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The Essence of Authentic Tantra

If someone was to ask me what the essence of authentic Tantra is, I would say this: Meditation on Consciousness as a path to self-realization.

Lately I have been musing about how and why I meditate. I’m sure many of us have done this, and I think it is a valuable thing to do; it stops us from “rote meditation,” a kind of robotic repetitiveness that can creep in to our spiritual practice from time to time.

Throughout my life, I have had the good fortune to study spirituality and meditation in the academic context of Studies in Religion, and to also go deep into my meditation and spiritual practice in different cultural contexts, countries, and traditions. I would say one of the most important things that this has taught me is that there is a common thread woven through the many maps, the many meditation traditions.

There are countless names for this common thread: “The Logos, the All-that-Is, Shiva, Shakti, God, Goddess, Wakantanka, Great Spirit, Grandmother, Grandfather,” but if I was pressed to give it just one name, I would call it Consciousness. In the philosophy that I love and teach, Kashmir Shaivism, Consciousness is called Chit; it is our deepest nature, our true Self. Kashmir Shaivism teaches that we can access this Consciousness at any time because not only does this Consciousness belong to us, it is us; it is our true eternal nature beyond the duality of space and time. 

What differentiates Consciousness from simply being a source of external knowledge is that it is a very specific form of knowledge that simultaneously emanates from within us and yet also points us inwards. Perhaps paradoxically, this inward awareness naturally leads to a deeper understanding of the outer world and its nature as Consciousness. Consciousness is our inner knowing, the thing we experience as the core of our awareness, that is always here and now; the deeper we go into it, the more we see it everywhere. This is what Tantra calls sahaja-samadhi, the natural awareness of Consciousness.

A Tantric Visualization Technique to Try:

To identify this inner Consciousness, let’s do a quick fun experiment. Hold up your hand in front of you and look at it. Take it all in. The skin, the freckles, the hair or no hair. Take it all in. Now, is that the same hand of yours that you looked at when you were a child of say 8? No, of course not! (Well, unless you are eight years old right now). However, there is something in your perception at this moment, and also when you were 8, that remains unchanged: The one that is watching. The observing presence. Enduring Consciousness. The Consciousness that witnesses every moment of our lives.

This is Kashmir Shaivism’s approach, and this approach is what makes it so valuable for us today in our busy modern lives: it trains us, through meditation and other tantric techniques, to be aware of Consciousness itself. Through this Tantric training in recognition of Consciousness, we learn there is no place where Consciousness is not present. This recognition brings great peace and joy into our lives. It doesn’t mean that life automatically becomes easy, but we rediscover in ourselves something that is vitally important to our overall mental health and wellbeing: the natural peace and joy that Tantra says is our true, essential nature. This helps us navigate the inevitable changes of life from a place of wisdom and compassion and helps us to see the beauty of our existence. This peace and joy, this sahaja-samadhi, is the core, the essence, of authentic Tantric practice.


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