Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.
Tantra, also called Tantrism and Tantric religion, is an ancient Hindu tradition of beliefs and meditation and ritual practices that seeks to channel the divine energy of the macrocosm or godhead into the human microcosm, in order to attain siddhis and moksha. It arose in India no later than the 5th century CE, and had a strong influence on both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Tantra has been one of the most neglected branches of Indian spiritual studies despite the considerable number of texts devoted to this practice, which dates back to the 5th-9th century AD.
Many people still consider tantra to be full of obscenities and unfit for people of good taste. It is also often accused of being a kind of black magic. However, in reality, tantra is one of the most important Indian traditions, representing the practical aspect of the Vedic tradition.
The religious attitude of the tantriks is fundamentally the same as that of the Vedic followers. It is believed that the tantra tradition is a part of the main Vedic tree. The more vigorous aspects of Vedic religion were continued and developed in the tantras. Generally tantriks worship either Goddess Shakti or Lord Shiva.
The Meaning of "Tantra"
The word "tantra" is derived from the combination of two words "tattva" and "mantra". "Tattva" means the science of cosmic principles, while "mantra" refers to the science of mystic sound and vibrations. Tantra therefore is the application of cosmic sciences with a view to attain spiritual ascendancy.
In another sense, tantra also means the scripture by which the light of knowledge is spread: Tanyate vistaryate jnanam anemna iti tantram.
There are essentially two schools of Indian scriptures - "Agama" and "Nigama". Agamas are those which are revelations while Nigama are the traditions. Tantra is an Agama and hence it is called "srutishakhavisesah", which means it is a branch of the Vedas.
The main deities worshipped are Shiva and Shakti.
In tantra there is a great significance of "bali" or animal sacrifices. The most vigorous aspects of Vedic traditions evolved as an esoteric system of knowledge in the Tantras. The Atharva Veda is considered to be one of the prime tantrik scriptures.
Tantra is different from other traditions because it takes the whole person, and his/her worldly desires into account. Other spiritual traditions ordinarily teach that desire for material pleasures and spiritual aspirations are mutually exclusive, setting the stage for an endless internal struggle. Although most people are drawn into spiritual beliefs and practices, they have a natural urge to fulfill their desires. With no way to reconcile these two impulses, they fall prey to guilt and self-condemnation or become hypocritical. Tantra offers an alternative path.
Mantra is a combination of syllabus which has been so framed and structured that, when pronounced correctly, concentrates universal energy into the individual's spiritual energy. The essence of the mantra is called its 'Root word' or "Beej" and the power generated by it is called "Mantra Shakti". Each root word is related to a particular planet or planet lord. The chanting of mantra is called "Mantra Yoga" or "Mantra Japa". Mantra chanting synchronizes the sound energy, breath and senses. It is this chanting which produces a sound wave vibratory energy which is a very powerful energy and can be used to transform life.
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