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Tantra

Tantra yoga is a technique for self-realization and spiritual enlightenment, that is most widely known for including sexual rituals. One of the main characteristics of tantra is that spiritual energy is circulated between partners during intercourse.There are two paths in Tantra. One is the Right-Hand path or Dakshinachara(also known as samayachara) and the other is the left-hand path called vamachara.It is vamachara which is associated with some of the despicable practises followed in Tantra. Some tantric aspirants simply feel the union is accomplished internally and with spiritual entities of various kinds.

see also Dakini, Daka[?]

Table of contents

The tantras

The word "tantra" means "treatise", and is applied to a variety of mystical, occult, medical and scientific works as well as to those which we would now regard as "tantric". Most tantras were written in the late middle ages.

A tantra typically takes the form of a dialogue between a god (usually Shiva) and goddess (shakti or dakini), with one explaining to the other a particular technique for attaining moksha (liberation / enlightenment), or for attaining a certain practical result. This extract from the beginning of the Yoni Tantra (translated by Mike Magee) gives an idea of the style.

Seated upon the peak of Mount Kailasa the God of Gods, the Guru of all creation was questioned by Durga-of-the-smiling-face, Naganandini.
"Sixty-four tantras have been created O Lord, tell me, O Ocean of Compassion, about the chief of these."

Mahadeva said:

"Listen, Parvati, to this highly secret one, Dearest. Ten million times have you wanted to hear this. Beauteous One, it is from your feminine nature that you continually ask me. You should conceal this by every effort. Parvati, there is mantra-pitha, yantra-pitha and yoni-pitha. Of these, the chief is certainly the yoni-pitha, revealed to you from affection."
 
History of Tantra

Tantra as a movement began in North India and flourished in the middle ages before declining in the nineteenth century, partly as a result of persecution by the British and orthodox Hindu revivalists, and partly, perhaps, because of the increasing popularity of bhakti yoga[?] amongst the masses.

Legend ascribes the origin of Tantra to Dattatreya (http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/datta), a semi-mythological yogi and the assumed author of the Jivanmukta Gita ("Song of the liberated soul"). Things become a little more clear with Matsyendranath ("Master of fish" - so-called either because he was a fisherman, or, less probably, because he discovered a tantra inside a fish). He is accredited with authorship of the Kaulajnana-nirnaya, a voluminous ninth-century tantra dealing with a host of mystical and magical subjects, and occupies an important position in many Indian tantric lineages, as well as Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. His disciple, Gorakhnath, founded hatha yoga[?] and laya yoga[?].

Tantra evolved into a number of orders (sampradaya) and diverged into so-called "left-hand tantra" (varma marg), in which sexual yoga and other antinomian practices occurred, and "right-hand tantra", in which such practices were merely visualised. Both groups, but in particular the left-hand tantrists, opposed many features of Hindu culture, particularly the caste system and the subjugation of women. Despite this rebellious nature, Tantra was accepted by some high-caste Hindus, most notably the Rajput princes.

Tantra spread out from India, chiefly to Tibet, where it became the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. It also had some influence on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and even briefly enabled a yogic/sufi synthesis among some Indian Muslims. Nowadays Tantra has a large, though not always well-informed, following worldwide.

Tantric practices

Because of the wide range of groups covered by the term "tantra", it is hard to describe tantric practices definitively. The basic practice, known as puja may include any of the elements below.

Mantra and Yantra

As in other forms of yoga, mantra plays an important part in Tantra, not only for focussing the mind, but also for achieving more specific results. Similarly, puja will often involve concentrating on a yantra[?] or mandala.

Identification with deities

Tantra traditionally has a plethora of gods and goddesses, each of which represents an aspect of the universe, and of the practitioner's psyche. These deities may be worshipped externally (with flowers, incense etc.) but, more importantly, are used as objects of meditation, where the practitioner imagines him- or herself to be the deity in question.

Concentration on the body Tantrists generally see the body as a microcosm; thus in the Kaulajnana-nirnaya, for example, the practitioner meditates on the head as the moon, the heart as the sun and the genitals as fire. Many groups hold that the body contains a series of energy centres (chakra - "wheel"), which may be associated with elements, planets or occult powers (siddhi). The phenomenon of kundalini, an explosive release of energy through the chakras, is controversial; some writers see it as essential to Tantra, while others regard it as unimportant or as an abreaction.

Sexual Intercourse

As stated before, actual sexual intercourse is not a part of all tantric practice, but it is the definitive feature of left-hand Tantra. Contrary to popular belief, "Tantric sex" is not always slow and sustained, and may end in orgasm. For example, the Yoni Tantra states: "there should be vigorous fucking".

Taboo-breaking

Sexual intercourse, preferably with a low-caste partner, was one method by which traditional left-hand practice forced practitioners to confront their conditioned responses. Others include the eating of meat (particularly pork) and drinking alcohol. Fear has also been used as a method to break down conditioning; rites would often take place in a cremation ground amidst decomposing corpses.

Tantra in the modern world

Tantra is now used as a general term which relates to the traditional practice of sexual practice as a spiritual evolutionary scheme. There are in fact many different approaches as to how this manifests in modern day society. There have been many civilizations which have deified sexuality as the most approximate expression of cosmic love or God. Regardless, the point is that tantra is moldable. It changes with each moment and environment.

Modern Tantra may thus be roughly divided into practices based on Indian and Tibetan traditions, and a more eclectic approach encompassing "sacred sexuality" in general, often with very little reference to its historical roots.

Sources

  • Shiva Shakti Mandalam (http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/tantra/) contains an introduction to Hindu Tantra and an exhaustive collection of links.
  • Mookerji, Ajit (1977) The Tantric Way: art, science, ritual. London: Thames and Hudson. A general introduction.
  • Woodroffe, John (1913/1972) Mahanirvana Tantra (Tantra of the Great Liberation). Available online at [1] (http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/maha/). A late tantra, but one of the best known.
  • Bagchi, P.C. (ed.), Magee, Michael (trans.) (1986) Kaulajnana-nirnaya of the school of Matsyendranath. Varanasi: Prachya Prakashan.
  • International Journal of Tantric Studies. Available online (subscription required) at [2] (http://www.asiatica.org/publications/ijts/)



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