What is Tantra? What does it really mean - literally, philosophically and practically? What are the major Tantric traditions? What is the scope of Tantra? What is the relationship of Tantra with Yoga? Let’s understand the basics of Tantra.
The literal definition of Tantra
Tantra is made up of two words: ‘Tanoti’ and ‘Trayati’. Tanoti means "to weave, to expand, to stretch, to extend", while the word Trayati means "to liberate or free". Therefore, Tantra (tan+tra) means to expand one's experience and awareness of everything, to extend the frontiers of apprehension beyond the material, and hence to attain spiritual knowledge and liberation. The world Tantric is an adjective that describes something coming from Tantra.
Tantra has a few more meanings - a sense of governance, rule, or control. A sense of supporting or maintaining [as a family], and it also means happiness.
Philosophical definitions of Tantra
Realistic definitions of Tantra
- Tantra is an ancient spiritual system and tradition which includes philosophy and practical instructions or techniques practice to heighten human awareness and for engendering worldly and spiritual prosperity.
- Tantra is about exploring and identifying the hidden part in human personality—the feminine qualities in men and masculine qualities in women, like Shiva-Shakti it helps to maintain the balance: helps humans to grow in spirituality and cosmic connection.
Tantric TraditionsThe ancient name of the Tantric system is called Agama. Agamas have three major sub-systems/traditions - Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Shakta. In Vaishnava tradition, Vishnu is the supreme Godhead, in Shaiva tradition- Shiva is the supreme Godhead. Technically, the word 'Tantra' applies to 'Shakta' literature and teachings in which Divine Mother (Shakti) reveals the knowledge and is considered the supreme Godhead. However, the word Tantra and Agama are now used interchangeably and accepted as Agama/Tantra. In Agama/Tantra tradition, knowledge may be derived from one or more sub-systems, e.g. Hatha Yoga comes from Shaiva tradition, and Kundalini Yoga/Laya Yoga comes from Shakta tradition.Approach to Tantra
- Tantra is a philosophy and practice, includes physical, mental and spiritual practices along with its philosophy to expand the experience and awareness to accomplish spiritual knowledge and freedom.
- Tantra is the Science of energy management and experience. It provides tools and techniques for real experience (Pratyaksha Shastra), spiritual experience (Sadhana Shastra) and worship (Upasana Shastra).
There is only one approach to Tantra -- Rational approach
. Tantra is highly rational in its approach; it asks for no faith in advance
. It is a self-verifying science of the development of natural energies into their supernatural terms leading to a cosmic enjoyment of life in a spiritual consciousness. Tantra embraces everything, it does not deny anything. It utilizes everything available to us in this world to raise and expand human consciousness and to accelerate the process for the desired goal. It acknowledges that as a human, we all have some basic desires. So, it emphasizes that if you live your life skillfully, then you can have enjoyment, fulfillment, accomplishment, and liberation or freedom. Tantra seeks liberation in the world, not from the world.
In short, Tantra says – your time is short, your energy is limited, and to achieve your goals and desires, apply the appropriate tools and technique skillfully to expedite the process. Scope of Tantra
Tantric texts cover almost every aspect of life, a tantric text called 'Varahi Tantra' lists more than two dozen subjects of Tantra, and following are just a few for example
Relationship of Tantra with Yoga
- Consciousness, Yoga, Mantras, Yantras/ Mandalas, Mudras, Nadis, Chakras
- Spiritual practices, Initiation, Worship, Rituals, Sexual Practices/Rituals
- Astronomy, Astrology, Science of Architecture
- Medicine such as Ayurveda and Herbology
- Laws and Duties in society, Science, and Magic
Tantric texts have four components – Philosophy (Jnana), Yoga, Rituals (Kriya) and Code of conduct (Carya). Thus, Yoga is used as a practical application in Tantra. Tantra without Yoga is not Tantra. However, Yoga does not need Tantra.