The Occult World of a Tantrik Guru
2. The Tantrik Initiation
Shri Gurudev Mahendranath
As time tends to rush by, and our memory of the past grows dimmer and dimmer, still there remains a few outstanding moments of indelible impression. Most of life has been useless and meaningless and it is only these adamantine moments which become part of our character, our nature, our life and even our future. I write now about such a moment.
As I have moved through the Occult World, and with a Shakta’s cosmic wonder, I find that most people who are drawn into the occult whirlpool of mystery, have an instinctive regard and respect for initiations. In a broad sense, all life is a series of initiations, but the initiations of which we speak are those ceremonially induced entrances into new features, stages, spiritual or occult elevations, into a new life. The subject of initiations and its need, is one which never requires explanation or argument. Everyone accepts and also understands. This is probably due to some natural awareness which most people retain from experiences of initiations in the long round of countless rebirths. The most lamentable situation is that although so many are willing, real valuable initiations are difficult to obtain. Yet, many come to me so easily and without seeking, and in nearly all cases without asking. Somehow, when the moment was appropriate and I was ready, the initiation came spontaneously. My first initiation in Asia came on my arrival in India. I did make a formal request to Shri Lokanath Maharaj for sannyasa diksha, but he was already aware of my wishes and had actually come to Bombay to meet me. Thus I was initiated as a sadhu of the Adi-Nath Sampradaya or sect. This is a sub-sect of the greater and vaster Nath Sampradaya which consists of many such sub-groups. In the year which followed this event in 1953, I received initiation into Theravada, Soto-Zen, Ch’an, Taoism and also as a Bhutanese Lama of the Kargyut-Pas sect. All of these have their own story but the significant feature of the dikshas was the strange and spontaneous way they came to me. With Kaula Dharma it was less easy and opposition appeared at first but was later overcome. I must add two important points. One is that most of these initiations came easily because I was already known as a sannyasin of the Nath Sampradaya. Thus having already taken that supreme step and had been accepted, the remainders were more easily bestowed. It is about my initiation as a Tantrik sadhu of which I wish to deal here.
I had already received diksha from two Tantrik gurus in Bengal. One was a guru who lived near a place called Malabar Hill and the other resided by the Ganges (Ganga) at the distance not far from Varanasi (Benares). Our love and understanding was deep and sincere, but in both these cases, the gurus lacked parampara.
Parampara means something which is handed down by tradition and is used to indicate a line of succession. Generally, but not always, someone is expected to take the place of a guru when he departs from this life. Some sects have rules as to how and who succeeds. Parampara is also used in an individual sense to indicate that a sadhu has received as authentic and historic succession by initiation. As an example, my Nath diksha is understood to have been an unbroken line of succession which goes back to Shri Matsyendranath, the reorganizer and revitalizer of the already ancient Nath Sampradaya. In Soto-Zen, Theravada and Ch’an the dikshas had also been passed down in an unbroken line of successions from Gautama the Buddha. My initiation as a Lama was traced back to Guru Padmasambhava, the 8th century freak who went to Tibet and co- coordinated the mixture of the ancient Bon religion with Hinduism and Tantrik Buddhism and formulated the early pattern of Lamaism. Now the second important point I wish to stress is that although I have had been initiated into several Buddhist sects, I have never at any time in my life been a Buddhist or professed belief in Buddhism. This must not in itself, be misinterpreted to imply that Buddhism is without worth or value. It is only that I found higher values which make Buddhism more inferior and much less practical.
I made my first visit to Ranchi, India in 1963. I knew nothing of the town itself except that it once enjoyed a pleasant climate before the surrounding forests were devastated after Independence. I stayed in the house of a raja, a man of the old school and traditions, who made religion his life and his hobby. It was from him that I first learned of the Super Freak and Far Out Tantrik Guru called Pagala Baba. There were then, and still are, many Tantrik and Kaula sadhus in India. What made Pagala Baba unique was that he was recognized by all in the north of India as being the last and only Tantrik Guru who had received the authentic parampara in an unbroken line for thousands of years. Pagala Baba was a Bengali who had a small ashram on the outskirts of the town. On hearing of this guru, the Raja and myself visited him several times and it soon became evident that I was more than welcome. An authentic initiation into Tantrika had long been my desire and, now the desirable pattern was unfolding before me. I took the opportunity to beg the guru to give me Sannyasa diksha into the Uttara-Kaula (North Tantrik) Sampradaya. Instantly and without hesitation, I was refused. Pagala Baba expressed my request as “quite impossible”. I returned to the house of my host considerably disappointed. More so perhaps, because initiations had come so easily and the one I had really most wanted had been refused.
It was fairly early the next morning that a young man came from Pagala Baba and delivered the curt message and command, “Come now for diksha!” I gathered a sheet of cloth and covered myself as I was completely naked at the time. In a moment I was in the street and on my way to Pagala Baba. Here too there was some element of the spontaneous “accidents” of our mysterious occult world. The robe which I had hastily thrown on my body to cover my nakedness was a plain sheet-like cloth made up of several pieces originally yellow and now dyed a deep maroon. This was the magick garment which served all purposes, sometimes to be worn and sometimes as a bed-sheet and used for sleeping. At other times it was folded to be used as a seat for meditation. Originally, I made it myself by joining together several pieces of cloth. I sewed a mantra (Om Namah Shivaaya) in the every stitch. Although it was not intended as an initiation robe it actually became one. Generally I wear a simple garment known as a kufnee, a word meaning a shroud, and not unsuitable for those who have renounced the world. Experience taught me that in the constant practice of meditation an all-enveloping garment was essential on many occasions to protect one from flies and other insect pests. In cool weather also, it protected me from the distractions of a cold wind. It was just more than an odd coincidence that I had, in every case by pure chance, been wearing the same robe when I was initiated in Soto-Zen, Taoism, Ch’an and Lamaism. It was dyed the darker maroon after I had been given diksha as a Lama. I still have the initiation robe and one day it may be passed on to another who proves worthy to inherit the ancient traditions of the noblest vibes of man’s spiritual unfoldment. Or it may not.
The actual initiation into Uttara-Kaula took three days. It would be more correct to say it was spread over three days as it could easily have been accomplished in one. The first day was the formal sannyasa diksha, similar to that of other sects. The events of the second day were intended to be secret and have remained so. The third day presented the most interesting aspect of the diksha and is the part which I still retain so vividly in my memory.
When I first reached the ashram and paid my respects to Pagala Baba he explained a number of things relating to his former refusal and his new decision to give the diksha. He related how he had given the Tantrik Sannyasa initiation to two previous disciples. Up to now they had been the only disciples initiated by him, although many others of household status called Pagala Baba their guru and some had been given some form of simple acknowledgment to indicate their being accepted. It appeared that soon after these former sadhus had received their initiation, both had died. Pagala Baba felt that this was inauspicious or had some important warning or indication. He therefore decided not to give sannyasa diksha again. He was well aware that the decision was not pleasing since it would mean that the parampara would terminate when he died. Many people who were interested in this aspect of Tantrika sought him to obtain the sadhu diksha but all were refused. Pagala Baba was regarded by everyone I met in Bengal and North India as the last and only surviving Kaulacharya or Tantrik Guru in all India. When he died the guru hood passed to me and I have never yet met or learned of any other sadhu in India who can claim authentic initiation into the Tantrik tradition.
Nobody seemed to know the Guru’s real name and by now it was completely forgotten. At some stage in his life he suddenly began signing his letters Pagala Baba which means Mad father. He himself seemed to prefer this title and would never reveal his earlier name. I must add that Pagala Baba as a name or title is still very popular in India and many sadhus enjoy this designation. The word “mad” is not used in the sense of mental derangement but rather to indicate one who is crazy in the desire to attain God.
Why did Pagala Baba change is mind and give the diksha he had previously refused? The reasons he gave filled me with wonder. He himself had hoped to see a great revival of Tantrika in India and worked many years towards this end. Now he had been forced to doubt if and whether the Indian people could respond to its teachings and way of life. Centuries of foreign ideas -generally worthless- had conditioned the Indian people where the expansiveness and broad minded naturalness of Kaula would always be rejected, at least by all but very, very few. He felt that being an Englishman by birth gave me some advantages in being able to spread Kaula among people of the Western world. The Guru made no attempt to hide his opinion that the Kaula way of life could spread and be accepted in the West in a way which was impossible in India.
The second reason was complementary insomuch as he acknowledged that I already had an understanding of Tantrika which far surpassed that of any other disciple he had ever known. Thirdly he felt now that as I was already a sannyasin in other sects that it would be wrong to withhold initiation into Uttara-Kaula.
The fourth reason was more surprising. He had the previous evening recalled a reference in the Meru Tantra and had re-read the passage for confirmation. This Tantra, which cannot be more recent than the 17th century, refers to an Englishman, versed in Kaula, who used a Tantrik mantra in his own mother tongue. The passage also implied that he would be victorious in anything he attempted or work he undertook. Pagala Baba gave this a spiritual meaning and acted accordingly.
The third day’s activity was simple. The Guru instructed me to go and sit in the small Kali temple for one hour. A boy went with me. I took off my robe and folded it into a seat. It was nearing the end of the year and the stone floor was icy cold. As I sat down and folded my legs before the image of the Mother, the boy closed the doors and left me in complete darkness. I made my mind as blank as possible as I did not wish to influence anything with my own mental ideas. I began to feel I was floating in space but could feel the slight chill of the air on my naked body. Suddenly I found myself a witness to a colorful scene. Colorful, because all the colors had a greater intensity and brilliance than one experiences in normal life. I became aware that the Lord Shiva was standing before me. His face was wreathed in smiles of delight and amusement. This was surprising because I had hitherto always associated the Lord with the more serious aspects of religion and life. Now I could hear His peals of laughter. He was waving and moving his hands to instruct certain movements by two people I could not see but who stood on either side of me. I could feel them pulling and then peeling something like a superfluous skin from off my face eyes and face. As they removed it the colors of the scene were more brilliant and everything seemed much clearer. I could still hear the laughter of Shiva when I became aware that the central image had changed into Maha-Kali herself. What beauty! What loveliness! What a vision and who would ever want to forget it! She laughed and danced. Then she seemed to take hold of me and lift me high and then put me down in the midst of a vast assembly of people. The people were all sick and suffering and were asking for my blessing. The vision began to fade as I heard the diksha mantra pronounced loudly and clearly above my head. Then I found myself sitting before a glass case. In the glass case was a human skull with some writing beneath it; and somebody laughingly said, “That’s yours”. Then like a roll of thunder, I heard the mantra and then – silence.
Suddenly I was brought back to the world of reality by a gentle tapping on the doors before they burst open. I glanced at the young man, perhaps with a look of annoyance that he should disturb me. I was quite certain that not more than ten minutes, perhaps fifteen at the most, had elapsed since he closed the doors. To my surprise he said, “One hour finished, Mahatmaji!”
When I returned to Pagala Baba, all the visitors were gone and we were alone. He bent forward and asked me if I had received the mantra. I repeated it quietly and he smiled, and leaned back on his pillow. “Good, perfect, excellent!” I knew that I had passed all tests and had completed a diksha which was the envy of many. And how true this was. Great as the success of the initiation had been to me, it produced a few jealous enemies. A few, as I learned afterward, had not hesitated to tell Pagala Baba that he had been unwise in giving this diksha to a “foreigner.” The Guru, much to his credit, reminded them that I was an Englishman by birth and therefore a Commonwealth subject and the Indian Constitution did not classify me as a foreigner and neither should they. He also reminded them that in Ranchi I was known to the public as “London Paramahamsa” and for such a one, nothing of Indian spiritual life should be withheld. This silenced all opposition, but it did not eradicate all resentment.
Later, I was to visit Calcutta and Varanasi. To my great surprise, news of the initiation was well known among those where interested in Tantrika. Here again selfish motives began to rise and people who had been refused diksha by Pagala Baba tried desperately to obtain it from me. But this I would not do and I would not feel it suitable to give diksha when my Guru had already refused to do so. I could not do so, at least, while he was alive. It now appeared that by a strange twists of fate, the enigmatic play of the Absolute, the parampara of one regarded as the last Tantrik Guru of Kulacharya in India, now fell to someone who did not, at least by birth belong to India. The Westerner or European was always seen as being the one who sought initiation from an Indian Guru. Now the position was completely reversed and Indians were seeking initiation from a European.
In spite of the wave of popularity and the unique position I enjoyed, I remained completely indifferent and lived for nearly three months under a peepal tree on Assi Ghat, Varanasi just in front of the Hanuman temple. I never spoke of this to anyone and even many disciples, mostly Gujaratis, were unaware for many years that their Dadaji whom they knew as Natha by name, was also initiated in other spheres also and that these included Lamaism, Soto-Zen, Ch’an and Taoism as well as Tantrika.
Tantrika now does have unpleasant associations in India. Too often it is thought of as Black Magick, whatever that is. Some even saw some shadowy associations in the name of the Hermitage at Mehmadabad – Datta Jadui Bhagichar – which means “The Magick Garden of Datta.” My God! Magick, there’s that word again. The Magick worked and it kept away the general nuisance public and left me to do my own work with the few disciples of my choosing.
This is a suitable opportunity to explain that these articles and others I have written previously must not be taken to imply that I am available as a teacher of Tantrika or of Occult subjects. I live in a little hermitage outside a small backward town. I have no bookshop, catalogs or printed material. Those who write about these things are only wasting money. If I do choose to teach a disciple, the choice will only be mine and I will only be influenced by their potential for success. I do not want to collect failures. It is my own belief, as it was Pagala Baba’s that the Indian people have become so inhibited with Christian-Jain-Buddhist narrow morality that a great revival of Shakta, Kaula or Tantrika is practically impossible. There is more hope with Western people. Indian men love sex, talk of sex and there is a big “interest” in “sex Tantra”. Sex is their dream and delight. They believe in sex freedom also. But if you put your arm round their sister’s waist they will want to kill you. Sex freedom appears to be valid for men but not for women. How can a woman be seen as the manifestation of the Goddess if she has to live in purdah* and have absolutely no freedom? How does one preach sexual freedom or sex equality, or equal right to such people?
*purdah, n. To veil, or a curtain used to screen off part of the house where woman are secluded.
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