Yoga and Tantra
Today’s subject of discourse is “Yoga and Tantra”. Some people are curious to know what yoga is and what Tantra is, and where they agree and where differ. First let us discuss what yoga is.
The word yoga is derived as the Sanskrit root verb yuiṋj plus the suffix ghaiṋ. Or alternatively, the root verb yuj plus the suffix ghaiṋ. If yoga is derived as yuj + ghaiṋ, it means “addition”, such as “two plus two equals four.” But if yoga is derived as yuiṋj + ghaiṋ, it means “unification”, such as the unification of sugar and water. When sugar and water are mixed, you will no longer find sugar separate from water. But in the case of “two plus two equals four,” you will find the first “two” and the second “two” separately. Two mangoes plus two mangoes equals four mangoes: here you will still be able to see the four mangoes separately. So in the case of yuj + ghaiṋ, yoga means “unity” or “addition”, and in the alternative case it means “unification”.
Besides the two derivations of yoga, there are also various definitions of yoga. Maharshi Patanjali defines yoga as Yogashcittavrttinirodhah – that is, “Yoga means the suspension of all the psychic propensities.” In the human mind there are fifty main propensities. If by some special means the propensities are suspended, their expressions are stopped, in that case the mind will cease to function. That state of psychic suspension is here termed yoga. But we have defined yoga above to mean unification, and we can see that the suspension of propensities does not in any way mean that those propensities are being unified. The suspension of the propensities does not necessarily lead to the unification of the unit mind with the Cosmic Mind. This definition does not make clear, unification with whom or what. Hence this definition of yoga is not acceptable.
Now the second definition is Sarvacintáparityágo nishcinto yoga ucyate. That is, “When the mind is free from any sort of thinking, the mind is completely free of thoughts, that state is called yoga.” Now if the mind becomes free from thought, it does not lead to unification. When people are in deep sleep, when they do not even dream, the mind becomes free from thought, and people become unconscious. In that state also the mind stops thinking. But is that yoga? No!
Now another definition, as given by Sadáshiva, is Saḿyoga yoga ityukto jiivátmá Paramátmánah. That is, “The unification of the unit soul, the jiivátmá, with the Universal Soul, that is, Paramátmá, is yoga.” This seems to be the best, most scientific, definition.
Now let us see what Tantra is. The Sanskrit root verb tan literally means “to expand”. From the root verb tan comes the Sanskrit word tanu, which means “a body that is expanding”. A child’s body is called tanu in Sanskrit, because it grows and grows until thirty-nine years of age. The human body up to thirty-nine years of age can be called tanu. But thereafter it is called shariira. Shariira means something which wears out, which becomes contracted. So a child’s body is not shariira, and an old man’s body should not be called tanu.
The word tantra is derived as: tan + trae + d́a. Tra [trae + d́a] means “that which liberates.” So Tantra means the science which shows the path for the emancipation of the human entity through psycho-spiritual expansion. In other words, the spirit of Tantra is ever to continue expanding.
Tantra has another meaning also. In the Indo-Aryan alphabet, there are fifty letters. A is the first letter, and kśa is the last letter. Now, the main human propensities are fifty in number, but within one propensity there are several sub-propensities; because the propensities have a certain faculty, and that is, that they can work in ten directions, and can also function both internally and externally. So ultimately we get the total number of propensities as fifty main vrttis times two (internal and external) times ten (working in ten directions), which equals one thousand. So although primarily there are fifty propensities, secondarily there are one thousand propensities. These one thousand propensities are controlled by the pineal gland in the brain.
Each of these propensities has its own vibration and its own colour as well. When someone grows angry, there is a certain vibration in the body, and in accordance with this vibration, the body trembles and simultaneously changes its colour. The fair-complexioned man becomes reddish, the black-complexioned man becomes violet. So you see, each and every object in this universe has its own vibration, its own colour.
These vibrations, representing some action or some object, are called acoustic expressions. A person when angry speaks in a certain way, but the same person in a normal state speaks in a different way. The voice of the angry man has undergone a clear change from its normal state to an abnormal one. Likewise, each and every propensity has its own vibration, and each vibration has a certain colour and sound. The sounds of the fifty propensities constitute our language. These alphabet sounds – a, á, ka, kha [the first vowels and the first consonants or the Sanskrit alphabet] – are our acoustic expressions. Each sound has its own colour, and because of these fifty sounds and fifty colours, we call the alphabet varńamálá in Sanskrit. Varńa, or “letter” – there are svaravarńa [vowels] and vyaiṋjanvarńa [consonants] – literally means “colour”. There are primarily fifty sounds or colours, but secondarily one thousand sounds or colours. As I said, each and every propensity has a particular colour. The colour of the sentient principle is white, of the mutative yellow, and of the static black.
For example, sha is the sound for the mutative principle. Now these representative sounds are called biija mantras in Sanskrit, and “acoustic roots” in English. Sha is the acoustic root of the mutative principle, sa is the acoustic root of the sentient principle, and śa is the acoustic root of the static principle. When someone walks or starts moving, it produces a sound, khat́-khat́-khat́; so the acoustic expression of movement is khat́-khat́-khat́. Behind every action or existence there lies a sound vibration. The particular sound vibration supporting a particular entity or action is known as its acoustic root.
In ancient times, some orthodox people avoided wearing leather shoes. They liked to wear wooden sandals. When people wearing wooden sandals would walk, it automatically produced sounds like t́hak-t́hak-t́hak. So the group of people who used to make a t́hak-t́hak-t́hak sound during movement were called T́hakkara – T́hakam-t́hakam karoti yah sah T́hakkarah. T́hakkara evolved into T́hákur [anglicized as “Tagore”].
So it is clear now that there is an acoustic root behind each and every action, behind each and every existence. As I said, sha is the acoustic root of the mutative principle. Similarly, ra is the acoustic root of energy (energy meaning all varieties of energy). Sha + ra = shra, meaning “where the mutative principle is backed by energy”. Now shra plus the feminine suffix ii equals shrii. It means “where there is mutative force plus energy”. So shrii ultimately means charm. In practical life, every human being longs for charm. This is the reason why since ancient times it has been the custom in India to prefix the word Shrii to a person’s name.
So I hope you are now clear about what an acoustic root is. Similarly there is an acoustic root ta. Ta represents dullness or lethargy. So literally tantra [combining two derivations] means “a systematic and scientific process which brings about first expansion, and thereafter liberation from the bondages of dullness and lethargy”. This liberation is called tantra in Sanskrit. Tantra means “liberation from bondages”.(1)
You know that each and every living being wants liberation from bondages. Out of this inherent longing for freedom from bondages arises dharma. Dharma means expansion. Suppose someone is tied with a rope. If the person’s body expands or swells or becomes bigger and bigger in size, the rope will snap. So Tantra is defined as the process of expansion and of emancipation from crudifying bondages.
So now yoga and tantra have come close to each other in meaning. Yoga means the unification of jiivátmá and Paramátmá.(2) And how can this unification take place? It is possible through gradual expansion, that is, by dint of the constant practice of Tantra. This practical cult or spiritual sádhaná exists only in Tantra and nowhere else. Prárthanárcaná mátraeva bhramamúlam. That is, “Prayer and eulogy only mislead one.” Only by dint of spiritual cult can one attain success. Thus sádhaná is Tantra and Tantra is sádhaná.
Now how can one attain siddhi through the practice of yoga? The jiivátmá will take the ideation of Paramátmá, and then the former will become one with the latter. How is it possible for the microcosm to become Macrocosm? The Macrocosm, or Parama Puruśa, has one unique characteristic, and that characteristic is, whoever ideates on Him becomes one with Him. The very nature of the mind is to become as it thinks. If it thinks of money, the mental stuff will one day, in a gradual process of crudification, be converted into money. After one’s physical death, the mind will be converted into money, and may find shelter in the iron safe of a moneylender. Will that be desirable? No, certainly not!
Yádrshii bhávaná yasya siddhir bhavati tádrshii – “As one thinks, so one becomes.” There is a certain insect that eats cockroaches.(3) When that insect appears before a cockroach, the cockroach becomes mortally frightened. Due to the fright its nerve fibres cease to function, and when the fright becomes more intense, its nerve cells also cease to function. The severe fright creates a picture of that voracious insect in the cockroach’s mind, and due to that persistent image a transformation of its nerve cells gradually sets in, which then extends to the nerve fibres, and at the end of this process the cockroach will appear to that insect to be a member of its own species. The insect actually thinks that the cockroach is a member of its own tribe, so how can it eat the cockroach? If human beings take the Cosmic ideation, they will also become one with the Cosmic Entity.
Now the question is, how can human beings take the ideation of Parama Puruśa? Jiṋániis will analyse, “Parama Puruśa is like this or like that.” Karmiis will think that Parama Puruśa is a master of action.(4) (Now, what relation do bhaktas have to jiṋána?(5) A devotee will think, “I may be a virtuous person, I may be poor, I may be learned or foolish, but, O Lord, I belong only to You.”) And a devotee thinks of the Lord just as people think of their nearest and dearest ones. He thinks, “Parama Puruśa is mine;” and in this process of constant ideation, his or her mind gradually expands. From this sort of closeness, a person ultimately becomes one with Paramátmá. Such a person of devotion is called a bhakta.
Thus we see that jiṋániis are Tantrics, because by acquiring knowledge they expand their minds, and thus become one with the all-expansive Cosmic Mind. Karmiis are also Tantrics, for by dint of actions, they expand their minds and become one with Parama Puruśa. Bhaktas are also Tantrics, because they develop so much love and devotion for Parama Puruśa that, in the process of constant ideation, they become one with Parama Puruśa. Thus there is hardly any difference between Tantra and yoga. [Jiṋána, karma, and bhakti are the three main branches of yoga.]
But yes, there is one thing. Human life is very short. If someone wants to cultivate knowledge, he or she may not get sufficient time. Even if someone starts cultivating knowledge at the age of five or six, the time will not be adequate. The scope of knowledge is infinite, whereas life is finite or short. If someone diverts his or her time and energy towards the attainment of objects other than Parama Puruśa, that person’s time becomes less utilized and more misused.
Mathitvá caturo vedán sarvashástráń caeva hi;
Sárantu yogibhih piitaḿ takraḿ pivanti pańd́itáh.
“After churning all four Vedas, and all the scriptures, the yogis assimilate the quintessence, and the non-essential parts are consumed by the so-called scholars.” The four Vedas and all the scriptures are as vast as the ocean. Just as by churning curd [yogurt] we separate the butter from the buttermilk, so by churning the ocean of scripture, the butter comes to the surface and the buttermilk remains at the bottom. Those who are real devotees eat up the butter, and the so-called intellectuals start quarreling among themselves over the distribution of the buttermilk. And ultimately that also may spoil before they can drink it.
There is a story that once a man of knowledge and a man of devotion went together to a mango orchard. The man of knowledge started verifying whether the mangoes were langra or himsagar or what varieties. Now there are over 1500 varieties of mango in the world. The man began to ponder over which varieties of mango were available in that orchard; and in the process of this constant analysis the sun set and evening fell on the orchard. Then the man started counting the numbers of the leaves, the branches, the twigs, etc. The night became darker. But what did the devotee do meanwhile? He straightway climbed a tree and started eating the mangoes.
As a rule, devotees are more intelligent than jiṋániis. They utilize their time properly, and you know that those who utilize their time properly are more intelligent than those who do not.
Now let us analyse how devotees conduct themselves. A devotee is confident from the very beginning that the Lord belongs to him or her, and to him or her alone. When something belongs to someone, there remains no obstacle or impediment between the person and the belonging. Suppose there is a son who says, “My father.” That son may be a scholar or a big fool, he may be rich or poor, but after all, his father belongs to him, and he can easily come near his own father and serve him. At that time no father will ever say, “You are a fool, get out of here.” He can never do such a thing.
There is a family relation between the Father and the son, and because of this family relation, the intimacy between the two will keep growing, and the internal thoughts will also remain very, very pure. This is why wise people say that the cult of devotion is the greatest. It is the best method to expand one’s mind. And as the fundamental spirit of Tantra is to expand one’s mind, snapping the bondages, devotion is the best Tantra. That is why I repeat again and again that Tantra and yoga are not different from each other, rather they are almost the same thing
A devotee will practise ásana, práńáyáma, dhárańá and dhyána,(6) and during this practice he will have one thought uppermost in his mind – that the Entity on whom he is ideating is his nearest relation, and no one is nearer to him than his Lord. Because of this, a devotee’s mind will become highly expanded in a short period.
In the life of a person of action, kiirtana may or may not play a significant role, but in the life of a person of devotion, kiirtana is indispensable. To put it more explicitly, a devotee cannot live without kiirtana, just as you cannot remove a fish from water. If you remove a fish from water, it will die an instant death. Likewise, if a devotee is prevented from doing kiirtana, the person will die.
The secret of a devotee’s heart is known to Parama Puruśa. In Jamalpur I told you that Parama Puruśa does not reside in Vaekuńt́ha [the mythological abode of Lord Viśńu], nor on the throne, nor in the heart of a yogi. He actually resides in the heart of a devotee. A devotee is always bound to think of Parama Puruśa at heart, because their mutual relation is one of love and devotion. That is why Parama Puruśa clearly proclaims, Madbhaktáh yatra gáyanti tatra tiśt́hámi Nárada – that is, “I reside, O Nárada, wherever my devotees are singing.”(7)
So Parama Puruśa says to Nárada that He does not reside anywhere except where His ardent devotees are singing kiirtana. Philosophically, Parama Puruśa is omnipresent, but His nucleus remains at a particular place. That particular place, where the nucleus resides, is not Vaekuńt́ha. That particular place is where His ardent devotees are singing His glories in kiirtana.
So you will notice that when people do kiirtana out of deep love, a highly powerful spiritual vibration is created. Those who do kiirtana feel that vibration in their minds, hearts, and everywhere. They become virtually intoxicated with unbounded bliss. That sort of bliss is not attainable by a person of knowledge. It may be that that person of knowledge will one day become one with Parama Puruśa, but he or she will not be able to attain that bliss; nor is that bliss attainable by a person of action. That bliss is attainable only by a person of devotion. The “wholesale right” to that boundless bliss lies with that devotee only.
P.R. Sarkar (also known as Shrii Shrii Anandamurti)
26 October 1979 DMC, Gaddopur
Discourses on Tantra Volume Two [a compilation]
(1) Definition of tráńa omitted here. –Eds.
(2) Átman, or jiivátman, means “unit consciousness”. Paramátman is the collective name of all unit consciousnesses. –Eds.
(3) Philology of telápoká (“cockroach”) omitted here. –Eds.
(4) Without action nothing happens. It is said, Karma Brahmeti karma bahukurviita – that is, “Karma is Brahma; knowing this, try to perform as much karma as you can.” Actually, the whole universe is made of karma. Suppose someone is an ácárya/á but does not work. Is he or she still an ácárya/á? No. That person is not an ácárya/á any more. That person does not deserve to be called an ácárya/á. People will not respect the person. One becomes an ácárya/á by virtue of one’s action. What is the meaning of ácárya? Ácárańát pát́hayati yah sah ácárya – “One who teaches others by one’s exemplary conduct is an ácárya.” So you should remember that one’s conduct should be of a high standard. One who remains idle and avoids working should not be called an ácárya/á. Actually, everything in the universe is done by karma. Such are the qualities of a karmii.
(5) Jiṋána, karma, and bhakti are forms of spiritual practice which emphasize, respectively, discrimination, selfless action, and devotion. –Eds.
(6) Stages of aśtáḿga (eight-limbed) yoga. –Eds.
(7) What is the meaning of nára? In Sanskrit, the word nára has three meanings. One meaning is “water”. The second meaning is “the Supreme Operative Principle”. The third meaning is “devotion”. And da means “giver”, “one who gives”. So “Nárada” means “one who distributes devotion among the people”.