Tantra

Delivered by Swami Satyananda Saraswati at the Convention of the European Union of National Federations of Yoga held at Zinal, Switzerland, 1977.

Today we are witnessing the renaissance of a very ancient culture of humanity. The purpose and the basis of this culture was to evolve the individual consciousness from the shackles of worldly or human limitations. It comes from a civilization in history which was more aware of the deeper mysteries of man. Rather than discovering the mysteries of matter it preferred to discover the mysteries of mind and consciousness, and for centuries our ancestors carried on this knowledge by glorious tradition. However, in recent centuries a dark age has confronted mankind in which we developed the material side of life and society but utterly neglected the spiritual or greater part of life.

Tantra and the mind

The ancient culture was based on tantra, the science which was concerned with the expansion of consciousness and the liberation of this consciousness from matter. Just as a scientist separates the energy from matter by a process of fission and fusion, in tantra the mind can be processed through a process of fission and fusion. The tantric teachers never defined mind as 'thoughts', they never defined mind as 'emotions'; mind is neither memory nor emotions, nor thoughts, it is not kalpas and sankalpas, thinking and counter-thinking. Mind is only consciousness. The emotions, memory etc, and modifications of the mind are not the mind itself.

There are two great forces that are underlying human existence. One is the mind, the other is the prana, and it is this mind which is the subject matter of tantra. It is important that this mind which carries the impressions, the knowledge, the samskaras etc., be made free and able to shine in its real nature, and it is through the path of tantric meditation that we are able to have this experience of the mind. Most of us who have read about the mind do have a certain concept of it, but this concept is not an experience; it is only an intellectual concept. However, those yogis who have experienced the mind have experienced power.

Now coming back to tantra. The two forces underlying the human existence in tantra are known as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is consciousness, Shakti is energy. Consciousness plus energy is existence. When consciousness and energy come into contact with each other and interaction takes place between them, creation begins. The tantric yogi tries to separate these twin principles by the practice of dhyana yoga, and in doing so he is able to create power, knowledge and experience.

Of count, mind end prana are cosmic forces which are present In every human being, and these twin forces are responsible for the whole of life, action and knowledge. So if there is an imbalance between the mind and the prana there is an imbalance throughout the life. This is why in tantra, first of all purifying and balancing practices of hatha yoga are emphasized, and why the practices of hatha yoga have been so clearly enumerated in the tantric books. The harmonization of these two principles, and the balance between them, is known as the balance between ida and pingala.

Let me explain the meaning of tantra according to the scriptures. Tantra is a word which is a combination of two ideas, 'expansion' and 'liberation'. When we talk about the expansion of the mind we are only talking in terms of expanding the mind from the external horizon to the internal recesses. When we stretch the mind externally on to the objects around, with the help of the senses, we do achieve some knowledge, but this is limited. There are other dimensions of our existence, these are the inner planes and they should be experienced. For this purpose we have to stretch our mind, we have to expand our consciousness from the external objects to internal awareness. Then comes liberation. The word 'liberation' should not be understood in a religious sense, but as a liberation of energy. First, as you liberate energy from matter by a subtle process of physics, in the same way, in tantra, after the expansion of consciousness you liberate the mind. When the mind is liberated from the shackles of the association with matter, than it becomes homogeneous, It then not only operates through the medium of the senses, it is also able to operate independently. And then with this homogeneous mind you proceed further to the realization of the infinite reality. The purpose of tantra is to make the aspirant capable of experiencing reality, and in doing this it does not take us through the confused bewilderment of intellect, it takes into consideration the practical difficulties of the aspirant.

Nadis - the paths to total experience

The nadis are the medium for the flow of consciousness throughout the physical structure of man. The mental energy, the pranic energy, and the spiritual energy flow through and through the body by the medium of the nadis. The nadis are not nerves, the literal meaning of nadi is 'flow', just as electricity flows through wires. As the negative and positive forces of electricity flow through complex wires, in the same way prana shakti and mental shakti (manas shakti) flow through every part of our body via media which are known as nadis.

Out of 72.000 nadis of the body, three are considered to be the most important. These three nadis are known as ida, pingala and sushumna. The ida system is responsible for the mind, pingala is the channel for the flow of prana, and sushumna is the channel for the awakening of the spiritual consciousness. Now the picture is coming clear. The prana shakti- pingala, the manas shakti- ida, and atma shakti- sushumna. Pranic force, mental force, and spiritual force. These three are the constituents of our existence. Man is nothing beyond these three. If man is to have knowledge of himself he has to have knowledge of these three. Purifying the nadis is done through the process of hatha yoga. By this process we clear the channels of prana and the channels of mental shakti. Also, through the practice of asanas and pranayama, we purify not only the nadis but also the glands.

It is very easy to talk about the realization of the absolute, but there are so many obstacles confronting us on the way. The purification of nadis, the glands and the whole physical structure by hatha yoga goes a long way towards relieving these. By the practice of mudras and bandhas, we are able to create an opportunity or a field by which the inherent power and bliss are awakened. Let me talk about one or two mudras. Vipareeta karani mudra: It is very important that we are able to sublimate (redirect) the shakti in us. Ordinarily the shakti flows from the 'moon' (bindu chakra) to the 'sun' (manipura chakra) and there it is consumed. However, if through the practice of vipareeta karani mudra we are able to reverse the flow of shakti and preserve it, we are able to live a healthy life and we are able to meditate.

In the hatha yoga form of khechari mudra the membrane underneath the tongue is actually cut, and the tongue is elongated so that it can be inserted into the naso pharynx. There it stimulates lalana chakra, a gland that is situated in that area. The gland secretes a fluid, known as amrit (nectar) which is responsible for arresting the process of catabolism throughout the body, thus improving the process of metabolism. In raja yoga, in tantra, they do not cut the root of the tongue. They turn the tongue back and stick it against the soft palate, and gradually in the course of time the tongue reaches the gland. Also in tantric meditation when the consciousness is awakened, it straight away hits that gland and produces the same effect.

When the nectar begins to flow the yogi enters into a state which is called unmani. In this particular state of mind he is neither aware of the external consciousness nor is he completely asleep; he is in an in between state, in imperishable bliss. The nectar and the 'intoxication' which it produces are the first element of tantra. In the modern tantric text this particular element is translated as 'wine', though in Sanskrit it does not mean that. It is madya which means anything that is able to create a condition of the mind which is something like intoxication. Because of this mistake, much misunderstanding has arisen.

The union of Shiva and Shakti

After cleaning the nadis through the complete process of hatha yoga one has to enter the domain of kriya yoga, and I personally feel that there is no greater spiritual practice than kriya yoga. You do not confront the mental problems of maintaining a steady posture, but at the same time, with each and every practice of kriya yoga you are awakening and stimulating the deepest consciousness in you. Kriya yoga comes under the title of kundalini yoga, the science that is aimed at the release of energy.

Where is the energy and which is the passage? And if it awakens, what happens? Is there any energy here in this body? Or is this body merely a bundle of flesh, bone, marrow and muscle? Kundalini yoga says shakti is dormant and the seat of this shakti is in mooladhara chakra. But it is only dormant because of ignorance, because man is subjected to his instinctive karma and samskaras. It can be awakened and it rises up the passage of sushumna into sahasrara chakra. Shakti is in mooladhara and Shiva is in sahasrara - Shakti travels up sushumna as if climbing a ladder and in sahasrara becomes one with Shiva, That is the concept of maithuna, the second element of tantra. It is translated as sexual copulation and that is why many people think that tantra is sexual yoga. In Sanskrit, however, the word maithuna comes from the word mithuna which is an idea expressing the union of two in one.

The rise of kundalini

The shakti flows through the spinal cord along the sushumna from mooladhara directly up to ajna. In the central canal is a grey passage and the six chakras, the six psychic centres, are interwoven within it.

The event of awakening the kundalini in mooladhara is not a fiction! Many, many scientists have been working on this. One scientist. Dr. Motoyama of Japan, has improvised a small unit by which he is capable of measuring the waves of currents taking place during the awakening of kundalini in mooladhara.

Kundalini is the shakti and the awakening of kundalini brings about a change in the structure of human consciousness. When the nature of mind changes, meditation is spontaneous. Meditation is not something you achieve by exercise and practice, it is just an unfoldment of what you really are. The nature of consciousness known is meditation. Distractions are imposed on us, frustrations are imposed on us, schizophrenia is imposed on us. They are not our nature, they are just impositions. The real nature of the mind is blissful and is always in meditation, and it is possible to unfold it through the awakening of kundalini. Therefore, through the practices of hatha yoga, asanas, pranayama and kriya yoga we bring about a total change, indirectly, in the structure of the mind.

There are many lower manifestations of the mind that have to be thrown away. There are many lower expressions and manifestations of the mind but we should not fight with them at all, we have to transcend them. If you close your eyes and try to concentrate your mind and fight with the tendencies, fight with the impressions, fight with the samskaras, you will probably spend your whole life doing it. and many have done so. We say in tantra that if certain situations in life can make the mind restless, then certain situations can also bring about samadhi. It is only a question of how you tackle the problems of the mind.

Fighting with the mind, what a funny problem! When you are trying to fight with your own mind in the practice of concentration, one aspect of the mind is fighting with the other aspect. This is how you are splitting the mind. Mental division takes place and once this becomes abnormal it creates schizophrenia. The way many people are tackling the problems of the mind is creating more mental problems. But tantra is very clear about it. The way is the awakening of the kundalini shakti, so this becomes a very important event in the life of a spiritual aspirant.

Directing the pranic energy

One of the practices of tantra is known as prana vidya, the knowledge of the prana shakti. Even as you are able to move your hand, and to move your body, you should also be able to switch on more prana if it is too low, or switch down prana if it is too high, or to direct it to any part of the body where there is illness. Prana is a force; it is the basis of life, and in fact, the whole body itself is a miracle of prana.

I will never use the words 'magnetic force' for prana. I have tried to translate it that way but I have failed. Some call it energy; others call it vitality, but in yoga it is prana. Prana can be increased in a number of ways and can thus influence our consciousness. Pranayama is one way of increasing prana. It is charged by inhaling more ions into the body. The yogis like to practice pranayama in the Himalayas because in the higher altitudes, beside rivers, these ions are plentiful, and when you practice pranayama you inhale them. It has also been seen that the human consciousness is influenced by another practice of pranayama. This is the practice of retention of breath. However, it should be learned under a guru, because it strongly influences the awakening of kundalini.

As you can see, in tantra, shakti is most important and all the practices that have been prescribed by tantra use this shakti to make the mind capable of comprehending the great reality.

I am talking about tantra this evening with a definite purpose in mind, ! am not ashamed to say that I teach tantra. Tantra is yoga and yoga is tantra, and every teacher of yoga is a teacher of tantra. In order to teach tantra, you don't have to teach your students to drink, to have sexual intercourse or to eat meat or fish. Everybody can do that if he likes, it is his life, but it has nothing to do with tantra. Tantra is a science by which you are able to transcend your limitations and for centuries man has been trying to do this. He does not need a science for drinking, he does not need a science for sexual interactions, we don't need metaphysics for eating meat. This is plain logic. What we do need is a science by which something that has not been known can be accomplished.

The mind is always aware of time and space and we want to turn to the absolute. The mind is aware of activity and we want it to experience the highest. Since the dawn of creation this has been the problem of man, but nowadays the demand is urgent. Therefore tantra is the science for this age.

Mantra - the sound of liberation

One very important aspect of tantra should now be borne in mind, that is mantra. Tantra is mantra and mantra is tantra. Without mantra there could be no tantra. Tantra means a process of expansion and liberation. Mantra means a process of contemplation and liberation.

Mantras are not the names of gods and goddesses, they are the sounds, the words, the vibrations put into a particular pattern, and they are more subtle than the actual physical waves. They are more subtle than any kind of wave that we know in science today. Mantra has no limitations; mind is the basis of mantra and the mantra can be launched through the mind. The main mantra, that of the supreme, is aum. It is the primal mantra, the first seed of creation.

Please remember, I am not talking about Hinduism here, I am only talking about tantra, but while I am talking about tantra I am also talking about the basis of Hinduism. In fact, all religions, the entire range of philosophies throughout the passage of history and every side of metaphysics have come out of tantra. Therefore, when I tell you about aum, I am telling you about the first vibration responsible for all creation.

We do not know exactly what the sound aum is, but from our teachers and gurus we have come to know a particular way of vibrating. When this aum is produced by us it resounds through and through our physical, astral and spiritual existence. It not only influences the alpha patterns in the brain, it not only purifies the nadis, it not only influences the microcosmic structure of the body, but it charges the whole atmosphere around us. And we are in an age where we have much good scientific evidence for this.

Concentrate on aum, convert your consciousness into aum and then transmit the vibration and currents of aum. Your son, wife or husband in the next room will receive it directly if they are ready for it. The power of mantra is greater than the power of a nuclear weapon. There is no comparison, because mantra power is a constructive power and by practicing mantra we awaken unseen forces within us. These forces are infinite.

Aum is one mantra, but there are ranges and ranges of mantras. Most important of these are the bija mantras, seed mantras. When the yogi reaches very high consciousness, when he has transcended the physical consciousness, the astral being, and when he has broken through the barriers of unconsciousness, then he begins to hear those sounds known as bija mantras.

Whether a man believes in a personal god or does not, whether one is a theist or an atheist, if he is a man of common sense and if he is scientific in his outlook, he should pick up the correct mantra for himself. The science of tantra revolves around the mantra.

Then there is yantra and mandala, which are other aspects of this science, and we will deal with these another time. Remember, mantra, yantra, mandala. These are the three pillars of tantra, and yoga is the practical application of tantra in life. Tantra is the science which our wise ancestors used to teach and by which they became aware of the greater reality and eternal existence. It is an eternal science, it is the most powerful science and is all-comprehensive. Tantra is certainly the science for the new age.