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Tantra – Agama – Part Two – Agama

Agama – History

21.1. Agamas are a set of ancient texts and are the guardians of tradition. They are of uncertain antiquity. And , there are many legends associated with their origins. Dr. Surendranath Gupta says “The date of the Agamas cannot be definitely fixed. It maybe suggested that the earliest of them were written sometime in the second or third century A.D. and these must have been continued till the thirteenth or fourteenth century”.

21.2. The Agamas have come down to us, over the centuries, in oral traditions, from master to disciple.  They are of practical applications in day-to-day worship practices associated, mainly, with temple-worship.  It is likely that, over the centuries, some changes or modifications might have crept into the pristine lore to suit the changing needs of times according to the local contexts.  It is, therefore, quite possible the original texts became elastic and new ideas entered into its procedural aspects. We may not be sure that the present versions of the agama are exactly those which existed at that ancient past.

22.1. What we now know as Agama shastra had its roots in the Kalpa-sutras, the supplementary texts appended to the main division of each Veda. Each of the four Vedas has its own special Kalpa sutra. They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division. Generally, the set of Kalpa sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal yajnas); Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct and ethics); and Sulba-sutra (relating to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha).

22.2. The initial set of ritual- texts dated around third century, based, mainly, in Grihya-sutra and Srauta-sutra did not call themselves Agamas.   But, at a later period, they came into prominence as Agama Shastra following the emergence of temple culture.  They were rendered into written form as palm –leaf-texts rather quite late. Even these texts were not easily accessible outside the priestly class. According to one version, by around 6-7th centuries, as the Temple-culture gathered strength, several Agamas were compiled into written texts as manuals for temple construction and vaastu; as also for deity worship (sakala­-radhana).

22.2. The Agama tradition began to flourish by about the 10th or the 11th century with the advent of the Bhakthi School having strong faith in worship of icons installed in homes and temples.

22.3. But, the history of the Agamas between the period of early texts (3rd or 4th century) and the period when they began to come into prominence (say 10th or 11th century) is rather hazy. No significant development seems to have taken place during the intervening period.

Agama is of post Darshana period

23.1. Most of the ritual-worship sequences that are followed during the present-day   seem to have developed after the establishment of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy (darshanas). The changes in religious rituals from the Vedic to the Aagamic find an echo in the themes elaborated in the six orthodox systems.

23.2. A very significant change is the integration of Samkhya ideologies and Yoga practices into worship-rituals which somehow are juxtaposed with Vedic mantras. The very act of worshipping an idol is based in the Samkhya concept of duality, while at the same time, perceiving their essential unity. The worshipper initially regards the idol, the most revered object, as separate from him/her, whatever is the non-dual philosophical doctrines to which he/she might be intellectually attracted to. But, the Sadhaka  is also aware that the aim and the culmination of  his/her worship practises  is to attain the ‘ upasaka-upasya-abhedha-bhava’,  the sublime state  where theupasaka comes to identify her/himself with her/his upasya-devata. The summit of the Sadhana is when the worshipper and the worshipped are united as One. The worship of the murti is in the manner of the visible leading to invisible.

23.3. As regards the elements of Yoga, four of its eight stages are an integral part of worship sequences, viz.  posture, (aasana), breath (life force)-control, (praanayaama), placing or invoking the divine aspects in self  (nyaasa or dhaaranaa or  atma-nikshepa ), and deep concentration and  contemplation (dhyaana). There is also the process of transferring ones prana into the worship-image (dhruva-bera); and identifying the self with the archa image.  The object is the union (yoga) of the individual with the absolute.

Agama – Classification

24.1. The worship of the deities may have been the immediate cause for the emergence of Agama literature. The worship of god in a particular form that is dearer to ones heart became the prime concern. The Agama thereafter branched into sects; each sect affiliated to its chosen god (ishta-devata). Each branch, each sect and sub sect of Agamas created its own set of texts and commentaries describing the virtues and powers symbolized by its deity; the aspects of its manifestations; and the particular ways to worship its chosen god.

 

24.2. It is said; the Agamas, in truth, are countless. But, generally, eleven branches of the Agamas are mentioned; each branch having several texts associated with it. The eleven are : (i) Vaishnava;(ii) Shaiva; (iii) Shaktha ; (iv) Saura; (v) Ganapathya; (vi) Svyambhuva (Brahma); (vii) Chandra ;  (viii) Pashupatha ; (ix) Kalamukha; (x) Jina; and (xi) Cina.

The first five branches follow the panchayatana tradition of the Smartas .Of these, Saura and Ganapathya are now not in common use. And the practices of Pashupathas and Kalamukha sects are not in the open. The Agama texts relating to Brahma and Chandra are deemed lost. The China Agama is presumed to be in China, Tibet or Nepal. And, Jina Agama has a very long history; and, is still in practice among the Jains.

Thus, the three prominent branches of Agama shastra in practice during the present times are: the Shaiva, the Shaktha and Vaishnava.  And, each of these in turn has numerous sects within it.

24.3. Shabda-kalpa-druma integrates the three branches of the tradition and explains: ‘It has come from Him who has five mouths; and, it is in the mouth of Her who is born from the mountains. And, what else, it is recognized by Vasudeva himself; and, that is why it is Agama’ (Agatam panchavaktrat tu gatam cha Girijanane; matam cha Vasudevasya tasmad agamam utchyate).

25.1. The term Agama is more often used for the Shaiva and Vasishnava traditions; and the Shaktha cult is termed as Tantric. But, there is an element of Tantra in Agama worship too.

25.2. The Shaiva branch of the Agama deals with the worship of the deity in the form of Shiva. The Shaivas recognize twenty-eight Agama texts, of which the Kamica –agama is better known. And, each Agama has subsidiary texts (Upa-agama).     Shaiva–agama has given rise to Shaiva Siddantha and Veerashaiva of the South; and the Prathyabijnana School of Kashmir Shaivisim which leans towards Advaita. The Shaiva-agamas, in general, regard Shiva as the Supreme Conscious Principle of the Universe, while Shakthi is the Prakrti or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage as also of liberation. The union of Shakthi with Siva leads to the freedom of the pasu (inner Self) from the Pasa or the attachment.

25.3. The Shaktha Agama texts (also called Tantras) prescribe the rules and tantric rituals for worship of Shakthi, Devi the divine Mother of all Universes, the Supreme Self, in her various forms.  She is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the liberation. It is said; there are as many as seventy-seven Shaktha-agama texts. Most of these texts are in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvathi. In some of these, Shiva answers the questions put by Parvathi, and in others, Parvathi explains to Shiva. Among the Shaktha-agama texts, the better known are: Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra.

25.4. The third one, the Vaishanava Agama adores God as Vishnu the protector, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. It emphasizes that worship, service (archa) and complete surrender (prapatti) to Vishnu with devotion is the only sure path to liberation.  Vaishanava Agama has four major divisions Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara, and Vijnanalalita.Pancharatra in turn is said to have seven branches:  Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya.  An offshoot of Pancharatra called Tantra Sara is followed mainly by the Dvaita sect (Madhwas).

The Vaishnava–agama has the largest number of texts, say , about two hundred and fifteen .Among these , Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones. The Naradiya section of the Shanti-Parva of the Mahabharata is one of the earlier references to Pancharatra.

Of the Vaishnava Agamas, the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra are most important.  According to one opinion, the Vaikhanasa Agama is the most important and the most ancient Agama; and all other Agamas follow it.

25.5. All Agamas or Tantras of whatever group, share certain common ideas, outlook and practice. They also differ on certain issues depending on the Ishta-devata they worshipped.

Agama – Content

26.1. Agamas are a set of ancient texts; and are the guardians of tradition. However, they are not treatises on Philosophy, although they follow and expound a particular theory of life and its goal. They are essentially Sadhana Shastras (practical Scriptures) primarily addressed to ardent aspirants. They, among other things, prescribe the means to attain ones ideal of God through worship, devotion and submission, aided by set of prescribed disciplines. The Agama manuals serve as important guidebooks for deity worship by the devotees of all affiliations: Saiva, Vaishnavas and Shaktas. And each of those has its own set of Agamas.

26.2. According to Varahi Tantra (quoted in  Shabda-kalpadruma)  : Agama is characterized by seven ‘marks’ (sapthabhir lakshana-yuktam tva-agamam): creation (shrusti), dissolution (laya), worship of gods (deva-archanam), spiritual practices (sadhana), repetition and visualization  of mantras (purascarana), set of six magical practices (shad-karma-sadhana), and contemplative techniques (dhyana yoga).

26.3. The six goals (shad-karma-sadhana) that Agama strive to achieve are said to be:(i) utchatana  – vertical integration of natural energies, maintaining the balance in  nature; (ii) sthambhana –  increase energy and holding capabilities of a particular place; (iii) maarana- destroy the negative energy influences over a particular area; (iv) bhedana – split different energies within a given area to maintain balance of nature; (v)  shanthi – maintaining the balance of nature with social progress; and, (vi) pushti – nourishing the nature and species so that evolution progresses.

27.1. Agamas which also mean ‘acquisition of knowledge’, ‘traditional doctrine’, ‘science’ etc draw their theory and practices from many sources, including Tantra. Agamas also draw upon Vedic knowledge, Yogic disciplines, Tantra techniques as also mantras, Yantras and other modes of worship employed in the temples.

27.2. Each Agama consists of four parts (paada). These broadly deal with jnana or vidya –paada (knowledge), Yoga-paada (meditation), Kriya (rituals) and Charya-paada (ways of worship).

[The Buddhist and the Jaina traditions too follow this four-fold classification; and with similar details]

It is said; each paada has external (bahir-yajnam) and internal (antar-yajnam) interpretations. The former is about the way of doing things; while the latter explains the esoteric or spiritual significance of the rituals performed.

(i) The first part (jnana paada) includes the philosophical principles, theoretical framework for explaining the ultimate reality, its manifestations; the nature of the universe, creation and dissolution; and the nature of self, bondage and liberation.

(ii) The second part (Yoga-paada) covers the six-limbed yoga (sadanga: asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyana, dharana and samadhi) as also the aspects of the physical (bahiranga) and mental (antaranga) disciplines and the essential purity in living and thinking (shuddhi). The aspect of dhyana receives detailed treatment in many of the Agama texts.

(iii)  The third segment Kriyapaada (rituals) articulates with precision, the principles and practices of deity worship – the mantras, mandalas, mudras etc; the mental disciplines required for the worship; the initiation (diksha) process,  the role of the preceptor (acharya) ,the rules for constructing temples and sculpting the images. They also specify the conduct of other worship services, rites, rituals and festivals.

(iv) The fourth one, Charya-paada, deals with priestly conduct and other related aspects; as also the austerity, purity in conduct; and devotion to one’s own Agama in outlook and in practice.

27.3. It is usually the last two segments of the Agama texts – Kriya and Charya paadas – which deal directly with temple or worship. These receive greater emphasis because of their application in the day-to-day worship practices.  These are the segments that are in greater use by the priestly class following the Vaishnava-agama – tradition (paddathi) in their day-to-day observances.  This seems   quite natural, considering that the Agamas in the present-day are mainly related to the temple and its worship practices. 

[The Shaiva Agamas, in contrast, seem to attach greater importance to the first paada (jnana) than to the other three paadas].

27.4. The four paadas complement each other; and they all contribute towards the same objective. They all aim at the twin rewards (viniyoga or phala) of liberation from bonds of samsara (mukthi); and prosperity and wellbeing in worldly life (bhukthi).The Agama texts point out that the two aspects are equally important. They decry a person seeking salvation for self without discharging his duties and responsibilities towards his family and fellowmen. And, they therefore praise the virtuous life of a householder as the foundation which supports the other three stages of life; and as the best among the four stages.

28.1. The Agama prescriptions form the basis for worship practices at home or at Temples, as it exists today. They, in fact, cover the entire gamut of activities associated with temples, its functions and its purpose. These include , among other things, the training manuals meant for the performing priests, their initiation into worship-service; the worship attitudes and procedures specially designed for each type of deity; the details of daily rituals, occasional celebrations, festivals etc.

28.2. The Agama texts also give elaborate details about the theories of creation, ontology, cosmology, nature of the universe, the relations that exists between god-world- man, observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals as also the rules (grihya-sutra)  of  domestic rites , household life, community living , and celebration of public festivals (uthsava).

Agama- Tantra

29.1. Agamas and Tantras are a vast collection of knowledge and form a major portion of religious literature and practices. The two are of similar nature; and share common ideology. Both are dualistic in their outlook and approach. It is the sort of duality that aims at unity. Agamas and Tantra are based in the faith that every experience in this world bears subject-object relation; this world is a passage towards perfection; and the visible is the way to the invisible. Both address the fundamental question: how to gain the direct experience (sakshatkara) of the highest. And, both are primarily concerned with devising   practical means of dedicated- action to attain the goal.  Both idealize the faith of a person seeking unity with ones ideal of God or the Supreme whose grace alone can save her/him from samasara the misery of worldly involvements. Devotion and implicit surrender is the key to their Sadhana. Without surrender there is no possibility of success.

29.2. Agama and Tantra texts deal with same subjects; adopt the same principles; and quote same set of authorities. It is said; Agama is essentially a tradition and Tantra is technique. But, Agama is wider in its scope; and contains aspects of theory, discussion and speculation about a range of issues.  Agamas cover various other subjects with particular reference to worship of the deity installed in the temple. In that context, Agamas discus the minute details of appropriate worship services to be conducted at the temple during each part of the day; yogic disciplines and mental attitudes required of the worshipper. They also indirectly cover various other fields of knowledge such as grammar, etymology, chandas, astrological significances, conduct of a devotee, ethical values in life , observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals etc. The other important aspect addressed by the Agamas is the Devalaya – vastu- shilpa, temple architecture.

Agama -Shilpa

30.1. The Agama texts state that if an image has to be worshipped it has to be worship – worthy. The rituals and sequences of worship are relevant only in the context of an adorable icon installed in the heart of the shrine. And the icon is meaningful when its shrine aptly reflects its glory.  The temple should be in harmony with the essential character of its presiding deity; and the temple complex should also truly reflect the attributes of its associate gods and goddesses. The worship services are, therefore, structured by Agama texts having in view the nature of the deity and of the shrine in which it resides.

30.2. It is in this context that Agama texts forge a special relationship with Shilpa shastra which is basic to iconography; and, in particular, with devalaya-vastu-shilpa the temple architecture and design. The involvement of the Agamas with temple architecture is based in the faith that the temple, in truth, is the expansion or outgrowth of its presiding deity installed in the innermost sanctum of the shrine. And, it believes that the temple must be built for the idol, and not an idol got ready for a temple already built, for the temple verily is the expanded reflection of the icon.

30.3. The Agamas thus get related to icons and temple structures, rather circuitously. And, this   is how the Agama literature makes its presence felt in the Shilpa-Sastra.

31.1. The Shilpa aspects of the Agamas cover in elaborate detail the principal elements of   devalaya-vastu-shilpa, temple architecture such as: the suitable requirements of the temple site (sthala), temple tank (teertha) and the idol (murthy); dimensions, directions and orientations of the temple structures; the suitable building materials; the specifications, the sculpting and carving details of the image of the deity to be installed; as also the placement and orientation of supplementary deities  within the temple complex etc.

Thus, the icon and its form; the temple and its structure;   and the rituals and their details, are all meaningfully interrelated.

31.2. In due course, each branch of Agama tended to create set of its own texts. That gave rise to a new class of texts and rituals. And that coincided with the emergence of the large temples. It is not therefore surprising that town-planning, civil constructions and the arts occupy the interest of early Agamas.

Agama – approach

32.1. The Agama Shastras are based in the belief that the divinity can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkala, formless – absolute; or as sakala having specific aspects.

Nishkala is all-pervasive and is neither explicit nor is it visible. It is analogues, as the Agama texts explain, to the oil in the sesame-seed, fire in the fuel, butter in milk, and scent in flower. It is in human as antaryamin, the inner guide. It has no form and is not apprehended by sense organs, which includes mind.

Sakala, on the other hand, is explicit energy like the fire that has emerged out of the fuel, oil extracted out of the seed, butter that floated to the surface after churning milk or like the fragrance that spreads and delights all. That energy can manifest itself in different forms and humans can approach those forms through appropriate means. The Agamas recognize that means as the archa, the worship methods unique to each form of energy-manifestation or divinity.

32.2. The Upanishads idealize the Godhead as formless, attribute-less absolute. The God here is the most sublime concept. Yet; one has to concede that concrete representation of such a God is theoretically impossible. The human mind with its limitations cannot easily comprehend God in absolute. It tries to grasp the divine spirit; bestow a form to the formless (Na cha rupam vina devo dyatum kenapi sakyate: Vishnu Samhita 29. 51).  The worship through image helps the devotee :  to visualize the incomprehensible divinity in chosen form and attributes; to give substance to one’s notion of God so that he devotee may dwell on it and engage himself in a certain service ; and,  realize her/his aspirations .  Else, the mind of an ordinary person might lapse into drowsiness or his/her attention may wither away.

32.3. The worshipper following Agama tradition fully appreciates the Vedic monism and its ideal of formless Brahman that pervades all existence. Yet, he finds comfort in the duality of Tantra and Agama rituals.   The worshipper is aware, all the while, that the forms (murti), sounds (mantras) and diagrams (mandalas) employed in worship are just human approximations and are inadequate representations of God (prathima svalpa buddhinaam). Yet, he tries to find through them an approach to the Supreme.

32.4. He would argue:  It is not very important whether the medium of worship you choose is either Agni or something else; but it is the archa with devotion and sincerity of purpose that truly matters. Here, faith is more significant than precepts; procedures more significant than concepts and symbolism more relevant than procedures.

33.1. The most widespread rituals of worship today are of the Agamic variety which includes elements of Tantra. The Agama methods are worship of images of God through rituals (Tantra), symbolic charts (Yantra) and verbal symbols (Mantra). The symbolism behind this method of worship is that God pervades the universe and that the entire creation is his manifestation in myriad ways. All the forms of his manifestation are but aspects (vibhuthi) of the Divine .There can exist no object, no form of any sort which is not divine in its nature. Any name, any form that appeals to the heart of the worshipper is gracefully accepted as a representation or manifestation of the Divine.

33.2. Following that, one’s chosen form of the divine (ishta-devata) is regarded as a concrete and a specific expression of the formless. Vishnu Purana (2.14.32) offers a beautiful analogy to explain the concept of the idol that one loves to worship. It compares the worship-images fashioned according to one’s heart-desire (mano-kamana) to the notes of the flute. It says; the air that fills the player, the air that flows through the column of the flute, and the air that flies out of the holes of the flute, are but different aspects of the same air that fills the whole emptiness of existence.  But, it is the specific vibrations, the modalities and the patterns of relations of the air that flows in and out of the flute that creates the sweetness of the melodious musical notes. From an absolute point of view, all the air that flows in and around the world is but one. But, the same air in its relative form and with its delicate differences creates cognizable sounds and melodies that are enjoyable. Similarly, the all-pervading divine essence can be better grasped when given specific forms through human ingenuity, imagination and love.

34.1. Agama regards devotion and complete submission to the deity as fundamental to pursuit of its aim; and hopes that wisdom, enlightenment (jnana) would follow, eventually, by the grace of the worshipped deity. The Agama is basically dualistic, seeking grace, mercy and love of the Supreme God, represented by the personal deity, for liberation from earthly attachments (moksha).

34.2. The Agama texts hold the view that japa (recitation of mantra as initiated by the Guru), homa (oblations offered in Agni accompanied by appropriate hymns), dhyana (meditation on the aspects of divinity) and archa are the four methods of approaching the divine.  And, of these, the archa (worship of the icon) is the most comprehensive method. It is explained; the first approach (japa) is through a pattern of sounds (nada/shabda), while the second (homa) is through the medium of Agni. Meditation (dhyana) is, of course, independent of concrete representations. All these three are individual approaches. It is archa, the worship of a deity individually and in communion with the gathering of devotees that is easiest. Further, the archa includes in itself the essentials of the other three approaches as well.  Archana in temples is an integrated mosaic of individual and congregational worship; and is the most accepted approach.

This is the faith on which the Agama shastra is based. The Agama shastra is basically concerned with the attitudes, procedure and rituals of deity worship in the temples.

Agama -Nigama

35.1. It is said; Agama is distinct from Nigama, just as Tantra is distinct from Veda. Agama is closely linked to Tantra; while Nigama is synonym for Veda. If Veda is taken to mean knowledge, Nigama is that by which one learns, one knows (nigamyate jnayate anena iti nigamah: Sabda – kalpa -druma).   Therefore, Nigama, since Panini (6.3.1.13), has come to mean Vedas. And, even during the later times the two terms were used interchangeably. For instance; Sri Vedantadeshika is also addressed, at times, as Nigamantadeshika.

35.2. Agama, generally, stands for Tantra. The Agama-Tantra tradition is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition. Vedas and Agamas are intimately related. The Agama claims that it provides the practical application and the means of action for realizing the teaching of the Vedas and Vedanta.

36.1. The two traditions, however, hold divergent views on matters such as God; relationship between man and God; the ways of worship; and path to salvation etc .The Vedic concept of God is omniscient, omnipotent, a formless absolute entity manifesting itself in phenomenal world of names and forms. The Agama which is allied to Tantra regards God as a personal deity with recognizable forms and attributes.

36.2. The Vedas do not discuss about venerating the icons; though the icons (prathima or prathika) were known to be in use. Their preoccupation was more with the nature, abstract divinities and not so much with their physical representations. The Vedas did however employ a number of symbols, such as the wheel, umbrella, spear, noose, foot-prints, lotus, goad and vehicles etc. These symbols, in the later ages, became a part of the vocabulary of the iconography.

36.3. The idea of multiple forms of divinity was in the Vedas .They spoke about thirty-three divinities classified into those of the earth, heaven and intermediate regions. Those comprised twelve Adityas, aspects of energy and life; eleven Rudras, aspects ferocious nature; eight Vasus, the directional forces; in addition to the earth and the space.

36.4. The aspects of the thirty-three divinities were later condensed to three viz. Agni, the aspect of fire, energy and life on earth; Vayu, the aspect of space, movement and air in the mid-region; and Surya the universal energy and life that sustains and governs all existence, in the heavenly region, the space. This provided the basis for the evolution of the classic Indian trinity, the Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

37.1. Rig Veda at many places talks in terms of saguna, the supreme divinity with attributes. The Vedanta ideals of the absolute, attribute- less and limit-less universal consciousness were evolved during later times as refinements of those Vedic concepts. The Upanishads are the pinnacles of idealism that oversee all horizons. But, in practice, common people worship variety of gods in variety of ways for variety of reasons. The worship rendered are relevant in the context of each ones idea of god; needs and aspirations; fears and hopes; safety and prosperity; and, the pleasures and pains of life.

37.2. Vedic worship is centred on the fire (the Yajna) the visible representation of the divine, certain religious and domestic rituals, (shrauta sutraas and griyha sutraas), and the sacraments, (samskaara). In this tradition, the gods and their descriptions are, mostly, symbolic; and not presented as icons for worship. The hymns of the Rig Veda are the inspired outpourings of joy and revelations through sublime poetry. The Yajur and Sama Vedas do refer to conduct of Yajnas; but they also suggest certain esoteric symbolic meaning. And, very few of Vedic  rituals are in common practice today.

Vedic approach to divinity is collective in character involving a number of priests specialized in their branch of learning and having specific roles to play in the conduct of the Yajna.. The Yajnas always take place in public places and are of congregational nature.  The Yajnas are celebrations, performed with exuberance in presence and view of large number of persons participating with gaiety and enthusiasm.

37.3. As compared to Yajnas, the tantric rites are conducted in quiet privacy within secret enclosures or in secluded spots. TheTantra or Agamic worship is individualistic in its orientation; and, calls for quiet contemplation, intensity and self-discipline as demanded by its texts. Tantra – Agama regards its rituals as a sort of direct communication between the worshipper (upasaka) and his or her personal deity (upasana-devata).Its ultimate aspiration is the unity of the worshipper and worshipped.

The aim of Agamika, the ardent aspirant, following the Agamas is, therefore, to gain, on his own, a direct experience (sakshatkara)of his highest ideal. The Agamas provide well defined and time tested practices leading towards that ideal.  It is for this reason the Agamas are called pratyaksha Shastra (the science of real experience), Sadhana Shastra (the science of spiritual practice) and Upasana Shastra.

38.1. While the Vedic rituals lay a great emphasis on fire rituals and the sacrifices, the Agamas recommend worship of images of gods as the efficient means to salvation.  Its way is through rituals (tantra) employing word symbols (mantra) and charts (yantra). These symbolic activities strengthen the individual’s conviction and help her/him to bind a harmonious relation with the object of worship.  The approach of Agama is dualistic: that of a man seeking God the Supreme whose grace alone can save him from samasara the misery of worldly involvements.

38.2. The Upasaka worships the divine through the medium of bera, murthi, archana whose shape is symbolic. Agamas  believe that the worshipper must identify himself with the object of his worship: na devo devam archayet ( one cannot worship a deity unless one becomes that deity)  .Hence the various ritual practices – mental and physical- meditation , visualization, invoking the presence of the deity in one’s body (nyasa), mantras and mudras are employed; all aiming to achieve this identification.

39.1. In the Nigama tradition greater attention is paid to the knowledge of the gods, though such knowledge is not systematized. The Agama texts no doubt extol knowledge; but they also emphasize that without ritualistic action mere knowing is ineffective and rather pointless. Agama texts, however, clarify that worship-action (karma) and liberating wisdom are secondary to deep devotion.

39.2. The most distinctive feature of Agamas is immense devotion (Bhakthi) and submission to the will of god (prapatthi).The two virtues are regarded    the primary requisites for attaining wisdom or enlightenment (jnana) leading to the path of salvation. It is this element of devotion that has given rise to temple-worship and the ritual-culture associated with it.

39.3. To put it in another way,the Agama texts no doubt extol knowledge; but they also emphasize that without ritualistic action rendered with devotion, any sort of knowledge is ineffective and is rather pointless. In the Agama context, devotion is understood as intense involvement in worship of the deity (pujadi sva anugraha bhaktih).

diwali-diya-lotusflower-design

Agama – Nigama rapprochement

40.1. Although Agama and Nigama traditions started on divergent approach, in course of time there was reproachment between the two. Tantra-Agama barrowed many details from Vedic tradition and adopted many more. And, In due course the Agama came to be accepted as a subsidiary culture (Vedanga) within the Vedic framework.

40.2. The temple worship, per se, is guided by its related Agama texts which invariably borrow the mantras from the Vedic traditions and the ritualistic details from Tantric traditions.  This has the advantage of claiming impressive validity from Nigama, the Vedas; and at the same time, carrying out popular methods of worship.

40.3. Even in performance of rituals, the Agama harmonized within itself the elements of Veda and Tantra.  For instance, the Bodhayana shesha sutra and Vishhnu-pratishtha kalpa outline certain rite for the installation of an image of Vishnu and for conducting other services. The Agama texts combined the rules of the Grihya sutras with the Tantric practices and formed their own set of rules.

Further, while installing the image of the deity, the Grihya Sutras do not envisage Prana-prathistapana ritual (transferring life into the idol by breathing life into it); but the Agamas borrowed this practice from the Tantra school and combined it with the Vedic ceremony of “opening the eyes of the deity with a needle”.

While rendering worship-services to the deity, in open, the Agamas reduced the use of Tantric mantras; and instead adopted Vedic mantras for services such as offering ceremonial bath, waving lights etc. though such practices were not a part of the Vedic mode of worship.

40.4.  The Agamas, largely, adopted the Vedic style homas and Yajnas. But, they   did not reject the Tantric rituals and Tantric mantras altogether.

Agama – Temple worship

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41.1. The worship of deities in public or at home might be the immediate cause for emergence of Agama traditions.

The Agamas in the present day find their full expression in temple- worship.  They form the basis for worship practices at temples, as it exists today. They prescribe the structure and architecture of various kinds of temples, the customs to be followed, the rituals to be performed and the festivals to be celebrated. They in fact cover the entire gamut of activities associated with temples, its activities and its purpose.

41.2. The Agamas deal with all types of worship practices followed either in temples or at home; either in communities or in private; either through image or formless fire or otherwise.  The worship in a temple has to satisfy the needs of individuals as also of the community. Agamas accommodate collective worship along with individual worship that is characteristically private when performed at home. The worships that take place in the sanctum and within the temple premises are important; so are the festivals and occasional processions that involve direct participation of the entire community. They complement each other. While the worship of the deity  in the sanctum might be an individual’s  spiritual or religious need ; the festival s are the expression of a community’s joy , exuberance , devotion , pride and are also an idiom of a community’s cohesiveness .

41.3. The temple worship ritual has two other distinct aspects; the symbolic and the actual which is secondary. The former is the inner worship (manasa puja or antar yajna) of the antaryamin (the inner being) residing in ones heart; and the latter is external worship characterized by splendour, spectacle and an overflow of religious fervour.

The inner worship involving Tantric rituals  that takes place in the privacy of the sanctum is more significant than the external worship These are in a sequence such as shudhi (purification of elements), mudras (assumption of appropriate and effective gestures), pranayama (regulation of breath to enable contemplation of the divinity), dhyana (contemplation), soham_bhava (identity of the worshipper with the worshipped), mantra (words to help realize the deity in worshipper’s heart) and mandala (diagrams representing aspects of divinity). In manasa puja, God is the worshipper’s innermost spirit. The worshipper visualizes and contemplates on the resplendent form of the deity as abiding in his own heart.

As regards the external worship it involves several kinds of service sequences (Shodasha Upachara) submitted, in full view of the worshipping devotees, to the personified god who is revered as the most venerated guest and as the Lord of Lords who presides over the universe (lokadyaksha). The services are rendered with gratitude, love and devotion to the accompaniment of chanting of passages and mantras taken from Vedas. The worship routine is rendered more colourful and attractive by presentations of music, dance, drama and other performing arts. These also ensure larger participation of the enthusiastic devotees.

Thus, at the temple, both the Agama worship-sequences and the symbolic Tantric rituals take place; but each in its sphere.

41.4. The worship practices that are followed in the temples are truly an amalgam of dissimilar streams of ideologies and practices. The rituals here are a combination of concepts, procedures and symbolism.  Each of these finds its relevance in its own context, without conflict or contradiction. The temple and iconic worship may appear like tantric. However, in practice the worship at temples involves both homa and archa rituals. The Agama mode of worship invariably borrows the mantras from the Vedic traditions along with ritualistic details from Tantric traditions. Vedic mantras are chanted in traditional manner while performing services such as ceremonial bath, adoring the deity with flowers, or waving lights. Apart from that, the Agama practices combine in themselves the elements from yoga, purana and Janapada the popular celebrations where all segments of the community joyously participate with great enthusiasm and devotion. The Janapada  includes  periodic Utsavas, processions, singing, dancing, playacting, colourful lighting, spectacular fireworks , offerings of various kinds etc.; as also various forms of physical austerities accompanied by sincere prayers.

41.5. You find that temple worship is judicious mix (misra) of:  the Vedic mantras and its vision of the divine; the tantric rituals with their elaborate symbolisms; the Agamic worship practices, attitudes and devotion; the discipline of Yoga and its symbolic purification gestures; and, the exuberance and gaiety of folk festivals, processions and celebrations in which the entire community participates with great enthusiasm. All these elements combine harmoniously in the service of the deity and create an integrated Temple –culture.

42.1. That is so far as Agama in general is concerned.  In the subsequent parts let’s talk about specific branches of the Agama. In next lets touch upon Vaikhanasa Agama  a major branch of the Vaishnava Agama.

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Continued in Part Three

– Vaikhanasa Agama

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

http://yabaluri.org/TRIVENI/CDWEB/theperspectiveofthetantrassept45.htm

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas04.htm

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar

http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Evolution-of-Tantra-1.aspx

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra

 

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Tantra – Agama – Part One – Tantra

[This article is primarily about Agama. Since Agama is closely aligned to Tantra, let’s briefly talk about Tantra before we revert  to a discussion on Agamas.]

Agama

1.1. The term Agama, primarily, signifies tradition; it is a way of life. Agama represents the previously ordained practices generally held in esteem (Agama loka-dharmanaam maryada purva-nirmita – Mbh 8.145.61). Agama is also that which helps to understand things correctly and comprehensively, in attaining the highest objective of Man (aa jna vastu samantaccha gamyat ith agamo matah: Pingala-matha). Agama, according to Jaya-mangala, is a well ascertained (siddam siddau pramanaustu) trustworthy knowledge (shastra aptanam) that contributes to our welfare (hitam) here (vaa tra) and hereafter (para tra cha).  Its authoritative traditions, which command faith, prescribe practices for day-to-day ritualistic life; and, in particular, for a well disciplined course of right conduct and purposeful worship – actions to be followed at each stage of one’s pursuit for attaining his/her ideal of God.

1.2. Agamas (the term Agama literally means wisdom traditionally passed on) have come down to us from the distant past through oral traditions. They are revered as revelations; but, are not essentially treated as part of the Vedas. The Agamas do not derive their authority directly from the Vedas. Yet; they are Vedic in spirit and character; perform Yajnas in the Vedic mode; and make use of Vedic mantras while performing the service.

1.3. It is also true that Vedas and Agamas are intimately related. They represent two aspects of a fundamental question: how to realize the Truth.  Veda, it is said, in its primary sense is Knowledge which liberates. Agama is a traditional doctrine grasped in faith. Agama developed the esoteric teaching and practice of the Vedas into external forms suitable for the changing needs of times.

2.1. The argument of the Agamas is that mere knowledge and discussion about That (tat) or the Truth or the Supreme Being will achieve nothing spiritually; and will not liberate, unless it is supported by purposeful action. It points out that just talking about spiritual experience is rather purposeless: ‘mere words cannot chase away the delusion of the wandering; darkness is not dispelled by mention of the word lamp’.  What is of prime essence is the actual, direct immediate experience (Sakshatkara) of the Supreme.  And, Truth has to be realized and brought into ones experience. That is not possible unless there is a definite, determined and sustained action (Sadhana kriya) to attain ones ideal of Truth. All must act, who have not achieved.

2.2. The claim of the Agama is that it provides such means of action, as also the technique for realizing and experiencing the sublime ideals eulogized by the Vedas and its associate scriptures of knowledge. Agama assures; its well defined and time-tested methods of Sadhana are indeed the practical applications of the teaching of the Vedas and Vedanta. Here again, it is explained, a single ritual act performed routinely in daily life is rather shallow.  But Sadhana, on the other hand, is an intimate spiritual discipline comprising set of coordinated practices of faith of which rituals form part. Agamika – Sadhana is more comprehensive; it is a sustained and a determined endeavour to realize ones ideal of Truth. Agama, therefore, aptly calls itself variedly as Pratyaksha Shastra, Sadhana Shastra and Upasana Shastra.

2.3. The Agamas promise that if you follow their direction you will achieve Siddhi. They assert; to experience a thing in its ultimate sense is to be that very thing.  It is for this reason the ancient faith of Agama has prescribed rituals, which are both symbolic and suggestive, as also a set of disciplines that ensure wholesome, healthy living in body, mind and spirit.

2.4. The Agama is thus a philosophy which not merely argues but acts and experiments. Agama is practical philosophy (prayoga shastra) addressed to ardent aspirants. It combines in itself the exposition of spiritual doctrine as also the means to realize its teachings.  Agama provides form and substance to ones faith and to its quest.

Tantra – Agama

3.1. It is perhaps because Agama is unity of a system of thought (or faith) and a body of practices; it has come to be very closely connected with Tantra. It is said; Agama is essentially a tradition, and Tantra is its technique (prayoga). You cannot think of the one without thinking of the other. Agama is the Sadhana part of Tantra. Tantra and Agama cite same set of texts. If Tantra is said to be in greater use in North, Agama is used in South. The Agama texts in South often include the term Tantra in their title.

3.2. The two terms are often used interchangeably.  For instance; an Agamika is also called Tantri. An old Tantric text Pingalamata says that Tantras are Agama with characteristics of Chhandas (that is Vedas). The Agama-Tantra way is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition.   The encyclopaedic dictionary Shabda– kalpa – druma of Raja Radha Kanta Deva explains: since Agama tries to protect the delicate balance in creation, the learned ones name it as Tantra (tanuthe trayathe nithyam tantra mithi viduhu budhaha). Tantra is also Siddantha-Agama (tantriko jnana siddantah) – an established system of knowledge and practices. Tantra is the process (vidhi) or the regulation (niyama), which amplifies and nurtures knowledge (Tanyate vistaryate jnanam anena iti tantram); it breathes life into forms of knowledge; and , devises methods to realize its aims.

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Tantra – what is?

4.1. Kamikagama explains Tantra as a system which expands (vipula) on matters relating to essence (arthan) of philosophy (tattva) and mantra that help to attain liberation (tanoti vipula – arthaan tattva – mantra samanvitam; tantram cha kurute yasmad tantram ity abhidhiyate). Tattva is the study of the Absolute principle. Tantra brings the realization of tattva (tat=That) within ones experience, with the help of mantra – Sadhana. Tantra is therefore an intuitional wisdom that liberates (tatra ya ayat tarayet yastu sa tantra parikirtitah). At the same time, it is said, devotion and complete surrender is the secret of Tantra –Sadhana. And, itis characterized by high regard, implicit obedience and unquestioned faith in the guru.

The term  Tan-tra is also understood by analyzing it through  its two syllables: tan–a verbal root meaning to stretch, to expand, also to be diffused as light, to weave (with the image of extending the threads which are to be woven) ;and, tra , taken in the sense of trāa, the root meaning to save, to protect, to liberate. Thus, it means a system, theory or practice which saves and protects.

The further meaning of tan– is to show, to manifest; to accomplish, perform; to compose (a work). Therefore, Tantra, is also called Āgama (sacred tradition which has come down to us). Abhinavagupta defines Āgama as a fundamental, well-established knowledge (prasiddhi) which underlies the specific traditions and their scriptures and their instructions regarding way-of-life

4.2. Tantra is understood as a system which leads to growth of one’s awareness, higher faculty of reasoning and intuitive power leading to the path of self-realization. In practice,  Tantra is a dynamic philosophy  which supports life, action, aspiration, knowledge, quest  for truth, a path which unshackles the potential of  the human mind and helps one to realize the essential unity of all existence.

4.3. Tantra also stands for ritual, in general, wherever there is the concept of duality. The ritual might be external or internal by way of introspection. Ritual is the body tanu in which the spirit of Tantra manifests. Ritual, in fact, is the art of Tantra. It involves elaborate initiation (diksha) ritual; use of symbolic Yantras, mantras and mudra-s (suggestive gestures); and secretive Sadhana.  The rituals, here, are symbolic activities which strengthen the aspirant’s conviction and help him to achieve a harmonious relation with his environment in the broadest sense. All these are meant to fructify in direct experience of his ideal, which indeed is the aim of Tantra as also its justification.

4.4. Another feature of Tantra is the importance it assigns to speech and its power. In the Vedic context speech vak was invested with divine quality. Tantra went a step further and lent the speech energy and power. Its mantras are invariable accompanied by syllabic Bija mantras which are potent with inherent Shakthi. The Bija mantras of Tantric nature are subtle sounds of abstract language which attempt to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle.

4.5. Tantra is a vast and all comprehensive set of disciplines, beliefs systems and practices.  In the words of Sir John Woodroffe: ‘tantra, from its very nature is an encyclopaedic science… not weighed down by the limitation of words. It is practical; lights the torch and shows the way.’ ‘… Tantra is neither religion nor mysticism but is based upon human experience in the very act of living, as a source of the amplification of consciousness… The Tantra way has been absorbed as a cultural behavior valid for everyone and not merely to an exclusive group or sect’

Tantra – a synthesis

5.1. Tantra is not a single coherent system. It is an accumulation of ideas and practices dating back to pre-historic times. The Tantra synthesizes the various insights of karma, jnana, bhakthi and yoga for the benefit of the ardent practitioner in his endeavour to realize his ideal.  The Tantra works accept the validity of Vedic rituals; theframework of the Universe composed by the dual elements of pure consciousness (Purusha, Shiva) and Prakrti (Shakthi) as put forward by Samkhya; the wisdom (viveka) and detachment (vairagya) of  the Upanishads; the purifying disciplines of Raja yoga; as also the passionate love for the Divine as sung in the Puranas. They exhort the aspirant, Sadhaka, to exercise his/her will and strive even as they practise self-surrender, praying for divine grace.

5.2. In addition, Tantra employs numerous techniques which include mantras; Yantras; postures and gestures (nyasas and mudras); offerings of flowers, incense and ritual ingredients; breath control (pranayama); yogic practices (asana, dhyana, dharana) etc. The Tantra promises its followers Bhukthi and Mukthi: wellbeing in the present world and ultimate liberation from sorrows of the world. Tantra, thus aims to attain plural objectives (aneka-muddisya sakrt pravrttis-tantrata).

5.3. Both the Vedic and the Buddhist scholars were prolific writers on Tantra.  One of the reasons that Tantra cannot be precisely defined is that it comprises an astounding number of subjects, each with its own several sub-divisions. The writers on Tantra tried to bring in whatever that was best and interesting in other fields of study. As a result; the Tantra literature grew, spreading over a vast number of subjects, such as: yoga, astronomy, astrology, medicine, alchemy, divination, and so on. Besides that, Tantra turned into an admixture of religion, philosophy, science, superstitions, dogma, psychic exercises and mysticism.

In a way; it could be said that the Tantra literature reflects India’s past cultural history, particularly between the 7th and the 11th century. Despite its flaws, Tantra is India’s unique contribution to world-culture; no other country has  produced such a body of literature, beliefs and practices.

Tantra Outlook

6.1. Tantra believes that the culmination of all learning is sakshatkara the direct experience of one’s cherished ideal. It asserts that Truth cannot be attained by mere knowing about it. And, that if the Truth has to be realized and brought into ones experience, it surely needs Sadhana. Tantra claims it provides the means and the technique (upasana-prakriya) for realizing and experiencing that Truth. It is proudly calls itself  Tantriko jnata-siddanta an established system of knowledge and practices; as also Sadhana Shastra or Prayoga Shastra, the shastra distinguished by sprit of enterprise and adventure.

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6.2. Central to Tantra-faith is the concept of duality that culminates in unity. Shiva the pure consciousness and Shakthi its creative power are eternally conjoined; the one cannot be differentiated from the other. The Tantra ideology explains the apparent duality of Shiva-Shakthi; Bhairava-Bhiravi; etc as being essentially non-dual (abheda). Their relation is that of Dharma and Dharmin; that is between the object and its properties. Their relation is analogous to that between fire and heat; the Sun and its rays; and, ocean and its waves. Philosophically, the relation between Shiva and Shakthi is compared to the pure-light of consciousness (Prakasha) and its power of illumination (Vimarsha). And, Shiva can be attained only through his power (Shakthi); and, Consciousness can be realized by self-reflection or meditative practices (Dhyana)

Shiva-Shakthi are essentially two aspects of One principle. In reality, the whole of existence, the range of manifold experiences in the world are but the expressions of Shiva-Shakthi combine.  Shiva (Purusha) does not act by himself, but is inseparably associated with – and influences through – his Shakthi (Prakrti), the dynamic primal energy that manifests, animates, sustains and finally re-absorbs the universe into itself. This Shakthi is all powerful and infinite.  It is only in the relative plane that Shiva-Shakti might appear as separate entities. But, the Reality is unity, an indivisible whole.

6.3. At the core of the Tantra ideology is the faith in ‘upasaka-upasya-abhedha-bhava’, where the worshipper and the worshipped are united. The Tantra mode of practice (upasana –prakriya), it is claimed, leads to the summit of its philosophy where the upasaka comes to identify her/himself with her/his upasya-devata.

Tantra – Man

7.1. The individual, according to Tantra, is not isolated but is integrated into the entire cosmic scheme. And, his limited experience is not separated from the Absolute experience.  The individual is a miniature Universe. The body is a microcosm of the universe (Brahmande ye gunah santi te tishthanti kalevare); and ‘what is here is elsewhere; and what is not here is nowhere (yadihasti tadanyatra yannehasti natatkvachit). 

7.2. Tantra firmly believes; the forces that operate the world are dormant within the person; but, functioning at a different level.  It asserts; Man is a spiritual being; and he realizes his full potential when he is awakened. The process of realization is self-discovery, which culminates in true understanding of the self. The purpose of Tantra is awakening the hidden potential in Man to enable him to realize this Reality.

7.3. Tantra regards human body as a mandala – a matrix of energy; and as a configuration of vital currents (prana-shakthi). It asks the individual to respect his being for it is Isha-para the city where Shiva dwells; to strive for self improvement; and, to keep body and mind healthy.

7.4. Tantra is the cult of householders. It does not encourage renunciation (sanyasa); but at the same time lays emphasis on internal purity and detachment. The view of the Tantra is that no realization is possible by negation or by escape from the world. Tantra asks the aspirants to accept the world as it exists; and not get involved in far-fetched assumptions.

Tantra- world

8.1. Tantra believes and says; the tangible world of actual experiences is real; and, it is not in conflict with the ‘other’.  Tantra’s approach is thus practical; and, it attempts to be free from conventional perfectionist clichés.  Tantra is not ‘other-worldly’ in its outlook. It is against extreme asceticism; and is also against arid speculations.

8.2. Tantra strives to show a way to liberation here in this life whilst in this body and in this world: jivanmukthi. And, that is not achieved by denial of the world, but by sustained discipline and practice while still being in the world, amidst its pleasures.  It assures that the tangible world of day-to-day experiences is real; and is relevant in its own context. This world is a passage towards perfection; the visible leading to the invisible.  There is no conflict between this world and the ‘other world’. It does not intend to sacrifice the present world to the ‘other world’, but aims to somehow integrate the two into the framework of liberation.  Tantra promises Bhukthi and Mukthi: wellbeing in the present world and liberation from sorrows of the world.

Tantra – approach

9.1. In the context of its times, the Tantra- approach was more open and radical. Tantra overlooked the artificial restrictions imposed by caste and gender discrimination. And, it willingly admitted into its common fold (samanya) the women and sudras hitherto kept outside the pale of religious practices. The Gautamiya Tantra declares:  “The Tantra is for all men, of whatever caste, and for all women” (Sarva – varna- adhikaraschcha naarinam yogya eva cha).

9.2. Tantra appeals to the common aspirations; and recognizes the urge of natural human desires.  It admits the ever ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit. Tantra ideology explains; every human experience bears a subject-object relation, the enjoyer and the enjoyed. It is not feasible either to destroy or to subjugate the object altogether; for any such attempt binds one into a vicious circle from which there is no escape. On the other hand, it is wiser to transform the disintegrating forces into integrating ones.

Tantra makes an amazing statement: even as the object can be overcome only by the object, the desire can be overcome by desire. Hence the Tantra dictum: ‘that by which one falls is also that by which one rises’ (Yatraiva patanam dravyaih, siddhis-tatireva). And, Sri Aurobindo therefore remarks: ‘tantra turns   the very obstacles to spiritual realisation into stepping stones.’ This is a truly distinctive feature of Tantra.

9.3. The essence of Tantra is direct experience. Tantra sets out its approach through direct action, in contrast to Vedic rituals performed indirectly through the priests. It says: ‘understanding Tantra is by doing it’. Tantra cautions: ‘There is no salvation by proxy; and definitely not through hired priests. Each aspirant has to strive to realize the true nature of self and attain salvation’.

9.4.  The Tantra was not so much concerned with the formulation of doctrinal principles as with the realization of a particular experience of the freedom (svatantra), spontaneity (svacchanda) and un-bound consciousness (prakasha). Tantra is a prayoga–shastra that involves activity and  experience.  It justifies any means that leads to authentic experience.

Such direct experience was called by many names by various groups ; Samarasya (harmony) ; Yuganaddha (sense of union) ; Sahaja (spontaneity) ; Adavya (non-dual) ; and , Khechari (moving freely in the void like a bird ).

In all the voluminous and complex writings of Abhinavagupta the symbolism of Heart (Hrudaya) plays an important role. He perhaps meant it to denote ‘the central point or the essence . His religious vision is explained through the symbol of heart, at three levels – the ultimate reality; the method;and, the experience. The first; the Heart, that is, the ultimate nature (anuttara – there is nothing beyond) of all reality, is Shiva. The second is the methods and techniques employed (Sambhavopaya) to realize that ultimate reality.  And, the third is   to bring that ideal into ones experience.

The Heart here refers, in his words ‘to a sublime experience that moves the heart (hrudaya-angami-bhuta). He calls the third, the state of realization as Bhairavatva, the state of the Bhairava. He explains through the symbolism of Heart to denote  the ecstatic light of consciousness as ‘Bhaira-agni-viliptam’, engulfed by the light of Bhairava that blazes and flames continuously. Sometimes, he uses the term ‘nigalita’ melted or dissolved in the purifying fire-pit the yajna–vedi of Bhairava. He presents the essential nurture (svabhava) of Bhairava as the  self-illuminating (svaprakasha) light of consciousness (Prakasha).  And, Bhairava is the core phenomenon (Heart – Hrudaya) and the ultimate goal of all spiritual Sadhanas.

Abhinavagupta makes a distinction between the understanding that is purely intellectual; and, the one that is truly experienced. The latter is the Heart of one’s Sadhana.

Veda and Tantra

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10.1. Veda and Tantra are two life-streams of Indian heritage; are the warp and woof of the Indian culture and traditions. Veda is knowledge and Tantra is cult that aims at liberation. They have enriched our lives in countless ways. Though Tantra is more visible in our day-to-day practices, there cannot be a religious ceremony without the recitation of Vedic mantras. And, hardly any aspect of Indian thought and usage is outside the scope of all embracing twin- influence. The two most ancient mighty rivers of tradition could not have arisen in isolation nor could they have flourished without one influencing the other.

10.2. Actually,  if  Tantra is seen as  opposed  to  Vedic lore,  it is partly because  of its being altogether different from  it, and  also partly because  it  gives a  different, a new  interpretation  and  usage of Vedic elements. This is clearly apparent; for instance, a number of Vedic elements are built into the Tantric Mantra-shästra.

One important distinction between Tantra and the orthodox Vedic texts is that the Tantric revelation is supposed to be open   to all, irrespective of caste or sex.  This might have come about because of the Vedic culture expanding into new social strata or groups.

And, similarly, the Bhakati cults too   remained ‘Vedic’ in spirit while encompassing within its fold all classes and groups of the social structure.

10.3. Yet; in the general perception, the Veda and Tantra are distinct currents of India’s spiritual, cultural and intellectual life. Apparently, the two are not only mutually exclusive but also are opposed to each other. And, the orthodox followers of Vedic tradition tried to distance themselves from Tantric ideologies and stress that Tantra is not a product of Vedic wisdom.

10.4. Though the Vedic and Tantra traditions are often considered as parallel streams or even as intertwined, their mutual relations over the centuries have not always been comfortable. It is rather complex.

10.6. The traditional view is that Tantra and Veda are two distinct strands of Indian cultural fabric. The orthodox assert: ‘Tantra is cult and Veda is enlightened philosophy’ .Tantra, on the other hand, put forth their own arguments.

Contrasts

11.1. In the Vedic tradition, much attention is given to knowledge – the knowledge of gods, of the Yajnas. Its approach to gods is of collective character, involving a number of priests and adepts specialized in each part of the Yajna. The Yajnas are public occasions of great celebration where a large numbers participate enthusiastically.

11.2. The Tantra, in sharp contrast, is highly individualistic in its approach. The Tantric aspirant strives to communicate directly with object of her/his worship; without the mediation of priests. It is a private, one-to-one intimate communication with ones’ ideal. Further, Tantra is upasana-prakriya based in symbolic representations (sanketa prakriya).  The Tantra ideology is, often described as ‘symbolic wisdom, directly communicated through the teacher (sanketha-vidya guru-vakthra – gamya).

11.3. Tantra, unlike the Upanishads, does not always require that one should renounce the world in order to engage in the search for deliverance.  On the contrary, it endeavors to reconcile deliverance (moksha) with enjoyment (bhoga). One who pursues Tantra is, thus, a bubhukshu (desirous of enjoyment) rather than a mumukshu, who aspire to liberation (moksha).

11.4. The Tantric views the world as the place where salvation is achieved and experienced, while-living (jïvanmukti), the ultimate state for the Tantric adept.

The Tantric does not solely pursue the knowledge that liberates; but, he seeks autonomy and power as well. He stays in the world and strives to controls it by attaining supernatural powers (siddhis).  He becomes one with the Transcendental. 

11.5.  He does not shun earthly desires (in every sense of the word); but does his utmost to harness Kama and bring into service all its related values.

Related to this, and equally characteristic, is Tantric’s  concept of the Godhead, where  male and female principles are polarized  as contrasting energies ; and , the female pole being  regarded as that vital  energy  which pervades and gives life and sustenance to all the elements in existence . His pursuit of deliverance therefore involves tapping and using (or manipulating) this female energy.

11.6. Another contrasting feature is that the Tantric sects have always been small groups of initiated ascetics; and, there is a very strong allegiance to the Guru and to his tradition (Guruparamparä).

dhyānamūlaṃ guror mūrtiḥ pūjāmūlaṃ guroḥ padam | mantramūlaṃ guror vākyam mokṣamūlaṃ guroḥ kṛpā || Kulārṇava Tantra 12-13

The form of the Guru is the root of meditation. The feet of the Guru are the root of worship. The word of the Guru is the root of the mantra. The grace of the Guru is the root of liberation.

11.7 The Tantric mode of worship (Puja) is dominated by very complex ritualism and worship of an image or a chart (mürti, bera, and Yantra),   in contrast to the Vedic Yajnas.

11.8. Another characteristic feature of Tantra, in all its forms and tendencies, is the one related to speech and its powers. While the Vedas did recognize the divine quality of speech and, assigned it a central role, the Tantra, in addition, infused into it exceptional power and energy; and,  made it a very vital component of Tantric worship.

Tantra is origin of Vedas ?

12.1. There are other assertions that try to bind the two traditions together by saying that Veda and Tantra are braches of a single system.  For instance; Kulluka Bhatta (15th century), one of the commentators of Manava-Dharmasastra (2.1) states that Sruti or the revealed word is twofold:  Vaidiki and Tantriki (vaidiki tantriki caiva dvividha sruti kirtita).

12.2. There is another saying which declares that Veda is, indeed, a branch of Tantra. The Agama texts state that the discipline known as Tantra is twofold in nature: Agama and Nigama (agamam nigamam chaiva tantra-sastram dvividha matham). Here, Nigama stands for Veda and Agama is a system of practices inspired by Tantra ideology.

13.1. Some Tantra-texts go a step further and assert that Vedas originated from Tantra ideology .For instance; Narayaniya-tantra claims that the Vedas were derived from the Tantra-sources: Rig Veda from Rudra yamala; Yajur Veda from Vishnu Yamala; Sama Veda from Brahma Yamala; and Atharva Veda from Shakthi Yamala.

13.2. The assertions that the Vedas come within the scope of Tantra or that the Vedas originated from Tantra are rather intriguing; and it is very unlikely. Narayaniya-tantra, mentioned above, is of recent origin (c.14th century); and it might have overstated its position in order to elevate the Tantra School. It is very unlikely that Veda originated from Tantra.

Tantra perhaps developed largely outside the establishment and in the process developed its own outlook and approach to life, away from the conventional purist clichés.

Tantra – Veda – compatible

14.1. Some texts of Tantra acknowledge that Vedas are of great antiquity and are highly revered.  Tantra accepts the authority of the Vedas; and assures it is not in conflict with Veda or any other recognized Shastra. For instance; Kularnava Tantra says (2. 85,140,141) that Kuladharma is based on and is inspired by the Truth of Veda (tasmat vedatmakam shastram viddhi kaulatmakam priye). 

14.2. The Tantra School explains that if one gets the impression that Tantra is opposed to Vedas, it is partly because its approach is different, and also partly because of it attempts to give a new interpretation to Vedic elements.   Tantra argues; it essentially teaches the same tenets as the Vedas. It is, in fact, the culmination of the philosophies of Vedanta and Samkhya.  The difference of Tantra lies in its method and certain subtle points of philosophy.

14.3. Tantra calls itself the driving force spreading the light of knowledge (Veda): ‘Tanyate, vistaryate jñanam anena, iti Tantram’.   The Tantra School points out that the Samhitas (mantra portion of Vedas) and the Yajna- rituals are entwined. The mantras of Rig Veda and Sama Veda are concerned with offering Yajnas to various deities. The hymns of Yajur Veda, in the main, are about the actual performance of the Yajna. Above all, the Atharva Veda along with its mystic invocations is also about the practices known as abhicara the practical applications for medicinal, magical and other purposes.   The Samhita associated with the practical aspects Yajnas was elaborated in the later Brahmana texts. It is therefore argued that the Brahmanas are, in fact, the Tantra of the Vedas.

15.1. The tantra ideology projects itself as the natural evolution of the thought process. The Upanishads are appendices to the Brahmanas which, as already said, constitute the tantra or technique of the Vedas.  The older Upanishads, it said, adopted the Vedic deities and concepts for purposes of esoteric meditation. But soon, the later Upanishads took up to Mantra shastra or Varna sadhana, yoga and Yajna. Characteristically, a bulk of them is attached to the Atharva Veda having direct affinity with the Tantra, in aim and content and even in form. The Tantra School argued that Tantra-ideology is thus at the core of the Vedas. Pranatoshini tantra claims: ‘Veda is an extension of Tantra’.

15.2. Vedas may not have originated from Tantra. But, there appears to be some substance in other arguments of Tantra School. Over the centuries, the movement of all thought process has been from the general to the particular, from esoteric to the more explicit. It is the progression from principles and theories to their practical applications; simulating the relation between science and technology. In the Indian context, the Veda in the distant past was highly idealized poetry inspired by awe and wonder of the surrounding nature and a yearning for a true understanding of the mysteries of the Universe. The Upanishads that followed took up the germ ideas hidden in the philosophical hymns of the Vedas and expanded them into series of discussions. The Puranas conserved and propagated the exoteric ritualistic aspects of the Vedas through the medium of   wonderfully delightful legends that common people could relate to and enjoy.

The Tantra brought into its fold the esoteric teaching and practice of the Vedic mystics; the techniques of Yoga; and the sense of absolute surrender and intense devotion to ones ideal as extolled in the Puranas .It synthesized all those adorable elements and turned them   into forms of worship-practices (archa) designed to satisfy the needs and aspirations of   ordinary men and women of the world, in their own context. The growth and development of Indian thought resembles the imagery of the inverted tree – of which our ancients were very fond – with its roots in the sky and its fruit-laden branches spreading down towards the earth.

15.3. It is said; the Vedas represent distant past; the Smrti-texts represent middle-times; and, the Puranas represent mythical past. And today, it is the Tantra and Agamas that are most relevant.  Some Tantra-texts even remark that Vedas had become too distant and rather outdated because of their extreme (viparita) age. Its roots are lost in the distant antiquity; its intent is not easily understood; and, its gods and its rites are almost relics of the past. The men of the present age no longer have the capacity, longevity and moral strength necessary to carry out Vedic-karma-kanda. And, therefore Tantra, says, it prescribes a special sadhana or means of its own, to enable common people to attain the objectives of Shastra.  Therefore, Tantra claimed, it arrived to rejuvenate the Vedic texts and also to rescue men from the depths of depravity.

Tantra – Veda – reproachment

16.1.In fact, the relationship between the two traditions is complex. There is obviously nothing Tantric in Vedic literature. Although Tantra rejects the authority of the Vedas,    a number of Vedic elements have not only survived in Tantric texts, but also, sometimes, have been developed intensely. Moreover it seems that from a certain period onward , Vedic elements were  introduced  or added into the Tantric works—Tantras  or Ägamas—in order to lend them an aura of  respectability ; and, also to render them  more  acceptable within the orthodox circles.

Thus, instead of denying the import of the Vedas entirely, the Tantra contrasted itself from the Vedas, rejecting some of its elements while preserving, developing, and reinterpreting certain others.

16.2. Although Tantra and Vedic traditions started on divergent approach, in course of time there was reproachment between the two; and the two came closer. Tantra called itself the culmination of esoteric knowledge of Vedanta; and, came to be known as a special branch of Veda: Sruti-shakha-vishesha. It even said; the Vedic religion in its essence has survived and spread to common people through Tantra. The Tantra texts assert that the Tantra-Sadhaka must be a pure person (shuddhatma), a true believer (astika), and must have faith in the Vedas.

16.3. Tantra drew many details from Vedic and Yoga traditions and adopted many more with suitable additions and alterations. Its originality lies in the manner it organized various components into a creative, imaginative pattern.  The Tantra in general simplified the Vedic rituals and made greater use of esoteric symbols.For instance; although the celebrated Gayatri mantra (3.62.10) of Rig Veda is dedicated to the Vedic solar deity Savitr, it was adopted by Tantra as the representation of the Mother Goddess. The Dhyana-slokas portray the picture of a goddess. The repetition of the Gayatri is preceded by mystic syllables known as Vyahritis which are similar to the Bija-aksharas of Tantric meditation.

16.4. Similarly the hymn of benediction from Rig Veda (1.89.6) was adopted for worship of Shakthi. Kaula rites were interpreted through the imageries of the Yajna. Tantra developed texts in the mode of Vedic scriptures. For the worship of gods – Ganesha, Karthikeya and Vishnu – the Sama-Vidhana-Brahmana prescribed the collection of hymns known as Vinayaka Samhita (S. V. 4. 5. 3. 3), Skanda-Samhita (S. V. 3. 2. l. 4) and the Vishnu-Samhita (S. V.  3. l. 3. 9), respectively. Some say; Vedic elements were introduced into Tantra texts to lend them greater acceptance, an air of authenticity and respectability.

17.1. In a like manner, the Vedic tradition admitted within its fold the Samkhya and Yoga Schools aligned to Tantra ideology. The orthodox texts accommodated the concepts transformed from Tantra. For instance; the ancient Vedic mantra Savitri was accepted as the Mother – goddess (asya maata Savitri: Manu.2.170). And, Chandogya Upanishad (3.12) glorified Gayatri as being that which exists right here, that which sings (gayati ) and saves (trayati) all things in their Reality.  Further, many of the later Upanishads of sectarian character are about Tantric subjects. The recital of Vedic hymns now accompanies the various worship-rituals of Tantric nature. There cannot a religious ceremony without the recitation of Vedic mantras .And, the Vedic rituals are preceded by purification rituals like achamana, pranayama etc which are adopted from Tantra and Yoga.

Tantra – Impact

puri-jagannath-temple

18.1. The living religion of Hindus, as practiced today, is almost entirely Tantric in nature. The Tantra doctrine and worship- rituals woven into Indian culture are now an integral part of Indian religions.  The Hindu, Buddhist and Jain ideas, beliefs, and practices of worship are permeated with Tantra. The Tantra ideology continues to form a part, in one form or other, of all Indian spiritual practices. The common worship practices – from the lowest to the most advanced – both at home or in temples is, almost entirely, based in the Tantra philosophy of duality, in its outlook and in its approach to god. Except for Vedic Yajnas, every religious sect in India uses tantric modes of worship for its rituals and spiritual practices – both external and internal.

18.2. In today’s world, it is the Tantra that has greater impact on socio religious cultural practices than the Vedas.  Despite its blemishes and the abuses it received, Tantra is the most popular mode of worship conducted at homes and in temples. It provides comfort to the devotees through its ritualistic, philosophical, and mystic aspects. The scholars hold the view:   what we today have come to appreciate as Indian culture and religion is more influenced by the subtle character of Tantra than the Vedas.

19.1. The reasons for growing influence of Tantra are not far to seek. Its importance is heightened mainly because of the fading influence of the ancient Vedic texts.The precepts of the Vedas (say, maintaining various ritual fires at home) have become too difficult for our age.  The stipulations for conduct of Vedic Yajnas have become rather impractical in the present context. The life-styles prescribed for Vedic practitioners have also become outdated; and are difficult to follow. The Vedic ideals, its gods and its view of the prospects in after- life seem too distant. The idealism of Upanishads and its contemplative philosophy are ethereal; and are beyond the ken of common people. The legends vividly narrated by the   Puranas sound fantastically unrealistic.

19.2. The common people yearn for a relation with the object of their worship. They need a god to love, to devote, to highly respect, to submit or even to fear. They look up to a god who loves and rescues from difficulties; protects the good; and punishes the evil. The devotee prays for happiness, success and enjoyment in the world. At the same time she/he also has a resolve (sankalpa) for mukthi, the ultimate-good.

People need something concrete, simple, and yet attractive to worship and to address their prayers. Tantra practices lead men and women to seek the divine with the help of bera, murti and other forms whose shape is symbolic. Tantra, in its simple form, with its dualistic approach; its sense of devotion, dedication and complete submission to the chosen deity (ishta-devata) fulfils the deepest desire of all. Tantra seems an easier cult with easier doctrine. At another level, it lends various ritual practices – mental and physical- meditation, visualization, invoking the presence of the deity in one’s body (nyasa), mantras and mudras all aiming to achieve identification with the object of their worship.

Summing up

20.1. Sir John Woodroffe, the greatest exponent of Tantra-vidya in recent times, in his lectures on ‘Tantra Shastra and Veda’, summed it up excellently with a remarkable statement:

The application of Tantric principles in worship-rituals is a question of form. And, all forms do change with the passage of time. Accordingly, the structure and content of worship-rituals are context-sensitive. And, they vary from region to region and from time to time to satisfy the needs of the age and the aspirations of worshipers in accordance with the   degree of spiritual advancement of the body of men who practice it.

Tantra and its rituals might therefore undergo changes over a period. But, the ancient and sturdy foundations of Veda and Vedanta on which Tantra rests will remain unaltered and unaffected.’

20.2. The Agama –Tantra tradition is as important and as authentic as the Vedic tradition. Tantra despite, its variations, is a specific system within the general system of Hinduism. The relevance of Tantra in the life of common people of today is mainly through worship practices carried out at homes and temples following the procedures laid down by Agamas. Agama is the Sadhana part of Tantra.  The two permeate the religious life of most Hindus.

Let’s talk of Agamas in the next part.

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Continued in part two

References and Sources

1. A Companion to Tantra by S C Banerji ; Abhinav Publications (2007)

2. Tantra: its mystic and scientific basis by Lalan Prasad Singh ;Concept Publishing Company (1976)

3. Tribal roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari ; Sarup & Sons (2002)

4. The Tantric way by Ajit Mukherjee and Madhu Khanna ; Thames & Hudson (1977)

5. Agama Kosha by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru Research Academy (1994)

6. The Perspective of the Tantras By K. Guru Dutt

http://yabaluri.org/TRIVENI/CDWEB/theperspectiveofthetantrassept45.htm

7. Tantra Shastra and Veda by Sir John  Woodroffe

http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/sas/sas04.htm

8. The Tantras: An Overview by Swami Samarpanananda

9. Evolution of Tantra by Nitin Sridhar

http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Evolution-of-Tantra-1.aspx

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Agama, Tantra

 

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