What is Tantra?
This article tries to give a preliminary introduction to the reader on the philosophy of tantra, its origins, and objectives as I have read and understood it. Please keep in mind that I am in no way making claim that this is authoritative or accurate. This is just the teachings as I have understood it roughly summarized. That is all.
When the ancients were making experiments and discoveries regarding the nature of the universe, divinity, the nature of man, and the relationship
of man with the universe, they primarily undertook these efforts in environments conducive for prolonged deep meditation where they had many revelations in the form of vibrations which were codified into human language as mantras. When they looked at society and wished to share their
wisdom, they understood that not all humans are ready for such disciplines and austerities to be performed single-mindedly.
Furthermore, many people had a desire for self-realization or to know themselves at the deepest level, but this desire was commingled with other desires for wealth, procreation, fame etc. In addition to this, not all aspirants had similar qualities. All of humanity were classified roughly into three types based on their level of purity: animal-man, human-man and divine-man. In other words, much of human race were dominated by people who though had a human body had the consciousness of an animal, some had transcended basic instincts to achieve what could be termed human level, and others had qualities that could be termed divine.
In order to facilitate the evolution of animal-man and human-man who could not renounce the world and meditate for hours, sages developed a system wherein an aspirant can accommodate both worldly and spiritual goals with gradual purification. If one couldn’t renounce all her desires, she could chose to satisfy some of them by experiencing them in the world, transcend some in the process of her spiritual evolution and ignore those that are not conducive to her spiritual growth. Their maxim was “Bhogo Yogayathe” , i.e., achieving Yoga or Union with the divine through Bhoga.
This apart, the sages of tantric tradition also developed numerous methods that are conducive for one’s spiritual journey. The system of Ayurveda, which recommends a particular lifestyle (dinacharya), herbal concoctions and other things were developed so that the body which needs to be transcended, and can be an obstacle to the goal can be taken care of well. The postures of Hatha Yoga were also developed by Tantric adepts micmicing the postures of animals in nature to provide stability and flexibility to the limbs of the body, while also balancing the chakras so that one can sit in meditation for long periods of time. Many teachers of different traditions having no idea of other traditions speak condescendingly of hatha yoga as an inferior practice for the body alone – this could not be further form the truth. Hatha Yoga should gradually evolve into Kundalini Yoga where one gets into union with the divine.
Tantric adepts were also involved in the science of sound and deeply researched the effects of different kinds of sounds on the human system – not the physical body but the subtle ones. What sounds produced what kind of effects for a person were their subject of study. But this is not a generic science like the ones we have today where medicines can be mass produced. The Guru makes an intuitive diagnosis of afflictions of the aspirants mind and suggests a medicine that is suitable for them. So, mantras cannot be given en masse IMO. Yantras were developed for visualization so that the images in the mind gradually fade into background, and it steadies on the form of the yantra.
Devi worship or Shakti worship is popular among Tantrics. Sri Vidya and Dasha Mahavidya (Ten Wisdom Godesses) systems help the seeker systematically transcend their limited selves to the universal selves. There are different schools of each of these “Vidyas” having different systems. One can look up online and research most of them. But, please please do not experiment with Shakti mantras or kundalini without the guidance of a Guru. From personal experience, I can say these mantras are not to be played around with – it is not safe at all if you are not ready. Mukti-karaka mantras from the Vedas or names of Avatars can be chanted by anyone without issues. Better to stick to these rather than invoking you have something that you have no idea about. Ganesha, Shiva, Rama, Gayatri mantras can grant you peace, bliss, happiness, liberation and what not. Only the most advanced yogis opt for these kind of Shakti deities. It would be very comforting if you have an adept holding your hand for any of these sadhanas though.
If you are interested in learning some theoretical aspects of Sri Vidya though for the sake of knowledge, you can refer to the blog by this nuclear physicist cum Sri Vidya exponent of Dattatreya lineage : Amritananda Natha Saraswati. He covers Sri Vidya and Dasha Mahavidya as a means of self-healing for the psychologically wounded modern man, which may appeal to scientific minds. This is his blog:
Concerned about the rapid decline of tantric traditions and its distortion and misrepresentation as a sex cult, he even has made mantras open source on Youtube much to the chagrin of orthodoxy. He has constructed a temple for Devis in Andhra Pradesh called “Devipuram”, specialty of this place is most of the priests are local village women who were trained to chant mantras. They even run Sri Vidya courses online where interested folks can learn it for their spiritual growth irrespective of caste, creed, or gender. The construction of this temple and his life story can be seen from the book “The Goddess and the Guru” by Michael M. Bowden. Below is the link their website:
All that were discussed above were gleaned from the books in the reference section. Interested readers may look into them
for further information.
Any book by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait or Swami Rama are a treasure trove of information on any esoteric subject
having lucid explanations in simple straightforward language. There are other authors on these subjects and you might like style better.
1. Tantra Unveiled by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
2. Path of Fire and Light Vol 2 by Swami Rama
3. The Godess and the Guru by Michael M. Bowden
4. Kali’s Odiyaa
5. At the Feet of a Himalayan Master by Sri Master
6. Aghora Triology by Robert Svoboda
7. Kali’s Oddiyya by Amarananda Bhairavan