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Tantra: A misconstrued reductionism to sex

Tantra is often misconstrued as some form of exotic sexual practice. The truth is far from it. Such egregious perception stems from inexperienced verbose orientalists lacking to grasp the ancient tradition’s spiritual depth and complexity and perpetuating such canard. Originating in India around the 5th century CE, Tantra was a mystical and spiritual movement that sought to attain a higher state of consciousness through ritual, meditation, and yoga. The aim was to transcend the power, and the spiritual energy of our material existence, which dominates in the lower part of our spine called the chakras, to higher ones leading to the elevation of consciousness leading to samadhi.

The philosophy of Tantra emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. It seeks to attain a higher level of spiritual awakening. It views the cosmos as an embodiment of the divine, a majestic tapestry woven with threads of love, wisdom, and creative energy. At the very heart of this philosophy lies the concept of shakti, the divine feminine energy that pervades everything in the universe. The notion of shakti, embodied as the female divine, is endowed with the power of creation resulting in the birth of hundreds and thousands of universes. In other words, it is the Prana or the energy of creation. At the same time, sexual energy can also be transmuted to higher creative vibrations using meditative techniques as it forms part and parcel of the entire energy vortex. According to Tantra, maternal divinity is infused with the creator or the Param Shiva. Thus, the creator can be accessed with the use of shakti. This is achieved by activating the vortex of energy centers that lie in our subtle body, commonly called “Chakras.”

Tantra teaches us that everything in the universe, including our sexuality, is infused with divine energy, waiting to be harnessed and used for spiritual growth. But it is not a practice for the faint-hearted or the impulsive. Tantra requires extensive training, preparation, and commitment. It is only to be taught to those willing to use these practices ethically and responsibly. One of the main reasons, despite its rich history and spiritual significance, Tantra has been misrepresented in the West as a solely sexual practice is primarily due to the distorted version of Tantra that was popularized during the counterculture movement of the 1960s and beyond. Western interest in Eastern religions and philosophies, including Tantra, led to the availability of translations of Indian texts and the popularity of gurus who incorporated elements of Tantra into their teachings. However, the version of Tantra popularized in the West focused primarily on sexuality and hedonism, neglecting the deeper spiritual aspects of the tradition. This misrepresentation has unfortunately led to a widespread misunderstanding of Tantra as solely a sexual practice, perpetuated by commercialization and appropriation for profit.

At the heart of Tantra lies the art of “weaving” or “expansion,” a journey toward spiritual growth that reaches far beyond its popular association with Sex. It involves various techniques that activate and balance the body’s seven energy centers or chakras. First, it awakens the dormant energy at the base of the spine, known as kundalini. The chakras are powerful energy hubs aligned along the spine, each one corresponding to different aspects of human experience. The chakras must be activated to enhance these aspects of the human experience; breathing techniques and mantras are vital tools. Mantras are words or phrases repeated during meditation, each corresponding to a particular chakra, helping unlock its full potential. Another technique used in Tantra is using yantras, geometric diagrams that serve as visual aids during meditation, also corresponding to specific chakras. Working with mantras and yantras, the chakras are stimulated and balanced, creating heightened spiritual awareness. At the core of Tantra lies the awakening of kundalini, the coiled serpent energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine. This awakening is achieved through breathwork, meditation, and yoga asanas. It can be a profound experience that leads to spiritual enlightenment. However, caution is advised, and it is recommended that such practices be undertaken under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Bengal has been a cradle for many spiritually elevated and renowned Tantric, who have walked its lush land for generations. The region has birthed some of history’s most prominent spiritual sages from the awe-inspiring and unconventional Bama Khepa and his illustrious disciple Tara Khepa. Even Sri Ramakrishna is said to have tried some Tantric practices in his endeavor to reach the supreme truth. His oft-quoted maxim famously and graphically explains this: “There are as many paths to the supreme as there are opinions.” Whether Tantra, mantra, or yantra, all are valid paths to Godhead! One legend that stands out is that of Bama Khepa, the mad mystic who resided in the cremation grounds of Tarapith in West Bengal. The Queen of the land made Bama Khepa her temple’s main priest despite opposition from the temple caretakers and other high governmental officers due to his unconventional behavior. In one instance, having failed to convince the queen, they conspired to beat up and throw Bama Khepa out of the temple. They succeeded in bandly beating and maiming the saint.  It is said that Goddess Tara (an incarnation of goddess Kali), the temple’s deity, appeared to the Queen in her dream to show her back red and inflamed with injury. She said to the dreaming queen, “They thought they beat up my child, but the fools did not know every stick fell on me! “The queen ordered a massive search for him and reinstated him, and as Goddess Tara declared the temple food was offered to him before her. 

John Woodroffe, a British Indian judge, became fascinated by Tantric traditions while working at the Calcutta High Court. He was fortunate to have a guru who taught him Sanskrit and Tantra Sadhana. As a result, Woodroffe played a pivotal role in bringing Tantra to the Western world’s attention through his writings, dispelling the erroneous notion that Tantra solely concerned itself with sexuality, instead emphasizing its broader spiritual and philosophical aspects.

Tantra is a tradition that has stood the test of time, a testament to its enduring power and influence. Its impact on Indian culture and spirituality is undeniable, inspiring, and fascinating to people worldwide. It is a path toward self-discovery, a way to connect with the divine and explore the mysteries of the universe. Tantra encourages us to embrace all aspects of our being, including the parts that may be considered taboo or forbidden. It challenges us to break free from the limitations of our ego and expand our consciousness. 

To truly appreciate the richness and complexity of Tantra, we must approach it with an open mind and a deep respect for the spiritual and cultural context in which it is situated. By doing so, we can uncover the hidden treasures within this ancient tradition and embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth.

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