Embodied Spirituality in Vajrayana History

Spiritual practice and everyday life are not separate. In contrast to conventional approaches, this spiritual journey does not involve distancing oneself from “samsara;” from all that is physical, bodily, worldly, “impure,” and problematic. Rather it is a process of an ever deeper and more complete entry into those domains of our existence. We discover that it is precisely within the interior “space” of those aspects of our fully embodied, ordinary, human lives that the most important discoveries occur, and our true spiritual journey can unfold. This is why the experience of the natural state is so crucial for practitioners, right from the beginning of their journey, for it provides the unbiased, unlimited awareness within which the true sacredness of all experience can be seen.

Though the path of Somatic Meditation is not “religious” in nature, it has deep and ancient roots in the Vajrayana Buddhism of India, Tibet, and elsewhere in Asia. The tantric approach of Somatic Meditation takes our Soma — our body — as the fundamental arena of practice. Rather than trying to develop meditation through our thinking mind in a “top-down” process, as is the case with most contemporary approaches, Somatic Meditation involves a bottom-up process, wherein we connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body.

In Vajrayana, the human body is in fact pointed out and personally discovered to be nothing other than the Buddha’s own threefold body of enlightenment. These are the three dimensions of our fundamentally, already fully awakened incarnate being: immaculate awareness — our most fundamental nature; the energy of awareness; and self-less compassion, from which the spontaneous responsiveness naturally flows. All of these occur outside of ego’s framework.

The hallmark of the Vajrayana in our lineage is that we begin with the fruition of the journey; we begin by pointing out, in a fully experiential, way the reality of the enlightenment within us. Meditation is the space within which we receive this fruition, and the method by which we develop it in ourselves. Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the feelings, sensations, somatic intuition, and felt sense of the body itself. In Buddhist terms, the human body is always abiding in the meditative state, the domain of awakening; we are simply endeavoring to gain entry into that.

Unless we make room for a direct, unmediated experience of our body as it is, without manipulation or distortion, then deep, lasting, ultimate transformation cannot occur. This helps us understand the curious fact that many people, even after decades of practicing top-down methods, will give up meditation, finding that the ultimate transformation they were looking for has not happened.

For all the benefits of top-down meditation, there is always an element of a conscious agenda; a subtle, if unconscious, culling of what comes up, and a prioritizing of some experiences over others. Hence, the ego ultimately stays in control. This freezes our development, landing us in what John Welwood calls “spiritual bypassing.” We are unable to grow. We are bypassing our actual life and the opportunity for endless spiritual maturation that are inherent within us. When we let what we think should happen override our body’s imperative of what actually needs to happen, we are turning away from the opportunity to become fully and completely human in this life; we are turning away from the highest spiritual realization.

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