What is Tantra? I’ll tell you what Tantra is. Tantra is a little door. A very pretty little door. Ornate, and beautifully carved. There might be adventures on the other side. It might be a little bit naughty.
Go on, open the Tantra door. After all, what harm can it do? Really? It’s only a little door.
So you open it, and an entire universe comes cascading out at you. Yes there is sex (far, far less than you thought), but there is art, dance, poetry, song, history, cosmology, medicine, astronomy, hell there are recipes, there are entire worlds behind that door and they’re all bursting out at you.
You might as well relax and let it happen, because you will never close that door again.
I tried to give a talk about Tantra once. It was a stupid thing to do, I wasn’t ready. I’m not ready now, and I tried to fit it all in. Everything. Entire universes, possibly tens of thousands of years of history, the modern case for an energetic, dualistic programme of spiritual work. All of it. In just under ninety minutes.
I will be forever grateful to that disaster for showing me the true nature of the group I was in. It was rich and good learning. Tough lesson though.
Let’s see if I’ve learned anything.
The Abstract. The Nutshell: Tantra.
Here is what I believe:
For a start Tantra takes us to a time before books. Before dogma was possible. To a time when ten different villages could have ten different approaches to the Divine. To a time when all ten were good and the thought of fighting over them would have seemed as insane as it is. To a time when connecting to the Divine was work, not obedience to another person’s book. To a time when you owned your own soul.
When you step out onto a Tantric path you are taking responsibility for your own spirituality. In Hindu terms you are taking Sannyas. It is a human step though. It belongs to no cult, no nation, no dogma. You belong to you.
Let’s look at the word itself. “Tantra” means weave. It is a Hindi word for what looks to be a pre Hindi religious practice. It is relevant to note that Hindis were conquerors. They conquered the land that is currently named after them in reality only a handful of millennia ago, and it was far from empty when they did. Tantra was (we believe) the faith of the indigenous people the Indus people conquered, and the Indus people (the Hindi) didn’t like it very much. They still don’t.
We have to accept that “tantra” might in fact be an insult, the way “pagan” was for the Roman Empire; or dismissive, as “Red Indian” was for early European invaders of the Americas. The language the conqueror uses to dismiss and belittle the conquered.
Tantra (we’ll continue using the word in the absence of a better) is a duality. In the beginning was the perfect. The Divine. The unknown and unknowable. The Brahm. For perfection to create it must become imperfect. How does it do that? Easy, it divides itself.
From the one derive the two.
We have called them Yin and Yang. Male and Female. They’re not of course; for a start they are fundamental cosmological forces. For a second, what we call “male” and “female” are shifting and fashion driven. Every single human being that has ever lived has been the genetic combination of both parents, the nurturing result of men as well as women; the embodiment, to a greater or lesser degree, of their society’s current standards of “masculinity” and “femininity”. We are both. We are all. Fundamental Cosmic Forces of Creation do not conform to current gender stereotypes. Neither should human beings.
To fit these forces the more easily into our simple ape brains we will call them male and female; and, to embody their remoteness, we will call them god and goddess.
From the two derive the five.
Now that we have two we have different. We have boundaries. We have change. Now that we have two we can have a universe.
At this point we have (for now) to set all this aside, because we are moving from the worshipped to the worship. Two very, very different things.
We should probably also mention improv.