Tantra in Practice

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

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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.

Here, Tantra is unique in its elaborate system of technologies designed to strengthen us for this purpose. Our physical and subtle bodies can grow strong and supple as these practices harmonize us bit by bit in the space between individual and Divine will, helping us make progress on the path. And because the substance of our soul’s encapsulation is the body with which we are born, that body also becomes the vehicle by which we offer the Divine a reflection of itself here and now. There is no better way for the nameless and formless to experience itself than through living.  When we experience the relationship of the Divine in harmony with creation through this reflection, we know it as love.

Tantra is also unparalleled in its direct approach to personal transformation. Tantrics take on practices and a teacher (someone who sees, more clearly than what may be obvious to the practitioner, the obstacles yet to be endured on the way to a less encumbered self), with the goal of alignment with their life’s purpose. The way forward is much more difficult than is avoiding the quest altogether, but the practices help seekers gain fortitude, courage and resolve; and the right teacher can be a steady guide in the effort to move internal mountains. Ultimately, this is our own individual search for the kind of love mentioned moments ago, an unconditional love of connection to source. The journey of the practitioner who fights to be increasingly stripped of pretense, who accepts not only failure but also the work of realization, may culminate in finding the spark that provided the impetus toward incarnation in the first place. In this, the truth of our life explodes and the paradox of our initial foray is finally resolved.

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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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