This is the third article in a series of four: Feel free to read the first, second and third previously published.
Saraha: Tantric Teacher & Rogue
Saraha was a great tantric teacher from India. I was first introduced to Saraha about 12 years ago when my teacher loaned me a book about his life: The Royal Song of Saraha. Inside the front cover, my teacher’s teacher had inscribed: Sing a new song of your own—for the inspiration of all that will hear…
I asked my teacher why his guru would have given him a book about a wild, rule-breaking, charnel ground sleeping, sexual yogic practicing yogi and inscribe in the front cover for him to sing a new song? He said that at first he had thought it was because Saraha’s guru was a woman, and so was his. But, in recent years he decided that the inscription has more to do with Saraha’s refusal to belong to the status-quo.
Saraha means he who has shot the arrow. Sara means arrow in Pali and Sanskrit. His teacher was an arrow maker. She took him away from his life as a pure Brahmin and taught him Tantra in charnel grounds for which he was criticized and disowned by his family.
After being scorned by his family and people who used to esteem him as a Brahmin, Saraha spent much time meditating and practicing yoga with his teacher:
In a place emblazoned by the ganacakra
The yogis during the act of copulation
Witness bliss supreme and through symbols and commitment
Are tempered in Mahamudra, the self-sameness of Samsara and Nirvana.
Nirvana and Samsara—same stuff. And, while we’re on the subject, the sexual aspect can be taken literally, or not literally. The Tantricas are not obsessed with sex as some people think. They are also not afraid of sex. They don’t think the body is dirty.
The Tantricas, like Saraha, seek to overcome duality. In this way they are free from thinking things are dirty or not-dirty. And, they are free from thinking that there is a Nirvana or a heaven to go to where they will be better or more enlightened than everyone else.
There is neither beginning, middle, nor end.
‘Tis neither a Samsaraless Nirvana.
In this supreme bliss unsurpassed
There is no self or other.
Saraha’s songs were called the Dohas (poems). He sang some Dohas to the Queen, and others to the King and inspired many people. At the end of his songs King Dohas the King questioned Saraha. He said something like, You don’t reject or accept anything, you are like a pig in the mud. You are not free but addicted to Samsara.
And Saraha responded:
If I am like a pig that covets worldly mire
You must tell me what fault lies in a stainless mind.
By what does not affect me
How can I be fettered?
Saraha understood that there is no difference between what is pure and what is impure and that you can’t be fettered by something that doesn’t affect you! It sounds like the King was the one whose mind was fettered—just like the priests who condemned Saraha for living with his guru in the charnel grounds.
Yay for Saraha!
Quotes from: The Royal Song of Saraha: A Study in the History of Buddhist Thought. Herbert Guenther, trans. Shambala Publications, Berkeley, CA 1973.