Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A few reflections on Shiva-Shakti Tantra

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.

18 comments:

Jo said...

Thank you, that was, indeed helpful as I have spent more time with Douglas and not so much with the other scholars that John has invited us to study with I wasn't sure what the difference was.

dianacullumdugan@gmail.com said...
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dianacullumdugan@gmail.com said...

Christina, this is such a lovely and succinct way of not only giving identification to each philosophy but by aligning the philosopher along with the teachings, it's easier for my head to wrap around it. Thank you for taking time to do this. Hope no call comes thru from the home office.

Karen said...

Well, this was certainly a mind-blower first thing in the morning! This is beautifully presented. I totally agree that one of John's great siddhis is that of Synthesis. And get some credit for this feat also. Nicely done and thank you for deepening my understanding.
<3 Karen

Bernadette Birney said...

Interestingly (and perhaps a little confusingly), Rajanaka is more than just a Shri Vidya lineage. It is a Shri Vidya lineage that somehow found a home inside one of the most beautiful Siva temples in south India. There are two central images of the divine in this tradition (actually there are at least 333,000,000,but that would take a little more time...) Lalita Maha-tri-pura-sundari (The beautiful one of the three cities) also known as Raja-rajeshvari (the queen of kings) and Nataraja, the ecstatic, dancing form of Siva. Both of these images are commingled. He is masculine in form but appears with feminine characteristics and she is feminine in form and yet holds power over the masculine encoded form. I think that the idea here is that every time you see him you get her and every time you see her you get him. The Rajanaka tradition actually lays these two images on top of one another both in icon and mantra. As a commingled image they are the promise that every time you ascend the ladder of your yoga, you find not just the pinnacle of experience but a shoot and at the bottom of every shoot you will find another ladder.

Bernadette Birney said...

I don't know how, but that last post came up as Bernadette Birney... It is actually Harrison Williams. Bern, sorry about that... we seem to have a malfunction...

Christina Sell said...

Delicious clarification, Harrison(who actually is a scholar!)I am so glad for the added wisdom. Thanks for chiming in.

Zachary said...

I recently listened to the triadic heart of the goddess, a Douglas Brooks CD. He said that shaivites aren't shivites because they worship Shiva. Kasmir Shivites worshipped many goddesses in their rituals and practice. What makes a Shivite Shivite is that he receives revelation from Shiva. So maybe the Shiva/Shakta distinction has to do with the entry point to revelation. I have heard you say that the Kasmir Shivites were occupied with how the One could be the Many, while I've heard Douglas say that Shri Vidya is oriented to see that the Many are One. One starts from the ground up, the other from the sky down. That is my present understanding. THanks.

Christina Sell said...

Another lovely contribution, Zachary! Thanks for that.

Vishali said...
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andino said...

Thank you so much for a well written piece on a complicated and often confusing understanding of the different philosophies. It is much appreciated!

healthwisewoman said...

This is a great article and one which offers clarity - something I value and appreciate. Thanks Christina!

Leanne said...

As a teacher who is also asked these questions I am so happy to see such a clear explanation. Your siddhi is making the complicated understandable!

I will be referring to this post a lot..and giving full credit to you along the way.

Thank you Christina xo

Peter said...

I absolutely love that Harrison's post came up as Birney ... talk about sammelana (the co-mingling) of the feminine and masculine encoding ... ;)

Christina Sell said...

Me too! My guru would have called that an "object lesson". Good times.

1smallspark said...

Thank you Christina.
I've wondered about this for absolutely ages. What makes a philosophy legitimate? I know there has been criticism about the formalisation of siva/shatki Tantra. Would it be more potent to dive deeper into its lineage?

1smallspark said...

Oh that's weird it came up as 1smallspark...my name is Olivia!

Richie Benaud said...

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