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Tantrik Assimilation

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

People sometimes feel uneasy about adopting spiritual practices from other cultures. With Tantra, it is more appropriate to feel concern about being adopted.

Most of what we call Tantra came together in the 8th-12th centuries in Kashmir. Right in the middle of this time period, a philosopher and mahasiddha named Abhinavagupta gathered together a bunch of different, competing traditions and synthesized them under a View that was so all-encompassing, adaptive, friendly to paradox, non-renunciative, and compelling, that it gobbled up everything in its path.

Abhinavagupta’s View derived from his practice: it was grounded in experience. So, although you could say that Abhinava was politically brilliant, the real brilliance of his formulation of Tantra was that it put into action the same commodious hosting that characterizes the life process itself. As above, so below. Abhinava just digested his competitors in a totally accommodating, non-dual, or even beyond-non-dual way. Munch. Munch.

The Kashmiri tradition spread everywhere, adapting cheerfully to every culture it encountered. Keeping true to Abhinava’s method, it had no qualms about joining up with other traditions and cross-pollinating. The more the merrier!

But because authentic Tantra is a technology for realizing nothing other than reality itself, no matter how many geographic or cultural boundaries it crossed, it retained the integrity of its View, even when the ornaments changed.

Of course, lots of things get called Tantra these days. But the same was true in “those days.” Yep, even in the ancient texts, you can read rants against false gurus who used their positions as “Tantriks” to lure young women into participating in orgies. Do we seriously think that neo-orgasm-workshoppers are a contemporary phenom? Hardly.

But let’s not dwell on that. The point is, many countries not only have non-dual Tantric traditions that have been fundamentally shaped by the Kashmir tradition, but even more pervasively, the spiritual technologies of Tantra have just kind of snuck into everything like ants at a picnic.

Pretty much the whole of “Hindu” India now practices Tantra, even if they think they despise it, reject it, and wouldn’t be caught dead doing it. Entire mall-roving families in middle America are doing it too. You can watch it on video in Walgreen’s, for Siva’s sake! Nearly everybody’s doing it. Why? Because hatha yoga is Tantra, mantra is Tantra, most existing Indian ritual technologies such as puja are Tantra, Tibetan Buddhism is largely Tantra, and on and on.

If you are reading Living Tantra, there is a good chance you have already been exposed to some authentic Tantric View through a teacher or other avenue. Or maybe you are encountering it here for the first time. In either case, I consider it a great and wonderful blessing to be able to consciously participate in this profound, precise, and adaptable tradition of Reality just as it is.

The other week, I heard a fun, hip hop version of the Hanuman Chalisa. The energy was soooooo U.S.A. And I found myself wondering what will happen when more people here are consciously practicing authentic Tantra. What will happen to the tradition when it meets all that crazy American energy? Then I realized that the more interesting question is: What will happen to us?

OM Shanti, Shambhavi

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