Tantra: Theory and Practice

Introduction: exorcising the ghosts of science.

This paper aims to render the innermost mysteries of tantra coherent and sensible to a modern anglophone reader. The subject of tantra is one of great curiosity to the modern mind, however before we begin exploring it, we must first acknowledge that tāntric thought is a completely different system of knowledge, from how we as inhabitants of the 21st century are accustomed to thinking. Most of us now inhabit consciously or unconsciously a secular scientific modernist worldview. Since Darwin proved that humans descended from apes, it has not been possible for the western world to be religious in the same way it was before. The scientific worldview appears to us to be natural, that it somehow gives us a ‘true’ picture of reality. From this position one may easily slip into the fallacy of assuming that all other knowledge systems that don’t apparently coincide with the present state of scientific knowledge are all essentially false. Contrary to the disciplinary divisions in western knowledge of science, art and religion, one would have to emphatically assert that tantra is not a science, religion or art in the western sense of the terms. Rather, tantra is art, science and religion all at once. I would like to preface my discussion of tantric theory and method with a very brief discussion of the limits of science in particular and human discursive knowledge in general.[1]

Western science’s powers to convince depend upon the twin pillars of empiricism and rationality. Early science gave primacy to matter as a metaphysical explanatory principle and later energy was recognized as well. This method has awesome explanatory power when dealing with physical non-living objects, but when it has to deal with living organisms or study phenomena of the mind and consciousness then suddenly the same tools are not as useful anymore.

One primary method by which science operates is reductionism, one problem is broken down into various smaller problems and so on. However this has led to a fragmentation of knowledge. We have constellations of theories which explain particular phenomena. What we do not have is these theories necessarily being in agreement with each other and forming a coherent edifice of knowledge.

In his 1996 book ‘The Conscious Mind’, philosopher David Chalmers argues that modern physicalist science fails to account for the phenomena of consciousness. He gives us a formulation that has dominated cognitive science for the last two decades. According to him the problem of consciousness can be divided into two parts: the ‘easy problem’ and the ‘hard problem’. The ‘easy problems’ are what scientists mostly deal with in normal science. These problems can be solved with mechanical explanations because they deal with particular abilities, behaviors, or functions. How does the eye see? How do we distinguish between two objects? And so on. The ‘hard problem’ is the question of how physical processes of the brain give rise to the subjective experience of the mind and the world. To solve the ‘hard problem’ Chalmers says we need to do some unusual science.

So while physicalist science can go to mars and split the atom into quarks, it cannot fully explain the human subjectivity which is the foundation of each and every scientific operation ever carried out. Our subjectivity and our consciousness have thus far resisted being reduced to mechanical or physical phenomena.

In this regard I would also like to bring up a fundamental limitation that science shares with all discursive knowledge systems. This limitation we can think of as the creation of identity through exclusion. Anything that has an identity, a name, an existence, has it not just by virtue of the properties it possesses but also by excluding everything it is not (that being the rest of the universe). When we see a book we engage with it knowing it is not something to sit on or eat. Its function as something to be read depends upon excluding every other possible function. Again when someone utters the sound ‘book’, the sound acquires correct meaning only when we can distinguish the uttered sound from the totality of other possible words that could have been uttered in that language like the word ‘cook’ or the word ‘Rastafarian’. Similar is the logic of how our own limited personal identities are formed. I am who I am because I am not my dog or my neighbor, neither am I anyone else I know or could possibly know.

This is the fundamental limitation of all human knowledge. It is also the primary cause behind existential sorrow (we become who we are by becoming incomplete). Discursive knowledge demands the universe be broken down into subjects and objects, into included interiorities and excluded exteriorities.

Physicalist science latched onto matter as it can be sensed, observed and measured. Matter, thus seemed like an attractive principle to serve as the foundation of a materialist enterprise. However the more closely scientists looked at matter, the more empty space they found. Even when we go beyond the subatomic level to quarks and leptons, we have massless particles that somehow at the subatomic level are creating mass. Similarly when scientists looked at empty space they found it to be full of tiny particles that instantaneously appear and disappear. Thus the interiority of the object where its’ essential self ‘matter’ resided was remarkably like the excluded exteriority. While scientists believed in the interiority of essence understood against an excluded exteriority of the rest of the universe, matter itself did not seem to believe in this division.

Any knowledge a scientist produces is grounded in his or her sensory or mental faculties. As knowing subjects human beings are composites of cognitive tools. These tools are the five senses, the emotive tool, which is the mind, discriminative intelligence and the sense of limited exclusionary individuation which is the ego. Any ‘reality’ that we find ourselves in is not ‘out-there’ but to the entire extent of our knowledge the universe is in these eight tools: the mind, ego, discriminative intelligence and the five senses. If a scientist uses an instrument, it does clarify perception, but shares the same primary limitation of our perception that it functions only by excluding more than it includes. However the world ‘out there’ doesn’t look the way our senses show it to us. We see in the visible spectrum but the entirety of the universe’s luminosity consists of radio-waves and x-rays, infra-red etc. etc. Neuroscience in this regard would say that the appearance of the world as it is, is an illusion conjured up by the brain for the express purpose of survival.

Similarly, a scientist may use a rational tool like mathematics which may clarify our reasoning but mathematics too shares the same fundamental limitation in that it works through fragmenting the universe into artificial categories wherein parts may be included and parts excluded.

With tāntric theory we take a different approach. Our starting point is different. Instead of starting with matter and then trying to explain consciousness, we start with consciousness and move towards matter. While in science, consciousness is in the brain, in tantra it is the brain that is in consciousness. Tantra too like science is governed by experimentation and peer-review. But the nature of tantric disciplines is very different from the scientific enterprise, its questions and its tools and its axioms are a far cry from materialist science. As a result what tantric theory says sounds extremely counter-intuitive. However tantra is an investigation into the nature of the only thing we are really sure exists: our very subjectivity. Tantra accepts scientific knowledge but also acknowledges that scientific truth is true only for a very limited value of reality. In the next section I shall elaborate on the tantric theory of reality, which is not a materialistic theory (insofar as it prioritizes the means of knowledge over objects of the senses) but rather is a phenomenological theory.

Tantra: theory

In this section I shall present the basic outline of tantric theory of consciousness. Before I do that, we need to understand some larger trends within the realm of Indian religion. Firstly, Indian religious systems are, at their philosophical core, inquiries into the nature of consciousness and embodiment. Each school and each sect had its own view as to ultimately what the nature of consciousness was. This philosophical inquiry was supplemented by a set of practices. If a school said ‘x’ is reality or ‘x’ is the true nature of consciousness then the system was duty bound to produce a set of practices where by that state of consciousness could be manifested. While modern philosophers and historians of Indian religion have avoided using religious experience as an analytical category, it is undeniably as central to Indian religion as its vast textual and philosophical output. Since the publication of William James’s book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’, more and more scholars are increasingly looking to study religious experience as a central analytical category in the study of the religions of colonized peoples.

The theory and practice were open to peer review not just by other masters of the same sect or school but also to masters of other sects and schools. This review consisted of not just an examination of philosophy but also a performance of practice. This included of course, a set of rules of moral and ethical conduct. If the samādhi produced is as was described in the philosophy, then the text is accepted as scripture and added to the canon of its respective school. In their esoteric core these disciplines are not dogmatic, rather they follow from rigorous experimentation and observation.

Secondly, there were two ways in which a new system could react to an older one either they could refute the older metaphysics, in which case they would have to reinvent a system from scratch, or they would assimilate it, in which case a state higher than the state described by the previous system had to be made manifest through a new practice. These practices varied from meditations of various sorts, mantras, rituals and initiations etc.

Vedic society was divided between householder religion and ascetic religion. The Vedic householder would perform fire sacrifice rituals to appease the various powers of consciousness and receive from them wealth and prosperity in the material realm. The ascetic on the other hand rejected the fruits of this world and starved the senses to realize the nature of the self. This was the early stage of the Indian theory of consciousness. The highest concept/ state of consciousness that this system could generate through its practices was called puruśa or brahman. This was the state of individuated consciousness, it contained within it the mind, intellect, ego and the senses etc. The limitation of this theory was the inexplicable concept of māyā, the creative illusion. Māyā was not of puruśa and could occlude its illuminative capabilities. So yoga in the ascetic schools only happened by delinking the mind (which generates desire) and body from consciousness. The states of samādhi could only be maintained as long as one was seated in meditation and as long as one adhered perfectly to the moral and ethical rules of ascetic conduct (the famous Yogasutras of Patanjali being one such text). Philosophically then most schools followed a monist model of reality in this period.

The next phase was the phase of āgama revelations. The āgamas are non-Vedic texts that began to bring together the previous yogic-ascetic and householder-ritual methods. While the Vedas claimed that the state of brahman could not be transcended, the āgamas brought forth many rituals and meditations whereby one could not only achieve the state of brahman but transcending it, one could also begin to understand the restraining force of māyā and how it was able to limit brahman. Thus now we had the doctrine of Śakti (the creative powers of consciousness) being explored. It was the āgamas that created a new kind of mysticism that involved mantras and it also started the ritual of pujā in its individual and temple format. In this phase we see various kinds of dualistic or qualified monistic theories of consciousness.

It was when the proto-tāntric tradition of āgama finished mapping the entire spectrum of Śakti that we finally enter the third, non-dual phase of the Indian theory consciousness, the tantric phase. Here it was experientially understood that if individuated consciousness was united with the limiting forces of māyā, what we arrived at was non-discursive universal consciousness. When we speak of the Vedic-ritualist or ascetic or the āgama tradition we are still within the realm of discursive knowledge. The experiential knowledge of the highest states that these traditions offered was a discursive knowledge entirely dependent upon very particular conditions of arising.

This tripartite philosophical and methodological movement from the Vedic/ascetic framework to the āgamic framework and finally culminating in the tantric phase is not one that happens only in case of the ‘Hindu’ tantric traditions But this movement also occurs in the Buddhist traditions in the form of the movement from the earliest Sutrāyāna to Mahāyāna which finally culminates with Vajrayāna.

The techniques of Vedic ritual work only through maintaining an artificial dichotomy of polluted and pure, if the pure becomes polluted, the technique does not work. The techniques of ascetic yoga only work if consciousness is delinked from the evolutes of prakṛiti (senses, mind etc). As a result final liberation occurs only after death and samādhi occurs only in stillness. Since the ascetic’s only response to desire is to avoid it, the yogic-ascetic techniques only work as long as the practitioner maintains their vows of celibacy and renunciation. This disciplinary limitation also created a back door for the misogyny of Brahmin patriarchy to create a secondary position for women socially, economically and spiritually.

The āgama tradition was series of progressively higher and more secret initiations into rituals of deities (and the corresponding states of consciousness they represented).[2] The mind and senses are not restrained, rather they are utilized. The limiting conditions of course, are the correct performance of the ritual as proscribed and acquiring the required initiation from a competent guru. This system will not work without the initiation or through inexact ritual performance.

Tāntric traditions are generally broken down into four categories or classes of texts: Kriya-tantras, Charja-tantras, Yoga-tantras and Anuttara-tantras. Kriya-tantras being the lowest class, where ritual is almost completely external, and Anuttara-tantras being the highest form, the apex of which is completely internal. Both Śaivite and Buddhist tantras contain the Anuttara class. Even though I will be using a Śaivite text to discuss the highest tāntric practices, the reader should feel assured that these practices equally existed within Buddhist tantra as well. Further, each of the three moments I mark out: of the monist theory of puruśa/ brahman, the āgamic moment of dualist and qualified monisms and finally the tantric non-dual resolution are not all philosophical monoliths. For example, in the earliest phase there was difference of opinion between the various ascetic groups regarding philosophy, conduct and practice (particularly between sānkhyavedānta and early Buddhism). However all those theories were within a monist spectrum. They chiefly dealt with the individuated consciousness and the problem of karmā. The āgamic schools too held to a spectrum of opinions from qualified monisms to dualism however they chiefly concerned themselves with the limiting conditions that individuated the consciousness. Finally in the non-dual tāntric traditions too there are minor differences in the various schools of Vajrayana but they are all in agreement that the ultimate principle is the non-dual union of wisdom and compassion or consciousness and its energies.

The highest theory and practice of tantra the details of which we shall be discussing shortly, if understood and performed correctly generates a knowledge that is non-discursive and yet contains all possible discourses within it. According to this theory the universe of objects can manifest only through the senses and the senses in turn are founded in the mind, the mind rests in the individuated consciousness and the individuated consciousness rests in pure consciousness. Pure consciousness is the foundation of all things knowable, there is nothing beyond it that can know it, also containing all things it is not any particular thing at all.

The highest tāntric method is non-discursive because the state it seeks to make manifest cannot be generated through any limited or contingent means. This state, that of pure consciousness, is not dependent upon any other category for its existence. Rather all categories of limited existence find their support in it. The highest form of tāntric practice is not limited by any ritual considerations, or any initiatory requirement, there can be no observation of caste or gender differences here. Unlike the ascetic system there is no requirement for shying away from desire or worldly action. One is not required to sit still in meditation to experience this highest samādhi and final liberation happens while one is still alive. All previous limited methods (Vedic, ascetic, āgama) derive their potency from pure consciousness, so by knowing this system all other systems may be known. Finally this method is non-discursive because there can be no ‘doing’ of it, in the sense that one is not required to do any-thing else other than inhabit the natural physiological, sensorial and mental processes that are already happening. Since it is based on all the powers of consciousness, which are already operating, there can be nothing into which one is initiated into. Let us shed some more light on the matter using the axiomatic tāntric text Śiva Sutras.[3] The entirety of the tāntric philosophical outlook is summed up in three of its ślokas.

1.1 Chaitanyam Ātmā : Consciousness is the self

2.1 Cittaṃ Mantraḥ : The mind is the mantra

3.1 Ātmā Chittam : The mind is the self

These three ślokas describe the entirety of the spectrum of consciousness. By and large consciousness exists in three states that of pure consciousness, that of the māntric mind and that of the individual subjective mind. The mind in its introverted state, when it apprehends its own nature is the state of mantra. The mind in its extroverted state is of the nature of limited subject apprehending the phenomenal world.

The śloka 1.1 describes the highest state that of pure consciousness. Then, 2.1 describes the middling state, that of Śakti. Finally 3.1 refers to the lowest realm of prakṛiti and its evolutes. It is here that the human subject manifests in the varying states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The movement of consciousness from its purest universal state to the limited individuated state occurs through the limitation of its powers of knowledge and action. But if the powers of knowledge and action of consciousness are supreme, so how can they be limited? How can the supreme bliss of pure consciousness be reduced to the survival anxiety of the embodied being? How can pure consciousness which is infinite and beyond time become localized in time and space?

The three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep (and their intermediary states) are made possible through the agency of pure consciousness.[4] When we are awake consciousness is animating the mind and the senses, when we dream consciousness withdraws from the senses, but is retained in the mind. In deep sleep consciousness withdraws from both the senses and the mind and assumes its original undifferentiated form, however since discriminative intellect is asleep we cannot cognize pure consciousness. Liberation occurs when we apprehend pure consciousness through the agency of our discriminatory intelligence. To explain the limitation of pure consciousness into the various limited mental states and cognitions, tāntric theory talks about three obscurations that divide consciousness into its three modes:

  1. The obscuration of individuation: this causes pure consciousness to become individuated and descend to the level of dualistic differences. This individuation or limitation of consciousness is not caused by anything extraneous to it but rather is caused by the eclipsing of consciousness’s power of illumination by its own power of reflective self-knowledge. What limits consciousness is the principle of identity through exclusion which we discussed briefly in the introduction. Maya tattva divides pure consciousness into subject and object.
  2. The obscuration of duality: once consciousness has been individuated it is in the discursive realm. The breaking down of the unified universe into subjects and objects is also the entry into the realm of language and discursive knowledge. Once the subject is separated from the object, it is free to cognize various objects by differentiating them. This differentiation is done through limiting and excluding. The subject never apprehends the object directly rather this apprehension is always mediated by the means of knowledge. The means of knowledge essentially represent phenomena to consciousness. Since it is representational, it is in the realm of language.When we dream our mind creates a world for us that feels indistinguishable from the waking world. So too is the phenomenal world dream like when compared to the clarity of pure consciousness. There might be ‘things-in-themselves’ out there in the world, but what we recognize as phenomenal reality, for the tāntrika, is just limited projections of the mind through the senses. Further, like how every conceivable sentence is contained in the alphabet, similarly, every conceivable sensation and every possible thought exists in the mind. The spoken alphabet is the grossest manifestation of the representational powers of consciousness. The collectivity of the representational powers of the mind and senses contain within them by this logic everything that exists in the phenomenal universe, everything that can be sensed, spoken or thought is here. The totality of the representational powers of consciousness is called the ‘mātrikachakra’ or the circle of mothers (as the entire universe gestates within them) and is identified with the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.[6] The vowels are considered the collectivity of the various abilities of the senses of cognition and the mind and the consonants are identified with the various lower functions of action. This is the secret of mantra. Mantras are not a mysterious kind of letter, rather they are the various limited functions of the human mind-body-consciousness complex that make us living, thinking, knowing and acting beings. As such, they have a dual nature depending upon the nature of their movement. When māntric energy flows towards the pole of the object, which is phenomenal world, the totality of the powers of consciousness (which contains the entire universe) break down into the various limited abilities of knowledge and action (which in turn contain limited objects or actions). Else, the māntric energies can flow towards the pole of the subject which is pure consciousness, in this case the various limited abilities of knowledge and action begin to resolve into each-other and re-integrate into the universal unity of the totality of the ‘mātrikachakra’. So it can be said that the entire universe is a spectrum of the energies of mantra, including in itself the gross-material, the subtle-mental and the undifferentiated. Thus mantras are the cause of liberation as well as the bondage of phenomenal existence.
  1. The obscuration of karma : So far, the subject has been individuated and dropped into the realm of language: that of dualistic discursive differences. Now māntric energy manifests in its lower mode (as the various vital forces) and composes the human being made of mind, ego, discriminative intelligence, the five gross and subtle elements, the five senses of cognition and the 5 senses of action. In this state she/he is subject to limited action and suffers or enjoys their results through trans-migratory existence.

Thus so far in this section we see that tantra considers pure consciousness to be ultimate reality, and it explains the emergence phenomenal reality as the natural transmutation of consciousness into its three states of pure subject, means of knowledge and object. Pure consciousness has perfect abilities of knowledge, will and action, it breaks down its prefect powers into various limited powers of knowledge and action and thereby manifests the limited subject and phenomenal world. Now, in the next section, let us look at how the practices that developed from this theory allow us to transcend limited identity, limited knowledge and limited action and reunite us with the totality of the universe, all without breaking a sweat.

Tantra: Practice

So far, we know that pure consciousness creates the subjective experience of the manifest phenomenal universe. It does so through the agency of its various creative/limiting powers. The first principle to emerge in the order of the manifest universe is this creative/ limiting energy which is also the animating principle of all life and the various sub-functions that happen within any individual living being. In tantra, this animating principle is variously called prāṇaśakti or spanda (pulse/ vibration). This central prāṇa breaks down into the multitude of the various prāṇas that enable each of the particular cognitive and active abilities of the embodied human. There is a third sense in which the word prāṇa is used and that is prāṇavayu or the upward-rising exhaled breath. It is through the breathing cycle of exhalation, retention and inhalation that all limited subjective functions of knowing or acting are performed by the individuated conscious being. Each thought, sensation or action is created, maintained and destroyed through this three part movement of the breath. In the inhalation the mind and senses are filled with prāṇa, the animating power of consciousness. The retention enables them to apprehend their object. This creates a sense of continuity of the phenomenal world through a succession of sensations. Finally the exhalation enables each limited perception, action or thought to resolve back into the undifferentiated state. The breath thus connects the body and mind to pure consciousness.[7] By being aware of the breath in all its subtlety and following its movement we can observe the entire spectrum of consciousness.

Consciousness thus exists in two polar modes: as pure consciousness which is beyond any differentiation and individuated consciousness which is inhabiting a mind and a body. Between these two is the spectrum of the various limiting and liberating energies that make possible the entire field of perception divided into limited subjects and objects. The vital breath moves between these two points and makes possible the animation of the various mental and physical tools of the organism. The lower point of individuated consciousness lies in the center of the chest cavity, it is the point where the inhalation ends and fills the organism with the animating powers of prāṇa. The upper pole of the spectrum of consciousness, the pole of pure consciousness lies at the point which is 12 finger breadths above the crown of the head. This is the point where exhalation ends. We must note that this is not to say that infinite consciousness has any fixable locus, indeed it is everywhere and nowhere. However, from the point of view of the individuated embodied consciousness, undifferentiated consciousness appears to be above the head. It should also be made clear that what is being spoken of is not the actual physical air but the impulse that makes it possible. Sensing that, is where we have to keep our attention. Under normal circumstances this process happens in the background and enables us to go out into the world and act on our desires. The highest tāntric practice does not tell us to cease acting or to artificially retain the breath or mind with effort, or do any particular meditation or ritual. Rather they simply ask us to remove our focus from the object of knowledge or the fruit of action to the means of knowledge and action. Thus the highest practice is to be aware of the prāṇa, the vital force, as it descends into the mind and body during inhalation, creates the subject-object interaction through the retention and in the exhalation observing all sensations and thoughts resolves back into pure consciousness. This can be done by anyone regardless of age, gender, race, caste, one does not need to be an expert meditator, one does not need to sit still or in isolation. Every action that can be committed, every thought that can be thought, can be observed to resolve itself into pure consciousness, so all limiting restraining conditions become the means by which the ultimate is realized. Thus, vices like anger or lust through tāntric practice too are resolved back into pure consciousness, transmuting them into virtues in the personality. Just like the limited is known through the agency of the unlimited, so too the unlimited is known through (all of) the limited[8].

As one gets established in this state of living-liberation ( jīvanmuktī or saṃsāra in nirvana), gradually this non-dual state manifests not just while awake but sustains itself while dreaming or sleeping as well. When this is achieved the subject is fully enlightened. This is the ultimate state from which there is no falling. This is the ultimate union of Śiva and Śakti.

As such tantra recognizes four major classes of method. They are : ‘no-means’, ‘divine-means’, ‘empowered-means’ and ‘individual-means’. ‘No-means’ is the spontaneous effortless realization of the essential nature of the self. Since it is effortless and instantaneous, it cannot be discussed. ‘Divine-means’ concern themselves with the initial movement in pure consciousness, this is the practice that has been discussed in this paper. The ‘empowered-means’ concern themselves with the energies of the mind and the ‘individual-means’ utilize the energies of the senses and the mind. It is in the lower methods of ‘empowered-means’ and ‘individual-means’ that we are concerned with particular chakras, nādis (nerve channel) mantras, yantras, complex ritual liturgies, initiations, mudras, āsanas, particular meditations, breath-manipulation etc. Since the ‘divine-means’ goes beyond the collectivity of all limited functions, we by-pass any focused work on the idā, pingalā or suśumna (the primary left, right and central nervous channels).[9]

This is not to say initiatory tantra is useless. Initiatory tantra on the other hand is very useful in the spiritual and the worldly sense because it deals with the limited functions of consciousness. The five ‘families’ within Śaivite and Buddhist tantra each specialize in transmuting one dominant vice in the personality into a liberating virtue. The lower tāntric methods serve to heal particular kinds of suffering or to achieve particular kinds of desire. However as long as one is using māntric energy for worldly purpose, there is always a chance that one particular function gets overemphasized and begins to dominate the personality. In this case the person becomes a plaything, a puppet of that particular psychological function and stays enmeshed in sorrowful duality. Initiation into a family, deity, mantra and mandala depends upon the subjective temperament of the initiate and also on what kind of changes the guru is trying to create in that personality.



To conclude this discussion, I would like to briefly comment upon tantra and its relationship with art and aesthetic delight. Previously we discussed the term kalā, which is the principle of limited creation whereby pure consciousness limits its omnipotence and creates limited agents. It is the process of culling out the finite from the infinite, the formal from the utterly abstract. Which is why, kalā is also the word for art in the Indian traditions. Kalā also means degree, or can refer to the various phases of the moon.

Pure consciousness is likened to an artist in the Śiva Sutra where it says (Śloka 3.9-3.11) : the self is the actor, The stage is the inner self and the spectators are the senses.[10] The manifestation and withdrawal of the universe is explained as the creative play of pure consciousness. Śiva dances joyfully and through the dance manifests the world through the agency of his various powers. The stage, which is the ground on which this creative play takes place, is the self-limiting power of consciousness, and the limited senses are those enthralled by this creative manifestation. An artist creates by choosing to represent one form out of an infinitude of possible forms. The artist can’t represent the object in its entirety but excludes and includes features (particular lines, tones etc.), creating a work by creating relationships and harmonies within the parts of the work. The creation itself is limited by its frame and subject matter. However when we apprehend good art with an aesthetic contemplative attitude then the delight it produces in us for a moment causes us to forget our limited selves and become something else other than our selves, if only for a short while. At the moment of aesthetic delight, the art object and the viewer do not have a separate ontological existence; the work of art becomes something beyond its frame and the viewer becomes something other than the limited self.

Similarly in love, the lover and the beloved are who they are, as long as there is separation. In the union who is Rādhā and who is Krishnā? They are one and indistinguishable. Whenever we have a sublime experience or contemplate infinity of any kind, the mind immediately ceases its restless movements and goes beyond its limited sense of being and there is a complete identification with the object of knowledge. When we give birth, or when we meet a long separated companion, when an artist or a scientist gets possessed by an inspiration or a muse, or even when we gaze into the depths of the sky, or eat or drink after not having done so for a long time the same thing happens: the limited-self recedes to varying degrees and there is an absorption of the mind into its original nature. For a short time the subject and the object become indistinct. This original nature of the mind is delightfully full and peacefully empty at the same time because it contains every particular thing, and so containing everything in itself is nothing in particular.

It is not the case that art creates beauty by bringing order to the chaos of nature. The problem is that beauty in nature is too overwhelming for the limited subject, thus it must be further abstracted and limited by the artist. But when the limited subjectivity of the viewer apprehends the art, the artwork facilitates the viewer’s transition into the state of delight. In truth this delight does not lie in the object but is the mind’s natural state. Even when limited perception or limited action happens, the natural state of mind persists in itself. All possible emotions are limited fragments of this peaceful state of non-dual plenitude. Thus all limited emotions can be the seed to reclaim pure consciousness in its entirety. The task is for us to realize that through all thoughts and all actions, while sleeping, dreaming or waking, the plenitude of pure consciousness persists. Pure consciousness is not dependent upon anything else for its existence, rather limited consciousness and limited things depend upon pure consciousness for their existence. Thus it is self-evident. May we all know the self-evident.[11]


[1] I am not an expert on science, but to contextualize tantra in the 21st century, it is necessary to acknowledge the limits of the scientific worldview. The interested reader may look up Buddhism and Science:breaking new ground edited by Alan Wallace, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003; as well as Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the materialist neo-darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly flase, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

[2] For a detailed account of the development of the tantric doctrine please refer to Mark Dyczkowski’s Introduction : “A Breif History of Śaiva Tantra and Kashmir Śaivism”, in Christian Pisano, The Hero’s Contemplation : Yoga in the light of the teachings of Yogācārya Śrī B.K.S. Iyengar and Non-Dual Kashmir Śaivism, London: YogaWords, 2011

[3] Mark Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, Albany : State University of New York Press, 1992, Śloka number 1.1,2.1 and 3.1

[4] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 1.8 – 1.10

[5] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 1.3

[6] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 1.4, 1.22 and 2.7

[7] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 3.44

[8] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 3.6

[9] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 3.45

[10] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 3.10, 3.11, 3.12

[11] Dyczkowski, The Aphorisms of Śiva, śloka 3.46

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