Rites are concerned with worship, set actions, mantras, mudras and other actions. These make the mind calm, receptive and one-pointed. This is conducive to the experience of meditation, which will transform one’s understanding and relationship with life, oneself and other people. Thus we repeat again that rituals are the means to something else.
The object of worship is usually a deity. This represents the whole purpose of the practice. It is a symbol of that which is to be invoked. In a sense, it is the power incarnated. This symbol represents Shakti, the power of a particular aspect of existence. This Shakti is to be invoked by feeling or devotion (bhava), concentration (dharana), incantations (mantras), symbolic gestures (mudras) as well as other practices. This brings about a change in one’s being. One becomes receptive to that power symbolized by the deity. This is difficult for most people to appreciate without experience, so we will illustrate with an analogy. Consider a string of a musical instrument. When it is plucked it can bring about a change in one’s feeling or being. A symbol of Shakti can do the same thing, but it does not merely bring about a change in one’s feelings .. . it also brings about a change in one’s level of awareness. This is not a very good example, for the experience we are trying to explain is far greater than any analogy.
Tantra aims to transform every action in life into a ritual, so that the individual performs every action and thought with a feeling of worship and awareness. The action of bathing, dressing, sitting for worship, offering various symbolic sacrifices, sexual relations, stages of development from inception in the womb, birth to marriage, etc. are transformed into worship.
The aim of tantra is to unleash the cosmic energy in man, so that he rises to higher levels of awareness. This is often done by self-identification with a particular devata, which represents or personifies a particular cosmic force. Such is the power of mental concen-tration. Perfect one-pointedness and merging of one’s entire mind flow towards the devata leads to transcendence, something that is totally beyond the devata itself.
Tantra is a system which tries to make the individual more aware of every action and every thought. Every ritual requires attention, whether it is a set ceremonial ritual of worship, or an everyday chore or duty. Each ritual has to be done with attention. They cannot be done mechanically or unconsciously. They have to be done with awareness, which eventually leads to meditation. Tantra worship is not confined to the temple. It is done from the moment one gets out of bed in the morning to the moment one returns to bed in the night. Its purpose is to intensify awareness. It leads the aspirant to a continuous stream of meditation throughout the day.