TANTRA, TANTRISM – The Religious Practice

Tantra has had many meanings: a class of literature (the Tantras), practices that are non-Vedic (tantrika), one of the religious sects of Hinduism. There is no single word in Sanskrit for Tantrism as a religious perspective, even though its additions to the Hindu tradition make it quite distinctive.

Tantrism can be seen in the point of view of Hindu mythology. It is a practical path, with techniques for acquiring magical or supernatural powers (siddhis). It is the entire cosmos as unified; there is no absolute division between pure and impure.

What an orthodox Hindu would find polluting, the Tantrika would use as an avenue for purification or, more likely, to develop siddhis. The five Ms (pañca-makâras), so called because each began with mmadya (wine), matsya (fish), mâmsa (meat), mudrâ (an aphrodisiac), maithuna (sexual union)—were used to develop siddhis, the Tantrika hoping eventually to gain liberation (moksha) by these very practices.

Physical pleasure (kâma, maithuna) could lead to happiness (bhukti, ânanda) in this world and the next, and one could even become free in this lifetime (jîvanmukti). This whole practice was based upon energy (s´haktî) that was pure or could be purified. The Tantrika lived in a unified world in which anything could be done because everything was divine or could be made divine.

The Tantrika was armed with prayers (mantras), rituals, gestures (mudras), symbols (yantras), postures (asanas), divinities, and even demons for protection and for growth. In fact, the frightening deities and demons were something in which the Tantrika specialized. Transforming the dark into light, the polluted into the pure, was at the heart of their practice.

TANTRA, TANTRISM - A religious sect or practice

This approach was almost always controversial and supposed to be secret—only discussed among the initiated with a master. It was a path of small groups, not a mass movement. The main divisions of Tantrism were along the same line as sectarianism Hinduism: Vaishnava, S´aiva, and S´âkta.

There were also worshippers of the sun or Sûrya (Sauras) and Ganes´a (Ganapatyas) who were also Tantrikas. Further distinctions were made as to the three currents (srotas)—right (dakshina), left (vama), and accepted (siddanta).

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