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Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy [NOOK Book]

Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy

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Overview

Tantra—often
associated with Kundalini Yoga—is a fundamental dimension of Hinduism,
emphasizing the cultivation of "divine power"
(shakti)
as a path to infinite bliss. Tantra has been widely misunderstood in the West,
however, where its practices are often confused with eroticism and licentious
morality.
Tantra:
The Path of Ecstasy

dispels many common misconceptions, providing an accessible introduction to the
history, philosophy, and practice of this extraordinary spiritual tradition.

The
Tantric teachings are geared toward the attainment of enlightenment as well as
spiritual power and are present not only in Hinduism but also Jainism and
Vajrayana Buddhism. In this book, Georg Feuerstein offers readers a clear
understanding of authentic Tantra, as well as appropriate guidance for
spiritual practice and the attainment of higher consciousness.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Feuerstein has attempted a daunting task, defining Tantric Yoga drawn from Hindu and not Tibetan Buddhist sources. To do this, he has assembled a wide-ranging compendium of Hindu, Tantric and Shaivite texts almost impossible to find in one place elsewhere. To plunge into this book is to find yourself rushing down the sacred River Ganges through the heart of India. Like a sophisticated travelogue, it brings into sharp focus the rich tapestry of the Indian ecstatic life and the exotic practices of Tantric Yoga that take place, metaphorically, on the banks of this Queen of rivers. The inner eye is challenged with mystical beasts bathing in the waters; holy men daubed in ashes undertaking bizarre and often previously never-before-seen Tantric rituals; the inner ear is filled with the rhythmic, pulsating chant of Om, and all its associated Sanskrit sounds; the senses are awash with meditative visions. It is a passage through Indian spiritual life that may be too sophisticated for the casual tourist, although for those who have passed this way before, it is a comprehensive and provocative commentary on the basic and advanced precepts of Tantric yoga. Written with literate modesty and erudition, this book is an invaluable resource. (July)
From the Publisher
"A wide-ranging compendium of Hindu, Tantric, Shaivite texts almost impossible to find in one place elsewhere. . . . a comprehensive and provocative commentary on the basic and advanced precepts of Tantric yoga. Written with literate modesty and erudition, this book is an invaluable resource."— Publishers Weekly

"Georg Feuerstein, who is arguably today's foremost Yoga researcher, has given us yet another very valuable book. Tantra: The Art of Ecstasy is the first nonacademic but sound and well-rounded introduction to the Hindu Tantric heritage since Sir John Woodroffe's pioneering publications of the 1920s. It corrects many widespread misconceptions and shows Tantrism to be a complex and intriguing tradition that deserves deeper study. Recommended reading for all students of Hinduism, Yoga, and spirituality in general."—Professor Subhash Kak, Ph.D., author of India at Century's End and coauthor of In Search of the Cradle of Civilization

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780834825451
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/10/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 302,672
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Georg Feuerstein, PhD, (1947–2012) is internationally respected for his work on Yoga and is the author of over fifty books. He has designed and taught several distance-learning courses on Yoga philosophy for Traditional Yoga Studies. For more information, go to traditionalyogastudies.com.

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Read an Excerpt

From
the Introduction

Tantra,
the Great Spiritual Synthesis of India

The
thousands of evils arising from one's

birth
can be removed by means of practice.

Matsyendra-Samhita
(7.20a)

Definitions

Tantra
is
a Sanskrit word that, like the term
yoga,
has
many distinct but basically related meanings. At the most mundane level, it
denotes "web" or "woof." It derives from the verbal root
tan,
meaning
"to expand." This root also yields the word
tantu
(thread
or cord). Whereas a thread is something that is extensive, a web suggests
expansion.
Tantra
can
also stand for "system," "ritual," "doctrine,"
and "compendium." According to esoteric explanations,
tantra
is
that which expands
jnana,
which
can mean either "knowledge" or "wisdom." The late
Agehananda Bharati, an Austrian-born professor of anthropology at Syracuse
University and a monk of the Dashanami order, argued that only knowledge can be
expanded, not the immutable wisdom.

But
this is not entirely correct. Wisdom, though coessential with Reality and
therefore perennial, can be expanded in the sense of informing the spiritual
practitioner more and more. This process is like placing a sponge in a shallow
pool of water. It gradually soaks up the water and becomes completely suffused
with moisture. Thus while wisdom is always the same, it can also,
paradoxically, grow inside a person. Or, to put it differently, a person can
grow to reflect more and more of the eternal wisdom.

But
tantra
is
also the "expansive," all-encompassing Reality revealed by wisdom. As
such it stands for "continuum," the seamless whole that comprises
both transcendence and immanence, Reality and reality, Being and becoming,
Consciousness and mental consciousness, Infinity and finitude, Spirit and
matter, Transcendence and immanence, or, in Sanskrit terminology,
nirvana
and
samsara,
or
brahman
and
jagat.
Here
the words
samsara
and
jagat
stand
for the familiar world of flux that we experience through our senses.

Historically,
tantra
denotes
a particular style or genre of spiritual teachings beginning to achieve
prominence in India about fifteen hundred years ago—teachings that affirm the
continuity between Spirit and matter. The word also signifies a scripture in
which such teachings are revealed. By extension, the term is often applied to
texthooks or manuals in general. Tradition speaks of 64
Tantras,
though
as with the 108
Upanishads
this
is an ideal figure that does not reflect historical reality. We know of many
more
Tantras,
though
few of them have survived the ravages of time.

A
practitioner of Tantra is called a
sadhaka
(if
male) or a
sadhika
(if
female). Other expressions are
tantrika
or
tantra-yogin
(if
male) and
tantra-yogini
(if
female). An adept of the Tantric path is typically known as a
siddha
("accomplished
one," from
sidh,
meaning
"to be accomplished" or "to attain") or
maha-siddha
("greatly
accomplished one," that is, a great adept). The female adept is called
siddha-angana
("woman
adept," from
anga,
meaning
"limb" or "part"). The Tantric path itself is frequently
referred to as
sadhana
(from
the same verbal root as
siddha),
and
the spiritual achievement of this path is called
siddhi
(having
the dual meaning of "perfection" and "powerful
accomplishment").
Siddhi
can
refer either to the spiritual attainment of liberation, or enlightenment, or to
the extraordinary powers or paranormal abilities ascribed to Tantric masters as
a result of enlightenment or by virtue of mastery of the advanced stages of
concentration. A Tantric preceptor, whether he or she is enlightened or not, is
called either an
acarya
("conductor,"
which is related to
acara,
"way
of life") or a
guru
("weighty
one").

Tantra:
A Teaching for the Dark Age

Tantra
understands itself as a gospel for the "new age" of darkness, the
kali-yuga.
According
to the Hindu worldview, history unfolds in a cyclical pattern that proceeds
from a golden age to world ages of progressive spiritual decline, and then back
to an era of light and plenty. These ages are called
yugas
(yokes),
presumably because they fasten beings to the wheel of time
(kala-cakra),
the
flux of conditioned existence. There are four such
yugas,
which
repeat themselves over and over again, all the while maturing all beings, but
especially human beings. The scriptures speak of this developmental process as
"cooking." The four world ages, in order, are:

1. The
satya-yuga,
in
which truth
(satya)
reigns
supreme, and which is also known as
krita-yuga
because
everything in it is well made
(krita)

2. The
treta-yuga,
in
which truth and virtue are somewhat diminished

3. The
dvapara-yuga,
in
which truth and virtue are further diminished

4. The
kali-yuga,
which
is marked by ignorance, delusion, and greed

These
correspond to the four ages known in classical Greece and ancient Persia.
Significantly, the Sanskrit names of the four world ages derive from dice
playing, a favorite pastime of Indic humanity ever since Vedic times. The
Rig-Veda,
which
is at least five thousand years old, has a hymn (10.34) that has been dubbed
"Gambler's Lament" because its composer talks poetically of his
addiction to gambling. Of the dice he says that "handless, they master him
who has hands," causing loss, shame, and grief. The Bharata war,
chronicled in the
Mahabharata
epic,
was the ill-gotten fruit of gambling, for Yudhishthira lost his entire kingdom
to his wicked cousin Duryodhana with the throw of a die.

Krita
signifies
the lucky or "well-made" throw,
dvapara
(deuce)
a throw of two points,
treta
(trey)
a throw of three points, and
kali
(from
the verbal root
kal,
"to
impel") the total loss, indicated by a single point on the die. The word
kali
is
not, as is often thought, the same as the name of the well-known goddess Kali.

However,
since Kali symbolizes both time and destruction, it does not seem farfetched to
connect her specifically with the
kali-yuga,
though
of course she is deemed to govern all spans and modes of time.

The
Tantras
describe
the first, golden age as an era of material and spiritual plenty. According to
the
Mahanirvana-Tantra
(1.20–29),
people were wise and virtuous and pleased the deities and forefathers by their
practice of Yoga and sacrificial rituals. By means of their study of the
Vedas,
meditation,
austerities, mastery of the senses, and charitable deeds, they acquired great
fortitude and power. Even though mortal, they were like the deities
(deva).
The
rulers were high minded and ever concerned with protecting the people entrusted
to them, while among the ordinary people there were no thieves, liars, fools,
or gluttons. Nobody was selfish, envious, or lustful. The favorable psychology
of the people was reflected outwardly in land producing all kinds of grain in
plenty, cows yielding abundant milk, trees laden with fruits, and ample
seasonable rains fertilizing all vegetation. There was neither famine nor
sickness, nor untimely death. People were good-hearted, happy, beautiful, and
prosperous. Society was well ordered and peaceful.

In
the next world age, the
treta-yuga,
people
lost their inner peace and became incapable of applying the Vedic rituals
properly, yet clung to them anxiously. Out of pity, the god Shiva brought
helpful traditions
(smriti)
into
the world, by which the ancient teachings could be better understood and
practiced.

But
humanity was set on a worsening course, which became obvious in the third world
age. People abandoned the methods prescribed in the
Smritis,
and
thereby only magnified their perplexity and suffering. Their physical and
emotional illnesses increased, and as the
Mahanirvana-Tantra
insists,
they lost half of the divinely appointed law
(dharma).
Again
Shiva intervened by making the teachings of the
Samhitas
and
other religious scriptures available.

With
the rise of the fourth world age, the
kali-yuga,
all
of the divinely appointed law was lost. Many Hindus believe that the
kaliyuga
was
ushered in at the time of the death of the god-man Krishna, who is said to have
left this earth in 3102 BCE at the end of the famous Bharata war. There is no
archaeological evidence for this date, and it is probable that Krishna lived
much later, but this is relatively unimportant for the present consideration.

What
matters, however, is that most traditional authorities consider the
kali-yuga
to
be still very much in progress.

In
fact, according to Hindu computations, we are only in the opening phase of this
dark world age, which is believed to have a total span of 360,000 years.

Thus
from a Hindu perspective, the current talk in certain Western circles of a
promising new age—the Age of Aquarius—is misguided. At best, this is a
mini-cycle of self-deception leading to false optimism and complacency,
followed by worsening conditions. This is in fact what some Western critics of
the New Age movement have suggested as well. Other critics have argued,
conversely, that the Hindu model of cyclical time is unrealistic and outdated.

Whatever
the truth of this matter may be, the
Tantras
emphasize
that their teachings are designed for spiritual seekers trapped in the dark
age, which is in effect today. This is how the
Mahanirvana-Tantra
(1.36–42),
in the prophetic words of the Goddess, describes the current world age:

    With
the sinful
kali[-yuga]
in
progress, in which all law is destroyed and which abounds with evil ways and
evil phenomena, and gives rise to evil activities,

    then
the
Vedas
become
inefficient, to say nothing of remembering the
Smritis.
And
the many
Purjnas
containing
various stories and showing the many ways [to liberation]

    will
be destroyed, O Lord. Then people will turn away from virtuous action

    and
become habitually unrestrained, mad with pride, fond of evil deeds, lustful,
confused, cruel, rude, scurrilous, deceitful,

    short-lived,
dull-witted, troubled by sickness and grief, ugly, weak, vile, attached to vile
behavior,

    fond
of vile company, and stealers of other's money. They become rogues who are
intent on blaming, slandering, and injuring others

    and
who feel no reluctance, sin, or fear in seducing the wife of another. They
become destitute, filthy, wretched beggars who are sick from their vagrancy.

The
Mahanirvana-Tantra
continues
its description of the dreariness of the
kali-yuga
by
saying that even the brahmins become degenerate and perform their religious
practices mainly to dupe the people. Thus the custodians of the law
(dharma)
merely
contribute to the destruction of the sacred tradition and the moral order. The
Tantra
next
reiterates that Shiva revealed the Tantric teachings to stem the tide of
history and correct this tragic situation. The masters of Tantra are profoundly
optimistic.



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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction:
Tantra, the Great Spiritual Synthesis of India
1

1.
Samsara: Cyclic Existence
20
2.
Time, Bondage, and the Goddess Kali
32
3.
This Is the Other World: Samsara Equals Nirvana
42
4.
The
Secret of Embodiment: As Above, So Below
52
5.
The
Divine Play of Shiva and Shakti
70
6.
The
Guru Principle: Shiva Incarnate
85
7.
Initiation:
Bringing Down the Light
95
8.
Discipleship:
The Ordeal of Self-Transformation
110
9.
The
Tantric Path: Ritual and Spontaneity
120
10.
The
Subtle Body and Its Environment 139

11.
Awakening
the Serpent Power
165
12. Mantra:
The Potency of Sound
184
13.
Creating
Sacred Space: Nyasa, Mudra, Yantra
201
14.
The
Transmutation of Desire
224
15.
Enlightenment
and the Hidden Powers of the Mind
250

Epilogue:
Tantra Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
268
Notes 275
Select
Bibliography
295
Index 301
About
the Author
315



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