by Jayaram V
Be it a complicated form of vedic ritual such a yajna or some
simple form of
worship performed ordinarily in millions of Hindu households everyday,
the process of worship in Hinduism invariably involves the use of
three basic techniques, namely the mantra, the tantra and the yantra.
Symbolically, they represent the three basic spiritual paths
of Hinduism, made hugely popular by the teachings of Sri Vasudeva
Krishna in the famous Bhagavad gita. The mantra symbolically represents
the use of Jnanamarg, the path of knowledge, the tantra of
Bhaktimarg, the path of devotion, and the yantra of Karmasanyasmarg
or the path of detached action. Unless these three are present in
some form or combination, the worship is incomplete.
The Use of Mantra
A mantra is an invocation, containing a sacred syllable or set
of syllables. When a mantra is uttered with specific rhythm, with
sincerity of devotion and purity of thought and action, and with
phonetic and grammatical accuracy, in a manner prescribed by the
scriptural injunctions of the Vedas or some authoritative scripture,
it is believed to invoke a particular deity and compel the deity
to assist the invoker to achieve a desired end. It is interesting
to note that according to Hindu beliefs, if a mantra is pronounced
correctly the deity to whom it is addressed has no choice but to
respond to the invoker automatically and help him.
When a complicated ritual such as a soma sacrifice or some other
yajna is performed, not one but many deities are invoked simultaneously
by groups of priests chanting various mantras. Their chanting creates
the necessary vibrations in the atmosphere to awaken the deities
and facilitates their descent to the place of worship.
The sound that is generated by the chanting of the mantras is
very important, but is is not the only requirement for the yajna
to be successful. The remaining requirements are the appropriate
use of tantra and yantra, which will be explained later.
It is believed that hidden in each mantra is the energy of a
particular deity which remains normally latent, but becomes active
the moment the mantra is pronounced accurately in the manner prescribed
by the shastras. The divinity awakens only if the vibrations generated
by the chanting matches with its basic frequency. Besides this,
as we have already noted, the appropriate use of tantra and yantra
must fit in the overall purpose of the worship and remain in harmony
with the expectations of the divinity to whom they are directed.
The Use of Tantra
Tantra is the systematic use of the body and the mind as the
physical instruments of divine realization. The body
and the mind constitute the lower self and together they aim to
indulge in the desire oriented actions of the lower self to perpetuate
the interplay of the triple gunas, namely, sattva, rajas and tamas.
Primarily, they are the chief instruments of the divine Prakriti,
otherwise called Maya, and they play their dutiful roles quite efficiently
and effectively and succeed mostly in keeping the soul chained to
the earth and go through the ordeal of births and deaths by the
inexorable law of karma.
Tantra aims to liberate and transform these two so as to make
them the true instruments of the hidden self. It aims to bring them
in tune with the aspirations of the hidden self and make them Its
partners in progress. Hindu scriptures declare unequivocally that
transformation of the body and the mind is the most difficult part
of ones spiritual journey and that most of our difficulties on the
path come because of our inability to deal with this problem successfully.
Tantra is therefore a very important and integral part of Hindu
spiritualism and equally maintains its place in the ritual part
of the religion.
Tantra is not for Tantrics only
There is a misconception among many that tantra is used by Tantrics
only through the medium of sex and other objectionable means. This
is not true. Tantra is used in every aspect of Hindu worship. What
we see in Tantricism is an extreme form of tantra where the body
and the mind are allowed to express themselves freely under the
supervision of an enlightened master to come to terms with them
and achieve complete mastery over them. But tantra in its milder
and normal forms can be seen in action in everyday life. For example
the Yoga of Patanjali, is a kind of tantra only, where we aim to
achieve bodily control through certain physical postures and mind
The simple use of tantra in an ordinary householder's regular
worship include the use of certain bodily postures like prostrating
before the deity, the lotus position, the folding of hands
in front of the deity, purification of the body through fasting
and bathing, concentration of the mind on the image, breathing practices,
thought control through inner detachment, detachment of the body
and the mind through devotion and so on. In pure devotional forms
of worship, the body and the mind are offered to God as an act of
supreme sacrifice and inner detachment, thereby allowing the divine
forces to descend and do their work of inner purification and transformation.
In a complicated vedic ritual also we can see the use of tantra
more or less in a similar manner. A vedic ritual bears no
fruit if the body and mind of the performer are not geared
to participate in the ritual with the required degree of purity
and sincerity. All the chanting of the mantras comes to naught and
the divinity or the divinities would remain inactive if these two
are not in harmony with the objective of the entire ritual. A Hotr
priest or an Adhvaryu priest have to maintain utmost purity and
observe certain discipline before performing the rituals.
The Use of Yantra
Yantra is the use of certain external objects, symbols or some
mechanical means to worship the divine. The act of folding of hands
in front of the deity is but a kind of yantra only. The manner in
which a fireplace is built for the performance of some vedic sacrifice,
the method in which the place is prepared and the materials (sambhra)
are assembled, the manner in which the oblations are poured into
the fire, the way the priests sit around the altar, and in fact
the very act of chanting of the mantras with mechanical precision
form part of yantric worship only.
The very design of the temple as an outer symbol of the existence
of the Divine on the material plane, the act of visiting the temple,
circling around the temple, entering the temple, the lighting of
the lamps in front of the divine, the decorations and the ornamentation
so characteristic of hindu temples and places of worship, the manner
in which the images are built and installed, the lighting of the
lamps, the offerings, the method of worship, the partaking of prasad,
and in short any practice that is mechanical, symbolic and ritualistic
to a degree, form part of this approach only.
Hindu Worship, a Means to Evolution
Thus we can see that the Hindu way of worship is not a mere superstitious
ritual, but a complicated form of divine worship in which higher
universal forces are invoked to assist man in his spiritual and
material progress. A science as well as an art, it aims not just
to achieve some specific end but through the process of integration
of the body, the mind and the spirit, the very evolution of man
into a higher being.
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