Tantric Roots in the Vedas.
By Yogi Baba Prem, Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
While the Tantric system has often been viewed as a later development within the greater field of Hinduism; a deeper study reveals that the roots to Tantric teachings exists within the Vedas themselves. Tantric teachings are based in and as old as the Vedas itself, representing another side of the Vedic approach.
It is not realistic to expect the Vedas to contain the entire teachings of the Vedic period, but rather as Samhitas they contain the Shrutti or revelations that were given during deep meditation. This point cannot be argued, but it is important to note that there were different schools of Vedic thought and teaching. According to Panini in the Mahabhasya, there were about 100 different schools of thought pertaining to the Yajur Veda. While this can be seen as a weakness, it is in reality the strength of Hinduism. By the acceptance of different schools of thought a comprehensive system of thought and teaching is preserved. While very few schools of thought are preserved today, each one still retains its relevance, importance, and contribution. Many westerns scholars, made the mistake of assuming that Yaska and particularly Sayana were the final authorities on Vedic subjects. But in reality, Yaska and Sayana offered only one of many interpretations of the Vedas. Possibly all of the schools were correct in their Vedic approach and interpretation. This broader view makes the Vedas the most powerful and important teaching within humanity.
While scholars have often viewed the Vedas as primarily masculine, the feminine is represented by the Sanskrit letters themselves. There are many Vedic Goddesses like Ila, Ushas, Aditi, and Sarasvati to name just a few. But most importantly and often overlooked is Apas. While apas is viewed as the primordial waters, it is often given a neuter position within the Sanskrit language. But within the Shatapatha Brahmana (II.1.1.13), it clearly states that “[the] waters [apo] are female, Agni is male. This message is repeated in II.1.1.14. In this context the waters (apas) serve as the shakti of agni, or at a minimum the flow and movement of agni. Within the ritualistic teachings of the Yajur Veda, this relationship between the waters and Agni is very important. On the inner level, the same teaching is reflected within the Rig Veda as the destruction of Vrtra, and the releasing of the waters. Apas has a verbal root of ap, which means ‘to obtain’. The releasing of the waters is the obtaining or acquiring the realization or experience of Agni. This is reflected through the Tantric practice of merging the masculine and feminine principles together.
Within the Shatapatha Brahmana (I.1), it is stated that svaha is the feminine form of Agni, or more correctly the opposite polarity in the Vedic ritual. This is why Vedic fire rituals often
contain the word svaha as the offering is being made. This is certainly true with the Agnihotra ceremony. Svaha personified is the wife of Agni, the fire ritual cannot be complete without
this male/female polarity being present. She also represents the spoken offering as well as the ashes, the transformed matter at the end of the fire ceremony. Again she is the shakti of Agni on the inner and the outer level of our being.
The word svaha comes from two words: 1) ‘su’ meaning to move or go, to press out, but more correctly to enliven, impel, or generate. 2) ‘aha’ meaning to say, speak. Together they enliven speech, generate through speech, or are using speech to impel. It can also mean to press out through speech. What is important is that the Tantric concept of male/female energies is present.
Within the Vedic Vedi, or fire pit, the same concept is present. We see the fire pit symbolically representing the female energy and the offering of ghee or other materials as the masculine principle. This foundational Vedic teaching is another example of the Vedic representation of Tantric principles.
Some temples within India exhibit male and female deities in a physical (sexual) embrace, on the outer walls, while this does not literally refer to sexual Tantra as is often assumed, it again conveys the importance of the Vedic and Tantric teaching of male and female balancing principles. This principle manifests even on the grossest level of manifestation as the female genitalia forming the shape of a flame.
Clearly it can be seen that numerous Tantric principles are rooted from the Vedic teachings. Even the left handed or sexual path of Tantra is rooted within Vedic principles. Regrettably the sexual aspect of the left-handed path receives the most focus and the deep spiritual principles often become obscured.
But do the Tantras refer directly to any of the Vedic deities? The answer is YES!
· Paramananda Tantra 11.35 Surya, Agni and Soma are mentioned.
· Gautamiya Tantra mentioned Antar yajna.
· The Shaktisangamatantra mentioned Indra, Chandra, and Manu.
· The Agamas continue or contain the symbolism of the Vedas.
· The Mahanirvanatantra alludes that the agama approach is in harmony with the Vedas.
The Tantras did teach Antar Yajna, a Vedic principle.
Do more modern sages support this belief and link between Tantra and Vedic teachings, the answer is YES.
· Sri Aurobindo discussed the connection between the Tantras and Vedas.
· T.V. Kapali Shastry also believed that there was a connection between Tantric tradition and the Vedas. Though he acknowledged that they approached the teachings differently. He did believe that they supported the authority of the Vedas.
· Swami Vivekananda supported a connection between the Vedas and Tantras.
· Sri Ramana Maharshi referred to Brahman, terms such as tat tvam asi. He also mentioned that he the techniques of Tantra were good for purifying the mind. He actually agreed that most yoga techniques were good for purifying the mind.
· Ganapati Muni (Ramana’s disciple) wrote on the connection between the Vedas and Tantra.
In more modern times, this work has been continued by Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley) especially in his book Tantra Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses.
The change in deities within the Tantric system is not in conflict with Vedic teachings, but is more likely a later transition of teachings, just as the Puranas are a later modification and/or continuation of the original Vedic teachings. Looking within the Vedas as revelation, one can clearly see that most systems of India are rooted within the Vedic teachings and are included within the Tantric system.
Sources, references and suggested reading:
Taittiriya Samhita of the Krishna Yajur Veda
Shatapatha Brahmana (Kanva)
“Tantra Yoga and the wisdom goddesses” by David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) published by Passage Press 1994
AgamaKosha Vol. 5 Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao
2013. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.