Toward the Secret Gathering
Freedom and Desire in the Shakti Cluster
In How to Practice Planetary Tantra, I sought to clarify the elementary conditions of interactive magic with Gaia. The foundation of the practice is, of course, taking the Vow. I advise doing this ritual in pairs. You may do it as many times as you like, but only once with each person. If necessary, keep trying until it feels totally right.
The aim of this essay is to offer some concluding guidelines on basic practice. I signal the word basic. Planetary Tantra comprises two levels, basic and advanced. So far I have used the terms Planetary Tantra and Kala Tantra more or less interchangeably. But this is not totally correct, and may be misleading. To clarify: Planetary Tantra is basic practice of interactive magic with Gaia, Kala Tantra is advanced practice. By the end of this essay you ought to have a clear notion of this distinction.
In Tibetan Buddhism, taking instruction means receiving oral teaching from a recognized lama or tulku. This is direct, word-of-mouth transmission of doctrine and technique, sealed by a vow (samaya). The instruction may consist of philosophical ideas but more often it will concern the specifics of ritual practice. For instance, instruction in diety yoga, the visualization of a yidam for the purpose of achieving a higher state of awareness. This is a common practice in the generation stage (development stage) of Atiyoga.
In Planetary Tantra, instruction comes directly from the Sacred Mind of Sophia. Let's recall the Tantric conversion: Sophia :: Wisdom :: Vidya. Earth Wisdom is the property of the Buddha Nature manifesting in the Sambhoga form of this planet, and engaging the Nirmana form of sentient life in the biosphere. In other words, the Buddha Nature articulates itself in this display as a planet, in the natural world, and supernaturally, in any way it likes. The Absolute may be inexpressible, or not, but one thing is certain: it is infinitely expressive. Mayavada Vedanta is a dualistic approach to reality that takes interest in the expressions of the Absolute, One Mind, rather than dismissing and dissolving those expressions in order to return to their source. My spiritual legacy is Mayavada, dualist and phenomenalist—meaning, you take phenomena for real and not merely for an illusion that shrouds ultimate reality. Mayavada means "approach through Maya." Maya is not illusion, something false, deceptive, and unreal, something we need to get beyond. What is beyond time and space reaches us right here, in appearance. Maya is the real expression of the inexpressible source of awareness and appearances alike.
Traditionally, Shakta religion or Shaktism has taken the Mayavada approach, stressing duality so that reunion can be realized. Duality is not separation but, paradoxically, the condition for unity. The ultimate metaphysical trinity is DUALITY - ONENESS - UNITY. Emphasis on oneness alone denies duality, as seen in the Advaita Vedanta (non-dualist) approach which takes appearances to be an illusion arising from another illusion, that of separation from the Oneness. But unity combines duality and oneness. It allows separation so that relationships can develop. This I consider to be a more complete and generous version of metaphysical truth. I strongly encourage you to consider the Mayavadin perspective.
Basic practice in Planetary Tantra restores and reignites each individual's innate connection to the Divine Feminine. Tantra has been called "the cult of the Feminine." This characterization applies for Planetary Tantra as well. I have explained the need for the exclusive and overriding emphasis on the feminine in this path. If this emphasis troubles you, I would suggest that you reflect on this question: What is Woman to Gaia?
As you come into the basic practice of interactive magic with Gaia, your innermost feeling and intuitions about Woman will be profoundly altered. Both men and women will sense this change, especially when the Vow has taken effect properly. Gradually, you will realize that Woman is a lens through which Sophia sees herself in incarnation; the nature of the lens causes her to see herself gendered as female, but she also sees men through the same lens, as mutated women! Biologically, women and men both arise from a female ground plan or genetic matrix, with the mere variation of one chromosome to determine the difference. Woman incarnates in men and women alike. Man only incarnates in men. Man is another kind of lens, the filter through which Sophia sees humanity, the Anthropos, not herself, the Aeon. Yet in her vision Sophia merges these two perspectives as our two eyes, right and left, give us a single, integrated picture of the world.
In the divine imagination of the Aeon Sophia, the Anthropos is the consort yoga of Woman and Man. It is both male and female, and neither male nor female, and it does not even exist unless Woman and Man are both engaged immanently in maithuna, sacred intercourse.
To speak less mysteriously, if I can, interaction with Gaia leads to the vivid realization that the Anthropos (projected from the Pleroma by the Aeon Sophia and another Aeon in a ritual of consort yoga, remember?) is not the human species in its biological manifestation, but the dreamed coupling of Woman and Man, perpetually sustained in Sophia's Mind: a living dream of embodied love, a divine bisexual emanation. As the Vow takes effect, your subconscious will be implanted with the recognition of this emanation. When this sublime intuition matures in one's heart, it will be increasingly impossible to accept any theological notions about humanity, any received assumptions about the genders, or any evolutionary concepts of the human species, that do not incorporate the magical notion of bipolaric emanation.
Additional to the massive sea change in the perception of humanity, interactivity with Gaia will bring surges of sacred instruction. She and she alone is the guru, the sole master, the spiritual teacher of humankind entire. Learning that comes straight from the Goddess has been associated with the Hindu goddess Sarasvati and other icons of feminine wisdom. Indeed, I would say that the figure of Sarasvati is the one received image that best represents Gaia as instructor to those who take the Vow. Sarasvati is often shown playing the vina, an instrument from Southern India that hints at her Dravidian roots. Musical, linguistic, and acoustic talents are strongly enhanced by Gaian interactivity.
The corresponding figure in Native American spirituality would be White Buffalo Woman.
The white buffalo calf is an atavistic vision of the Anthropos, the animal double of humanity, you could say. White Buffalo Woman instructs the tribes of the planet in rituals of atonement with the Great Spirit (Originator, Gnostic Pleroma), such as the smoking of the Peace Pipe. In the very same way, Gaia will grant sacred instruction to those receptive to it, in the manner that suits them and resonates to their talents, wishes, and passions. Through her instruction, she will bring many people to recognition of the interspecies bond, for the Anthropos exists in relation to all sentient beings, not alone, not separate or superior.
Planetary Tantra is Shakti worship—not in the manner of church services, of course, but as a daily discipline of articulated intuition and ongoing self-education. Today, Shakti worship is less a devotional path than an educational one: taking instruction from Sophia. Basic practice in Planetary Tantra expands into a lifestyle by the undertaking of three subjects: the great mandala of the Shakti Cluster (space), the pattern of lunar cycles (time), and the Vajra Jewel (matter, sensation). Practice is voluntary, chosen by each individual, but these studies could as well be pursued in couples or groups.
Learning about the Shakti Cluster can be done in any way you like. For instance, look at the site detailing the imagery and attributes of the Mahavidyas, including the powers they grant to their devotees. The remaining eight deities of the Cluster can be investigated through books on Tibetan Buddhism and Female Buddhas, etc. I recommend Miranda Shaw's magnificent Buddhist Goddess of India as the foundation text of Shakti Cluster studies.
Each person will be attracted to some figures more than others. Sensational connections will occur. Some individuals by mere study will connect with a guardian. Meditation on the Shakti Cluster can be immensely enriching and may well inspire all manner of artistic expressions in music, painting, and dance. A whole new religious disposition is compressed into this configuration, but it must always be focussed on the central factor, Dakini 18, VV. Inspirational work with the Mahavidyas and Diamond Sky Dakinis can erupt in your imagination like a fireworks display. Many digressions and even regressions can arise when you explore the labyrinthine realms of the Divine Feminine. With mythical material, there is always a risk of getting lost or overwhelmed....
But, to complete the metaphor, remember that all the fireworks come off the ground in the first place. The eighteen-gauge Shakti Cluster gives focus and direction to all that arises in the human psyche with "the return of the Goddess." To return to the Goddess, return your attention continually to VV, she who will give you her attention.
The second study in basic practice is month-to-month tracking of the lunar cycles as they relate to the Mahavidyas and Dakinis in the Cluster. A different Shakti comes on shift with each new moon and transmits from 29 days. Following the lunar cycle in the Tantric Zodiac presents continuous opportunities to learn how the Shaktis operate, recognize their frequencies, and respond to their instruction. This study is a month-long meditation ritual that sensitizes you to the telepathic emanations of the entire Cluster, one Shakti at a time.
See Earth Terma and Stone Terma (forthcoming) for more on the tranception of Dakini Wisdom.
"Invoking the lunar shaktis is our method," Aunt Preema tells the young Shambu in Amarananda Bhairavan's Medicine of Light. Bhairivan is a Dravidian revivalist who as a boy was taught goddess lore and sorcery by his Aunt Preema, an odiyya or witch dedicated to Kali. His books are loaded with exotic lore that seems quite authentic. Presented through storytelling, the lessons of the village matriarch are highly reminiscent of supernaturalism a la Castaneda, right down to the image of that old-time witch's familiar, the crow.
I recommend this book (published in 2000) and Medicine of Light (2007). Both contain a good deal of mystical lore pertinent to Planetary Tantra. The "kaula sorcery" of Amaranada Bhariavan anticipates Kala Tantra in many respects, and sets the atmosphere for advanced work. It will whet your appetite for mysteries and marvels to come.
The third topic of study after the Shakti Cluster (space, atmosphere) and the cycle of lunar shaktis (time, mindstream) is the Vajra Jewel (matter, sensation). The center of this jewel is VV herself, Dakini 18. The five points of the inverted star surrounding her are occuped by the Diamond Sky Dakinis classed as Female Buddhas (FB) and Wisdom Dakinis (WD):
As explained in How to Practice Planetary Tantra, the five Diamond Sky Dakinis command your attention through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The sixth, Dakini 18, commands your attention through the faculty of memory by liberating it from the involuntary task of remembering. With the study of the Vajra Jewel, basic practice moves deeply into interactive magic. At the basic level of Planetary Tantra, the tools of magic are you own five senses, plus your memory.
These correlations are as follows:
These correlations can and must be test-run and verified by direct experience, one person at a time. The impact of the Shakti Cluster becomes a vivid reality as you realize that the Diamond Sky Dakinis are immediately present in the field of your senses, inside what you receive as sense impressions. The numinous presence of the Dakinis is infrasensory. For instance, inside ordinary sense impressions of seeing surge the emanations of Blissful Inclusion of Nairatmya. Her energies, her sublime frequencies are not just coordinated with your sense impressions, they are inseparable from them. What you experience as perceiving sights with your eyes, Nairatmya experiences as a dance of bliss-filled currents that expand infinitely to include the entire sky.
To see eternity in a grain of sand (as the poet William Blake divined) is an experience of realization of Blissful Inclusion through a visual impression. Were this to happen, you would see the entire universe, all that is to be seen, far and near, included in the singular sight of a grain of sand in your hand. This is not fantasy, but something that can really be known and felt directly. Nairatmya confers this experience perpetually and spontaneously as you allow your attention to merge with hers, thus seeing as she does. On her signature frequency, we are entrained to the realization prescribed in Mahayana teaching by the theory of pugdala-nairatmya, "the absence of self in persons."
Such is the instruction of Nairatmya.
What you experience in the ordinary impressions of smell, coming, say, from a pine tree in the breeze, Parnashavari on her side feels as a surge of bliss-filled vigor, rich, superactivated vitality. Sensations of smell contain coded information about the healing and harming properties of plants, animals, and people. Pheremones are the operative memes of this Diamond Sky Dakini, through which she associates people for the celebration and enhancement of heightened vitality, sexual joy, and healing. You want to get high with someone whose scent you like, and vice versa, and scent itself is a potent psychoactive catalyst. Parnashavari instructs through smell.
And so on with the other Dakinis of the Vajra Jewel with VV at the center.
Some of these correlations can be compared, if you like, to traditional teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. For instance, the Tibetan Book of the Dead is called the bardo thodol, "liberation by hearing on the bardo plane or intermediate zone." The notion of liberation by hearing resonates closely to the frequences of Vajravarahi whose signature is Blissful Freedom, pervading the sense of hearing. Many accounts in Buddhist literature attest to immediate liberation and supreme enlightenment through the faculty of hearing. By far the most famous of such accounts occurs in the Surangama Sutra, an 8th century Mahayanist text regarded as a foundation teaching in Ch'an Buddhism. In this sutra, twenty-five Bodhisattvas recount their achievement of samadhi, perfect attention. At the end of the discussion, the Buddha asserts that the way to samadhi through hearing is superior to all others. This is one of the key insights of non-attainment teaching in Ch'an Buddhism.
The "Secret Gathering" of Planetary Tantra is the Shakti Cluster, and in another sense, it is the empathic unification of everyone who interacts with the Cluster. Interactive magic with Gaia is a biofeedback process with the Cluster as the monitor. In the typical biofeedback experiment, the subject is hooked up to a machine such as a blood pressure gauge or electrodes that measure brain waves (EEG). The monitor provides feedback about the internal workings of the subject's body. By concentrating the mind and emotions in a ritual act of attention, the subject can cause changes in blood pressure or modify brain waves, and immediately see these results on the monitor. Biofeedback provides instant proof that mental and emotional states alter the way the body functions. It raises what is involuntary to the level of conscious volition.
To be alive is to be in a constant biofeedback loop with the entire planet as the monitor, but normally we do not have a specific way to read the monitor. We just see the earth, feel it beneath our feet, and know that we depend on it for every breath we take, but we do not interact with it in a voluntary way. Consequently, we do not understand how breathing or any other involuntary act could register on the planet monitor and feed information back to us, as data comes from the biofeedback device. To experience a biofeedback loop with the planet, i.e., interactive magic, we need to supply something that defines the looping function of the monitor. This supplementation is done with the faculty of imagination.
Medieval alchemists, who were in some respects forerunners of Planetary Tantra, used the term artifex for the imaginary monitor to Gaia. This archaic word can refer to any tool or device or image or symbol or ritual object that produces a biofeedback effect. For instance, a valentine, the image of the Virgin Mary, or the logo of the Communist Party. Such symbols are products of human imagination through which the power of imagination works back upon whoever considers them. However, there is a crucial difference between such well-known symbols and the Shakti Cluster: conventional religious symbols and images affect those who consider them whether or not they have been produced by the individual so affected.
The visionary scenario of the 18-gauge console cannot be entertained in a passive way: it has to be engaged by choice. Those who engage it are selected by it. Those who do not engage it are deselected from the purposes of Gaia-Sophia. Such is my instruction.
The poet William Blake asked, "What is that Talent which it is a curse to hide?" The answer is: the talent of imagination. But not just imagination for indulgence, fantasy, escape, self-glorification, vicarious atonement, and like. Imagination applied to the specific purpose of forming a biofeedback loop with Gaia-Sophia is a talent unique to our species. Other species are supplied with this loop in their instinctual programs. We alone have the responsibility to supply it for ourselves.
Scholars ponder the inclusion of the Tibetan goddess Tara, the Liberator, among the Mahavidyas. Her Tibetan name is Drolma, "she who crosses over." She seems out of place among that outrageous crew of witches with their "desideristic" powers to grant personal desires and indulge every selfish wish and impulse of their devotees. Tara is the paramount figure of the liberationist goal of spiritual practice, leading people across samsara from ignorance to enlightenment. She represents selfless commitment to the liberation of all sentient beings. How then can her presence among the Mahavidyas be explained? Ought she not be grouped with the Female Buddhas of the Vajra Jewel?
There is a rare form of Tara almost unknown to the millions who regard her as the sweet, benevolent guide to liberation. The Wrathful Green Tara (above) occupies a unique role in the Shakti Cluster. As the sole Female Buddha among the Mahavidyas, she has the special role of receiving whoever "crosses over" into the Secret Gathering. The use of the faculty of imagination, that precious talent which it is a curse to hide, selects or deselects us for Gaia's purposes, including mutation of the human species. This process is witnessed by Gaia herself through one unique member of the Shakti Cluster: the Wrathful Green Tara, who may be called the Selector.
jll 22 March 2009 Andalucia. Under completion with Nairatmya.
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.