What is tantra? Why do many people have the misconception that it involves magic and spirits? What is the relation of yantra and mantra in tantra? Can mantra be practised without yantra?
The science of tantra is the oldest science known to mankind. Tantra was prevalent even in primitive society. It is true that magic and spirits have found their way into tantra, but there is nothing wrong with it. It depends on the way one understands it. When the practitioner of tantra reforms his personality and his consciousness changes, certain symptoms manifest in him which may be interpreted differently by different people at different times.
If one practises tantra and begins to speak spontaneously, it is interpreted as the person being possessed by a spirit and the spirit speaking through him or her. Even now, many traditions and religions in the world misinterpret yogic phenomenon along these lines in such incorrect ways. Clairvoyance, telepathy, clairaudience, psycho-telekinesis and many other extra-sensory perceptions are interpreted as manifestations of spirits because this is how some people understand it.
It is only in jnana yoga, Vedanta and Samkhya that one is told that these manifestations are one’s own expressions in an altered state of consciousness. When one’s consciousness gets altered, one becomes a different person. Many times after doing certain practices, one feels like a different person. One is used to feeling a particular way about oneself, for years and years together, say thirty, forty years but suddenly through certain practices a change takes place in the realm of one’s consciousness. If the practice one is doing is a very strong practice like pranayama, then one begins to feel quite suddenly that one is a different person, and one feels that there is another person within oneself. Samkhya philosophy, Vedanta and yoga philosophy interpret this experience as an evolved or altered state of one’s consciousness. Those who do not understand this, interpret this phenomenon as a spirit having taken one over. Magic and spirits are interpretations by only those people who cannot understand that consciousness can be altered and one can be a completely different person by certain practices.
Tantra is a Sanskrit word, a composition of two dhatu, two roots: tan or tanoti, which means stretching, and tra or trayati which means releasing, liberating, making free. Tantra means expansion and liberation. Expansion of mind and liberation of energy is the meaning of tantra according to its etymology.
In nuclear physics, matter is first disintegrated. Matter is a composition of ninety-six or more elements. Matter is not homogenous, and in the same manner, mind is also not homogeneous. Mind is a composition of twenty-four to twenty-six elements just like matter is composed of ninety-six or more elements. If these ninety-six or more elements of matter are disintegrated, the inherent energy is released because the ultimate nature of matter is energy. There is no difference between matter and energy except in the state of manifestation, just as there is no difference between milk and curd. When milk changes its shape and form, it is known as curd. Similarly, when matter undergoes a change it becomes energy. Energy reconverted is matter. Matter disintegrated is energy. Energy is the manifestation of matter. Similarly, the mind being a composition of padarthas, elements, and tattwas, when disintegrated, releases an amount of energy, shakti.
Mind in its ultimate analysis is atman. Atman is the word used in the Upanishads, the Vedas, in Vedanta philosophy and in Hindu tradition for something which is permanent behind the impermanent affairs of life. Atman is the Self, self with capital ‘S’. This atman is the nucleus of one’s existence. The mind is the gross incarnation of the atman. When this mind is transformed it shines as atman.
Shankaracharya said, Jivo brahma eva na aparaha – the individual self is the cosmic self and not different. The individual self, the atman, is not different from the cosmic self, the paramatman. Just as matter is equal to energy, energy is equal to matter. The famous equation of E=MC2 can be applied as Atman = Mind transformed. Transformation of mind begins with its expansion. Mind has its limitations, it cannot operate or act independently. It needs its secretaries, the five karmendriyas and the five jnanendriyas, the ten senses of action and knowledge. The mind functions in the present moment with the help of the ten senses. The mind can perceive only what the eyes are capable of perceiving and nothing beyond. The mind recognizes only what the ears can hear and nothing more. This means the mind functions within a range of limitations. The mind cannot see those things which are invisible to the eyes. For that purpose, the area of operation of the mind has to be expanded. Can your ears hear the subtle sounds? No, they cannot. Can you smell even those aromas which are subtle in nature? No, because the senses have their limitations; and they can operate only up to a certain extent. The mind derives jnana, knowledge, only according to the capability of the senses.
The mind cannot cognize what senses cannot perceive. In tantra the first principle is that either one improves the quality of one’s indriyas, the senses, or completely rejects them. Either one tries to improve the quality of one’s eyes, ears, and so on, or reject them if one is not able to do so. Then one will have to operate without the intervention, cooperation or coordination of the senses. The question is whether the mind can cognize without the indriyas – can you hear without the aid of the ears, can you see without the aid of the eyes? Usually one cannot but if one improves the capability of the mind, the mind has a sixth sense. The mind can also be the sixth sense in which the qualities of all the senses are inherent. Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (15:7):
Mamaivaamsho jeevaloke jeevabhootah sanaatanah;
Manah shashthaaneendriyaani prakritisthaani karshati.
An eternal portion of myself having become a living soul in the world of life, draws to (itself) the (five) senses with the mind for the sixth, abiding in nature.
Mind is the sixth sense in which all the qualities of the five senses are inherent. It means the mind can see, the mind can hear, the mind can smell, the mind can feel touch, these capacities are inherent in the structure of the mind. So why can one not improve and manifest it? This process is called the expansion of mind.
Sometimes one hears certain noises within, even though there is no external sound. What is this experience? How did it happen? That particular experience which manifests in one without the involvement of an indriya is a consequence of the expansion of mind. There are certain sadhanas for expansion of mind. When individual consciousness is completely withdrawn, energy begins to flow.
Individual awareness is the awareness through which one understands the world. It is the awareness which is responsible for experiences in jagriti, the waking state. This is individual consciousness. When one enters into meditation one withdraws individual consciousness. If one is able to withdraw the total consciousness completely through an effective sadhana, the ego is completely reduced, removed, eradicated. The awareness of ‘I’ is totally lost.
It is at this time that one begins to develop the shakti in oneself. Energy is a word that has been used but not understood. Shakti operates on different levels, on the material, mental and spiritual levels. Scientists have been working on Shakti at the material level for a very long time and have been able to understand that particular aspect of matter. They have exploited it and are using it, working wonders with that energy. That is called material energy, or bhautik shakti.
Then there is mental energy. This mental energy becomes available to one in the form of prajna, intuition. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has named it ritambhara prajna (1:48):
Ritambhara tatra prajna.
There (at the borderline of nirvichara samadhi) the super consciousness becomes full with cosmic experience.
Prajna is generally translated as intuition, but it is more than that. When knowledge is not based on evidence, it is called prajna. Our knowledge about an object is always based on evidence. There is evidence: one is the sense, another is the object itself. There is an object and you see it and therefore it is. But if there is no object and you do not see it, and yet you feel it, that phenomenon is called prajna.
Sometimes there are no clouds in the sky, everything is clear, yet one feels it is going to rain. There is no evidence, nevertheless one feels it. That is called prajna, when the information, the knowledge is obtained without any evidence of the object or the senses. This prajna can also be false. Therefore, they say ritambhara prajna, not merely prajna but ritambhara prajna. There are two facts in the Vedas, one is satyam, and the other is ritam. This universe and this creation is controlled by the two processes as it says in the Rig Veda (10:190.1):
Ritam cha satyam cha abhdhaatapso dhyajayate
Tato ratrayajayate tatah samudra arnavah.
Truth (of thought) and truthfulness (of speech) were born of arduous penance, thence was night generated, thence also the watery ocean.
Satyam means a definite law and ritam means the spirit of the law. I am using the word law because I do not know what else to use. Satyam is the law. If one pours hot water on the body one is going to be burnt – that is the law. If one keeps a piece of ice for a length of time on the palm, the palm is going to get frozen– that is the law. It is the property, the quality called satyam. What is truth is the law. Ritam is the substance and the substratum is ritambhara prajna.
Ritambhara prajna means that particular quality of intuition which is permeated with basic fact. This is the mental energy through which one has extrasensory perceptions, premonitory dreams, the ability to read the thoughts of other people, the ability to transmit thoughts, waves and magnetism to others. One can also transport one’s personality, which is called kayapravesh. Shankaracharya transferred himself into the body of King Amarooka. During the period he was touring the whole of India, Shankaracharya came to the north of Bihar near Saharsa. There was a great pandit, Mandana Mishra, who was a master of the karmakanda branch of Vedanta, the ritualistic branch. Shankaracharya was on the mission of debating and arguing with people about the truth of their statements. He went to Buddhist monasteries, defeated them through his knowledge and converted them to right thinking. Then he came to Mandana Mishra, and there was a shastrartha, between them, an interpretation of the scriptures.
Shankaracharya represented Vedanta, the monistic philosophy and Mandana Mishra represented the ritualistic philosophy of the Vedas. Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra was the umpire, the judge in the shastrartha. After a few days, Mandana Mishra’s mala began to fade away which indicated that he was losing his point. He finally accepted defeat and wanted to become the disciple of Adiguru Shankaracharya.
At that point, Bharati entered the shastrartha and said, “Look here, you have only conquered one half of him. I am the other half. Please get ready for shastrartha with me.” She sat down, for the next round of interpretation of the shastras. There came a point when Shankaracharya could not proceed further with the process because Bharati began to ask questions on the kamashastra, the shastras on carnal love. If Shankaracharya had replied to her, he would not have been accepted as a Brahmachari, hence disqualified and if he did not reply, he would have lost the shastrartha. He asked for some time and went in search of someone who had died recently so that he could enter that body, undergo the experiences described in the kamashastra and come back to face this wise lady. He did that in the body of King Amarooka.
Shankaracharya transported his personality into King Amarooka’s body who had just died, due to which the dead body came back to life. While Shankaracharya lived in the king’s body, he had instructed his disciples to guard his body in a cave. Shankaracharya continued to rule Amarooka’s kingdom but the people saw a great difference in the nature of their king. Since the soul of a great saint had entered the king’s body, his behaviour was entirely different now. The people consulted the wise men and wanted to know the reason for this wonderful and peculiar behaviour of King Amarooka. The wise men concluded that the soul of a great rishi or mahatma must have entered his body. They ordered the soldiers to hunt for a preserved dead body. The soldiers, eventually reached the cave where the disciples of Shankaracharya were preserving and protecting his body. When the disciples realized why the soldiers were hunting for Shankaracharya’s body, they called him back into his body. As soon as Shankaracharya transported himself back into his original body, King Amarooka’s body dropped dead. Shankaracharya went back to Bharati, held the discussion with his new found knowledge over topics from the kamashastra and defeated her in the debate. This is the shakti or energy that represents mental shakti.
Then there is spiritual shakti, atmashakti, adhyatmik shakti. The tantric processes are a completely different science from any other religion. All religions want you to be a man of a particular quality and only then do they accept you. If you are a Hindu you should be a certain way, if you are a Christian, Muslim, Jew or Buddhist, you must have a certain specific behaviour. Tantra does not lay down any such views. Its main hypothesis is whoever you are and wherever you are, you can start going further without affecting the mode of your life.
This does not mean that tantra is asking one to live a low quality of life. What it says is that even if one belongs to a low quality of life, it does not matter. One can start regenerating the higher consciousness in oneself from that particular point itself. In contrast, if you go to practise other spiritual sciences, the guru or the teacher will ask you not to drink or eat meat. Tantra makes no such demands.
Generally one starts with following religion, not practice. When one starts one’s upward ascension with religion, the first things one faces are the psychological problems of personality. I do not mean the religion with which one is affiliated. I am talking about the religion one practices. A sudden change is not good, for it is a reaction to the whole affair that one has been facing in life. Many people become vegetarian overnight. Many people give up drinking because they think it is a very important spiritual or ascetical attainment. If you analyze it psychologically, and scientifically, it is a very unscientific process. As far as spiritual progress is concerned, the spirit evolves gradually. One does not have to become focused on one’s infirmities and faults. One has to start with the practices first. Therefore, tantra is unique in this aspect.
In one of the mantras of tantra shastra it is said, “One shall ascend by that by which one falls.” It means, that which is considered to be a point of downfall in religious parlance, is considered to be a springboard for higher evolution in tantra.
15 October 1981, Munger