"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tantra: Shrines As Teachers 3

Khajuraho Temple:

Khajuraho, another tantric site in central India, is dramatically different from all the places mentioned so far -it consists of more than a dozen temples, whose walls are covered with erotic statues of yogis and yoginis performing various tantric mudras. Due to its sensual appeal Khajuraho has been overrun by tourists from India and abroad, so you may not encounter tantrics at this site today. But if you have a basic background in tantrism you will find that the walls picture tantric practices that incorporate the use of alcohol and lovemaking. A tour through Khajuraho will leave you either with the impression that tantrism is a path of lustful insanity or with the understanding that it is a way of transforming this natural urge into a spiritual means.

Ujjain Temple:

Like Banaras, the city of Ujjain in central India is a hub of many tantric traditions and the practices associated with them. Mahakala, the devourer of time, or the destroyer of death, presides over all other deities residing here, but practices from many traditions are often found in the same ritual.The central focus of the early morning worship of Mahakala,for example, involves smearing the shiva lingam with ash from the cremation ground, as well as elements from astrology,alchemy, rituals, and purely meditative yogic techniques.Nowhere else will you find such a perfect blend of so many disparate elements.For ages Ujjain was the center of astronomical research,where tantric sadhakas studied the nature and movement of the stars and planets and discovered the connecting links between the celestial realm and the human body. Those who are familiar with tantric astrology will have no trouble understanding why a certain practice associated with the shrine of Mangalanatha (Mars) in Ujjain can affect our worldly prosperity by influencing the forces in our body and mind that correspond to Mars.

The walls and ceiling of the Hara Siddha Gauri temple in Ujjain are like a living library. Here you will find an elaborate Sri Chakra with hundreds of deities depicted in their personified form. To a student of tantra familiar with the basic scriptures of Sri Chakra an hour-long visit to this temple is equivalent to several years of study in a conventional library.

Kala Bhairava Temple: 

A visit to the Kala Bhairava temple nearby will change your belief system if you happen to witness the statue of Kala Bhairava apparently drinking liquor - a phenomenon that occurs frequently. The liquor actually disappears from the chalice. After seeing this your curiosity regarding left-hand tantra will turn into a burning desire to practice and unveil the mystery for yourself.

Vikranta Bhairava
Five hundred yards from this temple, at the cremation ground on the riverbank, is the shrine of Vikranta Bhairava, a place famous for the quick acquisition of startling siddhis, or supernatural powers. Here, in the dead of night, tantrics who are lovers of the destructive force celebrate the eternal sport of the creator. And if you are persistent you will meet tantric adepts like Dabral Baba, a spiritual figure noted for his clairvoyance.

Far to the west in the hills of Girnar in the state of Gujarat the tantric masters are hidden in monasteries or living in ashrams. By and large they belong to the tradition of Dattatreya and Gorakhnatha, and they are unique in their ability to combine alchemy with tantric practices.On the other hand, the tantrics living in the hills of Malabar in South India are characterized by their knowledge of shakti sadhana, especially Sri Vidya. The majority of them are householders who adhere strictly to the puritan values of orthodox brahmins, and in their system of tantra sadhana the use of liquor, meat, and other "morally impure" components is not permitted. Here right-hand tantra is practiced in its purest form.


And finally, if you go to the Himalayan region in North India you will find the full spectrum of tantra. Every village has a shrine, a guardian deity, and a set of practices to propitiate this deity, who, according to their faith, gives them protection and nourishment. Whether they know it or not,the way in which these villagers connect their hearts with the deity is purely tantric. Uneducated, they lack access to the scriptures, but they follow family traditions which have been passed down for untold generations. To them the deity residing in the local shrine is a part of their family, and they grow up with the belief that they themselves are an integral part of nature's family, like the plants, animals, rivers, and mountains.

This is the fundamental philosophy of tantra, and the practices of the Himalayan villagers are molded by it. They are pure and innocent - nature has taught them honesty and simplicity. Content with life, they continue their spiritual pursuits in the manner they have learned from their elders and teachers. They believe that the deity at the local shrine is part of them and they are part of Her; they come from Her, live under Her protection, and after death they go back to Her.The villagers who know the scriptures consider the same deity to be the manifestation of the highest truth. And by following more systematic and comprehensive tantric practices than those done by the uneducated villagers, they attempt to experience universal consciousness by merging with Her.

These different levels of understanding both the Divinity and the purpose of life have led to different approaches for gaining Her grace and guidance. This is how the tantric practices have become so diverse. For example, one person worships the deity so that his goats will be healthy and fertile,another so that her children will marry into a suitable family,while others worship and meditate on Her in order to attain freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. To express their love and devotion to the Divinity some offer vegetarian food,while others sacrifice a goat. Still others surrender their ego to the Divine. Some connect their hearts with the Divine by means of simple tantric practices like offering incense, flowers,water, and fruit to the fire, along with the recitation of prayersand mantras. Others, who are familiar with the symbolic meaning of yantras, have developed more elaborate rituals.They know that different components of the yantras represent the invisible forces of individual and collective consciousness,so they incorporate the visualization and worship of yantra into their practices. And in the same village there may be someone endowed with the understanding that the human body is a miniature universe - a perfect yantra for meditating on the highest reality. Such a one has a purely meditative approach to tantra and aims to experience oneness with the primordial Divinity without any ritual involvement at all.


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