Someone asked me a question – when there are easier, happier paths to Ananda, why should one follow such drastic and harsh methods as Aghora. Here is my reply posted below, for some others I know also have a similar, and I must add, valid doubt.
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There are millions of paths to the thing that people call God, and only the limitations of the seeker bar the seeker from accessing one or other path, for God is limitless and beyond restrictions.
Why do people follow this path? Because there are different people with different temperaments.. it is neither necessary nor compulsory that only one path is better than other, for that will depend on the inner make-up of the individual who is walking. As there are millions of people on earth with millions of tendencies, similarly there are millions of paths to God.. neither one is better nor one is lesser. It all depends on who is walking the path.
The path – whatever path – will eventually lead to the experience and continuous revelation of the antartmah inside the cavity of the heart, be it worship at home or in a smashan. But going into the heart and finding the guidance of the antaratmah is not easy.. if it were so then everyone who is following an ‘apparently’ satwik path would have already found God in their heart… and when that is found there is no stress in life, all situations are acceptable, that inner Ananda never leaves. To do that, one has to decondition oneself from the six ripus – frankly a very difficult task. One in millions succeed, irrespective of the path followed..
Aghora is one of the names of Shiva – his Southern Face, he has five faces and five fundamental names. There are great self-realized paramhamsas who have walked this path too – Trilanga Swami, Ramakrshna performed all the 64 acharas of Vamachara, Kinnaram of Varanasi etc . Infact Lord Kalabhairava is precisely the form of Shiva who is worshiped as the Purushottama in this path.
Now the question is why follow such harsh methods? There is a philosophy behind the madness. The soul reveals and works perfectly ONLY when all the ripus – which are nothing but chains that bind the awareness and distort the same – are cut asunder and transformed. But saying that I want to transform the ripus is easy, doing it is much difficult. It does not happen easily. This is a long and hard battle that requires intensity self-examination and constant re-work on oneself. The Aghora sadhanas, when performed by a capable seeker, are designed to break away these chains at a faster pace. The first thing such a seeker learns is to overcome fear and shame – two of the ripus – and eventually attachment to everything materialistic – including the body – for the Divine can be experienced perfect only when all attachments are ceded and when one truly relies on the Divine. The constant remembrance and acceptance of the atmosphere of death causes the inevitable reality of ones own death to sink inside and that – irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion – creates an inner vairagya. To a true aghori nothing that the world can offer has any value.. or rather he values it to the extent that it can make him remember the Supreme from whose energy all this has come into existence!
Consider an analogy. There is a huge cup filled with some muddy water. The task at hand now it to remove that muddy water and replace it with chandan-scented water. How do we approach it? Two simple methods. One is to keep pouring chandan-water into the already filled cup, so that by the process of displacement one day the chandan-water will remove the muddy-water and fill the whole cup. This is a slower method but a safer method. The second is take the cup with the muddy-water, just overturn it and throw away its contents. Then fill the same with chandan-water. This maybe faster, but it will create disturbances for emptying the cup at one shot will appear as drastic, harsh and painful. Now in the analogy replace the initial cup of muddy-water with the normal human personality with all its facets and ripus. Vamachara – and by extension Aghora – wants to empty the cup as fast as possible and therefore its methods are drastic and appear painful. Whereas traditional sadhanas want to replace the human personality in a slow and steady manner, so that its jarring effects are minimized. Whenever the ripus and the normal ego are negated, by whatever methods, it will always appear painful for we are so accustomed to living in them, that we refuse to change and subconsciously we hang-on tight. But specially when these are changed in a sharp and forceful manner – as done in Aghora – then it can appear fierce both internally as well as externally.
The end is a similar state irrespective of the path. The best Aghoris also live in and through a state of inner-Ananda. Infact the shastras say that a paramahamsa adopts the vesha – garb – of a child, or a madman or a pisacha. What does that mean? They live so deeply in their inner state of communion that they care not one bit about what and how they appear to the external world of appearances. And to know/recongize a paramhamsa, one has to look within and behind their garbs. Not an easy thing, again.
My views on satwa Guna. Of the three Gunas, this is the best and most conducive for true spirituality. But there is some misconception about what satwa truly is. Infact, it is an inner-state made of balance, and harmony, and equanimity, which will then lead to Ananda. But the important thing is that a truly satwik individual has reduced/removed or totally transformed the I-sense or ego or Ahamkara. Lord Rama , of all people, was the most satwik man that every lived. Not one place in the whole Ramayana can anybody – even his staunchest critics – trace the mildest form of ego in his actions. Ego, pride, attachment to his exhalted status he had none. And yet, when the time came he could engage in a vicious war and destroy a larger and stronger army. A war automatically means death and killing. Those are harsh actions. Did that make him any less sawtik? In my book, absolutely not! While there are certain external attributes that can indicate satwa guna, but its real and actual play is totally internal. That state is achieved even by good Vamachari sadhakas and Aghoris. Where as there are many who strongly believe that they are satwik, engaging in traditional religious precepts and infact create a satwik ego in their mind, which has very little to do with actual satwa guna that is truly spiritual and transformative. A genuinely satwik individual has no trace of ego in his actions. Ego and satwa do not reside inside the same vessel.
And then there is the state which is beyond the three gunas -trigunatita. Dattatreya, who was the first Guru of Aghoris, regarded as a form of Lord Narayana, was an Avadhoota. Krshna speaks of him in the Uddhava Gita as that Avadhoot who had 24 gurus. One reaches satwa, stays in satwa and then goes even beyond satwa.
All the paths to realization have come from the Rishis, including Aghora. Rishi Vasistha was the one who perfected the Mahachinna Sadhana – the Self-realization through Aghora. The descriptions of that sadhana will scandalize most traditional people. And Vasistha was no ordinary man, he was one of the most ancient and powerful brahma-Rishis! Rishi Durvasa was a worshiper of Bhairava form of Shiva who is the devata of Aghora.
However, it is also a sad reality that Aghora and Vamachara Tantra has been abused and misused by people unfit for this path. For every one genuine Aghori, there are endless impostors and frauds and the strange and drastic nature of this path often attracts exactly those who are unfit for this.
Is it necessary that one must follow this path? Not at all, for there is a democracy of paths inside Sanatana Dharma. Each individual must follow his own thread and his own path and sometimes multiple paths if such is the destiny. Is it easy to experience the Infinite Divine through Aghora? Frankly no. But then, truthfully speaking, neither is it easy to experience that Infinite Divine within the confines of traditional religious paths. Just like there are fraud Aghoris, similarly there are millions of unfit posers inside traditional religious settings who are too busy with the external postures rather than the inner journey.
For once realization of the soul or the Self comes in – whatever be the path – everything else will subside.. it is a flow that cannot be described in words.. there is never going to be any agitation in the consciousness. One can handle all things calmly, and be guided by the Divine Will to act only as an instrument of the same, while soaking in inner Ananda.
[Mind you Ananda is not sukha. Sukha is the happiness born from desires and their fructification. Ananda has no external cause and when perfected, remains irrespective of whatever happens outside. That is the inevitable goal.]
Hence realization is an individuals journey, no single path is a guarantee for it. Statistically speaking, at any given point of time only a handful realize the soul or the Self, and it has very little to do with which path they are walking.. that is how Nature plays Her game!