Written by Amala Klep
“But… What is actually Tantra?” How many times I have heard this question. And each and every time the same feelings arise inside of me, a mix of enthusiasm to share, from my personal experience, about this amazing and old philosophy. At the same time a sudden sensation of being at the top of a precipice and not knowing where to start from.
To answer, I could quote the doctrine “neti-neti” (nor this nor that) propound by the Sage Yajnavalkya, the main figure in the Upanishads (also referred to as Vedanta, the concluding part of the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of ‘Hinduism’). Tantra is not this or that, yet it is all of it. Tantra is nothing and everything. It is the science of expanding consciousness and liberating the energy as manifested by its two root words: Tanoti (expansion) and Trayati (liberation).
Fair enough. But that definition doesn’t seem to really open a window in the mind that would allow this sudden and delightful light of understanding to enter and clarify our point. It may even confuse western minds that have received another basic understanding of Tantra as a sexual something. For our defense, we have good excuses to be confused about this ten-thousand-year old science. As most of us have had no chance to hear about this word before the influence of Osho in our countries. Then spread this idea of an obscure sexual, esoteric and somehow scary practice reserved for the spiritual elite or hippies.
Is Tantra Sex?
When you hear the word ‘Tantra’, many assume – sex, energy, love-making, connection and sometimes even witchcraft, for some sophisticated minds, it means Kundalini. Hence you would either feel frustrated that this brilliant and exciting word appears to merely be a decorative synonym for sex, or you would feel even more confused than before, mislead by some Sanskrit words.
Tantra is not about sex. As I mentioned, Tantra is a science and in this sense, one of its meanings is also technique, rule and technical system. Its root meaning is to master or harness. This leads to a second layer of understanding, as it further explains the purpose of Tantra as a technical system, an empirical science teaching the seeker not to suppress the forces of reality but to master and harness them.
Acceptance of reality
So, to put it simply, this is the suggestion of Tantra: you are a human being living in this world. This is your current reality and, the hope of a paradise after death won’t change the fact that you are here now, living a worldly experience in a body. So instead of repressing this concrete reality and repressing the needs of body and mind, Tantra suggests to fully accept the desire that arises in your mind. To accept it and to live it completely, beyond all fears, judgements, limitations. When you have embraced and satisfied the desire, the mind is now still and ready to meditate. When the mind is happy, so is the body and this is the doorway to a fully internal experience.
Preserving the secret of Tantra
Here comes the tricky point and danger of Tantra. That is the reason why its secret has been so well preserved during hundreds of centuries and still is, by rare yogis and masters. This is because Tantra is not for everyone. And that is one of the many delightful contradictions in Tantra. As it is also a science of contradicting itself, enjoying the sophisticated pleasures of mind’s games and misleading. A tantric yogi knows the art of triggering the mind, confusing it to create a sudden space of thoughtlessness and availability. Tantra is the Mother, accepting everyone still it is not for everyone. You are becoming more confused? Perfect. It shows we are getting closer to the point.
The trappings of Tantra
But meanwhile it is easy to understand. If Tantra is leading us to accept the desire and answer to it completely, the obvious trap for most of us appears: greediness. “I have been told I could eat this ice-cream and enjoy it fully. Great! Now I want a second one and tomorrow some chocolate pieces on top of it, and the day after three balls, and next week I’ll buy the shop, and enjoy eating ice-creams forever, as Tantra told me I should”. This is not the view of Tantra. The seeker who truly understands what Tantra is about, constantly reminds himself the one and only purpose of Tantra as its ultimate goal: a pathway to know yourself.
So eat that delicious Belgian Speculoos ice-cream. But when you are eating it, don’t glance through the shop window to the next one. Take the experience of eating this ice-cream as a totally blissful experience. You are here, now, using all your senses and mind to truly enjoy this ice-cream. Nothing exists beyond this sweet, cold and round Speculoos ice-cream ball. You are not the mother buying a strawberry one for the child who is eating next to you, or that business man running for an appointment after this quick temptation in the street, neither are you the client or the seller. You are there, with the ice-cream. As fully as with a woman, you make love to the ice-cream. You are becoming the ice-cream.
Reaching that state of oneness
End of the story. If you can truly melt yourself in each and every experience of life, whatever it is, ice-cream, casual or dramatic event, reading this article, looking at the sky, driving in your car. If you are able to become so completely present to where you are in this particular instant: you have no need any more for any master, guidance, spiritual reference or further education. You have reached the ultimate state of oneness. That is the only goal of Tantra and of all spiritual traditions. Your mind is totally still and able to stay in this contemplation, perceiving through the polluted water of thoughts to the bottom of the ocean where the true nature resides. This is Tantra. By now you might be more willing to answer with me that Tantra is everything.
The birth of Tantra in Hinduism
Sanatana Dharma, the original Sanskrit name of Hinduism, “Eternal Universal Reality”, is like a brain with two hemispheres: the left one, we could say has more ‘masculine’ aspects, structured and able to analyze and create concepts by cutting the reality into pieces. This part would be the Vedas. The aspect of Sanatana Dharma that we as Westerns mostly refer to as Hinduism, Indian spirituality. The ideas of Advaita Vedanta (non-dual Vedanta) are associated with the great sage Shankara (788-820 AD). But this is only the left part of the brain. The right side, the creative, global, imaginative, more ‘Shakti-feminine’ part, would then be Tantra. Both born from the same unique source, using different tools to bring sentient beings (beings with consciousness) to the understanding of the eternal question of “who am I”.
The Vedantic universe is seen as an illusion and therefore the world should be rejected. This is one way: cutting oneself from all external stimulation, entering into oneself, leaving society and all social interactions for the blissful silence of a sacred environment or a cave.
In Tantra, the world is entirely real and vibrates with conscious energy. Every single piece of it is sacred, full of mystery: Na Shivam Vidyate Kvachit – There is nothing that is not Shiva. Feel free to change ‘Shiva’ by what resonates to you as Divine Consciousness, Allah, God, Buddha, Jesus- Christ, John or Brandon. It is a matter of vocabulary. The concept of Sanatana Dharma as eternal religion is precisely that behind any religious approaches or doctrines, there exist s a common core that is the eternal religion of mankind. Every path has its place in Tantra. The basis of the universe is pure awareness, nothing else. Human as individual is nothing but a contracted form of God, who has created the universe through his Shakti aspect, feminine and creative. He became the many, consciousness within the various shapes of the material world, vibrating at different frequencies, more refined or gross, but all from the same original piece of wood.
The all accepting nature of Tantra
So Tantra is the Mother, welcoming everyone, making no distinction of color, height, weight, wealth, intellectual capacity, education. Tantra welcomes all of those who have not been selected to receive the knowledge of the Vedas, originally only transmitted to very few disciples from Brahmin origins and teaching intellectual, philosophical and prescriptive concepts, by a yoga of understanding and renunciation. Tantra, on the other hand, praises life, emotions, Bhakti Yoga
(Yoga of devotion), full enjoyment of the pleasures Mother Nature offers to its children. It is a Yoga of practical tools, teaching how to sublime and redirect the energy within oneself to lead the seeker to the ultimate liberation. It is a visceral yoga, claiming it is possible to have not only yoga (liberation) but also bhoga (pleasure).
As the great Sage Jaideva Singh says in his introduction of one of the oldest scripture of Tantra the “Vijnanabhairava”, those are two main ways of approaching reality, the path of distinction or discrimination and the path of union and integration. The self, isolated from Prakriti (Nature) or Maya (the World), or the integration of the individual Self to Bhairava (the Universal Self) and the realization of the universe as the expression of His Shakti (Spiritual Energy).
Pleasure and Tantra
Now having better basically clarified what is Tantra, we can easily perceive why this fundamental misunderstanding of its meaning is so present in our well-structured western minds. If Tantra praises bhoga (pleasure), wouldn’t we commonly agree on the idea that love-making may be one of its most refined manifestation? So indeed, Tantra makes mention of love-making. The point is, it talks about love-making, not about sex. Tantra says love-making is a great tool of awakening and therefore gives precise techniques to teach how to use the energy so present in the sexual intercourse to sublime it through Sushumna Nadi (the central channel of Energy in the body) and arouse the Kundalini energy leading to higher states of consciousness. If Tantra says to enjoy with body and mind an ice-cream, how could it possibly not advice to enjoy the divine pleasure of the senses through love-making? But don’t be the fooled, it is not about sex and sensual pleasures, it is about the experience of oneness. That is how Tantra talks about sexuality.
Delving into the ancient scriptures
Let’s use the light of the scriptures to make this point clear. Another meaning of Tantra are the 64
Bhairavas Agamas, the Tantras, sacred scriptures revealing the philosophy and techniques of expansion and liberation. In one of its book, the Vijnanabhairava, a precious part of the ancient Tantras, we have been given 112 yogas or techniques of meditation, called Dharanas. The Dharana
46 makes mention in its own vocabulary about this distinction between sex and love-making:
“At the time of sexual intercourse with a woman, an absorption into her is brought about excitement, and the final delight that ensues at orgasm betokens the delight of Brahman. This delight is (in reality) that of one’s own Self”.
Sage Sivopadhyaya clarifies very precisely the meaning of this union:
“(…) When one is totally dissolved in the feeling of one-ness (unity) and one loses all sense of anything external or internal (…) The Sruti (scriptures) speaks of the union with a woman only to illustrate the union with the Divine. It is only a fool who takes this illustration as an injunction for carnal pleasure.”
Thus, love-making is a tool. It is a great spiritual tool if one has enough awareness to use it. Because the delight is that of one’s own Self, not coming from any external source. A woman or an ice-cream are one of the many occasion Prakriti offers us as manifestation of that delight.
As you have obviously understood, Tantra can’t be defined in one word. And yet it can – to pursue its mischievous way of confusing the mind! Tantra is expansion and liberation. Tantra is an ice- cream and love-making. Tantra is Shiva and Shakti. But to truly understand the meaning of Tantra, you must experience it fully for yourself. Because no word or article could possibly replace the tantric experience of a complete embracement of life. So go and buy your ice-cream… And E-N-J-O-Y it!
Om Namah Shivaya!
2 replies on “What is Tantra?”
Thank you for describing tantra so beautifully!
Thanks for having taken time out to read this article. Namaste!