There is something interesting about the term tantra. It’s very unclear where does this word come from and what does it even mean. Most of the descriptions of it on the web are saying that it is a spiritual practice designed to change the quality of one’s sex life and relationships, help to unleash the potential of their sexual energy and to discover the secrets of spiritual sex. This sounds rather mystical. To clear things up I contacted Suvadeep Das, a friend and an Indian musician and performance artist living in Pispala, Finland. Suva recommended for me an article written by another Indian writer, Niraj Kumar. Reading Niraj’s conception awakened a bunch of new questions so I traveled to Pispala to discuss with Suva about the meaning of tantra which seemed to indeed encapsulate a whole lot larger understanding than just sexual liberation.
When reading Niraj’s article I first got a profound explanation of the roots of the word tantra in Sanskrit. “By invoking various meanings, tantra signifies different things in different contexts”, Niraj states but he also indicates that the simplest meaning of it would be weaving. Suva prefers Niraj’s approach. Niraj also writes that tantra is to weave a structure populated with humans, institutions, sound, phenomena, symbols and gestures. Suva tells me that tantra is weaving the body and the mind. Weaving all these aspects together is explained as connecting different points in a multi-layered universe relying to the understanding that everything in the universe establishes interrelations with everything else.
What is interesting is that tantra also means liberation, liberation through human body. Niraj points out that inside the term and its various meanings there is a paragraph. Tantra is at the same time highlighting the perpetuity of a normative structure but in it’s second sense it stands for human propensity for liberating from the samsara which is, this on going cycle of earthly structures. Therefore in Niraj’s words : “Tantra simultaneously signifies the emergence of the structure and the way to destruction of every possible structure”. The liberation apparently is connected to the idea of Nirvana. The thing that exists in different philosophical treatises with different names but the meaning of it is pretty much the same. It is where there are no more structures or any kind of movement at all.
Getting basic understanding of the term makes me want to know how is this understanding put into practice, because I suppose that in India this particular meaning of the word tantra might have a great effect in the way people live their lives and it could be one of the main differences comparing to the perceptions of the universe and the whole existence that are prevailing here in the so called Western world.
“There is a word for the one who practices tantra on a very very deep level, just like the shamans, they are known as tantric. The another phase in tantricism which is called aghora is the left side of tantra and it has its own specific ways. In the tantric practice what they do isn’t like magic tricks, it’s years and years of practice. Just like how the shamans do with their drum circles or like they call it the drum journey.”
According to Suva the aghoris, shamans and tantrics are completely their own chapter and what they do has nothing to do with the activities of mundane people. He also underlines that getting into that sort of practice honestly requires huge sacrifices and most often it means complete retirement from the society.
“For me as a mundane person it’s very difficult to really get into this aspect because I’m not a tantric. But I know the word and what it means and how do I have to handle it in the daily practice. Tantra as a whole is like weaving so for me yoga and tantra are all about the way of life like how I deal with my situation. You are weaving a thing and doesn’t matter whether you are making a garment or a carpet or whatever but it needs your time and interest. The important thing is that you’re into it and you’re involved in it. For example if I’m cooking the food there is a whole process of cooking, the cleaning, the cutting, using the proper spices, using the time and the space, everything counts. It doesn’t come in just one, okay you got the vegetable, put in on a plate and it’s all done. There’s this very interesting way to understand; it’s not a fast food thing.”
I assume that Suva is pointing to the tantra courses and the whole concept of tantra which has become very popular in the US and also in Finland. I’ve never attended this kind of courses and my information about them relies on the research I’ve done in the internet seeing different advertisements and reading articles. Some seem for me like having good ideas and possibilities, others occurred very suspicious especially the ones with the slogans about finding soulmates and the glory of the spiritual sex (this approach was more popular in the US than on Finnish websites).
“There has been so much of a craze about tantrism or that it is black magic or on the other hand tantra sex which has been popularized in the West. That is a total misinterpretation of the understanding of tantra. I’m not only concerned about how it is understood in the West but I’m concerned about how it has been treated by those people who manipulate it or who think that they can do business with it.”
Suva keeps a small break and is gathering his thoughts. I see the dilemma he is talking about. The practice that used to be esoteric and accessible only for those who got it as inheritance or sacrificed a large scale of other things in order to practice it has been commercialized into something that anyone can achieve on a 2 to 5 days crash course. From my point of view there’s nothing fundamentally wrong about this but clearly the concept and its understanding is all mixed up and teared apart from its origins.
“When it comes to tantra in Eastern yogic system, because there is a thing called tantra yoga, the traditional yogis don’t so far recommend it as a form of practice to be carried out by normal people. It can act like LSD that you get high very fast and you see things. It’s of course about trying to know what’s inside of you and what is without you or trying to know something to do with the questions who am I, who you are, how am I here and where do I belong. Those answers some people want to find out very fast. Having this kind of addiction to whatever drug or activity which tantra also can be people try to achieve fast results. It’s just like going for a fast food. There greed is involved. You can not achieve anything with greed.”
Suva himself has intensively dedicated his life to art and music and doesn’t let insignificant external factors get in his way or effect his way of doing. Money, fame or ecstasy never interested him but just the art in itself.
“There are those drugs we know but also one can get high with things we are doing. I can get high with pyrography or get high with playing music, I don’t need any other substance even. It may be a very long process but being in the process is the most interesting part of it. Fast food approach doesn’t have this being into something. Fast foods are never into it they just want it.“
So we can see that in the case Suva for instance tantra is a part of his daily life. There’s no shady mysticism or any supernatural miracles involved in it and it seems that it has absolutely nothing to do with sex or sexuality. Suva does tell me that there has been these experiments by the tantrics where sexual intercourse or even things like cannibalism and human sacrifice have been carried out but by now these movements have been abolished because of their brutality. Anyhow Suva underlines the fact that for the traditional tantric practitioners and for Indians in general the physical body doesn’t have such a profound meaning. Actually the meaning of it is rather minimal.
Likely the new age tantra trend has completely its own philosophy and it has brought meaning and new perspective into the lives of many. But in the modern world we just can’t get around the fact that money is an important factor. Brands and commercials are created so that people would invest money in the matter which the brand is designed to sell. So when we pay money for the presence and the teachings of people who are presented as some sort of gurus, people who seem to possess the truthful answers to the ultimate questions about existence, do we become spiritual? Or are we just buying a brand of spirituality? Suva at least has had enough.
“For me it is very interesting looking back how these Indian new age gurus started to manipulate the term in this way. It is never that western people would just invent these things by themselves but they travel to India for example and then the gurus have probably gotten the thought that they can sell this idea to those guys and get more dollars. It has became a market where they sell spirituality or rather a brand of spirituality which doesn’t actually have a hint of spirituality in it!”