The meaning of the Sanskrit word, ‘Tantra’ is extension or bend (on a loom). It is derived from its verbal rooms- ‘Tan’ which means ‘to stretch’ or ‘expound’ and ‘Tra” which implies the act of saving. This paves way for more hints which depict the meaning of the Sanskrit word.
The name is used for both, the teachings and doctrine which they comprise and the specific class of texts concerning Oriental spirituality. However, there are numerous kinds of Tantric texts such as Tantras- Vishnu Samhita-s, Tantras, Shiva Agama-s, ShaktaNigama-s and many more. These Tantras and Tantric texts are written in a type of ‘code language’. This makes a verbal explanation from a well-versed Guru important to gain a proper understanding of the texts. Otherwise, the deep meaning of these texts remains unclear.
Moreover, numerous secret Tantric texts are residing under the dust of private libraries or remain forgotten. Also, some texts remain untranslated.
All these factors along with the extremely complicated and varied character of Tantrism offers the manipulation of a single description nearly impossible. This is the reason why sketching some of the major characteristics of the Tantric system is necessary.
Characteristics of the Tantric system
- Tantra Yoga provides an alternative and logical path to salvation to an individual which is termed as ‘Sadhana’, apart from the Vedic one which is usually antiquated. It becomes necessary to highlight that people of any social status, caste, women, age gender, and occupation can access the original Tantric Sadhana and benefit from it.
- The Tantras are considered to be the most practical means of teaching the men of Kali Yuga or the humans of the dark age- the age in which we are living today. The Kali Yuga is often associated with the ‘Age of the Wolf’ of the Northern Edda and with the ‘Iron Age’ of the Greek mythology. The ‘Iron age’ and ‘Age of the Wolf’ is regarded to have the same meaning as the Kali Yuga. Thus, nowadays, with the decline in spirituality, man is earnestly putting in efforts to reintegrate himself with the spiritual truth. It is said that the best and last means of salvation is Tantra.
- Tantra comprises of a meticulous metaphysical foundation of a non-dualist character. It considers that the know-how of intellectual knowledge is not enough. It gives high regards to the requirement of direct and personal experience which is possible only via a medium of Shakti- the intense energy and power. The concept of Shakti states the feminine power as the specific hue of the whole Tantric assembly.
- Tantra expounds and recognizes mundane targets along with spiritual emancipation as a legal aim for a practiser. It targets to transform the proficient into a form of super-man who has unbound himself from the Universe and has reached enlightenment. Also, he has gained command over his secret powers- similar to the Supreme Creator himself. This states that the Tantric system applies to several kinds of logical accomplishments- which includes medicine, astrology, alchemy, parapsychology, and magic. Several written sources contain the description of the supernatural abilities or Siddhi-s and the road which leads to them. However, these continue to remain as the connecting link amidst the spiritual and magical.
- The renowned position titled to the energy necessitates an intense revanchism of the body. This does not point out to the articles of idolatry, like in the present times, but as a crucial instrument which cannot be avoided in case of spiritual realization. This happens because of the interminable analogy amidst the microcosm and macrocosm which is the human body which states that the things which are present here are present everywhere and the thing which isn’t here isn’t present anywhere. As an outcome of this fact, the introduction of the Hatha Yoga system in the Tantric institutions- a system which does not focus on health or well-being, as it is generally believed.
- Tantra preaches the practice of certain kind of Yoga which emphasizes on the transformation of the animal functions and instincts by building an upward motion in the body along the channels of energy, Nadi-s, via the centers of force, chakras. The procedure is generally addressed as ‘raising the Kundalini’. The elaboration of the evolvement of subtle physiology in which the macrocosm of the body is homologized with the microcosm and the universe of the Gods is associated with this Yoga.
- Tantra focuses on operative and metaphysical importance of the feminine principle. The Goddess, the women, Shakti stands for the Tantrika-s the Divine Power, the power of Liberation and bondage, who reveals and veils, illuminates and blinds, the universe is her mirror and toy. We come across a revamp of woman, and the only spiritual road which acknowledges the complete equity amidst the two sexes at all the stages.
- The speculations regarding the mystical character of speech and its components are important and its existence is thought of a phonic creation, along with the material phenomena.
- This has evolved in the general use of unintelligible and short formulas, Mantras and Bijas, linked with the numerous supernatural forces and the stages of consciousness by methods of certain Yoga procedures which make the articles of cosmic symbolism. The Mantras are efficient instruments as per the Tantras.
- The general usage of other solid devices, such as geometrical designs (Yantras), gestures (Mudras), symbolical representation (Mandalas), for the logical expression or accomplishments of metaphysical principles. The divine worlds are advanced by certain means of meditation (Dhyana), worship, visualization, and so on.
- the Tantric teachings are categorized into several levels based on the people to whom they have been addressed. The ancient texts emphasize the existence of three distinct kinds of humans- the ‘divine’ one (Divya), which does not exist anymore in our age, the ‘heroic’ one (Vira), which serves the best for the initiation of Tantric but is rarely found, and the ‘Pashu’ or the ‘herd of the Gods’, the ‘animal’ that flocks in the dark age in which we live. The Tantric texts are recited only by the Vira-s, the ‘heroes’ freed of hate, fear, absurd shame are eligible to receive the Tantric revelations and the others obtain adequate Sadhana to help them reach the heroical level.
- Referring the supreme beings, Tantra is not very much concerned with common moral or theology. It does not refer to trite anarchism but the requirement of transcending a couple of appearances of the virtual world to reach the point of strongest awakening. Usually, the Tantric texts themselves highlight this aspect for banishing the short-minded aspirants with the help of symbolic language: “to caress the busts of your sister” implying to the arousal of Shakti in Anahata Chakra, “ to insert the penis (Lingam) in the maternal cavity” which points out to piercing the root-Chakra, and many more.
- Usually, the Tantric texts are Shiva-ite due to the unusual features of Shiva- Terrible and Benefactor, Destroyer of evil and Healer, and the Supernatural Androgyne.
- Tantra focuses the diligent requirement of initiation by an expert spiritual teacher (Guru) or guide and on continuously walking on the path led by him to practice spirituality. This is the reason why certain kind of terminology is used by the Tantric texts to make it inaccessible to the non-followers and whose ‘secret key’ is given verbally by the spiritual teacher.
- In Tantra, an ambivalence of human and divine existence often appears in the form of complementary features of the same grandiose and awesome reality.
- There is a far-fetched classification of truth, especially in the form of speech and numbers leading to mysterious science of Tattva, breath, and associations with the age-old alchemical processes of Siddha-s, and the body culture of Hatha Yogins.
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