The Path of Experience

Swami Satyananda Saraswati given at Sivanandashram, Paris on Sept. 15th 1979

There is a mysterious substance behind man's existence. The wise men have tried to define and explain it, but most people have not yet been able to understand it. In the last decades, a tremendous awakening has taken place all over the world and now people have accepted the fact that there is a very mysterious power at the core, at the basis of existence.

From where do the thoughts come and from where does the consciousness emanate? There are thousands of such questions which man has not been able to answer. We can discuss and explain them very clearly in theoretical terms, but they will never be understood in this way, because this mysterious substance is not a matter of knowledge, but of experience. We may have perfected our intellectual concepts; we may comprehend the nature of the substance in perfect mathematical terms and be able to explain it in thousands of equations, but the ultimate thing that needs to be achieved is 'the experience'.

When we realise the necessity of the experience, then we have to take a different direction altogether. The experience is not an outcome of intellect or even of scientific thinking, it is the culmination of a process of jumping over the mind. Knowledge is confined within the category of the mind; the experience is beyond mind, intellect, and emotion. Knowledge can be redefined but experience cannot. What is the way to the experience? Do we get this experience through a process of transmission? Can this experience be explained and understood, or is it an outcome of a process in which you transcend time and space barriers?

We know of two ways to achieve this experience, the vedic way and the tantric way. We have heard plenty about the vedic way in the past, but now we are talking about the tantric way of discovering this mysterious substance. Maybe you already have your own personal opinion about tantra. If so, for the time being, please forget all those concepts, otherwise it may' not be possible for you to comprehend the entire role of tantra. Tantra literally means expansion of consciousness and liberation of energy. There are books which say that tantra is occultism, magic, sexual sublimation, or an underground spiritual practice. However, this is not the grammatical, etymological, philosophical or traditional meaning of tantra.

A process by which you are able to expand your personal consciousness is one aspect of tantra. Our consciousness is confined within an area; the mind functions within a given space. The activities of the mind and its capacities are related to the senses and sense experience. For example, you can only hear as much as your auditory system allows you; you can only see as far as your optic system allows you. This is the limitation of the personal mind. There are minute forms in this universe which you are unable to see. There are resonant waves of sound which you are unable to hear. This indicates that the mind functions within a very small, confined area.

Therefore, what we have to do is to break the barriers, then the mind can flow out of its confinement and experience infinity. But mind is dependent on the information supplied. If the sensory channels are incapable of supplying the information, then the mind is paralysed. If your judgement, logic, or mathematics fail to supply the necessary information and decisions to the mind, the mind fails. This is the limitation of mind. If you want to break this behaviour pattern, then you have to adopt a new system; you have to expand the mind.

Science of mantra and yantra

Expansion of mind takes place through certain techniques in which you isolate the mind and allow it to slow down. This is the process of tantric techniques. In this system the first technique is the science of mantra. If you want to expand the mind and realise the mysterious substance behind man's existence, then mantra is the first step.

Mantra is a vehicle for awakening the deeper forces within oneself. Each mantra has certain wavelengths and frequencies that are able to penetrate the internal structure of the mind. If you practise a mantra even without trying to concentrate your mind, the sound waves that resonate during the practice permeate through and through your physical and inter-physical system. The different types of waves that you initiate while repeating the mantra, permeate a new dimension of your consciousness according to your practices. When you chant mantra, sometimes it produces standing waves, resonant waves, or rhythmic waves. When these various waves are produced, they not only influence the atmosphere outside, but the whole mental structure of your personality.

A sound is not just a noise. It is a wave that carries electrical vibrations with certain amounts of energy. When you practise mantra, the sound produced moves in a certain pattern. However, the sound recorded by your consciousness is not exactly the same as the sound heard through your ears. In the deeper mind, the sound of each mantra has its own archetype. Therefore, the sound of mantra has a totally different effect on our consciousness than other sounds which we may produce or utter.

Many people ask, 'What is Om?' Om is the dimension of your consciousness. When you chant Om, it penetrates into your consciousness and assumes a geometrical pattern. Every sound has a specific form - circular, triangular, rectangular, hexagonal, and almost any combination of so many types of geometrical patterns. These forms are not hypothetical, suppositional or imaginary. They are archetypes, and each sound has its own corresponding archetype. The archetype of mantra is known as yantra, and therefore, mantra is the subtle form of everything.

No need for concentration

The mantra you practise creates a lot of force within your inner self. Although you can concentrate with the help of a mantra, mantra is not a tool of concentration. The purpose of mantra is to permeate your whole body, mind, and spirit with resonant vibrations. Therefore, when you are practising mantra, even if your mind is not concentrated but jumping from thought to thought, you are still getting the full benefits.

Once I told my guru that the mantra he had given me was of no use because when I practised it, my mind would jump about like a monkey. What is the value of repeating a mantra if it doesn't concentrate the mind?

He gave me some very practical advice: 'You do so many things in life which apparently have no value. So why don't you continue with the mantra for an extra five minutes.' I repeated my mantra as he ordered for years together with absolute regularity. Even though I had no faith in it, the mantra had very deep and powerful effects on the whole structure of my consciousness. I practise it even today. So in tantric techniques, mantra is the first and foremost practice, which does not require concentration.

Expression rather than suppression

Everybody wants to realise and experience the mysterious substance behind man's existence, but they don't want to break the wall which separates them from it. They paint it again and again and keep the secret substance in obscurity.

When you sit for meditation and a thought comes, you suppress it. Thoughts of worry, anxiety, passion, anguish - different types of thoughts come to the mind when you practise mantra meditation. If you leave them unattended, they will crop up again. This is not the tantric way. The tantric way of dealing with the mind is to attend to each thought as it arises, and finish with it forever. That is the only way you will surpass it.

Even if you are able to isolate your mind, you cannot channelize it. You may be able to disassociate the mind from the sensory channels so that the senses cannot supply stimuli, but what about the inherent nature of the mind? Mind is a bundle of samskaras, impressions. There are thousands of memories, of experiences. How are you going to deal with this multifarious nature of the mind? If you try to perform mental genocide, you will have to pay horribly. How many impressions in the mind are you going to decry, and who is going to do the job? This is how you create animosity within your own personality. Your religious mind says this is bad, and your free mind says it is good. So you already have two checks on one mind. This creates what we call internal conflict, which ultimately makes you schizophrenic.

You must allow the mind to think without opposing, abusing, or hating it. If there are any evil thoughts in the mind, learn to accept them; do not suppress them. Whatever thoughts arise, learn to face them with full awareness. They are your inheritance from childhood, from your parents, and from society. They are your personality, your structure. They are 'you', and you must not try to kill yourself. Therefore, when you practise mantra, please don't quarrel with yourself. If your mind is running into fantasies, let it go.

Learn to witness the mind. Sometimes it regresses into the remote past, sometimes it goes into the very distant and unclear future. If you allow your mind total independence and liberty, it will transcend itself even without your knowledge. The path of experience is not so long and tedious. The experience is here and now. It is already in you, so you don't have to develop it. It has always been in existence, but you are not able to experience it because you are bound by certain limitations. Allow your mind to flow, to break its barriers, to be anarchical, to wander freely like a vagabond, to commit crimes (inside, of course). Allow it to find itself, give it space to run, and let it experience psychic forms. Don't worry about bad thoughts, or be happy about good ones. Just see them as you see cars moving down the street. You are aware of them, but you have no personal involvement. Like this, there is endless traffic in the mind, and when you are trying to practise mantra, the rush hour begins.

The mind is constantly resonating, vibrating with all kinds of impressions, even now, but you don't see it, you don't know it, because your senses are engaged. As soon as you isolate your mind, you can see the whole beautiful game it constantly plays. The more you evolve in spiritual life, the more you become aware of the homogeneity of the mind. So therefore, in tantra, do not aim at killing any of the expressions of the mind. Mind is not your problem at all - you are the mind's problem, always wanting more experiences. So whenever you practise mantra, yantra or kriya yoga, please remember that you are not going to fight with the mind. As you practise your sadhana, you must see that you don't interfere at all with the mind and the experiences that come to you.

Bindu - the ultimate point

In tantra the way of meditation is spontaneous. In kriya yoga, for example, there comes a moment when you experience expanded consciousness even if you do not want to. Tantra is liberation of energy. This energy, called shakti, is the sum total of the creation of the universe. To be in tune with shakti is the discovery of the self. The destiny of man is to discover the absolute universal energy. This is the bindu, the point. In a circle, there is one curve which represents time, a second curve which represents space, a third curve which represents object, and a fourth curve which represents transcendental consciousness. Then there is bindu, the point or dot at the centre which represents the absolute. This is the nature of reality and of the universe- time, space, object, transcendence, and the ultimate point.

In tantra, the emphasis is on bindu. The whole universe is an expansion from that bindu; matter has exploded out of bindu. Bindu is one absolute, but it has divided itself into millions. It is endless, and every speck of creation is absolute. There is no imperfection in this great universe, in everything you see around you- past, present and future. That is the extent of bindu.

So the bindu point at the eyebrow centre is the nucleus of the universal mind. It is the tiniest of points which explodes into the whole of creativity. When you concentrate on bindu, what happens? Time and space come closer. Otherwise they are very far from each other.

Imagine what is time and what is space. They are not outside- they are within the mind. Time and space are qualities, characteristics of the mind. If there is no time and no space, there is no mind; and if there is no mind, there is no time and no space. When you say mind, you must assume time and space, and when you say time and space, you must assume mind.

When you concentrate on bindu, time and space come closer. Time is positive and space is negative. One is Shiva and the other is Shakti. In symbolic language, one is male and the other female; one is plus and the other is minus. Mind consists of time and space; if you separate them, mind drops away. Bring them together and mind is assembled.

If you bring time and space together and connect them, what happens? It is the same as when you bring two electric wires, one positive and one negative, together - there is a spark. Bring time and space together and they will start sparking. But if you bring them closer to the bindu, there is an explosion of energy, like a bomb. This explosion is the self in tantra. I use the word explosion here but actually words have no meaning in spiritual life. Only the experience has any relevance.

Bindu is the womb of matter and the two poles of universal mind are time and space. We exist in time and space, so we can't take time or space and throw them away. Only at the time of death, are time and space withdrawn into the universal mind at two different poles. Then they leave the body and enter into another body. But this is not what we mean here. We are talking about liberation of time and space, about active participation of time and space in relation to spiritual life. Therefore, when you practise concentration on bindu in the eyebrow centre, whatever experience arises, you must only feel that time and space are coming closer to each other. When this explosive awakening takes place, then what happens? Matter issues forth- the universal mind breaks into millions of fragments. It is all in the form of nebulae with each fragment a complete bindu, an absolute creator. It is like the atom splitting itself into thousands of atoms, all over.

At this time you have completed your evolution; the destiny of human life has been fulfilled. Just as when you finish university, you go out into the world and begin to work. So in spiritual life, when you have completed your evolutionary cycle, you go out and become a co-creator, a junior god. That's the ultimate goal to which tantra leads mankind.


Satsang on Tantra

Can you tell us about the origin of Tantra?

Tantra is the first discovery of man. It predates vedic literature but it was not recorded in the written form until after the vedic period.

In ancient days when man was living closer to nature, he moved with the spontaneity of natural behaviour. His concepts about philosophy, God and morality were not the basic philosophy of a society, nation or religion- they were more for his own personal evolution. He began to think about realising a higher status in life rather than the higher values of a society. You must differentiate between these two. Higher values in life is spirituality. Higher values of a society is civilisation and a nation. In our world today there are many countries with higher social standards, but with very low values of life.

This tantric system did not spring from any organised system or planned method. It originated with each individual as a natural urge. To give you a very gross example: hunger is not an organised urge. A man feels hunger individually and tries to satisfy it by any means available. If he is beneath a fruit tree he will eat fruit; if he is in the forest he will hunt an animal for his food and so on. In this same way tantra developed with the individual.

As the evolution of man took place, he experienced many peculiar things and he began to wonder how they happened. For example, if someone dreamed that something was going to happen and it actually did happen, he began to wonder how he could dream of the events to come. So the thinking people began to seek the source of their intuitive knowledge and finally they came to conclude that there was a higher mind and that mind was not restricted by time and space. Man began to think of his existence, wanting to overcome his mental limitations and to realise that higher spiritual being within. For this purpose he developed certain practices which aroused his personal consciousness, made him more intuitive, and increased his awareness. This is how tantra began and continued expanding.

In many different countries, including India and Mexico, hundreds of practices were developed for the awakening of one particular faculty. People tried various methods of concentration and worship of gods. They tried herbs, minerals, narcotics, alcohol, fermented substances, chanting of mantras, the use of sounds like the drum, bell, conch, and all forms of music and dancing. However, it was chaotic in the beginning without books or a proper system.

It was not until later, after the vedic period, that certain spiritually minded people realised the great potential that lay within the tantric system and wrote it down in book form. Some suggested austere and puritanical life. Others recommended meditation and spiritual practices, and there were some who suggested the path of devotion and religion. This is how the science of tantra developed in the course of time.

What is the link between the ancient civilisations and the practices of tantra which are being revived today?

A lot will have to be said about it. As far as we know, the Atlantis civilisation was aware of the different tantric practices, symbology and other forms of experience. These were already present in the human mind in the Atlantean era, some 45,000 years ago. Every form of knowledge has its symbol in the universal mind. Just as modern computers have a symbolical language, so the human brain possesses archetypes in the form of geometrical shapes which we know as yantras in the science of tantra. Utilising these yantras the Atlantean people were able to organise the knowledge and create a structure of experience which enabled the individual to become aware of the psychic dimension of his personality.

Eventually some crisis must have occurred, compelling the Atlanteans to make a fast exodus. Some of them went as far a field as Latin America, while others went to the European continent, to the Indian subcontinent and to the Far East. I have been through many different countries and I was surprised to see some of the pre-Colombian art pieces in San Agustin, Colombia, and in Lima, Peru. In the open air museums there, the yogic postures, mudras, bandhas and yantras are clearly depicted in stone and terracotta figures.

Unfortunately, in almost every country, the tantric tradition is completely lost today. But the tradition was quietly maintained in India by some very sincere people who had the help of the more conscious and influential of the country. If you read through the most ancient books - the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, you will realise that the tantric tradition was the basis of every kind of knowledge in former times.

Nowadays, the basis of this knowledge remains encoded in the language, pictures and diagrams of tantra. Only very recently have scientists been able to discover that the human mind possesses its own archetypes and endless forms, symbols and languages, and that the understanding of language and perception depends on what is already contained in the universal mind.

Global evidence strongly suggests that a prior ancient civilisation has already realised, recognised and understood the reality of the universal mind and the individual mind. However, in spite of all the evidence, universal mind is still just a concept or hypothesis.

What are the differences between Indian tantra and Tibetan tantra?

In the Buddhist period, tantra was divided into two aspects, known as purusha, consciousness, and shakti or energy. Both consciousness and energy are within us in a united form. But for creation to take place, they have to first be realised separately. Now when you separate them, either you follow the prakriti path (shakti) or you follow consciousness (purusha). The Buddhist system preferred to follow the path of purusha tantra, whereas in India they followed the path known as prakriti tantra.

I will explain it to you in a different way. When you sit for meditation there are two distinct things which come before you. One is the awareness of consciousness, and the second is awareness of the experience. Now, what exactly are you going to do? You try to eradicate one of them. If you are meditating on a particular point and any thought or experience comes into your mind, you push it out and try to maintain consciousness. You try to separate consciousness from all experiences, thoughts and feelings; from every point of mental activity. This means that you are following the tantra of purusha.

In prakriti tantra, the practices develop concentration in order to explode the shakti from within. Many thoughts, many experiences and psychic visions will come into your mind and you may actually forget your mantra (Om), which is the symbol of purusha. Instead you will follow the experiences. You may see a blue sky, clouds, bright colours or any other symbol. Whatever you see you follow.

When you concentrate your mind on a symbol and continue to concentrate on that symbol, it is known as the path of purusha tantra. But when you become aware of the effects of that concentration meditation, it is called prakriti tantra. Tibet follows the tantra of purusha, and India the tantra of prakriti.

What are the different kinds of tantra?

In order to develop the higher mind, numerous practices were devised and these practices formed the different paths of tantra. The first path is known as dakshina marga or 'right hand tantra'. It is for those who are beginning to live a spiritual life, whether they are renunciates or householders. This path talks of austerity and purity - purity of thought, food, life and devotion, as in Christianity and Hinduism. The path of 'right hand tantra' is a very slow one which can be compared to travelling by bullock cart.

Of course many people were not satisfied with this path, so they made it more powerful by adding the practices of yoga - asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, hatha yoga. But still they found that this was not a very quick way. The only difference was that it was like travelling by bicycle. So they discovered new ways, including the path of kundalini yoga.

In kundalini yoga they discovered mooladhara chakra and that if you can awaken this chakra, you can easily develop the higher mind. So the next thing they realised was that the sexual act could accomplish this. During the sexual act, two opposite energies are created by the man and the woman, and these energies can cause an explosive awakening in mooladhara chakra.

Then the question arose: 'But everybody does it, and their kundalini doesn't awaken?' So they began to think about it. Then came the practices of vajroli mudra and sahajoli mudra. Utilising vajroli mudra, the shakti could be prevented from passing out. Generally when orgasm ends, a fall takes place, but if the orgasm can be contained or continued, mooladhara awakens and shakti can be directed up into the brain. Now the whole position changed, and the people began to practise this new form of tantra in great numbers. This became known as vama marga, the 'left hand tantra'.

In kundalini yoga the brain is said to be the centre of higher consciousness, but it is not fully functioning. The brain has different areas and most of them are totally inactive. These inactive zones have special capacities which can be evolved through the tantric practices. Out of all the tantric systems, the quickest is the left hand path, but the right hand path is for a beginner. If you have no mental control, then you must follow right hand tantra, but if you are an advanced sadhaka or a yogi, and have control over your mind, you can practise left hand tantra.

The use of herbs was also introduced. About five to ten thousand years ago there was a plant, a type of creeper, named soma. They used to make a beverage or juice from soma and drink it on full moon night. With this they were able to transcend time, space and object. But they soon found that soma was not suitable for all, because many people could not face the transcendental experiences which it brought on. So they began to search for smoother ways as well.

There is a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati. Parvati, as a disciple, approaches Shiva and asks him the way to develop one's innate power. Shiva instructs her that there are not one, but thousands of ways. For those people who are not very evolved, and who have animal tendencies, there are certain practices. Those who have human tendencies have other types of practices, and those who are sattvic, quiet in nature, have different practices again. So in fact, in the science of tantra, there are as many practices as there are human temperaments.

Why is there so much secrecy attached to the tantric practices?

There is nothing to hide in the tantric tradition, but for over ten centuries we have lived under the subjugation of those who followed different religious and political philosophies. These traditions considered some of the elements of tantra as sinful. Therefore, the attitude of the people towards tantra has changed, and so these questions are being asked. People have been converted to such an extent that their philosophical respect for tantra has been shattered and annihilated.

According to dharma the marital relationship, or the relationship between the two forces of nature, can never be considered sinful. It was considered as a dharma, a samskara. This is made clear in the vedic Smritis also. If you study the life of the rishis and munis of the past, you will understand that some of the elements considered as sinful by certain traditions are not considered as such in vedic tradition.

The word tantra is a composition of two words, 'tanoti' and 'trayati'. Tanoti represents expansion and trayati stands for liberation. Therefore, tantra means expansion of mind and liberation of energy. Just as you liberate energy from matter, shakti is liberated from the mind. Here liberation does not stand to denote a religious state; liberation should be understood in the light of modern science. Energy is liberated from matter in the same way as butter is separated from milk. This is tantra.

What is the relationship between yoga and tantra?

Yoga is an offshoot of tantra. The practices of mahamudra, mahabheda mudra, siddhasana, padmasana, pranayama and so on, are all from the tantric texts. All the practices of hatha yoga and bhakti yoga were a part of tantra. The system of mantra is considered to be the very definition of tantra, and yantras and mandalas constitute the very life, the very substance of tantra. Kriya yoga is a part of tantra, and kundalini yoga, with its concepts of chakra awakening; ida, pingala and sushumna nadis, also arose from tantra.

Therefore, yoga as we know it today, is in fact tantra. But during history, people started criticising tantra because it accepted sexual life. Some religions believed that sexual life was not the divine life, others thought that if you want to rise high, you should abstain from sex. There were some religions which taught that sex was a sin. So when these religions became powerful, they began to oppose tantra.

Then the wise people took yoga out of tantra. They abandoned that part that was criticised and adopted that which was acceptable. So yoga is an offshoot of tantra.

How does the path of tantra differ from that of raja yoga?

In raja yoga there is withdrawal from life; in tantra there is acceptance of life. If a person drinks, leads an active sexual life, or eats meat, he can still evolve in the system of tantra. But in certain orthodox systems, these things are considered to be unholy, and if you have recourse to them, you will fall spiritually. In tantra, your way of life, according to your nature, is no barrier to spiritual illumination. Whether you drink or not is never held against you. Whether you are married or leading the life of a celibate, it is perfectly all right. Tantra will not force you to go against your beliefs.

The main premise in tantra yoga is that spiritual awakening can be had by anyone, under any circumstances, at any level of existence. Man should not oppose or antagonise nature; he should be spontaneous and learn to flow with it. If he opposes nature, he will develop a split personality by creating two patterns of thought.

When travelling in India and Nepal, I was intrigued by the temple art. Can you tell me why they display sexual interaction in such a spectacular manner?

Did you try to think about it? That which is behind the veil should be placed in front. Inhibitions have to be broken, so that the mind is exploded, so that there is nothing in the mind that is secret. By creating a social philosophy and social traditions, man hides from himself. This is not absolutely necessary. Man has certain inhibitions and these inhibitions have made him hide things. But the hidden things remain in his mind, unanalysed, unexpressed and unattended. Eventually they become archetypes, influencing the deeper personality.

One may not even know that this process is happening. These hidden things may influence the body or mind, leading to a cancer or perhaps disturbing the family relationships. They may damage the personality or they may inspire the creative faculties within the artist.

The statues in the great temples are the creations of artists. These painters and sculptors were very free. They thought about these hidden things and brought them to the public eye through their creations, so that people could see them for thousands of years. I have seen these temples in Nepal, Jaganath Puri, Konorak, and Khajuraho many times. But they hold no surprise, shame or fascination for me. Once the veil is lifted, the deep archetypes within the mind become known. Then the symbols or forms which express them are understood for what they are without any sense of repulsion or intrigue.

When most people look at these symbols, they see something which they know, but which they don't want to face. An area of consciousness is behind the curtain, and the curtain has to be thrown aside. I can see what I know; I don't see any difference between the temple art and the pictures in a gallery or exhibition. I can see them both equally because for me nothing new is depicted. Why shouldn't these forms be expressed? After all, they represent a necessary aspect of creation.