By Lorain Chopra
The spiritual path is a matter of practice, more so one as closely rooted in the physical world as tantra. We present the musings of a woman tantra practitioner.
My life is where I want it to take me—on a path of love, passion, ecstasy, healing, calm and peace. Love is still not the deep love I truly search, but I keep working at myself and never for a moment have I been disheartened in the hope that one day, I will find what my heart searches for and my fervent prayers seek.
I am in ecstasy and wake up every morning with a feeling of being cherished by the universe.
I have no fear of walking the deep woods, of losing myself, for I know there will be someone, somewhere to hold my hand and walk me down the path, and I simply place my trust in the Universe, for I know every journey ventured has taught me a lesson. Now, my heart always sees reason for the pain that comes my way, it only makes me a more sensitive and compassionate woman, and I have learnt to deal with it all and move on.
Awaken and Accept
I listen more to my heart, and it makes it simpler for me to accept life as it is. My experiences unfold my life—seduction of the mind and taming of the senses, always drawing closer to the heart, unveiling the deep secrets, hidden anguish, pain, truth, beauty, sensuality, joy. With total surrender, I offer myself to the higher powers of the Universe.
Spirituality is truly a love affair with existence, and all love is based on the search for the spirit, so falling in love is purely an act of the soul. Thus Tantra became the essence of my existence, for it is the spiritual path to enlightenment, it teaches us to embrace and unify the erotic and the ordinary, the erotic and the sacred dimensions of life, all of which are rooted in the Spirit. Tantra believes in truth and reality.
My spiritual awakening altered forever the way in which I experience the world, and once the initial crisis abates, one discovers that there is no way to return to one’s earlier comfortable mindsets. With Tantra, I cultivated the skills of opening up the heart, visualizing, focusing, letting go of the mind, being fully present, loving myself and the other, moving beyond fear, and most importantly, experiencing the art of eroticism in everyday life.
Being erotic truly means to thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of our five senses, in every moment, by surrounding ourselves with what we value as beautiful and sacred.
Life is about acceptance and moving on, for what one resists will persist. My life is one of passion. For me, passion is pure energy, passion is life. If one is praying or meditating without passion, without intensity, without fire, nothing will happen.
Passion becomes the thirst, the hunger, the connection between you and existence, and the thirstier one is, the greater is the possibility of one’s whole being becoming consumed by the fire of one’s passion.
To reach beyond mediocrity, we must live with intensity and passion, fervor, ardor, rapture—this is the essence of Tantra.
My passionate sojourn began with Shiva—
Nothing exists that is not Shiva
There is nothing apart from Shiva
There is nothing other than Shiva
To be aware of Shiva is to be
Fearless and free in the Self.
Shiva gently led me to His powerful consort, Shakti—Ma, the Mother who is the source of all life, the dynamic cosmic energy that pervades the entire universe. She is the fountainhead of supreme joy, divinity and magnanimity.
My first meeting with my gentle yet powerful spiritual guide came about when, curious about his clairvoyant prowess, I ventured to meet him. They say when you are ready, the guru will appear before you, and there is no point in searching for him. Dressed in the traditional white-with-red-border Bengali sari, my trademark large red sindoor tilak and gajras, I sat in silence running my mantras through my mind, awaiting his arrival.
I felt his presence before he arrived. A tall, athletic, olive skinned, gentle presence wafted in. I stood up in obeisance and folded my hands in namaste. He gestured to me to take a seat beside him. For a few moments, I couldn’t make eye contact with him, and we sat in silence. He shut his eyes and began concentrating, I gathered, seeking guidance from his divine source.
He then opened his eyes, cracked his fingers loudly, and drifted into concentration again. I felt he was finding it difficult to break into my psyche. Then we gazed into each other’s eyes and he softly began speaking, “You are searching for red roses, deep pure red roses, ab kahan milte hain (where do you find them nowadays?) Now we get beautiful hybrid roses, but they have no aroma!’
He continued, “I see you visiting a powerful temple where there is an aarti taking place. Several lamps are lit and there is a small conical rock formation,’ and he folded his hands into a mound-like shape. ‘Yes!’ I said excitedly, ‘I am going to Kedarnath in a few days and the Shiva lingam there is in the unique formation of a rock in the shape of the hump of a bull, and they have a beautiful aarti where the head priest lights up a lamp with several flames.’
On one of my yearly journeys to Kedarnath, the Himalayan shrine dedicated to Shiva, I was truly blessed with Shiva’s darshan. I always drive through the Himalayas, experiencing the powerful vibrations of the mighty mountains.
One afternoon, while passing through Byasi sitting in contemplative silence in the backseat of the car, I felt the great immortal yogi Mahavatar Babaji appear before me in his beautiful form, his gentle face strong and calm, his eyes mesmerizing, his hair cascading down on either side to his shoulders. There was deep silence, all worldly sounds were shut off, as if I was in another world.
My very being took in the depth of this silence, for I understood that His blessings were with me on this yatra to Shiva’s abode. I began repeating my aghor mantra, with which I had been initiated from the other world, and Babaji returned to his abode.
I was in ecstasy, sheer bliss and abundant joy. Babaji giving me his darshan, and I wasn’t even invoking him, nor praying to him. Several months earlier, I had had a little spat with him, for he would sit silently in my sacred space, without a word, no guidance, no hand on my shoulder. Little did I realize what was to come my way in the form of this powerful darshan!
I was on this particular trip to Kedarnath solely to pray for a dying friend. His liver had given way, his spleen wasn’t functioning, and he knew he was dying—a beautiful yet deeply trying experience.
He would call me long distance, ‘Ma, save me, I don’t want to die, I want to live Ma!’ And I gave him my word that I would pray, much against the will of my spiritual teacher who saw this as a heavy karmic case and told me to stay away. But I have always loved a challenge and took it upon myself to invoke the Mother Goddess to grant my friend’s life.
By evening, I arrived at Shiva’s abode and prepared myself for the evening aarti. I paid my respects to the Maharajji presiding at the muth, sat with him for a while, and stepped into the beautiful temple of Kedarnath. The vibrations there reverberated with Him, they made way for me to pass through, and I stood in the enclosure to one side, my soul soaring to the heights of orgasmic pleasure, for I was in the very presence of my Lord Shiva.
Standing in front was an elderly sadhak lost in song to Shiva, and I wondered at the purity of his bhakti. As if he had read my mind, the elderly sadhak turned around and we locked eyes, and I turned my gaze to the floor in reverence.
The aarti at Kedarnath is as if experiencing another world, the very walls scream out His name, and the flames of the aarti literally singe one’s entire being. One is in a state of ‘no mind’. Truly, I have experienced liberation through the fusion of the transcendental or pure Consciousness and Spirit.
At the end of the aarti, I stood to one side, taking in the residues of deep vibrations, when I noticed the elderly sadhak walking towards me. He bowed down and touched my feet. I had no idea how to acknowledge this deep act. I think I stepped back in surprise, and he walked past me into the cold autumn night. That night I retired to my room after a long moonlit walk down the road, taking in the presence of Shiva with every breath.
Next morning, I awoke to the splendor of a beautiful morning. I climbed up the mountaintop to collect some jal from the flow of the ‘Dudh Ganga’, as instructed by my spiritual teacher, for my friend’s life. Amazingly, my teacher has never been to Kedarnath but visualized the flow of the Dudh Ganga.
Seva and Maya
In the afternoon, Maharajji sent for me and asked me to go into the temple and perform seva, but I retorted that no way would they allow a woman into the temple at this hour when they bathe and prepare the Shiva lingam and the temple for the evening aarti. But the Maharajji sent me in.
In my nervousness, I quickly picked up the broom and began sweeping, hoping no one would notice me and throw me out. Suddenly, the broom was snatched out of my hand. I looked up to see the same elderly sadhak from the day before. I folded my hands in pranaam, and he led me to the powerful statue of Parvati Ma, which is over a thousand years old, and asked me to begin performing her shringar (adornment).
Awestruck, I stuttered that Mahar-ajji had sent me to sweep the floor. In fluent English he said, ‘This is your blessing. Since the Navratra festival, no one has touched Ma. Everyday I request Maharajji to allow me this honor, and he says not today! Would you please grant me one wish? Allow me to just pour one mug of water over Her.’ With his humility, he humbled my very being.
With trembling hands I removed Ma’s shringar, bathed her with hot water, and adorned her in her fine jewels. What ecstasy was experienced, my eyes were brimming with tears and my body was quivering. A young priest asked me, ‘Who are you? Are you a sadhvi?’ Embarrassed, I had to tell him the truth—that I was no sadhvi, just an ordinary woman seeking my Shiva. The elderly sadhak asked me to help bathe the Shiva lingam.
My hands and my being trembled as I bathed the lingam, even the boiling hot water wouldn’t burn my hands, and when I finished, my hands were red, like the stains of red alta. Gradually I had grown numb. The experience was one of intense purification.
A priest softly said, ‘You must be the only woman who has been allowed to enter the temple and bathe Ma, and the Shiva lingam. Consider yourself greatly blessed.’
My eyes brimmed with joy and as I stepped out into the sunshine, I wanted to leap into the sky and scream, ‘Shiva! Shiva!’
My tryst with Him was not over yet. I decided to walk down from the temple that evening at 4 pm, despite everyone asking me not to. I set out alone, and within the hour it was dark, though the moon shone above lit my path. I had no fear of the unknown, till a young man stepped into my path and said he would escort me.
In a couple of hours, we stopped to arrange for a torch, and a tall man stood in front of me. He said, ‘Sister, I will walk with you and look after you.’ He was reeking of alcohol, and I declined his offer, explaining I wasn’t alone and needed nobody, but he insisted. At that point, I wasn’t afraid and continued. But he would keep stepping in my way and place his hand on my shoulder, saying, ‘Sister, don’t be afraid.’
I was beginning to be afraid. The mind plays the strangest of games, and our conditioning that has taught us to mistrust the universe and humanity plays havoc with our being.
My patience was running thin, and I would reprimand him, but he would still come over and place his hand on my shoulder. I began to panic and chant mantras for protection till the last straw came when he placed his hand on my lower back. In a moment of sheer madness, I turned around and with my stick lashed out at him, pushing him to the ground.
My guide lifted a huge rock to crush him. I knocked the rock out of his hand and explained to him the karmic repercussions of taking a life.
After walking a few steps, I looked back. The man had disappeared, there was no one there. And in my deep consciousness I realized this Divine lila, and broke down and sobbed like a child and my guide put his arm around me and comforted me. I was distressed with the fact that after all, my mind took over and was playing games with me, blinding me from recognizing and seeing the Truth.
Who was that man, why was his touch ever so gentle on my shoulder, most certainly not the touch of a drunken man at all, even his touch at the base of my Muladhar chakra was so gentle. Caught in the web of maya we know no better and see no better!
When I narrated this incident to my spiritual teacher when I returned, he said, ‘Close your eyes and tell me who did you see, whose touch did you feel?’ I knew the answer!
All my sadhana is for the One Divinity, and I was unable to recognize Him. A lifetime’s experience drowned in maya!
A sadhak’s path is abundantly interesting and yet there have been experiences of deep anguish, feelings of insecurity, impatience to know the larger picture, but the single most passionate factor has always been my deep seeking of the Divine. Never has this seeking left me.
Never has anyone distracted my attention from Shiva, and this passion has shaped my life. For today I am always subconsciously trying to surrender while consciously, my mind finds ways of drawing me into the web of maya. My web is one of love, searching for that benign, all-consuming love, where one sees the partner as the Lord’s own Presence.
I have learnt that there is one great value in living life fully and making mistakes, for if you survive and learn from them, the learning comes from your own experience and the knowledge is authentic. This Diwali, I sat at my teacher’s feet and questioned him deeply and he compassionately said to me, ‘Surrender, and I will promise you the offering of pure love, the love you search.’ Whatever you desire will eventually come to you; this is the magnanimity of Nature and Mother Earth.
For one living and experiencing Tantra, and even more so for one striving to be an aghori, for Aghora is simply a path of intense devotion to the great Mother Goddess Kundalini, the entire world is her temple and playground, all that happens to us is not ‘ordinary’ or ‘coincidental’. So I believe we must treat every event as a message from the Great Mystery, which makes us realize that life is a Divine Lila, the play of God. But one thing is clear—nothing happens without Her anugraha (request). As I said, Shiva led me gently to his consort, Shakti.
In the beautiful, still dawn of the 30th day of March, I woke up to the resounding, powerful vibrations of Aum. The whitewashed walls of my puja room resonated with this vibration. Was it a thunderous beckoning from the heavens of a shower of rain hailing springtime? The undulating Aum seemed to originate from outside my window and permeate my walls with its vibrations, causing my entire being to quiver. I lay back taking in this amazing sound.
There She was, in Her splendorous form, her deep blue skin glowing in the darkness of my room, standing to the left of my bed, an arm outstretched towards me carrying a skull. My body was soaked in sweat from the shock of Her presence, Her powerful vibrations. Drenched in sweat, I switched on my bedside lamp. There was still a faint trembling in my body. I walked over to my sacred space, which is truly my temple, and kneeling before this immense Presence, lit my ghee lamp, incense of sandalwood, and prayed in silence, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I was like a zombie, in a trance, trying to convince myself of the beautiful darshan of Ma Smashan Tara, and so began my tryst with the Mahadasha Goddesses, who are the ten Wisdom Goddesses. My whole life was beginning to metamorphose. The fruit of years of passionate sadhana seemed to be manifesting itself. My need to delve even deeper into experiencing Tantra, through meditation, mantra yoga and bhakti yoga was beginning to shape my thought process. And I was falling in love with life all over again, waking up each day to experience the ecstasy and passion in everything.
This was a complete shift from my dalliance with Shiva, whom I had been trying to woo through intense bhakti for several years…
The following nine days of the Navratras, Ma gave me darshan every single day in the still hours of dawn. Her playfulness and gentleness mesmerized me. I isolated myself and went into deep sadhana and fasting, and lost nearly nine kilograms of weight. My elderly sadhak friend had warned me that She would draw every ounce from me and infuse me with her energy. Playful she was, and everyday there was a new prank to awaken me. I am not an early morning sadhak, for all my prayers are more into the deep, dark nights when I experience stillness and a definite rising of my vibrations.
My experiences have shown me that the Divine is beyond all religions and religious practices. At one point of my sadhana, I would chant powerful mantras to the background music of Sufi saints, the louder the music the more passionate my encounter with trance. My wonderful older son, Nikhil Arjun, who patiently saw me through this phase, would ask me, ‘Ma, how can you concentrate on a mantra while listening to Sufi music?’
I must mention here for the benefit of other sadhaks that the path of Siddha Yoga is one in which the guru usually awakens the disciple’s inner Shakti, the kundalini, through the yogic process of shaktipat. As a result the seeker undergoes various spiritual experiences. But shaktipat or kundalini awakening may occur even without the guru, as explained by Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri.
The kundalini can also become activated through austerities, mantra yoga, intense devotion or special worship by the guru’s grace received in a previous life, or as a result of an incomplete sadhana in a previous life. Sometimes one receives initiations from a saint or deity in a dream or through vision experiences like an overwhelming urge to isolate oneself from the world, burning sensations in the body, seeing snakes, tigers or fire. Due to ignorance, one doesn’t realize the awakening of the kundalini and nor does one utilize this to reach the divine goal.
We make our own roads, each one of us, and whether we travel freely and joyously or lonely, miserable, burdened by illnesses and anger, it is entirely up to us. When we gain access to psychic or formative energy, we begin to enjoy a strong sense of well-being and transcendence. Even if the path happens to be non-existent, with the power of positive thinking we can ensure that the path is formed as and when we walk it.
Trials, pain and heartache visit all of us now and then. We must try and keep the balance within, for they too shall pass. The motionless centre around which all movements take place is ‘You’. Cherish, love and nourish this ‘You’. For the only ‘constant’ in our lives is change. We must all begin to channel our life force and spiritual energies, begin from this very moment.
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