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The Facts of Life on a Tantric Path

In Tantra, there is a famous dictum that guides, “Yair eva patanam dravyaih siddhis tair eva.” It offers us instruction on the facts of life: “that by which one falls is also that by which one rises.” On first glance, it might appear as though this is no different than the adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But the lynchpin of Tantra here is not the resilience we might cultivate while withstanding the blows of living. Rather, it is the paradox that one’s own unique psycho-spiritual mechanism of failure is not merely the impetus toward enlightenment; but it is actually the only thing that has the power to let us finally reach it.

The first step on a path toward self-realization is likely obvious. We must let go of our egos enough to embrace failure as a teacher. While this does allow us to gain resilience from the lessons built right into the fabric of our everyday lives, we must still come to learn the ways in which the beautiful secrets of our soul lie hidden below the residue of failures brought on by the oppressions we carry within us. Most concretely, these are the consciously or unconsciously inflicted slights (and our internalization of them) of our upbringing at the hands of those in various social, religious, and cultural institutions, including our family. Less graspable are the residues of our karma from prior incarnations. Either way, getting to and beneath those layers is an essential step in deepening our progress on the spiritual path. And this work is what makes us capable of understanding our own particular variety of a spiritual homeopathic cure—like curing like—in service to the unveiling of our soul.

Embracing Tantra as a way of life, we set ourselves up for a complete reconstitution of self, from the physical to the psycho-spiritual, in order to find the authentic essence we carry within us.  That essence is our soul, a spark of the boundless Divine that exists beyond the confines of spacetime limitations. In choosing involution toward incarnation, that spark sacrifices its infinite self in order to experience another one of the infinite number of selves expressing themselves through life. Hence, as souls encapsulated, the stuff of failure is inevitable. Just as there exists suffering as a necessary condition of creation (the sacrifice required of the Divine to become manifest), so too must we experience failure as a necessary condition of our evolution.

The encouraging news is that we therefore all have the potential within us to achieve freedom. Certainly, some may choose to impose additional layers of binding residue upon the in-dwelling Divine, choosing to be defended, emotionally wrapped up or otherwise in denial of the way toward health and wholeness. But we all have the capacity for release should we desire it. The challenge is the work and dedication we must put into our own liberation.

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What is Tantra?

With media and the Internet providing ready information and resources for new-fangled and sex-focused adaptations of Tantra, it is no wonder that many people giggle or perk up when they hear the word. And while many Western contrivances or Neo-Tantras focused on the erogenous may be ultimately beneficial in a world where negative ideas about bodies and body image issues abound, the truth is that there are charlatans out there under the guise of Tantra praying on people’s insecurities and self-doubts about what it means to be a powerful and unique incarnation in this world.

I find that troubling. Some do it because they have discovered that putting sex on a spiritual menu under the pretext of an ancient tradition gives their wares or services credibility, and with that the justification for a price tag. The problem with this is that too many people, including some who would likely benefit from a much deeper understanding of Tantra, believe the superficial sexual practices offered to be the doorway to spiritual progress. In truth, these usually go no further than a freeing of libido—if that—and the cost on both material and subtle levels can be enormous. 

But, yes, Tantra is about sex, and sex can help one on the spiritual path. It is just that Tantra is absolutely not about sex in a titillating, seductive, or even exploratory sense. It is about the whole of who we are, inclusive of our sexuality, dedicated to a process of liberation—and not just sexual liberation (although sex may be one vehicle for realization of the ultimate goal). I will write more about the heart of Tantra in other posts, but for now, I will offer that Tantra in its essential teachings, if we are to focus for a moment longer on sex, is strictly about sex as one tool among others capable of quickly moving us beyond internalized and deep-seated fears and oppressions arising from the external impositions, taboos and obstacles of society, culture and religion. And that, I offer, is a lot more than just a new way to attain orgasm.

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  • Chandra Alexandre
    Chandra Alexandre says #
    Thank you, Paola. Jai Maa!
  • Paola Suarez
    Paola Suarez says #
    Very powerful post! Definitely so much that I needed to be know and rediscover about Tantra. Really appreciate the historical cont

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As I came down from the muddy hillside, sweat dripping off my brow, my head reeled over what had just occurred. The Indian heat had certainly affected me, but I was somewhat sure the events of the past two hours were not a hallucination. Trekking up earlier in the morning, I had been greeted by two black-clad young men who beckoned me in Hindi to come. Yes, I had hesitated; but their insistence was smoothed by a sweet kindness and the sentiment offered that it was their Babaji, their “respected father” or guru, who was asking me to make the detour.

The year was 2003, and it was just after Solstice. I followed the men, two devotees of Lord Shiva in his most fierce of forms, to Babaji’s encampment on the top of Nilachal Hill. I was in Assam, and the place was called Kamakhya, abode of the lover’s dance, place where Shiva and Shakti, the eternal Female Force, joined. At this time, Devi, Goddess, bled. Her moon cycle came but once a year, and now the red earth and menstrual blood metaphor mixed in a harmonious shout out to the life Divine. I was enthralled to be there once more, my annual pilgrimages since 1998 necessary soul-felt recharges of all my mind, heart and spirit.

Babaji’s knife was old. Curved and rusty, seeing it brought a wave of tremendous fear, and I wondered what other blood was required. Something deep inside told me, however, to trust the moment.  I surrendered. The cut took time between the thickness of my mane tightly plaited down the back and the knife’s dull edge.  Babaji pulled me close, and I could feel the coolness of his skin, the tickle of his stubble, and the wetness that dripped from his intoxicated eyes and nose.  In these moments, I received initiation into the Aghori mysteries. I had not asked for this blessing, yet there it was. And with the blessing, a responsibility into which I am still growing.

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  • Chandra Alexandre
    Chandra Alexandre says #
    Namaste-ji! Indeed, it was just my hair that I lost. I am glad to know of your joyful connections. So many Babas! My Babaji is Nat
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Namaste, Chandraji! Can you clarify for me that it was just your long hair that was cut off? And what relationship does that Babaj

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