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Last edit of this page 09/02/2011
Tantric Yoga Practices
Tantra is not synonymous with sex. For the numerous understandings and misunderstandings of tantra, follow a few of the links here. Also visit The Internet Sacred Text Archive.
The practices of Yoga Nidra, of Antar Mouna (inner silence) and Tattwa Shuddhi (inner purification) are yoga tantra practices. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition Tonglen can be considered a tantric practice as well. These have nothing to do directly with sex or ecstasy. There are 72 tantras in all. There are also 18 puranas or legendary tales, which are mostly tantric practices in allegorical disguise. In the shakta purana the creator of the universe is female.
Swami Satyananda has described tantra as 'indulgence with awareness'. The intention of tantric practices is to awaken the shakti or feminine energy. Without this awakening it is held that shiva or consciousness can not manifest. Tantra is a method of purification so that energy (the shakti principle) can be released from matter to unite with and expand consciousness (the shiva principle) and thus create homogeneous awareness. It aims to introvert the senses and turn the mind inward - pratyahara. The consequent expansion of mind allows the individual to experience beyond the limit of the senses.
Tantra allows for the development of each individual regardless of their stage of development without strict adherence to a set of rules. There is a path for you, which you have to discover. Only you hold the key.
'The proof of a tantric's prowess lies in their ability to remain undeterred. They do not become overwhelmed by experience nor ridden with fear'. Quoted from page 5 of 'Tattwa Shuddhi - the tantric practice of inner purification', written under the guidance of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga 1984
Shakti represents the subtlest of energy manifestations and is said to lie coiled like a serpent at the root of the spine. Shiva resides at the crown of the head. However, due to the solidity and inspissation (thickening) of the body/mind, ruled as it is by the senses, these two powers remain dormant or aestivated in the average person.
The classical descriptions emphasize awakening kundalini in the base chakra. In fact the seat and destination of kundalini from all the chakras beneath it is the crown chakra. The base chakra is a manipulating switch, which happens to be easier for most people to operate. Kundalini can be awakened in an individual chakra or across the whole network of chakras collectively. Edited quote from 'Kundalini Tantra' by Swami Satyananda, Bihar School of Yoga 1985.
The nearest thing we have to a tantric site in the west is the emergency room of a public hospital. Surprisingly and unintentionally, the movie 'City of Angels' 1998 is a classic exploration of tantra (likewise 'Sixth Sense' 2000 and more intentionally, 'Ghost' 1990). Here in the struggle of life and death the 'City of Angels' begins its tale. A little girl leaves behind her grieving parents and the heart wrenching cries and noise of the emergency room. Undeterred seeing her body in the bed, she calmly walks off with our Shiva hero (Nicolas Cage). He asks her 'what was your favourite thing? and she says, 'my pajama's', which she is wearing. Her comfort clothing and symbolically her outer body or her kundallinic shell.
But as one wit put it to me, we rarely have a chance to become aware of this unraveling or unwinding of energy from the physical body because the need for fresh harvesting of our organs is so urgent. We are given little time to die with this knowing intact.
Tantric practices invite the unfolding or decoupling of the energetic knots that bind us to the world and allow us to 'see' beyond the senses to the invisible. Our Shakti warrior heroine (Meg Ryan) begins by seeing an angel of light without his intention to be known. It appears she is seeing in the nagual sense of the word - with a second sight or in lucid dreaming. At the level of ordinary consciousness she doesn't know what she has seen but has felt a presence that drew her too look directly into the death bed angel's eyes.. Almost as if to ask for help and sensing the source was right there in front of her eyes. In her anguish to save a life she seems to reach into the source and we wonder at the end whether to swap places and have the root power to save a life.
During the ascent, kundalini shakti passes through a network of six energy centres or chakras. These are best understood as a hologram in which every fragment contains the whole. If you read the film in this way from its first ascent, you may come to realize Meg's journey in the story is through this network of chakras.
It is as if the ties that bind her to life have already begun to loosen in the life disrupting and energy dispersing environment of the hospital emergency room. She had already begun the not-doing of seeing by sensing the angel. She cannot sleep. She may be beginning to notice the illusions of her trade, the impotence of the bonds of love. The film ends with her decoupling the bindings from breath by slamming into a truck load of forest timber - felled at the base, rootless and without the canopy. She rises heavenward like the kundalini, unseen except by another welcoming angel.
The Shiva hero (Nicolas Cage) has unearthly senses in his angelic realm. On the beach at dawn he hears celestial sounds but cannot feel the cold water of the ocean. He hears people reading their books in the library in order to get close to their senses, but cannot know their tastes. He decides to bind himself to the world of appetite by falling to the earth from the canopy, from the scaffolding of a construction site. He attaches to the idea of sensation and its first love and then loses her and gains a family.
In the yogic tradition these obliging knots are considered to be in three locations in the body and they are named: Brahma, at the base of the spine, being our binding attachment to the physical body. Vishnu, at the heart center, being our bonding attachment to our emotions and relationships, and Shiva at the eyebrow centre, being our incumbent attachment to ideas and concepts. Meg passed through each of these, the first one when she could finally sleep with the angel beside her, and the second as she allowed herself to love and the third, rootless. She swaps places as does Shiva with Shakti.
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