Anything goes? Tantra.
A question was put to me: “In tantra, can any action be a means to union with the divine….”
Here are some thoughts.
- Tantra, and particularly the Kaula tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, speak of the chakras which open up progressively as the person rises to higher and fuller states of consciousness and bliss, the satisfaction of a lower chakra leading to the opening of a higher.
- However, it is also possible for a person to go ‘down’, out of folly or ignorance. Then they become ‘possessed by a Pisaca demon’ (cf. Tantraloka239a). We don’t have to go far to find people who have pursued tantra foolishly and ended up in a spiritual and even psychological mess. It is a question of seeing things and acting from an enlightened point of view. Note also, we can find people who think they are enlightened but are only fooling themselves
- Again, the egoist – and it is extremely hard to be free of egoism – becomes fixated in his or her own self-sufficiency and self-absorption. They do not develop; they fail to become expansive; they are stuck. See Tantraloka112b-113a.
- Again, not any bliss is productive. Abhinavagupta, or more clearly his commentator, Jayaratha, distinguishes between the “‘bliss which flows from …. the delusion arising from desire” This is the ‘bliss’ of ‘bonded animals (see quote following on Tantraloka100a.) It contrasts with the bliss that comes from the enlightened mind.
- Thus, not any action or any attitude will do. It must proceed from the tantric mind, which depends on valid initiation, either directly by the goddess or by the enlightened guru who will choose his or her disciple with care. There are many charlatans. Tantra is not a question of simply taking up pleasures and going from there. There is a nice quotation from Tantraloka 29:
“Without a guru, without a deity, like dullards, O Paramesvari, forever consuming wine and meat, they are ‘bonded animals’. There is no doubt about it.”
- The justification for an action is found in the effects – the increasing expansiveness of consciousness – which result. This establishes a criterion for morality different from what we are used to in the West. It is not less demanding but more.
- The union of the knowing and the known, such as seeing and the object seen, is considered to be the Kaula state, and is a reflection of the union of Siva and Shakti, the god and the goddess. See Tantraloka9 and commentary. Thus, every act of kaula knowledge is a step into the Divine. Folly and illusion do not.
- In the Christian and Catholic tradition, even the simplest things can lead to union with the divine. St Paul speaks of the glory of God visible in creation. (Romans 1:20) This is not just in beautiful sunsets but in every aspect, even in a very ordinary human being.
- It is true also, that there has been a negativity surrounding sex in the Western tradition. For some in the Greco/Roman world “All that sustains physical life – sex, eating, reproduction, even sleep – comes to be seen as sustaining the realm of “death,” against which a mental realm of consciousness has been abstracted as the realm of “true life””. There is need for a huge shift in consciousness here. That is why tantra is so appealing to people. They realise that sex can be a road to the divine.
More thoughts will follow in another posting.