Over millennia, tantra has discovered countless techniques for entering the inner world and experiencing our oneness with the divinity within. Some of those techniques place greater emphasis on using external tools and means; others emphasize internal means. Those using external tools are ritualistic and follow a set of rules and laws that ensure the rituals are effective and fruitful. This approach is known as kaula tantra.
Those using internal tools—such as asanas and pranayamas in conjunction with bandhas and mudras, and meditation on chakras and mandalas in conjunction with mantras and the visualization of deities—follow their own unique rules and laws. This approach is known as samaya tantra. The tantric schools that combine these two approaches are called mishra tantra. However, the adepts belonging to all of these paths—kaula, samaya, and mishra—share a common understanding: no matter which path you follow or which practice you undertake, you must have a clear, calm, and tranquil mind.
No matter which path you follow or which practice you undertake, you must have a clear, calm, and tranquil mind.
A disturbed, distracted, or stupefied mind is not fit to follow any path. Cultivating a clear, calm, and tranquil mind and infusing it with prana shakti, the radiant, indomitable life force, is the first and foremost practice of tantra. Infusing the mind with prana shakti is the most crucial of all tantric practices for it ensures that the mind—which is at once the most important instrument of practice as well as the container of the energy generated by the practice, is charged with vitality, stamina, and willpower.
In tantric terminology, first infusing the mind with prana shakti and then infusing a practice with this prana shakti is known as prana dharana. To clarify why this infusion of prana shakti is so crucial, let us see what happens when a practice—non-tantric as well as tantric—is undertaken without this infusion.
Let’s say you have learned the art of creating a mandala. You drew it on silk cloth, accurately and with faith. Before you installed the mandala on your altar, a holy man from India or Tibet blessed it. For five years you have been making daily ritual offerings and meditating following all the guidelines, but you see little or no result. Why is your practice so unsatisfactory? According to a tantric, the main reason is that you have been meditating while facing a piece of silk cloth. The mandala you drew on that cloth was not charged with prana shakti and so it remains lifeless. Meditation on it is also lifeless.
The same is true of an internal non-ritualistic tantric practice, such as meditation on a particular chakra. For example, you are trying to awaken the healing force of the navel center. The mantra you picked from a book is correct. It is an authentic mantra for awakening the healing force. The image of fire your mind has conceived is correct. The technique and procedure you are using to enter the navel center are also correct, yet you have been trying to awaken your navel center for years, without success. Why? The answer is simple: the mantra you picked from the book is lifeless and you did not infuse it with prana shakti before using it. The image of fire is also devoid of the life force, and the navel center has not been infused with living, awakened, vibrant prana shakti. Thus the whole practice is lifeless.
In a traditional tantric practice, you go directly to the crux of the matter—infusing your mind with the living, vibrant energy of prana shakti. First unite your mind with the prana shakti so it is fully healed and nourished. This fully nourished mind will reclaim its pristine characteristics—clarity and insight, stability and concentration. It will reclaim its ability to receive and retain revelation. It will reclaim its power of discernment. It will learn to travel with the prana shakti to wherever concentration, meditation, and samadhi are needed—to yantras and mandalas, to statues of gods and goddesses, and to spiritual/religious emblems—and will witness the infusion of the life force into those objects. Thereafter, any form of practice—ritualistic or non-ritualistic, external or internal—will become fruitful. This whole process is called prana dharana.
Prana dharana means “to concentrate prana shakti (the life force); to make prana shakti become concentrated; to intensify the life force until it begins to glow and breathe life into anything falling within its field.” The life force is everywhere in our body in a diffused form. It is performing its function in a diffused manner, which is just enough to keep us alive. In order for this life force to perform extraordinary feats, it must be concentrated.
Concentration begins by collecting the diffused energy and compressing it in a well-defined space. In that confined space, the energy begins to exhibit extraordinary properties which were lying dormant within it. These extraordinary properties include infusing the mind with the power to rise above disturbances, distractions, and stupefaction, and become still and composed. With the unfoldment of its extraordinary properties, prana shakti is able to heal and nurture the body, mind, and senses. It is able to infuse the mind with the power to reach every nook and cranny in the body as well as any destination in the external world.
Once concentrated, the prana shakti is able to beam its healing and enlightening properties to any point in time and space.
Once it is concentrated, the prana shakti is able to beam its healing and enlightening properties to any point in time and space. Accompanied and assisted by the concentrated pranic force, the mind is able to awaken the dormant energy of any of the chakras in our body, as well as the energy dormant in mantras, yantras, mandalas, herbs, gems, or any object of meditation or ritual worship. The tantric practice of prana dharana is the means of concentrating the pranic force.