Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the greatest certainty is only the most certain possibility

In Sanskrit the word "sammelana" means meeting, mingling, collection ---a coming together.  It might nowadays even be translated "blogspot" but for the ways in which privacy, sometimes secrecy, has played a part in traditional learning and communication.  So it's not without some trepidation that I embark on this effort to collect and comment before any willing eyes.  Even the most reticent of the gifted Tantric yogins called Rajanaka have over the centuries accepted the invitation to offer experiences in words, their most cherished expression of the matrka-sakti, the divine powers of speech.  And were it not for their shameless passion for language and the admonitions of their audience, what would we know of the great teachings and practices of Tantric yoga and the visionary power of Indian spirituality, art, and science?

I can make no comparison between these ruminations forthcoming and the work of such heroic spiritual ancestors but I've thought for a long while now that it would be worthwhile to offer something more about what I learned and experienced over the past thirty-odd years of study and practice, and also to answer a few queries from friends and make the off-hand comment that wanders, as I am want to do, across boundaries, topics, and curiosities.

The Rajanaka were polymaths and seekers of truth, as suspicious of certainty as they were eager to make ignorance an opportunity to learn, evolve, and cultivate something better.  They spoke very little about themselves and like all great souls they were likely greater in legend than they were in person.  My own teacher, I am convinced, invited me to live as a member of his family in his home in south India and with all that intimacy might afford not only to grant me my deepest wish ---to keep the company of greatness--- but to reveal to me his humanity, his foibles and moods, to show me what it is like to live fully in the gift of embodiment.  What we have today of the ancient Rajanaka presence is now in their words and in the living possibilities of our sammelana, our connection and conversation.

When I last met with my teacher Rajanaka Sundaramoorthy shortly before his death in 1994 I asked him what he sought, what he had wanted for himself, and what he wanted from our relationship that had evolved over our sixteen years together.

"I wanted only someone to talk to.  The gift of embodiment lies in the conversation.  In the sammelana we are born to unfold the beauty of creating yet more sammelana.  Born into freedom to experience our freedom: freedom is no more an attainment of yoga than liberation is from this body.  So what more there is to life lies in our deepest intimacy, our willingness to share our hearts, our thoughts, our presence with honesty and candor, with authenticity and light, with a desire to listen and to offer our experiences.  We are born to savor, for the ashvada, for deepening our experience of what we share as human beings.  The immortal has chosen this mortal form not so that we might transcend it but rather revel in its possibilities.  What we achieve in our collective, in our conversation, in our intimacies is incomparably greater than anything we do by ourselves in isolation.  We exult in the achievements of the individual but how much greater are these offerings when we engage them with open minds and generous hearts?  That is the hope and the power of sammelana."

Writing without a shard of vanity or pretension is like ambition disavowing its own worth ---there would be no merit from the outset if we didn't think there was something more we thought important or interesting to say.  Humility doesn't mean inhibition, how much less false self-deprecations?  What's worse than someone saying they can't when you know they can?  How does that ever make things better?  If we aren't willing to step into the fray, to become virya, just a bit heroic then the worst we must admit about our failings is that we didn't even try.  The good news is, I think, that we needn't, indeed we mustn't go it alone.  There's more in a conversation than we've ever imagined.

In the Tantric traditions we are often told that the written word mandates conversation.  The Kaulavalinirnaya Tantra [1/20ff] offers a typical and bluntly unconciliatory reproach to our learning without appreciation for rapport: "A fool, as usual motivated by self-indulgence, acting after merely looking the matter up in a book and without engaging an experienced teacher, will not only fail but take others with him."  Make no mistake: there's no disdain for book-learning here but rather an insistence upon our humanity, our engagement with the living, the present, the creativity of meaning through the power of dialectic.  We're not being asked to submit to another but to know the value of deference and the necessity of bringing experiences into the mid-line, the madhya, that place in between that can only happen when we participate with each other's narrative and contribute to an enduring conversation.  And as my teacher so often put it, "This could take some time."

If we want to discuss the spirituality of the contemplative Tantra, rooted in the histories of Kashmir Shaivism, south Indian Srividya, and especially the lineage my teacher called Rajanaka ---and that will be our staple as we evolve the discussion of these teachings--- we will need each other.  For my part I will do my best to remember as the Kularnava Tantra (17/4) puts it, "the Tantra is enclosed in the heart of the yoginis."  This means we will rely as much upon the cintamani, the "jewel" that is the oral tradition brought forth in dialogue, as we do upon the original sources, their interpretations, and our own experiences.  There really is no other way for us to evolve; for what we might accomplish, embedding ourselves in the greater embrace of the conversation, holds no comparison to our singular involutions.

Beside the image of Shiva Nataraja in the sanctum of the temple at Cidambaram in south India is another image, the sammelana, also knows as the cidambaram-rahasya, the "secret clothed in Consciousness," or even "the mystery held in the sky of Consciousness."  It is considered even more sacred than the Dancing Lord Himself, concealed by a curtain and obscured by a rain of golden bilva leaves, it is said to be everything and nothing at all, the answer we seek and the all of possibilities that never ceases to question, the source that chooses certainty and uncertainty woven by the loom of its own paradox manifesting reality.  It is a darkness and a light, a mirror of the Self present in all beings and a prism that fractures awareness into more, an opening to forever and the past, a place to stand before the infinite so that we might gather the courage to imagine our mortal purpose.  It was there, before the Collective that is Consciousness, the sammelana-cakra, that my teacher first invited me to pose the question that has since motivated my every pursuit: "Ask for your heart's desire.  But let the sammelana decide."