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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


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From The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Tantra – A Way of Realisation By Swami Nikhilananda
Two Currents

What is Kundalini?


Yantras (mystical diagrams)

Tantric Ritual


The Tantras
From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva Section XVII

Upamanyu said: (Mahadeva) Thou art the maker of those declarations that are contained in the Tantras and the Puranas and that are embodied in language that is human.

[Note: The language of the Veda is divine.
That of the scriptures is human.]

The Tantras
By Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math

Tantra – A Way of Realisation

Modern research demonstrates the close affinity of the Tantra system of religious philosophy to the Vedas; Tantra itself speaks of its Vedic origin. In its subsequent development it shows the influence of the upanishads, Yoga, and Puranas. The ritualistic worship of modern Hinduism has been greatly coloured by it, and this fact is particularly noticeable in Bengal, Kashmir, Gujarat, and Malabar.

Reality, according to Tantra, is Chit, or pure consciousness which is identical with Sat, or Being, and Ananda, or Bliss. Thus both Vedanta and Tantra show a general agreement about the nature of Reality, with, however, an important difference which will be presently stated. This Being- Consciousness- Bliss, or Satchidananda, becomes restricted through Maya, and its transcendental nature is then expressed in terms of forms and categories.

According to the Vedas, as already stated, Satchidananda, or Brahman (the Supreme Reality), is in its true nature pure spirit; and maya, which is inherent in it, functions only on the relative plane at the time of creation, preservation and destruction; neither is the creation ultimately real, nor are created beings, for true knowledge reveals only an undifferentiated consciousness. According to Tantra, on the other hand, Satchidananda is called Siva-Sakti, the hyphenated word suggesting that Siva or the Absolute, and Sakti, or its creative power, are eternally conjoined like a word and its meaning; the one cannot be thought of without the other. A conception of pure consciousness or being which denies Sakti, or the power to become, is, according to Tantra, only half of the truth. Satchidananda is essentially endowed with the power of self-evolution and self-involution. Therefore perfect experience is the experience of the whole- that is to say, of consciousness as being and consciousness as power to become.

It is only in the relative world that Siva and Sakti are thought of as separate entities. Furthermore, Tantra affirms that both the world process and the Jiva, or the soul, are real and not merely illusory superimpositions upon Brahman. In declaring that the jiva finally becomes one with the reality, Tantra differs from qualified non-dualism.

Maya, according to Tantra, veils Reality and polarises it into what is conscious and what is unconscious, what is existent and what is non-existent, what is pleasant and what is unpleasant. Through polarisation, the infinite becomes finite, the undifferentiated differentiated, the immeasurable measured. For the same reason, non-dual reality becomes evolved – and this becoming is real and not merely apparent as in Vedanta- into a multiplicity of correlated ‘centres’ or entities of diverse nature, acting and reacting upon one another in various ways. Some of the centres, such as human beings, evolve the power of feeling, cognition, and will, while others lack such power, there being various degrees of power or lack of power. Some centres, again, are knowers, and some, objects of knowledge; some, enjoyers, and some, objects of enjoyment. The various determining conditions which constitute and maintain a centre, for instance, a jiva, also limit or restrict it, accounting for its actions and reactions. These determinants are the ‘fetters’ (pasa) which weave the whole fabric of the jiva’s phenomenal life. By them it is bound and made to act like an animal, (pasu).

Though reality evolves, by its own inscrutable power, into a multiplicity of centres animate and inanimate, yet in its true nature it always remains pure consciousness, being, and bliss. In the state of evolution, reality does not cease to be itself, though neither the act nor the fact of evolution is denied by Tantra.

Two Currents

Thus a finite centre in any position in the ‘curve’ of evolution never ceases to be a ‘point’ of pure reality through which the infinite opens itself and through which it can be reached. When a jiva faces this point it is none other than reality, and when it turns away from the point and faces the veil of Maya it is finite, conditioned and bound by fetters. Thus in every jiva-centre there are elements of both individuality and infinitude, phenomenality and reality. One direction of the functioning of Maya, called the ‘outgoing current’, creates the jiva-centre with its fetters; a reversal of this direction, called the ‘return current’, reveals the infinite. Tantra, (especially its disciplines prescribed in the ‘left-hand’ path, to be explained later) shows the way to change the outgoing current into the return current, transforming what operates as a bond for the jiva into a ‘releaser’ or ‘liberator’. As Tantra says: ‘One must rise by that by which one falls’; ‘the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise.’ The various impulses and desires associated with the outgoing current form, as it were, the net of the phenomenal world in which the jiva has been caught. Some of these impulses appear to be cardinal or primary knots in this net. The only question is how to transform these cardinal impulses for material enjoyment (bhoga) into spiritual experiences (Yoga): how to bring about the sublimation of desires. If this can be done, what now binds will be reversed in its working, and the finite jiva will realise its identity with infinite reality.

The jiva, caught in the outgoing current, perceives duality and cherishes the notions of pleasure and pain, acceptance and rejection, body and soul, spirit and matter, and so on. But if the non-duality of Siva-Sakti alone exists, as asserted by Tantra, all these distinctions must be relative. Thus the distinction between man and woman, the desire for each other which is one of the cardinal desires, and the physical union between them all belong to the relative plane, where a perennial conflict between the flesh and the spirit is assumed, and where a jiva acts like an animal bound by the fetters of common convention. The distinction is a valid one and may even be valuable as long as the jiva remains on the relative plane. The observance of moral and social conventions, however desirable on that plane, does not make the jiva other than an animal. In order that the jiva may know that it is really Siva (the Absolute), it must resolve every kind of duality and realise the fact that whatever exists and functions on the physical or moral level is Siva-Sakti, the ever inseparable reality and its power. When one realises that the whole process of creation, preservation, and destruction is but the manifestation of the lila, or sportive pleasure, of Siva-Sakti, one does not see anything carnal or gross in the universe; for such a one everything becomes an expression of Siva-Sakti. The special technique of the Tantric discipline is to transform the outgoing current of diversification into the return current of gradual integration, to gather separation, polarity, and even opposition into identification, harmony and peace.

The two currents, however, do not operate singly, one excluding the other; they are concurrent, though the emphasis, which oscillates, is now laid on one and now on the other. Thus in all affirmations of duality and difference, the affirmation of duality and difference, the affirmation of non-duality and identity is immanent, and one sees unities, equalities, and similarities, and not a mere chaos of colliding particles, even when outgoing current functions in the creation and preservation of the universe. Our ordinary experience, too, shows system, though this system reveals to us limited and conditioned identities. In brief, though differentiation is the prevailing feature of the outgoing current, identity is either implicit in it, or conditionally visible.

Let us take the example of a man and woman. Subject to certain limits and conditions, the two in a way can be equated; the difference between them is patent but can be eliminated. Emphasis on the difference, however, constitutes the fetters of man and woman, as is seen in common experience. These fetters will disappear when their real identity and not their pragmatic equality is realised. Hence the question is how to affirm or rather reaffirm an identity which is veiled.

The method of non-dualistic Vedanta is to negate all limiting adjuncts, which it calls unreal, until one sees nothing, but Brahman, or pure and undifferentiated consciousness, in the man and woman. In order to reach the affirmation of oneness, every vestige of duality must be rigorously discarded; in other words, Vedanta asks the aspirants to renounce the world of names and forms. But this is more easily said than done, for such renunciation can be practised only by a few.

Tantra, whose technique is different, prescribes the discipline of sublimation. Physical man and woman, floating along the outgoing current of the cosmic process, are, no doubt, different from each other, but by means of the return current they can be sublimated into cosmic principles and realised as the one whole, that is, Siva-Sakti. In reversing the outgoing current, the aspirant has to ‘bring together’ the complements or poles so as to realise their identity; thus the physical union of man and woman is sublimated into the creative union of Siva-Sakti. The left hand path of Tantra under certain very stringent conditions, prescribes to the aspirant, or sadhaka, belonging to the ‘heroic’ type to be described later, spiritual disciplines or ritualistic readjustment with woman, and shows how to sublimate the so-called ‘carnal’ act gradually until the experience of the supreme non-dual Siva-Sakti with its perfect bliss is attained. The technique is to make the very same carnal desire which constitutes the strongest fetter of the animal man an ‘opening’ or channel for the experience of Satchidananda. If the right track is followed and all the conditions are fulfilled, the aspirant succeeds in his endeavour.

The Tantric method of sublimation consists of three steps: purification, elevation, and reaffirmation of identity on the plane of pure consciousness.

First, the aspirant must rid himself of the dross of grossness by reversing the outgoing current into the return current. According to Tantra, in the process of evolution, the pure cosmic principles (tattvas) at a certain stage cross the line and pass into impure principles, the latter constituting the realm of nature, which is like a ‘coiled’ curve, in which the jiva (embodied soul) is held a prisoner and where it wanders caught in a net of natural determinism from which there is no escape unless the coiled curve can be made to uncoil itself and open a channel for its release and ascent into the realm of the pure cosmic principles. Until this is done the jiva remains afloat on the outgoing current, moves with it, and cherishes desires, which are gross or carnal. Whether yielding pleasure or pain, these desires fasten the chain upon the jiva with additional links. Its hope lies in uncoiling the coil of nature that has closed upon it. This is called in the technical language of Tantra the ‘awakening’ of the Kundalini, or coiled-up serpent power, by which one moves from the plane of impure principles to that of pure principles. The head of this coiled serpent is turned downward; it must be turned upward. This change of the direction of the serpent power, which after evolving the jiva remains involved in it, is called purification.

The next step is called elevation: the order in which the cosmic principles move along the outgoing current must be reversed with the starting of the return current. Ascent is to be made in the reverse order to that in which the descent was made. The aspirant must raise himself from the grosser and more limited elements to the subtler and more general ones until he attains to the realisation of Siva-Sakti. The last step is the reaffirmation in consciousness of his identity with Siva-Sakti. This is the general framework of the method of sublimation into which can be fitted all the methods of sublimation followed by the dualistic, non-dualistic, and other systems of thought.

What is Kundalini?

The spiritual awakening of a sadhak is described in Tantra by means of the symbol of the awakening and rising of the Kundalini power. What is this Kundalini? Properly understood, it is not something mystical or esoteric, peculiar to Tantra, but the basis of the spiritual experiences described by all religious faiths. Every genuine spiritual experience, such as the seeing of light or a vision, or communion with the Deity, is only a manifestation of the ascent of the Kundalini. Let us try to understand the Kundalini with the help of an illustration from classical physics. There are two kinds of energy associated with a piece of matter: potential and kinetic, the sum total of which is a constant. The kinetic energy, which may be only a fraction of the total energy, is involved in the movement or action of a body. According to Tantra, the Kundalini, in the form of cosmic energy, is present, in everything, even in a particle of matter. Only a fraction of it, like the kinetic energy, is operative, while an unmeasured residuum is left, like the potential energy, ‘coiled up’ and untapped at the ‘base root’. It is a vast magazine of power, of which the operative energy, like the kinetic energy of the particle, is only a fraction. In the jiva-centre, also, are both this potential energy of the Kundalini, which is storehouse of the energy of the body (physical, subtle, and causal), and also the active energy of the Kundalini, which accounts for the action and movement of the jiva. The coiled-up Kundalini is the central pivot upon which the whole complex apparatus of the body and mind moves and turns. A specific ratio between the active and the total energies of the kundalini determines the present condition and behaviour of the bodily apparatus. A change in the ratio is necessary to effect a change in its present working efficiency by transforming the grosser bodily elements into finer. A transformation, dynamisation, and sublimination of the physical, mental, and vital apparatus is only possible through what is called the rousing of the Kundalini and its reorientation from ‘downward facing’ to ‘upward facing.’

By the former the physical body has been made a ‘coiled-curve’, limited in character, restricted in functions and possibilities. By the force of the latter it breaks its fetters and transcends its limitations. This is the general principle. But there are various forms of spiritual discipline by which this magazine of latent power can be acted upon. Faith and love act as a most powerful lever to raise the coiled-up Kundalini; also the disciplines of Raj-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga. The repetition of the Lord’s name or a holy mantra, and even music, help in this process. Tantra recognises all this. The student of Tantra should bear in mind the psychological aspect of the process of the ascent of the Kundalini, which is more of an unfoldment, expansion, an elevation of consciousness than a mechanical accession to an increased and higher power. The aim of waking the Kundalini is not the acquisition of greater power for the purpose of performing miraculous feats or the enjoyment of material pleasures; it is the realisation of Satchidananda.


The passage of the awakened Kundalini lies through the Sushumna, which is described as the central nerve in the nervous system. A kind of hollow canal, the Sushumna passes through the spinal column connecting the base centre (Chakra) at the bottom of the spine with the centre at the cerebrum. Tantra speaks of six centres (Chakras) through which Sushumna passes; these centres (Chakras) are so many spheres or planes, described in Tantra as different-coloured lotuses with varying numbers of petals. In the ordinary worldly person these centres (Chakras) are closed, and the lotuses droop down like buds. As the Kundalini rises through the Sushumna Canal and touches the centres, these buds turn upward as fully opened flowers and the aspirant obtains spiritual experiences. The goal in spiritual practice is to make the Kundalini ascend from the centres, which are lower and more veiled to those which are higher and more conscious. During this upward journey of the Kindalini, the jiva is not quite released from the relative state till it reaches the sixth centre or plane, which is the 'opening' for pure and perfect experience. At this sixth centre (the two-petalled white lotus located at the junction of the eyebrows) the jiva sheds its ego and burns the seed of duality, and its higher self rises from the ashes of its lower self. It now dies physically, as it were, in order to be able to live in pure consciousness. The sixth centre is the key by which the power in the thousand-petalled lotus in the cerebrum, which is like the limitless ocean, is switched on to the little reservoir which is the individual self, filling the latter and making it overflow and cease to be the little reservoir. Finally the Kundalini rises to the lotus at the cerebrum and becomes united with Siva, or the Absolute, and the aspirant realises, in the transcendental experience, his union with Siva-Sakti. The opening of the petals of the thousand-petalled lotus, which endows the illumined person with omniscience, is equivalent to the functioning of all the brain cells of a yogi in samadhi.

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FromThe Teachings of
Sri Ramana Maharshi

Edited by David Godman

Question: Will concentration on Chakras quieten the mind?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Fixing their minds on psychic centres such as the Sahasrara (the thousand petalled lotus Chakra), yogis remain any lengths of time without awareness of their bodies. As long as this state continues, they appear to be immersed in some kind of joy. But when the mind, which has become tranquil emerges and becomes active again it resumes its worldly thoughts. It is therefore necessary to train it with the help of practices like Dhyana (meditation) whenever it becomes externalised. It will then attain a state in which there is neither subsistence nor emergence.

Question: It is said that the Sakti manifests itself in five phases, ten phases, a hundred phases and a thousand phases. Which is true?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Sakti has only one phase. If it is said to manifest itself in several phases, it is only a way of speaking. The Sakti is only one.

Question: How to churn up the Nadis (psychic nerves) so that the Kundalini may go up the Sushumna?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Though the Yogi may have his methods of breath control for his object, the Jnani’s method is only that of enquiry. When by this method the mind is merged in the Self, the Sakti or Kundalini, which is not apart from the Self, rises automatically.

The Yogis attach the highest importance to sending the Kundalini up to the Sahasrara, the brain centre or the thousand petalled lotus. They point out the scriptural statement that the life current enters the body through the fontanelle and argue that, Viyoga (separation) having come about that way, yoga (union) must also be effected in the reverse way. Therefore, they say, we must, by yoga practice, gather up the Pranas (vital force) and enter the fontanelle for the consummation of yoga. The Jnanis on the other hand point out that the yogi assumes the existence of the body and its separateness from the Self. Only if this standpoint of separateness is adopted can the yogi advise effort for reunion by the practice of yoga.

In fact the body is in the mind which has the brain for its seat. That the brain functions by light borrowed from another source is admitted by the yogis themselves in their fontanelle theory. The Jnani further argues: if the light is borrowed it must come from its native source. Go to the source direct and do not depend on borrowed sources. That source is the Heart, the Self.

The Self does not come from anywhere else and enter the body through the crown of the head. It is as it is, ever sparkling, ever steady, unmoving and unchanging. The individual confines himself to the limits of the changeful body or of the mind which derives its existence from the unchanging Self. All that is necessary is to give up this mistaken identity, and that done, the ever shining Self will be seen to be the single non-dual reality.

If one concentrates on the Sahasrara there is no doubt that the ecstasy of Samadhi ensues. The Vasanas, that is the latent mental tendencies, are not however destroyed. The yogi is therefore bound to wake up from the Samadhi because release from bondage has not yet been accomplished. He must still try to eradicate the Vasanas inherent in him so that they cease to disturb the peace of his Samadhi. So he passes down from the Sahasrara to the Heart through what is called the Jivanadi, which is only a continuation of the Sushumna. The Sushumna is thus a curve. It starts from the lowest Chakra, rises through the spinal cord to the brain and from there bends down and ends in the Heart. When the yogi has reached the Heart, the Samadhi becomes permanent. Thus we see that the Heart is the final centre.

[Note: Commentary by David Godman: Sri Ramana Maharshi never advised his devotees to parctise Kundalini Yoga since he regarded it as being both potentially dangerous and unnecessary. He accepted the existence of the Kundalini power and the Chakras but he said that even if the Kundalini reached the Sahsrara it would not result in realisation. For final realisation, he said, the Kundalini must go beyond the Sahasrara, down another Nadi (psychic nerve) he called Amritanadi (also called the Paranadi or Jivanadi) and into the Heart-centre on the right hand side of the chest. Since he maintained that self-enquiry would automatically send the Kundalini to the Heart-centre, he taught that separate yoga exercises were unnecessary.

The practitioners of Kundalini Yoga concentrate on psychic centres (Chakras) in the body in order to generate a spiritual power they call Kundalini. The aim of this practice is to force the Kundalini up the psychic channel (the Sushumna) which runs from the base of the spine to the brain. The Kundalini Yogi believes that when this power reaches the Sahasrara (the highest Chakra located in the brain), Self-realisation will result.

Sri Ramana Maharshi taught that the Self is reached by the search for the origin of the ego and by diving into the Heart. This is the direct method of Self-realisation. One who adopts it need not worry about Nadis, the brain centre (Sahasrara), the Sushumna, the Paranadi, the Kundalini, Pranayama or the six centres (Chakras).

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By Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math

Tantra discusses the qualifications of the teacher and the student, and also mantras or sacred words, diagrams, deities, rituals, and mental dispositions, all of which are important in the practice of its disciplines.

A qualified teacher, or guru, must be a man of good birth and unsullied character. Compassionate and serene, he should be versed in the Tantric and other scriptures, repeat regularly God’s holy name, and offer oblations in the sacrificial fire. Furthermore, he should possess a pleasing disposition and the power to fulfil his disciples’ wishes. The help of a guru is indispensable for a student of Tantra. Vital changes take place in him as the Kundalini ascends and the impure elements of his body and mind become pure. In the practice of spiritual disciplines, the aspirant passes through a series of crises and needs outside help. It is true that the Divine Mother, who is none other than the Kundalini itself, bestows this help in the form of grace whenever a real crisis comes, but a human medium is necessary. The guru is an adept in the Tantric practices, has experimented with its disciplines, and has verified their result for himself. The disciple does not look upon his guru as a physical being, but as the embodiment of God. As the physician of the soul, the guru occupies a position of extreme responsibility, guides the disciple in difficult practices, and looks after his welfare in every respect.

Like the teacher, the disciple should come of a good family and possess a blameless character and guileless nature. Keen-minded, versed in the scriptures, and kind-hearted, he should have faith in the life after death, perform his duties toward his parents, and be free from pride of lineage, scholarship, or wealth. Furthermore, he should shun the company of non-believers and be ready to serve the teacher in all humility. The three types of aspirants will be described later.

A responsible teacher should not be in a hurry to give initiation nor should an aspirant accept as his teacher a person to whom he is not attracted. The mode of initiation varies, depending upon the competence of the teacher and the qualifications of the student. An ordinary initiation is given by means of elaborate rituals. But these become secondary in the higher type of initiation through which the disciple very soon becomes blessed with deep spiritual experiences.


Mantras play a most important part in the Tantric discipline, just as sacrifices and hymns in the disciplines of the Vedas, and the Puranas respectively. The word MANTRA means, literally, ‘that which, when reflected upon, gives liberation.’ The Mantra is the sound equivalent of the Deity, that is to say, chit or Consciousness; the external image is the material form of the Mantra. The sound-vibration is the first manifestation of chit and nearest to it. It is really intermediate between pure consciousness and the physical object, being neither absolutely immaterial like the former nor dense like the latter. Tantra regards vibration as a manifestation of the cosmic energy, or Sakti, and teaches that as such it can lead to the realisation of chit, which otherwise eludes the grasp of even an intelligent person. Thus Mantras are not mere words, but are forms of concentrated thought of exceeding potency; they are revealed to the seers in the hour of their illumination. The aspirant finds that a Mantra and the deity with which it is associated are identical. The deity being the illumination embodied in the Mantra. To the ignorant, the vibration created by the Mantra is only a physical phenomenon and the Mantra itself nothing but a sound, but to the adept it is both illuminative and creative. Illumination is hidden in the Mantra, like a tree in a seed. As soon this illumination is expressed, the Mantra becomes endowed with a wonderful power and reveals the cosmic energy latent in it. Tantra believes that some of the basic Mantras have not been created by human brains, but are eternally existent, and that through their repetition the aspirant attains to perfection.

Yantras (mystical diagrams)

Mystical diagrams called ‘Yantras’ are used in the Tantric rituals. A Yantra is a diagrammatic equivalent of the deity, just a Mantra is its sound-equivalent. It is not like the schematic sketch of a molecule, used by the chemist, but is a full representation, as revealed to the adept, of the basic power, which evolves and maintains an object of worship. When the Yantra is given real potency, the Deity is there. In the Tantric ritual the Yantra is the object of worship, the image being its tangible representation. There is a fundamental relationship between the Mantra and the Yantra.

The image of the Deity through which one communes with ultimate reality is also an embodiment of consciousness and not just a figure of wood or stone. If the worship is properly performed, then the image, the mantra, the yantra, and the various other accessories of worship all become changed into forms and expressions of consciousness, as in the Christian communion the wine and the bread into the blood and flesh of Christ.

To the uninitiated, the mantras and the yantras employed in Tantric worship may appear as meaningless jargon and magical diagrams. The same is true, as far as the uninformed are concerned, of all the cumbrous formulas, equations, and notations used by the chemist and the physicist. For example, E= mc2 makes no more sense to the ignorant than a mantra. For instance, Om or Hring. The same is true of the mystical formulas used in Tantra; they are really shorthand statements of certain basic experiences. The same faithful exactitude in the ritual is demanded of the student of Tantra, and the same degree of proficiency in the understanding of mantras and yantras, as is required of the student in the physical sciences. A popular version of the Kundalini or the other principles of Tantra may be given, just as one may also be given of the Relativity Theory or quantum mechanics; but the actual proofs lie, in the one case as in the other, in delicate experiments which are unfortunately beyond the reach and comprehension of the average individual. Tantra insists that mantras are efficacious, that the diagrams used in the worship are potent, that the deities, or devatas, are conscious entities, that supernatural powers are attained, and that the earnest aspirant experiences the rise of the Kundalini through the different spinal centres (Chakras) and finally realises his identity with Satchidananda.

Tantric Ritual

Let us briefly consider a Tantric ritual as observed in the worship. The aim of Tantra is to guide aspirants to realise both the supreme end of liberation and the secondary ends of wealth, sense-pleasure, and righteousness, according to their inner evolution and desires. It therefore lays down an endless variety of rituals suited to different times, places, and individual competencies. Usually a Tantric ritual consists in the assigning of the different parts of the body to different deities, the purifying of the elements of the body, breath-control, meditation, imparting of life to the image, and mental and physical worship. These are all calculated to transform the worshipper, the worshipped, the accessories, and the act of worship into consciousness, which they all are in essence. As the culmination of the ritual, the aspirant realises his oneness with all. Harmony on the physical and mental planes are necessary for success in worship; this is created in the gross physical elements by means of prescribed postures, in the vital breaths by means of breath-control, in the cerebrum by the correct utterance of mantras, and in the mental states of meditation. Ablution (snana) purifies the physical body, and this purification is followed by an inner satisfaction (tarpana). By means of appropriate meditative rituals the gross, subtle, and the causal bodies are freed of their respective taints (bhutasuddhi). The purpose of meditation (dhyana) is to enable the worshipper to feel his oneness with the Deity. This meditation on oneness, the central feature of the Tantric worship, is quite different from that of dualistic religions, which maintain a distinction between the Deity and the devotee. ‘Only by becoming divine can one worship the divine.’ The last part of the ritual consists of a sacrifice (homa) in which the devotee completely surrenders himself to the Deity, merges in him, and loses his identity in him. At this stage there is no more distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped, the finite and the infinite, the individual and the Absolute.

Motto of Tantra

It is claimed that Tantra is a kind of experimental science and that the realisation promised by it is an experimentally verified fact. Theories and speculations are tentative only; the motto of Tantra is ‘Live by what you can actually prove and verify.’ Nothing need be accepted on the basis of such a statement as ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ But initially it is required of the sadhak (aspirant), as in all the sciences, to follow the guidance of a teacher who has tried the experiment before him and seen the result for himself.

Left Hand Path (Vamachara)

Several paths have been prescribed by Tantra for the awakening of the Kundalini; one of these is called the Vamachara or ‘left-hand’ path, which, partly on account of ignorance of the principles involved and partly on account of its abuse by irresponsible persons, has made the whole science of Tantra suspect. The ritual of this path is, like other genuine spiritual practices, based upon the principle of the ‘return current’, which seeks to reverse the process that creates the bonds of the animal man. The five ingredients used by followers of this path are cereals, fish, meat, wine, and sexual union. These, however, have different connotations for different classes of aspirants. The underlying principle of Vamachara is to emphasize the fact that a man makes progress in spiritual life not by cowardly and falsely shunning that which makes him fall, but by seizing upon it and sublimating it so as to make it a means of liberation. For a certain type of aspirant, called ‘heroic’, the actual drinking of wine and practice of sexual union are prescribed, and the teacher carefully points out that the joy and stimulation arising from these are to be utilised for the uplift of the mind from the physical plane. For instance, the aspirant is asked first to offer wine to the Deity and then to partake of it as a sacramental offering. The same is the case with cereals, fish, and meat. The pleasure resulting from their enjoyment is gradually sublimated. Sexual union, the disciple is taught, is something sacred, whose purpose is the creation of new life, and it should therefore not be resorted to in an irresponsible manner. Tantra never countenances sexual excess or irregularity for the purpose of the gratification of carnal desire. To break chastity, it says, is to lose or shorten life. Furthermore, sexual union has a deeper spiritual significance in that it reveals behind duality a unity, which is present in all phenomenal experiences. Even on the physical plane, a couple becomes united in the sexual act, but the unity of Siva-Sakti and the bliss derived from it are experienced only by liberated souls. Woman, associated with the Tantric practices in order to help man in his path of renunciation, is an object of veneration to all schools of Tantra. She is regarded as the embodiment of Sakti, or the power that projects and pervades the universe. To insult a woman is a grievous sin. The aspirant learns from the teacher how to use the aforesaid five ingredients for his spiritual awakening. By the power of the mantra, the rituals, meditation, prayer, sincerity, and the grace of the guru and of the Divine mother, the disciple gradually develops an understanding by which everything he does in his ordinary life becomes an act of worship and which makes him realise what Sankaracharya meant when he wrote in one his hymns to the primordial Sakti: "O Lady Supreme, may all the functions of my mind be Thy remembrance; may all my words be Thy praise; may all my acts be an obeisance to Thee!’

Animal, Heroic and Divine

Tantra divides sadhakas, or spiritual aspirants, into three groups according to their mental disposition: animal, heroic, and divine. The man with animal disposition (pasu) moves along the outgoing current and earns merit and demerit from his worldly activities. He has not yet raised himself above the common round of convention, nor has he cut the three knots of ‘hate, fear and shame.’ Swayed by his passions, he is a slave of six hostile impulses: lust, greed, pride, anger, delusion, and envy. He is not allowed even to touch the five ingredients of the left-hand ritual.

The student competent for the hazardous ritual with the five ingredients already described is called a hero (vira). He has the inner strength to ‘play with fire’ and to burn his worldly bonds with it. Established in complete self-control, he does not forget himself even in the most trying and tempting circumstances. He is a man of fearless disposition, inspiring terror in those who cherish animal propensities. Pure in motive, gentle in speech, strong in body, resourceful, courageous, intelligent, adventurous, and humble, he cherishes only what is good.

The sadhaka of divine (divya) disposition has risen above all the bonds of desire and has nothing to sublimate. One of the Tantric scriptures describes such an aspirant as sparing in speech, beloved of all, introspective, steady, sagacious, and solicitous about others’ welfare. He never swerves from the path of truth and can do no evil. Good in every way, he is regarded as the embodiment of Siva. In his worship he does not need physical aids for rousing his spiritual emotions; the meditative mood is spontaneous with him. He is always in ecstasy, enjoying ‘inner woman and wine.’ For the five ingredients used by a hero he substitutes consciousness (chit), bliss (ananda), and exaltation (bhava).

Tantra claims that its disciples have a universal application; it admits the validity of the rituals of the Vedas, the discrimination and renunciation of the upanishads, the purifying disciplines of Raja-Yoga, and the passionate love for the Deity described in the Puranas, It exhorts the sadhaka to exercise will and self-effort, practise self-surrender, and supplicate for divine grace. Tantra promises its devotees not only enjoyment of worldly happiness but also liberation, and acknowledges that the power of the Kundalini can be aroused by the sincere pursuit of the spiritual disciplines recommended by all the great religions of the world.

Sri Ramakrishna followed the disciplines of Tantra

Sri Ramakrishna, in modern times, followed the disciplines of Tantra and demonstrated them to be a valid way of realisation. Under the guidance of a woman teacher he practised the rituals of all various Tantric schools, achieving in three days the result promised by each of them. The goddess Kali, one of the forms of the Divine Sakti, was his chosen ideal. Born with a spiritual disposition, he had no need of the five ingredients of the Tantric worship in their physical form. As he uttered the name of Kali, he would be filled with the joy of divine inebriation, and people actually saw him in that state reeling or talking incoherently like a drunkard. After the observance of a few preliminary rites, he often entered into deep samadhi and was overwhelmed by a spiritual fervour. Evil ceased to exist for him, and the word ‘carnal’ lost all meaning. He went into ecstasy at the sight of a prostitute, of drunkards revelling in a tavern, and of the sexual union of a dog and a bitch.

The whole world was revealed to him as the play of Siva-Sakti, and he beheld everywhere the power and beauty of the Divine Mother. He did not, like a Vedantic scholar, repudiate the world as Maya, but gave it a spiritual status, seeing in it the manifestation of chit and ananda. Sri Ramakrishna’s biography narrates many of his experiences derived from the Tantric practices. The barrier between matter and energy broke down for him, and he actually saw even a grain of sand and a blade of grass vibrating with energy. The universe appeared to him as a lake of mercury or of silver, and he had a vision of the ultimate cause of the universe as huge luminous triangle giving birth every moment to an infinite number of universes. He acquired the various supernatural powers of Yoga, which make a man almost omnipotent, and he spurned them all as of no spiritual value. In a vision of Maya he saw a pregnant woman of exquisite beauty emerging from the waters of the Ganges River. Presently she came to the land and gave birth to a child, whom she began to nurse tenderly. A moment later she assumed a terrible aspect, seized the child between her grim jaws and crushed it; as she swallowed the child, she re-entered the waters of the Ganges.

Sri Ramakrishna directly perceived the ascent of the Kundalini, and later described to his disciples it’s various movements: fishlike, monkeylike, and so on. One of the results of his practice of Tantra was the deepening of his respect for womanhood. To him every woman was the embodiment of the Divine Sakti, and he could not, even in a dream, regard a woman in any other way. His relationship with his own wife was entirely on the spiritual plane. He taught that the most effective way for a man to overcome carnal desire was to regard woman as the manifestation of the Divine Mother. He forbade his disciples, however, to practise the rituals prescribed for a sadhaka of heroic disposition.

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From Page ‘Hindu Scriptures’
By Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

The following six orthodox sections form the authoritative scriptures of the Hindus. The six scriptures are:

  1. Srutis (Vedas)
  2. Smritis
  3. Itihasas
  4. Puranas
  5. Agamas
  6. Darsanas

The Agamas

Another class of popular scriptures are the Agamas. The Agamas are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship. The Agamas include the Tantras, Mantras and Yantras. These are treatises explaining the external worship of God, in idols, temples etc. All the Agamas treat of :

  1. Jnana or Knowledge
  2. Yoga or Concentration
  3. Kriya or Esoteric Ritual
  4. Charya or Exoteric Worship

They also give elaborate details about entology and cosmology, liberation, devotion, meditation, philosophy of Mantras, mystic diagrams, charms and spells, temple-building, image-making, domestic observances, social rules, public festivals etc.

The Agamas are divided into three sections:

  1. The Vaishnava
  2. The Saiva
  3. The Sakta

The chief sects of Hinduism, viz., Vaishnavism, Saivism and Saktism, base their doctrines and dogmas on their respective Agamas.

The Vaishnava Agamas or Pancharatra Agamas glorify God as Vishnu.

The Saiva Agamas glorify God as Siva and have given rise to an important school of philosophy known as Saiva-Siddhanta, which prevails in South India, particularly in the districts of Tirunelveli and Madurai.

The Sakta Agamas or Tantras glorify God as the Mother of the Universe, under one of the many names of Devi (Goddess).

The Agamas do not derive their authority from the Vedas, but are not antagonistic to them. They are all Vedic in spirit and character. That is the reason why they are regarded as authoritative.

The Vaishnava Agamas

The Vaishnava Agamas are of four kinds:

  1. The Vaikhanasa
  2. Pancharatra
  3. Pratishthasara
  4. Vijnana-lalita

The Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and Naradiya are the seven groups of the Pancharatras. The Naradiya section of the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata is the earliest source of information about the Pancharatras.

Vishnu is the Supreme Lord in the Pancharatra Agamas. The Vaishnavas regard the Pancharatra Agamas to be the most authoritative. They believe that these Agamas were revealed by Lord Vishnu Himself. Narada-Pancharatra says: "Everything from Brahma to a blade of grass is Lord Krishna". This corresponds to the Upanishadic declaration:

"All this is, verily, Brahman-Sarvam, Khalvidam Brahma".

There are two hundred and fifteen of these Vaishnava texts. Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones.

The Saiva Agamas

The Saivas recognise twenty-eight Agamas, of which the chief is Kamika. The Agamas are also the basis of Kashmir Saivism which is called the Pratyabhijna system. The latter works of Pratyabhijna system show a distinct leaning to Advaitism (non-dualistic philosophy). The Southern Saivism, i.e., Saiva Siddhanta, and the Kashmir Saivism, regard these Agamas as their authority, besides the Vedas. Each Agama has Upa-Agamas (subsidiary Agamas). Of these, only fragmentary texts of twenty are extant. Lord Siva is the central God in the Saiva Agamas. They are suitable to this age, Kali Yuga. They are open to all castes and both the sexes.

The Sakta Agamas

There is another group of scriptures known as the Tantras. They belong to the Sakta cult. They glorify Sakti as the World-Mother. They dwell on the Sakti (energy) aspect of God and prescribe numerous courses of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in various forms. There are seventy-seven Agamas. These are very much like the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Siva and Parvati. In some of these, Siva answers the questions put by Parvati, and in others, Parvati answers, Siva questioning.

Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra are the important works. The Agamas teach several occult practices some of which confer powers, while the others bestow knowledge and freedom. Sakti is the creative power of Lord Siva. Saktism is really a supplement to Saivism.

Among the existing books on the Agamas, the most famous are the Isvara-Samhita, Ahirbudhnya-Samhita, Sanatkumara-Samhita, Narada-Pancharatra, Spanda-Pradipika and the Mahanirvana-Tantra.
Related articles:


Mantras-Sacred Fire
Hindu Scriptures

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