The History of Tantra and Yoga
This is the transcript of a talk by Shrii Shrii Anandamirtii, Intuitionally received by Megan Nolan
The practice of yoga is most certainly a very broad topic because yoga means to yoke, to unite that which is separate with the whole, that which is individual with all. So yoga is to yoke, to unite and the practices of yoga are very many, so many schools, so many different branches of yoga are there and the practices go back many thousands of years. So it is a very, very vast and broad subject which we could not possibly cover in depth tonight but we can talk just a little about the practices of yoga.
As a discipline, as a practice, yoga came from two sources, one from the development of the Vedas in the Aryan culture, which came across Europe into India, into the Indus Valley area. It also came from the indigenous culture, the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley. This was the seed of this spiritual movement and there is one historical figure that was of primary importance in the development of yoga practices and that was Lord Shiva.Shiva is referred to as a name for consciousness, for divinity, but Shiva was also an historical figure that lived many, many thousands of years ago, perhaps eight, ten thousand years ago. So in those ancient times, long before written history, Lord Shiva came into existence and he married three wives. One was from the Aryan culture, Parvati, and Lord Shiva is said to have told to Parvati many teachings and because Parvati sat before Lord Shiva and asked for the teachings, she received the teachings on so many subjects of yoga. These were handed down within the oral tradition for thousands of years and thus began the beginnings of the practices, the disciplines that are designed the yoke the small mind to the great cosmic mind. The consciousness shut off, separated form the whole, to the infinite being. So these practices came due to the inquiry of Parvati to Lord Shiva. In this process of asking, these practices became revealed and then were handed down through the centuries. But the true essence of the practice, though some things were changed as it was carried down through generation upon generation, the true essence of the practice remained due to the powerful imprint of the consciousness of Lord Shiva.
Shiva is referred to as a name for consciousness, for divinity, but Shiva was also an historical figure that lived many, many thousands of years ago, perhaps eight, ten thousand years ago. So in those ancient times, long before written history, Lord Shiva came into existence and he married three wives. One was from the Aryan culture, Parvati, and Lord Shiva is said to have told to Parvati many teachings and because Parvati sat before Lord Shiva and asked for the teachings, she received the teachings on so many subjects of yoga. These were handed down within the oral tradition for thousands of years and thus began the beginnings of the practices, the disciplines that are designed the yoke the small mind to the great cosmic mind. The consciousness shut off, separated form the whole, to the infinite being. So these practices came due to the inquiry of Parvati to Lord Shiva. In this process of asking, these practices became revealed and then were handed down through the centuries. But the true essence of the practice, though some things were changed as it was carried down through generation upon generation, the true essence of the practice remained due to the powerful imprint of the consciousness of Lord Shiva.
So in yoga there are different elements and there are different practices. Some are to develop the mind. These are the practices of jinana yoga, the path of knowledge. Some are to develop the heart and the wisdom of the heart. These are the practices of bhakti yoga. Some are to develop one’s sense of universalism, to destroy one’s sense of self-centeredness. These are the practices of karma yoga and out of these primary yogas have developed so many secondary yogas, so many different types of schools that apply this type of practice or that type of practice. So there is the practice of ashtaunga yoga, made popular, and coalesced, recorded by Patanjali, eight limbs of yoga. The eight-limbed path of ashtaunga yoga incorporates the practice of yama and niyama, the principles for developing the mind in action, a refinement of karma yoga practice. It also incorporates pratyahara, dharana (concentration of mind), dhyana (meditation) and finally samadhi. But in addition to this, the yogis of that time developed the practice of asana or posture comfortably held. Asana in today’s western society is called yoga but, really, the word is asana is a position comfortably held. In the beginning, there were simple sitting postures for meditation and no more. Asana means pose. So over time, those developed.
So in ashtaunga yoga there is the practice of yama and niyama to develop one’s essence of karma yoga, one’s relationship to the world and then there is asana to develop the body and then pratyahara, dharana, dhyana andsamadhi are internal practices to develop one’s sense of relationship to the divine, to enhance one’s yoga. So all of these practices together combine to form a system of yoga, eight-limbed system. That is the system that existed before Patanjali but was recorded by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. But not only did Patanjali develop this ashtaunga yoga but as the yogas evolved there was the development of tantra. Tantra actually predates the ashtaunga yoga of Patanjali which was developed first, second century, recorded about second or third century by Patanjali, maybe fourth but it developed earlier, but prior to that was the tantra. The practices given by Lord Shiva to Parvati were the practices of tantra.
Tantra evolved out of Harappan culture. Vedanta evolved out of Vedic culture. The tantra evolving out of Harappan culture became changed slightly of oral tradition and many of the practices became secret practices spoken only from guru to disciple and thus handed down in a secret manner, requiring diksha or transmission to be taught from guru to disciple. So the esoteric practices became very secretive and even the philosophies and understandings of tantra, became very quiet. And as the centuries passed, tantra became a quiet stream and it was not until fourth century that even the first recorded books on tantra were there yet tantra was widespread throughout northern India and even into southern India but the teachings were so quiet from guru to disciple, very secret. And they were kept secret for a reason because tantra explores the subtle energies in the psyche, in the physical body. Tantra developed the notion of kundalini and chakras. It is in tantra that the understanding of the flow of psychic energies and subtle energies developed and so the systems of chakrasor nadis, subtle energy channels, much like meridians, were developed through the tantric teachings and practices. And the tantrics learned to manipulate these energies, the kulakundalini, to raise the kulakundalini and unblock the channels which prevented this universal energy from rising to sahasrara chakra and the merger of Shiva and Shakti, the divine energy force with the pure consciousness. So tantra was always kept subdued because to raise these forces without proper guidance was always seen as somewhat dangerous. And so it was said that one should take diksha; one should take initiation, one should learn from a teacher, a qualified teacher, so that there can be no difficulty in the development through tantra as one begins to open the subtle energies within the body and within the subtle body.
So the tantrics studied the process of creation, the development of the omkara and the division of the omkara into the bij sounds in the chakras which emanate the sounds of the creation. So the tantrics studied the science of sound and out of the study of the science of sound came the formation of mantra and the ability to empower sound, to perform vibratory changes in the subtle body and even in the physical world. Then in this, it was realized that these capacities could be used for good to open one’s awareness to the divine or they could be used to gain personal power, control, and even to do great harm to others. So when these subtle sciences were explored and developed, the potential danger in them was realized and so the masters of these sciences kept this knowledge very quiet and they taught it only to those qualified disciples who were ready to receive such knowledge and thus they concentrated their minds, developed knowledge of the subtle body.
You know, there is some confusion and I will mention just a little, because there is today in the West a very popular movement of sexual tantra, though when one is working with subtle forces and energies, naturally the sexual energies are part and parcel of this. But it came about, the sexual tantra, in the middle ages in India when the caste system was very, very strong. Due to the oppression of the ruling priest class, the tantrics who initiated women and untouchables were in grave danger as were their disciples for this was heretic behavior in this society. So they developed a secret code and language called the Five Ms. In this secret code, they hid the teachings beneath what appeared to be purely degenerative sexual, drinking of wine and having sexual intercourse, these types of things. This is what the words mean on the surface so as to deflect the interest of the priest class but beneath they had secret meanings to the initiates but not everyone who heard these teachings were initiates and they did not know the esoteric meanings. To drink wine is to drink the nectar of amrit. To have sexual union is to have union with the uninitiated the understanding came that tantra was talking about sexuality and drinking wine and so on and so there became one school of tantra that pursued this but it was because of the hiddenness of the teachings for those uninitiated. Out of this had evolved the sexual tantra as a practice of its own. It is not that sexuality is to be denied because in the teachings of tantra, sexuality is a part and parcel of the spiritual path, of the expression of subtle energies but it is not at all to be utilized in an unsavory fashion or merely for pleasure.
So tantra in the middle ages, thus this superficial understanding by the uninitiated began to take one school but the true teachings of tantra continued hidden beneath this veil so that the priest class and those in rigid society could not see what was happening and the deep teachings being conveyed to even those untouchable and those women of that day. So there developed the avidya tantrics who used the knowledge of subtle sound, of subtle energies, to gain power and control, to be able to gain wealth and power. They developed their own way. Then the tantrics who developed for spiritual life developed a separate path and they are the vidya tantrics, those who developed for truth and of them, there are several paths. With each of these, there are many divisions.
So yoga has a long history in which there are different types of conditions but all of it is to move the mind towards union and there are spin offs from these naturally in the desires of human beings. So as tantra moved forward there became different understandings. Those who only wanted the purest teachings and they wanted only truth but they rejected the world, those that wanted the world only and they so formed the paths of self-pleasure, and then the middle path, those that wanted to know the supreme but also do not reject this world. So the tantric can be both a yogi and a bhogi. Bhogi means enjoyer of this life because there is the understanding that all is Brahma, all is part and parcel of the one eternal being. There is no rejection of this world but incorporation in knowledge of the eternal Self. So this is the path, the approach of tantra and tantra utilizes bhakti, karma and jinana yoga and it also utilizes mantra, the science of sound, and visualization, certain pujas and rituals but all is done to realize the eternal nature of the Self.
So the tantrics were very quiet for many hundreds of years due to these very rigid societies. They flowed beneath this rigidity keeping the teachings ever alive and then it began to emerge again and a school of tantra was brought by Padmasambaba to Tibet from northern India, which is the home of tantra. It moved to Tibet where it was developed into Tibetan yoga and this Tibetan system, Tibetan Buddhism combined the teachings of Buddha, the tantra of north India and the Bon religion of Tibet.
Out of tantra and the teachings of tantra and the internal research and knowledge of subtle body that the great tantrics developed, grew in the middle ages in India the system of Hatha yoga. So today, in the West, so many different teachers have come, teaching strictly asanas saying they are Hatha yogis and they have brand-named their system of asanas after themselves or their teacher or some school of yoga they like and they have called this type of yoga and that type of yoga. Most of these schools of yoga have come from south and central India. And the teachers thinking that in the West the people will not be receptive to all of the teachings of Hatha yoga have left the teachings of Hatha yoga and only popularized their asanas. Ha-tha means Sun-Moon. It is the sun moon channel. The Hatha yogis were tantrics. The first Hatha yogis were tantrics and they began to feel they didn’t want to explore the subtle body so much. They still wanted to realize Parama Purusha. They wanted to realize the Self but felt that to realize the Self they must move beyond the focus upon the subtle body and focus upon the physical body and so they developed more emphasis on asana. Asana is a part of tantra. Pranayama is a part of tantra. Also, it is part of ashtaunga yoga. But the Hatha yogis wanted to put more and more emphasis upon pranayama, on asana and on shatkarmas, which are the cleansings. You know, swallow the rag and bring it up, put the salt water through the nose, these types of things, the cleansing process. So more emphasis was placed upon these by the Hatha yogis. Then in the recent years as some of these Hatha yogis have come to the United States to popularize their teachings, they have dropped all teachings but asana.
The system of Hatha yoga does not recognize asana apart from pranayamas and cleansings and meditation practice. All of these are part of the limbs of Hatha yoga and so the Hatha yoga system incorporates all of this. So this is a new term of the last twenty to thirty years. Dividing asana apart from the other practices and then stylizing, naming and teaching in classes. This is a new trend. Asana in ashtaunga yoga in early times was primarily sitting postures. Then in the practices of the tantrics, asana became more developed and in the flow of kundalini energy, the body naturally will move in different poses to bring forward this kundalini energy. Thus the yogis realized that this kundalini energy is requiring the body to move into different twists and poses to bring this energy forward. And so they decided we will imitate these poses and also they watched the animals and they say how the animals stretched and moved to move the vital force, the life force of the body and to keep it strong and vibrant. And so they began to develop these different postures through these observations. The first ones to develop these were the tantric yogis and they were developed over many thousands of years in different parts of India.
Then as the Hatha yogis in middle ages broke away from the tantrics, they began to put more and more emphasis on the asana practice. And in the Raja yoga which is another name for the ashtaunga yoga, the asana practice began to grow in magnitude also. It was catching on between all the different schools of yoga. Now in the strictly jinana yoga practice, asana was never developed so those yogis who came from the Vedantic tradition, that is out of the tradition of the Vedas through Samkhya and many of those strictly vedic practitioners maintained themselves without asana. They stuck to the practice of jinana yoga and in jinana yoga, their approach is to simply drop all of one’s self-delusion and realize the truth here and now. Why create great systems in the mind? Why do so many practices? Simply know the truth; know that you are the eternal one, the eternal divine being. This is the approach of the jinana yogis. They call it the direct path because they are very direct in their approach; they don’t want to hear about anything else. No pranayama, no asana, no subtle body, no kundalini, nothing, just you are the Self. Drop all other thoughts. So this is their approach and out of the vedic tradition this became a strong approach, jinana yoga. But also out of yogic tradition, jinana yoga became to emerge as a tradition of its own. Those people who were prone to jinana yoga, they wanted to inquire as to the nature of Self, realize the nature of Self, go directly to the point. But the problem with jinana yoga though this is very direct and for those whose minds are very developed and ready for this, it can be very good, but still the body is the vessel, it is the temple of the mind in this world and it cannot be ignored to sit and rot. It must be utilized and cared for and there are no teachings in jinana yoga for this. Also there are no teachings to make the mind magnanimous. One can become so focused on one’s own enlightenment, one can forget the condition of the human society, of the living beings. One forgets that one lives in all beings and the being of all beings is one’s own and the joy of all being is one’s own. This knowledge, this expansive magnanimity of mind can get lost concentrating only on one’s own enlightenment.
So in this way, jinana yoga has great merit but it is problematic for some people. Jinana yoga also was adopted in the Theravada system of Buddhism. Buddhists and Hindu alike took the yogic practices. Yoga is not Hinduism nor is it Buddhism but Buddhist and Hindu alike who wanted the real truth, took the practices to realize the supreme, to attain this Self-realization. They took the disciplines and practices of yoga. So there are those who just perform rituals in Hinduism and they are worshipping this goddess and that god and there are so many things in their mind, so many rituals, so many practices, so many prescribed functions and they do not practice yoga and there are those in Buddhism who are very involved in the practice of Buddhism but they do not practice yoga. But in both there are those who want this deep esoteric knowledge and so they take it to the laboratory of their own minds and their own experience and those individuals apply the principles and practice the teachings of yoga. And even in Christianity before there was any knowledge of these teachings of the East, yoga has been practiced by esoteric persons practicing contemplative meditation, practicing bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, in their great love for Mother Mary or Christ.
In bhakti yoga, one sees the divine entity in a personal form and it is said that of all the yogas, bhakti yoga is the most simple form to follow and the most effective for most people because it engages the heart, the passions of a person, the love of a person. It engages not just the mind and intellect as jinana yoga does but it engages the passions, the feelings, the heart. Bhakti yoga, one’s ishtadeva, one’s focus, the divine consciousness takes form. In jinana yoga, many times it is a void, a concept that cannot be understood in the mind, an abstraction, but in bhakti yoga, this abstraction is given the personalized form. One sees one’s gurudeva, one’s ishtadeva. Lord appears to the yogi or the yogini in a personalized form and many times it is due to this grace of appearance of the divine entity in a personalized form that a person will enter the path of bhakti yoga because they feel their heart has been touched in such a deep way. Never before have they had their heart touched in such a deep way. And perhaps they are meditating and suddenly there is appearance of a divine form in their meditation or their gurudeva comes in their meditation and they see the truth, the beatitude, the splendor of the supreme in this personalized form.
Lord Krishna taught Arjuna on the battlefield of the Mahabharata and when he taught Arjuna, Arjuna saw Lord Krishna as his friend and companion but he asked Lord Krishna because he had great love for him. He knew him in physical form but he knew he was sadguru, he was more than an ordinary person though he appeared to be in ordinary form and he was their leader, he said, “Lord Krishna, I want to know you truly. I want to realize your supreme form and please take this veil from my eyes and show me your true form. I see you here as my friend, as my leader, as my one to whom I look up but I do not see your true form so please show me your true form.” So Lord Krishna, hearing this sincere plea of Arjuna revealed his true form to Arjuna and then he saw that there was in fact a vast consciousness, a bright and brilliant light more brilliant than a thousand suns opened before Arjuna and he could not bear the brightness of Lord Krishna. It was so bright, so intense, he had to say, “Please, please, I cannot bear to see your true form,” in which worlds were being born and worlds were being consumed, millions of beings and species were dying and millions were being born and the brilliance of the light stunned the mind. He could not exist in the presence of such vast consciousness, such vast intelligence. And so Lord Krishna again took this divine form and contained it in the simple form of an ordinary man and Arjuna could see, “Though he looks to be my leader and my friend, he is not that; he is not simply this ordinary form for I have realized what is behind that form.” So the bhakti yogi has this experience of the Lord appearing in the simple form of a human being or even it can be an animal. In some cultures, there are totems and animals that Lord will appear in the form of. But for the bhakti yogi, Lord has graced them to see the true form to one degree or another that is behind the ordinary form and thus their hearts are stirred and their passion is stirred, by the grace of the sadguru, by the grace of Parama Purusha, their hearts are opened because his little bit of him is real to him and associated with a very ordinary form so that the mind, the ordinary mind can relate. So the path of bhakti yoga is very, very beneficial to many, many people because it is simple and one practices in an ordinary way and when one hears beautiful devotional music it brings the mind to another level. When one hears stories of great devotion and love, of the beauty of Parama Purusha, one’s mind is transported by these stories. So bhakti yoga involves the hearing of bhajan, devotional songs, and kiirtan, chanting, the use of story, the use of meditation, the use of the development and the encouragement of love, the eating of prasad, sacred food, all different manner of devotional practices so that the bhakti feels, “Lord is with me every moment. He is my nearest and dearest and I am always with him and everything I do I am doing to please my Lord, to serve my Lord,” and life becomes a dance of love for the bhakti yogi, life is a dance of love. It is the sweetest of paths.
In tantra, jinana, bhakti and karma are all pursued simultaneously because in the simultaneous pursuit of all of these, maximum development of mind is there. So when one develops knowledge to try to bring the mind to understand, “I am that eternal being, I am my Self,” When one develops love and devotion, “Oh, Lord, you are my all and everything, how can I survive without you? Reveal your beauty to me,” when one develops selfless service to living beings, an attitude of compassion, one has only loving kindness for all beings and one sees all as expressions of one’s own Self. This endless caring seeing all is done by the divine, all that is given is given by the divine, all that is received is received by the divine, and the act of giving and receiving is also the divine. In this knowledge, one gets free from smallness of mind. So these three to train the understanding of mind, to open the heart, and to rid the mind of narrowness through living one’s life in compassionate service to all beings, this provides a base for Brahma sadhana, for your sadhana practice, and asana practice which has become so very popular today provides a very good base for the care of the temple of the body. The pranayama enhances the mind to go deep, though if one is to do kiirtana and raise the sattvic emotions, the same effect will be there on the mind as doing the pranayama but with much less danger and much more sweetness.
So you can see the practices of yoga are vast encompassing all areas of human life, physical development, mental development and spiritual development, all to transmute one’s life from a path of suffering to a path of deep joy and divine union for in every human life there is great suffering. There is great joy but there is great suffering. Though people may seem very confident and on top of the world, no human life is without its pain and suffering. A person may think for awhile, “I am above it all. I have won the game. I have no suffering in my life,” but they cannot sustain that life. Sooner or later, something will go wrong and they will crash down. So life has always suffering because there is the clinging, the needing, the desiring and that to which the people cling is transitory. It is governed by time. It changes and fades. So this creates a fundamental condition of suffering because even when you achieve what you want today, tomorrow it will pass away, leaving the dilemma that you cannot find eternal happiness in this which you achieve in this world.
The ancient yogis, realizing that this was the case, developed all of these yogas, all of these techniques for the development of mind to solve this fundamental dilemma, this fundamental condition of human life. They saw that the needing, the grasping was only suffering. Even the sweetness of what brings you pleasure is tomorrow’s pain. They saw this human condition and they realized there must be a way to resolve this, to find peace, to find happiness that is lasting and so those yogis who went deep within, they developed this path of yoga. They found the way to the source of the restlessness and suffering in human life. They found out what the source of this pain is and they found ways to resolve it by developing physical, mental and spiritual approaches to enhance life of living beings. They found when they did deep self-inquiry that the source of this suffering in human life is the separation, the sense of individuality, of separateness from the whole. Due to this feeling of separateness, there is always a desire to solve a restlessness, to solve this separateness, to find wholeness. And whether that wholeness is sought in the clinging to material wealth to bring oneself to safety or to loved ones with whom one desires to merge one’s mind and heart or if it is sought in power, name, fame, always to become strong and dominant in all of the ways that human beings seek, they seek to resolve this core difficulty of separation, this feeling that I am separate, that I am alone, that I am small in a vast universe alone, fragile. The yogis realized that unless this fundamental difficulty of human life is directly addressed, there can be no true happiness, no lasting happiness, no deep peace in the mind. And so they set the science of yoga to address this most important, most core, most fundamental dilemma of human existence, how to find real happiness, how to resolve the pain of separation, the core pain at the very heart of all other pains. They realized the identification of Self as limited, as confined and defined by the limitations, a physical body, a position in the world, so on and so on, these limitations, these definitions that confine the definition of Self to a narrow and small definition, they are the very source of the dilemma. And when they are unwoven, when one relinquishes belief in one’s limitation, when one relinquishes belief in one’s smallness, when one sees the interwoven connectedness of all life and the wholeness of being, when one realizes all this world exists within and there is no separation and that what one is is eternal, pure, immortal being, divine, sublime, when one realizes this true origin of one’s existence, this most exquisite beloved Self, then identities that are lesser fall away and one is free from bondage. The bondage is in the mind. The bondage is one’s beliefs in one’s nature as limited. Yoga is the science to unbind that which is bound.
All of these different paths and techniques are all for this single purpose, but you are not simply an intellect and ideas. You are also feelings, your nature is love. So how can Parama Purusha leave the living beings in ignorance? Parama Purusha is omniscient, omnipotent, cosmic entity. And so in the practice of bhakti yoga, Parama Purusha appears as the sadguru, as the different deities in one’s mind to show the path to liberation, to dance the dance of love with the children of this world until lost in that love, they see no difference of “I” and “Thou” and dissolve their separateness and loneliness in this unconditional love. Then, like air trapped in a bubble that is burst it is free into its own nature, the dissolution in the beloved occurs.
For the jinani yogi, the mind freed of all limitation, only the Self is known and the mind dissolving back into the heart, love, truth and blessedness become one. For the karma yogi, the one serving, the one served and the act of serving become one and the mind stunned in this union can think no more. One established in this knowledge, this realization of one’s true nature lives in this world but not in duality for all that is, is seen like a play of images, like a flickering of imposed forms on the substantive nature of existence. So the yogis established in knowledge of the Self, see only the unchanging Brahma, the eternal nature of being through all creation. There is no duality, no separation; all is the one eternal Self and thus the joy and the sorrow become both flickers on the surface of eternal being.
Yoga is the path to this realization, the path of liberation from bondage and suffering. If you want to do something important with your life, if you want to do something really important with your life, realize the eternal Self, realize your own inner freedom. Become whole, unbound by time and space, unbound by definition. This is the greatest achievement of your life and you will do the greatest service to living beings by moving to this realization, for you open the pathway to release from bondage and suffering by your own realization. It is the greatest service you can do for living beings.