FIDHY Conference 2006  – André Riehl


Tantra, which reached its peak between the 6th and 8th centuries AD, is a revolutionary wave whose teachings, the tantras, have influenced all religions and sects in India. The Āgamashastra, tantric texts (the term tantra means in everyday language any “treatise”), are not bound to a system of abstract speculation. They constitute a true catalog of practices, the sādhanashastras, aiming at spiritual realization. They were designed and adapted for the obscure period of the Kali Yuga “iron age” where the highest attainment must be made available to the greatest number of people and address all, without distinction of caste or sex.

“Whether one is a young man, a mature man or an old man, or even sick or weak, it is by practice that one achieves realization, if one tirelessly cultivates all aspects of yoga” (Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā). The originality of the tantric method is not to fight against the natural tendencies and the basic instincts of man, but to use them in order to transcend them and to reverse the egocentric tendency towards the opening of an infinite consciousness. All aspects and functions of daily life are used to achieve Liberation. The world ceases to be an illusion to take on, as in the time of the Vedas, a very real aspect. The manifestation unfolds through the power of Shakti, the divine energy, which creates and animates the world of forms and life. The body, senses and thought, allied to the discipline, become modes of action to reach the truth hidden within ourselves; for it is by returning to his center that man will come into contact with cosmic reality, and then with Pure Consciousness (Shiva) whose nature is no different from his own.

Etymologically, tantra means the shuttle (a tool) running through the “chain” of a fabric on a loom. The root “tan” comes from “to expand, stretch”. In this approach, it is stated that there is an activity that makes the link, as in weaving, the shuttle back and forth between the warp threads, resulting in the weft thread that allows the woven piece to take shape.

If we take this metaphor back to the everyday life, we can present things in this way: on their frame, the warp threads are the objectives we set for ourselves at the start and which, in a certain way, place us in chains. The weft threads are the events that will move us away or move us closer to our starting direction. It happens that one suddenly changes warps, this is called spiritual zapping, but in general, it is quite rare to lose one’s objectives or to reverse them completely. We can see that the external contingencies have sometimes removed us from our objectives, but curiously, they have kept us in the same direction. There is a jumping around. Between the warp and the weft, there is a permanent play of attraction and repulsion that creates what are called tensions. The right tension will give the weaving its quality, its texture, its flexibility. Some of these tensions are necessary for our survival, I call them simply “tensions”, while others are totally superfluous, and I then call them “contractions”. Thus, an interplay of force unfolds between what does not move (the warp), and what moves, (the weft). This relationship ensured by the shuttle generates a friction – and there is always friction! In Sanskrit we call this process of energy production tapas. Sometimes there is so much friction, we are so at odds with ourselves, that it leads to states of fear, anger or frustration, and we are bubbling inside. Sometimes, the friction is balanced, the two tendencies, objectives and events are harmonized, the twists and turns stay close to the direction and walk together.

Tantrism affirms something quite surprising: in reality, neither the state of harmony nor the state of conflict between the warp and the weft interests us. What interests us is only to perceive and savor the link that flows between the two, whether one is in a state of heated anger or in a state of warm harmony.

To approach what I call “the link” is our only investigation. There are several approaches, some are “harmonizing”, while others emphasize the friction. Nidra is an approach that has decided to harmonize, however, it points to the conflict in a very acute way.


Nidra is a Sanskrit term whose primary meaning is sleep. Shiva represents the archetypal yogi, the ultimate reference of all yogis. His name “Shiva” means “the dying man”, not one who is giving up the soul, but one which is disappearing. Curiously, the tradition declares that the original and creative nature of what dies, is this famous state of awakening, this state of perception without separation. In the non-dual state, indeed, the very fact of apprehending or attempting to apprehend non-duality disappears. There remains a “state” which is not really a state, preceding all forms of manifestation and which is called Nidra. Nidra is the state of “awakened sleep” of Shiva.

Subsequently, numerous legends were added, the most common of which tells how Nidra would be the origin of Shiva’s gaze. It would be this gaze borrowed from this quality of “awakened sleep” that would have created the world. In order to make it clear that this is not an ordinary gaze, tradition features him with a third eye.

This gaze which created the world contains a double meaning. It begins by saying that the way we look at the world tends to modify it; watching is an action that transforms. Furthermore, that the nature of this gaze, at the origin of the whole process of creation, is maintained continuously. There is thus creation that is instantaneous and continuous, a constant renewal of the creative process. This gaze of Shiva, the origin of the universal movement, has a name, it is called darshan.

For its part, Brahmanism explains to us that an unknowable and non-localized activity dreams the world; we humans are the images of this dream. Nidra Yoga, situating itself in the Tantric perspective (the world is not an illusion) proposes to become attentive to the energy of the dream and not to the images of the dream. Because by becoming attentive to the energy of the dream, we enter the heart of the nature of the dream-er, that is to say Brahma or Shiva. It is for this reason that in Nidra in particular and in all yogas in general, we rarely analyze dreams. The dream images are simply a sign that the mind is agitated. We are more interested in sleep without dream because it seems a more certain passage that can lead to the very nature of Shiva’s Nidra, which is no different from the source to which we must return.

The Practice

The practice uses two techniques which at first glance may seem antagonistic: relaxation and concentration. There is indeed a paradoxical state, which is the simultaneous presence of relaxation and concentration. At first, we will look at them separately to give an overview of the exercises.


First of all, I would like to specify a little more this term of relaxation by calling it “very deep relaxation”. It consists of looking for all the contractions that are not essential for being alive. Many things are not necessary for living, and they all have to do with what I call “contractions”. It is not essential to be contracted to be alive!

In the teaching that has been transmitted to me, the being is composed of five structures or koshas. We will therefore strive to relax them, starting from the outermost structure, the most dense, and gradually moving towards the interior structures, less and less dense.

– The first structure called Annamaya-kosha is translated as “food body”. It represents the physical body and is divided into three systems:

  • Anatomic: skin, muscles, tendons, some nerves
  • Physiological: organs, endocrine and nervous systems, lymph
  • Bones: flat bones, long bones (where the marrow is) and cartilage

– The second structure is called Prānamaya-kosha, or energy body. The word prāna has multiple meanings; it designates, for example, the breath, energy, the nature of the movement. Here, we are particularly interested in the idea of a dynamic unfolding through a web of networks called nadis, or a river, which can be compared to the network of a hydraulic power station. These nadis of different intensity or energy flow reach intersections which are accumulators and energy distributors, the chakras. These rivers and distribution centers are most often congested by residues that hinder or prevent the circulation of energy, prāna.

– The third Manomaya-kosha is the mind, the thought. It’s not about ideas but about the very functioning of manas, thinking, which includes associations of ideas, memory, creative thoughts, logic, and everything that has to do with the process of thought.

– The fourth structure, Vijñānamaya-kosha, is understanding; it is not knowledge, because the latter can be memorized (belongs to the domain of manomaya-kosha thought). It is an intuitive understanding that is similar to this capacity that we have sometimes to know things without going through the usual physical means, a lightning bolt of perception that has nothing to do with logic, nor does it depend on any accumulated or intellectual knowledge. This intuition is often blocked and tense, and we will attempt to relax it, to allow it space to unfurl.

– The fifth and final structure is called Ānandamaya-kosha, from Ananda, or “joy, bliss”. Concerning this state, there is no transmissible exercise; it is only by having a completely relaxed intuition which can open us to it. But even pure bliss can harbor tensions! We will also try to relax within these blissful states in order to unfold them further.

These five structures are presented as being limited (or delimited), and by becoming aware separately of the existence of each of them, we will realize that they are, in fact, connected. What constitutes this “link” between these structures, is itself unlimited.

To move in this way through the koshas inevitably entails a number of experiences; we will not make much of it, the purpose of this practice being neither the intensity nor the quantity of such astonishing experiences which can be revealed, but only to develop the capacity to increase the desire for this link.


Concentration, Dhārana, is defined here as a “penetrating concentration without tension”. At first, we will use the thought to gradually use only the energy of thought. The first exercises are quite understandable, the words used referring to known objects. It is a question of concentrating here or there, to visualize simple images, imaginary journeys … Subsequently, the concentration abandons the formal objects to orient oneself on concepts, no longer having any form. From a concentration with form, we slide naturally towards a concentration without form. Between a subject, you for example, and an object, a wall or a tree or a person, there is a relationship that operates in what I call “transparency”. Formless concentration consists in penetrating this transparency with the result that the object sometimes disappears and the subject sometimes disappears too. It is not a method for becoming invisible, but it paints a nice picture! The texts say that if we enter into relationship with the transparency, we may not see anything, but also nothing sees us. But this is not the end, it should be considered that this is a kind of “wink” being proposed.

The last stage of concentration is a concentration on phenomena that are neither perceptible by the body and the senses, nor by thought, nor by the body of energy, nor by the ecstatic state. It is an incursion into the impalpable Great Relaxation, one of the names given to it. The ultimate concentration is identical to the ultimate relaxation.

Relaxation – Concentration : a paradoxal state

It is difficult to imagine being both focused and relaxed at the same time. We often confuse concentration with tension, and it sometimes happens that after a while, we find ourselves exhausted, as when you are listening to me! On the other hand, we notice that the relaxation sometimes brings us to a relaxation so deep that we sink into sleep, also like when you are listening to me! There exist two opposites there. According to Tantra, the opposites are connected. I often say: what separates is what connects. This is not what presides over the separation or of the union that interests us, but the very nature of what connects or separates, the “link”, which in my opinion, could be an acceptable translation of the word Yoga.

This paradoxical state of the simultaneous presence of relaxation and concentration is made possible by attention. The state of attention is a state of integrity. When you are extremely relaxed, even in the bones, and at the same time you are extremely concentrated like a point, the attention becomes intense and little by little takes over. There is neither inside nor outside, neither concentration nor relaxation; there remains only this curious perception of integrity, the differences having been abolished. Whenever you are invited by this paradoxical state, rejoice in it!

To live this state is to make a foray into the sacred dimension of life.


There is no actual advancement or progress in this process, but the imperative need for an intelligible structure to which we can refer. We usually practice as a group, but from what I have been taught, there is no group, only cohesion. The group is limited, cohesion is infinite.

The Approach

The basic postulation is that there exists a state of unity, a state of non-separation accessible when the movements of thought cease. Yoga is the attempt to gain access to this state, to experience it, and if possible to settle there permanently.

To achieve this goal, yoga offers a multitude of paths, routes, roads and highways on which the seeker, according to his tendencies, can undertake his long journey. The ways of walking are also numerous and varied. Some charge head-first, others advance steadily or progressively by leaps, while others still crab-walk. This entire beautiful world activates itself, struggles, contorts, runs out of steam or sprints, according to varied abilities and moods. On the sidelines of this great migration towards enlightenment, Nidra points to something astonishing: there is an approach which consists in stopping, to “un-walk”. Nidra says very simply: “Lie down quietly, do not move, relax and let yourself “delight in nothingness”. The goal is not at the end of the road but under your feet, at the very place and moment where you are! “. This is a very economical approach in which we will stop spending energy to let it simply be. When the body stops and relaxes, the thought that is totally tied to it, also stops and relaxes. It suspends its work of permanently manufacturing conflicts. To produce a conflict, it is enough for him to falsify the real by fragmenting it into various aspects, most often into two opposite objects that it will very maliciously call “complementary”. One of his favorite functions is to make these objects appear, ie to objectify.

To objectify is to create limits, to designate that thing called “me” and to move it away from that other thing called “the other”. Surrounding this thing called “subject” and this other called “object”, there is this thing called “observer” and another called “observed”. When the activity of separation is interrupted, objectivity opens to subjectivity. The process is not to become what we already are, subjective beings, but to recognize and accept it. To accept subjectivity is to enter into a conception of life in which sensations will bring a new flavor (rasa). In the world of sensations, there is no more cheating possible because the sensations are immediately true. All the exercises of Nidra have the purpose to make us enter the sensations, in order to live fully what we are living, because, whenever thought objectifies, it distances us from what we are in the process of living.

Our daily lives are a reflection of what is fighting inside us. We have realized that changing the exterior world is not enough. Yet we have become extremely effective at this; we have developed considerable technologies to transform the world. However, despite that, we have not managed to put an end to suffering. The spiritual path does not propose to try to change anything, even starting from the inside. Change is still in the order of the will, the tension. It simply asks us to “see”, “to observe”, to recognize what we have already always known deeply within. Observation is a passive reconciliation, a passive widening of boundaries. When the boundaries fade, sensitivity awakens and we come closer to this state of innocence, opportune for the emergence of trust (faith) without object. A trust not based on anything. The tradition holds that this trust without any support is synonymous with wonder, a pure and infinite joy.

Let’s see!

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