If you like stories and lessons learned from life, this blog is for you. On the one hand, it is an invitation to engage in self-discovery on the order of bija mantras for the chakras. And on the other hand, it encourages you, the seeker and the practitioner, to not take anyone's word for granted but to seek and discover the truth for yourself.
The Buddha taught:
"Believe nothing because a wise man said it,
Believe nothing because it is generally held.
(and there'e more to this quote below...)
It was called Y2K: the year 2000. People were terrified that something terrible would happen at the turn of the millennium, particularly around digital clocks not resetting and the chaos ensuing. But, paradoxically, my life was getting exciting. Just the year before, I had recorded my album Nada Yoga at an incredible studio deep in the California redwoods. Kenny was an engineer who recorded the Grateful Dead and many other greats. I was excited about a multiple-album contract with a New York label that would feature various aspects of the Yoga of Sound in which I had specialized. One of those albums was on the chakras and the kundalini experience. So I called it "Shakti Yoga."
Shakti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga: Potaeto, Poahto!
The turn of the millennium came and went without so much as a hiccup. I invested my recording contract advance in the latest audio technology that combined the old-world analog sound with the new digital capabilities for this new series. The Alesis Digital Audio Tape (ADAT) used a magnetic tape format, the same as VHS tape (remember Blockbuster?) used by consumer VCRs to record eight digital audio tracks. And you could stack the ADAT connecting them through a fiber optic cable to sync quite a few. I bought three of them to be able to record 24 tracks of audio. However, I still chose to go into a studio (another one in Berkeley, Ca) with a full hard-board console and mixing capabilities; Additionally, since I did not know how to clean up the audio, it turned out to be a laborious studio process.
The album Shakti Yoga was born! And here is the original track on the chakra bijas.
This track is plain compared to the rich orchestration of the lengthy opening tracks featuring Shiva and Shakti. The idea was to convey the raw experience of Tantric sound healing as authentically as possible.
Would you believe I recorded this album in a closet in our two-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California? It was a tiny closet that barely could hold me, let alone my sitar or guitar. But I belted out multiple tracks running back and forth to hit the record button between takes. And I did numerous variations of the vocals. Thankfully our neighbor, a dear Jewish lady in her nineties (Nettie) with perfect hearing, was such a dear friend. She not only tolerated all the crazy mantras I was chanting but came to many of my live performances as well. Our other Jewish neighbors living above us (the Zukermans), an elderly couple, were just as kind. They passed on to that further shore now: awesome humans!
One of the crazy things I did was reverse the bija mantras for the heart and throat chakra. Oh, did I get a lot of emails as a result! Some people just asked why. Others were up in arms that I had gone against tradition.
Here's what I explained recently to someone who asked the same question:
"When I created the Yoga of Sound series (in 2000), I was also teaching Tantra within the university system (MA and D.Min in spirituality). Because the products were being distributed simultaneously within record outlets (Virgin, Tower) and bookstores (Barnes and Noble, Borders), my record label wanted it to combine music and learning. The interchanging of the syllables drew listeners into practice and discovery while facilitating a musical experience. The concept was to convey without words a test of ears, mind, and consciousness: If someone went by the standard order, how authentically could they correlate the sounds with their direct experience of the chakras?
The Indian spiritual tradition is not uniform, with varying sounds and mudras in different texts and often contradictory. "Tantra," in particular, is filled with paradoxes. The syllables' interchanging was to interrupt assumptions in the practitioner to facilitate direct and personal realizations.
Teachers of Tantra often resort to methods like this to encourage direct perception instead of assumed perception. However, if a sound is "supposed" to have such an effect, what happens when a practitioner uses that sound? Or are they trying to confirm their experience with an idea proposed by someone else, even a scripture?
To drive this point home, I would quote the Buddha:
(two lines from this quote at the start of this blog)
Believe nothing because a wise man said it,
Believe nothing because it is generally held.
Believe nothing because it is written.
Believe nothing because it is said to be divine.
Believe nothing because someone else believes it.
But believe only what you yourself judge to be true.
Initially, I took a risk by interchanging the syllables. As you can imagine, I got many emails inquiring why or pointing out I had made a mistake.
Since explaining the process to each person who contacted me was more work than anticipated, I changed the syllables to the standard order later in the 2006 version of the same album. So it looks like you listened to an old version of the track. My book, The Yoga of Sound: Tapping The Hidden Power Of Music And Chant, came after the release of the original CDs (2004).
I hope that answers your question."
In 2005, after we relocated to Austin, Texas, the label wanted the name changed to Shakti: Tantric Embrace. As a result, the album got new artwork and a fresh promotional boost. It ended up on the Billboard charts for nine weeks!
Making the Billboard charts amounts to nothing spiritually. Charts are for the ego and, sometimes, for the spiritual ego. However, could redoing the sounds in the standard order have had anything to do with it?
Today, I realize that not all art is spiritual, and not all spirituality can be rendered through art. Tantra is one of those traditions that call for a certain rawness and truth that is hard to convey.
Music is profoundly healing! And, when combined with mantras, music can have a remarkable effect. However, certain aspects of Tantra are best known when we prepare the mind and when contextualized by healing rituals. And these methods are further enhanced with awareness, mudras, breath, and meditation.
Would you like to learn what I have learned from three decades of teaching Tantra at the university level and in yoga studios and centers such as Kripalu, Esalen, and the Omega Institute?
Learn about CHAKRAS AND KUNDALINI, the content I taught in the Master of Liberal Arts and Doctor and Ministry programs in California for fifteen years.