Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pasa Mudra and the Liberation of Desire

I want to discuss today the role of desire in the path of yoga and tantra.

Traditionally, at least through patriarchal paradigms, desire is viewed as poisonous, which has led to many practices and modes of work which involve sublimation, suppression, or dismissal through viewing the world of phenomena as unreal.

With the liberating teachings of the tantra, desire itself is utilized as a powerful vehicle for movement and the creative force which can both liberate through the breaking of molded consensus as well as sculpt powerful shapes which aid, heal, nurture, and bring vast joy to the microcosmic and macrocosmic worlds.

The pasa is the noose. It is a weapon or instrument that is held in the hand of Lalitha Tripurasundari, a tantric representation of the primal Sakti, or power of God. In her upper right hand she holds the "noose of desire". A noose binds. Binding is a contractive power. What is contraction? Contraction can be seen as a force pull which unites or brings different streams together in a singularized way. This very power is needed to stabilize the currents of energy and mind which act to bring about the one pointed state in yoga we call ekagra.

Even Patanjali acknowledges in sutra 1.18 that the power of nirodha, the power that causes the mind to rest in its own basis, is dependent upon samskara, or a habituated contraction that acts to steady the mind energy currents.

Desire is no different. Desire is a feeling we have that draws us toward something, in effect "contracting" us towards a particular name/form appearance. How is desire felt? We feel a "pull". It is interesting to observe the inner pulls that desire creates in our life. Instead of observing the objects toward which we are pulled, can we study the feeling of the pull itself? When we observe this inner pull, we touch or unify ourselves with a certain magnetic power behind the pull. What is this inner magnetic force?

Bandha is no different. Bandha is that aspect of mudra which pulls. It gathers. It condenses. The same force which is felt at the heart of desire is felt also at the heart of bandha, a process central to the magnetic pull of mudra.

When we have a buildup in sex, prolonging the orgasm, we notice this buildup of magnetic force. The buildup involves a contraction, a gathering, a collecting of energy. Do we hurry to the outcome or can we notice the vibration in the pull/contraction/gathering itself? Can we allow it to build more? This is a conscious gathering of tension. Conscious tension through attention.

Something happens when we allow ourselves to become familiar with this conscious tension, this contractive state. We become friends with it and don't just seek to rid ourselves of it in favor of the outcome. It becomes stronger. The noose becomes tighter. We gain skill in utilizing that very noose. We can consciously engage with this power, this magnetism through what we can term Pasa Mudra.

Then, at the other side of contraction, there is a release of tension, what we think of in sex as the orgasm. There is a liberation of energy. Noticing what occurs at the exact timing of release is the secret of creation and magic. What do you discover here? Vijanabhairava Tantra tells us to observe this moment carefully. This leads us to the vast power of what is called Yoni Mudra. The other side of the noose.

There is much I'm saying here and much left unsaid. In some ways this path is secret, not because a student's worthiness must be questioned, but because it is highly individual and unique and prone to much misunderstanding.

When you truly investigate the nature of desire, you start to understand creation and destruction. Why destruction? Because everything has two sides. With the death of one thing comes the birth of another. Life is circular, and yet evolving.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Vast Depth of Mudra and Bandha

I want to write a bit today about the inner dynamics of mudra.

Movement of the primal pulse of Sakti, which we call the Spanda can be discovered in the same way that we learn to catch a wave. This catching of the wave is what is called in the Hatha tradition, Ujjayi, which means to "to conquer or seize". We catch a hold of the movement itself, which is the pranayama, or the yama / control / restraint of the prana. The prana itself is non-different from the awareness that perceives it.

Following this movement back, we arrive at the magnetic force or the moon that creates the tide which pulls the sea of prana, wherein this movement is experienced. We notice perhaps here that the body and its gross breath is only like a piece of driftwood, being pulled back and forth by the deeper movement of the tide.

What is this tidal pull, this moon which draws the sea back and forth? The tidal pull is called in the Hatha and Raja yoga traditions bandha. Forget what you think of as bandha here, forget about squeezing your anus or pulling your abdomen in, or locking your chin or sticking your tongue here or there. Focusing on these things is akin to attempting to control the sea by moving a piece of driftwood. Does the driftwood move? Yes, of course it does, but it does so because of the underlying movement of the sea. What causes the sea to move? The tidal forces. So it is at this level that we need to work if we are to truly understand bandha, and bandha itself is only one aspect of this greater process called mudra.

How are we to understand mudra?

The texts speak of many mudras. Gherandha Samhita speaks of 25, Hathapradipika speaks of 10. Are there many mudras? No. Mudra is one. But the entry points are many. The manifest powers of mudra are many. This is why so many have been described. The texts would lead one to believe that mudra is about physical technique but they are describing something much deeper related to different aspects of the singular magnetic powerful force that is capable of driving the life energy and simultaneously the mind which is dependent on it. This process of mudra goes right back to one of the deepest levels of ourselves, the Iccha Sakti, that aspect of life energy that is concentrated around Will.

Why are there so many mudras described in the texts? Lets break down some of their unique entry points into the singular practice of mudra.

Maha mudra is the aspect of mudra which centralizes. This can be felt. Bandha is that aspect of mudra which constricts like a strong magnetic pull, culminating in mano bandha, the constriction of the mind, as described in Yoga Sutra 3.1.

The movement of mudra is felt like a central river pulling the peripheral rivers into it. When these pulls occur from specific nadis or rivers, we speak of them in individual ways such as Vajroli mudra pulling through the genital center.

When the constiction of bandha occurs, movement flow is sent in either the outer or inner direction. Yogis typically focus the direction inward and upward, in a process called laya, where the movement moves in a way we call nivritti. Most only know of the bandha which draws in and up, many do not know of the opposite, which is described very clearly in the tantras. When the movement is outward and downward it is called pavritti and leads to the process of creation and siddhi. Right handed methods emphasize nivritti whereas the tantric methods emphasize both the inner and outer movements as all part of one field. These two movement flows are intimately related to prana and apana, the magnetic polarities which drive the twin energetic wind movements.

In the process of movement flow, there is not only the constriction of bandha that sends the movement one way or another, but there is also the dissolving and expanding aspects. In each direction, something dissolves and something else expands. These terms are called nimesa and unmesa respectively.

Two major expansions in the nivritti direction are clarity/luminosity and space. When we emphasize the space aspect, which is unobstructed nature of our being, we call it Khecari mudra. This is far more than just sucking the tongue into the throat. When the mudra expands into the luminous nature of our being, we call it Shambhavi.

When the mudra expands in the pavritti direction, we give birth. This is the powerful Yoni mudra. The secret of siddhi and magic, and why this is utilized at the beginning of mantra (says Siva Samhita). There is much to say about this. More later...

When the mudra is drawn by the primal power of desire itself, then we have Pasa mudra. The noose is one of the sublime "weapons" of Lalitha Tripurasundari, the Great Goddess. This aspect is incredibly powerful at transformation of the ordinary into the sublime and utilized to a high degree of skill among serious Tantric practitioners. Much to say about this one as well.

We learn about these mudras by learning to follow movement. Movement is felt. It is sensed. We notice movement according to physics by a detection of acceleration, which is defined by a change in speed or a change in direction. Notice changes of direction when they occur. These are the windows described in Vijnana Bhairava tantra. Notice changes of speed. Then catch the wave of movement. You are non-different from it.

After "getting on the wave" at one of the various windows, follow the movement gradient. Follow the motion itself. It will guide you. The more you practice, the more you feel and the deeper it "takes you". Words become difficult but nevertheless we have to try.

Don't fall prey to the external descriptions. The "external" practices are a distraction. I am not referring here to what you consider inside or outside. This has nothing to do with the body. The external I am referring to here is considering "anything" outside of yourself.

Unless mudra and bandha are taken on this level, you might find yourself contorting your body in any number of ways and yet still being as far from the deeper understanding as you were when you started many years ago.

What is described here is closer than close.

Nearer than near.

She is radiant.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Internal Bodhisattva and the Uniting of Diverse Streams

Almost 2 thousand years ago, the Mahayana branch of Buddhism brought forth the idea of the bodhisattva, a spiritual hero who forsook the liberation of total Nirvana for the world of Samsara, in order to liberate all sentient beings without exception. The bodhisattva embodies the ideal of compassion for all beings.

I believe very wholeheartedly that actual freedom of individual movement can really only come when diverse streams come together. The place to begin looking at these diverse movements does not lie outside of us however. It lies inside.

Within all of us are multiple streams of movement, what we call our different egos or personalities. We may think of ourselves as one, but are we? Do we not have multiple desires and impulses that we want to take in the course of even one day? Multiple voices speak within our heads, funneling our energies in sometimes completely apparently divergent directions.

Dominant voices appear in our internal worlds like inner kings or queens, their agendas enforced by internal guardians who keep things in line and keep the "troublemakers" or darker elements in the dungeons. However sometimes, those in the darker areas are freed and come up to wreak havoc, until the ruler can fight back and reassert authority within the inner kingdom. Sounds like a fairy tale perhaps but I have found this to be the case with not only myself but with everyone in this world I connect with. Most in the world are facing internal war. And we are acting out these internal wars on the external world space.

Roberto Assagioli, a wonderful yogi and psychologist from the early 1900's did much work and writing at the time to explain how these divergent streams come about and as well how the union of these divergent streams becomes possible in a sort of alchemical process through his basic principles of Psychosynthesis.

I feel that this work of internal alchemy, this Psychosynthesis, uniting the divergent streams is vital as a foundation for proper authentic spiritual development and forward evolution of the individual. One of the first problems we encounter with spiritual practice is that we don't often recognize the basic patterning of how our internal kingdom is set up before we come to sadhana. Oftentimes, when we first come to a spiritual tradition such as yoga, we attempt to subvert and suppress the darker elements of ourselves and beat them down with the "spiritual" king or queen who we then place on the throne. This is most oftentimes just replacing one "material" king or queen with a "spiritual" king or queen. A deadly problem occurs here. The "spiritual" king or queen within us attempts to shape the personality with all sorts of "spiritual" work while the rest of the kingdom is pushed down. The dominant face on the throne becomes the "spiritual" face, which is supported and held together by external world consensus view and even our fellow practitioners and "sangha". "Dispassion", "non-attachment", and many other terms get thrown back and forth as "virtues" that attempt to disassociate ourselves even further from our own internal energies and streams. Instead of uniting the diverse streams however, this right-handed, patriarchal paradigm backfires on itself, and actually causes us to become more internally divided. Assagioli terms this process as the "spiritual bypass". We use our practice to actually avoid the deeper work of understanding and uniting our various energies and instead act to increase the isolation within ourselves.

Chogyam Trungpa, a very paradigm breaking buddhist of the last century, talked about this problem as well. Its interesting that Assagioli was proposing it in the early 1900's though, well before the practice of yoga hit in full force here in the west. There is a lot I have to say here about how the patriarchal paradigm has enforced this deeper underlying spiritual sickness which has permeated almost every major tradition, Eastern or Western. I'll save that for another post.

The important thing to recognize here is that the work of uniting ourselves is not only the goal of yoga but also that of the bodhisattva. Working to heal the internal splits within ourselves, unifying our internal streams of energy, teaches us to learn to work together internally and to move together as one, united in the very definition of yoga. Relative freedom becomes possible. Each of us is a macrocosm within a microcosm. Learning to listen to the different voices, teaching the different voices to communicate authentically, and allowing the different voices to sit in one circle, on common ground, with no voices on the throne and none in the dungeon, gives us a very important thing. Power is liberated (which is what the right handed patriarchal traditions are deathly frightened of). Power liberates the will. This frees us in a way that is not often discussed in even the classical texts. And the deeper processes of yoga amazingly fall right into our lap. Samadhi becomes possible. True freedom of movement becomes possible.

But the most beautiful thing that occurs is that we then have compassion. By deep and abiding love and compassion for our inner selves, for all of them without exception, we then have true and deep compassion for the world outside of our skin.

In my opinion, then and only then do we have the capacity to listen, communicate, and give wholeheartedly to the world in a truly authentic way.