The Three Ways

winter beach with sky
May 22, 2007

Life is simple. Earth, water, fire, air, space. The language of the elements is an elegant, simple scale that produces an infinity. Practitioners of direct realization Tantra begin with the infinity of daily existence and follow it back to realize uncontrived life and simple delight in that.

Traditional Tantra offers, broadly speaking, three ways to approach a human life.

You can make your daily life your practice. You can learn foundational practices based on Ayurveda and ritual. These involve your eating, sleeping, working, relationships, health care and daily, householder rites such as honoring one’s ancestors. You can discover the rhythm and elegant naturalness of life in this way. You can completely recalibrate your energy and become open to life’s inherent wisdom through bringing your daily activities more in line with Nature. This is the way of conduct.

Or, you can go the “yogi” route. This involves all of the above, plus any number of paths of traditional Tantrik sadhana (practice) under the guidance of a Guru. Most of the transformational methods that people, and especially Buddhist practitioners, associate with Tantra fall into this “way of energy.” This “way of energy” includes kriya (kundalini) yoga, internal ritual, Tantrik deity practice, mantra and yantra, among other practices.

The third way is direct realization of the natural state. The natural state has been given many names: instant presence, flowing presence and unconditioned life are a few. My Satguru called it that. Specific direct realization practices include Guru yoga, nonconceptual meditation and many of the “left-hand” practices such as invoking extreme fear or shock as a means to strip the mind of concepts so that life may be encountered directly. However, they also might include any of the practices from the way of conduct or the way of energy. In fact, direct realization “practice” includes your entire life; it is akhanda sadhana, or unbroken practice.

This brings us to the deeper understanding that the three ways—conduct, energy and direct realization—only differ due to the bhava or orientations of practitioners. A person practicing direct realization Tantra will eat dinner in a “direct realization” way. She will feel and understand that dinner itself is her own essential nature, and she will just relax and enjoy that. When tensions arise, she will try to directly realize them as essence arising as tension.

A person who is more engaged at the level of energy practices will be more interested in the effect of dinner on her subtle channels. When tensions arise, that person will try to transform them using internal methods that result in an experience of releasing tension, opening and discovering the wisdom of that energy level of experience.

A person who is mostly engaged at the level of conduct will be more focused on the ritual gestures of cooking, offering, serving and properly eating and digesting dinner according to the precepts laid out by her tradition.

Many other traditions employ some of the same methods as direct realization Tantra. However, their view of these methods is somewhat, or even radically, different. In direct realization traditions such as Kashmir Shaivism, Dzogchen and some forms of Daoism, no matter what way you are following at a particular time, your View will always be that of a direct realization practitioner. View is the most important teaching that you will receive from your Guru or teacher. It is the largest context for anything you do.

Highly realized human beings are spontaneously and appropriately responsive to all of life’s arisings. They are naturally graceful and uncontrived. No matter what way you practice, making naturalness your home is the fruit of any Tantrik practice followed to its completion.

For every student of any capacity or level of practice, the foundation is daily conduct. As you begin to expand your aware engagement with life, keeping the tune and rhythm of life becomes a source of abiding contentment and fulfillment. If you ignore your daily life while undertaking what you consider to be “hard core” yogic practice, you can, and likely will, cause more tension and even illness.

Many people have ideas about Tantra. They are lured by promises of shaktipat, secrets and sex. The greatest teaching Tantra has to offer is that everything we need to Self-realize is already present in each moment and every ordinary breath.