Explorations in the yoga of Tantra as a practice and way of life for all spiritual seekers.
Chandra Alexandre is a Tantric Bhairavi, a priestess in the tradition of Kali who received her lineage through initiation in India. Founding director of SHARANYA, a Devi Mandir (Goddess Temple) dedicated to social justice through engaged spirituality, she resides in San Francisco with her daughter, husband, and kaula (spiritual family) offering puja, teachings and spiritual guidance.
Tantra, as is often said, is a difficult path.
I liken it to being in the military, riding a frightening fun park ride, and hugging a eucalyptus-drunk koala bear all at the same time. Try as you might to practice under the auspices of Tantra and disentangle these elements, and you will fail. You will ultimately fall short of your goals and aspirations because these core qualities of what it means to practice Tantra exist in a dance much in the way the gunas—those fundamental components of prakriti, or essential nature—move in graceful combinations to give rise to the whole of what we experience as reality....
It’s interesting that in Hinduism we find steadfast traditions of ancestor reverence existing peacefully alongside a deeply embedded belief in reincarnation. To some, it may seem that these two ideas are irreconcilable. Yet, it is rather the case that they coexist within a framework of beliefs that include conceptions of time and space that are flexible enough to accommodate both.
That is certainly the case from the perspective of Tantrics, who find it absurd to question the validity or moreover, the importance of their veneration of those who have come before. And that is not to say the practice of ancestor worship is unquestioned. Rather, the very roots of Tantric sadhana (spiritual discipline) take practitioners into a state of awareness in which the veracity of other realms where ancestors abound becomes undeniably clear. This is the basis upon which ancestor worship is carried out—from a place of direct experience of them and with them....
Most of us grow up knowing about heaven and hell. Whatever our faith or place of birth, and by whatever names we might choose, the split of light and dark into above and below seems to be a fact of our heritage as human beings. It is reflected in myriad cultures ancient and modern, from indigenous peoples’ oral narratives, to the tales of Sumer and myths of Greece, to the Christian traditions where the realms of God and Devil, salvation and eternal torment, may haunt imaginations.
And while this split is not inherently dangerous, we have been deluded for one reason or another (the Abrahamic faiths and colonialism are noteworthy for their influence) into equating the below and darkness with malevolence and the inimical—as in the Devil example just mentioned. This poses real challenges and hinders, I believe, our ability to fully honor the psycho-spiritual journey as well as the world in which we live....
Ksama in Sanskrit means forgiveness. An indispensible word on the spiritual path at practical and cosmic levels, ksama is a virtue that, perhaps more strongly than any other, binds us to a tantric life. Its practice requires that we move beyond our ego and take sanctuary in the naked truth of reality. It is a gateway to Her through relationality (one of the five-fold qualities of the Dark Goddess), a way of creating connection across divides of difference on inner, outer and causal levels.
At times, forgiveness means making a choice to be present with another. It can also mean holding a space of respectful distance in order to let truth unfold. In its many manifestations, the path of forgiveness is a tall order in a world filled with insecurities and vitriol. So many of us harbor terrifying yearnings to be loved—terrifying because we fear we are unworthy of another’s love or worse, somehow unlovable. But as a mechanism for unleashing the power of unfettered love—the antidote to much of our struggle—forgiveness is worth taking the time to understand and practice....
Mantra (mantram in the singular) are an important part of spiritual practice in many religious traditions. They are a core component of individual sadhana (discipline) and of the work done together in community, serving on multiple levels to effectuate transformation. Individuals, for example, may perform japa, the recitation of a particular mantram on a mala (rosary), to meditate and gain access to places of deeper insight. Spiritual practitioners working together may use mantra during puja (worship) to evoke the divine essence.
It is the vibration of sound in each case that forges a link between this world and the unseen realm. Mantra in this way can aid the seeker in harnessing the potency of one of the underlying truths of Tantra. The metaphysics state that a connection exists between the reality we experience through our bodies and the ripples left in space-time by the Divine moving into and out of the cycle of life on Earth. It offers that this provides a glimpse at (and potential access to) the unfathomable Goddess. With just the smallest fraction of this power—Shakti—in our midst, we may be able to overcome the burden of our karmas and become whole....
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....
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....