Bondage and Liberation

From Tantra Darshan, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The purpose of maya is to create conditioning, to create limitations, to create areas where the senses can function and the mind can be used to enjoy the sense objects. The influence and nature of maya ultimately results in a decline of consciousness. As a person becomes more capable of releasing the noose of maya to realize the Self, maya becomes even more active. Looking into the biographies of enlightened beings, it is evident that these great souls have had to confront the last grip of maya in the form of the demonical and dark side of their nature. Jesus Christ had to face it; Lord Buddha had to face it. All those who walk the path of change and transformation have to face the final dark aspect, the dark nature of themselves, the 'dark night of the soul'. That is the last grip of maya; to create a distraction from the seeker's aspirations, purpose and goal. If it can achieve that purpose, maya reigns. If maya cannot achieve the purpose of keeping the individual bound to this material plane, it changes into yoga, and union is experienced.

Power of maya

An average individual can barely experience their own mind, let alone the spirit within. There is an awareness of the mind in the form of thoughts, ideas, desires and expectations among other manifestations such as logic, emotions, behaviours and attitudes. However, this awareness is only a superficial aspect of consciousness interacting in this world, just as the waves on the surface of the ocean are not the depth or expanse of the ocean, but only a small part. In the same manner, as one begins to work through the conditionings and to break down the structures which define the character, the personality, the tamasic nature or other negative conditionings, the mind becomes free to explore the deeper aspects of consciousness.

The flow of maya is to carry the individual towards the world. There is no struggle against maya in this regard as it is a natural flow. However, when the individual wants to return to the source and discover the deeper spiritual nature, there is struggle with every stroke as one swims against the current of maya. Doubts creep in, inspiration falters, motivations dissipate, ideas and aims change, directions are lost and confusions set in. All this happens. It happens every day to everyone. There is indecisiveness over small issues due to lack of clarity on right and wrong choices.

People often ask, "What should I do with my life?" The answer is sought in someone else who does not know anything substantial about the questioner's life. God or the Higher Consciousness has given each person the capacity and intelligence to find their own solutions, yet others, who are also clueless, are sought for the solution to one's own life circumstances and challenges. The guru is often the target for such questions, but the guru points the aspirant back inside to find their own solutions and wisdom. This is an example to represent the level of disempowerment in people's lives due to the snare of maya. Confusion sets in, and the result is a dissipated nature of the mind caused by the duality of maya. The mind swings like a pendulum; it is never fixed in one place, but is always swinging from like to dislike, acceptance to non-acceptance, to be or not to be.

Sequence of events

Sri Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita (2:62): Dhyayato vishayan pumsah sangasteshupajayate – When an individual thinks of objects, attachment to them arises." When one is aware of a particular sense object in the field of attention, no matter what the object is, the mind becomes associated and therefore attached to that particular object. With the association of mind, a particular emotion and response surfaces which is most often desire. The desire to acquire, to obtain, to possess, and to have the object arises like a wave. With that, motivation and aggression take birth and build up in the nature and the character of the person who now wants to make this acquisition.

The sequence is first desire and then aggression: dynamism, motivation and aggression. When this aggressive nature becomes dominant in order to fulfil the desire, there is delusion. In that rush of desire, passion and aggression, the intellectual awareness of what is appropriate and not appropriate is lost. The individual forgets what is right and what is wrong and is only guided by the force of desire and passion. In that state, clarity of mind is absent as the desire for the object and the motivation to attain it have taken the predominant seat in the mind. Consequently, the inner peace is lost.

Once the inner peace is lost, one moves into a state that can be compared to death. The individual effectively gets caught up in the whirlpool of maya's illusion and endures a perpetual struggle, like Abhimanyu of the Mahabharata fame trapped in the chakravyuha, the impenetrable circle of soldiers. In the course of this struggle there is attack from all sides by passion, anger and attachment, with no clear exit available. The individual is like an animal, a pashu, caught in a state of bondage, or pasha, of nature and Shakti. In this state, a process is required to enable the struggling aspirant to cut the pasha, to break free from this chakravyuha and become liberated from the state of pashutva, animality, and this is where tantra comes in.

Ease and unease

Imagine emerging from a beautiful, comfortable room into the sun on a very hot day. The body reacts; one begins to feel the heat, to sweat, and to observe and analyse everything that one is experiencing in the body due to the heat of the sun. The urge to move out of the sun then arises. When one moves from a comfortable room into the hot midday sun, the state of comfort is gone, the state of peace is gone.

Similarly, as one moves into the realm of maya, the state of ease is gone and one must encounter, adjust and adapt to new situations, new environments and new climates. Then one has to live under the sun, sweating all the day. This is what has happened to the inherent transcendental nature with the separation of Shiva and Shakti; the transcendental nature has been limited to suffering the pleasures and pains of the material dimension. It is for the purpose of releasing this inherent nature from the bonds of maya that Shiva has propounded the philosophy of tantra to Parvati, for when the transcendental nature has the urge to move from the realm of maya, tantra becomes the vehicle for its liberation.

Path of bhukti

The cause of one's affliction and suffering is desire and the associations created by the consciousness in this material world. If one can understand one's associations and desires, the majority of the difficulty, strife and problems faced in life will subside. Tantra says that there are two directions that one can take: one is the path of enjoyment, which is known as bhukti, and the other is the path of liberation, mukti.

The entire drive in life for most humans is to discover pleasure, fulfillment and happiness. It is understood that when human life comes forth, the senses, the mind, intelligence and emotions become the dominant tools for the realization and experience of life. In the process of realizing and experiencing life, these tools find different sense objects to attach themselves and associate with. This association of the senses and the mind with sense objects gives birth to both a sense of pleasure and disappointment.

The discovery of pleasure, happiness and fulfillment is directed by desire. However, whenever a desire appears in the mind it is an indication that there is something lacking inside. If the drive is to experience happiness, it is because happiness has never been experienced, and therefore it is that which is being sought. If the drive is to attain peace, it is because peace has not been experienced; it has only remained a concept. Hence, bhukti combines absence and attainment both. To fulfil that feeling of absence or lack, the desire presents itself to begin the process of acquiring what is desired, and to satisfy oneself by filling this sense of what is lacking in life. As desire is the cause of one's association with the sensorial world, it gives birth to the various experiences of pleasure and rejection, happiness and suffering.

Bhukti is the process through which one can experience joy, happiness, contentment and bliss, but it also subjects one to the influences of pain, suffering and distress. Both the positive and negative are experienced. Realizing how the behaviour of consciousness is affected by this bhukti state of receiving both the negative and the positive is one aspect of tantra.

Identification and enjoyment is the path of bhukti, and one can evolve even through this, provided the true nature is not forgotten. This can be achieved by maintaining an awareness of oneself experiencing enjoyment using the attitude of the drashta, the witness, the observer. With the proper witnessing awareness, bhukti becomes a path to uplift and liberate human consciousness, as it connects the individual with aspects of consciousness which evoke the response of beauty and contentment. If pleasure is understood in the right manner, it can evoke the necessary response of beauty and contentment. However, if enjoyment is not observed with the right witnessing awareness, the individual is pulled into the vortex of enjoyment and pleasure, becoming disconnected from the higher source. One then only experiences that particular moment of enjoyment. After the moment has passed, new desires spring forth to again relive the response which has now been identified with the state of happiness. This creates further bondage. Hence, with the drashta attitude, enjoyment can become the path to experience the sundaram and the shivam aspect of consciousness, the beauty and the auspiciousness.

Path of mukti

The other aspect of tantra is mukti, liberation, freedom. There is an innate desire and drive to free oneself from the bondages that limit and restrict individual expression, to become more efficient, creative, and to become more whole. To achieve these aims is the concept of mukti, where the individual comes out of the shell which restricts and limits the expression of the positive virtues in life. Mukti is the experience of creativity flowering in one's nature and life. It has been said that the purpose of spiritual traditions is to move from bhukti as material involvement towards mukti as total freedom of the self. Thus, evolution involves the movement from identification with materiality and enjoyment towards freedom and transcendence.

In mukti, the mind simply withdraws from the senses and sense objects; it does not identify with external phenomena, but begins to experience its own inner self. The tantric process of both bhukti and mukti leads one through a sequence of experiencing the growth and maturation of consciousness.