The Consistent Life Ethic and Traditional Tantra

Posted on November 30, 2021 By

(Not the Tantra That You May Have Heard Of)

by Acyutananda

Acyutananda

First let me say that I could be wrong in my beliefs. Like any member of any faith tradition who lives in a cosmopolitan environment, I meet people every day whose beliefs seem to flatly contradict my own, and who are not dumb. So how could I feel even somewhat confident that what I believe is true? Well, it seems to me that I, and other adherents of my path, have simply been lucky enough to have been exposed to valuable teachings and had valuable experiences that others may not have had. Moreover, I can see how the panoply of religious and spiritual beliefs that contradict each other could so easily have evolved from the attempts of the founders of different paths (including mine), with their own personalities, coming from very different cultures, to share their realizations about transcendent experiences that they had had basically in common. But I could be wrong.

The cosmology of my path stems from the inner vision of one man in modern times, but much of that inner vision matches ideas going back to the Upanishads, and even before that to the early Tantra that influenced the Upanishads. In terms of the “Six Orthodox Schools of Hindu Philosophy,” that cosmology has more resemblances to Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta than to the other three. The essence of the cosmology actually matches very well a statement once made by Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics: ‘I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.'”

My beliefs, though they are beliefs and not proven facts, do not terribly disconcert scientific minds, because honest scientific minds, at least, admit to being mystified by consciousness. Adherents of my path believe that all is one because there is only one Consciousness. We think that Consciousness gets solidified for different periods of time into all the different phenomena of the universe, some of it into this thing, some into that thing. All phenomena, all things, of the universe eventually dissolve again into pure Consciousness, and we as human beings and as the most conscious beings are the things best poised to merge in that way. Moreover, our emergence from that Consciousness “designs” us to yearn for that merger, which we effect by remembering Consciousness at every moment of our lives. That infinite Consciousness is also infinite Bliss, beyond any suffering.

All this fairly describes the philosophy of Tantra, and yet Tantra is not essentially about philosophy – it is about techniques, techniques which promise practitioners the possibility of eventually seeing the truth for themselves, with no need for philosophy. Tantra is distinguished from other paths by certain aggressive techniques for confronting our own fears, our own lust, our own disgusts, and other psychological events that would drift our minds away from Consciousness when we meditate. Since it is about techniques, Tantra has been found congenial by many Hindus, many Buddhists, and many Jains, who did not entirely agree philosophically, as well as by people such as on my path, who identify only as Tantrics and do not call our path a religion, but simply a spiritual quest.

There developed, as an offshoot of traditional Tantra, a kind of Tantra focused on sexual stimulation and on redirecting that stimulation for higher purposes. And it is that kind, and not the traditional Tantra, that for some reason caught the imagination of people in the West and that almost everyone in the West identifies as Tantra, if they know the word at all.

But here I am writing about traditional Tantra, which as I said has been found congenial by many people of different beliefs. It can safely be said, nevertheless, that all Tantrics yearn for something like a merger with an infinite Consciousness. And here is where morality comes in. What prevents us from merging with infinite Consciousness is our sense of separation from it, our sense of individual identity. That sense increases when we think and act selfishly, and decreases when we think and act selflessly. Ultimately, we have to put all living beings above ourselves. As we find in Christianity, “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”

So unless someone simply doesn’t aspire to enlightenment and the end of all suffering, there is an objective morality: right actions are those which empirically help people toward enlightenment, and wrong actions are those which empirically hinder people from enlightenment.

Not only is there an objective morality, but also, we are all born with a compass as to that morality – a sense of right and wrong, a conscience, a sense of when we are acting selfishly. But we may have to peel away layers of ego protection in the forms of various psychological foibles – tribalism, projection, neurotic emotional needs, denial – in order for our consciences to emerge. Only those who are free from such foibles can have a really high level of moral sensitivity to apply to any situation that may arise. And it will be impossible to abandon those mental mechanisms, which keep our cherished egos intact, until we start to taste the transcendent experiences that are the rewards for that abandonment – so that our own physical security, worldly pleasures, and self-congratulation come to seem cheap by comparison.

If I, and believers in various other metaphysical ideas, are wrong in our beliefs, then transcendent experiences can be explained entirely by certain patterns of synaptic firing in the physical matter of our brains. Nonetheless, such experiences will require an escape from ego, an escape most reliably brought on by “a lifetime’s death in love, ardor and selflessness and self-surrender.”

One thing we learn on a spiritual path, as I mentioned, is that ultimately we have to put all living beings above ourselves. But in terms of specific circumstances, does that mean, for instance, that I should let a malaria-carrying mosquito bite me so that it can live? No, because if I live and maintain my health, I am in a position to seek the overall good of living beings on a bigger scale than just that of one mosquito. And the way nature is designed – extremely competitively – the overall good cannot involve the best outcome for every individual living being. The overall good may require me to kill that mosquito rather than feed it.

Thus violence of a kind is an inescapable part of life. The food of every living being is another living (plant or animal) being. In Sanskrit, Jiva jivasya bhojanam. Violence is an inevitable part of life, but what we as human beings who yearn to lose our sense of separation and become one with pure Consciousness can avoid and must always avoid is selfish violence, aggressive violence – violence with an ultimately selfish purpose.

So one of the key inner treasures we acquire along a spiritual path is the simple but passionate feeling that all humans should have a chance to live their lives free from violence as much as possible. I find Tantra superb in drawing us inexorably toward that feeling, but it is a feeling that was within all of us all along, and that adherents of other paths also come to in their own ways.

Among the very specific moral teachings to be found in modern Tantra are the wrongness of legal abortion and of the death penalty. Among those teachings also, we find condemnation of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We find an imperative to put an end to poverty. We find advocacy for environmental protection. We find, in short, a principle and a collection of policy outlooks which other people, coming from their own background, have called the Consistent Life Ethic.

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For more of our posts from Acyutananda, see: 

The Cure for Headache (poem)

A Daunting Disadvantage for the Pro-Life Side

For more of our posts on different religious paths, see: 

Christianity

The Consistent Life Consensus in Ancient Christianity

On Praying for the Military

The Early Christian Tradition

Fratelli Tutti – Consistent-Life Excerpts

The Consistent Life Ethic: My Christian Perspective

My Christian CLE Perspective: Absolute Nonviolence Across the Issues

Hinduism

Abortion and War are the Karma for Killing Animals

Interfaith

Why the Interfaith Approach is Important

Islam

Breaking Stereotypes in Fearful Times

Paganism

Ancient Roots of the Consistent Life Ethic: Greece

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Religion


  1. one argues the visible and palpable through perception of the senses,
    at ones own risk, for expressing our own views and the scope for opposing views are dramatic. However the invisible consciousness can’t be accessed with the same tools, the senses are poor for this task, the intellect falls short, an innermost introspection and realization is called for to approach this consciousness.
    Perhaps believes in practice is that deep meditation to the meaning of life and mind transformology. The sacred of everything that exists, the sacred that is life, as manifestations of that very consciousness, dawns to us in a perfect moment, in a perfect way.

    • Acyutananda says:

      “Tools” is a good word. It may be that scientific instruments made of physical matter have never detected anything except physical matter, but the intuitional tools provided by Tantra are not necessarily composed of physical matter (not necessarily, scientists would agree, because they don’t claim to have proved that the mind and tools of the mind are composed of physical matter). And we believe that the mind and it mental tools are in fact not composed of physical matter, and that they are capable of detecting realities beyond physical matter.

  2. Tom says:

    I’m not very familiar with Tantra and will probably want/need to read this again. But for quite some time now, I’ve been thinking of those close to me whom I have lost… some human, some not… some recent, some decades ago. I welcome the thought that consciousness is fundamental and eternal.

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