This article is the introduction in Swami Sivanandaji’s book “Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga and Kriya Yoga”. This article is also in Swami Krishnanandaji’s book“Essays in Life and Eternity”.
Click here to read Swami Sivanandaji’s essay on Tantra.
The system called Tantra has been always regarded as an esoteric and a secret way of spiritual practice, not accessible to the untrained one and to the common folk. The secrecy about the practice seems to consist in the novel outlook of life which the Tantra requires the seeker to entertain, a way of looking at things different from the one in which people are generally accustomed to see, interpret and evaluate things. The teachers of the Tantra hold that a seeker on this path has to outgrow the social and even the human outlook and develop a superhuman and divine outlook in respect of things. Since this would be to expect too much from the common man in the world, Tantra is supposed to be a closed secret whose gates can be opened only with the key provided by a competent Guru.
The philosophy of the Tantra is based on the concept of a dual nature of everything. Nothing is single, but everything is bi-polar. The so-called unity of things is only a form taken by a particular manner of the coming together of two forces, Siva and Sakti, we may say, the positive and the negative poles. In order to understand this mystical conception of the universe, we may refer to the traditional doctrine of the Puranas, the Manusmriti and the Mahabharata, that in the beginning there was a universal Uni-Cell, as it were, known as the Brahmanda, which split into two, one part of which was the Cosmic Man and another part the Cosmic Woman. We may call these parts Siva and Sakti, if we so wish. Even our modem science seems to be corroborating this view when it holds that in the beginning the universe was a single Atom, which split into two and then into the multiplicity of the present form of the universe. Since the two parts and their subsequent sub-divisions actually belong to a whole, there is a natural pull exerted by each on the other, there is a mutual attraction between the positive and the negative poles, both at the cosmic level and its lower multiple forms of descent, even down to the atom, which today we learn is constituted of a bi-polar structure with a nucleus in the centre and electrons revolving round it in a most mysterious way. The behaviour of the two parts of any single organism seems to be a double attitude of the consciousness of duality and unity at the same time. There cannot be attraction between the positive and the negative unless they form two poles, and not a single something, and yet, at the same time, there cannot be this attraction if they are absolutely two different things without a basic unity operating in and between them. This is the mystery and the difficulty in understanding the phenomenon known as attraction, usually called love or affection in common language.
While the concept of Siva and Sakti, in its highest essence, represents the Supreme Cosmic Duality, and one can imagine only attraction and love operating there, so that Siva and Sakti are considered as inseparable facets of a unitary reality sometimes known as Ardhanareesvara, the Cosmic Androgyne, the principle of repulsion, viz., dislike going with like, hatred going with love, will be seen at the lower levels where the bi-polar unity assumes a multiplicity of forms, so that one bi-polar unit cannot tolerate the interference or sometimes even the presence of another such bi-polar unit, for fear of losing its isolated self-conscious bi-polar unity. This subtle operation can be seen manifest in its grosser forms when one family group finds it difficult to appreciate another family group and bestow equal love upon it, one organisation, one social group, and even one bi-polar individual, cannot look upon another such without some suspicion and reservation.
According to the doctrine or the Tantra, the sorrow of life is caused by a bi-polar existence, a split of the one into two, because the truth of things is oneness and not the dual existence in any of its forms. The dual form of life being, in a sense, an unnatural way of life, there is always an ambivalent attitude of like and dislike at the same time between one pole and another, love getting suppressed when hate supervenes, and hate being suppressed when love gains the upper hand, while the fact is that both these attitudes are present in an individual hiddenly and only one of the aspects comes to the surface as and when the occasion demands. To get back from duality to unity is the process of Tantra Sadhana. While this is the objective of every Sadhana, what is the speciality of the Tantra as distinct from other Sadhana in the achievement of this objective?
The distinction is very subtle, not easily noticed. In all forms of religious practice, mostly, there is an ascetic injunction towards a rejection of the outer for the sake of the inner, the material for the sake of the spiritual, a cutting off of every desire as a baneful obstacle to Sadhana, and a considering of every joy in life as an evil to be eradicated at the earliest opportunity. To the Tantra, the things of the world, the material forms of perception, are not really obstacles, and a desire for them cannot be overcome by rejecting the desire itself. Everything in the world, the whole world itself, is a passage to perfection. The visible is a way to the invisible and not an obstacle to it. Human desires arise on account of the unintelligent attitude man develops towards desire, and he has a fear of desire since he is being told that all desire is bad and all objects are bondages. The Tantra holds that the object is not a bondage, because of the fact that the object is inseparably related to the subject, the object is the other pole of which the subject is the complementary pole. Every experience is a subject-object relation, and, therefore, no one can even think of overcoming the consciousness of the object, except by a relationship already established with the object. Thus, the attempt at overcoming the object involves one in a vicious circle. No effort in the direction of a getting rid of the object is possible, inasmuch as there is already a consciousness of the presence of the object. Thus, comes in the great dictum of the Tantra, that desire can be overcome only by desire, even as the object can be overcome only by the object. The other aspect of this principle held by the Tantra is that “that by which one falls is also that by which one rises.” (Yaireva patanam dravyaih siddhih taireva).
Here is the crux of the whole matter regarding the Tantra, which marks it off from other religious practices and forms of Sadhana. Why this practice is difficult and even dangerous, will be obvious from the nature of the doctrine, while conceding that the doctrine is perhaps highly rational and based on a deep psychology of human nature.
The teachers of the Tantra know that there is a great difficulty in inculcating this doctrine and practising it. Hence, the art of Sadhana along this path is considered to be a graduated movement through different ascending stages of understanding and a disentanglement of the subject from involvement of the object, by a rising to a condition transcending the very relation between the subject and the object. The stages prescribed are, the Vedachara, the Vaishnavachara, Saivachara, Dakshinachara, Vamachara, Siddhantachara and, lastly, Kaulachara. Of these seven stages mentioned, the first three are intended for the lower category of Sadhakas, known as Pasujiva (persons in whom the animal nature is predominant), the next two for the Virajiva (persons in whom the normal human instinct is predominant), and the last two for the Divyajiva (persons in whom the divine element is predominant). It is believed that the first three Acharas stand, respectively, for Karma (work), Bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (knowledge), the Veda standing for ritual, Vaishnava for devotion and Saiva standing for knowledge. The fourth Achara, which is called Dakshina, attempts to conserve the results achieved through the practice of the first three stages. Up to this level, the movement is almost linear and a straight one, practically. But at the next stage of Vamachara, there is a strange difference in outlook, for this term implies the commencement of the return current of the soul’s movement towards reality. ‘Vama’ does not mean ‘left’, as most people seem to think, but the ‘reverse’ process, Nivritti or returning, as distinguished from Pravritti or flowing onward along the natural current of the senses. Here is the beginning of the most secret practice or the esoteric aspect of the Tantra Sadhana, where objects of attraction, whatever be their nature, are regarded as instruments, not to be rejected, but assimilated into and made part and parcel of one’s own being, but with the intention of overcoming the consciousness that they are outside oneself as a sort of opposing object or an external something. This particular phase is not supposed to be explained, but learnt directly from a Master. The greatest obstacles to spiritual perfection are generally considered to be wealth, power and sex, and it is these that the Tantra intends to harness and overcome by the means by which an untrained mind may head towards a fall. The Pasu, Vira and Divya Bhavas, corresponding to the animal, human and divine natures, take into consideration the gross, the subtle and the divine aspects of the things which are to be confronted as oppositions in one’s spiritual life. This is the forbidden area of Tantra Sadhana, which no true seeker will disclose, as the common man is not expected to know it, understand it, or be benefited by it. Every object has a gross form, a subtle form, and a divine form, and every Sadhaka has to pass through all these stages. The Tantra insists that no stage can be rejected as an obstacle but has to be traversed personally. An unknown thing, an object of fear, cannot come under one’s control.
The Tantra holds that the impure, the ugly and the unholy things of life are things which have been wrongly seen out of their context, and, from their own particular positions, or from the point of view of the things themselves, they are neither good nor bad, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither holy nor unholy. These are all suggestions given by the mind from the standpoint of the particular interest which refuses to take into consideration that there can be other interests than one’s own. The universe is a multi-point of view, and not a single point of view; from the former one has to rise to the latter, by a systematic and progressive movement of the whole of one’s being through the gross, the subtle and the divine compositions of things. In the beginning, one contacts the object. Next, one merely thinks it in the mind. Lastly, one visualises it as a point of stress in the Universal Reality. The Siddhantachara and the Kaulachara mentioned above complete the process of Sadhana, whereby one gets established in the true nature of things and becomes veritably superhuman. The renunciation involved in religious practice is not a rejection of the object or the thing as such, but the idea or the notion that it is outside oneself. It is this wrong idea that generates desire, not the object or the thing. The prescription is indeed very subtle.
Tantra Sadhana includes the recitation of Mantras, performance of ritual through Yantras and an adjustment of oneself to the particular degree of reality, which is the specific meaning of Tantra. In this process one has to learn many minor details directly from the Guru. The purification of the body, the mind and one’s social relations, are all important preparations of the Sadhana. The usual Shodasopachara-Puja or the sixteen-limbed worship addressed to a Deity, is also the procedure applicable to anything and everything that one adores, regards or loves. By worship, one seeks union with the Deity through an abolition of the separation of oneself from the Deity. The mysterious processes called Nyasa (Anga-nyasa and Kara-nyasa) are, again, inward techniques of feeling the object in oneself, the Deity in one’s own being. All this would make it abundantly clear that the Tantra Sadhana is as highly scientific and precise, as it is difficult and dangerous. This is its speciality.