Sunday, November 25, 2007

What is Tantra?



Tantra: A 2000 Year Old Science

by France Yoli Maya Yeh Joseph Copywritght 2006

Science according to the dictionary is “in the broadest sense refers to any system of objective knowledge. In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research.”[1] Although this definition of science is culturally unbiased, the reality is that science as we have come to know it in the modern world today is an Eurocentric and andocentric realm of ideas and experimentation that we use as proof of what is ‘true’ and ‘factual’ in the material world. Is the discovery and concept of science limited to only Western cultures?

Luckily, the answer is no! When one looks to the long history of the Indian Sub-continent what is found is a refined scientific thought and understanding that came about thousands of years before the Enlightenment of the West. In fact, there is a philosophical lineage of the Indian sub-continent that explicitly concerns itself with the science of inner and outer harmonics and balance. It is called Tantra or Tantrayana, the Way of Tantra.

To dive deeper into what Tantra means, Tantric Master Kulavadhuta Satpurananda explains more, “Tantra is the applied science of Self-Realization through body, surpassing the three illusory bondages of basic attributes or gunas, inertia (tamas), creativity (rajas), and intellectual identity (sattva) in the process of Self-Expansion by neurological tuning through physical-vital-mental-intellectual exercises, knowing in detail the stages of ego-consciousness as temporal to universal culmination in Trans-Transcendental and be freed (inwardly) or surpassing the three sufferings: Adhibhuatic (physical-vital), Adhidavic (vital-mental), and Adhyatmic (mental-intellectual)[2].”

This very thorough definition is created from the breakdown of the Sanskrit term Tantra into Tan + Tra. In this way the science of the Tantras, by definition, is a multi-layered and multi-dimensional practice of “Self-realization through body to Void, by the process of thorough scanning of all ego-identities conceived institutionally, and finally out bursting in Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna), to help others in the same.[3]

Tantra originates from the time of Sakyasimha Buddha, the historical Buddha, who lived around 500 BCE in northern India. In the Buddha’s first and what would become the core teaching of all Buddhist lineages (The Four Noble Truths), Lord Buddha outlines the three basic sufferings caused by desire: Adhibhuatic (physical-vital), Adhidavic (vital-mental), and Adhyatmic (mental-intellectual). The way to end up these desires is to attain a ‘completion of desires’. “The term ashesa in Pali is equivalent to nihshesha in Sanskrit and means ‘completion’. This is the basic spirit of the tantras.”[4]

The Buddha goes on to explain in the forth of the Four Noble Truths what is the pathway to follow in order to end up suffering (The Eight-Fold Path). Explaining how Nirvana can be attained through systematizing the object-o-subjective actions into subject-o-objective realization is Satpurananda Avadhut, “The two extremes of Philosophies of the world, Realism or materialism in one had and Idealism or searching the Truth on the other hand can be correlated in proper systems of practice where one fulfills the necessities of the other. Neither the search of only material reality or that of the ideological Truth corresponds to life. It is better to say that the right process is rather materializing spirituality and spiritualization of material life. This is Nirvana in samsara, the perfect balance of life, the core of the Tantras, the practice of equating the inner nature of man with the outer nature of the world through the set of cosmic rules.”[5]

Tantra is of purely Buddhist origin, although in the modern day one finds Hindu and Buddhist Tantric lineages. Tantra follows a seven-chapter practice ‘syllabus’ (The Seven Acharas) and a tantrika will traverse this scientific path of knowledge gained through experience until completely balancing the inner nature with the outer Nature. In this way, the Tantric concept of science is all-encompassing including modern science and its practical methodology. On the contrary, the western concept of science has not yet fully validated the inner scientific journey into realms that cannot be seen by the naked eye but can be perceived by more subtle senses.

Tantra as a science completely takes into account the scientist as a factor in the outcome of the experiment. In fact, this point is assumed by the way tantra explains the structure and function of the mind, emotions, and intellect. This is not the case in western science. It is only now that scientists are acknowledging that the subjective perspective of the scientist plays a role in the outcome of the scientific observation.

The ease with which Tantra can give agency to the scientist is from the Tantric views of creation of man or human beings from Void. This teaching is called Agamatattva, The Cosmic Chronology both Esoteric and Exoteric. These are thirty-three chronological points that explain the emergence of basic principals of existence from a primordial energy. From there the mirror-mind Selfsame exposition begins to take shape, working through the Inevitable Laws of Nature (the laws of Bio-Physics), to the human sense organs, body organs, sense objects, and finally to the five outer elements. Agamatattva is explained as, “the cosmological laws evolving into ‘laws of evolution of man’ and turning to the laws of psychological evolution leading to all-knowledge.”[6]

Agamatattva:

0 Adyashakti The Primordial Energy is functionless reality, the Voidness. It is the background-consciousness of cosmos, beyond even Time. It is also termed as Nothingness or pointed out as Suchness. This is parallel to the conception of the Zero Energy State accord
1 Shiva-Shakti Out of Primordial Energy evolve two equal and opposite forces keeping the balance of Neutrality
2 Sadashiva The principle of Neutrality/Oneness between two equal and opposite forces responsible for the Perceptionless-Perception of Voidness
3 Ishwara The Hypothetical Center of creation in becoming, emerges out of the neutrality of Being
4 Vidyakalatmane The identity of Mirror-Mind of Wisdom on which aforesaid principles of Selfsame-exposition reflects
5 Mayakalatmane The principle of ‘paradoxical identity of subject-object relationship’ between the psychological nature and material nature in relativity
6 Niyatikala The principle of Inevitable Laws of Nature (laws of Bio-Physics). Theory of cause and effect or action-reaction of relativity in both esoteric and exoteric experiences stands as the basis of this principle
7 Suddhavidya The principle of pure sensation through of the laws of Mother Nature
8 Raga The relational attachment through subjective-to-objective and objective-to-subjective habits derived from pure sensation
9 Purushatmane The identity of human-consciousness to self through relational attachment
10 Prakriti The identity of the self creates the role of the nature of an individual
11 Ahamkarah The nature of an individual turning to the identity of ego
12 Buddhi The ego-identity reflects in perception as intellectual conception
13 Manah The intellectual conceptions reflect as the psychological structure
14 Shrotra The auditory sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
15 Twak The touch sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
16 Chakshu The visionary sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
17 Rasana The taste sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
18 Ghrana The olfactory sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
19 Vak The vocal organ for speech
20 Pani The hands for working
21 Pada The legs to walk
22 Payu The anal organ to excrete
23 Upastha The sexual organ to reproduce
24 Sabda Sensory object of sound for hearing
25 Sparsha Sensory object of touch for touching
26 Rupa Sensory object of form for seeing
27 Rasa Sensory object of taste for tasting
28 Gandha Sensory object of smell for smelling
29 Akasha Element of sky (ether) responsible for sensation
30 Vayu Element of air (gaseous) responsible for sensation
31 Tejah Element of fire (energy-forms) responsible for sensation
32 Salila Element of water (liquid) responsible for sensation
33 Bhumyatmane Element of earth responsible for sensation completing the ego-being into grounded reality

0 Adyashakti The Primordial Energy is functionless reality, the Voidness. It is the background-consciousness of cosmos, beyond even Time. It is also termed as Nothingness or pointed out as Suchness. This is parallel to the conception of the Zero Energy State accord
1 Shiva-Shakti Out of Primordial Energy evolve two equal and opposite forces keeping the balance of Neutrality
2 Sadashiva The principle of Neutrality/Oneness between two equal and opposite forces responsible for the Perceptionless-Perception of Voidness
3 Ishwara The Hypothetical Center of creation in becoming, emerges out of the neutrality of Being
4 Vidyakalatmane The identity of Mirror-Mind of Wisdom on which aforesaid principles of Selfsame-exposition reflects
5 Mayakalatmane The principle of ‘paradoxical identity of subject-object relationship’ between the psychological nature and material nature in relativity
6 Niyatikala The principle of Inevitable Laws of Nature (laws of Bio-Physics). Theory of cause and effect or action-reaction of relativity in both esoteric and exoteric experiences stands as the basis of this principle
7 Suddhavidya The principle of pure sensation through of the laws of Mother Nature
8 Raga The relational attachment through subjective-to-objective and objective-to-subjective habits derived from pure sensation
9 Purushatmane The identity of human-consciousness to self through relational attachment
10 Prakriti The identity of the self creates the role of the nature of an individual
11 Ahamkarah The nature of an individual turning to the identity of ego
12 Buddhi The ego-identity reflects in perception as intellectual conception
13 Manah The intellectual conceptions reflect as the psychological structure
14 Shrotra The auditory sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
15 Twak The touch sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
16 Chakshu The visionary sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
17 Rasana The taste sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
18 Ghrana The olfactory sensation responsible for the Psychological structure
19 Vak The vocal organ for speech
20 Pani The hands for working
21 Pada The legs to walk
22 Payu The anal organ to excrete
23 Upastha The sexual organ to reproduce
24 Sabda Sensory object of sound for hearing
25 Sparsha Sensory object of touch for touching
26 Rupa Sensory object of form for seeing
27 Rasa Sensory object of taste for tasting
28 Gandha Sensory object of smell for smelling
29 Akasha Element of sky (ether) responsible for sensation
30 Vayu Element of air (gaseous) responsible for sensation
31 Tejah Element of fire (energy-forms) responsible for sensation
32 Salila Element of water (liquid) responsible for sensation
33 Bhumyatmane Element of earth responsible for sensation completing the ego-being into grounded reality

A tantrika is one who traverses the path of Tantra or the science of inner and outer harmony. As illustrated in the Agamatattva, the way the structure evolved is from Void into material expression. A practitioner must traverse the path from the bottom up, or rather from samsara to Nirvana. From Agamatattva we learn that the universe is in the mind of man, while man is in the universe. “The evolution of the human mind as part-and-parcel of the cosmic evolution becomes the background-consciousness to cosmos in the chronological concepts of the same.”[7] The science is in the scientist.

Sakyasimha Buddha taught in the Four Noble Truths that all conceptions and perceptions are due to the mind, but he did not go on to explain how it worked. Tantra has continued on like any science with master scientists coming along in history, running new experiments, and drawing new conclusions based on empirical knowledge. One such master scientist lived in 747 CE named Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche observed that, “mana (mind) is generated out of prana (neuro-consciousness), which is further possible due to the protoplasmic-consciousness or the life-energy created by nature Herself out of matter and energy. It is nothing but a natural chemistry. Thus, Mind has a concrete base in physical science. The neuro-consciousness that causes mind can even perceive the perceptionless Truth which is parallel to the same Zero Energy State of universal existence. The mind that conceives Samasra in relativity attains Nirvana in reality.”[8]

A tantric practitioner-scientist travels stage by stage along the route of outer to inner, in order to discover the Vajrachitta, or The Indestructible Mind/Consciousness. Kulavadhuta explains more, “Mind itself is like the colorless mirror that catches reflections. One who looks at the mirror can never separate ones own image from it, this is the relative mind, observed Guru Rinpoche, while the real Mind is the mirror in darkness, without reflection and images, attributeless of its own reality. Only with the help of a secondary light can it produce innumerable images, the never-ending creation. Thus Samsara is nothing but Nirvana, the 'being' in 'becoming' reflected on Vajrachitta, the indestructible Mind that proves itself as sunyata (voidness) in 'being' and samsara (universe) in 'becoming'. Same as the 'Zero-energy state', 'Zero-energy mind' perceiving perceptionless-perception, is observed and termed as 'nairatma' which means 'nothingness of Self' by Guru Rinpoche, contrary to Lord Sakyasimha's understanding of the same as 'anatma' meaning 'non-self', as explained by the persisting schools of Buddhist thoughts. Thus, Buddha Padmasambhava's way to Truth came to be known as Vajrayana following the scientific practice of Vajrachitta”[9]

One may think that Tantra ends up its enquiry in the Void, Nirvana, or the background-consciousness, but the culmination of this scientific journey is in re-traversing the path, the Agamatattva, back down to the material reality. This is called Sahajavada, Life in Spontaneity. Guru Rinpoche and the Buddha both explain more, “‘When reality in 'being' itself is relativity in 'becoming', where is the question of celibatic self-restraint?’ challenged Guru Sadashiva. Where is the suffering, described as 'chatur arya-satya' by Lord Sakyasimha, when everything in life can be realized as ever blissful? At this point, where is the fear of even taking rebirths when there is no differentiation between Nirvana and Samsara but ever-blissful life in newer and newer forms meeting newer and newer quests and realizations? Is it not more adventurous to enjoy immortality in ever-changefulness rather than the cowardice of escaping the multidimensional life by taking refuge in so-called Nirvana out of the incapability to cope up with its variants?”[10]

It is very clear that Tantra as a science has come about because of three main investigative questions being asked since time immorial: What is the Creation? How did it come to be? Why did it come to be? According to the Tantras, the first two questions have been answered in the structure given in Agamatattva, The Cosmic Chronology both Esoteric and Exoteric, Vajrachitta, The Indestructible Mind/Consciousness, and Sahajavada, Life in Spontaneity. Tanta presents an option for the philosopher-scientist, or rather a way of traversing the path as it has been laid out by modern science between Realism and Idealism. Satpurananda Avadhut presents more, “The realists observed that the seeker is part-and-parcel of the sought, while the idealists claimed that the universe is only a conception of human-mind and there is no creation without mind. All these speculations have ended in intellectual conflict giving way to material sciences and spiritual sciences. As of now, the philosophers as well as the physical scientists share a common feeling. It is about the need to find one Principle without a second, or a ‘Grand Unifying Theory’ (GUT), that will explain the entire Truth about cosmos. Consequently to this urge, the earlier compartmentalism of philosophers (religious and others) and scientists are making room for the new breed of philosopher-scientists and scientist-philosophers.”[11]

Tantra in the modern world has a difficult task at hand. In one sphere its practices must be proven in a scientific/empirically judging world, on another end it must fit into the modern time and needs of today, and on a third front must still battle within the modern Indian political-spiritual world to fight for its unique identity and practices. Meera Nanda discusses in her book, Prophets Facing Backwards, how the post 1947 Hindu-dominated political climate of nationalism and fundamentalism is seriously limiting the Indian society as a whole and is propagating the same colonial system of domination and control on this billion plus ‘democratic’ nation. In Sanskrit democracy (ganatantra) is also a Tantra, or science of living. That is the same for politics (rajatantra) and sociology (samaja-tantra).

Tantra as a contribution to the ongoing discovery of what, how and why our cosmos and this creation is deserves the respect of its 2000 year plus heritage and a seat amongst all religious and philosophical lineages now entering the delicate debate of what are the demarcating lines between science and religion. Tantra as a science re-empowers the scientist and offers a detailed process of inner and outer discovery in order to live out life in balance. May the revelations continue on!

Bibliography

  1. In Search of Tantra: Vajrayana. Kulavadhuta Satpurananda. Berach Printing: Gangtok, Sikkim: 2004.

  1. Prophets Facing Backward. Meera Nanda. Rutgers University Press: New Jersey, 2003.


1. www.wikipedia.com

2. In Search of Tantra: Vajrayana, 8-9.

3. Ibid, 9.

4. Ibid, 7.

5. Ibid, 7.

6. Ibid, 20.

7. Ibid, 22.

8. Ibid, 22.

9. Ibid, 22.

10. Ibid, 22.

11. Ibid, 18.

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