Sri Vidya is an esoteric Shakta Tantra (Divine Mother focused) spiritual tradition. The distinct lineages and ways of worship in this tradition are numerous. My experience with Sri Vidya is from a Kaulachara perspective, which involves worshipping God in both the masculine and feminine energies or deities, as well as integrating approaches from both right (Dakshinachara) and left-handed (Vamachara) tantric traditions. The point of all worship is to merge completely with the Divine Mother and God, or however you conceptualize all that IS.
Since much of the information on the web right now in regards to Sri Vidya and tantric sadhana is not correct, I’ll give a short explanation here. . .
The main modes of worship in Sri Vidya are threefold: mantra, yantra and tantra. Sri Vidya is further delineated into four primary approaches of worship, as per the inclination of the individual: Kaulachara, Vamachara, Dakshinachara and Samayachara.
Mantra is the sacred sound current which is chanted to purify the mind, yantra is the sacred geometry which is associated with the different forms of God and Divine Mother and tantra encompasses any number of psychophysical techniques which transform the mind, body and spirit into a conduit for divinity to flow through. These three concepts are used differently in the four types of Sri Vidya mentioned above, which are further explained below.
Kaulachara tantra is a middle-ground approach to God-realization. It utilizes aspects of all the other three, making it the most balanced and central approach, and also probably the most difficult to follow because it requires deep inner discernment. Kaulachara tantra is unique in that it focuses on worship through the physical body, with the body itself becoming the “temple of God” or the sacred yantra. What this means in practical terms is that worship is done directly to the physical body of a person to awaken the Shakti energies which reside within that person. Puja and ritual is done to the body instead of to an icon or murti. Sacred sexual practices can and often are incorporated into Kaulachara tantra. The beauty of this approach is that the individual is worshipped as much as God, because Shakti is part of the great Prakriti nature we live in. You can never unmingle Shakti from nature or from the body or mind; hence, the body itself becomes the most powerful transformative tool in Kaulachara.
To put this simply, there are not practices in Kaulachara-tantra that are considered taboo or “wrong” because sadhana (daily spiritual practice) changes as one grows and evolves in their own consciousness. Of course, no practitioner is ever allowed to do anything that would cause harm to another! Common sense and good will towards all is taken as a pre-requisite for even exploring Sri Vidya. This makes right and wrong action subjective for each individual in question: instead of having a belief system that imposes an external system of dogma or right vs. wrong mentality, each practitioner is called upon to discern for him or herself what is right or wrong for themselves (and which never causes harm to another) at any given time. It’s not entirely this simple, because there is a path and a mode of worship to follow, but having a strong basis in inner discernment and Buddhi Yoga is crucial for tantric-sadhana to be an effective conduit of growth, and not a path to lead you into further karmic bondage. This is a system that values the path of growth equally as much as the final result of merger with God. You may want to read my article here on page 14 for a deeper understanding of this concept.
Vamachara tantra contains practices which are thought by many to be taboo or sinful because of their use of the panchamakaras or 5 M’s: madya (wine), mamsa (flesh), matsya (fish), mudra (symbolic hand gestures) and maithuna (sexual union). As all of the panchamakara is as symbolic as it is literal; it ritualistically and esoterically represents control of the ego and body to reach a state of God consciousness, where one is “drunk” with God consciousness and always in union with God alone. The notion of “right” and “wrong” or “sin” and “virtue” hold no bearing in vamachara or kaulachara tantra. These 5 M’s are sometimes used directly in sadhana or ritual, helping people to powerfully destroy notions of sattwig egoism and false notions of purity. The panchamakara are NOT excuses to do whatever you want, since action always affects more than just you; in fact, it’s like walking on the blade of a knife. A practitioner has to be very inwardly strong, disciplined and a true warrior spirit. Karma comes swiftly for anyone who abuses their beliefs to bring them success or power at the expense of another.
The left-handed Vamachara approaches are very effective to recondition the mind and to help break unwanted and negative thought and behavior patterns, but don’t need to be utilized indefinitely. Balance of both is key. It’s well suited to practitioners who understand the inner state of purity is paramount in the spiritual process, as it focuses on making the individual completely one with God.
Dakshinachara tantric practices tend to be more celibate in nature and focus on the use of yantra, mantra and puja; it’s a sattwic approach to Bhakti style worship, love and devotion. These practices are much more akin to what most people think of when they think of following a yogic path towards spiritual realization. Icons, idols and murtis are used in worship. You dont have to be celibate to follow this approach, but the idea is that the notions of purity are put onto external objects. External objects are worshipped as containers of God. A murti should be blemishless. Puja should be performed to perfection. I am not a fan of dakshinachara practices because when they are done before (or in lieu of) vama or kaula practices, work to solidify the egoism in an individual and make it more difficult to understand the importance of inner purity and cleansing of the mind.
Samayachara tantric practices are mostly done inwardly in one’s own mind and consciousness. It involves inward repetition of mantra, inner visualization of yantra, meditation and learning to work with and control the subtle body directly through this combined approach. Nothing external need be used in Samayachara tantra, but this makes this approach not practical for most people. If you can’t feel your subtle energy or visualize, or hear yourself chanting in your own mind without actually speaking anything, this approach has no chance of working. It is best suited for an advanced practitioner who no longer requires the use of external tools in worship.
Samayachara tantra often does utilize havan or homa (sacred fire ceremony) as one of the few external aids to sadhana. The sacred fire, and how it kindles the inner fire, is to be understood.
Inner-renunciation means that we inwardly resolve to do what is right for our own dharma and what will lead us towards God with proper and pure intent. When the inner is in alignment with God, the outer will be as well, with no need to renounce being a part of this world. There is no need to give up meat, sex, or any other part of the material creation…unless you feel so inclined, and if you do feel so inclined, that’s perfectly fine. There are celibate Sri Vidya lineages, but of course, they do not utilize all of Sri Vidya, as many of its practices would be considered taboo or off-limits.
Material life and spirituality go completely hand-in-hand with Sri Vidya, as one is merely a reflection of the
other. Tantric practices help us to weave consciousness into our reality the way that is best suited to our own desires and aspirations. The tantric scriptures say that one will not receive full initiation into this tradition unless they are in their last birth or are God manifested in human form.
If you are interested in learning more about Sri Vidya or learning the practices of this esoteric tradition, contact me directly.