Living Tantra, Part 4: What is Tantra, Really?

What are the hallmarks of true tantric spirituality? What are its primary principles and goals? Pandit Rajmani Tigunait answers your questions here.

May 9, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

The range of tantra is as vast as life itself, because within tantra there are numerous paths—each leading to unique experiences. Some tantric practices are trivial and shallow. Others are profound and deeply meaningful. Some focus on the acquisition of worldly possessions and power. Others have spiritual enlightenment as their central goal.

Some tantric paths place exclusive emphasis on rituals and others employ yogic techniques to awaken the kundalini shakti and chakras in one’s own body. Some use yantras and mandalas to awaken and gain mastery over the healing power. Other paths employ unique internal visualizations and concentration techniques to awaken and acquire that same healing power. Some tantrics use herbs to accelerate their practice and others use unique breathing techniques. Some go as far as to use drugs and sex while others abstain from both. But all tantric paths and practices have one common theme: the acquisition of power.

The power to be and the power to become, the power to grow and the power to blossom, the power to explore limitless possibilities and the power to materialize those possibilities—these are the hallmarks of tantric spirituality. Rising above our limitations and gaining access to the limitless domain of the power of will, the power of knowledge, and the power of action is the ultimate goal of tantric wisdom and practice. The term tantra itself tells how to gain access to this boundless field of power.

Tantra is a compound of two verbs, tan and tra. The verb tan has two sets of meanings. The first is “to expand, to grow, to expound, to give meaning.” Tan also means “to weave, to intertwine, to integrate, to connect, to breathe newness into the old, to pull the present out of the past and give it a meaningful future.” The second verb in this compound, tra, means “to protect, to free from sorrow, to help one move away from the domain of afflictions.” Thus tantra refers to the path of health and healing, science and spirituality, that holds our full expansion and development as its main objective. It shows us how we can grow and blossom. It shows us how to find purpose in life and how to weave the tapestry of life in the most meaningful manner, how to protect and nurture ourselves, and how to protect and nurture others.

The principle of integration lies at the core of tantric philosophy and practice. This principle refers to the integration of our worldly endeavors with our spiritual pursuits, the integration of personal empowerment with the empowerment of others and the empowerment of the natural world. Good and evil, sacred and mundane, coexist harmoniously in this tantric world of integration. Following the principle of integration, a tantric practitioner attempts to find freedom while living in the world and aspires to experience the fullness of life.

To be born as a human is an opportunity to experience our oneness with Absolute Consciousness—our own inner divinity.

To a tantric, life is not bondage but the gateway to freedom. To be born as a human is an opportunity to experience our oneness with Absolute Consciousness—our own inner divinity. God, Absolute Consciousness, deposited Her limitless power of creativity in each of us. Gaining access to that limitless creativity fulfills the purpose of life. And dying without knowing and experiencing that power defeats the purpose of human birth.

Your Body Is a Living Temple

A tantric begins his spiritual quest by changing his worldview and his attitude toward his own body, mind, and senses. For ages, people have been living with a self-defeating philosophy that condemns the world and thereby promotes the idea of finding freedom from it. According to that philosophy, the body is the focal point of misery: pleasure is the doorway to hell; worldly objects are a burden to the soul. In the view of tantra, this philosophy is deeply flawed.

According to tantra, the body is the living temple of divinity.

According to tantra, the world is beautiful. Life in the world is beautiful. Our inability to see the beauty within and without is bondage for it forces us to live in this world purposelessly. The quest for freedom here and now begins with understanding the sacred nature of our body, mind, and senses. According to tantra, the body is the living temple of divinity. The center of consciousness (soul, atman, jiva) is the highest divinity within us. A vast portion of the powers, potentials, and privileges of this divinity remain dormant.

This dormant power is called kundalini shakti. Only a fraction of its potentials are available in their awakened form. The power and potential of the soul that is awakened and active in us is called prana. Prana, the force that keeps us alive, is the intrinsic and vibrant attribute of this inner divinity. For all practical purposes, this prana shakti is the highest god in us, for it is this particular aspect of divine power that helps us gain access to the infinite dormant potentials within.

The forces that pervade and permeate every nook and cranny of our body are emanations of prana shakti, the inner divinity; they constitute our core being. These forces are gods and goddesses. They live in the body. They heal and nurture it. They maintain order in the body, ensuring that every limb, organ, and system function harmoniously. They preside over our thoughts, speech, and actions. The guiding intelligence of these divine forces offers all the tools and means we need to experience them as integral to ourselves.

This guiding intelligence empowers us to know, through our own direct experience, that these divine forces are us and we are them. That is why, according to tantra, the human body is the most complete yantra and mandala—and the finest of all temples. Gaining access to the innermost chamber and discovering the inner divinity, the center of consciousness, is the goal of tantra.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>