An Analysis of Tantrayana (Vajrayana)

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An Analysis of Tantrayana (Vajrayana)

by. Prof. P. G. Yogi

Bulletin Of Tibetology, 1998 (16-38)

Tantra is a discipline, a method and study. It is based on a rational foundation, is conceivable in theoretic consciousness and realizable through Yogik experiences. Ironically, however, there are those who have ignored these points and picked up bits from particular sad hanas, parts of which are apparently vulgar and obnoxious, and come to the conclusion that Tantrik spiritual practices resort to sexual indulgence. Before entering further into this debate, it needs to be mentioned here that in the Tantras, the ideal of womanhood has been epitomized and raised to the exalted position of motherhood which in itself is unique in the history of spiritual literature of the world. Moreover, it is dearly stated in the Tantras that the secret of life lies in sexual control and death in sexual indulgence (Maranam Bindu paten, telletam Bindu Dharanat).

As against the conventional ascetic disciplines, the Tantras uphold the theory of sublimation in which asceticism has been equated with sexuality. In this theory, desire itself is subjected to rigorous discipline and used to conq uef desire. There are others who subscribe anything ugly, erotic, spiritualistic and magical to tile Tantras. They produce tantrastic stories garnished with absurd episodes relating to astral plane and connect them to Tantras. They forget that Tantra is a meta-science (surya-vitnam) dealing with consciousness, variable at every stage of spiritual experience. Further, the realization of supreme Truth which will give a true perspective of the Tantras has been interpreted in various ways. Tantra has been analyzed as a critique of experience. Consciousness in different aspects plays a vital role in the philosophy of the Tantras and experience is the guideline which analyzes and determines the nature of the said consciousness, both in the empirical and in the transcendental. Experiences in the Tantra's may also be analyzed in terms of consciousness, conscious of itself. A Tantra aspirant must be intelligent (daksa), have his senses in control (Jitendriya), abstaining from injuries to all beings (Sarva himsa-Vinirmukta), ever doing good to all (Sarva prani-hiterata), a believer in the self as existence (astika), have faith and refuge in Brahman (Brahmav-adi...Brahm parayana) and who is a non-dualism (dvaitahina).

Further, intellectual apprehension of the Tattvas, strenuous self-sacrifice, unflinching devotion to sastras and their teachings, observance of the ritual and yogik a practices are regarded as efficient methods of approach to siva, the supreme self Three ways to realization, those of Sambhava, Sakta and Anava, are recognized in Kasmira Saivism, together with the vira saiva idea of freedom have been discussed. It is interesting to note that the pratyabijna school of Kasmira Saivism has close affinity to the Saktadvaitavada of the eastern regions, particularly of Bengal and Assam. In this context, the six cakras (Satcakra), piercing of the cakras (Sat-cakra-bheda), the power as Kundalini and the role of Kundalini in realizing the self as knowledge in awakening our latent consciousness and self-analysis. The subject-contents reveal the outline of an Indian system of thought which is resourceful in experience, rich in contents and colorful in many of the inner secrets of Indian culture. It is realistic in attitude, practical in application and sublime
in spiritual aspiration. In this system, nothing is rejected as completely lost, rather, everything is accepted and hence accommodated in its respective potential value. It is a living philosophy whose true spirit is now lost. May be not lost, but it is definitely ill-conceived, misinterpreted and badly practiced. In the modern world crisis, it had got a definite role to play and delivers a message of hope to problem-striken humanity. The influence of Tantras over the people from the past to the present is significant to note. 'Tantra, 'Mantra and 'Yantra' are sometimes used as synonyms for each other, but the Yantra aspect of the Tantras will not be discussed in this work and Mantra will only be referred to in a stray manner. Even the terms 'Agama and 'Tantra are sometimes used in the same sense as the Veda is sometimes referred to as 'Nigama'. The scope of Tantra is, however, much wider than that of Agama as the former deals with as many as twenty-flve subjects such as the knowledge of Brahman as consciousness, the nature of the Brahman as consciousness, the principle of creation, maintenance and destruction of the world, concealment and grace etc. Agama, on the other hand, covers only seven of the said twenty-flve subjects. In this connection, it might be of interest to note that the Yamala precede the Tantras and deals with only five of the subjects covered by the Tantras.

The term 'Tantra' is also sometimes used to mean a system having predominance of Saktaika (power) while Agama bears an overtone of siva in terms of knowledge. It is, however, a recognized fact that in the philosophy of Tantra, consciousness as power and that of Saktimana, are identical in the sense that in the Tantras, consciousness as power is always considered as being conscious of itself as 'I' in terms of Siva. Hence, the term 'Tantra' is used in the general sense as accommodating all other aforesaid meanings it covers. The prime object of this work is to exhibit the philosophy of Tantras in general terms of consciousness as power and gaining experience thereof: However, like the Vedas, the base of the Tantra is revelation, or in other words, consciousness involving knowledge as a transcendental act. Hence the Agamas or Tantras fall within the fold of Sruata Sastra (that which is heard) or revealed scriptures. To discuss and interpret sastras or scriptures from the historical point of view is difficult. The said scriptures are not supposed to have originated in time nor are they creations of ordinary human consciousness; such scriptures are believed to be of divine origin. Further, they are called eternal and immutable, they are what they are - pure and simple.

Like the Vedas, the Tantras or the Agamas are designated as Sruata Sastras brought down to us from time immemorial through spiritual tradition. Outwardly, these scriptures denote injunctions (niyama) and practices (vidhi) and essentially connote the nature of being revealed and revealing at the same time. Spiritually, they are some pure experience concepts realizable in terms of revelations of the mysteries of men and matter. Ethically they are the directive principles determining what is good and what is bad in the empirical. But then, there are the complications of a world to live in and consciousness to know and survive. Culture expresses itself in manners, customs, patterns of belief, ways of life, religion, philosophical thinking etc. Civilization is sometimes measured by the degree of material prosperity. Indian culture or civilization is broadly represented by two diverse traditions - Aryan cum Vaidika and non-Aryan cum a-Vaidika. The term 'aVaidika' is synonymous to Agamika cum Tantrika even though the term Veda is at times used for both Agama and Nigama. It should be noted here that the Aryan cum Vaidika culture is not very different from some of the main Agamika and Tantrika practices. Yoga (concentration), Asanabandha, Garuda (the vehicle of Vishnu), Conch Shell (Samkha), Conch Bangles
(Sakha), Altars (Vedi) Posts (Yupa), Sivalinga (symbol of Siva), the image of Siva as Pasupati and seals on similar other finds in archaeological excavations bear testimony to the fact that the Indus Valley Civilization is not at least anti-Vaidika. There are different phases of cultural patterns of a particular civilization which alternate in different ages and finally evolve into a full-fledged system covering within itself the history of thought of that period. Similarly, Indian culture had to pass through different phases such as Agamika or Tantrika cum Vaidika, Jaina, Buddha and the like. Not with-standing the unity of thought within the six systems of Indian philosophy (sad darsana), there are differences within them not only in details of the discussion of a particular problem but also in some of the basic concepts. These differences crop up even within a particular system in the interpretations that different commentators have made of them. All these show a progressive trend of the Indian mind. The asta-tanu and asta-murti concepts of the Puranas bring out the eminent aspect of the supreme God, Siva, and the same concept is fleshed out again in the Mahabharata when it says:

Bhut-adyan sarvabhuvanamn utpadyasadivaukasah
dadhati devas-tanubhir-astabhiryo bibharti ca

The Tantrika ritual includes the asta-murti puja of Siva in the eight forms of Sarva (Earth), Bhava (Water), Rudra (Fire), Ugra (Air), Bhima (Ether), Pasupati (Yajmana), lsana (Sun), and Mahadev (Moon). The concept of Siva finds expression in the famous Mahimah stotrum of Pas up ad ant a where the eight aspects of Siva are named and depicted as the earlier explanation with the only difference lying in the replacement of Yajamana with Atman. This representation of Siva as Atman or Ksetratna is also mentioned in the Siva Purana. In his Sakta Philosophy, M. M. Gopinath Kaviraja has stated: Siva and Sakti are conceived as constituting the two aspects of one and the same divine principle, inalienably associated and essentially identical. Siva is the agent, Sakti is the instrument. One is transcendent, the other immanent. The cosmic manifestations of Sakti is, however, in essence, the manifestation of Siva himself and is conceived as immanent. It is hather to be noted here that from the point of view of manifestation, Siva cannot even be conceived of as other than Sakti. The Asta-tanu concept of Siva finds prominence in the works of Kalidasa, viz. Abhijnana-sakuntatam, Malavikagni-mitram and Kumarasambhavam (cf 1.57, vi. 26).

The Tantras are not ancient authentic religious scriptures of the Aryan race and they are not accepted as religious scriptures throughout India. This so-called scripture or Sastra is the creation of Bengalese and its injunctions have been in practice only in Bengal (Gauda). The Bengalese are believers of self-determination (Svatantrya) and have full confidence in their own strength and the Trantras propound precisely such an attitude towards life.

Amongst the Mahayana Buddhist, worship of deities such as Tara, Vajrayogini, Ksetrapala and others have been in vogue and there are mantras, vijas and japas in Mahayana Buddhism prescribed for propitiating the same. So, if in the Hindu Tantras, there are similar Gods and Goddesses worshipped with specific mantras, vijas and japas, Hindu Tantra must have originated from the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.

The aboriginal tribes in India are worshippers of Sakti, Spirits, ghosts, serpents, trees and the like and such practices are found in the tradition of Tantrika worship, too. Hence, the Tantras owe their origin to the so-called barbaric tradition. The influence of Tantrika tradition is found not only in Bengal but throughout India. That the Tantras follow Mahayana Buddhism is also untenable from historical traditional point of view in the same way that the belief that Mahayana Buddhism is derived from Tantra is unacceptable. Similarity of some of the religious practices is after all no proof of one being derived from the other. Whether the Hindu mind was moved, drawn and attracted by the teachings of Buddhism only and not with its fundamental tenets, in other words, should the Hindus pay obeisance to Buddhist Gods for beauty, victory, glory and destruction of foes or strive for Buddha Nirvana? There is a great difference between the yoga undertaken for the extinction of all desires and the yoga practised for acquisition of power, wealth and destruction of foes. It is true that in a particular type of Tantrika sadhana, there is a provision for practices (kriya) alleged to be maleficent such as Marana, Ucatana, Vasikarana and Stambhavana. These are also called abicara, but it is specifically stated in the Tantras that these practices should never be directed or motivated towards the satisfaction of any selfish end. Tantras, being primarily practical and realistic in nature, provide such practices as a guard against evildoers and doings. Further, the said practices have no physical bearing. They work only in the psychical region.

The Bhagvadgita preaches niskama karma (right to work only and not to the fruits there of) which might lead to the acquisition of knowledge. This is akin to the Buddha's philosophy of Nirvana. On this account, can any body say that the Bhagvadgita also provides for Sakama Karma (works with some object in view i.e. work for power, wealth, beauty etc.) which is contrary to the spirit of Buddhism. Moreover, Hinduism, of all religions, provides dit: ferent forms of religious practices for persons having different dispositions and competence (adhikara). This also does not fit in with the principles and practices of Buddhism. In the above context, how is it possible for them to explain the Sah.'ya-Muni's renunciation (Vairagya), his loss of faith in Hinduism and his discovery of the new path whereby man could escape infirmities of old age and death and achieve the final extinction of sorrows, in line with the practices of the Tantras? Lalita-vistara, the biography of Sakyasimha, states that Buddha was well conversant with Nigama, Puranas, ltihasa and the Vedas. When, both, the Vedas and Nigama are mentioned in the same context, the latter term refers to the Tantras which goes by the names Agama and Nigama. In light of this fact, the belief that Hindu Tantras originate from the Mahayana sect of Buddhism are rendered defunct. Again, Sakya-simha is said to have addressed the Bhikshus thus: "There are tools who seek protection of and pay obeisance to Brahma, Indra, Rudra, Visnu, the Devi, Kartikeya, Mother Katyayani, Ganapati and others. Some perform tapasya (ascetic practices) in the cremation ground and at the crossing of four roads." Speaking of the practices of heretics, he had once mentioned the use of wine and flesh which is practices in some special form ofTantrika sadhana. Had not the Tantrika form of worship, then, been in existence before the advent of Sakya Muni? (LaiitatJistara xi, ch. v. six 111).

It may be said that the strength of the aforesaid analogical arguments depends on the fundamental points of agreement between the Tantras and Buddhism; but no such agreement or similarity is found between them save and except some superficial points in regard to the worship of some of the Gods and goddesses. Even in this context, it may be said that there are cases where there is no similarity between the vijamantra, as in the case of NilaSarasvati, of the two systems. In spite of these fundamental difterences, it cannot be ignored that Buddhism and Tantrism grew on Indian soil and it is not impossible that in the process of cultural synthesis, there was mutual exchange of ideas just as we find similarities in the subsequent period of history between Vajrayana, Sahajayana, Mantrayana, Natha and Sahajiya cults of Buddhism on the one hand and Saivism on the other.

Who are the persons called barbaric aborigines? Should we suppose that Bengalese pandits composed the Tantra sastra in imitation of Dravidians in habiting the distant South? Or, Should we suppose that the Tantrika system was adopted from the Mundas, Santhals, Garos, Meches, Kuches, Khasias and the primitive inhabitants of Assam? Such interpretations are definitely absurd. The concept of Sakti is found almost in every literary work from India. It is in the Vedas, Samhitas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Puranas and other literatures. Moreover, the Goddess Sakti is worshipped in ditIerent forms through out India - in Kamakhya, Vindya Hills, Kasi, Vrindavana, Rajasthan, Tirhut, Haridwar and so on. Historical survey of religious practices prevalent in ancient India does not support the vie that because Tantra advocates the practice of Sakti, therefore it is of recent origin and that the advocates of this sastra are Bengalese. Sometimes, it is even believed that Yogini Tantra is of recent origin and at the most only three hundred years old. This is obviously an incorrect assessment since Raghunandana Bhattacharya, the great Smarra, and Krsnananda Bhattacharya Agamavagisa, who were contemporaries of Sri Caitanya, have referred to Yogini Tantra as an authentic work on the Tantra in their works, Smrtitattva and Tanrra-sara. There are also scholars who are of the opinion that because the term Tantra is no specifically mentioned in Svarga-varga by Amarkosa Tantra, therefore it is not be considered as an authentic scripture. But it should be noted here that the name of some of ancient scriptures too have not been mentioned there. Those scholars have also not noticed in the Nanartha-varga of the said work, there is a mention of Agama Sastra, which is but another name for Tantra.

Madhavacarya, the commentator of the Vedas, in dealing with the Patanjali system in his compilation of different systems of Indian philosophy, named Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha which quoted many passages from the Tantra Sastras. particularly with reference to what is called the ten fold disposition (Dasavidha Samskara). Acharya Vacaspati Misra, the great commentator of the six systems of Indian philosophy, has spoken of the pracrice of meditation (Dhyana) as of Tantrika origin. Srimat-Samkaracarya, in his SarirakaBhasya, mentions the determination of six bodily centres (Satcakras) of the Tantras. It is hardly necessary to say dut one of three great Acaryas if a Bengali. Before the compilation of Krsnanadas Tantra Sara. there have been many compilers ofTantras such as Raghavananda, Raghavabhatta, Virupaksa, Govind Bharta to mention only a te'w, Krsnananda, in his observation of the Goddesses Nila Sarasvati featured in Tantra Sara, reveals that even Samkaracarya himself claimed that the [,,,mous hymns of Sakti (Ananda Lahari and Daksinamurti-storra) are his works. Besides, there are many important compilations of Tantras such as Ramarcand-candrika, passages from which have been quoted by Vacaspati Misra in the chapter of Vasanri Puja in his Kritya-cintamani which proves the antiquity of the Tantra, Mantra, Muktavali, Sara-Samraha, Bhuvanesvari-parijata, Sarada-tilaka, Tripura-siva samuccaya, svacchadda-samgraha, Sara-samuccaya, Mantra-tamra-prakasa and others. These compilations were prepared long before the time of Krsnananda and Raghunandana. Harita says: "Now we shall explain Dharma. Dharma is based on the authority of Sruti. Sruti is of two kinds - Vaidika and Tantrika." Tantra-sastra, in some authoritative works, is referred to by the terms Rahasya (mysticism) and vidya (metascience) in addition to Agama and Nigama which again is used in some context in lieu of the Vedas. There is a great Tanrrika scripture called 'Sivagma. One of its commentators is the great Abhinavgupta, the propounder of Kasmira Saivism, otherwise called Pratyabhijna. Krsnananda has quoted some of the surras of the said Agama as authoritative. This shows the affinity between Kasmira Pratyabhijna and Saktavaitavada prevalent in the eastern region of India.


Professor Masaharu Auzaki, in his History of Religion in Ancient india, after citing Raja Tarangini as evidence of Tantrika worship at the time of Asoka (240 BC), says that Tantra appeared even before Nagarjuna (220 AD) and that it has been successful in absorbing Buddhism despite all efforts to the contrary. In fact, as regards Buddhism, Tantra stands for a Hindu conquest. Further, in Tara-Tantra, it is stated that the Buddha and Vasistha were Tamrika seers and Khulavbhairavas. Prof. Heyman Wilson says that the Tantrika tradition is not the creation of a day, it has a long history behind it. Creation, maintenance and dissolution, propitiation of Gods and Goddesses, religious cum spiritual practices, Pura'lcarana, sat karma, dhyana, yoga and other similar practices have been discussed in the Tantras (see Varahi-Tantra). Prof. Cowell believes that the Tantras form a highly esteemed branch of literature. Sir Monier Williams, in his Indian Wisdom, has mentioned the Tantras and spoken ill of them though some of his fIndings are believed to be improperly presented.

Tantra Sastra is meant for all classes irrespective of caste, creed and sex. In this system, sex is no bar against spiritual initiations. It is stated ill the Tantras that far from the Vaidika exclusiveness, the practice of family tradition is essential for all two-footed beings. By family is meant persons coming from a particular specific stock and tradition, in this context, consists of some long-standing practices both in the social and the spiritual.

Tantra sastra affords to all, freedom to be engaged in spiritual practice according to one's competence and shows the practical method which would qualifY the spiritual aspirant (sadhak) to proceed along the higher path of knowledge Ghana marga) - knowledge in terms of experience as distinguished from intellectual theorizing alone. Tantra is above all, a metascience, primarily concerned with the performance of rituals aiming at liberation, for, according to Tamra, not only theorizing, but also practice in proper direction is indispensable for gaining experience and freedom.

Tantra-sastra is primarily a sadhana-sastra, and all religions recognize spiritual practice (sadhana). The Tantra claims to be thoroughly practical in the sense that it affords direct proof of spiritual practices. Tantra also bears great affinity with the art of medicine (bhaisajya) in so far as its practice outlook is concerned. Apart from primarily practical and realistic attitude of the Tantras, the rational side of this grand system is well developed. Tantra believes in Right and Competency (adkikara and yogyata) of the spiritual aspirants. The sacramental energy of the mantra, even when the spiritual preceptor (Guru) has vivified it with consciousness, depends on the competency of the aspirant for its efficacy. Tantra believes in different stages of spiritual progress such as japa, dhyana, bhava and Brahma-sadhana which is the highest state of mind. For the Brahmajnani, one who has realized Brahma, there is no difference in these stages. Tantra is vehemently oppose to any sort of lifeless, mechanical formality. It is pointedly stated in the Tantras liberation comes only through tattva-jhana or intellectual conviction of the tattvas. Knowledge of the Brahman cannot be attained without self purifIcation and for such self puritlcation, Tantra provides means taking cognizance of the secret spirit of the age (Kala-dharma). Tantra-sastra speaks of spiritual experience constituting of the fourth stage - Turiya state of consciousness - through the practice of Yoga. Hathayoga and various other forms of spiritual training have been admitted in the Tanrras. Prof De La Valle Poussin, speaking in context of Buddhist Tantra, remarks that the essential concepts of Tantra are metaphysical and subtle in character. His understanding is also applicable to the Hindu Tantra, where, for instance, the significance of Sakti-Tattva, Mantra-Tattva, Yoga-Tanva, the principle of Kundalini, Bija-mantra and the like are highly subtle, metaphysical and esoteric in nature. Besides, the technical terms or concepts such as yantra, mantra, mudra, nyasa, sadhana, upasana, yoga, panca tattva and sat-cakra are used in the Tantras and practised by the Sadhakas (spiritual aspirants) demonstrating the technical character of Tantra.

The Tantra, at present, are available in the Indian scriptures and also in Tibetan and Chinese records. It may be said that the Tantra is of divine origin, realized and realizable in super-sensuous experience of the yogins, practiced by Sadhakas and expressed in manners, customs and religious behavior of the tradition. Tantra forms an essential part of the dynamic aspect of Indian culture. Both, in philosophic speculation and religious practices, it exhibits that spiritual renunciation (nihsreyas) and material progress (abhyu daya), go side by side in the history of Indian thought and the art of living.