Tantra has many branches and many faces. If we put ‘California Tantra’ to the side for a moment 😉 and look at Tantra in its more traditional rendering, we see that some forms of Tantra are quite ancient and rudimentary or associated with the occult, whereas others are among the most sublime enlightenment teachings in the world. And while there is a lot of variation in Tantric practice, there are also common themes throughout all of Tantric philosophy. Here are some of them:
Tantric philosophy embraces all of reality
Tantra embraces all of reality: the beautiful stuff and the tough stuff. This is because all things are considered to be ‘divine’ or ‘sacred’ in origin. If we take this teaching seriously – that all things are sacred – we cannot reject any of it, even if it confronts us. Doing so would be akin to saying it’s not sacred in nature. And Tantra says it is. To experience this as fact – as true within our body – is said to be what liberates us from suffering. In fact, Tantric ethics are based on the recognition that the physical world is as sacred as the spiritual one.
Both pleasure and pain can be doorways to sacred experience
A corollary of the first tenet is the recognition within Tantric philosophy that physical and emotional pleasure can be sacred (the taste of beautiful food, the touch of someone we love, the joy of a piece of music). This is very enticing (and one of the reasons people mistakenly think that Tantra is about sex). Even more profound than this, though, is the idea that sacredness can be found in upheaval, in grief, in pain, in tragedy, in sickness. Why? Because everything is sacred in origin.
Tantric philosophy teaches that Shakti (the divine feminine) is the source of universal power
Shiva (the divine masculine) is the source of universal consciousness. Shakti (the divine feminine) is the source of universal power. Consciousness, without power, is inert. Power, without consciousness, is uncontrollably wild.
This is true whether this power appears in the cosmos (as in the big bang and the thrust of evolution) or in us as humans (as the power to become). Whether cosmically or individually, every genuinely creative act emerges out of a marriage of consciousness and power. For full creative empowerment, these masculine and feminine polarities need to come together. It is important to understand, however, that although we’re using gendered terms we;re describing a non-gendered reality. Irrespective of how we identify, we are all made from the same cosmic merging of consciousness and power. Cool, huh?!
If you’d like to learn more, check out Heroine: Shadow and Light in the Faces of the Divine Feminine.