The Left Hand Path: Vehicle of Illumination in an Age of Darkness. An article presented by Aaron Cheak for comparative religion presentation at University of Queensland. ©2004 Zeena Schreck
The Left-Hand Path: Vehicle of Illumination in an Age of Darkness
Hemet-Neter Tepi Seth
Distributed at University of Queensland, Australia, for comparative religion presentation.
Studying the short, brutal history of the human race reveals that we have always been a compulsively violent, confused, and self-destructive species. One need not be an historian to observe that the current state of mankind at the dawn of the twenty-first century has descended to an unprecedented low of spiritual bankruptcy. The daily news offers a ceaseless cornucopia of catastrophes to prove this point. Faced with the endless parade of human folly it is hard not to believe that humanity, blinded by the egotistical and anthropocentric cult of so-called rationality it has adopted for centuries, has never been so enmeshed in empty materialism, so obviously adrift without rudder or compass to guide its way.
Estranged to the point of schizoid disassociation from the organic cycles of nature of which mankind is only a small part, is it any wonder that so many suffer from higher levels of clinical depression than have ever been recorded before? We exist in a social environment through which the chilly winds of premonitory disaster blow ever more fiercely. Only the most delusive optimist could imagine that the current whirlpool of social collapse, economic breakdown, cynical abuse of military power in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”, and ongoing ecological suicide is leading to any benevolent conclusion. Faced with such toxic psychic weather, it comes as no surprise that mankind’s reaction to its own self-implosion is to bury its collective ostrich head in the sand. Ever-growing populations of the industrialized Western world, and even many in developing countries striving to become “developed”, now prefer to drug themselves with the spiritually empty standards of 24 hour entertainment. Addicting itself to the new brain-numbing electronic heroin called the Internet, the human animal increasingly retreats from the world of physical phenomena into a voluntary house arrest of safe virtual reality and “home entertainment” in hopes of soothing anxieties and the sense of ontological dislocation. We divert our attention from our own demise with the thousands of other distractionary Soma devices that our hypercapitalist Brave New World supplies us with so that we may drown our consciousness in ceaseless triviality, propaganda, advertising, and other modes ofdistraction. Millions of minds fed on such a poisonous diet of psychic junk food can never attain the clarity needed to free themselves from the role of obedient consumer serf that they have been assigned.
Faced with the global crisis that descends on mankind, no leader of vision or moral integrity has emerged with a solution. The social, religious, and economic institutions that once propped up an illusion of civilization are in a hopeless state of decay that inspires no confidence in their continued relevance. The poorly educated masses struggle through this period of chaos with no sturdier philosophical foundation than can be obtained from the specious mass media offal they consume. The academy and what passes for an intellectual elite have abandoned any pretense of seeking the truth, having succumbed to the smug nihilism of postmodernism, an anti-wisdom that proudly severs itself from the nourishment of all tradition and spiritual authority in favor of the glib jargon of politically correct structuralism and deconstruction. Facile irony and sarcasm have become the customary response to any authentic spiritual yearning. Derisive if nervous laughter is the standard empty reaction to any reference to the sacred, the numinous, and the religious in the superficial contemporary world.
In such an environment, which largely shuns spiritual knowledge and transrational modes of thought as antiquated superstition, unscientific lunacy, repressive dogma, or at the very least superfluous wastes of time with no monetary value, few would suggest that the root cause of humanity’s current crisis is essentially spiritual in nature. The ancient idea that the ultimate solution to mankind’s folly lays in the suprarational region of our soul and not in the cold calculations of our logic-strangled cerebrum must seem like quaint madness to the contemporary intellectual’s mind. However, the essentially spiritual causes that shape the inauspicious conditions ruling our time have long been universally recognized by those who have disentangled themselves from the bonds of egocentric mentation to experience the deeper patterns of Being that lay under the veils of illusion.
In Hindu metaphysics, it is understood that we are now living in the dawn of the Kali Yuga, which can be translated to mean “dark aeon”, “dark world-age” or “unlucky age”. According to the Vedic tradition of Yugas, human development descends and ascends again and again through a cycle of four eternally recurring ages, beginning with the Krita or Satya Yuga, a golden age of truth. Having passed through the subsequent Treta and Dvapara ages, periods of progressive spiritual deterioration leading away from the primeval aeon of purity and perfection, we have now entered the final stage of dissolution embodied by the Kali Yuga. When the Kali Yuga comes to its end, the cosmic cycle will begin anew, a revivified golden age rising from the ashes of our current dark age. These cycles also correspond to the changing internal states of being of the initiate on his or her path toward liberation in which a Kali Yuga of the soul must be conquered before the initiate’s own golden age is revealed. Until then, however, the traditionally described symptoms of the Kali Yuga that we can see all around us today (spiritual bankruptcy, mindless hedonism, breakdown of all social structure, greed and materialism, unrestricted egotism, afflictions and maladies of every kind) will prevail. (Similar ideas of terminal world-ages are expressed in the Nothern Ragnarok, the Aztec Fifth Sun, the Christian Apocalypse, and the Gnostic Aion of Typhon.)
It is the nature of the Kali Yuga that most human beings are now held back from spiritual liberation due to the gravity of inertia, apathy and laziness, (known in Sankrit as the quality of tapas) that overwhelms this age. Despite this seemingly gloomy prognosis, there is a way out of this predicament for those with the will and stamina to awaken from the rampant lethargy within and without them to take action. Even in the dark age, a few have the heroic disposition to break with the illusion that they are time and space-bound separate egos trapped in the specific conditions of the zeitgeist around them. These heroic swimmers against the stream of time can free themselves to an expanded, timeless, and non-dual consciousness no longer dependent on the cycle of the Yugas. Such a being is said to be jivanmukta, or liberated in this lifetime; one who has transcended the petty, temporal and dualistic perspective and fears of the ego to realize the ecstasy of the transpersonal and divine state of consciousness obscured beneath the normative white noise of self-absorption.
At the same time that Christianity was securing its foothold in the West, India saw the re-emergence of an ancient mystical tradition within the Tantric yoga movement which promised to be a method of spiritual discipline especially suited to the inauspicious conditions of the Kali Yuga. This heretical secret tradition was passed on from guru, or spiritual preceptor, to chela, or spiritual aspirant, after an arduous period of testing to determine the constitution and suitability of the initiate. Known alternately as vamachara or vamamarga, this practice begins, like most other yogic paths, with the mastery of meditation leading to the arrest of the normal discursive and random human thought process that prevents a pure and undistorted perception of reality. Only after this difficult phase of necessary mental purification, can thevamamarga initiate proceed to the far more radical practices specifically designed to be an extreme method of liberation appropriate to the extremity of the Kali Yuga. These vamamarga practices include, among many others, the breaking of social conditioning and taboo, the exaltation of the cosmic feminine, the utilization of the physical body and sexual ecstasy as a means of religious devotion and non-dual consciousness alteration, the deliberately transgressive taking of a self-outcasted and stigmatized mode of life that violates social, religious, behavioral, and cultural norms, all designed to liberate the initiate from the fetters that bind the majority of humans from their hidden divine natures.
In the 19th century, when the first Europeans began to take alarmed note of the secretive vamamarga cult of ecstasy, they translated the phrase vamamarga (literally “left way”) into the phrase “left-hand path”.
The left-hand path of Tantricism differs from right-hand path Tantra, or dakshinamarga, due to the former’s celebration of transgressive practices, sexual rites, and its emphasis on the female power, known as Shakti. Although it was said in medieval times that the left way practice was the only effectual means of liberation in the Kali Yuga, evidence suggests that the practices that came to be known as left-hand path actually preceded the development of right-hand path Tantra, which appears to have been developed as a tamed and whitewashed later version of the discipline. Some have referred to the left-hand path’s sexual and bodily devotions as “wet” in contrast to the “dry” methodology of the right-hand path. Another metaphoric description historically used is that of the comparison between wine and milk; the former representing the ecstatic, fiery, and intoxicating effects of the left-hand path and the latter representing the soothing, methodical, and gentler approach to the right-hand path practice.
Traditional texts describing the dire conditions of the Kali Yuga specify that spiritual truth will deteriorate or be completely misunderstood due to the low level of spiritual awareness in the age of darkness. Students of comparative and alternative religion will observe how popularized, simplified, and delusive forms of ersatz spirituality proliferate in the confusion of the modern world, especially since the mainstream revival of occultism and a fashionable interest in Eastern mysticism coincided during the 1960s. This naive and often misinformed pseudo-religiosity is a typical symptom of Kali Yugic deterioration. The progressive degradation of what was once mankind’s highest and most ennobled aspiration towards genuine spiritual enlightenment into hundreds of fraudulent personality cults, historically inaccurate “do-it-yourself” recreational religions, or largely fanciful role-playing games utilizing half-understood religious concepts typifies the Kali Yugic collapse of authentic spiritual tradition. Some sincere spiritual seekers are drawn to such inauthentic manifestations of the Kali Yuga as the New Age, Wicca, pop culture occultism, so-called satanism, Fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, the Hare Krishsna movement, UFO cults, Scientology, bogus Castaneda-style “shamanism”, and many other corrupt contemporary phenomena that offer counterfeit imitations of genuine spiritual knowledge. But none of these can lead to liberation from the bonds of the age of darkness, cut off as they are from the integral esoteric roots necessary to true enlightenment.
Even the left-hand path tradition has been degraded in the past hundred years or so by the ignorant forces of inertia that hold sway over the Kali Yuga. Because the left-hand path was condemned in the once popular writings of Theosophy founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky as “evil” and “black magic”, her erroneous and unfounded concepts were adopted thoughtlessly by other esoteric authors. Indeed, feminist scholars in search of a relevant thesis topic might well consider how the originally gynocentric feminine tradition of the left-hand path has been distorted and/or abused by blatantly sexist males in modern times. Among these was Aleister Crowley, who severely disfigured understanding of the left-hand path in the Western world by characterizing it as the way of selfishness and egoism, an idea which can proven to be false by referring to the original left-hand path Tantras, which continually emphasize ego-transcendence as the key to liberation. As the inaccurate idea that the left-hand path was “selfish black magic” continued to spread like a meme it reached its nadir when Anton LaVey, proprietor of the Church of Satan, adopted the phrase to describe his crude, atheistic, misogynistic and misanthropic form of Satanism, which is in fact the very opposite of the feminine, joyful, mystical and transcendent nature of the true left-hand path tradition. Since the 1960s, many other misguided “Satanists” and “black magicians” (The Temple of Set, Order of the Nine Angles, etc.) have wrongfully appropriated the phrase “left-hand path” to define their puerile antics, without ever bothering to actually research the ancient tradition of the left-hand path they claimed to represent. Just as misguided, but at the opposite pole of “Satanic” misrepresentations of the left-hand path, is the whitewashed and anodyne version of “Tantra” taught by contemporary Western New Age devotees, which bears little resemblance to the transgressive energy of the historical left-hand path heritage.
In the 21st century, a revival of interest and practice of the genuine left-hand path tradition - rather than the bastardized 20th century distortions - has begun to take root in the West. As a long-time practitioner and teacher of the techniques of left-hand path liberation, I am pleased to see that serious scholars are now focusing their attention on this misunderstood and misrepresented branch of spiritual tradition. As the authentic left-hand path movement continues to flourish in the West, I foresee that increased collaboration between scholars and left-hand path initiates will produce a fruitful new understanding of the sinister way to enlightenment as a powerful tool of transpersonal liberation. Scholarship and spiritual initiation are united in their common quest for impartial truth. By adhering to the highest standards of objective scholarship, left-hand path initiates can avoid falling into the trap of subjective fantasy concerning the history of our religious discipline. By attempting to understand the ecstatic insights of left-hand path illumination, such modern scholars of the left-hand path as Thomas Cleary, Georg Feuerstein, Miranda Shaw, David Gordon White, and others, have already redeemed their research from being reduced to dry and passionless abstraction through their sympathetic portrayal of the left-hand tradition.
By shining the “masculine” light of logical research into the formerly secretive “feminine” mystery of the left-hand path, a symbolic union of what Carl Jung termed the “contrasexual” forces of Shiva (pure unmanifest consciousness) and Shakti (kinetic initiatory power) can bring illumination into our current age of darkness.
Zeena Schreck is the founder and spiritual leader of the Sethian Liberation Movement, a left-hand path religious movement, co-author of Demons of the Flesh: The Complete Guide to Left Hand Path Sex Magic, and a teacher of the Liberation in this Lifetime course.
©2004 Zeena Schreck