What is Tantra? I’ve noticed there’s some confusion about this. So here’s a simple way to think about it.
In the East, Tantra is any spiritual path whose goal is to bring about the direct recognition of the immediate availability of our boundless nature.
Tantric paths do not see the world, the mind, or anything else as an obstacle to this awakening because every aspect of reality is seen as inherently sacred.
The divine can be found everywhere at anytime. In a Tantric path we do not leave the world to find heaven. We find Heaven in our experience of the world as it already is.
A Brief Introduction To Tantra
In the magnificent book Introduction to Tantra the great Lama Yeshe points out that in Buddhism all approaches to spiritual fulfillment fall into two categories, Sutra or Sutrayana, and Tantra or Tantrayana.
Sutrayana refers to paths that offer a gradual process aimed at eliminating the obstacles that keep us from realizing fulfillment.
Tantric paths assume that fulfillment is already ours from the start.
In this sense I see the attitude of Tantra in the good news of Christianity. In the story of Jesus’s ministry his twelve disciples are sent out after his death to spread the good news. The good news simply stated is: “The Kingdom of Heaven is here.”
This news meant that there was no longer any need to wait for fulfillment until after we left this world. Heaven could be found here on Earth. This is the core message of the Eastern Tantric traditions.
Tantric paths are supremely direct and immediate.
My own spiritual path was Tantric in nature, although not Buddhist, and not labeled as such by my teacher. I was initiated in a Hindu tradition called Advaita Vedanta and, at least the way it was introduced to me, it is a deeply Tantric path in exactly the sense I’ve described here.
We Are Already Whole
The foundational premise of Advaita Vedanta is that we are already whole and complete, because the essence of reality is already whole and complete. Our nature is boundless and free because that is the nature of reality itself, and we are not separate from it.
The Advaita tradition aims at liberating us from any and all assumptions of separation or deficiency, because these assumptions are the only thing that keeps us from realizing the boundless freedom that is always already the nature of who we are.
Advaita Vedanta, as I learned it, is a path that has no path. In fact, it rests on a strong assertion that there is no path and could never be a path, because the destination is always already here. This insistence on no separation between you and ultimate fulfillment is the essence of any Tantric path.
In many schools of Advaita Vedanta, meditation or any other form of spiritual practice is discouraged. Since we are already free there is no need to do anything to get free.
In fact, anything that you do in order to liberate yourself must be motivated by a delusional belief that you are not free already. Any belief we have in our own limitation is the only thing that keeps us from realizing our true and unlimited nature.
The Path & The Goal Are One
For over twenty years I studied closely with Advaita teacher Andrew Cohen, and he did encourage the use of meditation as an aid to transformation. The Practice of No Problem that I teach is a variation of his school of meditation practice.
It is a supremely direct approach to awakening that can perhaps best be understood as a Tantric practice of Non-Duality.
Non-Duality means Oneness, or more literally “not-two.”
If the essence of reality is non-dual Oneness then there could not possibly be a path to get there. Any path to Oneness would have to be separate from Oneness and that would mean two. That is why it is said that the path and the goal are one.
How To Practice No Problem
In the meditation of The Practice of No Problem I simply ask people to sit still and not make a problem out of anything. No matter what happens in the privacy of your own inner experience you don’t make a problem out of it.
Even if you see your mind is making a problem out of something, you don’t make a problem out of that. It really is as simple as sitting down at the start of the meditation, remaining still during the meditation, and then getting up when the meditation period is over.
Nothing could be simpler, yet when we try we often find that it is supremely difficult. The reason it is so challenging to have no problem is because what the practice is really demanding is that we give up control and let go of any preferences we might have.
In this meditation practice, you assume that your experience is always exactly what it should be. In order to have no problem you must learn how to be content with the way things are, no matter how they are, without exception.
Pleasure Is Not An Obstacle
This demand to be happy with things as they are is another reason why I see this meditation as Tantric in nature. Another core element of any Tantric practice is the belief that the energy of pleasure is not an obstacle to spiritual fulfillment or something that should be avoided.
Pleasure and our desire for it is seen as a powerful energy. In fact, skillfully working with it can actually generate awakening.
The Practice of No Problem is the conscious practice of perfect contentment and unconditional happiness. When you decide to have no problem, you are consciously choosing to be content right now, no matter what, even when you feel uncomfortable.
This practice is challenging because it takes away any justification to be dissatisfied with our experience. We all feel that we have the right to be dissatisfied, and this practice only allows for perfect contentment.
Of course, feelings of discontent do arise in meditation, but if they do the instructions guide you to be content with being discontent.
Contentment Is Not Just A Feeling
One of the miracles of meditation is the recognition that contentment is not just a feeling. We can be content even when we feel discontent. We can be happy even when we feel unhappy. I realize that this may sound nonsensical, but it is the key to spiritual freedom.
As long as you believe that your contentment is dependent on having a particular feeling you will always be chasing after that feeling.
When you realize what true contentment is, you can choose to be content under any circumstances. In fact, the energetic shock of this recognition can be so powerful that it shifts your nervous system into a state of ongoing contentment.
Now don’t mistake me here. I’m not talking about an ongoing feeling of contentment. Rather, it’s an ongoing sense of being at home and at peace no matter what you’re experiencing.
Learning How To Let Go Of Ourselves
The Practice of No Problem eventually asks us to let go of everything we’ve thought ourselves to be.
When we are perfectly content with everything as it is, even with feeling discontent, we have to give up our preferences. When we have no preference, we stop doing anything at all.
To have no problem means to have no preference, and to have no preference means to do nothing. Why? Because doing anything at all is an expression of preference.
If we persist with the practice, we will start to lose track of ourselves because we normally experience ourselves through our preferences.
“I like this, not that. I am going in this direction, not that direction. This makes me happy, this makes me unhappy. This is good, this is bad. My goal is over here, not over there.”
As all preferences fall away we don’t know who we are anymore. We are free from identity and self-concern. We have disappeared.
This is the dissolution into emptiness that is the source of freedom that many spiritual paths describe. It takes tremendous courage to keep letting go once we start to feel our identity falling away.
Only those who truly and deeply want to be free will be willing to keep going and let it all go.
What we discover is that we don’t actually disappear. All of our ideas about who we are fall away, but even when we don’t know anything about ourselves, we are still here.
What we give up is any sense of separation from ourselves. We lose the external vantage point from which we have always looked back at ourselves. We simply are who we are.
We are home.
We enter into a place where there is just experience and no one experiencing it. The sense of ‘me’ being someone who is separate from the experience I am having vanishes.
There is a sense of total connection and boundless freedom. We extend in all directions simultaneously. We are nowhere and everywhere always at once.
There is nothing we need to do because we are already home and always have been.