Tantra Yoga: Expanding into bliss
Tantra Yoga is a much more complex subject than many of us realize. For most westerners, the first word that comes to mind when they hear Tantra is “sex”. Though ritual sexual practice is employed in the “left handed” school of Tantra, it makes up a small part of a much larger and varied practice. The “right handed” path of Tantra is actually a celibate tradition.
Two of the most common English translations of the word Tantra are “weaving,” in the sense of unifying many contradictory aspects of the self into one harmonious whole; and “expansion,” in the sense that as this unity is achieved, we can grow and expand into joy.
Tantra originated in India around 5000 B.C. through the worship of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort, the goddess Shakti. Shiva represents the embodiment of pure consciousness in its most ecstatic state, and Shakti as the embodiment of pure energy. The Hindus believed that by uniting both spiritually and sexually with Shiva, Shakti gave form to his spirit and created the universe. Tantra’s origins are that of a rebellion against the repressive, moralistic codes of the Brahmins, the Hindu priesthood, particularly the belief that sexuality must be denied in order to attain enlightenment. By contrast, Tantra views the creation of the world as an erotic act of love.
Tantra has also influenced many esoteric schools of Buddhism, in addition to Hinduism. It has also influenced the Sikh, Bon and Jain religious traditions. It even influenced Western religious history through the ecstatic cult of the Greek god Dionysius around 2000 BC.
Tantric Yoga has also greatly influenced most of our knowledge of Yoga and the subtle body. The practices of mantra (chanting) asana (yoga postures), breath-regulation (pranayama), mental (mantric) fixation (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and mudra, all have their origins in Tantra. The subtle body (sukshma sharira) with its energy centers (chakras, adharas, etc) and channels (nadis), as well as the phenomenon of Kundalini Shakti, are just some of the tenets of Tantra Yoga. Some of these practices have roots in other sacred texts, such as the Hindu Upanishads and the Yoga Sutra as well; but, they were greatly expanded upon through the development of Tantra.
In Buddhism, Tantra had a major influence on the Vajrayana practices. According to the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master Lama Thubten Yeshe, “each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.”
Where many mainstream traditions and religious beliefs see the world as a trap or illusion, and carry an attitude of distrust toward the body and its capacity to experience pleasure, Tantra insists that the world is the manifestation of divinity, and all experience has the potential to help us reach enlightenment. Rather than regard embodied life as a defilement to be purified, Tantra maintains that embodiment is a blessing and a necessary vehicle for enlightenment.
A tantric path can be explored either alone, or with a partner. Because of the wide range of communities and practices covered by the term “Tantra” it can be challenging to find suitable teachers and begin a regular practice. Many Tantric teachers maintain the importance of seeking out a guru, or master teacher, and taking plenty of time to connect with the subtle body in non-sexual ways before beginning to work with Kundalini energy.
Rod Stryker, a teacher of right-hand Tantra, who studied with Tantra master Yogiraj Man Finger and is also an initiate in the tradition of Tantric master Sri Vidya, has two suggestions of good questions to contemplate when seeking a master to study from:
1) To what extent do the teachings live within the teacher and in their relationships?
2) To what extent do the teachings live in the lives of this teacher’s students?
1. Anand, Margot. The art of Sexual Ecstasy. Penguin. New York, 1989.