by Sandra Radja
A spiritual life takes time. In fact, I bet it takes all the time you have. In fact, I can see that once you get the hang of it, the time at the beginning of when you decided to follow a path with heart took ages and slowly it just becomes how you roll, as in a "thy will be done" kind of thing. It becomes second nature, that is, your nature with the divine.
Choose a path. Choose something that resonates and see it through. Choose a teacher well versed and practised in themselves. Be near them when you can and hone your senses enough to absorb their prana. So be healthy in your body and digestion to take it all in - take responsibility on your part for your well being as part of your learning. Know when you have had enough and hopefully your teacher will too.
Enjoy life. A spiritual path should involve the absorption of all you do but you need not have to decide what is "good" or "bad". Look beyond the material aspects of what draws you in. Avoid feeling "marketed upon", always checking in to your own truth in each and every matter at hand.
Follow through. There are no external props only guides as called upon from you. It seems that no matter which path you do choose, consider them a map and find a way to get to the source yourself. It's only in taking action and creating intention that things follow.
The interview below on Craig Williams is inspiring. It's exciting to read such clarity when it comes to spiritual ideas, they appear more concrete. He comes from such an extensive and well rounded background, you will get the refined ideas of a life in contemplation.
1. We are living in a world where there are more and more online esoteric teachings, where the teacher is distant from the students. Personally I had joined a yoga teacher training many years ago and already had so much on my plate that when studying the Upanishads, I had stomach pains and severe bloating the whole way through. I wasn't asked at any stage by the teachers as to my state of health or overzealous mind. In one of your interviews you had mentioned the real importance of the student checking in as to whether your agni (digestive fire) is strong enough to be able to assimilate intense training and the importance of being in the care of the right teacher. Can you expand on the ideal environment to take on study of a spiritual nature.
This is a wonderful question as it intimates so many important issues and ideas of the modern environment. The modern mind assumes that anything and everything can be discovered via a computer and the internet and the one-to-one connection is being slowly lost. This is also reflected in rise in online trainings and online “teachers.” Online training can be extremely helpful and convenient but it can never replace the one-to-one connection between the flesh and bones of the teacher and student. When the connection is physical and in person, the teacher can more effectively evaluate the ability of the student to digest the information; this is connected to my discussion of evaluating the Agni before and during study. The teacher must know how strong the fire burns within the student! This determines the pace of study. Unfortunately this is not a popular idea today. Agni is not democratic: it is not equal in everyone! Some need a slower pace, some a quicker pace, some a mixed pace. So overall, this will always be a concern with anyone pursuing only online study. I think online programs are excellent for establishing a foundation before one pursues study with a teacher or as post-graduate refining of an already established foundation of study.
The ideal environment is one in which the student has access to basic foundational materials and takes on the personal responsibility to deeply study the foundations. Then there must be a qualified teacher who can help the student with details of study and evaluate the progress and digestion of the materials and adjust / modify as needed. In other words, this is the complete antithesis of the modern educational system! Teacher and student work together in a symbiotic system which is alive and adaptable. We are blessed to have access to modern technology no doubt; we can instantly obtain access to sources of information which hundreds of years ago would take a lifetime to acquire. However we must not mistake the ease of access with the digestion of wisdom and we must not mistake the digital screen for the living breathing teacher / student relationship.
2. You have personally done so much study and with such a broad amount of topics. How did your personal journey unfold? Did you go out seeking or get lead by serendipity? How did you keep your body in balance enough to be able to take so much on?
I would say I was “lucky” to have been fascinated by Eastern systems of thought, martial arts and esoteric ideas at a very young age, around 11-12 years old. However I use this term “lucky” very loosely, as I honestly believe that the majority of our life is bound and mapped by karma, and in reality, these systems and realms of thought “chose me.” I eventually went on to study English Literature, Philosophy and Religious Studies in college, always having a background interest in medicine as well. I was always fascinated with the differences between Eastern and Western systems of spirituality and philosophy, each one being a unique “geography of thought.” So I immersed myself in many fields of study seeing each one as unique and having its own flavor or “rasa” and its own literal life or “Vidya” to discover. I think it was the discovery of Ayurveda which allowed me to see how our entire worldview influences sickness and healing, and I also shared an obsession with Chinese Medicine as well. I eventually went on to obtain a Master’s in Oriental Medicine and study Ayurveda with Dr. Lad and a 10 year Gurukula study with David Frawley and being awarded the titles of “Vedakovid” and “Yogacharya”. The systems of Ayurveda, Yoga, Tantra and Chinese Medicine are all areas of intense academic and initiatic study and each one offers a unique “Rasa” or taste which quenches my thirst for self-exploration and Self-Realization. I see each system feeding back into a larger taproot of ancient primordial Kosmic Gnosis which allows us to connect to our Souls and live a passionate transformative life.
Physical health and vitality are key foundations and I have always made this a priority for me with training in martial arts and sports pursuits as well. I see the physical body as an alchemical tool and a precious ephemeral gift which we cannot take for granted. So in my opinion we must strive to keep our minds and bodies clean, fit and healthy. My physical pursuits are not “just physical”. All of my sports training, whether its martial arts or long distance running, re-connect me to my body and the world on a very deep level and create a type of “tapas” necessary for me to explore a vast array of spiritual pursuits and esoteric explorations and Ayurveda is the foundation upon which I base all of my physical activities.
3. They say that the company you keep becomes prime importance in your development spiritually. What would you say to those people out there that find themselves caught between two worlds?
This is an extremely important question! Ramana Maharshi often stated that the most important aspect of Self Realization or even basic spiritual maturation was “spiritual association” meaning who you spent most of your time with would control your growth and potential for transformation; this is a very very important and neglected idea to examine. I often hear from people that they feel torn between two worlds: the modern consumer homogenized life and the private striving for a spiritual life. This is in many ways a type of spiritual malaise and if not addressed can lead to a deep existential sickness. It’s very important to realize that what we associate with most often will mold our mind and mold our desires. Therefore if we wish to truly pursue a path of spiritual development, we have to honestly and soberly examine our lives: what do you spend the majority of our time pursuing? With whom do you share the majority of your time and attention? These are rather basic questions which must be addressed if one desires to truly pursue a deep spiritual praxis. This is one of the reasons why I have spent the majority of my life immersed in the study of the science of Tantra. The spiritual science of Tantra reveals a topography of life which allows one to live a life of passion and engagement / immersion in life, not an escapist transcendence. I strongly feel this is one of the main reasons people feel they are so bifurcated; it becomes a myopic “either / or” scenario. People assume the stance of “I have to be spiritual” and then turn away from all aspects of life which they assume to be “bad” or “tamasic” or “not sattvic” to use Yogic terminology. This is highly problematic and a myopic almost Victorian view of life. Both Ayurveda and Tantra teach us that each person has a unique path to follow in life and that life is meant to be lived! Ayurveda and Tantra teach us how to live healthy engaged lives not escapist depressed lives! Therefore I think anyone who feels torn in today’s world should seek out the deeper study of Ayurveda and Tantra to find tools to live an engaged and inspiring life; a life transparent with passion and inspiration; a life filled with ‘rasa” and ‘ojas”!!!
4. I'm curious about what you said about the idea of opening up our chakras, that it requires an extensive "re-organistion of our lives". That makes sense to me since it follows the Ayurvedic lifestyle idea of managing your doshas in everything you do. Can someone outside of yourself open your chakras without your effort to make change in your life?
This is another very important question. If we wish to truly pursue a deep spiritual path, be a pilgrim and not a “tourist”, a radical reorganization of all aspects of life must occur! And if we wish to work on a subtle level of the pranic body and the chakras, then we must take this reorganization to an even deeper level. To truly access and work on the subtle body, we must balance and refine the physical body, and this includes balancing our mind and emotions as well. This is the key role of Ayurveda for any spiritual praxis and how Ayurveda must not be divorced from Yoga or Tantra. Ayurveda gives us the tools to harmonize our mind and body and to then take this harmonization to a larger context: living in harmony with the seasons, our planet, our community. The modern ersatz new age Yoga world would love to sell the idea that someone else can “open your chakras” or “clear your chakras”! This is a convenient idea which fits quite well into the modern consumerist society where anything can be obtained if we can provide the funds. But the reality check is that its patently false. No one can “open” your charkas except you. Perhaps in rare opportunities one can be highly inspired and emotionally stimulated by teachers or mentors, but this must not be confused with spiritual experience per se. It’s similar to being served a meal from a talented chef: the entire experience can be wonderful and the food healing, but one meal does not heal us; what we eat day in and day out has the potential to transform and heal or drain and destroy us. So if we wish to work on our chakras, we must examine what we are consuming on a pranic level and truly undertake the practice of Pratyahara as well. We must learn to conserve and protect our Prana if we wish to move into the deeper mysterious terrain of the subtle body. And most importantly, as is stated in Ayurveda, each person must have a unique type of spiritual instruction to suit their unique Prakriti. As stated by Ramana Maharshi: “ They differ according to the temperaments of the individuals and according to the spiritual ripeness of their minds. There cannot be any instruction en masse.”
5. What's the most simple thing you do each day that has a profound effect on your well being?
Connecting with my body on a physical level daily is key for me. If I don’t feel engaged physically, I don’t feel connected to the world. This occurs on two main levels for me: physical exercise and daily ritual. The practice of martial arts and dedicated athletic endeavors is truly a Soul expression for me; the body is a mirror of the Soul and contains infinite doorways unto the Numinous. As I deepen my connection to my body, I feel a deep state of health and well- being which also infuses my mind with passion and inspiration for life. Daily ritual for me includes meditation, prayer, lectio divina , and gnostic mass. It could include just one of these or on some days all of this. I personally feel the modern world is empty of sacred ritual. Sacred ritual takes me into a sacred space and a sacred time; in this realm I can find deep restoration and rejuvenation which allows me to re-enter the mundane realm with inspiration and positivity! I think many people are sick because they lack any type of sacred ritual in their daily lives and Ayurveda can teach us how to transform almost any act into a sacred ritual: eating, sleeping, breathing, and on and on. This is why I think Ayurveda is so needed in today’s world. Ayurveda won’t provide us with a magical pill or a magical oil, but it can give us the tools to cultivate a magical vision of ourselves, the world, and our relation to the Cosmos.
6. I'm a big fan of adapting to the community you find yourself in. I see you are covered in tattoos as is the Austin, Texas way. What are they representations of?
My tattoos are all key symbols of my spiritual life. I see the body and art as functioning as gateways to the Numinous; therefore the combination of the body and art in tattoo work is quite fascinating and inspiring to me. Each symbol is a doorway for me, a link to a specific gnostic mindspace which contributes to my overall journey into the world and to my Soul. I’m blessed to have met some amazing artists who have been able to manifest these symbols into my flesh, literally!
7. I once heard from a therapist that women do well with the classical therapy style seated position but men do better focusing on something else whilst working on their healing (building, driving a car, etc).The current marketing in the US, from an Ayurvedic perspective, has been mostly on women - that's where the business is. From a male perspective, do you think men receive information differently? Do you think we need to change our approach to include our menfolk?
Yes the majority of marketing of both Yoga and Ayurveda targets women no doubt. This is also reflected in the percentage of men vs women in yoga classes and yoga trainings as well. I don’t necessarily think it’s because men receive information differently than women rather I see it more as a reflection of the commercialization of Ayurveda in the west much like the situation with western Yoga. Ayurveda was introduced into America after the western yoga “scene” was in full swing and this yoga milieu was populated by women in the majority. Therefore Ayurveda was heavily marketed towards this particular demographic, no mystery there. Ayurveda has something to offer everyone and on a foundational level it offers alchemical tools for the individual to connect to the Self, which is beyond gender! I’m always hesitant to make huge generalizations about gender as so much of what we call “gender” is actually advertising and marketing, artificial paradigms used to sell a commercial agenda. However I also feel that women have suffered historically at the hands of medicine being ignored and generalized so Ayurveda can provide a much needed catalyst for a shift in this issue as well!
8. I see that you are heavily involved in martial arts. How does this influence your ideas on spirituality or Ayurveda?
The study of martial arts has been a lifelong passion, since I was a child. I see many similarities between the transmission and study of martial arts and almost any serious spiritual practice. The study of martial arts cultivates dedication, focus, passion, detachment, and physical / mental health. From an Ayurvedic perspective, I see my study of martial arts as a powerful way of cultivating Tapas and Agni on all levels of my mind and body! I also think that the study of martial arts is a very important way of transforming and shaping the ego, a true reality check. We live in a world which seeks ersatz equality to the point of neurosis; everyone is special, everyone is a winner, everyone is an expert, etc. In reality this is a dangerous naïve viewpoint. The study and practice of martial arts is a powerful way to deconstruct this modern delusion. You learn that someone is always stronger, faster, smarter; and this can be humbling and inspiring; in the dojo everyone is walking their own unique path and is helpful to everyone but there are no “gifts”, everything must be earned with sweat, tears and sometimes blood. This is a powerful method for controlling the ravenous appetite of the Ego which always seeks to create a false illusion of personal importance.
The study and practice of martial arts also is greatly cross pollinated with my study of Ayurveda. The two paths work quite well together and the practices of Ayurveda help to keep my body and mind in a state of balance during times of intense training. And the patience required to dedicate oneself to a lifetime of study of martial arts cultivates tapas as well. So in many ways, I often don’t know where the Ayurveda ends and the path of martial arts begins, as they both merge into an alchemical symbiosis!
Craig Williams is the author of "Tantric Physics Vol I: Cave of the Numinous". He has been a practitioner of Yoga, Ayurveda, Tantra, Jyotish and Vedanta for more than 25 years and is the recipient of the prestigious "Vedakovid" and "Yogacharya" titles awarded by the American Institute of Vedic Studies. Craig has undergraduate degrees in Religious Studies, Philosophy and English Literature and a Master's Degree in Oriental Medicine. He is a Bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna and an adept of Esoteric Voudon.
Craig lives in Austin, Texas where he operates a busy private medical practice specializing in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, and Ayurveda. ( www.AyurvedaAustin.com) . He is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.