Tantric Esotery: Dimensions and Dynamicsby Dr. Haramohan Mishra
A quest for the ultimate truth, a search for one’s own reality, and an inquiry into the meaning of life and its purpose, were streamlined and found expression in three great systems of philosophy in India, which by their intensity and exhaustiveness are unique and at the same time universal. These are the Sankhya-yoga system, the Vedanta and the Agamas. Among these, the Vedanta wherein the Vedic line of thought culminates and the Agama or the Tantra which stands prominent by its exhaustiveness, its pragmatic approach and moderation, got integrated with the religious and spiritual life of the people. The Vedantic approach with its intellectual rigor is meant for a few, but the Tantric, with its tolerant attitude, exhaustiveness and direct method, molded according to one’s spiritual and intellectual ability, is applicable to all, from the layman to the enlightened.
Tantras are varied and variegated like human nature itself, with difference in beliefs and ideals. They have a belief-system and world-view which are not altogether different from the mainstream world-view of Indian spirituality within which they provide a paradigm for religious and spiritual pursuits. Tantra is sadhana-intensive. From the external point of view, it is the grammar of rituals and from a higher standpoint it is the science of higher consciousness. Though there are so many different classifications of the Tantras, broadly they can be brought under two categories, viz. one type of Tantras describing in detail the rituals, forms and practices, the others, dealing with the more philosophical and esoteric doctrines, thus stressing the need of yoga and knowledge. There are wide varieties of practices, so we find much different types of texts which go by the name “Tantra”. We can take for example two Tantric texts which begin with the name “Yogini” but with thematic difference, viz. the “Yogini Tantra” and the “Yogini Hrdaya Tantra”. The former delineates a story in the mythological style how Yogini came to manifest, but in the latter, the word “Yogini” has a different connotation. Armrtanande in his commentary on Yoginihrdaya writes “Yoga means samyoga or contact. The para samvit, cosmic consciousness, which pervades the entire universe, and thus, exists in contact with anything and everything of the universe is Yogini.” We may compare the two works which bear the same name ‘ Tantrasara’ one by Krsnananda and the other by Abhinavagupta but which differ so much in their contents and context.
This difference is due to the attitude and attainments of their writer and practitioners. In fact, there is not only a single path to enlightenment. Different methods are prescribed taking into consideration different grades of adhikarins. In some Tantric texts of lower level, some bizarre practices are even prescribed. The difficulty is that a person who is not conversant with the variety and vastness of the Tantric literature will be confused and misled in discerning the genuine from the spurious. Though in the Tantric scriptures some fixed “upayas” are described according to their schools (as sambhava, sakta, anava and anupaya by Abhinavagupta), there are really infinite paths, from anupaya to anantopaya. This is why Abhinavagupta says –
“niravaranam abhati bhatyavrtanijatmakam
avrtanavrto bhati vahudha bhedasangamat”
“Sometimes Siva manifests without concealment; sometimes he manifests within concealment. He also manifests within and without concealment (partly concealed and partly unconcealed) because of the variety of differences through which he manifests.”
Among the schools of Tantra, the non-dual systems of Kaula, Srividya and Trika are the best so far as they represent the finest spiritual attainment as well as the best philosophical discussions. Kashmir Saivism, better described as Trika system, which synthesizes the best of the Agamic concepts is the culmination of the Agamic traditions.
According to Advaita Agamas, the supreme reality is one Illumination (prakasa) which is not only transcendental consciousness, but immanent in all, subsuming everything whatever is.
This ultimate reality, known as Siva is not a void, nor an attribute-less, action-less reality, but is endowed with unbound freedom, his Sakti, the power, through whom he creates, maintains, destroys, subsumes and graces the entire universe. Sakti and Siva are not different, they are one and identical. The individual soul encased in a body undergoing the experiences of birth and death, pleasures and pains etc is one with Siva, but it does not recognize its divinity because of ignorance. Sadhana is a process through which the individual regains his true self-knowledge. Tantric sadhana is only possible through Sakti. From the individual standpoint, Sakti is the source of bondage; she is also the cause of emancipation. This is what Vijnanabhairava declares- “Saivi mukham ihocyate” She is the door through which the sadhaka enters Sivahood.
Sadhana centers on Sakti with her infinite manifestations, which are organized under the three chief cosmic manifestations viz. will, knowledge and action, otherwise known as para, apara and parapara saktis. Tantric sadhana aims at reaching one’s own Siva-self, or identity with Siva. The principal sadhana is constant awareness of one’s own true nature and its relation with the world that is perceived. The consciousness, the perceived and the perceiver are common to all. But the yogis are only mindful of the true relationship as the Vijnanabhairava Tantra puts it.
In the highest form, puja (worship) is an all-expansive consciousness where the entire universe of objects rests on the consciousness of the sadhaka, as it is put by Sivananda, the celebrated commentator of the Nityasodasikarnava Tantra (not to be confused with Swami Sivananda, the famous saint of Rishikesh of modern India). Worship culminates in sadhana. Sadhana is an inward spiritual journey which ends in the recognition of one’s Siva-self.
The entire ranges of existence consisting of the various strata of realities subsumed by one ultimate reality, Siva, are the dimensions of Tantra; and Tantric sadhana covers the entire dynamics that operate under the all-pervasive Sakti, culminating in self-knowledge and emancipation. Various occult practices such as communicating with different higher levels and their inhabitants are found in some minor Tantric texts, but these are not the main objectives of Tantra. The sadhaka may encounter on his way some higher levels of beings and realities when doing his practices; he may have some extra-ordinary experiences, but sadhana really completes when the sadhaka gains self-knowledge, which is an immediate, intuitive knowledge of the reality. Tantric sadhana is neither empirical nor rational. It is, in the highest sense, not a process. It is non-discursive, non-rational, and non-procedural. It is intuitive and immediate like waking from a dream or recognizing one’s face from the reflection on a mirror.
Through mantras, forms and symbols, one has to rise to a higher level of consciousness and feel one’s expansion, until it consumes the entire ranges of existence, all the dimensions within the fold of one’s consciousness. The sadhaka has to enter into his body, prana, and mind through some techniques and feel the fine vibrations till all vibrations subside. When he reaches the level of unmani, and transcends the mind, the all-pervasive self-awareness manifests.