“You should take the words ‘birth and death’ and paste them on your foreheads, and seek a clear insight into them.” Wuzu Fayan
The simple wisdom that you will die, when fully taken to heart, can have great impact and import in a persons life and development. The person who are willing to meet Death will become a person of great wisdom and integrity. For those whose passion is for nothing less than complete awakening; Death is a gate which must be walked through. Those who enter the spiritual path coming through this gate are high quality sadhaks who will be solid, intense, sincere to the core, and understand the urgency and immediacy of the work. The Tantric work should not be flimsy little flights, but rather be grounded and very “Real”, and Death (maybe paradoxically) is a spiritually grounding force. This means that what is done (sadhanas etc.) is very much in relation to the persons Being (as Death brings a sort of organic relation into ones spirituality).
“O Yama, material things endure only a short time. They quickly loose luster. Even the longest life is brief indeed. Keep all transient gifts and reveal the truth of death.” Nachiketa Katha Upanishad
Meeting Death is decidedly not taking up some notion of what death is or means. It is not even some metaphysical insight which sees through and/or transcends the phenomena. Death must be met nakedly, and to be truly naked one should not wear armors of beliefs. One must let the gut punch of Death hit you and fully be open to that force without “hiding” behind any concepts. One may have various notions about Death, but be willing to put these aside and see for yourself. Like a scientist who does an experiment, one does not want to interject anything which will taint the result. To face Death like this, one must be open to the possibility that they will not like what they find out. It seems likely that people intuit that they will not like what they find out, which accounts for the nonsense that people will take up and go through to avoid a true encounter. However, those who are willing to try this experiment will have a gift for their whole lives, and the gift will make them as serious as a heart attack until they have a serious heart attach.
“Death is the desolate experience in which our habitual patterns cannot continue as we would like them to….A new force, a new energy, takes us over, which is ‘deathness’, or discontinuity. It is impossible to approach that discontinuity from any angle. That discontinuity is something you cannot communicate with, because you cannot please that particular force. You cannot make friends with it, you can’t con it, you can’t talk it into anything. It is extremely powerful and uncompromising.” Chogyam Trungpa
Death is a great guide to the sadhak and can reveal many things. For one, just the experience of the annihilating force of Death can open one up into true realization. In this capacity, the guiding force reveals all that is not permanent where upon the sadhak of subtle mind may drop all attachments and truly “see” the heart of Being. “Bumping” into Death while taking ones previous insights and realizations may prove that these “revelations” cannot stand up against this force, and that matters must be taken to a deeper level. So in this way, Death acts as the test of any insight and/or a barometer of those realizations. One understands that ultimately, Death is the “one” who will be the judge of these things. So the person who understands this will be disinclined to give much concern over the thoughts and opinions of other people. This in itself avoids all kinds of non-sense and spiritual materialism. When at a crossroads in life, it is instructive to “go” to your time of Death and make the decision from there. Death is a giver a much broader perspectives, and much of the muck that people get involved with is mainly do to lack of perspective. So we are not talking about any belief in Death as some entity, but we are talking about your real and inevitable Death.
“Ask advice from your death…An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you. How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?” Journey to Ixtlan
To be a true Tantric, one must be largely dead. The Kaulas say: “First bring Death to the path, then bring Life.” The “person” has to be to a large extent seen through (and since the “person” is seen to be transparent and without substance; this can be called dead). From Death, one simply IS the light of consciousness, and it is from “here” that the Ishta and mandala come forth into birth. In many Tantric sadhanas, there exists a “death” process followed by a rebirth process. One goes through the process of the elements and consciousness dissolving, and then generates the “pure” seeds (bijas) and is born from this. First the seeds, then the rupa. In the experienced Kaula, there is a continual pulse of life and death with the pulse of life being the Ishta and the pulse of death coming from the sword of wisdom that cuts off heads (ego, attachments, identifications, projections etc). The Tantric makes the discontinuous force continuous, and this is the “ground” of the Ishta. Like the import that death represents, the Ishta is only meaningful (in Tantra) when it is very real and deeply related to aspects viewed in ones “own” Being. This “relating” (and also not avoiding) brings spirituality “home”, and it is ruthlessly “in your face” (is your face in fact).
Often I hear from people who are interested in Tantra. Sometimes one is just interested in the forms, or often one expresses interest in some deity. There is often interest in sadhanas or aspects of manifesting power. All this is a many respects limiting. All that is of concern is Truth and Reality, which comes from the real impulses surrounding the mysteries of Being (ie Life and Death). One should only be loyal to this sincerity of the heart, which is the unquenchable fire the consumes the rest of the frills, pomp, and rubbish that may surround “spirituality”. All this is to say that one needs to get in touch with the organic qualities that give a true sincerity. Let Death give you a nice slap and don’t move from it. If you don’t move long enough, then no doubt you will be a sincere sadhak. Then people can run off about this or that, and you will not be moved around. When opportunities present themselves, you will not waste them. For sure, (if you desire)you will encounter a true Guru. You will also be able to understand the Ishta from the center of your Being, with the Ishta existing as the center of your Being. And when you die, if you have woven the discontinuous, then the Ishta will be continuous. As for you…your screwed. Hahaha… Understand!
The cremation grounds are places of crossroads which are important pithas to sadhaks. Here the reality of death becomes a sensory experience that cannot be easily avoided. The shamshana is also a place of power and transformation, which are two qualities/forces that the Tantric seeks out. Becoming acquainted with the uncompromising force of death makes the sadhak steely and uncompromising. Putting oneself in the path of power makes one either stupid or powerful. When dealing with power (shakti), one should have subtle intuition which instructs action. One should understand timing, when to make a stand, when to hit and run, when to hold em and when to fold em. There should be a sense of openness and abandon, but this should not be haphazard and coarse. Jagud Baba Aghori was a master teacher of these principles (although never verbally), and revealed the dynamics and terms of encountering Shakti.
The Shamshana has a subtle atmosphere and the subtle/ethereal realms are more accessible in these grounds. As previously stated, Death is a grounding force that brings the realities to bear. So when you combine the qualities of subtlety with grounding, these are ideal conditions for true spirituality and transformation. In essence, this is much of what the Tantra marga is all about. For the sadhaks whose Ishta’s are closely associated with cremation grounds, there is a communion of access (being this is where this energies concentrate or dwell) and “identification” (as being in the dwelling opens greater resonance of Ishta AS sadhak). The vira may also refine raw shakti and transmute this into the enlightened expression of the Ishta (or this energies become part of the “extended” mandala).
Many Vira sadhanas are such because the sadhak is making a ruthless gesture toward power. The gesture is ruthless not against others, but rather one makes a naked and dispassionate move of profound association. It is also ruthless because it is not sentimental about the forms and convention/attachment that people are normally sentimental about (most notably people tend to be sentimental about themselves). When performing Shava sadhana for example, the sadhak to the seat upon all mortality and impermanence and physically associates with this. This is a sadhana of ruthlessness which explains the power of these things as much as any “magic”. Those places within us that make us squirm are often the untapped resources of bliss and liberation. The ultimate force that makes us squirm is Death, so why mess about with the branches and leaves when one can go to the root of matters. This is not a morbid endeavor, but rather leads to fearlessness and freedom. When it’s all said and done, we must meet Death, we must meet ourselves.
“Let what comes come, let what goes go, find out what remains” Ramana Maharshi