The Five M’s of Tantra

As you might have gathered by now, Tantra is more than a philosophy; it is a ritual-based system of practical magic that just happens to have an underlying belief structure modeled on Samkhya cosmology (for more on that topic, revisit the post on Lila).

That was a long sentence.

But the point is important; Tantra isn’t just theoretical. Its goals might be, but its’ actual practice is grounded in ritual.

One of the classes my wife and I were lucky to have taken in grad school was devoted to ritual, and it changed the way I perceived the relationship between mythology and the enactment of rites; I had always assumed that rituals came out of myth.

Today, I believe something radically different; the human need for ritual is as deep as our need for stories, and even if the stories are removed, we will find a way to enact rituals.

Sunday football, yup (and I’m just there for the food, which is in and of itself a ritual). Picking the children up from school…yes that’s a ritual; a timed, repetitive, embodied event. Looking up at the stars – there’s a ritual I don’t do nearly enough, but that can change – and that’s the nice thing about rituals: we’re never stuck with them. We can pick them up, and we can put them down, based on where we are in our lives.

Some people, unfortunately, don’t get the last part. Instead of defining their own, personal rituals, they let the rituals of others (often their parents/family/culture) define them. Now, this doesn’t take away from the beauty of those rituals; however, it can limit the world view of said participants. Ritual by choice is splendorous; ritual by force is unfortunate at best, criminal at worst.

Luckily, I believe few people would be likely to force Tantric rituals on anyone else, though humans often do stranger things. If someone wanted to, and they were committed to the left-hand path of Tantra (more on that next week), here is what it would look like:

The Panchamakara, commonly known as the Five M’s:

The five M’s are consciously anti-Vedic, in that they intentionally violate Vedic prohibitions: Food, libations and sex are the basic ingredients of Tantric rituals, and all of these are deliberately contradictory with Hindu/Vedic standards. So, what does a good Tantric ritual entail? Let’s go through the list:

M1: Madya: The first M goes to wine, which is called Madya (another word for wine in Sanskrit is Sura; the ancient Sanskrit, saying “Sur, Sura, Sundari” translates to Song, Wine, and Women, and has mythological import. Demons, known as the Asuras, were called so because they didn’t get to drink the wine of eternal life; hence A (meaning not) Sura, meaning to drink).

Wine is the first, central sacrament for Tantric rituals.

M2: Māṃsa: The eating of animals is taboo in Hindu culture; while animal sacrifice is ritually depicted in the Vedas, it’s not a custom common to most Hindus. This might have been a result of Jain and Buddhist influences, which overwhelmingly promoted non-violence. Whatever the root cause, most Hindus don’t eat meat.

Tantrics are not so kind. Māṃsa, the eating of red meat, is the second of the M’s.

M3: Matsya: If we’re going to ritually eat red meat, why spare the fish? Matsya has its mythic significance; he is the first of the ten Avatars of the Hindu deity Vishnu. He came to us as an aquatic savior. Are we eating God-flesh? Is this Teonanacatl (lit: flesh of God)? Whatever significance it might have held for Tantrics past, it has survived to this day.

For better or worse, the eating of fish is the third of the Tantric rituals.

Luckily, I know several good Sushi restaurants (which is tricky in the Midwest of America).

M4: Mudra: Of all of the Tantric terms that I struggle with, this is the hardest. This term could mean parched grain. It could also mean a physical hand gesture.

Hand signs, like Spock’s gesture from Star Trek (which comes out of the Orthodox Jewish tradition), seem to be a part of our collective human rituals.

So, is it bread, a hand gesture, or maybe both?

Or possibly neither? I really don’t know.

We’ll examine Mudras in the weeks to come, but for now…

Let’s move on to sex.

M5: Maithuna: At least this M is clear. Maithuna isn’t subtle; it quite simply means sex.

Now, if you read last week’s post, you know that from a cosmological standpoint, Tantra is sexual: Purusa and Prkriti are engaged in universal love play, called Lila. Therefore, sex is a foundational pillar of Tantra.

Sex = Creation. No Sex, well…do the math yourself.

And so, Maithuna is evoked as the fifth M.

Now, is this mythic, and does it matter?

Yup: sex is the fifth M; wine, meat, fish, grain/hand gestures, and finally…sex.

Maithuna, M5. The Panchamarka; the circle that completes the square.

The hidden fifth, hiding around the four elements.

Sexy, Sex, Sex…

And some more sex.

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