Last week I went to the Tantra exhibition at the British Museum. Tantra is an Indian esoteric system that is not based on the Vedas, as are most orthodox forms of Hinduism, but instead goes back to pre-Aryan roots though, as is the way with all Indian religion, there are many admixtures along the way to end up with what now exists under that name.
The basis of Tantra is that the universe is made up of the interaction between male and female powers, personified as Siva and Sakti. Siva is Ultimate Reality or pure consciousness and Sakti is his dynamic aspect. She is Cosmic Energy, visualised as a goddess. Effectively, these represent spirit and matter in the system, taking spirit as being and matter as the world in all its forms, the Father and Mother of the Universe. The practitioner aims to unite these two within himself, drawing up the power in matter within his own body to the top of the head where it unites with spirit to produce enlightenment. This is just the bare bones of the philosophy, but the idea is that, rather than rejecting the material world, the follower of Tantra uses it, even embraces it, to reach spiritual insight. All life is one and nothing is to be rejected. Thus, certain practises which are regarded as profane in more conventional religious teachings, such as the consumption of alcohol and participation in sexual activity, are used in a ritualistic way to demonstrate that nothing is impure and all is part of the whole. Sex is understood as symbolic of divine unity and, though this is only taken symbolically on the so-called right-hand path, is engaged in literally on the left-hand path.
One sees a certain logic in this but there are problems. From the Christian perspective, it ignores the fact of the Fall. The material world has been corrupted and can only be redeemed in Christ. Tantra appears to have no understanding of this. Of course, motivation is crucial in any practice but even the best motivation in the world cannot turn error into truth. In fact, the attraction of Tantra for many is the same as the attraction of occultism in general. Power. Whether magical or spiritual, it is often power that the follower of these paths seeks and with such a motivation the temptation to succumb to the demons who lurk in the dark corners of these systems is always present. Demons are actually openly present in Tantra, whether disguised as deities with a wrathful aspect as in some forms of Buddhist Tantra or as the goddess Kali who is depicted as the Great Mother but is clearly demonic in origin. I am not saying that a certain mindset cannot indeed transform the images of these demons to a more spiritual state but that is going against their form, and form and function are not so clearly demarcated or differentiated as some might like to think. Ugliness is not beauty. Violence is not peace. The form of Kali very obviously goes back to a demon that was propitiated by blood, not a good image for the spiritual aspirant to focus on however much you seek to justify it by abstruse symbolism. I can appreciate the wisdom in Tantra in that it fully accepts the created world rather than denying or dismissing it but I would object that it accepts it too much. The profane and the sacred are not the same thing and seeing them as such does not make it so.
There is truth in Tantra. The idea that we need to accept the material world of creation as part of the whole and not dismiss it as illusion as certain forms of Hinduism do is correct. But we should not take it on its own terms. It should always be seen in the light of spirit. The creation should never be set on the same footing as the Creator. The two are not equal. But the created world is a true world and we are part of it and it is part of us. As Christ showed, it should be included in our understanding of spiritual reality. Nonetheless, matter must always be subordinated to spirit as the Virgin Mary offered herself up completely to the Will of God. You don't conquer matter through matter as Tantra might lead one to believe. You conquer it through spirit. Then, once conquered, the beauty within it is revealed and it serves to glorify God.
As an amusing aside, when I went to this exhibition I did not wear a mask. Everyone else was wearing one. I respected the social distancing rules because I didn't want to upset anybody but there is a profound spiritual symbolism in covering your face and I do not want to be a party to that, especially for a disease that is far less deadly for most people than we have been led to believe. I have worn a mask on a couple of occasions so as not to upset other people but both times felt a sense of shame and that I was contributing to the degradation of humanity. You might think that an over the top reaction but such a practice, once accepted, is hard to stop. One of the other people at the exhibition complained to an attendant that I wasn't wearing a mask but was told that certain people are exempt though no one actually asked me whether I did indeed fit into that category. What I found amusing was that the whole idea of Tantra is that nothing is impure. Tantrics would meditate in graveyards and cover themselves with the ashes of dead bodies. Not wearing a mask should surely, in that sense, be perfectly in tune with the Tantric ethos!
I understand that there is a temptation to spiritual pride in not wearing one of these face coverings. We should be alert to that. We should also respect the concerns of others and, if not wearing a mask in a space where one is now supposed to be wearing one, keep a reasonable distance from others unless that is impossible. Nevertheless, I do see the imposition of masks as an attack on individual freedom. It is of profound spiritual significance and should not be dismissed as just something to keep us safe. One lesson that can be drawn from Tantra is that God is everywhere. That doesn't mean we should abandon common sense because that can be the voice of God too. But it does mean we should learn to be free of fear and have trust in our Creator.