Tantra and Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Tantra is a great science that has been misinterpreted in recent years. Tantra has come to mean something forbidden, something evil and something that is not to be practiced by normal people. Yet in fact, Tantra is most useful and important as far as the evolution of consciousness, the collective consciousness of mankind, is concerned. It is also, in fact, a very practical system for giving good physical and mental health and curing many kinds of illnesses. As such it is a very practical system for the people of today.

More then 2,500 years ago, before Buddha, there existed a science in India which was adopted and widely practiced by the people of that time, not in order to renounce the world but in order an experience the things in the world fully. That science was known as Tantra and it was developed to a high degree of perfection. The ancient people of India utilised this spiritual science in order to remove the frustrations of man and prevent the accumulation of inhibitions and complexes.

In the world today there is a great demand for psychologists because there is some fault in our way of thinking and something wrong with our basic philosophies of life. Why should we feel guilty when we are not guilty? Why do we fell inhibited when there is no reason to be inhibited? Tantra, whatever people might think it involves, is a system which if correctly followed will bring about a condition in the world such that the thousands of neurotics would not need to go to mental hospitals. Errors in behaviour and personality which are so prevalent throughout the world would not exist.

Man has suffered for thousands of years and it is only because of wrong or perhaps misguided thinking. Tantra tackles the problems of man through the method of Mantra, Yantra and other techniques which dive deep into the subconscious mind and remove the dross that exists there. Now, what actually is Tantra and how is it related to Yoga? Yoga is reasonably well publicised and known by large groups of people, yet Tantra is wrapped up in a veil of mystery. This should not be the case, for in fact Yoga and Tantra are only different words belonging to the same way of life. All the practices in Yoga such as Asanas, Pranayama (breathing techniques), Kundalini Yoga - the technique of psychic awakening, Hatha Yoga - the method of balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, Mantra Yoga, Kriya Yoga and so on, all originated from and are still included in Tantra.

People think that the whole science of Yoga originated from Samkhya, yet in fact most of the practices came from Tantra. Even the words Yoga and Tantra mean the same thing: both mean to expand consciousness then to liberate it. Yet if you ask yoga teachers ‘do you teach Tantra?’ they will immediately answer ‘no’. Everyone is a little scared of the word Tantra, even though it is the basis and Yoga is the off-shoot.

Mantra techniques are a most important part of Tantra. Through the use of Mantra the mind and the consciousness are allowed to expand. A Mantra is not necessarily a name of God, for in Tantra it is a word which is a symbol of your consciousness. Every sound is in fact the symbol of your consciousness and a mantra is a compiled form. These mantras represent different elements and bodies, different psychic systems, and they make up the entire complex of your brain and nervous system. It is the strength of the sound, the 'colour' of the sound, the frequency, the velocity and the 'temperature' of the sound which is responsible for the awakening that takes place in the deeper realms of the brain and the human consciousness. The mantra can be utilised in different ways: it can be practiced in conjunction with the breath, the psychic paths, on the eyebrow centre and so on. Tantra is very powerful in the field of healing and it is through mantras that a patient is cured.

Then how does Tantra differ to Yoga? The difference is small. Yoga tends to try to impose restrictions on the individual, whereas in Tantra there are absolutely no restrictions whatsoever. Yoga suggests that people eat a vegetarian diet if they want the best progress. Non-vegetarians will progress in Yoga, but meat eating will impede their progress. Tantra on the other hand, makes no stipulations and does not ask you to change your life externally. Tantra has a great respect for human weaknesses, for it does not ask anyone to make departure from their status in life. For if most people start imposing restrictions on themselves they will probably cause more harm than good. Tantra, more than any other system in the world, accepts every action in life as being but a manifestation of the collective nature - prakriti.

Tantra accepts that everyone is not the same. Everyone is not capable of great austerity or acts of renunciation and of living a rigid and well regulated life. Yet at the same time, all people have the right to become aware of the highest consciousness, the highest truth. The ultimate aim of Tantra is to provide every person with the practices, easy or difficult according to his particular social, moral and intellectual position, for spiritual realisation, for the fulfilment of his personal self and happiness in any situation.

Tantra is the science of absolute surrender. The mother aspect of the universe that makes consciousness function and become active, is regarded as the greatest power. Matter and consciousness are functioning together in man, as well as interacting in the cosmos. Matter and consciousness give creation, they give the concept of time and space. Matter is bound by consciousness and consciousness cannot function without matter. Therefore, in one of the tantric books called ‘Saundarya Lahari’ it is written ‘how can Shiva function without Shakti?’

The consciousness is inherent in everyone and it can be perceived by you in its qualified, in its limited form. The sensual dimension of consciousness, the objective dimension of consciousness can be perceived, for example, when you listen to what a person speaks. Then there is the subjective dimension that manifests during dreams. This is the unconscious dimension, sleep is one of the manifestations of consciousness as much as that which manifests whilst awake. This inherent consciousness in every man has to be realised in its unqualified state, which we know as pure consciousness, Purusha or Atma. This realisation is not easy for most people because of the disturbances in the mind and due to the fact that the consciousness is in the fold of nature, matter or prakriti.

What is this matter? It is the mind, the body, thoughts, experiences, remembrances, unconscious samskaras and so on. This is the realm of matter which you have to transcend in order to come face to face with your own pure consciousness. Tantra is the way to expand your consciousness and liberate it, to release it from the hold of prakriti and from the realm of time and space.

Besides mantras there are two other important things in Tantra: these are Yantras and Mandalas. A Yantra is a kind of geometrical diagram. The Mandala is the finalisation, it is the discovery or the realisation of a particular yantra.

These Mantras, Yantras and Mandalas were part of the ancient rites in Europe in the mystic traditions prior to the advent of Christianity. They were very popular in ancient Egypt, China, Tibet and Japan. The Yantras in Tantra are generally geometrical, in the form of triangles, hexagons, octagons and so on. But in fact they can be almost any shape, for example in ancient Egypt they were human and animal figures. They can also be the pictures of Durga, Kali, Hanuman and the other Gods that are part of Hinduism. The pictures represent your frustration, your mental problems which you do not know and which you never will know. It is impossible. Even psychologists can not tell you, because they have their own problems. They have to work out their own problems before they can work out yours.

Now these frustrations, these deep rooted Inhibitions, which psychologists have been talking about for the last seventy years and which Tantra has been talking about for thousands of years, constitute the mental body of man. This mental body is responsible for all of man's problems and unhappiness. Most, if not all, of man's diseases are caused by deep rooted mental problems. Even scientists are starting to propound this idea. But how shall we remove them? It is easier said then done. People do not know what they are suffering from, so how can they rectify the problems? The method is through Tantra, by allowing the root of sufferings to be expressed through symbols, or Yantras. You have to work out your problems by utilizing Yantras, by maintaining absolute awareness of the form of the Yantra that suits your personality. Fear complexes, suppressed ambitions, emotions and so on will, after some time, be slowly eradicated from the mind. These latent impressions or samskaras will be worked out. This system in Tantra allows people to project themselves into the symbolic Yantra and so subtly ease the problems from the mind. Everyone should take more interest in Tantra for this reason alone.

A thorough and careful study of the Tantric system should be made, and it should be realised that Yoga is no more than a part of the ancient system of Tantra. Scientists have shown that there is a scientific basis behind the part of Tantra which is known as Yoga. There is no reason, when all the prejudice is removed, why they should not turn their attention to Tantra as a whole and also prove that it has scientific validity.

Tantra and Yoga are brothers. They both lead to happiness and to spiritual development and realisation. Everyone should practice one or both of them if they want to find out what this life is all about and if they want to remove their mental and physical problems.