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Tantra keywords: Relational

“This vision, relational being, seeks to recognize a world that is not within persons but within their relationships, and that ultimately erases the traditional boundaries of seperation. There is nothing that requires us to understand our world in terms of independent units; we are free to mint new and more promising understandings. … the traditional view of the bounded individual need not be eliminated. But once we see it as a construction of our own making – one option among many – we may also understand that the boundary around the self is also a prison.” Kenneth Gergen, Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community (p5)

For me, Tantra is above all, a relational practice – something I’ve continually circled around in most of the other tantra-related posts on enfolding. At its simplest, I think of this as an invitation to consider how we practice/think our relations – to ourselves(s), to others (persons both bodied/unbodied); to the world we move through. To do this requires, I think, both attention and caring. An incident which springs to mind, which was formative for me in this respect was a conversation around the breakfast table at a retreat in 2002 (see Thoughts on Mudras) during which the twinned mudras of dispelling fears and granting boons were demonstrated as gifts we can offer each other – and by extension, to ourselves.

“Ignorance is failure to experience directly the intimate connection between the infinite and the finite.” Mark Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration (p40)

Tantra’s relationality is baroque in the extreme – every affect or capacity can become – temporarily – a person; a god-goddess – a transactional nexus for worship, reflection, interaction, the joy of self-recognition. Think of yantras, mandalas, mantras as modal states – yantras as shimmering networks of unfixed relational points – each point a Sakti with the potentiality for exploding outwards into her own yantra, on and on with fractal-like recursiveness. Consciousness as a flower endlessly unfolding with an infinite number of petals. To dwell within this perspective is to open up to the possibility of engagement.

“Tantra is a worldview and a set of techniques for relationality all the way down. On every level, from daily practice to metaphysics to cosmogony, the desire for relation and the pleasure of relation is a prime motivating or moving force. … Generalizing from several different kinds of accounts, a spontaneous desire for manifold relationships manifests a multiplicious world.” Anne Weinstone, Avatar Bodies (p119)

Tantra’s relationality bears, it seems sometimes, a relation to the occult ordering-machine – there is an excess of ordering-schemas. Maddeningly, for students used to having anything and everything given its fixed place, these schemas do not neatly correspond with each other, there are contradictions between texts, contradictions within texts. There are multiple creations – multiplite origins – in one text Ganesa is created by Parvati; elsewhere Ganesa is born from Lalita’s laughter. Points of relation shift and slide according to where one is at any particular moment. The margin slides to the centre and the centre slithers to the periphery.

Tantra’s relationality emerges from its very historical formation – not only do many of the practices that are identified as “tantric” appear in other fields & domains, but tantra borrows from everything around it – from what went before; from high culture to the vernacular; courtly epics and popular songs. The formal categories applied by scholars and occultists, in trying to distinguish this school from that face, left or right, up or down, disappear in its sheer rhizomatic exuberance. Formal temple tantra coexists with the descendants of wild munis. At best we can speak of multiple tantras, just as there are multiple ideas of what constitutes tantra in the first place – better to think of it perhaps as one style amidst a profusion of styles. So too, faculties we tend to conceive of as singular – perception, will, knowing, action, agency – emerge out of the inter-relational dance of capacities: the three shaktis – Jnana, Ichha, Kriya forming the triangle of powers. Apparent singularities & recognitions emerge from relationality. Within all this there remains, a deep commitment to multiplicious diversity – a commitment to keeping the world complex.

All Tantric practices bear relationality to various degrees. For me, a useful starting point is the Yamas and Niyamas – the cultivation of particular attitudes in which we can strive to express the ethic of relationality throughout each moment of our day-to-day lives.


  1. Steve Davies
    Posted June 13th 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that Phil-really helpful. There’s been an interesting dicussion going on at Dave Lee’s new chaotopia blog about the nature of the left hand path. People wondering about the concept of the LHP as it has evolved from a tantric to a western neo-satanic context.
    Whatever one makes of the Temple of Set’s idea of an isolate self i.e. whether this a literal “isolate” or a euphemisim for awakened consciousness, what you’ve highlightened is the reality that from a tantric perspective, awakening is fundamentally an ecological awakening in its awareness of other and context. Truly Wyrd!

    • Phil Hine
      Posted June 13th 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      I’ll have more to say regarding relational personhood in South Asia in my next post in the Kula Bodies series. Also, I think I’ll be taking a cursory look at the historical development of the concept of the LHP in the near future too.

  2. Wupidoo
    Posted June 13th 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    “We call any organised set of practices for dealing with oneself, other people, and things that produces a relatively self-contained web of meanings a disclosive space. To see what is essential to a disclosive space we can turn to Heideggers’ account of ‘worldhood’ in Being and Time. … Cultures are obvious candidates for worlds, and normaly when we use the term ‘world’ we are referring to cultural worlds, but we can also think of professions as worlds. … The webs of practices and meanings, from cultures, to tribal nations to individual families, are disclosives spaces.” Spinosa C., Flores F. & Dreyfus, H. L. (1997) Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action and the Cultivation of Solidarity (p17)

    “Social systems theory borrows not only the concept of autopoiesis from biological systems theory, but also the concept of operational closure. The theory views social systems as operationally closed because, like biological systems, they are self-producing ‘organisms’ of communication that consist of the connecting of system-internal with system internal communication.” Moeller H. G. (2006) Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems (p15)

    “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. … The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals.” Debord, G. (1967) the Society of the Spectacle

    Demonology, anyone?

  3. Wupidoo
    Posted June 13th 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    “The political thinker C. B. Macpherson characterized the type of individualism that arises in Western capitalist societies as ‘possessive individualism’, which means each individual is thought to be the possessor of their own skills and capacities, owing nothing to society for the development of these.” Burkitt I. (2006) Social Selves: Theories of Self and Society [2nd ed] (p2)

    Important to consider in cultivating “attitudes” perhaps?

    • Phil Hine
      Posted June 14th 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I’m familiar with Macpherson’s argument and its roots in his interpretations of Hobbes, Locke & Bentham etc. Whilst the concept of “possessive individualism” is useful to a degree, it has its limits too – and in any case, I feel one should be wary of granting it universal status rather than being temporally bounded (although this is often done – particularly in international relations theory). Still, it might be useful to look at how much of modern occult discourse draws on this tropos (I’m thinking of Crowley, for example) – and how, within that discourse, the theme of individualism is presented as a radical project, rather than a reification of capitalist ideology.

      • Wupidoo
        Posted June 19th 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        I hadn’t recalled the historical origins of that term to be honest. I was introduced to me as a description of the traditional assumption that individuals ‘possess’ psychological qualities. I tend to think of superheros as a strong cultural expression of that.

        Yes, indeed, modern occult discourse is littered with it.