When we met again, the tantra master was much more forthcoming. I was greeted with a warm embrace and invited to relax under the banyan tree. I sensed that I now belonged. In an awed voice I asked him, "What was it that I saw?"
He chuckled at my neophyte's excitement. "So, you were impressed?" I nodded. "You saw Mohini, a demoness from the underworld. Had you known how, you could have entered a pact with her for the next cycle of Jupiter (twelve years). You promise to satisfy her lust once a month, and she will do your bidding in return - protect your property, destroy your enemies, whatever.
"But a pact with Mohini is very dangerous. When she comes for sexual satisfaction, she may assume eighteen forms in the course of the night, expecting you to fulfill the demands of each one. If you cannot, it will cost you your life. And if during the twelve years of your relationship with her you have an attraction to another woman, that will also cost you your life. You suddenly vomit blood - finished."
I asked, "Why was she attracted to the white stones?"
"Mohini draws energy from the male sexual fluid," he answered. "Besides the pleasure of sex, this is her main interest. Of the bodily fluids, saliva is the most similar to semen; that's why throwing a white stone upon which you've spat is a sure way to divert her attention. People who drool while sleeping unknowingly invite this kind of succubus to take control of their bodies."
Looking at me appraisingly, he then asked, "Has your faith in the occult increased?" I swallowed and blurted, "Yes, how could it not? I'll never forget that experience as long as I live!"
"So, you want to learn something from me?"
"Yes, of course!"
He devised a schedule of appointments based on my days off from work. On the average I would see him once every two weeks, but sometimes he insisted that our meetings be separated by as much as forty days, in deference to his own obligations. He ordered me to keep my relationship with him a strict secret.
During our meetings he taught theory, reading and explaining Sanskrit verses to me from a old book. In the course of these lessons, I learned he had twelve chatans under his control. He engaged these demons in grisly tasks for paying customers, such as frightening or inducing insanity in the customers' rivals, or even killing them.
I also learned that my master had taken up vamamarga in vengeance against people who had used the same methods to hurt his family. He destroyed these enemies and then went into business for himself. In India, vamamarga has always been the last resort of the downtrodden in securing justice and getting respect: 'Dog as a devil deified, deified lived as a god.'
Apart from my master's ruthlessness, I found some things in him that were admirable. One was that he was strictly self-controlled, despite the fact that he used women in many of his rituals. He was a rare man who was motivated not by sensual pleasure but by sheer power.
Another good quality of his, fortunately for me, was that once he was your friend, he would not betray you. Many tantric masters accept disciples simply because they need assistants, not because they want to impart knowledge. Since in tantra today's disciple may become tomorrow's rival, a master's students can find themselves in grave danger when he no longer needs them. But my master accepted me as a friend, knowing that I would not seriously pursue tantra later on. I was only experimenting.
For the last ten years he'd been attempting to get mystic powers by a method known as uttara-kaula: the worship of Shakti in the form of a virgin girl with particularly fine lakshanas (physical qualities). His chatans would search for such beauties as he traveled around Kerala doing his magical exhibitions.
From time to time he would place one of these women under hypnotic control and bring her to a burning ground, where bodies are cremated. There he would bathe her in liquor and invoke the power of the goddess with mantras and mudras (symbolic hand gestures). Yet during all this he had to remain completely unperturbed by sexual desires (he'd been celibate for the last thirty years). After the ceremony he let the girl go home untouched, unharmed and unable to remember what had happened.
Having completed theory, one night I assisted him in a particularly gruesome ritual. He took me to a crematorium where he had the cooperation of the man who burned the bodies. This man had pulled from the fire a smoldering half-burned carcass that we used as a kind of altar. My master sat down near the body in meditation. I had a box containing eight different powders; on signal from my master, I would sprinkle one of them on the hot, crackling corpse. The other fellow would place burning cinders on the body from time to time to keep it hot.
The powders produced different colors and flavors of smoke. With the rising of each puff from off the carcass my mind would be opened to a particular realm of thought. For instance, one powder caused thoughts of clear skies to flood my mind - the dawn sky, noon sky, sunset sky and night sky. With another I saw different kinds of clouds. Visions of bodies of water were induced by a third. Sometimes the visions were horrible, as when I saw mounds of different kinds of stool, and sometimes they were very sensual. In all cases, I had to keep my mind under control and not allow it to be overwhelmed by fascination, lust or revulsion.
I was being used by my master as a 'video monitor' for his own meditations. I was to sustain the images in my head undisturbed while he entered them with his mind. Each image was a door to a particular level of consciousness, and at each level he had to propitiate a particular form of Devi.
This ritual meditation went on until about an hour before sunrise. Finally he stood up and embraced me, saying, "With your help, tonight I was successful. What a mind you have!"
He explained that he had long attempted to complete this ceremony, but because of not having a suitable assistant, he'd never seen it through to the end. Now, he told me, he'd attained the power to render objects - including his own body - invisible, as well as reproduce them in multiple forms.
Such powers are called siddhis, and are obtained by yogis after long, arduous austerity and meditation that might stretch over a succession of many lifetimes. Yoga slowly opens by increments the chakras, the hidden power points of the mind.
But the tantric process, when successful, places the mind of the meditator under such intense pressure that the siddhi-chakras can be abruptly wrenched wide by a mighty burst of willpower. This is precisely why tantric ritualism combines such explosively contradictory elements as the vow of celibacy with the bathing of nude girls in liquor. This is also why tantra is so dangerous, for its forcible distortion of the mind often ends in insanity.
Likewise hazardous is the congress the tantrics have with chatans, mohinis and similar evil spirits. As an old saying goes, 'Mahouts die by elephants, snake charmers die by snakes, and tantrics die by the entities they summon and attempt to control.'
After the session in the burning ground, my master told me not to visit him again. "You have seen enough to have faith in the realm beyond the senses. If you are intelligent, you will take up a proper religious life. This path is only for wild men like me."
And in fact my faith was greatly reinforced by my master's help. I concluded that if such displays of power as he could effect were possible through the dark practices of left-hand tantra, the miracles attributed to the Krishna murti at Guruvayur must be of an infinitely more sublime and pure nature.
During the period I was learning from my master, I visited other tantrics. There were two in particular who became the main reasons why I took heed of my master's warning to abandon vamamarga. I didn't want to become like them.
The first, who directed me to the second, was a woman who was reputed to be the most adept tantric in all of Kerala. She sometimes stayed in a ruined house in a village outside of Trichur. It was only with great difficulty that I managed to find her there as she was very secretive about her movements. It was rumored that she was wanted by the law, so I dared not make open inquiries about her for fear of being arrested as an accomplice.
When I came to the house, I saw nothing indicating recent habitation except for an old ragged quilt flung in a heap on the veranda. After looking around a bit and finding no one, I picked up a corner of the quilt to see what was beneath it. The cloth was snatched from my touch as a voice hissed from under it, "Don't touch my blanket! If you want to see me, come back after sunset!"
Shocked beyond words, I recoiled from the quilt as if I had suddenly seen a scorpion in its folds. I went into the village and had dinner in a small eatery. As the sun sank below the horizon, I returned to the old house.
As I mounted the veranda, the figure under the blanket stirred and sat up. Her face gave me yet another shock, for it was decrepit beyond belief and covered with infected running sores. Her hideous visage reminded me of a reoccurring nightmare I'd had as a child, in which a hag much like her peered from beneath a staircase of an old building.
But fascination for her reputed abilities overrode my loathing. As she was physically unable to stand (she moved about with the help of people over whom she had power), I sat down next to her. In a rheumy, quavering voice she said, "If sunlight touches my skin, I will die. That's why you can only see me after dark."
I tried to introduce myself, but she cut me off. "I know you and know why you've come, but I do not deal with beginners. You are looking for drastic displays of power that will give you faith in the mystic realm. Very well; I have thousands of tantrics working under me, and I will recommend one to you who will more than satisfy your curiosity. And I guarantee - after you've met him, you will not want to become a tantric yourself."
She told me to go back to the village and spend the night there. The next morning I would see a line of people boarding a bus. "You give the driver two rupees. Where he tells you to get down, you get down. From this veranda I will direct you the rest of the way. Now go."
Everything transpired as she said it would. Around noon I got off the bus at a Muslim village where the main business seemed to be the sale of deep-fried plantain chips. From there I walked, following a footpath out of town and through a green field of tall grain. At the end of the field I saw a house perched atop a rocky knoll. Somehow I knew that was the place I was supposed to go.
On the veranda of the house were four young, pretty women in red dresses, each wearing her hair tied in a long pony tail; they were arrayed on either side of a flamboyantly-dressed man sporting a full beard and shoulder-length hair. He looked for all the world like a gangster, and I began to wonder if I'd stumbled upon a house of ill repute. The five sat in chairs as if they were expecting someone. As I came up the front steps to join them, I saw the veranda was also host to a large population of pet animals - cats, dogs, monkeys, and even a jackal.
"So, you've come!" the man welcomed me heartily. "And you want to see something interesting. Well," he gave me a toothy grin from within his beard, "you must see the performance we have planned for this evening. But until then, make yourself comfortable." He introduced his female companions and hinted that they would be as friendly as I might like them to be. I modestly declined their assistance in passing the time, for I was by now curious to find out what sort of discipline this man was following.
His specialty was spying on people and locating lost objects by means of mystic sight. And to attain his power, he performed the most obscene rituals imaginable. That night I would be witness to one.
He told me that his line of tantra required no vows or austerities like those maintained by my master. In fact, he knew all about my master and his trust in me; this, he avowed, was the only reason why I'd been permitted to meet the old lady who had directed me to him.
He said more about her. "Her greed for power knows no limit. She has attained levels that no one else can master, and she still wants more. Her physical disabilities are the result of the terrible methods she has used to get where she is now - but that doesn't matter to her, because her satisfaction is not in the pleasures of the body. To be truthful, she cannot be satisfied. The secrets of the universe are unending, and she has set her mind on fathoming them all. Her goal is to swallow the universe."
Tantrics consider the siddhi they call 'swallowing (internalizing) the universe' to be the summit of attainment: one has access to anything in the cosmos, on any planet, anywhere, simply by thinking about it. Thus all desires are fulfilled by the mind alone.
Yogis who know this mystic process can mentally move through the regions of the universe as easily as someone using an elevator can move from floor to floor in a building. The yogi's elevator shaft is his body's central psychic channel, which runs through the length of his spinal cord. By meditation he can link this channel to the shishumara-chakra, an astral tube coiling from the Pole Star down to the nether regions, and project his subtle mental body through it for an easy journey to other planets. He may even teleport the elements of his physical body through the channel, reassemble them in the place of his choice, and so seem to appear there out of nowhere.
Shortly before midnight, the tantric gave me a battered tin box to carry and led me to a nearby burning ground, where the body of a pregnant woman had been saved from the fire for his use. I watched in growing horror as he stood on the corpse and recited mantras. Using a special instrument he took from the box, he removed the fetus from the womb of the dead woman. Examining the tiny limp form, he assured me it was still undead, though beyond hope of revival. He'd kept the soul within the body by a magic spell, he claimed. He pulled a razor-sharp knife and a large jar half-full of some solution from the box, and then, chanting more mantras, he began to butcher the baby, dropping the pieces of flesh into the jar. Aghast and trembling, I fled the scene.
I went to the watchman who had let us into the burning ground. "How can you permit this?" I raged. "That woman's family paid you people to consign her body to the flames, and you're allowing such evil things to be done to her and her baby!"
The watchman cautioned me in a frightened whisper. "Don't say anything more, please! That man knows what you're speaking to me now. Don't make him angry! You must be very careful with him - he even knows your thoughts. If you don't like what he's doing, why have you come here with him?"
Feeling ashamed of myself, I mumbled, "I only wanted to see the secrets of his power..."
The watchman shook his head in pity and said, "Your curiosity will ruin you. You're a young man, you look well-bred and intelligent, why are you getting mixed up in this? Just leave. Don't spoil your life." But I couldn't leave, as I didn't know where to go. One does not stumble around the Kerala countryside at night, for snakebite is a likely consequence. I settled down near the watchman's campfire and soon dozed off.
Some time later - it could have been one or two hours - the watchman roused me. The tantric had come out of the burning ground carrying the jar under one arm. In the other hand he held the baby's skull. "Why did you leave?" he admonished me, not unkindly. "If you want to do things that other people cannot do, you have to do things that other people cannot do!" He laughed, and his easy manner stupefied me.
"Look at this!" he exulted, thrusting the jar under my nose. I thought he would unscrew the lid, and my gorge rose. But he only wanted to explain that by treating the baby's flesh in the solution he'd made a powerful ointment. He reproved me again for not having stayed and watched how he'd done it. In the darkness the jar looked empty to me.
"Go get the box," he ordered. "We'll go back to my place and tomorrow I'll show you what this preparation can do." He led me through the fields back to his house. Inside, he went to bed with two of his girls. I slept fitfully on the veranda.
The next morning he set the jar down on a small table between us. Now I could see that the bottom was covered by a pasty substance. With a hand caressing the shoulder of a girl on either side of him, he leaned back in his seat and probed my mind for a moment with a quiet stare. "I think you ought to test the power of this ointment," he said, raising his eyebrows allusively. "There's a problem at your factory that you can solve with it ... some missing cash?"
He was right. A considerable sum of cash funds had disappeared recently, and suspicion had fallen upon a Mr. Murthi, though no proof could be found against him. The tantric smeared a bit of the ointment on my thumbnail and told me to look carefully at it. As I concentrated, I saw in the nail the image of the office from which the money had been taken. I found I could alter the view with directions given in my mind, just as a TV studio director changes the image on the video screen by telling the cameraman to pan, zoom in for a close-up, and so on. But my mystic thumbnail scope was incredibly more versatile, for it even showed the past.
I saw that it was not Mr. Murthi, but another man who had entered the office surreptitiously to take the briefcase of money and hide it in his car. I followed him after work; he drove to the place of an accomplice and stashed the briefcase with him. The accomplice spent the money on black-market gold so that the cash could not be traced. And I saw how the thief had his share of the gold made into doorknobs that he placed on the doors in his home, naturally without telling his family what they were really made of.
Later I tipped off a friend at work who wrote an anonymous note to the police. They verified that the doorknobs in the man's home were solid gold. He was arrested and convicted on charges of grand larceny.
From my further discussions with him that day, I learned that when people came to the tantric for the recovery of stolen or lost property, for a fee he had one of his girls trace the missing goods with the mystic thumbnail scope. The existence of the ghastly ointment was kept secret, of course. The customers thought it was the power of the girls themselves.
The thumbnail scope had its limitations. Though it could penetrate any closed door or wall, it could not see above or below a specific height or depth, nor look into powerful holy places or temples and could be baffled by expert singers performing certain melodies. Certain kinds of smoke would likewise render it ineffective.
I asked him about his karma. "You have attained this siddhi by very obnoxious methods. What do you think lies in wait for you in future births?"
On this point he was surprisingly philosophical. "Those who would master this knowledge must be ready to face the consequences without flinching. I will surely have to suffer for all the black deeds I have done. But that's part of the game we play.
"We tantrics view all existence as an ebb and flow of Shakti. We connect with that power, and it sweeps us up to untold heights. Later on, the same power may plunge us into despair. But what else is there? Everything is but a manifestation of Shakti."
This man's question - 'But what else is there?' - for which the tantrics have no answer, bothered me. If there was really nothing else beyond the goddess and her power, then he, and the old witch on the veranda, and my master who poured liquor over women's bodies, and the brahmin who broke coconuts on his head, had attained all there is to attain. I couldn't accept that. There had to be something more.
I was now not interested in going any further with vamamarga. But I thought that the theoretical principles and the basic discipline I'd learnt from my master were of great use to me. I had no inkling that once the lid of the Pandora's box of occult mind power had been pried off, it was not so easy to close again.
Question: If they had attained everything, then why were they still striving for more by those processes mentioned?