Five Sources of Pain, Part 1

Pentagrammatic five kleshas yantra
Rose Devi’s Klesha Yantra

The Five Kleshas, the sources of pain, are given significant attention in the classical Yoga of Patañjali, but they are absolutely essential in the Yoga of the Nathas. They are the principle obstacles in any process of illumination. As such, we give them our attention at the outset of our practice.

But why focus on the problem rather than the solution?

In the case of the Kleshas, the two are one in the same. Knowing about the obstacles is already a huge step forward in the way that knowing about the presence of a toxin in the system is necessary before finding an appropriate countermeasure. To this end, we might even install a Klesha Yantra on our altar for worship; we are not therefore worshiping the Kleshas, but rather the awareness which makes them increasingly transparent to us and the fire which reduces their substance to ash. In fact, the pentagram-as-Yantra is itself used in the worship of Rudra and Bhairava — each radiating triangle is a tongue of flame reaching out from the central pentagon-dhuni. The points of the pentagram are therefore not the Kleshas themselves, but the energy crystallized by them awaiting the freedom of the flames.

“Klesha” can be translated as hardship, trouble, anguish, pain from disease. I like the translations of “obstruction” and “source of pain”. Applied to the spiritual process, the Kleshas are the five greatest sources of pain which follow us through all individual experience. We name them: Ignorance, Ego, Attachment, Repulsion, and Clinging to Life. Every spiritual tradition worth the name has its parallel notions, and may enumerate them differently and draw subtle distinctions where others do not feel the need. There are two most important points shared by enough of them to consider them universals: that there is something deeply rooted in what it means to be a sentient being that causes suffering (dukha), and that the sources of pain are rooted in ignorance or delusion.

In your own practice, use whatever list works for you. For me, this grouping of five is especially satisfying and helpful, especially when each Klesha is mapped onto a point of the pentagram. The lines of the pentagram denote specific relationships between them, as do the arcs of the circle which connect the points in a different order. Future posts in this series will explore these relationships in depth, but for now just be aware that they exist; in short, the Kleshas are not separate psychic forces, but a single source of disease which manifests principally in five ways, and that the relationships between these five make them appear as all the many harmful habits, tendencies, thoughts, and behaviors of which we are capable.

This series will explore these obstructions in some depth, as well as the nature of their relationships. More importantly, I’ll go into the insights I’ve gained in how we can make use of this information in spiritual practice. Regardless of your tradition and methods of choice, there is help to be found in studying the Kleshas — not just in the abstract, but in the day to day particulars of your life.

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Post Scheduling & Patreon

I know I’ve been quiet here for a while. I have a lot of material I’m getting ready to go, though, so starting tomorrow I’m committing to post every other Friday.

In support of this, I am also launching a Patreon for any readers who may be willing and able to help me in keeping this blog rolling. Writing takes a lot of time and energy, as well as the background of my daily, weekly, and monthly meditation and magical practice, and the cost of maintaining the domain and hosting for the blog itself. Any money you decide to put into my Patreon will therefore help me to keep to this post schedule and expand it moving forward.

Just as importantly, I also have a number of related projects in the works — from chapbooks to a podcast — which will also require more time, picking up or polishing some different skill sets, and so on, but which I’m sure will be of interest to anybody reading this. The Patreon will also help to bring those to life.

If this blog has brought any value to your spiritual practice or your intellectual life, please consider clicking the link above or in the sidebar and becoming a patron. Every little bit really does help. Either way, stick around for more regular content moving forward.

I Ching for 2019

I don’t do as much divination as a lot of people I know. I’m not the sort who turns toward Tarot and astrology any time I need to make a decision, even an important one. Instead, I tend to use them for spiritual and psychological guidance, setting the tone for a project I’m working on, or otherwise gaining perspective. There’s ancient advice concerning I Ching which I think applies as well to most other oracles, and it simply comes down to this: don’t be frivolous. Everyone has to figure out what that means for themselves, but for me it usually means that if I already intuitively know the answer, I’m not going to bother the cards or coins about it. If we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s most things, most of the time. Nevertheless, there will always be some things which are obscured or too far away for us to see them clearly, and so we have tools. For most questions requiring deeper vision and farther sight, I turn to I Ching.

I have been privately doing I Ching readings for the “tone of the year”, but realized that it may be of interest to others as well. This year, I did two readings: a private one for myself, and one to share with the public.

The query was simple: “What is the spiritual tone for 2019 which my readers should know?”

The Response

Hexagram 54 (The Marrying Maiden) with an old Yang in the fourth place;

Hexagram 63 (After Completion) at the heart of the matter;

Hexagram 54 transforms into Hexagram 19 (The Approach).

The Reading

It’s interesting to note, first of all, that the response of the Marrying Maiden was the same for the public reading as well as my own private reading. The line reading came out differently, but it strikes me that there is a common tenor set for the year for those of a magical and spiritual bent who find some resonance with my writing. The Marrying Maiden advises us to maintain an unshaken focus on the eternal end, which is to say “keep your eyes on the prize”. This constitutes the purity of intention necessary in Yoga. While it may mean having to pass up opportunities in order not to divert one’s efforts, the changing fourth line promises that our inner purity will not have been in vain when an opportunity comes along that actually moves us forward in our spiritual practice.

At the heart of the Marrying Maiden is After Completion: while it may feel that we are just waiting around as we quietly continue our practice, we are really in a dynamic balance in our work. We are trying to hold the middle between two extremes and if we lose focus or become lazy with the thought that everything will take care of itself, this balance will collapse. Here is the most urgent reason to remain intellectually pure, for backsliding is always a possibility until the goal is reached.

In the midst of all of this focus, it is easy to lose sight of other people and their needs, or to feel superior to “the herd” for our different priorities. While a real concern for others can arise naturally from spiritual practice, it doesn’t necessarily do so on its own. We must cultivate humility and compassion not as sidelines but as an integral part of maintaining our internal balance. Excessive egotism is a klesha, a source of pain for all involved, and we must root it out by developing its opposites—if not for their own sake, at least to maintain the equipoise necessary to continue our development.

The Discussion

Any divination is a conversation more than a pronouncement. As such, it is up to every reader to figure out how the above applies to their own life. There is a general interpretation I can give, however, which will likely have something to say for most or all of us. If I were speaking with a client, I might say it like this:

You would be wise to put your full effort into remaining grounded in your spiritual practice in the midst of the chaos of the world. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whether it be Yoga or the Hermeticism of Franz Bardon or ceremonial magic or whatever, contemplate the goal of your practice every day and never lose sight of it, no matter what the world throws at you.

Politics, religion, economics, and similar factors will always be trying to grab your attention and topple you. Maintaining the equilibrium of priorities will make you unassailable. This can, however, lead to falling off the other way into inaccessibility, coldness, and arrogance. It is necessary, therefore, to maintain contact with other people, to allow ourselves to grow affectionate towards them, and to remember that we are all in this together. This doesn’t imply a milquetoast acceptance of anyone else’s bullshit, but it does necessitate making the effort to understand their actions and motives just as we come to understand our own.

When we talk about the world as an obstacle to spirituality, we must be quite clear: “the world”, in this context, refers not to the natural world itself but to the cultural and social world—the world of reified ideas and assumptions. This particular world assails us every moment of every day from the moment we are born until we die (and, arguably, even between death and rebirth, though differently) and we must consciously, deliberately choose to construct an inner world more in line with a combination of our own ideals, the world of Nature, and a vision of the Immensity (brahman) we call God. This process won’t usually make us a lot of friends, but it will ensure our integrity.

2019 will not be an easy year, but what year is? Harkening back to, say, 2012, or even 1996, people may pine for a year when “everything was okay,” but it only looked “okay” if you weren’t paying attention. Better that we make our way well in the world, help those we can, and keep our own equipoise at the center of our concern. We can then better enjoy the good times and carry through with far more wisdom and power during the bad times.

Here’s to all of you. May 2019 bring you the wisdom, power, and integrity to not only make it through, but to excel on your way.

Blog Update & Moving Forward

I apologize for the silence of late! I know that I still have some readers who check in to see if I’ve added anything, and it’s been months since I have.

I have indeed been writing, and I do have some articles in the works for this site. I did, somewhat recently, add to my Metapsychology of Liberation series over at Phanes (formerly Phalanx)—a site run by the indefatigable Angel Millar. I have also been working on a book. My goal is to have enough written for it to begin submitting to publishers in the spring, so of course that has taken up most of my writing time over the past few months.

But there’s more…

Since my initiation as a Nath two Septembers ago, now, I’ve been undergoing a shift in focus in my own practice. This hasn’t been a huge change so much as it has been a cleaner synthesis of spiritual impulses which have always been natural to me. Though it has forced me to reevaluate a lot of relationships, both to people and to ideas, it has been something of a homecoming for me. I am learning more and more how much of a natural fit so many of my prior practices have with one another. Many teachers I’ve had, organizations I’ve looked into or had brief affiliations with, and systems I’ve explored have (whether actively or passively) discouraged the exploration of other methods and ideas, or else discouraged their coming together with any other stream for any reason. This never sat well with me. And I’m happy to say that the Nathas have no such attitudes: While our focus is simple and straightforward, we are each encouraged to explore as we see fit and to make use of what gets the job done rather than worrying over some abstract doctrinal purity.

All of this to say that this blog, along with me, will be opening up a bit. I will begin to explore topics even further afield of a “purely Hindu” purview than I already have, and will hopefully bring a little more of the practical in here as well. It is also my hope to have the occasional guest writer or even interview to gain some perspective on practices well beyond my own. Context is king, after all, and the more we can learn about how and why others do what they do, the more our own contexts fill in.

The heart and soul of this blog are therefore staying the same: my own focus is, and ever has been, on the essentials of spiritual development. But I will also be working to fill in the gaps around the edges and hopefully to add some much-needed depth to prior discussions by making connections in a variety of directions. I know that this all sounds vague right now, but it should all start to come clear as I begin to post some new articles in coming weeks.

Thanks for sticking around, everyone. More soon.

Book Review: Yoga Vidya Samhita

Yoga Vidya Samhita
Vidyanath
Art by Sri Vijayanath & Alex Gehrz
Self-published (2018) — Purchase link to follow when available

Part poetry, part prosody, and part Devil’s DictionaryYoga Vidya Samhita is Patanjali and Bodhidharma as told by Groucho Marx.

As ethics dictate, I should tell you first that this book was given to me by the author. It was not, however, given to me to review, as the book isn’t receiving a wide enough release for free review copies to be a good idea. It was given to me because I helped out a little bit with the editing and because the author, Vidyanath, is a very close friend of mine.

It would, therefore, have been easy enough for me to keep my mouth shut, say a few comforting platitudes to my friend, and never have said a word to the public if I didn’t like the book. Instead, I chose to write this brief review of Yoga Vidya Samhita because it’s exactly the sort of thing I wish there were more of in the marketplace of books on the occult, esoteric spirituality, Yoga, and related topics: an unpretentious, good-humored distillation of a lifetime of experience.

Vidyanath is the living embodiment of mysticism. He is faithful to his Way in every moment of his daily life but light-hearted non-dogmatic in his discussion of it. He has a light touch on heavy experiences, but isn’t too cowardly to abrade or upbraid when necessary. More than anything, Vidyanath has a sense for the essential. This book is not long, but it is deceptively dense. There were plenty of times during my first couple of reads when I couldn’t understand why a line had been included or why a paragraph was placed where it was, or how a joke was relevant to the topic under discussion. I would shrug and keep reading, for the time being, but when I came back through on a second, third, or later revisit, I found some of these things clicking into place. Nothing is without purpose, here, and there is no filler.

But who is it for? Clearly intended originally for his fellow initiates, or close friends of, the International Nath Order, Vidyanath has produced a handbook suitable to novices of Nath Yoga. Yoga Vidya Samhita does not provide direct instructions in meditation or ritual. Instead, it includes the sort of pointers which are often not explicitly discussed. One often wonders why these details are left out of books and other teachings and we must conclude that, often enough, it is simply because the teacher in question is not as qualified as could be hoped. Vidyanath is a rare Yogi of the modern world who has reached sufficient depth to come back and tell us about it in the simplest terms. As such, serious meditators outside of the INO would surely also find it a helpful field guide. It’s a shame that this work will probably never have the wide distribution that it deserves—given how little interest there is in mysticism utterly devoid of flash and pretension—but I’m extremely happy to have mine and to keep it handy for when I need a re-grooving.

Rat Bites & Spreading Plagues

If the rat-race is a problem, what of the rats themselves? Well, at the outset, I don’t mean to insult every occultist around. Like I said before, there are plenty of sincere, skilled, and genuinely compassionate magicians and mystics out there who are or consider themselves to be part of the occult community. Well and good. But there are those who would intentionally bring others to harm or unintentionally lead them astray. It’s too easy to fall into paranoia, but no good comes of that. It’s better just to know some of the possibilities and look out for patterns. Here are five true stories, the first four current and the fifth from about a dozen years ago:

  • There is a magician who calls spirits to force men to have sex with them, who is always surprised when the men come to their senses and leave (often in horror), and who has set themselves up as a teacher and a shaman;
  • There is a magician who heads-up an initiatory school and forces ritual spirit possession upon women so that they may have sex with those women without the women even being aware of it;
  • There is a magician who does not believe that it is possible to obtain information from spirits, and yet claims to do spirit work and sells services which rely on spirit contact;
  • There is an occult author, quite well-respected in some circles, who publicly denounced their guru and teachers for publicity’s sake, threw some friends under the bus for their lack of misanthropy, and now spends time begging women for sexual favors while using occult tropes and hints of “Tantric secrets” to entice them;
  • There was a Neopagan “elder” and Witch who traveled around in a van, going from Pagan festival to occult gathering, trying to convince much younger women to sleep with him and, when they wouldn’t, forcing himself upon them. Last I heard of him, he had been arrested for sexual assault.

The first two may sound pretty far-out, while the latter three are just occult-themed versions of unfortunately run-of-the-mill abhorrent behavior, the likes of which you will find in any group of human beings large enough to draw con-artists, frauds, predators, and the well-deluded. Those who have not seen the likes of the first two—who don’t know what spirits, properly called, or what magic generally can do—may think them the overreaching efforts of those who have nothing more constructive to do with their time than to mess with “spooky action at a distance” on other people. But consider, for a moment, even beyond skepticism, the motives behind such actions. Even if a person’s gun is loaded with blanks, if they aren’t aware of that and they point it at someone else and pull the trigger with the intent to harm or kill, should we not at least take that intention seriously? And all the moreso in that the act is obviously premeditated? Perhaps, in such a case, there isn’t enough evidence to convict in a court of law, but there’s certainly enough for the intended victim to take action to keep themselves safe.

Here, then, is the scum of the occult community. It only tends to rise to the surface when the pond is stirred or plumbed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there even when you don’t see it. Like any population, many occultists are doing their best just to get by and find some meaning, security, and happiness in life. But there are some who carry diseases, who are driven by their diseases, and who want nothing more than to infect others. Just as you can tell rabies from a distance by watching for erratic behavior, foaming around the mouth, and other tell-tales, you can often catch out an occultist or magician (whether they’re any good at it or not) who means to manipulate you or do you harm. Watch how they behave in social settings. As the old saying goes, when someone tells you who they are, believe them; they’ll often let you know their intentions more obviously than they even realize. If you are a magician or mystic yourself, tap your resources to gain more information. I find that I Ching is exceptionally good for gaining insight on how best to approach people, both groups and individuals. But, when in doubt, take control of your own sphere of influence; do not allow someone to get closer than their earned trust should indicate and, if someone willfully breaks that trust and reveals bad faith, step away. Finally, if someone finds you a bad mark they will likely walk away; let them, but be aware that they may well try a last, frustrated, parting shot.

Predators and charlatans have a lot of tells, but we often insulate ourselves from them by our own optimism, romanticism, and desire for friends with similar interests and worldviews. But as in all areas of life, a commonality with a person in one area does not mean that they will be helpful to your spiritual practice or even that they are a decent person worthy of your time and energy. Again, misanthropy, cynicism, and paranoia don’t keep us safe; they instead dissolve the social bonds which allow us to support one another when real dangers do rear up. But caution and intelligent application of one’s knowledge and skills, drawing on the knowledge and skills of trusted friends, are warranted here as in any other area of life.

Here, though, is one more reason to avoid the occult rat-race. Filter carefully, make friends, keep it simple, and don’t waste your time on superficial “community”; the practice is the thing.

The Occult Rat-Race

Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind. ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutras I.2

I had a very good day, today. I spent it at work, at a job I love, surrounded by people I respect from all walks of life who form a community based around joy and the exercise of the mind. If you didn’t already know, I work in a tabletop gaming store, and for as “un-spiritual” as that may sound, it is at least constructive and brings happiness. And, best of all, not a single person with whom I interacted today—one of the biggest sale days of the year for us, so the store was a constant coming-and-going of people—there was not a single esotericist there to make the day tiresome.

As with any religion, one may lose faith in occultism, and that for a variety of reasons. One may, for instance, never apply oneself to the practices and disciplines, thus get none of the promised results, and blame the tradition instead of oneself. One may apply oneself fully to the advised disciplines and find that they do not live up to the promises—or else they give the desired results but those turn out to be far different than expected. Very commonly, loss of faith comes from some combination of these and another rather important factor: the community itself does not live up to its ideals and promises. For instance, I know people who have given themselves up entirely to atheism or nihilism because the religious communities in which they have tried to find homes were so hypocritical and full of hate, avarice, and the other regular vices that it made the whole endeavor eventually seem bankrupt.

I have duly and entirely lost my faith in occultism and, more to the point, in occultists. This has been a gradual process, not a drop off a cliff but a sloughing-off, at first uncomfortable, unpleasant, even painful, but eventually relieving. This has not come due to failure of the practice, either on my part or those of the methods themselves. It has in fact been the reverse: the more success I gain with the ritual magic of Tantra and the alchemy of Yoga, the less patience I can spare for counterfeits.

There is also the point of community to address. I know many excellent magicians and mystics. But they, too, have gotten or are rapidly getting to the point of seeing no profit in associating with the broad swath of occultism which exists in every city. Far better, they find, to keep to themselves, going about their daily lives rather innocuously, often not seeming like anyone out of the ordinary. “By their fruits you will know them,” though, so they will often find one another anyway, but it doesn’t need to be an active search.

It is true that a leading motive of spirituality is an effort to escape misery and find true happiness. This is an honest and reasonable motive. But it all too easily turns into the like of any other pursuit of happiness: social gamesmanship takes the fore as meaningless loyalties are tested among and by people who take themselves as undeservedly seriously as high school heartbreak; everyone places the weight of the world upon their own shoulders, despite a lack of meaningful action, because it makes them and their relationships appear as important as they feel; public declarations take the place of self-study. There is a parasitism among occultists who all feel entitled to access every piece of wisdom and knowledge without having to work for it or come by any of it through the honest experience of life. And, worse, there are the outsized egos who will gladly take advantage of those around them with something to give, a willingness to give it, and the well-meaning but naive belief that doing so will make any difference.

When writing about teachers, I quoted the phrase “occult rat-race” in reference to the usual, endless sorts of orders, lodges, covens, organizations, correspondence courses, and books. Almost as much as the people who engage with them, these things make up the run-of-the-mill of the esoteric world. Of course any and all of these may individually be helpful if they happen to be of better-than-average quality. The rat-race, however, is in being stuck to any of them. Attachment and repulsion have their play, perhaps more than usual when thoughts and self-identifiers of spirituality and special knowledge become involved. When active self-study and proper guidance are involved, this environment may turn the obstructions against one another and burn useless self-identity away. But under all other circumstances these conditions form the perfect hot house for the ego to grow and nescience to deepen; and when genuine magical or mystical methods are employed by or upon those who are not prepared for them, this situation becomes drastically worse, just as wires lacking insulation will start a fire or electrocute someone when a strong current is introduced.

The practice of Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind so that Awareness, pure and uncolored, may be seen to as it is, self-effulgent and eternal. The body of occultism, with its myriad organizations, theatrics, dramatic people, meddlers, repetitive books, and endless doctrines—even or especially in the presence of genuine cleverness and ability—is nothing but the continuation and cultivation of more and more modifications of the mind, leading further and further from the very illumination so many occultists claim as their desire.

Simplify, simplify! Climb the wall and leave the maze! Though it will of the necessity of health be gradual, let fall away the unnecessary and do not worry after it once it is gone. It will not always be fun, and sometimes it will be quite painful, but what is mere ballast will go on its own if you let it.

He who is free from attachment and hatred, devoted to the good of all beings, fixed in knowledge, and steady shall attain to the supreme state. ~ Avadhuta Gita II.24