If one listens to some theoretical physicists these days, there is more than a hint of an inevitable intersection of science and spirituality. First Quantum Physics, and now Unified Field Theory and String Theory are attempting to understand and describe a universe where absolutely everything is connected in some still incomprehensible way. As a student and practitioner of Tantra this is sounding quite familiar. The ancient Tantric and Taoist masters devoted lifetimes to exploring this same essential territory.
Taoism shares its roots with Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, 5 Element Theory, and the philosophy of the interplay of Yin and Yang. Because Chinese Acupuncture has become increasingly familiar to Westerners, so too has this theory and application of Yin and Yang. It's not uncommon for people to describe everyday events in terms of Yin and Yang; nor is it unusual to read references to the balancing or harmonizing of these polar opposites in order to bring health and harmony to daily life. What is still more rare is to find cogent references to the Tantric version of the interplay of cosmic, pervasive duality. Ancient authentic Tantric cosmology and philosophy held a view somewhat similar to Taoism; the differences, however, are significant and noteworthy.
Whereas the harmonizing of Yin and Yang was often for Taoists a practical, lifestyle process of alchemy based on balancing the effects of external elements such as temperature, food, herbs, dampness versus dryness, etc. in order to create health, longevity, and inner peace, the alchemical process pursued by Tantric masters was primarily internal and its intent was highly spiritual. True Tantra was known to be a deep, profoundly intent path of sacred inner alchemy. This level of Tantra is rarely understood or appreciated in a modern culture whose primary fascination is with the sexual practices of Tantra, usually taken out of (the spiritual, primary) context.
Regardless of how irreverent or superficial modern co-opting is of the spiritual terms; the true nature of life as originally described still underlies all. And although many may overlook the depth, it continues to have profound value. Despite hookers who describe their work as Tantra, morose heavy metal bands with names like Nirvana, erotic dancers calling themselves Shaktis, sexual massage daikinis, etc., the ultimate truth remains, and the ancient teachings of the masters are as beneficial to humanity as ever.
Let us then examine more deeply this Sacred Tantra path of inner alchemy.
Shakti is the energetic field of being out of which all form is created - the raw materials, so to speak, that sustain all life in form, for life cannot exist without energy. Thus, Shakti is related to the Earth and on a much broader, universal scale, to the Divine Mother, the Divine Feminine, the all nurturing, all sustaining, and creative nature of God. In addition to nurturing and containing, the nature of Shakti is to respond and to embrace. It would be more appropriate to say that God loves and takes care of all Her children.
Shiva is the formless void, the unlimited conscious field of being out of which all intelligence arises. Einstein formulated the dynamic presence of all-pervasive energy. Now the more spiritual theoretical physicists are postulating and attempting to describe our universe as filled and unified by all-pervasive consciousness. By studying the activity of atoms and sub-atomic particles they have discovered that everything is conscious and connected in some conscious way. The wisdom of the ancient Tantric yogis is being verified by science.
What does all this mean to us and does it have any practical relevance to our daily lives and to our relationships, etc.? Here is where I believe the brilliance of the Tantric masters lies; they offered a path that is light years beyond the physicists. Recently, there was a meeting of a dozen or so famous Western scientists and doctors with a few high Tibetan lamas and Buddhist teachers. There also happened to be a few Tibetans there including families. After several days of meetings and theoretical and philosophical discussions a twelve-year old Tibetan girl asked to address the Westerners. She basically gently said, "In our culture we seek to understand ourselves, and out of that understanding all of life becomes understood and we can be at peace with life. You people seem to know a lot about the world but know very little if anything about yourselves." She smiled shyly and sat down. The famous were, of course, humbled.
The Tantric masters, Hindu, Buddhist, or Tibetan, understood that the essential alchemy must take place within in order to be experienced in relationship to the world and others, and thus the techniques and methods of inner alchemy have been at the core of their teachings. As stated above, the alchemical process is the embodiment and integration of the descending heavenly consciousness (Shiva) with the rising earthly energy.
How might this be accomplished? Among the primary tools is attention to and mastery of the breath, integrating the Yang in-breath (usually ascending) with the Yin out-breath (usually descending). The in-breath is activating, stimulating, initiating, moving energy (up from the earth or down from the heavens), and it brings awareness to the energy and form. Conversely the out-breath is relaxing, releasing, responding, surrendering, dispersing and embracing energy (as it descends from heaven or rises from earth), and it brings energy to the consciousness and awareness. A student of Sacred Tantra becomes acutely aware of the subtle yet powerful differences and complementary contributions of the inhale and exhale.
To effectively and reliably bring in the consciousness requires a cultivation of sustained, focused awareness and an ability to tune into levels of higher thought and guidance. To effectively and reliably bring in the energy requires cultivation of energy pathways that have capacity for increased quantity and quality of energy. Focus requires a quiet, undistracted, non-distractible mind that generally necessitates some form of meditation. Cultivation of energy pathways also requires focus. As one visualizes, imagines, or places awareness on energetic flow within, the amount of energy increases and the quality changes, dependent upon one's thoughts.
The longer and more capably one focuses on energy within, the greater the effect. Thus a synergy is needed in order to place attention on both consciousness and energy. The ancient Tantric yogis and masters understood this and consequently developed what I call "energy meditations" wherein the meditative state is generated by focusing attention on the desired energy flow. For example, imagining energy flowing up and down a "central channel" along the front of the spine, or imagining energy of a particular color, quality, and amount in the chakras (energy/nerve plexi) along the spine. In subsequent articles I will further describe these energy meditations.
Ironically, our true nature and that of all life, according to Tantra, is to embody waves of consciousness and energy, activating and embracing each other, so the energy meditations are a determined practice directed towards returning to and enhancing our true nature. When we are in balance, and Shiva consciousness and Shakti energy are integrated, there will be continuous inner alchemy - a natural, effortless, endless, pulse-like weaving of stillness/quiet/being with action/expression/doing.