The Tantric tradition is an ancient tradition spanning well over two millenia which thrived in Kashmir, India, Tibet, and in China (in its taoist variant). It is closely connected with the Yoga tradition. The West discovered Tantra in the 1960s. However, it is a tradition that has, in general, been quite distorted and misunderstood. Key ancient sacred texts such as Vijnana Bhairava Tantra are little known compared to classics of yoga philosophy such as Patanjali´s Yoga Sutras. Few contemporary books on Tantra reflect the profundity of these ancient teachings, with the notable exception of some works by Osho, Georg Feuerstein, Eric Baret, and the commentaries on key ancient tantric texts by Jaideva Singh.
We can distinguish two fundamental paths or streams in spiritual traditions. The path of negation (ascesis) and the path of affirmation. Monastic and ascetic traditions belong to the former whereas the tantric tradition (including much of Yoga) belongs to the latter. The “via negativa” is a largely inaccessible path for people in the modern world and practically impossible to pursue without renouncing family life and work. The “via positiva” of Tantra is much more manageable because it doesn´t involve renouncing a life in society. Everything can be part of the path, yet this inclusiveness is not as easy as it sounds since it implies living with awareness and taking individual responsibility.
The Sanskrit word “tantra” means “continuity”, to “stretch”, and to “expand”. For a person on a tantric path, the everyday world is the ideal context for expanding one´s consciousness and experiencing plenitude. The tantric attitude is like the attitude of a child strolling through an enchanting flower garden, savoring and enjoying the sensual display of nature, yet without attachment. The experience of exaltation and plenitude that almost all of us have had as children is the “taste” that characterizes the tantric path. We need to reclaim our ability to See, to Feel, to Touch, to Hear, and to be Present. Above all, we need to reclaim our ability to feel through the heart, and to reclaim simplicity, innocence, and a natural creativity undistorted by neurotic tendencies.
There is nothing to renounce on the tantric path, not even desires and attachments. The act of renouncing is seen as a form of repression that ultimately only amplifies desires and attachments. According to Tantra, the best way to manage and ultimately free ourselves of our habitual mental/emotional patterns that create suffering is simply to witness them with acute awareness instead of repressing them with a judgmental attitude. All the troublesome mental/emotional patterns essentially have to do with either attachment (grasping) or aversion (actually the desire to avoid suffering).Tantra proposes living fully but in a spirit of equanimity, which is not to be confused with an aloof detachment that is the very antithesis of the tantric attitude of passionate presence.
The Tantric path exhorts us to enjoy the fullness of life but with a spacious sense of freedom and inner poise that is unaffected by the constant flux between attachment and aversion, hope and fear. To be trapped in this flux is what Buddhism calls “samsara”. The antidotes are the practice of witnessing all mental/emotional/sensorial arisings, cultivating mental silence, as well as an expansive, flowing Presence free from grasping and aversion. In Tantra, desire is ultimately seen as an expression of passion as pure creative energy. When there is no grasping, there is only the state of creative passionate presence, the very “flavor” of Tantra.
Tantra has always had its source and inspiration in the feminine dimension of the Divine. All of creation is contemplated as an expression of the Divine Feminine, referred to in Yoga and Tantra as Shakti. All creativity and the very power to create is seen as an expression of the energy (power), wisdom, love and grace of Shakti in her different aspects. It is not by chance that the ancient cultures in which Tantra thrived, such as that of Kashmir, were matriarchal cultures. In these cultures, the adepts who transmitted the teachings were frequently women, known as “tantricas”.
The practices of Tantra Yoga work to harmonize and purify the different levels of our being (physical, energetic, mental, spiritual) and this also involves a process of transmutation that brings about qualitative changes in the psychoenergetic structure, including mind and the emotions. The essential tool we work with is something that we all have, namely consciousness-energy. Although there is an enormous range of practices, authentic tantric teachers always take into account the needs of the individual student, and practice is seen as a creative unfolding rather than a rigid orthodoxy. Tantra Yoga includes lesser known Hatha Yoga practices such as Chakra Shuddhi (practices for awakening and harmonizing the chakras, or psychoenergetic centers) and Tattwa Shuddhi (harmonizing the five elements of manifestation of which we are made). Kundalini Yoga is a key dimension of Tantra Yoga and involves preparing our psychoenergetic structure for the gradual activation of the “serpent power”, Kundalini Shakti, a creative cosmic energy which in most people is in a fairly dormant state. The aim of Kundalini Yoga is to bring us back to our Original Unity through the union of Shiva (pure consciousness) and Shakti within us. Finally, Mahavidya Yoga is the dimension of Tantra Yoga that, through mantra, meditation and devotional practices (Bhakti Yoga), brings us into vibrational resonance with the various beneficial manifestations of Shakti, the Divine feminine.
The tantric path is, in summary, both ancient but at the same time very contemporary in its practical focus on the art of living . It is said that difficult and chaotic times like ours (the present epoch is referred to in Yoga as Kali Yuga, the Age of Chaos) require a potent spiritual medicine. Tantra is truly a potent medicine for the ills of our time: fragmentation, alienation, aggression, neurosis, as well as affective and sexual disorders, amongst others. Let us be thankful, therefore, that this millenary tradition is still there to nourish and inspire humanity in its age-old spiritual quest.