I want to take you on an unusual journey… way back into time. Imagine the time, when Human beings became conscious of their environment. They became thinking beings (Man – manas).
People became aware of the warmth of the sunshine, the movement of the wind, the coolness of water, they became aware of the seasons; they became aware of change, and that things grow.
They became aware that Humans are born from Females, from woman. This was their experience! According to experience awareness grows. We learn from experience.
And so mankind expanded their awareness to Nature, to the Earth, to the Cosmos… and they became aware that there is a similarity. There is an energy that brings forth life in Nature, just as there is an energy in woman that brings forth life. They called the one that gave them birth Mother.
And they expanded their awareness to HER which gives birth to the universe… and they called that power, in analogy to their own birth, also Mother; Great Mother, or Cosmic Mother and gave Her many names.
This happened all over the world… wherever people evolved, grew, lived.
So to expand one’s mind into a greater context…to expand experience, the biological observation of birthing, into a wider understanding of ‘cosmic birthing or creation’, is called Tan-tra!
Tantra is Expansion…. As we just saw expansion from the particular to the greater.
In some contexts the word Tantra is also said to mean, to weave, i.e. to weave ones understanding, into a bigger picture, beyond the ordinary perception.
One part of the Yoga tradition has always been this expansion of Tantra. So originally and in truth…Expansion for the student of Yoga, of Tantra, of spirituality – means; to practice expanding his/her awareness into subtler realms. To expand into greater wisdom. To expand into ever wider perspective (which is very different to what people today think of Tantra!) Originally, as we saw, it focussed on the understanding of the female Principle and expanding it into a cosmic principle and this was and is shared by humanity through time and Space. Yet…History happened!
At the beginning the Cosmic or Divine Mother was honoured throughout the globe. But history all over the world has gone through changes. People; let’s simply call them Nomadic cultures, moved all over the world. And for being able to move purposefully they frequently took their orientation from the sky, the stars.
So these wandering tribes from their experience formed the idea that the forces of the sky moved the Cosmos and the world, life and everything.
They did not look to earth, did not understand life being born from woman, but life depending on the stars, the sun, the sky. So from their experience they postulated the idea of a ‘Sky God’. A male force… that governed life on earth.
When these two different perceptions met in various places and ways, in historic times, the ‘new-comers’ (the intruders) overpowered the local people, as well as their ‘ancient female understanding’ and ruled by the power of “that which can be seen in daylight!” Outer Power….relying on what can be seen. And that which can be seen – can be manipulated and used, and can be made into Systems.
And this happened in many places so that philosophical and religious systems were born. Systems can be enforced and used as tools to exert power… and again this happened the world over.
In India… the understanding of the Divine Cosmic Mother stayed often with the remaining indigenous people…which in parts of India, where and are respected participants of the culture… and in others slowly became part of the lower class.
There are four classes in Indian society; the highest class is made up of priest and Brahmins. The Brahmins, especially in North India had a very masculine orientated culture, philosophy and perception and that is still evident today!
What we know as Yogic culture was strongly influenced by a masculine principle of control and discipline, renunciation and negating; rather than creativity and receptivity which are values of the female principle. However, today there are theories which take Yoga to be a practice that goes back to woman, female experiences around birthing and nurturing….life-affirming! History is a strange thing, it changes… how it is told and what is told.
If we look at the meaning of what Yoga stands for there is no doubt it refers to Union. And that not just within the individual (as we often in the modern world are told: i.e. union of body, mind and spirit!) but it refers to the Ultimate, the Totality, Oneness of all existence (the union between Jivatman and Paramatma).
This understanding goes back to the experience that there is a Creative Force at the root of existence… and this was originally understood to be the Cosmic Mother… Maha Shakti!
From the point of Vedanta, another philosophy of India, that Original Union, that Oneness which Yoga originally referred to, is captured in the phrase that “Yoga is Samadhi”. That perception is ageless, timeless, eternal and has always been…and that all over the globe!
A rich culture like India was and is a great melting point. And so many mixtures developed of the two base concepts. The Divine Feminine Power called ‘Great Mother’ and the masculine perceptions, associated with such names as Brahma, Shiva,Vishnu etc. This kind of plurality emerged in many cultures .
The understanding of the Divine Cosmic Mother, where ever it survived, was expressed too – in ever more complex, expanded, even rational systems. The highest, most sophisticated of these we know in India as the Science of Sri Vidya.
If we step back and take a wider view, we can say Tantra is a huge field of ideas that deal with the relationship of the Human-being with the Infinite, the indescribable, but always associated with the Feminine power of ‘birthing’ (the process of giving birth in all its diverse forms). It exists in its loftiest form in Kashmir Shaivism, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and even Christianity and Judaism. But where ever it surfaces it has a link, a root, a connection to the Divine as Feminine!
Now let me highlight another path.
When we talk about Yoga… we refer to a deep experience of total connectedness… total interrelationship with all of existence. We could say this understanding of Yoga stems from the beginning of time.
In most cases people understood that there must be two powers at work. An intelligence we call consciousness. And an evolutionary, acting power that gives permanently new form to that consciousness. This we call Samkhya philosophy, one of the 7 present philosophies of India. There we talk of Purusha, the consciousness principle who illuminates; and Prakriti/Shakti his creative Power.
Pur – refers to the city… of the body and Usha… to the one who dwells inside!
Now this is fascinating because Usha is also the first Goddess… the Dawn… the beginning of Creation. So SHE the Divine Feminine is already… inside consciousness!
Furthermore what is there to illuminate unless there is something existing that can be illuminated? You see when we talk about Light, or the light that illumines… what are we talking about? What we perceive as light… is said in a simple way, energy vibrations that bounce off other denser energy vibration, like one wave in the ocean colliding with another.
So there has to be something there to reflect… the moon is only emanating light because the sun energy is bouncing off it! You can only see a chair because the sunlight bounces off the solid wood. If there is no light, no energy coming in, you don’t see the chair. It is dark!
What does it mean? It means when in Samkhya we talk of Purusha as the light that illuminates…we forget that something is there before, that can be illuminated…and that is…Shakti or as it’s called in Samkhya, Prakriti!
Here hides another historic ‘perversion’. Actually the word Prakriti has two syllables. Pra-kriti; Pra meaning before, and Kriti meaning Creation.
Thus SHE is there; the power from which birthing/creating happens before it becomes Illuminated….that which exists before can be called ‘prana’ or ‘Life-force’; Call it Shakti, call it Mother, or Pachamamma (South America).
Yoga has two other philosophies that play a great part, besides Samnkhya… although that too is not often talked about.
One is Vedanta, especially Advaita Vedanta. Compared to the portrait above, describing Purusha and Prakriti, or the two powers as Shiva and Shakti. Advaita or Vedanta give a perspective where both these powers are held… in Brahman. Brahman is ONE – is the one indescribable force which cannot be described, has no Form…. hence no gender!!!!! Ultimately there is the formlessness, Nirguna or Shunya, emptiness of form. And the expression we call world is merely an illusion; Which is very close to the original Buddhist teachings.
The third perspective that flows together in Yoga is Tantra, the expansion from the manifest, the real, into the subtle… into the indescribable. This we talked of earlier!
Now this expansion, can be tuned into through ritual and ceremony and outer gestures and manipulations of energy, then it’s called Outer Tantra.
Or through practices like mantra and meditation and inner worship, subtle inner energetic practices – then it is called inner Tantra (Samaya Tantra).
And of course there are numerous overlaps and variations.
In history, the first – the outer ritualistic ways of Tantra have produced and been used by Kings for winning a battle, by magicians to achieve a special power, by Yogis to achieve spiritual maturity; and by people to gain favours… in all sorts of things.
In the recent history, when Tantra came to the notice of the west… people saw mainly this side of the outer Tantra, the apparent power-play, which was misunderstood and it gave Tantra a bad name!
Basically … in the centre of Tantra, from most ancient times to today, is SHE the supreme power of creativity, which is beyond time and Space…. ‘Mother’
She has many names in different cultures, but probably none more so than in India… where many aspects of this Supreme Creative Power are worshipped as different Goddesses. So it appears as if there are many Goddesses worshipped… yet that is not so. There is only Shakti, the supreme creative Power… but people choose specific aspects that are meaningful to them and worshipped these. Just like any of you has many aspects and personality traits… yet they all are still you!
The Ultimate Divine Feminine, we can simply call HER ‘prana’ (Prashna Upanishad), or the creative principle, or the feminine principle, or (if you must…. And if it helps you), ’electromagnetic waves’ as modern physics does.)
So, let’s summarise. Part of the philosophy/tradition/perception of Yoga is an ancient understanding that there is a force beyond our capacity to understand. That is creative, beyond time and space. That is the feminine principle, birthing, creating and dissolving permanently all that exists. And in its most earthly, manifest form, it is experienced like a Mother birthing children.
Maybe we need to explain ‘creating’, what is creating? The moment you create a sculpture… you destroy the block of marble. So creating includes dissolving, so life includes death. Hence in the Tantric Tradition… one talks about continuity… which is life and death, no separation! One talks about interconnectedness….Of all existence!!!
So if we look at this expanded concept – and honour it in analogy to Mother as the Cosmic Mother… the Divine Originator of existence then we gain an understanding why many great Yogis and Sages have become Devotees of the Great cosmic Mother: i.e. Ramakrishna, Swami Dayananda and our very own Swami Rama.
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait writes in Swami Rama’s biography, (Swami Rama) “was a person saturated with the presence of his Master and the Divine Mother! (p.7).
In the world of Yoga all sorts of things are told of Swami Rama, but seldom is it mentioned that he was a follower of Tantra in its purest, original form, a Shakta… meaning a devotee of Shakti; a “Child of the Divine Mother”. He almost never talked of it, as is the true way of “the inner tantric path”
This inner tantric path… is called Samaya Tantra. The way we know about his devotion to the Divine Mother is mainly from his private diaries and writings. He gave permission to publish some… which we find in a book of His called: Love Whispers!
There he writes:
Oh, let me eternally breathe thy name, with the promise that I will, – till the last breath of my life. Let me breathe thy eternal name, Thou who art splendid, formless, and nameless, Thou who art the benevolent Mother…… (P.68)