Sally Kempton | Biography & Teachings Of An American Swami, Meditation & Non-Dual Tantra Teacher

Photo of author
Written by
Last Updated:

Love, enjoyed by the ignorant, becomes bondage. That very same love, tasted by one with understanding, brings liberation. Enjoy all the pleasures of love fearlessly, for the sake of liberation.

Sally Kempton: Awakening Shakti

Sally Kempton was an incredibly powerful teacher and a true force of Shakti. She was a woman who generously shared profound insights and was a guiding light for many of my own teachers and friends, including myself, illuminating the path of non-duality.

Sally has a special place in many people’s hearts as an unforgettable presence and an embodiment of Shakti; many have shared their loving experiences with her in the wake of her death this year (July 10, 2023).

It is certain that her wisdom will continue to be a shining light of the teaching she embodied – her life was her teaching.

  • Sally Kempton: Early Life & Career
  • Sally Kempton: Life as a Monk & Teacher
  • Sally’s Teachings
  • Sally’s Books

Sally Kempton: Early life & Career

Sally Kempton was born on January 15th, 1943 as the daughter of a social worker, Mina Kempton, and newspaper columnist, Murray Kempton, in Manhattan and later grew up in Princeton.

She described her family as socially and ethically conscious and left-wing humanitarians.

Her father’s writing talent clearly ran in the family, as Sally began her career as a journalist and staunch feminist in New York.

She began writing for The Village Voice, covering everything culture and politics.

She and a friend even challenged Hugh Hefner, proclaiming to him ‘I’d like to see you walk around with a cotton tail and tell me about equality‘.

Notably, Sally wrote ‘Cutting Loose’ which appeared in Esquire in July 1970. The article was a fierce feminist analysis and personal narrative of the Women’s Uprising that many still look to today.

She shared her experience of the Women’s Liberation Movement alongside being married to a man, bravely speaking to how many women felt and still feel now; the paradox of wanting to be both a feminist revolutionary and a wife, of wanting to be loved by a man yet hating sexism.

You may have heard the famous quote from this article, putting words to the personal nature of Women’s Liberation; ‘it is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head‘.

a pink head with feminist fists in it

Sally Kempton: Life as a monk & teacher

The Turning Point

Things started to change for Sally one day when she and her boyfriend at the time were taking psychedelics.

Listening to Ripple by the Grateful Dead, one particular lyric prompted an opening of her awareness to the unconditional love that surrounded her, the love that made up everything in the universe.

She had a realization that love and ecstasy were reality, completely shattering her understanding of the world that she thought she knew.

This love later became the foundation of her life.

Introduction to Yoga

In a search to make sense of and integrate her newfound revelation, she attended Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga studio. It was in the calm of savasana that she found her path – meditation.

After years of practice, she began having spontaneous kundalini experiences, turning her mind inwards.

The need for support around her kundalini awakening led her to begin following Swami Muktananda in 1974, who became her guru. It was through him that she learned about Vedanta and non-dual Shaiva Tantra in small study groups, making non-duality her passion.

One particular text they studied was the Tantric Pratybhijna Hridayam (The Heart of the Doctrine of Recognition by Rajanaka Kṣemarāja).

It teaches that our Consciousness is the exact same as the divine Consciousness that manifested this entire cosmos, which had a profound impact on her.

a class in savasana

Swami Durgananda

In 1982, she became Swami Durgananda after she was initiated into the traditional Saraswati order of Indian swamis (monks) by Muktananda and took the vows of a sannyasin.

She traveled and studied with her guru until he died in 1982. Sally then served as a meditation teacher in the Siddha Yoga community for the next 20 years. 

Renouncing Her Robes

In 2002, Sally felt a calling to let go of her life at the ashram and teach outside of the community. She left the order to teach in a post-traditional context, gracing the wider world with her timeless insight.

Her teachings were a fusion of meditation, non-dual Tantra, psychology, neuroscience, and Goddess devotion & embodiment. In her own words, her teachings are at the intersection of the ‘devotional and the non-dual’.

She also wrote the “Wisdom” column for Yoga Journal.

Sally’s Passing

Sadly, Sally Kempton unexpectedly left her body on the 10th of July 2023, leaving hearts heavy with grief amongst the spiritual community.

Her brother, David, shared that the cause of her death was heart failure after she had already been suffering from a chronic lung condition.

Many of her students and followers began a 13-day puja, making offerings, showing heartfelt gratitude, and praying for her journey toward the light. The Maha Mrityunjaya mantra, which is a traditional mantra to be chanted at such times, was also sung by many to honor her life.

The transmission of grace that poured through her when she was on this earth continues to do so in her books, articles, and online courses.

Her teachings have opened the hearts of so many of us, awakening us to the force of the divine feminine. Sally was a true vessel of Shakti, her wisdom forever pulsating through us and as us.

With our hearts eternally full of her presence, she lives on in the community that used her guidance to open the doors to thousands of years of wisdom.

Jai Ma!

Sally’s books

1. Awakening Shakti

Awakening Shakti is an immense contribution to the spiritual and yogic community.

It’s the book that gave me a true love and appreciation for mythology and, crucially, introduced me to the Tantric View, which is, in my opinion, one of the most profound spiritual paths you can walk.

She eloquently and powerfully explores various goddesses in the Hindu pantheon as various aspects of Shakti. The goddesses Sally explores are:

Importantly she gives us a groundbreaking, practical guide to the goddesses. She breaks down how we can connect with them, recognize them, and invite them into our lives using meditation, visualization, mantra, and other practices.

For many, it truly awakened the divine feminine within their practice, an aspect of sadhana that had largely been missing. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a deeper relationship with the Mother Goddess and/or their own inner world.

This book and the much-cherished practices within it will benefit and empower absolutely anyone, you certainly don’t need to be a woman to benefit from this work.

An ode to Sally’s feminist roots, the book was described as ‘a new kind of feminism – a feminism of the soul’ and one I will forever return to.

2. Meditation For The Love Of It

Sally believed meditation was the most intimate inquiry you could have with yourself, your very own personal experiment/love affair. It’s about coming home to your own awareness.

Sally also taught and embodied that love is the fabric of the universe; it’s the source of everything!

Meditation For The Love Of It fused these two beliefs together.

It’s a complete guide to deepening this experience with yourself and accessing your innermost wisdom and, like all of Sally’s work, a genuine treasure that’s straight from her heart.

It includes all the tips, tricks, whys, and hows of building a meditation practice from her 40 years as a meditator and teacher.

Sally Kempton’s Teachings

As I have said above, Sally’s life was her teaching. Please look on her website for many, many more rich teachings that we won’t be able to cover here.

1. On Ananda (bliss)

Bliss is our natural state and an intrinsic part of the universe, Sally teaches, and pleasure is a doorway to awakening.

The Goddess, in all of her forms, ‘is always shedding blissfulness‘. Bliss is what we came from and it’s what we shall return to, it’s the frequency of the divine, yet we forget that it’s what we are somewhere in between.

We can tune into these feelings of pleasure and follow them to their inner source – Shakti and, therefore, our own Consciousness.

2. On Meditation

Sally taught meditation as a process of inner exploration. Much like pleasure, it’s our natural state; meditation is an opening of yourself up to the infinite, loving Consciousness.

She spoke about how anything has the ability to expand your awareness and bring you into a state of non-duality; food, music, exercise, sexuality, or anything that you find enjoyment in.

As you can imagine from her experience, her teachings span many topics and are far too expansive to fit in here! If you’re interested, start by reading her book on meditation above.

Taken from her Letter to a New Meditator, here’s some guidance from Sally:

  • Get comfortable: ensure the spine is erect and the chest is open, but use support if you need it! Our goal isn’t to have a perfect asana, but a position that allows your mind to let go of external distractions (like the body). You’ll need to be here for at least 30 minutes.
  • Core practice: if you’re a beginner, develop a core practice as a base, something that you can build upon and develop a habit with. Experiment with different techniques by giving them time, but don’t jump around once you’ve found something that suits you! E.g
    • The breath: watching the rise and fall of the breath, without controlling it
    • Mantra: use a mantra as a focal point
    • The center: tuning into the heart center or third eye
  • Contemplation: once you’ve got your practice, start to contemplate deeper questions like ‘what knows I’m thinking?’
  • Distractions: these are totally normal and you’ll find yourself thinking a lot when you first start. When you notice your thoughts running wild, simply make the internal statement ‘thinking’ to bring awareness to this.
  • Experiment: now it’s time to switch it up, try entering your practice with different attitudes, affirmations, or inquiries. She suggests one being ‘I am being breathed by the universe’ or ‘I am loved’. See what it does to your inner world!
  • Balance: once a week alongside your core practice, try a new practice that’s been taking your interest (perhaps something new from one of the many, many teachers that exist). Balance is an important part of the practice, too.
someone meditating against an orange background with an orange glow on the chest

3. On The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

Sally found the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra to be one of the most important meditation manuals in the Eastern tradition and thus a manual for self-realization.

She has many courses on her website that guide you through meditations and contemplations of the Tantric text, revealing pathways to the ground of your being.

The Vijnana Bhairava even has a small number of teachings on sexuality (not like the neo-tantra that’s taught today), which Sally explores – definitely a difference from her days of celibacy as a monk!

Wherever the mind goes, whether inside or outside, everywhere is the state of the one sacred awareness. When that Divine Consciousness [Shiva] is all-pervading, where can the mind go to avoid Her?

Vijnana Bhairava – Verse 116
a white shiva statue in white smoke

4. On The Goddess

Sally spent her life teaching others to understand and experience the radical freedom of the Goddess, helping many to recognize themselves as that same Shakti, and embodying Goddess Consciousness herself.

She speaks to the two faces of Shakti who is simultaneously the face of liberation and the face of illusion (Maya or Bhuvaneshwari). In all of her aspects, she is loving, creative, and dynamic, and even the force behind the big bang itself.

The aspects of Shakti as various goddesses are archetypal energies that we can all embody, tapping into our own powers that come from this source of divine energy that always lives inside of us.

She saw the qualities of the divine feminine as a saving grace for both humanity and the planet itself, which seems to be more turbulent than ever.

The transformative power of the goddess energies can untangle psychic knots, calling forth specific transformative forces within the mind and heart.

It can cleanse our mental and emotional bodies, put us in touch with the protective powers within us, and deeply change the way we see the world… It can shift the way we see ourselves, giving us the power to see the divine qualities we already hold. 

…Celebrating the goddesses has the potential not only to tune us to our own sacred capacities, but also to help us work with the hidden and secret forces at play in our lives. When we can do that, we can literally harness these forces for our own transformation. 

Sally Kempton, Awakening to Kali: The Goddess of Radical Transformation

More on sally

Photo of author
Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.