From the Tantric Tradition of India
by Sohan Qadri
“To open and close the gates of heaven,
can you play the role of a woman?”
Yogini, “Woman − in union with the Self.”
In this abstract context, the woman stands for Shakti and the Self for Shiva. Together, they represent the female and the male principles, the polarity of energy as creative ecstasy.
In physical terms, the yogini is the female partner of the yogi in Tantric sexual yoga, which is one of the five rituals known as Pancha Makara or Chakra Puja.
In Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, she is known as Dakini, who initiates monks on their path to Buddhahood. Dakini is a nun who does penance, mostly in the cremation grounds, and helps the seekers to overcome the first and the last lust by introducing them to Tantric sexual yoga.
Yogini, in classical terms, is a female aspirant of Tantric yoga.
In a literary sense, the term yogini means a capable and able woman whose capacities and abilities have been either inherited or acquired through yoga.
The Cosmic Womb (Maha-Maya)
Her nature is dynamic power. Using this power in the act of ecstasy, she conceives the cosmic egg, the Brahmanda, which is also herself. By the same impulse and power, she manifests herself through the cosmic egg as the whole of creation. In her submission, she becomes the passion in all of life’s activities. In her love-making, she liberates the individual to join freely the dance of life. And finally, in her compassionate love for all creation, which is herself, she again breathes it in, and lets it fold within itself, to merge with the cosmic womb. Again, all becomes One.
Myth and Metaphysics
The female principle has been represented and acclaimed in various images, names and forms in almost all known cultures. In Tantric tradition, however, it became a living phenomenon. Tantra is a well laid out path where she, the “yogini”, assumes many identities – from the terrible Kali to lovely Lalita.
In order to personify her symbolically, an image of the yoni (vulva) was carved in stone or wood and became the emblem of the yogini. Tantric masters also designed geometric figures (power diagrams) which are also meant to symbolize the dominating female principle. The yoni is drawn as a triangle standing on its apex.
The origin of the phenomenon described above lies in actual worship of the female sex organ. A young, healthy and beautiful woman, properly bejewelled, profusely perfumed, and consecrated through meditation and yoga, became herself an object of worship, with her yoni (vulva) symbolizing the Cosmic Womb. A state of infinite bliss was achieved through a gradually intensified love, focused at first on a human lover in physical love, and then transferred to the transcendental state, of which human love is just a reflection.
Any symbol is merely a symbol for something else, and that “something else” is the Innermost Reality. A symbol or an image is created to be used as one of the means in the process of experiencing that Reality. Through invocation and meditation, life is infused into the symbol. The yogi in his sadhana goes beyond sound (mantra) and sight (yantra) and dissolves himself as well as the symbol to embrace and become bliss. The symbol is thus left behind and becomes a museum piece. The invocator and the invoked merge into one consciousness, leaving behind a relic.
These relics are found in ancient cultures other than the Hindu and Buddhist, where the female principle was represented as a goddess. To make the female god morally acceptable, she was called mother goddess or Mother Earth.
“The spirit of the valley never dies
It is Woman – Primal Mother
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth
It is a veil, barely seen. Use it…
It will never fail.”
Intuition and Instinct
The yogini is instinctively dynamic, a master in the art of yoga, both the exoteric (the body, senses, and mentality) as well as esoteric (the consciousness). She possesses the power to initiate, enlighten and liberate others.
It is commonly known that as a rule, women are more intuitive than men. Psychologists confirm that the woman is more intuitive, and base it on the fact that a mother must be capable of protecting her child.
A friend of mine, a meteorologist in Los Angeles, California, once told me an interesting account of his observations. He said that no seismograph can pin-point the exact time of an earthquake’s occurence beforehand. But through the years, it had been his experience that women could feel the danger of an oncoming earthquake just before it took place. She may not even realize it herself, but a woman does intuitively react before a man would.
My own experience and observations substantiate this view, going even further to the extent that females of other species, like cats and dogs, react intuitively to forthcoming events and eventual dangers by a fraction of a moment before males do.
Within yoga, a parallel can easily be drawn by relating the fact that the Ajna Chakra is more vibrant and more easily manipulated in women than it is in men. It has also been observed that a woman can take more physical pain than a man. This is because, by nature, she is built for carrying a child and for going through the pains of childbirth. To a certain extent, she has a built-in resistance to the effects of these birth pains which ensure that she is also able to endure more in relation to other kinds of physical suffering. Longevity is another point in support of the above mentioned trait. The average woman lives 5 to 7 years longer than the average man, given similar conditions.
Because of her cycle of menstruation and ovulation, a woman’s biochemical transformation of energy is more changeable and dynamic than a man’s. This perpetual biochemical change in the body’s metabolic and secretory processes generates corresponding periodical psychic states of both high and low intensity. Her entire psycho-physical condition corresponds to the dynamic processes of nature, like the movements of the planets and the phases of the moon. That is to say that the female psyche is cyclic due to menstrual and ovulatory rhythm, which also has an influence on her psycho-physical activity, whereas the male psyche is linear and static in this respect.
Discovery of the Body
Tantra is ever open to the physical and psychic needs of humanity and includes them in man’s spiritual aspirations. Because of this, new starting points were discovered, and precise methods worked out for those who wished to work with themselves. The starting point was the woman and the man themselves, each representing their distinctive characteristics. The woman and the man, with their bodies and minds, their hopes and desires, now become the most important element in this tantric yoga ritual. The fact that woman and man together became active participants in the use of these methods on the path towards freedom and enlightenment gave rise to the creation of new possibilities for awareness through tantric yoga, which ensured the success of the rituals. The yogini was excluded from the rituals of the priests but, in these rituals, she became indispensable. The method and the awareness which they awakened made every activity of life an act of yoga.
Linga-Yoni, Yub-Yab and Yin-Yang union symbolize the fulfilment of yoga through bhoga (active and conscious enjoyment). As opposed to monastic religious systems, Tantra created situations wherein two (the yogi and the yogini) instead of one could simultaneously experience bliss.
Ordinarily, the trance state and the ability to surrender oneself completely is experienced for just a short moment during the ecstasy of orgasm. But with the proper guidance and initiation by the guru, the mind’s four elements, including the hormones (actually love juices), the feelings, passion (colour), and bodily organs − Rasa, Raga, Ranga and Anga − are accepted, activated and elevated, until finally, lacking the limitations of inhibitions, a state of complete awareness, individual and collective, is attained in the Chakra-Puja ritual.
With the concept of the yogini, Tantra created a new awareness of the dynamic powers inherent in women. The distinction between men and women imposed by the male oriented social structure and the religious systems of India was thereby eliminated.
Taboos, such as a woman being unclean during menstruation, were made to sound ridiculous, as it is precisely in this period that the body’s flow of psychic energy reaches its peak. This particular moment is also considered the most appropriate for the execution of tantric meditations and rituals.
During the invocation of a certain ritual, when the mind is completely attentive, a small amount of menstruation blood and semen are collected as a tribute to the woman and her power. Brahmins and other so-called “worthy” aspirants (women not included) had marks on their foreheads made of saffron and sandalwood paste. The tantric however, took this blood and made a mark on his forehead during the ceremony.
The fact that a woman was a guide and initiator of others in the expansion of the consciousness was unthinkable in a brahminical society engrained with Victorian puritanism and morality. This was made possible because the yogini, as a female initiate, was accepted as equal in every respect to her male partner, regardless of her social or religious status. Some traditional tantric scriptures even went so far as to claim that it was better to be initiated by a yogini than by a yogi.
There have been various parallel “traditions” from time to time, where mystical formulas from common occult tradition and alchemy have been made use of, some of them so cunningly contrived that they became black magic or witchcraft. Such things have been used and misused in the name of Tantra, but none of them have possessed the systematic and profound methods of Tantric yoga.
The Physical Entity
The mere fact that man has imagined the existence of a divinity has caused him to search for information and recognition in every possible place other than from within himself. This created an attitude which rejected reality, “that which is”, in favour of dreams and remote spiritual worlds.
These conceptions and dreams captivate us so much that we allow ourselves to be hypnotized into believing that they are more real than the reality we are experiencing here and now. This confused and anxious flight from life itself has generated an excess of moral systems — a puritanical and intellectual jungle — which excludes the average seeker. In the Tantric tradition, the yogini and the yogi are not imagined as remote higher beings. On the contrary, they are physical beings, living persons. The enactment of the play (ritual) is based on the assumption that “what is” is accepted rather than rejected.
As I see it, there is found in every human the need to realize his/her whole being, no matter how remote this possibility seems to be. Some are more inclined to embrace this need than others. This is said to be the result of Karma. But the tantric masters have tried to bridge this karmic gap by introducing unknown universal methods and by rediscovering new topics, things which can be used by anyone, anywhere, regardless of creed, color, social status, personal characteristics or leftover karma.
The yogini, because of her physical presence in the ritual, brings about an experience for both the yogi and herself.
All energy is basically the same, primordial energy. We experience it in its various manifestations, from sexual to psychic energy. Wilhelm Reich called it orgone energy, and in occultism it is known as Odic energy. Freud called it Libido, an energy both active and reactive. It is an energetic tension found in all activity at all levels.
A physicist must have two poles in order to confirm the presence of an energy flow or energy field. In tantric physics, it is called Shakti, or female energy, which is dynamic and is the opposite of Shiva, male energy, which is static. The flow of Shakti (prana or life energy), is the cause as well as the effect of all creation, including its beginning, its continuity and its dissolution. Yogini, Devdasi, Shodasi, Domini and Duti are the various names she goes by in the ritual (female yogi, a god’s spouse, a 16 year* old woman or 16 variations of desire (Kama), an untouchable woman, a female messenger). These represent all the primordial energy that can be experienced, both sexually and psychically, by the active participant in “what is”, in that of becoming and being.
* In India the Age of Consent was 12 before 1949. In 1949, it was raised to 15, in 1982 to 16 and in 2013 to 18.
What moves is Her,
What moves not, is also Her,
What is, is Her.
Also see an interview with Sohan Qadri: You must let yourself be swallowed up …
and Sohan Qadri’s book of sutras and insights: Wonderstand
Illustrations: The portrait of Sohan Qadri was photographed by Swami Janakananda in 1977. The photograph of the temple door is photographed by Torben Huss. The Brahmanda was photographed by Swami Janakananda. The yogini under the title “Yoni Worship” is from the book “Yogini, Cult and Temples, a Tantric Tradition” by Vidya Dehejia, National Museum, New Delhi. Under the title “Discovery of the Body”, the sculpture from a temple in Kajuraho was photographed by Swami Janakananda. Under the title “Social Significance”: Tara, a female figure from the Philippines, Cicago South East Asia Museum. The painting at the end: “A personal deity for meditation” is by Sohan Qadri from 1976.