Aryan Tantrism or Shakti-Tantras' Olympian Transformation

& the Necessity of a Shiva Nature to fully go the Left-Hand Path

(from “The Path of Cinnabar”)


A completely revised second edition of Man as Potency was published by Bocca in 1949 under the title of The Yoga of Power (Lo Yoga della potenza). The subtitle of the book was also simplified to 'Essays on the Tantras'.

Only in this second edition of the book did I explore the place of the Tantras within Hinduism. The basic themes of these texts are revealing of a substrate of aboriginal traditions and cults which predate the Aryan conquest. The Tantras provide the glimpse of a predominantly 'gynecocratic' civilization, which is to say: a civilization where the essence and sovereign power of the universe is identified with a feminine principle or goddess. On a cultural and mythological level, the goddess possesses both terrible, destructive traits and luminous, beneficent and maternal ones. Clear analogies exist between this figure and the great goddesses which are described in similar myths from the archaic Mediterranean world. Yet, in the symbiosis that followed the Aryan conquest of India, these original myths were transposed on a metaphysical level. With the goddess possessing the essential nature of Shakti - a term that might be translated as 'power' - the doctrine emerged according to which power is the ultimate principle of the universe. This notion provided the foundation for those treatments of Tantrism which captured my attention: those found in the Shakti-Tantras.

[...] the Tantras appear far removed from those Vedantist doctrines that interpret the world as an illusion. The Tantras conceive of Shakti as a kind of 'active Brahman' rather than as the pure infinity of conscience. Māyā is here replaced with Māyā-Shakti, i.e., that 'power' which manifests and affirms itself in the form of cosmogonic magic. Besides, according to what might be termed Tantric historiography, the Tantric system conveys those truths and those spiritual paths most adequate in the so-called kali-yuga (or 'dark age'). Because of the profound changes which characterize the kali-yuga, general existential conditions in this age differ from the original conditions on the basis of which the doctrines of the Védas had first been formulated. It is elementary forces which now prevail: man finds himself connected to such forces and unable to retreat; hence, man must face these forces, control them and transform them, if he wishes to find liberation and freedom. The path to this goal can no longer be the purely intellectual path, nor the ascetic-contemplative path, nor the ritual one. Pure knowledge in our day must lead to action: for this reason, Tantrism describes itself as sadhana-shastra: a system based on techniques, and on a concrete effort towards self-realization. According to the Tantric perspective, knowledge must serve as a means towards self-realization and radical self-transformation. One Tantric text explains that: 'Each (doctrinal) system is purely the means to an end: it is useless, if one does not yet know the Goddess (that is to say: if one has yet to unite with Shakti, or power); and it is useless, if one already knows Her.' In another text it is said that: 'It is like a woman to strive to establish superiority by means of discursive arguments; it is like a man to conquer the world with one's own power.' A common analogy is that between Tantrism and medicine: the truth of each doctrine is proven by its fruits, and not by reasoning alone. Clearly, the 'East' in question here is of a very different sort from the stereotypical East that many Westerners have in mind. I was the first writer in Italy to appreciate and make this particular East known: what Sir John Woodroffe did in the English language, I did in Italian.

Overall, the Tantras reflect the development of one central component of Eastern metaphysics: an experimentalism that is not confined to empirical experience and sense perception. [...]

Tantric literature is both vast and diverse. As I already mentioned, my main interest lay in the Shakti-Tantras, the Tantras of Power (or Shaktt). The so-called 'Left-Hand Path' - that of Kaulas, Siddhas and Viras - combines the aforementioned Tantric worldview with a doctrine of the Übermensch which would put Nietzsche to shame. The East as a whole has generally avoided the fetish of morality: at a higher level, every moral, for Eastern thought, simply represents the means to an end. A classic illustration of this point is the Buddhist portrayal of law as a raft that is built to cross a stream and later discarded. The Vira - which is to say: the 'heroic' man of Tantrism - seeks to sever all bonds, to overcome all duality between good and evil, honor and shame, virtue and guilt. Tantrism is the supreme path of the absolute absence of law - of shvecchacarī, a word meaning 'he whose law is his own will'. [...]

Both editions of my book on Tantrism contained two main sections. The first section was entitled 'The Doctrine of Power'. This represented the metaphysical section of the book, where I described the various phases, levels and changes which lead from the highest point - the unconditioned - first to the world of the elements and of nature (here not exclusively considered in its physical aspects), and ultimately to the human condition itself. One of the names given to this process is pravrtti-marga, which is to say: the binding path, the path leading to identification with forms and determinations. This path is then followed by nivrtti-marga: the path of detachment, revulsion, and transcendence, which has man as its starting point. This led me from metaphysics to the issue of practice and yoga.


The kind of yoga I specifically discussed was hatha yoga (i.e., 'violent yoga') or kundalini-yoga, which is regarded as being closely connected to Tantrism. Unlike dhyana-yoga or jñana-yoga, kundalinī-yoga is not of a purely contemplative and intellectual character. Although it presupposes an adequate psychical and mental training, kundalinī-yoga takes the body as its starting point and tool - the body not in the form known by Western anatomy and physiology, but in the form which also includes the kind of deep, trans-biological energies which are not usually perceived by ordinary consciousness (particularly in the case of modern man). These forces correspond to those elements and powers of the universe which the thousand-year-old hyperphysical physiology of the East has studied just as systematically as the West has studied human organs. As for the term 'kundalinī-yoga’, it is indicative of a method that employs kundalinī as a means towards de-conditioning and liberation - kundalinī being the 'power', or Shakti, which is present, albeit latently, at the very root of the psycho-physical organism.

One of the most significant features of Tantrism is its notion of the unity of bhoga and yoga, which is to say: of enjoyment (i.e., enjoyment of the various experiences and possibilities open to man), and liberation or ascesis. Tantric texts explain that other schools conceive of bhoga and yoga as two mutually exclusive paths (so that he who enjoys material things is not regarded as a liberated soul or ascetic, while he who is a liberated soul or ascetic is thought not to enjoy material things); but the texts add that in Tantrism, this is not the case, for 'according to the path of the Kaulas, enjoyment becomes perfect yoga, and the world itself becomes the place for liberation': for 'without power, liberation is a farce'. Tantrism advocates a paradoxical embracing of the world of life and experience - including its most intense and dangerous sides - but in a detached way. Ultimately, Tantrism is based on the 'transformation of poison into remedy'; i.e., on the use of all powers and experiences ordinarily leading to greater attachment, ruin and perdition, as a means to liberation and enlightenment. It is in this context that Tantrism expresses the ideal of liberation, not as a form of 'escapism', but as concrete and immanent freedom: the very ideal which the West has pursued and promoted in all possible ways, yet only in an intellectual, degraded, materialist and trite way.

In the second edition of the book I added much new material. For instance, I explored Vajrayana (Buddhist Tantrism) - a subject which I had overlooked out of ignorance when writing the first edition of the book. In the second edition, I also corrected or elucidated a number of points I had raised: I removed various 'critical' appendages, and further developed certain sections. This was the case with the chapter dealing with Tantric sexual practices, a subject that had been a matter of scandal among Western 'spiritualists', including Madame Blavatsky, who had described Tantrism as 'black magic of the worst kind' (this is, of course, revealing of how little Theosophists - but also Anthroposophists - actually knew about Eastern doctrines). This chapter of the book also contains some of the fundamental ideas that I developed in one of my latest books: The Metaphysics of Sex (Metafisica del sesso).

One of the characteristics which distinguishes the first edition of my book on Tantrism from the second is a shift of emphasis away from the notion of 'power'. After all, the use of the term Shakti to describe the highest principle is somewhat misleading. No doubt, Tantric texts frequently refer to Mahã Shakti: the Great or Supreme Power which is the ground of all things. Yet, this highest principle is best described as that which - like Plotinus' One - embraces all possibilities. In accordance with all esoteric doctrine, Hindu metaphysics and mythology generally describe Shakti (power) as the eternal feminine principle which has its counterpart in the eternal masculine principle - symbolized, in Tantrism, by the figure of Shiva. Just as Shakti is dynamic, productive and changing, so Shiva is immobile, luminous, and detached. Just as, in Hindu cosmology, the union of Shiva and Shakti engenders the universe, so the mystery of the inner transformation of the human being and the highest principle of freedom are described as the union, within man, of the two principles - rather than as a self-abandonment to the pure, unrestrained power of Shakti.

The practical consequence of this conceptualization of Shakti in Tantrism is the Tantric promotion of an 'Olympian transformation' of the individual, who is to banish all forms of 'titanic', pandemic and chaotically ecstatic deviation. In such a way, Tantrism prevented the adoption of potentially catastrophic approaches: for only in the case of those individuals possessing a Shiva nature does the Left-Hand Path, or Path of the Kaulas, not lead to perdition and regression. Tantric doctrine thus appeared to embody values I had already encountered in the works of Lao Tzu and, even earlier, in my own approach to Dadaism.






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