I acknowledge this picture, from the internet, of the Meru, three-dimensional representation in the Tantra tradition of the Universal Energy, Shakti. Its two-dimensional Sri Chakra is the center piece of most Tantra rituals.
This blog is from a Dummy to Dummies, and not for erudite experts, who can argue for hours on etymology and subtleties. When i started as a spiritual seeker, the words yoga and tantra, agama and nigama, all seemed the same to me. After greater understanding, they still remain the same in a larger perspective. However, scholars and gurus make a big deal of the differences. My two bits are here to demystify.
Tantra has several definitions, the same way as Yoga seems to have many manifestations. My Sanskrit dictionary defines it as a: verb, to rule or govern, and noun, thread as in a fabric, or thought in a theory, or a technique.
Today for most Westerners and Westernized Easterners, Tantra means only sex.
Tantra as a knowledge base of practices and theories, or even as a philosophy, predates Vedas, the Hindu scriptures. Sruti, divinely inspired knowledge, divides into agama and nigama. Agama included mantra (sound) , yantra (structure) and tantra (ritual), and nigama referred to the Vedas. At a later date, Atharvan compiled existing Tantra knowledge to form the fourth and last Veda, Atharva.
Shiva and Shakti are the patron deities of Tantra. Later in these blog posts, i shall present to you 112 Tantra techniques taught by Shiva to Shakti, known today as Vigyana Bhairava Tantra. Half a dozen techniques from this treatise lead to today’s Tantra Sex cult.
Yoga generally means union of mind , body and the universal energy residing within all living beings. The concept of Yoga belongs to the astika school of Hinduism, which follows the Vedic knowledge, nigama sruti. Yoga is of a later day origin compared to Tantra. Patanjali compiled all knowledge of Yoga principles in his 196 Yoga Sutras, which today serve as the foundation of all Yoga practices.
Patanjali Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, meaning Eight Limbs, has eight recommended practices. Yama: 5 universal conducts, comprising Truth (Satya), Non violence (Ahimsa), Non Covetousness (Asteya), Simplicity (Aparagriha), & Seeking the Eternal (Brahmacharya); Niyama: 5 personal regulations comprising Purity of mind body (Saucha), Contentment (Santosha), Disengagement (Tapas), Reflection on Scriptural Truths (Svadhyaya) & Surrender to Divine (Iswarapranidhana); Asana (Body Discipline); Pranayama (Breath Discipline); Pratyahara (Sensory disengagement from objects) ; Dharana (Focusing on one sense); Dhyana (Meditation on one thought) & Samadhi (Witnessing).
The first four limbs of Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama are usually considered external or bahiranga yoga practices, and the last four of Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, antaranga or internal practices.
In this blog i would be writing mostly about dharana and dhyana. Very often dharana techniques are also called meditation, because focusing on sense does lead to meditation on one thought. In that sense, the antaranga yoga limbs are not fully separate, but a continuum. This is what i experienced.
For instance, watching one’s breath as in Vipassana is a dharana technique, since it focuses the senses, especially kinesthetically, on the breath falling on the upper lip. Gradually, one shifts the attention to the body and then to a thought anchor, which is dhyana, meditation. Eventually, one no longer identifies with the thought, but merely witnesses it as an observer, leading to samadhi.
Shankara refers to samadhi in the Atma Shatakam: I am not the joy, the enjoyer or the experience of enjoyment; I am pure Truth Consciousness Bliss, Satchidananda.
Experientially it does not matter if one calls the Sutras of Shiva dharana as the wise Bihar School of Yoga does, or dhyana as some others insist. The techniques work whatever you may call them! You’ll find that many pranayama and meditation techniques, including vipassana and yoga nidra have their origin in these Sutras of Shiva.
These 112 techniques are Shiva’s gift to humanity. It’s a pity they are not as well-known as the Gita or the Yoga Sutras. Osho did yeoman service by writing about Vigyana Bhairava Tantra in his monumental Book of Secrets, where he takes the reader on a journey of the universe. It’s a must read for any spiritual seeker. Bihar School of Yoga’s Ascent is an excellent version of the 112 techniques in a very practical way. Paul Reps in his Zen Flesh Zen Bones has translated the Sanskrit verses beautifully, so brilliantly that Osho has used this version in his Book of Secrets.
All i hope to do here is to kindle in your interest in reading these books and practising these techniques. You’ll find that one among these suits you. That’s what Shiva intended. That one technique leads you to Your Self. Try each one and find that one technique, which works for you. If i kindle that interest in you, my mission stands accomplished.