Tantra and the COVID 19 Pandemic
What does tantra have to do with the current viral pandemic? What for that matter is tantra? These talks will attempt to reflect on what tantra might contribute to our thinking about the COVID 19 pandemic, to our response to it.
Tantra begins with the premise that the universe is sentient. Everything that exists in the universe is alive and in a complex, mutually constitutive relationship with everything else. To put it more simply, everything exists relationally; nothing in isolation. We may not understand the interrelations between all that exists but that does not call into question the fact of relationally. It is also a premise of tantra that all matter has integrity and that embodiment is sacred. Flowing from this tantra honors the senses as a pathway to knowledge.
The current pandemic is considered a state of exception. But a state of exception is frequently a moment that confirms what has always already been true, though it may not have been properly acknowledged and may even have been denied. Regardless of how differentially we are being affected by COVID 19, and there are very material differences depending on class, race, caste, age, geographical location etcetera, the virus compels us to recognize our interrelatedness: not just with other humans but with the rest of nature. We are deeply interconnected with all that exists a fact we have refused to fully acknowledge. And it turns out that our lives depend on such recognition.
In the post-industrial period humans have arrogated to ourselves the right to willfully destroy nature and remake matter as we see fit. Matter has been considered as inert and without intrinsic value until made productive by human labor for circulation in the economy. We have celebrated human ingenuity to remake the world as a playground for humanity, not all of humanity for sure, but for this species alone. In this process we have exploited or ignored the needs and habitats of the millions of life forms with which we share the planet animal, vegetable, mineral, microbial. Our actions have had a profound impact on them all. And their destinies, as some of us are beginning to realize in horror, are intimately tied to our own.
From a tantric perspective this is a predictable consequence of the suppositions that have guided post-industrial thinking. And the cumulative, interlinked, and compounding crises of global warming, environmental degradation, desertification, pollution, rise in sea levels etc. affirms tantric insight. The planet is a mutually recreating, mutually sustaining non-hierarchical form of polyexistence.
Diversity is its nature; relationality its grammar. Every life is deeply implicated in, imbricated with, every other life. What is true of the planet is equally true of human existence though the terrible introduction of forms of hierarchical stratification – class, race, caste among others – has served to negate the truth of human equality and interdependence.
It is not an exaggeration to note that this current crisis has brought us to the edge of a certain form of existence, that which we have become accustomed to imagining as the norm. The crisis invites us to step off the ledge of normative thinking and ask, where do I live? And how have I been living in complete denial of the facts of my densely interrelated existence? How have so many interdependencies been opaque to me? And how might I live if I am to accept interdependence as a fact of life?
This is where the tantric path can be an invaluable resource. Tantra is a name for the triadic nature of Creation. Self-other- connectivity. Self-other-divinity. There is no self that is not connected to that which may be named not-self or other. And there is no self and no other that is not connected to something that is called spirit or divinity. Those uncomfortable with the idea of divinity can instead draw on the principles of nature in exploring tantra as framework and path. Biologists, geologists, botanists, ecologists all recognize that complex organisms and systems exist in relation to each other, often because of each another. And they shape each other in myriad, complex ways. Cooperation, collaboration, coexistence, mutuality: life unfolds in accordance with these principles. We have acted as if this were not true. The novel corona virus emerges in context of human encroachment on animal habitat and biodiversity. The symbiosis of interdependence in turn means that the action of the virus determines whether we exist.
The pandemic is a consequence of our own myth making. It is for this reason that “life itself’ seems to have come to a standstill. As though “life” were dependent on our “activities,” on our mobility; on our fulfilling our aspirations; on our capacity to make plans and carry them out without hindrance. Granted, this is a description that holds true for the privileged among humans. But it is surely the privileged most taken aback by the current turn of events. Those more brutally impacted by unemployment, hunger and lack of healthcare cannot be as bewildered at not being able to meet their needs or have their wants fulfilled as expected. For they have never had the privilege of
presuming predictability of either opportunity or outcome.
What would it mean to turn to tantra in setting aside the delusory basis on which we have lived? It would mean falling in love with matter for its own sake, not simply as raw material for the production of value. It would mean opening ourselves cognitively, sensorially, to discovering the “isness” of everything that exists, its specific vibration, vibrancy and form of aliveness. It would mean opening ourselves to discovering the isness of our own existence. It would mean honoring process. It would mean embracing the body. It would mean asking among other questions: Flow might I take my place consciously in this world? What does it mean to be responsible? How might I cultivate my response abilities?
Let me end with a prayer from my book Interleaves that expresses the spirit in which these talks are being offered:
May we come to learn more and more what we’ve come to learn
May we come to be more and more what we’ve come to be
May we come to see more and more what we’ve come to see
May we begin shedding more and more what we’ve come to shed
We thank you, God, we thank you,
Oneness for dispersing this false sense of “I” into a thousand fragments of dancing light into so many roots under the earth.
We give you today the gifts of our doubt and confusion. We are so grateful that nothing is turned away by the divine. Deepen the silence within so each moment feels like a prayer unfolding. We are but stones sinking into the well of your heart. May we rest forever at the bottom’
by Lata Mani