In the last session, we tried to get acquainted with Tantra as a general topic. We have seen that the root meaning of the word Tantra is “freedom through expansion”. Naturally, the question arises, “expansion of what?”. The goal of Tantra is to expand the awareness of each one of us. In other words, we have seen that Tantra is to liberate humans to a higher degree of consciousness or awareness through the expansion of our existing level of consciousness.
We can not go any further in our study of Tantra without developing a good understanding of what consciousness is. Let us, therefore, try to understand what consciousness or awareness is. Consciousness is the basis of this entire universe and everything visible and invisible in the universe. We too are objects in the universe. Each of us has an awareness of a certain degree at our individual level. The expansion of that consciousness is the core purpose of our life, as taught by the Upanishads. This is the message of the Tantra too. This is the bottom line of Tantra. Regardless of the religious practices or forms of worship one may adopt, the ultimate objective of all such practices is to take us to this expanded Consciousness. Expansion of consciousness is what every practice or every experience in life is expected to ‘deliver’. This is what we tried to understand in the last session
There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit for “Consciousness” or “Awareness”. That word is “Pragyanam“. (pronounced as “pra-gyaa-nam”). If “Pragyanam” leaves our body, we will fall down. Let me illustrate this concept with an example. When Ram dies, we do not refer to Raman’s dead body lying on the floor as Ram. Do we? “When is the body taken for cremation / burial?” is what we automatically ask in such circumstances . We will never ask, “When will Ram be taken for cremation/ burial ?”; From this default manner of speaking itself, it is clear that the body was never Ram; It is clear that Ram was something that existed in the body till a short while ago but is not there any longer. That “something” is essentially the Consciousness or Awareness that we called Ram. It was this cognitive phenomenon that we referred as Ram, and it was not Ram’s body that we called Ram. Is n’t it?
What does Awareness or Consciousness mean? Each of us has an instinctive inner knowledge that ‘I have consciousness’ or ‘I have awareness’; That intuitive cognisance is “Awareness” or “Consciousness”. When asked what “Consciousness” is, one can define it as “aware of being aware”. Consciousness, Awareness and Pragyanam all refer to the same thing. From now on, I will use the word ‘Consciousness’ to convey our inner intuitive sense of our own being . The subject matter of Tantra is how to expand our Consciousness while we are engaged in our life on planet earth and reach that extra ordinary state of higher degree of Consciousness.
Let us now look at some examples that help us to recognize the presence of Consciousness in our body.
Imagine for a moment that we slept very deep one night. We slept so deep without dreams that we became totally devoid of any awareness of what was going on around us. We did not know that it rained that night with thunder and lightning. What would we say when we wake up the next morning? “Oh, I slept very well last night; I was asleep like a deadwood. I didn’t even know that we had thunderstorms”. Don’t we usually say that in a manner of speaking? When we woke up in the morning, how did we know that we slept deep or we did not sleep well for that matter? Who came to us in the morning and whispered it into our ears? No one did! Even when our body and mind were deeply asleep, there was “something” inside of us, knowing everything, watching over everything and witnessing everything. That “something” is consciousness! That is the real “I”. The body and mind are material objects that the non-material “I” posses.
That ‘Consciousness’ is what each one of us really are. In other words, I am not this body of mine. I am not this mind of mine. Neither you are your body or your mind. This body, mind, eyes, nose, tongue, ears, skin and all the other senses are merely the costumes that the ‘consciousness’ wears to disguise itself. Death is nothing but taking off those costumes and returning to the ranks. This is the valuable lesson that Tantra and Upanishads teach alike.
There is Consciousness in everything we can see in this universe and in everything that we cannot see. Everything that is here, everything that was here, everything that is going to be hereafter are the one-man-show of Consciousness. More precisely, Tantra teaches that all things, grass, flowers, worms, you and I, this earth, the sky and the air have different levels of Consciousness. In other words, everything is the mono-act of Consciousness – the entire cosmos is the mono-act of Consciousness. The Universal Consciousness disguises itself and stands as many; And then it confuses us by making us feel that everything is different.
There is Consciousness even in a spec of clay. That is, when you put a speck of clay in water, the clay melts. When you put it in an acid, the clay will react with acid. It has a degree of self-awareness or consciousness ; No clay needs to be told where to do and what. In order to understand the concept discussed here through a comparison, consider the degree of consciousness present in a speck of clay is akin to the power of light emitted by a zero watt light.
Now take a butterfly, as another example. Butterflies also have consciousness. Its consciousness is more evolved than that of a speck of clay. It has the consciousness needed to fly itself, to go and land on the flowers and suck nectar; it is conscious enough to fly away if a threat arises. Consider the degree of consciousness in a butterfly is akin to that of the light emitted by a ten watt bulb, for the sake of comparison.
Humans have a much higher level of awareness than a butterfly. Now, consider the degree of consciousness present in a human is akin to that of the light emitted by a thousand watt bulb. Man has a much higher degree of consciousness to the extent of knowing about the solar system and galaxies, as well as several invisible phenomena such as gravity, electromagnetism, Strong Nuclear Force and Weak Nuclear Force, God-particles and so on and so forth. The consciousness of an average man is immensely bigger than that of a butterfly! Is that all? The possibilities of cognitive potentials for further development in man are, by way of illustration, equivalent to that of the brightness of the sun, which is roughly taken in science as 1.5 million watts of light. Where does one thousand watts stand and 1.5 million watts stand!! This is just one example to illustrate the limitless possibilities for expanding our existing degree of consciousness.
Consciousness must not be mistaken for our power of intellect or intelligence. Of course, the sharpness of our intellect/intelligence will be proportionate to the degree of development of our consciousness. However, “consciousness” is one thing, and “intellect” is another. There is this difference between the two, as that of the difference between the sunlight and the consequential shadow that is cast on the earth.
Let me give you another example. If you describe someone something, some of them will be able to grasp what you said fairly quickly. They will be able to understand not only what is being said, but also what is not being said, as well as what is going to be said next. Some others would not understand it fully and you may need to repeat it. Few others would not understand you at all. It is only with greater efforts that you would succeed in making them understand a little. Similarly, we ourselves have a lot to know about ourselves too. All these will manifest itself in our understanding only through the gradual expansion of our consciousness.
All those differences between one person and another are not due to the fluctuations in their individual intellects. It is thus occurring due to the degree of difference in their respective levels of consciousness.
If my consciousness, as another example, is graphically compared to the size of a small lemon, the understanding I generate when I read a book, or see a sight, or hear something, will also be to the size of that lemon. If my consciousness is compared to the size of a football, the understanding I generate when I read a book, or see a sight, or hear something, will also be to the size of a football.
In every human being, the degree of consciousness that they have already attained is at different levels. That is why not everyone understands all things in equal measures. Haven’t you noticed that the five children of the same parents in the same household, grew up consuming the same food, in the same socio-economic environment, and having received almost the similar education, reacting in five different ways to the same event in the house? Their reactions will depend on their respective degrees of consciousness each of them have reached. Having different degrees of consciousness is no one’s fault. There is nothing to be ashamed of it nor is there anything to be proud of it. It is just what it is! It is, however, everyone’s responsibility to consciously evolve from the level where we start our life from.
The goal and promise of Tantra is the expansion of this consciousness of man. But in human beings, as we have seen, consciousness stands at different degrees. Therefore, a standardised methodology for growth based on “one-size-fits-all” would not clearly work. Thus a common plan is not simply possible. We have seen that the same diversity seen in the universe is also seen in the degrees at which consciousness exists in human beings. So Tantra has come up with various plans that are appropriate for each level.
Haven’t you heard the old English adage, “Milk for babies and meat for men” ? Tantra has done the same thing – that is why there is so much variance and diversity in the manner spiritual practices are done in Indian culture. In Tantra, one can see methods of workship varying from the worship of the Natural forces, idolatry, Temple Worship, Yagas, Yjnas, Advaita, Yoga Pranayamas, Meditation, to even the Sacred Sex at some higher levels. Milk for babies and meat for men! All are considered in Tantra. All are accepted for growth with their respective strength and weaknesses. There is room for all in Indian culture. That is why Indian culture welcomed Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Jewsim etc with open arms and considered them as one of them. That is why Sanata Dharma (which is ignorantly called by the western world as ‘Hinduism”) is not a religion but it is a way of life. That is the Tantra way of living – integrating and absorbing everything inits rightful place.
We will try to understand more about that in the next few sessions. If you have any questions about the topic we are discussing here, you can write to email@example.com