Tantra (Extracts)

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Kriya yoga has its source and origin in the great system of tantra which was conceived more than 4000 years before Christ. It will be very difficult for the people of the West to accept the reinterpretation, or the correct interpretation of tantra in the light of yoga, which I am going to put before you.

To a great many, in India or in western countries, tantra means a kind of ceremony which includes all those peculiar things which are not very acceptable in a respectable society, such as playing with the skull of an animal or the skull of a man and many other dirty things.

Those who are sincere students of the tantra shastra find that the great system of kriya yoga has emerged out of the vast body of this system. Not only kriya yoga, but even hatha yoga, pranayama, mantra yoga, ajapa japa, kundalini yoga, nada yoga, trataka, yoga nidra and even the practices of inner silence, antar mouna, are off shoots and derived from the vast body of tantra. What we know in the West and in the East by the word yoga, the same is meant by the word tantra; rather, tantra is the basis and yoga is an offshoot of tantra. The science of mantra, about which we have heard a lot from time to time, is not a part of bhakti yoga, or the path of devotion, but is an essential part of tantra. Without the system of mantra, the system of tantra does not exist.

The word tantra literally means stretching, or rather expansion and liberation. Expansion plus liberation is tantra. The etymological structure of this word tantra conveys the ideas of two great processes. The first of these is the process of expansion and the second is the process of liberation or release.

If I say tantra yoga it means the yoga which includes the practices for expansion of individual consciousness and then finally for the liberation of consciousness from the fold of prakriti, nature or matter. The whole tantric system can be said very plainly to be the native place or the native home of all the yogic sciences wherever you may find them: in India, Tibet, China, Japan, and South east Asia. Anywhere, the tantric system is the native system; it is the father or the mother system.

Purpose of tantra

The ultimate purpose of tantra is to provide a layman with the practices, easy and difficult, according to his social, moral and intellectual structure, for spiritual realization, for the expansion of his personal self, the small self, and finally to make him free from the bondages of maya, prakriti and unreality.

The tantras suppose, and it is true, that everybody is not the same. Everybody is not capable of great austerity or acts of renunciation and practising a rigorous system of life. At the same time, everyone has the right to become aware of the highest consciousness, the highest truth.

Some people in the western and in the eastern countries, even at the present time, feel that the practices of yoga are not meant for everyone; they are only meant for the recluse, for renunciates, and for those who are celibate or brahmacharis. The system of tantra has brought us the insight that the above statements are not true. Yoga, as an inseparable part of tantra, is practicable and approachable by each and everyone in expectation of attainment.

There are some people who say that in the tantric system of yoga sexual life, wine, fish and meat, and other such things are included, and that therefore this is not a pure system, this is not a pure yoga, this is not a higher yoga, and as such we do not want this tantric yoga, we want something better. This is a wrong conception.

The practices of tantra are divided according to the gunas, according to the internal quality of the aspirant which are three in number: the sattwic people, that is to say the pure ones, the rajasic, the dynamic ones, and the tamasic, the lazy, ignorant and thoughtless people. The practices of tantra are divided and practised according to the practitioner's qualifications.

There are practices of tantra for the evolution of the consciousness of the person with sensitive qualities, who will maintain continence and refrain from taking undesirable diets. That does not mean that a person who has not completely adjusted morally and who has not corrected his diet, and so on, cannot practise the system of tantra or tantric yoga; but then the practices are slightly different.

The object of tantric yoga or the object of the practices of tantra is not only to do some ceremonial work or some practices but the ultimate purpose is to identify yourself with the highest consciousness, to realize the highest consciousness and to render this lower mind free from all the limitations that it is subjected to and attached to.

The symbolisms of tantra which you see in the form of yantras or diagrams, and in the form of pictures of animals and men are all indicative of the planes of human consciousness or the states of psychic evolution or involution of man, where he stands during the process of expansion and fusion.

Yoga nidra

I am going to talk to you about another important item of tantra shastra; that is the system of yoga nidra or psychic sleep. Without pride, I must tell you that I was the first, not only in India, but abroad to reveal this type of yoga nidra in 1962. I am not an inventor, this happened to be my first discovery when I was reviewing all the tantric books. It was then that I came to understand that yoga nidra was one of the most powerful methods not only of relaxation but of reawakening the degenerated brain centres.

The yoga nidra that I first discovered in tantra is such a peculiar one that if I were to teach you that yoga nidra I would have to prepare you for some time with the science of sound, the science of mantra. I do not remember exactly at the moment but I think there are about six hundred seventy sounds and you can practise yoga nidra on these six hundred seventy, or a little more not less. When you practise yoga nidra on these sounds it is as good as practising yoga nidra on different centres of the brain of which you have no idea at all. There are various yoga nidras, or different systems of psychic sleep.

Their purpose is first to enable a yogi to practise astral projection, second to enable a yogi to practise long hours of meditation, and third to enable a person to rest, relax and to heal himself. Furthermore they enable him to awaken the centres of the brain by the different sounds or the different mantras, a number of which are very important and very influential.

In the tantra shastra yoga nidra is such an elaborate system, it is something like surveying the whole body on the external physical plane of physical limbs, the internal plane such as the heart, the lungs, the respiratory and the circulatory system, and even the thoughts, emotions, and so on.

Yoga nidra begins with the external body: thumb, second finger, third, fourth, fifth, palm, and so on. Ultimately it goes to that point where you are made so sensitive as to perceive colours, emotions and many other things, which is difficult in the beginning. Although I am very eager to bring out all the different systems of yoga nidra according to different systems of tantra for the benefit of healing, for the benefit of spiritual revival.

—1970, Copenhagen, Denmark