Tantra (Agama)

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Sanskrit literature can be classified under six orthodox headings and four secular headings. They are: (i) Shruti, (ii) Smriti, (iii) Itihasa, (iv) Purana, (v) Agama and (vi) Darshana; and (i) Subhashita, (ii) Kavya, (iii) Nataka and (iv) Alankara. The Agamas are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship. They include tantras, mantras and yantras. These treatises explain the external worship of God. All seventy-seven Agamas contain teachings on (i) jnana or knowledge, (ii) yoga or concentration, (iii) kriya or action, and (iv) charya or doing. They also give elaborate details about the ontology, cosmology, liberation, devotion, meditation, philosophy of mantras, mystic diagrams, charms and spells, temple-building, image-making, domestic observances, social rules and public festivals.

The Agamas are divided into three sections: Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta. The Vaishnava Agamas glorify God as Vishnu. The Shaiva Agamas glorify God as Shiva and have given rise to an important school of philosophy known as Shaiva Siddhanta. The Shakta Agamas or Tantras glorify God as the Mother of the world under one of the many names of Devi. The Agamas do not derive their authority from the Vedas, but they are all vedic in spirit and character. That is the reason why they are regarded as authoritative.

The Tantra Agamas dwell on the shakti or energy aspect of God and prescribe numerous courses of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in various forms. They are very like the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvati. In some, Shiva answers the questions put by Parvati and in others Parvati answers Shiva’s questions. Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra Yamala, Brahma Yamala, Vishnu Yamala and Todala Tantra are the important works. The Agamas teach esoteric practices, while others bestow knowledge and freedom. Among the existing books the Mahanirvana Tantra is the most famous.

Scientists now say that everything is energy only and that energy is the physical ultimate of all forms of matter. The followers of the Shakta school of philosophy have said the same thing long ago. They further say that this energy is only the limited manifestation of the infinite supreme power or Maha Shakti. The Devi is not only the principle of creation, the principle of auspiciousness, but also the principle of divine knowledge. Maha Devi or Maheshwari or Parashakti is the supreme shakti or power of the supreme being.

In the Shakta doctrine Shiva is the supreme unchanging eternal consciousness and Shakti is his kinetic power. The universe is a manifestation of Devi’s divine glory. She is the supreme power by which the world is upheld. Shiva is omnipresent, impersonal, inactive. He is pure consciousness. Shakti is dynamic. Shiva and Shakti are one. Shakti tattwa and Shiva tattwa are inseparable. Shiva is always with Shakti.

Tantra yoga

Tantra yoga has been one of the potent powers for spiritual regeneration. When practised by unenlightened and unqualified persons, it has led to certain abuse. One example of a travesty of the original practices is the theory of the five makaras: madya or wine, mamsa or flesh, matsya or fish, mudra or symbolical acts, and maithuna or coition. Their esoteric meaning is: “Kill egoism, control flesh, drink the wine of God-intoxication, and have union with Lord Shiva.”

Tantra expands (tanoti) in great detail on the knowledge concerning tattwa (truth or Brahman) and mantra (mystic syllables). It saves (trayate). Hence it is called tantra, expansion and liberation.

The Tantras are not books of sorcery, witchcraft, magic spells and mysterious formulae. They are wonderful scriptures. Everyone without the distinctions of caste, creed, or colour may draw inspiration from them and attain spiritual strength, wisdom and eternal bliss. Mahanirvana and Kularnava Tantras are the important books in Tantra Shastra. Yoga Kundalini Upanishad from Krishna Yajurveda, Jabala Darshana, Trisikha Brahmana and Varaha Upanishad are useful for obtaining knowledge of kundalini shakti and the methods to awaken it and take it to sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.

Tantra is in some aspects a secret doctrine. You cannot learn it by studying books. You will have to obtain the knowledge and practice from the practical tantrics, tantric acharyas and gurus who hold the key to it. A tantric student must be endowed with purity, faith, devotion, dedication to guru, dispassion, humility, courage, cosmic love, truthfulness, non-covetousness and contentment.

Shakti Tantra proclaims that paramatma, the supreme soul, and jivatma, the individual soul, are one. Shaktas accept the Vedas as the basic scriptures. They recognize the Shakta Tantras as texts expounding the means to attain the goal set forth in the Vedas.

Tantra yoga lays special emphasis on the development of the powers latent in the six chakras, from mooladhara to ajna. Kundalini yoga actually belongs to tantric sadhana which gives a detailed description of this serpent power and the chakras. The entire tantric sadhana aims at awakening kundalini and making her unite with Shiva in sahasrara chakra. Methods adopted to achieve this end in tantric sadhana are japa of the Mother’s name, prayer, and various rituals.

Tantra sadhana

Bhuta shuddhi is an important tantric rite. It means purification of the five tattwas or elements of the body. The aspirant dissolves the sinful body and makes a new divine body. He infuses into the body the life of the Devi. Nyasa is a very important and powerful tantric rite. It is placing the tips of the fingers of the right hand on various parts of the body, accompanied by mantra. In Kavacha the one Brahman is invoked by different names in order to protect different parts of the body. Mudras are ritual manual gestures. Mudras please the devatas. There are one hundred and eight mudras.

Yantra takes the place of the image. It is an object of worship. Yantras are peculiar to each devata. They are various designs according to the object of worship. Yantra is the body of the devata. The sadhaka first meditates upon the devata or deity and then arouses the devata in himself. He then communicates the divine presence thus aroused to the yantra. When the devata has been invoked into the yantra by the appropriate mantra, the vital airs or prana of the devata are infused therein by the prana pratishtha ceremony. The devata is thereby installed in the yantra. The materials used or acts done in external worship are called upachara and number sixteen.

Every mantra has four important places in the human constitution – para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. Of these, para is the mantra in its extra superfine sound origin in mooladhara. The form of this sound is discernible only to liberated beings. Pashyanti is that form of the sound perceived by yogis only in the area around the navel. When the same mantric sound is heard in the heart, it is called madhyama. The fourth or final stage of the mantric sound becomes audible as it enters the neck and comes out of the throat and lips. Then it is called vaikhari. It is now in its gross form and can be heard by others, besides the producer of the sound.

Guru and diksha

Tantra yoga must be learnt from a guru who will recognize the class to which the aspirant belongs and prescribe suitable sadhana. The guru is none other than the Divine Mother herself, descended into the world in order to elevate the aspirant. As one lamp is lit at the flame of another, so the divine shakti consisting of mantra is communicated from guru to disciple.

Initiation removes the veil of mystery and enables the disciple to grasp the hidden truth behind the scriptures, which are generally veiled in mystic language. They cannot be understood by self-study, which will only lead to greater ignorance. Only the guru will give you by diksha the right perspective with which to study the scriptures and practise yoga.

The qualifications of the disciple are purity, faith, devotion, dispassion, truthfulness and control of the senses. He should be intelligent and a believer in the Vedas. He must abstain from injury to all beings. He must be vigilant, diligent, patient and persevering. He must be ever doing good to all. All sadhana should be done under the personal direction of a guru of spiritual teacher.

Tantra is the saving wisdom. It is the marvellous boat which takes man safely to the other shore of fearlessness, immortality, freedom and perfection, when practised with understanding under the personal guidance of a well-established tantric guru.