In the nondual Shaiva tradition, Shiva and Shakti are the names given for the two great aspects of reality – Awareness and Energy. Shiva represents Awareness, the indescribable aspect of reality that is prior to anything and everything that can be perceived. Shakti represents the creative Energy that arises as the entire manifest world.
To present a model of the universe that the mind can understand, Awareness and Energy are spoken of as two distinct and separate things. This is due to the dualistic nature of language. We think and speak in terms of opposites – black/white, male/female, good/evil. In truth, Awareness and Energy are not two, they are unitive.
One metaphorical depiction that describes this nondual perspective is the androgynous form of Shiva and Shakti as Ardhanarishvara. Ardhanarishvara is portrayed with a half masculine/half feminine body (see photo above).
This is an attempt to show that the manifest and unmanifest are one and the same, that there is not the slightest bit of separation between spirit and matter. They are one continuum. There are no separate, independent entities that exist apart from the One. Everything is part of an interconnected whole that arises from and as a unitive source. And all things eventually dissolve back into that source.
This is a radically different view than the dualistic philosophies and religions that depict spirit and matter as two irreconcilable and opposing forces. In those systems of thought the world is often seen as a place of temptation and sin, a place of impurity and suffering. Or, as in the case of the classical advaita vedanta view, an illusion to be dispelled.
Nondual tantra embraces the world as the Goddess Herself. It sees all form as vibrating Awareness. This vibrating Awareness is called spanda. Lahiri Mayasaya and Bhagwan Nityananda refer to this as Omkar, which is another name for Om (Aum). It’s the pulsation at the heart of creation. Spanda is the eternal, cosmic dance of Shiva-Shakti.
While it is impossible for the mind to grasp nonduality, it is possible to experience it. This experience isn’t a state to be attained or a trait to be cultivated. It’s a clear, uncaused, recognition of that which is already present. The practice of yoga is designed to help you dissolve the blockages and conditionings that prevent you from perceiving this unity.
In dualistic traditions spiritual practice is performed in caves, or in monasteries or ashrams that are isolated from the rest of society. The teachings are mostly reserved for renunciates, and the methods are designed to bring attention away from the body, and the “impure” world, into the transcendental realm of spirit.
In contrast, the tantric approach is mostly followed by householder yogis who are living normal lives within society. To them, the world isn’t an obstacle to overcome, or a distraction to spiritual work. While deep meditation is an essential practice, there are many techniques that can be employed throughout the course of the day. For example, work is done as an offering to the Divine, and that work is performed without the sense of doership. In other words, all actions carried out are seen as vibrations of Awareness.
Another example of in-the-world sadhana (spiritual practice) is to take a sensation, such as the taste of strawberries, and trace it back to its source. Remember, everything is Awareness/Energy. The taste of strawberry (energy) rises out of Awareness, reaches a certain peak, then dissolves back into Awareness. The technique is to relax into this experience so that you can ride the sensation wave as it swells, crests, recedes, and merges back into the ocean it arose from.
Any sensation can be a vehicle back to the source of that sensation. It can be the taste of strawberries, chocolate, or chocolate-covered strawberries. It can be the sound of a bell or gong that rises out of silent Awareness and fades back into it. It can be the pleasure waves of sexual orgasm. Or the sharp pain of a stubbed toe.
The goal of meditation is to become aware of Awareness. Meditating for twelve hours a day in a cave can bring you into that state of recognition. So can surfing the sensations experienced while receiving a massage. Again, this is because those sensations are not separate from Awareness, they rise out of Awareness as Awareness, then sink back into Awareness.
Like the yogi in the cave, you can become aware of Awareness, but you can do this while actively engaging the world.
Overtime, intentional effort collapses into an unpracticed, nondual experience of reality. Philosophy and technique give way to the direct perception of Shiva-Shakti.