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The Three-fold Nature of Tantra

Tantra, as is often said, is a difficult path.  

I liken it to being in the military, riding a frightening fun park ride, and hugging a eucalyptus-drunk koala bear all at the same time. Try as you might to practice under the auspices of Tantra and disentangle these elements, and you will fail. You will ultimately fall short of your goals and aspirations because these core qualities of what it means to practice Tantra exist in a dance much in the way the gunas—those fundamental components of prakriti, or essential nature—move in graceful combinations to give rise to the whole of what we experience as reality.

Tantra is all of this without exception, and we must take the whole lot without grimace or expectation. But what we are allowed when accepting of this mystery is both the beautiful pain of longing and also access to the wonders of a lifetime. 

The discipline Tantra requires is essential. I find this particularly so within the confines of Western breeding and imagination. In societies that highly value independence, it is often a difficult exercise to follow the rules and stay the course as guided by a teacher or guru. One must agree to supplant willingly the knowledge, instincts, and power acquired during one’s life in order to serve another source or higher will on the road to liberation. It can be difficult to let go. The obstacles to success tend to be common: issues of money and time easily arise to justify the pull away from the work.

Yet beyond the self-imposed limitations that speak to the fear of one’s ego, discipline becomes the pathway to incomprehensible creativity and freedom. It is like a gift in disguise, and all who humbly accept are granted boons (such as happiness) beyond the obvious outer wrappings, which may disgust or intrigue in equal measure upon initial sight. Much in the way Aladdin’s lamp contained treasures beyond measure if one was willing to allow curiosity to reign and humility to triumph, so too is discipline on the tantric path a catalyst for things greater than they appear at first blush to be.

Sitting in one’s fear is the next exhilaration. Whether done alone or in a circle of initiates, the rites and practices are designed to move one along the boundary of current consciousness into ever deeper states of awareness. At every edge, we face a kind of death as we enter a new temenos and the known becomes the unknown. Fear naturally arises. Individual practice supports our ability to stay here, building endurance and resolve, as does the companionship of others in kaula (spiritual family). But our response—our ability to grow—is found more in our capacity to trust than in a fearlessness born of daring.

There is a natural risk in doing the work of tantric practice that we must embrace if we wish to pursue the path. And we must equally stay open to our fears in order to ultimately include and transcend them. Yes, that’s right—include them. Like much on the path, it is not enough to know what unknowns haunt us. We must claim the darkness of what lies beyond our immediate perception. We must drink the darkness. We must allow it in because even more than recognizing ourselves in it, we are working to come to know that we are it. It is not something removed from us or other than us. And, it is the process of life itself. This means that we cannot conquer the darkness, and the hero’s journey falls flat on the road to enlightenment.

This is critical because it means that as we come to accept the face of any given fear and thereby depotentiate it, we simultaneously come to love ourselves more completely. This love is an expanded love that now opens us to all our varying degrees of brokenness. There is tremendous beauty in this, and at the same time, we are not stuck forever in who we are even now. We gain the power in time to transcend the disease, the fear, and the limitations. We are reassured of the potentials opened through our efforts.

Next, we come to the warmth of the divine embrace. And this hug is as much about the ability to receive it as it is about the ability to give it to others. Important to understand is that those who come to Tantra are typically in earnest need (although not necessarily consciously so) of an experience in this world of unconditional love. While this is not altogether unique, the individual’s soul-level response to that need is unique. Tantrics signal a resounding “Yes!” to the fundamental question of whether life is worth the work of obtaining the embrace.

People in need of healing often feel Tantra’s ability to move beyond the dualistic forces of their torment. The path draws them in, as does, often consciously, the allure of its deviant notes. Clamoring to a circle of souls who find comfort in the acceptance of the Divine in all things—not to mention in the stuff of hallucinogens, alcohol, sex, and images of blood-drenched, fang-toothed, and skull-wearing Goddesses—their work will be to untangle dualities in order to experience love above and to surrender to love below.

How does this work? First, the path will open the practitioner to an embrace of the Divine that will change everything. The aspirant will be shown a way out that circumvents literal death and although uncertain, offers probabilities for a meaningful life. They will next be broken down in order to feel what it feels like to be loved completely. This will make them resilient once more. Then, in time, they will take the work onto the earthly plane where relationships will own their spirituality. They will soften to life’s difficulties, gain fortitude to stay ego-inspired conquests, learn compassion, and begin to emerge more capable of loving fully, merely for the sake of the joys of loving.

Ready or not, you have enlisted, while riding a roller coaster, in the heart of the eucalyptus forest. You are on a magnificent path. Nothing is impossible now, is it? 

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Chandra Alexandre is a Tantric Bhairavi, a priestess in the tradition of Kali who received her lineage through initiation in India. Founding director of SHARANYA, a Devi Mandir (Goddess Temple) dedicated to social justice through engaged spirituality, she resides in San Francisco with her daughter, husband, and kaula (spiritual family) offering puja, teachings and spiritual guidance.


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