The Tantras can be both a fascinating and a frustrating study. There is a deliberate vagueness about them, and even the authorities are found to mislead. The erotic and occult involvements are needlessly brought into focus in recent publications. Here is an attempt to explore the psychological bases of the general Tantrik ideology.
The author has tried to reconstruct the Tantrik system in terms of yantra and mantra. He has emphasized the value of Tantra for contemplative success and for personality reintegration.
The book is an authoritative and explanatory. The illustrations are traditionally accurate and original.
Vidyalankara, Sastra Chudamini, Sangita-Kalaratna, Professor Saligrama Krishna Ramachandra Rao, was a well-known scholar who had combined traditional learning with modern research. Well versed I Sanskrit, Pali, Ardhmagadhi and several modern Indian languages and acquainted with Tibetan and some European languages, he had written extensively on Vedanta, Buddhism, Janism, Indian Culture, Art and Literature.
He had written more than Sixty Books in Kannada, a Play in Sanskrit, and a Pali Commentary on a Buddhist classic. One of his books on Iconography in Kannada has won the State Sahitya Academy Award, as also another of his Book on the Tirupati Temple.
Some of the books he had authored are Encyclopaedia of Indian Iconography, Agama Encyclopaedia, Lalita Kosha, Sri Vidya Kosha,Tantric Practices in Sri Vidya, Sri Cakras, Yantra.
The study of the Tantra has suffered from two chief disadvantages. The enthusiasts have sought to project an image of it that is at once so highly esoteric and mystical that the scholar who has a modest opinion of his own intellectual abilities is easily scared away. The opponents, on the other hand, seek so to highlight the antinomian and obscene elements in the cults claiming to be Tantrik that the good citizen who has an eye for decency shies from it. Very few are aware that while the former attitude is unjustified, the latter is unwarranted. It is true that some Tantrik texts work with extremely abstract ideas and employ elaborate, and sometimes irrelevant, symbolism. It is also true that some Tantrik rituals as described and practiced are wholly outlandish and obviously abominable. But these are deviations and perversions, altogether alien to the spirit and core of the Tantra ideology.
The Tantra was in origin folk, and the elements of abstraction were naturally minimal. It concerned itself with the normal man and pertained to his daily life. There was an unmistakable emphasis on the individual in this culture, contrary to the collective orientation of the Vedic tradition; but extravagance or eccentricity in individual behaviour was never suggested, encouraged or accepted. And Tantrik culture was bound rather with the ideal of 'quiet contemplation' than with the goal of 'joyful life', here or here after that we find reflected in the Vedic hymns. In fact, the Vedic temperament of buoyant and ecstatic involvement was to a great extent tempered as a result of Tantrik impact, as can be seen in the Upanishadic ideology. The Tantra is neither so forbiddingly esoteric nor so nauseatingly bizarre: it is a simple, wholesome approach to the problem of good living in a world of mixed forces.
The expression 'tantra' has been variously derived and differently explained. It is taken to signify a system of thought, a body of practices, or a collection of books. Like the other word, Yoga, this word too means many things, both common and un-common, both normal and abnormal. As will be explained later, the original meaning appears to have been in the context of weaving on a loom: it was a vocation-derived word. Tantra is the look whereon the threads are 'spread out' or 'extended' (root tan); it also meant the pattern or design that emerged out of this spreading or extension. Or it simply meant "explanation" ('tattritidhatoriha dharanarthat'). In the latter sense, it stood for a book or a chapter thereof, where arguments and explanations brought out a theme (like Shashthitantra), or stories illustrated a point (like Pancatantra). Originally referring to individual manuals, it came in course of time to stand for a whole literature of religio-magical treatises. More significantly, 'tantra' suggested the act of spreading out or the process of extension: techniques, methods, practices, tricks. The expression thus came to mean skill or competence in combining the methods and techniques.
We have an interesting definition by an eminent authority, Katyayana: "Tantra is the co-occurrence of actions". That is to say, it is an organization of behavioural acts, a synthesis-exactly what Yoga means. Ayurveda makes use of the word 'tantra' in the sense of 'body', and another word 'yantra' in the sense of its machinery. Body is a collection of organs (angas), an organization of forces (dhatus, doshas and malas), and a pattern of becoming. Even in its extended sense, 'yantra' means a geometrical pattern, a synthesis of lines and 'seed-letters', a total representation. And 'mantra' likewise is an organization of sound-systems such as letters and words with some uncommon potency, namely a magic formula. Tantra technically is a process of relating the unusual patterns (yantra) with uncommon formulae (mantra). Basic to both these patterns and formulae is the belief that the human body is the ground where they operate. Yantras are merely extensions or externalizations of the forces imagined as working within the individual; and Mantras are in the nature of concretizations or formalizations of the vibrations occurring within. Tantra refers to the common field wherein these forces and vibrations operate, viz., the body, not the surroundings of the individual. And at a later date when, under Vedic influence, it came to develop an interest in the world beyond, it comforted itself with the conviction that microcosm was essentially homologous with macrocosm. The cosmos was merely an extension, if not a projection, of the individual; the universe was in fact contained with the individual.
When we find similar ideas in the Upanishadic phase of Vedic literature, influence of the Tantrik ideology is to be inferred. The characteristic Tantrik philosophy, as can be gleaned from mediaeval texts like Tantraloka, Saradatilaka, Mrgendragama and Tripura-rahasya is doubtless heavily indebted to the Vedic outlook, although it contains a core that goes back to pre-Vedic times. The classical Tantrik concepts such as bija, bindu, samvit, kala, mandala, prakasa, vimarsa, ahamta, idamta, and Kancuka are clearly concessions to the growing cosmic involvement as a result of interaction with the Vedic thought system. Even when this involvement came to pass, the interest in the individual was not compromised. In the individual two aspects of life attracted the exclusive attention of the Tantra : breathing and sex. In common with primitive thought elsewhere, the Tantra feared that exhalation of the bodily air and ejaculation of the seminal fluid were tantamount to expenditure of life energy and hastening of death. In order to prolong life, it was considered necessary to restrain breath and arrest the seminal discharge. Pranayama techniques of breath control and procedures like yoni-mudra and vajroli-mudra to prevent 'the bindu reaching fire' (ejaculation) were advocated in some Tantrik texts. A text, the date of which is uncertain, Gorakshasamhita, brings out the intimate relationship between the breath (prana) and the semen (bindu); the two are in fact equated. It is understandable that the yoga-tantra complex attempted to understand sex and the harness the sexual drive to reach spiritual objectives.
Employment of sex imagery is no doubt frequent in the Tantrik lore. But it worked both ways-making it adorable and making it abominable. Sex in itself is neutral, like the air we breathe; and it is natural. Its expression depends upon individual maturity, motivation and mental habits. The several erotic and orgiastic cults that are at once enigmatic and seductive to the sophisticated Indologist grew out of certain unhealthy motivations and anti-social tendencies. But such cults do not suggest the essential orientation of the Tantra.
The attempt to discover, recognize and emphasize mystic meanings in what are patently absurd and outlandish has some times exceeded reasonable limits. The secret societies devoted to exotic and unbridled sexual indulgence (guhyasamaja) and to murderous crimes have masqueraded as esoteric Tantrik cults, and to an extent have got away with it. There are scholars, mostly non-Indian, who seriously explain that copulation "makes respiration rhythmical and aids concentration: it is, then, a substitute for pranayama", and they always, and can conveniently, cite in support Tantrik texts of uncertain date and dubious authority. They make it appear that eroticism is the very essence to Tantra; and their appreciation of this aspect of Tantra is not entirely one of understanding. The attractively got up books on 'Tantrik Art' that are flooding our book-shops these days are instances of this fact. It is unfortunate that in these circumstances Tantra brings to the Indian mind associations which are horrible and disgusting. Actually, however, sex in Tantra is employed not for direct gratification, but for 'reversal' (paravrtti) and restraint (samyama or dharana).
Tantra is not to be construed as a collection of mystic cults holding unusual ideas; it is a simple, serious, sober and realistic philosophy of life, which takes into consideration our normal impulses and aspirations. Samkhya-Yoga, Ayurveda and the early Upanishadic texts more truly represent the Tantrik tradition than all the mystifying cults that commonly go by that name. in fact, regulated but effective living, eschewing excesses, was the basic Tantrik outlook. Preservation of health, acquisition of power to live effectively, and safeguarding of the community from individual aggression were the three objectives that were invariably emphasized. Control of breathing was meant to secure the first two objectives, and control of impulses, especially the sexual, took care of the third. There was considerable experimentation and theorizing before the methods were stylized and set as norms. The employment of medicinal and psychedelic drugs, alchemical techniques, and attempts at sex-sublimation were included in the experimentation.
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