Tantra 101 — Part 1: Embodiment

The body is the first temple of worship. Even when we carry the body to a temple, we must engage with that temple through the body. Even the sacred groves and balefires of those who worship out of doors must be seen and felt in order to have meaning for the supplicants. Practices like meditation, astral projection, and so on, may help to prepare for the process of death and the after-death state, but they are still centered in the body described by biology and are instantiated by neural correlates. There is no escaping this fact for as long as we fit the biological description of “life”.

Many spiritual seekers see the body as a flaw. It is certainly a limitation. In Tantra, however, the body is the alchemical vessel in which the materia is transmuted. (The materia is the subtle body of the soul, what occultists call the “astral body” or the “astra-mental body”, but further discussion of this topic must remain for later.) To be “limited” to acting primarily in and upon the gross material world is a limitation in the same way that plumbing limits the flow of water through capillary action in order not only to direct the water’s flow but also to increase its pressure. The cataract which must be surgically removed is only the self-identification with bodily limitation, not the body itself (which will remove itself in due time anyway). The pressure built up by this limitation, however, allows the soul to discover itself, gradually awakening to its own capacities by way of their lesser physical and mental correlates.

Perfect physical health is unattainable. Even if a supposed “perfect equilibrium” were possible, it could only last a brief moment before the very next bodily activity overbalanced one element or another. It is therefore not worth striving after physical perfection. But health, as an ongoing process, is within the reach of most of us and is one of the greatest aids to the spiritual life. Asanas (the familiar physical postures of Yoga), pranayama (restraining the breath in specific ways), the dietary insights and alchemical preparations of Ayurveda, as well as internal martial arts, are all traditionally useful modes of preparing the body to accept the biological correlates of deep magical and alchemical practices such as mantra and meditation.

It is also for the above reasons that many traditional meditation practices begin with some sort of bodily awareness. Consider Zen, whose emphasis is on breath awareness while sitting and full-body awareness during walking meditation; deeper concerns, such as watching the actions of the mind, come later or arise naturally from body awareness and, in any case, are based on the restful concentration developed through such practices. Any time I have taught others my own mode of meditation, I have started them out with bodily awareness. A practice with which anyone can engage is to simply feel the weight and warmth of your own body. Spend as long as you can doing this alone, allowing any and all sensations to simply pass through your awareness without direct concern. There is more depth to this deceptively simple exercise than at first appears, and it is just the first step toward awakening deeper faculties of concentration and perception.

References & Further Reading
Cave of the Numinous: Tantric Physics vol. 1 by Craig Williams (2014, Theion Publishing)

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (2011, Shambhala)

Tantra 101: Introduction

My old friend Lupa has an ongoing series at her own blog entitled Totemism 201, in which she seeks to help fellow non-Native “totemists” to move beyond the shallow and selfish model found in most popular New Age and Neo-Pagan sources on the topic. Her format has inspired me to undertake such a series myself on the topic of Tantra and Yoga. It would be far more presumptuous of me to call mine “201”, however, than it is for Lupa to use such a designation, so I’ll start with 101.

It’s actually quite pragmatic to start with 101, anyway, as there seems to me to be far more dangerous misconceptions about Tantra and Yoga than about many—perhaps all—other esoteric topics. While it would be impossible for me to clear all of them up, let alone to re-educate the numerous people who are misinformed or even willfully ignorant, I’d like to at least be able to give the sincerely interested a few good places to start exploring and a source for “unlearning” a lot of the problematic false knowledge.

I should also make clear that there are innumerable forms of Tantra based in Saivism and Saktism (not to mention the Buddhist and Jain varieties). There are points of commonality among them all, so certain general ideas and techniques can be discussed, but it is important for me to say that all of the technical details and modalities which I introduce are from my own background.

No blog post, book, weekend “intensive”, or really anything else, can take the place of a genuine Guru. As such, only those practices which can serve prior to the tutelage of such an initiating Mentor can usefully be included.

With all of that said, I hope that you find this series helpful. As usual with this blog, I will update irregularly, but will try to do so more frequently. You can find each article in order linked in the Table of Contents page.

Jai Siva-Sakti!