Visual representation and symbolism of "Ardhanareshvara" - Shakti Shiva - The Divine Union of feminine and masculine energies (each in their fullest development, but as two sides of the same organic reality). Representative of the ultimate union of individual soul or "atman" with the ultimate or supreme consciousness (God).
This is the ultimate goal of Tantra or indeed any type of Yoga.
What is Tantra?
Tantra is often a very misunderstood lineage and practice, so I seek here to try and demystify, simplify it and shed some light on its ancient wisdom from my own learnings, experience and understanding.
It is often misinterpreted and approached ( – in many cases with fear and trepidation) – in the East as “black magic”, something sinister and in the western world as some kind of a cult, something related to sex or a sexual practice.
Tantra is actually a complex ancient Indian tradition, a part of Hindu spirituality, originating from the Himalaya’s. It is a form of yoga and spiritual practice which was taught by Lord Shiva the Adi Yogi (first yogi) to his wife Parvati on the night of their marriage and union. It is said that on that night Shiva taught Parvati 8,400,000 yoga asanas before taking her as his consort into Yoga. In the yogic scriptures it is said that this number is representative of the number of incarnations every individual soul must pass through before attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Initially Shiva was so besotted with Parvati (which is reflected in the way Shiva taught yoga to her and can be seen in the way the shlokas are written – for example, each begins with ‘O the Resplendent one’, the Beautiful one’, ‘the Graceful one, and so on) – it is said that it was never his intention to share it with anyone else. Eventually, after some persuasion Parvati (who is the symbol of feminine nurturing, compassionate energy – the mother of the whole universe) encouraged Shiva to share this information – out of love and compassion for her children. Following this it is said Shiva took seven rishis (known as SaptaRishis’) as his first group of disciples. Through the SaptaRishis’ came a lineage of 18 siddhas. The siddhas imparted the divine knowledge of liberation to us as we know it now. Though there are generally 84 basic yoga asanas or systems, through which one can elevate their consciousness typically taught today.
It is therefore a lineage as it was passed down through generations and continues to be through practice learnt from the Guru (teacher or dispeller of darkness – the one who shines a light). Tantra was not mentioned in a written form until later after Patanjali’s classical yoga and the puranic teachings. Though it should be noted that Vedanta continues to exist together, alongside – and not separate – from the Puranic and Tantric approaches and represents the essence of the Vedas as well.
It has been said that Tantra came about as a response to the period of spiritual decline also known as “kali yug”, “the dark age”, which we are currently going through now. As something very powerful which is necessary to counter the many obstacles to spiritual liberation we see in our society today, such as greed, dishonesty, selfishness, separation, illness – mental and physical, attachment and complacency. Tantric practices (such as asana, pranayama, mantra chanting, cleansing practices, mudras, bandhas, yantras, devotional rituals and worship, and meditation) seek to help us to understand overcome these things and face our challenges, untruths, shadows or “demons”. Furthermore, the practice of Tantra is open to all and not limited due to class or Hindu “caste” system – which it has to be to overcome this era.
It is a “technique” (which is the literal translation of the word “Tantra”) which, like any form of yoga, seeks to purify the body and mind first to enable our own energy vibration begin to move more freely, and to ascend, allowing us to reach higher states of consciousness, and experience ourselves beyond our physicality. It encourages and enables the movement of energy within and around us so that ultimately our shakti (or kundalini energy) can ascend through our chakra system to sahasrara (crown chakra) and beyond and meet with Shiva (symbolic of the supreme cosmic energy). It is therefore about recognising and harnessing the power of the sexual energy that resides within us and transmuting this energy to ascend spiritually. The deeper meaning of this symbology – and to simplify further – is essentially that our human consciousness (shakti) can meet and become one with the divine / “God” or “Supreme” consciousness (Shiva).
Tan – means expansion, Tra means freedom, it teaches us that we can only truly expand our awareness, consciousness and attain this freedom if we experience everything in life fully and learn to understand, integrate and eventually transcend the desires, needs and pleasures of the physical. Enabling us to fully feel, experience life and connect with and embody our truest and purest essence.
It really is a path that has to be experienced by the follower, to be fully understood.
Another reason why I believe Tantra is feared is that it gives deep relevance and reverence to Devi (Goddess), or Shakti. It is the path of the divine feminine principle and after centuries of very patriarchal societal structures and norms, globally – in both eastern and western cultures, this feels quite challenging and uncomfortable for many. It is now the time of the rising of the divine feminine which is a pivotal time in our history and the evolution of our collective consciousness.
It is already shifting and unfolding right now – a time where we are realising that the old very masculine structures, favouring mainly negative aspects of the masculine, relating to competition, separation, hierarchy, domination, and patriarchy are not working and starting to crumble away. We are looking towards more feminine qualities that promote collaboration, nurturing, community, care, oneness and inclusion.
That doesn’t mean the masculine is not needed, valued or honoured, on the contrary – both exist in all of us and all of creation. Rather, it is about bringing the two into alignment and in balance, so that they can co-exist in harmony and recognise each other as equal. It is about realising we have very different qualities but are equal in terms of their importance. Bringing out the positive aspects of the divine feminine and divine masculine in all of us and humanity for our highest good.
For when in balance and its expression aligned with our higher selves the divine feminine is sensuous, creative, flowing, unstructured, intuitive, naturally aligned with cycles of nature, nurturing, caring.
When the masculine is in balance it represents the ability to protect, provide structure, discern, maintain balance, initiate ideas, and bring concepts into form.
Together when in balance and alignment (both within us and between us) we can achieve anything, the possibilities, are indeed limitless, and boundless.
Tantra is an honouring of these energies in this physical form of our existence and in doing so to fully experience all the ups and downs of life – the beauty, the pain, the joys and embrace them all.
So that ultimately we may learn from them, accept and understand ourselves on a much higher plane of consciousness and awareness. Then, only as fully integrated beings at one with ourselves and the greater universe at large we will experience the weaving and expansion of our own energies and vibration with that of the cosmos, in order to fully experience the oneness and the ananda (bliss and joy) of divine love and ultimate freedom.
Om Sat Chit Ananda