What is tantra, a word so often associated with divine bliss and ecstasy?
We are constantly seeking bliss, true peace, happiness, nirvana. There is knowledge of this state of being planted in our hearts, in our every living cell. Bliss is our birthright. It is the home we are instinctively driven to return to in almost every waking moment. Tantra is the path of true bliss, which is beyond external circumstance. True bliss is drawn from consciousness itself, not what one is conscious of.
Tantra is essentially a complex, holistic yoga and a comprehensive spiritual path, infused with great devotion for consciousness, energy, and embodiment. One element is the internal science of harnessing the power of kundalini, which could be translated in English most simply as passionate and creative energy, for the purpose of supreme awakening. Devotional rituals invoke divine awareness into all aspects of life. The primary goals of tantra are moksha (liberation) and bhoga (worldly pleasure, power, and abundance). Bhoga is ultimately subordinated and in service to moksha.
Tantra is a Sanskrit word that commonly refers to a sacred text (shastra or sutra) of the ancient non-dual yogic traditions. Shastric or textually based tantric traditions more often served the educated classes and scholars in the Classical period of ancient India and modern times alike. Yet every shastra has ancient roots in more radical folk traditions that were well-established for hundreds or thousands of years before they were ever written down. There are many indigenous Indian traditions of non-dual yoga surviving to this day which refer to themselves as tantric for their non-dual mode of practice, though they may be ashastric (without sutra) or otherwise passed on primarily through oral transmission. Sutra study may be integrated yet regarded as subordinate to the direct experience of sadhana (practice), guru initiation, and devotion. There are many common elements of philosophy, view, practice, devotion, and ritual in both shastric and ashastric tantric traditions. Dakini Temple teachers have received teachings from both shastric and ashastric streams, and pass on these teachings as they were given.
In what is known as the Left-Hand path or Vama-Marga of tantra, the human condition is embraced as the ultimate opportunity to awaken. It is not denied, avoided, repressed, or transcended in an absolute sense. Senses, desires, emotions, challenges, and hungers all present opportunities to be centered, compassionate, and vibrantly awake in every moment. Whether in dedicated practice and ritual or in the flow of ordinary daily activities, the practice is present.
Philosophically, tantra is not specifically a path of hedonistic indulgence nor of self-mortification (denial of repression of the senses). It is, above all, a path of deep, vivid, meditative awareness and yogic practice under many different conditions – everything from austerity, solitude, and purification rites to desire, pleasure, and the cauldron of intimate relationships.
A refined, healthy, strong, supple yogic physical vessel is intentionally cultivated as a foundation for the path in order to experience the highest states of being, to be master-artists in the giving and receiving of love, and to truly taste all that life offers.
All pleasure, joy, nourishment, and rejuvenation cultivated within tantric practice is infused with pure motive as these fruits are ultimately for the purpose of blessing others with the energy, serenity, clarity, vitality, and wisdom that may result. Every act of the tantrika is, at its very core, for the benefit of all beings. This is the foundational pure motive that is the ‘wish fulfilling jewel,’ which can only emerge naturally, auspiciously, at your own ripe time through insight and practice.
This practice embraces totality in our selves and in all things. The full spectrum of the psyche is explored and faced consciously through art and meditation, and the underlying creative kundalini energy is utilized in conscious, creative ways. Dualities are dissolved both within and without ourselves. All polarities are balanced and integrated.
Some elements of traditional tantra yoga can include pranayam (breath work), subtle-body (internal) yoga, meditation, yoga asana (postures), deity yoga, bhakti yoga (devotion), kriyas (cleansing), mantra (sound and chanting), puja (devotional ritual), mudra, yantra (sacred geometry), yoga nidra, karmamudra (sexual yogas), and artistic expression.
The tantric path may at times utilize passionate energy, intimate sadhanas, sensory meditation, and conscious transgression in advanced practice. Tantra yoga attends to all aspects of human life via yogic refinement: dharma (service and right living), artha (work and wealth), kama (art of love), and moksha (liberation). Though the senses are celebrated, the focus is on meditation and devotion, not on personal gratification or power. Ironically, when egoic selfishness is sacrificed and true compassion and absolute awareness are present, the highest bliss is possible.
The nature of your personal experience with tantra and the level of knowledge imparted to you will be entirely dependent on your personal intentions and how much time, energy, and devotion you put into your personal practice.
Ultimately, tantra is impossible to define easily or completely. If it seems to be a mysterious topic, it’s because it is meant to be. In all lineages much information is guarded and is progressively revealed only as initiates become ripe for them, as in any important progressive learning process dealing with powerful technologies.
Though reading on the topic is recommended, it cannot be your sole resource for learning. Traditional texts and canons are meant for initiates, and only as intellectual supplements to direct experience. They may seem like incomplete or incomprehensible esoteric poetry to the uninitiated. Aside from the coded nature of the literature, it is often marred in translation from the ancient tongue of a specific and isolated culture into English. Modern texts may be somewhat more accessible intellectually, but the tantric paths requires the loving, skilled, and knowledgeable transmission of a teacher to unlock the deepest meaning and to integrate the information into direct experience.
There are countless lineages or schools of tantra, all with different treasures to offer, which have manifested over thousands of years throughout many cultures. As noted, the facilitators here have collectively gathered knowledge and experience from a multitude of traditions and teachers. Explore and enjoy.
“The practice of Candamaharosana
Will not be accomplished by asceticism.
As long as the mind is not purified,
One is fruitless & bound by chains of ignorance.
One who, possessing desire, represses desire,
is living a lie…
Therefore, one who desires the Supreme Attainment
Should practice what is to be practiced.
To renounce the sense objects
is to torture oneself by asceticism — don’t do it!
When you see form, look!
Similarly, listen to sounds,
Taste delicious flavors,
Use the objects of the five senses-
You will quickly attain supreme Buddhahood!
…When I teach avoidance of sexual union,
That is so that weak worldly beings will abandon it.
I teach whatever will mature worldly beings.
One & all will become Buddhas
By the dance of the magical displays of a Victorious One,
By various diverse methods.
In all the discourses & Abhidharma texts,
Women are disparaged,
Spoken for the sake of disciples of various capacities-
The real truth is taught secretly.
‘Why do the early disciples & others slander women?’
That is common to the early disciples & others
who live in the realm of desire,
Not knowing the path of liberation
That relies on women & bestows everything.”
-Sakyamuni, from the Candamaharosana-tantra
The Radiance Sutras (Vijnana Bhairava Tanta), Lorin Roche
Passionate Enlightenment; Women in Tantric Buddhism, Miranda Shaw
Inner Tantric Yoga, David Frawley
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhananda
*We do not recommend the body modification practices. This text is to be used under the guidance of a qualified teacher only.
Shree Maa: The Guru & the Goddess, Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas, David R. Kinsley
Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, Stephen Mitchell
Poised for Grace: Annotations on the Bhagavad Gita from a Tantric View, Douglas Brooks
Tantric Quest, Daniel Odier
Kundalini Yoga, Swami Sivananda
Kundalini Yoga for the West, Swami Sivananda Radha
Kularnava Tantra, Ram Kumar Rai
Introduction to Tantra, Lama Yeshe
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpche
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
The MultiOrgasmic Man, Mantak Chia
The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, Nancy Qualls-Corbett
Meditation as Medicine, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. and Cameron Stauth
Dakini’s Warm Breath, Judith Simmer-Brown
Journey of the Heart: Path of Conscious Love, John Welwood
A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon
Transfigurations, Alex Grey