The Tantrik Yoga Tradition
Let us consider the relationship of Classical Yoga and Tantra. Written around the time of Christ, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer this simple definition of Classical Yoga: “Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify with its vacillating waves of perception.” These waves are, in essence, prana. Tantra yoga seeks to attain communion by resolution of the states of mind into a singular form of prana. Yoginis find and eventually live in this stress-free state. Yoga seeks this state of equanimity and peace through mastery of the myriad forms of distraction that veil the preexisting True Self.
Whereas Hatha Yoga attains this through stillness of breath as prana and Mantra Yoga through mastery of the mind as pranic sound vibrations, in Tantra Yoga it is the polarities of Shiva/Shakti that are resolved into Communion.
Tantra has been greatly misunderstood, particularly in the West, where it is perceived primarily as sacred sexuality. This view is what I seek to transform with this book, so that the reader will not only understand but experience the wholeness of this path to communion. While Tantra does work with pranic energy, this energy is not merely sexual; it is the underlying energy of all forms of life. The key is to resolve all differences into the experience of spiritual reality. From this experience of unity arises a plethora of names and forms of sadhana that are the methodologies of communion. It is the communion that is important, not the discernment of their differences. Ultimately all spiritual practices reveal spirit as the fundamental ground of being and consciousness as the essence of the mind.
In the Vedic tradition, there are four arenas of life that must all be fulfilled in order to experience a meaningful life. The four areas are:
- Pursuing righteous duties (dharma) •
- Abundance and wealth (artha) •
- Sensual and sexual pleasure (kama) •
- Spiritual liberation (moksha) •
A balanced life depends on this foundation and leads to a peaceful existence, ultimately allowing one to meet death with contentment. Tantra as a yoga path can provide the means for fulfilling your destiny. The yoga texts point out that help is needed in three forms: reading and reflecting on a spiritual text, clarification of the mysteries revealedfrom that text by a spiritual teacher, and enhanced devotion to your chosen deity.
According to the first text on Classical Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the purpose of life is the dual experience of enjoyment of worldliness and spiritual liberation. This arcane spiritual classic is poignant to the level of being terse in its 196 aphorisms. The same message is delivered in three sutras; no other topic is addressed with such deliberation.
The seen world has the qualities of luminosity, activity, and stability.
It is embodied through the elements and the sense organs.
It exists for the dual purpose of sensory enjoyment and liberation of
the Self. (II, 18)
For the sake of the Self alone
does the seen world exist. (II, 21)
The mind accumulates countless desires,
although it exists solely for the sake of being close
to the True Self. (IV, 24)
Self-realization is accompanied by one of two lifestyles: the renuciate path and the housholder’s path. The one renounces worldly activities and is celibate, while the other engages in fulfillment of worldly desires. Regardless of the path chosen, the sattvic (harmonious) way of being is predominant. The quest for sattvic balance needs to beforemost in our minds.
Sattva is the balanced state of mind, body, and prana that we wish to promote in all our yogic practices. Within this context, tamasic (lethargic) energies need to be stimulated or expressed to become sattvic. Rajasic (over-active) energies need to be somewhat sedated or neutralized to become balanced. In the highest expression of sattva, your energies will be elevated to a higher-dimension (kosha) expression. This will lead to finding Spirit in all your activities as the Tantrik process evolves all dimensions of pranic energies; over time, they will permeate all the dimensions. More on this inlesson 3, where I explain the Tantrik view of subtle anatomy.
The details of the Tantras are given in Shiva, Shakti, and Buddhist texts datingfrom the 9th century. Among them are:
- The Kularnava Tantra, which deals with concentration on the chakras and the supernatural powers (siddhis) that result
- Satchakra Nirupana, by Arthur Avalon (published under the title The Serpent Power), a text of Laya Yoga and Kundalini Shakti that explains the chakras
- Mahanirvana Tantra, which covers both socially acceptable (White Tantra) worship of your chosen deity and unorthodox or (Red) Tantrik practices
- Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a text of non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, as taught by my own spiritual teacher.
Hatha Yoga becomes more tantric by its mastery as the physical disciplines are transformed into energetic disciplines; this is expounded in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, and the Shiva Samhita, which date from the 14th to the 18th centuries. These texts are very Tantrik in nature, citing the ways in which the physical and subtle bodies may be transformed to create an experience of your Self asbeing made of an energetic blissful body, flowing with amrita, or nectar.
Tantra is complementary to Ayurveda and Classical Yoga practice. While Ayurveda is mainly a science of health, and Classical Yoga is a spiritual science, Tantra is a bridge between the two. The word Tantra comes from the word’s root tan, meaning “energy,” and tra, which means “to transform.” The foundation practices of Tantrik Yoga heighten awareness of your energy body, elevating your prana to spiritual consciousness. Tantra’s teachings focus on the energy body (emotions and mind), which is composed of the chakras. Distinct from neurological plexuses like the solar plexus, the chakras are the energy centers of desire.
Yogic anatomy depicts five dimensions. Most contemporary yoga practices only incorporate asana, which is one limb of the comprehensive eight-limb system. These practices serve wonderfully to transform the physical dimension, the first kosha. Tantrik Yoga is a spiritual practice for the transformation of each of your koshas, or multi-dimensions (see Stiles, Structural Yoga Therapy, pp. 43–46), through yogic energy practices. In contrast, Classical Ashtanga Yoga’s teachings described in Yoga Sutras II, 28–55 focus on transforming the two most subtle of these dimensions (the wisdom and bliss body). Tantra Yoga focuses on the next two dimensions (mind and pranic body). Ayurveda, the traditional medical system in India, emphasizes optimal health and longevity through lifestyle. An integration of these three systems, as described in my book Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy, can create optimal well-being and aspiritually empowered Presence.
Ayurveda describes a biological energy system composed of three doshas or primal elements that are fundamentally unstable. They are vata (a combination of the elements of air and ether), pitta (water and fire), and kapha (water and earth). While Ayurveda seeks to harmonize these doshas, our efforts are unlikely to produce longlasting benefits due to the fact that the doshas—by their very nature—do not retain stability. Therefore, our efforts need to be daily and seasonal, adapted to the individual’s constitutional makeup, so that the efforts made produce an underlying stability over time. Then, instead of reacting to stress with more resistance, the resulting deeperstability will not interpret life as stressful.
Vata is the gross substance from which Yogis develop prana (life force). Similarly, the gross material for creating tejas (spiritual luminosity) is pitta, and from kapha we develop ojas (spiritual juices). These qualities, when refined, contribute to human evolution. In all these three systems—Ayurveda, Yoga, and Tantra—to advance is to sustain the experience of the all-pervasive prana, as its stability purifies our experience of the serene mind encountering its Lord, the inner Self. In a similar manner, we speak of refining the mind through the development of insight and discrimination, sothat we can use the physical body more efficiently.
Tantra has two major forms; the primary form is for deepening the connection to your inner Self (White Tantra) with personal practice. The other forms build on that foundation of self-transformation. From a consistent personal practice, you can share your evolving spiritual and sexual energies with your spiritual partner to help bring you both into better relationship with your beloved via Red or Pink Tantra. Red Tantra encourages fulfillment of sexual energies with prolonged intercourse. In contrast, Pink Tantra promotes prolonged energy expression without intercourse. With grounding in the former (White Tantra), the latter (Red or Pink Tantra) becomes more accessible. These practices are appropriate only for people who are courageous and committed to enhancing their spiritually focused lives through developing meditation and intimacy skills.