You need to die before you die
Different approaches, one goal
This is a catchy phrase isn’t it? Perhaps you have heard it before. It has been used in various spiritual traditions, signifying a goal inside the spiritual journey. This phrase has been used in Zen, Sufism, Christianity and Tantra, but what is its significance?
The significance is of great importance and if I have to put it in one sentence, what is meant is that one need to, permanently, get rid of the sensation of separation as an independent entity. This has also been called, the primal “I-ness”, or the “I-thought”.
Usual misconceptions about Tantra
I will briefly explore the tantric approach in this article, but before I do so, I want to make sure that we are on the same page about Tantra. Unfortunately, it comes to my attention more and more often, that many people, when they hear the word Tantra, their mind gets filled with associations, ranging, from various hedonistic erotic behaviors, to full blown sexual orgies. The most common mis-perception is that Tantra is a school of sophisticated sex or a way for one to come to better terms with their sexuality and their body.
The latter, is a very small fragment of Tantra and focusing only on this, is like focusing on pizza every time one hears the word food. Tantra is about everything. So, it is as much about pizza as it is about sex. The fact that I love pizza doesn’t mean that I need to make a “tantric” school out of it. Although, I can certainly teach one the tantric way of eating pizza.
What is Tantra?
Tantra is weaving our way to God. It is a weave of unity, of integrating the threads of “spirit” and “matter” in a coherent whole that is nor spiritual nor material. Where the weaver, the weave and the thread are just, in lack of a better word, God.
In Tantra, there is this notion of the Koshas, the sheaths that cover the Supreme. The way to reach back to the Supreme is to disidentify with the Koshas and identify with the Supreme. This is very important. It is not about tearing the Koshas, it is not about destroying them. It is about letting go of your ignorance of identification with them and Realizing Who and What you have always already Been. Tantra is all about the Way of how to do so.
In psychological terms, the ego is made of some of the Koshas. I say some, because there are Koshas that are beyond the ego, but this is not the subject of this article. It is very unfortunate that I hear from people, about the various ways they try to destroy the ego, because they see it as a barrier to Enlightenment. People can find very distorted ways of doing so, from extreme austerities, to bizarre sexual practices, unsocial behaviours, you name it. I have heard so many stories that make me wonder about the stupidity of human kind.
How to Realize?
Let’s make something very clear. It is not by destroying the ego that one gets Enlightened. It is by permanently disidentifying with it. A man with a broken ego, is a broken man. Not Enlightened, just broken. I have seen a few of them and I do not want to see more. It is not about tearing the Koshas, but about transcending them. It is not about destroying the mind or the psychological structures. If it was about destroying them, then also destroying the first Kosha, the physical body, would have been a prerequisite for Enlightenment. Am I going to be more enlightened with parts of my body missing? You get the point…
Now, how do you die without dying? How do you die, before you die? Like I said, one must get rid of the habit of identification, the “I-ness”. But this is the end of the process. A process which in the tantric way is depicted, begins and kind of ends, with what is called Kundalini.
Kundalini and the Soul
Kundalini is the Goddess, who in her grossest form is an energy. An energy that sustains the human life functions. When the human foetus gets formed by her, she goes into sustaining-only mode, where only part of the energy is available as the lifeforce that runs the biological and psychoemotional processes. Before getting into sustaining-only mode, she was the Evolutionary force, the very power of creation that created all the Koshas.
In Greek language, the Soul is called Psichi. That’s where the English word psyche comes from. Psichi (ψυχή), comes from the verb psicho (ψύχω), which means to cool, to make cold. So, what is made cold? It is Spirit that is made cold. Pure consciousness, getting colder, or more condensed, takes the form of the Soul, or Atman, as it called in India. Hence the Vedantic point that Atman is Brahman. It is the same thing only more condensed (at some levels).
Now imagine that Kundalini in its purest form (Parashakti), is this Atman, which is Brahman. In its more condensed form it is Atman, plus some other things. It is believed that, in death, Kundalini uncoils and get back to its Source, withdrawing the vital forces from the body, hence physical death occurs.
If one has the Kundalini uncoiled and completely merged back to the source, then one “dies” before leaving the physical body. One’s sense of being a separate self, dies. Think of it this way. If we see Kundalini as condensed vital energy, by releasing it back to its source, this vital everything merged with the undifferentiated field of unlimited potentiality, the boiling ocean of energy that is called “Spanda”, in Tantra.
The Path of Return and the phases of Kundalini
This is a very natural process, the reflection of which we can see in nature. Here’s the example water’s journey. Imagine undifferentiated humidity in the atmosphere, condensing to a river and finally finding a hole and becoming a lake. The natural counterpart of the spiritual process is that the lake becomes a river again, only now it has an opposite direction and eventually the river vapors and this vapor, as humidity, merged again with the humidity of the atmosphere, where the river is so one with it that is undifferentiated, so it virtually becomes the totality of atmospheric humidity. The process of incarnation is the process from humidity to river to lake. The Spiritual Initiation process is the reverse, form the lake to the river to humidity. This example also shown the three states of Kundalini, the inert, “tamasic” state, as a lake. The kinetic, “rajasic” state as a river, traveling back to the source and the dynamic equipoise, “sattvic” state, as the totality of undifferentiated humidity.
There is only one Spiritual Initiation and although told by different names and allegories. There are various initiations, that initiate people to certain processes but only One Spiritual Initiation. Spiritual Initiation, it is the process that kick-starts the Evolutionary force again, setting her from sustaining-only mode to evolutionary mode. Now, this is not only an evolution as a better species, but it is more of an evolution of the individual being, culminating to the Realization of their Origin. Spiritual Initiation only happens once. Anything else, after that, comes as an empowerment and, hopefully, enhances and accelerates the process.
In Tantra, when Kundalini, the coiled one, is in sustaining-only mode, she is depicted as sleeping. The awakening of her, starts the journey to Enlightenment. It is believed that there are three stops, or barriers to the journey. The first barrier is the one that keeps her from uncoiling. The second one is the true gate from the personal to the transpersonal. From microcosm to macrocosm. From man to the Universe. Once this is passed there is no way back. Meaning that the process can only halt for a while or accelerate but never stop completely. The more Kundalini progresses in her journey, the more the structured of ignorance are destroyed. This is a psychological process of de-identification, where identities start to fall off and one gets a more coherent sense of self towards a core. This is still not the True Self, or the Core of Being, but it feels more real than the identities that are getting scrubbed like old skin.
This is the process of dying before you die. The shedding of the skin. When the third barrier is broken then it is a completely different spiritual game. If I could use the metaphor of an athlete, a runner, this is entering the premium league stadium for the final race. The runner cannot exit the stadium, nor he can fall back to a lesser league. The end of the race is clearing the primal spiritual contraction, the “I-ness”, the “I-Thought”. It is not an one-off thing. It is more like a battle of a knight with a dragon, where both of them can retreat, rest and heal, but it will not be over, until the dragon is slain.
Free, always already
Once this dragon is slain, then one rests all the time in the Natural State, the most noble (non)achievement and the birthright of every human being. One has died but never really died, realizing that was never really born, in the first place.