A few years ago I was traveling to Badrinath, 300 km north of Rishikesh in the northeast Himalayan region of India. Monsoon was just starting and suddenly the sky went dark and I could smell the in coming rain. Within few minutes it started pouring down. Lightning flashed across the low sky and thunder struck the mountain wall, suddenly the loud noises woke up all the lazy travelers. A gigantic boulder separated from mountain wall and rolled down. Luckily the drivers were quick to steer their vehicles off from the descending path of the boulder. The landslide blocked all traffic on the only road to Badrinath. It was a horrifying surprise for some travelers. No-one thought it will even rain today – leave alone the landslide. The unseen power of the thunder had set the fear rolling – we will be stuck on this road along the river Alaknanda for few nights. Nature was mischievously reminding us of the power at her disposal..
It brought to my mind Wrathful Vajrapani, the Bodhisattva of power. Vajrapani’s is one of the inner-force that I had taken on to focus my meditation practice, when I was in a Tibetan monastery near Boudhanath (Kathmandu, Nepal). Vajrapani means “bearer or holder of the vajra.” The word vajra means thunderbolt or adamantine. In Vedic myths the thunderbolt is the weapon of Indra, the chief of the gods, who uses it to destroy spells or charms. Vajra can also be defined as: “cutting-through” – as compared to thunder.” Deities in the tantric tradition don’t exist as external entities. They’re aspects of awakened mind, they are emanations of a particular inner-experience. These deities can be peaceful, fearsome, and wrathful, each one suited to the temperament of an individual tantric practitioner and teaching. Although the images are visually captivating, they are merely mnemonic devices..
It is easy to see how associations with thunder and with forceful aspect of nature in general come to be associated with Vajrapani. When I try to sense the transcendental that he embodies, all sort of metaphors come to mind. I think of wild cyclones sucking up the earth and throwing down everything in their way: volcanoes vomiting boulders and liquid heat and submerging whole islands in their fiery spew; roaring waterfalls that are terrifying and beautiful in equal measure. Vajrapani’s energy is not mere force, nor even power in a neutral sense. It is what the tantric tradition calls virya: “power in pursuit of the reality or truth.” It is power in us that perceives things as they really are rather than through the lens of the ego or ‘I-ness’.
Vajrapani is known for unpredictability. You never know what he might do, because he is associated with the wisdom that goes beyond the rational-conceptual mind. He is well known in all esoteric Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions. He is also patron saint of Shaolin monastery. Tantra means both the inherent power of motion, i.e., ‘motility’ and direct experience. The tantric practices are concerned with perceiving beyond the realm of the conceptual to the domain of heart-mind or luminous emptiness. Through the emptiness we can experience ourselves directly as pure luminosity or pure awareness that is unmediated by concepts.
I realized that what helped me to deepen my connection with Vajrapani was the sense of “stuck-ness” or stagnation, stuck behind the landslide on a way to high mountains, stuck in a difficult relationship, wounded and stuck in dysfunctional family, stuck in job that sucks life, stuck in addiction of ‘my-needs’, and in self-cherished routines of life that were dead long time ago.
Vajrapani often reminds me of Chogyam Trungpa’s question in Cutting through Spiritual Materialism – “Have we ever unmasked, stripping out of our suit of armor and our shirt and skin and flesh and veins, right down to the heart? Have we really experienced the process of stripping and opening and giving? That is the fundamental question.”
Tantric work often involves inner forcefulness. This idea is not a popular much popular. But if we are to break open our heart to feel the unconditional-love, sometimes ferocious attitude towards frozen aspects of ourselves is necessary. Tsoknyi Rinpoche says in Fearless Simplicity, “it is like a good chili pepper. You like it, but it burns you, but still you like it. A very, very good chili is hard on our tongue, and not only hard for our tongue, but at the other end there is a problem as well.” We know all this, but still sometime we like to eat the chili pepper to break the frustrating dullness and stagnation. At these times, sweetness of being comfortable and safe is just not enough.
This is where Vajrapani comes in. He is not going to seduce us into the easy life with his beauty. He is there to help us to force our way through difficult and unhealthy habits and psychological traps. He is like deep forceful breathing that cuts through the stagnation of dull mind. He is like the Ayurvedic formula, Trikatu (Black Pepper + Indian Long Pepper + dry Ginger) that awakens agni (power of metabolism) and cuts through the stagnant cold damp toxins that make us lethargic and drowsy. Or like a large does of Huang Qi (astragali radix) in Chinese Medicinal formulas that strongly moves the inner vital-breath to cut through stagnation that has paralyzed the channels. Vajrapani is a fierce, raw face of luminous reality that can dissolve all polarities and biases that hold us hostage and stops us from surrendering and opening our heart, and something deep within me resonates with that.
Most of our body is unconscious to us, we have no awareness of how our organs are doing their work or which part of brain is engaged at this moment. We are like icebergs — largely submerged, with just a visible tip. In Tantra the vital energy of the body and emotions is seen as vital ingredients for inner-alchemy. The body is actually valued for its elemental nature. To fully develop our awareness we must awaken and transform the emotional and sensual energies of the body. The Western obsession with burning fat and workouts has turned into a ‘cult of the body beautiful’, which has little or no relationship to the release and transformation of emotional energy. Meanwhile, for thousands of years in the East, there has been a highly advanced tradition of working with the body. The yogic, tantric and Himalayan Shamanic traditions are based on an understanding that the subtle energies within the body are to be freed and transformed. There are practices specifically designed to become aware of subtle channels in the body to resolve blocks and deficiencies.
In an Introduction to Tantra Lama Yeshe writes: “the West has discovered how to tap many powerful sources of energy in nature, but still remains largely unaware of the tremendous force, even more powerful than nuclear energy, contained within each of us. As long as this powerful internal energy lies undiscovered, our life is doomed to remain fragmented and purposeless, and we will continue to fall victim to the mental and emotional pressures so characteristic of our age.
If I could control the channels of my breath,
if I could perform precise surgery on myself,
I could create the substance that awareness is.
There’s nothing more valuable than that!
God does not often come as a person.
Who is awake and who asleep?
What is this lake that is continually
oozing back into the earth?
What can a human being offer to God?
What do we most deeply want?
The mind is what sleeps.
What recognizes itself as God is awake.
This always-disappearing lake
is made of our appetites,
this talking and listening.
The only offering you can make to God
is your increasing awareness.
And the last desire is
to be God in human form.
The soul, like the moon,
is new, and always new again.
And I have seen the ocean
Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla,
am new, each moment new.
My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.
When that was so,
I began to go naked,
~ Lalleshwari (13 CE. Kashmir, India)
May all beings be happy and free!