The 7 Perceivers or Levels of Consciousness

The Seven Perceivers

The root-text of the Trika school, The Final Triumph of the Phonemic Goddess (Mālinī-vijaya-uttara-tantra) presents a teaching on the seven types of sentient beings, the sapta-pramatrs, which are mirrored within each one of us as the seven layers of our own consciousness—that is, the seven ways we can see or experience reality.

There is of course some overlap of this list with some of the other lists, because all these sets are different ways of examining One being, different facets of the same jewel if you will, or different maps of the one reality. (Each of the Tantras tended to emphasize one of these maps over the others; there are some Tantras that try to include all the maps, as we are doing here, to better home in on the reality they all point to.)

As with all the maps, there are two ways we can proceed in examining the list: either the order of emanation (srsti-krama) or the order of re-absorption (samharakrama), which is also the ladder to liberation. As before, we will follow the samharakrama.

The first of the Seven Perceivers is the Sakala, which refers to the ordinary embodied human consciousness with which we are so familiar. (Some of the unseen beings also fall into the Sakala category; we will not address them here.) Sakala literally means “with (sa-) limited powers (kalā),“ meaning primarily the limitations of the three psychic Impurities. Sakala is a synonym of jīva, an embodied sentient being. “Sentient“ refers to the fact that the being in question can not only perceive an object, like animals can, but can be aware of itself as the perceiver of the object. That is, a Sakala has the basic capacity to know that he knows. Sakalas generally experience themselves as completely differentiated from each other and from objects of their awareness. They experience themselves as circumscribed in their cognition and action, and limited by place, time, and form. Since all beings perceive the universe in a manner defined by how they are constituted, Sakalas see the world as they see themselves: differentiated and circumscribed. Until a Sakala being touches a deeper layer of his own consciousness, he will find it very difficult to believe that there is another reality to be experienced at all.

The second of the Seven Perceivers is called the pralayākala, “one free of limitation due to dissolution.“ In ancient Shaivism, this was the name of beings who had not attained liberation by the time of the end of the universe (pralaya), and who existed in limbo until the next universe was created, that they may have bodies again. But in classical Śaiva Tantra, pralayākala refers to the second layer of consciousness within each one of us: the mode of unity-perception that we access every night in deep sleep. It is a state of non-duality, but the non-duality of nothingness, for it is void of conscious awareness along with everything else. Some meditators who access this state, which is like being awake at the level of deep sleep, get stuck by identifying themselves exclusively with the emptiness of the void experienced in this type of samādhi. They are unable to see any object of the waking state as an expression of that pure emptiness. Thus they can only experience non-duality in the void, and thus their meditation becomes a kind of escapism.

The third Perceiver is the vijñānākala, the one “free of limitation due to insight.“ This refers to one who has gone beyond Māyāand is thus free of both karma and the illusion of subject-object differentiation. Beings in this state experience the void of pure non-dual consciousness, the Fourth state (turya), but with full awareness, unlike the pralayākalas. They are able to see objects of perception as expressions of that non-dual state. However, they are still partially bound, for they are entirely passive and detached, unawake to the autonomy and dynamism of ultimate Consciousness. Nor are they free of the Impurity of Individuality. This means that they still believe in and experience themselves as separate individuals, rather than a spontaneously arising vibration of energy in the One. They may have a sense of themselves as superior to other beings, and though it is true that these vijñānākalas are in an exceedingly high state, their very sense of separation and superiority keeps them from the final liberation, that of awakening into the Pure Universe. Another way of saying this is to note that the state of a vijñānākala is the highest one can reach without the power of grace, without surrendering one’s individuality into something greater than oneself. So the vijñānākalas are pictured as being stuck at the summit of Māyā, unable to enter the Pure Universe (which is of course a state, not a place), insofar as they are unable to relinquish their sense of identity as a being of highly-evolved spiritual insight, a sense that separates them from others. Lastly, Vijñānākalas identify themselves as “pure consciousness” over and against any other aspect of their being, which they reject as “not-self.” Because of this, they relinquish their power of agency, and are not able to tap into the absolute autonomy of unbounded Consciousness and its power of active manifestation. In other words, they are stuck in the transcendent.

By the power of grace, we may penetrate to a yet deeper layer of awareness, the fourth Perceiver, known as Mantra. This is the lowest level of the Pure Universe, and thus the baseline for full liberation. It is a dynamic, action-oriented, extremely high-vibration state; it is a state of oneness with the Divine free of all three Impurities. There is still diversity on this level, however, because all the Mantra-beings are fully self-aware different vibrations of the One. To understand this level, we must remember that the doctrine of the Seven Perceivers has two aspects: it tells us about the seven types of beings in this universe and about the seven layers of our own consciousness. This makes perfect sense in this system, for each individual part of the whole reflects the pattern of the whole. If there is a type of being out there in the universe, it will be reflected within us as a part of ourselves, and vice versa. So why are the beings on this level called Mantra?

A unique doctrine of Śaiva Tantra is that mantras are not just sound vibrations or sentences: they are considered as conscious beings, emanations of the One Being but expressing a distinct flavor (rasa) of Awareness, as it were. Some of these Mantra-beings are what we usually refer to as the “gods and goddesses” of the mainstream Indian tradition. That is, in the Tantra, the true form of any god/dess is in fact a sound-vibration: its mantra. However, there are said to be seventy million mantra-beings in total, and thus many more than there are named gods and goddesses. If we ponder the description of these mantra-beings as structures of light, sonic emanations of God, complexifications of intelligence that serve to uplift limited beings, then perhaps we will call them by another name: angels. In the context ofŚaiva Tantra, I argue, “angel” is an accurate translation of “mantra,” taking into account exactly what mantra actually means to the Tantrik users of the term.

So in this doctrine the term ‘mantra’ refers both to these beings, who existing at the level of the śuddhavidyā-tattva, and as the fourth layer of our own consciousness, that is, our angelic layer of being, the layer of divine sound vibration. Mantra-beings, like all beings, see the universe in a form consonant with their own nature. That is, they see all reality as variegated pulsations of energy, interacting patterns of vibration. Only beings in the Impure Universe see things in terms of concrete, distinct matter. (Remember that the Pure and Impure Universes are not two different places, but two different ways of experiencing the same universe.) On this level of consciousness, the universe is seen as equally explicit in awareness with one’s awareness of self. Neither aspect has predominance; they are perfectly balanced mirrors of each other. Thus the phrase that expresses the experience of this level is said to be “This am I; I am this” (aham idam idam aham). As an interesting footnote, we may observe that in the Torah and the Bible, this is expressed in precisely the same way: when asked for his name, the Deity declares: “I am That am I” (ehyeh asher ehyeh, Exodus 3:14).

The fifth Perceiver is called Mantreśvara, “Lord of Mantras.” This is essentially a further expansion of the Mantra-level. The Mantreśvaras exist at the level of the Īśvara-tattva, the level of the personal Deity, of whom they are emanations. The phrase that expresses the experience of a Mantreśvara is idam aham, “I am this,” for in this liberated state all things are seen as an expression of one’s own nature. On this level, the “this” is predominant in experience, rather than the “I”; that is, “I am this.” When an accelerating object approaches the speed of light, the normal physical laws seem to change, becoming stranger, subtler, and more malleable. In the same way, as we progress through the layers of consciousness towards the state of infinite expansion, things get subtler and more difficult to explain.

The sixth layer of Consciousness is the Mantra-maheśvara, a yet fuller expansion of the synaesthetic light-sound-consciousness-being described earlier. The Mantramaheśvaras (and any embodied beings who have attained that level) exist on the plane of the Sadāśiva tattva, the level at which the “I” pole is emphasized, and the universe exists in its potential form, as a thought of its possibility, within the formless Divine. In other words, this phase of consciousness perceives the incipient universe—which is here merely implicit and inchoate—within itself, and thus experiences aham idam, “This (potentiality) am I,” or “This totality is my very Self,” but without any sense that the universe thus perceived exhausts its Being—indeed, it is a relatively small movement within infinite vastness. If we were moving in the sṛṣṭi-krama, the direction of creation (i.e. top down), this is the level of the first movement toward the creation of a manifest reality, the barest beginnings of the possibility of perceiving things in terms of two separate aspects. This is the level of icchāśakti, the creative upsurge within Consciousness, and so the Mantramaheśvaras exist as phases of the Divine Will.

Finally, the seventh Perceiver—who is also the First Perceiver if we are moving in the other direction—is of course Lord Śiva [tattva #1], who is said to “transcend all those lower perceivers, whose substance and nature is solely the Light of Consciousness [prakāśa], and for whom all states are nothing other than that same Light.“ This is not yet the end of the story, however, for the Śiva-Perceiver is in a sense limited by his transcendence: he can only perceive in terms of the Light, in terms of the Absolute, not the relative. NŚT thus teaches the doctrine of Supreme Non-duality [paramādvaya], that the ultimate reality is not wholly transcendent, or rather it is that while simultaneously wholly immanent. It is completely malleable, it surrenders itself into every form, no matter how humble. This perspective is the final attainment, for ‘here’ one sees all beings as the infinite Light but also in terms of their embodiment, their earthy humanity (or animality or whatever), naturally placing equal value on both, or rather seeing both as expressions of each other.

From this perspective, all the Seven Perceivers are different forms of one Perceiver. Ulimately, all these maps of reality have one and the same origin and terminus: the dynamic core of reality, the paradoxical simultaneously wholly transcendent and wholly immanent pulsation of Absolute Consciousness known as the Heart, Śiva-Śakti in perfect fusion. This is that ‘level’ of Being which ‘experiences’ reality in terms of the absolute non-duality of the supreme Subject. That is, from the most complete, all-encompassing perspective of the Heart, there is only AHAM, the universal I, experienced by all beings all the time. All those little “I”s turn out to be one “I”; and from the perspective of this Absolute Perceiver, there is no sense of any reality even slightly separate from the “I”. This is of course a state impossible to think ourselves into, impossible to imagine correctly—yet possible to ‘experience’ in the most complete and final realization, in which one knows oneself as the entire universe, the totality of all things in and beyond all time and space, breathing a single word, the mahā-mantra: AHAM.

The venerable Kemarāja gives this teaching in his Heart of the Doctrince of Recognition in these words:

Śrī-Paramaśiva, consisting solely of the Light of Consciousness replete with absolute Bliss, simultaneously transcends the universe and embodies itself as the universe. From that perspective, all of existence from transcendent Śiva down to Earth vibrates into manifestation [sphurati] as that Light, without any duality whatsoever. So in reality, there is no subject or object that is other; rather, it is simply Śrī-Paramaśiva that is vibrating and scintillating thus in thousands of various different forms.

SOURCE: Wallis, Christopher. Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Anusara Press, The Woodlands, TX, 2012.

The Three Impurities

June 26, 2012 By Ben Hoshour 12 Comments

Though the tattva schema purports to be a full account of all the principles of reality, there are three important principles not enumerated in that list. (Some consider them to aspects of Maya-tattva; other ssuggest that they are not in the list because they are not truly real). These are three malas, or “impurities” (do not be confused with mala in the sense of a garland or a rosary). The three malas (impurities) constitute our experience of bondage. From the non-dual standpoint, they are not truly stains or an actual substance (as the dualists believe), but simply ignorance, or rather limited perception, which Consciousness has to take in order to become a finite individual, and which it can choose to relinquish at any time. The first and most basic of these is the anava-mala or the “Impurity of Individuality;” the second is mayiya-mala or the “impurity of differentiation;” and the third is karma-mala or the “impurity of action.”

The Impurity of Individuality

The Impurity of Individuality is fundamental because the other two impurities could not exist without it and also because it constitutes the very basis of the limitation that makes us finite beings. This is the fundamental form of ignorance. It consists of a deep, unconscious belief that you are incomplete and imperfect, a tiny insignificant creature, certainly not the Divine. It is the belief that you are limited and powerless, unworthy and meaningless. Even more basically, it is the belief that something is missing or else deeply wrong with you, a belief that prevents you from knowing and revering yourself as the divine. It is likely more accurate to call it pre-conscious for it informs all of our thoughts and perceptions; it is a way of seeing reality held at the deepest level of our individual being. Anava-mala is the primary cause of our suffering, the ignorance from which all other errors of perception stem. Believing that we are incomplete and imperfect and separated from God, which is the most untrue thing we could believe, is the source of our suffering; it does not allow us to experience reality, that is, to access the universal Consciousness that is always flowing in us and in all things and whose nature is freedom and bliss.

We must take care not to misunderstand the word “belief” here. This is not a matter of correcting an intellectual misapprehension or adhering to a correct doctrine. For anava-mala is not a mental construct programmed into us by society. It is the limited sense of individuality that makes possible the whole process of the formation of dualistic thought-forms. Thus, it cannot be countered by merely trying to believe the opposite. You must have the actual experience of purnata – of fullness and completeness in divine perfection – deep within your own being, and you must have it so frequently or powerfully that is displaces anava-mala and becomes your basic reference point for who you are.

The very condition of contracted individuality contains within it the seed of the possibility for expanding back into our natural state of absolute fullness.  Everyone has anava-mala, so as soon as they are self-aware, everyone has the feeling that “something is missing” or “there’s more to life, more to me than this!” The mala-driven perception points to a real truth: that you do not accurately perceive the whole of your real nature. For most of us, the spiritual path begins when we perceive that something is missing, and we realize that it is not romance or money or power or fame that will be able to fill the void within. We become seekers on the path when we feel this acutely and realize that it will only be addressed by a fundamental shift in our very experience of reality. When we begin to feel that there is a reality beyond what we have known or even suspected, beyond what we have been taught to believe – something vast and all-encompassing and deeply real – then we open ourselves to that greater reality. In other words, the process of contraction comes to an end when we no longer believe that our limited experience of reality is all there is to know. At that moment, we begin turning towards expansion, initiating a new arc in the movement of our soul, an arc that will necessarily terminate in the all-encompassing fullness of being that alone can satiate the hunger of Consciousness.

Though it is absolutely true that your belief that there is something wrong with you as you are – or that you are missing something to be complete – is the deepest form of ignorance, it is nonetheless real. Since the ignorance is not intellectual, but rather is the very organizing principle of your limited individuality, only a powerful revelation can begin to dislodge it. This initiatory experience is calledsaktipata, or the Descent of Power. It is your initial awakening to your real nature. Without it, anava-mala holds sway over your experience of life, and without it, the practices of yoga cannot bear fruit.

Saktipata: The Descent of Power

The Tantras clarify that the Descent of Power is not a literal descent of energy from heaven or some higher place; rather it is an awakening of the divine Power (sakti) within you that will lead to your ultimate liberation. It is, in fact, more like an ascent than a descent, but the saktipata is used both because it is inherited from an earlier Saiva tradition and because the word “pata” (descent) had the connotation of a sudden, forceful fall, a startling experience that comes out of the blue. Saktipata is unprecedented, a primordial opening to a deeper level of being. Furthermore, the language of descent (or ascent) connotes that the awakening in question truly is a vertical movement, because it takes us out of the endlessly fruitful horizontal circling of our “normal” life, opening us to greater reality.

There comes a moment in the existence of an embodied soul when it is done with the phase of contraction, and begins to turn inward towards its own expansion. This turning may take place deep inside your being and you may not even be aware of it at first, but things that used to seem exciting (wealth, friends, getting high, sexual conquests) no longer seem to “do it for you.” This world-weariness is a necessary step in opening to a deeper reality. The longer the gap of time between the subtle turn inward, towards expansion and the occurrence of saktipata, the more intensely felt the awakening is. So, some people receive a very intense saktipata, consisting of a mystical experience of their oneness with all reality, or of their true nature as unborn, uncreated, eternal essence, or of all reality bathed in a unitary light of compassionate love, or of energy shooting up their spine and exploding, or of waves of bliss surging in their body and so on. Others receive a saktipata so subtle that it is almost imperceptible. The difference between the two is that one person waited longer for their saktipata, and thus their longing (conscious or unconscious) became even more intense and thereby, when the conditions were right, triggered a more intense awakening. (It’s just like firewood – the longer it dries out, the more quickly and completely it catches fire when a flame comes near). The awakening is the same in both cases, insofar as it sets the person irrevocably on the path to total integration with divine reality. The person with the imperceptible saktipata also has her life transformed, but because she didn’t wait for it as long, her belief that worldly enjoyments might fulfill her is stronger, and thus she draws a less intense saktipata on her. (Note that this doctrine corrects the false view that those with more intense saktipatas are more spiritual or special or worthy). The important thing is that, in both cases, an awakening has occurred.

If you’ve had an imperceptible sakitpata, you might wonder whether it has happened at all. The most significant thing about it, again, is not the experience but its effect on your life. There are certain “signs” of awakening. One of the most important is subtle but significant: when you close your eyes, take some slow, deep breaths and turn your attention inwards, there is immediately a sense of presence, a sweetness with just being with your inner self. Those who have not received sakitpata have little patience for turning within; they don’t see the point, for they don’t sense the Divine there. Furthermore, those who have received the Descent of Power manifest substantial changes in their lives, including some of the following:

  • Finding worldly forms of fun less satisfying
  • Fascination with spiritual teachings, even if you don’t understand them
  • Being drawn to eat healthier foods or otherwise honor your body
  • Feeling respect or reverence towards spiritual teachers or others who have dedicated themselves to the path
  • Spontaneously arising  tears of gratitude, especially when witnessing acts of compassion or gratitude.
  • The unleashing of your creative capacity
  • Effectiveness of mantras
  • Significant benefits from yoga and meditation
  • Increased vulnerability and sensitivity
  • Finding it harder to relate to friends with no spiritual sensitivity
  • When you read the words of a great spiritual master, they resonate on a deep level of your being, and you “get” them, even if you can’t explain them.

The experience of sakitpata gives a taste of what the final state is like. It is a temporary immersion – whether for a few moments or a few days – into our true nature. From this perspective, we can see things as they really are: one infinite light of Consciousness vibrating at different wavelengths in a joyous interconnected dance. Often it takes the form of experiencing oneself as profoundly connected to the Divine in some way. People who receive a strong saktipata often make the mistake of believing that they are now enlightened. This mistake can be very hard on the person’s loved ones, and if s/he clings to it, it can even occassionally bring about a psychotic break that takes some time to heal. It is important to see the value of what you have received, while retaining the humility of realizing that the gift of grace is simply to show that the fully expanded state is real and worth striving for, it is not the final attainment.

The Unfolding of One’s awakening

In fact, you need to be shown that the goal is worth striving for precisely because of how challenging the path can be. In order to complete the process of expanding back into the fullness of your divine nature, you will have to let go of everything that you think you are. You will have to let go of every image and idea you have of yourself, the “positive” ones as well as the “negative” ones. Why is this so? Because the state of all-encompassing fullness and wholeness (purnata) that is the goal of the path – your already existent ultimate nature – is by definition one in which you experience that pattern of the whole reality that exists within you, and that your identity is not defined by one part more than any other. In other words, to experience identity with the all-encompassing divine Absolute, you must necessarily relinquish identification with some limited aspect of it – that aspect you habitually call “me.” It is your clinging to your limited identity that is precisely what prevents you from experiencing the Whole within yourself.

When I say we have to let go of “positive” self-images as well as negative ones, I do not mean to imply that you discard your positive virtues; rather, that you let go of the story about yourself that is based on those virtues. This is necessary because the self-image that you are a “good” person carries with it a raft of “shoulds” that ironically prevent you from expressing your innate nature in a way that is organically responsive to the actuality of the present situation. Your real virtue is not based on a story about yourself; it is a natural expression of your essence-nature.

Nor does this process of letting go of everything you think yourself to be, entail abandoning your roles and responsibilities in life. For what is at issue is not whether you are a wife/husband, a mother/father, a doctor, janitor or so on, but whether you identify yourself as that alone – and thus define and limit and circumscribe your experience of reality through those identifications. In other words, you don’t need to run away from all those responsibilities to attain liberation, because liberation in the tantric sense means going from the experience of being trapped in your life situation to the experience of continuously perceiving that you are the infinite creative Light of divine Presence, joyously playing the role of wife/husband, mother/father and doing so in service of all beings. The metaphor of an actor in his or her role is perfect here: does an actor feel miserable playing a role on stage, even the part of a tragic figure? No, because he knows that he will relinquish the role, that he is not bound to it, and that he will return to what he has never forgotten: his real identity. Imagine what your life would look like if you were experiencing joy in all of your roles, if you retained a wordless awareness of your fundamental, expansive all-encompassing, complete, and perfect nature even as you went about performing the most mundane of tasks.

So, the whole process of sadhana, walking the spiritual path, is the process of removing anava-mala, the Impurity of Individuality, of limited identity and lack of wholeness. Its final removal is the state of liberation. Though it is the primary “stain” or obscuration of the transparent light of our being, preventing our clear vision, it is also the beneficial nagging sense of missing something important that prompts us to seek and find the Truth. So, as always in tantra, nothing is downright bad: everything, even the anava-mala, serves a divine purpose.

The Impurity of Differentiation

The Impurity of Differentiation is that form of ignorance that causes us to perceive dualistically, that is, to see differences, but not the underlying unity.  It is the mayiya-mala that causes us to feel separate from all other beings, and from that which we perceive. The fundamental form of the mayiya-mala is subject-object differentiation. This means that you perceive the objects of your awareness as something separate and different from yourself. This wrong view leads either to a sense of the world as a persecuting threat or as a source of things to acquire. This is ignorance, for as we have seen, anything that exists within your consciousness is necessarily an aspect of yourself. True seeing is seeing all beings within yourself and yourself within all beings. Only when we are focused on the most superficial layer of reality does difference seem to the most fundamental reality.

Imagine a massive continent with many mountains mostly submerged under an ocean, but with many of the mountain peaks poking above the surface of the water. A person who has never gone below surface would see those mountains as separate and unconnected islands, but someone who made the effort to explore the inner depths of the ocean would realize that there was only one landmass, extruding at various points in the air. In the same way, all manifest, conscious beings are extrusions into the tangible world of the singular, continuous Being that alone exists. In truth, that one Being has become the ocean of the tangible, perceptible world as well. The analogy that is often used in the original tradition is that all perceptibles constitude the single body of that one Being, and that all perceivers constitute its one soul.

A person who is not aware of this truth will see an object of her perception as something separate from her. But in reality, anything you perceive is nothing other than a vibration of conscious energy within your awareness. The consequences of not realizing this are tremendous. When you perceive other beings as different and separate from you, you do not bother to understand things from their point of view, failing to realize that to do so would also give you insight into yourself. (Every interaction you have with another person is a mirror.  Anytime you have a reaction, an emotion, or a feeling during that interaction, the mirror is reflecting something inside of YOU.) In an us-versus-them view of things, you might even consider the other an enemy and feel justified in killing him if he opposes your interests. By contrast, when you are in the process of overcoming mayiya-mala, you realize that another human being, even one whose actions you condemn, is no different from you, only with different pressures, programs, and life circumstances. You might have done the same thing in his shoes. Seeing this truth, condemnation gives way to compassion. When you begin to see through mayiya-mala, you see all beings as holding up a mirror to yourself. The initial awakening of your innate divinity (saktipata) makes it far easier to break through the false us-versus-other dichotomy engendered in mayiya-mala.

If you are having a hard time seeing the other as yourself in another form, that simply means you must expand your sense of self, and take hold of the realization that the capacity to do both wonderful and terrible things exists within you and the other person to exactly the same degree. Overcoming mayiya-mala does not mean believing that all people are the same or that all are equally good. It means seeing the reality that all entities are different forms of the same thing, each subject to unique conditions. You can stay grounded in the Real by grasping that there is only one substance to reality and that it can manifest in an infinite variety of different forms. Of course, though all beings are God, some are highly contracted forms of God, expressing the divine power of self-concealment by perpetuating ignorance and suffering. Seeing all beings as equally Divine does not mean equally approving the actions and viewpoints of all beings. It is vital that this particular point be understood with crystal clear clarity.

Ultimately, releasing the ignorance of mayiya-mala means seeing that differentiation is not and never was a problem. For tantrikas, seeing difference in the context of greater unity does not mean devaluing difference but rather celebrating it as the very source of beauty itself. The power of maya is finally experienced as the power by which divine consciousness loves itself in the particular manifest form of you.

The Impurity of Action

The Impurity of Action, or karma-mala, refers to the bondage of karma. As long as the first two malas are active, you will see yourself as a limited, separate being who must strive to give yourself every advantage at any cost. This viewpoint naturally gives rise to volitional actions with repercussions that will further enmesh the actor in bondage. The cycle of action that is motivated by ignorance and corresponding reaction is called karma. Only those actions performed out of ignorance and grasping create karmic repercussions.

The primary forms of that ignorance are attachment and aversion. Attachment is the conviction that we need something outside of ourselves (success, a partner the right job, approval, etc.) to be fulfilled. Aversion is the same vibration, only inverted: the conviction that we cannot be fulfilled until certain things are eliminated or avoided. When we are driven by attachment and aversion, the more extreme our actions become. The more extreme the beliefs motivating our actions, the greater the karmic repercussions. Only actions that arise spontaneously as an expression of our essence-nature, without personal motive of gain or loss, have no binding karmic repercussions.

Karma can seem a very heavy doctrine: since we have committed so many karmic actions in the past and continue to do so in the present, how can we possibly overcome the burden of their consequences? The masters of Saiva Tantra saw that worry about enormous burden of past life karmas was a real barrier in people’s spiritual practice. So, they devised an initiation ceremony (called diksa) that was said to purify people of all their past-life karma destined to bear fruit in future lives, leaving only karma of this life intact. Whatever the reality of this metaphysical claim might be, the psychological effect of this ceremony is undeniable: it makes people feel that liberation within this very life is within reach – and, because Consciousness creates reality, it became so. The simple fact that if you had to heal and process every karmic trace within your being in order to reach the goal, liberation would be impossibly distant. Therefore, there is only one viable solution in the tantric view: stop being the person to whom those karmas apply. Once you fully relinquish the identity of the one who generated the karmas and to whom they tenaciously stick, you are free. Such a solution is not a shortcut on the path, because form the spiritual point of view, you only need to go through as many karmas as you personally need to go through in order to reach the point of fully dedicating yourself to the process of dissolving your limited self back into God. That is to say, this is not a system in which you need to be punished for every “bad” thing you’ve ever done; for if your truly stop being the person who performed those sorts of actions, the karmas no longer apply to you.

The best way to overcome karma-mala is to address the root from which it arises: become thoroughly convinced that there is nothing outside of yourself that need be added to make you complete, nor is there anything that need be subtracted to make you pure. This state of profound love and respect for your own being will, if achieved even in part, make it easier for you to perform actions without any selfish grasping motive and thus be free of karma. It should be noted that an action can make you feel good and still be done without selfish motive; the question is whether it spontaneously wells up from your Heart as a natural expression of your authentic nature. It is the root, not the fruit, of the action that makes it selfish or not. If you are able to determine and de-stabilize mayiya-mala, the belief of yourself as separate from other beings and objects, then karma-mala will naturally start to fall away as well. Only if you see others as separate from you could you consider your own needs without considering theirs. So, the long and the short of the tantric view on this is this: Don’t worry about karma. Focus on the more fundamental malas and karma will take care of itself.

Finally, everything comes back to anava-mala. Only if you are experiencing yourself as cut off from the Divine – unworthy, incomplete, and imperfect – can the other two malas even operate. If a being manages, through much effort, to remove mayiya-mala and karma-mala without removing anava-mala, then he is called Vijnanakala, one who is nearly liberated, but remains stuck on the threshold of true liberation, unable to surrender his limited identity. Vijnanakala literally means “one who is free of the limitation of the two malas by means of his own insight,” but who, denying the grace of an even greater divine power than his individual soul, remains bound by the final impurity. Such a one transcends maya but remains forever, as it were, at the gates of heaven, barred from the entry permitted those who cast aside identification with their limited self; who realize that only one Being has ever existed; and who know their embodied form was merely a temporary part He played, a dance She danced.

SOURCE: Wallis, Christopher. Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Anusara Press, The Woodlands, TX, 2012.