Tandava the Cosmic Dance

Tandava the Cosmic Dance

By Daniel Odier

Tandava means totality. It means the path is absolutely non-dual, because we integrate everything and we don’t refuse any aspect of the human being. There is no opposition to emotion, to desire, to whatever a human being can experience. We deal with everything with freedom, spontaneity, and courage. Tandava, the dance of the totality, is based on the idea that if you let go of emotional, physical, and mental limitations, your body will naturally be one with everything. The body has a natural capacity to be one. It’s the only thing it wants.

Before you were born you were one with your mother. Then you were born, and after a few months you realize that the adults don’t want to be one with you. Then suffering starts. It seems a baby needs at least three or four months to understand that it’s not supposed to be one with the cosmos. The pressure of adults and the pressure of the world close the body.

When you are in the practice, you feel that your body has no limit—and not only no limit but that it is fluctuating. The fluctuation can be shorter than your actual body. For example, if you are sad or depressed, you may experience a body which is not even as big as you are. When you are joyous, you can feel the body expanding. When you have a mystical experience, for example when you listen to some music you love or you see a painting, you see that your body wants to eat the painting or eat the musician.

We are love cannibals. We want to eat everything around. This is the yoga, to let the body be totally free to expand. Of course, with mental limitations, which are basically beliefs and certainty, and with emotional limitation, which is basically fear, it is difficult. Tandava is going to smooth the process.

Tandava is the oldest yoga practice we know. It has nothing to do with the Indian yoga. We don’t do asanas. We don’t do pranayama. We don’t do bandhas. We have no limitation whatsoever. It’s harder because you have nothing to ground you in a safe space. So you need a lot of courage to go there, because it’s a big adventure—an adventure in being totally alive. And it’s very difficult.

And this is the beauty, too. You never arrive at a safe place. It’s very dangerous to be on a spiritual path, any path. Even if it looks nice, even if it looks gentle, there is a point where it’s going to attack you and destroy all certainty to bring you to fragility.

The Vijnana is like the cookbook of the tantric path. You have all the practices. Two stanzas are very precise. They talk about Tandava and they clearly state that it’s the only physical practice we need. It’s a fascinating book because it’s very simple. There are 120 stanzas and they all say the same thing: whatever you do, if you are totally present, you are close to illumination. When you are angry, when you eat, when you make love, when you watch, when you listen to music, if you are one hundred percent there, you are close to illumination.

There are four phases. The first is the meditation part. Curiously, we don’t have a fixed idea about what is a good position. A good position is the position your body likes. But to know that, you have to ask your body, “Do you like your sitting?” Because, you know, you never said to it, please be comfortable. And we can stay for hours in an uncomfortable position without even noticing it. Only when the pain is too much, we notice. So we have this very open approach. Give to your body a position that it likes. And if you tell me, “I want to be hung by the feet from the ceiling,” I’d say, okay. If your body likes that, please do it.

Then there is the idea that we communicate with whatever is around. So we offer the body to the space. My master told me something that I like very much. She said, “Find a reason not to make love 24 hours a day.” And I reflected on that for a long time and never found a good reason. So the idea is to make love with the space. You go to the space, you offer your body to space. The spine is like a snake. Snakes are a very important symbol in tantra, because they are flexible. Even a sperm doesn’t go straight to the ovary, it wiggles. At the beginning of life, we are a little snake, entering a sphere. The ovary is not square, nor triangular. It’s a sphere. So you have a little snake entering a sphere. Why then are we so blocked?

Breathing. This is the only thing that all spiritual paths agree on. Breathing is the most important thing. Nothing else. Then they fight about what is good breathing. All animals breatheby relaxing the belly, while most human breathewith a tight belly. When you’re breathing, relax the belly, and at the same time relax the lower spine. They work together. And we never force anything in our yoga. It’s very important. Use your consciousness, and never push anything. Always soft, delicate, conscious.

Explore the space. Feel the ribs moving. If the breath is there, feel your hands warming. It’s flowing there, and in the feet. Offer your body to space. Breathing is essential. My master told me that she once met an old tantric master, who taught only breathing for the last twenty years of his life. He said if you are breathing right, you go to ecstasy. It’s very simple. Just the breath.

Try to feel where the energy is blocking. Theremay be some points where it blocks between the shoulder blades, or at the neck, or it could be in the belly. When you feel something blocking, you send the breath there. Don’t think meditation; think dance! You are dancing. Ask your body a very simple question: “Do you like it?” It has been straight and tense for twenty, thirty years, and suddenly has permission to dance. When you really dance, you can do it without movement, because everything is dancing inside. When I go to China to my Zen monastery, I sit like the Zen monks, but inside I dance. They don’t see it, but I know that I am dancing. Dance can be secret.

There is another very important point: the tongue. The tongue is the key to the relaxation of the whole body, because when you are tense, your tongue is tense. As soon as the tongue relaxes, it relaxes the perineum, because it’s connected. Then it goes up, relaxing everything. It relaxes the head, the eyes, the center between the eyes, the throat—everything.This is something to do, every three minutes in normal life. Relax the tongue. When you kiss somebody, most of the time the tongue is relaxed. People don’t know this. It’s a yoga practice by itself!

Then there is the diaphragm. Try to feel its movement. Where does it go when you breathe in, when you breathe out? Never force, never push. Consciousness is enough to progress. And when the diaphragm is closed, stay there a second or two, stay there with consciousness. It will open a little bit if you move the back. If you have a cat, you will have seen that when they are very relaxed they stick their tongue out a little. You can do that too. It’s very relaxing. It makes you look like an idiot, but you can close your eyes. When you start meditating, stick a bit of your tongue out for three minutes, and you will feel the whole body relaxing. Catsare the best yoga teachers. They are free. If you follow them all day and do whatever they do, you will feel so good. They know everything. Nothing stays in their mind. It’s flowing.

And the nice thing, this grows stronger with age. Many people see age as a kind of fatality—you have to become stiff. But if you practice, it’s exactly the opposite. I feel much freer than I did twenty or forty years ago. And who knows, it may never stop. You can die freely to the rainbow body in Tandava. You can go into the space.

Relax the tongue. Follow the diaphragm. Feel the deep belly muscle. When you’re breathing, they are totally expanding. When you keep attention on the lower part, very often you tense the shoulders. So relax the shoulders. Then something very simple: pleasure. You are allowed to feel pleasure in this practice. It’s not a sin. We do this for twenty minutes or half an hour—or it could be two minute or two hours—then comes the second part. Now the arms join the movement, with the breathing. When they go down, you breathe out, when you breathe in, they go up. Always disassociate the two arms, otherwise it fixes the spine. You’re like a cat. You play, you caress the space. You offer your arms to space. Space is not empty, it’s full of energy, full of movement, full of matter.

You concentrate mainly on the breath and the movement will come naturally. Don’t think too much about the movement. Like a bird, you open your wings, you caress the space, you move the pelvis on the cushion. When the pelvis doesn’t move, the energy is stuck there. If you move, it’s boiling. But if you are motionless, nothing is boiling.

Of course, many people who are on the spiritual path don’t want the system to boil. They want to keep it low, quiet. If you do this practice, it’s going to have a terrific impact on your life—a good impact. And the dance does not need you. When you get the feeling that the dance is not in you, it’s a good feeling. You aren’t doing anything, you don’t know where the arms are going to go. You are surprised by the movement. You balance the right and the left, and they become free.

The practice is terribly strong. Do it for a few days and you will feel an emotional tsunami. This is a wonderful thing, that all the emotions we kept in the blocked body are now going to flow out. In the beginning, it can be a spectacular—a big emotional explosion. Later it’s softer. Imagine the body is like a house, where everything is closed. You go into the house, you open the windows, you open the doors, and the emotions say, “Wow, we can go out. We’re free.” And, of course, they go out very fast.

If you feel that you need to repeat something, do it freely. Sometimes you will have to repeat a movement in order to release an emotion, like the movement is going to go deeper in the body to search for the emotion. This is something I loved when I was introduced to Tandava—the absence of rules. You are supposed to be very slow, but fast can also be slow. It’s totally relaxed. Even if you go fast, you can get the feeling of slowness. Slowness is stopping the mind. When you go slow, you don’t think. In a way, you are faster than people who go fast, because they think all the time. Think about that: slow is fast plus pleasure. Many yogas don’t want this extra energy, they want to stay pure. If you don’t want to activate this energy, don’t move. For us, extra energy is our global connection. It’s to make love with the sky, with the tree, with the landscape, with the chi.

The mind, the emotions and the body are not separate. It’s the same thing. We separate it in language because it’s easy for teaching, but in reality it’s like a rope with three cords that work together and communicate all the time. Each time you find the freedom in the mind or in the emotion, it translates to the body. From the body it translates to the emotion.

Tandava is not only a practice, it’s a way of living. Do everything with the Tandava spirit. Eat, work, whatever you do in life, you are doing Tandava. It’s a little slower, but not much. It’s just a question of consciousness of the movement. When you bring consciousness to the body, it loves it. It’s ecstasy. It’s going to ask you for more.

Nothing is forbidden in our path.

Daniel Odier became a disciple of Kalou Rinpoche in 1968. He taught tantrism and buddhism in several American universities before founding the Tantra/Chan Center in Paris in 1995. In 2000, he dissolved the center to encourage independent practice and today leads seminars internationally. His books on Tantra have been translated into eight languages and deal with the deeper aspects of the shaivite and tantric way of Chan. Recognized as Sifu (Chan master) Daniel brings together buddhism and direct contact with the daily essence of Chan. http://www.danielodier.com/home.html

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