Swami Nithyananda sex scandal- Insights and Church angle

Is Tantra a Part of Hinduism?
The  second question that I asked Sri Sri could not be completely dealt with in the  time available for our meeting. I hope to pursue this some day with him and with  various other acharyas for my own benefit. Its significance in the present  scandal becomes clear soon. I asked whether the Shiva Sutras are valid,  pointing out that among the 112 spiritual enlightenment techniques taught in  them, about 6 deal with sexual contact between a male yogi and a female  yogini.  Kashmir Shaivism as well as the  Tantra traditions have included exemplars that practiced these techniques.  Recently, Osho tried to revive them and nowadays Deepak Chopra has brought some  elements of these into his repertoire. Sunthar Visuvalingam, a US based scholar  of Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, is one of the voices who brings out the  authenticity of these approaches in the tradition, despite the common rejections  by society at large. The tradition considers itself not suitable for mainstream  society and is meant only for a small subset of people.

Many popular  Hindu rituals and symbols have emerged out of the Tantra traditions – such as  Shiva lingam, etc. The Tantra and Vedic traditions were not separate until  recent times. The Vedic-Tantric integration is found in Adi Shankara all the  way to Jiva Goswami (the great integrator of Vaishnavism who took Ramanuja’s  ideas further), and even more recently in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. The  Bihar School of Yoga has Tantra practitioners, but they do it privately and not  publicly.

I have  an unpublished monograph that shows the history of this shift in Indian  consciousness concerning Tantra. It was under British rule that certain Indian  leaders (such as Ram Mohan Roy) started to condemn (as part of their “reform”  of Hinduism) those aspects of Hinduism that bothered puritan Christian values.  It must be noted that Christianity has had a very negative posture towards the  human body starting with the Biblical episode of Origin Sin. This is why female  priests (called “witches”) got demonized by the Church in its very official  genocide of several million practitioners across Europe.  This Church prosecution was called the Inquisition and was widespread for a few  centuries. The use of shakti and anything concerning the body as a spiritual  resource was considered not only immoral but also demonic, and was outlawed  with draconian enforcement. The term “occult” was used to refer to a vast  assortment of such practices and was heavily condemned by the Church as the  work of the Devil.

This mentality  entered India  under the British. The Criminal Tribes Act of India was passed by the  British in the late 1800s. It listed several dozen tribes that practiced such  “evil” techniques, and they were officially persecuted into extinction. A  middle-class “whitened” Hinduism evolved as the mark of being “civilized” on  British terms. We could be proud of our identity, now that it was “cleansed” of  “primitive” practices of our ancestors.

In  this history of removing Tantra out of Hinduism, some people include Swami  Vivekananda among those who undermined Tantra. I disagree with this charge. He  was saying a separate set of things to his Western audiences than to Indians.  In his Western lecture tours, he presented a Hinduism that Westerners could  relate to and appreciate, but he did not ask Indians to shift their practice.  It is unfortunate that after his death, the Ramakrishna Mission he started has  diluted itself into a sort of pseudo-Christianity. Kali and other related  Tantra deities, symbols and rituals that were dear to Ramakrishna himself, have  become “hidden” for the “private” use by the monks, but are marginalized  publicly and considered as an embarrassment. Their lead in this direction has  spread across modern Hinduism to such an extent that Vedic Hinduism has become  separated from Tantra, and Tantra is now widely condemned by many Hindu gurus. This  is also a factor that worked against Swami Nithyananda’s reputation among  orthodox Hindu leaders, for he uses Tantric techniques that arouse body  energies, such as kundalini.

My own  feeling is that Tantra is making a big comeback. First there was Western  popularity of distorted versions of Tantra; but this is now being followed by  more clinical experimentation by psychologists and others. The whole issue of  latent human energies and potentials (both positive and dangerous) is a hot  topic of serious scientific investigation. Hindus should reclaim this aspect of  their own tradition rather than waiting for U-Turned (appropriated) versions to  get re-exported back to India,  packaged as “Made in USA”  spiritual science. This requires an attitude of experimentation under the appropriate  controls to prevent abuses and quackery.

I just  returned from Kumbh Mela where I walked amidst several tens of thousands of  naga sadhus who were completely naked. I did not consider them as either vulgar or primitive. The old guard of  Hindu orthodoxy rejects Tantra at least in public, and yet lives in  contradictions because they do respect the naga sadhus and also the various  symbols and rituals that have their foundations in Tantra. The vacuum left by  avoiding the subject of Tantra has created opportunities for the likes of Wendy  Doniger to formulate distorted interpretations. I feel that Hindu spiritual  practitioners as well as intellectuals must take control over Tantra as an  intrinsic part of our tradition.

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