Tantra in Practice

Explorations in the yoga of Tantra as a practice and way of life for all spiritual seekers.

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Chandra Alexandre

Chandra Alexandre

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.

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Steps Toward Justice

The world we humans have created is unfair, and yet we have also seeded within our societies the paraphernalia and parameters of justice. It would seem that we have attempted to move beyond nature and the natural world—a world in which fairness is not a relevant concept. No judge and no judgment, only predator and prey within a complex set of relationships that make up life and living. 

Yet within our created world, justice is deemed a virtue. We strive to be fair and argue over concepts of fairness. Justice in practice is a challenge, however, to the relationships in which we find ourselves and to many of the systems we hold dear. As just one practical example, the realm of public education brings to light myriad instances of the struggles for justice because of inequities in how school systems are funded, with students’ race and socio-economic status a key indicator of whether they receive a quality education.

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Perceptions of Egoic Reality

Let’s talk about our egos.

We can start by stating the obvious—our egos are now on high alert. But by holding the premise that a beautiful way in which the Divine is brought to awareness in this world is through a foundation of relationality, we’re going to start disrupting our usual response to ego engagement. This is important because so many of us still harbor the notion that egos are bad. Even the quest for enlightenment is often spoken about as moving on a path toward obliteration of the ego. And this puts the very mechanisms that have been gracefully designed to protect us into their most protective mode. That process, which is often completely unconscious, makes things a bit difficult on the spiritual journey. 

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  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Well said!

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The Three-fold Nature of Tantra

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.

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Honoring Ancestors

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.

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Reclaiming Hell

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.

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Forgiveness

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.

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How Do You Pronounce That? A Look at Mantra

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.

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