Tantra: Popularising Mother Worship
Tantra: Popularising Mother Worship
By Swami Samarpanananda
Ramakrishna Mission: Vivekananda Education and Research Institute
Belur Math, Howrah, W. Bengal
YouTube Channel: Indian Spiritual Heritage
Hindu race has come to perceive God both as Impersonal and Personal.
More importantly, they believe that in His Personal aspect God can manifest His Power in any form. The manifestation of God’s Power, including the Creation of universe, is never an act, as the term is commonly used, rather it is effected by His mere will, since God’s will and its actualisation are same. God being pure consciousness, He is the repository of all strength, and hence He does not have to act through mind, senses, organs, and objects to materialise His will the way we have to do.
What might then happen if the Lord ever thinks of Himself as feminine? God being beyond the cause-effect phenomena, only a naive can define God as being mere this or that. God being Infinite and pure Consciousness, He can have a particular form, and also many other forms simultaneously, along with being formless. That is the true meaning of being Infinite. If He thinks of Himself as Boar or Fish, who can stop Him from manifesting in those forms, since His thinking and act are same.
There being no second -- superior or inferior -- to Him, He may very well think of Himself (rather Itself) as feminine too. After all, gender is a dividing characteristic of dualistic existence which can never apply to God. Tantra and Shakti worship are rooted in this concept of seeing the Divine as feminine.
Philosophy of Mother Worship
The idea of Mother worship comes from the Vedas, and was later elaborated in the Puranas. But the real growth of Mother Worship in India came from the Tantra traditions that influenced even the Puranas. In the present day Hinduism, Mother Worship mostly comes from the Puranic traditions, but their roots, and the mantras used in them have clear foot prints of Tantra.
Independent of the Puranic traditions, Tantras produced great sages who popularised it in certain sections of the society, but due to many reasons, Tantra practices could not be accepted, appreciated and absorbed in the mainstream Hinduism.
One chief reason for it was that unlike the Vedic systems, Tantras are highly esoteric, meaning that their practices are secret, and also that their texts have layered meaning, and hence these cannot be understood unless a teacher trained in Tantra traditions explains them.
This kind of closed system is always dangerous for the practitioners and the onlookers alike. Be it a secretive person, a secret society, or a secret branch of knowledge – these can never be relied upon fully. The same happened with the Tantras – its esoteric nature made spiritually cultured wary of it, and so it throve mostly in the darkness of secrecy without the benefits of corrective adjustments that comes to an open system. However, the contribution of Tantras to Mother worship cannot be undermined.
Here it is important to remember that religions, religious systems and their outlooks are never a thought out system the way most philosophies are. Religions are the externals around the spiritual truths concerning God – the way He is, and the way He is perceived by the great sages in the depths of their meditation. A thought out religion like Akbar’s Din e-Ilahi, or humanism are put to the bins of history faster than it took them to be gestated, and the truths represented by them are as replaceable as a man’s clothes. But it is not so with religions that have withstood the test of time. The applications of the truths represented by them may be skewed, and the rationale to explain them may be flawed, but the spiritual truths that they represent cannot be questioned.
The principle behind Shakti/Mother worship is that God Creates the universe through His power which is non-different from Him, the way fire and its burning power are one and the same. This power of God is known as Shakti, which is non-different from God, and hence worshipping It is same as worshipping God.
Philosophically speaking, when God is in non-creative mode, He alone exists. At that time His Shakti stays merged in Him. But when He wills to manifest His Power, It appears as Creation. How and why God wills so, is a divine mystery that no religion can ever answer satisfactorily, since the dividing line of Mind-Time-Space separates the Absolute from the Relative.
This dividing line is called variously by different schools of philosophy. The Vedantins call it Maya, devotees call it Divine Play, while Shakti worshippers call it Shakti. The branching out of different philosophies in Hinduism is mostly due to their difference in perception of this dividing line between the Absolute and the Relative.
Creation by God is effected through Shakti. The difference between any two beings lies in the manifestation of Shakti in them, and even incarnations of God belong to the realm of Shakti, since their divine play is carried out in this world – the area of Shakti. Mahanirvan Tantra, an important work on Tantra describes Shakti as, “Thou art the supreme Power of Brahman, and from Thee has sprung the whole Universe. You are its Mother. Whatever there is in this world, with or without motion, owes its origin to Thee, and is dependent on Thee. Thou art the Origin of all the manifestations; Thou art the birthplace of even Us (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva). Thou knowest the whole world, yet none know Thee.” (Mahananirvan Tantra 4.10-12)
This gives a fair idea about what Shakti worship is about. Of these Shakti worshippers, most prefer to address It as Mother due to the love and sweetness associated with one’s mother that can be felt at the cosmic level too.
What are Tantras?
The word 'tantra' in Sanskrit is from a root that may mean 'to spread', 'origination', and 'knowledge'. Thus 'Tantra' means 'the scripture by which knowledge is spread'. Some scholars also think that the word may have come by the combination of the words 'tattva' (the science of the cosmic principles of Samkhya) and 'mantra' (the science of the mystic sound), which implies that Tantra is the application of these two sciences to attain spiritual enlightenment.
According to the tradition, Tantra is believed to have been taught by the great Lord Shiva to his divine consort, the Shakti. The Lord begins by expounding the Vedanta, goes through the principles of Samkhya, and ends with Shiva Tantra.
The Tantras, in general, admit the validity of the rituals of the Vedas, the discrimination and renunciation of the Upanishads, the purifying disciplines of Raja-Yoga, and the passionate love for the Deity described in the Puranas. They exhort the sadhakas to exercise will and self-effort, practise self-surrender, and supplicate for divine grace. Tantras promise their followers not only enjoyment of worldly happiness but also liberation (bhoga and apavarga). The system acknowledges that the power of the Kundalini can be aroused by the sincere pursuit of any spiritual discipline, and that this arousal can bring infinite achievement in any individual.
In its specific meaning, Tantra is a system that makes use of ritual, energy work, the use of the gross to access the spiritual, and the identification of the micro with the macro. The Tantric practitioner seeks to use the divine power that flows through the universe (including his own body) to attain purposeful goals, both spiritual and material. It is a kind of experimental science in which realisation promised by it is an experimentally verifiable fact.
The great advantage of Tantra over other religious system was that it promised both enjoyment of life (bhoga), as well as spiritual upliftment (yoga) by doing the same kind of sadhana. An aspirant who wishes to get worldly success and enjoyment had only to make the necessary sankalpa (resolve), whereas the aspirant for mukti also could achieve his desired goal by just making the proper resolve.
This helped the common man embrace Tantra more and more. After all, a man wants to save both the worlds simultaneously.
The origin and growth of Tantras
Tantras grew independent of the Vedic traditions, and may even be earlier to it in its origin. Many estimate that the system must have started crystallising by the 5th century B.C. The real rise of Tantra came with the rise of Shaivism and the Pancharatra, while its necessary framework was supplied by the Samkhya philosophy. Both these religious systems and philosophy are quite old, which means that the seeds of Tantra were sown quite early in the evolution of the Hindu system of thought.
By the tenth century, Brahamanical, Buddhist and Jaina sects of Tantra got mixed up. This gave rise to a particular mystic form which was very near to Saktism in essence. This also gave birth to new forms of esoteric religions.
In its wider sense, Tantra is not a single coherent system like the Vedas, or any other Hindu philosophy. It is an accumulation of practices and ideas of the Hindus since prehistoric times till the present age. Its birth is rooted in the Vedas; its development proceeds through the Upanishads, Itihasa, Puranas and Smritis. It also drew from different practices current in India like Shaivism, and its philosophy came mostly from Samkhya (to be discussed in the section on Philosophy).
Later, some schools of Buddhism amalgamated their philosophy with Tantra to develop Vajrayana school of Buddhism. This school became popular in Tibet and later it entered India in its new avatar. The present day Tantra is thus a mix of Hindu and Buddhism traditions of Tantra rituals.
The later Tantric texts like Mahanirvan Tantra wanted to connect their doctrines with the Vedas but the orthodox Vedic tradition did not allow the proximity, even though both systems have much in common. But the Vedic traditions being all powerful in Hindu religion, Tantras had to remain satisfied with being on the sidelines even though it contributed significantly in its rites, rituals and modes of worship.
In spite of the slight faced by the Vedic tradition, Tantra grew partly due to the failure of the Vedic system in the changed times, and partly because it offered quick fix solutions to the need and greed of common man.
The requirements for Vedic rituals had become impractical -- the ingredients used in Vedic sacrifices were too difficult to obtain, the life-style prescribed for a practitioner became nearly impossible to follow, and the promised results of heavens after death seemed too distant. On the other hand, the Upanishadic meditations were too difficult for a common man to follow, and the Puranas appeared as tales of fantasy. But the devout needed something concrete, something simpler, and something glamorous for them to acquire worldly good, and to destroy their ill wishers. The answer was Tantra.
The vitality and elasticity thus acquired made Tantra enter every house and temple of India. As if this was not enough, it made powerful inroads in every country where an Indian, or an Indian thought went. What passes off today as practices of Hinduism in India and the West, is essentially Tantra, packaged to suit the need of a particular community or an individual.
Tantra and the Vedas
Going strictly by the definitions, Tantra is neither shruti, nor smriti. The followers of Tantra treat it as an integral part of the Vedas (Agama), though there are not many takers for this. Historically speaking, the Tantric tradition may be considered as either parallel to, or intertwined with the Vedic tradition. The later Tantric writers wanted to base their doctrines on the Vedas but the orthodox followers of the Vedic tradition referred to Tantra in a spirit of denunciation, stressing its anti-Vedic character.
The Tantras essentially teach what the Vedas also teach. The difference lies in the method and certain subtle points of philosophy. In the various works of Tantras, one repeatedly comes across passages where the supremacy of the Vedas is accepted, with the caveat that the present age is for the Tantras.
There are some great similarities between the two systems, of which only some are being mentioned:
* Both systems preach common goals of life.
* The Vedas concerned with the victory of man over the forces of nature. In the Tantric sadhana also the chief concern is the ascendancy of man over nature, both external and internal.
* Both these systems are highly ritualistic.
* The offering of Soma rasa was replaced by wine in the Tantras
* Both systems have various gods who are too willing to receive offerings and oblations.
* The animal sacrifice of the Vedas became an essential ritual in the Tantra.
Tantra and the Smritis
The Tantras look down upon the Smriti literature as inferior to itself. However, they draw heavily from the Smritis, with necessary additions and alterations.
Some interesting developments in Tantras as compared to the Smritis are:
* Tantras accept the Varna-Ashrama dharma, but add a fifth caste, called samanya. On the other hand it reduces the four ashramas to only two -- Grihastha and Sannyasa.
* With Brahmacharya and Vanaprastha removed from the system, the sixteen samskaras, prescribed in the Smritis are reduced to ten.
* The purificatory rites are reduced drastically.
* The status of the Shudras go up considerably.
* The practice of Sati got expressly prohibited.
* Penances (prayascitta) for various mistakes became much simple.
* Punishment for offences committed by a common man was made lighter.
The texts and the type of Tantras
The major sources of Tantras are the Agama, Yaamala, and the Buddhistic tradition. In the old books, there are mention of teachers like Dadhichi, Lakulisa, Kacha and others which show that this tradition is quite old and respected.
Geographically, there are four classes of Tantra: Kerala, Kashmira, Gauda, and Vilas, but their influence is not really confined to one region. With time they spread all over the country and got intertwined with each other.
The Tantras are normally called both agama and nigama. In the agamas, Lord Shiva instructs Parvati, whereas in the nigamas, Parvati instructs Lord Shiva in the art of the Tantras. However, agama is the common term used for both of these.
The Agamas are theological treatises and practical manuals of the Tantras. The Agamas include the Tantras, Mantras and Yantras and also discuss Jnana, Yoga, Kriya or Ritual, and Charya or Worship. They also discuss metaphysics, cosmology, liberation, devotion, meditation, philosophy of Mantras, mystic diagrams, charms and spells, temple-building, image-making, domestic observances, social rules, public festivals etc.
The Agamas are divided into three sections: The Vaishnava, The Saiva and The Sakta.
The Vaishnava Tantras are of four kinds: The Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara, Vijnana-lalita. In this group there are 75 Tantras, 205 Upatantras, 20 kalpas, 1 Yamala etc.
The Saiva Tantras recognise 32 Tantras of which the chief is Kamika. In addition they have 325 Upatantras, 10 Samhitas, 2 Yamalas etc. These Agamas are also the basis of Kashmir Saivism which is called the Pratyabhijna system. The latter works of Pratyabhijna system show a distinct leaning to Advaitism (non-dualistic philosophy). The Southern Saivism, i.e., Saiva Siddhanta, and the Kashmir Saivism, regard these Agamas as their authority, besides the Vedas. Each Agama has Upa-Agamas (subsidiary Agamas). Of these, only fragmentary texts of twenty are available. Lord Siva is the central God in the Saiva Agamas.
The Sakta Agamas glorify Sakti as the World-Mother. They dwell on the Sakti (energy) aspect of God and prescribe numerous courses of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in various forms. There are seventy-seven Agamas. These are very much like the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Siva and Parvati. In some of these, Siva answers the questions put by Parvati, while in others, Parvati answers and Siva questions.
The other Tantras are:
Saura Tantra with 30 Tantras, 96 Upatantras, 2 Yamalas etc.
Ganpatya Tantras have 50 Tantras, 25 Upatantras, , 8 pancharatras etc.
Bauddha Tantras which have a very large number of literature.
Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra are some of the important works. Among the existing books on the Agamas, the most famous are the Isvara-Samhita, Ahirbudhnya-Samhita, Sanatkumara-Samhita, Narada-Pancharatra, Spanda-Pradipika and the Mahanirvana-Tantra.
Another class of literature are known as Yaamala. These are eight in number and have the tradition of Bhairava, instead of the Lord Shiva. The most famous work of this group is Brahma Yamala.
Yamalas indicate a great development in the Tantric sadhana. These give a well-developed mode of worship, harmonise a lot of local deities and cults, make provision for sadhana by people of other castes also, and introduce a great variety of gods and goddesses. The major shift in these works, as compared to the Agama literature is the worship of Shakti instead of Lord Shiva.
These works preserve the orthodox tradition of the earlier period and also present themselves as heterodox.
These are the later group of literature which developed around 7th century A.D. Buddhist mysticism had assumed three different forms -- Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalacakrayana. The philosophical basis for these works was supplied by the Yogachara and the Madhyamika systems of philosophy. Vajrayana emphasises the importance of mantra, mudra, and mandala; Sahajayana discards all formalism; and Kalachakrayana attaches importance to muhurta, tithi, nakshtra etc., thus bringing the elements of astrology and astronomy in sadhana.
The Tantric Traditions
There are also Kaula tradition, started by Matsyendranath, in which the Sahaja tradition of the Buddhists finds a lot of importance.
The Natha tradition originated from the teachings of Siddhacharya, and was continued by the great teachers like Gorakshanatha.
The Vaishnava Sahjiya was established in Bengal before Chaitanyadeva. In this sect Radha is the Shakti, and Krishna is the Supreme Reality.
Avadhuta tradition has its roots in Natha sect, whereas Bauls of Bengal are inspired by the Vaishnava Sahajiya.
The Various Paths
The Tantra tradition gives a list of its various paths as: Vedachara, Vaishnavachara, Shaivachara, Dakshinachara, Vamachara, Siddhnatachara, and Kaulachara. These are classified as tamasik, rajasik, and Sattvic. The first three are for pashubhava people (explained below); Vamachara and Siddhantachara are for veerabhava practitioners; Dakshinachara is for pashubhava sadhaka who are struggling to reach veerabhava, and Kaulachara is for divyabhava aspirantas.
According to the Tantras, the first three cannot be practised because of the strict injunctions in them, and of the difficulties imposed by the Varnashrama dharma. For example, it is said that a brahmin engaged in a sacrifice must not look at the face of a shudra. But this is quite impossible in the prevailing social conditions. This leaves us with the remaining four. Of these, Vamachara and dakshinachara are more popular as Tantras.
The ignorance of the general public and the abuse by the irresponsible practitioners of Vamachara or ‘left-hand’ path, has made the whole science of Tantra suspect. The ritual of this path is based upon the principle of the ‘return current’, which seeks to reverse the process that creates the bonds of the animal man. The five ingredients used by followers of this path are the 'pancha makara' - mansa, matsya, madya, mudra, maithuna -- meat, fish, wine, fried cereals and union. These, however, have different connotations for different classes of aspirants. The underlying principle of Vamachara is to emphasize the fact that a man makes progress in spiritual life not by falsely shunning that which makes him fall, but by seizing upon it and sublimating it so as to make it a means of liberation.
It is only for a certain type of aspirant, called veera (heroic), that the actual drinking of wine and practice of union are prescribed. The teacher of such a practioner carefully points out that the joy and stimulation arising from these are to be utilised for the uplift of the mind from the physical plane. Tantra never countenances excess or irregularity for the purpose of the gratification of carnal desire. To break chastity, it says, is to lose or shorten life. Woman, associated with the Tantric practices in order to help man in his path of renunciation, is an object of veneration to all schools of Tantra. She is regarded as the embodiment of Sakti, or the power that projects and pervades the universe. To insult a woman is a grievous sin.
Same is true of meat-eating and wine drinking. The Tantras specifically prohibit people from indulging in these things excepting when offered to the Lord.
Mahanirvan Tantra explains the five "M' as being representative of the five great elements of Nature. According to this book, wine represents fire element, fish represents water element, meat represents air element, fried grains represent earth element, and union is the representative of the ether (akasa) element. By offering these to the Mother of the universe, one actually worships her through her creative elements.
Animal, Heroic and Divine
Tantra divides sadhakas, or spiritual aspirants, into three groups according to their mental disposition: pashu, veera, and divya -- animal, heroic, and divine. The man with animal disposition (pashu) moves along the outgoing current and earns merit and demerit from his worldly activities. He has not yet raised himself above the common round of convention, nor has he cut the three knots of ‘hate, fear and shame.’ Swayed by his passions, he is a slave of emotions: lust, greed, pride, anger, delusion, and envy. Such a sadhaka is not allowed even to touch the five ingredients of the left-hand ritual.
The competent aspirant for the hazardous ritual with the five ingredients is called a hero (veera). He has the inner strength to ‘play with fire’ and to burn his worldly bonds with it. Established in complete self-control, he does not forget himself even in the most trying and tempting circumstances. He is a man of fearless disposition, inspiring terror in those who cherish animal propensities. Pure in motive, gentle in speech, strong in body, resourceful, courageous, intelligent, adventurous, and humble, he cherishes only what is good.
The sadhaka of divine (divya) disposition is one who has risen above all the bonds of desire and has nothing to sublimate. Mahanirvana Tantra describes such an aspirant as sparing in speech, beloved of all, introspective, steady, sagacious, and solicitous about others’ welfare. He is always in ecstasy, enjoying ‘inner woman and wine.’ For the five ingredients used by a hero he substitutes consciousness (chit), bliss (ananda), and exaltation (bhava).
A Word on animal sacrifice
To many, the animal sacrifice, associated with the worship of Mother Kali and other such deities, is repulsive. While talking to Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore also expressed his revulsion towards the worship of Kali for this reason. Even Swami Vivekananda says, "How I used to hate Kali! And all Her ways! That was the ground of my six years' fight--that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last! ... Sex-love and creation! These are at the root of most religions. And these in India are called Vaishnavism, and in the West Christianity. How few have dared to worship Death or Kali! Let us worship Death! Let us embrace the Terrible, because it is terrible, not asking that it be toned down. Let us take misery for misery's own sake!"
However, the sacrifices in Tantra are not mere killings the way a butcher or an abattoir kills animals for meat. In this system, it is presumed that a common man cannot rise above his desires, which includes meat eating. If a person has to do so, it is better that he takes meat as prasada. It is for this reason that animals are sacrificed. But before that pashu Gayatri is recited in the ears of the sacrificial goat, with the idea that the relevant mantra will release the animal from his species, and he will be born in some higher species to move towards the gaol of evolution, which is self realisation.
In Tantra, no female animal is ever sacrificed.
The Essential Philosophy
Reality, according to Tantra, is Satchidananda -- Existence, Knowledge, Bliss. Satchidananda becomes restricted through Maya, and its transcendental nature is then expressed in terms of forms and categories, as explained in Samkhya and other systems of Hindu philosophy.
According to the Vedanta philosophy, Maya functions only on the relative plane at the time of creation, preservation and destruction. Neither is the creation ultimately real, nor are the created beings real. True knowledge reveals only an undifferentiated consciousness. According to Tantra, however, Satchidananda is called Siva-Shakti, the hyphenated word suggesting that Siva or the Absolute, and Sakti, or its creative power, are eternally conjoined like a word and its meaning; and that the one cannot be thought of without the other. According to Tantra, a conception of pure consciousness which denies Shakti is only half of the truth. Satchidananda is essentially endowed with the power of self-evolution and self-involution. Therefore perfect spiritual knowledge is the knowledge of the whole: Of consciousness as being and consciousness as power to become.
In Tantra, it is only in the relative world that Siva and Sakti are thought of as separate entities. It also affirms that both the world process (Sristi) and the jiva are real and not merely illusory superimpositions upon Brahman. In declaring that the jiva finally becomes one with the Reality, Tantra differs from Visista Advaita.
According to Tantra, the non-dual reality becomes evolved, which is real and not merely apparent as in Vedanta. This evolution gives certain kind of powers and also restricts every form of existence (starting from a stone to human beings). This accounts for a being's actions and reactions. These determinants are the ‘fetters’ (pasa) which weave the whole fabric of the jiva’s phenomenal life. It is by them that one gets bound and behaves like an animal, (pasu).
The goal of Tantra is to teach the method by which these bondages (pasa) can be cut asunder to make every Jiva one with Shiva.
Mahanirvan Tantra emphasises the importance of kulachara (Tantra) for liberation in the present age. The kula (lit. total) are: Jiva, Prakriti, space, time, and the five great elements(akasha, air, fire, water, earth). The realisation that these nine are one with Brahman is Kulachara. This knowledge produces Dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
Tantra as a mode of sadhana
The Tantric sadhana is the method of transference of one's baser nature to the spiritual. In the Vedantic sadhana one has to negate all limiting adjuncts on the self accepting them as unreal until one realises Brahman. In order to reach the affirmation of oneness, one has to renounce the world of names and forms. On the other hand, Tantra prescribes the discipline of sublimation which consists of three phases: purification, elevation and the realisation. These require practices that can be classified as:
The ordinary ritual or puja may include any of the following elements:
a. Mantra and yantra: These play an important part in Tantra for invoking specific deities such as Shiva or Mother Kali.
b. Identification with deities: Tantra embraces every Hindu god and goddess. Thus each god in Tantra represents an aspect of the ultimate Para Shiva, or Brahman. These deities may be worshipped externally with flowers, incense, and other offerings; but, more importantly, are engaged as attributes of Ishta Devata. The practitioners either visualise the deities present within themselves, or try to feel their presence outside.
The Secret Rituals
The secret ritual (panchatattva, chakrapuja, and panchamakara) may include any or all of the elements of the ordinary ritual along with the elements of one of these three. These practices are conducted only in the presence of the initiated devotees.
Some important concepts used in Tantra sadhana are:
Purification: The evolution and involution go hand in hand. The power that created the world, and the bondages that are associated with it can be turned back to take the individual away from the world to liberation. The Tantra believes in the saying, ‘One must rise by that by which one falls’; ‘the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise.’ The only question is how to transform the cardinal impulses for material enjoyment (bhoga) into spiritual experiences (Yoga)? If this can somehow be done, then jiva will undoubtedly become one with Shiva, the individual will definitely become pure.
Tantras admit the presence of a perennial conflict between the flesh and the spirit. The observance of moral and social conventions, however desirable on the plane of worldly existence, does not make a man different from an animal. But, when one realises that the whole process of creation, preservation, and destruction is but the manifestation of the lila, or sportive pleasure, of Siva-Sakti, one does not see anything carnal or gross in the universe. The special technique of the Tantric discipline is to transform the disintegrating force into the integrating one.
Every action, whether yielding pleasure or pain, fasten the chain upon the jiva with additional links. The hope of liberty lies in uncoiling the coil of nature that has closed upon it. This is called the ‘awakening’ of the Kundalini by which one moves from the plane of impure principles to that of pure principles.
The spiritual awakening of a sadhaka is described in Tantra by means of the Kundalini power. Properly understood, Kundalini is not something peculiar to Tantra, but the basis of the spiritual experiences described by all religious faiths. Every genuine spiritual experience, such as the seeing of light or a vision, or communion with the Deity, is only a manifestation of the ascent of the Kundalini.
In our common language, Kundalini can be equated with the infinite potential energy in every being, which releases only a very small amount of working energy for one's daily life. The coiled-up Kundalini is the central pivot upon which the whole complex apparatus of the body and mind moves and turns. Once the Kundalini is aroused, the whole of potential gets converted into the dynamic, like the release of energy during an atomic explosion.
The aim of waking the Kundalini is not the acquisition of greater power for the purpose of performing miraculous feats or the enjoyment of material pleasures; it is the realisation of Satchidananda.
The passage of the awakened Kundalini lies through the Sushumna, which is the normally closed central nerve in the nervous system. A kind of hollow canal, the Sushumna passes through the spinal column connecting the base centre (muladhara) at the bottom of the spine with the centre at the cerebrum.
Tantra speaks of six centres (Chakras) through which Sushumna passes which look like different-coloured lotuses with varying numbers of petals. In the ordinary worldly person these centres (Chakras) are closed, and the lotuses droop down like buds. As the Kundalini rises through the Sushumna Canal and touches the centres, these buds turn upward as fully opened flowers and the aspirant obtains spiritual experiences.
Mantras play an important part in the Tantric discipline. The word 'mantra' means, literally, ‘that which, when reflected upon, gives liberation.’ The Mantra is the sound equivalent of the Deity, that is to say, chit or Consciousness, whereas the external image is the material form of the Mantra. The sound-vibration is the first manifestation of chit and nearest to it. It is really intermediate between pure consciousness and the physical object, being neither absolutely immaterial like the former nor dense like the latter.
Tantra regards vibration as a manifestation of the cosmic energy, or Sakti, and teaches that as such it can lead to the realisation of chit, which otherwise eludes the grasp of even an intelligent person. Thus Mantras are not mere words, but are forms of concentrated thought of exceeding potency. The advanced aspirant finds that a Mantra and the deity with which it is associated are identical. The deity being the illumination embodied in the Mantra.
The mantras are also classified as masculine, feminine and neuter. Masculine mantras end in hum and phat; feminine mantras end in swaha, and neuter mantras end in namah.
Beeja (lit. seed) plays a very important role in the Tantras. Just like Aum of the Vedas, these beeja are mystic sounds produced by the combination of various sounds. There are innumerable beeja, but the more popular ones are Aim (worship of Saraswati), Hrim (worship of maya), Shrim (worship of Lakshmi). Some of these beeja are masculine (eg. klim, denoting the god of desire), while most of them are feminine. The masculine beeja are called deva, whereas the feminine ones are called vidya.
Yantras (Mystical Diagrams)
Mystical diagrams called ‘Yantras’ are present in every religion, including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, although known by different names. In Tantra, they are an essential component. A Yantra is a diagrammatic equivalent of the deity, just as Mantra is its sound-equivalent. It is a full representation of the basic power which evolves and maintains an object of worship. When the Yantra is given real potency, the Deity is present there. In the Tantric ritual the Yantra is the object of worship, the image being its tangible representation. There is a fundamental relationship between the Mantra and the Yantra.
Tantra insists that mantras are efficacious, that the diagrams used in the worship are potent, that the deities, or devatas, are conscious entities, that supernatural powers are attained, and that the earnest aspirant experiences the rise of the Kundalini through the different spinal centres (Chakras) and finally realises his identity with Satchidananda.
Let us briefly consider a Tantric ritual as observed in the worship. The aim of Tantra is bhoga-apavarga -- enjoyment, and also liberation. It therefore lays down an endless variety of rituals suited to different times, places, and individual competence.
Usually a Tantric ritual consists in the assigning of the different parts of the body to different deities, the purifying of the elements of the body, breath-control, meditation, imparting of life to the image, and mental and physical worship. These are all calculated to transform the worshipper, the worshipped, the accessories, and the act of worship into consciousness. Harmony on the physical and mental planes are necessary for success in worship, which is created in the gross physical elements by means of prescribed postures, pranayama, japa, and meditation.
In addition, Ablution (snana) purifies the physical body, tarpana gives inner satisfaction, bhutasuddhi frees one of taints, and dhyana enables the worshipper to feel his oneness with the Deity. The last part of the ritual consists of a sacrifice (homa) in which the devotee completely surrenders himself to the Deity, merges in him, and loses his identity in him. At this stage there is no more distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped, the finite and the infinite, the individual and the Absolute.
When a sadhaka attains the purity of mind through the ritualistic worship as prescribed in the Tantras, he becomes fit for the realisation of Brahman. It is then that an aspirant finds that the meditator, meditation and the object of meditation are all one.
Tantra as a complete Shastra
Unlike many other spiritual treatise, Tantras are a complete scripture. They discuss philosophy; the form and the function of Varnashrama dharma; duties, responsibilities and penances for the individual; code of conduct to lead the daily life etc. A true follower of Tantra did not need to go to any other dharmashastra for enlightenment.
Works like Mahanirvan Tantra condemned satee, encouraged female education, simplified purificatory rites, and encouraged a life of simplicity and purity. The Tantras reduced the samskaras (ceremonial rites) to ten, instead of the earlier sixteen of the Smritis, and reduced the number of ashrama to two, instead of the earlier four.
Tantra successfully worked out the coordination between karma, jnana, bhakti and yoga to be used by its practitioners for his or her ultimate union with the Supreme Reality.
Being a product of the spiritual cross-currents of Hinduism, it sucked everything connected with religion that was to be found anywhere in India. In turn, it spewed out everything that was beneficial for the mankind. Despite the blemishes and abuses that it received, it continues to give solace to every practising Hindu in its ritualistic, philosophical, and mystic aspects. The concept of transference developed by it is unique in the history of world religions. It is this transference, or sublimation which made millions of materialistic minds to attain a semblance of upliftment.
May be, that is why it continues to exist in one form or the other.