Yoga as Applied Psychology: An Example from Tantra Yoga

Indian yoga is nothing but practical psychology applied for the inner growth and spiritual development of the individual. Here is an illustrative example of this psychological approach from Tantra Yoga. One of the main concepts of tantric psychology and Yoga is the classification of seekers into three types: Pasu, Vira and Divya. This article examines briefly the psychological principles behind this concept and its application in tantra yoga.

Key Perspectives

Concept of graded idealism; psychology of the triune type; its application to yoga; psychology of ritual worship.

Concept of Graded Idealism

One of the dominant features of the tantric psychology is that it very clearly perceived with an unsentimental practicality the inequality of human life created by the large variation in capacity, temperament and evolutionary status of human being. This ideal or intuition is called as Adhikari Bheda, which may be roughly and freely translated as graded idealism. This concept is not something special to tantric thought but one of the unique features of ancient Indian thought in general. But in tantric yoga this idea comes to the front prominently and consciously as an important and integral part of the discipline, sadhana.

The central perception behind this principle of Adhikari Bheda is that mental, moral and spiritual capacity of individuals are not the same but differ according to their stage of evolution. Even those who are among the same stage of evolution, all are not of the same temperament; natural temperament of individuals also differs according to their psychological disposition. In other words, all are not capable of understanding, living or realising the highest ideal. So to prescribe a uniform discipline for all irrespective of their capacities, natural temperament and evolutionary conditions is to disregard the laws of human nature.

Each individual has to be gradually lifted to the highest by taking her as she is in her present condition of evolution, giving her the ideal and discipline which she can understand and practice, which is in harmony with her natural temperament and capacities, and which will help her to raise to a higher level of consciousness and life. This ideal and discipline should be sufficiently high and difficult to evoke in the individual a strong aspiration to rise beyond her present condition to a higher level of life governed by a higher system of values.

But at the same time the ideal and the discipline should not be too remote to her understanding and capacities or out of tune with her natural temperament. When there is such a big gap between the ideal and the actual, there is either no positive response from the individual to the ideal or there is only a hypocritic response with a wide gap between profession and practice.

Psychology of the Triune Type

This is the principle of Adhikari Bheda, which forms one of the pillars of Tantric sadhana. Based on this principle, Tantras classified human seekers into three distinct types or categories. They are, literally translated, Pasu the animal type, Vira the heroic type and Divya, the divine type. A clear understanding of this classification is of utmost importance in understanding the psychology of tantric sadhana.

This tantric classification of seekers corresponds to three stages of human evolution, which are represented in humanity by three types of human being. A human being begins her evolutionary journey as a physical person whose consciousness and vision doesn’t go beyond the instinctive needs of her body and sensations and her immediate and instinctive relations with the family or the environment. This physical person whose consciousness is dominated by her physical being is called as Pasu. He is the type of personality whose emotional, kinetic and mental being are not yet well developed and therefore she is not capable of deep and subtle thought or feeling or meditation or any uplifting tapasya of the will. So her further psychological and spiritual evolution has to be affected mainly through her physical being and a culture and discipline of her physical consciousness.

As the human being grows in the course of her natural evolution, she develops her vital being which is a being of desire, emotions, action, creation, power, enjoyment. She becomes the kinetic being of action with her higher needs of power, success, achievement expansion, adventure, exploration, battle, conquest and mastery. This higher stage of evolution of the vital being culminates in the type and temperament of the hero, warrior, leader, Vira. So Vira is not the ordinary rajasic man of action but the highly developed vital person who has reached the highest point in the evolution of her vital being.

She has developed fully all the powers and qualities of her vital being and when she turns to yoga she can bring all these powers into her sadhana.

The Vira-type of personality has a more awakened mind and much stronger vital force and will-power than the Pasu and therefore a greater power of self-control and tapasya. She has also the innate spirit of courage and adventure in her to undertake unorthodox and risky yogic experiments. The tantric yogis believed that this vira-type of personality, under able spiritual guidance, can bring about in herself a rapid and accelerated spiritual transformation if she can pass through a radical and risky discipline of her vital being. This is the controversial vama marga, or “the left-hand” path of the tantras.

The third and the highest type of human being is the Divya or the saintly type of human being. Divya is the fully awakened mental person who is at the summit of her natural evolution. She is someone who lives in the higher plateaus of the mind with a well-developed intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic being. She is capable of deep and subtle thought, fine emotions and refined sensitivity. When she turns to spiritual life she can bring all these powers and faculties of the awakened mind to the sadhana. For this highest type of personality, Tantras assign the path of Dakshina marga, the path of right discrimination and knowledge.

This is the psychological basis of the tantric classification of seekers into three types: Pasu, Vira and Divya.

Its Application to Yoga

Based on these psychological perceptions, the tantric yoga provides each individual type and category of seekers with a system of inner and outer discipline which is appropriate to their nature, temperament, capacity and the evolutionary status. The main objective or principle behind tantra sadhana is to quicken and accelerate the process of natural evolution of individual by a conscious and controlled intensification and sublimation of the natural impulses and liberate them from their ego-bound natural limits into the freedom and vastness of the universal. This does not mean, as it is popularly misunderstood, that tantric yoga allows free reign to all and every natural impulses.

The tantric yoga prescribes a rigorous discipline to every category of seekers. The tantric texts repeatedly warn the seekers that a discipline prescribed for one type of seekers, if it is practiced by someone who doesn’t belong to this type, will lead to disastrous consequences like for example, as one of the text puts it, madness in this birth and hell after death.

So according to the Yogic psychology of tantra not everyone may have the capacity to realise the highest spiritual aim in her present birth. But everyone, whatever may be her typal nature or stage of her evolution, can advance towards the spiritual goal, more or less consciously, by following an inner and outer discipline which is in harmony with her inner nature and evolutionary status. The Divya and Vira may progress faster and reach their spiritual destiny in this birth. The Pasu may progress slower and may not have the inner capacity to realise her spiritual aim in this birth. But even the Pasu can make considerable spiritual progress towards the goal by following a path, which is in accordance with her nature and inner condition. And this progress is carried over to the next birth. Let us now examine the nature of the path for each category of seekers.

The Pasu was provided with a path made of outward worship and rituals and a rigorous, ethical and social discipline which on the one hand will help him to progress from the physical to her vital and mental consciousness but at the same time create a spiritual awakening in her physical being. For the Pasu, the famous fish-wine-woman symbolism of the Tantra,which are symbols of the natural propensities of the lower nature in man are purely formal external symbols, included in the outer ritual. The Vira follows a more or less similar ritualistic, ethical and social discipline, but she is admitted to the secret esoteric ritual of the Kaula marga. In this secret ritual, which is intended only for the Vira, fish-wine-sexual symbolism is not merely a formal outer symbol, but becomes a part of the actual practice. The Vira goes through the experience of these natural urges consciously in the form of a controlled spiritual experiment, under the watchful eyes and the spiritual ambience and protection of her guru.

This Kaula ritual, if it is done under right psychological and spiritual condition, it may lead to a rapid and powerful awakening of the Kundalini and an accelerated sublimation and transformation in the impulses of the lower nature. What are these conditions? First condition is that the seeker is truly an ideal Vira by temperament and capacity and has attained a high level of self-mastery and control over her life-force, Prana. The second condition is that Guru is truly an enlightened Siddha who has the spiritual knowledge of the principles and process of this risky and dangerous sadhana. But such an ideal Vira seeker and an ideal Kaula Guru are rare to find. One of the main reasons behind the degeneration of Tantra in India is the indiscriminate practice of the vama marga by unfit seekers and pseudo-gurus.

The Divya, in harmony with his pure, refined and exalted mental nature, pursues a predominantly psychological, spiritual and aesthetic discipline with an emphasis on knowledge. Divya doesn’t need any ethical disciplines because ethics and morality has become habitual, effortless and spontaneous to her nature. She knows or capable of knowing how to sublimate and transform her natural impulses and conquer her negative feelings like fear by an inner discipline and therefore there is no need for her to follow the risky experiments of the Vira or formal symbolism of the Pasu.

In terms of psychological or psycho-physical faculties Pasu lives predominantly in her sensations and external physical organs of action, Kriya Shakti. So a path of Kriya Yoga made of external worship and ritual, faith and devotion, ethical conduct and behaviour and a sense of social responsibility is the dominant note of Pasu sadhana. Vira lives predominantly in her emotions, desire, vital force, Ichcha Shakti.

So the path for the Vira consists of dynamic, forceful and inspiring action dedicated to Divine; a deeper and inner devotion and adoration of the divine; heroic conquest and self-mastery; daring innovations, experiments and exploration, inner and outer, which breaks the boundaries of tradition, custom and establishment and courageously extends the frontiers of life or knowledge; and finally the inner adventure and exploration of kundalini yoga.

The Divya lives in the faculties of higher mind which seeks for knowledge and understanding, jnana shakti and the higher values like truth, beauty and goodness. So the path for Divya in made of self-knowledge; meditation, introspection and contemplation; enlightened devotion to God of the jnani bhakta, knowing lover of Gita; aesthetic, psychological and spiritual sublimation of natural impulses; awakening of the Kundalini through the path of knowledge, dakshina marga.

The Psychology of Ritual Worship

This brings us to another significant feature of tantric Yoga, which is common to all seekers. It is outer worship and rituals. The path of tantra is free from the arrogant disdain for the outer form and worship displayed by some Vedantic paths which seeks the formless divine. For love and devotion to the Divine is an important part of the integral yoga of Tantra. And the masters of Tantra fully understood the fact that all the beauty and intensity of divine love and devotion can not be realised without the inner and outer worship and adoration of the divine Form. Moreover, Tantra perceived the importance of the human body and the significance of the symbolic physical act or gesture in bringing down the inner state or attitude to the physical consciousness.

So in Tantra the outer ritual and worship is not considered as something inferior, relegated to the spiritually immature seekers. They are the aesthetic dimensions of tantric religion and an indispensable part of the integral worship of the Divine. The outer worship is done by all types of seekers, including the exalted Divya. For the Pasu, who lives predominantly in her physical consciousness, the outer physical worship, act or gesture, when it is done with persistence, regularity and faith, helps to evoke a corresponding inner feeling of adoration and devotion in his heart. For the higher types like Vira and Divya, it helps to express, manifest and fix the inner adoration and consecration in the physical consciousness of the body. So the tantric Yogi and seeker, even if she is the highest Divya type and has the exalted realisation of the formless and universal Divine, remains a child of the Divine Mother in her heart, adoring her outer form with a child-like simplicity, like for example Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineshwar.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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