The Science of Liberation
by Dada Vedaprajinananda
Tantra is the original spiritual science first taught
in India more than 7000 years ago. Tan is a Sanskrit root which
signifies "expansion", and Tra signifies "liberation."
Thus, Tantra is the practice which elevates human beings in a process
in which their minds are expanded. It leads human beings from the
imperfect to the perfect, from the crude to the subtle, from bondage
The development of Tantra is intertwined with the development of
civilization in ancient India. During the time when Tantra emerged
as an important spiritual practice, India was passing through a
crucial historical period. In the Northwest nomadic tribes from
central Asia, the Aryans, began to enter the country which they
named Bharata Varsha (the land which nourishes and expands human
beings). Although the Aryans were a nomadic warrior culture, amidst
them there were certain sages known as Rishis who began to ask the
basic questions about the origin and destiny of the universe.
These sages presented oral teachings, which were later compiled
in books known as The Vedas. In these teachings they put forward
the idea of a Supreme Consciousness, advancing beyond the previous
concepts of a world in which many deities were thought to animate
the forces of nature. They also developed a system of prayer and
worship in order to enter into a relationship with this Supreme
Consciousness, but their practices were mostly of an external, ritualistic
In India the Aryans encountered and began to fight with the indigenous
peoples - the Austrics, Mongolians, and Dravidians. They considered
these races to be inferior to them, and in the epic tales of India
such as The Ramayana, these races are depicted as monkeys and demons.
However inferior these races were considered to be, the Aryans were
very much interested in the spiritual practices which the indigenous
peoples of India were practicing. The spiritual approach of the
non-Aryans was Tantra and it differed from the Vedic practices of
the Aryans because it was fundamentally an introversive process
rather than an external ritual. Many Aryans began to learn the Tantric
system of spiritual development, and later Vedic books were influenced
During this epoch of warfare between the Aryans and non-Aryans,
a great personality was born. His name was Sadashiva which means
"He who is always absorbed in consciousness and one whose only
vow of existence is to promote the all-around welfare of living
beings". Sadashiva, also known as Shiva, was a great spiritual
preceptor or Guru. Although Tantra was practiced before his birth,
it was he who for the first time gave humanity a systematic presentation
Not only was he a great spiritual teacher, but he was also the founder
of the Indian system of music and dance, which is why he is sometimes
known as Nataraj (the Lord of the Dance). Shiva was also the founder
of Indian medicine, and presented a system known as Vaedyak Shastra.
In the social sphere too Shiva had an important role to play. He
introduced a system of marriage in which both partners accepted
a mutual responsibility for the success of the marriage, irregardless
of caste or community. Shiva himself was of mixed parentage, and
by marrying an Aryan princess he helped to unite the warring factions
of India and gave them a more universalistic social viewpoint. Because
of these social innovations Shiva has been called the father of
Shiva's greatest contribution to the birth of civilization was to
introduce the concept of dharma. Dharma is a Sanskrit word which
signifies the "innate characteristic" of something. What
is the innate characteristic and specialty of humans? Shiva explained
that a human being wants more than the pleasure provided by sensory
gratification. He said that the human being is different from plants
and animals because what he or she is striving for is absolute peace.
This is the goal of human life, and Shiva's spiritual teachings
were aimed at enabling any human being to attain this goal.
Like most ancient teachings, Shiva's ideas were first taught in
an oral form, and only later were they transcribed into books. Shiva's
wife, Parvati, used to ask him various questions regarding the spiritual
science. Shiva replied to these questions, and the compilation of
these questions and answers are known as the Tantra Shastra (Tantric
scriptures). There are two types of Tantric scriptures. The principles
of Tantra are found in books known as Nigama while the practices
of Tantra are contained in books known as Agama. Some of these ancient
books have been lost and others are indecipherable due to their
having been written in a code language designed to keep the secrets
of Tantra away from the uninitiated; thus the ideas of Tantra have
never been clearly explained.
In his commentaries on the Tantra Shastra and in his book about
the life and teachings of Shiva, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti has presented
some of the basic ideas found in the ancient teachings. One of the
most important elements in Tantra is the relationship of Guru and
disciple. Guru means "one who can dispel darkness" and
Shiva explained that for spiritual success there must be a good
teacher and a good disciple.
Shiva explained that there are three major categories of Guru. The
first type is a teacher who gives a little bit of knowledge but
does not follow up the lessons. That is, he or she may leave and
the disciple is then left alone without guidance. The second or
middle level is one who teaches and then guides the disciple for
a little while but not for the complete period needed by the disciple
to reach the final goal. The best type of teacher according to Tantra
is one who gives a teaching and then makes continued efforts to
see that the disciple follows the instructions and finally realizes
the ultimate state of human perfection.
The qualities of this highest guru are further enumerated in the
Tantra Shastra. The guru is one who is tranquil, can control his
mind, is humble and modestly dressed. He earns his living in a proper
way and is a family man. He is well versed in metaphysical philosophy
and established in the art of meditation. He is one who knows the
theory and practice of imparting the teaching of meditation. He
loves and guides his disciples. Such a guru is called Mahakaola
But even if there is a great teacher, there must also be someone
who can absorb his lessons. The Tantra Shastras describe three different
categories of disciples. The first type is compared to a glass which
is placed in the water with the mouth facing downward. While it
is in the water it appears to be full but if it is lifted out of
the water it becomes empty. This is like a student who practices
well in the presence of the teacher, but after the teacher leaves,
the student discontinues the practice and cannot apply the teachings
to his or her every day life. The second type of disciple is like
a glass placed in the water at an angle. It also appears to be full
when it is immersed, but when it is raised out of the water it loses
most of the water. This disciple is one who practices in the presence
of the teacher but after a while he or she practices less and less
and finally discontinues the spiritual way of life. The third kind
of disciple is the best of all and is symbolized by a glass which
is immersed in the water in an upright position. While in the water
it is completely full and when it is taken out of the water it remains
full. This kind of student practices in the presence of the master
and continues the practice even if he or she is physically separated
from the teacher.
The relationship of guru and disciple is very important and is a
key feature of Tantra. The path of spirituality has been described
as being as thin as a razor's edge. At any moment it is possible
to deviate from the path and then it is very difficult to reach
liberation. The guru is always there to love and guide the disciple
at all stages of the practice.
Shiva was a Mahakaola, but after his death there was a lack of teachers
of the same stature and Tantra fell into decline. Some of the teachings
were lost and others were deformed. Today Tantra is shrouded in
mystery and there are many misconceptions about it. To understand
the source of these misconceptions it is important to examine the
5 Ms. These are spiritual practices beginning with the letter M.
When Shiva first taught he gave teaching according to the development
of the student. He saw that certain people were at a level in which
they were dominated by animal passions and others were at a higher
stage of development. He gave different practices depending on the
qualities of the disciple.
The first M is known as Madya. It has two meanings. One meaning
of madya is "wine". For those people who were dominated
by physical instincts Shiva instructed them to continue drinking
wine, but he showed them how to control the habit and then finally
leave it. For those at a higher level of development Madya has another
meaning, it refers not to wine but to a divine nectar. Each month
the pineal gland secretes a fluid known as amrta. A yogi who has
purified his mind and practices fasting can taste the fluid and
experience the profound effect of the fluid on his whole being,
which has been described as a state of bliss. Thus, there is both
a crude or material interpretation of Madya and a subtle or spiritual
understanding of the term.
Another of the five Ms is Mamsa. One meaning of Mamsa is meat. For
those who ate much meat, Shiva told them to continue to take it
with a spiritual idea and finally to control the urge and quit the
habit. For the subtle practitioner of Tantra, mamsa refers to the
tongue and the spiritual practice of controlling one's speech.
Matsya, the third of the Ms, refers to fish. For the physically
minded practitioner Shiva applied the same instruction regarding
fish as he did with wine and meat. In spiritual or subtle Tantra
the "fish" refers to two subtle nerves which run up the
body, starting at the base of the spine and crisscrossing each other
and ending in the two nostrils. These nerves are known as the ida
and pingala. By the science of breath control, Pranayama, the currents
of the nerves are controlled and the mind becomes calm for meditation.
This is the Matsya of the spiritual practitioner.
Another of the Ms is Mudra. Mudra has only a spiritual significance
and there is no physical or crude practice associated with it. Mudra
means to maintain contact with those who help us to make spiritual
progress and to avoid the company of those who might harm our development.
The last of the Ms, Maethuna, is the one which has caused the most
confusion regarding Tantra. Maethuna means union. In its crude sense
it means sexual union. For those who were dominated by the sexual
instinct Shiva told that the sex act must be done with a spiritual
idea and that gradually this instinct must be controlled. For the
more advanced practitioners, those who were practicing subtle or
spiritual Tantra, Shiva taught another practice of Maethuna. In
this case "union" refers to the union of individual consciousness
with Supreme Consciousness. In this case the spiritual energy of
the human being, lying dormant at the base of the spine, is raised
until it reaches the highest energy center (near the pineal gland),
causing the spiritual aspirant to experience union with the Supreme.
The Ananda Marga yoga of today is based on the spiritual and subtle
interpretation of the 5 Ms.
One of the distinctive aspects of subtle Tantra is the introversive
method of meditation. The concept of mantra is of key importance
in the Tantra idea of meditation. "Man" means "mind"
and "tra" means "that which liberates", thus
mantra is a particular vibration which liberates the mind.
The ancient yogis experimented with sound vibration and began to
utilize special sounds which they found useful in the process of
expansion of mind. They found that there are seven principle psycho-spiritual
energy centers in the human body. They further learned that there
are 50 sounds which emanate from the centers. These sounds are found
in the alphabet of Sanskrit, and certain combinations of the sounds
were used in ancient processes of concentration and meditation.
During Tantric meditation the meditator is concentrating on the
mantra and trying to keep only one sound vibration (and its associated
idea) in his or her mind. Constant repetition of the mantra leads
a practitioner to higher states of consciousness.
Not any sound can be chosen at random for use in meditation, rather
there are certain qualities which the mantra must possess in order
for it to be effective. First of all the mantra must be pulsative,
that is, there will be two syllables which are repeated in synchronization
with the inhalation and exhalation of breathing. In addition the
mantra must have an idea associated with it. The general idea of
the mantras used in meditation is that "I am one with the Supreme
Consciousness". The mantra thus helps the individual to associate
his or her own individual consciousness with the totality of consciousness
in the universe.
The final characteristics of the mantra is that it must create a
certain vibration which acts as a link between the individual vibration
of the meditator and the vibration of the Supreme Consciousness.
As people are not all alike, the mantras which are used in meditation
are also not all alike. The meditation teacher chooses a mantra
which matches the particular vibration of the individual and can
link this individual vibration with the universal rhythm of the
Tantra is more than just a collection of meditation or yoga techniques.
There is a particular world-view associated with it. According to
Tantra, struggle is the essence of life. The effort to struggle
against all obstacles and move from the imperfect to the perfect
is the true spirit of Tantra.
In this movement from imperfection to perfection, there are three
basic stages an individual passes through. In the first stage, the
person is dominated by animal instincts, but in the next stage he
or she gains control over these instincts and reaches the state
of true human development. Finally, by constant struggle and effort,
a state is reached where the human being becomes godlike. Tantra
thus has an optimistic worldview. It shows how each individual is
moving in a cosmic circle from a state of less developed consciousness
to the most highly developed status.