PART 3 - THE WISDOM OF TANTRA
by Dennis Gaumond
This is part 3 in our continued exploration of the world's mystical traditions. Needless to say, these traditions are very complex and even a lifetime of study and devotion would not familiarize one with all of the nuances and subtleties of Tantra or any other tradition. These writings are meant only as a brief introduction or overview.
THE WISDOM OF TANTRA
One body of mystical knowledge associated with Hinduism is calleed the Tantra. These days it is best known for its views that the sex act can be a powerful enlightening tool, but Tantra is actually much more than that. It is a fusion of many disciplines including; astronomy, astrology, cosmogenesis, cosmic evolution, mathematics, geometry, chemistry and physics, even at sub-atomic levels. As we'll see, much of what Tantric science says is very similar to what modern physics has to say. The main difference is that Tantric knowledge was based on a mystical, metaphysical understanding of the nature of reality, rather than one that was gained using the empirical method.
The word 'tantra' derives from a Sanskrit term with no direct English equivalent, but which approximates 'web', 'weave' or 'continuum'. It is now thought to mean 'method of going beyond'. The Tantra contains great wisdom regarding the healing arts - tried and true methods by which we can willfully move toward enlightenment. Concepts such as yoga, mantra, ayurvedic medicine and others, grew largely from this body of knowledge.
The history of Tantra goes back several millenia and the oldest texts are thought to be Indo-Aryan, dating back to the Indus valley of 3000 BC. There are 108 anonymous texts, the most recent being only a few hundred years old, which are most often associated with the Hindu god, Shiva. Within this vast body of information are 112 different methods of meditation, some of which include the sex act. The oldest forms of Tantra were non-religious, non-dogmatic, based on experiential knowledge. Often throughout history, it was considered to be heretical by the religious establishment.
Tantra suggests that all manifestations in the universe are the result of male/female dualism, giving rise to all the illusions of duality or polarity, ie, good/bad, light/dark, yin/yang, right/wrong, etc. The two components of the dualism are distinct yet inseparable aspects of the totality of truth.
The nature of the male aspect, called Purusha, is said to embody cosmic consciousness and is more static. It is associated with the god, Shiva. The nature of the female aspect called Prakriti, on the other hand, is said to be kinetic, corresponding to nature and the endless cycles of creation and dissolution. It is associated with the goddess, Shakti.
Prakriti consists of three forces, called gunas, which are responsible for the existence of everything in the universe. Two of these three forces are also seen as male (Rajas) and female (Tamas), with the remaining one a neutral, catalytic, balancing force (Sattva). The male Rajas force is positive, kinetic, creative and electric. The female Tamas force is negative, resistant, destructive and magnetic. These three forces are also distinct yet inseparable.
Tantra's version of cosmogenesis, the creation of the universe, is relevant to our discussion here. When the three gunas are in a state of complete balance or equilibrium, it is called the 'Mahabindu', or 'the great point'. Evolution begins when this balance is disturbed by Purusha, the universal consciousness, causing the point to unfold into the vastness of the universe. The three forces then go through a constant process of uniting and separating in an effort to restore equilibrium.
In all manifestations of energy, the three forces are present to varying degrees, with one force dominating. In gross matter, for example, it is said that the dominant force is Tamas. Energy cannot be lost or destroyed, but can only change form or transmute. All of these changes occur within a whole that remains unchanged. Thus the sum of all effects equals the sum of all causes, a concept that is very similar to modern physics' principal of 'superposition'. When all of these manifestations reach equilibrium, at maximum expansion, they begin to implode or condense back to Mahabindu, the great point. Then the process starts again.
We can see that this line of thinking is very similar to the idea of a 'Big Bang', which modern science has embraced. Measurements of the distances between cosmic bodies have shown modern scientists that the universe is expanding. Many of these scientists, including Einstein, speculate that it will eventually reach a state of balance or equilibrium, at which point there will be no further transmutation of energy and, thus, no time, no motion, no heat, no light, etc. The universe will then contract in a process that science has named the 'Big Crunch'.
As well as dealing with the macro-world, Tantra has a school of thought known as the 'Nyaya Vaiseshika', which deals with the micro-world. While acknowledging that the smallest material particles have no real form and are only points of energy, Tantra identifies four types of atoms corresponding to four types of matter; earth, water, air and fire. It also recognizes an etheric, non-material/non-atomic substance, which permeates the entire universe and serves as a conduit for sound or energy waves. Thus, there is no such thing as a true vacuum. Again we can see dramatic parallels to the postulations of modern physics.
Tantra places a great deal of importance on the power of sound, (as do other mystical schools of thought such as the Qabala). According to Tantra, all objects including non-material objects, have their own innate sound, some of which are audible and some of which are beyond human sensory capacity. In other words, all things in the universe are manifestations of energy, each with their own vibratory frequency. The manifestation of matter is considered to be the third step in the process of creation, preceded by sound. The following quote can be found in the Hindu Vedas, "In the beginning was Brahman with whom was the Word. And the Word is Brahman."This passage is clearly referring to the idea that sound, here represented by 'Word' or 'vaikhari'(Sanskrit), is a major component of creation. How similar this quote is to the opening lines of the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God."
Science has also shown the relationship between sound and matter. Back in the 1800's a man named Ernst Chladni, and more recently a man named Hans Jenny performed experiments with sand on a thin sheet of metal. When the vibration of sound was applied to the sheet, the grains of sand arranged themselves into a pattern. The same note always produces the same pattern - the higher the note, the more complex the pattern. Jenny's branch of science, known as cymatics, has demonstrated the relationship between form and vibration in many ways. If one takes a box filled with water in which dust particles are floating in suspension, and then introduces a vibration throughout the box, the particles will collect into symmetrical patterns with a crystalline effect. Recent experiments have shown that when sound is introduced to quantities of water, oil, dust or other things, it produces shapes and patterns that are often found in nature. In other words, vibration introduces order to a random collection of particles.
Tantra recognizes that sound has great power, including the power to heal the human body. It has given us a wealth of knowledge about the relationship between the human body and the energy of life that is called 'prana'. We access this prana through vortices or points of contact called 'chakras'. This pranic life force then flows through the body along invisible channels, meridians or conduits called 'nadi'.
The next newsletter will introduce the great body of wisdom that comes from the Buddhist traditions.