Shiva and Shakti. Sacred union between God and Goddess. Divine Feminine, Divine Masculine.
Beautiful concepts, but modern people embarking on the tantric path often report some resistance to these terms. The words may seem to point back to the same tired, restrictive gender norms that many would-be tantrikas are hoping to be free from!
Let’s be clear: tantra didn’t pop up in a vacuum. It evolved within a culture that was deeply heteronormative, and although many of its tenets go against mainstream Hindu conventions, the language it uses still reflects that background.
However, the essence of tantra has nothing to do with maintaining conventional gender roles and actually not so much to do with gender at all. It’s just about polarity.
Polarity is the foundation of tantric practice. When any two opposite energies are brought into union, there is an opportunity for transcendence. If they are potent enough, polarized enough, their conjunction causes a sort of inner explosion that resolves in the zero point.
And the two most powerful opposing principles in the universe, that will cause the greatest spiritual combustion, are the energies of masculinity and femininity, or Shiva and Shakti.
We can talk about polarity between Shiva and Shakti at two levels: the polarity between femininity and masculinity (or yin/yang, lunar/solar, whatever words you prefer since these principles are much more universal than human gender), and the more enigmatic relationship between consciousness and energy.
In the tantric tradition, the terms “Shiva” and “Shakti” are used to refer to both levels.
The masculine and feminine are both energy. They both exist as part of the manifestation, therefore as aspects of supreme Shakti. Still, the feminine principle is more reflective of the principle of pure energy, while masculine principle points more toward the principle of pure consciousness.
And, as it happens, men usually manifest more the masculine principle, while women manifest more the feminine principle. Of course, all of us contain both in a unique and everchanging dynamic balance. It’s beautiful and important to acknowledge this, and to develop both sides of your being so you can live a full, balanced life.
But for tantric practice, we go into the polarity. We go full-on into the polarity. We want as much spark as possible, to create the biggest spiritual explosion within both partners.
This doesn’t mean that the man always has to embody the masculine, nor the woman the feminine! It’s perfectly possible to have a tantric relationship where the woman is holding the masculine pole and vice versa. Or a same-sex relationship where either partner can take each polarity, or the partners can exchange.
In any case, we can write off the terminology confusion (those two levels of Shiva/Shakti) as yet another example of the glorious messiness of Indian spirituality: always 5 names for the same thing and the same name for 5 different things!
However, it goes deeper than that.
There is a real mystery here, something in the incomprehensible dance of form and formlessness that is beyond the mind yet profoundly erotic.
A man’s adoration for woman, so colorful, powerful and alluring, leading him out far beyond the familiar…
And the woman’s adoration for her man as she dances whirlwinds around him, her longing to know his stillness as the core of her own being…
Something here in a way is just a dramatization of how Consciousness looks at Energy, or better put how Consciousness looks at itself through the manifestation. The joy and wonder with which Awareness recognizes itself in form, and the bliss of form as it surrenders itself into pure Awareness.
So the next time you look at your lover, man or woman… do you see yourself?

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