Another popular misconception about tantra is that, since it allows the use of certain herbs and potions as a means to expand spiritual consciousness, this gives licence to aspiring seekers for unlimited sex, drugs and rock and roll - all in the name of spirituality!
But real tantra is far from such misconcep-tions. The core concept of all tantric teaching is that through investigation of the apparent reality, by performing certain techniques, each person can identify the manifestations of these two entities of energy (shakti) and consciousness (shiva) within themself and can then enjoin their own inner shiva-ness and shakti-ness to give a full experience of self-realisation, that is, realisation of their true and complete human self, and in fact all of creation itself.
This same concept of union is the basis of the yoga doctrine although the terminology and methodology differs slightly. Most students of yoga would know that the original meaning of the word comes from the Sanscrit root yug which means to join or to yoke. So the word yug is telling us what to do; the terms tan + tra tells us what we are joining, and the practices of yoga and tantra show us how to join our essential elements.
In yoga theory, the opposing or complemen-tary elements variously described as needing to be joined are:
· our male and female aspects
· our lunar and solar aspects
· our physical matter and our thought matter
· our inner self and outer self
· our humanness and our Godliness
· our left brain and right brain.
In fact, any type of potentially conflicting polarities are the targets of yoga's unification methods. It is said by yogis that lack of unity between any of these elements causes unhappi-ness, illness, delusion and separation from truly understanding the self, and the nature and meaning of life. All the branches and techniques of yoga have in common this one basic aim - to reunite the many different facets of our total being.
Ironically though, the approach often taken is to use methodologies of separation. You will notice throughout the book, a continual dissection of our existence, a splitting of our lives, our being into different categories and substrata. There is a common misunderstanding and subtle pretence that to attain union, one just sits and tries to "become one". But according to yoga, first we must appreciate the components
of our make up and then they can be reunified at a higher level. Ironically, along the way, these efforts at union, are realised as being part of a delusion, because they were never really separate at all!
So this concept of joining disparate dualisms is one and the same in both yoga and tantra. As to the methodologies they employ, either or both can be used to affect the same outcomes. Some silly people say that one is better than the other, or that yoga is more for beginners and tantra is for more advanced aspirants, but I think it is just horses for courses. Some people will be more attracted to the tantric concepts and others to the yogic concepts. Ultimately it doesn't matter because deep down they have the same roots. My own preference, which fits with the lineage into which I am initiated, is to learn and practice some of both. That is the Integral Yoga system.
Technically, within tantra, there are two paths. Yoga arose out of what is called right hand tantra, which traditionally prescribes observances such as austerities, seclusion, vegetarianism, celibacy, amongst others. This is sometimes wrongly called the path of discipline and is the historical basis upon which the "poverty, chastity and obedience" dictum is founded. Left hand tantra was a more open system, allowing use of meat, intoxicating herbs and potions, as well as sexual relations. Some have mischievously called this the path of freedom. Misunderstanding both of these paths has polarised much debate about yoga and tantra such that many people believe the serious yogi must be a celibate, vegetarian, ascetic and that practitioners of left hand tantra are nothing more than drunken, licentious hedonists!
But in truth, discipline and freedom are not two conflicting options but rather, two sides of the same coin. Considering them as opposing enemies or deciding to choose the most personally convenient of the two is both simplistic and incorrect. Whilst both left and right hand tantra aim at creating the self transcendent spiritual experience, either one can easily lead to deeper ignorance and downfall of the spirit if not employed wisely. Rather than seeing the left hand and right hand paths of tantra as an either / or option, a more enlightened approach is to understand the need for both attributes within our daily lives and to regularly apply them to attain an ideal balance. If the disciplines and techniques of yoga (right hand tantra) are practiced alongside judicious use of the possibilities of left hand tantra, a great fusion of experience arises which can only lead to a higher awareness and a better integrated person.