What is Tantra?

In her introductory piece, Leora Lightwoman reveals the secret to transcending the physical...

The word Tantra comes from the Sanskrit roots “tanoti” meaning “to expand” and “trayati” meaning “liberation”. Through the expansion of consciousness, liberation is attained.

There is no one fundamental Tantric text or scripture- there are many. Sutras may take the form of a conversation between Divine lovers, Shiva and Shakti, the archetypal male and female principles, or the form of a song, sang in ecstasy. For example, the Song of Saraha is a spontaneous and direct communication of ultimate reality, communicated via metaphor, which has the capacity to transport the listener into a deeper dimension.

Saraha was a ninth century Tantric Buddhist, who introduced the practice of mahamudra, meaning the “great symbol”. The Tantraloka, compiled by Abhinavagupta and written in the 11th century, is a summary of many of the previous Tantras. It includes the contents of the three branches of Kashmiri Shaivism, including the Shiva sutras, originating directly from Shiva himself.

One of the oldest known Tantras, the Vijnanbhairava Tantra, which is over 5000 year old, does both. It is a dialogue between Divine lovers, the male and female principle. I shall include several excerpts from this, and I invite you to let go of striving to understand them mentally, and instead allow the poetry, the qualities expressed beyond words, to touch you.

Tantra is about fully embracing the physical world. Nothing is separate from the Divine. Tantra invites us to enter deeply into the experience of each of our five senses, with awareness and presence. In so doing it is possible to meet the essence, Unity.

"Imagine the five coloured circles of a peacock feather to be your fives senses disseminated in unlimited space and reside in the spatiality of your own heart."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra.

Instead of renouncing the body, Tantra advocates the inner marriage of energy and consciousness – becoming acutely and intimately aware of the subtle energy processes within and beyond the physical body, and through so doing, transcending the physical.

"If you meditate in your heart, in the upper centre of between your eyes, the spark, which will dissolve discursive thought will ignite, like when brushing eyelids with fingers. You will then melt into supreme consciousness."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

In Tantra the male principle, or Shiva, is a representation of pure consciousness and containment. The female principle, Shakti, is pure energy. The marriage of pure energy with consciousness is Tantra, union.

"When you realise that you are in every thing, the attachment to body dissolves, and joy and bliss arise."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

One of the main principles in Tantra is that the senses are gateways to the Divine.

"At the time of euphoria and expansion caused by delicate foods and drinks, be total in this delight and, through it, taste supreme bliss."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

We eat and drink every day. It is possible to open up completely to the sensations of eating and drinking, and to taste what lies beyond the physical. This can occur when the practitioner is fully present in the moment. Allowing oneself to become totally absorbed in sensuality is, in itself a meditation practice, which develops presence.

"By being totally present in song, in music, enter spatiality with each sound that rises and dissolves into it."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

Also:

"In summer, when your gaze dissolves in the endlessly clear sky, penetrate this light that is the essence of your own mind."
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

Leora Lightwoman read psychology at Oxford University, then trained as a yoga teacher and bodyworker. She has been a Tantra practitioner since 1993. In 2001 she formed her own school, Diamond Light Tantra. This is a pragmatic and eclectic approach to sexual, emotional and spiritual healing.
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Scottish Labour's defeat to the Tories confirms a political transformation

The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist.

It was Scotland where Labour's recovery was supposed to begin. Jeremy Corbyn's allies predicted that his brand of left-wing, anti-austerity politics would dent the SNP's hegemony. After becoming leader, Corbyn pledged that winning north of the border would be one of his greatest priorities. 

But in the first major elections of his leadership, it has proved to be Labour's greatest failure. A result that was long thought unthinkable has come to pass: the Conservatives have finished second (winning 31 seats). For the first time since the 1910 election, Labour has finished third (winning 24). Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale stood on a left-wing platform, outflanking the SNP on tax (pledging to raise the top rate to 50p and increase the basic rate by 1p), promising to spend more on public services and opposing the renewal of Trident. But rather than advancing, the party merely retreated.

Its fate confirms how Scottish politics has been realigned. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. With the SNP as the only major pro-independence party, the Tories, led by the pugnacious Ruth Davidson, framed themselves as the pro-UK alternative - and prospered. In contrast, Dugdale refused to rule out supporting a second referendum and suggested that MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for secession. The result was that Scottish Labour was left looking dangerously irrelevant. "Identity politics. Labour doesn't get it," a shadow minister told me. Its socialist pitch counted for little in a country that remains ideologically closer to England than thought. The SNP has lost its majority (denying it a mandate for a second referendum) - an outcome that the electoral system was always designed to make impossible. But its rule remains unthreatened. 

Corbyn's critics will seek to pin the baleful result on him. "We turned left and followed Jeremy's politics in Scotland, which far from solving our problems, pushed us into third," a senior opponent told me. But others will contend that a still more left-wing leader, such as Neil Findlay, is needed. Dugdale is personally supportive of Trident and was critical of Corbyn before his election. Should she be displaced, the party will be forced to elect its sixth leader in less than five years. But no one is so short-sighted as to believe that one person can revive the party's fortunes. Some Corbyn critics believe that a UK-wide recovery is a precondition of recovery north of the border. At this juncture, they say, SNP defectors would look anew at the party as they contemplate the role that Scottish MPs could play in a Westminster government. But under Corbyn, having become the first opposition to lose local election seats since 1985, it is yet further from power. 

In Scotland, the question now haunting Labour is not merely how it recovers - but whether it ever can. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.