SACRED DESIRE: The Evolution of a Tantrika
At that time there was neither nonexistence nor existence; neither the worlds nor the sky, nor anything that is beyond.
What covered everything, and where, and for whose enjoyment? Was there water, unfathomable and deep?
Death was not there; nor immortality; no knowing of night or day. That One Thing breathed without air, by its own strength; apart from it, nothing existed. Darkness there was, wrapped in yet more darkness; undistinguished, all this was one water; the incipient lay covered by void. That One Being became creative by the power of its own contemplation. There came upon it, at first, desire which was the prime seed of the mind, and women and men of vision, searching in their heart with their intellect, found the link to the existent in the nonexistent… There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder… The gods are later than this creative activity; who knows, then from where this came into being? Where this creation came from, whether one supported it or not, He who was supervising it from the highest heaven, She indeed knows; or She knows not!
- Rig-Veda X, 129. The Hymn of Creation
Bhadresh came to me for guidance in tantra yoga, though he was already deeply seasoned as a yogi. His eyes glittered with awareness, he had a regal yet unpretentious air. He was strong yet supple in mind and body, devotional, wise, educated in the Vedas and Upanishads, and steeped in the great teachings of many traditions. He glowed with a radiance that only comes with intense and devoted sadhana, or spiritual practice. He was a stunningly handsome Indian man in his early 50′s, though he looks to be nearly 20 years younger. Bhadresh emanated love and wonder. Honey-like sweetness flowed from his eyes. He seemed to be already very accomplished. He later revealed that he needed help with one particular knot in his heart…
When he first came to me, I asked him about his intentions, and he simply replied, “I am here to learn from you and to receive your offerings.”
We enjoyed many in-depth sessions of yogic transmission. We harmonized immediately on many levels. He drank in my guidance and seemed to revel in my presence. We spoke at length about yoga philosophy, tantra, Kriya yoga, and Vedanta. Though he was very warm and kind, he seemed to have an extra dose of reserve in his conduct, as if he was holding back from slipping over an unspoken edge within himself.
He was an exceptional student and respectful guest. He always absorbed the teachings I offered with eagerness, grace, and gratitude. After several months of regular teachings, I probed again, deeper, and asked this cultivated yogi, “You are already well on your spiritual way, so to speak, rooted in your discipline and devotion. What is bringing you here, to me? What am I giving you?”
He replied, “Here’s a quote from a famous saint that sums it up:
‘There are three great delusions: 1. Money, power, etc. 2. Wine or intoxication in general, and 3. Sex, desire for human love.’
The first two delusions I am mostly free of,” Bhadresh confessed. “The last one that lingers is the overwhelming desire for human love. And there is not much of the last one left because I have realized that I would rather love than be loved. I came to you so that you could help me transcend my desire for human love… I hear that tantra can liberate me.”
I listened attentively, amazed at the agenda which had been simmering below the surface.
This was not the first time I had encountered colorful yet misguided generalized notions of tantra spun by non-initiates. I’d have to start an earthquake under his pre-existing ideas before I could re-build the structure of truth. Yes tantra liberates the dedicated practitioner, but not in the way he had imagined.
I could see that his celibate guru and his ascetically-inclined tradition had deeply influenced him. This was a tradition that extolled the virtues of having “transcended” all that is worldly. It was considered a more enlightened or exalted state to be completely “beyond” human love, desire, or romantic relationship.
There was clearly a battle within him. He already firmly believed that tantric teachings would alleviate the distraction of his pesky desire. I could feel my transmission simmering within me. I knew he would receive an unexpected medicine in my transmission and I wondered if he was ready to drink it.
I responded first by quoting one of my favorite passages by his own guru:
“‘The material and the spiritual are but two parts of one universe and one truth. By overstressing one part or the other, man fails to achieve the balance necessary for harmonious development. Life is expressed in a threefold way: through thoughts, desires, and actions. Rightly guide all three forms of expression and they will lead you to a higher state of consciousness. Practice the art of living in this world without losing your inner peace of mind. Follow the path of balance to reach the inner wondrous garden of Self-realization.’”
His whole body seemed to open. He took long, deep breaths. I could feel he could drink what I had to offer…
“Perhaps one day, Bhadresh, you will tell me that you are here simply to revel in your innate purity, to celebrate the Divine through sadhana, and to share your beauty – rather than to ‘transcend’ anything, in the typical sense.
Within this particular tantric tradition, the body is regarded as the temple instead of the obstacle, human life as a divine gift instead of something to conquer or transcend, and desire as the divine force behind all phenomenon – including liberation.
Yes, much is spoken about the transcendence of desire in all yogic traditions, but this teaching is often misunderstood, premature, incomplete, and/ or transmitted from an austere, dualistic viewpoint. In all of these cases, the teaching can collapse on itself, so to speak, and ordinary desire may be aggravated or prolonged.
Paradoxically, this tradition reveals, we can only ‘transcend’ ordinary, base desire by going deeper into the heart of it.
My dear gurus of my Sri Vidya tradition are always asking, “What is your desire?” For this question ignites the ever-fresh yogic path. They go on with a warning of respect, “If you do not attend to every desire, then you will die with regrets and attachments which will draw you in to yet another cycle of samsara.” It must be noted that attending to desires is different from reacting unconsciously to desires. Attending to desire involves contemplation, clarification, worship, and refinement of desire.
Transcendence is never the ultimate goal, though a natural side-effect of the path may be the transformation of ordinary desire into divine desire and ultimately, purnatva, or divine fullness, completeness, and inner satiation of the soul. It is mistake to try to advance on the path by trying to ‘practice’ any one of the side-effects that occurs organically over time, with devotion. An auspicious ripening takes place.
All desire is to be traced down to it’s roots with our awareness, to the true, core desire under all desires and beyond external conditions. It has many names: love, unconditional freedom, ananda, liberation, svatantrya, enlightenment, peace, unity consciousness, purnatva. There is only one way that we will ever truly quench the primordial thirst of ordinary desire, and that is when it becomes completely wedded with the desire to worship the divine, become fully liberated, and serve others, in other words – ‘pure motive.’
This is the secret hidden within the vermillion yoni shrines of Kamakhya, the renowned goddess of desire who, through her passionate and generous desire, creates the masterpiece of the embodied experience and thus the very opportunity to delight and awaken within it. It is said in my tradition that all the manifest and unmanifest worlds are conceived out of the great One’s desire to give the opulent gift of consciousness and Self-reflection, and thus to know itself in every possible light, through all of our eyes. All begins with desire. Sacred Desire.
We must find and nurture our own generous desire. This is desire which is infused with blessing energy and savored as a divine gift. This is desire which generates shakti, creative energy, for specific intentions and spills over to benefit all beings in some way.
Even receiving love can be a form of ‘giving’ love, my dear… a gift of your generous desire.
Even our own desire becomes an offering in and of itself, freely given, ultimately in service to the Divine… Our whole lives become the offering cup for The Goddess, who is Love, Awareness, and the Creatrix of All, whilst we practice releasing attachment to the exact outcome.
If we are eating or drinking, we offer the food and drink as sacrament to Goddess – through our own bodies. If we make love, we offer the pleasure, energy, wisdom, and nectar to Goddess – through our own bodies. If we are learning and practicing, we offer the knowledge and awakening to the Goddess, the One, the magnificent whole, tasting, and loving, and learning – through all of us. This reverence and sense of offering changes the whole inner experience – from one of superficial ego-feeding and inner grasping into one of sacred participation, ego dissolution, and sweet union with the All.
Often when I discover an in intense desire within a relationship, I practice a simple yet potent inner yoga to transform ordinary desire into desire-as-worship or desire-as-offering… I quietly perform puja drishti within my own mind and heart by visualizing myself showering the ‘object’ of my desire in the ‘rose petals’ of blessings, and opulent gratitude.
How would you feel, Badresh, if your own son said to you that he wanted to overcome his desire for your love? Really ponder… Well, dear one, YOU are that son – of the One, who manifests in the ALL.
If God is everywhere… then surely God lives in other people, human love, and desire, too. Do not forsake God anywhere. Desire for human love should be recognized as the Divine Consciousness desiring itself. Our desire is God desiring to know God through our very bodies and souls. Simply upon this recognition, desire becomes alchemically transformed from base, ordinary, dualistic desire into awakened, supremely non-dual desire. This divine desire is the sweetest nectar to bask in and demands no so-called gratification. Authentic spiritual practice is always the vital midwife and grounding force for this evolution and refinement of desire.
By meditating deeply and consistently on the ‘object’ of our desire, we may be granted an intimate and direct experience of ‘emptiness,’ the ultimate interconnectedness of all things, and thus, our purnatva or divine fullness. When we look closely enough at the ‘object’ of our desire, we find empty particles, an ephemeral vision, an amalgam of constantly evolving energy, flowing presence, an embodied moment, a phenomenon which is ultimately connected to all things in the universe, including our little individual selves. When we look closely enough, we find… another fellow cell of the great body of God, and a reflection of our own beauty. Science is now just catching up with what the yogis have glimpsed since time immemorial, from their vantage point of meditation, seen with the non-physical ‘eyes.’
There is something profound about realizing that you are not ultimately separate from who or what you desire… The play of desire becomes a pure celebration of the interplay between different fractals of God, revelry in the endless play of life loving life, and an overflowing of our own heart’s gorgeous fullness. This direct experience of the supreme reality beyond ordinary human sense perception also only comes with extensive meditation, contemplation, and practice.
Desire for human love is not to be abandoned or transcended! It is the tantric way to honor all the great forces of embodied life. It is the highest yoga, and the greatest opportunity for awakening.
Yet… just like any other aspect of human life, desire is something that can either be an opportunity for liberation OR for bondage, addiction, and suffering. It is true that ordinary desire, or raga, is leads to mind-created suffering and supports the delusion of being absolutely separate. This is unconscious, habitual, compulsive, ego-driven desire which arises from ignorance of our true, expansive nature, the body’s base impulses, and dualistic mental constructs. Ordinary desire seeks to fill the soul’s emptiness with something which is perceived to be outside of it’s self. Ordinary desire can aggravate neurotic attachment and inner grasping. Conscious desire lead us to… liberation and true knowledge of our Oneness with all things. There is a difference between reveling in sacred desire and futilely attempting to feed the insatiable inner hungry ghost of ordinary desire.
Still, one should not hate or punish one’s self for experiencing this base form of desire. It, too, is regarded as a sacred doorway into evolution, a prompt to inquiry, an initiation, and an essential phase of awakening. One cannot rush past the experience of ordinary desire until one is truly ready and seasoned through the appropriate sadhana. Let it be clear that this is not encouragement to linger in base desire longer than is authentic and necessary. It is, however, an honoring tantric outlook. Every experience and state is regarded as a precious gift of Goddess Awareness, even base desire, for it is an opportunity for Self-realization. This view naturally unwinds neurosis and quells aggravation of base desire, preparing the way for further expansion.
In Indian sacred myth, the same energies that are devis or ‘angels’ can become irksome ‘demons’ if not they are not honored, acknowledged within the mandala of consciousness, and supplicated. By worshipping the force of desire, we shower it in the light of consciousness. As the eminent tantric scholar Douglas Brooks says, “Without understanding our desires we become victimized by them; but when we know our desires we can experience them as divine gifts.” When we honor all facets of our being, they are graced. When we artificially attempt to suppress or reject a part of our selves in an absolute sense, that part often becomes monstrous. Our desire is a gift to be celebrated, contemplated, and has the potential to become a servant of love.
I am not suggesting to follow every base desire or impulse. I am inviting you to bask in the pure energy of desire itself before reacting to it. I am inviting you to allow desire to prompt you into awareness. By meditating deeply on our desire, we are led to the true heart of all our desires, which is love. We can then merge our consciousness with that love. This takes practice, of course.
Through this process of meditation on desire, we find that it leads us naturally to discernment, conscious response, and thus, to facilitating liberated love in every moment.
These legendary times when ordinary desire is naturally ‘transcended’, it is because we have acknowledged our desires, sated them with care and yogic awareness, and merged our consciousness with the root of all desire. Desire to quell desire is ultimately washed away by tidal gratitude, awe, worship, and devotion. There is simply no more room within ourselves for the ego to ‘desire’ anything in a superficial, grasping way.
And yet, even in this supreme state of divine desire, we can continue to take action to give and receive love. This is the yoga of action – in human love.
As the Bhagavad Gita teaches, we must not abandon our duty or any necessary action to sustain noble human existence, and this includes giving and receiving human love. All desire has an intelligence of some kind… If we simply ignore our desires, for then we would surely die swiftly of every kind of starvation, and thus dishonor the great gift of life. In the yoga-of-action that is taught in the Gita, we dedicate all our efforts to the Divine, and humbly practice letting go of our attachment to the fruits of our efforts. Likewise, in the realm of human desire, we practice experiencing our desires as divine gifts, releasing attachment to the so-called gratification of our desires, and inwardly offering our digested experience back to the one Goddess Awareness. We revere our relationships, passionate love, physical intimacy, families, senses, worldly abundance, and desire itself, yet we greet these gifts with this devotional yogic approach.
In the tantric path, human relationships are considered the greatest cauldron in which to practice awareness. You see, it is so easy to practice releasing attachment whilst isolated in a cave or monastery,” I smirked, “It’s much more challenging, and rewarding, to practice releasing attachment whilst still engaged in the world and in relationships where we are more frequently faced with all our most activated emotions, thoughts, and primal desires. The kleshas, or poisons, are more often provoked: avidya – ignorance of our true nature, asmita – ego/ pride, raga – ordinary grasping desire, dvesha – aversion/ hatred, and abhinivesha – self-clinging or fear. The container of relationship provides far more volatile opportunities on a daily basis for Self-realization and the incineration of our samsakras, or the habitual, unconscious, ego-centric reactions. Within relationship, when our inner hungry ghosts are tempted, we practice severing all grasping and become servants of love, in whatever form it wants to manifest through us in the moment. When I say grasping – I mean the grasping that occurs in the heart, not in the hands. The most powerful place to practice the release of grasping is while we are still touching each other. Moment to moment, relationships have the potential to keep us ‘on our toes,’ awake, and present far more than peace and quiet.
Relationships are not only potent practice space… Relationships help to cultivate synergy, support, and passion for the path. Relationships and desire can help to cultivate our jet-fuel for the path, kundalini shakti, the power of passionate and creative energy. Kundalini is more easily and powerfully awakened in partner practice, and for the yogi – this is pure spiritual gold.Thus, in my tradition, relationship is considered one of the highest yogas.
Yes, it’s true that periods of retreat, isolation,and celibacy can baptize our minds, bodies, and spirits with sensitivity and perspective, and can give us the space to learn new practices, but it is not sustainable for most people in any permanent sense, nor is it to be viewed as a ‘higher’ state. Without a return to human relations within a certain amount of time, unique to each individual, we humans start to die. This is why babies die very quickly without human love and interaction, and adults only die slower without it.
We must honor this need for human love, eventually. Even the most gifted yogi is subject to death without air or water or sunlight after a time, and likewise a yogi will eventually be weakened by life without human love or close relationships – as long as she or he is embodied. The state of temporarily feeling ‘beyond’ human desire should not be clung to as a part of one’s idea of a ‘fixed’ identity, for then it is simply feeding the ego and creating more calcified, binding layers of self-image that will surely lead to more suffering and dukha. A more tragic outcome is when desires are completely ignored, scorned, or suppressed and then at some point they come bursting out in a compulsive and scandalous eruption, at odds with one’s constructed ‘public image.’
Bowing down to this need for human love can actually be the most powerful ego-slayer, for we must learn to surrender, dissolve our illusory boundaries as so-called separate individuals, and bond, witness, reflect, give, receive, and connect. We penetrate, and we are penetrated. We taste an absolute vulnerability that can lead to the realization of the supreme invincibility. In the fires of human love, we can tear through Maya’s veil and see true Oneness.
In the fires of human love, we have the grand opportunity to recognize our true nature. We may pompously think that we are isolated ‘individuals’ desiring, though in truth it is the One who is desiring, tasting, perceiving, and relishing all things through our little ‘individual’ beings. We have the great opportunity to recognize and release our identification with our limited self and see the whole working through us.
Frankly, It is the sassy individual ego of a willful ‘spiritual practitioner’ that wants to completely transcendor conquer the need or desire for human love.
On this tantric path, we do not attempt to renounce the desire for human love. We renounce suffering itself, which is true renunciation.
Yes, the tantric path is a dangerous path for many who are ‘pashu’ or animal in nature, who easily become reactive, addicted, compulsive. Yet, it does not work to simply suppress or control or deny desire in any permanent or ultimate way. If we do not honor the heart of any given desire, eventually it explodes within us. I feel that sooner or later, in one lifetime or another, we all must face desire and walk through it’s fire in order to discover our most profound freedom. As passion is transmuted through the yogic arts, it melts down our hearts and become the nectar of compassion.
Channel kundalini through the inner yogas as I have taught you, bask in desire itself, and enjoy it’s crackling luminosity. Your desire alone can be nourishing… a profound energy that will fill you up from within and energize all your benevolent works.
May we worship the inherent sacredness of all elements of the mandala of life, including desire.”
With that, I chanted to him in Sanskrit what I could not say in conversational English, a Mangala Shloka, or non-dual hymn to the Divine, which had been transmitted to me by a dear teacher:
puja te visayopabhoga-racana
nidra samadhi sthitih
sancarah padayoh pradakshina-vidhih
stotrani sarva girah
yad-yat karma karomi
tat-tad-akhilam sambho tavaradhanam
Jaya jaya karunabdhe Sri Mahadeva Sambho!
You, Goddess Awareness, are my Self, my core, my essence.
The Goddess is my mind, my consort, and power.
My pranas are Your attendants.
My body is your temple.
Enjoying the objects of the senses is my worship of You.
My sleep is Your state of samadhi.
Wherever I walk, I am performing Pradakshina of You.
Whatever action I perform, they are all worship of You, O benevolent One!
Hail! Hail! O ocean of compassion! O reverend Great Divinity! O benevolent One!
I invite you to watch, Badresh… contemplate your desires. Trace them down to their source – which is Great Spirit, strip them down to their core – which is love. Offer them out to the Universe in service, humbly practice letting go of the result, and create space in your perception to see the One desiring and relishing other embodied facets of it’s great Self through you.”
Something within him broke free. It was silent, invisible, and palpable.
Tears of nectar dripped down his cheeks.
Then he did something incredibly daring, outlandish, taboo… He performed pradakshina, sacred circumambulation, around me… He whispered the sacred Vedic Gayatri mantra as he circled me. His pradakshina was radical as this was normally performed only within and around Hindu temples, sacred sites, and one’s guru, and here I was just an “ordinary” yogini. By this ritual circling of me, he was celebrating me as an embodiment of the Divine, as a source and essence of life, a sacred “focal point” from which consciousness emerges from and returns to. Of course, he was not circling “me” as a limited individual human form or personality, but as a drop of God and a humble symbol of the Goddess.
Bast was initiated at 17 years of age by her root teacher, ShoShanna Rose, a cross-cultural mystic carrying teachings and initiations from Tibetan tantric Buddhism and Indian tantric Shaktism, ancient Middle Eastern & Indian sacred dance, as well as Native-American, Sufi, and Pagan spiritual traditions. ShoShanna was inspired to study such a wide variety of traditions not only for personal enrichment, but also to serve as a living community bridge and peace-maker. ShoShanna danced with the Tara Dhatu, a lineage of sacred feminine dance newly protected as a vehicle for liberation under Tibetan Buddhism.
ShoShanna taught fusion bellydance along with it’s most sacred traditional functions: spiritual empowerment, yoga for birth & reproductive health, and temple dance, i.e. dance infused with prayer and intention to fertilize culture and awaken consciousness. ShoShanna transmitted the essence of the Divine Feminine and encouraged Bast’s path as a yogini, teacher, healer, priestess, ritual artist, and modern temple dancer.
ShoShanna's teachings ultimately inspired Bast to vision and produce the Nouveau Devadasi Fusion Temple Dance Festival, celebrating modern and traditional forms of temple dance & peace-making through sharing sacred dance.
Bast began a passionate exploration of hatha yoga in 1993, studying different forms in depth including Vini, Kundalini, Iyengar, Anusara, Ashtanga, Raja, and Yin. In 2004 she completed the Interdisciplinary Hatha Yoga Teacher Training at the Nosara Yoga Institute. In 2005, she founded Dakini Temple in response to the call from her community for her teachings – in more personal and community-oriented spaces. In 2005, Bast was named “Best Tantric Yoga Teacher” in SF Weekly’s Best of the Bay issue. In 2010 she completed the Anusara Yoga Teacher Training through Katchie Ananda. She continues to study teachings of the Sri-Vidya sakta tantra tradition through Psalm Isadora & Janice Craig.