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What Is Tantra?

Updated: Dec 20, 2021



For most people in the West, when they hear the word ‘Tantra’, it is strongly associated with sex. However, this is a major misconception, as many Tantric teachings do not concern sexuality at all. Tantra is a heart-centered energetic path to enlightenment. It is a science that works with energy of all types and brings a devotional element to the practice to harmonize and balance the divine energies within, leading to enlightenment. Yes, there is a small branch which includes tools to balance sexual energies, but there is much more to Tantra than that. So, why has such a comprehensive spiritual system been diminished and stereotyped to be all about sex in the West? The reason is largely because Tantra was introduced by Western travelers who went to India, and not by the Tantric sages (and we all know that sex sells in the material world). So, what is Tantra? Tantra is a holistic approach to the study of the universal from the point of view of the individual. In other words, Tantra studies the tree of life as a whole without limiting itself to any single branch of the tree. Instead of separating the different areas, Tantra draws from all the sciences (astrology, numerology, physiognomy, physics, alchemy, Ayurveda, psychology, mathematics, etc.) and weaves them together in a beautiful harmony to promote the evolution of individual consciousness. It is an ancient practical system based on the experiences of Tantric sages. As stated in the Kashika Vritti, “Tantra is that knowledge which expands mind, body, and consciousness”.


Mantra (energetic sound postures for the mind), yantra (visual tools that serve as centering devices or represent the energy pattern of a deity), puja (ritual), and Kundalini are all devotional practices in Tantra used to develop the spiritual body and transcend the five elements. Tantra is about the magical aspect of the universe; that which is beyond the senses and beyond our understanding. It is a devotional and disciplined practice that embraces all aspects of life as expressions of the divine. Tantra is the science of working with energy: first directing it to function properly and then transforming that energy into spiritual energy, so that the experience of the Self can happen.


The goal of yoga is union with the Self, and at the gross level, to bring union to the two hemispheres of the brain. The main centers of consciousness in human beings are found in the upper brain and cerebrospinal fluid. Through the practices of Tantra Yoga, a practitioner brings balance to the two brains: the upper brain (conscious mind) and the lower brain (subconscious mind) and the left and right hemispheres. The cerebrospinal system controls the functioning of the entire human body. The chakras (psychic centers) and Nadis (channels of energy) are activated through this system to awaken Kundalini, the dormant energy at the base of the spine. There are gross channels of subtle energy (nerves, muscles, acupuncture meridians) and there are subtle Nadis (also called Yoga Nadis), which are invisible energy channels of manas (mind) and chitta (feeling self or being). Pranic energy is carried through both subtle and gross Nadis, which are linked to the chakras and influence our nervous systems. Tantra views the basis of desire to be completely physical. That is, our sense organs create desire due to attachment to sensory input. Tantra accepts desire as the motivating force behind the universe and aims to work with energy to fulfill that desire (yes, even the desire to be desireless). Desires are directly related to the six chakras, or psychic centers. When this energy is awakened, it pierces through all the chakras, leading to spiritual awakening. The subconscious mind is then further cleared through the process of moving from the sixth chakra to the seventh chakra in Samadhi. The seventh chakra is beyond desire (beyond the elements) and is the seat of the Self.


Energy comes in many forms (i.e., subconscious emotion) and is the driving force of our conscious emotions, actions, thoughts, and desires. Tantra is related to Shakti (pure energy), while yoga (union) is related to Shiva (pure consciousness). In yoga (union with pure consciousness), there is no doership. When you meet the Self in Samadhi and experience union, peace, and bliss, you are with Shiva. All other practices in yoga (asana, pranayama, mantra, yantra, ritual) are Tantra because you are working with energy to bring balance to the energy. By harmonizing the energy, we can let go and reach Samadhi and meet the Self. This is the goal of yoga.


Tantra is not always an easy area for aspirants and yoga teachers to talk about. This is mostly because Tantra has a layer of mystery to it, as it involves working with the spirit world, which is a world beyond our senses. However, there are many reasons why more teachers should be talking about it- because the spirit world is a reality that affects our energies. If we can understand how to bring balance and positivity to our energy, we can lead more peaceful lives.


The physical sciences believe mind to be a by-product of matter, whereas spiritual sciences believe mind precedes matter. Most spiritual people believe in reincarnation, meaning that the soul, upon death of the body, comes back to earth in another body or form. Before coming back to take birth in another body, these spirits vibrate in the astral plane. In understanding how the spirit world works, we have to consider that our mind is not really our mind, but rather part of a common mind field (astral/celestial plane). If you see yourself as the Self, then the mind is not your mind. This is a very basic understanding in yoga. Thoughts and feelings are vibrations of energy that vibrate in the common mind field. Spirits also vibrate in this common mind field and influence our thoughts and feelings through the Nadis. In this way, we are all influencing each other’s thoughts and feelings. Some of these spirits are happy, balanced, and peaceful, while others aren’t (yes, just like people). Many of these spirits are like us, they’ve just left their bodies. Have you ever been around someone who is miserable and then later you find yourself feeling miserable? That’s because like attracts like. If you are feeling unhappy, you are vibrating in the common mind field with this energy. Think of this energy as a sad song: if spirits are feeling unhappy, they will join your sad song. In that way, the beings from the spirit world are more influential than those in the physical form. They are purely emotional in nature, as they operate in a subconscious way. If you are feeling angry and anger becomes a habitual state, then that connection with that spirit/energy will become strong. You will want to let it go, but it becomes a challenge because another energy/spirit attaches to your energy, and the energy becomes amplified. But when you can create energy that resonates peace and happiness, you will advance in your yoga practice, spiritual understanding, and meditation.


Tantra yoga is about creating good energy (spiritual beings) around you. This may be a difficult concept to grasp, as it is easy to believe “I am in charge on the outside” and hard to accept that we are not alone and have influences outside of the physical world. Tantra is about creating the right energy around you for whatever purpose. Tantra can be used for the purpose of yoga (peace, love, union) but it can also be used in a different way: making food, to become wealthier, grow a garden, to fulfill whatever desire.


So, how do we attract good energy/spirits around us? Lighting a beeswax candle or an oil lamp and having water around are all good ways to attract positive energy. Similarly, burning incense or using essential oils brings good energy. Spiritual beings are more emotional and less conscious, so when we give them alluring scents, they have no choice but to respond to that. Also, when you burn incense in the presence of a negative energy/spirit, they will change their mood or leave (it’s a win-win). When meditating, it is important to consider which direction you are facing so that you can attract good energy. Because of the electromagnetic field of the earth and its influence on our energies, you should never face south when meditating (south=unhappy energy). Only meditate facing east/west and north. Another way to bring positive energy around you is through mantra. You can use mantras in your meditation and in your life to attract certain energies. Tantra is all about using energy and attracting certain energy to resolve the blockages inside of us.


Through Tantra Yoga, we can bring the spiritual world and the material world into one. We can unlock our true nature through the devotional practices in Tantra and expand awareness in all states of consciousness. The ancient practices of Tantra enable us to go beyond our limited programming when we come across great difficulties in life. Tantra helps us identify the factors that influence our thoughts and feelings and teaches us to transcend the obstacles to our evolution of individual consciousness.


References:

“Tools For Tantra” by Harish Johari

“Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation” by Harish Johari

“Tantra In Bhakti Yoga” by Peter Marchand:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKEI9ch_KXM


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