The path of sadhana is always mysterious, twisting and turning in proportion to our surrender and the always present element of Divine Grace. How I was led to Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such mysterious tale. Even though japa and mantra sadhana have long been among my daily practices, tantra had never held much appeal for me, perhaps because it has been so distorted from it’s original teachings, particularly in the West. However, since beginning Sri Vidya Sadhana, the pristine teachings of Tantra have drawn me into their fold to such an extent that what I thought were “my” paths (yoga and Vedanta) have exploded into much greater understanding.
A year ago, there was a subtle but definite resistance to dissolving the I-sense. In meditative practices, often my focus remains on this I-sense, which easily dissolves into samadhi or transcendence. But for several days in a row, I noticed a definite “barrier” that stopped short right at that I-sense, rigid and unyielding. One particular day, this wall brought up such frustration and longing that abandoning practice, I lay down sobbing. By then, I had had many peak experiences of energy movements, visions, deep insights and ecstatic bliss, but still, there were times when old and nonserving patterns came up in daily life in the form of attachment to “I” and “mine”. As I bitterly wondered what the use was of such mystical experiences if there wasn’t a meaningful change from within, it was as if an outside thought appeared in my mind. It was a gentle suggestion to take up Sri Vidya Sadhana. I had no doubt that this thought was planted by my beloved guru, Mahavatar Babaji, for this is precisely how he has worked to lead me along the path. As I researched Sri Vidya, I was astonished to see that this great practice could be obtained through deeksha (initiation) in the lineage of Babaji himself, further strengthening the knowledge that surely it was his wish. In the time since that initiation, this practice has been transforming my life in radical ways.
Shiva represents consciousness. By himself, Shiva is inert. Shakti is creation; She provides movement and dynamism to Shiva. Neither can create without the other; thus, Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanariswara – half Shiva and half Shakti. Shiva is the “nothing” while Shakti is the “everything” – yet, the nothing and the everything exist simultaneously, inexorably entwined. Yoga is the path of Shiva, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti become as though separated in the process of creation. The purpose of yoga is to bring them back together (yoga = to join). Tantra is the path of Shakti, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti exist together, and that the most effective way to experience Shiva is through Shakti in her infinite manifestations (tantra; tanoti = expansion, trayoti = liberation). While the yogi renunciates in order to know Shiva, the tantric embraces the totality of life experiences knowing them to be Shakti, the Divine Mother Herself. Not one aspect of life is shunned away from – everything from the subtlest to the grossest experience that arises is seen to be Her. The traditional practice of tantra lies in the effective use of mantra (name) and yantra (form) to know the nameless and formless Brahman. While Advaita Vedanta sees all of creation to be an illusion, the tantrik (from the point of view of the embodied jiva) sees creation to be very much real, a play of the Divine Mother on the fabric of immutable consciousness that is the Divine Father. Shakti is simultaneously seen as being benign and beautiful as well as ferocious and terrible – there is no aspect of creation that it is not Her. Tantra teaches one to see Her beauty and to love Her in Her infinite forms no matter how depraved or heinous. By expanding the limited mind beyond the dualities of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, right/wrong, like/dislike, the tantric arrives at the same place as the adept yogi or the Vedantin – Oneness; seeing that Brahman is the nondual reality, in and through the mirage of duality.
While the energy and peak experiences that come with a practice like Sri Vidya Sadhana are numerous, the real fruit of an effective sadhana is what happens in day-to-day life. Gradually, the distinction between “mundane” and “spiritual” falls away – there is no aspect of life that is not spiritual, be it working, playing, sleeping, praying or meditating. The effects continue to grow and expand daily, beginning with surrender. While bhakti has been a strong element in my sadhana, the type of surrender that Shakti demands and gets is in a league of its own. The more I become drawn in to Her, the more childlike I feel myself becoming, relying on Her for everything. As a young child feels, there is a constant longing for communion with Her, to sit in Her cosmic lap and to be schooled by Her. There is the strong impulse to give up everything to Her as an offering – the body in fasting and breath in pranayama, limitations, pain and selfish desires as incense, and deep-rooted vasanas (samskaras) as flowers.. nothing can remain as “mine”, not even the sadhana itself. There is an intense growing need to burn in the inner ritual fire of bhakti and austerity, to let it hone and chisel my being as it will and leave behind nothing. What happens with such longing and surrender is that there is increasing acceptance of everything to be Her Grace, be it external such as a routine situation (like a traffic jam when already running late or the loss of treasured relationships) or internal, within the mind/emotion (like an old unforgiven hurt that surfaces to cause anger or pain). Surrender is the fastest path to equanimity, acceptance and love, in that order. The Divine Mother is so compassionate that all I need to do is ask, and She gives more than I ask for. I ask for clarity to look at my limitations, and She grants it along with compassion for myself and others so I may understand that such limitations are universal and that I may behave with tolerance. I ask for Her love and She shows me in a thousand different ways every day that love shines bright all around. I ask for courage, strength, wisdom.. and it is done, showing up in unexpected ways. Most of all, I beg Her for knowledge of Brahman, and She patiently points me to myself, again and again.
As someone that adores the clean logic of Vedanta, the austerities of Yoga and the esoteric inner rituals of Tantra, Sri Vidya Sadhana is the practice that beckons to me, probably picked up from a distant lifetime and guided by the benevolent guru. In the growing understanding of the dynamism of the Sri Yantra, there is an intuitive seeing of the Bindu that remains still in and through all of creation (represented by the intersecting triangles) that is in constant motion. This experiential seeing steadily chips away the veil of separateness and expands one into fulfilling the destiny of evolution – to realize first-hand the divinity within.