What is Tantra?

What is Tantra?

By Éric Baret

Q: What is Tantra for you?

A: What it is for me is irrelevant, but let’s say for the Kashmirian tradition, the way my teacher expressed it, Tantra is a very appropriate way to explore life in our day and age—because it is simultaneously non-dual and multi-fold. That means that all aspects of life are linked to this fore-feeling of truth. So it is very different from a progressive or dualistic approach, where the student is asked to change their life; the Kashmirian tradition only demands listening to life.

You talk about Tantra, and we specifically mean the Kashmirian Tantra because in the South of India, and in the North of India, the word Tantra is used for traditions which are very different; they are all entitled to the word ‘tantric’, but it’s a very different resonance. And even in Kashmir there are lines of dualistic Tantra; my teacher referred to the non-dualistic line, which can unfold in all walks of life. And the body is the main object of our perception, so of course it has some ramifications in the exploration of the body-feeling.

Q: How can we inquire through the body without identification?

I am not the body’ comes from the Vedantic tradition. In Kashmir, we are the body, but we are the body too. The body is one layer of expression. Generally we don’t know this layer because what we call the body actually is not the body, it is a reaction towards the body. Most people feel their body as heavy, as tense, and think that this feeling is the body-feeling. For us, this feeling is a reaction. When you were very young something happened—some violence happened—and you created a tension, you tensed your body to survive this situation. Little by little you begin to accumulate all the tension you created to survive, in situations of violence or other, and then the body becomes a reaction. In fact, for most people, the body is used as a way of fighting, as a way of defending yourself or asserting oneself. This body of defending and asserting is not the body! It’s a reaction.

So, before we know what we are not, we must know what it is we are talking about; inquiring into the body is just a way to open oneself to discovering what the body really is. Is it this feeling of heaviness or dullness, of tension—these feelings that are used for aggression, for defense? Or is it something else? So this must become an experience and not a thinking process… bodywork has its place in this discovery.

Q: Is there a need to transcend the body?

A: The patterns may dissolve but there is nothing to transcend—transcendence is a concept which is foreign to tantric Shaivism because there is neither transcendence nor immanence, there is only intensity. When you feel the body as a mental creation—for instance, when you receive a letter from your lover and you feel very light and then the next day you receive a letter that says finally he decided to sleep with a neighbor instead of you and you feel very heavy—this feeling is not the body-feeling. It is a reaction-feeling. But generally we seem to think that our body is this lightness or this heaviness, which is just emotional reaction. So we must, in a certain way, be passionate about this exploration, to see what could be my body when I am neither opposing something nor striving towards something nor defending something.

Tantra is a practice, it is not a philosophy, so the exploration goes in that direction; and that of course has much value because it transposes in all walks of life. For example, when they practice bodywork, most people will bend forward and feel a tension in their back, and if you ask them “Are you tense?” they will say “Yes, I feel that my back is tense, I am tense.” With this exploration, one day you will realize that when your wrist is tense, when your fist is tense, you’re not tense—the fist is tense. When the fist is open, I am not more open—my fist is open. My fist is tense, my fist is open. My back can be tense—I am not tense, my back is tense. When you realize that your back is tense but you’re not tense, that will transfer to the level of emotion. When you feel fear, you are not afraid; when you feel sadness, you’re not sad. And it is because you feel sadness without being sad that you go and see Rigoletto. You pay $200, and when at the end of the play the daughter of Rigoletto is killed, you cry, it’s very sad, you come out and you say: it was beautiful. What was beautiful? Feeling the sadness without being sad. What is beautiful in fear? Feeling fear without being afraid. That’s why people jump from a bridge with a bungee cord around their legs, to feel fear—and they sleep very well. But if you’re afraid, you block the feeling of the fear, and that can get stuck. If you’re sad, you block the feeling of the sadness and that will get stuck; if you’re tense, you block the feeling of the tension, and that will get stuck. But if you feel the tension, the tension will unfold by itself because its very nature is in fact movement, and a tension which unfolds quits its limitations as tension.

So bodywork only has value if it transposes at the emotional level. That’s why the way we work, even though it looks like any school of yoga—we all practice the same positions—the way we do it is different in that we don’t strive towards anything, we just do it to feel. And when you feel, you feel yourself detached from what you feel, and that will transpose in emotional life.

Q: Does sadness dissolve without its label?

A: Sadness is only there in the moment! You come out of the theatre, you’re not sad anymore, you’re happy, it was so beautiful. What was beautiful? To feel the sadness. But if you’re sad, you block the sadness. Emotion has two paths: either you are afraid of something, and you cannot move, or you feel fear and you move faster. In the first path, the appropriation blocks life, “I am afraid of this and I cannot move.” In the second, “I feel the fear in my belly and my chest—I move faster”,  all the chemical parts of the body make me alive—if I have to strike I strike harder, I jump faster—when I feel fear. If I am afraid, I cannot move. The path that reduces our abilities eventually withers away. Emotion will always remain, but as power, as beauty, as expression; not as a hindrance that one should get rid of to find freedom or whatever.

Q: Does sensation precede emotion?

A: Emotion and sensation—we should not try to find understanding through the words, because words are just a kind of agreement between you and me. I don’t know what you mean by emotion, you will never know what I mean by emotion; so when we say we agree, we agree on something very superficial. Real understanding can only come from being-understanding, which means we don’t understand words. This means that understanding doesn’t belong to the mind, because the mind only functions with words. Without words you cannot think…you only think with words. But the language is very important, to see its own limitations, even in sacred languages, like Sanskrit, Chinese or Arabic, where the structure, the semantics of the language is different, still... When Shankara wrote his texts, he was thinking in Sanskrit, that was a big part of his expression. If he had spoken another language, his text, his philosophy would have been different. We think according to what we always speak. When you see that, it is very important that one, in a certain way, opens to understanding without words; because otherwise, what we call understanding is just reduction to our own limitations. So, there is nothing to understand. You give up understanding, in a certain way. We can’t understand what ‘this’ means, because ‘this’ means nothing. Meaning is our defense, and it has a role to play to point towards what is beyond defense…but as such we can never understand anything.

Q: What does Tantric Shaivism offer?

A: It refers to celebration. When you realize that you don’t need to build anything in your life, that you don’t need to achieve anything in your life, that you don’t need to defend anything in your life, in a certain way what remains is a feeling of celebration, is a thanking. Not thanking something, not thanking somebody, but just the very fact of thanking—so for us, perception actually is thanking, thinking is celebration, when it is used as an expression of this forefeeling. But generally thinking is a defense—we use our fists, our elbows to fight, and we use our thinking to fight. “I agree, I disagree, you’re right, you’re wrong”…so thinking has become a fighting tool but as such it doesn’t need to be, thinking is, in a traditional way, an expression of truth. That’s why if you read the texts of Meister Eckhart or Ib’n Arabi or other great sages, their thoughts come from silence so they bring you back to silence if you don’t focus on the semantic or the meaning. Our freedom comes from silence. So, Kashmiri Tantra reduces the importance of formulation—but this is not specific, because you find the same in all traditional expressions.

Q: How is the yoga you teach different from Tantric Shaivism?

A: Actually it is not, the only thing is that the expression has to be adapted to the modern world. Many elements which are taken for granted in Kashmir—or were taken, because now, with the political situation, it’s different, the Hindus have been expelled from Kashmir by the Islamic situation...It’s not the same here, people live in the fantasy of a democratic world, they want to be happy getting married or having children or being rich or being recognized...It’s not really that different, but it’s expressed differently. In a way, in India, it was, from the very beginning, at least intellectually recognized that the aim of life was not becoming something but recognizing something. So here we should adapt, and it is a light adaptation because it doesn’t make a big difference. When you want a new wife, a new husband, a new dog, a new car, a new guru, or when you want freedom, actually what you want is this wholeness, which, because of your culture, because of your stupidity, because of your intelligence, you project onto a woman, onto a man, onto a guru, onto a tradition, onto a car. But actually you don’t want the husband because when you get it, you want another one. You don’t want the car because when you have it you want another one. So, what we want is not what we want. So even if I think ‘The goal of my life is to have a white dog’, I want the same thing as the Saddhus of the Himalayas. So what we pretend to want is unimportant because the longing is the same. It’s just that at some point the longing becomes more clear. So that it doesn’t—there is no expansion of energy in some objective direction.

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This is the first half of an interview with Eric Baret at the 2014 SAND conference. View the second half or view the video.

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