Tantra Sadhana

Basic Information and Related Resources!

The System of Tantra and Related Resources


The word tantra (Sanskrit: तन्त्र) is derived from Tantu, meaning the thread or the connecting element in the body. The connecting element is God himself, who is also known as tantu nama who acts as the uniting or connecting aspect of the whole creation as the bearer of the thread (sutradhari). Tantra may also mean the spiritual practice related to the body (tan) as opposed to mantra, which is the practice associated with the mind (tan).

Tantra also refers to any systematic "text, theory, system, method, instrument, technique or practice.” Just as Sutra literature, the Tantra literature constitutes spiritual knowledge or knowledge of libeation. Literally it means weaving, which may be a reference to the transformation or purification of the mind and body into a perfect vehicle of pure consciousness through the weaving of the esoteric knowledge of the scriptures into the mind. It may also mean weaving the knowledge of the scriptures into perfected systems, methods or techniques for liberation.

The word appears in the hymns of the Rigveda such as in 10.71, with the meaning of "warp (weaving).” It is found in many other Vedic era texts, such as in section 10.7.42 of the Atharvaveda and many Brahmanas. In these and post-Vedic texts, the contextual meaning of Tantra is that which is "principal or essential part, main point, model, framework, feature". In the Smritis and epics of Hinduism (and Jainism), the term means "doctrine, rule, theory, method, technique or chapter" and the word appears both as a separate word and as a common suffix, such as atma-tantra meaning "doctrine or theory of Atman (soul, self).”

Panni, the grammarian (fifth century BCE?), explained the meaning of Tantra using the example of “sva-tantra) as an independent person, who is his own "warp, cloth, weaver, promoter, karta (actor)". In his commentary (Mahābhāṣya) Patanjali accepted Panini's definition, discussed it at length. He used the word 18 times, stating that the metaphorical definition of "warp (weaving), extended cloth" was relevant to many contexts. He used “svatantra" to mean "one who is self-dependent, who is his own master and for whom the principal thing is himself.” Probably it may be one of the earliest interpretations or definitions of tantra. He also offered a semantic definition of Tantra, stating that it referred to the structural rules, standard procedures, centralized guide or knowledge in any field which could be applied to many elements. Scholars of ancient Mimamsa school of Hinduism also extensively used the term tantra offering various definitions. For example:

Tantra as a system of spiritual practice and means to liberation might have originated in ancient India along with the development of many ascetic and contemplative practices and internalization of the Vedic rituals and probably gained momentum in the Gupta and post Gupta periods. The Atharva Veda which contains many esoteric rituals may be considered one of the earliest tantric texts. Certain concepts of Tantra are also traceable in the earliest Upanishads such as the Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya and Svetasvatara Upanishads, especially in the descriptions about the nadis and the flow of breath

The rise of tantra might have also coincided with the emergence of theistic traditions namely Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. Many tantric texts centered on Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti emerged in the early Christian era. In Buddhism, Tantra gained importance with the rise of the Vajrayana Buddhism. Tantric Hindu and Buddhist traditions influenced other Eastern religious traditions such as Jainism, the Tibetan Bön tradition, Daoism and the Japanese Shintō tradition.

Some scholars suggest that certain modes of non-Vedic worship such as Puja might have their roots in tantric methods of worship. The very construction of Hindu temples also denotes the influence of Tantra not only on Hindu methods of worship but also on art and architecture. Our knowledge of Tantra is derived mostly from the Tantric texts, Agamas and Vedas.

According to Flood, the earliest date for the Tantra texts related to Tantric practices is AD 600, though most of them were probably composed after the 8th century onwards. By the 10th century an extensive body of knowledge existed. Regionally, the tantric texts were mostly composed during this period in Kashmir and Nepal. They were also called agamas in Shaivism, samhita or Pancaratra in Vaishnavism, and as tantras in Shaktism.

The Buddhists developed their own corpus of Tantras, which became the textual basis of Vajrayana. In Jainism, secondary texts suggest a substantial body of knowledge related to Tantra based on the Surya tradition developed in the western regions of India. However, the manuscripts were mostly lost and did not survive.  

Although Tantra has a long history, it did not gain wider acceptance among the more traditional minded Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Those who practiced the right-hand methods of Vedic worship and Vedic rituals, rejected the Tantra texts. Followers of Tantra on the other hand used both right-hand (Vedic) and left-hand (tantric) methods of worship, holding the latter as superior or higher.

For more information on Tantra, you may check the following links.

Related Resources


1. The introduction is adapted from Wikipedia with necessary modifications and improvements.

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