About the Book
Man, from the very dawn of history, has never been at home in the world. He has continuously tried to search for such ways and means, both intellectual and practical, that would allow him to transcend the conditioned existence in which he finds himself in space-time bound universe. It has always been the burning desire in the heart of man to realize such a mode of life that transcends the tragic terror of finitude in terms of the realization of abundance of life. It is this search for the everlasting blissful life that constitutes the story as well as history of human religious search for meaning.
Both Yoga and Tantricism have their own eschatologist in terms of which transcendence of human finitude is endeavored to be actualized. To achieve this stereological goal, both the systems have discovered, in their own respective ways, such theoretical responses and practical methods by the application of which soteric goal can be appropriated. It is because of this feature that both may be said to be stereological systems of thought and practice.
This book attempts to study Yoga and Tantra from both historical and theoretical perspective. An effort has been made to trace the historical roots of both Yoga and Tantra, and how, with the passage to time, each system developed in the context of prevailing situations. The analytical interpretation of some of the major themes that Yoga and Tantricism tackle in the context of suffering in the world greatly enhances the value of the work and will be of great interest to students of religion.
About the Author
Moti Lal Pandit, trained as a theologian and linguist, has been communicator of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. His many books include: Towards Transcendence; Being as Becoming; Transcendence and Negation; Beyond the Word; Trika Saivism of Kashmir; Sunyata: The Essence of Mahayana Spirituality; Buddhism: A Religion of Salvation; and Encounter with Buddhism.
The Vedic View of Life
The Fundamental Basis as well as structure of Indian philosophy or of spirituality has to be analysed and viewed in relation to the vision or ultimate goal it has of human destiny. The earliest vision of Indian spirituality is not so much concerned with the intangible and abstract questions of existence as much as with the practical needs of life in the world. The early Aryans, upon their settlement in the Gangetic plains of India, were confronted with such practical problems of life as to how to confront the hostilities from the indigenous tribes, and so on and so forth. From the Vedas itself we gain sufficient evidence that the early Aryans were much more desirous of leading a long and healthy life, of having a good progeny, of getting a good produce from their land, than with questions of what happens to life upon death, or what is the nature of existence, or how the world has come into being. This pragmatic contextual view would mean that the text of life had to be so formulated as would prove to be practical in running the day-to-day affairs of life.
This practical contextuality would mean that the religiosity of the Aryans had to express itself through such mediums of expression that were so tangible as could be perceived as well as experienced. One of the ways they encountered Nature in their day-to-day life. Rain, thunder, storm, etc., are experienced daily by each and everyone in terms of their effect. If the effects of phenomenal events were wholesome, the causes of these effects would be so personified as would result in imputing all auspicious qualities upon them. Likewise would malevolent attributes be imputed upon such causes that gave rise to inauspicious effects. Thus the personified forces of Nature would be viewed either as being benevolent or hostile. It is these personified forces that would be seen as directly impinging upon the course of one's life. In conceiving relationship with Nature in terms of correspondence, so a practical devise had to be discovered whereby these natural forces could be used for achieving the practical ends (purusartha) of life in terms of health, wealth, progeny, and so on.
This down-to-earth vision of life demanded a kind of religiosity that would be practical, tangible and would also be seen as a means of appeasing the personified forces. It is, thus, this view of life that led to the emergence of a religiosity that would be through and through sacrifice-oriented. The early Aryans thought of sacrifice as the best way of realizing the day-to-day goals of life. The aim of sacrifice was to gain access to the manifest natural forces that had direct impact upon the life situation of each individual. It is this pragmatic, sacrifice-centered religiosity that permeates the general ethos of what we call Vedism.
Sacrifice versus Asceticism
With the change of time, however, the outlook of Aryans also underwent drastic evolutionary changes. One of the ways in terms of which this evolutionary change reflected itself was to find out as to how to make sacrifice as an effective tool of appeasing the personified forces of Nature, that is, the divinities. As the presence of these divinities was experienced at every moment of life, so they could be seen in terms of their immanent presence within the phenomenon. This presence of divinities within the phenomenon resulted in the conception of the Cosmic Power of Nature, and such a philosophical conception played a major role in the transformation of the religious outlook of the Aryans. This idea of Cosmic Power as presence reflected itself particularly in two important areas, namely, in the area of language and of asceticism. A belief arose that it is language that not only is the source of knowledge, but also contains within itself such powers whereby the divine powers within and without could be invoked. It is this view of language that led to the belief that a certain set or series of words contain cosmic energy, which, upon their utterance, make the sacrificial offerings unto the divinities causally efficacious, and the efficacy of offerings would mean the appeasement of divinities. It is this view of language that led to the formulation of a code language, which commonly has come to be known as mantra. Language, in the form of mantra or sacred formula, would, in the post Vedic age, play a major role in such esoteric schools that are allied to Tantricism.
As to how to make mantra an effective tool of causal efficacy was one of the major questions that the Vedic Aryans confronted. The solution to this question was found in the discovery of asceticism or what we call spiritual ardour (tapas). The practice of spiritual ardour was seen to be such a tool whereby the ascetic (muni) could not only gain control over one's mental and sense faculties, but also could attain such occult powers that enabled him to transcend such cosmic forces that have a direct impact upon our lives. It is this conception of asceticism that would, in the hands of wandering ascetics (sramana), become an essential tool for the ascetical theology of renunciation. Mahavira and Buddha would further it by incorporating it as the basis for their monasticism. For the yogic ideology asceticism would be seen as the best method of withdrawal from the world as well as the most effective means of effecting introversion, or what we may call inwardness, of consciousness. This causal efficacy as a means of gaining occult powers is already foreshadowed in the Rgveda when the ascetic is made to say: "
we are mounted on the winds. You, mortals, can perceive only our body." This wonder that is expressed at the attainment of occult power not only differentiates an ascetic from ordinary mortals, but also bestows upon him such divine powers due to which he can become the master of the rising and the setting sun.
It is the ideology of sporitual ordour that would become the foundation for most of the spiritual traditions of India, whether Brahmanic or sramanic. For both Brahmanic and Sramanic traditions asceticism would represent the principle or renunciation (vairagya, tyaga) in general and the monastic withdrawal in particular. For the yogic tradition it would be seen as the most effective tool of turning consciousness inwards, and thereby enabling the senses and the mind to delink itself from all the externals that trouble it. Still for other traditions it would not denote so much as withdrawal from the world as much as of gaining access to those hidden powers that are latent or hidden within and without. It is this latter conception of asceticism that is much more prevalent among the general masses, and the roots of it are to be found in the Vedic context, expresses the result of ascetical practices in terms of the internal spiritual ardour or heat. In the Rgveda the word tapas, as a concept of generative or creative power, is used both at the cosmic and spiritual levels. It is through ascetical exercises, whether physical or mental, that the ascetic gains such occult powers as that of clairvoyance as well as that of entrance into the abode of divine beings. Prajapati, the Primal Man, gives rise to the cosmos due to the occult powers that he has obtained through the generation of internal ascetical heat.
It is the innate power of asceticism that makes both sacrifice and mantra effective instruments for approprianting the cosmic forces of Nature. The ascetic ideology, in the later Vedic period, becomes so dominant that the sacrifice itself is seen to be the embodiment of asceticism. As an ascetical mode of offering, sacrifice, slowly but steadily, is internalized to the degree that consciousness is effectively turned inward. It is not the external offering that is what counts, but it is as to how effectively we are able to make internal offering as a mode of appeasement to the divinities within. Asceticism as an instrument of internalization of consciousness or of inward offering is facilitated by the power of mantra. These two instruments would become the handmaidens for such Tantric traditions that would lay emphasis upon the yogic methods of meditation. Upon the internalization of sacrifice, the sacrificer thereby is enabled to appropriate and assimilate both the sacrifice and the offering in terms of ascetical praxis. Through this assimilaton the sacrificer gains the rank of a divinity. By interiorising sacrifice, the physiological functions of the body are symbolically identified with the sacrificial libation. Since it is asceticism that opens up the door to interiority, so it is seen as a substitute for sacrifice itself.
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