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The Schools of Tantra, Bhakti, Laya, and Karma Yoga

Continuing with our discussion of the various paths of Yoga, four very different schools of thought need to be analyzed in how they all come together in the practice of Pranayama. Among all the ancient systems of Yoga, the most misunderstood and incorrectly practiced in the late twentieth-century is Tantra Yoga. "Tantra" literally means "ritual," but it often refers to a text. However, unlike external rituals which direct the body and thoughts to run through outer motions which have little to no influence on one's state of consciousness, Tantra Yoga is a system of practice which directly influences the energies situated in the lower spine to move upward toward the brain. The idea is that sense objects can be used to attain a disassociation from the senses. The result is a freeing of one's mind from sexual desire where sex is used as a vehicle for ecstasy. Perhaps to the surprise and dismay of many individuals, the majority, and in some cases all, of Tantric practices are done alone by the beginner. Most ardent Tantra Yogis who follow to the word the ancient texts on Tantra Yoga are celibate. Indeed, there are three forms of Tantra Yoga. Each is philosophically grounded on the tenet that the universe is made up of two principles, those of Shiva and Shakti, the positive and negative. Further, creation itself is negative to the positive of the Absolute. These principles exist in each person and in all things. The left-hand school is the Kaula path. Their efforts are directed toward awakening the Kula Kundalini at the base of the spine. The second school, or Mishra, is really just a combination between inner and outer practices. Their efforts center more around the heart and such devotional worship. The third school is called Samaya. It is the right-hand path and is purely Yogic. Tantra Yoga practiced with any other purpose than to free the consciousness of restlessness-producing sexual desires is a distortion and a degeneration of Tantra Yoga.

Schools of Tantra, like the other schools of Yoga, further developed during the descending and ascending cycles of Kali Yuga, thus producing various systems of practice which diverged from the original intentions of Tantra. Many of these degrading practices went north into Tibet then east into Asia and were taken as the standard of Tantra Yoga. Great Yogis like Milarepa are considered Tantra Yogis while in fact they were celibates practicing nothing more or less than the high science of Pranayama. However, as the perverted forms of Tantra later spread to the West, Americans and Europeans considered Tantra to be the sensual side of spirituality. Some worldly minded individuals would argue that celibacy, Tantric or otherwise, is unnatural. Well, Tantrayana would agree in so far as it was not part of Mother nature's plan for the procreation and survival of the species for animals, human or otherwise, to desist from sexual intercourse. Without sexual desires and the pleasure, albeit short-lived, of intercourse, there would be no life on earth. Even plants are gratified and are made complete by the creation of the flower and pollen. However, as my Master [Paramahansa Yogananda] has pointed out, it is misguided reasoning to conclude that the human race would die out if a few monks and Yogis decided to become celibate. Further, those who combat Nature's instinctual motivations do not become unnatural but rather aspire for the supernatural. The system of Tantra was designed to assist Yogis who have not yet mastered prana in attaining Urdhuvaretus (upward flow of semen to the brain) and perfect Brahmacharya (celibacy). From my own experience, I have found that the more I gained control over prana the less I desired sex. But you the reader must be warned. First, the attainment of sexual mastery is nothing short of full Kundalini (spiral energy a the base of the spine) awakening and will soon result in savikalpa samadhi. So do not delude yourself. Secondly, Tantra Yoga and most all forms of Pranayama will in time develop a strong magnetism through the increase of sexual retentive power and so tempt the practitioner to abuse that power. So-called "gurus" that have sex with their disciples are an example of this. Any individual who calls himself or herself a guru and yet engages in regular sexual activity is no guru. Until mastery is achieved the Yogi should refrain from all sex that is promiscuous and engage in sex with one partner (who is preferably a Tantra Yogi as well or who at least intellectually understands the process and goals of Tantra Yoga) in the spirit of Tantra.

For those who are unsure of whether they fall in the first of second category of Tantra Yogis, to be blunt, you likely fall in the second category of those who require spiritual direction in engaging in sex. For those who are celibate not by choice but by circumstance, test your mind to see how often you dream of sex. "Thought is act in fancy," and when it comes to sexual desire, energy moves in the sexual organs through the agency of thought. In this light all the sex mongers of the world are, in a sad sense, Raja Yogis for they are adept at controlling prana to move down and out with thought alone. Those who are celibate not through spiritual practice but because they naturally have little to no sexual desire must practice Tantra first alone and then with a partner after sexual power is regained. From my experience with Yogis, those who advanced most quickly in the spiritual life were not those who were without sexual desire but those who had a tremendous sexual drive which they directed brainward. Lack of sexual drive is usually a sign of aging, poor dietary habits, bad karma, or tremendous fear which resulted from a scarring experience which occurred earlier in life. Tantra will rebuild lost magnetism and bring light to the mind. It will reawaken sexual desire, but such is a far better lot than to be without energy at all. Finally, those who have mastered sex should continue with Tantric practices in solitude for until perfection is achieved, one can always fall.

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as libido or sexual energy. Energy, prana, does not travel through the nadis with a tag on it labeling it sexual or otherwise. Even the five-fold prana spoken of in Yogic texts is simply a division of the one universal Prana (Pranava or five pranas in AUM) which preforms several functions. Ancient Yogis used this nomenclature more to pinpoint certain energy pathways (nadis) than to imply that energy is diverse. Energy is one. To control the energy that runs down the spine or that serves in excretion may be termed apanayama, or the control of the downwardly flowing negative ("a")prana. However, the prana that roams the cosmos as Pranava (literally "perfect prayer") or AUM is an indivisible unit of power which nevertheless divides Itself into the infinite manifestation of creation. Still, this division is a product of Maya (literally "the divider") or delusion and is not part of Sat or the Real. Tantra Yoga focuses on techniques of Pranayama which deal with the pranic currents that flow in the lowest two chakras and forces ("hatha") them to move upward. However, Tantra Yoga does not teach students to suppress sexual desire. This serves no purpose but often, in time, has the reverse effect than what was desired. Those who simply suppress their desires will ultimately fall and engage in sex with double force. Rather, Tantra Yoga teaches the aspiring Yogi to sublimate and then transmute the pranic energies which flow down and out. The result of this practice will be immediate and definite. Those who do not experience these results are warned not to engaged in Tantric sex at too early a stage. As was said before, the majority of real Tantra Yoga is practiced alone and sex is engaged in only as a means to fight fire with fire.

The single most important rule of Tantra Yoga is to never NEVER NEVER allow the orgasm. Sex practiced in the spirit of Tantra is uplifting and frees one of sexual desire. The orgasm is the death of the spiritual life. The only exception is if a child is desired. I have found that most Tantra Yogis have trouble finding a partner that understands this simple truth. According to Yoga science, each drop of seminal fluid is equivalent to eight drops of blood. The conservation of this vital energy yields quick spiritual evolution while its loss brings a lowering of consciousness to the material mundane plane.

Tantra Yogis, and Yogis in general, should totally refrain from all beef and pork products. The "Five-M's" of Tantra which encourage the consumption of meat, fish, and wine belong to distorted Kali Yuga practices. The ingestion of these foods will promote an increase of sexual desire with a gradual decrease in potency. Meat products are seen by the body as an attack against the system. The result is the release of white blood cells which attack the "food" substance causing it to become heavy and drop quickly through the system. This is nature's instinct for survival at work; its other, more immediate, response when very poisonous material is ingested is regurgitation. However, through the former method a lot of foreign dead matter accumulates in the lower region of the sexual organs and thus produces an unwanted pressure on these glands causing the above mentioned side effect. Further, constipation will become a problem and this too causes the sexual desire to increase beyond its natural state.

Tantra Yoga must never be used as an excuse to have sex. This is the worst, and may I add the most prevalent in the world today, attitude one can entertain toward Tantra Yoga. It has given the high science of Tantra Yoga a very bad reputation, and deservedly so. Fools are not only at the heads of states but also at the heads of ashrams. It makes the work of real Yogis all the more difficult. Instead, the Yogi may adopt the attitude that there is hope beyond the constant battle against sexual desire. Tantra is a weapon of fire which combats the fire of sexual desire. If a fire rages in a field, one can use a controlled fire to burn away a border surrounding the fire. When the uncontrolled fire reaches that border, it cannot travel any further. However, if there is no fire raging, then Tantric practices should be engaged in solitude. Solitary Tantric practices, which is nothing other than Kundalini Yoga, perform the same function as Tantra practiced with a partner. Still, when one does not practice sufficiently to harness all of the sublimated fluids, sexual desire is rightly and naturally experienced and can be dealt with either by more solitary Tantra Yoga or, when the student is ready, by engaging in sex in the Tantric fashion.

While this is difficult to understand, the Tantra Yoga must not mentally get "into" the act of sex but must rather remain detached from the practice and view it as a technique. Emotions should play no role nor must the mind roam downward to the sensations that arise from sex. Instead, the senstions and pleasure from sex are transmuted throught the breath into pranic currents which are pulled up the spine to the brain. Tantra Yogis who still require sex "assume the virtue (of celibacy) if they have it not." That is, the mind must remain focused on the point between the eyebrows and the act of sex must be done according to the dictates of the technique. Most practitioners find it difficult to arrive at this healthy understanding with their partner. However, if the partner is not a Tantra Yogi then he or she may permit anything and everything to roam through the mind during intercourse. It is best, therefore, to practice with another Tantra Yogi because then you are not affected by their lowered consciousness. Still, the Yogi must be able to roam through the world and not be influenced by the thoughts and instincts of others. What is important to remember is that while you may have sexual desires to respond to, it does not follow that you have reason to actively seek enjoyment from the satisfaction of these desires. In truth, the Tantra Yogi enjoys sex far more than the worldly individual who allows sex to enjoy him or her. Over-indulgence in sex produces raw nerves, a weakening of the eyes, loss of spiritual vision, and overfamiliarity with an accompanying loss of respect between the partners.

Tantra Yogis generally wear underwear that it very tight on the testicles, thus limiting the body's ability to create sperm. Toward this end do they wear the lungota. If closely looked at, the testicles of a man are almost never at rest. They are constantly in the midst of a swirling motion. Limiting this motion will bring a partial cessation to the body's incessant desire to create those fluids which insure the survival of the race. Also, some Tantra Yogis place a ball or round sponge at the perineum during Pranayama to constantly apply a pressure on that area. The result will be a numbing of the genitals. This too pulls the mind away from sexual desire. Women, who are generally more sexually powerfully than men, do not have this problem. Their difficulty lies in actually awakening energy from the perineum. For women, the distance between the anus and the vagina is very small. For men it is wider. Thus men will have an easier time of Kundalini Awakening in general. So we see that each gender has its physiological strengths and each has limitations.

Bhakti Yoga, or union with infinite consciousness through a sublimation of the emotions, feelings, and intellect into spiritual devotion, is not as simple a path as students of Yoga believe. While the Bhakti Yoga of today may involve the practice of ritualized worship, selfless service, the personification of some form of Godhead, and prayer, higher age Bhakti Yoga was an extremely sophisticated system of Yoga which involved Pranayama and the devotional effort to hear the voice of AUM as opposed to simply praying to it. Bhakti Yogis practiced advanced methods of Pranayama in order to still the thoughts and restless emotions so that they may be transmuted into a devotion which further stilled the mind and body, thus allowing the Yogi to hear sounds emanating from the chakras and higher celestial regions. Though the personification of a Divinity was a part of this path, many Bhakti Yogis focus on an impersonal aspect of the Supreme Bliss and so dedicate all of their reason and feeling toward that one elevated thought. As Bhaktas, Yogis must develop a single thought or mantra which devotionally represents their understanding of Spirit and so maintain a consistent repetition of that thought over and over throughout the day with love in the heart. Bhakti Yogis must seek silence in order to afford the mind and heart an opportunity to go within and listen for the voice of their Beloved or their personal manifestation of Impersonal Spirit. The union of the mind and feelings with this holy stream of sound is very difficult to achieve in company. This sound is more subtle than the subtle to the beginner. Therefore, Bhakti Yogis must practice Pranayama and learn to quiet the heart and breath and so give the inner ear ample opportunity to hear Nada or the flow of prana in the nadis (astral nerve channels). Once the mind becomes riveted to this sound, the thoughts and ego begin to melt away. This melting is called Laya Yoga.

The techniques of Bhakti Yoga and Laya Yoga instruct the Yogi to seal the ears so that external noises cannot distract the consciousness from the interior world. While the devotees of most religions pray to God and hear nothing in response, the Bhakti Yogi listens for the Voice of the Divine with the mind, body, and heart fully rapt in attention. That listening is the real meaning of Pranava or the perfect prayer. Through Pranayama, Bhakti Yogis are able to attain a sublime stillness which switches off the rather loud bodily machinery of the heart and lungs. In that silence the voice of AUM is heard. Only one that can hear AUM can justly be called a devotee, all others are incapable of devoting even one moment's stillness which alone allows one to enter the inner sanctum and truly converse with the Divine Bliss.

As stated earlier, an important aspect of Bhakti Yoga is the selfless service to humanity. However, this ideal of Karma Yoga has also degenerated with the passage of time. To begin, the Yogi must be brutally honest with himself or herself in order to discover the real underlying motivations behind every action. Karma Yoga must be performed with no thought of gain or to any interest in the fruits of one's labor. Further, outer activities are not automatically spiritualized simply because one is serving in an ashram. Karma Yogis must keep the attention focused on the prana at the point between the eyebrows throughout the day. This is done through the continuous performance of Khechari Mudra and the keeping of silence as much as possible. With this in mind, even work in the office that promises a paycheck can also become Karma Yoga. Simply maintain a continuous dialogue with your personal aspect of Spirit through the mental repetition of a mantra or thought, refrain from meaningless chatter, and keep the tongue pulled back as often and when comfortably possible.

Incorporate into your life some of the principles of these four systems of Yoga. Instead of complicating your life, you will find that such practices will actually simplify your existence and so allow you the room in your heart and mind and busy day to stop and hear the voice of infinity at will. All the energies of our body and the power which ignites our thoughts come from this stream of cosmic prana which flows via the medulla oblongata into the brain and spine. You are this flow of energy and consciousness. Face your attention inward not through chattering prayers written by other individuals but through deep, sincere attention. When you hear that sound you do not need to pray for anything for all things will surely be added unto you.