Communion Breathing

2014/09/23

This is a simple, but scalable, method of working with a figure in a devotional sense to help bring you closer. It’s not an invocation (oh no ey didn’t!) of them, but more of a way of melding their energy into yours. (Invocation and energy, two faux pas in one sentence) It’s less about a conscious-mental connection and more about blurring the lines between you and residing as them. This is loosely based on some aspects of tantric fascination, but isn’t a traditional representation of such. I don’t recommend this with any general spirit you’re trying to work with and call into your life, this has more of a devotion and communion sense. Myself while I’ve used it frequently it’s only for three figures with me: Kali, Yamantaka, and my HGA. I’ve done it for years in preparation for my work with Kali, and it is often my introduction to more serious prayers to the Asshole In My Head.

While not totally required this is far more effective when you have an image of the deity in front of you. Sit comfortably as you would for any meditation facing the figure. (Also, doesn’t have to be a deity, can be a saint, angel, whatever, I’ll just keep saying deity because it’s easier)

For this you’ll be using a variation of Square Breathing, or Fourfold Breathing, which is very simple. Breathe in for a set count, and hold your breath for the same count, breathe out for that count, and hold your breath out for that count, and repeat. In, hold, out, hold, all for the same lengths of time. You might want to experiment to see what pacing working for you.

Simplest version:
If the deity has a short mantra or prayer, use that, otherwise you can use their name repeated or something like “Io Evohe [Name]” or “Om Ah [Name] Hum.”

Begin the Square Breathing and focus on perceiving the energy of the deity, after a few rounds of breathing this way sync your breath with the mantra. It works best if you actually say it aloud in a whisper while breathing in and out, and mentally while holding your breath. Match the mantra to the breathing pace you’re comfortable with.

Now on the in-breath/recitation draw the energy of the deity into you with the breath. As you hold your breath saying the mantra mentally have it radiate through you mixing with your energy. On the out-breath/recitation send your energy (which is partially mixed with theirs) to them. As you hold your out breath see the energy radiating through them and mixing with their energy.

As you do this you will slowly incorporate more and more of their energy into your system, each time you draw in and mix, you become more and more of them. (Technically they become more and more of you too, but they’re so much “bigger” than you that it doesn’t really affect them. You’re a bucket of fresh water, they’re a chlorine pool, if you keep pouring a cup of water from one to the other, you’re going to be chlorinated, but you won’t noticeable de-chlorinate the pool.)

Intermediate version:
Same as above with two differences. See each syllable of the mantra leaving the mouth of the deity as a ball of light, if possible in an appropriate colour to them, and when you return the mantra see it again leave in the form of balls of light. Draw these energy balls into your solar plexus when you breath them in, and from there let them radiate outwards. When sending the energy out have it return to the solar plexus of the deity. Breathe in the balls of light into the solar plexus, hold your breath and have it spread from there, breathe out balls of light into the solar plexus of the deity, hold the outbreath as the energy spreads through the deity.

Advanced version:
Same as above with more detailed integration. How you do this exactly will depend on what model of the energy body you work with, and even within that it allows for increasing layers of complexity. When you breathe in the mantra, have it flow into your channels and throughout your body. This can be as simple as breathing it down the centre channel into your root centre and up the side channels to the top of your head, or into each centre individually and then down/up the leg and arm channels, or into each centre following out the energy pathways that radiate from there. In this case the mixing happens gradually as the lights move through your system. Slowly the lights meld with you as they travel through the channels radiating out the energy of the deity and drawing in your energy.

More Advanced version:
Because this one requires a lot more visualization/perceptive skill you can start off with the basic process again, of just breathing the energy in and defusing it through you in general, but ideally you should work back up to running it through the channels. This time for each syllable of the mantra the deity releases a tiny tiny version of themselves, which you breathe in and run through your system. When you breathe out you’re also sending out versions of the deity, but know that they’re composed of your energy, rather than the god’s.

If you do this for ten minutes you can really get a sense of the deity being embodied in you. It’s a great way to take in their energy and I find it’s less “fragile” than a lot of invocation styles. With a lot of things like assuming a godform and what not it’s fairly easy to “lose” the deity once your focus slips, but this way you’ve been running their energy throughout your system it is harder to lose in the same way and tends to fade out, rather than just dropping off. Use this before prayers, or magickal workings, or just as communion. There was a long time when I’d just do this every night before bed with Kali, no prayers, no communication, requests, or anything, it was just 10 minutes that I shared with Her for no reason other than to be with Her. Use it however you want, and as always: experiment.


Review: Tantric Thelema, by Sam Webster

2014/06/19

tantric thelema Tantric Thelema & The Invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit in the manner of the Buddhist Mahayoga Tantras – Sam Webster
Concrescent Press, 2010, 114pp., 9780984372904.

When one studies the history of Buddhism they cannot help but notice that Buddhism changes with every culture it encounters. As it spreads it encounters new ethics, new cultural norms, new magickal systems, new gods and demons, and in time these may become part of the tradition. At first look some might be confused by the integration of Crowley’s Thelema with Buddhism, but one must realize that in many ways this is just another of the hundreds of shifts in Buddhism, except this time we’re seeing it as it occurs.

Tantric Thelema is what it sounds like, Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana) combined with Thelema, but probably in a way deeper than most readers expect, it is a combination of ritual structure and underlying theological practices of Buddhism with the figures and Law of Thelema. What is deeper than expected (and I’ll admit I was not expecting too much) was how thoughtfully and appropriately the systems have been combined. I’m sure we’ve all read a book, or blog entry, or been to a ritual and seen someone combine two systems with no more depth or understanding than changing a desktop theme. They call “elemental” Orishas in the Angelic corners, regardless of how they interact, or switch out Hebrew names for Egyptian names (poorly translated) cause they like them better, and so on. Yet, as someone who is a devout Tantric Buddhist (whether I want to be or not), and arguably a Thelemite I cannot help but be amazed at how well Sam Webster has integrated these systems.

Now to clarify my statement, and Webster’s, this is a book about Thelema, as he states “I don’t teach Buddhism, but I do see this work as an implementation of the Buddhadharma. If you want to learn Vajrayana, go find a competent teacher and do the work.” (ix) That being said this book is also one of the clearest explanations I’ve ever read on Tantric invocation, but this book is geared around a Thelemic form. Another aspect in this combination I would like to applaud Webster for is his use of technique but not symbols. While he relates everything back to Buddhist ritual he does not use Buddhist mantras, or seed syllables, or combine Buddhist and non-Buddhist figures. He understands “[t]his would be a theft of identity and culture and thus unjustifiable. But using the principles as published and duly translated is righteous as a recovery of a replacement of our own lost technology.” (xiv) So from a perspective of respect to the tradition, that as an admirable trait, also a wise decision in terms of avoiding mismatching things in catastrophic ways, as one often sees in poorly synthesized traditions. Too often in these combined systems the creator uses symbols because they’re traditional, even if they get misapplied, but Webster focuses on the process of invocation and the underlying theology, instead of copying the symbol set.

The text begins with explaining how and why Buddhism and Thelema work together, which seem unlikely on the surface, but Webster intelligently and skillfully links some of the major figures and concepts of the traditions, and also shows a nuanced understanding of Buddhism that allows him to understand Ra-Hoor-Khuit as a Bodhisattva. After the theoretical ground is laid Webster begins a systematic introduction into the practices of Tantric Thelema beginning with a Thelemic form of Taking Refuge, through Dedication of Merit, Empowerments and eventual Front and Self Generations (Evocation and Invocation in Western magickal terms). He also includes some “beta” rituals which haven’t been as thorough tested or practiced yet including a Yab-Yum ritual (spiritual sexual congress) and a phowa (an ejection of consciousness ritual used at the time of death). The book claims to have 47 Tantric Thelemic practices in it, which sounds a bit overwhelming, but really they’re all small elements of a handful of larger and more complex rituals.

Ra-Hoor-KhutMy only complaint about the text and the rituals is the inclusion of the figure of Ra-Hoor-Khut (not Khuit) who is essentially a female form of Ra-Hoor-Khuit mixed in with Nuit. I have nothing wrong with the concept of her, but she is used in major rituals in a way that I find unnecessary and not in line with the Buddhist methodologies. In the act of invocation one calls upon her, in order to further the invocation ritual in a way that is untraditional (an odd complaint in a text like this) and not strictly needed. Perhaps my issue here is the fact that I feel she isn’t explained clearly and I don’t know why she’s included in the process and feel that wasn’t made clear. I’ve worked the rituals both without her and with her, and I’ve found they are just as effective and powerful, but that without her they flow more. What I would like to see is a set of ritual practices around Ra-Hoor-Khut on her own. (Which I might add to my short list of Thelemic Tantric rituals I’ve been toying with.)

Don't judge my wallpaper.

Don’t judge my wallpaper.

Now that I’ve explained the text, let me take a step back and explain what this means to me. As mentioned I’m both a very devout Vajrayana Buddhist, and a Thelemite in many ways, so it was interesting and useful to see how these aspects of my beliefs could work together. More than that, I maintain that this book, while not about Buddhism, is one of the most straightforward explanations on Buddhist invocatory ritual I’ve ever read, which has been useful as a textual reference since then. I first read this book about two years ago, and I’ve wanted to review it since then, but more than any other magickal book I’ve read in the past decade this one demanded I work through it and explore. Here I am, two years later, finally reviewing, and still working with it, I’ve found the system to be very effective and satisfying. While it in no way replaces my Buddhist practices it works well to bring some of my Western work more in line with it. I have even gone so far as to order a print of the Ra-Hoor-Khuit image, and create my own thangka frame for it, so it now is on display for my working no different from my thangkas of Machik Labdrön or Yamantaka. I’ve created and used malas dedicated to the system (as well as sell them on my etsy). While I don’t think you need to have an interest in Buddhism to make this ritual system work, I think it is worth looking into if you’re already drawn to Thelema, or feel drawn to it but can’t connect with the system perhaps the (re)centring of Thelema around compassion will help make that connect.

Though the text is short, it is one of the most intriguing and in-depth works I’ve come across in a long time, and would be beneficial for a wide variety of people from either or both traditions.

ABRAHADABRA

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For those interested in picking up either a print of Ra-Hoor-Khuit or Ra-Hoor-Khut both can be purchased on The Thelesis Aura website, along with other great pieces by the artist Kat Lunoe. EDIT: Kat has just corrected me, currently there are no Ra-Hoor-Khuit prints available, only Ra-Hoor-Khut, so if you’re interested check back from time to time.

And for those interested in the malas I’ve made for the practices you can find the listing here, including options for a four coloured mala or a six coloured mala, depending on which system within the text you’re drawn to.


Review: Yoga Body – Mark Singleton

2012/12/20

yogabodyYoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice – Mark Singleton
Oxford Press. 2010. 262pp. 9780195395341.

When most people think of yoga they get an image of people stretching, and posing, and breathing deeply. If you mention that yoga is a religious tradition most are confused, and some know that and either think that the religion has been stripped out of it, or that the Gods care how flexible you are. If you mention that the idea of yoga as being this physically focused system of stretching is less than a hundred years old then suddenly people get irate. People have a surprisingly vested interest in the historical authenticity of posture yoga, even when they’re doing it strictly for physical purposes.

This book challenges all of that, by examining medieval yoga texts, and modern yoga and fitness texts from the last century and a half Singleton manages to illustrate the best and most comprehensive history of modern Western yoga. He starts with the bold assertion that “there is little or no evidence that āsana (excepting certain seated postures of meditation) has even been the primary aspect of any Indian yoga practice tradition – including the medieval, body-oriented haṭha yoga.” ((3)) He then moves on to show that not only was this posture-based focus not included in traditional yoga, but it was considered backward and superstitious.

The book follows the complex dialectical history of yoga to the modern portrayal. Initially there is focus on the lack of focus (or mention) of physical postures in the traditional yoga texts -including the ones that are often sweepingly claimed to validate posture yoga like Patañjali’s yoga. Then slowly he builds an intricate picture that set the stage for posture-based yoga to arise. He moves into the confusion between fakirs and yogins to the Europeans (largely the British) and how that started a feedback loop. Around the turn of the 20th century there was an international obsession with fitness, various schools of acrobatics, gymnastics, and bodybuilding appeared at that time, and as India was under British rule it was caught up in this craze.

Singleton shows how the name yoga was appropriated or co-opted into this physical culture, starting off as more of a body-building system, and then into gymnastics and stretching, all the while moving farther away from the traditional yoga. I should clarify that Singleton doesn’t consider modern yoga as wrong, false, disconnected, or anything like that -though he may criticize the bad history involved- instead he states that modern yoga is just a natural progression of the system. While I completely agree with all his research and his analysis, I can’t agree with the conclusion. What yoga has become was not shaped by spiritual or cultural progression, but cultural oppression and colonization. What is thought of as yoga was created by an interaction between British laws outlawing yoga, European contortionism, and Swiss gymnastics. I cannot agree with the premise that it is a natural progression or part of the same continuum, I feel it is more of a deviation than a development. This is not to say I have no use for modern yoga, only that I recognize it as a modern system with no basis in historical yoga, and a physical practice. That being said this book is extremely well researched, well documented, and deeply analyzed (a nerd’s dream) and if you’re interested in yoga one way or another, I recommend you pick it up, and draw your conclusions from the research.


Review: Tantra Yoga Secrets – Mukunda Stiles

2012/08/02

Tantra Yoga Secrets: Eighteen Transformational Lessons to Serenity, Radiance, and Bliss. – Mukunda Stiles
Weiser, 2011, 361pp., 9781578635030

“Tantra has been greatly misunderstood, particularly in the West, where it is perceived primarily as sacred sexuality. This view is what I seek to transform with this book, so that the reader will not only understand but experience the wholeness of this path to communion” (4).

This opening line had me greatly reassured about this book. Tantra is horribly misrepresented, so honestly I was a bit apprehensive to read this book, but I quickly realized that Mukunda Stiles understood the nature of tantra and was not writing another crappy book on sex pretending to be ancient spirituality.

Now, too be clear, there can be sex involved in tantra, and this book has sexual exercises in it, but sex is just a small part of the system. “Tantra is not better sex. Tantra is sadhana to be free of karma” (271). Stiles also touches on how the system’s sexual aspects can be used if one is celibate/asexual, or if one is in a same-sex relationship, which might seem like a minor point, but is wonderful to see included.

So if tantra is more than just sex, what is this book about? “Sharing and being with Chinnamasta is to me the living experience of the mysterious delight of Tantra, that is continuously arising and expanding as the sacred tremor of the tantric spanda” (xi). Tantra is a religious path, considered a rapid path to enlightenment. The focus of tantra is about overcoming your restrictions, and self-transformation, through prana (energy) work, meditation, and mental development.

“These eighteen lessons are specifically designed to reveal your limitations” (xiv) and cover everything from sensing the flow of prana in your body, to healing with prana, learning how to use mantras, physical conditioning, and prayer. The book moves along at a quick pace, recommend no more than two weeks per lesson. If you’re looking for a system to work with and develop through that has clear exercises and timelines this is a great book to start with. Each chapter ends with a Question and Answer section with questions that Stiles has collected from internet correspondences and personal communication and classes, more than once a question that hit me throughout the chapter was clarified in this section.

What impressed me most was the seriousness and understanding of Stiles in regards to tantra and the limitations of the medium of text. “These Tantrik teachings rest on a cornerstone of experiential knowledge gained over the ages by the men and women of this lineage. That knowledge can only be summarized and pointed to in book form” (xiv). Also that “Chaitanya mantras are the most popular mantras given and yet, without empowerment from the teacher, they don’t produce the desired result. It is like having a lamp, but not plugging it into a circuit” (107). It is a pleasant surprise to see a book that explains it is not, and cannot be, the substitute for a properly qualified teacher, that some techniques are offered hypothetically and will only become alive with person-to-person transmissions.

While this book has a few problems, including referencing important exercises that are included in other books, but not explained here, for the most part it is quite excellent. It may not cover the academic scope, or the theoretical cosmology that some people look for in tantra, when it comes to experiential work and self-development this book is amazing. To anyone with interest in a tantric path, or beginning self-work to overcome limitations, this is most definitely the book I would recommend for that.


Wednesday Webshares: Music, Monks, Mayans, and More

2012/01/04

(Yes, I know I have an alliteration problem. I tried attending Alliteraters Anonymous, but that just made things worse)

In my review on Geomancy by Hartmann, I expressed some confusion about some assignments. Polyphanes came to the rescue with a killer comment, which then led into a great post on the planets orderings and their connections, days, nights, hours, and metals?

For the more musically inclined on the Ceremonial spectrum Alex Sumner has written a set of posts on Music in Theory and Practice. Putting the different ways of transforming Hebrew letters into musical notation. This is the first one, I recommend reading them. Of course, I disagree with his suggestion that you could just grab any instrument and play the names on it…he obviously doesn’t play a theremin, just saying.

Debating the Mayan Nonpocalypse? Here is a handy infographic comparing believers and sceptics.

I adore Carl Sagan. Cosmos was a huge influence on my spiritual path. I celebrate his birthday, and call him a Saint. Lupa writes up a great reflection on watching the series, and the importance of its message, and I couldn’t agree more.

Want an interesting bar experience in Tokyo? There is no shortage of bizarre places to go, but how about a bar staffed by Buddhist monks? It’s not just a silly gimmick, it’s an attempt to break out of the monastic tradition and return to engaging with the community, and helping others. I’m assuming they had a lot of discussions if this counts are right livelihood or not.

Looking for a good New Years Tarot spread? Check out Naya’s 26 card spread. It’s a lot to work through but after giving it a try I like the format a lot.

For more 2012 forecasting pop over to Peter Stockinger’s Traditional Astrology Weblog where he lists out the retrogrades we have coming this year, as well as Out of Bounds, Ingresses, Eclipses, and more.

Going back two months Aghor Pit wrote up a nine part series on the Navagraha, the Nine Planets. Each entry talks about the Planet/God represents or rules, some explanation on the symbolism, Yantras, associations, mantras and more. This link is to Chandra (the Moon) the first in the series, but I really recommend reading them all. Even though it is different from the Western traditions, there is a lot to learn there.

I know it’s an easy horse to beat, and I’ll try to leave it with this, but a video on why 2012 is silly. Best quote “The History Channel: What happened to you guys?”

Also in a hitting myself over the head because it’s so clever and I didn’t think of it post Naya links the theory of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to different types of magick. Now, when I teach people magick I always try to play into their strengths initially, and in my non-magickal life I’ve had Gardner’s MI beaten into me regularly for a long time, but I never linked them. Lots to think on, both what fits where, and one of the important questions with MI, how to modify something that doesn’t fall into someone’s stronger Intelligences so that it does, without having to abandon everything.


Review: Bardo Teachings – Venerable Lama Lodo

2010/11/28

Bardo Teachings: The Way of Death and Rebirth – Venerable Lama Lödo
Snow Lion. 1982. 73pp. 0937938602.

I believe no religion has put as much thought and study into death, dying, and rebirth as Tibetan Buddhism has. The Bardo Thodol, or The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Between is the well-known (if poorly understood) Tibetan text on the process of dying, what is seen after death, and what happens to the consciousness. This book represents an expansion of the thoughts from the Bardo Thodol from an oral lineage granted by the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche.

While there are six Bardos, or Between States, only three of them relate to death; the Chikai Bardo, the Chonyi Bardo, and the Sipai Bardo. The Chonyi Bardo is the Bardo after death, and receives most of the focus in the Bardo Thodol, and as such is glazed over in this text. The Chikai Bardo, the Bardo of dying, and the Sipai Bardo, the Bardo of preparing and searching for the next rebirth, on the other hand are the main focus of the text. This book is not for people without a grounding in Tibetan Buddhism, it assumes a basic understanding exists of Buddhist principles, the Bardo Thodol and of the esoteric Buddhist symbolism used in Tibetan Buddhism.

There is little about the core of the teachings that can be easily explained, it is simply a detailed look at the process of dying and the state of the mind during death, and then an exploration of the experiences and processes that lead to rebirth. For those interested in the tradition, it is definitely an intriguing and insightful read. Lama Lödo finishes each chapter with a Question-Answer section, which contain many interesting points. The ones I found most interesting included that being under medication while dying is detrimental to rebirth because of the confusion it creates (16) which as someone with my medical history has often been a concern of mine, and that the experiences of the Bardos will be different without the religious background of Tibetan Buddhism (17). He says simply that the figures, deities, and images of the Bardo will be just colours and forms that will frighten and confuse people who aren’t Buddhist, where as I feel, considering the system, that without the background it would still be a relevant religious experience, instead of just a confusing light show.

Either way this is an interesting text, if you’ve read the Bardo Thodol and would like to see some aspects explained clearly and discussed this is probably a good place to start.


Review: The Sorcerer’s Secrets – Jason Miller

2010/09/29

The Sorcerer’s Secrets: Strategies in Practical Magick – Jason Miller
New Page Books. 2009. 224pp. 9781601630599.

With his second book Jason Miller sets out to “provide a field guide for working with magick, not just a massive collection of every ceremony, spell, and trick that I know” (187) specifically regarding what he often phrases as real magick, and practical magick. I’d say he does a pretty good job of this, he doesn’t discount magick as a tool for growth and insight as spiritual beings, in fact he encourages it, but he also stresses it can cause real affects here and now (9). The style of magick he synthesizes is largely drawn from Ceremonial Magick (pre-Golden Dawn mainly), Tantra and Bön; so not surprisingly it is a system I took to it quite well and enjoyed.

In some ways the book contains what you see in a lot of introductory magickal books, breathing exercises, gazing exercises, theories about how our reality is divided/shaped, basic meditations. While a few exercises were interesting, nothing in this part is really that new to a magickal practitioner, after that though he starts getting into more uncommon stuff. An example is a meditation ritual combining a Tibetan Elemental system within the body and a Ceremonial Magick Godname, the ritual I found interesting not just because of the combination, but the elemental order is different than what I’ve learnt in both systems, though he explains quite interestingly why this order of the elements works.

He deals with the practical use of divination in order to help you plan your magickal acts. The chapters in the second section of the book all contain good information drawing on the systems I mentioned along with hoodoo, European folk magick and other things. The chapters aren’t just instructions on magick, but contain sets of questions for the sorcerers to consider in order to help them with their work, basic yet critical topics of thought for the sorcerer to use to be successful. Miller emphasizes “success in magick depends upon working the magickal and the mundane aspects of every situation” (92). He balances magick with life planning, of course this division is a touch artificial, and he concludes with a similar thought. “Though there is certainly a lot of classical magick in the book there is also a lot of information that isn’t typically thought of as magick. I want my readers to stop thinking in terms of what is magick and what is not, and instead start thinking in terms of what is successful and what is not” (207).

The book is written in an order I think would be conducive to someone just getting into magick, and is structured that new or seasoned with magick we can easily find what we need to work with. His style of writing is easy to follow, his tone is rational and humorous and I challenge anyone to read about his binding and expelling of people without laughing at his method (in a good way). An aspect I found enjoyable was his use of references, and encouraging people to research more into the topics. He provides a very simplified method of dealing with a Goetic Demon, but then suggests to the reader that if they like the system and the results to look into how it is traditionally done. There is also a section on working professionally as a sorcerer/magickian. This is a topic too few authors (or even practitioners) are willing to broach so it was refreshing to see it. As someone who has worked doing the “magickal odd job” it was nice to see it addressed and get another outlook.

Miller walks a fine line between tradition and innovation which is hard to do. He encourages creativity and personal creations, but stresses the necessity of research, experience and results. While I don’t know under what category I’d recommend this book to people, I definitely see myself recommending it. Also for those interested Jason Miller runs The Strategic Sorcery Blog which I’ve found a provoking and enjoyable read.


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