Search: in
Tantra in Encyclopedia Encyclopedia
  Tutorials     Encyclopedia     Videos     Books     Software     DVDs  


The Sri Yantra (with non-traditional colors) Tantra (, "loom, warp"; hence "principle, system, doctrine, theory", from the verbal root "stretch, extend, expand", and the suffix "instrument"), anglicised as tantrism or tantricism, 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,[1] and which came to influence all forms of Asian religious expression to a greater or lesser degree. Strictly speaking, this usage of the word "tantra" is a scholarly invention, but it is justifiable on the basis of the fact that the scriptures that present these practices are generally known as "tantras", regardless of which religion they belong to.

The historical significance of the Tantric method lies in the fact that it impacted every major Asian religion extant in the early medieval period (c. 500 - 1200 CE): thus Shaivism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, and Jainism all developed a well-documented body of Tantric practices and related doctrines. Even Islam in India was influenced by Tantra.[2] Tantric ideas and practices spread far outside of India, into Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.[3] [4] 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.

Defined primarily as a technique-rich style of spiritual practice, Tantra has no single coherent doctrine; rather, 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, which in their classical form are more oriented to the married householder than the monastic or solitary renunciant, and thus exhibited what may be called a world-embracing rather than a world-denying character. Thus Tantra, especially in its nondual forms, rejected the renunciant values of Pata jalian 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 iva or Buddha-nature. 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 transcendent in the immanent. Tantric spiritual practices and rituals thus aim to bring about an inner realization of the truth that "Nothing exists that is not Divine" ([5]), bringing freedom from ignorance and from the cycle of suffering () in the process. Though the vast majority of scriptural Tantric teachings are not concerned with sexuality, in the popular imagination the term tantra and the notion of superlative sex are indelibly, but erroneously, linked.[6] This error probably arose from the fact that some of the more radical nondual schools taught a form of sexual ritual as a way of entering into intensified and expanded states of awareness and dissolving mind-created boundaries.[7]



There are a number of different definitions of Tantra, not always mutually consistent. Robert Brown notes that the term tantrism is a construction of western scholarship, not a concept that comes from the religious system itself. In other words, s (practitioners of Tantra) never attempted to define Tantra as whole the way Western scholars have. Rather, the Tantric dimension of each South Asian religion had its own name. For example, what scholars call Tantric Shaivism was known to its practitioners as the , Tantric Buddhism has the indigenous name of the Vajrayana, and Tantric Vaishnavism was known as the . However, we may justifiably use the general term Tantra to denote all the teachings and practices found in the scriptures called or , a synonym (hence we could equally substitute the adjective gamic anywhere we might use Tantric).

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

Because it elaborates () copious and profound matters, especially relating to the principles of reality () and sacred mantras, and because it provides salvation (), it is called a .[8]

The second traditional definition comes from the 10th century Tantric scholar R maka ha, who belonged to the dualist school called the aiva Siddh nta:

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.[9]

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.[10]

According to the contemporary Indian philosopher and tantric author, founder of Ananda Marga school of Tantra Yoga, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, also known by his spiritual name, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, tantra had its origin in India and South Asia. Tantra in its K shmiirii and Gaod'iiya Schools did exist before Shiva, but in a scattered and crude form[11]. Sarkar aka Shrii Shrii Anandamurti also describes who is a tantric and what is the "tantric cult"[12]: "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". Other scholars have chosen to offer lists of defining features rather than an ostensive definition. Anthony Tribe, a scholar of Buddhist Tantra, offers this list: 1. centrality of ritual, esp. evocation and worship of deities; 2. centrality of mantras; 3. visualisation and self-identification with deity; 4. necessity of initiation / esotericism / secrecy; 5. importance of the teacher (guru, c rya); 6. ritual use of ma alas; 7. transgressive/antinomian acts; 8. revaluation of the body; 9. revaluation of the status and role of women; 10. analogical thinking [including microcosmic/macrocosmic correlation]; and 11. revaluation of 'negative' mental states.[13]

Period Scripture or Author Meaning
1700 1100 B.C. gveda, X, 71.9 loom (or device for weaving)[15]
1700-? B.C. S maveda, Tandya Brahmana essence (or "main part", perhaps to denote the quintessence of the Sastras)[15]
1200-900 B.C. Atharvaveda, X, 7.42 loom (or device for weaving)[15]
1400-1000 B.C. Yajurveda, Taittiriya Brahmana, loom (or device for weaving)[15]
600-500 B.C. P ini on A dhy y tissue obtained from the frame (tantraka, derived from tantra)
600-300 B.C. atapatha Br hma a essence (or "main part", perhaps to denote the quintessence of the astras)[15]
350-283 B.C. Chanakya[16] on Artha stra strategy (political strategy, military etc.)
300 A.D. varak a author of S nkhya K rik (k rik 70) doctrine (it identifies Sankhya as a tantra)[17]
320 A.D. Vi u Pur a set of practices and rituals (speaks of akti, Vi u and Durg cults with the use of wine, meat, etc..)[18]
320-400 A.D. poet K lid sa on Abhij na kuntalam deep understanding or mastery of a topic[19]
423 A.D. Gangdhar Stone Inscription in Rajasthan[20] set of practices and rituals of daily Tantric cult (Tantrobhuta)[21]
500-600 A.D. Chinese Buddhist canon (Vol. 18 21: Tantra (Vajray na) or Tantric Buddhism[22] set of doctrines or practices for obtaining spiritual enlightenment (including iconography of the subtle body with cakras, n s, Mantras and subtle energies etc..)
600 A.D. K mik gama or K mik -tantra copious knowledge (on principles of reality tattva and mantra)[23] and bearer of liberation[24]
606 647 A.D. Sanskrit scholar and poet B abha a (in Har acarita[25] and in K dambari), in Bh sa's C rudatta and in draka's M cchakatika set of practices and rituals with use of Mandalas and Yantras for propitiation of Mother Goddesses or Matrikas, etc. [21][26]
788-820 A.D. philosopher ankara system of thought or set of doctrines or practices[27]
950-1000 A.D. philosopher Bha a R maka ha[28] set of doctrines or practices (divinely revealed) concerning the practice of spiritual worship[29]
975-1025 A.D. philosopher Abhinavagupta in his Tantr loka set of doctrines or practices, teachings and/or aiva doctrine
1150-1200 A.D. Jayaratha, Abhinavagupta's commentator on Tantr loka set of doctrines or practices, teachings and/or Shaiva doctrine (as in Tantr loka)
1690 1785 A.D. philosopher Bh skarar ya system of thought or set of doctrines or practices[30]


Tantrism originated in the early centuries CE and developed into a fully articulated tradition by the end of the Gupta period. Tantric movements led to the formation of many esoteric schools of Hinduism and Buddhism. It has influenced the Hindu, Sikh, B n, Buddhist, and Jain religious traditions and spread with Buddhism to East Asia and Southeast Asia.[31]


Rather than a single coherent system, Tantra is an accumulation of practices and ideas, characterized by ritual that seeks to access the supra-mundane through the mundane, identifying the microcosm with the macrocosm.[32] 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.[33] Most practitioners of tantra consider mystical experience imperative. Some versions of Tantra require the guidance of a guru.[34]

Long training is generally required to master Tantric methods, into which pupils are typically initiated by a guru. 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, mandalas and yantras, symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the universe, are all used as aids for meditation and for the achievement of spiritual and magical power. 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.[7] The Tantrika, or tantric practitioner may use visualizations of deities, identifying with the deity so that the aspirant "becomes" the Ishta-deva or meditational deity.[35]


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,[36] Ganapatya,[37] Saurya[38] and Shakta forms, amongst others, so that individual tantric texts may be classified as Shaiva , Vaishnava ,[39] and Shakta Tantras, though there is no clear dividing line between these works. The expression Tantra generally includes all such works.[40]

Relation with 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 yajurvEda and viShNu-sahasra-nAma; and gAyatrI-AvahanaM is a common part of Sandhyavandanam in south India.[41] 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 Pa caratra Agamas.

However, it has been claimed that orthodox Vedic traditions were antagonistic to Tantra. Andr Padoux notes that in India tantra is marked by a rejection of orthodox Vedic tenets.[42] 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.[43] Many orthodox Brahmans who accept the authority of the Vedas reject the authority of the Tantras.[44] 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.[45]

Relation to Yoga

Shaiva tantra gave us the Hatha Yoga manuals, such as the 15th century Hathayoga Prad pik and the 16th century Gheranda Samhit . 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 (p das) within Tantric scriptures, The practices of mantra, sana (seat/pose), sense-withdrawal (praty h ra), breath-regulation (pr n y ma), mental (mantric) fixation (dh ran ), meditation (dhy na), mudr , the subtle body (sukshma sh r ra) with its energy centers (chakras, dh ras, granthis, etc.) and channels (n d s), as well as the phenomenon of Kundalin 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 S tra, they were greatly expanded upon, ritualized, and philosophically contextualized in these medieval Tantras." [46]

Buddhist Tantra

In Buddhism, defined as a scripture taught by the Buddha describing the Vajrayana practices.[47]

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.[48]

Shaiva Tantra

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

Evolution and involution

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.

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).[49]

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.[49]

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."[49]

The method

The Tantric aim is to sublimate rather than to negate relative reality. This process of sublimation consists of three phases: purification, elevation, and the "reaffirmation of identity on the plane of pure consciousness."[49] The methods employed by Dakshinachara (right-hand path) interpretations of Tantra are very different from the methods used in the pursuit of the Vamachara (left-hand path).

Ritual practices

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

Because of the wide range of communities covered by the term tantra, it is challenging and problematic to describe tantric practices definitively. Avalon (1918) does provide a useful dichotomy of the "Ordinary Ritual" [50] and the "Secret Ritual".[51]

Ordinary ritual

The ordinary ritual or puja may include any of the following elements:

Mantra and yantra

As in other Hindu and Buddhist yoga traditions, mantra and yantra play an important role in Tantra. 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.[52]

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 Shiva, or Brahman. These deities may be worshipped externally with flowers, incense, and other offerings, such as singing and dancing. But, more importantly, these deities are engaged as attributes of Ishta Devata meditations, the practitioners either visualizing themselves as the deity, or experiencing the darshan (the vision) of the deity. 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.

Secret ritual

Called the Vamamarga, this branch of Tantra departs from its conventional form or mantra and also from yoga. 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.[53]

In Avalon's Chapter 27: The Pa catattva (The Secret Ritual) of Sakti and Sakta (1918),[51] he states that the Secret Ritual (which he calls Panchatattva,[54] Chakrapuja and Panchamakara) involves:

Worship with the Pa catattva 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 Cakra productive, 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 Mah bh ta.[55]

Sexual rites

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.[56] 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 male initiate is inseminated or ensanguined with the sexual emissions of the female 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. Later developments in the rite emphasize the primacy of bliss and divine union, which replace the more bodily connotations of earlier forms. 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.[56]

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, as the couple participating in the ritual lock in a static embrace. 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.[57][58]

Western views

Srividya]] Shakta sects) is central to most Tantric forms of Shaktism.

Sir John Woodroffe

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."[59] 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.[60] Woodroffe himself practised 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.[61]

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.[62]

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."[63]

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.[64]

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.[65] 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 guruparampara (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 Tantric bliss ... with ordinary orgasmic pleasure.[66]

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."[67]

Hindu Tantric practitioners

See also

Hindu tantra
Buddhist tantra (Vajrayana)

Other related topics



  • Second Revised Edition
  • Second Revised Edition
  • First Indian Edition, Kant Publications, 2003.
  • Second revised reprint edition. Two volumes. First published 1927 by the University of Calcutta.

Further reading

External links

ar: bn: bg: ca:Tantrisme cs:Tantrismus da:Tantra de:Tantra et:Tantrad es:Tantra fa: fr:Tantrisme ko: hi: id:Tantrisme it:Tantra he: kn: kk: lt:Tantra hu:Tantra ml: nl:Tantra (yoga) ne: ja: no:Tantra pl:Tantra pt:Tantra ro:Tantra ru: simple:Tantra sk:Tantrizmus sl:Tantra sh:Tantra fi:Tantra sv:Tantra tr:Tantra uk: vi: t- c-la zh: ( )

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

Search for Tantra in Tutorials
Search for Tantra in Encyclopedia
Search for Tantra in Videos
Search for Tantra in Books
Search for Tantra in Software
Search for Tantra in DVDs
Search for Tantra in Store


Tantra in Encyclopedia
Tantra top Tantra

Home - Add TutorGig to Your Site - Disclaimer

©2011-2013 All Rights Reserved. Privacy Statement