Tantric Language of Oneness

Tantric Language of Oneness

Roberto Jahn

Tantric Language of Oneness 

“Oh Lord of all the Gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out the work I have in my mind,” says the Agni-Purana. It takes imagination to fully experience the divine, argues Vera van  Jaarsveld of Radboud University in her master’s thesis on Art and Religion (2013).  Imagination is needed to think and visualize the divine through the use of symbols, colors,  and form. The practice of visualization that gives image life and meaning, is identical in  worship and art,  says Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947). It is a rite of passage, an  alchemic process, a ritual that transforms the artist’s imagination into reality.  

Presence of the Sacred 

In India imagery and symbols are the tools of spiritual life. Central to classical Indian  aesthetics is the concept of rasa. It describes a feeling of joy and fulfillment that occurs  when the viewer enjoys a work of art. One of the founders of Indian aesthetics  Abhinavagupta (950-1016), presumed that sensitive viewers—those who can taste the  essence (rasa) of an artwork—experience an overwhelming aesthetic pleasure that equals  the bliss and awareness of sat-cit-ananda.  What is “written” in India’s images certainly  demands the same kind of careful attention to content and interpretation as might be  devoted to what is written in India’s scriptural tradition. (Eck 1998) In the Indian cultus of  tantra, imagination and visualization take a leading role. 

Kashmiri Shaivism  

According to Advaita Vedanta, only the changeless Brahman is real, the visible and tangible  world is not. It would be just a disturbing sensory illusion (maya). This would give rise to a  cold and static attitude towards the world, says Ralph Bakker in his book Shiva. In the same  sense, Plato emphasizes suspicions about the imagination and our perception. Plato’s low  appreciation of art is explained by his curse of the image due to the treacherous illusions  they would evoke.  Kashmiri Shaivism is a Tantric tradition par excellence that teaches that  the world is an appearance of Shiva (universal consciousness) and therefore fulfillment  must be achieved in the experienced world itself (shakti/maya).  The goal of non-dual  Kashmir Shaivism is to merge in Shiva or Universal Consciousness or realize one’s already  existing identity with Shiva. Abhinavagupta: “Shiva, the independent and pure Self, always  vibrating in the mind, is the para shakti (creative power) that arises in the form of joy in  different sensory experiences. The experience of the outer world is thus an appearance of the  Self.” 

“I saw myself in all things 

I saw God shining in everything. 

You have heard, stop! see Shiva 

The house is his, who am I Lalla.” 


Lalleshvari or Lalla (1335-1376), Kashmir

Tantra’s Toolbox for Transformation 

What is Tantra exactly? Bengali art historian Ajit Mookerjee (1915-1990) puts it eloquently:  ‘Tantra means knowledge of a systematic and scientific experimental method which offers  the possibility of expanding man’s consciousness and faculties, a process through which an  individual’s inherent spiritual powers can be realized.  Although Tantrism is a tradition  within the Hindu fold, it is important to understand that Tantra is vast and not the sole  property of any religious flavor. Tantric ideas and practices traveled from India across Asia.  Shaivism from the valley of Kashmir represents the central philosophy of Tantra though. It  evolved to its present form by receiving a myriad flow of ideas and practices from  neighboring traditions like Tibetan Buddhism, and Central Asian Sufism.  The tantra method has traditionally used the visual arts as an aid to spiritual  transformation.  Artworks are gateways to the metaphysical realm that is expressed  through human figures, iconographic images, and sacred geometry (yantra’s). 

Tantric semantics shaped modern art. It inspired western artists from Ettore Sottsass  (1917-2007) and Bill Viola (1951) to female artists of today like Ruth Root (1967), Bharti  Kher (1969), and Loie Hollowell (1983).   


Neo Tantra 

In the 1960s and 1970s, a group of Indian painters adopted Tantric imagery to counter the  Western wave of modernity. Borrowing similar motifs from traditional Buddhist Thangka  art, the Sufi visual lexicon, as well as theosophical painters like Hilma Af Klimt (182-1944)  

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn (1881-1962) and alchemical sources, they grouped into an art  movement called Neo Tantrism.  At the center of it was Ghulam Rasool Santosh (1929- 1997) an initiate of Kashmir Shaivism who practiced sadhana for many years. 

(To be continued) 

Further reading:  

Eck, D. L. (1998). Darsan. Seeing the divine image in India (3rd ed.).  New York: Columbia University Press. Coomaraswamy, A.K. (2006) The Hindu View Of Art And The Theory Of Beauty, Kessinger Publishing, LLC Khanna, M. Yantra (1979) Thames and Hudson, Ltd. London 

Mukerjee, A. (1984) Tantra Art its Philosophy & Physics. Random House, Inc., NY 

Timalsina S. (2015) Language of images: visualization and meaning in tantras.  Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., NY  Vedanta and Tantra Kashmir Shaivism | A Dialog Between Philosophies

Roberto Jahn lives in Spain. Earlier he lived in USA,  Surinaam and Holland.  He is a student of Advaita Vedanta.


Roberto is Rooms Katholiek, Vedantin en een voorstander van interreligieuze dialoog. Hij woont in Spanje. Daarvoor woonde hij in Suriname, de Verenigde Staten en in Nederland.