Man, universe, gods and ritual are not considered separate entities but rather different manifestations of the same Śakti. Therefore, during a particular ritual every element of it is symbolic of something else. The flowers are representative of something else, the incense is representative of something else and so on. This viewpoint is based upon the crucial teaching that “worldly and spiritual” are the two faces of a same coin. One often thinks that “spirituality” is associated with something which is “within”, while “worldliness” is associated with something which is “without”. So, if you see a light “within”, that is a “spiritual” experience, while if you see a light “without”, that is a “worldly” experience. Besides, the worldliness is based on “day-to-day experiences”. It is approximately so. Tantricism considers all to be the manifestation of Śakti, the Divine Mother. So, an external light is as spiritual as an internal one and vice versa. In fact, there is neither spirituality nor worldliness because only one Supreme Consciousness is permeating everything and everyone.
Śakti or the Divine Mother is the core of all tantric practices. She is known as Kuṇḍalinī when residing in a living being. She is the bestower of the Supreme Bliss for all those followers that worship Her according to the sacred rituals and meditations contained in the Tantra-s. Her importance has been emphasized in Niruttaratantra:
बहूनां जन्मनामन्ते शक्तिज्ञानं प्रजायते।
शक्तिज्ञानं विना देवि निर्वाणं नैव जायते॥
Bahūnaṁ janmanāmante śaktijñānaṁ prajāyate|
Śaktijñānaṁ vinā devi nirvāṇaṁ naiva jāyate||
After (ante) many (bahūnām) births (janmanām), the knowledge (jñānam) of Śakti (śakti) is born (in oneself) (prajāyate). Oh goddess (devi)!, without (vinā) the knowledge (jñānam) of Śakti (śakti), Nirvāṇa — final Liberation — (nirvāṇam) does not (na eva) spring up (jāyate).
However, Tantricism should not be “strictly” equated to Shaktism, because there are groups of Śākta-s (followers of Śakti) which are not “tantric” at all. In turn, there are tantric groups that worship Śiva, Viṣṇu, etc. as well as Śakti.
Consequently, one may use a set of elements as representative of other realities. For example: a man represents Śiva and a woman represents Śakti. Then, their union is representative of that of Śiva and Śakti. Microcosm and macrocosm are closely allied to each other, because the two are the manifestation of only one Power. The following fragment extracted from the ancient Tantra-s clearly shows the aforesaid correlation between man, universe, gods and ritual. The sādhaka or practitioner is meditating on the Divine Mother (Śakti) in his heart lotus. He forms a mental image of Śakti there, and begins worshipping Her this way:
हृत्पद्मासनं दद्यात् सहस्रारच्युतामृतैः।
पाद्यं चरणयोर्दद्यान्मनसार्घ्यं निवेदयेत्॥
तेनामृतेनाचमनं स्नानीयमपि कल्पयेत्।
आकाशतत्त्वं वसनं गन्धं तु गन्धतत्त्वकम्॥
चित्तं प्रकल्पयेत् पुष्पं धूपं प्राणान् प्रकल्पयेत्।
तेजस्तत्त्वं च दीपार्थे नैवेद्यं च सुधाम्बुधिम्॥
अनाहतध्वनिं घण्टां वायुतत्त्वं च चामरम्।
नृत्यमिन्द्रियकर्माणि चाञ्चल्यं मनसस्तथा॥
पुष्पं नानाविधं दद्यादात्मनो भावसिद्धये।
अमोहकमदम्भं च अद्वेषाक्षोभके तथा।
अमात्सर्यमलोभं च दशपुष्पं प्रकीर्तितम्॥
अहिंसा परमं पुष्पं पुष्पमिन्द्रियनिग्रहम्।
दयाक्षमाज्ञानपुष्पं पञ्चपुष्पं ततः परम्॥
इति पञ्चदशैर्पुष्पैर्भावपुष्पैः प्रपूजयेत्॥
Hṛtpadmāsanaṁ dadyāt sahasrāracyutāmṛtaiḥ|
Pādyaṁ caraṇayordadyānmanasārghyaṁ nivedayet||
Tenāmṛtenācamanaṁ snānīyamapi kalpayet|
Ākāśatattvaṁ vasanaṁ gandhaṁ tu gandhatattvakam||
Cittaṁ prakalpayet puṣpaṁ dhūpaṁ prāṇān prakalpayet|
Tejastattvaṁ ca dīpārthe naivedyaṁ ca sudhāmbudhim||
Anāhatadhvaniṁ ghaṇṭāṁ vāyutattvaṁ ca cāmaram|
Nṛtyamindriyakarmāṇi cāñcalyaṁ manasastathā||
Puṣpaṁ nānāvidhaṁ dadyādātmano bhāvasiddhaye|
Amohakamadambham ca adveṣākṣobhake tathā|
Amātsaryamalobhaṁ ca daśapuṣpaṁ prakīrtitam||
Ahiṁsā paramaṁ puṣpamindriyanigraham|
Dayākṣamājñānapuṣpaṁ pañcapuṣpaṁ tataḥ param||
Iti pañcadaśairpuṣpairbhāvapuṣpaiḥ prapūjayet||
He gives (dadyāt… dadyāt) (his) heart (hṛt) lotus (padma) as the seat (āsanam), and the water for washing (pādyam) the feet (caraṇayoḥ) in the form of the nectars (amṛtaiḥ) flowing (cyuta) from Sahasrāra — the supreme Cakra placed at the crown of the head– (sahasrāra). He presents (nivedayet) the offering — lit. water offered to a guest — (arghyam) in the form of (his) mind (manasā).
He also (api) prepares (kalpayet) the water to be sipped from the palm of the hand — a purificatory ceremony that is performed before any ritual or meal — (ācamanam) (as well as) the water to be used in ablutions (snānīyam) by means of that very (tena) nectar (amṛtena). (He gives) the principle (tattvam) of Ākāśa — ether or space– (ākāśa) as the dress (vasanam), and the power of smelling (gandhatattvakam) as the odor (gandham).
He prepares (prakalpayet) (his) mind (manas) as the flower (vai) (and) arranges (prakalpayet) (his) vital energies (prāṇān) as incense (dhūpam). (He) also (ca) (arranges) the principle (tattvam) of Tejas — fire — (tejas) for it to act as (arthe) the lamp (dīpa), and (ca) the ocean (ambudhim) of nectar (sudhā) as the offering of food (naivedyam).
(He prepares) the Anāhata (anāhata) sound — which keeps sounding constantly in the heart lotus — (dhvanim) as the bell (ghaṇṭām), and (ca) the principle (tattvam) of Vāyu –air– (vāyu) as the fly-whisk made of tail of Yak (cāmaram). (He offers) the actions (karmāṇi) of the senses (indriya) as well as (tathā) the unsteadiness (cāñcalyam) of mind (manasaḥ) as dance (nṛtyam).
For realizing (siddhaye) the state (bhāva) of the Self (ātmanaḥ), he gives (dadyāt) flower(s) (puṣpam) of various sorts (nānāvidham): absence of delusion (amāyām), nonegotism (anahaṅkāram), dispassion and detachment (arāgam) as well as (tathā) absence of arrogance (amadam);…… absence of both bewilderment (amohakam) and (ca) deceit (adambham), as well as (tathā) nonmalevolence (adveṣa) and freedom from agitation (akṣobhake); absence of envy (amātsaryam) and (ca) liberty from covetousness (alobham)” — (these virtues) are named (prakīrtitam) the ten (daśa) flower(s) (puṣpam) –.
The supreme (paramam) flower(s) (puṣpam) (known as) Áhiṁsā — nonviolence and harmlessness — (ahiṁsā) and subjugation (nigraham) of the senses (indriya) (along with) the flower(s) (puṣpam) (known as) compassion (dayā), patience (kṣamā) and knowledge (jñāna), (are) therefore (tatas) the highest (param) five (pañca) flowers (puspam). Thus (iti), through (these) fifteen (pañcadaśaiḥ) flowers (puṣpaiḥ), (which are actually fifteen) flowers (puṣpaiḥ) formed from feelings (bhāva), he performs the worship (prapūjayet).
The sādhaka or practitioner uses every object in the ritual as representative of a virtue, state and so on. Therefore, one “must” be initiated in order to understand the Truth according to the Tantra-s, since only then the well-known vedic spirit of renunciation could be replaced for “a reintegration of the worldly life to the purposes of Enlightenment”. The “desire” and all values associated with it are then employed to achieve final Liberation. The tantric practitioner is both a master in spiritual matters and a master in worldly matters, because, in fact, there is no difference between “spiritual” and “worldly”. They are the two aspects in which the Divine Mother (Śakti) is manifested. So, a freed person is one who has transcended all pains and Saṁsāra (transmigration of the souls, that is, to be born and then to die, and to die and then to be born), and one who has acquired astonishing skills to lead a mundane life which is full of fulfillments.
मद्यपानेन मनुजो यदि सिद्धिं लभेत वै।
मद्यपानरताः सर्वे सिद्धिं गच्छन्तु पामराः॥११७॥
मांसभक्षणमात्रेण यदि पुण्यगतिर्भवेत्।
लोके मांसाशिनः सर्वे पुण्यभाजो भवन्त्विह॥११८॥
स्त्रीसम्भोगेन देवेशि यदि मोक्षं व्रजन्ति वै।
सर्वेऽपि जन्तवो लोके मुक्ताः स्युः स्त्रीनिषेवणात्॥११९॥
Madyapānena manujo yadi siddhiṁ labheta vai|
Madyapānaratāḥ sarve siddhiṁ gacchantu pāmarāḥ||117||
Māṁsabhakṣaṇamātreṇa yadi puṇyagatirbhavet|
Loke māṁsāśinaḥ sarve puṇyabhājo bhavantviha||118||
Strīsambhogena deveśi yadi mokṣaṁ vrajanti vai|
Sarve’pi jantavo loke muktāḥ syuḥ strīniṣevaṇāt||119||
If (yadi) a man (manujaḥ) really (vai) could attain (labheta) to Perfection (siddhim) by drinking (pānena) wine (madya), (then) may all (sarve) (those) vile (pāmarāḥ) people who are addicted to drinking (pānaratāḥ) wine (madya) achieve (gacchantu) Perfection (siddhim)!||117||
If (yadi) the achievement (gatiḥ) of Virtue (puṇya) would result (bhavet) from merely (mātreṇa) eating (bhakṣaṇa) meat (māṁsa), (then) may all (sarve) carnivorous beings (māṁsāśinaḥ) in this world (loke… iha) be (bhavantu) virtuous (puṇyabhājaḥ)!||118||
Oh goddess (deveśi)!, if (yadi) (the beings) indeed (vai) attain (vrajanti) to Liberation (mokṣam) through the enjoyment (sambhogena) of women (strī), (then) all (sarve) creatures (jantavaḥ) in this world (loke) would become (syuḥ) liberated (muktāḥ) by frequenting (niṣevaṇāt) women (strī)||119||