Swami Satyananda Saraswati at the Zinal Conference in May 1979

Tantra is the oldest and most scientific system of self - awakening, which originated even before the Vedas. For a long time this powerful science has remained in oblivion, so much so, that even now those who are supposed to be practising tantra are social untouchables. People have always regarded tantra as a type of witchcraft or sorcery, so they have a very peculiar notion of what a tantric is. It is therefore necessary to analyse and understand the science of tantra.

Tantra evolved in ancient times from a desire of the people to understand the psychic behaviour of the mind. For example, certain individuals entered trances and performed miracles which they could not have accomplished in an ordinary state. They made prophesies and predictions which later came true. How could the mind have this knowledge, this greater capacity? These unexplainable phenomena were actually what lead the people to discover tantra.

In fact, this is what has been happening in our times as well. During the first half of this century, psychic phenomena were not at all acceptable, and it was considered that anyone who experienced them belonged in the mental hospital. It wasn't until the second half of this century that research centres were set up in New York, Geneva, Tokyo and many other places around the world to investigate and explore the psychic faculties of the mind. Gradually they came to the conclusion that the unconscious mind of man is something very tenable and mysterious.

To augment these researches, many books were written on the possibility of manifesting a super-mind by such eminent scholars as Aldous Huxley, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, and others. The greatest inspiration came from Sri Aurobindo, who made a clear cut declaration that the super man is going to descend. Finally, Timothy Leary, the father of LSD, completely exploded the myth of a normal mind. His experiments were widely publicised and resulted in a new definition of what we call 'expanded consciousness'. Today, although most people have not yet experienced the super-mind, they believe that the possibility exists. Man is convinced by and large, that beyond this mind is a greater mind.

Throughout the world, a great awakening is taking place. When I see this awakening, a picture flashes into my mind of ferocious Kali standing on the body of Shiva. Decades ago, when I first saw that picture, I didn't think I would ever understand or admire it. But since then, scientists have split the atom, releasing energy from the bosom of matter. This made the significance of that picture very clear to me. Energy has dominion over matter; body is capable, but mind is more capable than the body. Tantra has taken this principle even one step further and separated the mind from its modifications, thereby releasing an even greater force of energy.

Expansion of the mind

Tantra is the founding philosophy of yoga and all the spiritual sciences. The etymological meaning of tantra is expansion of the mind and liberation of energy. In tantra the expansion and liberation take place in the realm of the mind. In order to liberate the energy, the first thing is to expand the mind. What is expansion of the mind? Our mind is limited by our conditioning. Due to the society, culture, customs, political ideology and so many personal desires, our mind is very conditioned and unable to move outside of its habitual areas.

The ordinary mind is dependent on the senses for knowledge, and if they do not co-operate, it cannot function, cognise or perceive. Even if you dissociate the senses, you still think about the limited things like lunch, dinner, business, house, kitchen, husband, wife, love, divorce, chocolate. This is the boundary of the mind. Our perceptions form the limit and the senses can't go beyond that. At the most you dream and have perceptions.

There are other levels of experience, but the mind is not capable of perceiving them. You are not able to expand the mental faculty beyond a given range. In order to see beyond a certain distance you must be able to increase and refine the capacities of your perception, or you must have a telescope. You cannot see virus and bacteria with the naked eye. If you want to see such minute entities you'll have to increase or magnify the capacity of your perception or you'll have to use a microscope.

Mind works within a definite area and not outside of that, but it can expand. Mind has no limitations. It can travel into the past or future; it is very powerful. It is not just a bundle of habits, a process of thinking or emotions. These are only the modifications of the mind and not the mind. These are the vrittis of the mind, the outer manifestations of the mind. The heat is not the sun, it is the modification of the sun. In the same way, mind is a different matter.

Mind is chitta, meaning consciousness. You should be able to expand your consciousness beyond the sense objects. Can you visualise those things that are not subject to the sense organs? No! You cannot perceive the sound beyond and below a certain range because you're limited. According to the Yoga Sutras the mind has five model reactions. That is to say, the mind acquires knowledge in five different ways, and this is the limit of the mind. When that boundary is broken and the mind is able to function beyond the five senses, then we say the mind has transcended the barrier.

This mind, which has been realised as a very powerful source of knowledge and energy, is arrested by the limitations of the human senses. The five karmendriyas (motor organs) and five gyanendriyas (sensory organs) impose limitations upon the mind. If you withdraw the senses, block them by the practice of pratyahara, the mind won't respond at all. Senses are the leading factors. If you are able to withdraw the senses and operate on the mental level, you can imagine how powerful the mind would be. Great men who are powerful in every field have always operated through the mind. I'm talking of such great men as Alexander, Napoleon, Shivaji, Einstein, Newton, Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore. They all operated on the mental level, beyond the senses.

Besides the senses there are other things that arrest the mind and what are they? They are the samskaras, the archetypes that are barring the gate. They won't allow the mental energy to be released. You have no control over the karma or the samskaras, because you are not aware of them. These archetypes, these unseen karmas, this storehouse of man's total accumulation, acquisition and inheritance is unknown to you. Every time you want to release the mind, the samskaras come and grasp it, they don't allow the mind to get out.

When you take ganja or LSD, what happens? Some of the sensual, karmic barriers are temporarily removed and you experience the mind that is usually kept isolated. I receive many telephone calls because I'm connected to all the telephones. But, if you disconnect them, I am isolated and receive no calls. Similarly, you have to isolate the brain. The mind and the nervous system, which carries the essential impulses, have to be blocked. That happens when you take ganja, or when you practise pranayama or mantra. Sometimes it happens by itself. This is called expansion and what happens is that you experience these things which cannot otherwise be experienced through the senses. Sometimes you can hear sounds or see colours. The visions which you see in meditation are also expansions of the mind.

Once I met an artist who said to me that he had seen a colour in his mind, but in trying to duplicate it he had wasted twenty tubes of paint. He visualised a colour which the senses could not experience. Another person may hear a tune inside which the senses cannot. This expansion can be carried on to any length.

Expansion is achieved by increasing the powers of perception. By allowing your mind to think of things which you do not already know, see things you have never seen, hear things you have never heard, and experience things which are absolutely novel and A1. When the mind expands, you see things in an altogether new dimension; this is what the youth of our generation call 'a trip'.

Once in Kathmandu, I saw some boys smoking a chillum. I asked them what they were doing, and they replied that they were breaking the boundaries, expanding the mind. So I asked them what happens when they take it, and they said they have a 'mind blowing trip'. I am not suggesting here that you should smoke a chillum, rather I am trying to convey what the expansion of mind means. It is an experience which supersedes the normal perception.

Liberation of energy

When the mind has expanded, a process of separation begins. At one point the energy is liberated. Now, what is the liberation of energy? In physics the energy contained in matter is liberated. When you hold the matter in your hand, you don't see the energy. But in the scientific process of fission and fusion, the energy is freed from the hold of matter. So within the hold of the mind there is another energy which has to be released. That is called liberation of energy.

Therefore, in tantra, we have two important elements, one is Shiva and the other is Shakti. Shiva represents consciousness and Shakti energy. Shiva is the non-doer, the non-enjoyer. It is only a seer, a witness; it does not involve itself in karma or destiny. This consciousness or purusha is unaffected; it is the same always and everywhere, and it does not matter whether it is dormant in matter or without matter.

Shakti is the ultimate deity in tantra, conceived as the power of creativity. The aim of tantra is the liberation of Shakti. In tantra there are nine great shaktis known as Nava Durga, the different forms of Shakti. In order to develop these shaktis, there are sixteen systems known as mahavidya. In this science we are not concerned with natural energy, but with non-material energy. All the practices of tantra are meant to extract this energy from the body of matter.

Shakti is twofold - the material aspect is known as prakriti and the active aspect as shakti. In tantra, what happens is that shakti, the active energy, has to be liberated from purusha, consciousness, and also from prakriti, matter. Imagine that within you is the purusha, atma or Shiva. Inside you also is the nature of prakriti, playing through the body, mind and senses. Within prakriti, the shakti is hidden. This shakti has to be separated from purusha and also from prakriti. This concept is very difficult to grasp. The whole humanity and creation is an interaction between purusha and prakriti only; not between purusha and shakti. Only in a great yogi does interaction take place between purusha and shakti, which is called union of Shiva and Shakti.

Union of Shiva and Shakti

For us, Shiva is male and Shakti is female, but in tantra Shiva is the positive pole of energy and Shakti the negative. When these positive and negative poles of energy come together, an explosion takes place and awakening of energy occurs.

There is a deity in the Hindu pantheon, known as Brahma, the creator, who represents the universal mind. What is the scientific concept of the universal mind? The universal mind is something which we cannot see but which nevertheless exists. It is egg shaped. At the lower end of the egg is the minus or negative energy pole, and at the upper end is the plus or positive energy pole.

These two poles of energy are known in tantra as Shiva and Shakti. Plus represents time and minus represents space. Shiva represents time and Shakti represents space. Ordinarily, Shiva and Shakti stand apart. But through the practices of concentration and meditation, they move towards the central point, or nucleus of the universal mind. That nucleus, known as bindu, is called the seed of creation. When Shiva and Shakti come close to one another, an explosion takes place in the seed of creation, then creation begins, outside on the material plane and inside on the mental plane. You have seen Shiva and Shakti embracing each other. Now, you will understand it.

In tantra the union between Shiva and Shakti is known as maithuna. In tantric practices the most important thing is that these two forces have to join somewhere at one point of time. In the universal world, I don't think anyone knows how this union takes place, although a lot has been written about it in the Puranas. But in the individual world we know that ida and pingala, which originate from mooladhara chakra and finally unite in ajna chakra, represent Shiva and Shakti.

Why do man and woman live together? Is it because of social or religious compulsion or a desire to become cultivated? Animals don't live together, but still they manage to have children; they have sexual possibility. The purpose of all union is threefold: progeny, pleasure or samadhi. Progeny and pleasure are sufficient for the lower life forms, but the union of Shiva and Shakti is solely for the discovery of that higher energy. Tantra is very explicit in this sense.

Religions have always misunderstood the union of Shiva and Shakti, and this has caused a lot of mental problems. Of course, Shiva and Shakti still unite, but this is not a divine act. It is a sin and you are born in sin. Tantra has no such concept; the union of Shiva and Shakti is the centrifugal point.

The tantric ritual

In order to utilise the positive and negative forces inherent within us to explode the deeper regions of consciousness, the practices of tantra were evolved. In the esoteric sense, the tantric ritual involved the partaking of five tattwas or elements, which were commonly used in daily life. However, these were not interpreted in the same way by everyone, because the sadhakas belonged to different categories: (i) pashu or instinctive, (ii) vira or hero, (iii) deva or divine. Therefore, some performed the tantric ritual exactly as it was written. For them wine was wine and flesh was flesh. However, those sadhakas who were more evolved, experienced wine as the nectar which emanates from bindu. By the practice of khechari mudra they were able to extract this nectar and circulate it through the physical body. Then unmani, the threshold state in between extroversion and introversion was attained. So, for them wine became the blissful nectar experienced through khechari.

Similarly, maithuna is understood only in relation to sexual interaction by the tamasic or rajasic aspirant. But for a sattvic aspirant, maithuna means the union of ida and pingala in ajna chakra. When these two connect, the union of Shiva and Shakti occurs on the subtle plane.

In the same way, we can talk about flesh also. For a person who is of tamasic or rajasic temperament, flesh means meat eating. But for the person of sattvic tendency, flesh refers to body consciousness and when you transcend the body, you transcend the flesh.

Therefore, it is said in the path of tantra, that those people who want to practise the tantric ritual in its gross form must prepare themselves first. What is the use of taking wine if you lose your senses, or in having sexual interaction if you lose your semen? What is the use of eating flesh if you take it only for the taste? It is necessary that the sadhaka who is practising tantra should do a lot of preparation in order to utilise the practices for obtaining the highest experience.

This is why the path of tantra does not begin with the tantric ritual. It begins with mantra, yantra and hatha yoga. If the sadhaka who is practising tantra does not know what he is doing and is not an adept in vajroli mudra, he can kill himself. One can practise tantra with a number of people, but he must be an adept in vajroli mudra and the female must also be an adept in sahajoli mudra. Besides this, one should be able to localise his consciousness in bhrumadhya or ajna chakra and see the bindu or focal point of light there. Unless this is perfected, the sadhaka must continue to prepare himself. In every science preparation is necessary. In tantra there is also preparation. If anyone who wants to practise tantra takes a bottle and a woman, and goes off somewhere, that is not enough. That is just an excuse to gratify the senses, no more.

The practice of tantra should not be confined only to the ritual of the five tattvas. Tantra is a system whereby you expand the mind and liberate the energy. When you practise tantra, life is experienced within you, not apart from you. Tantra is all inclusive, not exclusive. All the religions of the world have been excluding things, but tantra does not exclude anything. Tantra is therefore the dharma of our times.