Tantric Psychology

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TANTRIC PSYCHOLOGY- Mental Processes in the Realization of the Infinite

The fundamental urge behind all beings is the endeavor to expand towards the Infinite. From the rudimentary amoeba to the complex emotional and intellectual human being is this movement and expansion from its current evolutionary status toward greater, yet unrealized potential. The infinite Consciousness itself has “assumed the guise of finitude” through so many and various expressions that consciously or unconsciously seek re-union with their essential nature. This evolutionary march is only partially, and at its crudest levels, a struggle for self- preservation with its constant struggle for physical existence. Behind all of the effort and struggle is the eternal play of the Infinite seeking to regain its pure state of eternal repose in the Shiva-Shakti godhead. Biological evolution is the mark of this divine effort, while sadhana is the final impetus to complete this cosmic flow.

It is not the purpose of this work to give an account of the entire Macrocosmic process of evolution. The focus is rather on the final stages of Macrocosmic evolution as it is encapsulated in the development of human beings. And even within the context of human development the focus will be more on the psychological and psycho-spiritual aspects of this development, rather than the simply biological stages of psychological development. According to Tantra there are 50 main mental propensities embedded in the human mind. The Sanskrit term for mental propensity, vrtti, literally means vortex or whirlpool. We can imagine the microcosmic mind colored and qualified in the phenomenal world by various vrttis that distort and dis- configure the objective chamber of the mind, causing it to only see the objective, distorted images of the mind instead of the reflection of Shiva within. They are the Tantric tornadoes that cause this great illusion, or maya. All stages of relative, microcosmic consciousness are conditioned by these vrttis. They are the veil through which we see many spectrums of reality.

Vrtti is often translated as instinct. This is correct provided the term instinct is elevated from its common usage referring to biological and unconscious activities. The propensities, or vrttis, are cognitive and emotive modes of functioning in the various layers of mind: sensory- instinctual, conceptual, creative, intuitive, and causal layers. They range from the basest of instincts and defense mechanisms for the primordial sensory-instinctual mind to the most complex, self- conscious, reflective, and intuitive qualities of the higher intuitive and causal levels. Therefore, the 50 vrttis are modes of mental functioning that include all of the drives, urges, propulsions, emotions and subtle longings that make up the human mind. The essence of the 50 vrttis are sound vibrations or “strings” in the Mind of Brahma. The microcosmic mind with its 50 vrttis mimics the causal sound matrix of Brahma. Sound is the most subtle material and therefore causal vibration for all of the other, lower elements. These 50 causal sounds are not only the sounds of the human vrttis but also causal sounds that Generate, Operate, and Dissolve the created universe. Besides being the causal forces in human phenomenal awareness, the causal sound vrttis also shape not just our conceptual, social world but form our inner, metaphysical reality. This abstract idea of how this created universe is so intricately connected to human consciousness will be a little clearer after discussing the following chapters.

The vrttis do not function randomly and haphazardly but have an orderly, guiding function that leads one from gross to subtle levels of consciousness. Their unfolding or manifestation parallels the awakening of the kundalini. This innate intelligence of the microcosm utilizes the unfolding of the vrttis in the evolution of the mind. When the ego needs protection the lower vrttis manifest to attempt to strengthen the fragile personality. When the ego is ready for expansion the higher vrttis then begin to manifest themselves in successively more complex forms. This unfolding expands from the physical to the psychological to the spiritual desires. This idea is quite similar to that of the modern trans personal psychologists, although the level of development continues a little deeper in Tantra. The core of Tantric philosophy and meditation practice is the notion that the person who can cultivate the higher propensities to overcome the lower, instinctual and self-serving vrttis realizes the true and eternal nature of the Supreme Consciousness behind the limitations and separateness of the mind. This idea is not fundamentally different than the humanistic psychologists of the 20 th century. For example it is very easy to parallel Maslow’s Hierarcy of Needs to the succesive unfolding of the mental propensities in Tantra Yoga. In both models, more basic and fundamental psychological needs must be met before one can grow and expand into higher levels of integration.

While discussing the evolution of spiritual consciousness through the successive unfolding of the mental propensities it is important to consider how these propensities function within the mind itself. Again, stated simply, the mind can be divided into two spheres: the objective and the subjective. The objective sphere (chitta) of the mind is connected to the vibrations of the universe through the senses. It also holds these impressions like a plasma screen as well as the responses to these impressions in the form of instincts, feelings, thoughts, and memories. There are 5 layers (kosas) in the objective sphere of the mind- Sensory, Conceptual, Creative, Intuitive and Causal. They will be more fully discussed in the next part of the book. The lower ones are of course connected to the cruder, material vibrations as well as the cruder propensities and layers of mind. The more subtle and spiritual layers of mind are connected to the more refined levels of the objective world. The vrtti vibrate the chitta and impose a pattern of thought, action, or feeling in the mind. Our thought, feeling, and desire are all conditioned by these fine, vibrational threads. Vrttis are mental archetypes that vibrate the chitta,the brain and nervous system. The vrttis are therefore related to the control of hormone and neurotransmitter activities, which is a very important part of mental development and fine- tuning of the nervous system to finer states of awareness. Balancing the vrttis is a central part of Tantric practice. Lower vrttis must be transmuted into higher ones but ultimately the state of union with Shiva is beyond all vrttis. For this reason Patainjali declared “yoga chitta vrtti nirodha,” or “yoga is the suspension of mental vrttis.” When there are no vrttis on the pond’s surface it is possible to see the still, brilliant reflection of the moon.The vrttis of the mind are situated in certain mental substations, vortexes, or chakras. The seven traditional “chakras” will be referred to in this work as “vortexes,” eg. Svadhistana Vortex, Manipura Vortex, etc. Chakra literally means a whirling circle, wheel, or vortex. Any given vortex is the sum of the vrttis that pertain to this greater vortex, or chakra. The vortex governs the expression of its vrttis. These vortexes are figuratively depicted as lotus flowers with a specific number of petals. The number of “petals” on the “lotus flower” of the vortex is the number of vrttis that vibrate a particular vortex. Each petal is an escaping vrtti of subtle energy from the center of the vortex.

Vortexes are not physical centers. They have a physical correspondence along the spinal cord and resonate with glands and nerve bundles. These vortexes are contained within the chitta, or objective chamber of mind, which has a direct connection with the brain, glands and nerves. The lower vortexes are contained within the cruder portion of mind and are therefore more extroverted and instinctual as they are associated with cruder realms of the objective, material world. The more subtle, higher vortexes are more introverted in that they are contained within the subtler portion of the objective mind, and therefore reflect more subjective, internal awareness.

In the subjective chamber there is more intellectual, creative and intuitive expression rather than instinctual impulses of the objective mind. With the grosser portion of the objective chamber it is like trying to see the reflection of the moon on choppy water while the subtle aspect of the objective mind is the reflection of the moon on placid water. The section on spiritual practice (sadhana) will explain more fully the mechanics of the mind and body relation through the vrttis and vortexes. For now it is sufficient to know that the propensities are located in certain mental substations, or vortexes, located along the spine. The traditional “lotus petals” on the vortexes are actually the location of the various vrttis and the number of petals at the various vortexes represent the number of vrttis there.

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by Vishal Eckhart email: vishal@vishaleckhart.org