Did you ever wonder why there is this trend among yogis to light candles and incense sticks around altars with some weird-looking objects? I mean beyond the obvious reason of dealing with the consequences of deep relaxation and 'wind-release' of their students? Or why on earth would a person lie in full prostration in front of a statute with three eyes, four arms with skulls hanging around the neck? What is the essence of all these practices? What is the point of all those symbols?
There is the yoga of the exterior called Bahir Yoga dealing with the body through asana and there is the inner yoga, Antar Yoga searching for the higher self within. The starting point of antar yoga is; if there is divinity in every particle of manifestation, there is divinity in the self of a human as a sentient being having the potential to be absorbed into oneness. Inner yoga aims to awaken the divine within.
As mere words and logic cannot capture such divinity, spiritual seekers relied on a universal language; symbolism. They used colours, shapes, elements of nature to conceptualise and experience divinity. It all starts with the feminine and masculine principles: Shiva and Shakti. Shiva, the masculine principle is one face of the medallion representing the consciousness, void, spirit, the opposite of matter. Shakti, the feminine principle is representing the power of that consciousness, the matter, soul, energy in all forms and shapes as the other side of the medallion. These are also principles reflected in science as the ‘+’ and ‘–‘poles coming together and building up the matter. The statute of a spectacular, adorned woman is just the symbol representing this high concept.
Such symbolism is not only rooted in Hindu culture where yoga comes from. Shakti is called the Pacha Mamma, mother of earth and time by the Andes tradition, Durga as the principle form of Mother Goddess in Hinduism, Mahamaya in tantra as the ultimate shapeless form of the divine Mother Goddess and revered in many other cultures as the great creator.
Shakti is creation in all forms. It is also the body of a human being in its flesh and bones; the mind generating thoughts and emotions as different forms of energy; the knowledge giving birth to concepts and values such as time, space, death, beauty, compassion, abundance. In short Shakti is the creative power in everything that we can conceive and beyond.
Tantra is a science of working with these energies. Tantrics observing the flow of life developed a technology around this practice. One step towards this practice is using the symbolism of the deities representing different aspects of manifestation. A divine body is visualized according to many symbols and myths that we can relate to as a reference of our practice. When a sadhak (spiritual practitioner) bows down in front of a shiva statute, s/he is showing reverence to the supreme consciousness; or when lighting a candle at a Goddess Durga altar s/he is paying respect to the divinity of motherhood protecting her children from harm and ignorance.
The technology for this practice is called mantra+yantra=tantra. The use of mantra’s, the sacred sounds resonating with certain frequencies and yantra’s, the sacred geometrical shapes carrying the form, function and power of a frequency are used as main tools of practice. This deep connection with universal frequencies also open the way to paranormal results influencing the course of life for some practitioners. A profound tantra practice may lead to awakening of Kundalini Shakti; the fundamental force of our being that remains latent otherwise.
Although there are many popular practices involving these technologies, a deep and authentic practice of Tantra requires guidance of an initiate, a teacher, a vessel to carry the light. Otherwise you know what they say; if you play with fire…
About the author
Dijan currently offers consultations and yoga retreats in Europe and Asia under her brand, Rasa Lila by Dijan. Join her at her ‘Navaratri Experience: Tantra of the Goddess’ retreat in Koh Phangan Thailand between October 10-18 to have a taste of authentic, traditional tantra.