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Tantra as access to the multidimensional universe

One of the unique aspects of tantra is that it has deep, living roots in many worlds: that of magic and shamanism, that of subtle and sophisticated philosophy, that of ecstatic erotic experience, that of monastic austerity, and more. In an attempt to explain how this can all hang together, in our teaching we often describe tantra as functioning in “multiple realities.” It's not simply about physical experience, nor simply about intellectual and logical clarity, nor only about lofty spiritual attainments – though it is about all of these. And they cannot be all captured in one “reality,” such as the current consensual Western reality of materialism and mechanistic science, nor even the world of popular literature, beliefs, and discourse.

Beginners (like I was at one time) find much that is comfortably acceptable about tantra, but other aspects that seem strange, unlikely, or even bizarre...This constitutes a barrier of sorts, that prevents many sincere seekers from stepping into a deeper immersion in the study and practice of this challenging tradition. Therefore, it is usually necessarily to provide such folks a framework that will accommodate the baffling and culturally dissonant aspects of tantra, so they don't feel compelled to dismiss it all out of hand.

The outlines of that framework are clearly delineated in the writings of the ancient philosophers of the Indic world, the most succinct of those being the Mandukyopanishad. This little scripture of only 12 verses stipulates that we live in several realities: the everyday waking consciousness, the dream or dreamlike world, and the dreamless sleep world where we are immersed in what it calls “the first knowing.” There is, it says, the possibility of a “fourth” – where one is aware of operating in all the first three, happening “at the same time,” or more accurately, transparently (since time does not exist in all of them). That is a state of what is now often being termed “integral consciousness” – one that escapes the limitations of ego and opens access to a vast and revolutionary connection to the universe. The attainment of this consciousness has been called “cosmic consciousness,” enlightenment, sartori, and many other names in different traditions and cultures.

In our effort to bring the authentic, comprehensive teachings of tantra to the west, we are immeasurably assisted by the writings of a western authority on the subject of consciousness itself. Few in the West have delved into the examination of consciousness in any comprehensive way, but Jean Gebser, author of a work entitled “The Ever Present Origin” is one who did. Although he does not quote the Upanishad, and was apparently unaware of it, his work is almost a paraphrasing of that revered scripture – only instead of twelve verses, it is 600 pages of complex Germanic writing that pulls together many strands of western psychology, philosophy, anthropology, archeology, art, and spirituality to illuminate the nature of human consciousness as it has morphed over millennia, and exists in our waking and unconscious existence. Though Gebser's work has attracted a lot of attention, it is a difficult read, and few people in the world of tantra are familiar with it, or have made the connections between it and traditional Indic teachings that are so rich and rewarding.

That's too bad, since it provides the detail and the culturally accessible explanations that are so needed by the western (or westernized) student. For example, what the Upanishad calls the “first knowing” corresponds roughly to what Gebser calls the Magic Structure of Consciousness, and is the “reality” within which we live in a “vital nexus” of energetic relationships with nature and each other. This is the realm that is virtually free of time, space, and causality, and it is intimately related to the breath and to other variants of energy flow, as well as to the chakras, sexual experiences, and the phenomenon of healing. Tantric practices that are carried out predominantly in this “realm” are often dismissed by the westernized as “superstition,” “charlatanism,” or simply delusions. It is critical for the student of tantra to, at some point, understand and experience the reality and the power of these phenomena, since they are part and parcel of his functioning (albeit usually happening outside of her or his awareness).

Gebser insists that we must bring back into full awareness this “Magic” reality, and all the others in order to attain the Integral State. His explanations and descriptions are very helpful in identifying the structures of consciousness that underlie and comprise the parts of our world and the experiences we live that we fail to see clearly. Tantra is a playground where each such part can be explored, redefined, and gradually integrated so that we can live in a radically transformed way.

Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati December 8, 2018

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