The Tantric Tradition

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Please explain the tradition and the meaning of the tantric yoginis.

This question concerns the tantras. Tantra has been classified into five categories: (i) Shaiva tantra in which Shiva is the master and Parvati is the disciple; (ii) Shakta tantra in which Shakti is supreme; (iii) Ganapatya tantra in which Ganesha is the chief deity; (iv) Saurya tantra in which the sun is the primordial force; (v) Vaishnava tantra in which Narayana is the chief. These are the five main classifications of tantra.

Out of the five, two are still very active, vibrant and dynamic in India, and they are Shaiva tantra and Shakta tantra. In Shaiva tantra, where Shiva is the guru and Shakti is the disciple, there are many sects, out of which ten are prominent. In Shakta tantra, where Shakti is the supreme controller of the universe, there are ten major sadhanas which are known as the Mahavidyas. The shakti, the creatrix, is seen in ten different forms, starting with Kali, then in other forms like Tara, culminating in Shodashi, Kamala. The shakti which is seen as the empress of the entire visible and invisible, manifest and unmanifest cosmos, who is the ruler of an individual's destiny and the cosmic destiny, who is the bestower of everything which is auspicious and benevolent, is worshipped as Shodashi. That is the final manifestation of shakti, the Devi.

The sadhana of Sri Yantra in tantra is the highest sadhana. In brief, the worship of shakti leads to transcendence from the earthly plane, the gross plane, and merger with the cosmic energy takes place. This is the theory behind it. At the same time, in the tantric tradition we find that there are eighty-four siddhas and sixty-four yoginis, who are the masters of the tantric art, the tantric science.

The Shakta tantra becomes fruitful only when woman is recognized as the Supreme Master, as the channel of the cosmic energy. This is a very ancient tradition. In ancient India, more specifically in tantric India, women have always had the highest position, the highest status. But later on, with the invasions and political upheavals, the matriarchal system of the tantras went underground and the patriarchal system of the tantras came to the surface.

Swami Sivanandaji, who is our paramguru, was a sannyasi of the Shankaracharya tradition in which Vedanta is the main theme, but at the same time he inspired many disciples to revive the ancient science. He inspired Paramahamsaji and other people to revive the science of yoga. He inspired people like Swami Chinmayananda to revive the subject of Vedanta as it is taught in the Bhagavad Gita. He also inspired another swami to revive the science of Sri Vidya and his name is Swami Advayananda Saraswati.

When the subject of Sri Vidya, the real tantric tradition, had to be revived, it was necessary to initiate females in the sannyasa tradition and in the tantric tradition. So a personality was chosen for that, who is now known as Swami Sri Vidyamba Saraswati. She became the force behind the revival of the Shodashi tantra in which worship of Sri Vidya is the main theme. The priestesses, the swamis, who belong to that group are called yoginis.

In our midst we have five of them who came to conduct the Lalita Yajna in Deoghar. So they are also grandchildren of Swami Sivanandaji and I am also a grandchild of Swami Sivanandaji, and from that relationship we are brothers and sisters. Maybe in the future when you have the opportunity to spend some time with the yoginis, you will come to know the depth of the tantric tradition.

It is a very pure tradition. You see, even in tantra there is the tamasic tantra, there is the rajasic tantra and there is the sattwic tantra. People in society today know the tamasic tantra; that is the mentality of everyone today. Everybody wants to control, to have power, to manipulate other people, to influence other person's attitudes and thoughts. Therefore, in most of the books about tantra which are available in the market you will find the tamasic aspect, which can be and which is equated with magic; sometimes people say black magic, sometimes people say white magic. No matter what it is, it is the tamasic tantra.

Then there is the rajasic tantra in which the individual, the practitioner is the focus, and in which the practitioner has to control different elements and overcome different instincts and natures. This form of tantra is also known – there are masters who teach it – but this is not the real tantra. The real tantra is the sattwic tantra in which surrender and faith, surrender to the Divine and faith in divinity, play a very important and vital role. What the yoginis practise is sattwic tantra; it is not rajasic or tamasic.

The sattwic tantra is of the highest category and it has the force, the power to liberate one completely from the cycle of birth and death. Once you become perfect in sattwic tantra there is no return, there is only moksha. The tantric tradition is unique, very beautiful and very systematic. It is very pure, very simple and it develops the nature of innocence. You have to drop the ego completely. You have to let go of your individuality completely in order to identify with the shakti. So it is one of the most difficult of the practices as well.

Ganga Darshan, December 8, 1997