Musings, Blog, Featured

A Word on Tantra* and Bhakti

I am a shameless Bhākta.  I am head over heels in love with divinity in many of Its forms.  So why Tantra?  It is said that Bhakti is the fastest and most enjoyable path to enlightenment, so why not just stick to that?  That’s where I started, so why the emphasis on Tantra these days?

It’s like this: Bhakti is indeed a very fast and enjoyable path.  I don’t know about enlightenment because I am not enlightened, but I trust what knowledgeable people say about that being true.  I do know from experience that it is a lightning-fast method to obtain Oneness.  When I’m chanting, the bliss of that Oneness is unsurpassed.  The effects of the vibrations change matter, as I found out when I healed my body with chanting.  However, the Oneness fragments back into the many when I stop chanting and come back to the relative world.  The echos of the vibrations definitely come with me, and ripple out into all areas of my life, but they don’t quite sustain me, nor do they root out my deep samskāras that drive my actions and populate my filters.  Some go, certainly, but not the deepest ones.

This is why Tantra.  Tantra effectively removes the samskāras so they no longer are a thing.  Tantra doesn’t go digging for the roots of them, though.  Tantra is not interested with the story of how those roots got there.  Think of it like invasive English ivy wrapping itself around the trees in a forest.  The view is obstructed, and the tree is starving from strangulation, with the ivy blocking the light from the leaves.  Anyone who has tried to remove ivy by pulling at the vines knows how many tendrils are attached to the tree and how hard it is to remove it.  However, if the backbone of the vine is cut at regular intervals, the sections are cut off from their roots and die. The dead sections’ tendrils naturally desiccate and fall away.  The ivy’s roots are deprived of sunlight and photosynthesis.  The tree now strengthens and grows stronger, and the view is clear.

This is how Tantra works in my life, and is why it is my primary path.  I have been constrained for most of my life by extremely unpleasant samskāras.  I have tried many different “self help” paths and techniques, along with professional help, to free myself from the pain of them and live a thriving life.  None of that has worked. However, by regularly practicing my Tāntrik sādhana, some of the most painful samskāras have suddenly disappeared.  I didn’t have to dig at their roots, they simply let go and fell away.  I feel strong and resilient, and my view is clear.

The Sufis call it polishing the mirror.  I dub it cutting the ivy.  The strangulation is gone.  I can be more myself, free and natural and more attuned to my Source, while at the same time operating in the relative world, which is why I believe I embodied. The effects don’t dissipate, either.  Sure, the roots may send up tendrils to attempt to become reestablished, but a tendril doesn’t strangle and block the view like a thick vine.  The ongoing sādhana takes care of that as easily as simply breathing, and they are gone.

So, like most things in my life, it’s both.  I am a Bhākta to my core.  That will never change, thank the Goddess!  But it’s Tantra that has made my daily life a place where I experience being safe and secure, for the first time I can remember.  Sitting in that awareness right now brings me to tears.  It has a value beyond measure.  The practices can be as simple as following the breath and a little visualization and as elaborate as multi-day, intricate ceremonies.  They can be entirely internal, or external with many props. They can involve diving deep into mantra or not.  They can use the vehicle of the divine masculine principle or the divine feminine One.  That’s the beauty, Tantra has something for everyone’s natural proclivities, and meets you where you are. Tantra celebrates the multiplicity and diversity within the Oneness.

So for me, Bhakti got me here and continues to enliven my practices, and Tantra cuts the backbone of my samskāras so that I can thrive and grow with a clear view in everyday life, free from the suffering and constraints of what has come before.  I am so deeply grateful for all the achāryas, teachers, and gurus who dedicated their lives to preserving this irreplaceable sacred wisdom down through the ages, and still do to this day.  I honor their commitment and integrity, as I strive to do my best to honor the practices and be a good steward and student.

May all beings discover what cuts their ivy.  Om.

*Footnote:  I feel I need to qualify the term Tantra as being practices taught from the Tantras (Sanskrit sacred texts) by an authorized  lineage holder from the source culture that is qualified to teach them.  If you benefit from any other types of practices, and find they cut your ivy, great!  However, unless they meet the above description, they are not Tantra.  As a demonstration of my commitment to preservation and stewardship, I will call you out on incorrect usage of the word.

If your practices were adapted by teachers outside of a source culture lineage, that’s Neo-Tantra.  If you avoid calling what you do Neo-Tantra because it has too much of a sexual connotation, and sexual practices are not your focus, you are tasting a tiny bit of what the source culture feels about the appropriation of the word Tantra.

A word on sacred sexual practices.  There is nothing wrong with sexual practices as spiritual practice.  Tantra doesn’t say anything about how you live your life, so it’s not bad or immoral, it’s just not Tantra.