"In Tantra the sacred and the mundane are held together in a harmonious balance. Worldly success and spiritual development go hand in hand. It is a joy-driven path. It is a path of active participation in life."
The burgeoning yoga industry is always looking for the next trend. Both teachers and students love doing the latest in yoga it seems. We are consumers in the west and consuming yoga is something we do very well! My critique of this approach is that it takes us so far from the tradition of yoga. What we now refer to as "yoga" has very little basis in either the principles or the philosophy of the tradition itself. Effectively it's become all too often a fancy and trendy approach to a workout. If that works for you, great!
As a self-identified yoga purist I do balk at all the trends. Having said that, I'm going to go out on a limb and exercise a siddhi (supernatural power) that I've developed (kidding!) from years of practice and identify a future trend: Tantra.
Some of us in the West may be familiar with tantra. The term is mostly used within a sexual context to depict a way of having sex where the external release of an orgasm is converted to an internal release of "spiritual" energy. In my view a healthy approach to sexual expression is an integral part of the spiritual journey and our personal development but how unfortunate that this is our understanding of tantra.
Conversely, today in the East tantra is often associated with black magic and is used by people who are seeking quick fixes through magic for everyday problems of life by paying their local tantric to cast a spell, for example.
If we go back to the tantric teachings as shared by its masters and begin the work of understanding the tantric worldview we realize that neither of the previous representations is a true reflection of tantra.
By no means have I mastered the teachings of tantra but over the last few years I've immersed myself in them. What I can share with you, however brief and limited, will perhaps explain my foretelling of its popularization (exploitation?) soon.
What is tantra?
The word tantra has a few definitions:
- to weave and reweave
- to expand
- to prosper
As a worldview tantra can be summed up in this statement: "In applying the wisdom of tantra in our daily life it can help us attain freedom here in this world, not from the world." For me tantra is a journey of using energy (pranic forces) in a way to awaken the wholeness that is within us. It is about re-connecting with nature and our natural rhythms. It is about weaving the experiences of our lives together to make meaning of who we really are - not who we think we are. It is about growth and expanding beyond our own limited views of self and the world. The power of freedom through tantra results in a transcending of right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice, heaven and hell.
How does one practice tantra?
The teachings are shared from teacher to student without a lot of fanfare and public promotion. Traditionally, the techniques are shared with initiates who have used their yoga and life practices to cleanse and purify the mind and body. An ill-prepared mind and body should not be subjected to advanced practices.
The teachings can be complicated in that there are many techniques - perhaps as many techniques as there are unique individuals. If you have a predilection for the simplicity of Zen Buddhism, this may not be your cup'o tea. There are three main paths - the right hand path (Samaya), the left hand path (Kaula) and the middle path (Mishra). The right is a primarily inward-focused devotional approach requiring you to know yourself at every level. The left is more about external rituals and practices that may seem absurd and even terrifying to the untrained eye. In the middle we have a intermingling of the two which is a more practical approach for us today, combining the yogic (internal) with the external objects. It is this path, Mishra, from which my teachers hail.
Regardless of the path, the tantric worldview is splendid: To grow, to expand, to prosper by weaving and reweaving , integrating and reintegrating, and balancing all aspects of life in a manner with is not harmful. To expand tantrics say one must be healthy and strong, and have stamina, willpower and determination that cannot be suppressed by anyone or anything.
As a practitioner and teacher of yoga I bring elements of tantra into my teaching. Yoga techniques can be used in a way that make them more tantric in nature simply by how they are used. More specific tantric techniques can be layered into a yoga practice to elevate it to an entirely different level.
Like anything in yoga it takes time to master the simplest of tantric techniques, so patience is key. The rewards are many.
I've already heard of brand-name yoga teachers beginning the tantric chapter of their careers using gimmicks like snakes and other external rituals to wow their adoring followers. It will be interesting to see how these ancient teachings get packaged and commodified in the future. I have no doubt that it will get silly, we only need to look at some of the business of yoga to see what can happen.