August 21, 2010

Tantra: The Yoga of Union

Tantra is often called the Yoga of Sex.

But Tantra is also about an other form of intercourse or union, about spiritual union. Let us look at the ancient scriptures of yoga to see what the Tantric spirituality of union is all about.

The two most important interpretations of the word yoga are offered by Patanjali and by Shiva. Patanjali explains in his famed Yoga Sutras that yoga means the suspension of all mental tendencies or propensities.

In other words, one attains inner peace when the mind is void of distractions, void of thought. This rather dry definition of yoga never appealed to me, nor did it ever quite take hold in Indian culture.

Shiva’s popular Tantric definition is more heart-centered and soulful and also the most popular in India. Yoga, said Shiva, according to the Tantric scriptures, is that process which creates unity between the individual soul and the Cosmic Soul.

No matter which philosophical interpretation you prefer, yoga is the inner state of wellbeing we feel when there is harmonious interaction between body, mind and spirit.

As a lifestyle, yoga is a path of self-discovery. Through hatha yoga, pranayama, chanting, study, and meditation, yoga promotes physical health, mental balance and spiritual peace, and union.

Spiritually, the tantric definition of yoga is union and refers to the state of enlightenment and ecstasy achieved in Samadhi, the experience of union with the Divine. As an art and a science, yoga aids us in developing a more healthy and balanced lifestyle.

The spiritual state of yoga, or union, is often expressed through spiritual love or Bhakti Yoga. Thus people who simply meditate or chant the name of God are also yogis.

In traditional temple sculptures, and also in Buddhist Tantra, the spiritual, nondual union with the Divine is symbolized by two lovers in a tight embrace. Yogic union is also described in statues depicting half a man and half a woman, the Ardha Narishvara statue (seen photo above), in which Shiva and Shakti, the male and female aspects of God, forms a cosmic union.

In the Mayatantra, one of the ancient texts based on Shiva’s teachings, yoga is defined as “the unity between the individual soul and the universal soul.”

In another tantric text, the Kularnavatantra, the attainment of yogic union is poetically described as “water pouring into water.”

Today, many popular writers on yoga, including Deepak Chopra, have adopted this tantric interpretation of the word yoga, that yoga means union.

Here is a story about the experience of yoga as union with God:

The first Indian yogi to visit America, Swami Vivekananda gained worldwide fame at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and eventually became the most well known disciple of the Tantric sage Shrii Ramakrishna.

Once, while having a discussion with a friend about whether it was true that all material things are God, Ramakrishna walked up to them, inquired affectionately about what they were talking about and then touched the young Vivekananda while he himself went into yogic trance, or Samadhi.

“At the marvelous touch of the Master,” Vivekananda recalls, “my mind underwent a complete revolution. I was aghast to realize that there really was nothing whatever in the entire universe but God. I remained silent, wondering how long this state of mind would continue. It didn’t pass off all day. I got back home, and I felt just the same there; everything I saw was God.”

So, the spiritul goal of yoga is to unite the individual soul with the Cosmic Soul, to pour the waters of our heart into the waters of the Cosmic Heart. This ecstatic love union is called yoga. And this yogic trance, this Samadhi, this spiritual fusion of the one into the One, is the ultimate goal of yogic practice.

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