The Practice of Tantra

A common question about Tantra is wether there is anything that distinguishes the practitioners of Tantra from the ordinary practitioners of other traditions. Who are these people? Who practice Tantra in this form?

The Siddhas

The earliest bands of Tantric practitioners were known as Siddha or perfected ones. We can call them simply saints as it is often done in writings about the Tantric tradition. As you might expect, the stories of the Siddhas depict them as people who have rejected the conventions of Indian society. They are often described as living in cremation grounds or other impure or dangerous place and participating in rituals that overthrown the conventions of ordinary behavior.

The Story of Maitripa

You can get a taste of their practice from a story of a Tantric Siddha that I’m particularly fond of, his name is Maitripa. He came originally from one of the great monastic universities in India but he had an experience that took him out of that monastic world.

He was studying in one of the great monasteries in North Eastern India and through the window flies a Tantric messenger. It is a figure who conveys a glimpse of enlightenment that shatters his normal perception of the world. The messenger says him to go to South India to study. He obeys and goes to a remote stretch in the Indian subcontinent. He finds a guru.

The master says him: “If you want to learn about awakening go to the woods, find a flat rock and sit there for seven days and don’t eat anything until you receive some kind of revelation. Then come back and tell me what it is.”

Matri Gupta goes out into the forest, sits down in a rock and waits. He is bitten by mosquitoes, his stomach begins to rumble but he got enough discipline. Finally, near the end of the 7th day, out of the forest comes a wild huntress, a woman carrying a knife, a bow and arrow. She is chasing a wild pig. She shoots the pig with the bow, reaches down and slices off a big chunk of meat and holds it out for Maitri Gupta and says: “Here, eat this, eat the flesh. It’s emptiness. Taste the blood. It’s the great bliss”.

Maitri Gupta thinks that thatis the revelatory event and returns to tell it to the teacher. He talks to his teacher and comes to understand something about the nature of reality that was not accessible to him in the intellectual practice in the monastery.

He came back to the monastery and became not just a great Tantric teacher, but also a remarkable philosopher.

Direct Experience

A couple of things are striking for us in this story. First of all, the Tantric tradition is concerned with direct experience, with encountering reality face to face. Maitri Gupta encountered here a radical overturning of the ordinary distinctions in life. Here the distinction isn’t just about male and female, but between purity and impurity.

To understand Indian religion it’s important to grasp that distinction. A person like Maitri Gupta would have avoided things that are impure: wild animals, bloody pieces of meat, and specially the people who chase them. To taste that flesh was a violation of one of the fundamental prohibitions in his monastic life. He experienced an overturning who led him to an understanding of emptiness.

The Importance of the Guru

This story also suggests how important the teacher is in the Tantric tradition. Maitri Gupta could not had have that experience without the master being there. It’s important to have a teacher to introduce you to the practice. This teacher in Tantra is called a Guru or a Lama. You can’t study Tantra without the intervention of a teacher.

Return from the Practice of Tantra to Introduction to Tantric Buddhism

Copyright © Buddhism Through Buddhist Eyes
Question or Comment? Do not doubt to contact me.
Template by bloggertheme