“Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.”

Before reading the above comment by William J. Broad in a recent New York Times article, I thought of the Times as a resourceful newspaper with trustworthy articles that were well researched. That quickly changed, and I reminded myself that reporters are mere mortals who do make mistakes.

I wrote about Tantra in a previous blog entry, as it is a long-standing interest and integrated part of my life. I felt called to share a bit more on the topic in response to the article linked above.

Quantum physics tells us that the “I” we hold onto so dearly is just an illusion. It tells us that in reality, everything is interconnected, not separate as we perceive it to be. It says that our life is more like a creative projection than hard, factual truth.

These thoughts are not the propriety of modern science, but are at the root of mystical traditions world wide, and at the heart of Tantra, a spiritual tradition that, not unlike its offshoot Hatha Yoga, is greatly misunderstood today.

Tantrism, which made its appearance around the middle of the first millennium AD, pioneered the view, that quantum physicists now support, that the body is not the source of defilement, nor the enemy of spirit, as some ancient religions preach, but part of a continual flow of consciousness.

As with many Sanskrit words, there are various meanings of the word Tantra. Some understand it to mean “to weave”, though more commonly, it is understood as derived from the word “tan” meaning to extend or to stretch. As such, Tantra is generally interpreted as “that which extends understanding” (“tanyate vistaryate jnananam anena”, Buddhist Guhya-Samaja-Tantra), promoting a continuum of reality.

This is also seen in Mahayana Buddhism’s famous Tantric phrase “samsara equals nirvana”, which means, the temporal world of phenomenon is equal to the transcendental state of being-consciousness-bliss. Enlightenment is not then about leaving the world or suppressing natural impulses, but an interconnection of a lower reality contained within a higher reality and a higher reality guiding and transforming the lower.

Tantra then is about the integration of the temporal self with the eternal Self. This is done through powerful spiritual practices and rituals that purify the body/being so yogis may experience oneness with the divine. Hence, the flowering of Hatha Yoga, a practice designed to purify the subtle channels within the body/being so that the divine may freely express itself through us.

Just as Siva, the Nata-Raja (Lord of the Dance) who is eternally dancing the universal rhythms, is the master weaver of time and space, Tantrics see life as an interweaving of spirit and matter as one continuum, not a collection of separate pieces of form that are set apart from the divine. Matter and the Divine are one. This viewpoint was quite unlike a popular point of view at the time of the birth of Tantra that saw the body in direct opposition to spiritual goals.

The Kularnava-Tantra, an important Hindu Tantric text, highlights the importance of the body:

“Without the body, how can the [highest] human goal be reached? Therefore, having acquired a bodily abode, one should perform meritorious actions. (I.18)

Among the 840,000 types of embodied beings, the knowledge of Reality cannot be acquired except through a human [body]. (I.14)”

(Continued tomorrow with Hatha Yoga, Sex Rituals and Tantra’s Shadow)