"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mantra : The First Initiation In Tantra



Tantric practice begins with kaula tantra, and kaula tantra, in turn, begins with doing mantra japa in a right-hand (or purely meditative) manner. Then, after a student has practiced this standard form of mantra meditation for a while, he or she is initiated into the tantric method which includes many additional elements. In the tantric tradition the mantra is not simply an object for focusing the mind: the mantra is the illuminator of the mind. It is the body of the Divine Force in the form of sound. It is the living Divinity, and in the first level of practice the mind, body, and senses are employed to serve it. Constant repetition of mantra charges our being with divine consciousness, eventually transforming our egocentric awareness into divine awareness. And when at the culmination of our sadhana we become one with the power of the mantra, the gap between individual and universal consciousness is filled.We are no longer a drop in the ocean; we become the ocean.

In the tantric tradition the anthropomorphic (personified) form of the Divine is secondary to the mantric form. In fact the anthropomorphic form is merely a means of apprehending the mantric form.Tantric philosophy asserts that there is only one primordial life-force, known as Sri Vidya or Sri Mata (the Divine Mother). Just as the sun emits numberless rays, so do an infinite number of mantras emerge from the Divine Mother, and through systematic practice of these mantras Her imperceptible primordial force becomes so concentrated that a practitioner experiences it. When this happens it is called darshana - the direct vision of the invisible,absolute reality.

Tantrics do not place much value on anthropomorphic gods and goddesses.They tell versions of the following story to illustrate how ridiculous (and fruitless) it is to project human characteristics onto God.


There was once a brahmin priest who earned his livelihood by performing religious services for the people in his village. He was known for his devotion to the god Vishnu, and people regarded him as holy man. Among his hundreds of followers was a shepherd who wanted to see God - even though he had no idea of what God was.His sheep did not require much attention, so he had plenty of time to visit the priest and barrage him with questions about God. "Why does Vishnu have four arms?" he would ask. "Why does he always sleep on a snake? Why does he have a lotus growing from his navel? Why does his wife just sit next to him without doing anything? If Vishnu is God, then who is Shiva? Which of them is the most powerful? Is there any God higher than Vishnu and Shiva? Which kind of God is the most powerful and kind to human beings?"

The priest gave the shepherd all kinds of philosophical answers,even explaining the symbolic meaning of the different limbs,weapons, and other characteristics of the gods, but the shepherd was so dense he could not grasp any of these theological answers. Finally,in frustration, the priest thought of how to explain God in a way that made sense to the simple man. He convinced the shepherd that God looks like a sheep - the healthiest and most beautiful sheep ever known. He then instructed the shepherd to go into the forest and pray to this Sheep God and not to eat, drink, or sleep until He appeared. Delighted, the shepherd did exactly as the priest instructed.

On the third day, God came. But he looked like Vishnu, not like a sheep. "I am pleased with your devotion," Vishnu said. "Tell me, what boon do you wish from me?" 

Startled, the shepherd asked, "Who are you? You are beautiful,but what are you doing here in the forest?" 

"I am God," Vishnu replied. "You have been praying to me."
"God looks like a sheep," the shepherd retorted. 

"You are a fake.Don't waste my time."
So Vishnu left. An hour later the Sheep God came. He too said,
"I am pleased with your devotion. Tell me, what boon do you wish from me?"

This time the shepherd was overwhelmed. He got up and greeted God, yet he wondered how a sheep could speak in human language and suspected that he was being tricked again. 

So he said, "You look like God, but why are you speaking in the human
tongue?" 

Immediately God emitted a magnificent bleat. Then he said,
"That is how I usually speak, but unless I speak your language, how can you understand?"

The shepherd was still a bit skeptical, so he asked God to come with him so his priest could verify that he was really God.

"Wonderful," God replied. "Lead the way and I will follow."
"You might change your mind," the shepherd replied. "Let me take you by the ear."

So it was that the shepherd arrived at the home of the priest leading God by the ear. "Look, sir!" he called. "God is here!" 

Annoyed, the priest came out and shouted at the shepherd. "It's a sheep, idiot! You have lost your mind."

The shepherd began praying, "O God, help my priest to understand you."

The priest was also praying: "O Lord, help this foolish man to understand you."

As they prayed, God appeared simultaneously as Vishnu to the priest and as a sheep to the shepherd. At least, that's how they perceived it.

When the priest fell at the feet of Vishnu the shepherd thought he was prostrating to the Sheep, so he too prostrated.Both were happy because they had seen God. They were grateful to each other for a few hours - but by the next day they had resumed their old habits.

As this story shows, in order to bring the concept of Divinity closer to our daily experience we humans tend to superimpose mundane characteristics onto God, characteristics that are compatible with our personal preferences and beliefs. In most religions, for example, God seems to have little to do but reward those who worship Him and punish those who don't. In the Puranas there is a story about how the god Indra became furious when people stopped worshiping him, so he visited them with torrential rainstorms. In fact the anthropomorphic gods seem to have all the same problems humans do. Their egos collide; they get into wars; they become infatuated with others' wives (sometimes even resorting to rape); and they are punished by gods of a higher rank. Such gods, tantrics maintain, are simply figments of our imagination.Their behavior shows that they are not God.

The Sanskrit word for God is Ishvara, which means "the force capable of doing what She wishes to do, capable of not doing what He does not wish to do, and capable of undoing whatever so far has been done." God is the omniscient,omnipotent, and omnipresent primordial force endowed with the unrestricted power of will. This Divine Being, according to tantrics, permeates every aspect of creation. What prevents us from experiencing its presence is our own ignorance,which stands like a wall between individual and universal consciousness. The tantric method of mantra sadhana is one of the surest ways to demolish that wall and experience God the way She is.

The key element in practicing mantra in a tantric manner is to establish a personal relationship with its power. This takes place only after intense practices resulting in the tantric adepts having a direct, intuitive experience of the ishta deva,the personified form of the mantra they are practicing.This form is the actual materialization of the mantric energy, not a product of imagination. The ancients literally saw the personified form of the mantra, just as we see tangible objects in our daily life, and when they described the physical counterpart of the mantric energy in minute detail, the vision served to open the way for dedicated practitioners to have darshana, or a glimpse, of the mantra. This is how the concept of deities developed in tantra.

Cultivating love and respect for the mantra is more important than concentration on the mantra - but establishing a relationship with something which is solely auditory,and therefore merely conceptual, is difficult for most people.It is not difficult, however, to feel the presence of the Divine when the sense of sight is involved.We are accustomed to experiencing shape, color, and texture, and the personified forms of the deities described by adepts are accompanied by all these familiar elements of cognition. We can relate to them.Thus in tantric practice mantra becomes a tool not only for focusing the mind but also for filling the mind with the grace of the deity. We can now cultivate a personal relationship with the deity corresponding to the mantra we are practicing convincing ourselves intellectually that the mantra and the deity are one and the same and that we are communicating with Her with each repetition. This is where an understanding of tantric metaphysics becomes important.

Every religion perceives God in a distinct form, and if we have been raised in a particular religion we have a natural preference for that form over any other. Practicing a mantra in a tantric manner, however, involves meditating on the form of a deity, and this can conflict with our religious upbringing. So it is best therefore not to undertake such a practice until we understand tantric metaphysics, which describe the interrelationship of sound and light.Modern science and technology have made it relatively easy for us to understand how light signals are translated into sound and vice versa. The next step is to understand how sound and light relate with the energy that transcends the physical realm. When we grasp this we will understand how a mantra can have a personified form, we will comprehend the inner meaning of this form, and we will realize that meditating on it in conjunction with reciting its mantra has nothing to do with religion.

In tantrism every mantra or group of mantras is associated with a specific deity - the deity is the visual form of the mantra; the mantra is the auditory form of the deity.The vibratory patterns of the mantras are associated with different levels of forces both within us and within the cosmos,and the deities are the archetypes of those forces. The light of the Divine itself manifests in the form of mantra. Thus each mantra is a focus of light, and intense meditation on a mantra enables us to see it as light in the personified form of the deity. Knowing what can be known about the form of the deity that corresponds to the mantra helps us intensify our feelings during the practice.

The medium of communication at the level of feeling is blocked if the deity is beyond our reach. Some of us can override our cultural conditioning, but most of us cannot.And so to overcome the sense of separateness caused by ignorance of our oneness with the Divine, tantrics include complementary practices in their mantra sadhana.Two major components of such practices are prana pratistha and nyasa.

-Will Continue in the Next Article-

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