The Bauls of Bengal believe in a religion largely based on ideas from Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. It is the Bauls disregard of social constraints, such as the caste system, which leaves them free to achieve liberation through the realization of the Divine. In the Baul religion, individual inquiry and emphasize on the importance of a person’s physical body are important because it is within the body and the Supreme resides and thus it is the only place people need to search for God.
The basis of Baul ideology is to achieve the spiritual objective of liberation. Baul songs were invaluable to the maintenance and preservation of their religion. Songs were used for instruction by the guru to teach his disciple and to prepare him for the ultimate truth. The goals, of the Baul practitioner, are to achieve the realization of the Supreme using both yogic and tantric techniques. Baul ideology is believed to have existed before that of the Vedic religions. The name Baul, however, first appears in the literature of Bengal only in the fifteenth century. It seems to derive from the word batula meaning he who is beaten by the winds, he, that is, who abandons himself to all his impulses. But this ecstatic madness has to do with their love for God. Scholars have placed the origin of the Baul sect anywhere from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century.
The Bauls of Bengal belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, which has been influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, yet it is distinctly different from all three. The Bauls tradition is eclectic; its influences come from tantric (Sahajiya) Buddhism, tantric Hinduism (primarily Vaisnava Sahajiya, but also Saiva-Sakta), Bengali (Gaudiya) Vasinavism, and Sufi Islam. Caste, special deities, temples and sacred places play no part within Baul ideology. They do not set up any images of divinities or religious symbols in their own places of worship. They believe the temple where the supreme resides is in their own body. They are in essence a tantric yogic sect and share common practices with other tantric yogic traditions.
Like other tantrics, they hold that the body is a microcosm of the universe in which the Supreme resides and that it is the only instrument for gaining liberation and conquering death. If one desires to achieve the knowledge and realization of the Supreme then one should focus on the inner being. Within the Baul discipline, the physical body must be kept exceedingly pure for it is here the Bauls believe that the temple of the Supreme exists. Sexuality plays an important part in the Bauls search for the ultimate truth.
Ritual practice is largely disputed among the Bauls. Those for rituals believe they are mandatory to achieve the desired state of perfection. In contrast, other feel ritual practice is only necessary when a person does not have a close relationship with the Divine. The Bauls use a process called Urdha-srota, (the elevation of the current), in order to convert the currents of jiva (animal life) into the current of Shiva (God life) and bring about a realization of the Supreme within a person.
Like the tantrics, the Bauls believe that the means to experience divine love is through human love; through the union of the physical forms of man and woman. Bauls practice sexual intercourse with seminal retention during a woman’s menstrual period. The aim of these rituals is to reunite the dual principles that were separated when the world was created. The Bauls seek to reverse the cosmic process that leads to death and rebirth. The active form of the Supreme, called the sahaj manus becomes manifest in the lowest cakra, the mudladhar, during a woman’s menstrual period. It is at this time that the Bauls perform their sadhana to catch him. For sadhana to be successful it is necessary to bring under control the six enemies (lust, anger, greed, infatuation, vanity, and envy). The male practitioner envisions himself as a woman in order to change his lust into true love by preventing semen loss.
If one realizes the truth of the body (bhanda) one will be able to realize the truth of the universe (Brahmanda)(Datta 451).The ideas the Bauls have about the composition of the body do in most cases go against the standards of modern science. One proof of the validity of their system lies in the appearance of madness in certain Bauls. This madness is not an effect of their separation from God, but instead from direct visual manifestation (darsana). The appearance of madness shows that the Baul has seen the Supreme thus confirming the authenticity of his practices.