Tantra Talks – 1: Introduction

This talk is in Malayalam Language – An English summary of the talk is given below.

All of the  Indian philosophical disciplines such as Samkhya, Yoga, Advaita, Ayurveda, Dance, Music and Astrology are deeply indebted to Tantra. Tantra is a Sanskrit word. When the word “Tantra” is split,  we can find that the sound “Tantra” is a combination of two root words,  denoting two different actions. These two words are ‘Thanothi’ and ‘Thrayathi’. The word ‘Thanothi’ means, “expansion”. ‘Thanothi’ can also mean ‘to stretch’, ‘to expand’ etc. The word ‘Thrayathi’ means “liberation”. It can also mean, ‘ to liberate’, ‘to free’ or ‘to separate’. The word ‘Tantra’ is formed by the combination of the first syllable “Tha” in  ‘Thanothi’ and the first syllable “Thra” in  ‘Thrayathi’. Together, they are pronounced as “Tham-thra”, and together the word denotes “freedom through expansion”! 

Here, naturally two questions arise. Expansion of What, and freedom for  what? The science of Tantra says that it is the  expansion of “Awareness” and the freedom attained is  for living in an exalted state of “Awareness”.  Now, the third question arises.   What is ‘awareness’ ?. Awareness  is called “consciousness” in English. All of us have a sense of awareness within  us  that “I am conscious”. That self-awareness of ourselves  is “awareness” / “consciousness”. Tantra is the art and science of developing that self-awareness to the highest possible degree for us. Tantra is about the development of ‘consciousness’, which is actually the only core subject dealt in “Tantra” in its entirety. 

My name is Nandan Kandanat. For the past forty years I have been a humble student of Indian and western philosophies, and have been diligently studying, meditating and experimenting with the understanding developed. My postgraduate subject was on “consciousness studies”. I am aware that  there are many others like myself,  who are studying esoteric subjects. These sessions can be considered as my personal note-sharing with my fellow-students. What I am sharing here is what I have learned and understood over the years. My primary objective is  to make my fellow-students’ own learning a little bit easier. While preparing and delivering these sessions, I am also learning as much as others do. 

Of course, there  are a lot of misconceptions about ‘Tantra’. My secondary objective is to try and dispel these misunderstandings by providing the correct context and purpose for all spiritual practices.  It is  also my endeavour  to introduce the 36 Tantric principles  of creation, which can become the bedrock of all spiritual pursuits.  

The fact is that even most of  those who are interested in spiritual topics  and are taking efforts to pursue their interest at a practical level, have not been able to grasp the right context or purpose of their spiritual practices. In other words, the majority are watching the drama of life without knowing the story. We may go to temples and churches regularly. We many do yoga and meditation with great commitment. We may study the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Epics; What is, however, the real end purpose of all these practices? It does not matter what religion we belong to. What is the ultimate purpose and context of doing all the spiritual things that all of us in all religions do – be it a trip to a place of worship, study of  Gita-Quran-Bible? Why are we doing all these? Is all this struggle just to feel good  or get peace of mind alone? Not really! Tantra unequivocally tells us  that the ultimate goal of all human pursuits is to expand our consciousness and lead us to a higher state of conscious existence, and thus fulfilling the purpose of human birth – Expansion of our consciousness! It is nothing but the expansion of human consciousness that is the  ultimate purpose of human life.

In Tantra the steps of the creation of the universe involves a process that takes place through 36 principles or “tatwas”. Understanding these 36 principles will give us a logically acceptable  context of our being as well as  a sense of direction in our physical life. this is true  not only for our spiritual pursuits but also for our own everyday life and everyday interactions with the world. When this is understood, every experience in our life becomes a great opportunity for our conscious evolution. That is the essence of ‘Tantra’. Let me try to introduce Tantra  and its 36 principles of  creation.

From my personal experience, I can certainly confirm that it takes a long time to grasp the most profound picture of spiritual truth. It is the 36 principles of the creation in Tantra that finally taught me  the bigger picture of life.

I can compare this experience of emerging a complete picture of life to setting of a jigsaw puzzle. From the age of twenty-five until the time I understood what Tantra  was, I had retained and preserved all  the  philosophical and spiritual knowledge that came on my path without leaving any piece; it was much like holding on to the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle  without leaving a single one. It was only when I finally received these 36 jigsaw pieces from Tantra that the greatest picture of eternal truth began to emerge  before me! This, I can vouch for. 

The Upanishads are at the end of the Vedas and the Advaita philosophy is at the end of the Upanishads. While immersed  in the midst of worldly forms and experiences, we must know that beyond all these, there is a fundamental “oneness” shared by all of them; , and that oneness is Universal Consciousness. Advaita is the recognition of that oneness; The knowledge of Advaita is a major turning point in the evolution of our consciousness amidst the feeling of “I am limited and isolated” as an individual. The science of yoga is the path that leads us to that realization. If  the path of Yoga is considered as a railway journey, the destination we need to reach is “Advaita” consciousness; where we have reached now is “Dvaita” awareness. That means, we need to move on from our current awareness of ‘duality’ to the awareness of  that ‘oneness’. To undertake that particular journey, we need to take that particular train. That train is the ‘science of yoga’ in Indian philosophy.

The  Samkhya philosophy of India gives an overview of how we first arrived at this awareness of “duality”. That is to say, the Samkhya-Yoga-Advaita triads can be compared to  three stations  on the journey from duality-awareness to unity-awareness.   In other words, Samkhya, Yoga,  and  Advaita are the three milestone stations of awareness on the super highway called ‘Tantra’. That is, Tantra is like a great roadmap telling us  where we came from, where we are now, and where we need to go as well as to know the various routes  to reach the ultimate destination. That is the relevance of Tantra; the 36 principles that Tantra teaches  us describe how we reached where we are today!.

Samkhya, one of the Great six  Indian philosophies, deals in great detail with the mystery of the creation of the universe and where man stands in creation. But Tantra  teaches  us that and beyond. Tantra teaches that man devolved  through these 36 principles. That is to say, we have come down to this duality-consciousness  through these 36 steps in the downward direction from our original non-duality-consciousness. In other words, we have to return to our original state of consciousness which is  Advaita-consciousness,   from our current state of  Dvaita-consciousness. We have devolved and come a long way from our original state; we now have to evollve back to our original state.   That is, for us  to return to that Advaita consciousness, we have to climb back to these 36 steps. How can we do that without knowing what these 36 steps and their characteristics are?

This topic is presented here in short sessions‌. This is the first Chapter giving the overview of the topic. In the next two or three  chapters, we will try to understand  the key concepts of Awareness or Consciousness, dual-nondual awareness, and Tantra in general. In the following steps, we will try to understand the 36 principles. Thus, we can understand where we came from, where we are now and where we need to go back to. This will set the firm foundation for building our practices, whatever that may be. 

All of the Indian philosophical disciplines such as Samkhya, Yoga, Advaita, Ayurveda, Dance, Music and Astrology are deeply indebted to Tantra. Tantra is a Sanskrit word.


When the word “Tantra” is split, we can find that the sound “Tantra” is a combination of two root words, denoting two different actions. These two words are ‘Thanothi’ and ‘Thrayathi’. The word ‘Thanothi’ means, “expansion”. ‘Thanothi’ can also mean ‘to stretch’, ‘to expand’. The word ‘Thrayathi’ means “liberation”. It can also mean, ‘ to liberate’, ‘to free’ and ‘to separate’. The word ‘Tantra’ is formed by the combination of the first syllable “Tha” in ‘Thanothi’ and the second syllable “Thra” in ‘Thrayathi’. Together, they are pronounced as “Tham-thra”, and together the word denotes “freedom through expansion”! Here, naturally two questions arise. Expansion of What, and freedom for what? The science of Tantra says that it is the expansion of “Awareness” and the freedom attained is for living in an exalted state of “Awareness”. Now, the third question arises. What is ‘awareness’ ?. Awareness is called “consciousness” in English. All of us have a sense of awareness within us that “I am conscious”. That self-awareness of ourselves is “awareness” / “consciousness”. Tantra is the art and science of developing that self-awareness to the highest state possible for us. Tantra is about the development of ‘consciousness’, which is actually the only subject dealt in “Tantra” in its entirety.

My name is Nandan Kandanat. For the past forty years I have been a humble student of Indian and western philosophies, and have been diligently studying, meditating and experimenting with them. My postgraduate subject was on “consciousness studies”. I am aware that there are many others like myself, who are studying esoteric subjects. These sessions can be considered as my personal note-sharing with my fellow-students. What I am sharing here is what I have learned and understood over the years. My primary objective is to make their own learning a little bit easier. While doing this, I am also learning as much as others do.

Of course, there are a lot of misconceptions about ‘Tantra’. My secondary objective is to try and dispel these misunderstandings by providing the correct context and purpose for Tantric practices. It is also my endeavour to introduce the 36 Tantric principles of creation, which can become the bedrock of all spiritual pursuits.

The fact is that even most of those who are interested in spiritual topics and are taking efforts to pursue their interest at a practical level, have not been able to grasp the exact context or relevance of their spiritual practices. In other words, the majority are watching the drama without knowing the story. We go to temples and churches regularly. We many do yoga and meditation with precise routines. We may study the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Epics; What is the real end purpose of all these practices? It does not matter what religion we belong to. What is the ultimate purpose and philosophical background behind doing all the spiritual things that all of us in all religions do – whether it is a trip to a place of worship, study of Gita-Quran-Bible? Why are we doing all these? Is all this struggle just to feel good or get peace of mind? Not really! Tantra unequivocally tells us that the ultimate goal of all human pursuits is to expand our consciousness and lead us to a higher state of conscious existence, thus fulfilling the purpose of human birth – Expansion of our consciousness! It is nothing but the expansion of human consciousness that is the ultimate purpose of human life.

In Tantra the steps of the creation of the universe involves a process that takes place through 36 principles or “tatwas”. Understanding these 36 principles will give us a logically acceptable background as well as a sense of direction, not only for our spiritual pursuits but also for our own lives. When this is understood, every experience in life becomes an opportunity for our conscious development. That is the essence of ‘Tantra’. Let me try to introduce you Tantra and its 36 principles of creation.

From my personal experience, I can certainly confirm that it takes a long time to grasp the most profound picture of spiritual truth. It is the 36 principles of the creation in Tantra that finally taught me the bigger picture of life.

I can compare this experience of emerging a complete picture of life to a jigsaw puzzle. From the age of twenty-five until the time I realized what Tantra was, I had retained and preserved all the philosophical and spiritual knowledge that came on my path without leaving any piece; it was much like holding on to the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle without leaving a single one. It was only when I finally received 36 more jigsaw pieces from Tantra that the greatest picture of eternal truth began to emerge before me! This, I can vouch.

The Upanishads are at the end of the Vedas and the Advaita philosophy is at the end of the Upanishads. While immersed in the midst of worldly forms and experiences, we must know that beyond all these, there is a fundamental “oneness” shared by all of them; , and that oneness is Universal Consciousness. Advaita is the recognition of that oneness; The knowledge of Advaita is a major turning point in the development of our consciousness amidst the feeling of “I am limited and isolated” as an individual. The science of yoga is the path that leads us to that realization. If the path of Yoga is considered as a railway journey, the destination we need to reach is “Advaita” awareness; where we are now is the “Dvaita” consciousness. That means, we need to move on from our current level of consciousness of ‘duality’ to the consciousness of that ‘oneness’. To undertake that particular journey, we need to take that particular train. That train is the ‘science of yoga’ in Indian philosophy. Yoga is within Tantra.

The  Samkhya philosophy of India gives an overview of how we first arrived at this awareness of “duality”. That is to say, the Samkhya-Yoga-Advaita triads can be compared to  three stations  on the journey from duality-awareness to unity-awareness.   In other words, Samkhya, Yoga,  and  Advaita are the three milestone stations of awareness on the super highway called ‘Tantra’. That is, Tantra is like a great roadmap telling us  where we came from, where we are now, and where we need to go as well as to know the various routes  to reach the ultimate destination. That is the relevance of Tantra; the 36 principles that Tantra teaches  us describe how we reached where we are today!

Samkhya, one of the Great six Indian philosophies, deals in great detail with the mystery of the creation of the universe and where man stands in creation. But Tantra teaches us that and beyond. Tantra teaches that man devolved through these 36 principles. That is to say, we have come down to this duality-consciousness through these 36 steps in the downward direction from our original non-duality-consciousness. In other words, we have to return to our original state of consciousness which is Advaita-consciousness, from our current state of Dvaita-consciousness. We have devolved and come a long way from our original state; we now have to evolve back to our original state. That is, for us to return to that Advaita consciousness, we have to climb back through these 36 steps. How can we do that without knowing what these 36 steps and their characteristics are?

This topic is presented here in short sessions‌. This is the first session giving an overview of the topic. In the next few sessions, we will try to understand the key concepts of Consciousness, dual /non-dual Consciousness, and Tantra in general. In the sessions thereafter, we will try to understand the 36 principles. Thus, we can understand where we came from, where we are now and where we need to go back to. This will set the firm foundation for building our practices, whatever those practices may be.

May all our spiritual pursuits in life become the footfalls of our conscious return journey to our original non-dual awareness . May all our experiences in our lives now become our exercise books to undertake that return journey.

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