A while back I wrote a short blog on the what Tantra is and isn’t, and I’d intended several follow-up essays of my own on the subject. The reason those have been slow in coming is that I have been immersed in studying and meditating and trying to understand it all myself. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but more like a voracious reader of everything I can get my hands on about a topic that intrigues me. With ‘Tantra’ it can be hard to find authentic and focused writings in English, though many more resources have become available over just the last few years. So, what I will do, instead of attempting to re-write the wheel (excuse the mixed metaphor!), is to share segments of what I am reading with you.
For today, here is a segment from Jonathan and Andi Goldman’s book Chakra Frequencies: Tantra of Sound, where they define the word ‘tantra’ and place it in context with their study of where sacred sound meets the modern scientific understanding of vibration.
The Meaning of Tantra
Tantra is Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Hindu tradition. As in other sacred languages such as Hebrew or Tibetan, there is frequently no one single meaning that can be applied in translation. Thus tantra is often translated as ‘continuum’ or ‘unbroken seam’ and indicates a flow of consciousness from ignorance to enlightenment. The world also translates as ‘web’ or ‘warp’ and encompasses all that is. Tantra represents the interconnecting energies between all things in this and other planes of existence. Other words used to describe tantra are: leading principle, essential part, model, system, framework, doctrine, rule, theory, scientific work, order, chief part, authority, science, mystic works, magical formulas, means, expedient, stratagem, and medicine.
The etymology of tantra points to the combination of two words – tattva and mantra. Tattva is the science of cosmic principles, while mantra refers to the science of mystic sound and vibrations. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, tantra is sometimes referred to as ‘Secret Mantra’. This may be to distinguish it from Western concepts of neotantra. A definition of ‘Secret Mantra’ from the Tibetan Buddhist standpoint is as follows: ‘Secret’ indicates that these methods should be practiced privately; ‘mantra’ means ‘protection for the mind’ and often utilizes sacred sound to provide this. Thus the function of ‘Secret Mantra’ [or, Tantra] is to enable us through the use of sound to progress swiftly through the stages of the spiritual path by protecting our mind against ordinary conceptions.
Indeed, one of the highest levels of tantric practice involves resonating and harmonizing oneself with sound. This is done in order to enhance and energize our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual essences. Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist tantra both stress the power of sound. Sound, in fact, is the basis of much tantra – through working with advanced sound techniques, tantric practitioners are able to harmonize themselves in body, mind, and spirit.