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Daring with Monks

by Tantra Bensko

part 1 of 2

“Haf you got human skull, Jenny?” my Norwegian, Tantric monk friend, Chaitanya, casually asked the young woman we were staying with that night. Memphis generally wasn’t known for being a handy place to find skulls.

My delicate-featured son, Cody, put his hand over his mouth and snorted gently.

“Well,” Jenny said, “no, I don’t really have one. What do you need it for?”

I’d been staying with her briefly whenever I traveled through, for a few years, bringing home my young son to his father in time for school to begin. It was an exchange for the energy work and Tantric-frequency raising I did for her. That often involved me doing strange tonings, moving my hands around above her body, her having visions, shivers, spontaneous healings, heightened states of awareness. Jenny was getting used to strange things.

Cody sat his slender body down sideways on the big chair and propped his long feet over the edge of it, ready for the show.

“It new moon.”


“Every new moon, I go cemetery and do Tandava Dance wit’ a skull. It’s ancient Tantric ritual. Acharyas in me order, do dis. I’ll be wit’ no clothes.” He winked at me.

“Ah. Well, in that case, maybe you could use a substitute skull? I’m not sure what I have. A cantaloupe? A bowling ball? It’s white.”

Cody’s eyes got wide.

She got it for him, but its weight seemed too restrictive for a ferocious dance of destruction. He put it down and kept it in reserve. She brought him a large white bowl. He tried that, but it seemed too likely to get broken. How about a lamb? It’s white. She had a stuffed white lamb. No, definitely not. Well, maybe.

“Well, let’s moof on instead. Do you haf a sword?”

I couldn’t help but laugh along with Cody this time. She looked so calm and so resourceful. Cody and I caught each other’s eyes and pretended to swordfight briefly, and then suddenly stopped.

“No sword. And, really, I don’t cook much, but I do have this. A tomato knife. Serrated edges. Could do some damage.”

His laugh was like a bark but he took it. His accent was adorable. I’d known him for a couple years, since meeting him at their organization’s American center, but still, each time he spoke, it was delightful.

“I can really proof me fearlessness with dat. You haf be much more fearless to face cemetery spooks wit’ a tomato knife dan wit’ a sword.”

He didn’t look like the dangerous type, approaching middle age, a little stocky, though still handsome, I thought, in his long orange robes and with his long, curly blond hair. Would gory demons and dripping zombies run away if they saw him naked, dancing jerkily with a serrated knife and a white fuzzy lamb?

“Da burning grounds in India, where Tantra Yoga coming from, are nasty. Stink!” He held his nose. “Especially da smell to burning hair. Da bodies decay, da skin rot, animals like to roll in dem and go crazy in da full moon. Vultures eat da bodies, flies everyone around, and da mud is gooey from da melted slime of da bodies.

“Dangerous people lif dere, and sometimes Tantric monks. Dey let dere hair get matted up, don’t wear clothes, just ashes from da burned people, lying around on da ground. It goot place meditate.”

Jenny nodded. Cody was watching her responses with such fascination that he nodded along with her.

“I’m going to drive him to a cemetery tonight so he can do the Tandeva dance. It’s the dance of Nataraja Shiva. Maybe you’ve seen those statues of him with a ring of fire around him, ’cause he heats up so much, and it’s all about destruction. His dreadlocks are flying all over the place. He’s got one leg up with the knee bent, and the other leg is on a ‘malignant dwarf’, they call it, that had attacked him with a club, and Shiva’s holding it down and dancing on it, just pounding it. I wish we could find a naughty dwarf! You don’t have one of those do you?”

I drove him that night in my minivan to a cemetery I had never seen before. We had to hunt around for it, as I hadn’t lived in Memphis for years, not since my divorce from Cody’s father when I began my adventures.

Though I went through regularly to pick up Cody, and drop him off, doing quite a bit of healing work for people each time, and teaching Tantra Yoga, I had never gotten well versed in the geography. I was more into the quantum non locality idea.

Luckily, my reputation was good enough; most people came to me. I wondered if getting caught sneaking around a cemetery would improve it or not. It certainly would create quite a sensation with my son’s conservative father. I could see the headlines, and I wondered if my son would be taken away from me. My favorite thing about life itself was Cody.

Chaitanya and I walked quickly to the cemetery, which was brightly lit with street lamps, and surrounded by a very high stone wall. There were houses all around. We tried to find an entrance, but the gate was locked. They were serious about keeping people out. So all there was to do was climb over the wall.

Luckily the stone was a little rough and we could wedge our shoes into it, with enough fast and furious attempts. Stifling our laughter was the hardest part.

When we landed, a dog started barking, making another one bark, so we huddled up against the wall until they quieted down. Then we walked quickly, quietly, until we saw the lights of a car along the street. I was surprised to see Chaitanya suddenly hurl himself to the ground.

I hurried behind a large tombstone and crouched down. I had to remain still, but a large spider slowly crawled out of a crack and made its way across my forearm. Creeps.

When Chaitanya got up, there were some grass stains on his long orange robes, the dress code of honor for being the very highest level of Tantric monk there was. The most distinguished.

Each time a car drove by, he went down. And each time I darted behind a tree. And then it was not only lights, but they were on a police car. They drove slowly on their rounds around the cemetery, pulling up and shining their lights into it.

Tree. I am a tree, I told myself. I am invisible. I wanted to scratch my leg. I was standing on a newly dug grave and slowly, slightly, sinking in. I made my apologies to the person I was drawing nearer to.

The police car lights shone around the tree on both sides of me, and the tree was just barely as wide as I was. I held my breath in. There were many dark Tantrikas who dug up bodies and performed necrophilia, stole the skulls, and who knows what else. Would I be questioned to see if I was one of them? The police car drove on.

We got to the center of the cemetery, the darkest, densest part, and we were stumbling against tombstones. Chaitanya picked his spot. He showed me where he was going to go, in the darkest of the darkest.

“If they get you, just don’t tell them I’m here,” he cautioned. He took the little tomato knife out of the bag. And for the skull, a cantaloupe. “It’s perfect, Kundra.” he said. “If I getting caught, I could say I just came out for naked picnic. Never mind it 42 degrees. Norwegians don’t care about da cold! We strong! We hardy!”

He thumped his chest and stomped off, invigorated by the hidden darkness. I was left with the tombstones.

He went so far away, I couldn’t even hear his shouted mantra that accompanied the dance. I had been to the monk’s retreat, knew the ropes about the Tandava dance. It was only for men. Pale-skinned with long, red hair and a curvy body, I could not pass for a man.

But I was never one to believe that men and women are really different creatures. Our souls are the same. And the point of doing Tantra Yoga was to equalize the male and female energetic pathways on either side of the spine, so that the Kundalini could rise through the androgynous center of the spine. I had been at that practice at its most advanced levels for many years. Not as long as Chaitanya.

He joined when he was 16. I couldn’t imagine giving up a life of sensuality to become a monk in an order that disallowed sex. But it was refreshing in this modern age of warped vision of what Tantra is to find people who took it seriously as a tool for enlightenment, rather than just trying to have better sex. I admired that man going off to get naked in the cold and leap about with fervor and athletic and spiritual intensity. If he had done what Shiva had done, worn a snake and a skin he’d freshly ripped off a tiger, it would have been even slightly more impressive.

I had never been taught the inner workings of the Tandeva dance, of course, by that order, as I was not a monk. I had often called myself a monk, as I had given up human companionship for months at a time regularly, and lived in the forests, on top of mountains, even in the winters, alone, with nothing but meditation and a cup, to invigorate my practice.

And I knew the dance itself, had done it now and then, though it was supposed to grow hair on women. Doing the dance was going against outdated rules, and I wanted no restriction by tradition.

In solidarity, I stood there, bracing myself against all those beings physical and non-physical who might go against me in my life. The spiritual teaching and the healing were making people take on their true selves and stand up for themselves.

I was freeing so many people from those who had manipulated them in some way, I knew I was making some serious enemies. I had been targeted, and some strange and unpleasant things had happened to me as a consequence. It was the dare of truth.

I faced the concept of those enemies as if they were in front of me, as if I were in the burning grounds in India, with huge-eyed zombies crawling up out of the stinking slime at me. I tightened my muscles. I steadied my gaze. I shouted the mantra. And I danced.

I thought about Shiva doing the Tandava: as he dances, everything disintegrates, seemingly into nothing. Then, out of the vapors, life is re-created. I lay down on top of a grave, the cold of the ground seeping into me, and stared at the darkness. I wondered how many ghosts were stalking the cemetery. Had dark magic ever been done here? Was it haunted with pain and suffering or revenge?

I thought I saw movements of shadows darker than the dark, heard murmered voices in the trees. I faded out, spreading my soul across the cemetery, decomposing my identity.

Car lights shone through the cemetery, lighting up the gravestones, the ones near me being especially beautiful and old, cracking, mossy, peeling off in layers. I lay on the ground, trying to sink lower into the grave. I looked in the direction Chaitanya had walked off in and I realized he was not stopping his dance. He could most likely be deported for that if he got caught naked out there, considering how serious the wall was.

I could just barely see him from so far away, except for the cool glow of his skin in the lights, jumping up and down, kicking one leg then the other. He looked pearlescent, paradoxically very alive and vibrant, but ghostly. And the lights were gone.

The next morning was our last time together. We had been traveling across the country, leaving the retreat together, which I had taken 11-year old Cody to. My son had loved his time there, going out on the boat on the lake, playing with the other kids in the playground, exploring the forest.

I had said I would give Chaitanya and the vibrant, athletic young Ugandan monk, Bhaktinanda, a ride as far as Memphis and they could take the bus into Georgia from there. I liked them for their combination earnestness and playfulness. But I told them I would only give them a ride if, sometime along the trip, they would play Truth or Dare. And I knew the whimsical irony of that would give Cody a great send-off.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Tantra Bensko

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