The Tantric Tradition

Tantra: “Non-Vedic beliefs and practices that emphasized the existence in man of divine powers that could be activated and experienced by means of special spiritual procedures.” [HRT, 112]

Tantric Practice
Three types of Tantric practice (sadhana) corresponding to the three gunas:
  • sattva (purity/goodness): knowledge
  • rajas (passion): action
  • tamas (darkness/inertia): bhakti

I. Kundalini Yoga
Appropriate only for the “divine” or “godlike” (divya) man
in whom the quality of sattva (“purity”) predominates.

According to Tantric teachings, the place to discover these [divine] powers is the body, within which are contained all realities….The model developed in Tantric yoga locates the bija-mantras [“seed mantras” representing “the minimal sound form of a given entity”] in six primary centers called cakras or “circles” situated from the base of the spinal column upward to the center of the forehead. Each of these has the form of a lotus with a certain number of petals, and each is the locus of certain mantras, colors, shapes, symbols and gods. The cakras are connected by a conduit or artery called the Susumna running from the base cakra in turn. Coiled around the Susumna at the base is the Serpent Power,” Kundalini, energy or power in the form of a serpent whose head blocks the entrance to the Susumna….
     In the normal condition of the body, bodily energy circulates through channels called nadi, the most important of which are the Susumna and the ida and pingala on the left and right sides of the Susumna.

The Susumna, however, is blocked by the Kundalini and the energies cannot reach the cakras. To activate the cakras one must first activate the Kundalini. This is done by yogic breath control which stops the energies from circulating through the ida and pingala and concentrates them on the Kundalini, “wakening” the sleeping power and sending it up the Susumna to activate the cakras in turn. As the Kundalini, blazing hot, rises up the Susumna, it draws energy and life upward with it, leaving the body behind it cold and lifeless. The final goal is to pass through all the cakras to the thousand-petaled lotus at the end of the Susumna, where Kundalini is united with Siva. Having activated the cakras and made the body a cosmic body, the body and the cosmos are at this point, and for this moment, resolved into the primal oneness.
     What does all this mean? In the Tantric view, Siva is passive, pure intelligence, while Sakti is the active female power of Siva who brings about the creation of the phenomenal world....Tantra makes the Brahmanical cosmology tangible, identifying the human body with the cosmos so that the body can be used as an instrument to restore the original oneness.....The Tantric yogin rouses Sakti and brings her back into union with Siva, bringing back with her all that has been created....The final union of Sakti with Siva is, for the person who experiences it, an actual resolution of the duality that constitutes the phenomenal world. [HRT, 127-8]

Crown Chakra
- pineal gland - illumination - White Light

Brow Chakra - pituitary gland - Third Eye - violet

Throat Chakra
- thyroid gland - creativity - silverish

Heart Chakra - heart and thymus gland - compassion - center point - blue

Solar plexus Chakra - liver - feelings, emotions - red/blue/green

Navel Chakra - spleen - fear - red, blue or green

Root Chakra - prostrate/uterus - sex, aggression, animal instinct - red

II. Cakra-Puja (Circle-worship)

Appropriate for the “heroic” man (vira) in whom
the quality of rajas (passion) predominates.

Cakra-puja practice utilizes five elements:
   •  madya (wine)
   •  mamsa (meat)
   •  matsya (fish)
   •  mudra (parched grain)
   •  maithuna (sexual intercourse)

The Brahmanical approach to purification is prohibition: “the five m’s” are dangerous, so they are forbidden. This is the approach also in the orthodox yoga of Patanjali, which begins with vows of continence, purity, and austerity and goes on to a withdrawal of the senses and elimination of sense-contact with the world. Tantra, however, is the religion for the Kali Yuga when men’s self-discipline is weak. It advocates not the denial or suppression of natural qualities, including sexual impulses, but their use as ritual means. This is the sahaja-yana, the “natural way,” suitable to the Kali Yuga. Annihilation of sexual impulses in particular is considered by Tantrics as unnatural and impossible; the wise approach, the easy way, is to transform them by ritual means and use them to gain release. [HRT, 129]
Cakra-puja is anything but an orgy. It is a difficult religious ritual requiring long training, and has as its purpose not the free gratification of desires but their redirection into worship. The worshipers sit in a circle, men and women alternately, with each man’s female partner seated on his left (the position of goddesses in relation to gods). The leader of the ritual sits in the center with his female partner, his Sakti. The wine and food are consumed first, with recitation of mantras to establish the Sakti nature of the elements consumed. The elements viewed ignorantly as wine, meat, and so on are dangerous, but the elements as Sakti are pure. So too with the female partner in sexual intercourse, the final stage in the ritual. Mantras are recited to establish the female partner as Devi. This process, called aropa, “attributing,” is crucial to the ritual, for if the partner is not recognized totally as Devi the male is performing an impure act. Once the identity is established, the male worships the female as Devi, performing puja to her as he would to the Goddess present in an image. Sexual intercourse with his partner is then the culminating act of devotion, the union of the worshiper with the divine Power. [HRT, 130]

III. Temple Worship
Appropriate for the person of “animal” (pasu) nature,
who possesses an abundance of tamas (darkness/inertia).

Passing through the “feet” of God, worshipers enter the invisible sheath of God’s body inside the outer wall….The one, three, or five temple walls enclosing the linga’s inner sanctum signify the sheaths of the yogi’s body that his consciousness had moved through when it made its upward journey to rest in a region corresponding to the place above his nose and between his eyes.  That entranced consciousness in the yogi’s forehead corresponds to the temple’s inner sanctum or “womb,” and the Lord Siva dwells inside both.
     The “womb” brings us to the One before anything existed.  The trope explaining the One is a king whose queen give birth to his realm and sovereignty by gestating a son that is a “rebirth” of both the father and the mother.  In his formless essence, god the One is thought of as androgynous, like a king and queen enthroned as a unified pair.  As that formless One, he is pure consciousness, she is primordial matter; he is intention, she is enactment; he is resolve, she is victory.  The Goddess is Siva’s energy-that-is-grace (arul-sakti), the Sakti who, when he wills it, transforms the androgynous One into a mode that is both with and without form, represented by the linga standing in the yoni.  The androgynous linga-yoni inside the temple’s “womb,” resembling a fetus inside the uterus, is a transformation of both king and queen.  That square and dark inner sanctum called the “house of the embryo” (garbhagrha) or “womb” is liturgically infused with Siva’s Sakti, which is why only the pure may enter it.
     Once the One has been transformed into the primordial parents, they interact to give birth to themselves over and over in multiple forms, becoming in the process time and space and all the worlds.  This is the “emission” or “creation” of the universe.  Architecturally, the temple represents that process by the way manifold icons and walls appear to unfold from the “womb” outward to the outer wall and the gateway, like an artist sketching the yogi’s body by beginning from his head and measuring down to his feet.
     Returning to the trope of the palace, when worshipers have had their audience and walk away from the throne room and pass out through the palace gateway, they walk through the emanation of the universe.  Likewise, when they walk into the palace toward the throne room, they symbolically walk through the reabsorption of the universe into the primordial parents residing in the throne room.  Their walking inward and outward, moreover, corresponds to the movement of the yogi from waking consciousness into entranced consciousness and then out of it again. [Religions of India in Practice, 306-7]