In Vedic philosophy it is believed “as is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm.” In other words, all that is found in the universe is found in the individual body.
From this, a Hindu belief system or sadhana [spiritual practice] arose and came to be known as Tantra. Tantra is “web” or “woof” in Sanskrit, which supports Tantra’s view that reality is a seamless whole, a woven fabric of all possible threads. The Tantric scriptures include a culmination of knowledge dating back to the Vedas and are considered a sort of encyclopedia of Vedic wisdom, covering topics such as creation and destruction of the universe, spiritual disciplines, rituals, occult powers, and meditations. The Tantras also discuss the subtle anatomy of the body, including chakras and the connection between them through which the kundalini energy travels. The Tantras are supposed to be especially relevant to Kali Yuga (the present age of devolution).
So how did the term “tantra” become synonymous with “sexuality” in the west?
One reason may be that Tantra seeks to reintegrate all aspects of life into the spiritual experience. The Tantric believes that one should use all tools available (including the body) in rituals designed to achieve spiritual enlightenment. A Tantric ritual may assign different parts of the body to different deities and includes the purifying of the elements of the body using breath control and meditation, imparting of life to the deity image, and mental and physical worship. This is done in order to realize the worshipper, worshipped, and act of worship as one thing — consciousness. At the culmination of a Tantric ritual, the seeker realizes his oneness with all.
An obvious integration is that of the male/female energies within the individual aspirant. Shiva represents the male energy, which is pure consciousness, un-manifest and never changing. Shakti represents the female aspect of creative energy. As the Divine Mother, she gives birth to all forms. This feminine takes the form of kundalini within a human and lies coiled at the base of the spine. The aim of Tantric ritual is to awaken this energy and cause it to rise through the chakras that reside along the axis of the spine. Kundalini ascends through the crown chakra to unite with Shiva – pure consciousness.
In the west, it was assumed that this was always a “sacred sexual act” but in the Vedic view, it was the basis for kundalini yoga and led to important experiential confirmation of spiritual practice — the union of individual with universe. One transcends seeming dualities (including male/female division) in order to experience Oneness — Thou art That.
It is important to note that Tantric rituals are performed when the aspirant is in a meditative state and are assigned and moderated by a guru. Self-study leads to misapplication of the knowledge (and worse, misinterpretation of experience). Along with these physical rituals, which may include sexual union, but more likely consist of certain asanas [yoga postures] or mudras [symbolic hand gestures], the aspirant may also use a Mantra. This Mantra is a vibration or sound that acts as an intermediate between the physical world and pure consciousness.
Unlike Vedic Meditation, where one uses a bija mantra, which has no meaning, the Mantra is an invocation, a sacred syllable or syllables that compels a particular deity to aid in the integrative experience.
In addition to the vibration of the Mantra, diagrams called “Yantras” play a role in Tantric ritual. A Yantra is a design equivalent of the deity and resembles a mandala. Yantra in Sanskrit means to “sustain” or “hold” and the Yantra is believed to hold within its design the highest spiritual essence. Yantras are geometric in configuration and these basic shapes correspond to human consciousness expanding toward unity in pure consciousness. The Yantra aids in visualization of union (and may actually replace physical union in the ritual).
Sri Yantra is called the “mother of all yantras” because all other Yantras are derived from it. It has nine interlacing triangles centered around the bindu [central point] drawn by the super imposition of five downward pointing triangles which represent Shakti, feminine principle and four upright triangles which represent Shiva, masculine principle. The spiritual journey progresses toward the center and each level corresponds with a stage of the journey toward integration.
There are Yantras corresponding to other deities used to manifest more earthly objectives but even these must be used in a meditative state with the proper Mantra and ritual in order to bring the desired result.
In the Vedic view, one realizes unity “all is One” and nature supports every desire.
Sanora Bartels is an independent teacher of Vedic Meditation working with individuals to sustain balance and achieve success in all areas of life. Her training included a year of study that took her from Los Angeles, California to Rishikesh, India to Flagstaff, Arizona. You can find her at www.VedicMeditationTeacher.com.
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