Tantra, the ancient Shakta tradition, is a reflection of the cosmic reality in our lives. Life must unfold as a celebration of Shakti’s soma, nectar of grace, to flow through us at all times and all seasons. Reverence and devotion to Shakti not only satiates the heart, but transforms our mind and senses into channels of spiritual vitality, delight, and divine grace. The tantric evolves her or his consciousness through unravelling the deeper symbolism of life, searching the limitless, timeless totality of the divine Self. The realisation of the importance of tantra is progressively dawning within many sadhakas’ hearts today. Today’s world is moving through the calm before the storm of yet more radical transformations. Tantra is not a passing exotic phenomenon; it is an acceptance of our true nature and the power of all life. Tantra is our ultimate repose in the reality of the true self; it is an affi rmation of the inherent purity within. There is no duality in the realm of tantra; it is an assertion of our inner reality in the sacred flame of the spiritual heart. In the ancient sacred Sanskrit texts, hridaya, the heart, is the garbha, the deep cavern of bhakti, all love, compassion, empathy, tolerance, understanding, and kindness. Tantra must unfold its mysticism in the spiritual heart. The enrichment and expansive expression of beatitude is expressed through Devi worship. Worship allows the soma, ‘sacred nectar’, to flow through our expressions of deep nurturing through tender loving care. ‘The summit of purity, of the nature of consciousness, self-effulgent, of the form of eternal bliss, pervading the entire universe, yours is the image of perception that belongs to oneself, which is why you should be meditated upon by us within our hearts.’
‘‘The verb root in Sanskrit is ‘tan’ and it refers to expansion or stretching. The suffix ‘tra’ refers to an instrument; so, essentially Tantra refers to the instrument of liberation or expansion into universal consciousness.’‘
The divine being and the Self are not separate entities. The divine rests in the cavern of everyone’s heart. The Mother Goddess ignites the flame, allowing her lightning power to illumine the intensity of its cavernous heat. The heat creates the quest for deeper love, compelling one to experience the heights of Ananda Bhairavi in the supreme ecstasy of Shiva Bhairava. As Ranjani, ‘the one who colours all things’, the Goddess showers her devotees with immense joyousness. The sacred deeper love guides one to unfathomable caverns of mystery, allowing us the delightful flow of beatitude and bliss. Beatitude is the essential nature of Bhairavi, the mystical aspect of the Mother Goddess, whose expression is eternal love. There is a subtle transcendent magic in the utterance of hridayam, the heart, the very centre of Bhairava, Shiva, and his Bhairavi, Shakti, being the ultimate abode of repose for the Lord of divine mystical love. The heart holds the consciousness of transcendental reality. In the throes of transcendence, the heart is the source of Shakti’s creative energy. The path to Ananda Bhairavi’s ecstasy lies in the mysticism of tantra’s inner secrets. The supreme essence of love and wisdom open the doorways for higher spiritual experiences, nourishing, and nurturing the soul. The hunger of the soul craves for the inner self to be unleashed. An inner silence through meditative shanti, peace; prema, love; shraddha, faith; karuna, compassion; and kshama, forgiveness draws us into a samadhi of boundless eternal love. This mood of bhakti guides us to the hushed whispers of our soul stirrings and heartbeats. The nurturing warmth of Shakti’s stability cushions our sadhana for the profound mystical practices and encounters in the throes of sacred divine love.
Tantra is the Yogic Transformation of Shakti
Shakti is the divine power guiding us to spiritualise our lives, giving us a deeper understanding of our destiny and its sacred unfolding. Tantra is not about an endless struggle with one’s urges and cravings. Tantric yoga is the path of the gentle warrior; the yogini’s weapons are the celestial weapons of the gods. The warrior here is the brave one, and the battleground is the human mind. Tantra is the mystical discipline through which every experience is cherished as a reflection of the deeper energy of consciousness. The awareness through Shakti sadhana allows one the ability to accept all things as the flow of grace and in this acquiescence is our ultimate surrender. Yielding to this grace of Shakti holds the key to the secret door through which all divine grace flows. Sacred symbolism unravels the subtle nuances of tantra. Symbols unveil the imagery, allegory, and metaphors of deep hidden tantric secrets. The ancients called it ‘deep hidden sciences’, where only the tantric adept could practise the sacredness of divinity. The tantric or ‘sacred adept’ sifts through the veils of mysticism opening the doorway to higher truths and sacred realities. Ancient native cultures used symbolism to communicate with divine powers relating to profound wisdom through myths. The sadhaka with an inner vision and deep devotion realises and nurtures the divine currents of God working through the forces of light, fire, time, space, and all of Nature. One experiences that Brahman manifests as the unchanging ground of being within the entire cosmic revelation. Brahman prevails in God, the guru, and the sadhaka’s own self. The Deva and Devi are two aspects of this supreme Brahman as its Shiva or ‘supreme will’ and Shakti or ‘feminine power and energy’. The Devi’s grace, through devotion, prayers, sacred rituals, and the maintenance of a pure sattvic lifestyle, transforms our individual personality into a vast impersonal and balanced nature of equipoise. Divine grace energises and personifies the Infinite, allowing us to move through the entire gamut of life, death, and rebirth. In experiencing the divine forces as Brahman, we truly allow ourselves to envision the powers and characteristics of their divinity through the yearnings of our spiritual heart. We discover the divine person who is not limited by the taints of any human personality, who has the peace of the impersonal, and can manifest it through divine love. Not bound by limitations and prejudices of the human mind, one can experience the deeper meaning of the entire cosmic play of innumerable gods and goddesses. In profound inner yogic practices, one learns to resonate with the sacred name to the nameless; through the sacred form to the formless. Vibrations of the sacred mantra lead us into a deeper silence and transcendental bliss pervading the Absolute void. The sadhaka associates oneself with human factors in one’s worship of God. Yet the goddess or god gradually merges into the one godhead, the absolute Brahman, who is beyond all personality and form. The human heart understands and responds easily to the expressions of divine love and emotion held in such visionary forms. The deity is propitiated in the form of a living or manifest divinity with rituals, sacraments, ceremonies, and celebrations. In reality it is the divine within ourselves which we are propitiating, celebrating, and consecrating.
Why the Divine Feminine Form for Worshipping Divinity in Tantra?
In our worldly unfolding of karma the most revered relationship is that of the nurturer, the Mother who has the power to manifest, create, give birth, and sustain. ‘My salutations to the goddess, who abides in all beings in the form of mother.’ Taking this concept of the Mother to a higher plane, the source and sustenance of the cosmos is conceived as the universal Mother. In Hinduism, Devi is conceived in all her completeness as the source of all sustenance, as that supreme cosmic force. Envisioning the Devi’s form is essential for every Shakti worshipper as it enhances the glories and divinity of the goddess within us through this sacred meditative visualisation. In Hinduism, the Devi is not a mere myth and Shakti worship must not be confused with the Western thought of a guardian or angel as is the worship of Isis in Egypt, Ishtar in Babylon, Demeter in Greece, or Cybele in Rome. Shakti is the light which illumines our consciousness through power, wisdom, and beauty. The Lalita Sahasranama and Gheranda Samhita clearly explain that the imagery of the various Devi forms with their weapons, ornaments, and vehicle are absolutely essential to every Shakti seeker in their meditation and worship of the goddess. Contemplating on her form, aroma, taste, sound, and touch, one consecrates the divine within ourselves. In the Vishnudharmottara Purana, Vajra probes Rishi Markandeya: ‘By you the Supreme God (Purusha) has been described as devoid of form, smell and rasa and destitute of sound and touch; so how can this form (an image) be made of him?’ The rishi astutely explains that prakriti and vikriti are two natures of the supreme soul. That nature of the Divine which is not discernible or invisible is called prakriti, whilst that which has a form is called vikriti. The universe comprises such a Purusha with the nature of both prakriti and vikriti. By attributing a form to the formless, helps the seeker in bringing one’s focus to a point of focused concentration on the finite form, which ultimately yields a realisation of the infinite oneness of all creation. The tantric worship of the form with rituals helps one to invoke the divine principles in oneself, identifying the body as a mystic symbolism of the cosmic universe. The devotee invokes Shakti as the energy inherent in all creation, where the formless takes the form, enhancing the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas within us. In worshipping the Tridevi as Mahasarasvati, Mahalakshmi, and Mahakali, we embrace the form of knowledge and fine arts, wisdom, good fortune and joy, and transformation moving beyond all time and space. The attributes of the Devi Shakti unfolds the divine play of life as in beauty represented by Sundari, Sri Lakshmi, and Sri Kamala; creativity represented by Matangi and Jagadamba; transforming represented by Bhairavi and Chandi; destructive power represented by Kali and Chinnamasta; liberation represented by Kameshvari, Mahakali, and Chhinnamasta; cessation represented by Sri Bagalamukhi; and the power of annihilation represented by Sri Dhumavati. The tantric vision must find its poetry in the gentle flowing waters of our minds, the rushing blood of our compassionate hearts, the pure effervescence of Shakti’s grace as a waterfall, the vibrant spirit of rivers, the whirlpool of an ocean and the deep stillness of placid mountain lakes. Sacred waters hold the mystic essence of all divine grace, the soma, the honey nectar of life, the ultimate bliss of immortality. Sustaining and energising these pranic waters in our global world and our personal lives revitalises the soul, allowing the being to traverse the hidden delights of our universal existence. Tantra Shakti sadhana represents the ultimate beauty of pure perception which manifests when we embrace the entire universe in ourselves, mirroring the light of beauty in all things as the light of our own deeper awareness. Devi helps the flow of bliss descend from the thousand petal lotus of the sahasrara throughout our entire being. May our prayers seek the tantric kala or spiritual art of flowing with the sacred waters through life’s surging streams invoking the divine grace of the Goddess within! ‘My salutations to the goddess, who abides in all beings in the form of peace.”
– Yogini ShambhaviArt featured photo Samundra Man Singh Shrestha