Evolution of the Vedic Spirit: A Psychological Perspective-IV-M.S. Srinivasan

The Tanthric Experiment

But  even  Gita and Vaishnavism taken together doesn’t express all the  dynamic  comprehensiveness  and integrality  of  the  Vedic  spirit but only some aspect  of  it.   The  Vedic emphasis on sacrifical action is given the most luminous, clear and  practical form  in  the  Gita.  The other aspect of the Vedic  spirit,  that  of  life-acceptance  was  also  affirmed by Gita but not with the same amount  of  joy  or spiritual  positivism as we find in the Vedas.  There was still in  the  Gita some  traces  of the melancholic spirit of the later Vedantha,  reflected  for example  in that famous verse of the Gita which addresses men “O  mortal  who has come into this sorrowful transient world”.

This  other  important  aspect  of  the  Vedic  spirit,  that  of  joyous acceptance  of  life, was rediscovered in the Tanthras with  an  extraordinary creative  vigour and boldness that surpasses in some respects even the  spirit of  Vedic  sages.  Here we have a spiritual thought and practice which  is  at once  scientific, rational and intuitive, not rigidly systemetised but  thrown loosely  in  the form of symbols, legends, parables, myths,  philosophies  and systems  of  practice, bewildering to the ordinary  rational  mind,  sometimes repulsive to the conventional morality, but absorbingly fascinating and highly evocative  to  the  intuitive  mind and the feeling heart.   Here  we  have  a spiritual philosophy based on an original intuition into the primal Two-in-One in  the  Absolute,  Shiva and Shakthi, the eternal  self-existence  and  self-luminous conscious Being and the creative energy of consciousness inherent  in the Being, and a “scientific” conception of the world — world of matter, life and  mind — as a creative movement of the Energy of Consciousness.

But the Tanthric philosophy doesn’t have the saw-dust dryness of the modern scientific philosophies.  The Energy which gives birth to the world is not an inconscient force  or a mathematical abstraction but a living conscious being, the  Mother of  the  Worlds,  the all-blissful, all-beautiful,  all-gracious  and  adorable Creatrix  of the Universe.  World is the blissful Lila or sport or  one  act-play  of the Divine Mother, which she plays within her own consciousness,  with many  masks, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, herself the player,  the  play and the stage.  The ultimate aim of the Tanthric path is to become a conscious and joyful participant in the cosmic lila of the Mother and the dynamic instrument, Adhikari Purusha, of Her cosmic purpose and will.  The tanthric yoga like  its  philosophy is a loose, flexible and intuitive  syntheses  of  every conceivable  form of religious, psychological and spiritual methods;  it  takes each individual as he is according to his unique nature, temperament, capacity, qualities  and  evolutionary  conditions  and tries to  provide  a  system  of discipline specific to the unique needs of the individual and  the type.

But,  unfortunately, in some of the popular expositions of the  Tanthras, especially  in the west, one of the bold and controversial experiment  of  the Tanthric  Yoga,  the  so-called  “Left-hand” path, Vamana Marga,  with  its  wine  and  women symbolism,  is  exaggerated  out of proportion and presented as  the  core  of Tanthric sadhana.  But in the Tanthric sadhana, the Vamana marga is prescribed neither for the masses nor for the highest type of spiritual seekers but for a special category of seekers who are in between.  So to make the “left-hand” path of the Tanthras as the core of Tanthric sadhana is a gross misreading of this great, bold and fascinating spiritual system.

But the most important contribution of Tanthras from the yogic point of view is its famous kundalini yoga.  The central idea of kundalini yoga is that our body or the physical being is the base and foundation of all other  higher forms of energies and contains potentially within itself all the possibilities of divine perfection.

The kundalini shakthi, according to the Tanthras is the microcosmic expression of the cosmic shakthi or Mahakundalini in the individual.  It lies coiled and folded up in the lowest energy center at bottoms of the spine in the human body as potential energy inherent in the sex-fluid.   When  this bottom  most  energy  centre  is activated by Tapas,  inner  heat  produced  by concentration, the  sleeping kundalini is awakened,  uncoils  itself,  raises upwards,  piercing  through different higher energy-centres in  the  body  and finally  reaches the highest energy-centre in the head where it is  said,  that the  kundalini  shakthi is united with Shiva.  This is the state of highest beatitude, perfection and liberation for the Tanthric Yogi.

There are, according to the Tanthras, centres in the human body, each of which links the human being to the corresponding levels or planes of the cosmic consciousness.  As the kundalini shakthi raises upwards, she opens these centres, enabling the yogi to enter into conscious contact with these higher level of the cosmic planes with its corresponding worlds, beings, psychic and spiritual states and new and greater faculties of knowledge, power, mastery and enjoyment.

The process of this ascension of the kundalini is described in  the trantric  texts  as  a  progressive reabsorbtion of  the  grosser  into  finer elements from earth into water, water into fire, fire into air and from air into the primal  ether.  This represents a progressive transformation of the physical energy — imaged in the figure of the earth — into finer and finer forms of energy until it is transformed into Ojas, the primal spiritual energy inherent in the ether, Space.

This is the reverse of creative evolution by which spirit become matter by a progressive contracting or condensation of its consciousness-force.   The raising of the kundalini shakthi represents the “reevolution” of matter towards the spirit by a progressive and pervasive “decondensation” of the consciousness-force inherent in Matter until it becomes one in nature with its own original status as the consciousness-force of the spirit.

Thus the ultimate aim of Tanthric yoga is the union of the two ends of the  being, Matter and Spirit, and the transformation of physical  energy  into spiritual energy.  For the union of ascending kundalini shakthi — who in her unawakened status is primarily a biological energy sleeping in the bottom of the spine — with the Shiva, represents the union of the Spirit and Matter.

So  the  Tanthric  system  is  not a path  of  negation  but  a  path  of affirmation involving a progressive integration and assimilation of the cosmos into  the  self.   It aims at a comprehensive spiritual perfection of which Mukthi or liberation is only one aspect or part of the Goal.   The other aspect of the goal is mastery, siddhi, and enjoyment Bukthi — mastery  over  the energies of Nature and the enjoyment of the cosmic life as blissful leela  of the Mother.

The other unique features of the Tanthric religion are the institution of Temple worship and the system of Rituals.  Temple in the Tanthric system is not merely a place of communal worship.  In its original conception, the institution of temple worship has two distinct aims.  Its spiritual aim is to bring down and establish a living spiritual power in the community for the spiritual as well as material progress and protection of the community; its social aim is to create a centre for the religious and cultural integration of the community.  For the Temple in ancient India is not merely a religious institution but also the centre of culture, throbbing with cultural activities like music, dance and learning

And finally a note on Tanthric rituals which forms an important part of Tanthric yoga.  The Tanthric rituals is not merely a concession thrown to the inferior category of worhippers.  They are based on a sound psychological knowledge of the mutual interaction of the body and mind.  For  the large mass of worshipers who live predominantly in their  bodily consciousness  and  whose emotion and intelligence are  not  yet  sufficiently developed  for the practice of inner adoration or contemplation, the  physical gesture  of  rituals can be a very effective means of concentration  and  opening their  consciousness to some glimpse, feeling or intuition into of  spiritual reality.   And for  the  higher category of seeker, ritual  is  a  means  for invoking the deity or the cosmic energy into the body.

Thus we can see that Tanthras is a bold, catholic and innovative spiritual system which comes very close to a complete recovery of the Vedic  Spirit  in all its comprehensiveness.

We can find in the Tanthras all the major features of the  Vedic  Spirit, which were more or less lost in the other yogas, fully recovered and given a new form.  We have the same joyous life-affirming spirituality and  harmonious balance  between this-worldly and other-worldly aims, the  same  compassionate uplifting  hand extended to the common man and the same Vedic emphasis on  the psychological and spiritual potentialities inherent in the body or physical being.

But from the evolutionary point of view, the significance of the Tanthras lies in the importance it gave to the body.  For the Tanthric Yogi body is not an illusion or a clod of flesh to be despised but a form and the physical manifestation of the divine Mother-power  and therefore sacred.  And a major part of the Tanthric sadhana aims at making the body conscious of itself as the expression and instrument of the divine shakthi.  As John B. Woodroffe, the well-known authority on Tanthras: describes the tanthric stand-point:  “The body is Shakthi.  Its needs are Sakth’s needs; when man enjoys, it is Shakthi who enjoys through him.  In all he sees and does, it is the Mother who looks and acts.  His eyes and hands are hers.  The whole body and all its functions are her manifestations. To fully realise her as such is to perfect this particular manifestation of Hers in himself” (shakthi and saktha, p.440) Thus to feel the divinity in the body and every activity of the body is  the tanthric ideal.

The Indian mythology, what are called in Indian religions as puranas, and the Dharma expounded in them, are based primarily on the Tanthric synthesis but sufficiently diluted to suit the religious aspirations of the comman man or the masses.   But  the  dilution is minimum and  the  central  ideas  of  the vedanthic  and  tanthric trandition are preserved intact throughout  the  rich plethora  of  symbolic legends, stories and parables.  In fact, the Purano-tanthric religion is one of the most creative and innovative movements in the diffusion of spirituality to the masses, a creative tour-de-force in  mass-communication.

Two  remarkable achievements of the Purana-tanthric religions are  first, it  was  able  to communicate effectively and establish  successfully  in  the collective  consciousness of the Indian masses most of the central  truths  of the  Indian  spirituality  and Yoga without much dilution in  the  process  of communication;  second,  it  was  able to create a  new  system  of  religious symbolism with a deeper and a more cosmic and psychological significance  than the  purely naturalistic symbolism of the Vedas.  This opened the  possibility for  even  the  common  man  to arrive at a  deeper,  more  inward  and psychologically concrete religious experience than that of his counterpart  in the Vedic period.

Thus,  the purano-tanthric religion not only brings-down but diffuses  the spiritual  possibility into the physical consciousness inwhich most  of  human mass lives.

 Mahayana Buddhism

The other notable spiritual movement which is not part of the Hindu-Vedic tradition, but very much influenced by it is Mahayana Buddhism.   It is a remarkable synthesis of some of the intuitions of Buddhism, Gita and Tantras.  For all practical purposes we may say Mahayana is a branch of Vedic – Hindu tradition.  For in Mahayana we find more of the catholic, synthetic, flexible and intuitive Spirit of the Hindu-Vedic tradition than the exclusive rationalistic and ascetic spirit of the Buddhism.   Sri Aurobindo calls Mahayana as “Hinduised Buddhism” and observes further.

“Gita seems to have largely influenced Mahayanist Budhism and texts are taken bodily from it into the Buddhist scripture.  It may have therefore helped largely to turn Budhism, originally a school of quietistic and illuminated ascetics into that of meditative devotion and compassionate action which has so powerfully influenced Asiatic culture.”

But  the  importance of Mahayana lies in bringing forward to  the  Indian religious  mind  a  spiritual  ideal which is either  missing  or  ignored  or suppressed  in the Vedic-Hindu tradition.  This is the ultra-altruistic  ideal of  the  Bodhisattwa  and  Mahakaruna, the  ideal  of  the  supercompassionate Badhisatwa who is ready to sacrifice his own personal spiritual salvation  for the sake of the salvation of humanity.  Here we find for the first time in the religious history of the world a complete subordination or even negation of the ideal of individual salvation to a greater spiritual ideal.  This higher ideal is likely to be one of the leading ideals of the future spirituality.

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