Compelling Charm of A Tantric
A thousand years ago or more, a solitary yogin walks out of the Bengali jungle just after sundown and sits cross-legged under the canopy of a village banyan tree. He is dressed in little more than a loincloth. His beard and mustache are unkempt, and his long, matted hair is tied up in a bun. He carries a mendicant’s staff and a double-headed hand drum. His eyes shine in the torchlight. His reputation has preceded him, and an audience quickly gathers at his feet, mostly young village men but some women, too. They’ve heard that he mocks the elders, teaches a way to live freely in the world, and sometimes will perform a miracle, like turning base metals into gold or flying through the sky. Older men cast suspicious glances from the edge of the crowd. They’ve heard that he’s a dropout from the monastic university, lives near a cremation ground with a low-caste woman, participates in debauched rites, works at a low-class occupation if he works at all, and is out to subvert the social and religious order.
The silence of evening is broken by the barking of dogs, the lowing of cattle, and the screeching of birds; the scent and haze of home fires fills the air. When his audience has settled down, the man starts slowly to beat out a rhythm on his drum, and then he begins to sing. His voice is untrained and his melodies rough, but his lyrics are sharp and aphoristic. In rhyming verses, using words from the common tongue, he celebrates the ecstasy of enlightened awareness and the free-roaming life, while mocking the pretensions of ritualists, scholars, contemplatives, ascetics, and anyone who claims that realization can be found anywhere but within oneself. His words are simple, but his meanings complex and full of paradox. He sings of the sky and stars and sea, of animals and plants, of husbands and wives and kings and commoners, but in ways that seem to point below the surface. He says the mind is pure but that we have to do without it; he suggests we can live sensuously in the world but warns against the traps of pleasure; he damns obsession with religious rites but hints at mystical practices of his own; he rails against experts of every sort but venerates his guru without reserve. When he is finished, he gets up, turns his back to the crowd, and walks back alone into the jungle.
The next morning, the village work resumes as it always does, but now some of the young people, and the old men, too, find that they’ve got the yogin’s songs stuck in their heads, a phrase here, a rhyme there, which they try to puzzle out. At odd moments during the day, and even more so at night, they find their thoughts turning to the jungle, to truths that might be discovered beyond the village clearing, to the sound of that strange troubadour’s voice, the rhythm of his drum, the look in his eyes.
From Tantric Treasures by Roger R. Jackson