Forms of Acara

There are seven, or, as some say, nine, divisions of worshippers. The extra divisions are bracketed in the following quotation. The Kularnava-Tantra mentions seven, which are given in their order of superiority, the first being the lowest: Vedacara, Vaisnavacara, Saivacara, Daksinacara, Vamacara, Siddhantacara, (Aghoracara,(1) Yogacara), and Kaulacara, the highest of all.(2)

The acara is the way, custom and practice of a particular class of sadhakas. They are not, as sometimes supposed, different sects, but stages through which the worshipper in this or other births has to pass before he reaches the supreme stage of the Kaula. Vedacara, which consists in the daily practice of the Vaidik rites, is the gross body (sthuladeha), which comprises within it all other acaras, which are, as it were, its subtle bodies (suksma-deha) of various degrees. The worship is largely of an external and ritual character, the object of which is to strengthen dharma. This is the path of action (kriyamarga).

In the second stage the worshipper passes from blind faith to an understanding of the supreme protecting energy of the Brahman, towards which he has the feelings of devotion. This is the path of devotion (bhakti-marga), and the aim at this stage is the union of it and faith previously acquired. With an increasing determination to protect dharma and destroy adharma, the sadhaka passes into S’aivacara, the warrior (ksatriya) stage, wherein to love and mercy are added strenuous striving and the cultivation of power. There is union of faith, devotion (bhakti), and inward determination (antar-laksa). Entrance is made upon the path of knowledge (jnana-rnarga).

Following this is Daksinacara, which in Tantra does not mean “right-hand worship”, but “favourable” – that is, that acara which is favourable to the accomplishment of the higher sadhana, and whereof the Devi is the Daksina-Kalika. This stage commences when the worshipper can make dhyana and dharana of the threefold sakti of the Brahman (kriya, iccha, jnana), and understands the mutual connection (samanvaya) of the three gunas until he receives purnabhiseka. (3)

At this stage the sadhaka is Sakta, and qualified for the worship of the threefold sakti of Brahma, Visnu, Mahesvara. He is fully initiated in the Gayatri-mantra, and worships the Devi Gayatri, the Daksina-Kalika, or Adya S’akti – the union of the three Saktis. This is the stage of individualistic Brahmanattva, and its aim is the union of faith, devotion, and determination, with a knowledge of the threefold energies.

After this a change of great importance occurs, marking, as it does, the entry upon the path of return (nivrtti). This it is which has led some to divide the acara into two broad divisions of Daksinacara (including the first four) and Vamacara, (including the last three), it being said that men are born into Daksinacara, but are received by initiation into Vamacara. The latter term does not mean, as is vulgarly supposed, “left-hand worship” but worship in which woman (varna) enters, that is, lata-sadhana. In this acara there is also worship of the Vama-Devi. Varna is here “adverse,” in that the stage is adverse to pravrtti, which governed in varying degrees the preceding acara, and entry is here made upon the path of nivrtti, or return to the source whence the world sprung.

Up to the fourth stage the Sadhaka followed pravrttimarga, the outgoing path which led from the source, the path of worldly enjoyment, albeit curbed by dharma. At first unconsciously, and later consciously, sadhana sought to induce nivrtti, which, however, can only fully appear after the exhaustion of the forces of the outward current. In Vamacara, however, the sadhaka commences to directly destroy pravrtti, and with the help of the Guru (whose help throughout is in this necessary)(4) to cultivate nivrtti.

The method at this stage is to use the forces of pravrtti in such a way as to render them self-destructive. The passions which bind may be so employed as to act as forces whereby the particular life of which they are the strongest manifestation is raised to the universal life.

Passion, which has hitherto run downwards and outwards to waste, is directed inwards and upwards, and transformed to power. But it is not only the lower physical desires of eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse which must be subjugated. The sadhaka must at this stage commence to cut off all the eight bonds (pasa) which mark the pasu which the Kularnava-Tantra enumerates as pity (daya), ignorance (moha), shame (lajja), family (kula), custom (sila), and caste (varna).(5) When Sri-Krsna stole the clothes of the bathing Gopis, and made them approach him naked, he removed the artificial coverings which are imposed on man in the samsara. The Gopis were eight, as are the bonds (pasa), and the errors by which the jiva is misled are the clothes which Sri Krsna stole. Freed of these, the jiva is liberated from all bonds arising from his desires, family, and society. He then reaches the stage of Siva (sivatva). It is the aim of Vamacara to liberate from the bonds which bind men to the samsara, and to qualify the sadhaka for the highest grades of sadhana in which the sattvika guna predominates. To the truly sattvik there is neither attachment nor fear nor disgust.

That which has been commenced in these stages is by degrees completed in those which follow-viz.: Siddhantacara, and according to some, Aghoracara and Yogacara, The sadhaka becomes more and more freed from the darkness of the samsara, and is attached to nothing, hates nothing, and is ashamed of nothing, having freed himself of the artificial bonds of family, caste, and society. The sadhaka becomes, like Siva himself, a dweller in the cremation ground (smasana). He learns to reach the upper heights of sadhana and the mysteries of yoga. He learns the movements of the different vayus in the microcosm, the ksudrabrahmanda, the regulation of which controls the inclinations and propensities (vritti). He learns also the truths which concern the macrocosm (brahmanda). Here also the Guru teaches him the inner core of Vedacara. Initiation by yoga-diksa fully qualifies him for yogacara. On attainment of perfection in astangayoga he is fit to enter the highest stage of Kaulacara.

1. This is generally regarded as a distinct sect though the author below cited says it is in fact, not so. Aghora means, it is said, one who is liberated from the terrible (ghora) samsara, but in any case, many worshippers for want of instruction by a siddha-guru have degenerated into mere eaters of corpses.
2. Chapter II. A short description (of little aid) is given in the Visvasara-Tantra (chap. xxiv). See also Hara-tattva-didhiti, fourth edition, pp. 339, et seq.
3. See as to this and following the Sanatana-sadhana-tattva, or Tantrarahasya of Sacchidananda Svami.
4. It is comparatively easy to lay down rules for the parvrtti-marga, but nothing can be achieved in Vamacara without the Guru’s help.
5. There are various enumerations of the “afflictions” (pasa) which are, however, merely elaborations of the smaller divisions. Thus, according to the Devl-Bhagavata, Moha is ignorance or bewilderment, and Maha-moha is desire of worldly pleasures.