This belief became a firm conviction one afternoon at the ashram of Swami Sadananda, my beloved spiritual teacher who had guided me during a time when despondency and hopelessness almost engulfed me. He was a wise man with vast experience of both worldly and spiritual life. He lived in austerity—eating little, sleeping little, speaking little. Although he was a great tantric adept, he had shown very little interest in sharing that part of his life.
That particular afternoon, I had just walked into his ashram and had not yet paid my respects when he spoke loudly, “Good, good. You are here.”
Pointing to a young man sitting before him, he said, “A couple of years ago, this man came to me crying that he was going to die in the next few days. When I asked him how he knew that, he told me about a vivid dream. I tried to console him but he argued that so far all of his dreams had come true. He had sent telegrams to his family members, and many of them were with him when he visited me. When I failed to convince him he wouldn’t die soon, I invited his death and told him to talk to it face-to-face. Upon hearing directly from the mouth of death that he would live for a long time, his fear vanished. He completed his engineering degree, and here he is, visiting me with his family, alive and healthy.”
The young man and the people with him nodded in confirmation. I was totally unprepared to hear about such a powerful tantric feat from Swami Sadananda. It was not his style to acknowledge his spiritual accomplishments so publicly, let alone appear to boast about them. I felt he was using this incident as an opportunity to talk about a subject he had been avoiding for many years. As soon as the young man and his family left, I asked, “Swamiji, what was that all about? How could you invite someone’s death and make it talk face-to-face with someone who is alive?”
He replied, “In fact, I invoked chaya purusha and guided the young man to learn about his future, including the time of his death.”
“Swamiji, how unfair!” I exclaimed. “Visitors come and for them you invoke chaya purusha so they can be free of the fear of death. You call me your beloved disciple, a slice of your own heart. . .”
Swami Sadananda chuckled. “Why do you want to see magic? Why don’t you become a magician yourself?”
Every seeker goes through a stage of confusion, doubt, and skepticism. Distinguishing the real from the unreal is not an easy task.
“Thank you,” I said, and he immediately got up and walked toward the sandy beach of the Ganges. I followed. Without expecting any response, he began speaking. “Every seeker goes through a stage of confusion, doubt, and skepticism. Distinguishing the real from the unreal is not an easy task. However, once it’s done, it’s a great accomplishment. Light and shadow go together. So does what is genuine and fake. Tantra is a great science. With tantra you can see the mind—its visible and invisible forces. With tantra you can see how this world is the mind’s magic, and the mind is your greatest friend—a friend who accompanies you all the way to your final destination.”
He stepped into the river, washed his hands and face, sipped water, and asked me to do the same. Afterward, I followed him onto the beach. Now Swami Sadananda began to explain, “Chaya purusha is a unique tantric practice. The first stage of the practice involves gazing at one’s shadow. Depending on the power of your concentration, it may take a few days, a few months, or even a few years to complete this first step.
“Gaze at your shadow for as long as you can without blinking. A time will come when you cannot see your shadow. Look at the sky and you will see the outline of your shadow in white. First, this white shadow will be on the far horizon. With practice, it will keep coming closer and will become increasingly vivid until it is as if another you is standing in front of you without touching the ground.
“As the second and final step of the practice, you infuse this shadow with prana (the life force). You can talk to it as though you were talking to your second self. Today, I’m going to show you yourself through my yoga Shakti. You may pose any question; it will answer you.”
He asked me to stand with the sun at my back. It was around four in the afternoon so my shadow and I were almost the same size. As guided by him, I fixed my gaze on the neck of my shadow for a few seconds, then looked at the horizon. There I saw a white negative of my shadow. I was amazed. Then I became excited as the shadow began moving toward me. It became overwhelming when I began to see myself clearly—the same face, the same eyes, and even the same clothes. The shadow floated through the sky and stopped four or five feet in front of me. I became disoriented and began to feel myself in both bodies—the one on the ground, the other in the air. One began to look at the other, yet a single sense of I-am-ness pervaded both bodies.
With this experience, an unbearable fear descended. I began to question: Who am I? The one standing on the ground or the one hanging in the air? How could I be in two places? I felt like screaming. I did not want to be in two places—I wanted to be in the body that stood on the ground. I felt an enormous pressure in my head from my desire to be in the body below and my unwillingness to be in the body above. But I did not know how to make it happen.
I heard Swami Sadananda say, “Remember, it is a chaya purusha created by me. You are neither this body nor that one. For the time being, however, tell yourself that the body on the ground is yours and it is you. The one in the air is just a chaya purusha. Compose yourself—I am with you. You can ask three questions about anything you wish. The chaya purusha will answer you.”
His voice took away my fear, and my courage and curiosity returned. I asked, “How were you created? How did I feel myself in you? And how do you know more about me than I do?”
“This form [body] is an extension of the mind born of asmita [pure I-am-ness] of the one standing next to you.”
The chaya purusha spoke, “This form [body] is an extension of the mind born of asmita [pure I-am-ness] of the one standing next to you.”
Looking at Swami Sadananda, the chaya purusha then said, “It is his sankalpa [determination] that made room in this body for your mind. With that mind came all your desires, attachments, and everything else you identify with yourself. Thus you felt you were in me. The mind that occupies the biological body is totally dependent on the senses, brain, and nervous system. It is always preoccupied with one thing or another. It busies itself counting things in the outside world and has forgotten how to see what lies within. But the mind placed in this body is free from all those limitations and thus can see all that which is normally obscured.”
With this, the chaya purusha began to float away and finally dissolved on the distant horizon. With no words to express myself, I followed Swami Sadananda as he walked to a nearby banyan tree. We sat down in the shade and Swami Sadananda said, “There are tantrics who have mastered the science of chaya purusha. With the help of chaya purusha they predict the future or materialize an object out of thin air. Using the power of chaya purusha they perform miracles. I showed you chaya purusha not because it is the most important aspect of tantra and not because you need to practice it. I showed you so you will open yourself to comprehending the vast range of tantra.