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Tantra in India: Hindu Shaktism

Subject: Tantra in India:  Hindu Shaktism

"The broad, underlying foundation of Tantra philosophy may be summarized briefly as follows:

"The universe and everything in it is permeated by a secret energy or power, emanating from the single Source of all being.

"This power, although singular in essence, manifests in three ways, namely, as static inertia, dynamic inertia or mental energy, and as harmonious union of these reacting opposites.

"The universe or macrocosm through which these modalities of cosmic force function, is exactly duplicated by the human form as a microcosm.

"The Tantrik seeks, therefore, by mystic formularies, rites and symbols, to identify the corresponding centers of his own body with those of the macrocosm.  Ultimately, he seeks union with God Himself.

The importance of the female consort in Tantrik practices stems from the fact that, according to Shastra, every woman is a shakti; that is, she embodies the secret, fundamental forces that control the universe.

"By correctly joining himself to this line of force, pouring forth from the supreme Absolute, the yogi experiences the ineffable bliss of divine union.

"Tantrik scriptures state emphatically that spiritual liberation can come only through experience.  States of consciousness cannot be...transcended until and unless they are lived - rapturously, freely, and in all the fullness of their power.  The bond that fetters the soul to samsara (created forms) is precisely the dynamic that can deliver it from bondage.

"This concept, although brought to its fullest expression by the various Tantrik schools, is not exclusively the fruit of Hindu thought.  Actually, many of the basic precepts and rites of Tantrism represent a broad, pre-Indian movement, to which many civilizations have contributed.

"...The student of Tantrism will discover, as he goes along, influences that have entered the currents of Indian thought from the great mainstream of ancient wisdom - esoteric movements from other lands, in which woman incarnates the arcanum of being and becoming.

"In strange accord are the devotees of Ishtar in Babylonia; Isis in Egypt; Shing Moo in China; Aphrodite and the Gnostic Sophia in Greece; Diana in Rome; the terrible Kali in India."  Tantra: The Yoga of Sex, pgs. xxi-xxiii.

"Tantra has always been, for as long as man has wondered about the mystery of his existence and stood in awe of the primordial power of his sexual nature.  Symbols of the Tantric heritage are found in every culture; in cave paintings from the Stone Age, in ancient Samarian carvings, in magical texts from ancient Egypt, in mystical 
writings of the Hebrews and Greeks, and in the Arabian songs of love.  The alchemy of medieval Europe disguised its tantric principles with romantic allegorical poetry.  Paganism was based on the celebration of creative sexual energy.  In many cultures representations of the male and female genitals (lingam and yoni in Sanskrit) are widely displayed and revered for the creative power they represent....

"Tantric practice has also inspired the best art and poetry in India, Arabia and China.  Temples of India are covered with carvings of deities in every possible position of sexual union (which is a great embarrassment to the repressed Indian culture today).

"It appears Tantra was once a worldwide spiritual practice, a common thread running through all civilizations.  The Yogis in India developed a system to balance male and female energies.  The Taoist system in China developed similarly and simultaneously.  These two movements strongly influenced all Eastern religions.

"Tantric teachings were closely guarded, transmitted orally from master to disciple only after a long period of preparation and purification.  Even when the tradition was finally written down in the 3rd Century, its meaning was obscured in allegory and symbols so only the initiates could understand.  The secrets were guarded as protection from misuse, but also to give royalty and priesthood a tremendous power advantage over the masses.

"The 11th and 12th centuries were the Golden Age of Tantra when it was practiced widely and openly throughout India.  But the Moslem invasion in the 13th Century brought slaughter of all Tantrics and wholesale destruction of all manuscripts.  The movement was forced underground where it has continued ever since.  It had been preserved in remote monasteries, primarily in Tibet, but the recent Communist invasion of Tibet repeated the slaughter and attempt to stamp out Tantric practice.  Their motive is clear.  One who has realized his true nature cannot be subjugated to the will of a religious or political power structure.

"By the Yogi calandar we are now in the final stage of a debased age - Kali Yuga, the age of fire and destruction - a time when Tantra is lost to the world.  It had been prophesied that Tantra would reappear in the age of Kali Yuga to unify male and female energies...."  
Jewel in the Lotus, by Sunyata Saraswati and Bodhi Avinasha, pgs. 3-5.

"The ancient Hindu texts, upon which the practice of Tantra Yoga is based, assert that we today are living in the final years of a debased yuga or age - the Age of Kali.  They contend that only by laying hold of the power inherent in sex force can we find the creative energy to ascend to spiritual liberation.

"Moreover, they hold that the Shastra (body of literature) which teaches this mystic science is valid for all peoples of the world, and is not limited to Hindus, Tibetans, or to any exclusive group.

"They recognize the beauty and truth of transcendental thought in other systems of yoga; but they realistically declare that the ascetic demands made upon the aspirant by such systems render them wholly impractical - indeed, dangerous - for the mass of people.

"Strongly supporting this view is the fact that during the past fifty years, scores of swamis and religious teachers have come to the West from India, expounding various spritual disciplines based upon renunciation of the world as we know it.  Almost without exception, they have taught that escape from our present degraded existence into higher realms of being is to be achieved only by rejection of sensual experience, and by means of difficult austerities.

"Yet the followers of these systems of self-culture have scarcely become adepts of the kind envisioned by Shankara and Ramanuja.  They have come nowhere near achieving the yogic powers said to be the inevitable fruits of such practices.

"These include such things as the ability to become 'light as cotton wool and fly through the skies'; to know other's thoughts, to become invisible in a crowd, to know the exact time of one's death, and so on."  Tantra: The Yoga of Sex, pgs. xvi-xvii.

"In the mystical experience we know that we are one, a single drop in the cosmic ocean.  Only our 'ego' keeps us feeling separate.  Ego, the sense of being 'I' as apart from 'you' is the real barrier to fully experiencing love.  The more solid the ego, the more difficult it is to unite.  We're very attached to our separateness.  We love to compare ourselves with other people, to judge and criticize others, to 
manipulate and compete with others, to blame others for our problems.  All these games must be sacrificed to attain the mystical experience, for in union, no one is here.  The ego must die so that you can be reborn into higher consciousness.  Love emerges out of the void wehre there is no 'I' and no 'Other'."
Jewel in the Lotus, p. 179.

"The thing which distinguishes [Shaktism] from other forms of yoga is that, wheras other schools teach techniques aimed at self-denial and the extinction of sensuous experience, Tantra urges the fullest possible involvement in life.

"As Sir John Woodroffe [Arthur Avalon] wrote of the sadakha, 'he attains liberation, eating the sweet fruits of life.'...

"Tantrism is a goal-directed course of action.  The end in view, as previously stated, is the union of the two polar streams of life force - a reintegration that produces spiritual illumination.

"Live life and live it more fully, is the admonition of the Shakta canon.  Plunge into being with sharpened awareness....

"...You are the strong or the weak, the electric or the magnetic, the lover or the beloved.

"And from...marriages, these fecundating unions, comes the renewal of life.  By the act of procreating - whether it be physical, mental or spiritual - you are to a degree reborn.... Only thereby can [one] ...attain freedom.

"In short, for a man attuned to his soul, each rebirth is into a new world of thought and feeling - one of greater reality, greater response to being.

"For Tantrism holds that the world is not an illusion, but real.  Real flesh experience is the extension of the soul's purpose.   Only in our deeper feelings, only in love, is the divine creative force registered, not in intellection.  Truth therefore, can not be taught; it can only be lived.

"It is [our] way to teach.  It is God's way to experience.   Teachings are but the substance of another's experience, another's thoughts, fossilized into permanent beliefs or creeds.  They are but tradition made law.

"That is the meaning of the passage in the Ratnasara which declares that 'he who realizes the truth of the body can then come the know the truth of the universe.'

"For that reason, the practice of Tantra yoga starts with the body and its functions.  That is the true beginning.

"The first objective is to clean the principle nadis or astral channels previously described, so that psychic currents may unite and flow through them from the subtle body into the physical body.

Cleansing is achieved by regulation of the breath, a technique known as pranayama.  As the term itself implies, the procedure is really aimed at a control of PRANA....What is prana?

"Essentially prana is nothing more than cosmic energy.  It is the sum total of all primal force in the universe, whether in an inert, transitional or in a dynamic state.

"It is the tremendous power released from the atom when it is fissioned or fused.  It is the unseen, ever-present reality behind all movement, all thinking, willing, doing.

"For biological organisms,... the most important gross manifestation of prana is breathing, according to the Shastras, we absorb not only oxygen, but also the basic life-force - prana.

"When breathing ceases, the body's polarity undergoes radical change; the positive electrical forces of the body, in the form of acid, flood into the negative, alkaline of the blood.  The body's mechanism becomes static, ceases to function.  The once living organism ceases greathing and dies.

"It follows that Tantriks, in common with all yogis, attach considerable importance to regulating the breath.

"Control the breath, they say, and you can clear the subtle passages of the etheric body and direct life currents through them.  In the gross body, the central nervous system is purified and vitalized.  Digestion is accelerated.  All the five senses are stimulated.  The restless wandering mind is calmed.  Living, in all its protean forms, loses its 'blur' and becomes more vivid and real.  Experience suddenly assumes, as it were, a sharper focus.

"In India and Tibet, there are almost as many different methods of breath control as there are gurus.  Each teacher usually has developed his own modification of one of the many classical techniques described in the literature.

"However, all methods, of whatever kind, are concerned with three phases of the breathing process: inhaling, holding the breath, and exhaling."
Tantra: The Yoga of Sex, pgs. 39-42.

"Mother worship is the worship of God as the Divine Mother, as the power of the Lord or the cosmic energy.  Shakti, then, is energy.  Just as one cannot separate heat from fire, so also one cannot separate Shakti from Shakta.  Shakti and Shakta are one.  They are inseparable....

"The worship of the Divine Mother means the total acceptance of all creation.... Kundalini is Shakti power symbolized by Divine Mother.  She is pure blissful consciousness.  She is the Mother of nature.  It behooves, therefore, that the aspirant should approach the Mother first, so that She may introduce Her spiritual child to the Father for its illumination or Self-realization.  That is the reason why devotees have placed Radha, Sita, Lakshmi, first in the jugal names, viz, Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Lakshmi Narayana....

"Worship of Shakti or Shaktism is one of the oldest and most widespread of religions in the world.  Everybody in this world wants power, loves to possess power.  He is elated by power.  He wants to domineer over others through power.  War is the outcome of greed for power.  Scientists are followers of Shaktism.  He who wishes to develop will-power and a charming personality is a follower of Shaktism.  In reality, every man in this world is a follower of Shaktism....

"The countless universes are only dust of Divine Mother's holy feet.  Her glory is ineffable.  Her splendour is indescribable.  Her greatness is unfathomable.  She showers Her grace on Her sincere devotees.  She leads the individual soul from Chakra to Chakra, from plane to plane and unifies him with Lord Shiva...

"The body is Shakti.  The needs of the body are the needs of Shakti.  When man enjoys it is Shakti who enjoys through him.  His ears, eyes, hands, and feet are Hers.  She sees through his eyes, works though his hands, and hears through his ears.  Body, mind, Prana, egoism, intellect, organs and all other functions are Her manifestations....

"The basis of Shaktism is the Veda [divine revelation].  Shaktism upholds that the only source and authority regarding transcendental or super-sensual matters such as the nature of Brahman, etc., is Veda.  Shaktism is only Vedanta [the last revelation].  The Shaktas have the same spiritual experience as the Vedantins....

"The aspirant thinks that the world is identical with the Divine Mother.  He moves about thinking his own form to be the form of the Divine Mother and thus beholds oneness everywhere.  He also feels that the Divine Mother is identical to Parabrahman [the absolute]."
_Kundalini Yoga for the West_, by Swami Sivananda Radha, pgs. 25-30.

"...there is a considerable similarity between Taoist and Tantric yoga.  The perfect health of the body as a vehicle for the spirit is basic to both and various techniques in Tantrism are at one with Chinese alchemy in being designed to 'destroy old age and conquer death.'  Many of the famous Tantric yogins were also well-known alchemists; both traditions developed siddhi powers and both aimed at the same transmutation of the lower body, or base metal, into the perfect body of the True 
Man.  An analogy can be traced between the Taoist circular movement of the force or energy in the body and the Indian kundalini, the power sybolized by the serpent coiled at the base of the spine, which lies dormant until, awakened by yogic practices, it begins the ascent up the spinal region through the chakras, each represented by a lotus, until, increasing in power at each stage, it reaches the highest point in the head and [brings] about realization, enlightenment.

"Kundalini, like ch'i, is spoken of as 'energy', a 'cosmic life energy'; when roused it transverses all the chakras, or 'fields', upwasrds to final union of the opposites at the highest point.  This is also spoken of as symbolizing the Sacred Marriage and in Hinduism as the union of Siva with the female goddess or shakti.  The first chakra in kundalini symbolism can be compared with the first or 'mortal gate' in Taoist yoga, from whence the vital force ascends the spinal region; but in Chinese yoga the 
movement and force are cyclic, ascending in a spiral form to the 'head gate', then returning from the 'cavity of the spirit' to the source, passing downwards again throught the other centres of the heart, navel and womb, thus activating the 'foetal breath' and bring about a union of the yin and yang powers to form a total unity in the body as a medium for the spirit.  This process of ascending and descending sets up a cycle of vitality.  The spine in both Indian and Chinese yoga symbolizes the world axis, while the ascent is the alchemical change from teh lower 
to the higher, lead to gold.  There is also an analogy between the lotus of the chakras and the Golden Flower of Taoism, in that the yogic-alchemical process is fulfilled and the inner light is found, the lotus, or flower, begins to circulate, to move of its own volition - the Mover at Will.  This is also paralled in many western texts which state that the Philosopher's Stone has to circulate."
Chinese Alchemy, by J.C. Cooper, p. 108.

"Taoist and Tantric yoga have much in common in the use of sexual techniques for bringing about realization, but the theory and practice of this yoga is far too complicated and technical to be understood by any uninitiated westerner.  In the first place it requires a competent master; it then demands a total dedication and application only possible in a monastic setting, since times of day, of moths and sexual cycles, must all be regularly and reigidly observed over long years of practice.  Sex yoga deals with the generative forces (ching) merging with the spirit 
(shen) in the vital force (ch'i).  It is known as the White Tiger and the Green Dragon yoga, the White Tiger representing lead and the semen and the Green Dragon symbolizing cinnabar and the feminine fluid, the yang and the yin; the two are combined and fused to produce the Golden Pill, the foetus.  The yang, male fluid is exhaustible; the yin, female, is inexhaustible.  This also introduces the inexhaustibility of love.  In Tantric Buddhist legend a Sage, shocked at 
representations of Buddha surrounded by mistresses, was told 'women are the gods, women are life, women are adornment, be ever among women in thought'.   This feminine power represents the spontaneous aspect of love and ecstasy which overcomes duality and is thus the great unifying force; it is the life-force or immortality; it is the archetypal feminine.  If correctly used the two forces create life-force or immortality; if incorrectly used they are a sure way to early death.  The generative forces must be preserved, not dissipated in ordinary sexual activity.

"Based on the yin-yang balance and harmony, each sex, providing stimulus, draws forth and supports the power of the other.  Taoism parts company with Buddhism, except in its Tantric branch, in regarding celibacy as unnatural and therefore productive of imbalance and neurosis.  The yogic techiques are governed by times, 
seasons, lunar phases and astrology; they were kept esoteric to a large extent and hidden under alchemical terms, since considerable danger accompanies some of the practices, as it does also with the breathing exercises.  In Taoist yoga the woman adept plays an important part, both sexes being necessary to each other; but the yin power, as remarked, is the inexhaustible force....

"The marvellous powers attributed to the Taoist yogin, the hsien, are the same as the Eight Great Powers of the yoga of Maha-siddhi Buddhism.  They are: (1) to make oneself small or invisible, (2,3) to decrease or increase in height, (4) to have the most distant objects at the tip of one's fingers, (5) all wish-fulfillment, (6) perfect body control, (7) the ability to change anything in nature, (8) to be anywhere at will.  Included in these are knowledge of the past and future, understanding the language of animals and communication with the dead.  In these powers the association with Shamanism and magic is clear."
Chinese Alchemy, pgs. 111-113.

"That the real alchemy was concerned with the metaphysical, mystical and religious life is made abundantly clear in the writings of leading alchemists of both East and West who state categorically: 'Our gold is not of this world.'  All the exhortations to right conduct, purity and religious observances show that the Work was, for the true alchemist, a spiritual matter.

"Writing on yoga and alchemy and discussing the legends and references on Tantricism, Eliade says: 'We have here no pre-chemistry, no science in embryo, but a spiritual technique, which, while operating on 'matter', sought first of all to 'perfect the spirit', to bring about deliverance and autonomy ... gold is the one perfect solar metal and hence its symbolism meets the symbolism of the Spirit, of spiritual freedom.'  This is confirmed by John Blofeld who, travelling in pre-Communist China and visiting Buddhist and Taoist monasteries, received from a Taoist abbot the statement:

'Ours in not a religion but a way to the Way...our yogas and meditation begin with the generating of tranquility, that in the stillness of our hearts we may apprehend the Tao within, around, above and below us.  We seek to nourish our vitality and prolong our lives in order to gain more time for the refinement of spirit needed for attaining higher goals.  Then comes the compounding of the Golden Pill which some misguided persons have sought to produce by alchemical processes, whereas in truth it can be 
compounded only within the body and is therefore known esoterically as the immortal foetus.  We Taoists are generally agreed that its creation is the means to immortality, but at this point paths diverge, some seek aeon-long immortality, the attainment of a god-like state, as an end in itself; others strive to Return to the Source, an apotheosis identical with the attainment of Nirvana, though conceptions of the inconceivable naturally differ.'

"...The real alchemy was the search for wisdom; its work was esoteric and on the individual, not in the laboratory, or rather the body is the laboratory in which the knowledge of the Self is gained.  That the quest was spiritual, not material, is attested by alchemy's religous affiliations, to Taoism, in particular, in the East; there are also constant references to it in Hinduism and Buddhism and strong associations in the Babylonian and Chaldean civilizations, the Egyptian-Greek 
hermeticism and, later, in Christianity and Islam.  Alchemy is also essentially mystical since its aim is union, the end of duality and absorption in the Absolute.  Alchemical terms are used throughout the spiritual processes; the conjunctio is the same as the mystic's union with the One, the loss of individual identity with the limitations of the ego dissolved in the perfect whole, and again the base metal, transmuted by purification and refining, becomes the gold of perfection, of wisdom.  The alchemist Alipili wrote:

'The highest wisdom consists in this, for man to know himself... therefore let the high enquirers and searchers into the deep mysteries of nature first learn to know what they have in themselves, and by the divine power within them let them first heal themselves and transmute their souls... if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee thou will never find it without thee... He who desires the primacy among students of nature will nowhere find a greater or better field of study than himself.  Therefore will I from certain true experience proclaim: 'Oh man, know thyself; in thee is hid the treasture of treasures'.'
Chinese Alchemy, pgs. 149-151.

"Buddhist cultures retained the ancieod meanings of femaleness long after the west renounced them.  Male and female, the Chinese yang and yin, are balanced and interpenetrating powers in many and nature, to which society is subordinate.  This code of passive acceptance has its roots in India, a land of sudden extremes where a monsoon can wipe out 50,000 people overnight.  The femaleness of fertility religions 
is always double-edged.  The Indian nature-goddess Kali is creator AND destroyer, granding boons with one set of arms while cutting throats with the other.  She is the lady ringed with skulls.  The moral ambivalence of the great mother goddesses has been conveniently forgotten by those American feminists who have resurrected them.  We cannot grasp nature's bare blade without shedding our own blood."

Camille Paglia, _Sexual Persona_, pg. 8.  

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