DISCLAIMER – This is an exploration piece of writing that will help to give you a deeper understanding of some of the philosophical underpinnings of Tantra. It will be a brief overview of the 36 tattvas (36-9 covered), known to be a roadmap of consciousness. There is great value in understanding this complex system, but I’d like to also note it will get a tad philosophical, and there is always something lost when explaining something as broad as the ‘tantric worldview’ which is not as doctrinal or defined as I’m about to express it. My aim here is to offer a more detailed understanding for what tantra teaches, and how that exploration happens through the practices I share, such as movement, meditation, and breath.
Tantra is non-dual.It is an exploration into opposites.
Tantra will often use the language of shiva (pure consciousness – masculine principle) and Shakti (matter + energy, and the world we experience as form and with our senses– feminine principle)Of the 36 tattvas, #36-17 are known as the lower tattvas, and they are associated with shakti.Here is a snapshot:
#36-32- the 5 elements#31-27 – subtle elements – such as odor, flavour, appearance, tactility, etc.#26-22 – body elements – evacuation (bowels) reproduction (genitals), locomotion (feet), etc#21-17 – pair with 31-27, smell, taste, seeing, touch, and hearing.….#36-17 are what you can experience in your body and in the world.In many spiritual systems, such as classical Sankhya philosophy or classical the 8 limb yoga of Patanjali there is a dualistic split, and a preference towards the male principle, the spirit, or shiva (pure consciousness)…they position the world as maya, or illusion, and many of the methods of meditation and the goal is to transcend this material universe and the human body and its senses, and to live in the realm of pure spirit.
The Tantrikas on the other hand, saw this as being world denying, and the lower tattvas, the senses, the contracted self and ego, and the world of form was taken in and embraced. Tantra then reclaimed what was taboo, such as sexuality in spirituality, eating meat, wine, and grains. Tantra did not simply reclaim them, it transforms them, by creating sensual meditations that utilize sense experience to realize wholeness.
The position here is that many people eat, or make love, but on a very surface level. A Tantrika is one who moves deeply into experience, enjoying the fullness of flavour, making sex a ceremony, and refining awareness and the senses to more totally experience the world.
Examples. I’ve heard of the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh guiding a sensual meditation in mindfulness wherein they ate an orange…. But it took them over 45 minutes to slowly take in every quality of their own being and the oranges being. Another example is the Japaneseteaceremony (known as sadō lit., “The Way of Tea“) Which is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha that can take hours.
In regards to what I teach, when practicing yoga, or spending time with me on retreat, we are diving deeply into our senses, and with an authentic exploration and safe container, we are unraveling layers within the self to experience more….to feel more deeply, to nourish more deeply, to love more deeply, and to learn to use the breath to feel and activate our nervous system for greater sensitivity and awareness. We create an openness to experience all emotions, from joy to grief, from hot temperatures and sweat lodges to cold river dips. I hold the space for you to enter your totality and enter into full presence.
When the senses are nourished fully, awareness is suffused with aesthetic rapture, which increases your capacity to feel and know beauty. To explore the polarities of life with equal openness creates a resilience in character and an openness to life in all its forms and challenges.
In Tantra, and in what I teach, we focus on mindfulness and being. In mindfulness, one increases their sensitivity, concentration, and attention of being in the moment, while attending to their body, emotions, and mind.
In regards to the tattva system, mind is split into 3 qualities (other systems have 5).
Tattva # 16 – manas – or the faculty of sense processing and attention
In many people’s experience of reality, their faculty of mind is focused on the past… projecting past scenarios into the present moment, or projecting into the future, or being consumed in a constant stream of thoughts….. by taking attention and learning to focus it purely on sense processing, the awareness shifts more deeply into the present, allowing for a great state of being.
Tattva #15 Ahankara – ego –
The ego is the self construct that creates an “I, me, mine”.The mind creates ego, which is a fictitious identity that is constructed of constructs and previous self-images projected into the present as if their static realities. In Tantra, the ego is the contracted from of your totality, thus in mindfulness one learns to become aware of the ego, not to kill it, but to befriend it and constantly expand it.
Tattva # 14 Buddhi – intellect – faculty of discernmentThis faculty of mind is responsible for reason. In mindfulness, meditation and yoga we look to refine the discerning faculty of the mind to make good decisions. In Tantra there are no wrong decisions, only learnings….but some lessons are difficult, and with good discernment we can make good decisions which make the experience of reality flow with greater ease.
Think of the flow of life like a constant ocean wave coming ashore. A pure mind is what one aims for, which creates an easeful allowing of the wave to come ashore and wash over the sand. In this metaphor your mind in the sand, and the impressions of your mind (samskara – mental grooves) are like deep impressions or footprints in the sand which prevent the flow of life from easefully washing over.
Tantric practice clears the mind to not be patterned from the past.There is a great deal more to know about the feminine principle and tattvas 36-17, such as how the energy moves with the 3 guna’s (lightness, energy and passion, and inertia). But, I’ll save that for a class I’ll teach.
Thus we have explored the feminine principle of the world of form and energy, and the 3 qualities of mind.Now we move into the more abstract male principle of shiva or pure consciousness.
Tattva #12 – is shiva, the pure witness. Shiva is the ground of being, for which all matter and energy (shakti) is contained within. Shiva consciousness is omnipotent, omniscience, and omnipresent.
Tattavas #36-17 are the contracted and manifested reality, whereas shiva is the fullest expansion. Thus the philosophy of Tantra is that pure consciousness with its desire to know itself created limitations and contractions within itself known as the 5 shells (tattvas #7-10)#7 – limited power of action, #8 limited power of knowledge or incomplete knowing, #7 Desire, #10 time, #11 causality
In our contracted form we experience these limitations, and the encouragement and exploration in Tantra is to find the edge….there is thus a recognition that we have limited power to action and knowledge, but there is still a movement towards knowing more, for our knowledge in a contracted form will never be complete, and still we seek to know more…forever expanding into infinity.
Desire arises from a craving to be in yoga, in pure unity within pure consciousness or the divine… all desire for affection, sex, money, power etc stems from our incompleteness as a contracted form from our own divinity…thus, in Tantra it is important to recognize that satisfaction will never be achieved by sense pleasure, sex, money, or power, but there is also not a need to deny them, just to see that they will never satisfy your eternal soul, and thus, the impetus is to transform these desires into a prayer that connects you to the divine.For example, if you are in a relationship, see your partner as your divine counter-part, and enter into your relationship dually, on a human level, and at the level of divine self. If you are trying to meet your human needs and desires, you will always be unfulfilled, as will your relationship. If you recognize your divinity and connection to pure consciousness, you may then act from a place of fullness in your love, and it will be an expression of completeness, and you will be satisfied regardless of the relationship you may or may not have.
Then you may be in the world and not of it, then you may be satisfied without external circumstances needing to go your way, and still, you may be successful in life.
Tantra encouraged success in spirit, and in worldly life. Many spiritual systems of inquiry are about transcending this world, or creating a perfect world (heaven) that is not this world. Tantra says, enjoy both heaven and earth.
The tattva #10 is time… in tantra there is an encouragement to recognize time. Tantra is the art of recognizing life, for its fullness. A key word in tantra is awareness. Be aware of body, mind, emotion, time, qualities, desire, causality, limitation, etc. This is how tantra expands your consciousness, the more you can be aware of, and hold in your awareness, the more expanded you will be. Opening your consciousness.
It when one lives in the full awareness that all is temporary that they truly experience life…when we fail to recognize the limitations of time, we may lose ourself in the moment and take it for granted. Thus, by learning to be mindful of this moment of time, and simultaneously the past and future, and the fact that all is here, and all will be gone, we can fully take in the present, and be anchored in eternity.
Tantra recognizes time and that many people avoid the experience of the present moment because of feelings of regret, nostalgia, fantasy, and anxiety. When one recognizes these states, and feels them, they no longer avoid them, and they are better equipped to be more present.
Tattva #11 – causality
In Tantra one deals with karma by being unattached to the outcomes of action, which creates no karma. It teaches that the desire to attain or avoid specific results creates karma.I’m going to stop at tattva #6 for today, which is maya.Maya means illusion. But, in Tantra illusion is not negative, because it is necessary to for us to see duality for self-exploration. Therefore, once more tantra is about recognition. Tantra does not judge whether duality is good or bad, it simply recognizes there is duality and increases awareness.
I’d like to end on that final note, Tantra is about refining awareness, being totally involved in life, in its fullness, without preference for salvation or suffering, without desire for the fruits of actions, Tantra says yes to life, yes to experience.
As a teacher of Tantra and Tantric practices the space I hold is for you to experience all that you are, I do this by embodying these philosophies In my life which creates the capacity for you to do the same, I create and guide individuals through their body, feeling, and mind, and teach them techniques to experience of the fullness of their consciousness. Because Tantra is not merely a philosophy, though a road map is nice…tantra is about techniques, that is what the word tantra means. That is why tantra is not about goals, or philosophy, it is not about morals, it is about liberation and expansion. It is about loving all that you are, and all that the world is.
Tantra can help an individual on every level of their being and their being in the world. From finding connection to the earth, their tribe, their sexuality, their relationship, their occupation and offerings, their love, their voice and expression, their vision, and their connection to the divine. Because it sees an individual in their totality, it works on you at every level of being, and can offer you expansion in every aspect of what you are.
It’s an honour to hold space and learn from you. For though I teach tantra, I am as much a student, and the students are the teacher. We are teaching each other through our reflections and we are gaining self-knowledge. I need you to know myself, I love you, to love myself.
We are all one.And we are all many.Much love.
Let’s dance soon?