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The Secrets of Hindu Worship : The Role of Mantra, Tantra and Yantra In Hinduism

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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 control techniques.

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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