Tantra and Freedom
The Nirvana Shatkam, or Six Verses on Nirvana, by Adi Sankaracharya is a beautiful and profound expression of life as it is, beyond concepts of duality or nonduality, beyond knowing. As such, reading it with insight leads to groundlessness.
I have no aversion or clinging, greed or delusion;
No envy or pride, duty or purpose; No desire, no freedom.
I am the Self of unconditioned consciousness-bliss. I am Siva. I am Siva.
Na me dvesa-ragau na me lobha-mohau
mado naiva me naiva matsarya bhavah |
na dharmo na cartho na kamo na mokshash
cid-ananda rupah sivoham sivoham ||
The verses of the Nirvana Shatkam are comprised of a series of negations: I am not, I have no. . . and so on. These are not negations that function in pairs of oppositions, for example: “I’m not this, so I must be that.”
Instead, the negations are a stripping away of all Self concept. The action of the verses negates all Self definition in order to enter into direct experience of unconditioned life. Thus, the grammatical/rhetorical form of the Shatkam mirrors the process of Tantrik sadhana.
Here is the crest of this Tantrik Wave: The stripping away of conceptual limitation is not the stripping away of the possibility of limitation.
This is a little bit difficult, but let it sit for a minute. If we drop all conceptual limitation, then that groundlessness must include the possibility of limitation. Unconditioned means just that: without even the condition of having to be unlimited.
This is why, in this verse of the Nirvana Shatkam, along with negations of concepts of greed, clinging, and delusion, you also find the negation of duty, purpose, desire, and freedom. All reality-shaping concepts are tossed out.
Imagine yourself, cool gal or guy on the spiritual path, having to go it alone with none of your conceptual crutches of purpose and freedom. GULP.
The verse says I have no purpose. No dharma. But haven’t we “found the dharma?” Aren’t we on “the dharmic path” and “practicing the dharma?” These are all phrases you commonly hear in spiritual circles.
Reading further, the verse says I have “na mokshash.” No freedom.
How can I be not greed, not clinging, not delusion, and not free? Isn’t Shiva essence freedom: svatantrya?
Early on in my studies and practice, I thought that freedom meant something such as freedom from difficulties, or freedom to be however I wanted to be, or freedom to express myself in any way I desired.
What Adi Sankaracharya is pointing to here with all these negations is the unconditionedness of life. Freedom to, freedom for, or freedom from are all conditioned concepts of freedom.
Life arises from groundless, unconditioned potential. This is svatantrya, not our conventional concepts of freedom.
Unconditioned means no conceptual containers of path, dharma, freedom, limitation, or lack of limitation.
Unconditioned life is not a path; it is the open potential of consciousness and energy (bliss) arising fresh and new at every moment. We use some words to point to “it,” but there is not really any word. Life—the flow of experiencing awareness–is palpable, however.
Even if you have dropped a lot of conceptual baggage, you might still be clinging to freedom as your new conceptual base, erroneously thinking that freedom cannot be a conceptual base cos it’s well, free, y’know.
This is the common process whereby people detach from their inherited conceptual limitations and adopt new, spiritual concepts. Even freedom can be a concept that keeps you from conscious, unconditioned experiencing.
All of this talk is way up in the absolute nondual spheres. Down here on the ground, it’s pretty much the same. Ha! Fooled you! No, really. It is useful up to a point to think in terms of freedom and the tensions we call limitations.
In Tantrik sadhana, we work directly with these tensions, so we have to talk about them in some fashion. And there is no renouncing duality.
As I have been taught, one of the prime hallmarks of authentic spiritual practice is to work from exactly where you are. Most of us are firmly stuck in dualistic, conceptually limited life. So this dualistic, conceptually limited life is the stuff of our sadhana.
Yeah! for us that we have such nice materials to work with.
But we do suffer. We suffer from our fear of the unconditioned flow of experiencing at the same time that we suffer from our root sense of separation from the unconditioned flow of experiencing. We are paradoxical creatures. This is the game, and Tantriks want to play.
The play of Tantrik sadhana is to let go, and let go, and let go of self- and reality-shaping concepts. Eventually, we must let go even of the concept of freedom.
And what is left?
Not a concept. Not a truth. Not a body of knowledge.
An unconditioned state of awareness experiencing.
In Ma’s love,