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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Where Tantra Thrives

         Tantrics have never involved themselves in religion,either as advocates or critics, but the myriad techniques they have developed for enhancing the quality of worldly and spiritual life have proved so potent that tantrism has influenced every aspect of life, including religion, in India and neighboring countries. But tantrics themselves have shunned the spotlight, doing their practices quietly to avoid notice. Some have practiced at home, but the intricacy of the rituals and the long hours required to complete them make this difficult, so most have preferred to practice in secluded spots. The most suitable sites are remote, offering only the bare necessities, so that only those who are fully committed to sadhana are attracted to them. What is more,not satisfied that their austere environment would guarantee sufficient protection from the curious, tantrics have often deliberately adopted bizarre behavior and assumed a socially unacceptable appearance.

          This behavior, intended to repel casual seekers, has always acted as a magnet to sincere sadhakas (spiritual aspirants), for here, in isolation, they have been free to experiment with tantric techniques that would have created a furor elsewhere.Thus in the course of time these remote sites became laboratories for tantra sadhana. Originally mathas (monasteries) or ashrams, over time the energy generated by the intense and prolonged practices conducted there became so concentrated that they came to be regarded as shrines. Disciples and followers erected monuments in honor of their masters, or the aspect of Divinity that enabled them to reach high levels of realization, and many of these were later modified into magnificent temples.

Khajuraho Temple,Madhya Pradesh

          As the years rolled by, however, the monuments and temples began to attract archeologists and visitors, who knew little or nothing about the history of the adepts and the nature of the practices they had undertaken. Pilgrims regard such a site with reverence, but they usually focus their attention on the monument itself or on a temple that houses an altar or a statue, unaware that the actual shrine is not one particular spot,but the entire locale - a stretch of riverbank, a hilltop,an entire mountain valley, or a sizable tract of forest.Unfamiliar with the dynamics of the energy that vibrates throughout the area at a subtle level, they pay homage to the deity in a temple. The tantrics who still live in the vicinity continue to bask in that energy today as they conduct their prolonged practices in privacy.

          Some shrines have been occupied for thousands of years by tantrics who have undertaken the same or a similar practice, and there the energy is so well-polarized that if we live in the vicinity and undertake a compatible practice we are naturally immersed in that stream of energy and glide toward the goal almost without effort. On the other hand,if we undertake a practice that is not compatible with the energy of the site we will confront formidable obstacles.

Tirtha-Raja,Allahabad,Utter Pradesh

          Other sites, such as Allahabad, have been the hub of hundreds of tantric practices, and therefore within the radius of a dozen miles or so almost any kind of tantric sadhana will be fruitful. And because thousands of devout practitioners and millions of faithful pilgrims visit Allahabad every year, they perpetuate the concentration of spiritual energy there. As a result this city is called tirtha raja (the lord of all shrines).

          Just as we must go into a laboratory to gain a direct experience of the applied sciences and conduct repeated experiments to discover the strengths and weaknesses of our findings, so must we undertake practices at these shrines to gain an in-depth knowledge of tantra. If we visit a variety of them we will find that each has its own unique characteristics,and practicing there will bring its own specific revelation. The resulting experiences help us understand why some practices include certain disciplines and others do not, and why a particular shrine is conducive to a particular type of practice and disruptive to others.

          Inexperienced students believe that the different schools of tantra are antithetical. They mistake a particular technique for the sum of tantra and have no way of resolving apparent contradictions among different disciplines. But after coming into contact with a variety of teachers and disciplines they will come to see that apparently contradictory tantric practices are appropriate in a specific context and inappropriate in others, and that specific practices are meaningful at different levels of sadhana.

          The experiences gained at these sites also teaches us to understand apparent discrepancies in the scriptures. Tantric practices are rarely documented in a systematic or comprehensive manner. And until we understand the context in which references to particular practices are made we will find contradictions among different tantric texts. In some practices,for example, the use of meat and liquor is compulsory; in others it is prohibited. Some scriptures prescribe sacrificing the inner beast (the ego) by means of contemplation and self-surrender; others prescribe sacrificing an animal to achieve this same result.

          Those with only a superficial knowledge of tantra will also find a contradiction between the "left-hand" and "right-hand" paths. Because left-hand tantrics do not hold conventional standards of ethics and morality in high regard there is the general impression that in addition to consuming meat and fish in their practices, left-hand tantrics invariably drink liquor and have sex as part of their rituals. On the other hand,it is believed that right-hand tantrics are pure people who maintain high standards of ethics and morality and condemn the philosophy and practices of left-hand tantrics. They are more "spiritual," it is thought, than those of the left-hand path. This sense that there is a sharp dichotomy between the two paths was not prevalent before writing books became a profession; it has been created and perpetuated by those who have neither studied the scriptures thoroughly nor visited tantric shrines to observe how aspirants from both paths study and practice under the guidance of the masters.


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