An intriguing article written by Maja D'Aoust
The Alchemy of India, so often overlooked by Westerners, provides a vital decryption of the global Alchemical cipher. It can be said that each culture, era and individual Alchemy has passed through expresses a different aspect of its teachings and potentiality, so to emit any one amalgamation of it would only provide a disservice. To see all the intricate coils of Alchemy’s serpentine union with humanity, we must include the practices of the East. India provides a missing link alluded to but never explicitly explained in the European Alchemical texts, which provides the key to unlocking the true goal of the Magnum Opus. The omitted ingredient in the Alchemical formulae left so obscure and obtuse becomes crystallized upon inspection of the Yogic material; it is the preparation of the flesh and blood of the living Alchemist performing the procedure.
“One of the constituents of the alchemical formula exists only within the nature of man himself, without which his chemicals will not combine, and though he spend his life and fortune in chemical experimentation, he will not produce the desired end. The paramount reason why the material scientist is incapable of duplicating achievements of the mediaeval alchemists-although he follow every step carefully and accurately- is that the subtle element which comes out of the nature of the illuminated and regenerated alchemical philosopher is missing in his experimentation.” 
Yoga is Alchemy. Alchemy is Yoga. Bold statements to those who have only peered through the Alchemical lens of the European alchemists, but upon investigation of the Indian traditions, we see that the two are one and the same; an endeavor to rejoin what was separated. Yoga and Alchemy are, at their very core, the unification of the opposites, the Mysterium Conjunctio, the reunification of the masculine and feminine into a perfect, unbreakable circle. They are the never-ending ouroborus who shows us that the goal and the source are one and the same. There is nothing more Tantric than the pursuit of Alchemy, and I wish there existed a singular word that could mean yoga/alchemy/tantra joined into one cylindrical syllable to express this.
It is very difficult to study and discuss things such as Yoga and Alchemy, for inherently we must create some sort of definition and articulation of what exactly is included in these activities. But when we are discussing activities that, according to origin legends, were taught to mankind over eons of time through different cultures and languages by serpents from the sky, these definitions are anything but definite.
To find out what something is, it is helpful to look at where it comes from. Alchemy is no exception, but because its origins are so outlandish, this could possibly be a more difficult task than the process of turning lead into gold itself. The word Alchemy means “from Egypt”, and usually this is its accepted location of inception. It is important to remember, however, that this name was given to a set of practices from the Arabs who discovered it when they invaded Egypt. This does not really provide proof that Alchemy comes from Egypt, simply that it was there when the Arabs came in and discovered it. For the Arabs who confiscated the materials from Egypt, that was its origin, this is true. But let us not close our minds into isolating the practices of Alchemy to a singular origin and a singular country on account of a name given to a process by invading zealots. In fact there is no small amount of information recounting that Alchemy may have originated in China. Instead we may break open our heads and investigate the magical nature of the practices themselves and see them pervading many cultures across the globe to start to uncover the message that all this information is trying to communicate to us.
It is possible to time travel and try to judge the origins of Alchemy by the earliest written records of the Alchemical process. Although, personally, I would not say this is accurate either. For within the earliest written records of Alchemy, it is stated that its story begins from Serpents, Fallen Angels, Messengers, Rishis, Star beings, and otherworldly entities that communicate the information to mankind through fire and intercourse. Alchemy comes to Egypt through Poimandres, the great serpent who appears to Hermes in a pillar of fire. It comes to India from the Rishi Angiras who fell from the sky. Nagarjuna learns Alchemy in Kashmir from the serpents, or Nagas, who whisper it in his ear. Tonpa Shenrab receives it in the form of the 5th veda which falls from the skies. Mircea Eliade in his research points out that Alchemy is related to Shamanism and extends into pre-history. In my own mind it seems, that Alchemy really is a set of techniques which have been used by Shamans across the globe that became isolated, specialized, refined and specified by different cultures and individuals until they came through Europe and turned into the quest for gold through chemistry as it is known today.
How then can we define Alchemy in terms of a delineation of practices and techniques? Alchemy can best be described as a set of techniques to be actively performed, the main goal of which is to achieve a unification of the opposites. This unification ultimately joins the practitioner with the primordial force from which they came.
“The secret content of the Hermetic vessel is the original chaos from which the world was created”
It is through this definition, Alchemy’s ultimate goal of unification, and the realization that the transformative substance is God itself that we can start to tie it into the fabric of India and Yoga.
The word Yoga means literally to join together, as in the yoking of a cart to an oxen, and means a conjunction. If we add the most popular type of Yoga here in the west, Hatha, we see in the words themselves their Alchemical nature. The word Hatha means sun and moon, so that the words “Hatha Yoga” mean the joining together of the sun and moon, which is the essence of the Mysterium Conjunctio, the Alchemical wedding and the aim of the end of Alchemy.
“The word Hatha also has a deeper esoteric significance. Thus its two component syllables, ha and tha are frequently explained as standing for the microcosmic sun and moon while yoga is the union between these two psychoenergetic principles.”
Hatha Yoga, as it is known and in this Alchemical context, originates from a special group of Yogis known for their alchemical abilities called the Nath Siddhas. A Siddha is a name used to describe someone who has mastered a Siddhi, literally translated as an achievement, meaning essentially a magical superpower. The Siddhas of India were eminently accomplished in Alchemy and had the ability to perform magical feats such as transmutation of elements by way of the Siddhis that were obtained using Tantric yoga techniques.
The Eight Siddhis the Siddha Alchemist may achieve have been described thusly:
If we are to be narrow minded and define Alchemy, as many dictionaries would, only as the process of the transmutation of lead into gold, it deserves no small amount of attention that Yogi’s throughout the history of India have been described as being able to accomplish just that with no more effort than the wave of a hand. The difference between the Yogi who performs this task and the European Alchemist is that the Yogi has no laboratory or equipment, he executes it within his own body. The mercury and sulphur were ingested, eaten, not mixed in external vessels. The Alchemical process was consumed and transubstantiated in the flesh. The Yogi was, in essence, a walking transmutator who had performed the Eucharist within.
This transmutational ability is illustrated in many of the tales of the Tantrikas who could turn their own bodily fluids into gold. This is brilliantly visually portrayed in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film “Holy Mountain” in the scene where the Alchemist makes gold from excrement.
Often utilizing his own urine or feces, the Tantic Siddha understood that even the seemingly filthiest substances on earth were as pure as gold.
“Like the sun which dries up everything, or like fire, which consumes everything, so the yogin enjoys everything but is not stained by sin. Like the wind, which touches everything, or like space, which is everywhere, or like those immersing themselves completely in rivers, the yogin is always pure.” 
The Sivasamhita and the Yogataiva Upanishad state that a Yogin can make gold from any metal by rubbing it with his own excrement and urine. This might seem grotesque, but even in European alchemical texts, the Philosopher’s stone is often described using words that are fairly fecal, and instructions for its preparation often include scatological ingredients. Tantric ritual practices involving feces, urine and blood are found throughout the tomes of the Western Alchemists. One need only examine the instructions laid out by Paracelsus for the formation of an Homunculus to see how very Tantric indeed this procedure is.
For the Tantric Siddha, the body became the stone. Flesh was made impermeable and immortal by performing Alchemy. The Yogi was transformed on a molecular level into the “diamond body”. The concept of the diamond body became most elaborated in the Tantra of Tibet, known as Vajrayana. Vajrayana translates literally into “diamond vehicle” or “diamond body”. The proper preservation of the body was the mechanism of the Alchemy of the East and through these practices the ultimate goal was achieved.
The goal of these practices was to make the body incorruptible and as impenetrable as an Hermetic vessel. To turn the flesh into something nothing could affect, not time, not space, not age, not even death itself.
“At length the body is compelled to resign itself to, and obey, the union of the two that are united (soul and spirit). That is the wondrous transformation of the philosophers, of body into spirit, and of the latter into body…Make the unyielding body tractable, so that by the excellence of the spirit coming together with the soul it becomes a most stable body ready to endure all trials. For gold is tried in the fire.”
Alchemy becomes Tantric when we start to realize that the purpose of this unification of the opposites is to Unleash God through material existence by unifying male and female principles. More importantly, that the existence it is referring to is us, as in our bodies. Thus also are the aims of Tantra, to unleash the metaphysical through the physical and unite them in an unending circle.
But then comes the problem of what we mean by Tantric, for what exactly does Tantrism entail? Here we meet with the same and connected problem of defining Alchemy and Yoga, and we are dealing with a different translation of the one universal mystery of spirit’s relationship to matter. The word Tantra may be translated to mean “weave together continuously”. This connotes the idea of a beginning-less, endless loom constantly weaving together much like the process DNA undergoes in our bodies.
Many would argue that Alchemy, Yoga and Even Shamanism have their origins in Tantrism, but here is a discourse that covers thousands of works of scholars from around the world. The one thing perhaps scholars can not deny is the severe ancientness of Tantric practices. To attempt to explain the concept of Tantra can not be performed within the confines of this article, so I must state it simply and generally and hope to be forgiven. Tantrism is a form of worship, that is panentheistic like many types of paganism, which has many forms, sects, practices and texts extending over thousands of years and countries. I like to define Tantra as an exploration for God in the physical world through sacrificial ecstatic ritual, whether this be done by immersion (left hand path) or abstention (right hand path).
Tantra is akin to the Pantheistic views of the pagans that god permeates the world, and that the physical contains God as much as the Heavens. This panentheistic view was actually removed from Yoga at the advent of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali because Patanjali expressly differentiates the world and the soul or higher self as two separate entities, much like Descartes did in the West. True older forms of Yoga however are panentheistic, as well as neo-Yoga philosophers such as Sri Aurobindo and other post-classical yoga scholars. This panentheistic dogma of Tantra reads exactly like the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, and specifically relates to the Alchemical adage; as above so below. For if God was in Heaven, he also was on earth;
“If the divine is everywhere, as the Tantric adepts affirm, it must also be present in and as the body” 
The rites and rituals of Tantra, like Alchemy and Yoga are based upon a unification of the opposites, Shiva and Shakti, and specifically the re-integration of the feminine principle into the world.
“It is very difficult to define or even generalize about Tantrism. What can usefully be said is that the pivot of most Tantric schools is the idea of Shakti, the feminine principle of cosmic existence, the goddess…the rediscovery of the feminine principle was accompanied by a reappraisal of the human body and bodily existence in general which widely have a negative significance in the non-Tantric traditions.” 
True Tantra in essence is the complete sacrifice of the self to God through unification of the opposites. This involves every part of the body being abandoned and offered to be filled with God. The majority of Tantric techniques, as in the actual rites and rituals performed, are all ecstatic and involve the conscious entrance into rapture. This is something many people can never grasp when they see the practices of the Tantrikas delineated which seem indulgent, sexually perverse or grotesque; that each one of these horrifying actions is done to unify the adept with god by reconciling light and darkness within himself through sacrifice.
This concept is perhaps best illustrated through the image of the Chinnamasta goddess who decapitates herself that others may feed off of her blood. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to overcome a demon in Tantra, you must willingly offer yourself to it wholly and completely. This is a literal offering made of what is your most corporeal possession, your body. We can see examples of this throughout Shamanism in all its forms, and one of my own personal favorite examples is that of a Dakini ritual performed by Tibetan Tantric Shamans;
“Visualize thyself as the wrathful Dakini, that thou strippest the hide from thy body, and spreadest it out so that it covereth the third-void universe, and upon it heapest all thy bones and flesh. Then, when the malignant spirits are in the midst of enjoying the feast, imagine that the wrathful Dakini taketh the hide and rolleth it up…and dasheth it down forcibly, reducing it and all its contents to a mass of bony and fleshy pulp, upon which many mentally-produced wild beasts feed.”
It is in the spirit of this sacrifice that the Tantric sexual ecstatic techniques are utilized. The use of sex is the most notorious of Tantric practices and many people have the misconception that the Tantrika engages in sex for licivious purposes. Far from being indulgent abandonment as may be perceived by the onlooker, Tantric sexuality is a purely concentrated enactment of unification. Sex is basically an alchemical performance of unification of the two opposites, male and female and the culmination of the Mysterium Conjunctio when performed with conscious intention.
“The Parallels between Tantra, Ayurveda and Alchemy all have their origin in a philosophy that conceptualizes the universe in sexual or erotic terms, as the creation of Shiva and Shakti. In medieval Indic Alchemy, the sexual fluid of the Goddess was equated with mica, her menstrual blood with sulphur. Together with Shiva’s semen, in the form of Mercury, it was supposed to produce Gold.”
Sex is really a form of the prima material, the primordial origin, since it is through sex we are created, it is through sex we may be re-united with our source.
This sexual unification is shown throughout Western Alchemy but is always considered metaphorical and not literal. The Hermaphrodite, male and female combined into one figure is one of the most traditional symbols of the alchemical process. In the West, the Hermaphrodite was only something that occurred with the unification of metals, not our own bodies. But the history of this unified Androgyn must never be forgotten as a representation of our own frames joined in unison in the act of creation. The Hermaphrodite is seen everywhere in Yogic and Vedic traditions. A form of Shiva is even depicted as the Hermaphrodite, known as the Ardhanari. In Tantra, the Hermaphrodite is considered the ultimate accomplishment of the task of Yoga, and is literally an expression of enlightenment;
“The neuter (hermaphrodite) state of monistic existence, which is the result of the union of Siva and Shakti, is revealed of itself without any separate worship thereof. The attributeless aspect which is the fruit of all sadhana, and in which, at the conclusion of all sadhana, the worshipper sinks and loses himself cannot be attained while sadhana continues. It is attained by the great Siddhi known as nirvana”
Tantric Alchemy was so disgusting to the European Alchemist perhaps because of the disassociation with the body and the largely Christian consideration of the physical world as sinful. Christian Alchemists could not endure the thought that their bodies might lead them to God, particularly through the dreadful act of fornication. Indian Yoga and Tantric Alchemy went underground due to the simple fact that our bodies were filthy.
“According to most spiritual traditions the desire for worldly pleasures is incompatible with the spiritual quest. You can have the treasures of this world, they say, or the treasure of the spiritual world but not both…The Tantric approach to life avoids this painful dilemma by taking the whole person into account-our human as well as our spiritual nature. The literal meaning of Tantra is “to weave, to expand, to spread” and according to the Tantric adepts, we can achieve true and everlasting fulfillment only when all the threads of the fabric of life are woven according to the pattern designated by nature” 
With this intensely intimate connection of Alchemy to the body, we begin to unravel the mystery of Alchemy’s relationship to healing practices throughout India, China and Europe. The most famous Alchemists, after all, were healers of disease. From the Shamans, to the Siddhas of Tamil, to the Taoist Alchemists who developed Chinese medicine, to Paracelsus who helped form modern medicine as we know it today. Because the Eastern alchemists truly incorporated the transmutation of the body in their practice it is no surprise that they were able to cure disease. If the goal of the alchemical body is incorruptibility, it can not be permeated by disease.
“The Siddhas know how to preserve the body through light rays, sound waves and medicine. The technique of the preservation of the body is called kaya-sadhana. It is an attempt to attain a perfected. In short, one who has obtained the power of dematerializing and spiritualizing the body and knows how to transmute the corruptible physical into the incorruptible superphysical basis of life is a Siddha. A Siddha attains and posseses an eternal spiritual body called divya-deha and is able to finally break out of the karmic cycle and attain deliverance from Space-time.”
The ability to heal is a result of the accomplishment of the Alchemical body, just as transmutation is. Therefore, the other most sought after goal of alchemy in Europe, the elixer vitae for the Easterners, like the Philosopher’s stone, is simply a byproduct of undergoing the physical Alchemical process in their quest for unification with God.
It is clearly obvious in much of the written texts of the European alchemists that they knew their own bodies were the missing key to the Alchemical operation, but I believe it was simply unsavory for the majority of individuals in Christian cultures to truly understand, as is evidenced in the enigmatic language used to attempt to convey this truth in the manuscripts. We see hints and allusions to this fact throughout the western texts, but never are the actual techniques revealed as to how to accomplish this feat as they are so simply explained in the Indian alchemical material. This physical realization was kept so hidden, out of a general fear of its implications and caused Alchemy in the West to degenerate to a purely chemical action, removed not only from the Alchemist but from the creator and confined within a laboratory isolated from nature herself.
I believe if the Alchemists of Europe had free access to the myriad ecstatic techniques of Yoga utilized in India, we may have seen the tradition grow in humanity to alter our consciousness as a species. The free discourse and development of Alchemy in mankind could be what unleashes forever the consciousness of our true potentiality. But instead it became stymied, defiled and perverted due to a taboo assigned to it. For the European Alchemists who were able to include themselves, using meditative techniques and usually abstention, or full on experiences of rapture resulting as a consequence from their activities, were able to accomplish the task which the Indians did so openly and unfettered. What if they had been able to consciously, and specifically accomplish this with no reservation?
This is what Indian alchemy has to offer, an explicit ungarbled extremely specific modality to develop that missing ingredient to complete the Alchemical operation in the West; the Alchemists body itself;
“For in the individual was hidden that substance of celestial nature known to very few, the incorrupt medicament”
The practices within Yoga and Tantra make the Alchemist’s flesh the Philosophers stone (the diamond) and as a result he transmutes all he touches.
“The Philosopher’s stone is really the philosophical stone, for philosophy is truly likened to a magic jewel whose touch transmutes base substances into priceless gems like itself. Wisdom is the alchemists powder of projection which transforms many thousand times its own weight of gross ignorance into the precious substance of enlightenment.”
The Alchemist is the elixer vitae who heals by homeopathic contagion. But this is not his aim, it is simply a by-product of his enlightened state of being and is accomplished through the Siddhis he has attained through ecstatic Tantric techniques.
In the East, the Alchemies of India and China are focused not only performing Alchemy, but rather, becoming Alchemy as a way to unify with God. Perhaps we, the Alchemists of today may remedy these mistakes of separation of the past and coagula all the aspects of Alchemy in different cultures, weaving them Tantrically together in a loom that will result in a unified Alchemical operation to invade the minds, bodies and souls of us all.
 Hall, Manly P. 2003. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Tarcher. Pg. 509.
 S. Mahdihassan Chinese origin of Alchemy and Alchemy and its Chinese Origins Revealed by its Etympology, Doctrines and Symbols Postscript of M. Eliade’s Forge and the Crucible pg. 192
 See Zosimos Isis the Prophetess to her Son Horus
 Eliade, Mircea. 1979. The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
 “The conjunctio is the central idea of the alchemical procedure” Herbert Silberer. 1917. Problems of Mysticism and Its Symbolism. Moffat Yard & Co. pg 121
 Jung, C.G. 1963 Mysterium Coniunctionis Bollingen/Pantheon books New York, NY. pg. 279
 Feuerstein, George. 1997. The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga. Shambhala Publications Boston Mass. Pg 118
 White, David Gordon. 1996. The Alchemical Body. University of Chicago Press.Pg. 9
 See the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
 For some great biographical stories of the Alchemical Siddhas, I like Buddha’s Lions; the Lives of the Eighty Four Siddhas by Abhayadatta translated by James B. Robinson Dharma Publishing 1979.
 Ganapathy, T.N. 2003. The Yoga of Siddha Boganthar; Volume 1. Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Publications, Inc. Pg.137
 James Campbell Brown from his History of Chemistry as quoted in Manly P. Hall’s Secret Teachings of all Ages pg. 502
 Although certainly the history of the Alchemical tradition in India is littered with those seeking only the ability to create gold as in Europe (even the purest of the goldmakers may fall victim to its glitter).
 In this tale, Tagore tells of a student who seeks out a Guru and finds him on a river bank. He asks the teacher if he has discovered the Philosopher’s stone. The Guru replies that he did indeed and that he threw it over into the mud. Upon hearing this, the student begins digging frantically through the mud only to pause and realize that if the Guru had no interest in the Philosopher’s stone and threw it away, there must be something far more valuable which he learned in the process of obtaining it.
 E.g. Nagarjuna, Nagabodhi, Boganathar and all the Nath Siddhas
 Kula-Arnava-Tantra (9.76-77)
 See Jung, C.G. 1980. Psychology and Alchemy. Routledge.
 See Paracelsus, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus. (with A.E. Waite)
 I like to note that the word “corrupt” comes from the French Coeur, meaning heart and rupture, so that its literal meaning is heart broken, or ruptured heart. The heart of the alchemist then is transformed into an unbreakable diamond.
 Dorn as quoted in Jung’s Mysterium Coniounctionis pg 481.
 I like to compare Tantrism to Paganism because its decline is very similar to the Pagans of Egypt. Hinduism took over areas where Tantra was practiced and Tantric practices were absorbed into other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in much the same way Pagan rituals were absorbed into Christianity first in Egypt and then throughout Europe and the Northern regions of Scandinavia.
 Feuerstein, George. 1998. Tantra; The Path of Ecstasy. Shambhala. pg 224
 Feuerstein, George. 1997. The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga. Shambhala Publications: Boston Mass. Pg.304
 Many of the Tantric Siddhas decapitated themselves to end their lives in sacrifice, Nagarjuna himself being the most famous example.
 As expounded in M. Eliade’s Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. 2004. Princeton University Press.
 Dakini is my own given middle name.
 Evans-Wentz, W.Y. 1967. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctirnes. Oxford University Press. Pg. 311-2 330-31
 Feuerstein, George. 1998. Tantra; The Path of Ecstasy. Shambhala. Pg.233.
 Even though we are all Hermaphrodites in embryonic form until one of the gonads drops and develops.
 Avalon, Arthur. 1952. Principles of Tantra. Ganesh & Co. pg. 384.
 Tigunait, Pandit Rajmani Ph.D. 2009. Tantra Unveiled; Seducing the Forces of Matter and Spirit. Himalayan Institute Press.
 Ganapathy, T.N. 2003.The Yoga of Siddha Boganthar; Volume 1. Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Publications, Inc. Pg.5
 The elixer of life produced by alchemists in Europe India and China
 For some specifics on the techniques used, please the see the work of David Gordon White in The Alchemical Body and The Kiss of the Yogini.
 Dorn as quoted by Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis pg 475
 Hall, Manly P. 2003. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Tarcher. Pg. 305.
Maja D’Aoust’s interest in alchemy and the estoeric sciences spans her entire lifetime. After completing her bachelors degree in biochemistry, Maja studied oriental medicine and acupuncture and later earned her masters degree in Transformational Psychology at the University of Philosophical Research with a focus on Shamanism, the I Ching and ancestors in her thesis work.
Maja worked for 11 years as the Librarian of Manly P. Hall’s Philosophical Research Society where she also lectured on alchemical topics.
Currently, Maja lectures at the Besant Lodge in Hollywood and is available for speaking engagements.
Find her at: http://godismyboyfriend.com
I thought this was a very interesting article written by a well-read and published scholar.
BY ALAN WATTS
I have often thought of writing a novel, similar to Thomas Mann’s “Confessions of Felix Krull,” which would be the life story of a charlatan making out as a master guru – either initiated in Tibet or appearing as the reincarnation of Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, or some other great historical sage of the Orient. It would be a romantic and glamorous tale, flavored with the scent of pines in Himalayan valleys, with garden courtyards in obscure parts of Alexandria, with mountain temples in Japan, and with secretive meetings and initiations in country houses adjoining Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. It would also raise some rather unexpected philosophical questions as to the relations between genuine mysticism and stage magic. But I have neither the patience nor the skill to be a novelist, and thus can do no more than sketch the idea for some more gifted author.
The attractions of being a trickster guru are many. There is power and there is wealth, and still more the satisfactions of being an actor without need for a stage, who turns “real life” into a drama. It is not, furthermore, an illegal undertaking such as selling shares in non-existent corporations, impersonating a doctor, or falsifying checks. There are no recognized and official qualifications for being a guru, though now that some universities are offering courses in meditation and Kundalini Yoga it may soon be necessary to be a member of the U.S. Fraternity of Gurus. But a really fine trickster would get around all that by the one-upmanship of inventing an entirely new discipline outside and beyond all known forms of esoteric teaching.
It must be understood from the start that the trickster guru fills a real need and performs a genuine public service. Millions of people are searching desperately for a true father-Magician, especially at a time when the clergy and the psychiatrists are making rather a poor show, and do not seem to have the courage of their convictions or of their fantasies. Perhaps they have lost nerve through too high a valuation of the virtue of honesty – as if a painter felt bound to give his landscapes the fidelity of photographs. To fulfil his compassionate vocation, the trickster guru must above all have nerve. He must also be quite well-read in mystical and occult literature, both that which is historically authentic and sound in scholarship, and that which is somewhat questionable – such as the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, P.D. Ouspensky, and Aleister Crowley. It doesn’t do to be caught out on details now known to a wide public.
After such preparatory studies, the first step is to frequent those circles where gurus are especially sought, such as the various cult groups which pursue oriental religions or peculiar forms of psychotherapy, or simply the intellectual and artistic milieux of any great city. Be somewhat quiet and solitary. Never ask questions, but occasionally add a point – quite briefly – to what some speaker has said. Volunteer no information about your personal life, but occasionally indulge in a little absent-minded name-dropping to suggest that you have travelled widely and spent time in Turkestan. Evade close questioning by giving the impression that mere travel is a small matter hardly worth discussing, and that your real interests lie on much deeper levels.
Such behavior will soon provoke people into asking your advice. Don’t come right out with it, but suggest that the question is rather deep and ought to be discussed at length in some quiet place. Make an appointment at a congenial restaurant or cafe – not at your home, unless you have an impressive library and no evidence of being tied down with a family. At first, answer nothing, but without direct questioning, draw the person out to enlarge on his problem and listen with your eyes closed – not as if sleeping, but as if attending to the deep inner vibrations of his thoughts. Conclude the interview with a slightly veiled command to perform some rather odd exercise, such as humming a sound and then suddenly stopping. Carefully instruct the person to be aware of the slightest decision to stop before actually stopping, and indicate that the point is to be able to stop without any prior decision. Make a further appointment for a report on progress.
To carry this through, you must work out a whole series of unusual exercises, both psychological and physical. Some must be rather difficult tricks which can actually be accomplished, to give your student the sense of real progress.
Others must be virtually impossible – such as to think of the words yes and no at the same instant, repeatedly for five minutes, or with a pencil in each hand, to try to hit the opposite hand – which is equally trying to defend itself and hit the other. Don’t give all your students the same exercises but, because people love to be types, sort them into groups according to their astrological sun signs or according to your own private classifications, which must be given such odd names as grubers, jongers, milers, and trovers.
A judidous use of hypnosis – avoiding all the common tricks of hand-raising, staring at lights, or saying “Relax. Relax, while I count up to ten” will produce pleasant changes of feeling and the impression of attaining higher states of consciousness.
First, describe such a stage quite vividly – say, the sense of walking on air – and then have your students walk around barefooted trying not to make the slightest sound and yet giving their whole weight to the floor. Imply that the floor will soon feel like a cushion, then like water, and finally like air. Indicate a little later that there is reason to believe that something of this kind is the initial stage of levitation.
Next, be sure to have about thirty or forty different stages of progress worked out, giving them numbers, and suggest that there are still some extremely high stages beyond those numbered which can only be understood by those who have reached twenty-eight – so no point in discussing them now. After the walking-on-air gambit, try for instance having them push out hard with their arms as if some overwhelming force were pulling them. Reverse the procedure. This leads quickly to the feeling that one is not doing what one is doing and doing what one is not doing. Tell them to stay in this state while going about everyday business.
After a while let it be known that you have a rather special and peculiar background – as when some student asks, “Where did you get all this?” Well, you just picked up a thing or two in Turkestan, or “I’m quite a bit older than I look,” or say that “Reincarnation is entirely unlike what people suppose it to be.” Later, let on that you are in some way connected with an extremely select in-group. Don’t brashly claim anything. Your students will soon do that for you, and, when one hits on the fantasy that pleases you most, say, “I see you are just touching stage eighteen.”
There are two schools of thought about asking for money for your services. One is to have fees just like a doctor, because people are embarrassed if they do not know just what is expected of them. The other, used by the real high-powered tricksters, is to do everything free with, however, the understanding that each student has been personally selected for his or her innate capacity for the work (call it that), and thus be careful not to admit anyone without first putting them through some sort of hazing. Monetary contributions will soon be offered. Otherwise, charge rather heavily, making it dear that the work is worth infinitely more to oneself and to others than, say, expensive surgery or a new home. Imply that you give most of it away to mysterious beneficiaries.
As soon as you can afford to wangle it, get hold of a country house as an ashram or spiritual retreat, and put students to work on all the menial tasks. Insist on some special diet, but do not follow it yourself. Indeed, you should cultivate small vices, such as smoking, mild boozing, or, if you are very careful, sleeping with the ladies, to suggest that your stage of evolution is so high that such things do not affect you, or that only by such means can you remain in contact with ordinary mundane consciousness.
On the one hand, you yourself must be utterly free from any form of religious or parapsychological superstition, lest some other trickster should outplay you. On the other hand, you must eventually come to believe in your own hoax, because this will give you ten times more nerve. This can be done through religionizing total skepticism to the point of basic incredulity about everything – even science. After all, this is in line with the Hindu-Buddhist position that the whole universe is an illusion, and you need not worry about whether the Absolute is real or unreal, eternal or non-eternal, because every idea of it that you could form would, in comparison with living it up in the present, be horribly boring. Furthermore, you should convince yourself that the Absolute is precisely the same as illusion, and thus not be in the least ashamed of being greedy or anxious or depressed. Make it dear that we are ultimately God, but that you know it. If you are challenged to perform wonders, point out that everything is already a fabulous wonder, and to do something bizarre would be to go against your own most perfect scheme of things. On the other hand, when funny coincidences turn up, look knowing and show no surprise, especially when any student has good fortune or recovers from sickness. It will promptly be attributed to your powers, and you may be astonished to find that your very touch becomes healing, because people really believe in you. When it doesn’t work, you should sigh gently about lack of faith, or explain that this particular sickness is a very important working out of Karma which will have to be reckoned with some day, so why not now.
The reputation for supernormal powers is self-reinforcing, and as it builds up you can get more daring, such that you will have the whole power of mass self-deception working for you. But always remember that a good guru plays it cool and maintains a certain aloofness, especially from those sharpies of the press and TV whose game is to expose just about everyone as a fraud. Always insist, like the finest restaurants, that your clientele is exclusive. The very highest “society” does not deign to be listed in the Social Register.
As time goes on, allow it more and more to be understood that you are in constant touch with other centers of work. Disappear from time to time by taking trips abroad, and come back looking more mysterious than ever. You can easily find someone in India or Syria to do duty as your colleague, and take a small and select group of students on a journey which includes a brief interview with this Personage. He can talk any kind of nonsense, while you do the “translating.” When travelling with students, avoid any obvious assistance from regular agencies, and let it appear that your secret fraternity has arranged everything in advance.
Now a trickster guru is certainly an illusionist, but one might ask “What else is art?” If the universe is nothing but a vast Rorschach blot upon which we project our collective measures and interpretations, and if past and future has no real existence, an illusionist is simply a creative artist who changes the collective interpretation of life, and even improves on it. Reality is mostly what a people or a culture conceives it to be. Money, worthless in itself, depends entirely on collective faith for its value. The past is held against you only because others believe in it, and the future seems important only because we have conned ourselves into the notion that surviving for a long time, with painstaking care, is preferable to surviving for a short time with no responsibility and lots of thrills. It is really a matter of changing fashion.
Perhaps, then, a trickster may be one who actually liberates people from their more masochistic participations in the collective illusion, on the homeopathic principle of “The hair of the dog that bit you. ” Even genuine gurus set their disciples impossible psychological exercises to demonstrate the unreality of the ego, and it could be argued that they too, are unwitting tricksters, raised as they have been in cultures without disillusioning benefits of “scientific knowledge,” which, as ecologists note, isn’t working out too well. Perhaps it all boils down to the ancient belief that God himself is a trickster, eternally fooling himself by the power of maya into the sensation that he is a human being, a cat, or an insect, since no art can be accomplished which does not set itself certain rules and limitations. A fully infinite and boundless God would have no limitations, and thus no way of manifesting power or love. Omnipotence must therefore include the power of self-restriction – to the point of forgetting that it is restricting itself and thus making limitations seem real. It could be that genuine students and gurus are on the side of being fooled, whereas the phony gurus are the foolers – and one must make one’s choice.
I am proposing this problem as a kind of Zen koan, like “Beyond positive and negative, what is reality?” How will you avoid being either a fool or a fooler? How will you get rid of the ego-illusion without either trying or not trying? If you need God’s grace to be saved, how will you get the grace to get grace? Who will answer these questions if yourself is itself an illusion? Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
The cock crows in the evening;
At midnight, the brilliant sun.
And there have also been such effective mother-magicians as Mary Baker Eddy, Helena Blavatsky, Aimee Semple McPherson, Annie Besant, and Alice Bailey.
© Alan Watts (1915 – 1973) The Essential Alan Watts, Celestial Arts (1974).