tantra

Hinduism’s long journey finally arrives at the philosophy and practices of Tantra, having moved from the pre – Aryan pessimistic Dualism of Jainism, Sankhya and Yoga to the affirmative Monism of the Vedas and Upanishads and finally the emphasis on non-Dualism (Advait) of Shankar’s stoic and ascetic Vedanta and onwards through the intense devotional theism of the Bhakti movement of the 16th century. Tantra on the one hand incorporated the devotional worship of Bhakti and on the other the esoteric Yogic practices, combining both to reveal the profound mystical secrets of the Kundalini and its arousal as a means of realizing Brahman, providing an elaborate discipline for the adherent to attain to Brahmanhood. Tantra thus became the final synthesis emerging from the stirring philosophical cauldron of India’s diverse disciplines. Today it is fully integrated into Hindu beliefs, rites, rituals and Yogic practices. 

While Tantra fully acknowledged the authority of the Vedas, the non-dual Vedantic ideal of a formless Brahman (Nirgun Brahman) was marginalized in favour of a personal God symbolized as Shakti, the goddess. The resultant Tantrik theism was essentially dualistic, drawing a clear distinction between the subject as the ardent worshiper and the adored object of his worship the goddess. Tantra reasserted the pre-Aryan cult of the goddess after millennia of domination by the masculine principle of Godhead. Now, all gods were depicted with their consorts as their energy counterparts symbolizing their dynamic energy. The last Veda, the Atharvaveda is considered to be a Tantrik scripture. The other Tantrik scriptures the Agamas appear to have been composed between the 5th and the 9th century A.D.

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Yogini

Unlike the Vedantin, the Tantrik aspirant was less interested in seeking to merge with the absolute through the liberation of Nirvana, than in savouring the bliss of the object of his devotion,the divine presence of Shakti in all her forms. Thus Ramakrishna, the great 19th century Tantrik sage and votary of goddess worship would often joke with his disciples that what the devotee really wants is to ”eat the sugar rather than become sugar”. The object of spiritual attention was neither the Vedantin’s Brahman, nor the Yogi’s Supersoul but the single-minded pursuit of the vision of a personal God ( Bhagawan, Isht Dev) in the form of primal energy or Shakti. Moreover, the Tantrik viewed the Goddess as the illusory creative power (Maya-Shakti) of Brahman and went so far as to withdraw the distinction between them by asserting that the two were in fact identical.

The ideal process of meditation  no longer sought to define Brahman through negatives, not this , not this (neti, neti) and engage in ascetic renunciation to realize Him, but on the other hand sought to affirm that the resplendent glory of divinity was present in everything and one should rejoice in beholding its ubiquitous presence and joyously immerse oneself in Her magnificent creative diversity. Thus Ramakrishna said on one occasion that he had fed the ritual offerings meant for the Goddess to the cat, not desiring to make any distinction. The essence of Tantra  was thus life affirmative unlike the austere abnegation of the Vedanta. the Tantric was overwhelmed by his love for his Goddess and equally with Her divine creative play (Lila) which manifested itself in every facet of life. One sees evidence of this joyous affirmation in Ramakrishna’s writings in his gospel:

” The very world is a mansion of mirth. Here I can eat, drink and make merry.”

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Tantra sculpture – Khajuraho temple

Tantra applauds the illusory creative force of Maya, refusing to reject phenomenal life as suffering and sin and urges that one fully enjoy and experience it to know his Goddess more intimately and to fully appreciate her creation. Thus the rites involved in certain Tantric rituals allow the five forbidden Ms, as all things are holy and pure being reflections of the Goddess: wine (Madya), meat ( Mansa), fish (Matsya), parched grain (Mudra) and sexual intercourse (Maithuna). This is not a sanction for revellery and debauchery. The rituals are undertaken under the stern and disciplined guidance of a Guru to invoke a realization of non-duality through practices that produce a state of egoless bliss and euphoria, transporting the practitioner to a realization of transcendence without guilt. The principle is that the individual must act through nature ( rather than reject nature) but without the ego, not as an individual satisfying his desires but as the Supreme Essence experiencing itself. Through these esoteric experiences he gains release from the illusion. Such rites were sanctioned for a practitioner in a special category called the Vira (hero), though he was warned that it could have disastrous consequences if the initiation was not professional or if the rites were not practiced properly. The sage Ramakrishna had frequently cautioned that the option was not desirable, was difficult,and could cause the practitioners downfall.

The second category of aspirant is defined as the herd (Pasu). This is the non controversial practice which is universally recommended for all. For them wine is interpreted as milk or coconut water; meat is substituted with beans, garlic and ginger; fish by radish, lentils and white egg plant; parched grain by rice and wheat and in place of sex, the aspirant must adopt the attitude of a child towards it mother rather than lover.

The third category is Divya, for the elite Sattvik godman. For him there are no external objects or sacrament. For him wine is interpreted as the intoxicating knowledge of Brahman; meat translates into consigning all his acts to God; fish is the compassion by which he feels the pain and pleasure of all beings; the parched grain becomes avoiding all evil which leads one to bondage; and sex translates as the union of the two Chakras, the lowest, symbolizing the female and the highest as the male – the union of Shakti and Shiva.

According to Tantra nature is composed of three facets of energy, the Gunas, which in the unmanifested form are at equilibrium but when disturbed, the manifest world appears ( this has been taken from Sankhya philosophy). The first Guna, Sattva is the Essence, the second, Rajas is activity, the third,Tamas is inertia. The three emotive states of man are called Pasu, Vira and Divya. Pasu the state of consciousness dominated by the inertia of Tamas; the Vir state is dominated by Rajas and Divya (godlike) is dominated by Sattva (clarity and purity). The aim of Tantra is to enhance the levels of Sattva over Rajas and Tamas. Rituals and exercises are prescribed to suit individual temperaments characterized by different combinations of the Gunas.

The individual is said to be composed of five elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth. The individual has four subtle organs – the mind, intellect, memory and egoity. Tantra then undertakes a psychological analysis of the brain. bipolarity and dichotomy of the brain produce the experience of duality. the lower brain is primitive and reptilian. The upper brain has two hemispheres – the right is feminine emotional and intuitive, the left is masculine, rational and analytical. Lack of coordination between the two produces dichotomy and imbalance.While the upper brain can be influenced to change the lower is more stubborn and resists change. The Tantra Yoga rituals and practices seek to control the lower brain and end duality and conflict between the upper and lower brains and the two hemispheres. The duality can only be overcome by perfecting the self and mastering the body and mind. Identification with the ego is the central problem to be overcome. Tantra seeks to correct this mis-identification through rituals to eliminate the ego and raise ones level to the highest state of consciousness, the Turiya. This is achieved when through Tantrik practices the energy (the Goddess as Shakti), resident in the Kundalini at the base of the spinal column, breaks through the Chakras reaching the final Chakra at the roof of the head.

The central purpose of Tantra is to purify the five elements of which the body is composed. In this context, at the heart of Tantra are the concepts of Kundalini and Chakras. The cleansing of the elements is achieved by rousing the dormant primal energy (Shakti) which lies coiled like a serpant at the base of his spine, in the Chakra known as the Muldhara (the root). The five elements are located in the five lower Chakras. Through Tantric practice the dormant energy awakens and rises up passing through each Chakra. When the energy enters the final Chakra at the roof of the head the aspirant attains the enlightened state of Turiya. With this stage the ego is finally overcome and the upper and lower brains and the two hemispheres then are in perfect synch.

The tools for achieving this are Yogic meditation and practices, breathing exercises (Swara Yoga), recitation of Mantras (chants) and visualization exercises with the aid of Yantras ( geometrical diagrams and illustrations of divinities and Chakras)

basic-facts-about-kundalini-yoga_139358766200The Chakras represent the seat of the five elements that compose the body. The Muldhara at the base of the spine is the seat for ‘earth’. It is represented as a crimson lotus with four petals. the next is Svdhisthana (abode of Shakti) at the level of the genitals and is the seat of the element ‘water’. It is pictured as a vermillion lotus with six petals. The next is at the level of the naval known as the Manipura (the city of the lustrous gem) and is the seat of ‘fire’, represented as a blue-black lotus of ten petals. These three are the lower Chakras which normally control the life and inclinations of the individual. The Chakras above the three represent higher levels of spiritual experience. Thus the fourth is at the level of the heart. When the Kundalini force ascends to this level it provides the aspirant the first direct contact with divinity and he begins to hear the resounding primordial resonance of Brahman in the sound of Om, which is the Goddess in the form of sound. This centre is therefore called the Anahata Chakra ( primordial sound) and is depicted as a lotus with twelve petals and is the seat of the element ‘air’. The fifth Chakra, the seat of the last element ‘ether’ is pictured as a purple lotus of sixteen petals at the level of the throat. This is called the Visuddha Chakra (the purified centre). Next at the point between the eyebrows is located the Ajna Chakra, depicted as a white lotus with two petals. This is the seat of Godhead and when the force ascends to this level, the devotee has a vision of his personal God. Till this point the aspirant is still in a state of duality between himself and his Lord. The next and final stage takes him beyond duality – the multi-coloured lotus of a thousand petals located at the crown of his head called the Sahasrara is the final destination of the Kundalini force. Here the Shakti that arose from the base of the spine joins Shiv, Brahman, her male counterpart in climatic union, ending all duality of sound, form and contemplation. At this stage the worshiper becomes one with divinity.

For the ordinary practitioner the process of raising the Kundalini force to the apex is in the realms of imagination rather than actuality. It is only an adept yogi who performs the miracle of actually raising the force to the roof of the head. This process is achieved through meditation, recitation of  primal chants(beej mantra), postures of hand and body (Mudras) and placing the tips of his fingers on various parts of the body while invoking the gods to enter the Yantras. This practice has been likened to the Christian practice of touching the head as father, the heart as son, the left shoulder as holy and the right shoulder as ghost. The practitioner then imagines that all the elements of his body represented by the Chakras have been thoroughly cleansed and that he has attained to the level of divinity.The Gandharva Tantra states: ”A man should worship a divinity by becoming a divinity himself”.

The worshiper knows that he and his God are essentially one and that Brahman manifests itself thus in the world of duality and Maya full of opposites. Beginning in a dualistic state as worshiper and his God, through total surrender of his ego and self to his God he achieves finally a unity where both become one. This is the purpose of Bhakti and all the Tantrik rituals to conjoin his essence the Atma with Brahman. At the final stage the Yogi is said to have achieved the state of Nirvikalpa ( beyond all limitations) Samadhi (intense concentration) where there no longer exists the distinction between the subject and his object.

It is important to emphasize that Chakras are not material and cannot be defined from a purely materialistic stand point. They are psychic centres which have a subtle reality which work in coordination with nerves, cells, and fibres of the gross system. Kundalini is a vital force but cannot be attributed to any gross organ, though their approximate locations superimpose on the cranium, the forehead, thyroid, heart, naval, genitals and anus. Metaphysically, the Kundalini is an aspect of the eternal supreme consciousness –  without attributes (Nirguna) it is pure consciousness, with attributes(Saguna) it is the Goddess as pure energy, shakti.

According to Tantrik scriptures the Chakras are interconnected by a complex network of subtle channels called Nadis through which the life force, Prana flows and the Kundalini energy can ascend. The main Nadis are Sushumna, the Ida and the Pingala. The nadis being subtle cannot be physically defined though they correspond with sections of the nervous system. The main Nadis are connected with the so-called 10 gates or openings of the body. The primary Nadi is the Sushumna connecting the tail bone with the top of the head. Other subsidiary Nadis are connected to the left and right nostril, the left and right eyes, the left and right ears, the mouth, the genitals and the anus. The Nadis in Tantrik practice are used to generate different effects. While Chakras and Nadis cannot be defined on the basis of the gross body, some scholars have equated the meridians of Acupuncture as approximating to the Nadis through which the life force, Prana flows. This meridian has been defined as rising from the coccyx (tailbone), ascending the spine and arriving at the top of the head, then flowing down along the meridian lines to a point below the naval.

Tantra holds that worship and practice can produce any desired result. Worship done for liberation is different from worship for fulfillment of worldly desires.

Tantric thought and practices are today entrenched in modern Hindu belief systems and have become an integral part of the Hindu way of life from the humble villager to the erudite wealthy urban dweller, from pauper to prince. Tantra has spread from India to Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Tibetan buddhism shows the greatest influence of Tantra. The Chakra and Kundalini concepts have also crossed Indian shores to become hugely popular in New Age and  esoteric circles in the West as a ”cult of ecstasy” combining sexuality with spirituality and engendering the belief that sex should be regarded as a sacred act capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane.

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The Goddess being worshiped by the Tantrik sage Ramakrishna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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