Traditional Tantra makes extensive use of rituals. A ritual is a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed in a prescribed order. Tantric rituals often include yantras, visual representations of aspects of the Universe, and mantras, auditory representations of aspects of the Universe. The frequency of yantras and mantras in Tantric practice has led to the expression "Mantra, yantra, Tantra", but it is theoretically possible to conduct a Tantric ritual with neither yantra nor mantra.
Tantric rituals often include shamanic elements, physical objects which correlate with the aspects of the Universe to be invoked in the ritual, and personifications of aspects of the Universe. Rituals usually start with ceremonial cleansing of participants and the ritual space, and end with some form of meditation or gratitude practice.
Traditional Tantric Rituals
Certain traditional Tantric rituals are still practiced today, because they are described in traditional Tantric texts. Some of the most well-known traditional Tantric rituals include nyasa, maithuna, and the worship of the yoni (female genitals) or lingam (male genitals).
The nyasa ritual is designed to infuse the Divine into the human body. While the Tantrics believe that everything is Divine, they recognised that in day-to-day life we were in the habit of treating material reality as ordinary, rather than Divine. The nyasa ritual is a solemn process of bringing our attention to the presence of the Divine within the human body.
In a nyasa ritual, the practitioner works with a partner, and uses a mudra (hand gesture) and mantra (sequence of sounds) to infuse the Divine into a series of places on the body, which correspond to chakras. Simple versions of the nyasa ritual use the seven major chakras, while more complex versions can use dozens of points. Each point has its own mantra.
The practitioner places the right hand, in the mudra, on the first point, and chants the mantra seven times. After the mantras are chanted, the partner slowly rotates on the spot three times. The practitioner then moves the right hand to the next point, and the process continues. When all the points have been infused, the partner sits or stands, meditating on the Divine within, and the practitioner either practices trataka on the Divinised partner, or sits in meditation.
Maithuna is a Sanskrit word, meaning “paired, coupled, being a male and a female; connected by marriage; relating to or worn during copulation” (adjective), or “sexual union” (noun).
Sexual union is a powerful symbol in the Tantric tradition, because the entire Universe is seen as the ongoing sexual union of the masculine essence (Shiva, pure witnessing consciousness) and the feminine essence (Shakti, all movement, power, and energy). The maithuna ritual evokes many powerful symbols, including the symbol of sexual union.
The Five Elements (The Pancha Tattva)
The five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space (or ether) are represented by five substances; Madya (wine), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (cereal) and Maithuna (sexual union). These are also known as Pancha Makaras (the five M’s), because all five Sanskrit words begin with the letter ‘M’. As well as representing elements of physical manifestation, they represent spiritual concepts.
MUDRA- CEREAL : This symbolises abandoning all associations with evil leading to bondage. Rice, wheat and grains are substitutes for mudra. Cereal represents the earth element.
MATSYA-FISH: Fish symbolises the knowledge by which the spiritual aspirant sympathises with the pleasure and pain of all beings. White brinjal, red radish, masur grain and red sesamum are substitutes for fish. Fish represents the water element.
MADYA-WINE : This may be actual wine, or any fermented drink such as coconut water. It symbolises God-intoxication , and the Supreme, eternal Bliss of Yoga knowledge or knowledge of Atma-jnana. Milk, ghee and honey are substitutes for wine. Wine represents agni - the fire element.
MAMSA-MEAT: Meat or flesh is the act by which the aspirant consecrates all his actions to the Lord. Salt, ginger, sesamum, white beans and garlic are substitutes for meat. Flesh represents the air element.
MAITHUNA-DIVINE UNION: Symbolises the union of Siva and Shakti in the upper brain centre known as Sahasrara or the thousand petalled lotus. Sexual union represents the ether element, or space.
An account of a maithuna ritual can be found on the Shri Kali website.
Yoni or lingam worship puja
A strong theme in Tantric practice is the observation of correspondences - "as above, so below". The human body is seen as a microcosm, with a structure that is completely analogous to the structure of the macrocosm (the multiverse). Similarly, the genitals are seen as an even smaller microcosm for the entire multiverse. Tantric practitioners will practice trataka on the yoni (vulva) or lingam (penis), seeking to perceive the Divine, and the entire multiverse, reflected in its structure.
This ritual my be performed by a couple, in a mixed-gender group, or in a single-gender group. In the case of a group, participants may pair up and stay in one place for the duration of the ritual, or the observers may rotate around a circle, performing trataka on each person in turn.
Modern Tantric Rituals
The Transfiguration Puja
A transfiguration puja is a common method for Tantrics, particularly in neo-Tantric traditions, to practice transfiguration. Participants form a double circle, with equal numbers in each circle, facing one another in pairs. Generally, this is a gendered process, with the inner circle composed of men, facing outward, and the outer circle composed of women, facing inward. In the centre of the circle is an altar, a shivalingam, or some other devotional symbol.
After the consecration, each person looks into the eyes of the person opposite, seeking to see the Divine within. After a few minutes, a chime sounds, and the women stand, and move to their right, creating new partnerships all the way around the circle. This process continues until the full circuit has been completed, and each woman returns to her original partner.
If the group has set up an altar and brought offerings, the food offerings may be consumed by the group after the ritual movements have concluded.