Quantum physics has advanced the theory that there are a profound wealth of energetic dimensions that make up what we think to be reality, all within a possibly infinite space filled quite less densely than we’d like to imagine with extremely tiny vibrating particles that are seemingly responsive to human thought. We now know that in most objects that we take for granted as being completely solid, there is more empty space than matter, and there is constant change and movement on an energetic level that seems to participate in unexplainable ways with an observer’s conscious awareness (Arntz, W., Chasse, B. & Vicente, M., 2007). Interestingly enough, this is a concept that was already brought to us many thousands of years ago by Yogic sages and developed within Samkhya Darshana and Vedantic philosophy, something that Western scientists and philosophers such as Bohr, Einstein, Pauli, Heisenberg, Von Neumann, Schrodinger, Seife, Schopenhauer, and Wigner later rediscovered and reinterpreted from the perspective of mystical quantum physics (Marin, 2009). The very basic theory is that energy and consciousness are imbued within and affect physical reality in exciting and almost unimaginable ways.
There are so many layers of possible reality that the human senses do not have the capacity to even register it; it’s almost unfathomable (Journeau, 2007). We have begun to develop machinery that can sense these things for us, and translate it back to us in an understandable manner, but all we are receiving as of yet is an interpretation by a machine that does not nearly begin to describe or present the full picture. Add to that the reality that humans sense and interpret things individually and differently as well (Naini & Naini, 2009), and you have a blurry picture at best. Although modern science is exploring these realms of existence outside of normal human perception with its tools and sensors and computers, the humble mind explorers of millennia past have already explored its boundaries using meditation, contemplation, imagination, intuition, and the odd entheogen. These other layers, dimensions, particles, and energies (as they relate to the human being) that we typically cannot yet sense completely ourselves are referred to as the subtle energies in Yoga philosophy. The electromagnetic and energetic reality of the human organism was well-known to the incredibly sensitive sensorial abilities of master Yogis, and they actively engaged in and developed practices to connect with, visualize, and control these layers of their own being.
There are myriad books, teachings, and medicinal healing practices that incorporate the subtle energies from many different cultures (Chiasson, 2013). Each one has its own explanation of what these energies are and how they relate to the human mind, body, and spirit. However, most agree that there are various layers to the human being: the physical, subtle, mental/emotional, and the causal. Some of the most intricate and well-explored philosophies of metaphysics as it relates to the subtle energies of the human being is that of Tantra Yoga, and the most famous system having come from that milieu is what we in the West have come to know as the Chakra (Sanskrit: Cākra) system. This is only one aspect of the extremely diverse and complex philosophies of Tantrik Yoga.
The words Tantra and Chakra (Cākra) evoke some fairly strong presuppositions, not all of which are well-informed. The most important thing to realize about these words is that there is one definition in the Sanskrit etymology as related to classical Eastern belief systems, and then there is another modern Western definition and usage that means something fairly different. Commonly, the historical Indian-origin Tantra is now referred to as Classical Tantra, and the more modern New Age version is referred to as Neo-Tantra, and it is important to differentiate the two. Classical Tantra “identifies the peak period of the Tantrik movement (800-1100 CE) and distinguishes [it] from the later Hindu Tantra and haṭha-yoga traditions (both 1100-1800), and also from modern American neo-Tantra (started around 1905 by Pierre Bernard)” (Wallis, 2015).
In other words, when a Classical Tantrik scholar uses the word Tantra, he or she is referring to an initiatory and often esoteric belief system hugely popular in India during the medieval period, which spread to Nepal, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia that still appears largely unchanged in some Vajrayana Buddhist lineages today. This was most often an oral and secretive tradition passed directly from guru to student after a necessary initiation to the lineage, incorporating deity worship, mantra and yantra meditations, active ritualism, and the more well-known aspects of the subtle body system (cākras, energy channels, and prana). Not all lineages taught the same material, but most viewed reality as a loving and complex interplay between Shiva (Consciousness) and Shakti (Power or Manifested Reality).
Now, the word Tantra as it refers to modern Neo-Tantra, is a belief system loosely influenced by some Classical Tantrik teachings, but is mostly an amalgamation of Western Occult theory, Theosophy, modern psychology, New Age religion, and the practices of “Sacred Sexuality.” Neo-Tantra has very little to do with Classical Tantra, and what it does share has been removed from context. For example, the difference between the Sanskrit cākra systems (over 1000 years old) and the Western Chakra (roughly 100 years old), and the sexual practices that are a large and recognizable part of Neo-Tantra today that were arguably non-existent in the Classical form.
What most people recognize as the Western Chakra system (pronounced shah-krah) is a system of 7 spinning wheels, ranging in rainbow colors from red to purple and ascending from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head along the center-line of the body in fixed locations. In the Western system, these wheels spin clockwise or counter-clockwise and are closed or shut dependent on their “balance and function,” have psychological associations, crystal and mineral associations, and even essential oil and herb associations, all of which can be used to “align” these vortices of energy (Judith, 1996). Being more “aligned” signifying being more spiritually advanced.
However, this was never the case in Classical Tantra. In Classical Tantra, the cākra (Sanskrit: pronounced chuck-rah) systems varied dependent on the lineage you were initiated to, on which deity you were devoted to, and what end you were looking to achieve with your practices. They were psychological constructs, movable, personal, descriptive and not prescriptive. They varied in number from 3-cākra systems to sometimes dozens, and were located throughout the subtle body sometimes outside the range of the physical body as well. Their main purpose was to serve as a location for mental focus and for the installation of deities, Sanskrit syllables, and mantras into the subtle body. They could not be unbalanced, affected by outside influences, or misaligned (Wallis, 2016).
As you can see, there is a major difference here not only in philosophy but in usage and practice. This is not to say that one is more powerful or meaningful or “right” than another, as both have very interesting and useful perspectives. But it is to say that there is a lot of confusion about these spiritual systems. The seeker of knowledge must always be well-informed so that he or she knows what is really being practiced. Our rituals and practices have little meaning if we are uninformed as to their context, origin, and effect.
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