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The Heart of Tantra

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When I was a young student of religions, my first Sanskrit teacher, Nandini, with her ever-mirthful air of serenity, lured her entire class headlong into the tangled jungle of that daunting but beautiful tongue. She allayed our fears with her laughing eyes and the tale of a yogi of yore who, wishing to master Sanskrit, prayed so ardently to Saraswati, goddess of learning, that she entered the yogi’s mouth, granting him — in a luminous vision — complete knowledge of the language. Thus emboldened, we felt we could tackle anything. However soft and charming Nandini seemed in every regard, we soon discovered she would adamantly refuse to accept papers on only one topic — Tantra.That taboo sparked my curiosity, beginning a quest over decades to discover the heart of Tantra. As I attempt now to paint in broad strokes how Tantra probably came about and the many forms it has taken since, I imagine Nandini’s eyes … and how to keep them smiling. And so I ask you to let go of anything you may know and instead to imagine Tantra as a goddess: so obscure has been her past, so scandalous her methods, so veiled in secr …

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