is not the goal but a passing, temporary phenomenon lest we get entangled in more karma. Thus in Tantra, we practice madhuvidya when dealing with the world–seeing it as spirit rather than and object–that is, subjective approach…. always, even when facing the objective world.

    • integralhack says:

      That is such a great point and I believe it reflects the confusion that many would-be Buddhists get caught up in: if I am ultimately "empty" and the world is "empty" it leaves me vulnerable to passivity and possibly even cruelty (if everything is transitory and temporary why bother caring about such things as the environment or war?).

      For this reason, Buddhists and other yogis emphasize ethical and compassionate practice as prerequisites before attempting realization of emptiness. In fact, renunciation (not of life, but of samsaric existence) and bodhicitta (active and intentional compassion for others) are necessary steps to true realization of sunyata, or emptiness. True emptiness, after all, is a realized sense of (in Thich Nhat Hanh's term) "Interbeing." Thus, it should, as you put it, be seen as spirit rather than a object (particularly since this could imply a negative object!).

      Conceptually, this is filled with pitfalls and misunderstanding, so I can appreciate a more overtly positive Tantric approach! It also raises the issue of ethical maturity and stable egos. Left-hand practices can be seductive without having a solid ethical base and emotional/psychological stability. I think that would be a great Tantra article! ;)

      • Padma Kadag says:

        integralhack…admittedly I am not well versed in all schools of Buddhism but I will agree that Bodhicitta is essential in Buddhist practice for it is the foundation of enlightenment. The realization of emptiness is ripe with compassion in that from emptiness arises authentic and ultimate compassion. If emptiness is authentic and not some concept or klesha then great compassion is accomplished.

        • integralhack says:

          Well stated, Padma!

          • Ramesh says:

            Matt, very well stated about the importance of ethical and compassionate action. My teacher would say that ethics is the basis, the foundation for spirituality, so in Tantra ethics is also imbued with sacred ideation on Sprit, because good actions are also karmic, are also spiritually binding, thus all actions are imbued with sacredness, with the idea that they are also Spirit/Brahman, thus there is no clinging to ego from good actions, from the idea that "I am great" because I did good, etc. This is easier said than done, but an important spiritual insight. In other words, true spiritual service/activism is selfless…there is no expectation as to the result of the action…

          • Ramesh says:

            Padma, thanks for the great points, especially the last sentence!

  5. Ramesh says:

    Sati asks above, why is Shakti also called Maya in Tantra when there is no recognition that she is also illusion? The short answer is that there is recognition that Maya is also illusion, ignorance in Tantra, as such she is called Avidya Maya, ignorance, the veil that covers our ego and leads us away from Vidya,Maya, from knowledge. While Vidya Maya's energy may help us along the path path, and is the kundalini Maya, the Kundalini Shakti that propels us further along the path, there is also Avidya Maya, the illusory force, the ignorant, the evil force.
    In other words, Shakti, or Prakrti has many manifestations that are outlined in great detail in Tantra, depending on the stage of Prakrti. It is Prakrti (shakti) that forms the three gunas of nature (Sattva, raja, tama), it is also the same Pkrti, by binding Purusha (Shiva) which froms the five elements (space, air, fire, water, earth), it is also Prakrti, in the form of Shakti, or kundalini, that wakens the human being and gives us the urge to merge in That, to return. In other words, it is Shakti (parkrti) and Shiva (pususha) all the way, from The One to the many and back to the One. Shakti is there all the way, sometimes as illusion, sometimes as illumination. It again depends on the state we are in, depends on the perspective…., but always the Goal of the Tantrika is to merge in Shiva, in Purusha, to see Spirit, experience Spirit in all aspects of creation, and the energy of Maya, or Shakti can bring us toward Spirit or drive us away. Do we use Shakti to indulge in the world, to get entangled, or to serve and illumine the world? That is the question!

  6. sati says:

    Ramesh

    It was implied before, but when you suggested that having a belief that life is “real” offers a greater chance to inspire a sacred outlook and actions of service vs. a belief that life is an “illusion” was fascinating to me!

    This is because I (in my own bubble of experience) have never divorced those two, BUT I have always taken that for granted. Illusion never was anti-sacred. Sacred never had to be real. This was so so interesting for me to contemplate! Reading Advaita Vedanta inspires in me a sacred outlook and devotion and motivates me to be of service. It has also always felt like an affirming poetic echo of my transcendent experiences. This has always flowed out from me without a second thought. It’s so interesting to think that it would encourage an opposite response! I really enjoyed having this brought to my attention. Thank you!

    I think when using words like “real” and “illusion” it helps a lot to clearly define what we mean by those terms. Like I mentioned before, by “illusion” I mean form that is impermanent, not what it appears to be, and is not solid, fixed or eternal.” By “real” I mean permanent, eternal and fixed.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but based on what you outlined for me in the Tantric tradition, there seems to be an elaborate mapping of Shiva and Shakti that wishes to illuminate the differences between “correct and incorrect understanding” as two sub-polarities within the belly of Shakti, if you will. This makes a lot of sense to me and reminds me of a similar distinction in my Madhyamaka studies in Tibetan Buddhism. To delineate between what is relatively “right/clear/correct” and relatively “wrong/confused/incorrect” are necessary for development along the spiritual path before one can awaken fully to the absolute realm where no such polarities reside.

    This brings me to what was discussed between you and Matt regarding morality and ethics in these traditions. I think it is clear pretty early on, if you decide to pursue the practice of Yoga or Tantra or Buddhism, you make peace with the fact that you are responsible for your liberation and suffering and ultimately the reason to pursue moral and ethical thought and action is because of the karma that it produces. Period. Suffering decreases. Compassion increases. You could say “relative ignorance” dissolves and “relative wisdom” increases.

    The idea that we must develop these qualities because we must please some spiritual figurehead in another realm is a highly dualistic and very incomplete idea and I think is the cause of the reaction that Matt note, “if everything is empty, then why bother?” Of course a lot of that comes from a misunderstanding of what “empty” means in that tradition but also, I think even the word “consciousness” and as we have been speaking of, “illusion” warrants a similar response by many.

    I think most preliminary spiritual practices¬–morality and ethics included–are a practical way of “cleaning house” before we are able to seriously investigate the “nature of the house” itself. Afflicted minds, bodies, emotions (to put it incredibly simple terms) cannot seriously pursue systematically, greater realization into the nature of reality and perhaps integrate those realizations into relative body/mind system rife with profound complications. Morality is some of the work that must be done to ensure we don’t, to use your words, “get entangled” in Shakti.

    The metaphor of a dream is often used in Tibetan Buddhist and Vedanta teachings to illuminate this. If the relative realm is like our dreams, we very much experience the consequences of what unfolds in the dream itself. We act and operate in a samsaric dream very much like we do in samsaric waking life. Of course, when we awaken from the dream, the dream as little consequence to us, we see the whole dream as a play of our consciousness. But while dreaming, we don’t doubt the experiences we are having, the things we feel and actions we take as having nothing but serious and felt consequences. The codes of conduct, the mind, body, breath and energetic practices are there to create better habit patterns in our systems. When this occurs, we can prevent ourselves from creating nightmares upon nightmares. “The pain that is yet to come, can be avoided.” Patanjali 2.16. If we get clear enough, aware enough and stable enough in the dream, we could actually awaken while still dreaming and have a lucid dream! That is a nice metaphor for embodied enlightenment.

    My point being that whether the absolute and relative realm is viewed as Fullness or Emptiness, real or illusion, Shiva or Shakti, Purusha or Prakriti, neither should be the primary reason for promoting our commitment to spiritual practice and ethics. It should be due to the direct, lived experience that arises from our spiritual practices. That should be enough reason to promote a compassionate, knowledge-expanding, creative, joyous life/dream.

    And, I have to say Ramesh, based on what I’ve learned from you, Tantra offers quite the menu of offerings to do just that! ☺

    • Ramesh says:

      Wow, Sati, I am vitalized by the eloquence of your fine philosophical meanderings of Tantra, Vedanta and Buddhism. Spiritually awake people like yourself will understand intuitively that illusion was never anti-sacred. Without having time to go into great historical detail, we must not forget that in India, there has been a historical tradition in which these precepts were used to exploit people with a lesser insight into reality. There is a Tantric/Vedic divide in India that has been marked by this… and Vedanta has been historically used as a dualism to make people belive in the illusion of the world and thus accept their lot as a casteless, etc. In other words, there are those who take these metaphors literally, and those who use them literally to cast a spell of power over others, which is too often the case with religion. It takes mystical insight to dispel the myths and it takes socio-cultural awareness not to be pawns in the web of social subjugation.

      Emptiness in Tantra and Yoga refers to the samadhi state of nirvikalpa, or non-qualified samdhi, beyond the experience of i awareness. Thus this emptiness is also the ultimate fullness, which the yogi realizes upon its return. One of the great disciples of my guru had the ability to enter nirvikalpa in each meditation at will, while also being a very active person in the world. Thus he had both "cleaned house" and "thoroughly investigated it."

      And speaking of your wonderful metaphor of the lucid dream. I once woke up in a dream experiencing samadhi and thus was able to fully gain its blissful transcendence in the waking state as well.

      Lastly, I just want to say that I resonate deeply with your main points, Sati. And they are beautifully and clearly expressed!

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  8. Brent Binder drbinder says:

    Great piece!

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  10. Great article, Ramesh! Cheers to you!

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