Tantra - Left and Right

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Tantra is a philosophy and the various practices of Tantra fall into the different categories of 'left hand' Tantra and 'right hand' Tantra - vama chara and kaula chara. Tantric thought accepts life as it unfolds itself, with alt its varieties of personality, and seeks the growth of the different facets of personality without imposing any idealistic disciplines. It simply seeks to transform the human attitude, behaviour, nature and expression.

We have certain desires according to our likes and choices. Now, these desires or ambitions, or goals which we set in life, represent the aspect of self-satisfaction - I want to satisfy myself by achieving something in life - and this desire for self-satisfaction can be a great motivating force if it is channelled in a positive direction. It can also be a very limiting and selfish force if it is channelled in a negative direction. So the main emphasis in Tantra is on channelling every kind of desire, feeling, urge and instinct and giving it spiritual colour, not worldly colour. It should have a spiritual tint to it because the instincts of hunger, sensory and sensual enjoyment, fear, etc., are considered to be the Instincts connected with mundane human life.

Now, in Tantra, direct confrontation is needed with these instincts which inhibit the growth of our personality, or which restrict our expressions. If the desire is for sensual, sexual, sensory pleasure, then it is a very powerful force which can either expand our perception or limit it. The aim is that we should eventually attain the final realisation of what lies behind these forces, instincts and urges. What are they? Where are they coming from? In which direction are they going? How can we sublimate that energy which is contained in an instinct, in a desire or in an ambition?

In Tantra certain sadhanas have been prescribed. One, for example, requires that the sadhak goes to the graveyard and does meditation there. Now anybody who goes to a graveyard and tries to meditate will definitely have heart failure if their psyche begins to manifest. By psychic manifestation I mean that the inner experiences in the form of instincts and urges begin to surface, and when they come up it becomes a very visual experience. You see something which is not there. You may see a ghost, a spirit, a deity, a demon - anything can be seen. It is a projection of one's own consciousness, and tantric sadhana acts as a catalyst to project the consciousness and experience it in all its variety.

If we are able to change our attitudes, our daily perceptions and our idea of our self and what we are, then a certain kind of purification or transformation will take place within us. We shall rise beyond the experiences of instinct, urges and the basic samskaras and karmas of life. Different types of personality have been defined in yoga, modem psychology and also in Tantra. Yoga has defined personality according to the three gunas- sattvic, rajasic and tamasic, whereas modern psychology has classified it in terms of dynamic, emotional, intellectual and psychic.

Tantra classifies personality into 'pashu', 'veer' and 'dev', 'pashu' meaning the 'animal' personality, 'veer' meaning the 'warrior' personality, and 'dev' the 'divine' personality. And according to the Tantric system these three personality person who contain aspects of sattva, rajas and tamas. Even a person who has an animal-like personality will have attributes of sattva, rajas and tamas. Even the divine personality will have aspects of rajas and tamas in different intensities. And the veer bhav, the warrior-like personality, will also contain all three gunas. This is a broad classification which represents the basic structure of our personality. So, the transmuting of the personality from animal, to heroic to divine is the transformation of personality in Tantra which happens through tantric sadhana.

Tantric sadhana is a most difficult area to under-stand' It has generally become associated with techniques and practices which involve certain kinds of sensual satisfaction. However, if we study the different traditions of Tantra, the Maha Nirvana Tantra or any other aspect of Tantra, we find that the principles are based on the Samkya system: the awakening of the chakras and of the kundalini Through the practice of pranayama, mantras, concentration on yantras, mandalas, and other kinds of meditation, which bring us closer to our inner personality or psyche.

Tantra considers the female aspect to be the superior part of creation, and in this aspect of Tantra, which is the kaulachar, mantra initiation is given by the female: the wife can initiate the husband, the mother can initiate the son, the daughter can initiate the father. It is a mantra initiation.

The aspects of Tantra which have been associated with other philosophies such as Buddhism, Vajrayan Tantra, Mahayan Tantra, Tantrayan Tantra, are again meditative or analytical. They are the aspects of gyan yoga: self-analysis, self-awareness, 'who am I?' 'where am I?' 'am I what I perceive myself of be, or am I something more than that?' They involve certain practices such as vipassana. Vipassana is just one technique There are other techniques which are known to the general public and which are only given and taught at the time of initiation. They act as systems for stopping the gross mental activity and stimulating the subtle mental activity.

The 'right-hand' system of Tantra is Yoga - yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana. Yoga is a compilation of techniques from Tantra and Samkhya both. In kundalini yoga, in kriya yoga, where we are dealing with chakras and the kundalini, it is an aspect of Samkhya as well as a part of Tantra, The practices of kundalini and kriya yoga are considered to be a synthesis of Yoga and Tantra.

'Left-hand' Tantra accepts the five principles of life - pancha makar. These five principles are: matsya (fish), mans (flesh), maithuna (sex), madira (wine), mudra (grain), but they have to be understood and taken from the spiritual point of view. How they have to be accepted with a spiritual attitude and used for spiritual attainment is explained in the "Kularna Tantra" which is a treatise. If by drinking wine one were able to reach self-realisation, every drunkard in the world would be realised; if by eating meat one were able to attain self-realisation, then every non-vegetarian would be self-realised, if by sexual union one were able to attain self-realisation, then everybody in the world would be self-realised, including the animals. However, this is not the case.

So it should not be taken from its literal but from its symbolic aspect. The body develops its own wine inside and this concept has been clarified in the kundalini practices. That nectar is created by bindu chakra, and through practices such as khechari mudra, bandhas and other mudras, we can learn to transmute that nectar. That is the concept of wine. It is definitely not drinking rum and champagne and other things.

The concept of fish is the concept of pranayama. Tantra says only two fish have to be taken. What are these two fish? The breath which is Sowing in the two channels - ida and pingala. This breath must be controlled. Therefore control of breath and prana is considered to be having the meal of fish.

Like this, different things have been explained in Tantra. The actual practical aspects like the sexual relationship, the drinking of wine, or the eating of meat- in our ignorance we say that they are a part of Tantra, because we are not able to understand the exoteric meaning. If however, we look at them from the spiritual angle, then even the vamachar aspect of Tantra is a meditative process.

So Tantra, to my understanding, is nothing but a direct experience of the realities of life. It is necessary to try to initially analyse and understand the tradition from which these systems of thought have come, and what they are trying to tell us, then compare that with modern conditions and situations: 'Is it really valid? Is my understanding right? Is the understanding of the author correct and true?' Because on one side we are saying that in order to evolve spiritually there has to be control of mind, which will lead to some transformation and transmutation of the basic tendencies or vrittis, while on the other side we are saying that the drinking of wine is alright; do it, being tamasic is alright, being rajasic is alright also, one should become rajasic, etc.

Tantra emphasises an experiential awareness rather than an imposed idealistic discipline; and other systems of thought emphasise an imposed idealistic discipline with the hope that, if your convictions are strong, then in course of time you will be able to transcend the vrittis of life. If one's sankalpa shakti (the power of resolution), iccha shakti (willpower) kriya shakti (the power of action) are all strong, then one can change things. The urge may be there, but if these forces are not strong and powerful, then that urge simply becomes a desire, like everything else in life which may be fulfilled, or which may not be fulfilled.