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What is Tantra?

Introduction to Tantra

Tantra is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to weave’ or ‘a loom’. It is understood as indicating the principle of unity underlying everything, of which the universe in its entirety is a concrete manifestation. The warp and weft of the loom points to ‘Maya’ – the duality or weaving of illusion that is the material world as perceived through the screen of habit and the conditioning that is the unenlightened mind. Tantric practitioners utilise practices cultivating energy and consciousness, in order to penetrate the illusion in emancipatory ways.

What is Neotantra

Ancient Asian tantric teachings would be practised under strict guidance of a guru, involving complex rituals and meditations. Contemporary neotantric teachings bear little resemblance to historical (often monastic) paths, and have evolved in way appropriate to the westernised seeker and the concerns they often bring, such as how to unite the spiritual and sexual, how to fall into a deeper union with their beloved.

Tantra has different branchings sometimes known as red and white Tantra, left and right hand path. My own practice leans towards the teachings of red Tantra or neotantra, which invite sexual energy into meditation. Broadly speaking I lean towards the left hand path, which through many traditions has utilised the conscious breaking of taboo: I speak of tantra from this perspective which is one of many.

A simple definition of Tantra:

Tantra is the dance between energy and consciousness. Reality is created through the unity of energy and consciousness, and through the unity of the divine female principle of shakti and the divine male principle of shiva. 

John Hawken

My own experience of this union is that it is not about a man and woman coming together, though it might be expressed through any two people coming together in sexual union of any kind. But more truly it is about the union of energy and consciousness within each one of us.

The energy principle is “female” only in so much as we tend to name storms after women. The consciousness principle is “male” only in so much as we have come to associate verticality with masculine, and horizontal with feminine principals (as in hierarchical or rhizome like structures of organisation).

It could be said this is all a cultural overlay, and what truly matters is how we each individually experience this in our own body and being. We can intend within to inhabit all polarities, flying with two wings as Rumi calls it, so our unique dance can unfold in each moment, balanced and free.

God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.

What is tantra: breaking free

Of everything we see in the world, we can say, “and I am that too” – this is the basic principle of an underlying unity. Except that through a process of conditioning and ego formation, we have come to identify ourselves with a limited number of forms that we understand to be who we are. Often our adherence to these forms happens at an unconscious level, so that we are no longer free to choose who we are – but instead are chosen by the constructs of our societies, families and personal histories. This delusion of who we are is primarily maintained by unconscious and habitual thought processes, and stuck patterns in the energy and physical body

Turning up the volume of our energy body, we can experience how it truly moves. Our awareness awakens the potential to shape shift into our own unique dance of energy, one which expresses that which is deeply true for us – our spirit we could say – as oppose to the conditioning and beliefs we have inherited.

Tantra meditation practices are a collection of tools with one intent: to break free from this unconscious conditioning, and become more of who we truly are.

How do neotantric practices work?

  • Initially, by dropping into the body and senses draws our focus away from the stream of unconscious thought processes and we evolve a new ‘centre of gravity’ located in the body
  • From this new centre we tend to be more able to directly experience the truth of the present moment, rather than seeing things through the screen of our habitual thought processes
  • We learn to direct our contemplative awareness into into a particular aspect of ourselves – such as the heart, belly, sex – and hear choices from those places that may previously have gone unheard
  • Becoming witness to formerly unconscious processes, we can begin to discern  the difference between responses in alignment with our highest self and conditioned reactions
  • De-armouring massage and energy practices can help us release the physical / emotional / energy structures that underlie our conditioned reactions
  • We learn how to use breath, movement and sound as the keys to turn up the volume of our energy body, enabling us to really listen and move from its fluidity, shapeshifting into new realities
  • Additionally delving deeply into orgasm requires us to surrender mentally, physically and in our energy body, causing the armouring of past experience to fall away opening us to a new experience of life
What is Tantra? Shadow tiger.

What is Tantra?

Left-Hand Path Tantra in particular teaches us that we transcend our limited view of the nature of reality through ritualistically and consciously breaking whatever taboos are relevant to our age. In ancient Asia this would have involved the ritual consumption of prohibited meat and wine. In our age sexuality is commonly shrouded in taboo, guilt and shame – so is prime material for a contemporary left-hand path tantrika.

In summary to the question What is Tantra – neotantra is a system of teachings and tools that may enable us to see through the screen of illusion created by conditioning, to the underlying unity of consciousness, of which all things in the universe are a concrete manifestation. Through this process we can liberate ourselves from karmic patterns and conditioning to become the creators of our own destiny.

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