What is Tantra [ July 2004 ]
Jose Enrique Rosa

"Tantras are the ancient scriptures, which were meant to spread the light of knowledge of our True Self and bring the humanity out of ignorance. They are also known as Agamas - revelations." Dr. C.S. Shah, January 18, 2001

Devi Bhakta

Hi Jose:Dr. Shah's definition of TANTRA is quite nice, but I think rather too general.

You see, Tantra is an extremely complex and nuanced concept, and it just cannot be defined that easily. In fact, I'd argue that it cannot be defined at all -- but only pointed toward. So please allow me to share a few additional "signposts" that members might (or might not) find useful. I hope other members will add to (or correct) my observations as necessary.

TANTRA is a Sanskrit word with multiple layers of meaning. One very important meaning is "loom," with the implication of the countless interconnected threads that make up a single piece of woven fabric. The completed piece of fabric is a unified whole; but upon closer examination, it is made of countless threads. The threads in turnare inextricably interconnected -- in a fine fabric, none can bepulled or damaged without affecting the integrity of the whole on atleast some level.

Another pivotal meaning of TANTRA is "methodology" -- with the same implication of many actions and techniques working in unison within a single entity or toward a single goal. Again we have the idea of amultitude within that which is seemingly one; and an interconnectedoneness encompasisng that which is seemingly a multitude. I know that it drives some people nuts when I speak of Shakta teachings as "tools" and "instruction books" and so on -- but that's exactly what is denoted by the word Tantra at this level.

Regarding Dr. Shah's phrase, "Tantras ... are also known as Agamas,"it is technically correct, but might require some clarification.You see, at the most general level, TANTRA is simply a synonym for SHASTRA -- which does in fact mean "scripture."

On a slightly more precise level, TANTRA is also a synonym for the Agamic texts,especially those of the Shakta faith. (The Agamas are a class of scriptures providing detailed instruction in all aspects of religion, mystical knowledge and science.)

The Tantras, in this sense, are also associated with the Saiva tradition and -- to a lesser degree -- with other schools of Hinduism. In closing, a final meaning of TANTRA should be noted, because a lack of understanding in this area can complicate discussions and generate many wrong impressions. The thing is, in addition to indicating the scriptures themselves, the word TANTRA also denotes the techniques described within those scriptures -- i.e., various specific methods and practices within the Shakta (or Saiva)traditions. As a simple example, "pranayama" (yogic breath control)is a Tantra.

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a great Saiva renunciate who died in 2001, was nonetheless deeply knowledgeable about Tantric pratices, and although he rather strictly steered his devotees away from Tantric practices, it is said that he was himself accomplishedin the techniques, albeit purely on the Samayachara approach.

In an extremely cautious discussion of the field, Subramuniyaswami wrote, "Tantra generally involves a reversal of the normal flow of energies." (You see? This is precisely what we've been talking about in the thread entitled,"Sadhana: Merging Upward Into Devi". Subramuniyaswami continued, "Tantra refers to traditions, mainly within Saivism and Shaktism, that focus on the arousal of the kundalini force, and which view the human body as the vehicle of the Divine and an instrument for liberation.

Tantra's ultimate aim is a channeling of the kundalini life force through the sushumna channel upwards into the sahasrara chakra and beyond into Parasiva.

Shakta Tantra places a strong emphasis on the worship of the feminine force[Shakti]. Depending upon the school, this may be symbolic, or literal in rites involving sexual intercourse, etc. Tantra's main principle is the use of the material to gain the spiritual. In the hands of the unscrupulous, tantra techniques become black magic(abhichara)."

Jose Enrique Rosa

Awesome response!

If I can add one point: Due to the complexity of Tantra if a sadhaka is not correctly guided, he can go astray. Easily astrayed!

[ Back to The Forum Main Index ]