Tantra - Link for Modern Life
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Given at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Antwerp, Belgium on 29th Aug.
The modern world is a culture of great variety and diversity. Everywhere we see changes; new developments. On all levels man is broadening his concepts and views, accepting new and more efficient ways of living and achieving his multidimensional goals. The modern mind is completely different to the mind of other cultures and times. It is very practical and aggressive. It works with terrific speed and is always discovering things. The modern mind greatly admires the idealism and the tenets of Christianity, Vedanta and Buddhism, but is unable to assimilate or practise them because they do not fit into its pattern. With this understanding, people today must seek another way of spiritual life which fits the changing patterns of their life and which their minds can accept.
I have pondered this problem for over thirty years, and I have found that the modern mind, the modern society, needs a spiritual way in accordance with its nature. A tiger cannot eat grass; it can only eat meat. It would prefer to die than to graze. The modern mind is a tantric mind. It is not a mind that can assimilate puritanism. It likes flowers, aggressive music, beautiful girls and boys, dance, meat, fish, wine, cigarettes. These are just a few specialties of the modern culture. Many of my disciples are conditioned to this way of life, so I know what happens to them when they cannot get these things. They develop all kinds of physical, emotional and psychic problems.
Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the way of spiritual life for modern man is not Vedanta or puritanism. Spiritual life has to be taught without creating discord in the life pattern. According to my experience, tantra is the correct system for the people of today. Other yogas may be necessary from time to time, but for spiritual illumination, every man has to follow his own path.
When you suppress the mind, you suppress spiritual advancement. You suppress the mind on account of guilt. This guilt is present in everyone, and it is the greatest barrier in spiritual life. Tantra is the middle way, and its principle is: 'Do not interfere with the pattern of your life.'
Mending the split
Many people take up yoga and try to become saints overnight. They talk about beautiful ethics, idealism and purity, and denounce everything else. This is criticising life. How can you say that only purity or idealism is life and nothing else? You have to accept the whole life in totality and not in parts, otherwise you are making a religion out of yoga. What is important is spiritual illumination, but have you become spiritually illumined?
The mind is limited by its conditioning, and you have created these conditions for yourself. You have created definitions, but these definitions are not absolute. They are man made definitions, created by socio-political thinkers for the community, for the nation. These things have nothing to do with man's spiritual progress. If the light is covered by a veil, you have to remove the veil, and that is why I request you to give a thought to this tantric system of yoga.
Now you are slaves of your philosophy and principles. The whole world is making the same mistake. Teachers are behaving like priests or clergymen, preaching something very high. They are asking you to break your minds, to create a split personality. In one corner of the room you practise yoga, and in another corner you read Freud. That is a split; that is a conflict. What spiritual illumination can you expect then? What do you believe in: the puritanism of yoga or the psychology of Freud? You have to put this question to yourself, and I am sure that you will prefer the left corner, because that is your culture and it is more attuned with your patterns of mind.
Traditional Hindus are religious by nature; they believe because that is their culture. In the modern world, however, you have a completely different culture, and therefore spiritual life has to be discovered on the basis of your own culture. Whether it is yoga or Vedanta, Bible or Koran, Gita or Mahabharata, please remember that there should be a uniformity in your life and your spiritual practice. To be very clear, if you drink whisky, your religion should not say it is bad. If you lead a life of sexual interactions, your spiritual faith should not contradict and criticise that. If you take non-vegetarian diet, your spiritual faith should not condemn it. Only when spiritual life is in accord with daily life can you balance your conflicts. This is the path of tantra.
The principle of tantra is very simple. You can practise Christianity, yoga or Vedanta, but please do not criticise your life. In tantra, everything becomes a stepping stone to evolution. The mind stuff, which is constantly evolving, is not clogged or blocked. The mind is like a child. If you pester it constantly saying: 'Oh, you are bad!' it soon becomes neurotic and weak. That is why tantra says to treat the mind with respect. Never denigrate the mind, never speak of the mind as bad, evil, devil, full of desires, or the cause of your downfall.
You try to control the mind, but you can never do it. In the name of control, you kill the mind. It is like slapping your child left to right, for everything. If he laughs, you slap; if he weeps, you slap; if he plays games, you slap. What will happen to your child? What is going to happen to your mind? This mind is your best secretary, and it is sick and tired of slapping and control.
Have you ever thought about whom you are controlling, and who is controlling whom? Are you not trying to control yourself? This means that one tendency of the mind is punishing another tendency of the mind. One tendency is the controller and another tendency is the controlled one. Thus you create two divisions in your mind. You are inimical to yourself, you oppose yourself, you are fighting with yourself. Is this the way to spiritual life? This is why you are stranded in spiritual life. In fact, the whole of humanity stands stranded somewhere in between external life and spiritual life, and no one knows which way to go.
Expansion of consciousness
In the history of mankind, spiritual life began with tantra. The cosmic nature taught man to live in a particular way and thereby evolve. Tantra literally means the expansion of mind and liberation of energy, and all the practices of tantra are aimed at this.
The idea of expansion is very important. The human mind functions in limited situations and is dependent on the sensory channels. The senses supply information and then the mind knows. It has a limited field. It is important for the spiritual aspirant to understand how to expand the mind. This process occurs when the mind is able to know without the sensory channels. When you sit for meditation, the mind expands, it is able to experience things without the medium of the senses.
Tantra has a different definition of meditation. Unconsciousness is not meditation. In the state of meditation, both the internal and external dimension of consciousness are combined. In the beginning we try to become aware of the internal consciousness. When you have become a master of inner consciousness, then you should try to combine the inner and the outer consciousness at the same time. For example, if you are inside, you can see the room very well, but you are unable to see outside. If you stand at the threshold, you can see both inside and outside. Then there is no 'outside' and 'inside'; both are the same.
You must remember that in order to have an experience, you need the help of the senses, but you can also have an experience without the senses. This means that there are two kinds of awareness: one is through the senses, the other is without the senses. When you are able to experience through the senses, that is called the worldly experience. But when you are able to be aware without the senses, that is called the inner experience, the transcendental experience. Who is experiencing both of these? One and the same self; the seer is one and not two. This is an important point that you have to remember in tantra. External experience is one type of spiritual experience and inner experience is another type of spiritual experience. The right hand is inner experience and the left hand is outer experience. If you have one hand, you are limited. You need both. Similarly, you should have both awarenesses functioning at the same time, which is the total, homogeneous, complete experience.
Most people think that in the states of dhyana and samadhi, the external experience is finished. In fact it is not. This is one mistake that we have to correct. In meditation and samadhi you are able to have both internal and external experience at the same time, because you are the seer. When you are able to experience inner and outer awareness at the same time, this is known as the expansion of consciousness. When the expansion of consciousness takes place, the energy is automatically liberated.
The middle path
In tantra we have the two eternal realities known as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is consciousness and Shakti is energy. When the union between consciousness and energy takes place, kundalini wakes up. Similarly, mankind must combine material life with spiritual life, for evolution to take place. Usually, however, this does not happen. People do not try to synthesise them. Instead, they create two separate compartments, the material and the spiritual. When you only care for the material compartment, you become psychotic, neurotic, frustrated. But if you ignore the material and only take an interest in the spiritual compartment, then your spiritual life will be blocked. Therefore you should practise spiritual life in accordance with your nature and your external life.
The science of tantra is very broad. It has accepted the wholeness of life, and this is the future direction of spiritual life in modern society. Otherwise people will become very unnatural, creating extremes in society. You can see that when the emphasis is on puritanism, the other extreme- pornography, arises. There must be a middle path, and that will improve the condition of society and the family as well.
Tantra should be practised on the level of family life. In tantra, the sexual interaction between Shiva and Shakti is considered necessary for spiritual growth. Up to now you have been involved in sexual interactions, but you have always felt guilty about it. You have had a very low opinion of it. Yet this is a natural part of life. Everybody is doing it. Your mother and father have done it; your grandfather and grandmother have done it; yet you feel so bad about it.
According to tantra, the sexual drive is one of mankind's most powerful urges and no man is able to abstain. It is in his body, mind and subconscious. It is expressed in his behaviour, and if not in his behaviour, then in his dreams; if not in his dreams, then in abnormal psychotic behaviour. It is always there; you can't get rid of it, whether you are a sannyasi, saint, devotee, bishop, clergyman, boy, girl, man or woman.
So how are you going to manage this indispensable element of your life? It will take some time for you to learn to respect your own urges. You are compelled by your urges, yet you don't respect them. You don't believe that there is any way to fulfil them and still progress in the spiritual life. For centuries it has been taught that sexual life is bad, it is dirty, you must give it up. But tantra tells you it is perfect, and for spiritual life it is most important. You don't have to give it up; you have to continue it. Most people say that sexual life is for progeny and pleasure, but tantra says that the purpose of sexual life is samadhi.
Tantra helps to sublimate the sexual process so that what you are already doing can be used for higher spiritual evolution. In hatha yoga there are certain practices which should be learned for this purpose from a qualified teacher who knows the science and can tell you how to practise it. These include vajroli, sahajoli, amaroli, uddiyana, kumbhaka and concentration at bhrumadhya (eyebrow centre).
With this system, you don't have to abandon your family life. Your married life becomes spiritual life; you don't have to abstain from it or consider it un-yogic or un-spiritual. Then from the time you start to live with your partner, every day is a yogic day. This is one of the most important aspects of tantra.
In tantra, mantra is as important as the sexual sacrifice. Sound has three different stages, but we only hear the middle one. When sound vibrates above or below a certain range, it is imperceptible, and when it vibrates within a certain range, it is perceptible. Mantra is the imperceptible sound.
Go to a quiet lake, take a small pebble in your hand and throw it into the water. What happens? Circular motions keep on expanding. Take a bigger pebble and throw it; the circles will be more expanded. Throw a still bigger pebble and you can see the ripples traveling far and wide. That is the effect of mantra on the homogeneity of consciousness.
Mind is like an ocean. Thoughts and memories are not the mind; they are formations of the mind. Waves and bubbles are not the ocean; the totality of water is the ocean. In the same way, the totality of consciousness is the mind. What you know about the mind is very little. You know you have a mind because you think and feel, but to see the mind in its totality is a fantastic experience.
Through mantra, this homogeneity of the mind is affected; when you practise mantra, the sound waves are internalised. They pierce through the conscious mind to the subconscious mind, up to the unconscious mind. The purpose of the mantra is to pierce the totality of the mind, and that is the concept of mantra in tantra yoga. Many people think that mantra is the name of a particular deity. As such it has become a symbol of polytheism, but actually mantra has nothing to do with any religion or sect. It is just a sound, a form of mental energy, which has the capacity to influence and restructure the totality of the mind.
Yantras are wonderful figures which symbolise the structure of your psychic body. These yantras have evolved from a point in tantra called bindu. According to tantra, the whole of creation has evolved from bindu, the ultimate point. From this first point you get a triangle; this is one manifestation. Then from the triangle you get a quadrangle; this is another manifestation. Then you get a circle. The point manifests further and further. This is the symbol of external consciousness, of all that you perceive with your senses. Yantra is the symbol of creation, and when you withdraw your mind to that point, you are going back to the point of creativity. The point is a mandala. In tantra the most important thing to concentrate on is the point at the eyebrow centre. When you concentrate on this point, it enlarges and manifests itself in so many forms. That is the process which we know as the expansion of consciousness.
Stepping stones to spiritual life
In order to progress in spiritual life, the practices that you do must not create any further conflicts in your external life, rather they should clear up all the existing conflicts and doubts. Therefore, you must practise in such a way that the movement is smooth. Once you have made a thorough study of tantra you will agree that this is your way, because it is practical. You don't need to do very much intellectually, but it is important to know how to prepare yourself, what to practise and how to practise it.
Whether one is young or old, the path of tantra is for all. It is not only for those who have control over themselves, but also for those who have terribly restless minds, due to passion, ambition, desire, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment. All these become stepping stones for those who want spiritual illumination. You don't have to try to eliminate them, but catch hold of them and go further.
The way is so simple, yet nobody understands it. This is the reason why millions of people are practising spiritual life, but they can't get anywhere. Everybody's spiritual life remains stranded, because they do not know the right way to progress. When you sit in an asana you should be able to switch off your mind without any effort. The mind should become your friend, and there should be total uniformity, unity and understanding between one part of yourself and the other part.
Satsang on Tantra and Married Life
Can I accelerate my evolution while living an active family life?
In tantra they talk about acceptance, about living life fully as it should be lived, without negating or rejecting anything.
If a person is destined or determined to reach the highest point of life, whatever he does is a part of yoga. A person who does not want to discover the essence of soul, to experience self-realization or to know the truth, does not progress, even if he goes to the temple or church regularly and lives an ethical and moral life. It is the purpose or aim of life which is important. If I go from here to Rome, the road I take, what I eat or who I talk to on the way matters little, as long as my aim is to get there. The old scriptures talk about the background and birth of some of the great rishis. What made them great? It was not the moral, ethical or social situation in which they were born, but the purpose for which they lived.
One must have an aim, a way, and the courage to follow it consistently. With this, you can evolve wherever you are, whether you live in an ashram or with your family and children.
What happens when the practice of yoga reveals that marriage is just a social institution?
It is because we have forgotten the spiritual purpose of this union that the relationship between man and woman has become socialised into the marital roles of husband and wife. In yoga and in tantra, man and woman are brought together for the fulfillment of something very great.
In the creation of nature, man and woman are complimentary to each other's spiritual evolution. Anything that transpires between them is a necessary corollary to spiritual life. The process of coming together, living together, working together, sexually interacting together and meditating together, is so important for the evolution of human life. Therefore, the sooner you replace the terms 'husband' and 'wife' the better, because these words merely represent a legal situation. You may continue to use them if you like, but the spiritual situation is far more important.
Where does a man stand in relation to a woman? The relationship is purely spiritual, not for progeny or pleasure alone. Progeny is the by product of an accident, and you can avoid that accident if you like. Pleasure is a very limited aspect of their coming together. The awakening of kundalini and the higher vision which results from this awakening, is the ultimate purpose for man and woman coming, living, working and striving together. You use the word 'couple'. The exact translation for this in Sanskrit is maithuna. When two are together, it is called maithuna. From the word maithuna the word maithuna has been derived.
Often jealousy of yoga arises in the case of married couples when one partner practises and the other does not. What is the most practical solution to this problem?
In order to realise the vision of yoga, one does not have to step out of the threshold of married life. If the two partners are not able to understand each other, there is still a way. In the path of tantra, the husband and wife are considered as Shiva and Shakti. Therefore, keeping this relationship in view, the two partners can definitely continue their spiritual life while living at home.
In our modern culture, there is a peculiar tendency. If the husband is yoga-minded, he wants his wife also to be yoga-minded, and vice versa. But if one of them practises and the other one is not able to participate, then they have problems. In family life, the' relationship between the two partners is paramount. If it is not possible for the wife to convince her husband in terms of hatha yoga or raja yoga, then it is much better that she finds another way of practising yoga with him. It is mainly for this purpose that the science of tantra was founded.
Tantra is not new or difficult. Ultimately you will find it is a part of your culture. It is only tantra that accepts all aspects of life as a part of your great pilgrimage. Tantra alone sees a spiritual purpose and a great meaning in all these things. Therefore it is very suitable for people of the modern age. You have been living the life of a tantric without knowing it. You just have to realise it, accept it, and perhaps give it a little bit of cutting, pruning and modifying. You don't have to destroy the present structure of your life, you can build up your spiritual life around it.
How can I carry out my family duties with detachment?
The answer lies in the path of tantra, which accepts man's most natural urge, the sexual action, as a way to spiritual illumination. In tantra, the two partners are known as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva means consciousness, purusha; Shakti means energy, prakriti. In the scheme of creation, Shakti is the main executive; Shiva is detached. He is a silent witness to the whole game of creation. In the same manner, in the interaction between Shiva and Shakti, it is much wiser and more scientific that Shakti becomes the active participant. Then Shiva remains a silent witness and spectator of the whole game. If Shiva becomes active in this game, then he is the loser; and likewise, if Shakti is suppressed and becomes passive, then both are at a loss. Therefore, in maithuna, Shakti is the active partner and Shiva is the passive partner.
In the path of progeny, man, the male member, is the active participant, and woman is only the tool. In the path of pleasure, Shiva is the enjoyer and Shakti is the tool. In both of these, Shakti takes the inferior position and Shiva becomes superior. However, this is an unnatural way, because the whole creation is a miracle of Shakti, not of Shiva. Shiva never participates in creation. Shakti holds the superior position in the scheme of creation. Similarly, in the path of tantra, Shakti should hold the superior position and Shiva should only participate. That is the natural way. If this tantra is properly practised, family life will improve and the rate of separation will come down.
What are the tantric practices for married couples?
Vajroli and sahajoli are practised by householders to improve and spiritualise the marital relationship. Vajroli is the practice for males which gives control over vajra nadi, the nerve centre responsible for sexual passion. Vajra nadi is the conductor of semen. It is comprised of two nerves which pass from the genital organ, down both sides of the groin into the testicles, where they stimulate production of testosterone. Testosterone maintains male sexual function and also stimulates the heart. So, by controlling the vajra nadi, you can control the semen and the heart also.
Vajroli is practised in padmasana or siddhasana. While retaining the breath in jalandhara bandha, you contract the genital area, including the testicles, genital organ and vajra nadi. During this practice the bladder and kidneys are also contracted.
When ejaculation takes place during the normal sexual act, the vajra nadi is filled with blood and vajroli mudra takes place spontaneously, just for a few moments, even if you are not aware of it. But those who have mastered vajroli can control the ejaculation so that it only occurs when they choose, or does not occur at all.
After ejaculation there is a drop in the energy level and depression in the nervous system. But if there is no ejaculation, the energy level remains high, nervous depression does not occur, and the blood pressure level remains steady. At the same time, you will be free from the sense of loss, depression, frustration and guilt. Sexual life is not a cause of weakness. If practised correctly, it brings about a great awakening of energy.
In the tantric process, the experience of energy explosion at the sexual peak has to be controlled. As long as the experience continues, you can direct it to the higher centres. In vajroli the experience takes place in the brain, not in the lower organs. The purpose of vajroli is to maintain this experience for as long as possible without ejaculation. At the peak of sexual interaction, kundalini is awakened.
Sahajoli is the parallel practice for females. Sahajoli is performed in siddha yoni asana. While retaining the breath, the vaginal muscles and urethra are contracted and drawn up. The contraction is the same as when you are trying to hold back from urinating. At this time the uterus, bladder and kidneys are also contracted.
It is most important for those who utilise these practices to maintain the correct attitude towards them. In yoga, sexual life is not practised for any other purpose except samadhi. If that purpose is kept in mind, then samadhi becomes the goal, sexual life the act, and yoga the technique.
Are any preparatory practices necessary?
In my opinion, vajroli and sahajoli should not be practised directly. First you must master kumbhaka, uddiyana bandha and siddhasana. A few asanas like vajrasana, supta vajrasana, shalabhasana and paschimottanasana should also be practised, because they place an automatic contraction on the genital region. When you practise paschimottanasana and hold it for several minutes, you prepare the body for uddiyana bandha. In siddhasana you press the perineum with the heel so that a slight contraction of mooladhara and vajra nadi takes place automatically. Sirshasana is most important because it circulates the blood in the brain.
Please remember that all these practices take time to develop and perfect. You cannot expect results for several years.
How can we overcome feelings of guilt?
You cannot get rid of guilt just through self-analysis. Unless your mind has undergone a change, freedom from guilt is not possible. Guilt is at the root of most human beings. Our behaviour, relationships and ambitions, are guided by the sense of guilt in us. Just because you practise yoga does not mean that you will become free from guilt. When you come to yoga, you still have the notion of good and bad, pure and impure. Those who come to yoga with a free mind, without any notion of duality, of good and evil, perhaps they may be able to eliminate this guilt.
According to tradition, how does the yogi combine family life with spiritual life?
I can give you some examples in history, of yogis who have combined both these aspects, and of others who have renounced.
Lord Krishna, who is supposed to be the Lord of Yoga, was married, not only once, but eight times. Rama, the great disciplinarian, was also married and had children. Lord Shiva, who presides over the yogic consciousness in the east and west today, was married. Tantra itself is the offshoot of Lord Shiva's true story. There have been many great yogis who led a complete married life. In India today, many householders with a wife and children live the life of a yogi in their own homes.
But there are also many examples of people like Lord Buddha, who renounced his wife, family and kingdom to become a yogi. There is one well known story about Shankaracharya, who renounced and became a sannyasin at the age of seven. He never married. Once during his discussions with a great scholar and exponent of Vedanta philosophy in India, he was confronted with some questions concerning the science of sexual life. Shankaracharya was able to reply to all questions, and the great scholar was not able to match him.
So Bharati, the wife of this great scholar, came and said to Shankaracharya: 'You have defeated my husband, now you have to tackle the problem with me.' She put some questions to him about sexual life which he did not seem to know about. So Shankaracharya asked her for a little time to prepare himself.
The story goes that he went to his disciples and through his yogic powers left his body and entered the body of a dead king. On the same day, the 'king' came back to life and they brought him from the cremation ground to the palace where he lived a perfect life with his wife. Soon however, the people noticed that his behaviour was different. After all, he was really a saint and a yogi.
The body of Shankaracharya was lying all this time in a cave with his disciples, but Shankaracharya became so engrossed in his life with the queen that he forgot to return to his own body. Ultimately, the soldiers of that state came so close to discovering the dead body that his disciples invoked the mantra which he had taught them in case of any delay, and brought him back to life.
After this he held discussions with Bharati and defeated her also on all matters relating to sexual topics. Both Bharati and her husband became two of the four chief disciples of Shankaracharya.
From the lives of yogis in the past and those who are living in the present, we can conclude that sexual life, or a life of sexual abstention, should be decided only by an overwhelming desire for an experience of higher consciousness. Otherwise it is no use talking about either abstaining or indulging. If you indulge in sex like an ordinary man, then there will be no difference between yourself and him in relation to spiritual progress. At the same time, if you refrain, it is like pulling the tail of an elephant.
You need a great passion to divert your mind from the lesser one. For example, suppose you are fighting a great battle, with guns and cannons shooting forth. In the midst of the fray, you meet a lady. Will you take an interest in her, or will you ignore her and go on fighting? At this historic and overwhelming moment when the passions are high in battle, you are not going to take an interest in anything except the fight. Likewise, there must come a time in your life when you experience passions higher than sex, and only then should you try for abstention- otherwise don't do it. Instead, finish it off, transcend it, and become a good swami.
Unless you have a greater passion, how can you transcend this lower passion? Until you have realised and discovered this greater energy or passion within you and within everyone, don't talk about it; it is better to lead a normal married life.
What if you have a higher passion, but you still have an animal body?
If you have higher passions, you will never think about the body. It is like a man who is occupied with a greater mission. He may take some bread and butter or chapatti, but he doesn't even think about it. He is not aware of what clothes he puts on in the morning or where he sleeps at night. A man with a mission, or a higher passion is not at all aware of the lower fulfilments. It is only this man who can think about abstention. Otherwise, all yoga practitioners should lead a life according to the laws of nature, without resistance. If you have to live in a river, don't create enmity with the crocodile.