After writing about nondual philosophy a couple weeks ago, I received several requests from readers for more information on nondual Tantric philosophy. Tantra is a complicated subject; there are many forms, and it means different things to different people. In the West, the word “Tantric” is usually combined with the word “sex,” and this pair of words has been used to sell millions of books and workshops on mystical sexual practices that have almost nothing to do with Tantra. But Tantra doesn’t need that lascivious association to be significant; it was hugely influential on the development of yoga, which (in some circles) is almost as popular as sex.
Since I can’t possibly explain this entire system in a brief article, I’m going to focus today on just one of its concepts, called the Five Acts of Divine Consciousness. It is explained in the beginning of a work called Pratyabhijna Hrdayam, “The Heart of Recognition,” written by Rajanaka Kṣemaraja around 1000 A.D.
These five “acts” (pancha kritya) describe the Tantric view of how our reality is created. As Ksemaraja says, “Reverence to the Divine, who ceaselessly performs the Five Acts, and who, by so doing, reveals the ultimate reality of one’s own Self, brimming over with the bliss of Consciousness!” Regardless of where your philosophical and spiritual sensibilities lie, I think you’ll find it an intriguing perspective.
• Srsti. The first act, Srsti, means creation, emission, or the flowing forth of Self-expression. This is the process by which Divine Consciousness (use whatever word you like here – Love, Highest Self, God, Universe, Awareness, Goddess, Divine Light) expresses itself as something. It takes form. It emerges in the world as a person or a flower or a breeze.
• Sthiti. The second act, Sthiti, means holding, preservation, stasis, or maintenance. First Consciousness emerges in manifest form as something, then it holds this form – maybe for a moment, maybe for eons.
• Samhara. The third act, Samhara, means dissolution, resorption, or retraction. After emerging in the world as something and sustaining it for a while, the form dissolves – or is reabsorbed or retracted – back into Consciousness. This is why death of a body is not seen as the end of life in this system – because the body was just a temporary emergence of Consciousness into form, which is then reabsorbed into itself. Thus, none of the vulnerabilities of your body actually threaten what you really are. And consciousness never ends.
• Tirodhana. The fourth act, Tirodhana, means concealment, occlusion, or forgetting. An interesting property to ascribe to the Divine, no? Why would one of its five core acts be to conceal? Well, the explanation is that Undifferentiated Consciousness possesses all possible qualities; in order to manifest as one specific thing, it must conceal all the other qualities that don’t belong to that thing.
Additionally, it explains the limited awareness of sentient beings. When Consciousness emerges as, say, a human, as part of its Divine Play, it imparts itself with only a fraction of its unfathomable awareness. In the process, it forgets what it really is. In this way, rather than acting like its various creations, it immerses itself in them. It becomes them. It’s how you don’t realize you’re Divine Consciousness itself, instead believing you’re “only” a human, disconnected from your Source and all other humans. This also allows for each being to have the experience of free will.
• Anugraha. The fifth act, Anugraha, means revealing (revelation), remembering, or grace. Besides allowing for creative expression, the fourth act (Tirodhana) is also the reason why we suffer. We can’t see the truth of our reality and this is frightening and painful. But this is eventually resolved by Anugraha – when what was hidden is revealed and we remember. As author Christopher Wallis explains, it’s not meant to negate the act of concealment, but to bring it to fruition by revealing its deeper purpose: “Such reconciliation is thus also a reintegration; through it you experientially realize yourself as a complete and perfect expression of the deep pattern of the one Consciousness which moves and dances in all things.”
I’m curious to hear how this concept fits with your own worldview. How do you see things differently? Does this perspective feel more or less liberating than your own? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
Dr. Peter Borten