Mystery of Sprit: Tantra as Perennial Wisdom ~ Ramesh Bjonnes
A few years after I received Tantric initiation, I realized what yogic union or spiritual bliss is all about. It happened during a visit to a friend in a small village outside Copenhagen, Denmark, where I was living at the time. He had been attending one of my yoga classes in the city, and he wanted to spend a few days alone with me to learn more about the Tantric path and our Guru. His second wish was to introduce me to his girlfriend. He hoped that she would also be inspired to take up meditation and yoga.
The narrow streets in his peaceful and charming village were lined with white houses with thatched roofs. His house was no exception, and behind the two-story building was a well maintained and colorful flower garden with half a dozen apple trees and one large cherry tree—all in full bloom. His idyllic garden had the perfect ambience for long hours of meditation and quiet, spiritual conversation.
We spent most of that afternoon and evening meditating under the cherry tree and talking on a bench in the garden. After sunset, when the mosquitoes became too intolerable, we went inside and had a light vegetarian meal. Afterwards, I told my friend instructional and inspirational stories about Tantra and our Guru.
Late that night, I went to bed in a spiritually intoxicated state—partly due to the devotion the stories had evoked and partly due to the many hours of meditation in the garden. During sleep, I did not really sleep in the ordinary sense. I was awake in my own lucid dream and was transported to a small room in India where I prostrated at the feet of my Guru, who sat on a small, white cot. As I witnessed all this, I remained conscious I was dreaming and simply let myself be a witness to what took place.
In Tantra, it is of great spiritual importance to touch the Guru’s feet, and I did so quite eagerly. As soon as both my hands touched his left foot, barely visible under layers of a white, cotton dhoti, my whole body was filled with an effulgent light of golden and fiery bliss. Soon, my whole being was aflame with ecstasy. Simultaneously, I heard a male and female voice that seemed to come from the outer reaches of the cosmos itself. In a united and clearly audible whisper—as if coming from the otherworldly lips of Shiva and Shakti themselves—I was told: “We love you. We love you. We love you.”
Seeing visions and hearing voices are common “diversions” when accessing higher states of consciousness. So after hearing those words, I did not get attached to them, nor did I attempt to interpret their meaning. Instead, I simply surrendered to the feeling of ecstasy, and soon my Guru and I dissolved in a single continuum of Cosmic Consciousness. That is, I lost awareness of the outer world and merged in the all-pervading vastness of spiritual Bliss.
When I finally returned from the Cosmic state in my lucid dream, I could still feel the same ecstasy as when I touched my Guru’s feet in the vision world. The dream and the wakeful state were one seamless reality.
I sat up in my regular meditation position. I looked around and saw that the room was real, and I realized I had just come out of a state of deep, causal awareness, a state of yogic union or Samadhi.
Since I wanted to experience more of that exalted state, I began to meditate and soon I was again lost in the effulgence of bliss. Several hours later, the loud alarm clock I had borrowed from my friend went off and broke my trance.
After shower, at about 6 AM, I went out into the garden and sat down under the cherry tree to meditate again. As soon as I started the process of meditation, the blissful ecstasy returned. I do not know how long it all lasted, but when I finally opened my eyes, I saw in an instant, that the branch with white cherry flowers hanging down in front of me was transparent. It looked as if form and formless space was one continuous flow. The vision only lasted a short while, but it has been my perennial inspiration ever since.
During the next several days, I experienced a state of nearly continuous bliss and telepathic clairvoyance. The bliss was very enjoyable, and the telepathic experiences made me see and feel the world and people in new and unexpected ways, but oftentimes what I “saw” or “heard” was not very pleasant.
Swami Vivekananda recalled a similar touch from his own Guru, Shri Ramakrishna. The first Indian Yogi to visit America, Vivekananda gained worldwide fame at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and eventually became the most well known disciple of Ramakrishna. Once, while having a discussion with a friend about whether it was true that all material things are God, Ramakrishna walked up to them, inquired affectionately about what they were talking about and then touched the young Vivekananda while he himself went into Yogic trance. “At the marvelous touch of the Master,” Vivekananda recalls, “my mind underwent a complete revolution. I was aghast to realize that there really was nothing whatever in the entire universe but God. I remained silent, wondering how long this state of mind would continue. It didn’t pass off all day. I got back home, and I felt just the same there; everything I saw was God.” (2)
Tantra As Perennial Spiritual Practice
That morning, I experienced what mystics from all the worlds wisdom traditions have talked about for thousands of years: that reality is multi-layered—physical, mental, and spiritual. The same sages have also taught that if you want to experience the celestial realms of the spiritual—the most subtle and incomprehensible of all states of reality—you must take up a spiritual practice. It is not enough to read spiritual books, believe in God or Allah, or to listen to great lectures on various metaphysical subjects. Instead, as the mystic sages of the past have demonstrated, you must close your eyelids and awaken the spiritual eye of contemplation from within. You must practice what they have preached.
Each of the three realms of reality is experienced on their own terms—by your senses, your mind and your spirit. In other words, while a scientist may extend his senses by employing a telescope to study celestial bodies, a mathematician will employ the rational mind to study the Pythagorean Theorem, and a Tantric mystic will use contemplative or meditative practice to experience the realm of spirituality. Each realm of reality can be experienced and verified, but in order to do so, different injunctions are used. To understand the spiritual realm, you must employ the injunctions of spiritual science, not those of physical or mental science. Hence, in order to see with the Eye of Spirit, as Wilber calls it, you must employ the spiritual injunction, you must practice meditation. This simple yet profound insight is vital to the understanding of Tantra as well as any other authentic wisdom tradition. If you want to know That, if you want to know the Great Mystery, if you want to merge in the cosmic bliss of Brahman, you must follow the injunction, take up that practice which is capable of transforming your mind to experience the transcendental reality of Spirit, of Cosmic Consciousness. And once experienced, that which was once a Great Mystery is no longer a secret—it is no longer a fanciful dream or a belief; it is ha reality, an authentic realization, a spiritual awakening.
The Perennial States of Reality
In any given twenty four hour period of our lives, we journey through this so-called Great Chain of Being, from gross body to crude mind to subtle mind to spiritual mind—we think and feel, we dream, and we enter deep dreamless sleep. But when we are in a meditative state, we experience all these three states of human reality while remaining conscious. Therefore the state of spiritual bliss is also often referred to as a state of superconsciousness.
This mystical realization is at the heart of what German philosopher Leibniz termed philosophia perennis or Perennial Philosophy. Aldous Huxley made this term famous in a book with that very title. The Perennial Philosophy affirms that we have devolved from a single Source and that the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected when we return to that One Source. In Tantra that One Source is termed Brahma or Cosmic Consciousness, and we attempt our return to that source through sadhana, the practice of Tantra meditation and yoga.
A few fundamental aspects of the perennial philosophy and Tantra are:
–Brahma is both immanent and transcendent. That is, Brahma or Consciousness exists both within and beyond the material world.
–Creation exists as a hierarchy of levels; as matter, mind, Consciousness; as the five levels of mind, and so on. The higher levels transcend and include the lower levels.
–Creation also exists as a holarchy on each level. Each level of evolution is both a part and a whole. An atom is a whole in itself, but part of a larger atomic structure within a cell; a human cell is a whole, but part of an organ, and so on. All of creations’ parts and wholes are embraced by the ultimate Omega Point, the all-pervasive Brahma.
–There is both devolution and evolution. Creation starts from Brahma, devolves through space to create the five fundamental factors–ether, air, fire, water and earth–to create matter. From matter life is created and through the evolution of life, enlightened humans are finally reunited with Brahma. This is the cycle of creation, of devolution and evolution.
–The human mind is composed of various levels of consciousness. When we reach the highest state of consciousness through meditation, we reunite with Brahma. This process of conscious evolution is the very goal of life.
So, according to the perennial philosophy of Tantra, our purpose in life is to become more conscious, more aware. During the day, when we are awake, all the layers of mind—from crude to causal–are active. But we are generally only aware of our most basic levels of mind, because these are the states we normally use. Preoccupied with thinking and remembering, we often remain oblivious to the subtler layers of our mind, to our spiritual nature. Similarly, in a state of dreamless sleep, although we are in touch with our deepest spiritual mind, we are not consciously aware of it.
Through the practice of Tantra meditation, we can consciously access deeper states of our being. In profound states of meditation, we can even enter the causal mind, while still remaining conscious. In that super-conscious state, we experience a deep sense of peace, bliss and oneness. We are beyond ego, at one with our true, inner self, at one with Brahma or God.
Thus, in accordance with Tantra, each human is composed of six layers of being. The first is the human body, the physical level. In addition, there are five states of mind, which contain the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels of mind as well as the two causal levels of mind, or the purely spiritual states of mind. [Note that this kosha model is somewhat different from the Vedantic kosha model]
Metaphorically speaking, the five states of the human mind are layered just like a banana flower. In Tantra these five layers of mind are called koshas. Above these psychic and spiritual layers, above the koshas, there is the individual soul, the jiivatman, and above the jiivatman there is the Paramatman, the Cosmic Soul. When the individual soul merges in the Cosmic Soul, one becomes one with God, one attains the spiritual state which I glimpsed under the cherry tree, which Vivekananda experienced for several days, and which the Enlightened Buddhas and yogis experience as a permanent state of being. In that state of Enlightenment one becomes God-like or Goddes-like.
In Buddhism there are similarly the eight vijanas, the eight levels of awareness. In Kabbalah one speaks of the Ten Sefirots and mystic Christians speak of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit. Although the various traditions describe these layers of reality somewhat differently, the point is that reality is multilayered. Moreover, Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness is inherently present at all stages. Thus the Tantrics do not shun the physical realm as some religious mystics do, they embrace it. For in Tantra the body is seen as a Divine Temple, the perfect abode from within which all humans can attain spiritual realization.
The seven chakras, or esoteric wheels of energy, located along the spine, are the controlling stations of our mental and spiritual expressions, our propensities. The first five chakras correspond to the five koshas, while the two highest chakras are above mind and refer to the state of the yogic soul. Chakras are thus yet another way in which Tantra maps our multilayered human experience in the spirit of perennial philosophy.
An important aspect of these layers of mind or realities is that the higher level transcends and includes the lower level. In other words, an enlightened being, whose mind is at ease in sublime states of spiritual awareness, can still see and feel the body, can still think rational thoughts, speak and smile. One is still human, but, like Shiva or the Buddha, one has become a God or Goddess in human form. Another way of describing this is that the two causal minds contain and are broader than the unconscious, subconscious and conscious levels of mind.
Each jivatman, each human soul, is thus composed of all these five layers of mind, and the aim of Tantra Yoga meditation is to unite the individual soul with the Cosmic Soul. This ecstatic union is called yoga. And this yogic trance, this samadhi, this spiritual fusion of the one into the One, is the ultimate goal of Tantric and yogic practice.
This article is an excerpt from Ramesh Bjonnes’ new book Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening by Ramesh Bjonnes and can be ordered at this link.
Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in yoga detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and the upcoming Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India) He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.