Is there a definition of tantra?
Many people pretend to know what tantra is. Even more people want to know what tantra is. Most people live tantra without even knowing that they are doing it. Surely there must be some criteria on how to evaluate whether something is tantra or not. This very evaluation process reveals the essence of how we perceive our existence on earth. In the end it all boils down to who we are, where we are and with whom we are. More about this much later.
The very first bridge we have to cross is about which titles we assign to people who busy themselves with tantra. Are they gods and goddesses? Are they teachers and masters? What about calling them therapists and healers? We can only settle this dispute once we know what tantra is. For the interim I’ll call them tantra people which is comical as it touches on the very essence of tantra as tantra is from the people and for the people.
Some esteemed and informed tantra people talk about the system of tantra. Others talk about the tantric lifestyle. I have even heard about the science and the Holy Road of Tantra. It looks like the only thing tantra people agree on is that tantra is a very controversial and in their opinion, a misinterpreted subject. No one seems to be able to present any yardstick for measuring whether something is tantra or not. Tantra people just babble nonstop and utter loads of rubbish that were concocted in the very small minds they try to escape.
There are beautiful illustrated books about tantra poses, about colourful people in exotic locations and then ultimately the blissful expressions on the faces of beautiful nude bodies. There are a mind-boggling number of unpronounceable words and impossible poses thrown at us. This amazing confusion lead people to search for the science that constitutes tantra accurately. This search is an exact copy of the notion that one has to perform science to present proof of the existence of science.
Another road that tantra people make available is the presentation of proof in terms of what they have been taught about tantra from a guru and or teachers and perhaps even more convincing, the metamorphosis that was brought about in their own thinking and behaviour. To be able to make these transformational claims, tantra has to be elevated to the most ancient spiritual heritage of mankind. It has to be emphasised that tantra faced many open challenges but has always emerged victorious, surviving the tests of time and became engrained in history.
Yet another road taken in presenting proof about tantra is to degrade humans, to highlight all the missing parts and dish up the miracle cure as it can improve the structure and quality of the human body and mind and transform the ailing personality of humans. This is quite a sad but very effective way of promoting something far beyond its design and application.
The most spectacular presentation of proof comes in the form of humans versus their minds as the expansion of the frontiers of the human consciousness is correlated with awareness. Some talk about expanding the terrible limitations of the mind and others talk about the control over or gaining consciousness of an unlimited mind. Tantra people take it on themselves to evangelise the world as they believe that there are millions of people who are not at all aware and they do need this specific awareness that tantra brings.
Tantra is a technique that hands people opportunities to become aware of what “is” in their lives. Human instinct carries tantra and not the other way around. Because we know so well and experience human instinct in its crudest form, therefore tantra has a place in our lives. Meditation, yoga and tantra are techniques that offer us opportunities to soften the blow of white-hot instinct that stare us in the face whenever we forget to flow with it. Unless you grasp this notion, nothing will make sense regarding anything spiritual on this earth.
How does tantra connect with meditation?
From the highly evolved individuals who regularly practise various techniques, we receive some scary explanations about the connection between, or the application or the reach of the various techniques. One explanation is that meditation emphasises on the concentration of the mind, the control of the breath and the sensual perceptions, whereas in tantra, the mind is overruled, even left aside as we don’t come into confrontation with the nature of the mind.
Others say that tantra is a combination of two ideas: the expansion of the mind and the liberation of energy. Immediately the question arises; what is the expansion of the mind? Is it an altered form of consciousness? Is it the expansion of the capacity of the mind or even the expansion of brain function? The brain receives stimuli through the nervous system coming from the five senses and categorises or labels it and it can be called the acquisition of knowledge by means of cognition and perception. This is the ordinary function of the human brain and the associated consciousness.
To be able to follow the reasoning pattern about sensory input and associated consciousness one has to take a huge leap in rational thought. It is explained that the sensory flow can be dissociated when the brain, as the seat of processing sensory stimuli and producing consciousness, can become isolated. What is even more confusing is that it is claimed that the brain still maintains cognition, perception and knowledge.
It is further claimed that the mind, slash consciousness is homogeneous but there is this possibility that the whole consciousness is not functioning. It is explained that the sensual stimuli processing aspect of consciousness is in operation but the other areas of consciousness are silent, dormant or inactive.
In this argument the stage is set about how one can activate the silent areas of consciousness. So, it means that when we can do that, then we can experience the homogeneity of consciousness. Through the practice of meditation one can isolate the consciousness and achieve total awareness of the entire mind.
I agree, meditation does hand opportunities to observe the mind. Meditation does hand opportunities to become aware of the observer of the mind. If that is consciousness then I will subscribe to some aspects of the reasoning as it was presented before.
The mind and energy were the two cornerstones of the discussion about tantra that we try to follow. To embrace the energy concept the followers of this reasoning about tantra usually include the concepts of kundalini and chakras. Kundalini yoga is given the task of awakening the higher energies and thereby illuminating the entire consciousness.
We have to stay with their use of the concepts of kundalini and chakras to be able to derive some sense of the connection between meditation, yoga and tantra. It is explained that at the base of the spine is a centre which is known as mooladhara chakra, the seat of kundalini. Mooladhara is the switch for another centre at the top of the spine known as ajna chakra, the monitoring centre. In between these two are four more centres lying parallel to the given areas: swadhisthana (pubic bone), manipura (navel), anahata (sternum) and vishuddhi (throat pit). These six centres are situated along an important channel or nadi in the spinal cord known as sushumna.
Meditation is made out to be an unconscious state of mind. As such, meditation is presented as a static state of life, a process of the total elimination of the mind and consciousness. Tantra is made out to be the dynamic process of meditation as tantra finds the static state unacceptable and needs to inject some life into it.
When we keep listening to these meditation versus tantra advocates, we hear that the purpose of meditation is to awaken, not to eliminate the consciousness and that the mind must follow a process of awakening. A logic outcome of this reasoning is to create dual concepts like “tantric meditation” and “other meditations”.
We have now learned that some people believe the mind should be suppressed to awaken it. Others say that withdrawing the perceptions of the mind will never awaken it as the mind is a hub of continuous activity, a continuous flow of events and experiences.
We are told that a thought is not psychological paraphernalia or a biological reaction but a thought is a resonant wave of energy that constitutes cognition and knowledge. Therefore, in meditation the goal is not to try to eliminate thoughts but to awaken the mind and only that process they call tantra meditation.
To be able to eventually come to some conclusion we have to summarise the current reasoning patterns regarding meditation, yoga and tantra. Consciousness has to expand, consciousness has to keep on flowing through all the networks of the mind, one does not need to enter confrontation with the mind, that tantric meditation and awakening take place in mooladhara chakra, irrespective of what is happening in the mind or thinking. To me it all sounds too confusing to make any sense of it whatsoever. Meditation, yoga and tantra seem to have disappeared from the thought pattern and it looks like we are knee deep into mind gymnastics.
I agree that the mind does oscillate and is verbalised by these ardent tantra students in the following way: thinking about all kinds of things is the nature of the mind. The mind is not composed of purity alone and total purity cannot be the sole component of the mind, just as total evil cannot be. Mind is a composition of sattva (equilibrium), rajas (activity and dynamism) and tamas (inertia). These three qualities frame the nature and the structure of the mind.
The conclusion of the followers of this train of thought is that it will never be possible to extinguish the thoughts and tendencies of the mind and we have to find a different path altogether. It seems the path that is proposed is to have addons, to have meditation but to inject tantra into it. The need for clarity is clear but the path taken doesn’t offer any light at the end of the tunnel. Complexity has once again killed the simplicity of understanding as complexity, very unfortunately, signals higher levels of existence and simplicity still represents all we try to get away from.
How does tantra connect with meditation and yoga?
As we will see in the discussions below, there is a clear understanding of meditation and yoga but tantra becomes a sauce that is poured over the meditation and yoga. It is as if tantra has no standing on its own. If the essence is that tantra follows after meditation and yoga then I can agree. I just find the logical explanations quite contrived. Bear with me as we work through the reasoning.
The objective of so-called tantric meditation is to activate the silent areas of consciousness and requires the practice of a tantra techniques called kriya yoga as it brings about a change in the energy levels in the whole psycho-physiological structure of human beings. So, it is explained that we have tantra that uses meditation and we have tantra that uses yoga. I conclude that there is a symbiosis between meditation, yoga and tantra but the inner workings between them remains foggy and confusing.
We are now coached into finding the real objective, the ultimate purpose of meditation and we are told that it isn’t about acquiring tranquillity, the soothing of tensions, the calming of the nervous system, the lowering of blood pressure or creating a state of relaxation. Should one isolate the consciousness from sense experience, a state called pratyahara is attained, where there is absolute tranquillity and physical and mental relaxation.
It appears that meditation is defined as something that calms you but in order to create awakened energy flow, meditation requires a tantric injection in the form of kriya yoga. The practice of kriya yoga becomes the main spiritual technique in tantra as it is a method in which you activate each and every system, organ and aspect of your existence. This energy is finally named and is called Shakti, the most ancient and the most primal of powers. Yes, once again the essence of understanding is present but clarity lacks miserably.
In ancient spiritual terms we are left with this explanation: in the centre of the spinal column is sushumna, on the right is pingala, and on the left is ida. These nadis or channels are clearly defined in tantra. Ida is the carrier of the mental energy and pingala the carrier of pranic energy. Ida flows through the left nostril, and pingala flows through the right. When you stop both these flows, mooladhara chakra becomes active. Therefore, the practice of pranayama, breath retention or kumbhaka, is of great importance in the awakening process.
According modern writings based on ancient commentaries:
Yoga is the practical aspect of tantra. When you practise your asanas, pranayama, or any other hatha yoga technique, you are practising tantra. All these practices have a direct bearing on the awakening of sushumna nadi. Unless sushumna nadi wakes up, actual meditation will not take place no matter what method you have employed. Even though the mind is active, if you have a technique by which you can send energy waves through sushumna, then the mind will automatically be transcended. You don’t have to control the mind; you have to transcend the mind. That is the key. You have to develop the awareness of another existence, another dimension. Then meditation becomes an ongoing process which occurs spontaneously throughout daily life.
According obvious, practical simplicity based on practicing meditation, yoga and tantra:
All living things have a natural instinct to procreate, to care for what they have procreated and to establish a habitat or group to thrive in. Animals and plants do this in exquisite simplicity and there is no questioning for understanding. Human beings have to deal with two realities, the one is natural instinct and the other is reasoning. Instinct appears to be the focus of reason and as it is the only given fact about life that we can’t derail or destroy.
The mainstream behavioural pattern amongst human beings is to go into denial about natural instinct but proves to be an unsuccessful endeavour. Human life exists because of instinct and continues to exist because of it. Meditation, yoga and tantra came into being because of this very truth that people have no choice in whether they want to have an unstoppable drive to procreate, to take care of the off-springs and to establish in- and out-groups.
· Yoga came into being because of a need to have a fast track technique to grasp something about the need to take care of what was procreated and to rationalise it.
· Tantra came into being because of a need to have a fast track technique to grasp something about the need to establish in- and out-groups and to rationalise it.
Meditation hands people an opportunity to become the observer of all that is happening in them, whether it is instinct or rational structuring. Once people are able to observe then yoga hands people an opportunity to settle into their very own bodies so that the observer has a physical entity through which it can express itself. Once there is the presence of an observer and the observer lives through a physical body, then tantra hands that observer and body an opportunity to share all they are. The sharing takes the shape of celebrating intimacy that already exist between people who come in contact with each other.
Meditation is carried into yoga. Meditation and yoga are carried into tantra. This trilogy of techniques hand people opportunities to become aware that they have instinct, that they have reason and that they can embrace it. To know that life runs through them and that life uses them for its own purposes, that is the meaning of life. When we embrace that we are used by life then we grasp something of the meaning of being alive.
Meditation, yoga and tantra are simple techniques that hand people opportunities to reflect clearly on the procreation, taking care and group formation stages of life.
It is time to use these techniques available to us humans:
· to observe and grasp the need to procreate around the age of thirteen,
· to feel and grasp our obsession of taking care of what we have procreated
· to share and grasp that our need to spend the largest part of the GDP of a country on weapons and ammunition, is not the only option available to us.
Have we reached rock bottom to embrace simplicity once again?
-Martin du Toit