Monday, April 26, 2010

Tantra for experiencing mystic powers

Photo: Tantric goddess Kali at Dakshineswar, West Bengal, India along with her Yantra

Tantra (Tantram or anglicized as Tantricism or Tantrism) is a spiritual practice and ritual form of worship according to which Shakti is usually the main deity worshipped, and the universe is regarded as the divine play of Shakti and Shiva. Tantra aims at liberation from ignorance and the cycle of death and birth. Tantra has been practiced in countries such as India, Nepal, China, Japan, Tibet, Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Mongolia, and has influenced the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions.

The Tantrika, or Tantric practitioner seeks to use the Prana (divine power) that flows through the universe, including one's own body, to attain spiritual goals, material goals, or both. The Tantric uses various tools, including yoga, to activate processes that connect the practitioner to the divine. Also important are visualizations of deities and chanting mantras for experiencing mystic powers within the individual, resulting in an ever increasing awareness of cosmic vibration.

Tantrism is also a quest for spiritual and magical powers, by achieving complete control of oneself, and control over all the forces of nature, in order to attain union with the cosmos and with the divine. Arduous training is required to master Tantric methods, into which pupils are initiated by an enlightened guru. Yoga, including breathing techniques and Yoga postures (asana), is employed to train the body to the control of the will. Mudras (gestures), Mantras (syllables, words and phrases), Mandalas and Yantras, which are symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the universe, are all used as tools for meditation and for the achievement of spiritual, magic and supernatural powers.

During meditation, the follower of the Tantric guru identifies herself or himself with any of the gods or goddesses representing cosmic forces. The follower visualizes them and takes them into her or his mind so that she or he unites with them in a process akin to sexual courtship and consummation. Some Tantric monks (saints, babas, swamis, etc.) use female partners to represent goddesses. In left-handed Tantra (Vamachara), a ritual of sexual intercourse is practiced, not for pleasure as the Tantrics claim, but as a way of entering into the underlying processes and structure of the universe, as scientists deal with the big bang and black holes, etc.

The Tantric tradition may run either parallel to or intertwined with the Vedic tradition, though some orthodox Brahmans who accept the authority of the Vedas reject the authority of Tantras. The source of written Tantric wisdom is the agama, which mainly consist of four parts; delineating metaphysical knowledge (Jnana), contemplative procedures (Yoga), ritual regulations (Kriya) and ethical and religious injunctions (Charya).

Though the paths of Tantra and Yoga are contradictory, they have some common philosophies and goals. During his discourse on ‘Vijnana Bhairava Tantra’, Osho tried to differentiate between these two paths thus, “Yoga is suppression with awareness; Tantra is indulgence with awareness.”

As Robert Svoboda summarizes the three major paths of the Vedic knowledge, “Because every embodied individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the Science of Life organized their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; Yoga, which deals mainly with spirit; and Tantra, which is mainly concerned with the mind. The philosophy of all three is identical; their manifestations differ because of their differing emphases. Ayurveda is most concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony of mind and spirit. Yoga controls body and mind to enable them to harmonize with spirit, and Tantra seeks to use the mind to balance the demands of body and spirit.”

Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master Lama Thubten Yeshe said, “Each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the Tantric approach.”

According to Tantra, ‘being-consciousness-bliss’ or Satchidananda (Sat-chit-ananda meaning existence-consciousness-bliss) has the power of both self-evolution and self-involution. Prakriti or ‘Reality’ evolves into a multiplicity of creatures and things, yet at the same time always remains pure consciousness, pure being, and pure bliss. In this process of evolution, Maya (illusion) veils Reality and separates it into opposites, such as conscious and unconscious, pleasant and unpleasant, and so forth. If not recognized as Maya or illusion, these opposing forces can bind, limit and fetter the individual (jiva).

Evolution or the ‘outgoing current’ is only half of the function of Maya. Involution or the ‘return current’ takes the jiva back towards the root of Reality, revealing the infinite. Tantra teaches the method of changing the ‘outgoing current’ into the ‘return current’, transforming the fetters created by Maya into that which ‘releases’ or ‘liberates’. This view upholds two pillars of Tantra; ‘One must rise by that by which one falls,’ and ‘the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise.’

The Tantric aim is to sublimate rather than to negate relative reality. This process of sublimation consists of three phases: purification, elevation and the ‘reaffirmation of identity on the plane of pure consciousness’. The methods employed for attaining this goal by Dakshinachara (right-hand path) and the Vamachara (left-hand path) of Tantra are different.

It is difficult to describe Tantric practices definitively, but they can be broadly classified as ‘Ordinary Rituals’ and the ‘Secret Rituals’. The Ordinary Ritual or pooja may include elements of Mantra and Yantra, which are instruments to invoke specific Hindu deities such as Shiva, Shakti, or Kali. Similarly, pooja may involve focusing on a Yantra or Mandala associated with a deity.

Tantra, as an offshoot of early Vedic thought, embraced Hindu gods and goddesses, especially Shiva and Shakti, along with the Advaita philosophy that each represents an aspect of the ultimate Param Shiva, or Brahman. The deities may be worshipped externally with flowers, incense and other offerings, such as singing and dancing. But these deities are engaged internally as attributes of Ishta Devata meditations. The practitioners either visualize themselves as the deity, or experience the Darshan (the vision) of the deity. These Tantric practices also are believed to be the foundation of the Ritual Temple Dance of the Devadasis.

Secret Tantric Rituals may include any or all of the elements of Ordinary Rituals, along with other sensate rites such as a feast (food, or sustenance), coitus (sex and procreation), the charnel grounds or cremation grounds (representing death and transition) and defecation, urination and vomiting (representing removal of waste, renewal and fecundity). It is this sensate nature that prompted the German thinker, Indologist and historian of South Asian art Heinrich Zimmer praise Tantra as, “In the Tantra, the manner of approach is not that of Nay but of Yea, the world attitude is affirmative, man must approach through and by means of nature, not by rejection of nature.”

Tantric Sexual Rites of Vamamarga may have emerged from early Hindu Tantra as a practical means of catalyzing biochemical transformations in the body to facilitate heightened states of awareness. These constitute vital offerings to Tantric deities. Sexual rites may have also evolved from clan initiation ceremonies involving transfer of sexual fluids, by which the male initiate is inseminated with the sexual emissions of the female consort, sometimes mixed with the semen of the guru. The Tantrika is thus transformed into a son of the clan (kulaputra) through the grace of his consort. The clan fluid (kuladravya) or clan nectar (kulamrita) is conceived as flowing naturally from her womb. Later developments in the Sexual Rites emphasize the primacy of bliss and divine union, which replace the more bodily connotations of earlier forms. Although popularly equated with Tantra in its entirety in the West, such sexual rites were historically practiced by a minority of sects and cults. For many lineages, these Maithuna practices (sexual union) progressed into psychological symbolism.

The Tantric sex rituals culminate in a sublime experience of infinite awareness for both the participants. Tantric texts specify that sex has three distinct purposes: procreation, pleasure, and liberation. Those seeking liberation avoid frictional orgasm for a higher form of ecstasy, as the couple participating in the ritual lock in a static embrace. Several types of sexual rituals are practiced by Tantrics, involving elaborate and meticulous preparatory and purifying rites. The sexual act itself balances energies coursing within the Pranic Ida and Pingala channels in the bodies of both the partners. The Sushumna nadi (spinal chord) is awakened and Kundalini (instinctive or libidinal force or Shakti that lies coiled at the base of the spine, often called the ‘serpent power') rises upwards within it. This eventually culminates in Samadhi, wherein the individual personalities and identities of the participants are completely dissolved in cosmic consciousness. The male and female participants in Tantric sex are conjoined physically and represent Shiva and Shakti. Beyond physical sex, a subtle fusion of Shiva and Shakti energies takes place, resulting in a unique energy field. On an individual level, each participant experiences a fusion of one's own Shiva and Shakti energies.

The first Western scholar to take the study of Tantra seriously was Sir John Woodroffe (1865-1936), who wrote about Tantra under the pen name Arthur Avalon, who is considered as the ‘founding father of Tantric studies’. Woodroffe was an ardent advocate for Tantra, defending Tantra against its many critics and presenting Tantra as an ethical philosophical system greatly in accord with the Vedas and Vedanta. Woodroffe himself practiced Tantra as he understood it and, while trying to maintain his scholastic objectivity, was considered a student of Hindu Tantra (in particular Shiva-Shakti) tradition.

Following Sir John Woodroffe, a number of scholars of comparative religion and Indology began to investigate Tantric teachings, including Agehananda Bharati, Mircea Eliade, Julius Evola, Carl Jung, Giuseppe Tucci and Heinrich Zimmer. According to Hugh Urban, Zimmer, Evola and Eliade viewed Tantra as "the culmination of all Indian thought: the most radical form of spirituality and the archaic heart of aboriginal India", and regarded it as the ideal religion of the modern era. All three saw Tantra as "the most transgressive and violent path to the sacred." Other popular authors such as Joseph Campbell brought Tantra into the imagination of the peoples of the West. Tantra came to be viewed by some as a ‘cult of ecstasy’, combining sexuality and spirituality in such a way as to act as a corrective force to Western repressive attitudes about sex.

For many modern thinkers, Tantra has become a synonym for ‘Spiritual Sex’ or ‘Sacred Sexuality’, a belief that sex in itself ought to be recognized as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a more sublime spiritual plane.

According to Hugh Urban, “Since at least the time of Agehananda Bharati, most Western scholars have been severely critical of these new forms of pop Tantra,” and this ‘California Tantra’ as Georg Feuerstein calls it, is “based on a profound misunderstanding of the Tantric path”. “Their main error is to confuse Tantric bliss with ordinary orgasmic pleasure.” Urban said that he himself doesn't consider this ‘wrong’ or ‘false’ but rather ‘simply a different interpretation for a specific historical situation.’

Vamachara system of Tantra is considered to be on the fringes of extreme and associated with the pancha-makara or the ‘Five Ms’, also known as the pancha-tattva. Literally, they are Madya (wine), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (cereal), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse).

Vamachara Tantric traditions impose strict ritual limits on the use of these literal forms and warn against non-sanctioned use. If practiced without the guidance of a highly learned Tantric guru, the practitioner will end up committing sins or crimes. So, practitioners of Vamachara Tantric rituals may make symbolic substitutions for these actual things, which are not permitted in orthodox Hindu practice, and certain practices can be legally prohibited. Tantric practices can be done without involvement with the actual pancha-makara is emphasized by Swami Madhavananda, and by numerous other Tantrics.

The 'Charnel Ground Sadhana' (Shmashan Sadhana) practiced by Aghoris, identifies it as principally cutting through attachments and aversion. They are often viewed as uncultured and undomesticated. The gurus and disciples of Aghor believe their state to be primordial and universal. They believe that all human beings are naturally born Aghori. Hari Baba has said that human babies of all societies are without discrimination, they will play as much in their own filth as with the toys around them. Children become progressively discriminating as they grow older and learn the culturally specific attachments and aversions of their parents. Children become increasingly aware of their mortality as they bump their heads and fall to the ground. They start to fear their mortality and then palliate this fear by finding ways to deny it altogether. In this sense, Aghor Sadhana is a process of unlearning deeply internalized cultural models. When this Sadhana takes the form of Shmashan Sadhana, the Aghori faces death as a very young child, simultaneously meditating on the totality of life at its two extremes. This ideal example serves as a prototype for other Aghor practices, both left and right, in ritual and in daily life.

The symbolism of the Khatvanga that entered esoteric Buddhism was a direct borrowing from the Shaivite Kapalikas who frequented places of austerity such as cremation grounds as a form of 'left-handed path'. The form of the Buddhist Khatvanga derived from the emblematic staff of the early Indian Shaivite Yogins, known as Kapalikas or 'skull-bearers'. The original Kapalikas were criminals who had been sentenced to a twelve-year term of penance for the crime of inadvertently killing a Brahmin. The penitent was prescribed to dwell in a forest hut, at a desolate crossroads, in a charnel ground, or under a tree. They were also ordered to live by begging, wear a loin-cloth of hemp, dog, or donkey-skin. They also had to carry the emblems of a human skull as an alms-bowl, and the skull of the Brahmin they had slain mounted upon a wooden staff as a banner. These Kapalika ascetics soon evolved into an extreme outcaste sect of the 'left-hand' Tantric path (Vamamarg) of Shakti or goddess worship. The early Buddhist Tantric Yogins and Yoginis adopted the same goddess or dakini attributes of the Kapalikas.

And finally, here is an advisory!

The extreme types of Tantric practitioners are condemned by cultured and educated people because of their cannibalistic rituals, and rituals like sacrificing animals and even human beings in their secret practices. Many Tantric practices are banned by law in many countries for practices bordering on crime, forced sex, and similar practices. Also, some of the claimants of divine or supernatural powers are just practitioners of black magic or hypnotism, and it is very difficult to separate them from true masters. Their activities come to light only when they are exposed by their own people or by the victims who escape from them. So, if attracted by divine powers, make proper enquiries before joining them for any purpose. There are many reputed spiritual leaders and organizations that have helped people on their paths to meditation and bliss! So, be selective and don’t let your quest for eternal bliss end up in eternal suffering at the hands of fakes!

1 comment:

4 Freedoms Energy Sex in Conscious Relationship said...

I love reading your article and it's very informative. We have added an excerpt of this post in our Tantra Blog

All good things