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Let’s nip this in the bud- no, traditional Tantra isn’t about crazy sex.
What Sting does in his bedroom and what is depicted in lascivious books located in the erotica section are often gross misrepresentations of such a rich and diverse heritage.
Though there are cults of Tantrikas who use intercourse to achieve heightened states of awareness, it is considered highly ritualistic in nature and has nothing to do with sexual pleasure or gratification. Furthermore, this technique is used only among a tiny percentage of this school of thought.
The Tantric scriptures actually teach celibacy for the same reasons their predecessors did – to preserve energy and maintain focus.
But don’t be too disappointed. Tantra, found in Hinduism and Buddhism, is far from boring.
Tantra is an extremely complex (and potentially dangerous) branch of spiritual study that has a “whatever it takes” mentality and an “everything but the kitchen sink” supply of tools and techniques.
Meaning “to weave”, “to expand”, or “thread or cord”, it can also denote, “system, ritual, or doctrine”. A more comprehensive, esoteric interpretation is “that which expands knowledge”.
It is a relatively new movement and was developed to meet the changing spiritual climate during the Middle Ages.
It is said that mankind goes through different eras ranging from pure times of harmony, truth, and purity, all the way to the darkest epochs where people are driven by their basest nature and most selfish instincts.
At a time like this, few people are interested in spirituality and more drastic measures are required. And so Tantra was born!
Tantra teaches that anyone can achieve enlightenment no matter the conditions, and many adepts during that time period were women and those from lower castes. Its developers reworked earlier yogic methods into more forceful versions powerful enough to break people out of their attachment to the world.
These techniques work faster than traditional ones, but involve a higher degree of risk to health and sanity. Goddess, or “Shakti” energy is closely identified with for most of its adherents and developing one’s own personal power is emphasized.
The variety and degree of radicalism within Tantra is vast. Tibetan Buddhism as taught by the Dalai Lama is a form of Tantra, and the “right hand” Hindu branch is highly similar to what is practiced by conservatives.
All the way at the other end of the spectrum is the notorious “left hand” school that includes practices such as black magic, communication with the dead, use of paranormal powers, drinking alcohol, eating meat, human and animal sacrifices, and, yes, ritual sexual practices.
This is the storehouse for the occult practices of India. The Hindu orthodoxy has traditionally been mistrustful of their offshoot and skeptical of its value, even calling it blasphemy. But India is a spiritually tolerant land. Besides, many people were too afraid of Tantric sorcery (white and black) to challenge the method. Many of these practices were driven underground during Britain’s puritanical rule, but have survived nonetheless.
Traditional, orthodox spiritual schools teach that this world is a delusion and life itself is a series of dreamlike mirages.
True Reality, which lies beyond ego consciousness, is a state of never changing wholeness and unending bliss. This is where we belong. But we will never realize this as long as we continue to value the dream state and believe it is real.
Hence, it is best to renounce the world, walk away from its temptations, and focus on what lies within. Likewise, the body is nothing special and this embarrassing lump of dirt could never compare to the glories of the soul trapped within its confines.
Tantrikas, on the other hand, take an entirely different approach.
Rather than seeing heaven and earth as separate, they are considered to be extensions of one another. If our planet was divinely created, earth must be divine as well, and should be treated as such. Indeed, the human body is a microcosm of the universe and the universe in not outside it, but within. Therefore, the whole world is one with the Creator, including the flesh!
This means that earthly activities can also be used as a vehicle for spiritual transcendence.
It is a sort of backwards way of looking at things where throwing oneself into the world achieves release from it. The “yogin” (yogi) can also be a “bhogin” (one who enjoys- in this context, the world and its pleasures).
Now, it’s not that Tantrikas disagree with the fact that this world is not the All-Pervasive Reality. They agree with the others that the earth plane is not our true home and is a distortion through maya (the great illusion). Tantrikas are equally motivated by a longing for emancipation from life’s endless cycles.
Being a Tantric practitioner means juggling the two truths that this world is one dimension of Reality, but is not the final destination.
Within Tantra there are two polarities. One calls for intense structure and includes extreme practices most cultures would label immoral or condemn as sacrilege; the other preaches total spontaneity in which all dogma and ritual is abandoned.
Most schools are somewhere in between. Adepts learn to access and navigate more subtle realms of existence as they work their way towards the emancipated state of nonduality.
They often call upon spirit helpers for assistance and make contact with a patron deity who provides lessons and protection. In a nutshell, much of what Tantrikas engage in could be described as “magic” and can involve mantric recitation, ritual, and incantations.
Because Tantra sees the body as a sacred vessel for the spirit, it is treated with respect, unlike other ascetic traditions.
Spiritual discipline is rigorous and a strong body is essential.
Yoga poses and breathing exercises purify and strengthen the body, and the human energetic system of the chakras and nadis is mapped out so its energies can be manipulated and transformed.
Kundalini yoga is a thoroughly Tantric discipline. Because the body is also considered holy, it is completely acceptable to use it in the previously mentioned ways to accelerate growth as well as in the use of mantra (sacred sound), mudra (hand gestures), and yantra (geometrical diagrams representing the energy of the cosmos).
Embracing a Tantric mindset is embracing everything in the world and choosing to see heaven right here, right now.
Life is divine, and that includes even the silliest, most mundane details.