Yesterday Mandy asked me to write a blog entry on the differences between Rajanaka Tantra and Shiva- Shakti Tantra. And since that is a question I actually get asked a lot in immersions and teacher trainings I thought it might be useful to explore it a bit so long as we all understand that:
a) I am not attempting to define either system
b) I am not endowed by either system to be a final authority
c) I am offering some insights, ideas and reflections, not an unbiased report of facts that have been meticulously checked and verified
d) I am not a scholar.
e) I am not a student of Kashmir Shaivism or Shri Vidya.
Let's see, I will probably need to add in some more disclaimers as we go along, but here goes:
Shiva- A name for Supreme Consciousness, the Singular Totality, the Eternal Awareness that is unwavering, steady and unchanging
Note: if you worship Shiva as the Absolute, you are a Shaivite.
Shakti- the Power of Supreme Consciousness, the multiplicity of totality, the pervasive, creative impulse and potential
Note: if you worship Shakti as the Absolute, you are a Shakta.
Tantric schools generally have a primary orientation to either Shiva or Shakti. In general, practice is centered around the recognition of the still point of singularity or practice utilized the dynamic pulsation of creation as a reference and entry point. In general, there were shiva cults and shakta cults; the shakta cults are what we think of as those who worship the goddess. There are also those sects that saw Visnu as the Absolute (vaisnavites) and even Ganesh and so on. (Now don't get freaked out about the word sect or cult- I just mean a group of people organized around same principles, etc.)
So, there are two main lineages of tantra that have always informed the "life-affirming philosophy of intrinsic goodness" that is the hallmark of Anusara Yoga, it's method method and its lifestyle: Kashmir Shaivism and Shri Vidya.
Kashmir Shaivsm, as the name suggests was a group of Shiva devotees up in Northern India in the region of Kashmir. (google it and you will find such luminaries as Abinavagupta and some of his disciples who left behind some wonderful esoteric treatises that we could spend many lifetimes trying to live into.) Pull on the thread of this school and you get to Laksman Joo, Swami Muktananda and now to the SYDA Yoga scholars who teach us in Anusara Yoga like Paul Muller Ortega, Carlos Pomeda, Sally Kempton, etc.( Of course you get a nice dose of Vedanta with some of them too, but that's another story!)
The Shri Vidya school, also known as The School of Auspicious Wisdom is a goddess- oriented tradition of Southern India and the tradition in which Douglas Brooks learned, lived and steeped himself in at the feet of his teacher/mentor/guru, Appa. (Shri is another way to say Lakshmi, so we see the goddess thing there.) So, obviously we all know that Douglas knows just about everything about just about every other religious tradition but when you get Douglas teaching Shri Vidya, you get him teaching what he lives and breathes, not just what he knows. So when I say he is the Shri Vidya expert it is also with profound acknowledgement that he knows about the other stuff too it's just that this is where his heart is. He calls his teaching and iteration of these ideas Rajanaka Tantra.
So, John Friend studied with the scholars who taught him about Kashmir Shaivism. He availed himself of the wisdom that Douglas Brooks had to share about Shri Vidya and Rajanaka Tantra. (you will even see the word Rajanaka a bit in some early Anusara information when Douglas and John were teaching a lot together in our Anusara workshops and for a brief moment in time we used it to describe Anusara Yoga's philosophy.) Not only did John study with these people, he invited them into our lives and us into theirs and made some of the most educated, accomplished scholars and practitioners of these ancient teachings available to us as a community and expanded our knowledge, expertise and opportunities in some pretty remarkable ways.
It's actually a great teaching example- John put his students in front of his teachers. It would have been so easy for him to just report on his learnings but he generously shared these resources with us and gave us access to explore the various philosophies freely in our own right. This generosity blows me away almost every day. Seriously. (so many teachers I know won't even give another teacher credit for a sequence, much less book them a workshop with their students. Small rant. Sorry. I digress.)
John also has an insatiable hunger for esoteric wisdom from Western traditions like Wicca, Pythagorus, Gnosticism, as well as technology from the Human Potential Movement like visualization, manifestation techniques as well as passion for art, science and dance. And he has his own explorations, experiences, insights and revelations. And one of the forms his particular genius takes is in synthesis. He sees distinctions very clearly between things but he can see unifying threads of Truth where other people see only divisions. Seriously, it's a siddhi of his.
For years, Kashmir Shaivism influences lived alongside Rajanaka teachings and were accompanied by other esoteric teachings as something called Anusara Yoga Philosophy. It was meant to be a broad-based integrative vision of totality that embraced life as a source of divinity, diversity as an expression of unity and was, by design, inclusive, welcoming and expansive. A year or so ago, John named that expansive, broad, inclusive philosophical outlook Shiva- Shakti Tantra.
My understanding is that name Shiva- Shakti is there to indicate we acknowledge Shiva AND Shakti as Ultimate, not one or the other; that we celebrate both consciousness and its power. The name suggests that we see the dynamic pulsation of these two forces at the Heart of Reality and the creative relationship between the two as the source of all creative expression and as an inspiration to live our lives creatively and artistically. Tantra is in the name because it indicates we are a school that seeks to weave this dynamic creativity into the fabric of our lives as a way to expand our consciousness personally and collectively.
By giving Anusara Yoga Philosophy a name such as Shiva- Shakti Tantra John is paying homage to the influences that inform his approach and ideas but is clearly telling us that we are also something different. We are not attempting to copy or go back to 9th-century Kashmir or live like Southern Indians in a modern, global culture. It's saying "Yes, we honor and recognize the profundity of these traditions and yet we are something else and we are that something else consciously and deliberately."
As I see it- again, I did not fact check this with John and so I might be getting a call from the main office any moment- Rajanaka Tantra lives within the world of Shiva-Shakti Tantra with no conflict although it has its own worldview, operating paradigm and points of difference. As do the profound teachings of Kashmir Shaivism that Paul is bringing to life in his courses. As do the heart-ful teachings of Jesus, Budhha, Wicca and anything else that brings us closer to the direct experience of our intrinsic beauty, delight, and creative expansion.
Hope this helps. Again, there is always more to the story but those are a few thoughts on the topic this morning.