- Tantrism is the search for spiritual power and ultimate release by means of the repetition of sacred syllables and phrases (mantras), symbolic drawings (mandalas), and other secret rites elaborated in the texts known as Tantras (“Looms”).
- Tantrism is an umbrella term for the Tantric practices, theology, philosophy and texts. Tantra practices varies widely in their rituals and beliefs so it is hard to define it in exclusive terms.
- A key feature of these traditions is the use of mantras, and thus they are commonly referred to as Mantramārga (“Path of Mantra”) in Hinduism or Mantrayāna (“Mantra Vehicle”) and Guhyamantra (“Secret Mantra”) in Buddhism.
- They have borrowed heavily from their parent religion like Hinduism and Buddhism, and influenced them also. However some common themes are:
- Belief in magic and attainment of magical powers through practice
- Realization of self as deity.
- Violent and sexual practices.
- Extreme devotion to god or to Guru.
- Starting in the early centuries of the common era, newly revealed Tantras centering on Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti emerged. There are tantric lineages in all main forms of modern Hinduism, such as the Shaiva Siddhanta tradition, the Shakta sect of Shri Vidya, the Kaula, and Kashmir Shaivism.
- In Buddhism, the Vajrayana traditions are known for tantric ideas and practices, which are based on Indian Buddhist Tantras. They include Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, Japanese Shingon Buddhism and Nepalese Newar Buddhism.
- Although Southern Esoteric Buddhism does not directly reference the tantras, its practices and ideas parallel them.
- It was very popular in north eastern India and Tibet. Some of its rituals came from the Tibetan practices.
- Tantricism was open to all castes as well as to women. It is propagated that Tantricism is the simplification of the Vedic worships.
- Tantric practice centered on prayers, mystical formulae, magical diagrams, and symbols and the worship of a particular deity.
- Mother image was accorded great worship, as the life is created in the mother’s womb. In this way, it is connected with the Sakti worships.
- The guru had the highest place in Tantricism.
Origin of Tantrism:
- The origin of Tantra is disputed. Some claim it to be as ancient as Indus Valley Civilization, but historical proof can only be found of mediaeval era.
- It is believed that tantrism originated in the early centuries CE and gradually developed into an actual pantheon by the end of the Gupta period.
- The spread of Buddhism to East Asia and Southeast Asia gave rise to the introduction and evolvement of tantra in these regions of the world as well.
The salient features of Tantrism are namely the
- Spirit of Heterodoxy
- The Spirit of Revolt: It professed equality of all encouraged free social interaction among all castes and unrestricted access to ritual worship for all, in blatant opposition to the existing Brahmanic traditions.
- Centrality of the Body: The human body is credited to be the earliest medium through which truth can be realised. Body and bodily faculties are employed in the practice of sadhana.
- The Ultimate Reality as Bi-polar
- Realisation as the union of polarities: Liberation from the bondage is the chief goal of Tantrism.
- The Pursuit of Siddhis
- Predominance of Female Deities
- Deities of Terrifying Nature
- Emphasis on Guru and Diksha:
- Tantrism proves to be a dangerous path for those who are initiated and unaccompanied by a competent Guru. No sadhaka should attempt it by him.
Nature of influence on both Hinduism and Buddhism :
Tantra has other connotations as well, both in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It may apply to any of the scriptures, which usually deal with the worship of Goddess Shakti, the Sacred Feminine in the Hindu pantheon.
- According to Hindu tantrism, the entire universe is considered to be the divine stage where Shiva and Shakti carry on the drama of life. Tantra deals with ritual and spiritual practices to attain the grace of that Shakti, with the aim at achieving liberation from darkness of ignorance, thus also attaining immortality.
- Today, Tantra basically exists in the Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shaurya and Ganapatya traditions. Though each one of these cults has their own texts and treatises, there is no clear line of demarcation between all of them and they all include the basic tenets of Tantrism.
- Extolled as a short-cut to self-realization and spiritual enlightenment by some, left-hand tantric rites are often rejected as dangerous by most orthodox Hindus. The popular perception of tantra among Hindus espoused in Indian journalism, equates it with black magic.
- Tantra exists for spiritual seekers in the age of Kaliyuga, when Vedic practices no longer apply to the current state of morality and Tantra is the most direct means to realization
- In traditional pockets of Tantric practice in India, such as in Assam near the venerated Hindu temple of Kali, Kammakha, in parts of West Bengal, in Siddhanta temples of South India, and in Kasmiri Shiva temples up north, Tantra has retained its true form.
- Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism, is an ancient and a highly complicated system of Buddhist philosophy.
- What sets Buddhist Tantrism apart from all the other sects are the rituals, which use the Upaya (or skilful) aspect to attain Godhead, rather than mere meditation.
- Tibet too has a very strong Buddhist Tantric background which continues, albeit many have been transplanted to monasteries in India, and claims to be a right-hand path, in contrast to the more varied Hindu counterparts (that include both left and right-hand practices)
Tantric Hindu and Buddhist traditions influenced a number of other religious traditions, both within South Asia as well as in other areas of the world. Because tantric traditions first emerged in South Asia, their impact there is naturally the most significant. The South Asian traditions that were influenced by the tantric traditions to some degree include Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism.