By Swati Chopra January 2005 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&rsquo
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