patanjali

Introduction to Tantra: Part 2, The History of Tantra

The History of Tantra

Tantra as a designated practice arose within India in the first few centuries of the common era. It prospered into the medieval period when Yoga started to become dominated more by the practices of Haṭha Yoga, which will be explained next.

The precise arrival of Tantra is difficult to fully know since much of the practice remained secret to non-initiates throughout its entire history. It may have existed much earlier and threads of it or its prototypes can be seen earlier. It is clear that Tantra represented the emergence of a kind of respect for the folk and indigenous practices of the rural and village people in India. Its roots are in practices which are incredibly ancient, but which would have been considered primitive or savage by the dominant priestly hierarchies. The golden age of Tantra in India thus reflects a time where the authority and power of these priestly classes were being challenged.

This can even be seen in some of the names and stories of the most famous Siddhas, or accomplished Tantric adepts.

Matsyendranātha is said to be the founder of the Kaula lineage, one of the lineages that remained the most distant from the Vedic authorities. He was said to be a fisherman who was swallowed by a fish one day. The fish brought him to the bottom of the ocean where he heard Śiva and Devī (The Goddess, a name for Śakti) explaining the details of Tantric Yoga. He used this knowledge to survive inside the belly of the fish until he returned to land and perfected his Yoga and taught disciples. His name means “Fisherman Lord.” He had many disciples, which included householders and renunciates.

His most famous and renowned disciple was Gorakṣanātha. Matsyendra was traveling through a village and a woman approached him, telling him she had been unable to conceive a child. She asked if he would provide her with a blessing that would allow her to do so. He handed her a seed and told her to plant it and went on his way. She thought he must have been fooling her and so threw the seed away into a heap of cow dung. When Matsyendra returned some time later and inquired after her son, she told him what she had done. He went to the dung heap and pulled out a perfectedly healthy baby boy and told her that if she didn’t want him, he would take him to be his disciple. He became Gorakṣanātha, whose name means “Cowherder Lord.” Gorakṣa is generally said to have been a renunciate and to have primarily taught to other renunciates.

Fishermen and cowherders were among the lower castes within Indian society and so these names can be seen as a way of mocking the rigid caste system of the Vedic priests. The tantric masters were regarded with suspicion at first, but when their attainments had been clearly demonstrated, they became highly respected within mainstream society and even acknowledged by the existing authorities.

During the golden age of Tantra within Indian society, many even enjoyed royal patronage. This allowed for the writing of many Sanskrit texts which recorded their beliefs, practices, and history. Most of the written record of Tantra comes from these kind of texts, though much more was probably known and practiced without being written down or disseminated publicly.

Tantra thus emerges as a distinct phenomenon and disappears back into the background, but its foggy beginnings and far-reaching influences allow it to merge to some degree with the more universal stream of practitioners across the world who have sought and cultivated the energy and awareness of Supreme Reality. There is only one Reality, even if it has been expressed and worked with in varying ways in different times and places. Tantra can thus claim some heirship with any who have rejected conventional modes in favor of a more direct and refined experience of that Reality.

Types of Samādhi

Samādhi

Samādhi  is the state of Yogic Absorption which is the culmination of the practice of Yoga. In the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali it is seen as analogous with the state of Yoga itself. It is a state of meditation where the mind is free of fluctuation[1] to the point of seeming devoid even of its own nature[2]. This can seem like a rather difficult thing to grasp, but Patañjali spends quite a few verses detailing the distinctions between different types of Samādhi. Aside from being able to document them properly if they do arise, they are useful to understand to gain insights into deeper aspects of how our minds function and how this functioning can be “hacked” in order to foster our spiritual development, achieve liberation, or even unlock the abilities of the mind to comprehend and influence the world around us.

Following the lead from Patañjali, we can say that there are 8 types of Samādhi. They are:

1.      SavitarkaConceptual gross level of awareness

2.      NirvitarkaNon-conceptual gross level of awareness

3.      SavicāraConceptual subtle level of awareness

4.      NirvicāraNon-conceptual subtle level of awareness

5.      Sānanda Bliss level of awareness

6.      SāsmitaPure I-sense level of awareness

7.      Asaṃprajñāta/Nirbīja“Seedless” or Completely absent of Fluctuations/Vṛttis

8.      Dharmamegha – “Cloud Raining Virtue”

There are two main subtypes of Samādhi. They are Saṃprajñāta and Asaṃprajñāta.

The first 6 types of Samādhi listed above are all types of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi.

Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi is a deeper state than Saṃprajñāta.

The final type of Samādhi, Dharmamegha Samādhi, is beyond even Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi.

 

Saṃprajñāta Samādhi

Saṃprajñāta Samādhi is Samādhi “with Discernment,” also called Samādhi “with Seed” (Sabīja Samādhi). This is when Samādhi is achieved through one-pointed focus on an object. It is considered to be “with Discernment” because it is accompanied by a kind of accurate knowing that provides us with wisdom. When we focus our mind in a still way onto a single object, then we are able to ascertain deeper truths about that object. The development of this discernment is said to proceed gradually, in stages.[3]

It is said to be “with seed” for two different reasons. The first is that it requires an object, a kind of thought pattern, or vṛtti, to coalesce around. Vyāsa also calls this an ālambana, or “support,” for the mind. So, it could be said that it requires a “seed” to “grow.”

It can also be understand that it is “with seed” in that it still produces new karmic impressions. Likely these will be beneficial impressions, but they still keep us on the ongoing wheel of karma. It is also notable that the creation of certain beneficial karmas is usually seen as a necessary precondition to eventually escaping the wheel. Sometimes this is likened to using soap to clean clothing. The soap is necessary to remove the dirt, but then the clothes still have a residue on them. They need to be rinsed after that to lose the residue of the soap itself.

There are different types of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi depending on how the mind perceives the object that it is focused on. These proceed into subtler and subtler aspects of how our mind can perceive objects. They are:

1.      Vitarka – Gross level awareness

2.      Vicāra – Subtle level of awareness

3.      Ānanda – The bliss level of awareness

4.      Asmita – The pure I-sense level of awareness.

This is further subdivided depending on whether the frame of mind is “conceptual” when it is perceiving. Conceptual awareness refers to when there is still the intermixing of the object with its name and meaning as well as the knowledge and imagination of the practitioner. “Non-conceptual” awareness is defined as when the memory is purified until the mind seems empty of its own nature and the object alone is shining forth.

A gross level of awareness refers to the physical aspects of reality. Samādhi with a gross level of awareness that is conceptual is called Savitarka and when it is non-conceptual, as understood above, it is called Nirvitarka.

The subtle level of awareness refers to the underpinnings of the physical reality that we experience. Here we can look to Sāṃkhya Philosophy for guidance. The most apparent aspect of subtle reality is the Tanmātras, the germs of sensory perception that allow us to encounter physical objects. These are Sound, Touch, Form, Taste, and Smell[4]. We might want to notice here that, according to this system, “subtle reality” begins with the phenomenological. It is not some distant otherworldly thing, but, being tied to the senses, is something closer to how we actually encounter objects within our awareness. Subtle reality would extend from there to the operations of the qualities of Nature[5]. It can become progressively more subtle to include the inner Intelligence[6] and the possible subtlety extends all the way to primordial unmanifest Nature itself[7].

Similar to gross level awareness, subtle level awareness can be conceptual or non-conceptual. This is referred to as Savicāra and Nirvicāra respectively.

When Samādhi is achieved with a subtle level of awareness that is non-conceptual, that is with a memory that is purified until the mind seems empty of its own nature and the object alone is shining forth, then the pure Self is able to be glimpsed. Achieving this Nirvicāra Samādhi is thus considered to be an important stage of development. It brings about Wisdom, knowledge that is “filled with truth.”[8] This special kind of knowledge is totally different from that which can be gained by reasoning or study and the seeds that it plants bring about impressions that wipe out all other impressions.

When even these impressions left by wisdom stop then all impressions come to an end and this is the state of seedless Samādhi.

 

Ānanda & Asmitā

Ānanda and Asmitā Samādhi are never directly explained in the Sūtras. Even Vyāsa’s commentary is curiously silent on them. Vyāsa merely explains that Ānanda Samādhi is free from Vitarka and Vicāra and that Asmitā Samādhi is free even from Ānanda. He says that even in those states, however, the mind is still focused on an object.

Hariharānanda, in his commentary, states that Ānanda Samādhi begins out of the feeling of tranquility and well-being that arises from non-conceptual forms of Samādhi (Nirvitarka and Nirvicāra). He calls it a kind of Sattvic happiness and says that it has the special quality of reducing attachment to external objects of the senses because we feel our happiness radiating from within.

Asmitā Samādhi is the Samādhi that arises when the mind starts to focus on the experiencer rather than the experience. So, the “I” who is experiencing the bliss of Ānanda Samādhi becomes reflected within the mind. Because this “I” is just the experiencer, it is free even from the experience itself. Hariharānanda is quick to note that though this experience is beyond even Ānanda, or bliss, that does not imply that there is a lack of bliss in this state. This is why there is no “Nirānanda” state of Samādhi.

Why would Samādhi on the I-sense still be considered an object-based Samādhi if the I-sense is not the object but the experiencer of the object? This could be understood in two ways. First of all, the I-sense is not actually the “I” or the Self, it is merely the inner Intelligence, or Buddhi, operating within us. The second reason is that though the experiencer has become the focus of this Samādhi, achieving this state still depends upon an object that is being experienced.

 

Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi

This type of Samādhi is entirely free of an object and so is free even from this discernment or accurate knowing. It is cultivated by a determination to be beyond all thought. In that state, only the latent “impressions” which are the underlying cause of thoughts remain and it is these impressions, when they become activated, that would take the person back out of this kind of Samādhi and back into the ordinary state of a fluctuating mind.

It is also called “seedless” Samādhi. We must take care to be aware that, though this form of Samādhi has no object, it is entirely different from “zoning out” or being asleep because the awareness itself is still fully clear and present even if there are no thoughts.

It is usually assumed that this form of Samādhi generally only happens after the development of high levels of Wisdom arising from the experience of states of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi. Without this, the kind of supreme non-attachment towards all thoughts would not be possible, or at the very least, would only be the result of a kind of ignorance and so not lead towards liberation.

 

Dharmamegha Samādhi – The Cloud Raining Virtue

There is a further designation of Samādhi that refers to a kind of liberated state that an individual can reach while embodied. This happens when even the complete omniscience that can come from the full development of discernment is no longer compelling or interesting to the individual. This type of Samādhi is called Dharmamegha because it is likened to a cloud that rains virtue, or Dharma. From this Samādhi all afflictions[9] and karmas end. The Knowledge included in the experience of Dharmamegha Samādhi possesses such a magnitude that everything else that can possibly be known seems minor.

With the rising of this Samādhi, the qualities of Nature have served their purpose and their constant transformations end. The state of Liberation is achieved and the Self abides fully in its own nature.

 

References

For the Divisions of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi, see Chapter I, Verses 17, 42-51

For Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi, see Chapter I, Verse 18

For Dharmamegha Samādhi, see Chapter IV, Verses 29-34


[1] See Chapter I, Verse 2

[2] See Chapter III, Verse 3

[3] See also Chapter III, Verses 5 & 6

[4] Śabda, Sparśa, Rūpa, Rasa, Gandha

[5] The Guṇas of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas

[6] Called Buddhi and in the Yoga Sūtras often referred to as Liṅga, or “mark,” because it is the first instance of manifestation.

[7] Called Prakṛti. In the Yoga Sūtras, it is sometimes referred to as Aliṅga, “without mark,” because of it pre-exists manifestation.

[8]Ṛtambharā,” See Chapter I, Verses 48-50

[9] Kleśas

“Book Knowledge” v. “Yogic Knowledge”

जातिलक्षणदेशैरन्यतानवच्छेदात् तुल्ययोस्ततः प्रतिपत्तिः || ५३ ||

Jāti-lakṣaṇa-deśair anyatā’navacchedāt tulyayos tataḥ pratipattiḥ III:53

“From this, one gains the ability to discern between two identical things that are not distinguishable by their outward characteristics.”

Patanjali and Vyasa argue throughout the Sutras that although knowledge of facts and knowledge gained from books can be useful, it is limited in that it can only tell you about the characteristics of categories of things. It can never tell you about the actual particularities of individual objects. So, you can learn that mammals have fur and breastfeed their young, you can even learn what distinguishes different *kinds* of mammals from each other, but this type of knowledge will never allow you to *fully* understand any unique individual instance of a mammal.

The claims to “powers” that are presented in the Yoga Sutras are neither mere peripheral things to gloss over (there are in fact a lot of Sutras devoted to speaking about them) nor are they meant to be ways of achieving worldly ends. Instead, they are guide posts that are meant to show that we have deeply understood and integrated a Yogic concept.

So, Patanjali’s claim that, through meditative practice, one gains the ability to discern between two identical objects, indicates that the Yogi has, at this point, transcended ordinary “book knowledge.” He or she is able to actually perceive things as they are and not merely as examples of a certain category or type. What were once just different examples of a kind of object are now seen in their full individuality.

This is illustrated creatively in the story of Gorakh’s rescue of Matsyendranath, where Gorakh produces 108 clones of Queen Mainakini and Matsyendra’s son Minanath. Gorakh asks the Queen to choose her real son and, when she is unable to do so, he says, “If you’re not able to recognize your own son, how can you call him yours?” (Munoz, Adrian. Matsyendra’s “Golden Legend”)

Types of Suffering

परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोध‌ाच्च दुःखमेवसर्वंविवेकिनः ||१५||

Pariṇāma tāpa saṃskāra duḥkhair guṇa vṛtti virodhāc ca duḥkham eva sarvaṃ vivekinaḥ II:15

“For the wise, everything is suffering because of the suffering that comes from change, pain, tendencies (saṃskāras), as well as the suffering of a mind that is constantly fluctuating due to the conflicting qualities of nature.”

There are two things that are being explained in this Sutra. On the one hand, Patanjali is outlining for us the different kinds of suffering that we can experience, which are increasingly subtle. They are:

1.         Pariṇāma – Change – The suffering caused by the fact that everything changes and nothing ever lasts.

2.         Tāpa – Pain – The direct suffering of physical pain.

3.         Saṃskāra – Tendencies – The suffering of being at the whim of our habits and tendencies

4.         Citta Vṛtti Virodha – Conflicting mental fluctuations – The suffering that comes from the inherent way in which a changing mind is always quarreling with itself.

Many of these types of suffering can be mitigated in life. We can cultivate an attitude of non-attachment and thus experience less disturbance when things change. We can regularly practice yoga āsanas in order to help reduce pain and discomfort in our body. We can do self-work in order to make sure that our habits and tendencies are less destructive or unconscious.

The controversial second part of the point that Patanjali is making here though is that, even if we do all of this, we are still at the best of the changing, quarreling, and conflicting nature of reality itself. This means that no matter what, even the most refined pleasure is still intermixed with some suffering.

I think whether we ultimately accept or reject the world (it could be arguing that Patanjali is taking a more “world-rejecting” point of view here, but it could also be argued that we don’t have to), this is something that is good to contemplate deeply on. All of the philosophies of India try to answer the question of how we can bring about an end to suffering. It may be desirable now to strive for worldly goals, such as righteousness, prosperity, and pleasure, but even these will prove to be limiting to us eventually. This is why we also have the concept of moksa, or liberation, our final freedom from even the subtlest forms of suffering.

Sama

सम – Sama

Yogathaḥ Kuru Karmāṇi Saṅgaṃ Tyaktvā Dhanaṃjaya |

Siddhyasiddhyoḥ Samo Bhūtvā Samatvaṃ Yoga Ucyate || II:48

“Fixed in Yoga, perform your actions having abandoned attachment and being indifferent to either success or failure. It is said that evenness of mind is Yoga.”

Generally, if you ask someone who knows a thing or two what Yoga is, they will usually refer to Patañjali and say, “Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind.” This is a very good definition and there are good reasons why it is the standard. However, there are other possible classical definitions to which we can also refer. Definitions of Yoga as “union” of microcosm and macrocosm abound and can be another excellent way to frame the process or state. The Bhagavad Gītā has a few of its own definitions. One is the line quoted above, that Yoga is “samatvam” the quality of being “sama.” The word “sama” comes from the same root as our English word “same” and so we could define this to indicate that Yoga means “sameness” or “evenness” in a particular sense. The word can be more distinctly defined as “balance.”

Sama” is a word that also makes a notable appearance in Āyurveda, particularly in Suśruta’s definition of Health:

Sama Doṣāḥ Samāgniśca Samadhātu Mala Kriyāḥ |

“Balanced physiological processes (doshas), balanced digestion (agni – fire), balanced tissues (dhatus), balanced action of elimination (mala kriya).”

Here the word is repeated enough to indicate that Suśruta regards balance as the key to health of the individual.

Proper balance is important for health and probably useful in any context, but in the above verse from the Gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa specifies that the balance of Yoga is an attitude of sameness towards the successes and failures of one’s own actions. Can we do what is right without a need for external validation? Can we take a success or even a compliment without letting it inflate our ego? Can we learn from a failure or even an insult with deflating into defensiveness? Are we afraid to act because we are too worried that we might fail? Can we begin to see clearly without our perceptions being muddled by our attachments and aversions?

The Yogi aims to retain balance in all things, not merely to be thrown about by the varying circumstances that are encountered. The guidance for our actions should be our internal sense of what is truly right at that moment, rather than merely what is popular, easy, or will give us what we want. So, practicing balance and equipoise is essential.

We even see this in the physical practice of Yogāsana, where balance in a physical sense is required in almost any posture. We practice balance directly when we stand on one leg in Vṛkṣāsana, or tree pose, and we can even see balance in the simple but poised posture of someone sitting tall in their meditation seat.

Mahendranath in the first of his Twilight Yoga trilogy wrote that Sama is one of the key words that “express the essence” the Nath Yogi’s approach to life. The other three are Samarasa – Equanimity, Sahaja – Naturalness, and Svecchacara – the Path of one’s True Will.

Cultivating Positive Attitudes towards Others

Cultivating Positive Attitudes towards Others

Near the end of the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, there are descriptions of different techniques for starting to calm the mind and overcome difficult mental states.

One of the things that Patañjali says is helpful is to cultivate positive attitudes towards others. He explains four different kinds of positive feelings that we can learn to cultivate in ourselves and which types of people that it would be most beneficial to have those feelings towards.