Episode 28: "Staying in Love: Tantra is way more than Sexual Technique" with Kali Ma
“Staying in Love: Tantra is way more than Sexual Technique” with Tantric Buddhist Teacher Kali Ma
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Alissa Kriteman: Welcome to “Just For Women: Dating, Relationships and Sex”. I’m you host, Alissa Kriteman. This show is dedicated to bringing you the freshest, most thought-provoking perspectives on how to live your most empowered life.
On the show today we have Kali Ma, who is a Western spiritual teacher who teaches in the tradition of the unorthodox tantric-yogic style of Buddhism. On the show today we will talk to her about tantric-yogic Buddhism, what it is and the confusion in the West about what Tantra actually is. We will discuss how from a Buddhist perspective we can attract and maintain the perfect love for us.
Kali Ma: Tantra is actually a traditional word that refers to a path of transforming one’s mind. Basically the tantric path is that every part of our lives can be harnessed for spiritual growth and realization. If we can uncover our fundamental ignorance and wake up in a fundamental way then everything else in our life is touched by that sanity and light and we’re able to put our whole lives in a new way.
Alissa Kriteman: Welcome to “Just for Women”, Ma.
Kali Ma: Hello!
Alissa Kriteman: It’s so great to have you here!
Kali Ma: I’m glad to be here.
Alissa Kriteman: OK. So, for those of you who don’t know Kali Ma yet, she is the leader of the MahaSiddha Dharma, she’s the founder and director of its non-profit public charities since 1999. She founded the Trigug Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, CA, and two other centers in Berkeley and Grass Valley. She tours regularly throughout the United States, Nepal and India, giving teachings, trainings, transmissions and guiding groups in meditation, yogic practices and healing.
She is the author of two books: “Doorways to Enlightenment” and “Peacock in the Garden of Poisons”. She offers many audio teachings on her website. So Kali Ma, let’s get right into it here. Tell us about your lineage in tantric-yogic Buddhism and why there’s so much confusion in the West as to what Tantra is.
Kali Ma: In the West Tantra is actually an expression of neo-Tantra, which is a great term for the new kind of Tantra. So most of the time when people hear Tantra they think of neo-Tantra which is very ubiquitous throughout the US, and that Tantra is focused on sexuality and pleasure. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s misleading to call that Tantra, Tantra is actually a traditional word that refers to a path of transforming one’s mind.
My tradition of Tantra comes from the tantric Buddha, Padmasambhava and Mihoshi Sogya, who were two extraordinary realized masters that brought the tantric teachings to Tibet and throughout the Himalayas, including Nepal and even in India, and their teaching focuses on how we can realize an extraordinarily sane and awake enlightened state of mind without leaving the world, without going and living in a cave, and without renouncing body or emotions, but instead by engaging in all of life.
When we speak of traditional Tantra this is what it’s referring to: traditionally it means practices that transform our relationship to life rather than require us to leave the world behind.
Alissa Kriteman: Why do you think Tantra got so separated and sort of redefined as just sexual practices in the West?
Kali Ma: Well I think its enthusiastic response to Tantra… that people heard about these non-renouncement traditions which included sexuality as one of many ways of finding enlightened mind. Basically the tantric path is that every part of our lives can be harnessed for spiritual growth and realization, which includes work and personal chores and having a business, communicating with people.
Anything that has to do with caring for our bodies: our breathing, our emotions, all of the thoughts in our mind. We can actually harness that and of course sexuality is one part of that, and so it seems that probably Westerners, very enthusiastic for these kind of teachings, extracted that piece of it and developed their take on it. And where inspired to use those teachings to liberate the puritanical ethos that Westerners have had in the past about sexuality, and encourage people to explore that.
It’s not that that’s a bad thing, that in itself could be useful and helpful and growthful for someone, especially particular stages of the path. But it’s not… that’s a different thing than Tantra or an enlightenment path, which has a different focus because no matter what great orgasms we can have, as long as we don’t understand the nature of our minds we’ll still be miserable in the relationship.
And we’ll still create all kinds of confusion in our relationships and find ourselves in situations that are mired with all kinds of craziness and insanity. And so those practices can be useful but ultimately if we don’t have that understanding of the nature of mind, it’s a problem and it doesn’t really matter what else we can do until we’ve done that.
And that’s basically the Buddha’s teaching… is, if we can uncover our fundamental ignorance and wake up in a fundamental way then everything else in our life is touched by that sanity and light and we’re able to put our whole lives in a new way.
Alissa Kriteman: That’s interesting and really why I wanted to talk to you because I wanted to understand how… like you said, even though we can have a great orgasm, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be sane, that you’re going to a healthy, productive, balanced life, or a relationship that actually works.
Kali Ma: Actually that was something, a few years ago, that I was deeply struck by. I met lots of students when we moved to Northern California who had studied all these sexual teachings and all of those practices but where very unhappy in their relationships. And they were so grateful to hear about these teachings about enlightened relationship because for them, no matter what techniques they had, there was still that problem that the Buddha saw, which was that of dissatisfaction and the five poisonous mind states that come out, that create conflict and alienation from others.
So, because of that in Northern California we have given those teachings over and over again, because so many people where desperate for that, and thirsty for that. The first few years I was giving it every year even though it’s a part of a longer two and a half year cycle of teachings.
Alissa Kriteman: Interesting. We are going to take a break to support our sponsors and when we come back I want to talk more about love and enlightened relationship. This is Alissa Kriteman, your host of “Just for Women: Dating, Relationships and Sex”, we’re talking with Kali Ma, tantric-yogic Buddhist teacher, traveling all over the West, Nepal and India sharing her teachings. And we’ll be right back.
Welcome back to “Just for Women: Dating, Relationships and Sex”, I’m your host, Alissa Kriteman. We’re here talking with Kali Ma, tantric-yogic Buddhist teacher who’s giving us the illuminated view of what Tantra really is in a lineage that’s steeped in history, and not just neo-Tantra, and what the differences are. Now we’re going to talk about love and enlightened relationship.
So Kali Ma, let’s talk a little bit about: what does it take from your Buddhist perspective to attract and have love in our lives that’s really enriching, healthy and nourishing?
Kali Ma: People are dissatisfied habitually and this comes from misperceiving the way our minds are, and when we don’t understand our minds we don’t understand reality or other people. And because of that misunderstanding everything is a little bit misinterpreted by our karma, our conditioning, our bias, our emotional habits, our hang-ups.
Generally people are very dissatisfied and that’s actually the basis of the Buddhist teaching… is that most people are dissatisfied and this dissatisfaction has a cause. Therefore if we don’t cause it anymore we won’t be it anymore. And that’s actually caused because we have misunderstood our minds, and because we misunderstand our minds we don’t understand our emotions or others, or relationship, or reality, or all of life.
And it’s really like there’s some kind of distortion in our view, even though that sounds at first hard to relate to, we can all relate to times where we thought something was happening a certain way, that someone was mad at us, and later we realized: “No, they’re not angry at us!” And we misperceived it. There’s a kind of basic misperception that’s happening all the time that makes us be in an unsatisfied state.
If we’re unsatisfied that’s the best, but most people have it even worse that that, it’s actually confusion and all out suffering, and insanity. And this kind of malaise of ordinary life is really what the Buddhist teachings are all about curing. We can understand mind and go beyond that and be able to relate with our lives anew in a clear, fresh, direct way.
If we want to have a satisfied relationship we have to know how to be a satisfied person. What happens is that at first relationships come in when we’re in love, we’re very enthusiastic when we first fall in love and we’re so inspired by the other person, and we deeply appreciate them. But then gradually how we usually are towards life comes on again, a bad habit that doesn’t go away, and suddenly we are as dissatisfied as we always were, playing out the same patterns we’ve always played in all our other relationships, and we find ourselves falling out of love mysteriously.
If we can understand how our mind works then we don’t have to blindly fall into this process hopelessly anymore, and it’s possible for us to approach our lives in a completely new way, where we are in a state of satisfaction, a neat state of sanity and awakeness, and aliveness, which is profoundly satisfying, where we can enjoy our lives and be as we are, fully enjoying that.
Alissa Kriteman: You’re definitely echoing something I’ve heard over and over again: “We have to be happy in our own lives first, as empowered as we can be.” So, what are some ways in your perspective that we can get out of being insane, or dissatisfied in our lives. What are some of the practices that you use?
Kali Ma: Well it’s really a long explanation to share what the practices are. I can say a few things, but we actually have a whole training on how through our love relationships it’s possible to train in that satisfied, awake state, through our loving relationships. That requires a special kind of inner work where we are working with our own view and thoughts and emotions in a certain way.
However I feel that just basically for anybody it’s possible to have more satisfying relationships by just working on one’s mind and undertaking some kind of meditation path, because in a relationship the problem is, you’re not only relating to your own mind but also relating to someone else’s mind. So it’s double the insanity and most people aren’t very comfortable just sitting there with their minds.
There’s insecurity and anger and jealousy and controlling and restlessness, there’s all kinds of things that aren’t enjoyable and we expect someone else to get a great kick out of that and find it really exciting for years and years and years. Some kind of inner work is the most important thing for finding a relationship and for people who are in a relationship, because usually in a relationship people try and unload their baggage on each other and expect the other person to process all their emotions, and meet all these needs and deal with all the karma and past conditioning.
That’s a lot to put on one person and it’s really impossible for someone to do that for us. It’s not that we can’t help each other. So I’d say those two things: the most important thing to do is inner work of taking a meditation path, where we’re learning how to relate properly in a sane way with our mind and emotions, and also to be able, in our relationships, not to expect the other person to do that, work for us, but to be able to come with that ourselves.
It’s possible that in relationship we can practice together to bring that about, and if I could just say, one of those practices would have to be… this is part of the long teaching we have called the “The Red and White Essence” which I’m giving in LA in October. And “The Red and White Essence”, it’s a series of practices that we engage with so that we can find what we find in meditation in our relationships, where there’s this brilliant freshness and sanity and awakeness, and a vivid aliveness together.
That feeling of in-love that we first have in the beginning, to be able to cultivate that. So in relationship one thing that can be done is that… people seem to be very weak and loose, and being kind to one another, and that sounds so simple but that’s an amazing practice. If I had to say something simple that anyone could do without any training it would be: to be immaculately kind to our lovers, and the only way to do that is if you’ve developed a gentleness towards our own mind and our own intensities.
Alissa Kriteman: It does sound simple, but in reality, when we look at our past relationships and even maybe some of the marriages and relationships that are going on now… Yeah, it seems like the most difficult thing, and so what you’re pointing us to do is our own work. And so, what would you say to women who are maybe in a marriage where there’s no sex and it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out? And there’s no “time” for meditation?
I mean, is that what you’re saying, like really we have to take the steps to stop and really feel what’s going on inside of our bodies? What else would you say is for women – let’s focus on women for a second – what is at the heart of a female neurotic mind?
Kali Ma: From the perspective of our tradition men and women are actually dealing with the same mental issues and of course in our societies the circumstance of men and women is excruciatingly different, and that’s not to be denied. But when it comes down to it, the basic confusions of the mind are the same for everyone, despite social inequality or racial inequality. We still all respond to that in only five different ways, the five “poisons of the mind”, which are five confused states we can be in.
And that is the same for men and women and also men and women have the same practices in the “Red and White Essence” teachings, which are enlightened relationship teaching, where we are both working to overcome our narcissism and conditioning in order to be fully present with someone as they are. And as you said about kindness, it is really difficult to be kind, because people don’t know how to control their mind and emotions.
That people don’t want to be insecure and clingy and controlling and mean, lonely, needy, naggy… they don’t want to be but they uncontrollably are because they don’t have done that inner work and they don’t know how to work with their minds and emotions properly. Which is the number one thing for people to do.
It’s interesting because people want to be in a relationship and attract “the one” and have the sense that that will bring satisfaction, but we all know so many people who are in relationships who are deeply unsatisfied. And so the beautiful thing about doing that inner work is that we are able to be more satisfied so that when relationships arise we can approach it with something to offer, rather than just this vacuum of need.
Alissa Kriteman: I love it. You also offer a myriad of breathing practices as well, and I know that you have those available on your website. I’m so for women taking steps into their lives so I will definitely talk more about meditation, why meditate, how to meditate, how to stop and take the time to meditate. I think people think it requires two hours a day, and really it doesn’t.
What do you have to say to busy people who think meditation is going to take forever?
Kali Ma: Five minutes a day is a great way to practice meditation. In the beginning that’s plenty and it’s better than sitting through two hours of unsuccessful practice to have five minutes of crisp, alert, attentive sensitivity. It’s what’s needed and the most important for learning to do meditation practice is to not only sit, and sit for that five minutes, but also be part of a tradition or teaching so there’s some kind of support for understanding what’s arising in meditation.
And in addition meditating every day, in a very disciplined way, because it’s the regularity that helps to change a mind, and it’s amazing! Even five minutes a day will change the way that the mind responds in different situations. Even five minutes a day will make such a difference! It’s tremendous, it’s the way that plants are: when we don’t water them they get droopy and saggy, but immediately if we water plants they perk right up and there’s a complete change.
And this is the water for the mind, it’s what the mind needs, it’s the way we care for mind properly. And it makes an immediate difference.
Alissa Kriteman: I love your perspective because mostly we want to hear: “The quick fix: these are the five steps to how you can have a great relationship!” And really what you’re saying is: “Sit and be quiet with yourself!” And feel whatever is going on, whatever arises can… you know… feel that, and also have some kind of support structure so we can understand what’s going on inside of this retraining of the mind.
Because that’s what it really takes, and that’s what I love sharing with women… is that there really isn’t a quick fix to it. You really have to do that deep inner work which is, you know, something, as I said, has been resounding for women. It’s time!
Kali Ma: Absolutely! The way that people can find a quick fix is by doing the inner work in a long, enduring way. Then quick fixes become available.
Alissa Kriteman: Awesome! Thank you Kali Ma, we’re out of time but thank you so much for giving us your perspective on the differences between Tantra and neo-Tantra and how all of that came about and how to have love, find love, attract love and doing this deep inner work. So thank you for your time. How can we find you?
Alissa Kriteman: And tell us when you’re doing a course in Los Angeles, in October. Tell us quickly about that.
Kali Ma: In October I’m teaching a two day weekend called “The Red and White Essence” and it’s a class on how we can relate with our mind in a different way in love relationship in order to transform how the relationship manifests so that we can remain in a state of in-love together. And yeah, that’s on my website kalima.org, there’s and advanced page there, and it’s really such a transformative weekend. It’s everyone’s favorite teaching and it’s always booked fully.
Alissa Kriteman: That sounds incredible so, ladies, get yourself down to Los Angeles. Maybe we can do a carpool!
Thank you Kali Ma I so appreciate your time. We’re out of time. This is Alissa Kriteman, your host of “Just For Women: Dating, Relationships and Sex”, and we’ll see you next time.
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