Foreplay carries with it the dynamic energy of the beginning and the first tender touches of the soul of our lover. It sets the tone of beauty and sacredness at the start of Tantric love making. As teachers Alina Halauca and Bogdan Radasanu explain to student Vivienne Rush, foreplay becomes an art when it is practised with imagination, patience and a great deal of heart.
Learn more about the Art of Foreplay in our workshops at Tara! We frequently have workshops on various topics related to eroticism. Next up is our Kama Sutra workshops starting 27th October 2023 with ‘The Art of Foreplay’. See more information here:
Tantric massage is a spiritual practice in its own right. Like a river with many streams flowing into it, there are many aspects to the practice of tantric massage. To both give and receive tantric massage is a beautiful and heartfelt step on the spiritual path, bringing an intense yet safe awakening of the erotic energies that are brimming with life, so that body, mind and soul overflow with love, and the joy of renewal and rejuvenation.
To connect with the energies, first the awareness must be trained, so that with practice a relaxed awareness can be maintained even in the most intense experiences and energies. This enables a much deeper connection to yourself, allowing a much freer, more intimate connection with your partner, full of complete openness and joy.
The warm, tender and flowing strokes of the hands of your partner can lead you into relaxation, pleasure and a deeper than usual connection with the senses. It is no longer possible for the mind to be dominated by destructive emotions or repetitive thoughts, that send you back and forth between past and future; the sensual experience of the tantric massage anchors you firmly in the present, and as one sensation overlaps another, you are submerged in a sea of profound pleasure. In this way, the tender and conscious touch of your partner also reveals another surprise, as your senses mysteriously open and become direct channels to the soul.
In this state of deep self-connection, tantric massage cuts the chains of fear, the shackles of shame and inhibition, any constrictions in the heart. Some may have choked their very life force without realising it – with hunched bodies, we can create a defensive shell around ourselves. In tantric massage, the blocks can be released and as the source energy floods through your being, you are filled with euphoria.
On top of this euphoria an additional nuance of experience is created from the play of polarity, when each man and woman feels the intensity of their masculinity and femininity magnifying, as they selflessly adore each other. As each offers the other the gift of blissful eroticism, they both connect to the soul once again. Sometimes we are so hidden, so deeply asleep – like the fable of the sleeping beauty. The conscious touch of tantric massage stirs us from our slumber, so that both sleeping beauty and the prince have their senses and even their subtle perceptions awakened, each becoming a channel for godly grace. When they touch, they unite in sublime fusion; so in this way, tantric massage can take us on the journey to the centre of our being, heart and soul.
Sexual practices are probably what has made Tantra most known in the West. However, in reality, Tantric practices of intimacy are erotic rather than sexual. Eroticism is the experience of our sensual self, without the component of the instinctual behaviour that drives us to procreate – which is what defines a sexual act. If we do not engage in sex for the purpose of procreation, it is done to experience pleasure and to express feelings for the other. Sex is driven by instincts, so while it is pleasurable, it is a superficial pleasure and not fulfilling beyond that brief moment. What we are really longing for is the erotic experience.
To obtain deeply fulfilling pleasure and profound connection, we need to discover eros.
Eros is an expression of physical love and elevated passion, where the other is not an object for satisfaction, but a beloved being with whom we merge – and at the same time, eros is a revelation of our own innermost being.
At first glance, sex and eros might appear to be the same, and we might think that eros is just a nicer term for sex. But, like sugar and honey, both taste sweet but have very different effects on health and well-being, just as sex and eros affect us in radically different ways.
Sexual energy is overpowering, bringing a loss of control, and it often leads to over-indulgence or obsession, or to forced avoidance, emotional rollercoasters, painful attachments, and experiences that either fall short of expectations or that bring outright regret.
In contrast, erotic energy brings an out of this world feeling of pleasure that is deeply satisfying and leaves a feeling of profound happiness and fulfilment – the experience that most are longing for when approaching intimacy.
The shame and inhibition many experience around their sexuality, aside from any past experience of abuse, is related to the instinctual nature of sex, and the loss of control that comes with it. In the grip of instinctual sexual energy, we trust neither ourselves nor the other. When the intimate experience is one of pure eros, there is no shame or inhibition, and the possibility for profound intimacy and oceanic pleasure is born. This then makes the erotic interaction a deeply fulfilling, healing and awakening practice that, rather than being controlled by it, allows us to harness the immense power of our creative potential.
Amorous Erotic Continence
The creative potential is an immense force that gives the power to create new life, but it can also be used to nourish life in other ways; to awaken latent potential, to support health, regeneration and longevity, to sustain and expand spiritual experiences of higher states of consciousness, and to create new ideas, inspirations, inventions and genius-like solutions.
We tend to take the gift of this potential for granted, until it runs out. Tantra teaches methods for harnessing this power, and how to use it consciously, not only for greater fulfilment in intimate experiences, but for an overall upgrade of our life and being.
This practice is called amorous erotic continence. It involves learning to increase and expand pleasure, to experience multiple orgasms without wasting any of the creative potential through ejaculation for men, and through explosive orgasms for women. By separating the orgasm from the ejaculation, men can learn to be multi-orgasmic, and women will be able to fully embrace their natural ability to experience multiple orgasms, as well as to intensify and deepen their experience of orgasm, resulting in a profound fulfilment and revealing a new dimension of eroticism.
Through the practice of amorous erotic continence, we become able to experience a much greater intensity of pleasure. Not only is it possible to experience more than one orgasm, but the intensity of the experience is greatly increased. The ejaculation or explosive orgasm occurs when the threshold of the intensity of pleasure that can be held in the awareness is reached. With practice, this threshold can be raised and the level of pleasure that can be experienced by both lovers becomes greater and greater, leading to truly overwhelming and expansive states of orgasm beyond anything that has been lived before.
Furthermore, the two lovers can become able to prolong the experience of the orgasm, which then becomes a genuine gate to spiritual experiences, that can be passed through into higher parts of the being, and into the creation itself.
Through the process of inner alchemy, the lovers can also transform their sexual potential, that is in the form of sexual fluids, into energy. The resulting energy can then be sublimated into more refined forms of energy such as affectionate, emotional, mental, and spiritual energies.
The lovers remain completely capable of procreation, and ejaculation is only used when the couple want to conceive. In any other situation, ejaculation is considered an unnecessary loss of energy that over time only has negative depleting effects, and leads to a diminishing of erotic interest in the erotic partner.
Orgasm with ejaculation is known to deplete the vital resources of the body. High-performance athletes, for example, are advised to refrain from ejaculating before important competitions – as are those preparing for high intellectual performance. On learning to separate orgasm from ejaculation, abstinence is no longer needed. Instead of depleting energy, intimacy can charge the battery of the being, and help in preparing for life and its most demanding situations. Our intimate life becomes not only a source of immense indescribable pleasure, but it also becomes an engine for the transformation for the better of our entire being and existence.
Effects of Erotic Amorous Continence
Effects observed by those who have successfully practised amorous erotic continence for longer periods of time:
The intimate experience becomes more fulfilling and complete
Prolonged orgasms without a loss of energy cancel the effects of negative emotions
Stress and anxiety are diminished and eventually replaced by a state of inner peace and relaxation
A deepening of love and increased happiness in relationships
Increased erotic appetite amplifies or restores the attraction between lovers.
Works as a powerful aphrodisiac
Increased creativity and intelligence
Improved quality of sleep and a reduced need for sleep
Alleviates and even cures ailments or physiological disorders
The body becomes more harmonious
Increased sensuality and wellbeing
Charisma and magnetism is awakened or amplified
Increased self-confidence and optimism
Increased ability to be empathic
Brings more energy and even a surplus to fulfil life goals and aspirations
Natural contraceptive with no negative side effects
These are just some of the many miraculous effects that can be observed from the practice of amorous erotic continence, along with a general increased awareness of ourselves and new perspectives on the experiences of life.
The Erotic Revolution
Though intimacy based on pure eros and amorous erotic continence is an ancient knowledge and practice, it has been a well-kept secret. Because it requires commitment and practice to achieve mastery in this art of love, it is not for those who look for a quick and easy pleasure.
Introducing this apparently new approach to pleasure, love and intimacy could become a genuine revolution in how we live our lives, not only in romantic relationships, but in the overall quality of the experience of life. Erotic Amorous continence invites a slowing down and a deepening, fully savouring what each moment has to offer.
Amorous erotic continence allows us to tap into our incredible potential and gives a renewed appetite for life. It transforms the way we interact with each other, and greatly increases happiness and fulfilment.
Fear, loneliness, depression, feelings of separation, frustration, and anxiety all lie at the root of many of the problems in the modern world. Sex seems to be only a momentary relief from or even an amplifier of these problems. The erotic experience on the other hand, becomes an antidote to and the beginning of a solution to all of the above.
As we transform our relationship with our creative potential, the immense force we hold within, our entire life transforms for the better. We can contribute to the world with more love, kindness, creativity, new perspectives, happiness, optimism and joy. When we make love in this way, not only will our experiences in the bedroom become sacred and sublime, but our whole life experience will be bathed in beauty and the light of awareness
The practice of amorous erotic continence is central to a Tantric practice, both as an immense energetic support for all our spiritual achievements, a refinement of our entire being and as an expression of a more conscious way of approaching intimacy and sensual experiences.
A Tantric practice integrates all aspects of life in a holistic approach that makes every moment valuable from the perspective of spiritual awakening. We aim to embrace everything in the light of awareness, making sacred that which before was considered profane.
Instead of seeing sensuality and erotic desires as an obstacle to spirituality, with the deep understanding of eros and the practises of erotic amorous continence, they are transfigured as a manifestation of life force, and are carefully directed towards the manifestation of a sacred eroticism.
A Tantric saying goes, “The way a man is in the bedroom is the way he lives his life”. This is also valid for a woman. The way we are in our intimate relationships is reflected in the way we are intimate with life, and with every moment of our existence. When the bedroom is a place of sacred eroticism, life becomes heaven on earth.
“The Principle of Polarity states that all manifested things have ‘two sides’; ‘two aspects’; ‘two poles; and, ‘everything has its opposite’ with manifold degrees between the two extremes.” – The Kybalion, a text of hermetic wisdom
The study of alchemy and the seven Hermetic Principles of the Universe demonstrates the importance of understanding the Principle of Polarity and how it reflects in the Greater Whole. Polarity is a principle that governs everything in creation, and is expressed in many other philosophies and traditions, as well as in science.
Polarity is an expression of universal duality. To better understand polarity, it is necessary to begin from the perspective of the universe as a unit that perpetually generates two poles that mutually co-exist. The idea or plan of the universe unfolding in creation is made possible by the constant, dynamic generation of the pairs of opposites.
In ancient Chinese wisdom the symbol of Yin and Yang, Taijitu, is expressed by a circle divided equally into black and white halves. Each half of the circle contains a spot of the opposite colour. The Yin, the black half, and the Yang, the white half, each represent different qualities.
This symbol shows how opposites are connected and cannot exist without each other. They exist as part of the same whole, and the two opposite characteristics can exist in harmony and complement each other. This last aspect is represented by the soft ‘S’ shape that divides the two halves, rather than a sharp line. The small circles within each half show that nothing is absolute. In all yin, some yang inevitably exists, and vice versa. The outer circle of this symbol represents the entirety of the Universe.
In Hindu mythology, Brahma emerged from the Cosmic Golden Egg and created everything ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and ‘light’ and ‘dark’. In Christian tradition, God also created everything in creation from his single being, and all opposites, good and bad, life and death, flesh and spirit. These pairs are often seen as being separate, but they are actually interwoven as part of a greater whole.
The Tantric Perspective on Polarity
In Tantra it is said that,
“All that exists is a creation of the two complementary principles: masculine and feminine. In Creation, the Supreme becomes Shiva and Shakti, the static and the dynamic aspects of the transcendental Consciousness.”
It is said that the whole universe is sustained by the cosmic lovemaking between Shiva, consciousness or the masculine principle, and Shakti, the energy or feminine principle.
Shiva and Shakti, the cosmic couple, represent archetypal polar opposites: masculine and feminine; yang and yin. Shiva is symbolised by the erect lingam, or phallus, and Shakti by the all-embracing yoni, or vulva. The lingam and yoni are polar opposites, but at the same time they perfectly complement each other, easily uniting in amorous ecstasy.
In the ancient times, Hermes Trismegistus said:
“The Sun is its father, the moon its mother”
Here he refers to the game of polarity played in nature – a duality that is born from non-duality. The complex game of polarity is an expression of the universal duality. The universe is a unit that constantly generates two poles, and gives birth to all pairs of opposites.
Nature reflects this cosmic perspective; the game between the masculine and feminine is constantly played out in all fauna and flora on this planet, including humans, since time immemorial. At the time of the Kama Sutra the natural game between the masculine and feminine was a vivid part of life. Men and women had distinct and complementary roles, which when united, created a magic both between them and individually.
The Scientific Perspective
According to science, polarity is
“a state or a condition of an atom or a molecule inherent in a body that exhibits opposite properties or powers in opposite parts or directions.”
It is discussed in connection with bonds formed between molecules and atoms because of different electronegativities. In chemistry and physics, a negative pole has the most electrons, while the positive polarity has fewer electrons. Polarity can be easily observed in magnetism and electricity, and can be understood by observing the simple attraction and repulsion between magnets. The plus and minus poles of two magnets attract each other, while the same poles, minus-minus, plus-plus, repel each other.
The Perspective of Alchemy
Within every phenomena or system there are three forces, generally referred to as ‘plus’, ‘minus‘ and ‘neutral’. The first two forces represent opposite poles of any phenomena – positive/negative, light/dark etc. These two poles make up the entire range of possible phenomena. The ‘0’ or neutral or ‘0’ aspect exists at a higher level, and is difficult to perceive as it is beyond the physical and that which can be seen. This neutral (0) aspect exists because of the unity of the two polar aspects i.e., when plus and minus unite, they are perfectly balanced. This neutral (0) aspect unites the polar elements and is considered to be the essential nature of spirit.
Although the creation seems to be very diverse, by understanding the principle of polarity and other principles, we see that this complexity comes from a core of laws that are essentially simple, and which then unfold through different resonance processes.
It can thus be said that from any state of unity, the state of duality and polarity comes. And since nothing in the universe is completely static, the two polarities develop a dynamic character, which manifests as endless variations in creation, such as plus / minus, male / female, hot / cold.
Alongside the alchemists, science has confirmed, that these polarities are found everywhere, in all levels of creation, from small particles to cosmic bodies, and these are all harmoniously and profoundly connected. They are also inside us. Our body is made of structures of polar alternations vibrating continuously.
By becoming more conscious, we can begin to recognise the importance of knowing how to harmonise these rhythms or we lose our inner equilibrium, which will also show on the outside in the actions we do. Thus, we understand, sooner or later, that our personal rhythm is in an intimate natural connection to the Universal rhythms which we come from in fact, and the only way for us to find inner fulfilment is to profoundly tune ourselves in to these Universal Rhythms. But first we need to understand these rhythms which are based on the polar alternations.
When the alchemist understands the principle of polarity, they can understand all their inner processes and will become able to raise or lower their vibrational frequency and tune in, at will, to what is beneficial. By consciously applying the principle of polarity, the alchemist canperform physical, mental, and spiritual alchemy both within his own being, and in the outer environment.
How does the understanding of polarity fit in today’s society?
Men and woman are the clearest examples both of polarity, and the importance of understanding this principle in life.
Most people in society today can be considered to be out of balance. There is a huge predominance of what can be defined as yin energies in society – creating inertia, lethargy, over sensitivity, greater susceptibility to disease, poor digestion and a lack of motivation. As the embodiment of masculinity, yang-ness, solarity, men should be more yang, and less yin, but men are also prone to excessive yin-ness. This imbalance is due to many factors such as poor diet – the overuse of refined sugar, processed food, preservatives and chemicals in food, and environmental determinants, such as electromagnetic fields, plastic and other pollution, hybrid crops and ignoring the natural circadian rhythm. Excessive yin-ness can be counterbalanced by amplifying its opposite – solarity and yang-ness. This will bring more centredness, dynamism, verticality, and much more emotional balance, as well as greater physical and mental health overall.
It is also necessary for women to amplify their yang-ness, despite their being the embodiment of yin, to balance the prevailing amount of yin energy within their inner universe. If excessive yin is not polarised by yang, it can lead to the issues described above, including emotional rollercoasters and a lack of direction and harmony.
When yin and yang are completely balanced in either a man or woman, a very special state of consciousness known as the glorious androgynal state awakens, that is connected to the zero point, or neutral state, the plus and minus uniting in perfect balance. The androgynal state very much enlivens and awakens the spiritual power of the being.
The game of polarity is also a secret key to happiness in a couple relationship, keeping attraction and passion alive. As weak magnets will have a weak attraction to each other, strong magnets can attract each other even from a distance, and unite with a much greater force. The attraction in a couple is also due to the strength of the opposite polarity between them. The stronger the masculine and feminine energies in the couple, the stronger the attraction between them. When strong masculine meets strong feminine, sparks fly.Human beings are very complex however. Each of us have a little part of the opposite pole within, just as in the yin-yang symbol there is a small circle of the opposite in each side. Thus, when a woman truly relaxes in her femininity and a man feels at ease in his masculinity, it is much easier to find fulfilment in the relationship.
Ways in which individual polarity can be balanced
The practice of Yoga – Hatha Yoga means the ‘union of sun and moon’, the sun being the masculine, yang, emissive aspect, and moon the feminine, yin, receptive aspect. The union of these two poles reflects the middle way. Many Yoga postures as they are practised in this school work on directly balancing both the Yin and Yang aspects of the different levels of the practitioner.
Vira and Shakti groups – At Tara Yoga Centre, we run groups especially for women, called Shakti groups, and for men, called Vira groups, where spiritual notions and practices that are directly related to the feminine and masculine are explored, for the purposes of personal growth and transformation.
Rest well – Sleeping sufficiently and early increases yang energies.
Exercise – Exercising causes deeper breathing, making the body more yang.
The practice of erotic amorous continence – Practising erotic amorous continence with love and transfiguration, and separating orgasm from ejaculation amplifies yang energies.
Reduced exposure to Electromagnetic fields – Electromagnetic fields amplify yin.
Reduced Stress – Stress has a very yin effect on the body, depleting us of vital nutrients and damaging the system, leading to degeneration.
The Principle of Polarity is an essential principle to understand and apply in order to support our spiritual growth. By observing this principle in all aspects of our life we can reach a state of balance and harmony that is essential for true spiritual awakening, empowerment and the revelation of our Godly Nature.
In this interview, our 4th-year Tantra student Vivienne interviews Tantra teacher Morgan Arundel about the Archetypes of the Soul, and how knowledge of the archetypes can be used to aid spiritual transformation.
While some people may have heard about the masculine and feminine archetypes – Warrior/Heroine, King/Mother, Lover/Fascinating woman, Magician/Initiator – perhaps not so many consciously use understandings of these archetypes to affect their evolution.
Here Vivienne discusses with Morgan why we should consider learning about these archetypes and how by understanding each one, we come to know ourselves more deeply. And if you want to go even deeper, we periodically run an entire weekend workshop dedicated to this topic. Keep an eye on our events listing, and sign up to our newsletter to be notified when it is running again!
“Archetypes of the soul implies that there would be some fundamental patterns that exist at this level, at this soul level of the human being. These patterns end up expressing themselves into our personality. And when we look at those patterns, they help us understand our personality to a much greater extent.”
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.
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.
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.
The notion of a spiritual guide or of spiritual guidance is a difficult one in our modern world. It has become synonymous with manipulation, domination and readily conjures up images of an authoritarian figure who robs unwitting individuals of their free will. Charlatans have unfortunately paved the way for grotesque misconceptions about this important part of spiritual life, ruining many people’s chances to come into contact with authentic spiritual guidance, and desecrating this aspect of reality.
What is a spiritual guide?
A classic analogy often used in Tantric treatises to describe the notion of spiritual guide, is that of the mountain guide.
Let’s imagine we want to go for an expedition in the mountains, with a great deal of enthusiasm from reading books about how amazing and beautiful the mountains are. We prepare for this journey by obtaining all the necessary equipment, the most appropriate clothing, and a very detailed map of the area, as well as a good compass.
When we feel the awakening of an aspiration to conquer new heights, new perspectives and states of consciousness, the deep wish to truly know ourselves, we prepare for this journey as best we can. There is a lot of information to be found and techniques to practice, that promis to get you there.
However, even when we have finished all the preparations and have all the necessary tools, we still haven’t thoroughly fulfilled all the conditions for the trip to become the anticipated success. Even if we have read the description of the track in a magazine or studied the map, and trained for climbing and for mountain trekking, there is still something essential missing if we want to be sure of success – a mountain guide. The mountain guide has made the trip before many times, knows the challenges and how to overcome them, can support, encourage and inspire us in difficult moments. The mountain guide can also show us how to use the equipment we have in the most efficient way, giving us the knowledge of how to use it in ways we had never even considered.
We look to the mountain guide for an example, we aim to tread where he or she does, emulating their attitude, way of moving etc. In the same way, the spiritual guide not only has the role of showing us the path to be followed, but he walks ahead of us on the path to offer a living example for our own transformation. The spiritual guide will thus enable us to copy or mould his or her inner state, and to become able to decipher the esoteric keys that bring an efficiency to our practice, beyond any theory.
Just as the mountain guide doesn’t carry our backpack for us, but gives life to our map, in the same way he or she will give life to our spiritual path, and will be an alive mirror on the path, emboding feedback and direction for us, yet he or she will not take upon him or herself the lessons we are meant to learn.
To better understand the notion of guidance, here is another intuitive example:
Imagine we are convinced that the Earth is flat – as people did once upon a time. We have developed a system of measuring which enables us to even configure the maps of mainlands quite precisely. Certainly, whenever we want to measure something in our home or in the town in which we live the calculation and measuring methods are good enough, and the obtained results are satisfactory, further convincing us of the truth of our belief that the Earth is flat.
If we plan a trip to Australia from somewhere in Europe however, using the model of the flat Earth and the maps based on it, we would find there are great errors in our advancement. Even if the data we collected would enable us to deduce that the Earth is a sphere and not a disc, we would still not be able to connect all the experiences and models into such a puzzling conclusion, as we know for a “fact” that the Earth is flat. Such a genuine revolution in our way of thinking would be excluded by education and the habits we have formed so far.
The spiritual guide, by teaching methods of geometry and calculus, triggers a mysterious process of synthesis in our being, and a transcending of all preconceived ideas we have had up until that point regarding the shape of the Earth – as he or she is able to see the connection between our experiences and the data that previously did not make sense. The result is that we reach that “eureka” moment, even though the spiritual guide has apparently not spoken to us directly about the spherical shape of the planet we live on, but rather allowing us to reach the conclusion by ourselves, by seeing our experiences in a new light. Without this guidance we would remain confused and unable to make sense of our collected data.
From this initiating perspective, the spiritual guide is the catalyst of practical understandings. He or she mysteriously awakens a superior, supramental and perfect vision in our being.
Once we are touched by this ineffable grace we will be able to walk the path efficiently, so that not only will we be able to comprehend what we have been taught, but also we will be able to live in accordance with those spiritual teachings.
The spiritual guide is the catalyst of practical understandings. He or she mysteriously awakens a superior, supramental and perfect vision in our being.
Why do we need a spiritual guide?
Spiritual evolution is more than just receiving theoretical knowledge. As it is said:
‘a gram of practice is worth tonnes of theory’.
Personal direct experience of the results of the practice is essential. The guide offers experiential as well as theoretical knowledge, and serves as an example for the aspirant, a source of inspiration.
The genuine spiritual guide is able to bring the teachings we can all read in books to life. In the famous ancient epic, Mahabharata, it is stated, “Books are but a burden as long as we do not realise the truth beyond the words.” The spiritual guide inspires life into the words so that we can see beyond them.
The occult power radiating from the being of the spiritual guide makes it so that the darkness of ignorance is dissipated and replaced by a state of spiritual awakening. This state of spiritual awakening is deeply rooted in the being of an authentic spiritual guide, and it is his or her main characteristic.
The spiritual guide plants the seed of enlightenment in the being of the aspirant by means of the mysterious process of initiation. The germination of this seed takes place due to the occult power which is transferred during the initiation process. The aspirant will reap the fruits from this seed which begins to germinate, by nurturing it with love and tenacious practice.
Tantra holds the godly grace manifested through the being of the spiritual guide in the form of initiation, or diksha, in high regard. However, one should not understand from this that initiation is only a formality; a ritual practised within a strict and rigid frame. Initiation can occur in the most unexpected moments. The spiritual guide experiences a situation with maximum intensity, while at the same time he or she transfers their way of living into the being of the aspirant. This is contained in a seed which is instantly transferred into the soul of the aspirant like a seal transfers its shape into a piece of hot wax. Through this initiation the occult power from the being of the spiritual guide is transferred into the being of the aspirant. This means, for the moment, that all the blockages, that once stopped the aspirant from spontaneously achieving that new state of consciousness, are cancelled or eliminated.
If we only receive theoretical knowledge we will filter it through the limited perspective we already have, that characterises our current life experience. The process of initiation allows us to make huge spiritual leaps that can occur when our inner agitation and blockages are eliminated, at least momentarily, allowing us an experience beyond our current level of consciousness – that is then re-invoked and nourished by the aspirant in his or her daily practice and daily life.
How do we find a spiritual guide?
It can take perseverance and deep spiritual aspiration to really find genuine guidance. But as the saying goes, “When the disciple is ready, the master appears”.
There are two main conditions to be ready to receive the guidance of a spiritual guide.
to have the strong need for guidance – genuinely wishing for profound transformation
to make the proper efforts to fulfil the above needs – following the advice given, practising, acting on aspiration
Finding spiritual guidance cannot be a passive attitude. It appears as an answer to your aspiration to know yourself and to know God. To meet the best mountain guide you need to be serious about climbing the mountain – not just wanting to look at pictures of the view.
When there is a genuine need, it will be met in accordance with the universal principles. So, when you aspire and act on that aspiration you will attract the right guidance.
The relationship with a spiritual guide very much depends on our transfiguration and love.
If you look upon your spiritual guide as a perfectly accomplished spiritual being, you will receive the grace of a being who is perfectly spiritually accomplished. If you look upon your guide as a spiritually enlightened being then you will receive the blessing of a spiritually enlightened being. If you look upon your spiritual guide as a special being endowed with paranormal powers then you will receive the grace of a being endowed with paranormal powers. If you look upon your spiritual guide as an ordinary being then you will not receive anything from the spiritual guide. ~ Tibetan saying
There is an element of trust that is needed to benefit from spiritual guidance – it is not a rational relationship between student and teacher, but more like the relationship between child and parent. The deep love that exists between the spiritual guide and the aspirant allows the trust and openness needed to follow guidance, even when it does not make complete sense in the current mental frame of the aspirant, and to receive the grace that allows spiritual leaps to appear.
‘It so happened that I trusted my Guru. He told me I am nothing but my self and I believedhim.’
said Nisargadatta Maharaj. So complete was his faith in the words of his spiritual guide that he began to act accordingly, and thus he had the profound revelation of his Immortal Self.
It was the intensity of the faith Nisargadatta Maharaj had in the words of his guru that gave him the right attitude and allowed grace to flow into his being. Faith in the guru is based on the inner consciousness, a faith in one’s Self that allows one to open fully to genuine guidance.
A genuine spiritual guide is not trying to make you into something in accordance with his or her will, but rather to help you discover who you really are, and to approach your path authentically.
You do not lose your freedom by having a spiritual guide. Instead, he or she helps you to become free. Truly free.
The notion of spiritual guidance is an essential aspect for any aspirant who walks the spiritual path full of aspiration, to discover and contemplate, aiming to intuitively open to its importance. As we open to this grace our life begins to unfold as an integrated path of transformation, filled with continuous revelation.