Of all the systems developing self awareness, tantra it the easiest, safest and quicker. Whereas other systems start from outside, tantra starts from inside. Practically every system explores the intellect, the exterior part of the mind, but tantra explores the whole consciousness, right from the very bottom of the volcano. The mantra, yantra and meditation used in tantra are based on the total consciousness of man. Total consciousness is not the same as individual consciousness. It is not your consciousness or my consciousness, but our consciousness, a homogeneity of consciousness which is the basis of tantra.
At one level of consciousness men are different, animals are different, plants are different, matter is different and the whole universe is divided into millions of units. We live at this level of consciousness and so we know it very well. This is the level of duality, subject to the senses, mind and ego. At this level one appears to be many. But there is another level of consciousness where everything is one, where every object is bound by one consciousness. That is the consciousness which the tantric system explores. In Vedanta it is called anandamaya kosha, in Hindu mythology Brahma, and in modern psychology the unconscious with a capital 'U'. It is a very powerful and potential state of units. It contains universal awareness and total knowledge. This is the state of non-dual experience of the one.
You can practice any meditation but if you cannot reach total consciousness, you cannot go beyond. There is a great wall, a great barrier, a great river which separates this existence from that existence. Unless you are able to cross it and contact the great self, the total consciousness in you, it is not possible to have total awareness. When you start meditation, there are two distinct currents or paths by which you may travel. One leads to total delusion, total nothingness. In this state the conscious reaction is suspended or in hibernation for the time being. The other path leads to expansion of consciousness, awareness of other dimensions of the cosmos. This expansion leads to one homogeneous consciousness. The practices of tantric meditation are designed to lead you through this path of expansion. In tantra the first thing that is taught is: don't lose yourself, If in meditation you find that you are becoming unconscious, then you are not on the path of tantra, of self expansion. You are on the path of consciousness suspension. Here are two examples.
About 25 or 30 years ago I was living with my guru, Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. One evening at six o’clock I went to my small cottage, sat down in lotus posture and started to meditate. I had hardly closed my eyes and done a round or two of japa where I lost myself completely. At six a.m., the next morning I regained consciousness and found my body still locked in the lotus position. I was elated, thinking that I had attained samadhi. However when I informed my guru Swami Sivananda, he just laughed at me and said, ‘Non knowledge is not samadhi. Absence of awareness is not samadhi. Samadhi is total knowledge, awareness is outside and inside simultaneously.’
When Buddha attained nirvana on the brightest full moon night, he also found his own light was increasing, radiantly encompassing all beings. He became aware of birth and death of all the processes taking place in creation. He traveled on all the planes of existence, through all the states of mind, through all the stages of evolution. He became aware of the nature of infinity and eternity. The torchlight of his expanded awareness illuminated all knowledge, all times and all minds. This is an example of absolute consciousness, and the story about myself is an example of suspension of consciousness.
In meditation everything can happen: you can sleep, dream, travel in visions, lose consciousness, face yourself, or keep on seeing your symbol in front of you. But how are you going to reach the right point, to avoid sleep, to stop yourself from traveling in visions? What's the way? I have tried all ways, but in every system I found that I was losing myself. At first I didn't mind because I didn't like this ‘myself’. But when I reached the point where I was about to lose everything, I thought, ‘If I lose everything, then who is going to experience? In divine experience, in samadhi there must be an experiencer. If I die who is going to have samadhi! If I transcend space, time and consciousness, who is going to experience bliss? Of course I would like to transcend time and spaces name and form, but I do not want to lose the I. No... I am I. But this poor I, it has been limited and bound by name and form. I will infinitive this I. ’Similarly, the whole system of tantra, mantra and yantra pivots around one point, one effort, one goal - the expansion of I.
Tantra is a Sanskrit word composed of two roots: tan meaning ‘expansion’ and tra meaning ‘liberation’. So tantric meditation is a method of expanding the I and liberating the energy. As far as expansion is concerned, you must find a dynamic technique which I will not force you to withdraw or suppress the mind, which will not create a state of hibernation in the realm of thought. Therefore the tantric system is based on dynamic meditation. Liberation is a very difficult idea to experience and to understand. At a certain point in meditation the I which has been undergoing a state of expansion, becoming broader and broader, suddenly fuses into totality and all the distinctions fall away. Tantric meditation is the most direct path to this divine experience.
The tantric system is definitely most suitable for the modern age, and I consider the practices of kriya yoga to be among the best forms of tantric meditation. Having been a keen student of all the systems of meditation for the last forty five years, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing higher than kriya yoga. It is a fantastic combination of hatha yoga, raja yoga, mudras and bandhas that takes care of each and every sphere of existence in the body and mind. Those people who have been meditating to forget themselves may not find this system very inspiring. Those who become a zero in meditation will only say, 'What’s kriya yoga?' or 'I’m not interested.'
While practicing kriya yoga two distinct things are experienced: the scope of the objective universe and the awakening of the inner awareness. I have felt myself that kriya yoga does not suppress any form of experience of knowledge. For example, if during the period of kriya yoga practice you are looking at a clock, without trying to withdraw the mind, you will see the clock, but at the same time you won't see it. This is a curious experience. If you hear a sound from outside, while practicing kriya yoga, you will not have to withdraw the mind from the sound. The sound is there, let it be. The mind will expand to this sound until suddenly the sound changes its dimension. No experiences concerning the senses, emotions, memory or mind are suspended. You know, see, hear, taste, smell, understand, feel and remember everything, but still you are somewhere else. The experience takes place from a different realm. When the inner awareness begins to awaken, the mind expands in both directions, internally and externally at the same time.
Tantra does not consider external or worldly consciousness as a limitation. Here is a very clear example which you can try for yourself. When you are practicing your mantra, don't withdraw your mind. If you hear the radio, go on. If somebody comes, let him. If your mind is chewing over the past, let it. But at the same time you are saying Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya and awakening both states. This idea may seem strange at first and you may wonder how it is possible to do japa or meditate while thinking about worldly things. But if you wish to open your mind, please close all the books you have read and remember one thing. Meditation is not only a way inside, a way of becoming aware of the inner self; meditation is becoming aware of the inner self, outer self, right self, left self, whole self.
The universal, spiritual or inner self is not only inside. What is inside and what is outside? You have made the division. There is only one self, one awareness. The whole room is only one, but you have made a partition without ever having been on the other side. Now the worst thing that can happen is that you might go to the other side and not come back. But tantra does not believe in this one-sided attitude. Life is part of eternity, part of truth, every activity, expression and form of knowledge is part of the totality. Therefore in tantric meditation there are no mental aerobatics, no wrestling matches with the mind. This is why it is the simplest of all the methods. When you look forward you see the infinity of knowledge, sometimes called Brahma, Shiva or God. When you look to the side you see the infinity of creation and expression, called Shakti, Prakriti or Maya. Going in, you merge with God; expanding yourself, you merge with maya. Both compose eternity and infinity.
At the age of six I wanted to know what samadhi was and a young man instructed me thus: 'Forget the outside world, then you will see God within.' More than fifty years have passed, and now from my own experience I am able to correct those instructions. Bridge the inner and outer life; become aware of both lives at the same time. This is the purpose of meditation.