This informal CPD article A Misunderstood Art: Tantra was provided by Centre of Excellence. What comes to mind when you think of tantra? Darkened rooms, sexual rituals, hedonism? Well, you can forget everything you thought you knew about tantra. This spiritual practice has been much-maligned throughout modernity and sensationalised in our intimacy and beauty-obsessed society. Even in India, the birthplace of tantra, some scholars now demean the offshoots of tantric practice with the phrase ‘tantra mantra’ - the equivalent of abracadabra - because tantra has been misinterpreted and misused so often.
It’s important to debunk some of these misconceptions through learning and respect for its spiritual roots and philosophies to gain a deeper understanding of its applications, because, if tantra is for you, the benefits can be life-changing. However, some shy away from exploring the practice due to its connotations.
While a part of tantra manuals, you might be surprised to learn sexuality is not at the core of classical tantra teachings. While the art and artistry of tantric illustrations do depict acts of primal bliss to achieve spiritual enhancement, the scripture is much more vague and enigmatic. Scholars of tantra still debate the very presence of illicit sexual rituals in the teachings.
Origins of tantra
To fully appreciate tantra, we can look at its origins. Tantra holds a special place in history as more of a folk movement outside the corridors of orthodox traditional religious philosophy, which were often elitist and unattainable to most.
With its origins in unorthodox Saiva Hinduism dating back to the 5th century, tantra enjoyed an oral history. Through this, distinct forms of tantric Buddhism developed in the 7th century and texts were compiled in the 8th century. The oral basis of tantra allowed much of the populace in India to feel more connected to their gods, feeling the essence of faith and spirituality through practice and teachers, rather than scholarly learning only available to the literate upper classes.
Indeed, Tantra’s influence stretches across the globe, from Tibet to Java. In Hinduism, tantra is even considered its own literary genre due to its impact on Hindu icons, architecture, art, and prayer rituals, such as puja. So, with a rich and spiritual history about so much more than sex, what is the real philosophy and goal of tantra?
Achievement of self-realisation
Well, tantric practices involve mindfulness, meditations, mantras and pranayamas, which focus on all the energies of the universe - and your own inner energy. Far from being a simple physical practice, it empowers you to utilise your creative energies to achieve self-realisation.
According to tantra, there is a limit to the pleasure we can derive from worldly things. For true enlightened pleasure, we must look within, to our inner energy. The ultimate goal of tantra is to derive pleasure from your mental state, harmony with the universe, and connection with the divine.
Tantra acknowledges sexual energy is a part of this - but it’s not just about sexual energy. To focus on one kind of energy is to miss out on the holistic benefits of tantra, from root to crown. Connecting with these energies can help practitioners open up to new opportunities, shake themselves free of societal fears or worries, connect on a deeper empathetic level with others, and feel calm comfort and security within themselves, rather than worldly goods. After all, tantra is not about giving into worldly pleasures but rising above them.
Benefits of tantra
Modern practitioners of tantra say the benefits are numerous. Proponents report a deeper connection to yourself. Tantra also encourages an increased awe and awareness of life - a deep appreciation of the things around us - while simultaneously promoting equal objectivity in observing these things. Some find this ensures a calm, balanced perception of life, positively serving their physical and mental wellbeing by helping them deal with modern pressures. The very practice of tantra, being a slow development of awareness and connectedness, teaches patience and perseverance. After all, true tantra is not a quick fix, and enlightenment can’t be achieved overnight.
A lifelong journey to enlightenment
But, if you are interested in learning more about the ancient art of harnessing your creative inner energy and starting that lifelong journey to enlightenment, there’s one thing you should know. Everything you need to practice tantra, you will find within yourself.
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