What is Tantra?
(My commentary on Linda-Sama Karl’s blog, “What is Tantra” at http://lindasyoga.blogspot.com/)
These days Tantra means anything you want it to. In the West, it’s normally a marketing tag for something to do with new age sexuality, or at best, new age psychology. In India, at it’s worst, it is thought of as black magic. Yoga, as practiced in the West, has nothing to do with Tantra as it is practiced in its high and low forms in India. At it’s best, Tantra is the teaching that Shiva gives to Parvati regarding knowledge and immortality. The practice of this involves the connection of Sacred Speech with Knowledge and the corresponding withdrawal from the illusory perception of the world.
Defining Tantra etymologically only tells us about our own thinking, not something as esoteric as Tantra. Etymology lacks context. Imagine never seeing or hearing of “hamburger,” and trying to understand what it is by breaking down the word, itself. Is it someone from Hamburg? or something to do with a town (burg) and pigs (ham), or are we talking about ham as in hamlet and all that implies? And we can take this much further. By the time it becomes a Big Mac, and we try to understand these words without context, we couldn’t be more lost. Experience gives context, and Authority articulates this.
Tantra is scary! It is a very sophisticated, complex approach to self-knowledge that requires an enormous commitment and practice. It is also intimately connected with Indian culture, which is yet another context that cannot be ignored.
Sacred Speech is the basis for Tantra. Speech has been examined, described, and commented upon for 1000’s of years in India. It was discovered in the West a couple of hundred years ago. It has been common in India, for millenia, to analyze Speech into its irreducible elements and use words to connect with the world. We know nothing about this in the West, and yet, before even understanding the basics of Tantra, we’re ready to represent it, teach it, write about it, & market it. Yes, it’s a powerful word, whatever it means.
I see as much connection between Tantra and Modern Hatha Yoga as I do between hamburgers and Shakespeare. While Tantra does have to do with our physical bodies, it is in the sense of our bodies as a fulcrum between the Macro and Microcosms. The practice is not physical, it’s not about body function, movements, ordinary things, but in identifying its constituent parts in a very conscious and mindful invocation of the personalities of nature, what we call Gods and Goddesses. These are not symbols. These are identifiable marks, signs, flags, and cyphers of nature, Her speech and signatures that cannot be reduced, replaced, or substituted for.
This requires an intimacy not available through belief and philosophy, nor through technique, per se. This is not about interpreting or assigning meaning to feelings. This is not about feeling, but knowledge and power. By Sacred Speech, I am NOT referring to Sanskrit or to mantras. It’s not based on speculation or even rational thinking, but on discipleship. The Tantric Tradition begins when Shiva instructs his consort Parvati, Who now becomes His disciple, in the Art of Immortality. The Tantric Tradition remains to this day, but still in the form of a very rigorous discipleship under the guidance of an Authority. That is Tantra.
Yoga, “connecting,” is about self-knowledge, and since it is “subject” and “object” that are connected, self-knowledge means all knowledge.
There are countless legitimate paths for the pursuit of self-knowledge. Modern paths based on new principles such as science, and alternative thinking and experimentation are completely legitimate and are a response to the context of the times in which we live. Sometimes more so than traditional paths.
There is also value in taking words from other languages and cultures, but when we do, it would serve us well to remember we have something precious, meaning rare in our expressive content and potential knowledge, and even though we may not fully understand the meaning, by changing the meaning we may lose great value, sometimes, forever.
Goddess bless you all!