It is easy to fall into the trap of religiosity or even worse fundamentalism with the practice of tantra. It is also easy to mistake the road map for the territory. If one is to truly understand the inner workings of a particular discipline one has to really get inside of the process rather than just the outer workings.
In following the path of tantra it is fine for some to just follow along with pure faith. I have no qualms with these folks. However, I enjoy getting into the nuts and bolts of certain things and especially the looking into a technology as powerful as this. In this particular case, much can be gleaned from the western esoteric traditions as mind technology applies to the discipline of tantra.
Aleister Crowley defined magick (spelled with a k to distinguish from magic, which is the illusionist's and charlatans trade) as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will." There are many further subdivision which we won't get into. If we follow Crowley's definition then we realize that basically every act we do is an act of magic. There is more though. How do we know that we are actually acting in accordance with our will? Are we acting under conditioned influence? There is much to investigate in this. We discussed in class today that those in the heaven and hell realms suffer so much because they can't actually cause change to occur around them because they are so conditioned by suffering and desire that they can only reap the rewards of their previous actions until the karma from those actions expires.
The western esoteric tradition has long investigated this work, through the shaping and refining of the will, and one of the highest expressions of this work is called magick. At the highest level of this work, one brings one's alignment of personal individual will towards that of higher will. The mystical tradition usually causes this to occur through personal annihilation or dissolving of the ego structure. The mage or tantric or siddha "plays" and walks a balancing line between samsara and nirvana.
In the discussing of the Qabalistic "tree of life", author Donald Michael Kraig, a longtime contemporary practitioner of the western esoteric tradition says "We can say that the path of a mystic or yogi, whose intent it is to rejoin with the Divine, follows the middle pillar (of the tree of life). This path, sometimes known as the "path of the arrow" is like the path an arrow flies if pointed straight up from the Mahlkoot to Keter (the Qabalistic equivalent of the Muladhara and Sahasrara). The yogi sits in meditation until he or she can simply "hop" from the lowest to the highest.... a magician needs full access to all of the Sephiroht of the Tree, not just the middle pillar. A magician follows a path that can take him or her from Sephira to Sephira, going through and learning about each one while also covering each of the connecting twenty-two paths, winding about like a snake. In fact, the path of the magician (and in our case the tantric) is sometimes known as the path of the serpent." There is more...
We see this in the tantric tradition in the expression of the Sri Yantra and also in the traditional 36 tattvas or categories given in classical tantra. Near the highest level of the 36 categories we find the descent of iccha, jnana, and kriya shaktis. Once the bindu of the Sri Yantra "splits" we have the inner triangle, of whose corners represent the iccha, jnana, and kriya shaktis. Iccha is will, jnana is the knowledge that gives rise to power the will, and the kriya is the resultant action. Thus this world evolves from the top down and also from the bottom up. A saying from the hermetic tradition is in order here "as above, so below". Creation works top down as well as bottom up. Even in classical samkhya theory, the role of buddhi is one of "I" as well as will. There has been a long standing tradition handed down from ancient times that somehow the "I" aspect of buddhi is more important than will. Which comes first? Interesting inquiry to make. "Who am I" is a noun based question and "what is the will to be done?" is a verb based question. They are different in orientation. Examining and finding mastery through will is the path of the siddha, examining and finding mastery through "I" or luminous presence is the path of the jnani. According to Vimalananda, Robert Svabodha's guru, the path of vijnani or the siddha is higher than that of the jnani. I won't argue about that because to each their own huh?
It is interesting to note that traditional study of magick usually begins with serious mind training. Most of the exercises given in Franz Bardon's An Introduction to Hermetics involve serious yoga (and I'm not talking down dog...). The same is true with classical tantra. However many approach these disciplines today without an ounce of mind training and thus fall far short of the mark.
So lets talk briefly about alchemy, the inner process of both classical magick and tantra. Alchemy is a process of separation, purification, and unification. There are outer and inner forms of this, both related. The processes of magic and tantra both involve understanding and meditation on the elements, so that one attains a certain mastery of knowledge with the component energies of this universe. These are "purified" or if you prefer "discovered to be already pure" and then integrated. We see this in the tantra in the practice of the Viraja Homa, a practice which can be done lying down or seated with traditional pranayamas. We work with fire and air, creating an "internal fire" to burn and refine the various elements of ourselves. We then receive the nectar of the moon, working with water and the earth to "create" a divine body. There are very similar processes in traditional magick. Much more can be said on this, perhaps later....
The real power behind both the disciplines of magick and tantra is the deep understanding of mind. Patanjali tells us that the mind can be either klista (obstructing) or aklista (liberating). Understanding this we can use vikalpa or imagination to transform our "ordinary" reality into the pure land. We transform through alchemy ordinary consensus reality into a liberated reality. Those who doubt this are stuck in the materialist paradigm and will struggle against forces which they believe to be outside of themselves. Some magicians fall into this trap when they attempt to invoke and evoke external spirits, not seeing their own deep psychological relationship to the process. Tantrics fall into this trap when they consider themselves apart from their technology as well.
In the realms of invocation and evocation both magic and tantra shine. If you don't think you are doing magic when you do pranapratishta, think again. Pranapratishta is the invoking of Devi right into your very body. It can also be used to evoke the Devi into a murthi or a homa fire. Kavaca or divine armor is a form of evocation as is mantric healing. Many many parallels between the two sciences.
What we choose to do with it is up to us. We don't have to take the path of the arrow. Do you beg your mother to go back inside her vagina? When you have children would you expect them to dissolve themselves back into you or would you rather they go out and create a divine world? Questions to ponder...
As Aleister Crowley stated in the law of Thelema "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will." And as my Guru has always said "Do as you like. Minimize harm."