Tantric Ritual and the Yajna

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Ganga Darshan, 3rd December 1995

I enjoy hearing about people's impressions of the yajna, how much they received and understood, because until now we have been involved with yoga. We have learned about asana and pranayama, and we have practised some yogic techniques. The yajna was a totally new exposure for about ninety-nine percent of people, including BSY sannyasins. It was also a tantric ceremony, the meaning of which not many people know about. The yajna also represents another step in the life of an individual to understand or to communicate with the higher nature.

Paramahamsaji wishes that the other hitherto unknown aspects of Tantra should also be slowly brought out. At present there are very few people who understand the science of Tantra. For Indians, as well as for people outside, Tantra has become a way of easy living, an excuse to do all the unnecessary things in life. Nobody can say anything against it. There has been a lot of deviation from the tantric system and tradition. It has also been associated with cheap magic, and those people who feel it is more than cheap magic have made it part of black magic.

In the Bhagavad Gita there are seven hundred slokas or verses from beginning to end. It is a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna in which one learns about the depressed mentality of Arjuna and the wisdom of Krishna. Similarly, the Durgasaptashati, the book of the Cosmic Mother which was being chanted during the yajna, has seven hundred slokas or verses. It is also a dialogue between a saint and a warrior king. Sage Markandeya, one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient spiritual tradition, is the main figure in the Durgasaptashati, and he is telling King Surat about the different aspects of the Mother Goddess, about her powers, her omnipresence and her creation.

The mantras of the slokas are beeja or seed mantras which can and which do awaken and stimulate the energies within the body, as well as the energies in the environment. The chanting of each verse is chorused by a combination of three beeja mantras: aim, hreem, kleem. Aim is the beeja mantra of Saraswati, hreem is the beeja mantra of Lakshmi and kleem is the beeja mantra of Durga or Kali. Each verse is chanted in combination with the beeja mantras. Durgasaptashati is a very important book of the Tantras. Every year, twice during the period of Navaratri, the nine days dedicated to the worship of the Cosmic Mother, people throughout the Indian sub-continent chant from that book. Of course, now this is only a tradition, a routine, and people do not know the deeper meaning behind it. But their faith and belief in the chanting of the mantras is still very strong and many incredible results are noticed.

What is the difference between Tantra and black magic?

A major aspect of Tantra is based on mantras, yantras and mandalas and even here there are different categories. We do not need to talk about mantras; we know how they work and what they represent. But it has been seen that whenever a spiritual aspirant goes deep into the sadhana of mantras, the vibrations pacify the external agitations of the mind. Once the agitations, the vrittis, are pacified, then a new perception and energy of mind develops which is powerful. With that force it becomes possible to transmit thoughts and feelings, to transmit healing energies, even to transmit an image of a person, like astral projection. People also misuse mantras in order to manipulate and gain control over other beings, for selfish reasons, not for enlightenment. This is where the tantric mantras are equated with magic.

The general concept of magic is that we can make other people act according to our wishes, subdue them, keep them in our control, make things happen the way we want them to happen. Higher magic is to propitiate the natural and the cosmic forces so that they are benevolent and help us to evolve. Whenever mantras are practised in the absence of proper direction, in the absence of a guru or teacher, in the absence of a proper spiritual background, then with the quietening of the mind, the mental energies manifest. When they manifest outward then, according to our evolution and mentality, we make use of them in either a negative or a positive way. Generally it is negative; our motives are selfish or self-oriented, to provide satisfaction and contentment for ourselves.

Today, in the market, these are the things which are projected as Tantra; mantras to overcome different ills, mantras to win in debate, mantras to win in court, mantras for a happy marital life. There is a big collection. But the actual aim is to use the awakened faculties of mind to evolve even more, not to use the mantras for personal motives, but to propitiate and to harmonise the energies which are at present unharnessed and uncontrolled in an individual, as well as in nature and in the cosmos.

The second aspect of Tantra is yantra. Yantras are symbols. In fact, the whole world, the whole of creation is nothing but a symbolic expression of the cosmic power. The body is a yantra. The shape of a building is a yantra. The design of a flower is a yantra. The place of the stars and planets in the universe forms a yantra. The whole of creation is a yantra. Yantra also means something which is continually evolving and which becomes a vehicle, a medium, a tool for the evolution of the cosmic consciousness of which an individual is a part.

The invocation of yantric power is another important aspect of Tantra. There is a potential, a possibility for manifestation in every symbol. Take a seed, for example. Externally a seed is nothing, but inside there is the potential for the growth of a huge tree. Just because the seed is not as big as the tree you cannot say that a huge mango tree cannot grow from that small seed. Similarly, symbols are possibilities of higher expression. If a seed is planted, nourished and nurtured there is the possibility that it will sprout into a big tree. If you don't take care of the seed and simply throw it away onto hard ground, it is going to die.

The same thing happens with the body, and here I mean the whole personality, not just the physical body. If you look after your body then the energies, the pranas, the mind, the nature, everything will be looked after. But if you ignore the body then it becomes a house of suffering: mental problems, physical problems, emotional problems, psychic problems, social problems, mismanagement of life. Everything can happen. In a way, yoga is a process to propitiate the body, the whole personality, so that it becomes favourable for your own growth, development and evolution. Meditation is a process to propitiate the psyche so that the psyche becomes favourable for your experience of growth, development and enlightenment. In the same way, the Tantras deal with awakening the potential of the yantras which are physical in nature, which are cosmic in nature. This is another subject all together within the structure of Tantra.

Thirdly, comes the aspect of mandala. After you have gone from identifying the individual seeds, you try to see the whole of creation in one glimpse, in one thought, in one picture. Mandala becomes a very complex figure encompassing many ideas, concepts, theories and systems, so that one becomes a microcosmic part of the macro-cosmic reality. For example, in the Buddhist Tankhas you will find that heaven, earth, hell, demons, humans, deities, animals and elements are all pictured in the one mandala. In the tantric mandalas also you will find the concepts of heaven, earth, hell, demons, deities, elements, nature, and different forms of creation from insects to the divine. The sadhana of mandala makes you, who are the microcosmic reality, one with the macro-cosmic reality. In a nutshell, therefore, we can say that mantra, yantra and mandala are the three main components of Tantra.

During the yajna, different mandalas and yantras were made on the tables inside the yajna mandap, and on top of each mandala and yantra was placed a symbolic image of the deity to be invoked. Deities were invoked in each pillar, corner, mandala and yantra. On the last day of the yajna, they were asked to leave because when you invoke a higher power you also have to release it. This was the concept of bringing down the cosmic forces to be with us and then releasing them after the work was over.

There were swastikas in the pots around the yajnashala. Can you explain what the swastika means?

The original name is swasti which means 'well-being' and 'auspiciousness'. The swastika also represents the wheel of life, life in motion. The Indian swastika is vertical and horizontal with four doors in the squares. The pots on each side of the gate inside the yajna were the ten kshetrapals or protectors and inside there was water from various rivers. The water that was used inside the mandap was brought from Gangotri, the mouth of the Ganga.

What does the success of such a ritual depend on?

People have become misers; they do not have the right sentiments. The pooja is done because they want freedom from some misery or pain or because they expect some reward from the effort. That pooja does not have the essence of worship. Most people sit for some time to do the pooja and then have it done by someone else, generally the Brahmins. Food is your need but the Brahmin eats for you. That will not fill your stomach, will it? Therefore the custom has been distorted. It is not common sense for someone else to take the food or medicine when I am the one who is hungry or in pain. People generate negative thoughts and make excuses like, “It is a lot of hard work. I have to sit for eight hours. I cannot read Sanskrit. I cannot sit that long. I am already unwell.” These are negative thoughts and true worship is impossible in their presence.

Another point is that the altars are made in a half-hearted way, not with devotion. The logic given is, “Oh, it is only a question of nine days, after that they will be broken up anyway. Let us make them of mud; let us plaster them with cow dung.” After the pooja no one has any respect for the structure where the gods and deities were invoked. What happens to it after the ninth day? Dogs and cats are found urinating there. People have no shraddha, faith, for that area where the deity resides.

We make many mistakes like this and as a result the fruits of the pooja cannot be fully obtained; the blessings of Bhagavati cannot be realised. If some effort is made and everything is organised efficiently the effects will be apparent in your life.

The yardstick of successful organisation is not the expenditure incurred or the number of people who turn up for the event. The success of the event depends on you – how much of your body, mind, feelings and spirit you have offered. Industrialists can spend millions to organise a beautiful yajna. They can invite millions of people. But if the sentiments and feelings of devotion do not exist, the event will become a party. How effective will the yajna be then?

A speciality of this yajna was the shraddha and bhakti of the foreigners. They could not understand a thing yet they sat with eyes closed from morning till evening and tuned into the feeling present in the environment. We find in other yajnas that people come, stay for five minutes, bow their heads, eat the snacks and leave. Those people do not have the attitude of devotion towards the event. The Brahmins present, who may have come from distant places like Madras, Varanasi or Kanchipuram, keep on chanting like parrots. They are not able to exchange those feelings with the people present.

As long as the flame, the jyoti, receives oxygen, it will burn. If you cut off the oxygen supply it will go out. The shraddha, bhakti and faith of those present work as the oxygen. The chanting, the pooja and the atmosphere that develops there is the jyoti. The brilliance and grandeur of the jyoti depends on how much oxygen you feed it. People cannot understand this. For those in the villages such an event becomes a fair and for the city dwellers, a party. People do not understand the spiritual link with such an event.

The yajna was special in many ways, the main one being that a realised saint was present – a siddha saint. Guess who?