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


"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.
Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.