Some spiritual traditions will emphasize the transcendental, deny the sanctity of the manifest, and aim to move beyond the immanent world, but not Tantra.
Tantra is unique in its radical embrace of both the transcendental (unmanifest) and the immanent (the world, the manifest, and the sanctity of everyday life). Non-dual Tantra points to the notion that actually there is not even a separation between the transcendental and the immanent; they are two sides of the same coin and their divinity should be honoured equally. In non-dual tantra, we are recognizing our transcendental nature and putting love into action through worldly pursuits. Nothing is separate from the whole.
How can we understand this from our current experience?
Well, our mind is full of concepts, full of thoughts. Our body, of sensation. We know this simply from being human. But there is something that exists in us which has always been present. Let’s use the example of a thinking mind. In between thoughts, there is space. If we identify as our thoughts then we would cease being a person in this gap, but this isn’t the case. If we identify as the body, we would cease being who we are as it changes, yet something in us remains the same.
Non-dual tantra, and non-duality more generally, point to that which is beyond all thought, concept, sensation, duality - hence “non-duality”. In the path of Advaita Vedanta, for example, it tends to be that the practitioner turns away from the world of thoughts, concepts, and sensations. The arrival to non-dual recognition is achieved through "neti-neti" meaning "not this, not that". I am not my thoughts, not my sensations, but the witness of all.
Whereas in Tantra, even though we practice self-inquiry, there is not a denial of the manifest. We see that witness consciousness is inseparable from the world and there is a deep sense of unity. The approach is more of an "and this, and that".
This is not to say that Advaita Vedanta and Tantra are in opposition, in fact they overlap in many ways and we teach Advaita Vedanta techniques in our courses and trainings. Advaita Vedanta is very powerful in its ability to cultivate discernment and contemplation. But it is then through a Tantrik approach that we deeply embody our understanding and see ourselves as Witness Consciousness in the everything.
Aspects of the manifest world such as fire, sacred geometry, words and sounds, sacred shapes we make with our body (which many of us know as ‘yoga’), are all tools which can help us awaken to this understanding of divinity in both the transcendent and the immanent; the unmanifest and the manifest world. We need both in order to recognize the fullness of our Being.
So what is the aim?
Unlike many spiritual paths with the end goal of reaching a transcended reality, non-dual Tantra, as explained by our Tantrik Guru in India, aims at being able to give selflessly in the world. The culmination of all our practice is to be able to know ourselves as transcendent (Consciousness, Awareness, Spirit), but to be able to put this into action in the world, embody our spiritual understanding, and give selflessly.
How do we get there? What does the path look like?
We can understand the path of awakening in non-dual Tantra through 3 key stages. However, this is not often a linear progression. As is the case with most beings, there will be a deepening in one area, then another, and we kind of oscillate between these points of understanding in a constant expansion.
In the first stage, we come to recognize ourselves as the essence of Shiva, meaning consciousness, awareness, the witness, that which is ever-present, in the gap between thoughts. In this stage, we turn inwards and establish ourselves as the perceiver. It is here where the line between Advaita Vedanta and Tantra blurs.
In the second stage, we now turn back toward the perceived world but with a new sense of clarity. We find consciousness weaved throughout the world; the creativity and divinity that is Shakti or the manifest.
In the third stage, we integrate both the perceiver and the perceived to live in the world embodying our non-dual spiritual understanding and enjoying the manifested world without attachment or identification to it.
This is a very broad subject and we will be going more in-depth on the 3 stages and what it means to be a practitioner of non-dual Tantra, but for now, we encourage you to explore our online Tantra Meditation course where we guide you through these stages with traditional practices and mythologies. We can talk about these topics extensively but it is only through practice and experience that they can be realized and lived in your everyday life.