Emotion in Tantra

Emotion in Tantra

By Eric Baret

Q: In Advaita Vedanta there is no space for emotions, they're considered an illusion. In the Kashmiri tradition, is emotion more like a felt sensation?

Eric Baret: Yes. Emotion is at the root of tantrism. Nisargadatta Maharaj or Ramana Maharishi would never talk about emotion, they talk about metaphysics. But, for the first time in the history of India, Abhinavagupta put emotion at the center of understanding. Before him, in the sixth century, the grammarian Bharata had already described eight main emotions. Abhinavagupta had the genius to introduce a ninth emotion, which is the Shanta, the I am, which he describes as a quietness at the center of all other emotions. And he explained that all the emotions were coming through this I am-ness, and bringing you back to this I am-ness. When you go see a sad play at the theater, you cry, and then you come back and you say, "Oh it was so beautiful." What was beautiful? It is beautiful to cry when you're not sad. If you go to the rollercoaster, you pay ten bucks to feel fear, but you're not afraid. If you're afraid to go to the rollercoaster, you don't go in. It is beautiful to feel fear when you're not afraid.

In the same way, you can feel an emotion, and if you let the emotion totally unravel as a sensation in your body, the emotion will bring you back to this stillness. That's the core of tantric teaching, and in the main tantric text about that, which is the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, the emphasis is not on feeling only positive emotions, as people may think, but on feeling fear, anxiety, jealousy, terror. At that very moment, if we let the emotion be what it is, an expansion of energy, and if we let this expansion of energy completely unravel, free of any comment, yes or no, positive or negative, justifying or criticizing, then this energy resorbs in stillness. This object energy, the energy of the feeling, can be experienced as heaviness, density, sweetness, sourness, dryness, etc. When that sensation completely unravels within the body and disappears, when the object energy disappears, the subject witnessing this experience disappears too, because there cannot be a subject without any object. And when there is no more object nor subject, there is oneness. So in that way, the unraveling of emotion brings you back directly to awareness with no subject and no object. That's the core of tantrism, as it unfolds in the teachings of Jean Klein. And that's very tantric, you will not find this in any Upanishad.