“Essays in Life and Eternity“, Swami Krishnananda
Tantra – A Secret Science
The system called Tantra has always been regarded as an esoteric and secret way of spiritual practice, not supposed to be accessible to the untrained minds of the masses. The secrecy about the practice consists in the novel outlook of life which Tantra requires the seeker to entertain, a way of looking at things different from the one in which people are accustomed to see, interpret and evaluate things. The teachers of the Tantra hold that a seeker on this path has to outgrow the usual human outlook and develop a superhuman and divine attitude in respect of the world. Since this would be too much to expect from the common man, Tantra is supposed to be a closed secret, whose gates can be opened only on conditions of specialised training in the mastery of one’s mind and senses.
Duality and Oneness
The philosophy of Tantra is based on the concept of a dual nature of everything, duality based on unity. Nothing is single, but everything is bipolar. The so-called unity of things is only a form taken by a particular manner of the coming together of two forces, the subjective and the objective, designated as Shiva and Shakti , the + and the – poles of experience. Scriptures dealing with a subject of this kind state that in the beginning there was a universal Uni-Cell, known as the Brahmanda, the Cosmic Egg, which split into two, one part of which was the Cosmic Man and the other part the Cosmic Woman.
Modern science is corroborating this view when it concludes that in the beginning the universe was like a single Atom, which divided itself into two and then into the multiplicity of the present state of the universe. Since the two parts and their subsequent sub-divisions actually belong to the whole, there is a natural pull exerted by each on the other, both at the cosmic level and its lower multiple forms of descent, even down to the minute atom. The behaviour of the two parts of any single organism is a sort of 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, yet, at the same time, there cannot be an attraction if they are absolutely two different things with no internal relation. Attraction and repulsion, love and hate; are such phenomena that defy logical understanding.
At the individual level love and hate seem to be warring with each other, though, in fact, the two forms are complementary aspects of a single attitude. At the lower human level the bipolar unity assumes a multiplicity of forms, so that one bipolar unit cannot tolerate the interference or sometimes even the presence of another bipolar unit for fear of losing its isolation. This subtle operation can be seen manifested in its grosser forms when one family group finds it difficult to appreciate another family group, when one organisation cannot align itself with another organisation, one community cannot look upon another without some suspicion and reservation, though humanity constitutes a uniform species with common psycho-physical demands.
Transcending the Duality of Life
According to the Tantra, the sorrows of life are caused by a bipolar existence, a split of the one into two, because the truth of things is oneness and not the apparent dual form of the existence of anything. The dual form creates 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 driven under ground when love gains the upper hand, while the fact is that both these attitudes are simultaneously present in a individual, and only one of the aspects comes to the surface as and when the occasion demands. Human nature, thus, is in a state of perpetual conflict; it is never in state of balance between its two compulsive attitudes. To get back from duality to real unity is the process of Tantra Sadhana.
Desire Can Be Overcome Only by Desire
A speciality of practice through Tantra is that there is no specific injunction towards a rejection of the outer for the sake of the inner, the material for the sake of the spiritual, or a considering of every joy in life as an evil to be eradicated wholesale. In Tantra, things in the world, the material forms of perception, are not really obstacles, and the desire for them cannot be overcome by rejecting desire itself. Everything in the world, the world itself in its entirety, is a passage to perfection when its manifestations are viewed in their proper context and spirit.
The visible is a way to the invisible. Human desires arise on account of the unintelligent attitude that man develops towards any desire, and there is a fear of desire since its pressure seems to be mastering him rather than himself being its controller and director. The fact that the object is inseparably related to the subject, because the object is just the other pole of which the subject is one phase, is highlighted in Tantric forms of meditation. Every experience is a subject-object relation, and therefore no one can even think of overcoming the consciousness of there being such a thing as an object, except by a relation already established with the object through a means that transcends both the object and the subject. The naive attempt to subjugate the object would involve one in a vicious circle. No effort in the direction of getting rid of the object is feasible, since there is already a consciousness of the presence of the object in this very attempt. From this comes the great dictum of 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 Tantra is that ‘that by which one falls is also that by which one rises’ (Yaireva patanam dravyaih, siddhistatireva).
The Tantric Sadhana (practice)
The teachers of Tantra know that there is a great difficulty in practising this doctrine. Hence, the art of Sadhana along this path is considered to be a graduated movement through different ascending stages of understanding and 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. Seven stages of the progressive movement are mentioned, known as the Vedachara, Vaishnavachara, Saivachara, Dakshanachara, Vamachara, Siddhantachara, and lastly, Kaulachara.
Of these stages, the first three are intended for the lower category of students on the path, known as Pasu (persons in whom the animal nature is predominant), the next two for the Vira (persons in whom the normal human instinct is predominant), and the last two for the Divya (persons in whom the divine element is predominant). It is believed that the first three stand for work, devotion and knowledge respectively, the Veda standing for ritual, Vaishnava for devotion, and Saiva for knowledge. The fourth stage attempts to conserve the positive results (Dakshina, or the right) achieved through the practice of the first three stages.
Up to this level the movement is almost linear. But at the 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 secret practice or the esoteric aspect of Tantra Sadhana, where objects of attraction as well as repulsion, whatever be their nature, are regarded as necessary instruments to be assimilated into and made part and parcel of one’s own being, with the sole intention of overcoming the consciousness that they are outside oneself as a sort of opposing object or an external something.
The greatest obstacles to spiritual perfection are wealth, power and sex, and it is these that Tantra intends to harness and overcome by the very means of which an untrained mind may head towards a fall. The Pasu, Vira and Divya attitudes, corresponding to the animal, human and the divine natures, take into consideration the gross, the subtle and the divine aspects of things. Every object has a gross form, a subtle form and a divine form, and every seeker has to pass through all these stages. Tantra insists that no stage can be overstepped but has to be traversed personally. An unknown thing, an object of fear, cannot come under one’s control.
Tantra holds that the impure, the ugly and the unholy things of life, the very things called evil, are things which have been wrongly seen out of their context and, from their own particular positions as true subjects, they are neither good nor bad and have no special character of their own, which are foisted on them by the perceiving subject from its own standpoint. The negativities of life are 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 merely a single point of view; from the lower standpoint one has to rise to the higher, by a systematic and progressive movement of the whole of one’s being through the gross, subtle and divine compositions of being. In the beginning, one contacts the object as the thing outside. Next, one merely thinks it in the mind. Lastly, one visualises it as a point of stress in the universal reality. All desire arises on account of the false notion that the universe of objects is outside the knowing consciousness.