At first glance, Islam and Tantrism might seem an unlikely pair for comparison, the former known for its austere simplicity and uncompromising monotheism, the latter presenting a plethora of rituals, mantras, and deities. But looking beneath the surface at the underlying philosophical principles will reveal that the two share much in common. Both Islam and Tantrism are spiritual paths that arose at the same point in history to allow access to the Divine Reality for ordinary people in the latter age of the world. Both are world-affirming, life-affirming, in contrast to world-denying and life-denying creeds. They see creation and the body not as illusion or evil, but as a positive revelation of the Divine that assists in spiritual realization. Both are socially eglaitarian and accord high status to women and the Feminine, in contrast to the milieus they arose in.
Both are paths that lead to the Divine not by shunning or negating this body, but by working through it. The body and the world, when approached in the right way, can become not obstacles, but the very vehicle to Divine. Life in the world can be socialized by the divine presence, one needn’t be a monk or a highly spiritually perfected ascetic saint or anchorite, to experience the divine presence.
Islam arose in the seventh century after Christ, and the early texts of Tantrism date from appoximately the same time (6th-8th centuries). While Islam is a continuation of the revelations of earlier prophets, its practical approach to worldly and spiritual life contrasts with that of earlier dispensations; for example, the complex Halakhic laws governing Jewish life are very much simplified in Islam. No priesthood is required to fulfill any rites, for each individual Muslim man and woman is his or her own priest. The heroic spiritual qualities required of earlier peoples are not required for salvation in Islam, as Allah allowed for the fallen condition of humanity in this late stage of the world and opened access to the highest spiritual realization for all peoples.
Similarly, Tantra is understood as a divine concession to the conditions of the Kali Yuga. In contrast to Brahminism where access to the Divine was controlled by a priestly elite, Tantrism is a way open to anyone of any caste, any statin in life. Whereas in the early ages, great rigor and austerities were imposed on spiritual seekers, and superhuman efforts were required, Tantrism like Islam does not demand of people more than they can bear, but takes people as they are and shows them the way to ascend spiritually.
Islam has a totally different orientation from the Manichean type of attitude that the world is evil. All of virgin Nature becomes transparent, showing the glory of Allah shining through in every stone, every leaf, and every creature. The world is not a barrier to the Spirit when understood by people whose hearts are clean and virtuous. Thus Muslims are not to flee the world and withdraw to monasteries and nunneries; they are encouraged to engage fully in life, to marry and earn a living, to work for good in society. In this way spiritual values are infused throughout the entire civilization. The Muslim esoteric orders, the Sufis, although committed to a holy life, are just as engaged in the life of this world as other Muslims, and through their prayers and remembrance of Allah in the midst of it alchemically transmute earthy life into something sacred.
The Tantric attitude toward the world or phenomenal existence also values it as a vehicle for the spiritual life. Tantra presented an alternative to the life-denying Hindu doctrine that negated the world as mere illusion. As the classical Tantric dictum says, “What is here is elsewhere. What is not here is nowhere.” Maya itself, often translated as “illusion,” is in fact the creative, feminine power of the Divine and is related etymologically to the root ma, meaning to measure. Far from being mere illusion, it is the power that through cosmological measurement generates this world and constitutes its substance. Far from being unreal, it is in a sense consciousness veiling itself. Spirit, Mind, and Matter are ultimately one, the two latter being the twin aspects of the Fundamental Substance or Brahman and Its power or Shakti.
Islam does not condemn the body as a hindrance to the spiritual life, but on the contrary ennobles it as a vehicle to ultimate realization. In Islamic the pleasures of the body are not denied or repressed but integrated into a wholesome way of life. The spiritual significance of the body in Islam is shown through the bodily postures used in praying, each of them is potent with cosmic symbolism, so that the body itself is transfigured into a spiritual expression. Thus Islamic prayer is conguent with hatha yoga, which is a branch of Tantric yoga.
In Islamic spirituality, God-consciousness effects an alchemical trasmutation on matter so that the body and its pleasures are seen as a sacred divine gift. An early Islamic classic discusses the metaphysical significance of the human body as a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm of the whole of creation. Our inner understanding of our bodies is therefore a key for the understanding of the world of nature, as is our comprehension of the rapport between the soul and the body , their complementarily and intergration into a whole.
Athogether the Islamic teachings about the body emphasize its Divine Origin – that is, being created by Allah and possessing the greatest significance for the understanding of the human state. The Tantric body is considered to be the manifestation of the Divine. The basic tenet of Tantrism is that Matter and therefore the body, is also a manifestation of Shakti power, that is, the power emanating from the feminine aspect of Divine Reality. Hence, the body must not be opposed or despised.
The body itself is a form of consciousness so veiled that we get the appearance of insensibility, inertia and mere mechanical energy. But this is only an appearance. One can contemplate even in the gross body the consciousness that underlies its reality. The practice of Kundalini yoga unites the creating and sustaining Shakti of the whole body with the Lord Consciousness. The yogi makes her introduce him to her Lord and enjoys the bliss of union through her. In Kundalini through the very pulse of life in the body we realize Universal Life.
Therefore, the body is to be respected and revered. To deny it is to deny the Divine Life that flows through it; it is to deny the unity of spirit, soul and body and to forget that it is the manifestation of the Divine Feminine power, Shakti. From the persective of Tantrism, because the physical, spiritual and mental cannot be separated, all being aspects of the one all-pervading consciousness, the body must also be considered in spiritual realizatin and therefore has profound religious significance.
Both Islam and Tantra came into their respective cultures as a breath of fresh air, opening up a closed social hierarchy in which the powerful classes dominated the lower classes. Both offered a spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood in which all members shared equal status. In Islamic society, according order allowed the poor and the slaves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the highborn, with no distinction of class or position.
In Tantric circles, this social leveling went even further: not only did tantrika assemblies bring together people of all castes; there was even a preference for members of the lowest castes, for the greater spiritual power they brought to the working. This is from the ancient Dravidian heritage of Tantra, in which the lowest castes, the holders of the sacred drums, were essential to the sacred functions of the whole civilization.
Islam was the first thoroughgoing feminist restructing of the Middle Eastern society that had been dominated by patriarchy for millennia. Although in subsequent eras, down t the present day, patriarchy was re-established in Muslim lands due to the inevitable decline of spiritual values in the human world. Prophet Muhammad said that woman is the greatest treasure in the world. Through the centuries it has been the Sufi orders who were attuned to the Feminine and kept alive Islam’s reverence for the sacredness of women, through the veneration of Mary and of women saints. The present spiritual resurgence of Islamic feminism is also being birthed through the Sufi orders that have kept it alive.
Tantrism has been the coparable tradition that has upheld the sacredness of the Feminine in India. Closely interconnected with Saktism, the Tantric veneration of Woman is central to its spiritual working. The Shaktisangama Tantra says: Woman is the Creator of the universe. She is the very body of the universe; woman is the support of the three worlds, she is the very essence of our body. There is no other happiness as that which women can procure. There is no other way than that which woman can open to us. Never has there been, there is, there will be a fortune the like of woman, no kingdom, no place of pilgrimage, yoga, prayer, mystic formula, asceticism, wealth. “Woman is a ray of God… She is Creator, not created.” The Kaulavali Tantra says: One should bow to any female, be she a yong girl, flushed with youth, or be she old, be she beautiful or ugly, good or wicked. One should never deceive, speak ill of, or do ill to, a woman and one should never strike her. All such acts prevent the attainment of siddhi.
The Kaula Tantriks regarded female gurus very highly and there were many examples of yoginis or female tantriks. In the Yoni Tantra, we find: “Women are divinity, women are life, women are truly jewels.” This sentiment is eched in many other tantras such as the Shakti Sangama Tantra, Devirahasya etc. A woman is the Goddess: “Worship carefully a woman or a maiden as she is Shakti, sheltered by the Kulas. One should never speak harshly to maidens or women.” In both Islam and Tantrism, there is a consistent pattern: high regard fr women and empowerment of women are cncomitants of veneration for virgin nature, the earth, the body and scared sexuality.
In India, many have seen an opposition between Vedanta and Tantra. The former is centered on transcendence, the negation of everything other than the One Real; the latter is centered on immanence, the experience of the Real within the phenomenal manifestations of this life. One well-known example of the opposition between the two is in the life of Shri Ramakrishna. He began as a devotee of Kali Ma and was a Sakta Tantric initiate. Later he was initiated into Vedanta by a guru who tried to expunge his Tantric tendencies. The tensin between the two produced immense suffering in Ramakrishna’s soul. His lineage was carried on by Vivekananda who founded the Vedanta Society and downplayed the Tantric side of Ramakrishna.
In Sufism, the polar opposition of transcendence and immanence was nt a problem, for both are integrated into a holistic spiritual path,just as Sufism cmbines both bhakti and jnana, love-devotion and intellective gnosis. The Sufi when invoking the Divine Name of Allah meditates alternately on the discernment of the unreality of the world and the self and everthing besides Allah; and on fact that one’s wn being is nothing other than Allah’s being, immediately present. In this way one realizes the coplementarity of the two, how they are the two faces f one and the same ultimate Reality. This esoteric insight is how Sufism was able ot overcome the conundrum of divine transcendence and immanence that s perplexed rationalist Islamic theologians and philosophers. Inded, negation followed by affirmation is the essential structure of the entire doctrine of Islam: No reality but the Reality.
It is interesting for having united Vedanta and Tantra together in a single spiritual path of devotion to Sakti as Shri Vidya, ‘Auspicious Wisdom’. As such it has a striking congruence with Sufism, which should make for an interesting comparative study of the two. The Nath Siddhas are an alchemical Tantric tradition that was widespread in medieval India, Their activity flowed into many spheres of esoteric activity including hatha yoga, alchemical working, and sacred sex. The Nath Siddhas were , according to White, more amenable than any other Hindu sect too interaction with Islam. This can be explained through the congruence of the metaphysical principle of Islam and Tantrism. Many are the Nath Siddhas who are known as “Guru” or “Nath” by their Hindu disciples and “Pir” by Muslims. The Bauls of Bengal are a prime example of this interaction of Tantrism with Islam; many of them are Muslims who revere Gorakh and other Nath Siddhas, and their songs resemble those of the Buddist Mahasiddha Tantrists.
There is something providential abut the meeting of the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism, and the youngest, Islam, in India. The congruence between the two is aided by the Tantric philosophical tendencies shared by both the ancient Dravidian world and Islam. Vedic Brahmanism allowed only the male of the upper castes any spiritual validity. Tantra spiritually empowered women and men of any caste or no-caste whatsoever. Tantra’s egalitarian spirituality and upliftment of women, so similar to that of Islam, arose from the primal Dravidian world where women were revered for their female sacred power and the low castes performed vital religious and state functions.
Naturally, in the course of the playing out of infinite possibilities, there did appear ascetic and monastic, life-denying tendencies amon Sufis and yogis. But on the whole, both Tantra and Islam are ntable for their life-affirming, nondualist spiritual paths. Most Sufis, as in the Shadhili order, are people who live fully in the world and yet live fully in the Sacred. Both Sufism and Tantra share a vision of God experiencing God’s Being concretized, through us as us, the human form and heart being the only vehicle capacious enough and refined enough to fully accomodate the embodied Divine Consciousness.
The personal attitude, determination and outlook of a man or woman can bring about their successful transformation from a mundane clot or rat-racer into a magician. A magician, is one whse life and living is not occasioned by the exterior world and environment but ne wh is able to manipulate the world and t live a life f peace, freedom and happiness. The Nath-Tantra-Kaula way of life is a state of mind and only positive, powerful “think” can guide us to success.
Guru Diksha (Initiation)
Tantra Yoga should be learnt from a Guru (spiritual preceptor). It is the Guru who will recognize the class to which the aspirant belongs and prescribe suitable Sadhana. The Guru is none other than the Supreme Divine Mother Herself, descended into the world in order to elevate the aspirant. As one lamp is lit at the flame of another, so the divine Shakti consisting of Mantra is communicated from Guru to the disciple.
Initiation tears the veil of mystery and enables the disciple to grasp the hidden truth behind scriptures’ texts. These are generally veiled in mystic language. You cannot understand them by self-study. Self-study will only lead you to greater ignorance. The Guru only will give you, by Diksha (initiation), the right perspective in which to study the scriptures and practice Tantra Yoga.
Qualification of a Disciple
The qualifications of the disciple are purity, faith, devotion, dispassion, truthfulness, dedication to Guru, courage, cosmic love, non-convetousness, contentment and cntrol of the senses. He should be intelligent and a believer in Vedas. He must abstain from injury to all beings. He must be vigilant, diligent and persevering. He must be ever doing good to all. All Sadhana should be done under the personal direction of a Guru or spiritual teacher.