Interview with Rahasya
What do you find to be the most effective form of meditation?
From my own experience and from watching my students, it is clear that there are more and less effective methods available at distinct stages of awareness. Some techniques, in their niche of application are quite remarkable, but are quite useless in wrong timing or application. There is one technique though that I and most of my students have found indispensable– very useful indeed, over a wide range of application– The Heart Meditation of Atisha.
We find it useful from the moment that a student's path becomes painful. A tantric approach requires bravery and risk, so things can get very tough very quickly. At first, it eases general levels of pain and discomfort. An effective medicine that helps with the unavoidable hurts of living with courage (heartfulness). Later on, it becomes a valuable tool, a probe that can move swiftly through the layer of hurt which obscures truth.
Finally, it can become an exercise in compassion and give substance to one's spiritual willingness. Two days ago, I introduced a dear friend to it. This evening, last of a three week group, I taught it again. It is definitely the most useful and single most used technique in this school. One of the very first things I wrote for the web was about this venerable meditation. If you like, I could try to condense a description for inclusion in this answer.
I would like you to condense it for me if you don't mind. I think that this context might change how you convey it and also revisiting it allows it to refresh. There will be more spontaneity and the present in your response. I am also very curious about you having responded with "from the moment that a student's path becomes painful" as if it is a given that it will become painful. Also in regards to your words "unavoidable hurts of living with courage". This blog on meditation covers many approaches to meditation and so perhaps a brief (if that is possible) orientation on how Tantra meditation differs from others... what distinguishes it most.
Tantra claims to be the fastest of paths– faster because lessons are drawn from worldly involvement and sexuality. Lessons from these areas of life are intense and hard to take. A classical renunciant rejects these areas as too distracting or dangerous and prefers the slower, steadier approach of asceticism and/or the monastic life. Tantra is not easier because it is faster– quite the contrary. The lessons that existence has for a seeker are accelerated and enhanced, not smoothed or eased. Faster basically means rougher, harder and more impactful.
Californian Tantra tends to emphasize sexual power, bliss and merging. Certainly, a Tantrika's life has delights– great delights– true enough, as far as that goes, but not the area people tend to have problems with– Hence, my emphasis on this practice. A Tantrika of any sincere intent faces emotional shocks comparable with moving house, divorcing, losing friends and relatives to death … on a regular basis. A robust and deep emotional capacity is a requirement. This practice helps develop that capacity while easing the intensity of painful emotions in the meantime.
The Heart Meditation of Atisha (brief description):
This practice is most accessible when you are hurting– particularly emotional pain. Especially when it has been intense enough for long enough that you feel pain at the center of the sternum. The basic idea is to breathe hurt and suffering into your heart center and breathe out love, compassion and bliss in return. Sit comfortably, or lie down. It can help to touch the center of the chest to draw your attention to that area of the body, and the sensation of pain.
Close your eyes and get in touch with the pain, open to it and submit to the fact that you feel it. Breathe in, drawing the sensation of hurt directly into the heart center. Accept it and, as far as you can, welcome it. It can take a few inhalations, a lot of feeling and perhaps some tears before you feel you have managed to take the immediate hurt in. Be willing to be wounded by it.
When an inhalation has a feeling of completeness – that that particular hurt has been accepted and felt in its fullness – breathe out from your heart center. Repeat this cycle, emphasis on the inhalation to accept and allow whatever hurts to just hurt, as much as it needs to. Alternate to: Emphasis on the exhalation from the heart, which is most likely to be felt as warm, loving and giving.
It can happen that each inhalation brings in pain and hurt and each inhalation returns love, or it can take a few inhalations then a few exhalations in turn. Allow your own rhythm with it. When breathing hurt in, draw it from your heart at first. When that pain seems eased, draw hurt into your heart from your whole body. If you go long enough and take the feelings in willingly enough, you may come to feel that all current hurt in the body has been felt (and released as love on your out breath).
At this point, seldom before half an hour into the practice for a beginner, draw hurt, pain, all forms of suffering that your awareness can reach to. Just the general massed vibe of suffering from any cause or none. Breathe it into your heart center and breathe back love and compassion. An hour to two is usually the best timing. Marathon sessions, even through an entire night can happen too, especially in times of intense suffering and distress for you, personally, or for the planet at large.
This practice is attributed to Master Atisha who said: “As you breathe in, take in and accept all the sadness, pain, and negativity of the whole world, including yourself, and absorb it into your heart. As you breathe out, pour out all your joy and bliss; bless the whole of existence.”
There are safety instructions. This is a deceptively simple yet extremely powerful practice. If you have any weird health problems (particularly an intense pain in the sternum, feeling like physical damage) which start after you have been using this meditation, do check back here if perhaps you forgot (or, like me, willfully ignored) the rules at first sight.
Rule 1: Your own hurt first. Start with pain at the heart, then gradually outward through your body, accepting and feeling all current suffering. First you, thoroughly, before reaching out.
Rule 2: You may find the movement of energy in this meditation very palpable. Easy to direct and guide. Particularly if you have experience of martial arts, intuitive massage, Reiki, Magick, Chi-gung, Taoist or other practices which can activate/enable perception of subtle-body energies. Do Not. Do not personalize – do not direct where you draw hurt and suffering from. Do not direct it either. Just let the love return to existence, unconditionally.
If you break the rules and bring on the likely suffering, there is one medicine: This practice. Practiced with sincerity and honesty, pretty much daily for a month or so before improvement happens. Perhaps several months before the body feels it is back to normal.