What is Tantra, exactly?

Tantra is complex. While in the West we have come to associate Tantra with sex, to do so is to do the broader tradition of Tantra a disservice.

Sex represents a small part of this vast system, but only a small part … Just as asana is little more than a drop in the ocean of ‘yoga’.

The broad approach of Tantra provides us with a framework within which we can turn ordinary activities into sacred actions. Walking, breathing, eating, can all serve as gateways to the Divine and may be incorporated into methodologies for transforming or transmuting energy.

Tantra views the body as a microcosm of the universe. What it does not do is celebrate ordinary identification with the body (although it has sometimes been described as a ‘body positive’ approach).

Tantric teachings, just like the teachings of Classical Yoga, show us that the body, which is impermanent and therefore subject to ageing, decay and death, can never provide us with a lasting experience of happiness. Bliss is born of the realization that our true nature is one of connection rather than separateness.

To realise this we must lift the veil of ignorance (Maya). Maya is the erroneous belief that the One is actually the many. Thus, when I realize that I am not separate from the broader matrix of the cosmos I can experience the bliss of my true nature.

In the Hindu tradition there are three orders of teachings: Vedic; Puranic; and Tantric. We can understand these as being divisions of time. That is, Vedic teachings are the oldest, Tantric the youngest.

Tantric texts address the following five topics:

  1. Creation of the universe
  2. Destruction of the universe
  3. Worship of the Divine in various forms
  4. Attainment of the goals of life and spiritual powers
  5. Ways of meditating to realize the ultimate truth

And as possessing the following characteristics:

  1. An emphasis on energetic techniques and approaches, including meditation, ritual, mantra and visualization;
  2. A universal approach, which does not reject any method on the path to spiritual awakening;
  3. Tantra gives a special place to the worship of the Goddess.

In the Vedic and Tantric system, we humans are understood as comprising three ‘bodies’ through which purusa is expressed. Each body is like a vibratory field that encases the underlying consciousness within. Our outermost body is our physical, flesh-and-bones body. Inside this lies our subtle body; the energetic basis of our physical body where our nadis, chakras and vayus live. Around these lies our causal body or karmic sheath which, rather than being a ‘body’, is more accurately described as our higher mind. This is where we store the seeds of our karma and open to the formless Divine. Beyond this lie purusa (pure awareness) and prakriti (the creative energy that gives purusa its form).

 Shades of Yoga is a yoga teacher training company, running year-round yoga teacher training programs in Bali, Costa Rica and Turkey.