The Indian Tantra was perhaps the most daring spiritual synthesis ever conceived in the spiritual history of mankind. Amazingly comprehensive in its vision, profoundly intuitive in its conceptions, strikingly bold and innovative in its methods, Tantras contain some original psychological intuitions which have a living relevance for the student of yogic psychology. This article is a brief review of the central vision of Tantra Yoga.
Tantra-Darshan; Man as a System of Energy; Principles of the Path.
The path of the Tantra, viewed in a broad perspective, is the translation of a spiritual vision, darshan, into concrete realities of the inner and outer life through a spiritual, psychological and social discipline.
The central feature of the Tantra-path is its aspiration for Wholeness and Perfection. The tantric vision makes no unbridgeable distinction between the secular and the spiritual or the worldly and other-worldly experience. The highest experience is the experience of the perfect whole of the Spirit, samvit, issuing forth as Shiva-Shakti, and becoming the world. The nature of this tantric experience is a dynamic identity with the creative cosmic Energy, Shakti, of the transcendent and perfect whole, samvit. In this experience all the subjective and objective experiences of the world within and without are felt as vibrations of Divine Bliss, ananda-lahari, and the world itself is seen as waves of divine beauty, soundarya-lahari. For the tantric yogi life and the world are not a painful illusion or a snare of Maya but a glorious expression of the power, beauty and bliss of the Divine Mother. Even the ugliest, vilest and the most grotesque aspect of life is only a deformed expression of some truth of the Divine Shakti.
According to Sri Aurobindo the well-known double paths of Tantra, technically known as dakshina marga and vama marga, and popularly called the right and left hand paths, actually refers to the path of knowledge and the path of delight. Dakshina Marga, which means the path of discrimination, tries to arrive at liberation through right knowledge and discrimination and Vama Marga tries to arrive at the same goal by right enjoyment, enjoyment of the essence of bliss in every movement of life. The God lover, bhakta, tries to sublimate all desires by turning them towards the Divine. The sage or jnanI rejects all desires as snares of maya by right discrimination. The tantric Yogi tries to transform desire by penetrating into the bliss-essence of life of which all pleasures derived from the satisfaction of desire are a deformed expression.
But the most important part of tantric Yoga is the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti lying dormant or asleep at the base of the spine, Muladhara. As the Kundalini is awakened and moves upwards, she opens the various energy-centres in the human body which enable the Yogi to come into contact with or enter into different levels of consciousness with their corresponding world-systems, beings, psychic states and greater faculties of knowledge, power and enjoyment. And, finally, when the Kundalini Shakti arrives at the Sahasra the head centre, and unites with Shiva, it leads to the great Liberation, that is the consummation of tantric Yoga.
Thus the tantric 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 Mukti or liberation is only one aspect or part of the goal. The other aspects of the tantric goal are Siddhi or perfect knowledge of and mastery over the laws, processes and energies of Nature in the self and the world and bhukti or enjoyment of the cosmic life as a blissful Leela of the Mother.
Man as a System of Energy
This brings us to one of the fundamental psychological intuitions of the Tantras: it is the idea of man as a system of energy. The human being with various energy-centres located in his body is a living battery or dynamo in which the various forms of cosmic energy are received, processed, transmitted and transformed. Man according to the Tantras is a microcosm of the Macrocosm. His individual energies are waves of the cosmic energy; His soul is not merely a part but one with the creative Energy of the cosmic and transcendental Being, Shiva, and can contain and exceed the universe in its highest being. But even in his body, life and mind he is not just a part but potentially commensurate with the cosmic mind, life and body. The physical, vital and mental ego of man prevents him from realising this universality. The soul of man is free from ego and therefore feels spontaneously its universality and transcendence as its inherent and essential nature. If the body, life and mind of man can also be liberated from ego, they can also, like his soul, realise their universality and oneness with the cosmic Body, Life and Mind of the Spirit.
Thus man and the Universe are the equal self-expressions of the eternal Consciousness-Energy, Chit-Shakti of the Spirit. All the physical, biological, psychological and spiritual elements in man are the different forms of the divine Consciousness-Force, Chit-Shakti. His physical and biological instincts and the urge for food, sex and sleep, his vital emotions and feelings and desires and the urge for work and action and love and enjoyment, his mental will, volitions, thoughts, perceptions, ideas, his spiritual intuitions, illuminations and inspirations and the highest aspiration of the soul of man for Truth and God are the manifestations of the progressively evolving divine Shakti in man in the various levels of his being.
The tantric psychology resolves all these energies in man into three broad categories: Kriya-Shakti, energies of work and action; Ichcha-Shakti, energies of will and desire; and Jnana-Shakti, energies of knowledge.
The Principles of the Path
The practical implication of this tantric intuition for Yoga is that, since all the energies in man are in essence the expression of the Divine Shakti, none of the activities, urges and motives of human life has to be unduly suppressed, denied or rejected. All of them, from the grossest material actions like eating, sleeping and sex to the highest spiritual actions have to be made conscious expressions of the Divine Shakti.
The tantric Yogi agrees with the Vedantin that the central obstacles to this realisation are the twin knots of ego and desire—the commonly accepted diagnosis of the human malady by Indian spiritual doctors. But in the method or therapy applied to cure this human malady and in the nature of spiritual fulfilment, the tantric Yogi differs from the Vedantin—not much from the classical Vedanta of the early Upanishads but from the later post-Upanishadic Vedanta.
This later Vedanta in general tends to view the energy of being as a Temptress and a bewitching Creatrix of Illusions, Maya, who snares the soul with her desires and passions and the urge for action and therefore this Vedanta tries to escape from her into the passionless and actionless peace of the pure Being. But the tantric Yogi views the energy of being as the adorable Divine Mother who is the repository of all blessings and grace-spiritual as well as secular-and the source of all knowledge, power, freedom, mastery and delight.
Therefore the tantric sadhaka never tries to escape from life. He tries to see his adorable Mother behind all her good, evil and beguiling masks; for the Shakta all is She, even the needs, desires and passions of the lower nature and all that is bad and the ugly and the mean and the macabre in it. So the tantric Yogi systematically trains himself to think, feel and see the Divine Mother not only in all that is good, luminous, beautiful and true but also in all that is evil, dark and terrible in life.
All that is repulsive or terrible to the ordinary man, sinful to the moralist, inauspicious to the religious, unspiritual to the saintly, the tantric Yogi regards with an altogether different attitude. He confronts them with the faith and intuition of the divinity hidden behind even in these dark aspects of life and tries to understand the deeper truth and law and purpose and process of the Divine Shakti in them. By this understanding he discovers the secret of sublimation and mastery over the forces of his lower nature. He learns to rise spiritually by the very things by which the ordinary man falls. This virile and heroic spirituality is the general attitude of the tantric Yoga. But the tantric masters are wise enough to perceive that all are not capable of such a heroism. So the tantric path maps out a system of graded ascent to the ideal.
Thus in the tantric vision the higher adhyatmic or spiritual experience does not deny the lower ordinary or samsaric experiences of the world. The higher experience of the universal and the whole of the Spirit fulfils and perfects the partial experience of the individual ego in the world. The world-experience of the ordinary man is a limited, partial and distorted reflection—in his ego-centric desire-tossed consciousness—of the whole, perfect and blissful experience of the Spirit or the Soul which is one with the transcendent and universal Shiva-Shakti. This limitation or distortion is due to the gradual compression or constriction of the unbound consciousness of the spirit by the Mayic power of Shakti or Maya-shakti through the principle of ego. So the human Jiva in this tantric vision is nothing but the divine Shiva imprisoned within the body and chained by ego and desire. Every activity, need, desire, urge, aspiration and experiences of the human life however perverted they may be by the greed and lust of the human ego are a limited, partial or distorted expression of some truth or power of the divine Spirit and its Shakti which is within every human being. When these distortions are removed all these activities of human life will take their right place in the whole, will function according to their deepest truth and law and purpose in the whole, and will become pure, luminous, blissful and playful expressions of the Divine Shakti in man.