More than a book, the Cave of the Numinous by Craig Williams (Yogacharya Dharma Rakshaka) is a companion for the journey of initiation into esoteric Hinduism.
At 159 pages, it is a concise though challenging work, intended for the dedicated initiate of Left-hand Tantra, as well as other Gnostic and esoteric currents that might articulate the Mysteries through comparable symbols and teachings. It is a work that should be read slowly, methodically, and, undoubtedly, more than once or twice.
The foreword to the Cave of the Numinous (Theion Publishing) was written by Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, and the work also includes a short introductory chapter on esoteric Hinduism and Gnosis by David Beth, one of today’s preeminent esotericists and author of the Voudon Gnosis. Cave of the Numinous also includes a number of black and white illustrations — which have an etching-like quality — of deities and yantras, by M. W. Burson.
Having received the Yogacharya, Veda Kovid, and Ayurveda Vaidya initiations, and having studied Ayurveda, Tantra, Yoga, Jyotish and Vedanta for over 25 years, Williams’ credentials for writing Cave of the Numinous are clear. Consequently, he often uses technical terms with which some readers may not be familiar. However, a glossary of terms is included at the end of the book, making reading — and familiarizing oneself with esoteric Tantric concepts — much easier. The abstract teachings of the Cave of the Numinous are also brought to life and given a more concrete form through several rituals included in the book, which the reader can practice. These are the:
Cave of the Hridaya Ritual
And the Saturn Ritual
The last two draw the work to a close.
Guru Yoga; At The Doorway of Gnosis:
As volume one of a series of books on Tantric physics, the Cave of the Numinous addresses the essential, if much-misunderstood and neglected, foundational elements of esotericism and authentic spirituality, or what Advaita Gnostic Shankaracharya called “the three rarest gifts”: the human body, the Guru, and the desire for liberation.
Of special focus is the Guru-student relationship, an area that tends to unnerve Western spiritual seekers, partly, as Williams points out, because of the zeitgeist of radical independence, even of matters of the soul, and partly, it should be acknowledged, because of various high-profile charlatans.
As a practitioner of Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, it is unsurprising that Williams would compare the necessity of practicing under an authentic Guru to undergoing surgery with a qualified surgeon — the book addresses the necessity of the initiate cutting away wrong thinking and attachments under the guidance of the guru. But, we could think, too, of the sifu or sensei, without which it would not be possible to learn martial arts, and to fortify the body against physical blows, or elevate the mind, through meditation, as part of practicing that art.
As in Sufism, the Tantric Guru exists as a doorway to the Gnostic stream, or “reservoir of raw cosmic power” (p. 50), in this case of the Dark goddess, and as a force for balancing the spiritual seeker, addressing issues of his or her psyche, prior to embarking on the night journey of initiation.
For the Tantrika, the Guru exists as a “unique Realm of Being […] radiating a solar Gnosis.” The chela (disciple) can access this realm through becoming sincerely receptive to the Guru as an embodiment of Gnosis, meditating on the image of the Guru during ritual (such as the Cave of the Hridaya), and through the study of sacred texts.
While academics describe the latter practice (Jnana Yoga) as an exercise in theology, for the Tantrika it is “a devotional sadhana” with the text becoming a “window into the Numinous and a bridge to the Guru.” (p. 69.) Consequently, different chelas may be required to study different texts as the Guru directs each towards those teachings that they most need to absorb prior to advancing further in esoteric Hinduism.
The Path of Initiation:
Wiliams discusses the qualities that the chela should develop, in concert with the Guru, and those qualities that he should avoid. He notes differences of expression of the path within esoteric Hinduism, since the teachings are compatible, and express the same essential elements in different ways. According to the fifteenth century text, the Vedanta-Sara by Sadanada, there are four principle pathways within initiation (including the ability to discriminate between the Real and the transient, and the desire for liberation).
Other sages, Williams notes, have proffered seven pathways, and include absorbing sacred texts and contemplating their Gnosis. (p. 75.) In regard to qualities to be expunged, Williams explores the four defects as outlines by Jiva Goswami (pp. 111-113.), as well as the five afflictions or kleshas as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (pp. 114-120). In regard to the former, they are, briefly:
Brahma: Being fooled by the illusions of material existence.
Vipralasa: The tendency to selfishness, to the point where one will “cheat” to gain material ends at the expense of inner development.
Karanapatava: Deficiency of the senses.
The Armor and Arsenal of Power:
It is a disturbing fact that most contemporary spiritualities and systems of initiation fetishize and privilege the intellect, ignoring and actively attacking the physical body, and, as such, only induce to a greater degree the errors current in the Western zeitgeist. Unlike, for example, Yoga — where it mistakenly practiced as a form of “keep fit” to improve the physical appearance — “Esoteric Hinduism,” says Williams, “embraces the physical body as the ultimate field of soul-expression and communication [of the transcendental].” (p. 40.)
As with the choice of texts for each chela, so the Guru of Left-hand Tantra will ascribe different regimes of diet and medicines to remove “pranic blockages” in the material, mind-body, nature (prakriti) of the individual. In this way, the chela’s mind and body can be brought into harmony, “before deeper alchemical transformation can safely occur.” (p. 108.)
Forging the esoteric body — the armor of power — and the arsenal of transformation that prepare the initiate for entrance to Left-hand Tantric Gnosis are described in detail.
In authentic Left-hand Tantra, “gnostic doors … exist within the savage landscape of the soul, hidden within the physical body, the sacramental ground from which all corporeal manifestation emerges and in which all corporeal manifestation subsists.” (p. 36.) Rather than liberation (moksha) through dissolving the self in a Deity, the Left-hand Tantrika aspires to Kaivalya, to exist as a fully integrated Self. The aim is a “unique experience of the soul coupled with self-identity […] linked to the solar emanation of the soul rather than the Ego or ahamkara, the ‘I-maker’.” (p. 42.)
As Williams makes clear in Cave of the Numinous, though they may be good in themselves, the aim of Left-hand Tantra is not merely to harmonize mind and body, nor to rid the person of undesirable traits, or to dissolve karma. It is the immersion of the initiate in, and their transformation through, the Gnosis of the Dark goddess. Cave of the Numinous is undoubtedly one of the most challenging books on esoteric Hinduism, precisely because it aims to simultaneously penetrate the heart of this Mystery tradition and the heart of spiritual seeker. Its lessons may not be for everyone, but they should at least be carefully considered by anyone on the journey of initiation, or that hope for authentic Gnosis.
You can find out more about, and order a copy of, Cave of the Numinous from Theion Publlishing, here.