Fifty Shades: Body as Temple

Can embodiment be liberated from its strong cultural and historical associations with bondage, and honored as sacred unto itself? Most yogic lineages—as well as western philosophies—view life, embodiment, and the world’s temptations as problems requiring transcendence, postulating a combative relationship that is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve. Yet Srikula Shakta tantra, a South Indian lineage of philosophy, contends that life and embodiment are inherently divine, and should be delighted in and celebrated as such.

While we previously argued that modern yoga could be a form of bondage by propagating cultural samskara, anything can bind if we allow it to. Yoga may also feel like bondage if we fall into the trap of thinking it’s a requisite for enlightenment, or that it will help us be something other than who or what we already are. It’s not “yoga” that binds, but our misidentification with yoga’s role. Libby Roderick croons, “How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful … less than whole?” While this may trigger kneejerk aversion (tried to “love yourself” lately?), it’s quintessential Shakta philosophy.

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The Srikula Shakta path eschews transcendence-based spirituality, espousing instead that we live our way into the questions. While misconnection from the divine web of life is inevitable, we will never disconnect, because we’re fundamentally interwoven with it. Yoga instructor and Tantric philosopher Danny Arguetty notes, “We are already whole, complete and born in union with the all of everything … Instead of reaching the top of the list, the goal is to get in between and be in the seam of experience … inviting us to embrace the paradox of life [and] be in the mess.”

As an honoring of the Shakta path, anything goes so long as we are aware, actively participatory, and receptive to life’s unfolding and evolution. The Srikula Shakta universe is amoral. Fifty Shades of Yoga’s bondage images can thus be considered a node in the fabric of divinity that pervades human experience. While their blatant sexuality elicits the voyeur, sacred profanity has always engendered cultural protest and unearthed truths, despite residing in society’s seams.

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The Srikula Shakta view the fleeting euphoria of physical bonds as no more spiritually debased than the peak experience of entheogens, ecstatic dance, orgasm, or even kundalini rising. While reminding us of our divine nature, such experiences may distract from the miracle of life, the medicine available to us in each precious moment. If we mistake the pleasure and transcendence of these practices for enlightenment or ultimate truth, the deeper gift of wisdom borne of full engagement in life is sacrificed. We may also chase the dragon, searching always for the next high. More humble and sustaining is the path of abandoning the “spiritual” quest to dive fully into the present. Here and now is where we grow to more readily embody the ananda, or bliss, of our intrinsic divinity.

The Srikula Shakta path, then, views life and embodiment as sacred temple, expression of God, and vehicle of bliss, with no need for renunciation or transcendence. We need only cherish, honor, and love all that is, embracing our intrinsic wholeness, freedom, and divinity.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between yoga and other peak spiritual experiences?

This is Part Three of our series. Read Part One and Part Two here.

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