The Left Handed Path:
Otherwise known as the Kaula sadhana, this is the most significant and yet most misunderstood of all the Tantric traditions. This is partly because the practices were always kept in secret, handed down from guru to disciple, to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. As I have come to understand, these are simultaneously regarded among the highest and most potent of practices, and if misused could be detrimental to one’s own life. Unfortunately, there were some who, out of ignorance, chose to use these practices for personal pleasure. While pretending to be Tantrics, they focused on the indulgence of sex and substances, rather than on the sacred mindfulness which the practices were meant to impart. These pseudo-Tantrics brought a bad name to this otherwise powerful spiritual practice. Later, the critics of this time declared that Kaulism was nothing but perverted hedonism. My intention in writing this is to demystify some of the confusion about the true spirit of this practice.
Seeing All As Divine:
According to Tantric thought, the world is an extension of Siva (ultimate reality). Kula is Siva’s power (Sakti), which manifests the entire world. Kula literally means family or extension. The power of Siva that pervades the whole universe is also called kundalini, which literally means the female coiled serpent. Kundalini is also the vitality / life force (prana) of the individual body. Since the entire world is an extension of, and directly connected to, Siva, the world (and our worldly experiences) can be used as a means to awaken to our own Siva essence. This is called Siva-bhavana, which means to see Siva everywhere and in everything.So we learn not to see just an object, but to see it as Siva. Very similar to the understanding of bhakti (the path of devotion), this would be like seeing the beloved in every form. Any form can become a medium through which one can look at the Divine, for the forms are nothing but the Beloved appearing in different poses. Therefore the Tantric sees the things of the world as mediums for contact with Siva (or Sakti).
The Sexual Connection:
The scholar Abhinavagupta writes that there are six ways to establish this contact: the external world (bahih), the woman (Sakti), the female/male couple (yamala), the body (deha), the process of breathing (prana-patha), and the workings of the mind (mati). Through these six methods we can realize Siva more effectively. I found it interesting that the man was not the seventh principle. Perhaps it is because this is coming from a male perspective and it is assumed that the male would be the one having the experience. An example of how this would look in a Kaula ritual is one where the woman is not seen as a human being but rather as the Goddess incarnate. Like the Divine alchemy that turns everything into gold, Kaulism transforms the world into the Divine. As it is written in the scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism; “When someone worships an object or a person as if it is God, that object or person becomes God for the worshiper. The sex act is given special attention in Kaulism as a medium for which God can be recognized. It is said that the power of the entire universe (kundalini Sakti) is alive in the body in the form of sexual energy“. Therefore in Kaulism, sex is the most important channel for reaching the Divine, for connecting with Siva.
Through my experience with this practice I have opened channels of awareness and gained insights into the nature of my true essence. These have been among the highest realizations I have had – as if a whole world of unity and creation was exposed to me in the presence of breath and sensation. Naturally if we were using everything in the world as a means toward realization, this would include sex. When we speak of sexual energy it is not limited to the actual sex act, it is the energy of pleasure (kama) that expresses itself in every form of joyful activity.
Vedic followers who looked down on the Kaulas assigned the term “Vama Marga” – “left-handed path”, to suggest that they were going down the wrong track. This was because of its ritual use of five substances that the Vedics considered impure: wine, meat, fish, parched grain, and sexual intercourse. However, the Kaulas gave it a different interpretation. They took vama to mean the left side of the body, as in the female side of Siva, which in essence is the worship of Sakti (power, energy). It is important to understand that not all Tantrics participate in the use of these substances, and not all Tantrics incorporate sexual acts in their spiritual practice. Also significant is that these so called left-hand practices grew out of the Tantric insight that the act of finding God in the most profane objects and activities was a powerful tool for discovering the Divine in everything. Another, far more extreme, example of this would be the Aghori sect which goes as far as smearing excrement and urine on their bodies simply to move past anything as being unholy or not Siva. It is understood that anything that we see as separate or unholy is simply egoism and is ignorantly seeing the world as something other than Siva (ultimate and supreme consciousness).
I feel there is some truth here; the vama-sadhana (spiritual practice of seeing all as Divine) is an effective technique for curing one’s egoism and ignorance. For me it is a concept that sits in the back of my mind and I am able to examine my limitations through this lens. Of course what I am really trying to do is to eradicate the feelings that something or someone who is filthy is anything other than God.
Desire, Energy, Transformation:
The goal of the Kaulas is to transcend our desires. The idea is that as long as we have an overly intense attitude toward our desires, particularly our sexual urges, we cannot overcome them. Instead we may end up unconsciously repressing them, resulting in denial and self-deception. Desires are a form of energy. This energy cannot be destroyed; it can only be refined or transformed into a higher and subtler level of expression, such as love or creativity – art, music, writing, etc.
So why wouldn’t we want to just continue using sex for physical pleasure? I believe, as the Kaulas did, that sexual energy is identical to the energy of the universe. It is the very life force that brought us to be here. And because of this, it is in a sense responsible for all of the joy and creativity in our lives. True joy and creativity is very connected to the awakening of the sexual energy (kundalini). After all, this is our primal life force. To deny it would be to deny a crucial part of our being. If we look at this from the perspective that our sex energy is the same as our creative life force, we can begin to recognize what the Tantrics have been saying for centuries:
A. The same energy is at work in every form of enjoyment, be it gross or refined.
B. This same energy is also at work in every form of creativity or creative process.
C. The more this core, raw energy is caused to express itself through higher channels, the more joy and creativity it brings.
D. The more the sex energy is elevated to higher levels, the more one’s sexual problems automatically dissolve.
So in summary, it’s not at all about “getting rid of” desire for sex, its more a matter of refining our sexual energy through our intent and spiritual practice. This shift of perspective alone brings numerous advantages and desirable results on all levels of life.
Triambika Ma Vive