By Swati Chopra
What is tantra? What are its practices? Who walks on the right, who on the left, of god? Tantrik Guru Baba Batuknath answers these questions in an exclusive interview.
Genuine Tantra masters are hard to come by. Genuine Tantra masters who are willing to answer questions related to their practice are almost impossible to find. It was quite a blessing, then, for us to come across Baba Batuknath, successor of Baba Bhootnath of Lucknow.
Baba is a modern inheritor of an ancient tradition. Having received a contemporary education (he graduated from Delhi University with a Bachelor’s degree in English) simultaneously with grounding in Tantra from his guru, Baba is very much a 21st century Tantrik. During a recent visit to Delhi, Baba spoke to us about the true spirit of Tantra. In a startlingly modern idiom peppered with stories and examples from music and science, he answered my questions about his life and journey, Tantric practices and techniques, and exactly why Tantra is controversial. Excerpts:
We are curious to know about you—your education and then assuming this Tantra gaddi. How did it all happen?
My education happened in the best schools of India, like Welhams’ and Doon School, and I did my graduation from Delhi University. After that, I went to live in the ashram. My guru (Baba Bhootnath) was one of the greatest Tantra masters of the country. He had adopted me in childhood, and he was responsible for my education and upbringing. He had other children in his care too. In 1980, when I was 13 years old, he chose me to be his successor.
How did your Tantra education happen?
Initially I used to live in the ashram with my guru. When in school, I used to return to the ashram during holidays. During college, there was an ashram in Delhi, where I used to spend time after college hours. Until he left his body in 1990, I was constantly learning from him.
Tantra has been much maligned in today’s world. To really understand what Tantra is, one needs someone who will be able to talk about it in everyday language. No book has been written on Tantra, there have been books about Tantra. But what it really is, no book has been able to describe.
Just as you cannot write about the pleasure you experience when playing the sitar but you can write about the instrument, the way to play it and so on. The ananda, bliss, of listening to music can be experienced, not written about. Similarly a lot has been written about Tantra, what it is or isn’t, and a lot of it has been incorrect. Those who have tried to explain Tantra have not understood it themselves. Therefore a wrong picture has emerged.
If an individual cannot understand something, he either stops thinking about it, or he begins badmouthing it to show that it is not worth understanding at all. We tend to feel jealous towards the knowledge we do not have. This is what has happened with Tantra. People regard it with fear, and fear arises from unknowing. This fear can only be broken by true knowledge, and once this happens, then nothing is bad, everything is good.
You have received a modern education simultaneously with ancient teachings of Tantra.
I never asked my guru why he was educating me in these two vastly different ways. What I now feel is that perhaps he did this to enable me to talk to people in their own language about things they might not otherwise understand. For instance, if you want to converse with a scientist, you will have to do so in a scientific way. People best understand the idiom of the field in which they are proficient.
Now you tell me, what do you understand by spirituality?
It is a quest for truth, knowledge, reality?
What do you mean by these terms?
Now you are interviewing me!
I’m just trying to get you to understand something very basic. When people talk of spirituality, they bring in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita, and other scriptures. Actually, these are related to religion, not spirituality. Whenever a god-like person presents new ideas to humanity, and they are liked and followed, a new religion arises. Dharma is a way of life; and whichever way you walk, you become a follower of that dharma.
You said spirituality is a quest for truth, knowledge and reality. There is a difference between truth and reality. Reality is what we perceive through our senses. Truth is already there, but may not be perceivable through our senses. Truth is unchangeable; reality is fluid and dynamic. At one time, humanity thought the earth to be flat. This was reality then, but it changed, and the earth became round.
Knowledge is what we gather from information around us. If a person masters a language, we say he has knowledge of that language. This doesn’t mean he is a jnani, a person full of wisdom. A wise person is one who has followed a path, understood it, and knows the path better than reality perceived through the senses. This is a fruit of inner contemplation.
Knowledge can change, wisdom cannot. Till some time ago, the knowledge of Sanskrit was considered very valuable in our culture. The person who knew Sanskrit was worshiped. And now, the only use we have for Sanskrit is during weddings!
Similarly, spirituality will not change but religion will. The Sikh religion arose after Guru Nanak, Islam after Prophet Mohammed, Christianity after Christ, and so on. New religions have and will keep forming.
Spirituality is enjoying the music; religion is dissecting the instrument. Spirituality is enjoying the rose; religion is saying—these are the petals, stem, stamen, stigma, this is how pollination happens, this is how grafting is done. The person who begins following religion enjoys the beauty of rituals, but not the essence. What you dissect, you cannot enjoy.
Is this where Tantra fits in?
Be patient, I’m coming to it. Now Ramayana is a story that happened once upon a time. Lord Ram appeared, followed a way of life that people liked, and Ramayana came into existence. Mahabharata is also a story. Krishna came in a form that was different from Ram. Ram and Krishna are two banks of a river. Ram was an epitome of human perfection; there is no question of lies or deceit in his life. Krishna’s appearance is signaling a way of life that is different from Ram’s—it is a marker of changing times. Each yug has its own ideal lifestyle. Ram’s sending away of his wife would have been unthinkable in the earlier satyug life of Raja Harishchandra. And Krishna’s raas lila with gopis would, in turn, be unthinkable for Ram.
We, in today’s times, are enamoured of these ways of life detailed in ancient scriptures and like to think of them as ideal. But we cannot follow them in today’s world. We love to recount stories of Krishna stealing butter or gopis’ clothes. But if a child behaves in the same manner today, would we indulge him? Lifestyles change with time. We cannot live today as human beings did in satyug, treta or dwapar.
Definitions of good and bad change with time. We imbibe these from our social environment. For instance, drinking alcohol is considered bad by Muslims but they’re fine with smoking; whereas for Sikhs, the opposite is true. Paap and punya are also defined in this way. We are not born with these ideas; they are fed to us by society. Whether it is actually so or not is a different question. What we like becomes swarg (heaven), what we don’t is narak (hell).
Heaven and hell, good and bad, are actually constructed from our own perceptions of the pleasurable and the painful.
Yes. Vishnu once told Narad that he would give a place in heaven to any candidate chosen by Narad. Narad found a pig and offered to take it to heaven. The pig asked, “Does heaven have mud for me to wallow in?” Narad admitted it didn’t. “I don’t want to go to such a hell!” exclaimed the pig.
Good and bad, heaven and hell, right and wrong are constructs made by human beings, and these are necessary for society to function. If for instance we do not classify stealing or killing as wrong or paap, then it would become part of acceptable behaviour. Morals are linked to aspects of human behaviour for the smooth functioning of society. Once you strip away all these notions and inhibitions, conditioning and education, then you have a raw human being. Only then can he become spiritual. Until our minds are stuffed with definitions and conditions imposed by society, we cannot turn towards spirituality because we will think only on the lines of what has been taught us. Tantra is part of this spirituality; it is not religion. We absorb Tantra so that it becomes part of us.
One of the aims of this special issue of Life Positive is to remove misconceptions about Tantra.
Tantra does not mean playing games with spirits (bhoot-pret). What you see in films and TV where Tantra practitioners are shown doing all kinds of things wearing outlandish clothes—that is not Tantra. Tantriks sitting in cremation grounds holding skulls is not Tantra. All these are purely figments of imagination of something that has not been understood at all, and so has become a convenient bogey and scapegoat.
What then is Tantra?
Tantra is a spiritual path that includes diverse practices. Mantras, for instance, which are not merely words but production of vibrations. Yantras are designs that help us focus mantras to produce specific vibrations. It is like architecture. We first make a map, and then decide upon the mantras, where we will place them, how we will pronounce them, so that we will get a particular end-result.
I’ve heard that this process is scientific and precise.
Absolutely. Science is integral to spirituality, and vice-versa. In the recent past, we would dismiss as unrealistic claims made in ancient Indian texts about human beings flying in the air. Now it is a reality. Similarly, we know about telepathy. Those who don’t understand it respond in two ways—either they close their minds to it and say it is not possible at all, or they try to find out more about it. It is the same with God-realization. Those who try may or may not reach Him, but at least they try. Then there are those who worship God out of fear—if He isn’t then it’s okay, but what if He is? (laughs)
Today, the power of the mind is being recognized by everyone, including scientists. At one level, the human mind has invented so many wondrous things, like this. (Holds up his cellular phone.) It is such a tiny instrument and within seconds you could be talking to someone far away using it. We have created something that can send vibrations to another person and if he has the same technology, he can respond.
When the mind can invent such a thing, why isn’t it powerful enough to do this on its own? We can create vibrations that can reach another person if he is attuned. This is the technique of Tantra. We create vibrations and use mantras and yantras to hone and direct them.
Could you explain this vibrational technique further?
Mantras are not words, they are made of akshara (syllables). Vibrations are created using these akshara. We can combine them in various ways to come up with a specific end-result. The technique also depends on the doer’s motivation and purpose.
What if someone uses the technique for a harmful purpose?
The technique itself will give results. But when anything is done that goes against prakriti, the doer will have to face the consequences. This is what we always keep in mind. We create vibrations from prakriti, but if we then use it for something that goes against prakriti, we will have to bear the negative consequences.
What is the highest motivation for a Tantra practitioner?
One of the first things that a Tantra practitioner feels is inner ananda, bliss. There is no limit to this. You have to do it to understand it. The other important thing is that when one begins one’s Tantra sadhana, his attachments begin to dissolve. He may receive all kinds of material pleasures and live among them, but he does not feel attached to them. He is in a state of equilibrium where he is not devastated in grief, neither is he swept away in worldly happiness. He learns to be happy all the time. There is no possibility of his getting overly perturbed about anything. He feels his body is just a medium for actions; he is a spectator to all that’s going on. Do you drive a vehicle?
When you were learning, you were the driver who was driving the vehicle. You had to keep the vehicle’s various parts constantly in mind. As you gained expertise, you didn’t have to actively think each time you need to brake or shift gears. The vehicle is now moving more as an extension of your body. Similarly, when someone is learning to play an instrument, he will have to pay attention to each swar. Once he becomes one with his instrument, his fingers begin playing on their own. He becomes so absorbed in the playing that he doesn’t feel the presence of a separate instrument anymore. He becomes the music. Then there is no effort; the music plays on its own.
This is what happens in Tantra. The practitioner and his sadhana are not two different things. Everything is as it is happening on its own. When we feel that we can be of help to someone, and doing so will not go against nature, we offer our help to create favorable situations through our vibrations.
How do you affect external situations?
To give an example, if I want the busy intersection in front of my house to be empty at 7 pm, I create a vibration that makes people who would otherwise pass through this intersection to be diverted elsewhere. So at 7 pm, for a couple of seconds, there will be no one at this intersection. I am fiddling with the working pattern of nature using my energy. I am not changing nature, which would mean interfering with the elements.
What is the energy equation that is at work here?
In the above example, I would create lines of control around this intersection that will serve to keep others away. We carry immense energy within us, but we are not aware of this. In Tantra, we try and utilize our mind’s power. There is a way to do this. You are busy—you rush about during the day, reach home, eat and sleep. A Tantrik is concentrating solely on cultivating his inner power. You don’t need to create a separate instrument in Tantra; our mind is the instrument. You don’t need cellular phones to talk to anyone. If two Tantriks want to talk, they can easily do so even if they are a thousand miles apart.
If there is something around us that is anti-nature, we try to weed it out. We can do this by producing vibrations that are so strong as to resonate with that object so that it is destroyed. For instance, when an instrument is played, at some point its vibration will resonate with the windowpane, which will begin vibrating. If we intensify this vibration of the instrument, it will shatter the windowpane. Everything is fundamentally a vibration. You can create a vibration with your energy that can destroy mountains, provided you make it resonate with that object. You can create in a similar manner too, just as Tansen could light lamps with his singing by creating a vibration in the lamp’s wick so that fire would be created in it. Tantra is mainly a play of vibration.
Mantras are the prime carriers of these vibrations?
Mantras are linked in such a way that they produce a particular vibration. In this process elements like havan, our posture, our pronunciation, and so on act as facilitators. The greatest mantra is Om, because the essence of all mantras resides in Om. You cannot receive the same ananda with any other syllable as with Om; you cannot carry any other mantra to your Muladhar chakra or navel as you can Om. This is because Om is the repository of all mantras.
Pronunciation is important to keep in mind with mantras. We use the throat to mould the shabda. The heart controls the breath and so the length of pronunciation, which may vary from one second to one minute. The navel forms the base and treble, and it is from the Muladhar that the mantra is raised. When a vibration is created in this way, our body vibrates with the mantra.
Tantra is available only to the raw human being, who has no inhibitions of good and bad, right and wrong. This is why nothing is prohibited in Tantra; everything is accepted. We do not ask people to give up anything including kama, krodha, maya, and so on. For if kama is controlled, anger is born. If anger is controlled, the person grasps maya. And if maya is controlled, moha (attachment) arises. A wealthy person who has abundant maya becomes wary of relatives and attachments. And he who detaches from both maya and moha, runs in the direction of kama. If you control one affliction, a second will arise, and then a third, and your entire life will be spent grappling with these.
How will a Tantrik respond to his negative emotions? These emotions are natural. In a Tantrik, a negative emotions will not arise easily because he is not attached to anything. When do you become angry? When things don’t happen according to your liking, when you are attached to the happening of something in a particular way. So if negativity doesn’t arise at all, there is no question of having to control it.
Sage Ashtavakra has said there is no need to fight darkness; just bring in some light. Once you have understood the nature of things, then where is the need to control? Everything happens naturally. For a Tantrik, life is a bed of roses. Jo hai so hai (what is, is).
Main akhand Brahmanand hoon, mujhe prapt hi prasad ho
Mujhe prapt ho prasad,
par usmein na lagaav ho
Mere bhoolne ka swabhav ho,
meri bhool mein prabhav ho
Main akhand Brahmanand hoon, mujhe prapt hi prasad ho.
(I am the undifferentiated Brahman,
may I receive life’s blessings,
And when I receive them,
may I not become attached to them.
May I have an attitude of
and may this detachment
I am the undifferentiated Brahman,
may I receive life’s blessings.)
What are the qualities an individual must possess to practice Tantra?
There are no special qualities. He should be eager to learn and if he is, then he will be able to find the right guru. Tantra can be learnt only in association with a guru, not through books. This is because the guru will be able to correct and refine your vibrations. Tantra is the relationship between a guru and shishya, it can only be imparted in this way. It cannot be taught to the masses, it cannot be written about, and it has to be practiced with a guru.
Why then is it so difficult to trace Tantrik gurus?
That is true. But why should they teach you? Just because you desire so? The guru looks at the disciple’s aptitude for learning before teaching. The main thing is an individual’s ability to de-educate himself of all he has learnt through his life, and then absorb the knowledge of Tantra. Tantrik gurus test aspirants rigorously before accepting them as disciples.
We hear of the left hand path and right hand path of Tantra.
The path is one, but some people stop at one point and remain stuck in rituals. They are worshipers of Dakshin Kali (Kali’s benevolent form). Those who walk the entire length of the path, who have been able to completely de-educate themselves, worship Kali in her angry form as Vama Kali. Since there are no boundaries of good and bad in Tantra—alcohol is not bad, meat is not bad, even human meat is not bad—this is why people question Tantra.
All religions have taboos, where good is defined as different from bad, while Tantra has none of these distinctions. People want to be told that this is right and this is wrong, that there should be somebody above them who keeps tabs on them. Tantra has not tabooed anything because life should be left the way it is. And since everything is energy, nothing is good or bad. We convert negative emotions into energy and channelize it for a higher purpose. This is what Tantrik ‘leftists’ do!
Let me show you something.
(Baba takes us to a room where there are two similar statues. In both, Kali stands on Shiva’s chest. The difference is that the one on the right, who is Dakshin Kali, smiles and holds up her hand in the mudra of benediction. The one on our left, Vama Kali, is angry and bloodthirsty, scimitar raised.)
The path of Dakshin Kali is like graduation—you have studied this much and you can now go about your life. The Vama Kali marga is like D.Litt. It means you have understood the entire process. Then either you become mad, which means you are constantly absorbed in the process, or you learn to balance your sadhana with other aspects of life.
Have you found this balance in your own life?
I do not force myself to sit in aradhana (worship). When I feel like sitting for two to three hours only, then I turn to Dakshin Kali and perform rites associated with her. When I feel it is time for a nightlong or daylong poojan, then I sit before Vama Kali. This is a longer process and requires more time and concentration of energy. But the need must arise from within, not forced just for the sake of it.
I’ll tell you a story about Ramakrishna Paramahansa to illustrate the spontaneity of worship. He was appointed priest of Dakshineshwar Temple in Kolkata. Now the problem was that when he began his worship, it would carry on non-stop for two to three days. And when he stopped, he would not resume for some days. This led to a disruption in the normal functioning of the temple. Ramakrishna was questioned. He said that when he worshiped, he became so absorbed that he was unable to stop. And when the feeling didn’t arise spontaneously, he couldn’t worship superficially. Going through the outward motions of a pooja might fool the devotees, but not the deity.
Then there was another problem. People saw Ramakrishna tasting the prasad before offering it to the deity. He explained, “My mother would always taste the food before feeding me to ensure it was properly cooked. This is what I’m doing.” Then on, a separate prasad was prepared for Ramakrishna. A third problem now presented itself. Even as the prasad was being cooked, Ramakrishna would arrive in the kitchen and begin helping himself. When asked, he said, “While cooking the prasad when you say, ‘Mother, this is for you,’ I feel I have been summoned and I immediately come to the kitchen to partake of your offerings.” This is true worship, that happens spontaneously and where the devotee has become one with the deity.
The author regrets that she does not have the contact details of Baba Batuknath
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