Although yoga has been more widely accepted than tantra around the world, at the same time one needs to know that yoga is an offshoot, a part, of tantra. Therefore, we find that many components of tantra, such as mantra and concentration on yantra, are inbuilt in the yogic tradition. The definition of yoga is to experience the unity between body, mind and spirit. These three experiences are an integral part of human evolution.
The entire structure of yoga is vast. It gives an understanding of how the physical body works and how we can channel the energies active in the physical dimension; this is knowledge of annamaya and pranamaya koshas. It gives an understanding of the energies and functions of the various attributes of the mind; this is knowledge of manomaya kosha. It gives an understanding of the human consciousness, not in its limited form but also in its cosmic, universal form; this is knowledge of vijnanamaya kosha. And it gives the realization that our true, essential nature is not confined to worldly, sensorial, sensual experiences, but that there is a dimension which is beyond the senses where we experience the optimal, homogenous and integrated form of human consciousness, where pain and suffering associated with the world of name, form and idea do not exist, where there is understanding, experience and living bliss; this is knowledge of anandamaya kosha.
In order to provide insight into these various dimensions of human experience, yoga uses different techniques. Some are its own techniques, others came from its parent body, tantra, others from the traditions of Vedanta and Samkhya. In fact, yoga is a thread joining different systems of thought, traditions and philosophies together. A mala has individual beads but they are strung together on one thread. Similarly, Tantra, Samkhya, Vedanta and other philosophies are considered to be individual and unique in their own right. What makes them useful, of human utility, is the component of yoga which brings them together and creates a clear picture of the beliefs, philosophies, techniques and principles of these various systems of thought. Therefore, to think that yoga is an independent individual belief system or philosophy is inappropriate and does not do justice to the aim and purpose of yoga.
The purpose of mantra is to liberate the mental dimension from its self-created bondage. This is the definition of the word mantra. Mantra is the force that can liberate the mind from the forces of illusion and ignorance and raise the level of the mind to experience its real nature. In this context, mantras are associated with realization of manomaya kosha. They are not just sounds or words of power associated with different deities. Mantras have different meanings; some are yogic mantras, some are universal mantras, some are religious mantras. We have created these different associations with a particular person, concept or belief, but these mantras existed before we were able to create our own associations.
Mantras have been recognized in every culture and tradition whether it is Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Vedanta or Samkhya. According to Christian thought, in the beginning was the word, and the word was God. The word is the mantra. According to Upanishadic thought, it is Om. The Mandukyopanishad states in the first sloka:
Omityetatadaksharamidam Sarvam Tasyopavyaakhyaanam
Bhootam Bhavadbhavishyaditi Sarvamonkaara Eva
which means, The word, Om, the primordial sound, represents the past, the present and the future, the finite and the infinite. These are some of the attributes of the sound Om. In this way, if you look into every tradition, you will find the concept of mantra already existed before human beings were created on this planet.
Mantra represents the divine, cosmic force, the transformative, superhuman force. Words always convey a meaning. Sounds always convey a meaning; they have a particular pitch, frequency and vibration. This pitch, frequency and vibration is understood by the human mind, not only intellectually but also psychically. Human beings have made the mistake of trying to rationalize everything through the intellect. That is the greatest mistake a human being can make. Intellect is only one component of the mind. There are many components and attributes of the mind which receive, filter and process the information received by an individual in the form of words, in the form of vibrations, in the form of the existing environment. So, the point that needs to be emphasized is that mantras are very powerful transformative agents.
Yantras are also very powerful symbols of the deep unconscious; they are symbols of the psychic personality. Just as we can associate images in the conscious mind with objects in and around the world, similarly yantras represent symbols and images which are inherent in creation, which are archetypes of human consciousness, which represent the growth of the human mind. Not a lot of work has been done to understand the real meaning of yantras because at present our knowledge is limited. Yantras are the real symbols which link the individual with the real consciousness. Yantras are vehicles by which you can experience transcendental consciousness. The use of yantra in yoga is to give us realization of vijnanamaya kosha.
Tantra is definitely the father of yoga, but unfortunately tantra is also misunderstood in today's social system and by today's belief structure. There has been a degeneration in our belief structures, and this applies to everything in life. We are not able to know the essence of religions or the essence of philosophies; we are not even able to know normal human relationships. Our belief structure revolves around the human individual what 'I' believe to be true that is all. There is no acceptance any more of what is real and applicable universally, there is only acceptance of what 'I' feel is appropriate for me, and nothing more than that. Due to self-created imbalance, disharmony and selfishness, we are not able to look into the reality behind the appearance.
It has happened with tantra. Many people today think of tantra as a practice involving drinking wine, eating meat, having sexual affairs, using mantras and yantras to control and manipulate others. People associate tantra with magic good and bad depending on its use. However, tantra has three aspects: sattwic, rajasic and tamasic. Tamasic tantra can be associated with manipulation and power. Rajasic tantra is associated with personal projection. Sattwic tantra is only a tool to transcend one's limitations. Unfortunately, in the world today, tamasic tantra is the one recognized as tantra. Sattwic tantra is the worthwhile one but very few people know about it.
Nevertheless yoga is a part of tantra. In fact, there is a system in tantra known as yogachara, living the yogic way. All the practices of yoga, whether it be hatha yoga, raja yoga, Patanjali's yoga, Sivananda's yoga, the Satyananda or Iyengar systems of yoga, all fall into the category of yogachara. In course of time, as the level of human consciousness rises, maybe the true teachings of tantra will again come to light. But until then you should perfect the understanding of yoga.
Ganga Darshan, January 31, 1998