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8 October 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

What is Tantra?

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

By Leora Lightwoman

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.

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“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