Thanks to being stuck at home with a sick family, I have just finished Georg Feuerstein’s book Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. ( I included an Amazon book link but actually I like to pay a little more and support my local Vancouver book store Banyen Books) . This book was probably first mentioned to me by Christina Sell and then Robin Golt pulled it out again in our last Anusara Immersion. I think I flipped through it a few years ago and it seemed a little too deep for me at the time. I picked it up again during Robin’s Immersion and realized it was exactly what I needed to read right now.
Georg takes a fairly wide brush to paint the history and principles that lay behind Tantra but it does carry many of the key concepts that we study as students of Anusara Yoga. He is very good at breaking down the various meanings of Sanskrit words that we commonly use in teaching to show how different translations, and therefore different practices, grew from them. When speaking of the Advaita Vendata traditions he is clear to separate them and then explain the difference in the Tantric traditions which I find is useful for students and teachers of Yoga that have come from the more classical Vendanta schools. His reference to multiple yogic texts make one hungry to dig into more study.
His introduction and epilogue I found especially useful with the sudden revival of Tantra and Yoga in the West. While people believe they are practicing Tantra and studying Tantra, it really becomes clear in this book that even the most earnest student cannot really be doing the practice unless they have a qualified teacher. At times I felt down right wary of many of these practices as it seems that dabbling is worse than not doing at all! I have heard stories of people frying their nervous system through pranayama and various practices undertaken without a proper teacher. Essentially, we are dealing with practices in serious energy and I know I wouldn’t want to be re-wiring my house unless I was an electrician or had one telling me what to do every step of the way!
The book is divided into the following chapters:
1) Samsara : Cyclic Existence
~the ideas of karma, the cycle of rebirth, what it means to break the cycle in Tantric perspective
2) Time, Bondage, and the Goddess Kali
~great background on the aspects of Kali and how time becomes a key consideration in Samsara
3) This is the Other World: How Samsara becomes Nirvana
~what the difference is between wisdom and knowledge and how the Tantric vision sees the relative world as not separate from the Absolute
4) The Secret of Embodiment: As Above , So Below
~the Tantric body positive view and an explanation of the Tattvas and metaphysics
5) The Divine Play of Shiva and Shakti
~ how Shiva comes to represent the principle of consciousness and Shakti the energy of that consciousness. How polarity( opposites) helps realize the Absolute as one.
6) The Guru Principle: Shiva Incarnate
~the function of a guru and why a guru is needed.
7) Initiation: Bringing Down the Light
~ being a student and/or initiate and what form initiation by a guru may look like
8 ) Discipleship: The Ordeal of Self- Transformation
~the actual relationship between Guru and initiate and the ordeals in that relationship. Oral traditions, ritual, and preconditions for studentship are included.
9)The Tantric Path: Ritual and Spontaneity
~detail of the sadana of a Tantric student. Going beyond Patanjali’s eight fold path and into other practices in different schools including a discussion on left handed and right handed Tantra.
10) The Subtle Body and It’s Environment
~ a detailed chapter on the chakras and nadis and how the subtle body affects the physical body
11) Awakening the Serpent Power
~ a chapter on kundalini and how this works in the subtle body. Some discussion on Spanda is included here which I found useful.
12) Mantra: The Potency of Sound
~ Explanation of the power of sound and vibration and mantras as the manifestations or vehicles of Shakti
13) Creating Sacred Space
~ this is about creating scared space in the body by use of mudras( hand gestures) and yantras and mandalas ( sacred geometry)
14) The Transmutation of Desire
~ This chapter was very useful as the rituals described in it are the most misunderstood by those practising Tantra without a Teacher or Guru: ie: consumption of meat, wine, sexual ritual. Unfortunately these, and not all the other areas of Tantra such as mantra and meditation, are the ones that the West find so tantalizing. Actually- in India it seems that it was a bit of a problem too….
15) Enlightenment and Hidden Powers of the Mind
~ a listing mostly of those adepts who were thought to have gained powers or “siddhis” through Tantric practice as well as a listing of those powers. There is also a listing of the levels of bliss, seven in all, which I had never encountered before.
I highly recommend this book to Anusara students or teachers that have a deep interest in what informs many of our teachings. I caution you though that going through an Immersion at least once and some background on philosophy, would make this book not only more useful but more enjoyable. I know that I will be using it as a reference book for many years to come and I would like to actually read it a few more times as I am sure that many layers were not revealed upon my first reading. I am sure those of you out there with a far more in-depth study of Tantra may have some issues with the authors perspective but I am too naive to challenge his assumptions as of now.
If you have read this book I would love to hear your comments about it.