Tantra and its Misconceptions- Reclaiming the Essence from the Illusions

Tantra and the Worship of the Goddess                   
Tantra is associated with the worship of the Goddess, the feminine aspect of Divinity, and this is one of its prime features. Tantra provides a whole spiritual science for the worship of the Divine Mother, not merely a set of beliefs or dogmas but a practical way of developing our higher awareness through Her wisdom and Her grace. For those seeking to understand the religion of the Divine Mother, Hindu Tantra is perhaps the best key.

Yet there are also Tantric teachings which focus on Shiva, Vishnu and other Gods and in which the Goddess does not play a central role. Tantra is not limited to Goddess worship, and some form of Goddess worship is found in all the traditions of India going back to the most ancient Vedic. It is not unique to the Tantric.

Traditional Tantra gives reverence to both male and female powers and affirms that the God and Goddess go together, support each other, and should be worshipped together. Along with the Goddess is her consort, the great God, Lord Shiva. Their children - Ganesh and Skanda - play an important part, as do the deities of the Hindu pantheon, which are all related to each other.

Tantra and Kundalini
Kundalini, often translated as the serpent power, is a term which has gained some recognition today, particularly in yogic and New Age circles, though it is seldom properly understood. Kundalini literally means a coiled-up energy or the power that dwells in a cave (kunda). For any transformation to be possible, an energy is needed to bring it about. For the transformation of consciousness a special and powerful energy is needed. This is Kundalini.

Tantra presents a whole yogic and mantric science for developing Kundalini. However, this Tantric science has its foundation or parallels in Vedic, Vedantic and Yoga texts that speak of the transforming word (vak), the energy of consciousness (cit-shakti), or the power of knowledge (jnana-shakti), which are synonyms for Kundalini.

The traditional role of Kundalini is different than the way in which it is generally viewed today, which is to regard it as a mere force to control and harness. Kundalini is a form of the Goddess and should be worshipped as Her power. It is not some psychic energy to be aroused but a Divine energy to be revered. Efforts to manipulate Kundalini through willful practice or forceful techniques are not only dangerous, but fail to recognize the reality of the Goddess and are contrary to her worship.

Many yogis, including Tantrics, may use no specific practices or Pranic manipulations to arouse the Kundalini. The arousing of the Kundalini can occur through intense devotion or profound meditation and does not require the use of specific Yoga techniques. Higher direct realization or knowledge approaches may not even mention the term Kundalini. Energy always follows consciousness and does not have to be approached as an end in itself. On the other hand, if we pursue energy apart from consciousness we may gain power, but, as it is not under the control of awareness, it is likely to have undesirable side-effects.

When Yoga techniques are used to arouse the Kundalini - and they are often very helpful - they should be done as part of a practice of surrender to the Divine or inquiry into the Self-nature. Without this basis they cannot be done correctly. Hence the yoga student must first have a background in meditation, control of the senses, and an understanding of the workings of the mind before trying to work with Kundalini.

Tantra and Art
Tantra is allied with all forms of art in India. As the Goddess is the Divine Word, Tantra is closely associated with the tradition of Sanskrit poetry and the entire tradition of Sanskrit learning and literature has a strong Tantric imprint. Stories of Shiva and Devi (the Goddess), popular in Tantric teachings, are the basis of Indian music and dance. Shiva is known as Nataraj or the Lord of the Dance. The Goddess has her own special gentle dance called the lasya. Indian art, including painting, sculpture and architecture, has a similar basis in Hindu mythology which Tantra shares. The many images and statues found in Hindu temples are fashioned and worshipped according to the rules prescribed in Tantric texts.

Today we need to recreate a more dharma-oriented artistic tradition and bring back the use of the image, icon and a way of sacred art. Tantric art can show us how to do this. But the artistic side of Tantra has its discipline. It is not a tradition without rules, or one that approves of anything dramatic, sensational, novel or unconventional as art. Tantra provides a structured and orderly conception of art based upon an understanding of the occult and spiritual laws of the universe.
Tantra and Science
Tantra is a kind of science, a way of knowledge both for understanding the outer world and the inner psyche. Tantra is based on and closely allied with the various traditional sciences of India, of which the two most notable are Ayurveda (Vedic medicine) and astrology (Jyotish). In addition some modern scientists find the energetic concepts of Tantra to be similar to their own discoveries.

Tantra is allied with the alchemical traditions found throughout the medieval world, including China, India, the Middle East and Europe. In fact, much of what has been called alchemy is simply Tantra as a global tradition. In this regard Tantra is nothing new, but the revival of the old alchemical and hermetic approach which is the basis of much of European mysticism.

The alchemical tradition exists within contemporary Ayurveda, which uses special preparations or alchemical forms of sulphur, mercury, mica, and other minerals. Ayurveda uses Tantric practices as part of its treatment for mental health, as well as for rejuvenation. Both Tantra and Ayurveda are becoming popular in the modern world; their connections will be discussed in the third section of this book.

Tantric practices are timed according to the rules of Hindu astrology. Symbolism based on Hindu astrology occurs in many Tantric teachings. Tantric methods - including rituals, mantras and gems - are also used for balancing planetary influences as part of astrology. Hindu astrology includes palmistry and other forms of divination, many of which came to Europe along with the gypsies, who originated in India. These are also part of Tantric science which seeks to unlock the underlying laws of life.

Tantric science thus includes spiritual, occult and material sciences and is a possible model for the holistic science that the coming global age demands.

The author Dr David Frawley is an accomplished and highly respected scholar on Indic studies. He is the founder of The American Institute of Vedic Studies. To know more about his work visit www.vedanet.com. This article first appeared in Life Positive India 2006.

Also read
1.    Introduction to Tantra by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait - http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Tantra-Unveiled-1.aspx

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