According to most spiritual traditions, the desire for worldly pleasures is incompatible with the spiritual quest. You can have the treasures of this world, they say, or the treasures of the spiritual realm, but not both. This either/or approach sets off an endless internal struggle in those who are drawn to spiritual beliefs and practices but who have at the same time a natural urge to fulfill their worldly desires. This includes most of us. And when there is no way to reconcile these two impulses, we fall prey to guilt and self-condemnation, or we repress either our spiritual desires or our worldly desires, or we try to have both, and become hypocrites.
The tantric approach to life avoids this painful and confusing dilemma by taking the whole person into account—our human as well as our spiritual nature. The literal meaning of tantra is “to weave, to expand, to spread,” and according to tantric adepts, we can achieve true and everlasting fulfillment only when all the threads of the fabric of life are woven according to the pattern designated by nature. When we are born, life naturally forms itself around that pattern, but as we grow, ignorance, desire, attachment, fear, and false images of ourselves and others tangle and tear the threads.
Tantra sadhana (practice) reweaves the fabric of life and restores it to its original pattern. No other path of yoga is as systematic or as comprehensive. The profound practices of hatha yoga, pranayama, mudras, rituals, kundalini yoga, nada yoga, mantra, yantra, mandala, visualization of deities, alchemy, ayurveda, astrology, and hundreds of esoteric techniques for engendering worldly and spiritual prosperity blend perfectly within the tantric disciplines.
Tantric masters discovered long ago that success in both the outer world and the spiritual realm is possible only if we awaken our latent power, because any meaningful accomplishment, and especially the attainment of the ultimate spiritual goal, requires great strength and stamina. The key to success is shakti—the power of soul, the power of the divine force within. Everyone possesses an infinite (and indomitable) shakti, but for the most part it remains dormant. And those whose shakti is largely unawakened have neither the capacity to be successful in the world nor the capacity to enjoy worldly pleasures. Without access to our shakti, true spiritual illumination is not possible. Awakening and using shakti is the goal of tantra, and this is why tantra sadhana is also known as shakti sadhana.
Tantra is widely misunderstood, however. Many enthusiasts in both the West and the East mistakenly believe it to be the yoga of sex, black magic, witchcraft, seduction, and influencing the minds of others, a confusion that has arisen partly because tantra is a science as well as a spiritual path. As a spiritual path it emphasizes purification of the mind and heart and the cultivation of a spiritually illuminating philosophy of life. As a science, however, it experiments with techniques whose effectiveness depends on the precise application of mantra and yantra, ritual use of specific materials, performance of tantric mudras, and accompanying mental exercises. Such practices can be thought of as tantric formulas—they will yield a result if properly applied, regardless of the character, spiritual understanding, or intention of the practitioner.
When this scientific aspect of tantra falls into the hands of charlatans, it is inevitably misused, giving tantra a bad name in the East and sensationalizing it in the West. It is not hard to find people who have learned to use a few tantric formulas to startling effect. It is far more difficult to find genuine tantric masters and authentic scriptures to undercut such distorted notions. Difficult, but fortunately not impossible: genuine masters and scriptures do exist, and by gaining access to them it becomes possible to cultivate an understanding of this complicated path in all its richness.
Source: Tantra Unveiled by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait