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Recently Sri Sri Ravishankar
reportedly said that self-claimed Swami Nityananda, violated the
rules of tantra and misused it. Further he
was quoted as saying “"Only a house holder is entitled for tantric sex.
Claiming to be a monk and using so many people for one's pleasure is
unpardonable, He should have had one partner and announced himself as a
tantric guru. It has caused damage to the faith of people in the
institution and traumatized many.”
Sri Sri Ravishankar is absolutely right when he says that, Nityananda has
misused tantra. The sexual rites in tantra are advised only
for Vira (people in whom rajas dominates) and they are forbidden
for Pashus, (people in whom tamas dominates) and those who are attached to sexual
pleasures. Further, it is true that, Lata Sadhanas (sexual rites) should
be practiced with one partner, may be a wife who has the same
temperament and competency as him or with a Bhairavi, whom a sadhaka can
take as Guru as she is well versed with tantrika practices and can teach
him. On this matter Mahakalasamhita, a tantrika text clearly says “As is
the competency of the sadhaka (male practitioner) so also that of the
sadhika (female practitioner). Only by this is success achieved and not
in any other way, even in ten million years”. This clearly establishes
that, one cannot have multiple partners and call it as a spiritual
This issue leads us to a more serious question, Are tantras all about
sex? It seems to be so if one simply browses through internet or media
writings. But a straight and simple answer is a
No. The tantric system
is vast and complicated. It constitutes various branches and sub
branches and various traditions. The use of meat, liquor and sex as part
of spiritual practices are suggested only for Vira sadhaks and that too
only under Kulachara and Vamachara. Even among them, only a few can
really benefit from them. But some of the simple Lata Sadhanas, like
Shiva Lata Mudra can be highly helpful to married couples. It can help
them to attain detachment and to control the vasanas slowly.
Kularvana Tantra clears all the confusions about the use of sex, meat
and alcohol when it states: “Beguiled by false knowledge as propagated,
certain persons, deprived of the guru-shishya tradition, imagine the
nature of the Kuladharma according to their own intellect. If merely by
drinking wine, men were to attain fulfillment, all addicted to liquor
would reach perfection. If mere partaking of flesh were to lead to the
high state, all the carnivores in the world would become eligible to
immense merit. If liberation were to be ensured by sexual intercourse
with a Shakti, all creatures would become liberated by female
To understand, Tantras clearly, one must also try to understand, how
they evolved. But, this evolution of Tantras as a separate branch is a
highly complicated subject. Many of the old works are not available in
manuscript. Many of the tantrika texts has been lost. Moreover, the
tantrika system is itself highly unorganized because the tantras
developed indigenously in different parts of India and only later they
were integrated. But due to this, the tantrika accounts are highly
scattered. On one hand we have the Tantric tradition traces itself back
to Lord Shiva. The tradition believes that Tantras were first
communicated by Lord Shiva, the first Guru and then passed on as
tradition. There is mention of tantrika sects in Mahabharata however the
currently available oldest tantra manuscripts do not go back more than 1500-2000 years.
Most of the manuscripts or their copies currently available are of
origin. One of the reasons for this could be that the old tantrika
systems were discarded when they no longer served any purpose and at
same time, new texts, new practices, new branches were added to the
tantrika system continuously.
George Feuerstein, in his book 'Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy' present's the
ground reality in a nutshell, when he writes: "At one end of the Tantric
spectrum we have highly unorthodox practices such as black magic that go
against the moral grain of Hindu society (and that of most societies).
At the other end we have Tantric masters who decry all doctrines and all
rituals and instead applaud the ideal of perfect spontaneity (sahaja).
Most schools fall between these two poles; they are typically highly
ritualistic but infused with the recognition that liberation springs
from wisdom, which is innate and therefore cannot be produced by any
Position of Tantra with respect to Veda:
It is interesting to note that, contrary to the general view that tantra
is opposed to Vedas; Tantra's place themselves on same platform as the
Tantras call themselves as “Agama”
(Revealed) similar to Vedas (Sruti = Heard/Revealed). Further, Tantras
are called as “Sruti-shakha-vishesha”, a special branch of Vedas. Some
tantra's like Matsyasukta mahatantra and Ghandarva tantra even go to the
extent of stating that a practitioner of tantra must be well-versed in
Vedas and should be ever attached to Brahman.
This view is held by both older and newer tantric texts. “Nishvasatattva
samhita”, one of the very old tantrika texts available, mentions that
tantras are the culmination of esoteric knowledge of Vedanta and
Samkhya. This appears to be true because, tantrika system aims at
achieving the Spiritual emancipation about which Vedanta and Samkhya
speaks about. Pingalamata, another old tantric text says that, tantras
are Agama with characteristics of Chandas (that is Vedas).
Among the tantrika texts of recent origin, we find various descriptions
about the relationship of tantras and Vedas. Some texts mention mantras
and mahavakya's from Vedas (like Prapanchasara Tantra) and some
explicitly mention that tantras are part of Vedas (like Meru Tantra).
Kularnava tantra says, that Kuladharma is based on Vedas. The same claim
is repeated by Niruttara Tantra which calls tantras as fifth Veda and
Kulachara the fifth ashrama.
Further, it can be seen that in philosophy and in religious attitude
tantras and Vedas are fundamentally same. The goal of both Vedas and
tantras seems to be same, viz Moksha. The goal of both Vedic rituals and
tantrika sadhana is invoking of gods and achieving liberation. In fact
many tantrika practices trace their origin to Atharva Veda. From this
point of view, the Tantras emerged out of the Vedic religion and were
then developed as a distinct type of esoteric knowledge. The Vedic
religion in its essence has survived through the tantras.
Now coming to the development of tantras as special class of literature
and special mode of Sadhana we can see that, they are very closely
connected to the rise of Shaivism and Pancharatra schools.
It is Mahabharata which makes the mention of the Pashupata (the
Shaivist) and Pancharatra (Vaishnavite) schools for the first time. Even
though the early canonical literature of Pancharatra is lost, we have
one text Satvata Samhita which describes the tantrika system as
Rahasymnaya- a secret method of Sadhana. However, Pancharatra School
remained restrained in its development and it was Shaivism which
provided more prominent ground for development of tantras.
The Mahabharatha says that the Pashupata doctrines were first preached
by Shiva-Srikantha. But this Srikantha must have been a human teacher in
all probability. This opinion is strengthened because, the old
manuscript of tantric text Pingalamata preserved in Nepal speaks of
Bhagavat Srinkanthanatha as its author. Lakulisa was probably his
disciple. And this Lakulisa and his disciples are mentioned in an
inscription of Chandragupta II. From the information present in this
inscription, Lakulisa has been dated to be a contemporary of Patanjali,
who incidentally speaks of Shiva-Bhagavatas in his Mahabhashya.
From this we can conclude that, Pashupata was the oldest form of
Shaivism prevalent in North India. They could be also called as Agamanta
Shaivism. The Agamas (the texts) belonging to this school are 18 in
number according to one tradition and 28 according to other tradition.
The eighteen agamas also called as “Shiva tantras” are: Vijaya, Nisvasa,
Svayambhuva, Vatula, Virabhadra, Raurava, Makuta, Viresha, Chandrahasa,
Jnana, Mukhabimba, Prodgita, Lalita, Siddha, Santana, Sarvodgita,
Kirana, and Parameshvara. Among them, the three agamas, viz Nishvasa,
Kirana and Parameshwara are still preserved in Nepal in manuscripts of
eighth and ninth centuries.
The next phase is development of tantras is represented by the class of
literature called Yamala. There are 8 Yamalas: Rudra, Kanda (Skanda),
Brahma, Vishnu, Yama, Vayu, Kuvera and Indra. The 8 Yamalas are
communicated by 8 Bhairavas: Svacchanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Ugra, Kapalin,
Jhankara, Shekara and Vijaya. What is interetsing to note is, the
Original Shiva tantras represent the Rudra or Sada-shiva tradition and
the Yamalas represents Bhairava tradition. Also, it should be noted
that, Bhairavas were human teachers who had attained complete union and
had become Shiva. The two other old texts that belong to Yamala group
are: Jayadhrata Yamala, the supplement to Brahma Yamala and Pingalamata
is supplement to Jayadhrata Yamala.
The importance of these Yamala's is in the fact that they for the first
time describe the various tantric Traditions and introduce cults of new
gods and goddess. They give a well developed Tantric pantheon.
Brahma Yamala gives a nice account of transmission of tantrika
knowledge. Ishvara (Shiva) first communicated it to Srikantha, who
passed it to various disciples. One of the recipients was Bhairava who
passed it to Krodha, Kapila and Padma, And Padma to Devadutta and
Devadatta to 14 of his disciples. Further, Yamalas mentions different
tantric traditions based on Srotas(Currents). The three currents are
Dakshina (Sattva), Vama (Rajas) and Madhyama (Tamas). Among the names of
Human teachers who promulgated these tantras, Usanas, Vrihaspati,
Dadachi, Lakulisa, Sanat kumara are few important ones.
Now coming to the two supplements of Yamalas mentioned before.
Jayadratha Yamala and Pingalamata mentions much greater variety of
tantras and sadhanas. Pingalamata mentions two classes to tantras:
Kamarupi (being in Assam) and Uddiyani (North west-Swat valley). The
Jayadhrata yamala mentions large number of Shakti cults, like cults of
Kalika, Shankarshani, Charchika, Gahaneshwari, Vajravati,
Bhairavadakini, Saptakshara, Siddhilakshmi etc.
These supplements indicate a very important development in evolution of
Tantras. It indicates the new orientation in tantric culture, viz
Sadhanas of Agamas assume in them a more pronounced character of
Shaktism. Now, the tantrika system seemed to be developed through two
different paths the exoteric, which continued as pure Shaivism and
Esoteric which continued as Shaktism. Whereas the goal of Shaivism was
only Liberation, the goal of Shakta was not just Liberation. They wanted
to gain ascendancy over the forces of nature and to carry on the
experiments and exploring in order to gain the detailed knowledge of
working of Cosmos. In a sense, salvation became a too small a goal for
them. But, this is not to suggest they did not pursue Moksha, but only
that they pursued other things too. These supplementary literature shows
that, the Tantras became Shakti in character from that time.
Buddhism also developed its tantric aspect by this time. According to
Tibetian evidence, Buddhist Tantras came into existence after the time
of Dharmakirthi. Their origin as distinct class of literature and mode
of Sadhana may be placed in 7th century. They developed in three
different forms viz Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakrayana. From about
10th and 11th centuries, there began a very complicated period of
development of tantras. The Brahmanical and Buddhist sects merged and
mixed with each other to some extent as Buddhism declined and all that
remained was a mystic form similar to Shaktism in essence. This fusion
gave birth to new forms of esoteric religion.
The detailed picture of the Brahmanical tantras of this period is given
by Sammohana tantra. It speaks of nine kinds of Kalikas. It also speaks
about many special cults, one of Jaya, three cults of Sudnari, two cults
of Tara, three of Kali, one of Chinnamasta, two of Dhumara and Matangi
and two of Sidhavidya. It further mentions two cults of Vaishnavas, two
of Sauras and five cults of Ganapatyas. The text also speaks about
Amanyas and Geographical classification of tantras. They divide it into
4 classes viz Kerala, Kashmira, Gauda and Vilasa. The six amanyas that
are mentioned are Purva-eastern, Dakshina-south, Pashchima-western,
Urdhva-upper and patala-nether. It also divides tantras into three
classes viz Divya, Kaula and Vama according to nature of sadhana
(whether Sattva, rajas or tamas) and each of it has two sects:
Bahya-external and Harda-intenal.
The Sammohana tantra text also gives number of principal and subsidiary
tantras in various regions: China: 100 principal, 17-subsidiary;
Dravida: 20, 20; Jaina: 18, 20; Kashmira: 100, 10; Gauda: 27-principal,
16-subsidiary. It further mentions various Vidyas or cults. Some of the
goddesses in these cults mentioned were: Aindri, Gayatri, Brahmavidya,
Ardhanarishvari, Matrika, Sarasvati, Tripura-Bhairavi, Shulini,
Mahavidya, Chamunda, Raja-rajeshwari, Srividya, Kalika, Tara,
Chinnamasta, Dhumavati etc.
Therefore the Sammohana tantra presents a picture which is very much
different from the one present in Shiva tantras of Agamanta Shaivism. It
clearly establishes that tantras had assumed a complete Shaktic
character, assimilated a very large number of cults of various origins
and thus established a well developed and complicated pantheon of
goddesses (All representing different aspects of Shakti). This state of
things must have been attained by 14th century, when this Sammohana
tantra seems to have attained its final form. From here, the later
tantras compiled just added to the number of vidyas, mantras and
mandalas and many of the old cults were either forgotten or discarded.
Now coming to the division of tantras into:
Some definite information is available
about the origin of Kaulas. According to Kaulajnananirnaya (which is a
very old text), the Kaula class was introduced by Matsyendra Natha, even
though strictly speaking he founded only one school of Kaulas called
Yogini-Kaula of Kamarupa. The text also mentioned other Kaula schools:
Vrsanotta, Vahni, Kaulasadbhava, Padorrishtha, Mahakaula, Siddha,
Jnananirniti, Siddhamrita, Sristi, Chandra, Shaktibedha, Urmi and Jnana
kaula. By eleventh century, Kaula schools had firmly established
themselves comprising number of sects.
It is interesting to note that Yogini Kaula of Matsyendra Natha had a
syncretic character. This resulted in growth of two esoteric sects: Nath
sect that had a tinge of Shaivism and Sahajiya that had a tinge of
Vaishnavism. Matsyendra Natha was himself, the founder of Nath sect. He
also founded the Hatha Yoga. Further, he is also regarded as first of
the Siddhas by Buddhists under the name Lui-pada. It is believed that,
he learned everything from the First Guru, Adinatha-Lord Shiva himself.
Two other sects originated in this period, Avadhuta and Bhaul.
Now, coming back to the geographical division of tantras, Sammohana
Tantra, as mentioned before, divides tantras into 4 classes:
Kerala is said to prevail from Anga to
Malava, the Kashmira class from Madra to Nepal, Gauda from Silahatta to
Sindu while Vilasa is found everywhere. Further, Mahasidhashastra tantra
divides Bharata varsha into three areas viz Vishnu Kranta, Ratha kranta
and Ashwa kranta. Shakti-mangala tantra says, land east of Vindhyas up
to Java is vishnu kranta, land north of Vindyas upto maha-china is Ratha
kranta and rest of place to west is Ashva kranta.
From the above accounts it becomes clear that, Kashmira, Kerala and
Gauda (Bengal) are the three most prominent zones where tantras
flourished. In Bengal, Tantrika system had always been prominent. And
influence of Vedic culture had been minimal. But the tantrika system
here is also very much different from that of Kashmira and Kerala. It is
the center of Kulachara, with its seat at Kamarupapitha, where upasana
of Kali is pursued. So, in the region of Gauda, KaLi-kula is dominant.
In the Kerala School, we have the worship of Tripurasundari, that is,
Sri-Kula is dominant here. But in Kashmira School, both the forms of
worship are in evidence. The philosophical aspect of Tantras dominates
in Kashmira, the practical in Bengal, while in South we have a mixture
No account of evolution of tantras is incomplete without mentioning
about influence of tantras in other countries. Sammohana tantra, speaks
of tantrika practices in countries like Bahlika, Kirata, Cina, Mahacina,
Kamboka, Huna, Yavana, Gandhara, Nepala etc This does not mean, Indian
tantras were present in all those places, (even though in some places
they were indeed present), but just that some kind of esoteric practices
similar to Indian tantras were present in those countries. This should
give an idea about how tantrika system is vast and has integrated itself
with every aspect of Hindu way of life.
Evolution of Tantras, by P.C.Bagchi, The Cultural Heritage of India,
Vol. 4: The Religions, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture,
The spiritual heritage of India: Tantras by Govinda Gopal Mukherji,
Studies on the Tantras, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture,
Tantrika Culture among Buddhists by Benoytosh Battacharya, The
Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 4: The Religions, Ramakrishna Mission
Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1956