The Path of the Heart and Descending Spirit
Mark Canter (Adyashakti)
© 2013 Equanimity Books
A guiding principle of Tantrism is that the human body itself is the ultimate tool for spiritual research and realization.
According to Tantric teachings, each human body is a microcosmic model or holographic sub-pattern of the total universe, (see footnotes) and therefore, the body incarnates and contains vast cosmic power. Classical yoga texts name this power Kundalini and describe it as lying dormant like a coiled serpent at the spinal base until awakened by such means as meditation practices or initiation by a spiritual adept. Once activated, the Kundalini is said to ascend through the bodys central energy channel (sushumna), awakening and empowering multiple energy centers (chakras) along the route, to finally merge in a radiant field of pure awareness above the crown. (see footnotes) Since the 1960s and 70s, a number of popular books and teachers have widely disseminated this traditional model of Kundalini yoga to the West. (see footnotes)
Much less familiar to Westerners are teachings about what might be called the descending force, as well as descriptions of a full circuit of spiritual energy, both ascending and descending. Indeed, many yoga texts do not mention, let alone emphasize, the descending aspect of Kundalini. In the classical view, the ultimate abode of spirit (and final goal of the Tantrika) is merging in the Sahasradala Padma (Thousand-Petalled Lotus) shining eternally above the body and world. Thus, the seekers journey, as traditionally portrayed, appears to be a one-way trip: that of activating the sleeping spiritual-power by heroic self-effort or by a gurus grace, and then rising with the Kundalini energy into the bliss of the undifferentiated light of Brahman, and (to a greater or lesser degree) abandoning the body, vital mind and all worldly preoccupations.
In contrast to this traditional paradigm and path, a number of teachers, both classical and modern, have stressed the significance of the descending kundalini, and have depicted the ultimate seat of spirit not as the Thousand-Petalled Lotus of Light above and beyond the body, but as Hridayam (the Heart), which is felt or located in the right side of the chest. Some yogic adepts have further revealed a primary system of kundalini circuitry in the subtle body, underlying and supporting the central sushumna. This ultimate kundalini pathway has been called (among other names) Amrita Nadithe Current of Immortal Nectar.
I have selected four representative teachers of what I shall call (for the purposes of this exposition) The Path of the Heart and Descending Spirit: Abhinavagupta, a Shaivite of Kashmir (10th Century C.E.); Sri Aurobindo, a sage of Pondicherry, India (1872-1950); Ramana Maharshi, a sage of Tiruvannamalai, India (1879-1950); and Adi Da Samraj, a contemporary American siddha yogi (1939-2008). This essay briefly introduces and compares their related teachings on three key subjects: 1) the Heart, 2) the descending spiritual power, 3) the Amrita Nadi.
Abhinavagupta was born between 950 and 975 C.E. to a Brahmin family of Shaivites who lived in what is today the city of Srinagar. His mother died when he was a boy, an event that influenced him profoundly. He left home as a young man to seek moksha (liberation), traveling in and beyond Kashmir, and apprenticing with more than twenty spiritual teachers from a range of traditions including Jain and Buddhist. His principle teacher was Shambhunata, who initiated him into the Tantric practices of the Kaula (Left-Hand) tradition, which includes ritual sexual practices as part of its spiritual discipline. (see footnotes) Indeed, some sources say that Abhinavagupta himself was conceived during such a rite of maithuna (sexual union, in which the man and woman identify themselves with the divine couple, Shiva-Shakti). A brilliant intellectual, Abhinavagupta wrote prolifically on subjects encompassing mysticism, philosophy and aesthetics, and he taught with the authority of one whom his devotees considered Shiva incarnate. (see footnotes)
In Abhinavaguptas terminology, the Heart (Hridaya) is the central symbol of enlightenment and True Identity, the very self of Shiva-Shakti (pure consciousness and unlimited bliss) and the abode of their timeless embrace. (see footnotes) Abhinavagupta says that the Heart drives the entire process of manifestation, and he identifies its power with the Goddess, who is at once expansive or centrifugal, and also absorptive or centripetal. His summary view is that the Heart is the totality of consciousness, the power and support of all manifest reality, at once utterly free and transcendent, while perfectly immanent in and as all forms. In the Tantric adepts own words:
Abhinavagupta also identifies the heart with the Buddhist concept of madhya, (see footnotes) the middle or omnipresent center. The Heart stands as the all-encompassing wholeness, beyond any distinctions, freely existing in the midst of any two poles of experience. The Heart as madhya underlies and mediates between any two distinctions explains Paul Muller-Ortega, a scholar of Abhinavagupta and Non-Dual Shaivism. It can be discovered anywhere, not as an additional content of awareness, but as the uncovering of the very nature of consciousness itself [The Heart] is always the third element that transcends, undercuts, and in the end, unifies all possible oppositions. (see footnotes)
Because the Heart is pure Center, Abhinavagupta never refers to it as being above the body or world; rather he knows the Heart as a dimensionless threshold or point of junction (another possible translation of the term madhya). Madhya is that point from which the finite realities emerge from the Ultimate and also continuously dissolve back into the Ultimate This condition of liminality is the precise nature of the Heart. (see footnotes)
Thus, the Heart is the place of emission and absorption, or resolution and dissolution. In the cosmo-erotic symbolism of Tantra, Abhinavagupta uses the images of a vulva, a cave, and a lotus flower to represent the Heart. (see footnotes) He asserts that in the Heart center, the pillar of light that is the linga (phallus) of Shiva unites with the guha (cave) of the void. (see footnotes)
Indeed, the triadic Heart of Shiva is symbolized by a downward-pointing triangle that is also a symbol of the yoni (female genitalia) of the Goddess. (see footnotes) The three sides of the triangle represent Shiva (the Self, or supreme essence of being), Shakti (the Goddess, or power of being), and Purusha (person, or egothe personhood of being). (see footnotes) The triangles sides also symbolize the three female potencies of Shiva: the iccha-shakti, or willing (desiring) function; the jnana-shakti, or cognitive function; and the kriya-shakti, or active-creative function. By means of this triple function, Shiva is free to create, enjoy and destroy the myriad universes that appear in the great ocean of consciousness. (see footnotes)
Because of the supremacy of Heart-awakening in Abhinavaguptas Tantra, he reevaluates the place of ritual, stating that the direct absorption in the Heart fulfills the purpose of (and thus obviates the need for) any ritual. Indeed, the entrance into the Heart constitutes initiation, even if the actual ritual of initiation has not been performed. Moreover, the Heart-awake adept understands the essence of all rituals even without knowing their specific rules. Abhinavagupta explains, with respect to the Ultimate, which is only consciousness, all other things are extraneous. (see footnotes)
A related point, which Abhinavagupta often emphasized, is the self-obvious (self-revealed) nature of the Heart. The Ultimate is always present everywhere, and is devoid of spatial or temporal dimensions, of prior and subsequent; it is undeniable and unconcealed. What then can be said of it? (see footnotes)
Nonetheless, Abhinavagupta had plenty to say about the ineffable Heart and the method of awakening to its implicitness. For this enlightened Kashmiri Shaivite, the function and meaning of ritual is in the process of appropriating the deity into ones own identity at the Heart. Ritual serves as a sacred context within which the seeker can gradually develop to the final stage of realization, called the extroverted samadhi (unmilana samadhi). Every teacher examined in this essay is a proponent of such extroverted or all-inclusive samadhi, in contrast with world-excluding states of inner absorption (nirvakalpa samadhi.) (see footnotes)
A thousand years after the death of Abhinavagupta, a kindred spirit, Aurobindo Ghose, was born in Calcutta in 1872. Aurobindo was the son of a physician who belonged to the Brahmo Samaj, a social and religious reform movement. His father sent seven-year-old Aurobindo to St. Pauls School in England and the young man eventually earned a scholarship to Kings College, Cambridge, where he pursued a comprehensive intellectual and humanistic education. On his return to India, Aurobindo became a professor of English language and director of National College, and a freedom writer and political activist. His anti-colonial views earned him the wrathful attention of the British government in India, which convicted him of subversion and imprisoned him for one year. At age thirty-eight, while incarcerated in solitary confinement, Aurobindo underwent a transformative spiritual awakening. Upon release, he abandoned political activism and devoted himself wholly to the study of yoga. In subsequent decades, Sri Aurobindo wrote prolifically in the English language and became one of the best-known spiritual philosophers in India and the West. He founded an ashram in Pondicherry, India, and soon after his death in 1950, a community named Auroville (City of Dawn) with several thousand international residents arose nearby.
Even a thumbnail biography of Sri Aurobindo would be incomplete without introducing his collaborator in his elder years, a Frenchwoman named Mira Alfassa Richard (1878-1973), whom devotees called The Mother. In Sri Aurobindos philosophy, The Mother refers to the eternal unfolding energy of universal consciousness, and Sri Aurobindo and his followers called Mira Richard The Mother because they considered her a human representative of the supreme power. (see footnotes)
Such an orientation is decidedly Tantric, and indeed, Sri Aurobindo once stated that the Tantric system is in its aspiration one of the greatest attempts yet made to embrace the whole of God manifested and unmanifested in the adoration, self-discipline, and knowledge of a single human soul. (see footnotes) However, he criticized classical yoga systems as one-sided paths leading only upward to the divine (which he called Supermind), arguing that the more important activity is opening to the descending divine power and thus bringing down and integrating the Supermind into the physical human body and society.
Aurobindos contribution to the field of yoga is a syncretic system called Integral Yoga. Tantric principles enter into its formulation, for example, that the human body is a microcosmic version of the macrocosm; that there exist psychophysical centers along the spine called chakras, and that the dynamo that drives all creation and evolution is the polarity of Shiva and Shakti (or, in his terms, Godhead in Being and Godhead in Power). The distinguishing feature of Integral Yoga, however, is its emphasis on the descending spiritual force as the key to transformation. Aurobindo considered the process of the ascent and descent of consciousness to be reciprocal, a bipolar process that represented both the evolution and involution of consciousness. He believed that he was the first yogi to recognize and work with the awakening of the kundalini in this new way. (see footnotes) In his own words, Integral Yoga is unique, because:
1) It aims not at a departure out of the world and life into Heaven or Nirvana, but at a change of life and existencenot as something subordinate or incidental, but as a distinct and central object. If there is a descent in other yogas, yet it is only an incident on the way or resulting from the ascentthe ascent is the real thing. Here the ascent is the first step, but it is a means for the descent. It is the descent of the new consciousness attained by the ascent that is the stamp and seal of the sadhana. Even the tantra and Vaishnavism end in the release from life; here the object is the divine fulfillment of life.
2) The object sought after is not an individual achievement of divine realization for the sake of the individual, but something to be gained for the earth-consciousness here; a cosmic, not solely a supracosmic achievement. The thing to be gained also is the bringing about of a Power of Consciousness (the Supramental) not yet organized or active directly in earth-nature, even in the spiritual life, but yet to be organized and made directly active. (see footnotes)
Sri Aurobindo taught that it is not necessary to practice the enormously complicated rites prescribed in the Tantric textsa view that echoes the attitude of his ancient compatriot, Abhinavagupta. Similarly, seekers were to use aids to meditation, such as mantra, yantra, asanas and rituals, only if needed and only as long as helpful. He did not regard such tools as indispensable supports; much less did he exalt them as identical to the ultimate. (see footnotes) In actual practice, Sri Aurobindo preached that the most important principle is total surrender to the Mother Force. In our yoga, he wrote, there is no willed opening of the chakras; they open of themselves by the descent of the Force. In the Tantric discipline they open from down upward, the muladhar first; in our yoga, they open from up downward. But the ascent of the force from the muladhar does take place. (see footnotes)
Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the yogic experience of merging into the Godhead in the Sahasrara does not bring about the total transformation he means by Integral Yoga. The light at the summit of the mind creates an opening and heightening of awareness, but is not sufficient to cause radical change at the level of bodily life and society. What is required is the descent of spiritual power to pervade and transform the levels that exist below. Indeed, such radical transformation refers to the whole human being undergoing the next step in evolution. (see footnotes)
A final contrast between Integral Yoga and some schools of classical Kundalini Yoga is that Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between Kundalini Shakti and the ultimate spiritual power. He regards Kundalini Shakti as an individual power, embedded in the material plane and body-mind awareness, whereas the ultimate Shakti invoked in Integral Yoga is the force that not only extends itself universally, but also transcends the cosmos: Para Shakti. (see footnotes) He refers to this Supreme Power as The Mothers Force and links it with Supermind. In his words:
There is a force which accompanies the growth of the new consciousness and at once grows with it and helps it to come about and to perfect itself. This force is the Yoga-Shakti. It is here coiled up and asleep in all the centers of our being and is at the base what is called in the Tantras the Kundalini Shakti. But it is also above us, above our head as the Divine Forcenot there coiled up, involved, asleep, but awake, scient, potent, extended and wide; it is there waiting for manifestation and to this Force we have to open ourselvesto the power of the Mother it can descend and become there a definite power for things; it can pour downwards into the body, working, establishing its reign, extending into wideness from above, link the lowest in us with the highest above us, release the individual into a cosmic universality or into absoluteness and transcendence. (see footnotes)
Contemporary with Sri Aurobindo, another Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, gained many European and American students, but in his case without wandering more than 50 miles from his ashram in Tiruvannamalai, South India. Sri Ramana taught through the medium of Advaita Vedanta, the Indian philosophy that points to an Absolute Self, which stands in relation to the world as a dreamer to a dream. (see footnotes)
Ramana Maharshi was the son of a country lawyer in Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu. At the age of seventeen, he underwent a spontaneous experience of passing through ego-death and becoming aware of his transcendental Self-nature. According to his testimony, From this time on, I remained fully absorbed in the Self. (see footnotes) He left home six weeks later, traveling to the sacred mountain, Arunachala (regarded by Hindus as an incarnation of Shiva), where he remained in silent seclusion for several years. When he finally began to teach, he soon attracted devotees from all over the world.
Sri Ramanas method of instruction was to engage students in conversation, speaking directly from his experience of non-duality, and to relentlessly direct the seeker to her true self. He recommended no spiritual techniques, other than simple self-inquiry in the form of, Who am I? When asked if he had followed a guru, Sri Ramana claimed that the mountain, Arunachala, was his guru, and its spiritual influence had awakened him.
The present essay is concerned with Ramana Maharshis teachings about the relationship of the True Self to the physical body. In the manner of Abhinavagupta, who preceded him by centuries, Sri Ramana most often used the term Hridayam (Heart) to indicate the Original Self. Moreover, Sri Ramana dismissed the classical yoga teaching that the locus and abode of ultimate reality is above the crown. Instead, he taught that the domain above the head is only the seat of Shakti. The True Self, on the other hand, is located (in its association with the physical body) on the right side of the chest. He makes this clear in the following exchanges:
(Devotee) But is there really a center, a place for this I?
(Maharshi) There is. It is the center of the self to which the mind in sleep retires from its activity in the brain. It is the Heart, which is different from the blood vessel, so called, and is not the Anahata Chakra in the middle of the chest. (see footnotes)
(Devotee) When you say that the Heart is the supreme center of the Purusha, the Atman, you imply that it is not one of the six yogic centers.
(Maharshi) The yogic chakras, counting from the bottom to the top, are various centers in the nervous system. They represent various steps manifesting different kinds of power or knowledge leading to the Sahasrara, the thousand-petalled lotus, where is seated the supreme Shakti. But the Self that supports the whole movement of Shakti is not placed there, but supports it from the Heart center.
(Devotee) Then it is different from the Shakti manifestation?
(Maharshi) Really, there is no Shakti manifestation apart from the Self. The Self has become all this Shakti When the yogin rises to the highest center of trance, Samadhi, it is the Self in the Heart that supports him in that state, whether he is aware of it or not. But if he is aware of the Heart, he knows that whatever states or whatever context he is in, it is always the same truth, the same Heart, the one Self, the Spirit that is present throughout, eternal and immutable. The Tantra Shastra calls the Heart Suryamandala or solar orb, and the Sahasrara, Chandramandala, or lunar orb. These symbols present the relative importance of the two: the Atmasthana (Place of the Self) and the Shakti Sthana (Place of the Shakti) (see footnotes)
(Devotee) Can I be sure that the ancients meant this center by the term Heart??
(Maharshi) Yes, that is so. But you should try to have, rather than try to locate the experience. A man need not go to find out where his eyes are situated when he wants to see. The Heart is there ever open to you if you care to enter it, ever supporting all your movements when you are unaware. It is perhaps more proper to say that the Self is the Heart itself than to say that it is in the Heart. Really, the Self is the Center itself. It is everywhere, aware of itself as Heart, the Self-awareness. Hence I said, Heart is Thy name. (see footnotes)
(Maharshi) You cannot know it with your mind. You cannot realize it by imagination, when I tell you that here is the center (pointing to the right side of his chest). The only direct way to realize it is to cease to fancy and try to be yourself. Then you realize, automatically feel that the center is there. (see footnotes)
To sharpen a finer point upon the Hearts location in relation to the physical body, we have the account of H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji), a disciple of Ramana Maharshi and a spiritual master in his own right until his death in 2005. In the book, Papaji: Interviews, Poonja recalls the time he asked Ramana about the Maharshis references to the right side of the chest as the seat of reality.
On one occasion I heard the Maharshi tell a visitor that the spiritual Heart-centre was located on the right side of the chest, and that the I-thought arose from that place and subsided there. This did not tally with my own experience of the Heart. On my first visit to the Maharshi, when my Heart opened and flowered, I knew that it was neither inside nor outside the body. And when the experience of the Self became permanent during my second visit, I knew that it was not possible to say that the Heart could be limited to or located in the body.
So I joined in the conversation and asked, Why do you place the spiritual Heart on the right side of the chest and limit it to that location? There can be no left or right for the Heart because it does not abide inside or outside the body. Why not say it is everywhere? How can you limit the truth to a location inside the body? Would it not be more correct to say that the body is situated in the Heart, rather than the Heart in the body? I was quite vigorous and fearless in my questioning because that was the method I had been taught in the army.
The Maharshi gave me an answer which fully satisfied me. Turning to me, he explained that he only spoke in this way to people who still identified themselves with their bodies. When I speak of the I rising from a location on the right side of the body, from a location on the right side of the chest, the information is for those people who still think that they are the body. To these people I say the Heart is located there. But it is not really quite correct to say that the I rises from and merges in the Heart on the right side of the chest. The Heart is another name for the Reality and it is neither inside nor outside the body; there can be no in or out for it, since it alone is. I do not mean by Heart any physiological organ or any plexus or anything like that, but as long as one identifies oneself with the body and thinks that one is the body, one is advised to see where in the body the I-thought rises and merges again. It must be the Heart at the right side of the chest since every man, of whatever race and religion, and in whatever language he may be saying I, points to the right side of the chest to indicate himself. This is so all over the world, so that must be the place. And by keenly watching the daily emergence of the I-thought on waking, and its subsiding in sleep, one can see that it is in this Heart on the right side.
Clearly, the Heart is absolute and is non-locatable (or all-pervading). It is prior to and beyond space-time and it is not a locatable point or thing within space-time. However, in reference to the body, the Heart can be felt in the chest on the right side. The deeply enjoyed intuition of the Real, the Self, is felt in the Heart, on the right side of the chest. That is precisely why Ramana and others call Reality The Heart. This bodily location of the Self, the Real, is the resting place or home in relation to the physical body, from where the I-thought arises upon waking and to where the I-thought subsides upon falling asleep.
From the Heart, a current of energy rises to the deep center of the head (the Eye). This is the relationship of Shiva (the HeartFather-God, the Void) and Shakti (the PowerMother-Goddess, the Brightness). The Heart is the God-Throne and Shakti is the Goddess-Light that radiates as the Eye and shines all over the crown and infinitely above. The Heart, the Light Above, and the Life Below are One Wholeness, the Person of Reality.
In addition to teaching that the Heart (intuited or sensed on the right side of the chest) is the seat of the Self, Ramana Maharshi further described a current of energy that rises from the Heart to the crown of the head, comprising a most fundamental energy circuitry in the body, more primal than the central pathway of the spinal cord (sushumna).
He said that this subtle passageway is closed in most human beings, but in one in whom the ego-knot, the Hridaya granthi (Heart-knot), is cut asunder, a force-current called Amrita Nadi (Current of Ambrosia) rises and goes up to the Sahasrara, the crown of the head When this passage is open, you have no moha, no ignorance. You know the Truth even when you talk, think or do anything dealing with men and things. (see footnotes)
Like his contemporary, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi also distinguished between Kundalini Shakti and the ultimate spiritual power. He taught that the Heart exerted a force beyond Kundalinithe force of the Self. According to a number of published accounts of devotees, Sri Ramana emanated a silent force that profoundly quieted the minds of those who were receptive to it and occasionally even gave them a direct glimpse of their mentors own state of realization. In later years, his students persuaded him to speak more often, but he always insisted that this silent flow of power was his teaching in its most concentrated and direct form. He frequently reiterated that his verbal teachings were only given to those who were unable to understand his silence. (see footnotes)
Adi Da Samraj (d. 2008), an American guru, is another teacher who emphasized a distinction between the Kundalini Shakti and the supreme force of the Self; and like Sri Ramana, Da stated that this blessing power continuously flowed from him. He called this force, The Bright or Hridaya-Shakti, to distinguish it from the grosser energy of the Kundalini.
Adi Da Samraj was born Franklin Albert Jones in Jamaica, New York in 1939. He claimed to be the reincarnation of both Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, the famous 19th-Century Tantric master of Dakshineshwar and his chief disciple. (see footnotes) He grew up attending the Lutheran Church and later received an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Columbia University and a masters degree in creative writing from Stanford University. After several years as a devotee of the Siddha Yoga adept, Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri, Franklin Jones went on to become a guru himself, with the publication of his autobiography, The Knee of Listening, in 1972. Jones was most often addressed as Adi Da Samraj, or simply, Da. (see footnotes) In the early years of his teaching work, Da captured the unequivocal endorsements of several popular spiritual mentors in America, including Alan Watts, who regarded Da as the first Western avatar, and Ken Wilber, who called him a Spiritual Master and religious genius of the ultimate degree, and insisted that No one interested in spirituality can afford not to be at least a student of [Das] written teachings.
In the mid-1980s, following a number of scandals reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and on the NBC Today Show, (see footnotes) including a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of his students, Da moved with a few hundred followers to an island hermitage in Fiji, from where he continued to produce a stream of books. By this stage, Ken Wilber had famously withdrawn his endorsement of Da. (see footnotes) Alas, the present author shares with Wilber the assessment that Da had become dangerously ego-inflated (perhaps psychotic), and in its fledgling decade the community of his devotees had degraded into an idolatrous personality cult. (see footnotes) Even so, for the purpose of the study of the esotericism of the descending power, Da remains (with caution flags flying) the most important contemporary exponent.
Da taught that there are two distinct traditions within the yoga of Kundalini Shakti. The best-known tradition is associated with the arousal and ascent of the energy that lies dormant in the human body itself. This tradition is associated with the ancient animistic and shamanistic cultures of mankind, he wrote, and it developed, over time, via such traditions as Taoism, Hatha Yoga, and the lesser modes of Tantricism. (see footnotes)
The other, less-known, tradition of Kundalini Shakti is the tradition of Kundalini Shaktipat, which he defined as the descent and circulation of Divine Power. This descent is not the product of human psycho-physical efforts to achieve the Divine Condition but it has appeared spontaneously (descended from above)Given by the Divine (directly) and Transmitted via various lineages of Yogic Siddha Masters. (see footnotes)
The major contrast between these two traditions of Kundalini Yoga, he explained, is that the descending Shakti involves a process of circulation in the bodydown the frontal line, reversing at the perineum and returning up the spinal line. (see footnotes) Da called this circulating energy Hridaya Shakti, because its ultimate seat is in the Heart, in the right side of the chest, at a point anatomically related to the sino-atrial node (the so-called pacemaker) in the upper right atrial wall of the heart organ. Nevertheless, the Heart is not to be identified with the cardiac pump itself, for the Heart is actually a dimensionless bindu (point) not contained in the physical or even the subtle body.
Da further instructed that only Divine Grace can awaken the Hridaya Shakti. He specifically refuted that Tantric sexual practice or any other yogic exercises can awaken this ultimate power. While acknowledging sexual Tantra as a valid and powerful means of serving and preserving the life-energy, he explained that it is an exaggeration to claim that the process associated with the true (Spiritual) Kundalini Shakti may be either initiated or fulfilled by any (however yogic) sexual practice (itself), or by any other merely (and however otherwise right, healthful, useful, or even Yogic) physical discipline or exercise (such as pure, or satvic, diet, or any kind of breath-control or any kind of bodily motion, stretching or asana, or even any kind external or internal manipulation of body, emotion, or mind.). (see footnotes)
According to Da, Tantric sexual practices and other physical disciplines simply involve, at best, what is called pranotthana, or the ascent of energies associated with the gross physical body. By contrast, the Hridaya Shakti is not merely personal sex-energy or bodily energy, but the all-pervading primordial force that is the Single manifested Substance of all conditionally manifested energies, processes, and forms. (see footnotes) This original power appears as all functional energies, including sex-energy, but it cannot be reduced to sex-energy in itself, or to any other limited form of power. Indeed, the True Shakti is not only the unconditional All-Power, but is identical to reality.
Because Hridaya Shakti is not merely private and internal, only conscious participation in the all-pervading field of cosmic Energy can arouse it. The method of awakening this ultimate Shakti is through self-surrender in love of the guru (ishta-guru-bhakti yoga). Da stressed repeatedly that devotional surrender to him is sufficient for divine awakening. (see footnotes)
Da described in detail a primary energy circuit that he names the Form of Reality and defines as the ultimate organ, or root structure, of the body-mind. He stated that this is the same energy pathway that Sri Ramana Maharshi called Amrita Nadi. (see footnotes) It is Self-generated in the right side of the Heart and rises along the front of the upper chest, arcing backward and passing through the throat, then sweeping up again, tracing the back of the skull until it reaches the crown of the head (the route of the current forms an S-shaped double-curve, front to back). Then the Amrita Nadi passes beyond the crown into a matrix of pure light and sound infinitely above the body and the cosmos. From this radiance of Shakti above, a secondary (dependent on the Amrita Nadi) circuit of energy flowsand this dependent circuit of energy is the classical pathway of Kundalini. Furthermore, the complete pathway of Kundalini involves not only rising from the spinal base to the crown (as described in classical Taoist and yogic texts), but also flowing downward from the crown along the bodys frontal line to the perineum, where the energy current turns and ascends along the spinal line back to the crown, in a never-ending fullness of resolution (linked with inhalation and downward flow) and dissolution (linked with exhalation and upward flow). Da called this continuous cycle the Circle of Life or Circuit of Conductivity. (see footnotes)
Da insisted that only this completed system of Amrita Nadi is the Form of Reality, the highest form of conscious being:
Only the regenerated Form of the Amrita Nadi is the Source, the Container, and the First (or Original) Form of all Energy, all centers, and all life-currents the Source of all experiences, all conditional states, and all levels (or functional sheaths) of conditionally manifested being. Its Nature is unqualified Enjoyment, or Love-Bliss. It is Self-Existing and Self-Radiant Being, or unqualified Presence. It is even every ones Real Condition at this moment, and, by grace, It is experienced as such when true understanding arises and becomes the radical (and, ultimately, the most perfect) basis of ones conscious life. (see footnotes)
Da taught that when self-realization of the Heart becomes most profound, beyond all ordinary and extraordinary experiences, the natural regeneration of the Amrita Nadi occurs. (see footnotes) Da called this complete awakening of spiritual energy in the body-mind, transfiguration or the enlightenment of the whole body. This ultimate level of conscious awareness does not require for its existence or maintenance any gesture of exclusion or rejection of ordinary life experience. Rather, the Heart is utterly compatible with cosmic and bodily lifewhich are its own forms and processes. (see footnotes) On this point, it is worth quoting Das own words at length:
When Consciousness arises from the heart as Spiritual Force (or Love-Bliss) and draws into the sahasrar, while retaining its Foothold in the heart, It brings the ultimate Realization of Reality to life. Then the Source of conscious life in the heart moves into life, and, thus and thereby, reverses the current that moves from life in the effort of return to the heart.
When this occurs, life becomes Conscious as no-dilemma. No-dilemma becomes the Conscious presumption that lives as life and enjoys all experience. And such Conscious living is never separated from the Disposition of no-seeking, which is the Reality-Disposition of the Heart Itself.
The Amrita Nadi, or the Bright, is felt by seekers as a separate Other. Superconsciousness is felt by seekers as God above. The centers below consciousness and the parts of the mind are felt by seekers as the world. The heart (apart from Conscious Reality) is felt by seekers as the ego. But the Self that is Reality Consciously Supports all bodies (or functional sheaths) and conditional forms of consciousness in the Form of Amrita Nadi. (see footnotes)
This essay has briefly examined the related spiritual teachings of four adepts of The Path of the Heart and Descending Spirit. The guiding vision that links these mentors (in one or more aspects) is the centrality of the Heart as the abode of the Self; the importance of the descending spirit-power and its circulation in the body-mind; and the primary circuitry of the Amrita Nadi, in which divine energy stands as a bright spire with its base in the Heart (Shiva) and its crown of Radiant Power infinitely above (Shakti), from where energy rains down to baptize and permeate and transform the body and world. This defining vision is Tantric, because it is body-and-life-affirming and supports an approach to reality that is fundamentally different from the body-and-life-renouncing methods of classical Kundalini Yoga. All four teachersAbhinavagupta, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramana Maharshi, and Adi Da Samrajproclaim as the final goal of spiritual practice the bliss of jivan-mukti, or liberation while alive. This is the freedom in which the Heart is always directly felt (anubhava), even in the theater of everyday worldly experience.
 Holographic sub-pattern of the total universea synonymous term is holon, a keyword in the works of the contemporary American spiritual philosopher, Ken Wilber. He defines holons as wholes that are parts of other wholes, indefinitely. Whole atoms are parts of molecules; whole molecules are parts of cells; whole cells are parts of organisms, and so on. Each whole is simultaneously a part, a whole/part, a holon. And reality is composed, not of things nor processes nor wholes nor parts, but of whole/parts, of holons. (Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution [Boston: Shambhala, 1995], p. viii.)
 Stephan Schumacher, Ed. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Boston: Shambhala, 1994), pp. 190-1. The Indian Tantra system usually mentions seven chakras: six in the physical body and the seventh chakra above (or even infinitely above) the crown of the head. The bodily locations are as follows: muladhara at the perineum, svadhisthana two inches below the navel, manipura at the solar plexus, anahata at the heart (center of the chest), vishuddha at the throat, ajna at the third eye (above and between the eyebrows). Some kundalini yoga systems mention nine chakrassix in reference to the body and three above the head. By comparison, Tibetan Tantra generally regards the number of energy centers as five: the bodily-base/navel (as one center), solar plexus, heart, throat, and third-eye/crown (as one center).
 Additionally, a number of diverse sources offer similar descriptions of the human bodys subtle anatomy that suggest analogies to classical kundalini yoga. For example, the pingala (male energy channel) and ida (female energy channel) of Kundalini yoga are reflected in the Navaho concept of dual winds, in which two types of Holy Wind (read: Kundalini) energize the body: the male, Little Wind (Niichii Byaazh) and the female, Something That Moves You Wind (Niichii Benazhditna). By means of knowledge (Eehozin) and chantway rites and practices (Haatal) through which the energy of thought (Haane) and the inner winds (Niichii) are purified, an ordinary person may become a Holy Person (diyin dinee). This state is symbolized by Talking God, who is fully empowered and aware of the natural laws of the cosmos (Hoghaal). In this way, a person fully realizes universal mindwhich is in indistinguishable unity with Holy Wind. Together, they compose the state of Beauty, which is the mountain at the center of the circle of Navaho reality. (Peter Gold, Navaho and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom [Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1994], p. 286) Likewise, the Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek caduceus (or Staff of Hermes) provides another interesting map/model to compare with diagrams of the Kundalini chakra system. For an in-depth historiography, see: Walter Friedlander, The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine (New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1992).
 Paul Muller-Ortega, Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantrism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989, p. 45.
 Ibid. p. 3.
 Ibid. p. 82.
 Ibid. p. 86.
 See: Nagarjuna and the Mahdhyamika School.
 Muller-Ortega, Triadic Heart of Siva. p. 94.
 Ibid. p.107.
 Ibid. p.112-3.
 Compare this imagery with the Hindu myth of Shivas flaming lingam (Shiva jyotirlinga). This also recalls a line from song of the Tibetan yogin, Milarepa: When the masculine and the feminine meet in the centerbliss! It is also interesting to note that Sri Ramakrishna envisioned the chakras as vulvas, according to Jeffrey Kripals psychoanalytic study of the Bengali saint, Kalis Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Taking a broader leap of speculative correlation (connect-the-dots), I will point out that Mircea Eliade says the Iranians believed that the birth of the world-redeemer would take place in a cave, and that a Star or Column of Light would shine above the cave. It is probable that the Christians borrowed the imagery of the nativity of the Cosmocrator-Redeemer from the Parthians and applied it to the Christ But primarily it is the Star and the light shining above the cave that have played an important role in Christian religious beliefs and iconography. (For a fuller discussion, see: Eliade, Mircea. Two and the One. London: Harvil Press, 1965). Eliade tells that the Protoevangelium spoke of the blinding light that suffused the grotto at Bethlehem in which the Christ child is born.
In a Syrian work called the Pseudo-Dionysus of Tell Mahre (6th Century C.E.), the following tale unfolds: The prophet Seth records in writing all that Adam reveals to him about the coming of the Messiah. Seth then conceals the writing in the Treasure-Cave of the Mysteries atop the Mountain of Victories. Eliade points out that this mountain is a replica of the Iranian Cosmic Mountain, Hara Barzaiti, the axis mundi that connects Heaven and Earth. When the Magi climb the cosmic mountain and reach the secret cave, a column of light descends into it, bathing in glory a Divine Child inside. It is therefore at the very center of the world (read: the core of the body-mind, i.e., the Heart) and along the axis that links Heaven and Earth (read: sushumna) that Seth hides the prophecy of Divine Birth (read: Avatara, enlightenment), illuminated by a Pillar of Light (read: Kundalini, Shiva lingam) or Divine Star (read: Vajra, Tigle, Brahma-bindu) descending from Above (read: Shaktipat). I am inclined to link all of this esoteric cave-symbolism with the Hridaya-guha, the Heart-cave of Abhinavagupta.
 Muller-Ortega, Triadic Heart of Siva. p. 113. Muller-Ortega points out that in both the Nagari and the Kashmiri Sarada script, the vowel E looks like a downward-pointing triangle. This emblematic association with the female sexual organ causes the vowel E to become known as the trikona-bija, triangle vowel, or yoni-bija, vagina-vowel. The Heart, the triangle, the yoni, and the vowel E, are all linked with the Goddess, with the shakti, with the female power of sexuality, fertility and reproduction.
 Ibid. p. 114. The correspondence of this triad with Father, Holy Spirit and Incarnate Son should be obvious. In addition, it equates with the Buddhist Three Bodies of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.
 Ibid. p. 114.
 Becoming Bhairava, in The Roots of Tantra, edited by Katherine Harper and Robert Brown. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002), p. 222.
 Ibid. p. 90. On the other hand, he elsewhere states, It is as difficult to understand the Ultimate (annutara) as it is to step on the shadow of ones hat.
 The central Buddhist scripture named Measureless Wisdom of the Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra) ends with the Great Mantra: Gate, gate; paragate; parasamgate; Bodhi svaha!
An English translation of the Sanskrit is, Gone, gone; gone beyond; gone beyond going beyond; fully Awakeso be it! The latter phrase, gone beyond going beyond (parasamgate), refers to this transition from introverted to extroverted (or complete and all-inclusive) samadhi.
 Schumacher. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. pp. 23-4.
 M. P. Pandit, ed. On the Tantra. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970.
 Vasant V. Merchant, Sri Aurobindo, the Tantra and Kundalini. Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, edited by John White (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1990), p. 79.
 Ibid. p. 92.
 Ibid. p. 87.
 Ibid. p. 79. In February, 1993, the author of this essaybefore he had ever read a word by Sri Aurobindoexperienced a spontaneous Kundalini awakening via the Descent of Spirit-Power. In my book, Awakening to the Obvious, I tell of that astonishing downpour of Grace:
I stood on my balcony in a contemplative mood, feeling into life, and I recalled a line a friend had told me years before about meeting God halfway. That notion now seemed absurd, as I saw that God Is Here, already all the way present. Nothing is hidden or withheld. I said aloud a motto that summed this up: The gift is always given. It was a beautiful, religious sense of being lived and loved and breathed by God. Suddenly, a tremendous Force pressed down from above my head, through my brain and nervous system, with such mighty light and bliss that I fell to my knees and was pinned, overwhelmed bodily by the tangible brightness, as one might be overwhelmed by a terribly powerful orgasm. I gasped and sobbed from the potency of the joy. The God-pleasurethe saturating fullness and Touch of the lightbecame so intense I felt my bones might crack.
When I stood up, I had changed physically.
And my meditations changed. For several years, Id been aware of powerful, electrical surges in my nervous system during meditation. I had focused on the breath and ignored these stirrings of the Kundalini. But now my meditation sessions became sheer energy work-outs. Even so simple a practice as following the breath now felt like contrived self-effort. My method of meditation had been rendered obsolete.
 Ibid. p. 86. Sri Aurobindo mapped the manifestation (or cosmic birth) of Spirit as an unfolding progression: from matterto lifeto mindto soulto Supermind. (Similarly, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, depicted evolution as the rise from mineral to vegetable to animal to human to gods.)
 Ibid. p. 87.
 Glossary of Terms in Sri Aurobindos Writings (Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1978), pp. 95-6. (Term: The Mothers Force).
 David Godman, ed. Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (London: Penguin Arkana, 1985), pp. 1-3.
 Schumacher. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. p. 286.
 K (T.V. Kapali Shastry). Talks with Maharshi, with Forty Verses in Praise of Sri Ramana, 5th edition (Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanashram, 1968), p. xv. as cited by Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (Middletown, CA: Dawn Horse Press, 1995), p. 389.
 Ibid. pp. xvii-xix.
 Ibid. p. xvii.
 Ibid, p. xvii.
 Ibid. pp. xxiii-xxiv. Sri Ramana also called this energy circuit, Atma Nadi (Current of the Self) and Brahma Nadi (Current of the Absolute).
 Godman, Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. pp. 2-3.
 Adi Da Samraj. Knee of Listening, Middletown, CA: Dawn Horse Press, 1995, pp. 554-7. Da offered the incredible explanation that Ramakrishna poured his spirit into his beloved Vivekananda, shortly before the gurus death, and that subsequently the combined Ramakrishna/Vivekananda subtle vehicle reincarnated through the physical vehicle of Franklin Jones.
 Since the early 1970s, Jones has taken on a list of new names: Bubba Free John, Da Free John, Da Avadhoota, Da Love-Ananda, Da Avabhasa and Ruchira Avatara Buddha, plus a half-dozen others. Although he regards Adi Da Samraj as his principle name, he also acknowledges the name, Da, which I use herein for convenience.
 From transcript of 1985 NBC Today Show interview with former members of the Daist community, posted on Freedom of Mind Resource Center website, 1999.
 Wilber publicly backed away from his previous recommendations with a blog titled The Strange Case of Adi Da posted on the Ken Wilber Forum website, Oct. 11, 1996:
The last positive statement I made about Das work was in 1985, when I wrote a very strong endorsement for his major book, The Dawn Horse Testament. This is one of the very greatest spiritual treatises, comparable in scope and depth to any of the truly classic religious texts. I still believe that, and I challenge anybody to argue that specific assessment
The teaching is one thing, the teacher, quite another. By this time (around 1985), things were starting to become very problematic for Da, his personal life, his community, and his teaching in the world. In ways that we are just beginning to understand, some types of spiritual development can run way ahead of moral, social, interpersonal, and wisdom development in general. Da is capable of some truly exquisite insights, but in other areas, he has fared less well, and this has increasingly verged on the catastrophic
At the same time, this should not prevent us from taking advantage of that part of Da which isnt broken, namely, his clear (if isolated) spiritual writings and insights. If nothing else, his written texts are still an extraordinary source of material... Nor should his personal problems negate these insights. Even if Einstein was a complete psychotic, E still equals mc2. Let us not deny the latter because of the former.
 An Update on the Strange Case of Adi Da, Ken Wilber Forum website, Aug. 28, 1998:
In The Strange Case of Adi Da, I called attention to the fact that, even though Da might be highly spiritually realized, he seemed to have several problematic, perhaps even pathological, aspects to his personality and the way he was running his community. Yet, in an open letter to his community, I again affirmed my belief in Das great spiritual realization. Contradictory? Perhaps, but only because Da is contradictory. Contradictory and problematicdeeply problematic This is why, as a blanket statement, I can no longerand do no longerrecommend Das community for the typical spiritual aspirant In the meantime, I affirm all of the extremes of my statements about Da: he is one of the greatest spiritual Realizers of all time, in my opinion, and yet other aspects of his personality lag far behind those extraordinary heights. By all means look to him for utterly profound revelations, unequalled in many ways; yet step into his community at your own risk.
 Adi Da Samraj. Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga: The Divine (and Not Merely Cosmic) Spiritual Baptism In The Divine Way of Adidam. Middletown, CA, Dawn Horse Press, 2000, pp. 235.
 All quotes from Adi Da Samraj preserve his idiosyncratic usage of capitalization, underlining, punctuation and parenthetical phrases. The introductions to his texts explain that by such artifices he is employing English as a sacred language. Capitalization, for example, indicates that the word refers (either inherently, or by virtue of the context) to the Unconditional Divine Reality, rather than the conditional (or worldly) reality. (Adi Da Samraj. Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga. pp. 29-30.) Over the years since the 1972 publication of his first book, The Knee of Listening, Adi Da Samrajs writing has grown increasingly eccentric in this fashion, and his earlier works have been heavily re-edited to adapt more fully to these language contrivances.
 Samraj, Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga. p. 238.
 Ibid. p. 244.
 Ibid. p. 245.
 Originally, Da taught that there were two ways of spiritual awakening: the path of devotional surrender to him as Avatar, or (for advanced intellects) the way of radical insight into the nature of reality. Later, he decided that none of his students demonstrated enough wisdom to make progress except by ishta-guru-bhakti-yoga. (This is a clear example of his progressive ego-inflationthe bane of gurus and devoteesespecially at advanced levels of yogic power.)
 Samraj, Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga. p. 361. Glossary: Amrita Nadi.
 The Knee of Listening. p. 395.
 Ibid. p. 397.
 Ibid. p. 406.
 Ibid. p. 398.
 Ibid. p. 407. The mutual themes of no-dilemma and no-seeking are centrally important in Das teaching. The Heart is Self-Existing, Self-Luminous, and free of the necessity of all conditional knowledge, given that It depends on no experience or memory to Communicate Itself to Itself. For an in-depth consideration of these key themes, see: Samraj, The Knee of Listening.
Adi Da Samraj. The Knee of Listening. Middletown, CA: Dawn Horse Press, 1995.
Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga: The Divine (and Not Merely Cosmic) Spiritual Baptism In The Divine Way of Adidam. Middletown, CA: Dawn Horse Press, 2000.
Eliade, Mircea. Two and the One. London: Harvil Press, 1965.
Freedom of Mind Resource Center, 1999. Transcript of 1985 NBC Today Show interview with former members of the Free Daist Communion.
Friedlander, Walter. The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine. New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Glossary of Terms in Sri Aurobindos Writings. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1978.
Godman, David, ed. Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. London: Penguin Arkana, 1985.
Godman, David, ed. Papaji: Interviews. Avadhuta Foundation, 1993.
Gold, Peter. Navaho and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1994.
Govinda, Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. Boston: Weiser Books, 1969.
Harper, Katherine and Brown, Robert, eds. The Roots of Tantra. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2002.
K (T.V. Kapali Shastry). Talks with Maharshi, with Forty Verses in Praise of Sri Ramana, 5th ed. Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanashram, 1968.
Muller-Ortega, Paul. The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantrism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989.
Pandit, M. P., ed. On the Tantra. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970.
Schumacher, Stephan, ed. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Shambhala, 1994.
White, John, ed. Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.
Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology and Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Boston: Shambhala, 1995, p. viii.
Ken Wilber Forum. The Strange Case of Adi Da. 11 October 1996.
Ken Wilber Forum. An Update on the Strange Case of Adi Da. 28 August 1998. http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/misc/adida_update.cfm/xid,4572/yid,4887247
About the Author
Adyashakti (Primordial Energy) is the pen name of Mark Canter, who was raised in a tiny farm townpopulation 400along the Ohio River in Kentucky, where he and his family were the only Jews in the universe.
Canter is the former Senior Editor of Mens Health magazine, and his non-fiction also has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Yoga Journal, Shambhala Sun, Writers Digest and other periodicals.
His short fiction has been published nationally and his novels have been translated into Swedish, German, Polish, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, Catalan, and Japanese.
Canter holds degrees in journalism and the humanities, with highest honors, and taught for seven years as an adjunct professor in the Florida State University Department of Religion.
I'm a true romantic, says the author, and by that I dont mean that I always do something special for my wife on Valentines Dayalthough that happens to be the case. I mean that I believe in the Redemptive Power of Love. Every one of my novels expresses the same moral theme: Love (not power) is the only force that can render us fearless.
Thats also a central theme of Romanticismthe artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that began in Europe at the end of the 18th century and peaked in the 19th century, and included the works of Whitman, Emerson, and Thoreau. Another recurring idea that drove the Romantic Era is the revelatory wisdom and beauty of nature. My novels always explore the wonder and wildness, bliss and terror of the human body within the natural world (Eros writ with a capital E).
Novels by Mark Canter (Adyashakti)
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