Ever since Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha first captured the fancy of Westerners, it has indeed caused a wave of thought and action, especially among young people. Though the book says nothing new, it seems to offer the best of both worlds. In essence, it promises that one can indulge his senses to the highest (and mostly the lowest) limit of enjoyment, and that in this way one can come to superconsciousness.
Of course, the ultimate material pleasure is sex, and genuine spiritual methods prescribe substantial if not total abstinence. So this new wave may seem like a pleasant alternative for people who take things superficially and want only profit with no loss—or, as a Bengali proverb says, for people who want only the back half of the cow, the part that gives milk, and not the front half, the part that must be fed.
Many so-called spiritual leaders who have ridden in on this wave call themselves “tantrics” and call their dubious process “Tantra Yoga.” They teach what they claim is a genuine process of “burning out the mind” through sensual exhaustion—a sexual exercise called “tantra” that is supposedly found in the Vedic literature. As we might expect, in this way they meet a lot of women.
As followers of the Vedic literature, the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness want to expose this erroneous and abominable practice and save the naive from being exploited by cunning cheats.
First, let’s take a look at the word tantra itself. Tantra means “a strict yoga system of injunctions, rules, and regulations.” There are four progressive levels of tantras: (1) tantras for people who are in nature’s mode of darkness or ignorance, (2) tantras for people in the mode of passion, (3) tantras for people in the mode of goodness, and (4) Vaisnava tantras, those for people who are devotees of the Lord and are thus transcending the modes of this world.
The Western seeker finds all this Vedic literature shrouded in mystery, and until he finds a bona fide guru, a genuine spiritual preceptor, he will remain in illusion. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has dispelled this mystery by teaching the Vedic literature purely and without divergent commentaries. “I have no secrets,” said Srila Prabhupada. “I will give you everything as it is.” Usually, the so-called gurus maintain a secluded mystery about themselves, a sort of “I-know-some-thing-I-won’t-tell” attitude that keeps the followers always groping for answers. Srila Prabhupada was never like that. He broke open the treasure-house that is the Vedic literature.
There are three Vaisnava tantras: Narada-pancaratra, Pancaratra, and Vaikhanasa. These offer rules and regulations that free the mind from material attachments and fix the consciousness on the forms, names, qualities, and pastimes of Lord Krsna. These tantras describe how a Vaisnava (a yogi who is devoted to the Lord) should regulate his life: how he should use beads for chanting spiritual mantras, how he should worship the Lord’s revealed Deity forms, and many other techniques of God realization. The Vaikhanasa and other pancaratric tantras are very rigorous, and to make spiritual progress one must follow their regulations flawlessly. So the members of ISKCON follow the Narada-pancaratra.
Basically, all the rules and regulations of the Narada-pancaratra are explained by Srila Rupa Gosvami in his book The Nectar of Devotion. There are sixty-four main guidelines, of which five are very important: (1) accepting a spiritual master, (2) worshiping the Deity, (3) studying the Srimad-Bhagavatam, (4) chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, both congregationally and individually (that is, softly, on chanting beads), and (5) living in a holy place like Mathura-Vrndavana (the area of Lord Krsna’s birth and childhood pastimes). To follow these guidelines properly, one must receive formal initiation from a spiritual master and observe four basic prohibitive principles: no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, and no meat, fish, or eggs.
The Vaisnava tantras quickly remove the illusory sense that the physical body is the self. In a short time the devotional yogi realizes that he is a pure, blissful, eternal spiritual soul, and he engages in the loving service of Lord Krsna with full enthusiasm. Soon obstacles vanish, and he experiences a taste for hearing and chanting Krsna’s names. This higher taste surpasses all material pleasures, and physical or mental circumstances cannot spoil it. The taste develops into pure devotion (bhava-bhakti), in which the yogi experiences every emotion at its peak in relationship with Krsna. When the waves of bhava crash together in the heart, the devotional yogi experiences full love of Godhead, and this is the highest perfection of life.
The tantras for people who are attached to the mundane mode of goodness describe the process of karma-kanda, or sense gratification combined with some opportunity for spiritual advancement. This branch of the Vedic literature offers marriage ceremonies, birth ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, and ceremonies for worshiping various demigods and gaining material success. According to these tantras, if one engages himself in family life, obeys all scriptural regulations, and commits no sin for one hundred human births, he will go back to the spiritual world, back to Godhead. Clearly, it is a slow process—and to risk even one more birth in the material world is foolish, since the senses are so strong that at any time one could commit sins and ruin his chances for liberation.
Kali, the deity of destructive energy, may bring severe and incurable disease, madness, or sudden death to those who tamper with “Tantra.”
The tantras for people in the mode of passion offer methods of rectifying past sins through difficult and costly sacrifices or through long’ pilgrimages to holy places. But even after one performs all these rites, he may still have the desire in his heart to go on sinning. And although this process of worshiping minor deities can promote one to higher, superhuman planets, one quickly uses up his good karma and must soon fall down to lower planets and start all over again. It is a slow process without any lasting benefit.
For those in the mode of ignorance—those who are envious of Krsna or too impatient to follow a spiritual path, or those who want magical powers, wealth, and quick liberation—there is the process called sri-vidya. (This is the yogic code that bogus gurus have perverted to the level of gross sensuality; it is what Westerners have come to know as “Tantra.”) If one fails to follow sri-vidya’s rules and regulations flawlessly, he will experience not a quick attainment of mystical powers but a quick downfall and utter ruination. In many cases severe and incurable disease, madness, or sudden death has resulted from tampering with this path.
(As I describe the items in this tantric process, I hope the reader will be able to catch the thread of how each point has been misrepresented to appear fascinating, easy, and enjoyable.)
For success on the tantric path, the yogi tries to please the deity of destructive illusory energy, Kali (or Durga). And the process is rarely carried out to the end. The aspirant must completely control his physical organs by practicing the sitting postures and fasts of the hatha-yoga process, and this is simply the beginning. The yogi must meditate according to strict rules. He must sit atop a deer skin, kusa grass, and a cotton cloth, and must fix his eyes on the tip of his nose. Further, he must renounce all intoxication, gambling, and animal foods, and he must practice celibacy. Yes, restraining the sex urge is most important if one is to perfect the so-called yoga of sex. Contrary to much of today’s advertising, physical pleasure is not the true point of hatha-yoga.
When the yogi has complete and utter control of all his external and internal organs, then he must gradually clear his mind of all attractions and repulsions toward material things. He must neither love nor hate anything. Now the guru will advise terrible austerities that test the yogi’s tolerance of heat and cold. If the yogi passes through these calmly, then he begins a still more grueling process.
First, the yogi must cook meat and eat it without relish and also without disgust (since, more than likely, he has been a vegetarian). Then he goes to a cremation ground, where he searches through the ashes until he finds the one part of the human body that does not burn. This is a cylindrical piece of tissue about two inches long and one-half inch thick that is situated behind the navel. It does not get consumed in the flames, but glows with an eerie green light. The yogi must say the appropriate mantras and, without cringing, eat it. Then, at a time prescribed by the guru, he must cook a dead fish in a skull and similarly eat it without disgust. Then he must drink wine without being influenced by its effect. All of this prepares his nerves and emotions and makes him totally indifferent to the urges of the body. Then he kills five animals and makes their heads into a kind of seat. After the yogi sits down, the guru invokes the spirits of the animals, and they attack the yogi’s mind. If he remains sane, he can go on to the next stage—sex.
A yogini (female yogi) who has been trained in the arts of the flesh is called, and under the guidance of the spiritual master, a kind of sex act is performed. During intercourse the yogi must control his mind and constrict his stomach muscles so that he doesn’t lose his seminal fluid but instead removes the woman’s fluid. The yogi keeps the mixture of these two fluids in the base of his spine. There it will eventually enkindle the kundalini (or “serpent power”), which will rise up the spine through the susumna nerve and actually rip the yogi’s soul out of its situation in the heart and then out of the body and into the clear white light. (With their crippled minds, today’s cheaters have misconstrued this severe discipline into a license for orgies.)
Now the yogi sits for meditation and begins raja-yoga. He raises the kundalinii force in the spine to the six centers of psychic power. At each of the six cakras, or psychic centers, deities who reside there offer him material powers and pleasures of inconceivable dimension. These are all tricks of Kali (Durga) to divert the yogi from success. When and if his kundalini force reaches the center located at his eyes, the yogi may then prepare for leaving his body. He must now make “the long tongue.”
With a sharpened goat’s tooth, the yogi cuts the septum, or cord of flesh, under his tongue. Day after day he cuts the septum again, so that the tongue can extend higher and higher. As it heals, the yogi cuts further. At last, he can stretch his tongue up to the middle of his nose, then to his eyes. When he can stretch his tongue to his forehead, he is ready. Then by the kundalini force the yogi raises the living soul up to the throat and inserts the “long tongue” in the postnasal passage. This keeps the soul from passing out the mouth, nose, eyes, or ears. Through mystic fire a channel opens, the top of the skull fractures, and the soul enters the clear white light. Once in this light, the yogi will probably make the mistake of thinking that he has become God. Completely forgetting his whole struggle with his body, he will fall immediately into a low form of life like that of a germ or stone. As Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.2.32) informs us, “Because of his impure intelligence, the yogi who would become one with God ultimately falls back down to the material world—no matter how severe the austerities he has performed.”
Now we have viewed the real path of tantra in detail. The followers of the Vaisnava tantras suggest that for genuine spiritual progress, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. Instead you can chant Hare Krsna, and your life will be sublime.
An intimate disciple of Srila Prabhupada’s since 1967, His Holiness Acyutananda Svami spent the last eleven years studying and teaching Krsna consciousness in India. From 1967 to 1972 he resided in asramas in both Bengal and South India. There he became proficient in Bengali, and he made an extensive study of the Vedic scriptures underlying the various schools of Indian thought. After 1972 he taught the science of Krsna consciousness throughout the subcontinent, consistently receiving warm welcomes at important devotional centers. Not long ago, he returned to the West for an extended visit and lecture tour.