Tantra, The Magazine
Review by Nik Douglas
Aghora: At The Left Hand Of God, by Robert E. Svoboda, 1986 [reprinted 1995] Aghora II:Kundalini, by Robert E. Svoboda, 1993 [reprinted 1995]
Published by Brotherhood of Life, Inc.
Several years ago, attracted by the striking visionary cover-image of the Tantric cremation ground Goddess Tara and the loaded title, I picked up a copy of Robert Svoboda's book, Aghora: At The Left Hand Of God. I recalled that my own Tantric teacher, Gangotri Baba, had mentioned being visited by someone bearing a copy of a book by the same title; that he had looked through it and said he "agreed" with it, but that in his opinion the book was wrongly named. Finding a copy had been hard, so when I finally got it, I read it thoroughly. I was tremendously impressed by the obviously authentic posthumous account of some of the life, work and philosophy of a truly remarkable Tantric teacher of the most extreme type. I have met a few such characters in a decade spent in India, and it has always been difficult to stimulate any meaningful dialogue with Aghoras or "Augars," as they are best known. These most radical, paradoxical and often downright dirty Sadhu-types are always very unconventional. They can generally be found living in cremation grounds, in drains, at crossroads, etc. Said to be cannibals and normally scorned by orthodox Hindus, they are, on occasion, viewed as Masters of Tantra and Mantra, powerful sorcerers, miracle-workers, or even Saints.
Vimalananda (not his real name) told his story in his own words to his student, Robert Svoboda, who knew him intimately for almost nine years and who presided over his funeral pyre. Apparently the Aghora's profoundest expression of love is: "You will cremate me," and Vimalananda predicted this of Svoboda, and it came true! Born wealthy, Vimalananda served as an officer in the Indian army, achieved high academic qualifications, became an expert businessman, an astrologer, doctor, artist and at one time was a semi-pro wrestler and racehorse owner. Married and the father of a son and daughter, he lived in a Bombay apartment and used all types of intoxicants to excess. He certainly comes across as very versatile, "larger than life," and an Enlightened Being of the Saddhatype. His rare teachings emphasize compassion for all beings and a deep awareness of the bondage of Karma and the play of Maya. VimaIananda/Svoboda states that "the path of Aghora is the path of spontaneity" and adds, "Aghora teaches you to embrace the world, embrace impurity, embrace darkness, and push through forcibly into light." Apparently a successful Aghori (a practitioner of the Aghora path) "never gets trapped in his Maya!"
According to Svoboda, Vimalananda "wanted Western holier-than-thou renunciates to know that filth and orgies in the graveyard can be as conducive to spiritual advancement as can asanas, pranayama and other purer disciplines." The first Aghora book tells of the current Indian Tantric tradition "as it is," with no holds barred. Many of the stories are those secret tales told between Sadhus in the dark of the night. Telling of the cosmic play of Maya, Shakti, Mahakala, Shiva, the Formless, Spirits, Sex, Karma and other necessary Tantric topics, this book teaches while it entertains. These stories ring true, even when delightfully exaggerated. I bought many copies of this book, giving them away to friends, would be Tantrikas, my children, and recommending it as required reading for anyone truly interested in "knowing and experiencing Tantra. A notorious friend serving a long jail sentence, to whom I sent this book, replied with great excitement that "it's the most remarkable book I've ever read."
Gangotri Baba had hinted to me that the title could easily be misunderstood. Initially he griped about the spelling, suggesting that the final "a" of Aghora should be dropped. He went on about "Augars" and "Ogres" (apparently this French-originated English word, meaning "a menacing, coarse, cannibalistic monster," is in fact derived from Aghora). This Sanskrit word can best be translated as "ferocious." It is the name of the third of Shiva's five faces, and represents fire, the sense-organ of the eye, and is linked to form (rupa). After much consideration and debate it became apparent that Aghora could have better been subtitled, "At The Left Hand Of The Goddess" (or perhaps even "At The Right Hand Of The Goddess," or "Under The Feet Of The Goddess").
In Agbora II: Kundalini [available August 1993], Vimalananda is portrayed very much as a teacher, discoursing at length on the sacred fire, kundalini, the chakra system, sadhana, mantra, Tantra, music, immortal beings and esoteric mythology. Though much of the second book deals with teachings, especially the traditional yogic pentad scheme of the cosmos as expressed through the five senses, gross elements, pranic energies, etc., most is told as dialogue with Svoboda, Vimalananda's student. At times this device seems limiting. Yet this book also is very remarkable and should he read by all serious committed seekers after Tantric knowledge. Whenever Svoboda tells it in Vimalananda's words, the effect is gripping. The main thrust of this latest book seems pitched at the need for a reassessment of Tantra which, according to Vimalananda, "is not a religion of sensory indulgence which teaches instant gratification of one's cravings." Svoboda emphasizes the need for "a good guide, a guru who has already followed the path and known all its pitfalls," especially "if one hopes to follow the Tantric path and arouse Kundalini without calamity."
Everyone interested in Tantra should buy and read both Aghora books. Read them closely and reflect on their content. There are some surprising revelations here, told clearly and without obscureness wonderful insights on nature, the Goddess, the play of Maya and the Path of Liberation. I eagerly await the publication of Aghora III, in which, according to Svoboda, "it will appear to the artist as if Vimalananda was constantly at work in the atelier of the world around him. Nik Douglas