Tantra Unveiled

  • By Pandit Rajmani Tugnait
  • April 2003
Finding the Way In

Tantrics hold that there is only one primordial force animating all forms of life, that this force is the Divine, and this world is her manifestation. For them experiencing this divinity in every aspect of life is liberation, anything less is bondage. That is why to them worldly success is not an obstacle to spiritual growth, on the contrary it is the ground for spiritual success. Tantrics maintain, that most of our problems arise because we do not know God, rather, we suffer because we do not know this world. But once we know what this material world is all about & can regulate the subtle forces that govern it, we can overcome all suffering.

The Spectrum of Practices - Because tantrics do not accept the notion that spirituality & worldliness cannot commingle, tantra addresses concerns of body & spirit. Highly evolved practices such as those pertaining to Sri Vidya address all aspects of life while practices with narrower objectives many address one or two of life’s concerns.

These concerns run the gamut of human experience from the base to the lofty. In the vast tantric literature there are practices that can be regarded as a form of black magic. If we have not see the effect of such practices ourselves we may dismiss it as superstition. But once we understand that plants, animals, minerals & humans are all the locus for nature’s subtle forces we can find a scientific explanation for why these practices work.

At the other end of the spectrum there are practices that expedite our meditation & bring us closer to the inner light. Positive practices incorporate spiritually illuminating & rejuvenating ingredients like lotus, ghee, brahmi etc. For e.g. according to the scriptures the gayatri mantra helps us wash off karmic impurities, and is thus one of the most purifying mantras for purifying the mind & heart. As this process begins we gain clarity of mind, our thoughts become organized, concentration improves enabling us intuitively to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. Normally when people meditate on this mantra it takes years before they notice any effect. The tantric method of practicing gayatri accelerates the process. It includes rituals, meditation on a specific yantra & chakras, recitation of auxiliary mantras, pranayama practices & ultimately the making of a fire free offering.

In tantra, gayatri mantra can be used in several ways to achieve wordly goals, to overcome specific obstacles, or to advance spiritually. Offer a mixture of sugar, honey, coconut, ghee, and kaner into the fire while repeating the matra cures physical & psychological problems. Offering the flower of a lotus while reciting the mantra brings prosperity. Offering the fruit, leaves & sticks of a bilva tree bring both peace & prosperity. Offering karanja fruit is a tantric cure for phobia. An offering of sticks from a palash tree grants retentive power & clarity of mind.

The goal of the practice determines what ritual ingredients are used. It is necessary for the practioner to maintain a mood that is compatible with the force being invoked, the goal of the practice also dictates what that mood should be – tense, relaxed, aggressive etc. To engender the most auspicious atmosphere, the practioner eats food that is compatible with the practice, selects a compatible set of male beads, wears clothes of a compatible color and chooses a compatible material to sit on.

Rituals plays the key role in practices described above, but tantric texts also describe practices that do not involve rituals & thus do not employ external objects. These practices are purely meditative; rituals are replaced by internal, contemplative techniques. Eg because tantrics consider the human body to be a microcosm of the entire universe, tantrics who use meditative practices invoke the forces of nature within their own body. The goal is the same: experiencing a state of oneness with those forces. Their ritual consists of reciting mantras while focusing on certain parts of the body. They do not use fire rituals to propitiate the life force but their own solar plexus serves as the fire bowl. They offer their own ego into the fire at the solar plexus in place of clarified butter.

There is a third category of tantric practice that combines both ritual & meditation. Some tantrics may undertake the practice of the gayatri mantra, for e.g. in a purely ritualistic fashion. Then after completing a course of practice (which may consist of repeating the mantra 1,00,000 times of 11,00,000 times or 2.4 million times they do a fire offering with sesame seeds and ghee while they continue to repeat the gayatri mantra. Then they go on to the next stage of the practice, which involves doing half of the daily gayatri practice while employing external ritualistic objects & the other half while meditating on the third chakra (the navel center). At this stage surrendering the ego to the fire element at the navel center replaces the offering of sesame seeds & ghee into the external fire. At the third stage of practice it becomes completely internal with no external rituals.

The Three Schools of Tantra - Over time the tantrics developed so many techniques that it became impossible to study them so the adepts made an attempt to categorize them, using as a guide the journey from gross to subtle, from the external to the internal realm. And on the basis of this simple reasoning all tantric techniques & practices were divided into three categories: those employing external objects, those, which are purely meditative, and those, which combine both techniques.

Most human operate at the level of body consciousness: our sense of pleasure & pain, experience of success & failure correspond to our bodies & to the world around us. So all tantric practices requiring involvement of our bodies, senses, material objects were organized into one group called KAULA – meaning ‘that which is related to kula (the family)’. This is the path of householders. Practices accompanied by rituals, recitation of scriptures, pilgrimage to shrines & fire offerings belong to the kaula path. The goal of practices at this level is to organize life in such a way that everything – including inter personal relationships, acquisition of material objects & satisfaction of biological urges – becomes a means to spiritual growth.

Category two is used to internalize the rituals. Those who aim complete independence from external objects but who have not yet gained access to the inner realm of consciousness undertake this set of practices that are partly ritualistic & partly meditative. They care called MISHRA, literally mixture or combination.

Category three consists of practices of purely meditative techniques that enable the aspirant to maintain awareness of their oneness with the Divine within. This school is called SAMAYA,which means ‘one with Her’. Its goal is to allow consciousness to move upwards through the energy channel that flows between the eyebrow center and the center at the crown of the head. It is only after gaining access to this channel, called the brahma nadi, that practioners can achieve their goal of meditating at the crown chakra & experience their oneness with the Divine Mother.

All tantric practices fit into one of these three categories. Adepts usually initiate students into kaula practices first. Even before this students are led through a series of preliminary practices beginning with standard mantra meditation followed by the tantric way of meditating on that mantra. Only then is the corresponding yantra introduced, along with the practice of rituals. Unfortunately majority of students stop their quest at this point and begin to experiment with tantric techniques that would enable them to perform miracles. According to the scriptures, to concentrate on such powers is a distraction & an obstacle to spiritual growth. That is why such practices are called ‘forbidden tantra’. If we do not get entangled into miracles further initiation leads us to discover the mishra & samaya level of tantric mysteries.

Kaula Mishra Samaya
1. Perform external rituals. Perform external rituals & mental worship. Practice only internal meditation.
2. Worship the Divine Mother in muladhara chakra. Worship the Divine Mother in the heart center. Meditate only in the Sahasrara.
3. Worship kundalini in the muladhara while she is still asleep. Worship kundalini in the heart center in the form of Ishta Deva, while visualizing her as fully awake. Begin meditation only after kundalini is awakened.
4. Use objects in their ritual worship. Use objects & their mental substitutes in their ritual worship. Use no objects & no ritual worship.
5. Use liquor, meat, fish, mudras & physical union in their rituals. Do not use liquor, meat etc as referred to in kaula. Never use meat, fish etc in any practice.
6. Draw, carve or inscribe the yantra on a physical object. Draw the yantra on their palm or simply visualize it in the heart center. View the body as a yantra.
7. Draw & worship a yantra according to samhara krama, the method of withdrawal Draw & worship a yantra according to sthiti krama, the method of maintenance. Worship the yantra of the human body according to srishti krama, the method of creation.
8. Aim to attain body bhoga (worldly enjoyment) & moksha (spiritual freedom) Aim to attain both bhoga & moksha, with emphasis on moksha. Aim only to attain moksha, spiritual freedom.

Kaula Tantra -Those tantrics that believe that creation is part of a divine family care called ‘kaulas’. They believe that Shakti, the Divine Mother, is the origin of all that exists. Everything – all forms of energy & matter emerge from Her. She becomes the universe, She is the universe. She is both inside the universe & beyond it. Considering anything to be different from her is ignorance and experiencing anything other than her is bondage. Liberation is experiencing Her alone, within & without. Becoming one with Her in every respect is the highest achievement.

Kaula tantrics practice this philosophy in every aspect of their daily lives. First they cultivate a positive attitude towards their relationships with family, society, and enemies and ultimately with the entire world in the belief that the world is a manifestation of the Divine Mother. Because they see the Divine Mother in everything they see no need to renounce the world in order to find Her. Tantrics commit themselves to sadhana in order to bring this philosophy into the realm of direct experience. Step one is analyse our own consciousness to see how effortlessly we are able to live with the philosophy. On a practical level few of us experience our oneness with the Divine Mother, and even if we do the experience is momentary. Instead we experience a sense of separateness & a longing to be connected with Her. According to the adepts this is the root cause of all loneliness & fear, and it cannot be overcome until we are established in non-dualistic consciousness.

In most of us the perception of duality is so strong that we experience ourselves to be totally different from the all-pervading Divine Force, we also feel that this separation is intrinsic to our existence. Because we identify with our bodies so strongly we experience pleasure – pain, loss – gain. We find ourselves driven by the four primitive urges of food, sex, sleep and self-preservation from which spring emotions as desire, anger, hatred, jealousy and greed. And until we find a way to establish ourselves in non-dual unitary consciousness these negative emotions constantly flood our mind & nervous system. This is the level in which animals operate.

Unlike animals our thoughts, feelings are not always motivated by the need for food, sex etc and our consciousness is not confined to our bodies. As our awareness becomes more refined we attain a degree of freedom from these urges. There is no? however that staying alive requires maintaining some degree of consciousness – that is what keeps us there, and that is why kaula practioners insist that there is no point in condemning primitive urges. Instead we must learn techniques for managing & using them wisely.

Distinctive Features of the 2 Kaula Schools
Right-Hand Path (Dakshina Marga) Left-Hand Path (Vama Marga)
Those who follow this path Those who follow this path
1. Perform external rituals while using only ‘pure’ objects. Make no distinction between pure & impure.
2. Hold puritan views. Hold unorthodox views.
3. Emphasize austerities. Emphasize moderation.
4. Condemn the use of liquor, fish, meat & physical union. Employ these tools in select rituals.
5. Strive to attain siddhis by propitiating the sattvic form of Destiny. Strive to attain siddhis by all possible means.
6. Encourage only practices that do not violate the principle of purity & conventional morality. Dare to undertake activities of any kind, including forbidden ones.
7. Follow principles of Asceticism that are designed to subdue primitive urges through imposing a high degree of self-restraint. Allows freedom to express urges in a healthy manner & then do all that is required to become one with the Divine Mother.

Left hand kaulas believe that to consider anything impure or inauspicious is to condemn the Divine Mother. She is only reality; so all aspects of body consciousness are Her manifestation. The Divine Mother is the embodiment of supreme beauty, bliss, goodness and so it follows that these characteristics are inherent in everything that exists. The body is her manifestation, as are the senses, the primitive urges, and all of our thoughts and feelings. The perceptual world involving the Most Auspicious One cannot be inauspicious. According to them repressing biological urges and imposing restraints weaken the body and senses as well as the life force that animates them. This is the hallmark of ignorance not spirituality. It is these left hand kaulas that employ liquor etc.

Initiation into left hand disciplines constitutes the final stages of sadhana within the kaula school. They do not constitute two separate traditions but they are two different sets of discipline within the same school. It is easy to get initiated into the right hand but is very difficult to find a master who will initiate you into the left hand. The slightest carelessness on this path can lead to indulgence. I have observed that the adepts of this path rarely reveal themselves. And before they reveal themselves they lead their students through a series of arduous tests while they are still involved in the practices of right-hand tantra.

Summary - the complete knowledge & practice pertaining to the Kaula School is traditionally imparted in three stages. Each consists of a specific kind of practice and to get that practice directly from a master a student has to go through a formal process of initiation. There are three levels of initiation. The first two help the aspirant unveil the mystery of the right hand path. The third allows the aspirant to gain access to left hand kaula tantra. And it is only after going through these three levels of initiation & doing the practices that accompany them that we can systematically unveil the dynamics of matter and spirit, attain mastery over the forces governing life within and without & take charge of our destiny.

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