Kundalini Splendor

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Friday, July 22, 2005

What is Tantra? 

Ivan Granger, on his sacred poetry site http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/Traditions/ShaktaTantra.htm describes tantra in a particularly insightful and lucid way. His description does much to clear up many misconceptions on this complex topic:

Tantra is often thought of in the West as an exotic way to improve one's sex life. This is a tragic oversimplification of a rich and honorable spiritual tradition.

Tantra is a relatively modern development within Yoga and Hindu traditions, having emerged in the Middle Ages in response to what had become excessively patriarchal and world-denying practices in India.

The Tantric masters turned their devotions to the various Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon (Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, etc.). In the spiritual language of Hinduism, when God is conceived of as a male/female duality, the male divinity is pure spirit, inert, while the female aspect is the divine radiance or power (Shakti) through which creation manifests. In other words, all that is perceived or experienced as part of the manifest world is Shakti, the Goddess. One who worships the Goddess, the emanating power of the Divine, is a Shakta.

The Tantric tradition asserts that all of creation, not simply the transcendental, is divine, for everything equally originates from God. Everything can, therefore, be a path back to the divine so long as one does not become attached to the changing world of phenomenon.

As to the sexual aspect of Tantra, it is only practiced by certain schools of Tantra, and even then with a deep philosophical underpinning. Recognizing that sexual passion is one of the strongest forces driving individuals, some Tantric masters reasoned that its power could be harnessed to turn the mind toward God rather than keeping the individual trapped in materiality. Tantric sexual practices involve seeing the Divine manifest in one's mate, sublimating the sensual aspects of sex toward developing internalized spiritual energies, turning sexual union into a loving and energetically charged form of worship and meditation.

Tantrism is particularly concerned with precise awareness of the pathway of subtle energies within the body during meditation and other spiritual practices. What is not widely known is that the notion of the chakra system, with its seven primary energetic centers along the cerebro-spinal axis, comes to us through the tradition of Tantra.

Hatha Yoga, with its elaborate physical exercises, is considered by many scholars to actually be a branch of Tantra. There has also been a very close link between Tantrism and Tibetan Buddhism.

Poets in the Shakta / Tantra (Goddess-oriented) Tradition
Mahendranath Battacharya (1843 - 1908)
Kalidasa (350? - 430?)
Kamalakanta (1769? - 1821?)
Ramakrishna (1836 - 1886)
Ramprasad (1718? - 1775?)
Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902)

Recommended Books
Devoted to the Goddess : The Life and Work of Ramprasad, by Malcolm Mclean
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, by M. (Sri Mahendra Gupta) / Translated by Swami Nikhilananda
Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen - Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess, Translated by Leonard Nathan / Clinton Seely
Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, by Lex Hixon
Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, by Elizabeth U. Harding
Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment, Translated by Lex Hixon
The Poets of the Powers: Freedom, Magic, and Renewal, Translated by Kamil V. Zvelebil
Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott
The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, by Georg Feuerstein

Related Links:
Kali Mandir
Kali temple in California. Several good articles on Kali and Goddess-worship in general.
Shiva Shakti Mandalam
Lots of information on the rich heritage, traditions and philosophy of Tantism. Many Tantric scriptures translated and posted on-line.

(copyright, Ivan Granger)

Thanks, Ivan. I especially liked the sentence "Tantrism is particularly concerned with precise awareness of the pathway of subtle energies within the body during meditation and other spiritual practices." This comment describes my own spiritual practice, which involves little movement or activity of any kind--but simple awareness of what is going on inside, often sensed as blissful play of the energies within. Yet, these sensations of bliss seldom occur (for me) unless I am focused, quiet, and seek connection with the "goddess" (kundalini herself) in devotional meditation. Then, "she" and I become one, united in what feels like a divine union. What enables this sense of union to occur remains a mystery. It is as though an internal switch is turned on to achieve this "higher" state. Once the meditation is finished, I return immediately to a state of "normal" (mundane) consciousness.

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