Tantra and Vedas
A number of writers and teachers have tried to divide the two great traditions of India of Veda and Tantra as different or even contrary. They see the Vedic tradition as Aryan and patriarchal and the Tantric tradition as non-Arya and matriarchal. They identify the Vedic traditin with invading Aryans and the Tantric tradition with indigenous Dravidians. They see the Tantric as worshipping the Mother Goddess and the Vedic as rejecting her. They imply that Vedic and Tantric ideas and practices are very different.
Vedic and Tantric traditions are one, though with different orientations. The Vedic tradition is an earlier form of the Tantric which itself is a later development of Vedic practices. Tantric teachings abound in the use of Vedic mantras and the mysticism of the Sanskrit alphabet. They use Vedic fire altars and practices and honor Vedic deities at an inner level. Inner Tantric Yoga reflects the four main Vedic deities of Agni, Soma, Vayu and Surya (the forces of fire, moon, wind and sun).
The correlation between the Vedic and the Tantric is that whereas the Vedas emphasize the Jyotirmaya Purusha, the being or person made of light’ , the Tantras emphasize the Saktimaya Devi, the Goddess made of energy’. Light and energy as consciousness and force are one. The Purusha of light is one with its energy or Shakti. So the two traditions cannot be separated either. We could call the Vedic Yoga a ‘ Vedic Light Yoga’ and the Tantric Yoga a ‘Tantric Energy Yoga’. The two are not only related historically but are complementary in their mantras and practices.
The Vedic view emphasizes the Shiva principle, though often under the abstract forms of Brahman, Purusha and Atman and in the form of different Vedic deities (like Agni and soma) which reflect the cosmic masculine energy and light form identified with Shiva. The Vedas also recognize the Shakti principle as Vak or the power of the Divine Word, which is said to be the Veda-Mata or ‘Mother of the Vedas’. The Goddess pervades the Vedas, not so much as a particular deity but as the Vedic mantra itself, though many feminine deities also exist and each Vedic God has his corresponding Goddess. The Tantric vie emphasizes the Shakti principle as the great Goddess but recognizes the light principle with Shiva as Prakashan or pure illumination. Tantric Yoga also aims at the realization of Atman and Brahman, defined both as the light and energy of consciousness, Chid-jyoti and Chit-Shakti.
Another difference of orientation between Vedic and Tantric Yoga is that the Vedic deities are first of all powers of nature like Fire, Wind, Sun and Moon. Their human forms or anthropomorphic sides remain vague. They are seldom portrayed in the form of a human figure. Tantric Deities, on the other hand, like Shiva and Shakti, are first of all anthropomorphic figures with a human body, gestures and ornaments defined and delineated quite clearly and frequently. Tantric deities have a deep nature symbolism with the Goddess and the mountain stream and Shiva as the mountain, for example, so this distinction is only general.
The Vedas center around four great Devatas (principles of light) as Agni (fire), Soma (water and moon), Indra-Vayu (lightning) and Surya (the Sun), as the inner and outer forms of light in the universe. Agni is the ower of speech, mantra and the Divine Word. Soma is the power of the mind, meditation and Divine bliss. Indra is the power of perception, discriminatin and direct realization of the higher Self. Surya is the supreme light of the Self and the power of life on all levels. Each of these forms of light has its corresponding forms of energy as fire energy, lunar energy, solar energy and electrical energy.
Tantric Yoga revolves around these same forces as Sun, Moon, Lightning and Fire. these forces appear as Goddesses in Tantra with Soma, the lunar reflective force as the Goddess Lalita or Tripura Sundari and the crown chakra and the cosmic mind. Vedic Indra relates to Tantric Chinnamasta as the power of lightning perceptin in the eyes, the third eye. Surya is the solar power of life and awareness, the Self in the heart, which is Bhadra Kali among the Goddesses. Agni is the Kundalini fire in the root chakra, which is the Goddess Bhairavi and the ultimate power or speech. Vayu or wind is the general Kriya Shakti force that is Kali in the broader sense as the cosmic Prana.
Both Vedic and Tantric Yogas teach how to awaken these four light and energy centers in the body. The fire in the three lower chakras (particularly the root chakra); the Moon in the three higher chakras (particularly the crown chakra); the Sun in the heart; and lightning working through the third eye as the general power of Shakti or energization. The Tantric Agni-Soma or Shiva-Shakti Yoga is another form of the Vedic Agni-Soma ritual on an internal level. Tantric Yoga which aims balancing Agni and Soma as Shiva and Shakti is a form of the Vedic Yoga.
Between Veda and Tantra on a practical level there is also no real difference. Each has various levels of practices from the mundane to the transcendent. Even the Vamachara or left-handed path of Tantra, often denigrated as non-Vedic for its more sensate approach, has its counterpath in Vedic practices involving ritual use of intoxicants, meat or sacred sexual as well as the use of rutuals and mantras for achieving the ordinary goals of life like wealth, progeny or victory over one’s enemies. Tantra commonly employs Vedic mantras, fire rituals and other Vedic symbols even along its lefthanded approaches.
Yet both Tantra and Veda contain and emphasize the right-handed approach or approach of dharma which emphasizes a sattvic or pure life-style. They both share a common goal of self-realization and have many teachings aiming at direct awakening into the Absolute. The Vedic rishis all honored Shakti, which is primarily Vak Shakti, power of the Divine Word’. Their mantras are the manifestations of Shakti and carry the power of all creation and the secrets of cosmogenesis. The Rigveda itself is a creation of Kundalini Shakti, which is the power of Vak or Divine Speedas it manifested at the beginning of this particular world age, but not merely in individuals but in great families of seers or Rishis. The Rigveda itself is perhaps the greatest mantric effusion of Kundalini Shakti at a collective level.
The Shakti of the Vedic hymns is the strongest of all stotras or Sanskrit hymns, reflecting the very rhythms of cosmic creation and the thousand syllables of the crown chakra. Bija mantras like Hrim and Shrim are more defined in Tantra and the Tantric bijasare the strongest of all bijas, the primal sounds behind the universe. The Vedas reflect the metrical power of Sanskrit, whereas Tantra reflects the power of Sanskrit seed sounds. Kashmir Shaivism, perhaps the most comprehensive Tantric philosophy, contains an elaborate system of relating the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet to all the cosmic principles from the Absolute to the earth element. It views the Sanskrit letters as the Shaktis and the Mothers (Matrikas) through which everything in the universe is energized.
The older Vedic tradition contained a similar emphasis on the Sanskrit alphabet and letters, though many of the details have been lost. According the Vedas generally, as in the Chandogya Upanishads, the vowels relate to Indra (Purusha) and the consonants to death (Prakriti). In the Aitareya Aranyaka the sibilants or s and h sounds are said to relate to Prana. This is a corner stone of the Kashmir Shaivite view as well. The great system of Kashmir Shaivism with its deities, mantras, pranas and tattvas reflecting the Sanskrit alphabet is a formulation of the older Vedic model.
Shiva is often called Agni-Somatmakam’, meaning that he has the nature of Agni and Soma as fire and water and all the other dualities that the two represent. Agni is his fierce or Rudra form. Soma is his blissful and linga form. Shiva is also regarded as Surya or the Sun, the pure light, Prakasha. As Prana, Shiva is also Vayu. He is Indra as the lord of perception and the power of mantra. Shiva is the background deity of the Rigveda of which the other four main deities are but forms or manifestations. On one hand, they are facets of Shiva. On the other hand, they are like the sons of Shiva, which are his manifestations, with Rudra as the great father God in the Rigveda. The Vedic Yajna is itself the Tantric Yoga as an outer ritual. Worsip of the outer fire. Tantric Yoga is the Vedic Yajna internalized, worship f the inner fire of the Kundalini.
Shiva, if we look deeply, is the Supreme Deity of the Righ Veda and its four main light forms as Agni, Soma, Surya and Indra (Vidyut). This statment may seem unusual, if not absurd, for those used to thinking that Vedas and Agamas are different or that Shiva is not a Vedic deity because his name and form is not much present there. The problem is that such views only look superficially at the names and forms not to the inner content and energy f the Vedas. The worship of Shiva maintains many Vedic forms of fire worship, use of Vedic mantras and communion with nature. Shaivites mark themselves with the sacred ash or Vibhuti from the fire. The Rudram, the most famous chant to Shiva, which is found in the Yajurveda, makes Shiva’s identity with the Vedic sacrifice very clear.
In our future books, articles and teachings we will be exploring these two great forms of Yoga as the Vedic Light Yoga and Tantric Energy Yoga, particularly from a more practical side. Bringing out these two great Yogas and their connections will help us create a new and more powerful inner Yoga today that can use both light and energy to transform us frm within.
There is almost a one-to-one correspondence between the gods in the two scriptures, nt only in the utward description of their powers, but also in their spiritual import. In the Tantra, as in the Vedas, we find the recognition of ne Supreme Deity as the highest along with the simultaneous adoration of a number of other deities. The Tantric gods, like the Vedic gods, have a two fold aspect: in their external aspects they are the powers f physical nature like rain, winds, etc. But, in their more important esoteric aspects, they represent psycholgical and psychic mvements.
For example, Agni of the Veda continues in the Tantra as Kumara, the child of the lord Shiva. In Veda, Agni is in the forefront of gods, their guide and messenger. In the Tantra, Kumara is the commander-in-chief of the gods and is looked up to for his immense store of knowledge and wisdom by the seers of later times. The role of Indra in the Veda is taken over in Tantra, by Rudra who brooks n obstacle. The Sun, the highest God of the Veda, is addressed in the Tantra as Vishnu, a name used in the Veda itself. The role of the Aditi of the Veda is represented by the Supreme Shakti, called as Uma, Gowri, etc. It is true that there are new gods in the Tantra, but the prominent gods of the Veda retain their supremacy under different names and forms.
The Tantra, like the Veda, places a high emphasis on the Mantra. A mantra is not a mere letter or collection of letters with some meaning “it is the sound-body of a Power charged with the intense vibrations of the spiritual personality of the creator r seer of the Mantra. When a mantra is uttered under proper conditions, it is not the feeble voice of the reciter that goes forth to evoke the response of the gods to whom it is addressed, but the flame of tapasya and realization that is lying coiled up in the body of that utterance. The Tantra, following the Veda, has frmulated some seed-letters, Bijakshara, which the seeker uses as the Mantra. These Bijaksharas have been endowed with a perennial store of power by the Tantrik seers and it needs only the living touch of the Guru to set them awake in the disciple.”
There is connection between the Veda and Tantra by considering a particular Tantra called as “Prapancha sara tantra.” It is made up of three verses, addressed to Durga, Shiva and Vishnu. All the three hymns are found in the Rig Veda. The first verse is from the 99th Sukta of the first book of Rig Veda and is addressed to Agni. The second verse is the 12th Rik of the 59th Sukta in the seventh book of the Rig Veda addressed to Rudra, the Trayambaka, father of the three worlds. In the Tantra it is addressed to the deity Rudra as Mrityunjaya, the conqueror of Death. The third verse of the Tantra is the famus Gayatri hymn in the 62nd Sukta of the third mandala of the Rig Veda. In the Veda it is addressed to Savitr, the effulgent one, and in the Tantra it is “addressed to Vishnu”, the image of all knowledge and power.
It is interesting to note that the group of the three verses, also called as Shatakshara Glayatri, is recited even today in the daily ritual for purifying the conch and the water. The symbolism is obvious: the primeval sound comes from its source, symbolized by the conch, naturally of its own accord when the impurities in the instrument are removed by invoking the Gods or the psychological power.
An important chapter in the spiritual history of India is the development of a line of spiritual discipline called Tantra. These Tantra Shastras are usually dated in the first millennium after Christ. Traditionally it is the scripture of the commn man, open to all persons, without any restrictions of caste or scholarship. Many students of Indian culture believe that it is appropriate to call the religion of the modern Hindus as Tantric rather than Puranic. Tantra in Sanskrit has many meanings.
It is not uncommon to find in some books on the history of India a statement that Tantra Shastra developd as a rebellion against the Vedas since the latter was theoretically accessible only to members of the two higher castes. The latter statement is not even loosely true since the Chandogya Upanishad indicates that the Vedas were taught to any student with sincere aspiration regardless of caste. Even otherwise, Tantra Shastra holds the Vedas in high regard and quotations from the Rig Veda are used in Tantra Shastra to support its approach. While the Upanishads represent an attempt at recovering the jnana or knowledge portions of the Vedas, the Brahmanas represent an attempt at reinforcing the ritual aspect of the Vedas, the Tantra Sastra represents an attempt at preserving and expanding the esoteric or the occult part of the Veda. A quotation from Sri Aurobindo is very appropriate: “The mental images of the Vedic gods in the mantras of Rig Veda (were replaced) by mental forms of the two great deities, Vishnu and Shiva, and their Shaktis and by corresponding physical images which are made the basis both for external worship and for the Mantras of inward adoration and meditation, while the psychic and spiritual experience which the inner sense of the Vedic hymns expresses finally disappeared into the psycho-spiritual experience f the Puranic and Tantrik religion and yoga”.