Tantra and Meditation

Swami Satyananda Saraswati given at Caxton Hall, London on Sept. 18th 1979

The system of tantra is a very controversial and misinterpreted subject, and I do not agree with the way it is being presented in the world today. There are beautiful illustrated books, but they do not represent the tantric science truly and accurately. Therefore, I want to explain what I have been taught about tantra from my guru and my teachers, and how it brought about a metamorphosis in the entire structure of my own thinking.

Tantra is the most ancient spiritual heritage of mankind. It has faced open challenge many times but has always emerged victorious, surviving the tests of time and history. It survives because it is not an institution or a philosophy, but a system whereby man can improve the structure and quality of his body and mind, and transform his ailing personality.

Not only in this century, but for eons past, man has been exploring the possibility of expanding the frontiers of his consciousness. This doesn't mean that everybody has been aware of the terrible limitations of the mind. Even today there are millions of people who are not at all aware. But we also have a growing population which seeks to experience the expansion of consciousness into the unlimited mind. That aim, that process, and that experience, is tantra, and it has always been with man.

Tantra versus other systems

For those who have practised various meditation systems, the question often arises: 'What is the difference between tantra and other systems of meditation?' In other systems of meditation emphasis is laid on concentration of mind and control of the breath and the sensual perceptions, whereas in tantra, we bypass the behaviour of mind. We don't come into confrontation with the nature of the mind. This is the basic difference.

Etymologically speaking, tantra is a combination of two ideas - the expansion of mind and the liberation of energy. The meaning of tantra, therefore, is a process by which we expand our consciousness and liberate energy. What is expansion of consciousness? We know that our mind has limitations. The mind receives information through the sensory channels, and depending on the information they supply, it acquires knowledge by means of cognition and perception. If you have no eyes, you won't be able to see, and if you have no ears, you won't be able to hear. The senses provide stimuli and the mind is able to function on the basis of those stimuli. This is the limitation of ordinary human consciousness. The perceptions are dependent on the quality, the quantity and the procedure of the sensory activities.

Is it possible then, if these sensory channels are dissociated, so that the seat of consciousness, the brain, is isolated, to nevertheless have cognition, perception and knowledge? Is cognition a quality of the mind, or is it dependent on the stimuli that are sent to the brain? In tantra, the consciousness is considered a homogeneous entity. Even without the association of the senses, it is possible to have knowledge, cognition and perception. We don't have it simply because our consciousness is not given the chance to experience its homogeneous nature.

The mind, the consciousness, is homogeneous, but the whole consciousness is not functioning. In this relative world of the senses, one aspect of consciousness is in operation, but the other areas of consciousness are silent. They are dormant, inactive.

If we know how to activate the silent areas of consciousness, then we can experience the homogeneity of consciousness. This homogeneity of mind is the subject matter of consciousness. Through the practice of meditation, we can isolate the consciousness and achieve total awareness of the entire mind.

In tantra, the science of kundalini yoga is very important because it is a system of awakening the higher energies in man and thereby illumining the entire consciousness. At the base of the spine is a centre which is known as mooladhara chakra, the seat of kundalini. Mooladhara is the switch for another centre at the top of the spine known as ajna chakra, the monitoring centre. In between these two are four more centres lying parallel to the given areas: swadhisthana - pubic bone, manipura - navel, anahata - sternum, and vishuddhi - throat pit. These six centres are situated along an important channel or nadi in the spinal cord known as sushumna. When the consciousness is isolated, when it is disconnected from the sensory associations, the vibrations of mooladhara chakra begin to resonate. Then the energy rises in sushumna, awakening the chakras, and also switching on the higher centres in the brain.

Tantra is a dynamic process of meditation, but in other systems we find a passive process. The practitioner simply sits with his eyes closed and tries to face his mental perceptions. But more often he finds himself fighting with them. We hate some of our mental perceptions, and this sometimes brings on psychological tragedy, even if we are unaware of it. Today, meditation has come to mean a state of mind which is unconscious. As such, meditation is not a dynamic process of life, but a process of total elimination of mind and consciousness. In tantra this is totally unacceptable.

What is the purpose of eliminating the mental structure, of hypnotising the processes of mind? What, after all, are we going to gain by that? Our meditation should be aimed at creating a process of activity and dynamism. In the language of tantra, the purpose of meditation is to awaken, not to obliterate, the consciousness. The present state of your mind must follow a process of awakening, not hypnotism. This is the fundamental difference between tantric meditation and other meditations.

I do not believe it is possible to awaken the mind by suppressing it. Withdrawing the perceptions of the mind will never awaken it. Mind is a hub of continuous activity, a continuous flow of events and experiences. Every experience that arises in the mind is a resonant wave of energy manifesting in the form of energy patterns.

A thought is not psychological stuff, or a biological reaction. It is a resonant wave of energy. What is cognition, what is knowledge? Resonant waves of energy. Most people sit in meditation and try to eliminate them all, but this is not the way. Unless an awakening takes place, it is never possible to reach the stage of meditation.

The consciousness has to expand, to keep on flowing through and through all the networks of the mind. You do not have to come into confrontation with the mind, with the area of perception. When you practise tantric meditation and awakening takes place in mooladhara chakra, it does not matter what is happening in your mind. It does not matter what you are thinking, what nature of fantastic imaginings are going on in your mind. It also does not matter if your mind is thinking terrible things.

Thinking about ail kinds of things is the nature of the mind because mind is composed of different principles. Mind is not composed of purity alone. That's the mistake our religious mentors have made. Total purity cannot be the sole component of the mind, just as total evil cannot be. Mind is a composition of sattva (equilibrium), rajas (activity and dynamism) and tamas (inertia). These three qualities frame the nature and the structure of the mind. As such it will never be possible to extinguish the thoughts and tendencies of the mind; we have to find a different path altogether.

Practices for awakening

In tantric meditation the objective is to activate the silent areas of consciousness. For this, it is not sufficient to just close your eyes. Something more is needed. Therefore, in the practice of tantra the techniques of kriya yoga are of the utmost importance. These practices bring about a change in the energy levels in the whole psycho-physiological structure.

People in both the eastern and western countries have to know the real objective, the ultimate purpose of meditation. There are, of course, people who need meditation for tranquillity, soothing tensions, calming the nervous system, lowering the blood pressure, and creating a state of relaxation. For them, it is not necessary to go into meditation; pratyahara alone is sufficient. When you isolate the consciousness from sense experience, a state called pratyahara is attained, where there is absolute tranquillity and physical and mental relaxation. For many people this is enough and any practice will do very well. That is why many forms of meditation are being practised by people all over the world. But for those sincere aspirants who have become aware that this body is not only made up of flesh and bone, but is a composition of energy, and that this energy can be awakened, for them there is the practice of kriya yoga.

The practices of kriya yoga form the main spiritual techniques in tantra. Kriya yoga is not a system in which you just close your eyes; it is a method in which you activate each and every system, organ, and aspect of your existence. Shakti is the most ancient and the most primal power. During the course of evolution, the energy has been manifesting itself in different states and dimensions. Now we have evolved to the state of human life, and this energy is trying to find a way out, a way up.

In the spinal column there are three important channels. In the centre is sushumna, on the right is pingala, and on the left is ida. These nadis or channels are clearly defined in tantra. Ida is the carrier of the mental energy, and pingala the carrier of pranic energy. These two flow all throughout the day and night. When you stop the flow of these two types of energy, then sushumna, the spiritual channel, begins to flow.

Ida flows through the left nostril, and pingala flows through the right. When you stop both these flows, mooladhara chakra becomes active. Therefore, the practice of pranayama, breath retention or kumbhaka, is of great importance in the awakening process.

Yoga, as we know it, is not an independent system. It is the practical aspect of tantra. When you practise your asanas, pranayama, or any other hatha yoga technique, you are practising tantra. All these practices have a direct bearing on the awakening of sushumna nadi. Unless sushumna nadi wakes up, actual meditation will not take place no matter what method you have employed. Even though the mind is active, if you have a technique by which you can send energy waves through sushumna, the mind will automatically be transcended. You don't have to control the mind; you have to transcend the mind. That is the key.

People who do not understand this make a mistake with their meditation practices every time they sit down to meditate. They close their eyes and they try to close their mind. Why is it necessary to stop the mind when you can liberate energy by keeping the mental activities intact? The mind has to be made homogeneous; you have to expand it. At the same time, wherever you are, you have to develop the awareness of another existence, another dimension. Then meditation becomes an ongoing process which occurs spontaneously throughout daily life.

Meditation Practice

Please be seated in a comfortable cross legged pose. Close your eyes and chant Om with me 3 times.

Now focus your attention on the tip of your nose. When you try to look at the nose tip with your eyes closed, this is known as nose tip gazing. By fixing the mind on the nose tip you are also steadying the eyes, and when the eyeballs are still, concentration and meditation can occur more easily.

It does not matter if your mind wanders from its concentration point every now and then, but the eyes should remain steady. When your mind and your eyes are fixed on the nose tip, you don't have to make strenuous efforts to concentrate. Just bring your awareness to the nose tip from time to time. Maintaining awareness of the nose tip, follow the natural movement of the breath.

Witness each inhalation and exhalation.

Without moving your awareness from the breath or the nose tip, listen carefully to the instructions.

The natural breath is usually even, but sometimes it becomes deeper, shorter or longer. It does not matter, the important thing is to maintain awareness of the nose tip and the breath at the same time.

Breathing generally continues involuntarily, but at times you have to voluntarily breathe in and out. If the breath becomes shorter or longer it does not matter. Don't try to control the breath, merely witness it.

In synchronisation with the breath, begin to mentally repeat your personal mantra, or, if you do not have one, repeat the mantra so-ham. As you inhale use so, as you exhale use ham.

You have to maintain simultaneous awareness of the nose tip, the breath and the mantra. Nose tip gazing helps to stabilise eye movement, and breath awareness makes the mind open and free, so that the mantra penetrates the deeper layers of your consciousness.

Continue mantra repetition with the breath for 10 to 15 minutes.

The breath will become finer and finer, at times it will be deeper and at other times it will be shorter. If you are able to maintain constant awareness of the breath, it will become deeper, but if you lose contact with the breath, due to the fluctuations of the mind, then the breath will become shorter.

The nose tip is a very important centre. If you are able to keep your mind fixed on the nose tip, and at the same time follow the breath, you can influence mooladhara chakra.

If you feel tension when you concentrate on the nose tip, it means you are making too much effort and are not sufficiently relaxed.

Nose tip gazing, breath awareness and mantra repetition should be practised simultaneously. Threefold perception at one instance - this is one way of practising mantra meditation.

Now, for a few moments only, relax your mind - not the body, only the mind.

No nose tip awareness, no breath awareness, and no mantra awareness. Relax the mind completely. Let it go where it chooses, let it think what it wants.

This relaxation of the mind is important if you practise your mantra for a long time. But if you are only practising your mantra meditation for 10 minutes, then it is not necessary.

If you can pause for a minute or two at the end of each 15 minutes of practice, or for 5 minutes at the end, it will be very good.

The nose is shaped like a triangle, you can imagine it. When you concentrate on the nose tip you are fixing your mind on the lower middle point of the base of the triangle.

The right side and the left side are the channels where you feel the inspiration and the expiration. Again, for just a few minutes, witness the breath. Focus your attention on the nose tip and the ingoing and outgoing breath.

Keep going and centrally establish the nose tip as a point. When you are aware of the breath in the proximity of the nose tip, you get a better idea of the breath and also of the nose tip.

Begin to repeat the mantra in synchronisation with the breath, so with inhalation, ham with exhalation. Nose tip awareness, breath awareness and repetition of the mantra.

Now chant Om with me 3 times.

Hari Om Tat Sat. You may open your eyes.

This is how mantra meditation should be practised.