An intense emotional experience such as fear, joy, or sadness can shatter the ego into pieces, but at the same time bring us closer to enlightenment. In this blog, we’ll explore the Tantric perspective on the 9 basic human emotions, the rasas, and how by experiencing them in a particular way we can transform them into spiritual tools.
What is spiritual enlightenment?
Is it a product of the imagination of people who cannot cope with the difficulties of reality? Or is it rather the most essential reality? Even those who believe that enlightenment does exist, tend to think of it as something that can only be achieved by giving up ordinary life, secluding themselves in a cave. The Tantric Yogic tradition argues that sacrifice is not the only path to enlightenment. In fact, there are many ways to effectively utilize one’s inner powers.
Unlike spiritual schools that preceded it, Tantra does not negate feelings and passions. The psychological principle on which Tantra is based is that every intense emotional experience (fear, joy, sadness) gives us the possibility of transcending the ego. The power of emotion overwhelms the ego, which can no longer contain it. Like a dam collapsing due to a strong stream of pure water, the ego shatters with the intensity of the emotion and suddenly our personal experience takes on a much wider dimension. This is great news for those of us who have experienced pain and suffering in our lives.
The Tantra Yoga tradition describes nine emotions, or nine initial feelings or moods: joy, sadness, fear, heroism, rejection, pleasure, wonder, anger, and peace. Each serves as a key to the same door. On one side of the door is the ego, overloaded with annoying thoughts, troubles, and restlessness, on the other side is the free spirit.
Anyone who experiences intense fear, great passion, or immense love knows that in this one moment the whole world changes. Under these extreme conditions, we no longer seem to know ourselves, our reactions, or our perceptions. These are, in fact, the symptoms of leaving the ego.
Every intense emotion can release us in a profound way.
Tantra instructs us not to get lost and confused in these moments of intense emotions, but to keep a clear awareness in the midst of the experience. At this point, we must harness the emotion in a particular way and use its power to leap beyond the usual limits of our perception, into the world of spiritual abundance and growth.
Tantrics call the spiritual source of these nine emotions rasa, meaning “taste”. Rasa refers to the initial, archetypal essence of each emotion before it becomes personalized and becomes “my” or “your” emotion. At this stage, the emotion is still in its universal form and is the same for anyone who experiences it.
Feelings of Absolute Joy
Let’s take as an example the state of astonishment. Called vismaya in Sanskrit, astonishment appears during an encounter with a phenomenon that cannot be explained through the usual means. There is no logic, no analytical thoughts, and reflection, just a feeling of pure emotion and energy.
The urge to understand an experience motivates the mind to seek new ways of thinking. When this curiosity is fueled with great intensity and the mystery is very deep, then the sense of astonishment transforms into wonder called adhuta in Sanskrit. This is an experience of pure effervescence, which throws consciousness beyond the known ego structure, into a direct understanding of reality that is completely independent of thought.
This could be the unexplainable intense feelings you have for someone that unexpectable comes into your life, or the rush of emotions a parent feels for their child. It cannot be explained within the restraints of language, but the joy is boundless.
Zen scholars have also discovered this psychological principle. In order to increase the sense of wonder, Zen masters use paradoxical questions or riddles without solution, called koan. These questions emphasize the inability of ordinary thinking to understand and describe reality. An example of a koan is: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Searching for easy answers to such questions leads us to the realization that ordinary thinking cannot grasp reality correctly. However, if one searches deeper, there will be a moment when the mind goes silent and consciousness meets reality without any mediators. This is where and when the great mystery begins.
Many important scientific discoveries happen in this way. The scientist who thinks day and night about a mysterious problem that no one has yet solved pushes consciousness beyond the familiar mind until it releases itself in a moment of ingenious creativity. Then, all of a sudden, a new perspective rises, and the phenomenon is understood from a completely different angle. For this specific reason, Albert Einstein declared:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.
In conclusion, it can be said that the way of wonder is a way in which attention captures thought and knowledge, leading to a direct experience of reality through inner silence and mystery. We don’t need to try to explain it, we just need to embrace the wonder of it.
So what is Spiritual Enlightenment within the Tantra Yoga Tradition?
Tantra is a celebration of life, a celebration of the “here and now”, no matter what is happening, or how. This is a worship of life and nature, where no aspect is declined: inner or outer aspects, joy, sorrow, laughter, crying, anger, trust, doubt, shadow, and light.
At its essence, Tantra is not a technique, but love; a prayer; the relaxation of the heart to the point of generating a space where the man and the woman merge with each other.
In Tantra, we find the child’s innocence; we learn again how to play with the one we love, having no schedule in sexuality, for programs inhibit the play and tear us from living the present moment. Total acknowledgment of what is happening determines the opening of the soul. The encounter is true and genuine since each of the two can show themselves as they are. There is nothing to prove, nothing to defend, nothing to protect. Two beings simply living an authentic love relationship. Time, age, or outer conditions do not matter anymore; only the present moment matters. The more we take the risk of being ourselves at the present moment, the more our relationship is rooted, the more it is fulfilling and flourishing. Here we not only find deep infinite pleasure, but we are also awakening the Shakti energy of the body to attain spiritual enlightenment.