I’m rereading one of my favorite books of all time, Tantric Quest. In it, the author goes on a spiritual quest to learn about Kashmir Shivaism. He meets a tantrika who teaches him the philosophy. This passage makes my bones sing. I truly believe that this is a great illusion we’re feeding ourselves. If we just stay open and willing, the armor (curiasses) will crack and the light of our true nature will be seen.
“The play of purusha [spirit] and prakriti [matter] is limited by the action of these six tattvas called the six cuirasses. They are time, space, lack, limited knowledge, limited creativity and overall illusion.
This is extremely important point of Shivaism, since the consciousness is founded on and set free by these cuirasses, and that’s enlightenment or awakening. These cuirasses are like veils that prevent a spontaneous view of the self. Without them there would be no practice, no search. Everything would appear to us in its absolute nature.
The first cuirass is that of being subject to the illusion that time exists and that we are bound by it. This illusion fixes us within a limited time frame. It gives us the impression that time passes. After awakening, one discovers with wonder a new terrain where nothing is subject to time. It’s like waking up after a bad dream and realizing that this restriction was artificially imposed upon consciousness…That’s the first breath of awakening. It gives back a vitality, a color, and a clarity to everything seen outside of time.
The second cuirass is that which makes us believe we are subject to the illusion of space and that we are located there…After awakening, we realize suddenly that we are omnipresent…We are everywhere. There’s no point in space that is not our center…Once the boundaries of the ego shatter, the divine returns to the divine, energy to energy, space to space, the heart to the heart. Then anything is possible but nothing is certain…The highest Tantric teachings say that fundamentally there is no birth and no death, only the illusion…The debate over annihilation or eternal life is something adepts transcend as soon as they recognize the nature of their own minds.
The third cuirass is the illusion of believing that we lack something, that we are not whole. This is the illusion that pushes us to always be searching for a way, a teaching, a practice, one realization after another. It’s the one that pushes us beyond the Self. It’s the one that makes us unhappy, that makes us keep looking for new ways to be complete…Knowing this, the master invites the disciple to stop all external searching. No route leads to the Self. The true Tantric teacher is not me, nor some other; it’s the Self. There’s nothing to find out there. Everything divine that we look for out there is in us. To realize that is to find freedom.
The fourth cuirass is the illusion of believing that what we can know, what we apprehend of the absolute, is limited. We torture ourselves. We want to experience awakening…We are like a maharaja who owns unlimited land and walks along the wall that surrounds his palaces, mistaking himself for a beggar. No on would give him anything to eat for fear of insulting him or being punished. We have such thirst for knowledge that we are fooled by our power to know. It focuses on the exterior and deceives us with the illusion that we are going to find what we lack. Divine knowledge doesn’t grow by accumulation. The more you try to pile knowledge and experience, the more you paralyze your consciousness. Let’s abandon this knowledge. It inflates pride. When I say intelligence is not the way, I don’t mean to say intelligence must be rejected. I am simply saying that intelligence which accomplishes anything appears unsolicited. In tranquility it shines like a diamond. Let us return simply to the source of our consciousness and find there the treasure we sought on the outside. It’s enough to sit down, to forget books and discussion, to direct our attention toward the heart. There the divine is found. There is the place of respiration where our breath mingles naturally. The infinite is no more than that harmonious breathing, free of all thought.
The fifth cuirass is the illusion we harbor in believing our creativity is limited, sometimes even doubting that we possess the least trace of it. That’s what pushes us to revere what others produce. To have beauty flow past us isn’t enough. This urge, which can open us up to our unlimited creativity, is restrained by the idea that we aren’t capable of such splendor. We remain without a voice, the ribcage is constricted, overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. If we truly breathed, this cuirass would explode, and the object of our admiration would no longer be found in duality. The beauty of the world would then be ours. Mystical ecstasy is just this sudden explosion of the small me, which recognizes the divine Self. Everything gathered up in the consciousness is then projected into the infinite, and one can cry out in joy because in this moment all the beauty of world becomes part of the Self.
The five cuirasses are surrounded by a supreme cuirass, which is that of maya, illusion, in its own nature, which welds these different protective plates together and insures their artificial cohesion. We are decorated like fighting elephants, forever goaded by their driver. We advance with all our weight to get through life, never ceasing to battle. But one day, the battle takes a turn that leaves us covered with poisoned arrows. A young girl brings us something to drink…She bathes us in the river, and suddenly we find our grace, our lightness, our beauty again. So nothing stops us from spontaneously grasping the divine in ourselves. What we don’t know is that the smallest experience can be just this miraculous meeting with the small girl. So little can suffice. The scent of a flower, an open look, a breeze brushing against us–and suddenly the most solid of the cuirasses cracks, and through this gap all reality penetrates us, freeing us forever from gravity and separation.”
—Daniel Odier, Tantric Quest
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