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Who Speaks for Tantra?

Monday, May 28th, 2007

People have been arguing about who is an authority on Tantra for centuries, and the good folks over at Wikipedia are continuing in that grand tradition.

Wikipedia’s “Tantra” entry has long been the subject of discussion, and even some heated argument, among its own contributors. The central question is: Who speaks for Tantra?

The new Wikipedia “Tantra team” is more mild-mannered than its turf-warring forebears, but the questions raised by the continuing troubles with Tantra over at Wikipedia are fascinating and instructive.

The rules for the sources that inform Wikipedia articles are that they must be verifiable and not “original research.”

What this boils down to is: only traditionally published sources are allowed. This means, for the most part, no blogs.

Enter Tantra, and even Living Tantra. Yes, unbeknownst to most Living Tantra readers, your very own blog has been the source of discussions around the Wikipedia Tantra table.

Why? Because some person long ago and far away placed a quote from Living Tantra in the main Wikipedia Tantra entry. Periodically, since that time, tussles have erupted among Wikipedians about whether or not to eject the Living Tantra quote from the article.

Up until recently, the “keepers” held the day. Now the quote is gone, a fact that was brought to my attention by one of the entry editors. He wrote me a nice letter the other day asking if the quote was published in a verifiable source, e.g. a book or paper-printed article, so that he could justify keeping it in Wikipedia.

Now, Tantra is still largely an orally-transmitted tradition. However, throughout the centuries, Tantra has been enriched by adept practitioners who have translated their insights, gained through practice, into original writings and who have written commentaries on the original Tantras. These commentaries are often scholarly and are always informed by a high degree of realization.

So, I am happy to report that despite the ousting of Living Tantra, the Wikipedia editors have relied upon the print-published writings of several great Gurus including Paramahamsa Satyananda Saraswati, the head of my lineage, and his Guru, Sri Sivananda.

On the other hand, Paramahamsa Satyananda was once asked, “What is a yogi?” His answer: “A person who will use anything to Self-realize.” I am certain that as younger adepts emerge, they will eschew dogmatism and will be communicating via blogs. Each teacher communicates in a way that is appropriate to the time and place of students.

The question we are really left with is: Who does speak for Tantra?

The answer: Anyone who realizes the fruit of Tantrik practice.

Tantra is about engaging more fully with Reality. Understanding of how things are in the world and with the world comes spontaneously when openness is discovered through practice.

This is not some new-agey, vague notion of intuition. The understandings I am speaking of are precise and usable. They let you know what you are and how to move in the world from moment to moment. They are available to anyone who sincerely desires Self-realization.

Even the most specific, complex understandings are available “from thin air.” Anandamayi MA was able to reproduce in exacting detail the most elaborate Vedic rituals and argue the finest points of philosophy with sages, correctly quoting passages from Sanskrit scriptures, even though she had completed only a couple of years of schooling.

The Tibetan termas, or treasure texts, are bodies of practical knowledge that were placed in the fabric of Reality by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal to be “downloaded” by adepts in future generations. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu is a terton: someone who receives these detailed instructional texts in his dreams. No one can fake this meticulous understanding.

Two of the related meanings of “Tantra” are “text” and “textile.” Tantrik adepts become readers and weavers of Reality. The proof is in how accomplished beings live, not in the footnotes of their books. The real “verifiable” source, and the ultimate publisher, is Reality itself.

Of course, this Tantrik understanding of understanding does not lend itself to the culture of encyclopedias and its enthusiasts. One could even say that the presence of a “Tantra” entry in Wikipedia is like placing explosives in a wedding cake. Weddings are highly conventional affairs in most cultures.

But, it is also true that all human activity tends, somehow, sooner or later, toward awakening, and the Tantrik tradition itself helps with this process. The most respected scholars of Tantra inevitably arrive at the same conclusion: Tantra cannot be authoritatively described using only the tools of conventional scholarship.

How wonderful!

In Matriseva,
Shambhavi

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