I have spoken on many aspects and various practices — from Kriya Yoga to Self-Inquiry techniques… from effort to grace… from the Absolute to the wrath of Kali… from affirming to burning.
The reason is simple. One particular teaching or technique cannot be prescribed to everyone. Each seeker is different — with differing temperaments, inclinations and approaches that suit them in their own unique manner.
So today I am going to talk about Tantra. The term ‘Tantra’ often sends a sense of uncomfortable energy into the Hearts of many seekers, particularly traditional Advaitins and Yogis who, because of a particular mindset, believe that this form of practice is somehow ‘impure’ or ‘unholy’ as compared to Inquiry and Raja Yoga.
Trust me, I know that feeling. And I do not blame them as we often associate Tantra as a playground for free sex. This is a common misconception.
Many of the revered saints of India were Tantra practitioners — Shri Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Shivananda, and Nityananda.
Adi Shankara himself was not only the most famous Advaitic Guru, but also one of the most important Tantric teachers. His great poem to the Goddess, Soundarya Lahiri (Waves of Beauty), remains perhaps the most important Tantric text that is used for Sri Chakra (also called Sri Yantra) worship.
There are many books on Tantra which describe it in greater detail as so much has been written about it. My purpose is not to go into too much detail from an academic point of view, or go into detailed philosophic interpretations. Instead, I would like to bring out the real essence of real Tantra by presenting the practical aspects through the light of my own personal practice and experience. I am simply writing down my own personal experience here.
Most spiritual paths have a central ideology… system… approach… or way of practice… which forms the basic theme of its teaching.
Raja Yoga — the classical approach based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali — talks about breath control with some moral and ethical restraints as the main tenet.
While Self-Inquiry (direct path) — through the approach of ‘Neti Neti’ — purely emphasizes sole abidance in the subjective awareness of ‘I’.
Because these approaches have a theme or an ideology, they become fixated and attach some boundaries to themselves. They get trapped inside a box. Both of these approaches consider the world to be an ‘illusion’ and ‘Maya’, and something that one needs to reject and be careful about so that one doesn’t get caught up with the world. One can’t deny that there is an element of escapism in these approaches.
Tantra, on the other hand, has no fixed theme or ideology. It has no problem being inside a box, outside of the box, or even getting rid of the box. That is its beauty. It has the symphony of all paths, and of life itself. It denies nothing.
If I were to give a one word description of Tantra, I would say ‘Inclusiveness’, and end it there.
Tantra includes everything — the practices of Raja Yoga, Bhakti and Inquiry, and the experiences from them. All merge into one. Mantras, yantras, rituals, pranayamas, bhakti, energies, worship of deities, chakras, etc. all form part of Tantra.
It also does not deny this world, the body, the mind, the senses — nor does it deny any form of practice or deny your experience.
For Tantra there is only one rule ‘Experience and Embrace’.
If anything is in your experience, then it is real, and on becoming aware of it, this becomes Tantra.
For Tantra, every experience (human, spiritual, or in any dimension) is valid. There is no room for suppression. No escape from anything.
Tantra is about being fearless, as everything is an expression of the SELF Itself that needs to be embodied to reach real happiness. In spite of Tantra embracing all the paths within itself, there are some remarkable principles that separates it from these paths.
1) The Goal is an Ever Present, Ever Available Companion
Tantra practitioners are not goal oriented, they are Rasa (juice) oriented. These are teachings for those who are lovers of passion, sweetness, wetness, aliveness, spontaneity and beauty. In Advaita or Yoga, the bliss is in attaining a goal — stillness, bliss or joy.
In Tantra, bliss is NOT something that one needs to wait for. It is immediate and never delayed.
They are like honey bees. They seek flowers and find the sweetness of honey in them, collecting them and accumulating them within themselves — ‘the hives of SELF’ — full of juice and sweetness, and then move again looking for the next flower. So bliss is always their companion.
Similarly, Tantra practitioners — due to the inclusiveness of all paths, practices and teachings, and also of the relationships they develop in the world — find sweetness in everything they connect with. They find their ‘honey’ through the senses — and even beyond the senses.
While in stillness, they are in bliss — and in movement too. So ‘bliss and joy’ is their constant companion. Even in the element of seeking, there is joy. That is the beauty of Tantra.
2) Both Subject and Object are Equally Important
Even though Tantra recognizes the non-dual state of awareness as the final state, it is not obsessed about the SELF alone.
In Tantra the object is as important as the subject — the flower is as important as the hive (the SELF). The Tantra practitioner (the ‘bee’) does not compromise the flower for the hive, for he knows that the hive exists because of the flower, and that the purpose of the flower is to help build the hive. One cannot exist without the other. It believes that being tied down to the subject is no different than being identified with the objects.
An object without the SELF is useless, and the SELF without objects is juiceless. This is the essence of Tantra.
So in Tantra, ecstasy and joy is a constant companion, where both the SELF and the object co-exist together in order to fulfill your Divine destiny of being in joy and bliss.
3) Attached to Neither Subject nor Object
A worldly man attempts to find his ‘centre’ in objects, the wise man in the SELF — but a Tantra practitioner believes in MOVEMENT.
What is most prominent for him is the dance… the swing (movement) from subject to object to subject and so on. Even though both the SELF and object are equally important, the Tantra practitioner is not attached to either of them.
He stays in the middle and moves from one to the other — much like a honey bee moves the honey from the flowers into the hive, stays there for sometime, and then moves again looking for the honey.
The journey is more important than the destination.
He is ruled by aliveness, spontaneity and the joy of travel.
He is the only one who can begin a journey again and again… even after reaching the goal.
It is like a pendulum. Swaying back and forth, and at the end of every swing there is complete stillness. In Tantra you are allowed to halt or pause… but never to stay in one place because the belief is that with momentum, your reach even greater heights.
That is why a Tantra practitioner is the most adaptable of all practitioners. Like a bee, he can be happy alone or together (building and sharing hives of joy with others).
Osho once said: “…Tantra is indulgence with awareness.” (unlike worldly indulgence, to differentiate). I do not know whether this is so, or not. It could be, or it may not be. It depends.
In my experience, the question of ‘indulgence’ becomes quite unimportant in Tantra as ‘indulgence’ would be a position that is taken towards an object.
In Tantra, both the SELF and the object lose significance over Rasa. There could be abstinence, and yet still be Tantra in my opinion because the main focus is not on indulgence, or identification, but on the purpose, the juiciness that is attained.
One could abstain and yet derive the juiciness from the object through Tantra. Thirst has a unique juicy feeling too. This principle holds true in all situations, whether in relationship with your practice, or with the world, or with the SELF.
Real Tantra is not about forgetting the SELF and indulging in objects, or vice versa, but about the juiciness that connects both.
It becomes clear that the Tantra practitioner approaches his relationship with every object as an opportunity to fall back into the SELF, and takes every delight to witness the SELF reflected in his beloved object.
4) The One Object that Halts All Seeking
You have heard about the SELF — where all seeking stops. But have you ever heard about an object that puts an end to all seeking? This is only possible in Tantra. And this is where Tantra meets its own end too.
A question that may arise when I talk about the bees and the relationship they have with flowers is: “Does Tantra suggest that we keep moving from one object to another in search of Rasa (juice), much like the bees move from one flower to another?”
This is why we have so many Masters, so many practices, so many relationships to choose from. But this comes to an end too. Through Grace, you can come across one such practice, one such Master, one such beloved or lover, from whom you can derive such juiciness, such variety, such quality, such flavor, that seeking other objects will become unnecessary.
The Kula Teaching: The Heart’s Secret Teaching states (verse 2.80):
“The followers of the Heart, knowers of the essence, do not consider other religion, just as bees who serve themselves the blossom of the coral tree don’t seek to obtain other flowers.”
When the ‘coral tree’ is known, such intimacy will be formed that it will no longer be possible to maintain a SELF apart from it. That one ‘coral tree’ could be your lover, your wife, your husband, your teacher, or your practice. The walls of separation between the two will be torn down and all will merge as ONE.
There will not be any separate ‘hive of the SELF’, nor the flower… not even the Rasa. There will exist only the blissful buzz of BEEing.