Gemini is usually described as having a quick mind, communicative, versatile, curious with a thirst for knowledge… and high intelligence as their superpower. On the shadow side there is talking too much, getting dispersed, mentally hyperactive, gossiping and acting superficially. We spoke to two Tara students to find out more. Meet Camelia and Howard
What are you most passionate about, and makes your heart sing with joy?
I love reading mystery fiction, I love teaching and guiding others to become their most empowered selves.
The Gemini air in me is definitely prominent as travel has always been a big part of my life (I worked in the industry for 8 years) and been to upwards of 60 countries (I want to get to 100!) exploring new places, the diversity of culture, meeting people and wonder at the natural beauty of planet earth. I find being in nature so centreing and at ease. Also being part of a community, sharing in activities, communal eating and I get energy from being around people. Companion comes from com pao (with bread) so it’s meant for sharing. I’ve danced most of my life and can’t underestimate how good it is for the soul, connecting in the body to music and with the energy of others. It’s uplifting and I can find it very meditative and lose myself for hours in it
What attracted you to following a path of Spirituality and self-development?
I’ve always been drawn to spirituality since my early teens.
My path meandered in many ways for many years but really grew in this area over the past 10 years. In terms of self-development I embarked on Lifebook (a Mindvalley program) a few years back incorporating looking at a different area of your life for each month of the year (4 parts: beliefs, vision, purpose, and strategy). My spiritual path has particularly accelerated the past 3 years being part of Tara, on both Tantra and Shaivism courses.
Where do you feel you are most like a Gemini? Where do you feel you are the least like one?
I love connecting to people and expressing myself. I’m least Gemini in that I don’t change my mind once I set a goal.
Certainly, in terms of communication, my job is as an actor and I do training in business on it. Don’t get paranoid but I’ll be observing every nuance of tone of voice, body language etc…haha! Definitely resonate with versatility, not just in my work but I have a myriad of different interests, friend groups (though latterly I seek solitude a lot more and avoid the madness I used to love). I love learning new things and challenging myself but then on the downside, I often get bored when learning plateaus out and want a new toy so can spread myself too thinly. I can also be impulsive. Being on the cusp I definitely have some earthy Taurus traits..
What are you working on right now in terms of your spirituality or self-development?
I’m practicing Aparigraha – looking into all areas of my life where there is excess.
Certainly patience, equanimity, and looking to include more karma yoga.
What have you found most challenging on your spiritual journey?
Keeping long-term practice.
Whilst I know the theory it’s often hard in practice and can be disheartening at times when you don’t feel progress in some areas and when I don’t do as much practice as I’d like, though I try and tell myself small steps is still moving.
Geminis are known for their passion for reading and being eternal students. What book are you reading now if any, or subject you are studying and what book would you recommend others to read?
I’m reading Ikigai – highly recommend it.
I always have various reading materials on the go. Apart from reading scripts/learning lines each week and keeping up on Shaivism notes, I’m drawn to esoteric texts, currently: The Secret teachings of all ages (Manly P Hall), which I’d highly recommend and a book on geomancy. I read Jesus Christ Sun of God (David Fideler) last year which highlights elements of astrology in the bible as well as Greek gematria and sacred geometry hidden in the parables. A great read!
Also,Geminis are curious, with a thirst for knowledge, and love to use their high faculties of the mind to understand the world and reality… –Tell us what thingsyou tend to reflect, or explore or be curious about most, and if you can share with us one of the last epiphanies, deep understandings, or realisation you had recently?
The more you embrace all of who you are, the more easy it is to navigate the ups and downs of life
I’m always on the lookout for esoteric messaging hidden in art, literature, film, architecture etc. and I now see many things with fresh eyes, that previously went unnoticed. I’m also fascinated with the beauty of the natural world and happily while away time admiring the sheer wonder of fractals, spirals and vibrations playing out all around us. One recent quote I saw struck a chord with me: Nothing in Nature lives for itself, rivers don’t drink their own water, trees don’t eat their own fruit, the sun doesn’t shine for itself, a flower’s fragrance is not for itself. Living for each other is the rule of Nature.
What would you like to tell others about your feelings on being a Gemini sun?
Never ending curiosity, the thirst of knowing things, but not just knowing but really understanding them deeply, there’s that constant buzz almost like a mental activation…. but this comes from your soul, a sort of like hunger, desire for knowledge.
I guess with all signs, embrace the great aspects and the gifts it gives, be aware of the weaknesses, aim for balance with compatibility with others.
What is your life’s motto?
I don’t think is a life motto per se, but when I think I understand something I go and try look for the opposite and try to understand it as deeply as that one, I think that’s where the idea comes of the Gemini contradicting themselves, because we can see so many different angles and understand them and they can flip very easily in different perspectives. There’s always another angle, there’s always more to what I understand… maybe the motto would be what Socrates paradoxiacally said -” I know that I know nothing”
If you do only one thing in a day, meditate. Smile and the world smiles with you. You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing
Aspiration is a fundamental quality on the spiritual path. And while many of us begin our journey full of aspiration and enthusiasm, both can be dampened by the inevitability of spiritual tests and challenges. And, due to the very nature of the spiritual path, aspiration can come in waves. And while it is a constant necessity, sometimes we wish we had a little more.
To celebrate this wonderful quality and engine of transformation, and to bring aspiration back into awareness for the summer, Tara is offering a free place at this year’s summer camp*, June-July 2022, to one student who can demonstrate meaningful aspiration on the spiritual path. We are asking students to submit their entry based on one of the following:
Something that illustrates the importance of aspiration for you on the spiritual path
Something that demonstrates your aspiration on the spiritual path
Something that illustrates the importance of spiritual community and fraternity for you on the spiritual path
The submission can be in any format you choose; a letter, a video, a poem or whatever creative endeavour you come up with. The entries will be judged by a panel of Tara teachers, and based on who they believe demonstrated the most aspiration, desire to be part of a spiritual community and general enthusiasm for the spiritual path.
The competition is open to all Tara members only, including those who have already signed up to join the retreat. And while it would be wonderful if the prize goes to someone who really needs it, the focus of this task is not only the prize!
This task is also a very good opportunity to look at your aspiration on the path – both the highs, the lows, the great things that you have experienced. And also a moment to take stock and see where you aspiration is right now.
From this perspective, this exercise of self-reflection is truly worthwhile, even if you do not need the prize or cannot anyway come to the retreat.
Entries accepted from 16th May – 5th June
Please send entries to: email@example.com
The winner will be announced on 6th June
One entry per student
You are free to choose the format of your entry – article, video, testimony, poem, etc. However, if it is something complex please check with firstname.lastname@example.org before completing it to be sure it can be accepted.
* The prize is for a free camping place. If you wish to upgrade to house accommodation you can do so for just £100. All meals and retreat activities are included.
“When oil poured from one vessel to another flows in an unbroken stream, so too, when the mind in an unbroken flow thinks ceaselessly of the Lord, we have what is called para-Bhakti, or supreme love.” ~ The Yogas and other works, Vivekananda
In this article you can discover:
What the path of Bhakti yogi is
Famous Bhakti yogis who walked this path
How you can prepare for the path of Bhakti Yoga
The importance of love and devotion in spirituality
The paths of Yoga
The path of devotion and love, Bhakti yoga, is one of a number of ‘paths of yoga’, with other notable paths being Karma Yoga, Jnana yoga, Raja yoga and Tantra yoga. The literal translation of ‘yoga’ in english is union. Therefore all these paths of yoga strive for the same goal – the union of Atman with ParaAtman, or the union of the individual with the universal, essentially uniting the aspirant with God.
The different paths of yoga are thus alternative routes to reach the same destination. These different paths accommodate the different inherent qualities, desires, karma and predispositions of the various aspirants who wish to reach this destination of union with the divine. Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion, which is how the aspirants walk this path to achieve this state of union.
Bhakti Yoga is often cited as the easiest path of yoga because it requires ‘only’ devotion, which is accessible to almost all beings. However, though it may be simple in its nature, it is not always an easy path, especially as it requires an opening of the heart or awakening of the soul to begin.
Continous and exalted remembering
The opening quote above cites the ‘unbroken flow of thoughts’ to the divine. This is a continuous and exalted remembering. All of us will have moments when we remember the divine, the absolute, God; when we pray, meditate, see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, fall in love… These moments come and go and are often triggered by outer stimuli. For the Bhakti Yogi however, this remembering is his permanent state of being. He constantly remembers the divine in each and every moment. He sees God in every being, every animal, every flower. There is nothing in manifestation that does not remind him of God and in no thing or moment can he fail to find God.
On the path of Bhakti Yoga the aspirant devotes himself entirely to God, the divine, or the absolute reality. In its highest form, this devotion is pure and uninterrupted. The aspirant sees God in everything, and they see everything in God. They realise that the entire Universe is nothing but love – “Love is God and God is love.” This quote, or truth, revealed in the Gospel of John, shows the universality of this path and of the energy of love. Not restricted to the Hindu tradition, this path is found in all genuine spiritual traditions – Christianity, Islam and so on. It is this love that supports the entire manifestation. It is also the ‘obsession’ and vehicle of the Bhakti yogi.
Because the entire manifestation is God, and if he is to love God unconditionally, the Bhakti yogi must love everything in the manifestation, equally and unconditionally. And by loving everything in the manifestation, the Bhakti Yogi likewise loves God. This is a very high level of love that is difficult for the human mind to even comprehend, let alone manifest. But just as the tiny acorn would find it hard to believe that one day it could become a giant oak tree spreading its branches majestically and producing thousands of acorns of its own, so too can the aspirant with a tiny seed of devotion and love within his being nourish and foster that love, until it too grows into mighty branches of unconditional love. Not only sustaining itself but inspiring and nourishing the seeds within others to also grow and become.
In the East there are many examples of well-known Bhati Yogis. Ma Anandamayi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rumi, and Kadir to name but a few. The culture and history of India provides a highly conducive foundation to this path of devotion. It is something almost inherent in the people there.
St Francis – a genuine Bhakti Yogi
But the path of devotion and love crosses all borders and all time frames. A prominent example in the West is Saint Francis of Assisi. Born into a relatively wealthy family, Francis had all the comforts of the time, and was set for a life of material success and prosperity. But in his early 20s St Francis began to experience visions, and to hear a voice that would alter his life dramatically. He renounced his inheritance, disowned his father and took up a vow of poverty. He devoted his life to God and to spreading the teachings of Jesus. Many devote themselves to God and/or sacrifice material wealth in pursuit of union. But what is often cited about St Francis however is his unconditional love for all beings.
Considered outcasts, even by the Church, St Francis would show lepers the same love and affection as he would a bishop. He bathed and fed them often, and prayed both with and for them. He showed no envy, anonymity, jealously or hostility towards his fellow man. Whenever he encountered hostility towards him his response was always one of love. He even crossed the enemy lines of the Christians into the Muslim camp in Egypt during a bloody war. And while there is no account of what happened there, he returned voluntarily and unharmed, which shows he must have been recognised as a man of love by the Sultan. Otherwise his fate would have been vastly different.
St Francis’s love did not stop at humanity. He is the patron saint of animals and is often depicted surrounded by animals. He saw other creatures as a part of God, and filled with God, and he afforded them the same love and devotion that he did his fellow brothers.
One story describes how St Francis stopped some Friars who were digging up flowers to plant food for the monks. The monks objected, saying that the crops were badly needed to feed the growing monastery. St Francis simply replied, “Let the flowers be, for they are part of God’s creation. The Lord will provide everything we need for us.” Such a faith in God is not possible without unconditional love and devotion. For St Francis all was God and God was all. The sum total of all love is God and therefore we should love all equally and unconditionally.
Walking the path of Bhakti Yoga
Some are born ready for the path of Bhakti Yoga, while others have potential, but efforts are needed before the devotion can truly take hold and effortlessly unfold in the aspirant. The ancient texts thus describe two levels of Bhakti Yoga. The first is Gauni, or the preparatory stages, and the second level is Para, or superior devotion.
The purpose of Gauni is mainly for the preparation of the aspirant for Bhakti Yoga. The supreme love, para-Bhakti, is inaccessible to those who remain impure, and so a process of purification is required. The Vedanta Sutras state, “The attaining of Bhakti comes through discrimination, controlling the passions, practice, sacrifice, purity, strength and the suppression of excessive joy.” Here, comparisons can be drawn with the namas and niyamas described in Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. While the outer application of these ideals is usually focused on nowadays, the inner application is far more important. Purifying the body through bathing is useful, but purifying the mind through awareness is far superior.
There is also a preparatory stage when entering para-Bhakti, the stage of supreme love. This preparation centres around ‘renunciation’. All paths of yoga include this aspect, albeit in different manifestations. The Karma Yogi must renounce the fruits of his actions while the Jnana Yogi must renounce the entire manifestation as an illusion. For the Bhakti Yogi, he must renounce all that is insignificant in favour of God. This is only a phase or process the yogi must go through, because as we saw above, all is God, even the apparently insignificant.
But until the Bhakti Yogi has truly experienced this realisation within his being, he must constantly renounce that which is lower for that which is higher, or that which is limited for something closer to infinity. For example, on the path of Bhakti Yoga, selfishness would be seen as a form of love – excessive love of ones self, and a very limited and restricted manifestation of love.
The Bhakti Yogi should renounce selfish love and instead embrace a more expanded love, such as love for another human being or a family. This expanded love should include the initial ‘object’, in this case the self, the person. In this way the Yogi truly expands rather than just moving his love.
This renunciation is not a ‘killing’ of something or a struggle. It is actually seen as the most gentle and natural of all the various forms of renunciation. While renunciation may appear to be a sacrifice, what we actually sacrifice is the limitations and chains that restrict the soul, so that it can become free, free to love, free to expand towards infinity and towards God. The only condition is that each sacrifice takes us closer and closer to God.
Once the aspirant succeeds with renunciation in the higher stage of Bhakti Yogi, his efforts then become effortless. He then understands the universal truth – God is love and love is God. But not merely as a mental or intellectual understanding. Rather he feels it deep in his heart as the ultimate truth of the universe. Everywhere he looks he sees nothing but the divine. Every word he hears, comes as if from the divine. Everything he touches is infused with the divine. This is his permanent reality in every moment. And through this universal energy of love that continuously springs from his heart, he is united, he is in yoga with all things and finally, united with God.
Summer Retreat: The paths of Yoga
If you wish to find out more about Bhakti Yoga, consider joining our summer retreat this June. It explores 5 paths of yoga, including Bhakti Yogi. In this way it’s an ideal opportunity to discover which path of yoga is most suitable for you. Details below.
“We all begin with love for ourselves, and the unfair claims of the little self make even love selfish. At last, however, comes the full blaze of light, in which this little self is seen to have become one with the Infinite. Man himself is transfigured in the presence of this light of love, and he realises at the last the beautiful and inspiring truth that love, the lover and the Beloved are one.”
Stages of Spiritual perfection, in and through love
by Nicolae Catrina
This book could rightly be called a handbook rather than a book. It is a very practical book written by one of the teachers in the Atman Federation. The core of the book is a journey through the 7 stages of love.
These are taken from the ancient Greek language, which has over 40 different words for “love”. In this book, Nicolae describes the 7 stage, some of which we can easily recognise. He also elborates on how we can achieve spiritual perfection using these stages and encouragingly, how we can reach God through any single stage.
It is a great resource for those interested in relationships and looking to transform through love and relationships. It is quite practical and the author gives readers intuitive examples to easily relate to while also providing practical suggestions and ideas couples or individuals can easily implement.
The book is available in the shop in our London centre but there are limited copies available. Grab it while you can….. 🙂
The spiritual guide is the catalyst of practical understandings. He or she mysteriously awakens a superior, supramental and perfect vision in our being.
Last Saturday (30th of April) saw the inaugural Pilgrimage of the Tara outdoor spirituality group. An initiative formed as part of the aspiration to grow and nurture our spiritual community, the outdoor spiritual group aims to merge the great outdoors with meaningful spiritual experiences. Saturday was the first event and he we have a review of the day from Alberto, a Tantra and Shaivism student who was also one of the organisers.
27 hearts on fire departed from Chartham at 10am, each heart carrying their own longing, their own intimate intention, their challenges and their offerings. We were led by our captain Andrew, who set the tone and shared the wisdom accumulated over years as an ardent pilgrim himself.
The sky was overcast but vigilant. As soon as the sky saw us consecrating the pilgrimage, He started to clear the clouds away. The group walked in mauna, silently tuning into the secret space of our hearts and the egregor of all those pilgrims who had walked the North Downs Way before us.
After our first stop, some maintained the inner and outer silence, while others used the opportunity to get to know one another.
The Sun was now shining in all its glory, and he stayed with us for the rest of the pilgrimage, warming our hearts and granting us the privilege of a tan by the end of the day!
Equipped with a compass and map, our Captain Andrew and his loyal Lalla walked at the front of the group, setting the pace and guiding us on our way to Canterbury. Kieran and Eabha walked in the middle of the group, and I was at the back, like a shepherd whose task is to make sure no sheep goes astray. But orchestrating a group of 27 people is not easy! Some enjoy walking fast and some slow.
And some like stopping and admiring every little thing along the way, even if that means separating from the group. They stop to worship every flower, independently of their size and colour, most of the trees, and even seemingly ordinary things that stop being ordinary in such a state of wonder. This special group of transfiguring wanderers was composed of Lia, Howard, Francesca, Jonathan and Cintia, and I was at the back.
As it was supposed to be, we found ourselves separated from the bulk of the group. I was told not to let that happen, but what could I do? How to tell someone to stop admiring a flower and keep up with the others?
Eventually, the group reunited and never split up again. It was time to have some lunch, restore some energies and enjoy the sun.
In a glorious speech, Kieran reminded us of the importance of the spiritual community, or Sangha, as one of the three main pillars of the spiritual path. Yoga practice goes beyond practising on the yoga mat. We are mirrors of one another and each one of us is an example of a unique spiritual practitioner. Sangha helps us overcome the challenges of the spiritual path and keeps the fire of our aspiration high.
We restarted our journey along the picturesque countryside of the Pilgrims Way that links Winchester to Canterbury.
It’s part of the pilgrims tradition to pause at every church encountered in the path, to connect inside again, withdraw in prayer and to remember the purpose of the walk, and so we did in St. Dunstan’s Church, who welcomed us as we entered Canterbury. The city of Canterbury was alive. We resisted the temptation to jump on a boat cruise around the city or to buy anything along the pedestrian shopping street, and made our way straight to the gothic Cathedral before 16:00.
Following the customs, we walked clockwise around the magnificent Cathedral before gathering again to meditate and crystallise the gifts that this pilgrimage offered to us.
The day ended with the evensong, an evening service of prayer and praise, sung by the Cathedral Choir, using the traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer.
“It is only a tiny rosebud, A flower of God’s design; But I cannot unfold the petals With these clumsy hands of mine.
The secret of unfolding flowers is not known to such as I. GOD opens this flower so sweetly, When in my hands they fade and die.
If I cannot unfold a rosebud, This flower of God’s design, Then how can I think I have wisdom To unfold this life of mine?
So I’ll trust in Him for His leading Each moment of every day. I will look to Him for His guidance Each step of the pilgrim way.
The pathway that lies before me, Only my Heavenly Father knows. I’ll trust Him to unfold the moments, Just as He unfolds the rose. 🌹”
Amazing day and experience. Lots of gratitude for organizing and holding the space for this spiritual journey! Have a great week ahead everyone’
Huge gratitude to organisers for such an amazing day
Fantastic day! Beautiful souls! Amazing experience! ❤️ Thank you Andrew for organisation and thank you everyone for your presence!
As the winter weather insists on persisting, we thought it would be a good idea to revive this winter warmer – Immunity boosting porridge. Porridge is always a great choice and in this video, Inka explains how it can be both beneficial for your health and tasty. No excuse… get warmed up and boost your immunity naturally.
The immune system is the second line of defence the body has from attack. If the skin is breached we need a strong immune system to protect us.
We will be sharing book/movie recommendations from both our students and staff to inspire and help you go deeper in your spiritual journey… This week, Daphne, our first year Tantra student from France shares her book recommendation with us – ‘You can heal your life’ by Louise Hay
📚 Why do you recommend this book? It very simply explains a way of thinking that can be transformational to develop self-love and raise your expectations in life. It is a supportive companion for those working on freeing themselves from resentment / guilt / self-criticism. Short chapters, meditations and exercises help to integrate Louise’s ideas. In the last part of the book, Louise tells us about her personal story and her suffering. She writes about what brought her to her philosophy and how she has been applying it to her own life. I find her genuine in her desire to share her message. I also loved hearing the warmth of her voice on different materials uploaded on Youtube.
📚 Who is this book for?
Anyone who wants to develop more self-care, self-love and faith in themselves / the Universe.
📚 Book blurb: If you can change your thinking, you can change your life. That is the central idea of this book, a classic ‘self-help’ book written in 1984 by motivational author Louise Hay. According to Louise, what we get from the Universe reflects the thoughts we believe about ourselves and about life. In other words, our thoughts create our experiences. This is empowering because we can create the very thoughts that will bring about the change we want to see in our life. It starts with awareness of our negative thought patterns, which Louise argues always stem from a lack of self-love. Louise guides her readers through exercises to release self-limiting beliefs and to help us to forgive the past. As we ‘clean our mental house’, she encourages us to form new thoughts and beliefs by practising daily affirmations. She generally invites us to bring more love in all areas of our life (relationships, work, money…). Louise’s message is really one of love: for ourselves, others and the Universe that ‘flows through us’. In that sense, it echoes some ideas from the Tantric path.
📚 Favourite inspirational extracts ‘I support myself, and life supports me. All is well in my world.’ ‘The Universe totally supports us in every thought we choose to think and believe. What you choose to think about yourself and about life becomes true for you. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and a thought can be changed. The point of power is always in the present moment. Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes. Every thought we think creates our future. When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.’ ** Have you read this book? Let us know what you think and send us a message if you would like to recommend a book or movie for us!
I support myself, and life supports me. All is well in my world.’
The way of the Siddha is said to be revealed in Kali Yuga, when people are not able to follow other paths. A sign of Kali Yuga is the impatience of the disciple, and the unwillingness to live through eons of rebirths before attaining liberation, wanting immediate results.
What takes most time on the path to perfection is the purification of the mind, the eradication of vices and inferior passions, and the cultivation of virtue and clarity. In Tantra. all experiences become a fuel in the process of transmutation through inner alchemy, that empowers transformation. The process is faster in this way, but also more “dangerous”, as there is no separation of experiences into good or bad as such – both are considered a source of energy. Even apparently negative or tempting states can be turned into the nectar of superior states of consciousness though the processes of inner alchemy. But the inherent temptation in different life experiences requires an uncompromising inner attitude, so that we do not become lost, and forget our aim of self revelation. Instead, there should be a lucid practice of inner alchemy and the elevation of the consciousness, in every life experience.
The “danger” of this path is justified by its efficacy, but guidance is needed. Otherwise, the equal attitude before “good and bad” can easily become an excuse that leads us astray, to be lost in pleasure and temptation.
On the siddha path, things that would normally be considered obstacles on the path of transformation, because of distraction or temptation, become tools and opportunities. Here we can mention the sexual energy, unexpected disturbances, fascinations, desires…
The Tantric Path
This is an approach characteristic of the Tantric path. The Tantras were transmitted orally for hundreds of years before they began to be written down in the fifth century AD. We can only speculate who formed the early lineages. The Maha siddhas are the masters who shaped the Tantric path.
The Maha siddhas came from every walk of life. What bound them to Tantric yoga was their meeting with a spiritual guide, their initiation into a lineage of Tantric instruction and their practice of Tantric meditation.
The forms of their sadhana, their spiritual discipline, was as varied as their personalities. What they had in common was the attitude of a Tantrika; the aim to integrate their entire life into sadhana – a vow to selflessly devote their entire being to the non-dual experience of enlightenment and liberation. The siddhas developed their own methods of liberation, or release from samsara, that can be characterised as quick, demanding and often “dangerous”.
“The siddhas developed their own methods of liberation, or release from samsara, that can be characterised as quick, demanding and often “dangerous”.”
Tantra accepts eroticism as a valid means by which enlightenment or Maha mudra, “the great seal” can be attained, and several of the Maha siddhas embraced eroticism as part of their sadhana. The mistaken belief, however, that Tantra yoga is only sexual yoga is fostered by the frequent use of erotic analogies, metaphors and symbols in the Tantras, to describe different processes.
The concept of the ‘Absolute’ lies at the heart of the Tantras, giving the Maha siddhas their enormous spiritual energy, godly power and realisation. By its very nature, the Absolute is beyond thought – indefinable, indeterminable, without location – and is the source of everything.
The Maha siddhas path through life is an experience where the knower and the known become unified in the process of knowing – leading to the mystery of Maha mudra. The mystery can be conceived as a two in one union, where both unity and duality become one simultaneous and continuous peak experience. The erotic analogy of two lovers achieving a sense of complete oneness while still in their individual bodies is probably the best if not the only image that can express this mystery. The Maha siddha totally empathises with all beings through this union, giving him or her profound insight and prescience that allows the siddha to be able to guide others in sadhana.
The Maha siddhas are known for their craziness, their lack of emotional inhibitions and utter disregard for social convention – they are the holy madmen and women.
The Maha siddhas are known for their craziness, their lack of emotional inhibitions and utter disregard for social convention – they are the holy madmen and women.
Naropa is one of the more known and loved Mahasiddhas – not only was he an example of spiritual guidance but also a shining example of a disciple and of following guidance. His state of devotion, aspiration and determination was overwhelming and exemplary, and it allowed him to make great steps in a relatively short time.
There are varying accounts of the life of Naropa, but common to them all is his fervent search for his master Tilopa, and his impressive perseverance and commitment to the path.
From an early age, Naropa was devoted to spiritual matters. He was filled with compassion for all beings, and his primary interest was the study and practice of the buddhadharma. At the age of 28, in 1044, Naropa left worldly obligations and entered the monastic university of Nalanda. He became a renowned and well-respected teacher known for his intellectual powers, and was considered the premier teacher of Buddhism of his time.
Around the age of 40 an event occurred that was to bring Naropa onto the Tantric path. While reading he had a vision of a dakini in the shape of a very ugly woman. She told him that he understood only the words of his book, and not their real meaning. She also revealed that the only way for him to discover the real meaning was to seek a guru named Tilopa.
‘She said to Naropa, “What are you looking into?” “I study books on grammar, epistemology, spiritual precepts, and logic,” he replied. “Do you understand them?” “Yes.” “Do you understand the words or the sense?” “The words.” The old woman was delighted, rocked with laughter, and began to dance, waving her stick in the air. Thinking that she might feel still happier, Naropa added, “I also understand the sense.” But then the woman began to weep and tremble and she threw her stick down. “How is it that you were happy when I said that I understood the words, but became miserable when I added that I also understood the sense?” “I felt happy because you, a great scholar, did not lie and frankly admitted that you only understood the words. But I felt sad when you told a lie by stating that you understood the sense, which you do not.” “Who, then, understands the sense?” “My brother, Tilopa.” “Introduce me to him wherever he may be.” “Go yourself, pay your respects to him, and beg him that you may come to grasp the sense.” With these words, the old woman disappeared like a rainbow in the sky.”
– The Life and Teaching of Naropa, trans. Herbert V. Guenther (Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 1986), pp. 24–25]
Upon hearing the name “Tilopa”, Naropa felt an intense state of devotion. Then and there he knew that Tilopa was his guru and that he would not rest until he had found him. Naropa immediately left the university in search of Tilopa and set out on a journey that would last for years and take him all over India following every hint, every whisper of where Tilopa might be. Naropa had to undergo what is called the twelve minor hardships or tests before finding his master; illusions that made his limitations obvious; confronting habit forming thought patterns, the need to develop unconditional compassion and cracking the ego shell, cutting the ties of Samsara, or illusion, Maya, and having a perfect detachment.
When Naropa finally found Tilopa and was accepted as his disciple the trials were not over. Tilopa was not friendly or forthcoming but often tough, demanding the most outrageous sacrifices and actions from Naropa. The first initiations were given after Tilopa showed Naropa different attitudes through the use of signs and symbols. For instance, Tilopa would hold a crystal in his hand and show it to Naropa and ask him what he understood. Naropa answered that he understood that the disciples mind should be completely pure; there should be no broken commitments in the relationship between teacher and student. Tilopa then handed Naropa a string full of knots and asked him to untie them. Naropa did so and gave the string back. Tilopa threw it aside and asked him what he understood. Naropa replied, “All beings are tied by worldly dharmas and we need to untie them. Once we have done so we must remain natural and rest in the mind itself, without being artificial. We have to get rid of all our expectations, hopes and fears.” Eleven such signs or symbols constituted each of the first three initiations Naropa received. Tilopa never told Naropa if he had answered correctly or not, he just left each answer as it was. Later, Tilopa began to smile and laugh. Then he said to Naropa, “You know, it is exactly as prophesised by the dakinis, you understood everything in the right way.”
But Naropa’s trials were still to come. He had to endure twelve major hardships in order to overcome all obstacles on his path to obtaining Mahamudra.
When Naropa asked for the initiation in Maha Mudra one day, Tilopa looked at him in a special way and left. Naropa followed him. They went to a temple with many levels – when they reached the top, Tilopa sat down resting his back against the wall. He said, “If I had a devoted student he would jump from the wall.” Immediately, Naropa jumped, breaking all his bones as he landed. As he lay dying, he thought he would not reach enlightenment this life after all, and began praying that he would again meet Tilopa in his next life. As he was praying, Tilopa appeared next to him and by his touch, healed Naropa’s body completely. Tilopa said, “You must understand that the idea that things exist is false, and the idea that things do not exist is also false. You should focus on the continuity of consciousness to see beyond illusion.” Naropa meditated on this for one year, and then Tilopa appeared and asked him if he was ready to ask for more instructions. Immediately Naropa offered Tilopa a mandala and asked for instructions. Again Tilopa walked away and Naropa followed him. They came to a field in which a great fire burned. Tilopa went to the fire and said, “If only I had a student who was really devoted he would jump in the fire.” Naropa immediately jumped into the fire with no hesitation, and stayed there though he was burning alive. Tilopa asked him what was happening to him. Naropa answered, “My body is burning and my mind is suffering.” “Well, it burns your ego, and your attachments – and I have the practice and instruction on the equality of the elements.” He touched Naropa’s skin and healed him completely, and the fire disappeared. Tilopa instructed Naropa to realise there is no difference between pleasure or misery, health or sickness.
Naropa underwent another nine tests involving being beaten half to death on several occasions, nearly drowning in ice cold water, being pierced by ten pieces of hardened bamboo. Each time he was healed by the touch of Tilopa. He also married a woman to learn about erotic practices, before his wife was taken away by Tilopa.
Because of the rigid concepts Naropa had formed in his education, looking for answers in logic and clear definitions, he had to go through twelve stages of extremely difficult and challenging experiences that broke all his mental concepts and limited sense of self.
It took immense devotion, aspiration and faith for Naropa to embrace the hardships requested of him, but he stayed true to the feeling in his heart upon first hearing the name Tilopa, and he never gave up.
After twelve years of hardship and intense practice Naropa’s faith paid off. One day Tilopa and Naropa went to the river together and Naropa asked for more instructions. He had come to the last instruction. Tilopa took off his shoe and slapped Naropa on his forehead. At that moment the last veils dissolved from Naropa’s mind, and he realised his true nature. He had accomplished Maha Mudra.
It is said that it was because of Naropa’s ability to follow Tilopa without any doubts, that he was able to reach full realisation within one lifetime.
Naropa gave the world the six yogas or the six dharmas – “oral instruction transmission for achieving liberation in the bardo” – including tummo and phowa. Among his disciples was Marpa who became the master of Milarepa, passing on his teachings to the present day.
The sacred relationship between a disciple and their spiritual guide is fascinating and life-changing. Ancient scriptures are full of references to the importance of seeking and accepting a spiritual guide. These days however, it is often seen as a strange concept as people are not familiar with its spiritual value.
Here are two short stories of spiritual guide-disciple relationships to help inspire and provoke curiosity. In each story we can see how the guide’s initiation was essential for the spiritual evolution of the disciple. The path by which each disciple grew however, differed greatly.
The relationship between Attar and Hazif
We will begin with the story of Hafiz in a town called Shiraz in Persia in the 14th century, at a time when the Sufis were not well accepted. As a teenager, Hafiz was a very poor baker’s boy, and he fell very much in love. He was completely infatuated, but she was the daughter of one of the richest families in the village. Hafiz knew he had little chance of being with his love.
But there was hope. Hafiz had heard talk of a saint’s tomb that had mysterious powers. It was said that if a person prays outside the tomb every night for forty nights and does not sleep, any wish will be granted. So, full of hope and determination, Hafiz went to the tomb.
Even after all this time, the sun never says to the Earth – “you owe me”. Look what happens with a love like that – it lights the whole sky.
Every night he stayed in prayer at the tomb of the saint, and during the day he continued his work at the bakery. Finally, after 40 nights, on the last night, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Hafiz as a messenger of God. He told Hafiz that he will grant him that which he wishes, because of his abnegation.
Overwhelmed by the presence of the angel, Hafiz realised that stronger than his love for the woman, was his love for God; and he now wished only to be shown a teacher. Archangel Gabriel disappeared, telling Hafiz that he will soon discover that which he desired.
“…stronger than his love for the woman, was his love for God”
Only a few days later, Hafiz had a vision in which he was told to visit the local pharmacist, Attar. When he arrived, Hafiz discovered that Attar was not a pharmacist at all, but hidden through a door at the back of the shop, there was a Sufi place of study.
Hafiz decided to begin his spiritual practice under the guidance of Attar. The practice he was given was to compose at least one song for God, every day. As we know, Hafiz wrote a great deal of very inspiring songs!
It was not easy – as Hafiz also married and had children, but he succeeded, even becoming a well-known poet. In the Arabic world, poetry is highly regarded and so he was able to bring the mystical knowledge of Sufism to the general public by encrypting it into their day-to-day poetry.
After forty years, Hafiz began to long for something more, and he knew there was more. He asked Attar for liberation, for realisation, but Attar would not give him any other practice, only telling him, “All disciples will reach realisation in good time…”.
“He asked Attar for liberation, for realisation, but Attar would not give him any other practice..”
So Hafiz realised that he had to again practise great austerities for forty days and forty nights to be granted his wish. This time he drew a circle on the ground, and did not leave the circle for the entire period. But at the end of this practice, nothing happened.
Distraught, Hafiz went to the house of Attar and as soon as he arrived, Attar opened the door, holding a chalice of wine. He took a sip, and invited Hafiz to do the same. And that was the moment of the illumination of Hafiz. Attar gave to Hafiz from his cup. This chalice symbolised the infinite source of God’s Grace with which Attar was constantly infused, and of which Hafiz was finally ready to receive.
This romantic story has many levels. It demonstrates how the master knows the steps of his or her disciples, and how as they come closer to their full realisation, he will support them through their final test, sometimes known as the dark night of the soul. Only after passing this test can the disciple pierce through the levels of spiritual consciousness to illumination.
Sri Ma Anandamayi and Bolanath
The next example we will look at is Sri Ma Anandamayi and one of her main disciples – and her husband – Bolanath. Bolanath was not a disciple of Sri Ma from the beginning of their marital life. In fact, he and the rest of the family were often concerned for Nirmala, as she was then called, because of her strange behaviour.
From a young age Nirmala displayed extraordinary spiritual powers. She did not cry when she was born, and she would frequently enter into deep trances of Samadhi , especially when hearing devotional Kirtan songs, and she would perform complex spiritual practices that she had never been taught.
They called upon doctors and pundits, who assured the family that she was neither sick nor mentally unstable, but that she was Perfect, and infused with God.
When people began to realise that God was incarnate in Nirmala, many would come to her. In her presence they would heal from diseases, enter spiritual ecstasy, and receive answers to their questions.
Sri Anandamayi Ma was extremely generous and kind with those who were open, even inflicting wounds on her own body in order to take away the suffering and sickness of others. She was also extremely strict with those who came to her with selfish motives, setting them back on the right path.
After witnessing so many miraculous things in her presence, and even entering into Samadhi when she touched him on the forehead, Bolanath gradually began to realise that his wife was a true master. Curious, he asked her if it was possible for her to eat many chillies without getting even a tear in her eye. To satisfy his curiosity she ate a huge number of chillies, which had absolutely no effect on her. Bolanath was amazed but soon became extremely sick with a severe fever.
When it seemed impossible that he would recover, Sri Ma came to his bedside and caressed his head, saying ‘Never ever test this body again’, and healed. The fever was not a punishment from her, but a natural consequence of harming someone so pure.
One day, Bolanath finally asked Sri Ma to give him a mantra initiation, after which he became a great practitioner and disciple of hers. Towards the end of his life, Bolanath travelled to the Himalayas for intense spiritual practice, and he himself eventually gained enlightenment.
This fascinating relationship reframes the common conception of marriage. Sri Anandamayi Ma and Bolanath were devoted to the Divine within one another, walking together on their journey towards spiritual perfection. Sri Ma was his loyal wife on one hand, and spiritual guide on the other. And although it was difficult for Bolanath at the beginning of their life together, her perfect example awoke something in him that led him to seek Truth for himself.
These were two extraordinary examples of spiritual guide-disciple relationships. If you would like to learn more, have a look at the rest in our series on this fascinating topic.
This month sees the turn of Capricorn to shine, albeit in a more understated way than perhaps a Leo might shine. This earth sign is known to be quite practical, good in business, steady, and reliable. This month we caught up with 2 Capricorns – to give a polar perspective – to see how they perceive the world, and themselves… Meet Ellie and Dmitrij
Do you ever sleep?
Such a simple question yet such an unexpectedly complicated answer 🤦🏻♀️😂 I actually love to sleep and can do so for many hours, yet I’m not keen on the going to bed part and love to stay up at night which leads me to a much to frequent lack of sleep
I try to sleep for 7-8 hours, otherwise it is difficult to concentrate during the day even with lots of coffee. When concentration is not needed can afford to sleep less.
What needs to happen for your cup to overflow (when you cannot take it anymore)?
One of two things: for me to take on too much for too long – the all so popular “it’s ok, I can do it” attitude – or for me to forget to take care of myself for too long (which some of us find surprisingly easy)
When my boundaries are crossed.
How do u feel about receiving help from others?
Depends, if I actually need it, it makes me feel loved and cared for; but if I don’t, despite appreciating it, I can find it irritating if I feel that the person is overstepping or is underestimating me
Nowadays I am more inclined to ask for help when I really need it.
How do u feel about sharing emotions?
Good when they’re positive. Ok, when I feel safe. Challenged when I feel vulnerable and not very safe
It is OK to share emotions with the people I trust. Difficult with the people I don’t know. And almost impossible with people I don’t trust.
What do you think is people’s biggest misconception about Capricorns?
I’m not sure.. the only recurrent comment I get from people is that they think Capricorns are stubborn.. and so am I, so can’t say much about it 😂
Capricorns are not emotionless robots 🙂
What would you like people to understand about Capricorns?
To never underestimate the depth of their loyalty, their sense of responsibility and determination.
We all have different values, for Capricorns it is persistence.
If you could change the world what would you do?
If I could, I’d change our society. I’d make it less transitional and a lot more in tune with nature
I believe we can change the world but first we need to change ourselves. Emotional regulation is a good starting point 🙂