(Continued from Nada Yoga: The Yoga of Sound)
Tantra is greatly misunderstood in the West. Incorrectly thought to be the yoga of sacred sex, confusing orgasm with spiritual bliss, Tantra is instead an ancient, wise and powerful yogic path that few can tread even with the necessary guidance of a fully realized master. Hatha yoga, the notion that yoga is everywhere and the belief that one may find the divine through creative arts all have their roots in the tantric yogic tradition.
Ajit Mookerjee, tantric art scholar, says, “Tantra is both an experience of life and a scientific method by which man can bring out his inherent spiritual power.” His writings stress the awesome potential inherent in true spiritual art, defining this as “art created through spiritual discovery”. He believed such art to be loaded with the Power of the Goddess and that it was actually part of the body of the Great Goddess.
According to the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master Lama Thubten Yeshe, “each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.”
I love the descriptions of Tantra by the widely respected yogic scholar Georg Feuerstein who penned one of my favorite books, “Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy”. For those of you who have seen me perform my song “Yoga In the Nightclub” (and if you have not yet, please come out!) I use elements of the following quote from Dr. Feuerstein in my extended yoga studio version of the house music track:
“What Tantric masters aspired to was to create a transubstantiated body, which they called adamantine (vajra) or divine (daiva) – a body not made of flesh but of immortal substance, of Light. Instead of regarding the body as a meat tube doomed to fall prey to sickness and death, they viewed it as a dwelling-place of the Divine and as the caldron for accomplishing spiritual perfection. For them, enlightenment was a whole body event.”
Tantra refers to both an esoteric school of Hinduism and Buddhism and to a group of scriptures known as The Tantras. The Sanskrit word tantra is derived from two Sanskrit words “tanoti”, which means to stretch, to extend, or to expand, and “trayati” which means liberation. As such, Tantra can be seen as a technique for stretching ourselves, for extending our capacity for attention to the utmost, for expanding our sense of awareness to meet the fullness of what is. According to some, the word tantra also means “to weave”, suggesting that reality is a seamless whole, one continuum of interwoven fabric made up of spirit and matter.
This path to enlightenment focuses on the worship of the Goddess or Shakti. Through spiritual practices and ritual forms of worship, the goal of a tantric practitioner is to find freedom from ignorance and the cycles of death and rebirth through realizing the universe as the divine play of Shakti and Siva, the male and female principle.
Unlike any other yogic path, Tantra insists that spirit and matter are aspects of one whole. In some yogic traditions, a yogi learns to separate himself from the world. Tantra however urges the need to join seeming opposites and revel in a synthesis of reality and consciousness. While some yogic traditions encourage students to seek liberation from the body and the world, Tantra sees liberation in the world. For the tantric, the world is an expression of divine play of which we are an integral part. The body is a microcosm of the universe. As such, it is a powerful vehicle for liberation, an alchemical crucible in which spiritual transformation can occur.
In his book “Tantra Asana: A Way to Self-realization“, Ajit Mookerjee says, “Tantra itself is unique for being a synthesis of bhoga and yoga, enjoyment and liberation. There is no place for renunciation or denial in Tantra. Instead, we must involve ourselves in all the life processes which surround us. The spiritual is not something that descends from above, rather it is an illumination that is to be discovered within.”
“Wow! A spiritual path that embraces all of life as divine! Sounds perfect!” you may be thinking. Here is the catch. When a spiritual aspirant begins to look at matter and the body as vehicles for spiritual evolution and personal transformation, he begins to walk the razor’s edge journey to spiritual enlightenment. He must learn to discern between the ego’s tricky wanting and expansive evolution. He must learn to balance the relationship between Nature’s involutionary tendency, that is, the rootedness of being in form, and the evolutionary cosmic play as it unfolds spiritually.
A tantric aspirant can easily either become overly mired in the pleasures of the physical and lose spiritual expansion, or he can become overly lofty, detached and ungrounded by the spiritual and lose the presence of the physical. Like a gracious balancing act, the tantric yogi walks an extremely potent path that is both delicate and dangerous.
I agree with Georg Feuerstein who stresses the need for tantric aspirants to find the guidance of realized masters. I could not list the number of people I have seen over the years in my teaching and healing work – beginner and advanced practitioners, even teachers – who feel they have found their path through Tantra, yet are more lost than ever. Without a guru while on the tantric path, one runs the risk of losing the plot altogether and sinking into the mire of seductive wanting.
I have met many people in the yogic world who expulse wise teachings, but vibrate with constrictive and involutionary energies. Void of humility, openness, honesty and pure spiritual shakti, people can easily become trapped in the tantric path.
The ego is a tricky and hungry thing that has power only when we feed it. But sometimes – even often – we are unaware we are doing so. Just as a chameleon can change colour to blend with its surrounding, so too our ego can shift and fool us to suit our desires. We may think we are evolving when in fact we are unconsciously justifying our self-serving ego.
The ego can even quietly adjust to fool us, so that we think we are growing when we are actually becoming more attached. It can even feign enlightenment. A spiritual aspirant must be careful of this. Only when we have surrendered to the guidance of a fully realized master can we overcome this.
(Continues tomorrow with Being Relaxed And Alert)