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..:: Tantra I ::..

"The Left Hand Path"

By

Alan Schneider

 

               The subject of Tantra remains one of Hinduism’s “hot button” themes today, not only because it concerns sexuality, but because it concerns Ascension as well. At the root of this notoriety are questions regarding both the ultimate nature of reality, and of our human nature. Let us proceed with this most significant inquiry.

             One of “realities” most evident characteristics is dualism – the tendency of themes and qualities to occur between two polar extremes of expression. Light and dark, life and death, love and hate, compassion and cruelty – all are expressions of dualism, and the potential list goes on and on. In fact, some philosophers have maintained that all is dualism in the universe – even the “universe of all manifestation” has its opposing principal of the Void – the Utterly Unmanifest. Suffice it to say that the expression of dualism is one that most certainly occurs in our generic human perception, both in the sense of absolutes – conditions that are finite (on and off, for example) – and as terminals of a continuum – hot to warm to lukewarm to cool to cold – the principal has both digital and analog features seen in its applications in life.  

            In human terms, the most evident and significant example of dualism is seen in our species’ differentiation into male and female, the two expressions of our sexuality. Now, to be sure, there are hermaphroditic expressions that sometimes occur, but these are so statistically rare that they can be regarded as idiosyncratic in the extreme, rendering sex as, for all practical purposes, an absolute distinction. The fact that sex then becomes the inevitable forum of gender acculturation and interpretation remains culturally subsequent to our polar emergence into the world of manifest expression as either male or female.  

            The seminal work of Freud has suggested a progression of stages of emergent “sexuality” in children as they pass through maturation – these are the well known (if  controversial) oral, oral sadistic, anal, latent, and genital phases, in the order of their occurrence. With the onset of the genital stage in adolescence, the gonads begin to secrete sexually definitive hormones that further enhance behavioral expression in both sexes, with testosterone promoting more relatively aggressive behavior in males, and estrogen more relatively receptive, nurturing behavior in females. There is a central concept that underlies all of the phases of sexual expression just mentioned, something that Freud felt was the driving force at work in, at the very least, human consciousness, and probably all life as well – a largely subconscious “presence” which he referred to as libido – the vital life force animating all behavior and perception.  Libido at the human level can be thought of, among other things, as the psychological motive that causes us to seek and identify sources of pleasure associated with various bodily organs and processes at all of the Freudian stages of sexual expression. To Freud, libido was still a fundamentally sexual force, and we remained fundamentally sexual beings. This is the essence of the Left Hand Path - the practice of sexuality as a means of seeking higher conscious expression.

             And certainly most people pursue some form of sexual activity in adulthood, albeit these activities are heavily subject to all manner of cultural interpretation as a result of the gender conduct definitions  that delineate our sexual norms and expectations. In traditional American society, heterosexual expression is the “preferred” gender interpretation of sexual conduct, with most individuals conforming to that norm. It is noteworthy here that the male/female sex role dichotomy is still frequently seen in gay and lesbian relationships, in the form of active role-playing, even though the genital identity of the participants is identical. Clearly, there is some very persuasive, if unseen, force at work determining the presence of the aforementioned dichotomy. If this force even expresses itself in gay and lesbian relationships, it must extend beyond Freud’s essentially heterosexual definition of libido.  What can this be? 

Freud once described all religion as sublimated (i.e. symbolic, indirectly expressed) sexuality, noting the evident similarity of the various states of religious excitement and ecstasies in many belief systems with the stages of sexual arousal and orgasm in physical biology.   Jung took this a step further (i.e. to a higher level of symbolism) with his theory of the archetypes of the collective unconsciousness,  wherein the archetypal symbols of faith and spiritual expression are defined as the specific precursors of human consciousness, including sexuality.    The implication here is that sexual expression that is not directly manifested through the sex act will still emerge in symbolic form with comparable or greater intensity elsewhere in consciousness, and must be expressed in some form as the consequence of that most basic and fundamental aspect of the human condition – the differentiation into the male and female physical forms.   This is the essence of Tantra – the elevation of Freudian libido (his term for vital sexual or life force) first to recognition as a spiritual force present in physical sexuality, and thence on to higher and higher levels of increasingly potent symbolic spiritual levels.  This duality of form is a fundamental expression of the Tao – the polarity of force generating all manifestation in the universe – along with light and dark, hot and cold, strong and weak, love and fear, and the great multitude of other polar extremes through which the Self appears to be expressed.   The human Taoist expression of male and female is the one upon which the philosophy of Tantra rests.   

The libido was Freud’s characterization of another, much more anciently recognized force, known as the aforementioned Tao in Chinese philosophy, arguably the Mojo of many primitive (and modern) African systems, the Chi of Japanese and other Pacific island cultures, and, above all, the Kundalini of India and South Asia – almost all historically Asian as White observed.    Of these, it is the Kundalini, through Kundalini Yoga practice, which has been expanded most thoroughly and completely as the explanation of the action of Tantra.   This is the theory which I have found to be most plausible as the explanation of Ascension and Enlightenment after a lifetime of investigation into many traditions, and the one which I will offer here.

And, as is frequently the case, we must depart initially from the comfortable security of absolute science to begin this presentation by accepting the premise that the Self is the origin of all consciousness, something which cannot be objectively proven as yet.    As the Creator of all knowable manifestation (i.e. everything present within the Universal Field of Consciousness that is the Self) the Self expresses manifestation in an infinite variety of processes and forms in The Presence of Universal Love.   Even the frequently seemingly cold and impersonal physical universe is the result of this Divine Love radiating forth from the Self.   At this latter level of cosmic vibration, the condition of the Self has become quite dense and impacted, resulting in the perceptible world of the Physical Plane and, above all, Karma, the spiritual action which agitates this Plane into moral consequences and expression.    Karma is the Self manifest on the Physical Plane, particularly the “Karma” known as the physical human body.    This body is essentially trapped in its native sensory condition, at least initially wholly dependent upon the senses for all information about, and subsequent knowledge of, its condition and circumstances.   The Freudian ego cannot penetrate this shroud concealing the Truth of Consciousness from the organism.   

            The Hindu interpretation of the Vital Life Force is frequently specified as the Kundalini Energy. This “energy”, or driving force, is usually depicted as initially residing in a more or less dormant condition in the First, or Root, Chakra, designated as Muladhara. Kundalini means “coiled serpent” in Sanskrit, the ancient spiritual language of the Vedas. This energy is thought of as essentially “spring loaded”, and ready to be released up through the sequence of spinal chakras, when given the right activation sequence. The interpretations vary regarding what that sequence is, and even extend beyond Hinduism to other spiritual philosophies. The specific Hindu approach that presents itself as geared toward activating the Kundalini energy is, not surprisingly, Kundalini Yoga, but this author has experienced Ascension in other traditions as well, most notably the Jewish Cabala system of practice. (3)The “drive” to Ascend in the Spirit is one that sees universal expression across traditions. It would seem that we have an integral need to seek beyond the superficial meaning of the events we perceive, in search of the Original Meaning of all of the events of perception – God, and Kundalini Yoga has a fairly effective, simple theory describing the “Seeking” process involved. A brief description of this theory follows. 

            When the correct sequence of postures and breathing techniques is followed under the guidance of a competent agent (frequently a Guru of some measure of distinction), the Kundalini Energy is activated and, preferably SLOWLY, begins to move upward through the sequence of the seven Chakras, which act as psychic energy centers nominally conceived of as contiguous to the spinal column. There are accounts of inadvertent spontaneous full Kundalini Ascensions (attaining the Seventh Chakra), but this is usually a disaster for the unfortunate practitioner, resulting in permanent mental impairment. As each Chakra is encountered and assimilated by the Kundalini Energy, the qualities inherent to it are idealized and converted to mental expressions that can be carried forward and upward by the rising Kundalini. What is most significant here is that there is an assumed sexual differentiation present that compels this process. The Kundalini is described as being fundamentally female in nature in both men and women. The Sanskrit term for this female energy is Shakti. The male pole of the mechanism is generally represented as the God Shiva, thought to reside at the center of the Seventh, or Crown, Chakra, called Sahasrara, immediately above the head. Shiva personifies the Ultimate state of Consciousness – Nondual Awareness of Total Creation – and the attainment of this state is the goal of the Kundalini Ascension process. As Shakti, who longs for reunion with her partner Shiva (a libidinal condition?) travels up the succession of the Chakras, she comes ever closer to her beloved, finally uniting with Him in His abode in Sahasrara, creating the state of Cosmic Bliss known in Sanskrit as Ananda – a condition associated with the aforementioned Nondual Awareness. It is understood that this process may take years, decades, and/or lifetimes to achieve by even the most dedicated practitioner, and involves a lifestyle of spiritual focus and austerity.  Ascension is not easy...  

            The preceding is a description of what is generally known in Tantra as the Right Hand practice, given “in a nutshell”. And although it is not the only Ascension Theory in existence, it is definitely a very comprehensible one for the lay individual. Now, as the reader may have noticed, this first article on Tantra is concerned with the Left Hand practice, and it is this practice that gives Tantra a bad name. Why? Because it involves genital intercourse, generally with an opposite-sexed partner! Why is this so fallen? Because the sex orgasm so experienced dissipates the Kundalini Energy, leaving little or nothing available for conversion into Right Hand ascension experience. And it is for this reason that the author equates the Kundalini Energy with the Freudian libido – both are distinctly sexual in nature and symbolism. It is most interesting in this case that Freud considered all religious expression as sublimated sexuality – and particularly any ecstatic states experienced as part of the religious involvement present. This would certainly include the Ananda of Kundalini Ascension.  

            One finds oneself compelled to note that a diametrical relationship exists here. The more oriented to left-hand practice one is, generally the less oriented to right-hand practice one is. Even when the “fruits” of the sex involved are consciously and deliberately offered to the Glory of God, as Hinduism instructs married partners to do, the fact remains that the orgasm occurs for the glory of the human participants, and still dissipates the Kundalini Energy in the process. So we are required to make a harsh choice in this matter – a choice of the “Godly” process to be worshipped – physical orgasm or Divine Ascension. Although left-hand Tantra maintains that the level of spiritual ecstasy that can be attained through “holy sex” with a “holy partner” is tantamount to the Ananda of Shiva reunited with Shakti, this is almost never the case in real practice, because such efforts require a phenomenal level of spiritual focus on the part of both participants – the kind of focus that only results from years of right-hand practice! How ironic this is... 

            The first three Chakras are variously associated with successively more involved functioning on the manifest physical, material plane of existence – Muladhara with rote survival activities, Svadisthana (the second Chakra) with reproductive pleasure, and Manipura (the third) with social power and prestige. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are also Left Hand centers of involvement, focused as they are on material manifestation. Of the three, Svadisthana is the primary Left Hand operator, and the easiest place for the rising Kundalini to become diverted. One expression of this diversion is the well-known Freudian “sex obsession”, something that Freud himself is frequently accused of! Another is the occurrence of the practice of Tantric Magic by the Left Hand aspirant. This “magic” is generally color-graded into at least three categories – Black, Red, and White. The first is allegedly used for cursing, assaulting, or killing, the second for seducing, and the third for blessing, or obtaining blessings. None of these is a fit spiritual activity – all involve various degrees of attempts to manipulate the Kundalini Energy for one kind of personal, ego-focused motive or another, with the possible exception of White Tantra, in the case of soliciting blessings for another, not oneself.  As legitimate practitioners of spiritual methods, we are expected to work as well and honestly with our Karma as possible, until the Dharma that we may be able to achieve dissolves it, and we progress thereby in Ascension toward God. Any attempt to “con” this process is doomed to eventual failure by reinforcing the Dualistic Fallacy that constructs that flawed perception of life known to Hinduism as Maya – the illusion of the sensory world of experience appearing as the only (and most important) world of experience. The Truth is that God is creating everything that we experience on any level as a gift of Love. Even the Sufferings are such gifts, because they burn away the dross elements of our experience, and create challenges to be overcome and assimilated as we attain ongoing spiritual growth.  

   The Self has left within every human body the means of rediscovery of the Divine Presence in the form of an initially dormant “packet” of the Kundalini Energy symbolically present in the Sacrum at the base of the spine.   The Kundalini Energy is the Self in microcosal form – a little package of God symbolically nested at the skeletal foundation of the organism.    It is interesting that neither Freud nor Jung, although postulating the existence of libido or archetypes, could say where they were to be found, but Kundalini Yoga is quite specific about this – the base of the spine.    This specificity is the foundation of all Yoga practice – not solely Kundalini Yoga – and, as a result, any postural Yoga system is working with the activation and release of the Kundalini.   This is why the practices of Hatha Yoga and many schools of meditation can result in spontaneous release of the Kundalini along the sequence of the spinal Chakras – often with severely disruptive results for the unprepared practitioner.    The Kundalini represents God seeking reunion with God, the ultimate force in the universe, and something to be treated with great respect and caution in application!   

The theories of most schools of Yoga and meditation are aware of this risk, and proceed slowly with the spiritual development and training of the aspirant for that reason, at least in the case of the correctly trained instructor working in a valid spiritual lineage.   One should always make a point of selecting such an individual for any spiritual undertaking – the generic study from a generic guide can be very risky indeed. 

The sequence of the first three of the total of seven Chakras – the symbolic spinal energy centers of human consciousness – are all concerned with the operation of the limited sensory consciousness of the body on the Physical Plane.  Chakra One, Muladhara, expresses the basic survival valence of the organism – work, cleanliness, habitation, transportation, eating, and sleeping in the material world.  Chakra Two, Svadhisthana, expresses mating and sexuality, as we enter adolescence (and perhaps even long before that, if Freud was accurate in his theories of infantile sexuality).   It is with the onset of the influence of Svadhisthana that the hitherto dormant Kundalini Energy which is the driver of Tantra becomes active within consciousness.    In the cases where the child has experienced a relatively benign, largely trauma-free existence, the initial demonstration of the Tantra involved is largely Left Hand in nature – focused on external sexual interest in a physical partner.   In cases where significant trauma has taken place for the individual, the customary Left Hand orientation may emerge in distorted, perverted contexts, and may also emerge prematurely in a Right Hand orientation toward spiritual practice.    These are the two Paths of Tantra – the Left Hand physical and the Right Hand spiritual.   Many people predominantly experience the Left Hand Path for most of their lives, as it processes in adulthood through Svadhisthana into Chakra Three, Manipura, the social Power Center, and primary focus of ego awareness in the organism as the predominantly social process that it is.    This Center was discussed at some length in my last essay, entitled The Ego, and represents the terminus of the Left Hand Path in consciousness.  

The Paths of Tantra can diverge at either Svadhisthana or Manipura toward Chakra Four, Anahata, The Heart Center, and first genuinely spiritual Chakra.   I say this because this is the Center where selfless love, compassion, the conscience, and the Soul are focused and symbolically expressed in the organism.    In order to continue working with the Right Hand Path, this Chakra must be successfully entered and experienced in consciousness, and represents the Gateway to all of the higher levels of consciousness and spiritual attainment to follow: Chakras Five – Vishuddha, the Throat Center – Six, Ajna, the Brow Center – and Seven, Sahasrara, The Crown Center.  

The progression of the Chakras from the perspective of the Ascending Kundalini is that of decreasing literal sensory experience and increasing intuitive spiritual experience.    Muladhara is very literal and material, anchoring as it does the physical survival of the organism and the Karma that it represents.   Svadhisthana is also very material and literal, at least as it pertains to the Left Hand Path and associated physical sexual practices, but this is also where the possibility of spiritual symbolic manifestation associated with sexuality – the Right Hand Path – begins.   Manipura is the focus of social reality, and the manipulations for power, prestige, and advantage – all abstract symbolic concepts that have, however, clearly defined literal material expressions.    Anahata marks the great divide between the observably physical and the intuitively spiritual – all of the characteristics associated with Anahata must be sensed intuitively, as opposed to experienced literally.  Vishuddha is the focus of vibrational manifestation in human consciousness, representing the spiritual power of chanting and atonement to elevate perception beyond Anahata.   Ajna is the so-called Third Eye – the Inner or All-Seeing Eye of the advanced perception that occurs well beyond even the intonation and tonal vibration of Vishuddha – manifesting as the extrasensory perception of psychic events, power, and insight.   Sahasrara is the literal Seat of the Godhead, the abode of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, existing beyond all human (i.e. even remotely ego-based) consciousness – and the location of the Jungian Self, the origin of all Being.  

 Certain additional observations may serve to further enhance the reader’s understanding of post-Manipura consciousness.  Since they are all more or less concerned with the body and physicality, the first three Chakras exhibit a linear relationship with each other in perception – they seem to demonstrate logical interconnects in the terms that the ego understands and can at least attempt to manipulate.   Now, inasmuch as the following three Chakras have physical correlates, they do not exhibit the same extent of linearity and logical connectivity as the first three do.    Rather, they represent three regions of involvement that are spiritually complementary and mutually supportive, but capable of independent manifestation.   Compassion, communication, and psychic insight are all linked together, and may spontaneously arise and wane within their respective pervues individually in response to the synchronous inputs emanating from the Seventh level of Sahasrara, the director of all spiritual awareness and consciousness.   This level stands apart from the three preceding Chakras in yet another realm, protected from any possible residual ego vibration by a psychic barrier that acts as a variable filter permitting only pure vibrations of collective consciousness to pass, and blocking all others.   Although it can be perceived from the perspective of Ajna, even that level of activity still manifests too much ego involvement to allow entry.   Essentially, one must die and surrender all subjective, personal knowledge (i.e. worldly experience) to enter the domain of Sahasrara – therein to experience the Godhead and the Self.   

And the Seers of history have identified another region lying even beyond Sahasrara, referred to in Hindu Vedic cosmology as the Brahman – the universal, omnipresent Essence of God permeating everything everywhere, without being solely present in any one object or process anywhere.    This level is so rarefied that even to label it is considered inappropriate, and this is done only to permit verbal and written reference to this mode of experience, which really cannot even be properly considered as experience, since that requires some kind of subject observing some kind of object or process, and the Brahman is none of these, transcending everything knowable or conceivable.    Here, the last traces of consciousness dissolve into eternity in perfect peace as pure non-dual Bliss, without subject, object, or evaluation… 

Thus, we have four discernable modes of consciousness defining existence – the lower triad of three physical Chakras, logical and linear, but spiritually superficial, followed by the next sequence of three higher Chakras, spiritual, but not linear or logical in their actions as the ego understands these things, followed by the Seventh Chakra of the Self, serene and unmoved by all lesser vibrations, as their Creator must be, and finally the Void of Brahman, the great unknowable reservoir from which all manifestation issues, and unto which all eventually returns, to be released again in some other aspect at some other time according to the humanly inscrutable forces present there.    This constitutes the full range of Tantric manifestation, from the first Left Hand manifestations of Svadhisthana, through the Right Hand compassion of Anahata, to the ultimate level of the Self and the Brahman lying beyond in Sahasrara.    At the Brahmanic level, nothing exists, and yet, everything exists in the apparent logical impossibility that nonetheless constitutes the supreme Truth of  Consciousness.  

To my knowledge, only Kundalini Yoga, certain transcendental meditation techniques, and the observance of specific austerities and worldly non-attachment can successfully deliver consciousness from the confines of the Left Hand Tantra that is natural to the physical organism, but holds us in the first three Chakras.   This is true, even if we revert to the strictly scientific paradigm and terminology generally used in these essays.   The first three Chakras constitute the realm of Freudian psychodynamics – superego, ego, and id (Manipura, Svadhisthana, and Muladhara, loosely in that order, subject to the details presented elsewhere in this essay).   The following three Chakras correspond to the realm of Jungian psychodynamics – as the Freudian id is passed through into the region of the collective unconscious and the archetypes – culminating in the experience of the Self at the Seventh, deepest level, and finally vanishing into the infinity of the Void.    As one embraces particularly the practices of meditation and Yoga, conscious perception can be and is carried through the Freudian unconscious region (the id) into the Jungian collective unconscious, where many forms of enhanced archetypal symbolic perceptions occur according to the general design of the Self, manifest through personal Karma (or destiny, if you wish).    It is absolutely necessary to adopt some kind of meditation regimen to liberate consciousness from the Mind Trap of the lower physical Chakras, as a bare minimum of spiritual practice.  

In the theory of Kundalini Ascension, once Tantra is diverted from Left Hand practice to Right Hand practice through the employment of the above referenced techniques (and there are others), the Kundalini (or Freudian libido, again, if you wish) is free to continue upward movement through the sequence of the higher Chakras, successively enervating and activating them, again according the map of personal Karma.    Our personal Karma is the Self’s Divine Love and Will manifest at the lower vibrational levels of the dense forms perceptible in the physical senses as the “real” world of manifest physical objects and events occurring in three dimensions, with time as a forth.   One’s map of Karma may or may not even include higher spiritual activity according to the Divine Plan of the Self for the Cosmos, and it is up to us to accept and understand the wisdom of this, and the many other hardships and forms of ignorance demonstrated on the Physical Plane.  Even when one does succeed in attaining higher spiritual consciousness and Enlightenment, even Samadhi of the kinds already noted in this essay series, even Buddhist Satori, this is to be understood as the manifest Divine Grace of the Self, not willful personal achievement in any sense of the term.   Only the Self is real, acting and flowing through individual human awareness as synchronicity, epiphany, and grace when and where appropriate in the Psyche – the collective Soul of humanity.    By acknowledging this process as the ultimate mechanism of Enlightenment and Balance on the Physical Plane we are liberated from our worldly bondage and ignorance. 

            Some final words of caution are in order regarding the panorama of Enlightenment cast against the background of an as yet still relatively unenlightened world.   Enlightenment is not something to be sold in the world marketplace, although many partially ascended Gurus and would-be spiritual Masters purport to do so.    Enlightenment is the God-given gift of higher consciousness available to every human being on Earth without regard to any other consideration, and the true Guru and Master knows this, offering guidance along the Path without the requirement of material compensation or monetary reward.    An implicit part of this guidance is the practice of deliberation and forbearance on the part of the guide in never encouraging the aspirant to make a goal of spiritual Ascension, a regrettably common feature of achievement in our relentlessly ego-driven world culture today.  If this error in judgment occurs, the risk of inappropriate, psychologically harmful Kundalini Ascension becomes much more significant for the aspirant.   No legitimate guide will ever order or otherwise direct anyone to take any steps along the Path before they are ready, and this readiness has been described in great detail by the Seers of history in terms of the clear signs of preparation – the Initiations – having been attained.    Every spiritual tradition has a series of such Initiations prescribed by the Guru, Gurus, or Masters associated with it, and it is highly recommended that the aspirant seek out an acceptable, legitimate tradition and work within its framework for at least the initial period of some years of spiritual practice.   I did this, and so should you.  

The Kundalini is the most powerful force in the universe, capable of taking us directly into the Divine Presence and beyond, but woe be it to the naďve person who rashly rushes toward the Holy Self – the Angel of God is there before the East Gate of Eden, armed with a Sword of Fire that cannot be evaded for the sole purpose of destroying the remaining ego of those who make it this far, and if you are identified in the least way with your material mind, that Sword will destroy you, or at the very least your sanity.   Heed my words, and proceed slowly along the Path of Enlightenment – you will arrive at and pass the required Initiations in God’s good time, as it should be. 

Please try to understand that this world and Physical Plane is not in any way intended by the Self to be perfect in the terms that ego can comprehend – the sufferings that we experience are real on their level, and must be accepted as such, and worked through as patiently as possible.    This can require a very great deal of patience and tolerance on many occasions – life is a school, not a playground, and, although the playground is there, the point of existence is to learn the lessons set before us in the school room.    It has always been thus, and always will be in the schoolroom of the flesh and senses of this life.  

                                                                                            
                                                  
- With Love, Alan -

                                          (CR2007, Alan Schneider)

 

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