On Yoga and Tantra

Tantra Statue
On Yoga and Tantra

Cessation of the turbulent mind was previously taught (in the Yoga Sutra) to result from aversion (to the world). This is what we teach (in the Krama lineage)—how to cause cessation (of the anxious mind) effortlessly, without disengaging from the world.

– Viranatha,The Flowering of One’s Own Awakening, (Edited, translated, and introduced by Christopher Tompkins)

When deepening our meditation practice it can be helpful to distinguish between the texts and practices of Yoga and Tantra.

In the Yoga traditions, like “the tortoise that draws in its limbs,” we withdraw our attention and energy from the senses and sensory objects to enter meditation and rest in a core of Self.

In the Tantric traditions, we use everything—including the energy in emotions and sensory experience—as a portal into the Self and expanded states of awareness.

The beauty of nature or art, any sensory experience or moment of our day, can potentially be a doorway to more expansive states of consciousness. Even the energy in terror or peak voltage rage can be direct pathways to higher states of awareness.

“Esthetic Arrest”

The concept of “esthetic arrest” that James Joyce articulated (via Stephen Daedalus in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and that Joseph Campbell later explored in Reflections on Living is essentially tantric. Campbell describes the experience of “esthetic arrest” here:

The biological urges to enjoy and to master (with their opposites, to loathe and to fear), as well as the social urge to evaluate (as good or evil, true or false), simply drop away, and a rapture in sheer experiencing supervenes, in which self-loss and elevation are the same….

The mind is released—for a moment, for a day, or perhaps forever—from those anxieties to enjoy, to win, or to correct which springs from the net of nerves in which men are entangled. Ego dissolved, there is nothing in the net but life—which is everywhere and forever…. The classical Indian terms are moksa, “release,” bhodi, “enlightenment,” and nirvana, “transcendence of the winds of passion.” Joyce speaks of “the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure,” when the clear radiance of the esthetic image is apprehended by the mind, which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony. 
– Joseph Campbell, Reflections on Living

The word “arrest” is a potent descriptor of what’s occurring in the mind-body and awareness. When we’re transported by art or music, our discursive thinking—and sometimes the breath, the heart—literally stop for a moment as we immerse in the bliss of the experience.

In that moment of absorption, of esthetic arrest, in the pause point between breaths, we are sometimes transported beyond “ordinary mind” into a state of fullness. We taste more expanded states of awareness—perhaps even the “luminous silent stasis” at the “madhya,” the center, the innermost core of our being. (When the breath and the discursive mind stop, the yogi’s meditation energy rises in the central channel.)

Open-Eyed Meditation

Tantra offers us open-eyed meditations that invite us to move in effortless, spontaneous ways, from contracted states to expanded ones. The following verse describes the “esthetic arrest” that Joyce and Campbell explored:

When the mind of a Yogi is one with the unparalleled joy of music and other (aesthetic delights), then he is identified with it due to expansion of his mind which has merged in it.
Vijnana Bhairava, Verse 73, Swami Laksmanjoo’s Translation

Tantra invites us to become more aware of awareness and to immerse in aesthetic and other delights.

One sweet, accessible dharana, or centering technique invites us to simply “rest your mind where it finds contentment.”

Throughout your day, notice when contentment or joy arises and sustain the feeling as long as possible. Even if doing so does not give you immediate access to the highest state of bliss, know that it’s beneficial to spend less time in “contracted” states. A mind that is content is much more likely to glide into meditation easefully.

Enjoy noticing and lingering where your mind finds contentment. As you do so, know that the contentment you feel is a reflection of your innermost Self which is bliss.

Here is the actual verse and one of the places I find myself relaxing into open-eyed meditations and more expansive states.

(Original post dated January 2016.)