What is the Method? #50 July 23, 2018
Lately I have been taking such joy in reading and hearing about the need to return to wholeness; the implicit desire of all humans to know and return to source. Science, philosophy, social activism and spiritual traditions of every sort, speak of this esoteric teaching in one way or another. I take such delight in connecting the dots as it makes more tangible the fact that we are already connected and it is our ignorance of this fact, our insistence that the sole way to peace and wholeness is to realize connection on the surface of life, that keeps us separate. While this is necessary, it is also a puzzle that will never fit perfectly unless and until we return to the wholeness that is already our nature; claim it and live from it.
It is both comforting and exciting to hear others speak of the foundational, human need to return to wholeness, to act from wholeness, in order to more positively impact life; and I wait for the instruction. What is the path? What is the method beyond acknowledgment and need; beyond hope and good intentions; beyond actions on the surface that feel but a drop in the bucket?
In the language of the non-dual Śaiva Tantra, there is the concept of upāya, which denotes a method or a means, or a type of path. My deep respect and profound gratitude for upāya grows by leaps and bounds as it is the method, methods, that permit the individual a clear, precise path to source. The tradition instructs us that there is a way, we are not set adrift. Full knowledge of anything, even ourselves, can seem very elusive, can seem very distant from us, as if we are standing at the base of a very high mountain, gazing up toward its peak and thinking, “How the heck am I going to get up there? How am I going to reach that pinnacle of knowing?”
In some philosophical systems and spiritual traditions, there is this idea that you, as an individual, limited by time and space, wrapped in a personal identity that is really persistent in its moment-to-moment presence, must somehow make a tremendous leap from who you know yourself to be, limited and bound, to the pinnacle of perfection that you seek to become. And you must do this by your own willpower with great effort and relinquishment of all else
To attempt to traverse a ‘pathless path’ is frustrating. To try to embody the idea, “You are God, you are light” however well meaning, without a means or method to assist you, is a rather annoying, disheartening undertaking that will, most likely, be unsuccessful because without knowledge of practical ways to journey toward that highest aspiration, we are left with trying to enact the stance of attainment by making a mood or simply pretending enacting fantasy. Both of these ways lead to delusion, in Sanskrit moha. We cannot pretend our way into knowing. There must be a way up the mountain that we can actually walk.
Non-dual Śaiva Tantra tells us there is a path opened to humans to recover what has been forgotten as the dance of life plays on. The dance represented by Nātarāja, with one foot standing on Āpasmara the demon of forgetfulness. Upāya then is the method in which absolute consciousness, arises within the individual practitioner and presents the steps, the choreography. The music of life plays and we seek to be both skillful and beautiful in the dance.
We are human, and we are told that we are made of pure consciousness and thus divine in nature. Sādhana, is the path that permits this recognition, pratyabhijñā, of the divine. Pratyabhijñā, means recognition, it also connotes remembrance and a coming to one’s self. So in a very real sense, sādhana is the path that permits remembrance of one’s self and in that, defines our humanity.
It is the profound practice of deep mediation, cumulative in effect that grants entrance into the 4th state of consciousness, the turya state- turya means fourth. We have the three ordinary states of awareness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep, now we add a fourth, the turya, in which consciousness becomes conscious of consciousness alone, and thus recognition of what has always been the case occurs. It’s not something foreign to us or far away, it isn’t even separate from us. It is the wholeness and integrity that abides at the very essence of life and is concealed under layers of the relative functioning of individuality— the ‘build up of everyday existence.’
So many traditions speak of emptying, of clearing our the debris, or releasing our intense and fierce attachment to objects, including people and places, as well as belief systems in order to permit the natural expansion of light that is already there, prior, but cannot be seen through all the stuff we hold so close.
Śaiva Tantra agrees, but it’s important, as householders, that we not only understand, but embrace that our individuality and its expression in life, is not something we indict. Far from it, we seek to support, enhance and make those expressions more powerful, more reflective of our truest heart’s desire. We want to bring the riches back out. To do this, it is not enough to imagine it or to simply speak of it as a wish.
We are told, God dwells within you, go there, know him/her/they, unmitigated. Fall in love and in union, increase its potent power to heal; bring love back to heal all you touch because we are already connected. How?
This is the ‘reason d’être’ of mediation, of sādhana, the coherent set of practices, and study that supports the journey to source; to enter into that sublime state that is hidden to us under layers of the sum total of every experience we’ve ever had. The experiences positive, negative and neutral that shape, what we’ve come to call our self, but is not in fact the whole story. Whatever it is you want to do in life, absolutely whatever, it will be profoundly served with direct, full access to your light, your source, the source of all creative potentiality.
So I continue to soak up the message of wholeness wherever and whenever I hear it. And I am so very grateful that I have tools, and a map as well as destination. For what good is a destination with no means to get there? What good a path if no way to clear? Without some prior understanding, theory of the practice as it were, we miss the sign posts indicating assurance and highlighting experience. As the great Tantric master Abhinavagupta says, “a thing unknown may as well not exist.” How painful to have a deep desire that is never truly met! And because we can not satisfy this profound itch we look outward for the balm to sooth; we gather objects of every sort to fill the hole instead of turning within for sustenance in order to then come out and delight fully, more skillfully, in the play of life. Enjoy the toys and the people, but don’t rely on them to fulfill our heart’s deepest desire.
I see this more clearly, know it more intimately not as a belief but as my own true experience. One fed by my daily practice and study and deeply nourished by twice yearly retreats. Can you tell I just returned :) By all rights, this time of going in truly is, as Paul Muller-Ortega says, not a retreat at all, but an advancement. First, retreat within to advance without in all you do.
What is your method?