The Left Hand of Tantra, Part 3
You can get a glimpse of left-hand tantra’s true intent by understanding the significance and the symbolic meaning of the five makaras.
Here, I will explain the significance of the five makaras (also known as “the five m’s”).
Tantrics equate wine with soma, which the sages in the Vedic period obtained by crushing and squeezing specific herbs. The soma was offered into a ritual fire, which burned on an altar.
According to the tantrics, the body itself is the altar, the kundalini shakti is the fire, and the muladhara chakra is the kunda, the bowl in which the fire is placed. The wine symbolizes sensory pleasure, which is to be offered into the fire of kundalini.
The wine is used to awaken and satisfy the senses, and then to concentrate the energy of the senses and channel it toward the fire of kundalini.
The actual wine is used first to awaken and satisfy the senses, and then to concentrate the energy of the senses and channel it toward the fire of kundalini. In the external practice, the wine is poured into the aspirant’s mouth, and if he or she is not already in a state of ecstasy then such an act is nothing more than drinking, because the wine is not offered into the fire of kundalini.
Therefore, before the worship with wine begins, the chakreshwara induces a state of ecstasy in the minds and hearts of all the participants. The effectiveness of this ritual lies in the master’s ability to awaken the kundalini shakti in the participants for the duration of the ritual
Left-hand tantra shares this experience of mystical intoxication with many other spiritual paths, including bhakti yoga and Sufism.
The symbolism of meat is easier to grasp than the symbolism of wine. Meat comes from animals, and to obtain it one must learn how to capture an animal, slaughter it, dress it, and cook it.
Only then can the meat be consumed. Until we achieve enlightenment, all humans are more or less animals. We are bound by the ropes of attachment, desire, anger, delusion, pride, and greed, which restrain us from exercising our free will and coming into full contact with our divine natures. In order to obtain freedom, the tantric texts says that a wise man must “eat the meat.” Before that is possible, we must see, catch, and butcher the animal part of our natures.
Seeing the animal involves acknowledging the tendencies that bind us to our lower selves. Catching it requires going inward and tracing the origin of these animal tendencies and their effect on our personalities.
The slaughter occurs when we work with these negative tendencies in the light of knowledge and correct understanding, eventually replacing them with positive attitudes.
Once the animal nature has been slaughtered, the flesh must be prepared and cooked before it is fit to eat. Figuratively speaking, preparation and cooking involves analyzing and spiritualizing our negative emotions with the help of the fire of knowledge in the pressure cooker of yogic practices, meditation, contemplation, and constant awareness.
The tantric texts say that the cleanest fish are taken from a flowing river rather than from a stagnant pond. Symbolically speaking, these fish are readily available to anyone who breathes, because there are 72,000 pristine rivers flowing in our bodies—the nadis (energy channels) that pervade the subtle body. Of these, three are of primary importance: the central river, sushumna, and its two main tributaries, idaand pingala.
The tantric aspirant must catch the fish swimming in ida and pingala and train them to swim in the central river of sushumna. This is done by practicing the higher techniques of pranayama and opening the sushumna nadi.
As long as fish are swimming in ida and pingala, the student is distracted by the charms and temptations of the world, but when the dam at the first chakra (the muladhara) is broken and the flood of kundalini surges up sushumna, perfection in “fish sadhana” is attained.
Mudra is a continuation of fish sadhana—it too is a way of channeling subtle energy. Tantric mudras are performed mainly by arranging the hands and fingers in specific ways. As subtle thoughts appear in the mind, the body spontaneously moves to express them.
The most refined expressions are facial expressions and hand gestures. There is a pranic force between the mind and the body which is triggered by subtle thoughts, which in turn trigger the hands and the face to perform certain mudras.
Ordinarily this is unconscious and involuntary and, because there are blockages in our energy system, many of our subtle thoughts never find a way to express themselves. Tantric masters developed an intricate system of hand mudras to release, redirect, and express the subtle thoughts and pranic forces during the course of ritual worship. For example, they perform trikhanda mudra, (the three-tiered mudra) when they invoke the presence of the divine force that pervades our three-fold bodies.
They perform yoni mudra (the mudra of origin) to invoke the presence of the primordial force of creativity and to meditate on this force. Before offering any article, such as water, meat, or wine, to the kundalini shakti, they imbue these articles with dhenu mudra, the cow mudra.
5. Physical Union
The physical union of a man and woman represents the harmonious union of two into one. This is the union of opposites—male and female, left and right, sun and moon, and numberless other pairs of opposites that we experience in our day-to-day life. Physical union symbolizes bringing the two ends of one pole together, which ordinarily seems to be an impossible task.
Transforming the impossible into the possible and enjoying the unitary bliss that unfolds from this union is the inner significance of maithuna. The word maithuna, which is usually translated as “sex,” comes from the word mithuna, which means “two.” Thus maithuna means “the essence of two,” which in the ultimate sense is one: the essence of one is also the essence of the other. The realization of this truth is called maithuna.
Both symbolically and etymologically, it means transcending duality and attaining the experience of oneness.
Beyond Kaula Sadhana
In order to graduate from the kaula school to the mishra school of tantra sadhana, aspirants must find the five makaras in their own being. Then, instead of using wine to induce intoxication, they find their Beloved within and attain a state of oneness with the Divine.
Instead of eating meat, which requires slaughtering animals in the outer world, they tame or vanquish their own animal tendencies, thus transforming themselves from an animal to human and then from a human being to a divine being.
Instead of consuming fish only during tantric sadhana, they enjoy the company of fish—the pranic forces—with every breath. In this way, tantrics progress from kaula to mishra and from mishra to samaya while freeing themselves from external crutches and attaining perfection within.