Rishikesh, India


A brief note on Tantra and Yoga

Tantra and Yoga

(Source – Texts on Tantra and Yoga and Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati)

History of Tantra and Yoga – Tantra was a worldwide culture at some point in the history of time. Nobody knows exactly how it evolved but a logical approach understands it as an evolution according to the human need. A careful study provides  some important information which leads to the idea of sects into the system. They are – Shaiva Tantra in which Shiva is the master and Parvati is the disciple, Shakta Tantra in which Shakti is supreme, Vaishnava Tantra in which Narayana is the chief, Ganapatya Tantra in which Ganesha is the chief deity and Saura Tantra in which the sun is the primordial force. These are the five main classifications of Tantra. It is said that there were 14,000 Tantric texts in existence. Now, only a few texts remain for most of the traditional texts have been lost or destroyed. Yoga evolved from Tantra.

Tantra and Veda – According to reliable source of study we opine that Tantra predates even the Vedas. The philosophy of Tantra and Vedas are the same of which some from Tantra has not been included in the Vedas when they were structured and penned down by great Veda Vyasa. The reason behind this was that many of those left out topics in Tantra were misused and abused so the authors in those time discussed only what was needed. Even the Yoga Sutra of Pananjali; an offshoot of Samkhya Philosophy, inculcate the same ideas of Tantra but in a more sophisticated way according to the time it was composed. However there is a always a scope of agreements and disagreements to these discussions. What we understand and find out Tantra, its antiquity and its relevance in the past and even today.

Meaning of the term Tantra – The Sanskrit word Tantra comprises of two words, “tanoti” which means “expansion” and “tarayati” which means ‘liberation’ respectively. Therefore, Tantra is the means of expanding the consciousness (mind) and liberating the energy. The subject matter of study in Tantra is mind.  Tantra initiates with knowing the limitations and capacities of body and mind and then it prescribes ways for the expansion of consciousness (mind) and the liberation of energy through which individual limitations are transcended and higher reality is experienced. Tantra is the science of seeing, feeling, knowing the infinite in and through the finite. Tantra aims at expanding the experience of everyday life, of enjoying and living life to the full, as a means to higher awareness. It encompasses all aspects of life, whether in the material world or that which is transcendent. It is in the widest sense a universal system. It has been and still is a way of life for various diverse groups of people throughout the world.

Misconception about Tantra – In the course of time lots of misconception about Tantra cropped up and at present the narrowest and the most repugnant sense about Tantra is “Sex”. To this we would say, Tantra was and is even now misunderstood. In the very past for some reasons some practices in Tantra that fulfils material desires became more into practice which in turn worsened the grand purpose of Tantra. Therefore this knowledge was shadowed by doubts and scepticism. Nevertheless Tantra and its grand philosophy are always relevant.

Scope of Tantra – Tantra concerns the whole realms of the physical, psychic, mental and spiritual. It concerns not only the work, play, devotion, thought but also so many other parts of human affairs. A Tantric text called the Varahi Tantra gives an elaborate description of the subjects of Tantra. They are as follows:

  • Consciousness
  • The creation and destruction of the physical universe (shristi and pralaya)
  • Worship of deities (devi or deva pooja)
  • Classification of beings
  • The heavenly bodies – astronomy and astrology
  • The different levels of awareness (lokas)
  • The psychic pathways and centres in the human framework (nadis and chakras)
  • Laws and duties in society
  • Sacramental rites (samskaras)
  • Consecration of forms of deities (murtis)
  • Incantation (mantras)
  • Magic circles (mandalas and yantras)
  • Symbolic and invocative gestures (mudras)
  • Spiritual practices (sadhana)
  • Worship (pooja) both internal and external
  • Consecration of houses, wells, etc.
  • Description of holy shrines
  • Magic (yogamaya sadhana)
  • Ceremonial rites and initiations (diksha)
  • Yoga – including Asanas, Pranayama and Meditative methods etc.
  • Medicine of many types, including Ayurveda which is a herbal science combined with Yogic practices
  • Science

To this list, we would add that Tantra also included alchemy, the art of living a fruitful and blissful life, and the use of sexual energy as a means to unfold higher awareness. The world famous Kama Sutra composed by great sage Vatsyayana is also a tantrik text that includes many grand talks on man and woman relationship at many levels.

Yoga and its meaning – The Sanskrit word Yoga is derived from root word “yuj” which means ‘to join’, therefore Yoga literally implies ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’. This unity or joining at transcendental level implies the union of the individual soul with the cosmic soul. On a more practical level, Yoga provides also means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. This is possible through observing the disciplines of Yoga before transcendental union may dawn on individuals.

The relevance of Yoga at present – In the present century, a colossal spiritual wave is surging globally, so the relevance of Yoga stands peerless. Apart from providing means for realising spiritual aims, Yoga has succeeded also as a matchless alternative into mending many physical, mental, emotional and psychic maladies such as asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders and other ailments which are chronic and constitutional in nature where modern science stands mum. At present, this is one of the most significant achievements of Yoga about which the modern medical scientists opine on the basis of their experiments that “Yoga becomes successful because the practices of Yoga create a balance in the nervous and endocrine systems that in turn influences other systems and organs of body”. Beyond the needs of individuals, when the world now seems to be at a loss, misunderstanding and ignoring past values without being able to establish new ones, Yoga provides concrete means of support and systematise many things that are essential for human evolution.

Traditional and Scriptural implication of Yoga – The very term “Yoga” needs a considerable deal of description regarding conceptions and misconceptions yoked with it. With the change of time the approach to Yoga has also undergone sea changes as a result of which many misconceptions have sprouted. Nevertheless, “Yoga”, as the very root of the wisdom shines into the pages of holy texts and sings celestial songs. We fetch the attention of the readers to that hereunder: 

Scriptural Conception about Yoga – At several places in The Gita, the most beautiful and the most concise sense of Yoga is seen.  For example, in chapter  2, verse 48 where Lord Krishna speaks to Arjuna – 

Verse in Sanskrit –
श्रीभगवान् उवाच।
योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय ।
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्योः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ॥२ – ४८ ॥

Transliteration –
śrī-bhagavān uvāca
yogasthaha kuru karmaani sangam tyaktvaa dhananjaya |
siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhootvaa samatvam yoga uchyate || 2 – 48 ||

Meaning – The supreme personality of Godhead says – “Be steadfast in Yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness/equilibrium/equanimity of mind is called Yoga“. (Chapter || 2 – 48 ||)

Further in Chapter 6, Verse 23, Lord Krishna says –

Verse in Sanskrit –

तं विद्याद् दु:खसंयोगवियोगं योगसञ्ज्ञितम् |
स निश्चयेन योक्तव्यो योगोऽनिर्विण्णचेतसा || ६ – २३ ||

Translitaration – 

taṁ vidyād duḥkha-sanyoga-viyogaṁ yogasaṅjñitam
sa niśhchayena yoktavyo yogo ’nirviṇṇa-chetasā || 6 – 23 ||

Meaning – Let that be known by the name of Yoga, the severance from union with pain. This Yoga should be practised with determination and with an undesponding (non-despondent) mind.

The main Branches of Yoga – Yoga has several branches of which three are the major one. Regarding those branches of  Yoga, the same Lord Krishna reveals the secrets in the Grand Text Srimada Bhagavatam where He talks to Uddhava. In canto – 11, chapter – 20, verse – 6,7,8 the Lord says:

Verse in Sanskrit –

श्रीभगवान् उवाच।

योगस्त्रयो मया प्रोक्ता नृणां श्रेयो विधित्सया ।
ज्ञानं कर्म च भक्तिश्च नोपायोऽन्योस्ति कुत्रचित् ॥ ६ ॥

Transliteration –

śrī-bhagavān uvāca

yogās trayo mayā proktā nṝṇāḿ śreyo-vidhitsayā

jñānaḿ karma ca bhaktiś canopāyo ‘nyo ‘sti kutracit || 6 ||

Meaning – The Supreme Personality of Godhead says – My dear Uddhava, because I desire that human beings may achieve perfection, I have presented three paths of advancement: the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), the path of work (Karma Yoga) and the path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga). Besides these three there is absolutely no other means of elevation. (11.20.6)

Verse in Sanskrit –

निर्विण्णानां ज्ञानयोगो न्यासिनामिह कर्मसु।
तेष्वनिर्विण्ण चित्तानां कर्मयोगस्तु कामिनाम् ॥ ७ ॥

Transliteration –
nirviṇṇānāḿ jñāna-yogo nyāsinām iha karmasu
teṣv anirviṇṇa-cittānāḿ karma-yogas tu kāminām || 7 ||

Meaning – Among these three paths, Jnana-Yoga, the path of philosophical speculation, is recommended for those who are disgusted with material life and are thus detached from ordinary, fruitive activities. Those who are not disgusted with material life, having many desires yet to fulfil, should seek perfection through the path of  Karma-Yoga. (11.20.7)

Verse in Sanskrit –

यदृच्छया मत्कथादौ जातश्रद्धस्तु यः पुमान्।
न निर्विण्णो नातिसक्तो भक्तियोगोऽस्य सिद्धिदः ॥ ८ ॥

Transliteration –
yadṛcchayā mat-kathādau jāta-śraddhas tu yaḥ pumān
na nirviṇṇo nāti-sakto bhakti-yogo ‘sya siddhi-daḥ || 8 ||

Meaning –  If somehow or other by good fortune one develops faith in hearing and chanting My glories, such a person, being neither very disgusted with nor attached to material life, should achieve perfection through the path of Bhakti Yoga. (11.20.8)

These preceding lines of the Grand texts throw light on the chief branches of Yoga following which perfection can be attained.

Some more information about the above-mentioned branches and other important branches of Yoga – We hint at in brief, some more information about the 3 main branches and other different important sub-branches of Yoga including the relevant texts and the great personalities hereunder –

  • Jnana Yoga – It is a path of self-inquiry; the Yoga of knowledge – not knowledge in the intellectual sense – but the knowledge of Brahman and Atman and the realisation of their unity where the individual uses the powers of the mind to discriminate between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the transitory.  Upanishads, words of Adi guru ShankaracharyaSwami VivekanandaMaharsi Raman and Yogi Aurvindo, Baba Shantananda etc. are the main texts for this discipline of Yoga. For more information please refer to Jnana Yoga.

  • Kundalini Yoga – This discipline of Yoga is directly related to the the energy centers and Kundalini in the human body. The main texts to this are Shata Chakra Nirupan, Padapanchakam, Goraksha Shatakam, words of Swami ShivanandaSwami Satyananda and saints like these. For more information please refer to Kundalini Yoga.
  • Kriya Yoga: The word Kriya means ‘activity’ or ‘movement’ which refers to the activity or movement of consciousness.  Kriya Yoga purposely creates activity and awakening in consciousness so all faculties are harmonised shine into their fullest potential. This system of Yoga includes special practices of  MudrasBandhas, certain specific  KriyasPranayamas along with strong mental awareness. There is no specific classical text available to Kriya Yoga however in the past 100 years two important systems of Kriya Yoga have evolved; the first of Paramhamsa Yogananda and the second as taught by Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati. For more information please refer to this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriya_Yoga

Misconception about Yoga: The misconception that dominates regarding Yoga is it’s portrayal and practice as mere exercise. What is done and taught nowadays in the name of Yoga as different movements of the parts of the body, breathing etc. are not Yoga. In fact they are nothing of Yoga. At best they might resemble a few disciplines of Yoga falling under the purview of Hatha Yoga. That too, unlike what is taught these days, are systematic and profound which needs no illogical, imaginative alterations and modifications. Hatha Yoga (the most commonly practiced these days), Raja YogaKundalini YogaNada YogaSwara Yoga, Kriya Yoga, etc. are several sub-branches of Yoga which deal with different aspect of human phenomenon and there are many available authoritative texts that explain them in detail. They are supposed to be applied to an individual as per his/her needs and limitations. Each individual need to find the most suited to his/her personality, need and requirements.

Consoling Conclusion: We do accept whatever has received dominance in this filed: be it certain trends or styles but we do know that in the end what will survive is the essential need. There has never been any substitute to this. We do pray universe guides us in this path of righteousness, virtue and truthfulness.

Hari Om Tat Sat!

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