Éric Baret — Science and Non Duality 2014 Interview
What is tantra?
For me it is irrelevant, but let’s say for the Kashmirian tradition, as far as my teacher expressed it, tantra is a very appropriate way to explore life according to our day and age — because it is simultaneously a non-dual tradition, but at the same time it is a multi-fold tradition. That means that all aspects of life are linked to this fore-feeling of truth. So it is very different than the progressive or dualistic approach where we tend to demand a change in life; the Kashmirian tradition only demands listening toward life.
So when you talk about tantra, we are specific about the Kashmirian tantra because in the South of India, and in the North of India, the word tantra is used for traditions which are very different, which are entitled to the word ‘tantric’, but it’s a very different resonance. And even in Kashmir there are some lines of dualistic tantra, but my teacher referred to the non-dualistic line — which can unfold in all walks of life. And the body is the main object of our perception, so of course it has some ramifications in the exploration of the body-feeling.
How can we inquire through the body without identification?
‘I am not the body’ comes from the Vedantic tradition. In Kashmir, we are the body, but we are the body too. The body is one layer of expression, but generally we don’t know this layer because what we call the body actually is not the body, it is a reaction towards the body. So most people feel their body as heavy, as tense, and think that this feeling is the body-feeling. For us, this feeling is a reaction. When you were very young something happened — some violence happened, and you create a tension, you tense your body to survive this situation. And slowly, slowly in life you begin to keep all the creation you used to survive, in violence, or in other situations in life, and then the body becomes slowly a reaction. And the body in fact is used by most people as a way of fighting, as a way of defending yourself or asserting oneself. So this body of defending and asserting is not the body! It’s a reaction.
So, before we know what we are not, we must know what it is we are talking about; so inquiring about the body is just to open oneself to discover what really is the body. Is it this feeling of heaviness or dullness, of tension — these feelings that are used for aggression, for defence? Or is it something else? So this must become an experience and not a thinking process…the body-work has a space for this discovery.
Is there a need to transcend the body?
The patterns may dissolve but there is nothing to transcend — transcendence is a concept which is improper in tantric Shaivism because there is neither transcendence nor immanence, there is only intensity. So when you feel the body is a mental creation — in the way that you receive a letter from your lover and you feel very light and then the next day you receive a letter that says finally he decided to sleep with a neighbour instead of you and you feel very heavy — this feeling is not the body-feeling. It is a reaction-feeling. But generally we seem to think that our body is this lightness or this heaviness, just emotional reaction. So we must, in a certain way, be passionate about this exploration, to see what could be my body when neither I am opposing something or striving towards something, defending something.
So, tantra is a practice, it is not a philosophy, so the exploration goes in that direction; and that of course has much value because it transposes in all walks of life, in the way that, for example most people when they do body-work, they bend forward and feel a tension in the back, and if you ask them “Are you tense?” they will say “Yes, I feel my back is tense, I am tense.” With this exploration, one day you realize that when your wrist is tense, when your fist is tense, you’re not tense – the fist is tense. When the fist is open, I am not more open – my fist is open. My fist is tense, my fist is open. My back can be tense – I am not tense, my back is tense. When you realize that in explorations your back is tense but you’re not tense, that will transfer to the level of emotion. When you feel fear, you are not afraid; when you feel sadness, you’re not sad. And it is because you feel sadness without being sad that you go and see Rigoletto. You pay $200, and when at the end of the play Rigoletto the daughter of Rigoletto is killed, you cry, it’s very sad, you come out and you say: it was beautiful. What was beautiful? Feeling the sadness without being sad. What is beautiful in fear? Feeling fear without being afraid. That’s why people jump from a bridge with an elastic around their legs, to feel fear – and they sleep very well. But if you’re afraid, you block the feeling of the fear, and that can remain. If you’re sad, you block the feeling of the sadness and that will remain; if you’re tense, you block the feeling of the tension, and that will remain. But if you feel the tension, the tension will unfold by itself because it’s very nature in fact is movement, and a tension which unfolds, by its very nature, quits its limitations as tension.
So the body-work only has value if it transposes the emotional level. That’s why the way we work, it looks like – all schools of yoga, we all do the same positions, but the way we do it is different in that we don’t do it striving towards something, we do it to feel. And when you feel, you feel yourself aloof from what you feel, and that will transpose in emotional life.
Does sadness dissolve without its label?
Sadness is only there in the moment! You come out of the theatre, you’re not sad anymore, you’re happy, said it was so beautiful. What was beautiful? To feel the sadness. But if you’re sad you block the sadness. Emotion has two folds: either you are afraid of something, and you cannot move, either you feel fear and you move faster. So the first emotion, the first appropriation blocks life, “I am afraid of this I cannot move” – the second, “I feel the fear in my belly and my chest – I move faster” and finally all the chemical parts of the body make me alive — if I have to strike I strike harder, I jump faster – when I feel fear. If I am afraid I cannot move. So only what reduces our abilities is eventually given away. Emotion will always remain, but as power, as beauty, as expression; not as a hindrance that one should get rid of to find freedom or whatever.
Does sensation precede emotion?
Emotion and sensation – we should not try to find understanding through the words, because words are just a kind of agreement between you and I. I don’t know what you mean by emotion, you will never know what I mean by emotion; so when we say we agree, we agree on something very superficial. So understanding can only come from being-understanding, which means we don’t understand words — being-understanding doesn’t belong to the mind because the mind only functions with words. Without words you cannot think…you only think with words. But the language is very important, to see its own limitations. Even in sacred languages, like Sanskrit, Chinese or Arabic, where the structure, the semantics of the language is different — when Shankara wrote his texts, he was thinking of Sanskrit, that was a big part of his expression. If he spoke another language, his text, his philosophy would have been different. We think according to what we always speak. When you see that, it is very important that one, in a certain way, opens to understanding without words; because otherwise, what we call understanding is just reduction to our own immensity, to our own limitations. So there is nothing to understand. You give up understanding, in a certain way; so we can’t understand what ‘this’ means, because ‘this’ means nothing. Meaning our defence, which have a role to play to point towards our bodies beyond defence…butt as such we can never understand something.
What does Tantric Shaivism offer?
It refers to celebration. When you realize you don’t need to build anything in your life, that you don’t need to achieve anything in your life, that you don’t need to defend anything in your life, in a certain way what remains is a feeling of celebration, is a thanking. Not thanking something, not thanking somebody, but just the very fact of thanking — so for us, perception actually is thanking, thinking is celebration, when it is used as an expression of this fore-feeling. But generally thinking is a defence – we use our fists, our elbows to fight, and we use our thinking to fight. “I agree, I disagree, you’re right, you’re wrong”…so thinking has become a fighting tool but as such it doesn’t need to be, thinking is, in a traditional way, an expression of truth. That’s why if you read the texts of Meister Eckhart or Ib’n Arabi or other great sages, their thoughts come from silence so they bring you back to silence if you don’t accentuate the semantic or the meaning. Our freedom comes from silence. So, Kashmiri Tantra reduces the importance of formulation – but this is not specific, because you find the same in all traditional expressions.
How is the yoga you teach different from Tantric Shaivism?
Actually it is not, the only thing is that the expression has to be adapted to the modern world. Many elements which are taken for granted in Kashmir – or were taken, because of the political situation, it’s different, the Hindus have been expelled from Kashmir by the Islamic situation – it’s not the same here. People live in the fantasy of a democratic world. They want to be happy getting married or having children or being rich or being recognized – so, it’s not that different, but it’s expressed differently. In a way, in India, it was, from the very beginning, at least intellectually recognized that the aim of life was not becoming something but recognizing something. So here we should adapt, and it is a light adaptation because it doesn’t make a big difference – so when you want a new wife, a new husband, a new dog, a new car, a new guru, or when you want freedom, actually what you want is this wholeness, which, because of your culture, because of your stupidity, because of your intelligence, you project onto a woman, onto a man, onto a guru, onto a tradition, onto a car. But actually you don’t want the husband because when you get it, you want another one. You don’t want the car because when you have it you want another one. So, what we want is not what we want. So even if I think ‘The goal of my life is to have a white dog’, I want the same thing as the Saddhus of the Himalayas. So what we pretend to want is unimportant because the longing is the same. It’s just that at some point the longing becomes more clear. So that it doesn’t – there is no – expansion of energy in some objective direction.
What is the function of seeking?
Seeking is an expression of truth, it’s not a way. Abhinavagupta, in the Tantraloka, is very clear: all the yoga practices are an expression of truth. Yoga does not bring [us] to truth but truth expresses itself through yoga. So the way is an expression, sadhana is an expression. It is because you fore-feel, you fore-felt silent, silence that your life becomes sadhana. But to do sadhana to reach silence is the wrong way of thinking. The very fact that you look for something is a proof you already feel it, you already have it. The very fact you asked the question proves you know the answer — the answer is before the question. You only ask a question because you fore-feel the answer or else you cannot ask a question. So for a sadhana, when you look for God, this looking comes from God directly. It’s just an expression. But the looking does not bring you to what you look for. What you look for is behind you — the way you express yourself is the theme of the seeking, maybe at the beginning, but will end up being a celebration of what cannot be thought, what cannot be found. You are what needs to be found – you are not the finder of anything – the truth is in back of us, not in front of us. That’s why it can never be reached, it can never be understood, it can never be felt, it can never be sensed — because we are what needs to be sensed, felt and seen. We are not the seeker, we are what is sought. So, sadhana and seeking and expression provokes a direct transposition of the fore-feeling of truth, in the realm of spiritual dynamism.
What is truth?
Actually, again, it would be a limitation to try to say ‘what is truth’, ‘what is consciousness’, ‘what is silence’, because you and I are going to agree that it is this, but we agree on two words, which have different meanings for us according to culture, to mind, we will understand the words in different ways. “Oh yes, we agree” — we don’t agree, we just pretend. So truth is a word used to describe the fact that even if you have three wives and three husbands and three cars, something is not totally satisfied and you want something else – and whatever you want, when you get it, very soon you want something else. So, this longing for what seems to be something, for a long time, can be called truth or consciousness but the word does not reveal what it is. The word makes it more objective. That’s why in Sanskrit we use the word [anama?]: what has no name. So whatever name we give it is a pedagogical tool.
It’s what you cannot question. You can give up everything but this longing, at some point, you cannot give it up, because it is what we want in every action, in every thought, every perception. You can never give up this fore-feeling.
Is truth empty of meaning?
To think there is no truth, or to think there is truth, are both thoughts and they’re both respectful – but they refer to the same thing. According to my brain, to my culture, if I’m a communist I will say ‘there is no truth, that’s the truth’, if I’m Buddhist I will say ‘the truth is the trikaya, the truth is Buddhahood’ — why not? We’re talking about the same thing in different clothes. So at some point you stop accenting the clothes, and you feel, in a way what it means, without making it an objective meaning. But it always remains a fore-feeling.
How has your yoga practice evolved?
What changes is that at the beginning you feel relaxed, and the more and more you inquire about the body, the more you realize you are only tension. At the beginning you feel still and the more you inquire about the mind the more you realize you’re not still, really. So you just discover all your limitations, more and more clearly. There is ever more room for appropriation. In this line you cannot become something, you cannot become a guru, you cannot become enlightened, you see your limitations – this very fact is our freedom. There is no other. When you see your pretension, it is what is called humility…but there’s no one to be humble, [except] in pretension. So, the seeing is more and more intense. It’s endless because perception is endless – but it’s not endless in time, because time is what comes and goes. So, slowly, slowly the accent shifts from time to the intensity in which time appears. So there’s really no evolving — nothing changes, but you don’t accent things anymore.
Was Jean Klein teaching yoga?
Jean Klein had two teachings — he was teaching advaita vedanta for the very bright people, and tantra for the very stupid ones. So, advaita is an elitist teaching which is only proper for people with the highest level of mental discrimination, which are immensely purified – that means we have no link with emotional life: when you read Shankara, when you read the commentaries of the Mandukya Upanishads of Gaudapada, they don’t talk about your wife and children, instead they talk about real stuff. So that’s for the exception. And you need the presence of somebody really in his own absence. You cannot inhabit this openness on your own…according to the tradition. Tantra is for the stupid. For tantra, you do not need anything but being more and more open to the fact that we are constantly in reaction, that we are constantly in pretension, that we are constantly in thinking, in defending, in trying. So, this teaching is very stimulating, and it doesn’t require any teacher. The teacher is life and there is no room to achieve anything there. So according to the level of his student, Jean would use one or the other teaching. Of course they were not black and white, but still, there was a kind of strong-line. Non-dualistic [advaita?] teaching excludes everything to concentrate on the intensity. The tantric teaching includes everything, because there’s nothing else than truth. So there’s nothing to exclude. It is democratic, the other elitist — that’s the tantric point of view. From the Vedantic point of view, they see it in a different way. And there’s no contradiction, because the Indian traditions are multi-fold. It may seem to be in opposition, but it is not.
How does the tantric tradition compliment Advaita?
Advaitic tradition is considered for the elite. When you read the Upanishads, they don’t give you advice on how to live your life – they don’t tell you what to eat, they don’t tell you how to make love – they tell you to concentrate on the self. It is beautiful for the people who have this ability…but most people may concentrate on the self when everything goes well, but when their wife sleeps with their neighbour, when their child gets killed, when they have cancer, their concentration is weakened. Then the tantric tradition has a role to play. But if one has this ability to abide in the very self of one’s self, it is beautiful, nothing else is needed. But most people can only have this fore-feeling when their surroundings are fine — but if your world breaks down, if your body breaks down, if your wife breaks down, if your husband breaks down, if your child breaks down – their meditation on their own non-identity is weakened. So then the tantric tradition has a role to play. To make you see that the very fact of what is happening is nothing else than what you are looking for. That consciousness has no form. It has a form of what appears in the moment. It is just our thinking mind which creates separation. But that should be felt and not thought. So there’s no opposition, there’s just a different orientation.
How can the body be used as a tool of exploration?
There’s no such thing as a body — the body is a thought. So to try to find oneself in the body is like to try to find oneself in a car or in a relationship, it’s a fantasy. The body is only there when it is thought. In deep sleep there is no body, but every night you are so happy to go to sleep. And to pretend ‘I am nowhere, I am everywhere’, it’s very sweet but the facts of life challenge this evidence, it is not real evidence. You could be a real evidence – Ramana Maharshi never did any yoga, Maharaj neither, […] neither, the great sages – none of the sages have done yoga. Master Eckhart, Ibn Arabi never stood on their heads and they weren’t missing anything. And I know so many people who do yoga day and long and well…we wonder why! So it’s not there – it’s not against or for it, it’s just — it’s a question of intensity. The body is feeling and whatever we call life is our body. We don’t meet life, we meet only our body. So it’s a kind of respect, in a way, to listen – not to listen to the body because the body is a concept, but to listen to what we imagine is a body. And with listening, the preconceptions we have as a body will change, and as the preconceptions we have as a body will change, the way we feel the world changes because the way we create the world is just a projection of the way we feel our body. There is no difference, if I feel my body is hard, the world is hard, if I feel violence, I feel the world is violent — we can know only a projection of our body. The world is only a projection of our mental limitations, affectivity and so-on. If you were raped all your youth, you see the world from that point of view. If you were caressed and loved all your youth, you see the world from this point of view. We don’t see the world – we only see our emotions. So tantra, in a way, is just acknowledging this fact, and inquiring for the sake of it because life is inquiring – there’s no goal, you don’t become anything, you’re never gonna to change anything, you’re never going to achieve anything but the beauty of life, the intensity of life is asking without asking. Asking without expecting an answer. If you expect an answer you live in projection, you cannot be present. So my teacher used to say: ‘waiting without waiting’. There’s a waiting, which means aloofness which is openness, but without waiting would be a direction going away from aloofness. So myself I use the word intensity – it’s a word, it has no meaning. But it is the same thing. So there is no contradiction; for some people the body-work would be a distraction because they could not approach it without an intention. So for them it would be a dispersion. For some people not to do the body-work would be a dispersion because it’s too easy to read the Upanishads when your husband is faithful, when you’re in good health, when you have some money, when your country is at peace. So you must see things in a more creative way. And it’s not that we have a choice. Things unravel the way they need to be. So there’s no contradiction.
What was the role of the Bhajan in the Advaita tradition?
…Krishnamurti and Vivekananda and Ramakrishna and his guru and there was a picture of a very fat man, with a big belly like me, but with a big moustache, incredible eyes and a big sword and so he was putting the [cuncumin] and they would ask him ‘Maharaj who was this man?’ and he said ‘Oh, this man is the man who killed all the English in my village!’ So people see that, hear that, in a fantasy world but Maharaj was very creative. Nonduality is not something, and Bhajan is not something else, it’s just the intensity of life. It is our minds that want to decide ‘is it dual, nondual, dual/nondual, nondual/dual’ and it’s not only Western because in India we have five Vedantic traditions not three: nondualist, dualistic, half-dualist half non-dualistic, half non-dualist half dualist, dualist non-dualistic, dualist non-dualistic dualistic non-dualist, we just have Advaita and so-on. So Indians are like that too. In Kashmir Shaivism, it’s endless, the level of possibility. So, that’s the beauty of mind. Like there’s so many kinds of music and birds and thoughts, same thing. But it is never a contradiction, that’s the beauty of India – that nothing is considered superior. It’s only here that we want to know ‘what is the best’, which means nothing. The best for who? The best for me but this me has no meaning. There’s no best. Everything has a space. That’s why in India if you’re a prostitute, if you’re a banker, if you’re a guru, if you’re a pandit, it’s the same, because that’s the way to express your life, your inquiry, but nothing is higher it’s just for a short moment it seems like that. That’s why you don’t change jobs because you change jobs if you think ‘from a prostitute to become a banker, maybe it’s better’, but it is not. You stay where you are. You don’t lose any energy trying to become anything, and you focus on the intensity. Then the prostitute could be a [nyannese?], the banker could be a [nyannese?], and the saddhu could be a [nyannese?], why not? But there is no way which is better. Abhinavagupta refused to give initiation to anybody who would wear the Shaiva marks, even in the 10th century. So there’s no best anywhere. That’s the root of Indian culture.
Are we attached to preference here in the West?
Yes, because the ego wants to know ‘what is best for me?’ ‘What is best for me – should I sleep with this one or that one…should I marry this one or that one…should I go there or there? Who’s the best guru? Who has the best book? What’s the best car?’ The best for what? One must inquire at some point. Who am I talking about? What am I talking about? It’s a fantasy. So any situation will bring you back to see you’re just pretending ‘Oh I better marry this one’ then ‘I know I better divorce this one’, only living in this fantasy. In India you don’t get married for you – you get married because in a way, that’s life. I’m not saying one should follow Indian tradition, because as all traditions they have their beauty and their weakness. But it is not as stupid as the way we think from here, because it cuts off all your dynamism towards something. If you’re born in India you cannot become anything. So the only space available to you is intensity. Everything else is cared for you. You don’t get married for love, you don’t marry for any reason — whatever you do, it’s not what you want to do. So you have to find the freedom not in doing. But of course, it has its limits too. It has its frustrations too, it has its violence too and, it is what it is. Because the idea that people do here ‘what is best for myself, what tradition should I follow’ must be seen at some point as the ultimate mis-leading attitude. I’m not there to follow the tradition I like. The tradition for me is the one that’s going to challenge me. And this is the one I’m going to dislike. Because what I like is what gives me security. Security belongs to ego. So I must follow the tradition I dislike the most that’s the good one for me. If I dislike it, that means I fore-feel that I am challenged by it. That’s the one I should do. What I want to do is always the wrong path. What I don’t want to do is what I should do. That’s the tantric way. If I don’t want it, it’s because I have a defence. This defence stops me from breathing life. To see the defence, I must encounter it. That’s the only way. But generally when I have a defence, I go somewhere else. Or I follow this tradition because its easy, it fits me, I like it, I feel comfortable. That’s the ego talking. One must always go where we don’t want to go. That’s the right way. That’s the tantric way.