the following has been merged from What is Tantra?
One meaning of Tantra is thread. Tantra is a multitude of traditions, teachings and systems, a wide conglomerate of schools, sects and doctrines which interacted with other extant Hindu religious movements (i.e. the orthodox 'Brahmanic' tradition, Buddhism, Jaina, etc.) and from a very early point in it's development (which is arguably, around the 4th century C.E) was pan-Indian. David Gordon White has recently demonstrated, for example, that there was a cross-fertilisation of ideas between Tantric and Chinese alchemical traditions.
The term 'Tantra'
Some key characteristics
In order to understand what 'tantra' is, I offer the following 'key characteristics'. Please note that the following is merely what I consider to be 'key characteristics', and that there are a wide variety of schemas for understanding and classifying tantra.
Tantras are Non-Vedic
A text can be said to be 'tantric' in character if it reveals itself (and the authorial 'voice' in tantric texts is often a god or goddess, taking the form of a dialogue) apart from the Vedas. Tantric texts offer a wide variety of rituals and other practices (known as sadhanas which are sometimes held to be superior to those of the Vedas, and particularly suited for the Kali Yuga.
Tantras emphasise joyful experience
The goal of tantric practice tends to be very much related to freedom and autonomy within the world, rather than ascetic practice based on renouncing or denying 'material' existence. Liberation can be attained whilst the practitioner (sadhaka) is still alive. Tantra is also body-oriented in that the body is the 'centre' of all practice: many tantric practices serve to reorient the practitioner back to awareness of his or her body.
Tantra is strongly ritual-oriented
A central feature of Tantra is a rich and comprehensive ritual procedure and practice; and many systems of correspondence between the human body, the world, and the divine. Tantric rituals can be conducted both outwardly (using exterior forms) or entirely inwardly.
Tantras are 'esoteric'
Tantra systems are 'esoteric' in that they are difficult to understand and the texts are directed towards 'initiates'. One often finds injunctions in tantric texts against divulging knowledge to non-initiates or warnings to the effect that if one attempts to apply the techniques without having received initiation (diksha); dire consequences will follow. In short, Tantra can only be successfully understood and practised by those who have received initiation from an authentic guru.
Being merged from Tantric ritual
Tantric teachings stress that purely external rituals (puja) are of no value, unless their inner significance is understood and symbolism is mirrored by internal conscious activity. The relationship between the inner conscious process and the outer ritual action needs to be understood and mastered. The supreme goal of the sadhaka is to dissolve the false distinction between subject and object, and to perceive reality directly as an undivided unity.
- Auspicious Wisdom
- The Canon Of The Saivagama And The Kubjika
- The Alchemical Body
- The Philosophy of Sadhana
- The Roots of Tantra
- Tantra in Practice
- Tantra: the path of Ecstasy
- Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion
- Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine
- The Triadic Heart of Shiva
- Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts