Skip to content

Bad Tantra

September 18 2005

Tantra has a bad reputation, especially in India where it’s associated with “black” magic and general unsavoryness.

When I talk to my Indian friends about Tantra, they find it hard to believe we are speaking of the same tradition. Yet, most of them are practicing Tantra. They just call it something else. The Guru of a dedicated practitioner I know from South India teaches yogic kriyas, and yet she instills in her students the idea that Tantra is the enemy.

Pulling on the opposite end of the same rubber band are those who claim that Tantra is perfectly safe, morally stainless, and really, no different from Vedanta.

My Pardada Guru (Guru’s Guru’s Guru), Sri Sivananda of Rishikesh, wrote a little book called Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga, and Kriya Yoga. In it, Sri Sivananda says:

Tantra Sadhana bestows tremendous Siddhis or powers. . . The Tantric student must be endowed with purity, faith, devotion, dedication to Guru, dispassion, humility, courage, cosmic love, truthfulness, non-covetedness, and contentment. Absence of these qualities in the practitioner means a gross abuse of Saktism. [Saktism is one of the three main forms of Tantra, and also here refers to the use of one’s Shakti or vital energy.]

Wow. That’s a tall order. Why? because Tantra works directly with the forces of Nature. A practitioner, even a Guru, who is open to being seduced by power will end up with power and no self-realization. No different from any other power monger, really. Note: Most of us are seducible. And this is why we need teachers.

Gross abuses of others, and of oneself, are a significant danger on the Tantrik path. Any teacher worth anything will understand and teach that siddhis are not to be cultivated or broadcast. They come (and go) naturally, but becoming attached to them is a dangerous form of delusion and threatens your realization.

Tantra has a lot of techniques in its toolbox. The reasons for this are inspiring. First, Tantra uses every aspect of life to bring the sadhika in tune with Nature. No aspect of life is left out. Second, Tantra is committed to inclusivity: no person is left out regardless of station in life, gender, or spiritual orientation (bhava). Tantra provides a great deal of variety in its practices so that everyone can find something to support his or her unfoldment.

It is possible to get lost in technique, or to become overly attached to technique thinking that it will save you. I speak here from personal experience! If you anxiously, or greedily, go around collecting techniques, you might become one of those Tantriks your mother warned you against, and you will certainly wear yourself out, but you won’t find moksha (liberation).

The true “techniques” of non-dual Tantra are desire, devotion, gratitude, and amazement. Desire is the impulse of creation. Devotion is our natural attachment to essence. Gratitude is the realization of spontaneous reciprocity. And, as the yogini Lalleswari writes, continuous amazement is the state of realization.

As non-dual desire, devotion, gratitude, and amazement are not manufactured by us—they are part of the fabric of reality—they can be tasted and cultivated by everyone, not just yogic adepts.

So, everything you hear about Tantra is probably true, for someone. But that someone doesn’t have to be you.

OM Shanti, Shambhavi