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Tantra (Tib gyüd)

(1) a ritual tradition of the Vajrayana, transmitted from guru to disciple;

(2) a text associated with one or another of these traditions. There are also Hindu and Jain tantras.
Important Buddhist Tantras, mostly named after their principal deity, include Guhyasamaja, Cakrasamvara, Hevajra, Yamantaka and Kalacakra.

The Tibetans differentiate between OLD TANTRAS (Tib. nyingma’i gyüd) held to have been transmitted to Tibet at the time of Padmasambhava and mostly not existing in Sanskrit, and NEW TANTRAS (Tib. sarmai gyüd) which were transmitted in the 11th and 12th centuries and in many cases also exist in Sanskrit versions.

Tantra is the name scholars give to a style of religious ritual and Meditation that arose in medieval India no later than the fifth century CE. The earliest documented use of the word Tantra is in the Hindu text, the Rigveda (X.71.9).

Tantra has influenced the Hindu, Sikh, Bön, Buddhist, and Jain religious traditions and spread with Buddhism to East Asia and Southeast Asia.


There are a number of different definitions of Tantra, not always mutually consistent.

Traditional definitions

The Tantric tradition does offer two important definitions of what constitutes a tantra and why it is named such. The first comes from the Kāmikā-tantra:

Because it elaborates (tan) copious and profound matters, especially relating to the principles of reality (tattva) and sacred mantras, and because it provides liberation (tra), it is called a tantra.

The second traditional definition comes from the 10th century Tantric scholar Rāmakaṇṭha, who belonged to the dualist school called the Śaiva Siddhānta:

A tantra is a divinely revealed Body of teachings, explaining what is necessary and what is a hindrance in the practice of the worship of God and also describing the specialized initiation and purification ceremonies that are the necessary prerequisites of Tantric practice.

Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar describes who a tantric is and what the tantric cult is:

A person who, irrespective of Caste, Creed or religion, aspires for spiritual expansion or does something concrete, is a Tantric. Tantra in itself is neither a religion nor an 'ism'. Tantra is a fundamental spiritual science. So wherever there is any spiritual practice it should be taken for granted that it stands on the Tantric cult

Scholastic definitions

Modern scholars have also provided definitions of Tantra. David Gordon White of the University of California offers the following:


Tantra is that Asian Body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the Universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains that Universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.

Anthony Tribe, a scholar of Buddhist Tantra, offers a list of defining features:.

    Centrality of ritual, esp. evocation and worship of deities;

    Centrality of mantras;

    Visualisation and self-identification with deity;

    Necessity of initiation / Esotericism / secrecy;

    Importance of the teacher (Guru, ācārya);

    Ritua use of maṇḍalas;

    Transgressive/antinomian acts;

    Revaluation of the Body;

    Revaluation of the status and role of women;

    Analogical thinking [[[including]] microcosmic/macrocosmic correlation]; and

    Revaluation of 'negative' mental states

===Tantra as western construction===

Robert Brown notes that the term tantrism is a construction of western scholarship, not a concept that comes from the religious system itself. Tāntrikas (practitioners of Tantra) never attempted to define Tantra as a whole the way Western scholars have. Rather, the Tantric dimension of each South Asian religion had its own name:

    Tantric Shaivism was known to its practitioners as the Mantramārga,
    Tantric Buddhism has the indigenous name of the Vajrayana,
    Tantric Vaishnavism was known as the Pañcarātra.


The general term "Tantra" may be used to denote all the teachings and practices found in the scriptures called tantras or āgamas, a synonym. It could equally be substituted by the adjective Āgamic.


===Golden Age of Hinduism===

Tantrism originated in the early centuries CE and developed into a fully articulated tradition by the end of the Gupta period. This was the "Golden Age of Hinduism" (ca. 320–650 CE), which flourished during the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 CE) until the fall of the Harsha Empire (606 to 647 CE). During this period, Power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but the orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced, and the first Hindu temples emerged during the late Gupta age.

==Late-Classical Hinduism==


See also Late-Classical Age and Hinduism Middle Ages

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, Power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states".The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified", as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the Mandala.

The disintegration of central Power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry. Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism" was diminished. Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development". Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords. Buddhism lost it's position, and began to disappear in India.

In the same period Vedanta changed, incorporating Buddhist thought and it's emphasis on Consciousness and the working of the mind. Buddhism, which was supported by the ancient Indian urban civilisation lost influence to the traditional religions, which were rooted in the countryside. In Bengal, Buddhism was even prosecuted. But at the same time, Buddhism was incorporated into Hinduism, when Gaudapada used Buddhist Philosophy to reinterpret the Upanishads. This also marked a shift from Atman and Brahman as a "living substance" to "maya-vada", where Atman and Brahman are seen as "pure Knowledge-Consciousness". According to Scheepers, it is this "maya-vada" view which has come to dominate Indian thought.

===Spread of Tantra===

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Tantric movements led to the formation of many esoteric schools of Hinduism and Buddhism. It has influenced the Hindu, Sikh, Bön, Buddhist, and Jain religious traditions and spread with Buddhism to East Asia and Southeast Asia.


Rather than a single coherent system, Tantra is an accumulation of practices and ideas. Because of the wide range of communities covered by the term tantra, it is challenging and problematic to describe tantric practices definitively.

Goal of Tantra

Tantric ritual seeks to access the supra-mundane through the mundane, identifying the microcosm with the macrocosm. The Tantric aim is to sublimate rather than to negate relative reality.

The Tantric practitioner seeks to use prana, an energy that flows through the Universe (including one's own Body) to attain goals that may be spiritual, material or both.

The Tantric Path

Long training is generally required to master Tantric methods, into which pupils are typically initiated by a Guru.

Various techniques are used as aids for Meditation and for the achievement of spiritual and magical Power:

    Yoga, including breathing techniques and postures (asana), is employed to subject the Body to the control of the will;

    Mudras, or gestures;

    Mantras or syllables, words and phrases;


    Yantras, symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the Universe;

    Identification with deities. (See Anuttarayoga Tantra for Tibetan Buddhist ideas.)

The process of sublimation consists of three phases:




    "Reaffirmation of identity on the plane of pure Consciousness"

===Classifications of practices===

Statue of the Tantric goddess Kali from Dakshineswar, West Bengal, India; along with her Yantra.

Avalon provides a dichotomy of the "Ordinary Ritual" and the "Secret Ritual".

The methods employed by Dakshinachara (right-handpath) interpretations of Tantra are very different from the methods used in the pursuit of the Vamachara (left-hand path).

Mantra, yantra, nyasa

Linguistically the three words mantram, tantram and yantram are related in the ancient traditions of India, as well as phonologically. Mantram denotes the chant, or "Knowledge."

Tantram denotes philosophy, or ritual actions. Yantram denotes the means by which a human is expected to lead his Life.

The Mantra and yantra are instruments to invoke specific Hindu deities such as Shiva, Shakti, or Kali.

Similarly, puja may involve focusing on a yantra or Mandala associated with a deity.

Each Mantra is associated with a specific Nyasa. Nyasa involves touching various parts of the Body with specific portions of the Mantra. This is considered to be invoking presence of the deity of the Mantra inside the Body.

There are various types of Nyasas - The most important of them being Kara Nyasa and Anga Nyasa.

Identification with deities

Tantra, as a development of early Hindu-Vedic thought, embraced the Hindu gods and goddesses, especially Shiva and Shakti, along with the Advaita philosophy that each represents an aspect of the ultimate Para Brahman, or Adi Parashakti.

These deities may be worshipped externally with Flowers, Incense, and other offerings, such as singing and Dancing. These Tantric practices Form the foundation of the ritual temple dance of the devadasis, and are preserved in the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam by Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer.


La Vajrabhairava.jpg

These deities are engaged internally as attributes of Ishta Devata meditations, the practitioners either visualizing themselves as the deity, or experiencing the darshan (the [[vision of the deity.

During Meditation the initiate identifies with any of the numerous Hindu gods and goddesses, visualizes them and internalises them, a process likened to sexual courtship and consummation.

The Tantrika practitioner may use visualizations of deities, identifying with the deity so that the aspirant "becomes" the Ishta-Deva or meditational deity.

Three classes devotees

In Hindu Tantra practices when bringing together the deity and the devotee, they use both Meditation and ritual practices. These practices are divided into three classes of devotees:

the animal,


and the divine.

In the divine devotee, the rituals are internal. The divine devotee is the only one that can attain the object of the rituals, which are directed to Awakening kundalini energy.

==Vamamarga - Secret ritual==

Secret ritual may include any or all of the elements of ordinary ritual, either directly or substituted, along with other sensate rites and themes such as a feast (representing Food, or sustenance), coitus (representing sexuality and procreation), the charnel grounds (representing Death and transition) and defecation, urination and vomiting (representing waste, renewal, and fecundity). It is this sensate inclusion that prompted Zimmer's praise of Tantra's World-affirming attitude:

In the Tantra, the manner of approach is not that of Nay but of Yea ... the World attitude is affirmative ... Man must approach through and by means of nature, not by rejection of nature.

Arthur Avalon states that the Panchatattva Chakrapuja and Panchamakara involve:


Worship with the Pañcatattva generally takes place in a Cakra or circle composed of men and women... sitting in a circle, the Shakti (or female practitioner) being on the Sadhaka's (male practitioner's) left. Hence it is called Cakrapuja. ...There are various kinds of Cakraproductive, it is said, of differing fruits for the participator therein.

Avalon also provides a series of variations and substitutions of the Panchatattva (Panchamakara) "elements" or tattva encoded in the Tantras and various tantric traditions, and affirms that there is a direct correlation to the Tantric Five Nectars and the Mahābhūta.

===Sexual rites===

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Although popularly equated with Tantra in its entirety in the West, such sexual rites were historically practiced by a minority of sects. For many practicing lineages, these maithuna practices progressed into psychological symbolism.


According to White, sexual rites of Vamamarga may have emerged from early Hindu Tantra as a practical means of catalyzing biochemical transformations in the Body to facilitate heightened states of awareness. These constitute a vital offering to Tantric deities.

Sexual rites may have also evolved from clan initiation ceremonies involving transactions of sexual fluids.

Here the female initiate is inseminated or ensanguined with the sexual emissions of the male consort, sometimes admixed with the semen of the Guru.

The Tantrika is thus transformed into a son of the clan (kulaputra) through the grace of his consort. The clan fluid (kuladravya) or clan nectar (kulamrita) is conceived as flowing naturally from her womb.

Religious aims

Later developments in the rite emphasize the primacy of bliss and divine union, which replace the more bodily connotations of earlier forms.

When enacted as enjoined by the Tantras, the ritual culminates in a sublime experience of infinite awareness for both participants. Tantric texts specify that sex has three distinct and separate purposes—procreation, pleasure, and liberation. Those seeking liberation eschew frictional orgasm for a higher Form of ecstasy. Several sexual rituals are recommended and practiced. These involve elaborate and meticulous preparatory and purificatory rites.

The sexual act itself balances energies coursing within the pranic ida and pingala channels in the subtle bodies of both participants. The sushumna nadi is awakened and kundalini rises upwards within it. This eventually culminates in Samadhi, wherein the respective individual personalities and identities of each of the participants are completely dissolved in a unity of cosmic Consciousness.

Tantrics understand these acts on multiple levels. The male and female participants are conjoined physically, and represent Shiva and Shakti, the male and female principles. Beyond the physical, a subtle fusion of Shiva and Shakti energies takes place, resulting in a united energy field. On an individual level, each participant experiences a fusion of one's own Shiva and Shakti energies.



Defined primarily as a technique-rich style of spiritual practice, Tantra has no single coherent Doctrine. It developed different teachings in connection with the different religions that adopted the Tantric method. These teachings tended to support and validate the practices of Tantra.

These practices, in their classical Form, are more oriented to the married Householder than the monastic or solitary renunciant. They exhibited what may be called a World-embracing rather than a World-denying character.

Tantra, especially in its nondual forms, rejected the renunciant values of Patañjalian yoga, offering instead a vision of the whole of reality as the self-expression of a single, free and blissful Divine Consciousness under whatever name, whether Śiva or Buddha-nature.

===The World is real===

Since the World was viewed as real, not illusory, this Doctrine was a significant innovation over and against previous Indian philosophies, which tended to picture the Divine as absolutely transcendent and/or the World as Illusion. The practical consequence of this view was that not only could householders aspire to spiritual liberation in the Tantric system, they were the type of practitioner that most Tantric manuals had in mind.

Furthermore, since Tantra dissolved the dichotomy of spiritual versus mundane, practitioners could entail every aspect of their daily lives into their spiritual growth process, seeking to realize the divine that is both transcendent and immanent. Tantric spiritual practices and rituals thus aim to bring about an inner realization of the Truth that "Nothing exists that is not Divine" (nāśivaṃ vidyate kvacit), bringing freedom from Ignorance and from the cycle of Suffering (Saṃsāra) in the process.

In fact, tantric visualizations are said to bring the meditator to the core of his humanity and oneness with transcendence. Tantric meditations do not serve the function of training or practicing extra beliefs or unnatural ways. On the contrary, the transcendence that is reached by such meditative work does not construct anything in the mind of the practitioner, but actually deconstructs all pre-conceived notions of the human condition.

The barriers that constrict thinking to limitation-namely, cultural and linguistic frameworks-are completely removed. This allows the person to experience total liberation and then unity with ultimate Truth or reality.

Evolution and involution


According to Tantra, "being-Consciousness-bliss" or Satchidananda has the [[Power] of both self-Evolution and self-involution]]. Prakriti or "reality" evolves into a multiplicity of creatures and things, yet at the same time always remains pure Consciousness, pure being, and pure bliss. In this process of Evolution, Maya (Illusion) veils Reality and separates it into opposites, such as conscious and Unconscious, pleasant and unpleasant, and so forth. If not recognized as Illusion, these opposing determining conditions bind, limit and Fetter (pashu) the individual (jiva).

Generally speaking, the Hindu God and goddess Shiva and Shakti are perceived as separate and distinct. However, in Tantra, even in the process of Evolution, Reality remains pure Consciousness, pure being and pure bliss, and Tantra denies neither the act nor the fact of this process. In fact, Tantra affirms that both the World-process itself, and the individual jiva, are themselves Real. In this respect, Tantra distinguishes itself both from pure dualism and from the qualified non-dualism of Vedanta.

Evolution, or the "outgoing current," is only half of the functioning of Maya. Involution, or the "return current," takes the jiva back towards the source, or the root of Reality, revealing the infinite. Tantra is understood to teach the method of changing the "outgoing current" into the "return current," transforming the Fetters created by Maya into that which "releases" or "liberates." This view underscores two maxims of Tantra: "One must rise by that by which one falls," and "the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of Life when used by the wise."


The primary sources of written Hindu Tantric lore are the agama, which generally consist of four parts:

 delineating metaphysical Knowledge (jnana),

contemplative procedures (yoga),

ritual regulations (kriya),

and ethical and religious injunctions (charya).

Schools and lineages affiliate themselves with specific agamic traditions. Hindu tantra

exists in Shaiva, Vaisnava, Ganapatya, Saura and Shakta forms, amongst others, so that individual tantric texts may be classified as Shaiva Āgamas, Vaishnava Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās, and Shakta Tantras, though there is no clear dividing line between these works. The expression Tantra generally includes all such works.

Influence on Asian religions

The historical significance of the Tantric method lies in the fact that it impacted every major Indian religion extant in the early medieval period (c. 500 – 1200 CE): thus the Hindu sects of Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism, as well as Buddhism and Jainism all developed a well-documented Body of Tantric practices and related doctrines. Even Islam in India was influenced by Tantra.

Tantric ideas and practices spread far outside of India, into Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Today, it is Tibetan Buddhism and various forms of Hinduism that show the strongest Tantric influence, as well as the international postural yoga movement and most forms of American alternative spirituality grouped under the New Age rubric.

Vedic tradition


Various orthodox Brahmanas routinely incorporate Tantric rituals in their daily activities (Ahnikas). For example, [[sarvA~nga-nyasas and kara-nyAsas (Tantric techniques for placing various deities) are part of Chanting tracts such as the rudra-prashna of the yajur veda and Vishnu-sahasra-nama; and Gayatri-Avahanam is a common part of Sandhyavandanam in south India. Orthodox temple archakas of various sects profess to follow rules laid out in Tantric texts, for example priests of the Iyengar sect prefer to follow Pañcaratra Agamas.

However, it has been claimed that orthodox Vedic traditions were antagonistic to Tantra. André Padoux notes that in India tantra is marked by a rejection of orthodox Vedic tenets. Moriz Winternitz, in his review of the literature of tantra, points out that, while Indian tantric texts are not positively hostile to the Vedas, they may regard The Precepts of the Vedas as too difficult for our age, while an easier cult and an easier Doctrine have been revealed in them. Many orthodox

Brahmans who accept the authority of the Vedas reject the authority of the Tantras. Although later Tantric writers wanted to base their doctrines on the Vedas, some orthodox followers of the Vedic tradition invariably referred to Tantra in a spirit of denunciation, stressing its anti-Vedic character.

Shaiva Tantra

The tantric Shaiva tradition consists of the Kapalikas, Kashmir Shaivism and Shaiva Siddhanta.

The word "Tāntrika" is used for followers of the Tantras in Shaivism.


Shaiva tantra gave us the Hatha Yoga manuals, such as the 15th century Hathayoga Pradīpikā and the 16th century Gheranda Samhitā. It is from these manuals that most modern Knowledge of Yoga and the subtle Body derives.

Yoga as it has been inherited in the modern World has its roots in Tantric ritual and in secondary passages (pādas) within Tantric scriptures. The practices of Mantra, āsana (seat/pose), sense-withdrawal (pratyāhāra), Breath-regulation (prānāyāma), mental (mantric) fixation (dhāranā), Meditation (Dhyāna), mudrā, the subtle Body (sukshma shārīra) with its energy

centers (chakras, ādhāras, granthis, etc.) and channels (nādīs), as well as the phenomenon of Kundalinī Shakti are but a few of the tenets that comprise Tantric Yoga. While some of these derive from earlier, pre-Tantric sources, such as the Hindu Upanishads and the Yoga Sūtra, they were greatly expanded upon, ritualized, and philosophically contextualized in these medieval Tantras.


Fernando Estévez Griego, describing the Gheranda Samhita as being a tantric text, says that Raja Yoga means "Samadhi" from the tantric point of view.

===Buddhist Tantra===

Vajrayana comprises the scriptures and lineages founded by the Indian Mahasiddhas.

According to Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master Lama Thubten Yeshe:

    ...each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.

===Western views===

The Sri Yantra (shown here in the three-dimensional projection known as Sri Meru or Maha Meru used mainly in rituals of the Srividya Shakta sects) is central to most Tantric forms of Shaktism.

The first Western scholar to take the study of Tantra seriously was Sir John Woodroffe (1865–1936), who wrote about Tantra under the pen name Arthur Avalon. He is generally held as the "founding father of Tantric studies." Unlike previous Western scholars, Woodroffe was an ardent advocate for Tantra, defending Tantra against its many critics and presenting Tantra as an

ethical philosophical system greatly in accord with the Vedas and Vedanta. Woodroffe himself practiced Tantra as he saw and understood it and, while trying to maintain his scholastic objectivity, was considered a student of Hindu Tantra (in particular Shiva-Shakta) tradition.

===Further development===

Following Sir John Woodroffe, a number of scholars began to actively investigate Tantric teachings. These included a number of scholars of comparative religion and Indology, such as: Agehananda Bharati, Mircea Eliade, Julius Evola, Carl Jung, Giuseppe Tucci and Heinrich Zimmer.

According to Hugh Urban, Zimmer, Evola and Eliade viewed Tantra as "the culmination of all Indian thought: the most radical Form of spirituality and the archaic Heart of aboriginal India", and regarded it as the ideal religion of the modern era. All three saw Tantra as "the most transgressive and violent path to the sacred."

In the modern World

Following these first presentations of Tantra, other more popular authors such as Joseph Campbell helped to bring Tantra into the imagination of the peoples of the West. Tantra came to be viewed by some as a "cult of ecstasy", combining sexuality and spirituality in such a way as to act as a corrective force to Western repressive attitudes about sex.

As Tantra has become more popular in the West it has undergone a major transformation. For many modern readers, "Tantra" has become a synonym for "spiritual sex" or "sacred sexuality," a belief that sex in itself ought to be recognized as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a more sublime spiritual plane. Though Neotantra may adopt many of the concepts and terminology of Indian Tantra, it often omits one or more of the following: the traditional reliance on guru parampara (the guidance of a Guru), extensive meditative practice, and traditional rules of conduct—both moral and ritualistic.

According to one author and critic on religion and politics, Hugh Urban:

Since at least the time of Agehananda Bharati, most Western scholars have been severely critical of these new forms of pop Tantra. This "California Tantra" as Georg Feuerstein calls it, is "based on a profound misunderstanding of the Tantric path. Their main error is to confuse Tantri bliss ... with ordinary orgasmic pleasure.

Urban goes on to say that he himself doesn't consider this "wrong" or "false" but rather "simply a different interpretation for a specific historical situation."



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