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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.






Tantra is both a kind of yoga and an element that's found to some extent in many other kinds of yoga. It began in India about fifteen hundred years ago. It has heavily influenced both Hinduism and Buddhism.

One of the most distinctive things about Tantra is its insistence that spirit and matter are aspects of one whole. Unlike some forms of yoga in which the seeker separates the watching consciousness from the world, Tantra urges a synthesis. Some yogas look away from the world; Tantra sees the world in a new aspect. Some yogas seek liberation from the world; for Tantra, liberation is in the world. Some yogas denigrate the body or damage it with ascetic practices; Tantra sees it as a microcosm of the universe and a chariot to liberation.

Osho contrasts the two approaches this way:

In yoga one has to fight; it is the path of the warrior. On the path of tantra one does not have to fight at all. Rather, on the contrary, one has to indulge -- but with awareness.

Yoga is suppression with awareness; tantra is indulgence with awareness.

Tantra says that whatsoever you are, the ultimate is not opposite to it. It is a growth; you can grow to be the ultimate. There is no opposition between you and the reality. You are part of it, so no struggle, no conflict, no opposition to nature is needed. You have to use nature; you have to use whatsoever you are to go beyond.

In yoga you have to fight with yourself to go beyond. In yoga, the world and moksha, liberation -- you as you are and you as you can be -- are two opposite things. Suppress, fight, dissolve that which you are so that you can attain that which you can be. Going beyond is a death in yoga. You must die for your real being to be born.

In the eyes of tantra, yoga is a deep suicide. You must kill your natural self -- your body, your instincts, your desires, everything. Tantra says accept yourself as you are. It is a deep acceptance. Do not create a gap between you and the real, between the world and nirvana. Do not create any gap. There is no gap for Tantra; no death is needed -- rather a transcendence. For this transcendence, use yourself...

The ordinary mind is being destroyed by its own desires, so yoga says stop desiring, be desireless...

Tantra says be aware of the desire; do not create any fight. Move into desire with full consciousness, and when you [do], you transcend it.2

Taking a more analytical view, noted scholar Georg Feuerstein writes that most schools of Tantra share the following characteristics:

1. initiation and spiritual discipleship with a qualified adept (guru);

2. the belief that mind and matter are manifestations of a higher, spiritual Reality, which is our ever-present true nature;

3. the belief that the spiritual Reality (nirvana) is not something distinct from the empirical realm of existence (samsara) but inherent in it;

4. the belief in the possibility of achieving permanent enlightenment or liberation while still in the embodied state;

5. the goal of achieving liberation/enlightenment by means of awakening the spiritual power -- called kundalini-shakti -- dormant in the human body-mind;

6. the belief that we are born many times and that this cycle is interrupted only at the moment of enlightenment, and that the chain of rebirth is determined by the moral quality of our lives through the action of karma;

7. the assumption that we live at present in the Dark Age (kali-yuga) and that therefore we should avail ourselves of every possible aid on the spiritual path, including practices that are deemed detrimental by conventional morality;

8. the belief in the magical efficacy of ritual, based on the metaphysical notion that the microcosm (i.e., the human being) is a faithful reflection of the macrocosm (i.e., the universe);

9. the recognition that spiritual illumination is accompanied by, or creates access to, a wide array of psychic powers, and a certain interest in the exploitation of these powers both for spiritual and material purposes;

10. the understanding that sexual energy is an important reservoir of energy that should be used wisely to boost the spiritual process rather than block it through orgasmic release;

11. an emphasis on first-hand experience and bold experimentation rather than reliance on derived knowledge.3

According to one authority we consulted, tantra means "web" or "woof" in Sanskrit, suggesting Tantra's view that reality is a seamless whole, a continuum, a woven fabric that includes all possible threads: spirit and matter, truth and appearance, nirvana and samsara.4 Another source defines tantra as "loom," conveying the idea that Tantra is a technique for stretching ourselves, for extending our capacity for attention to the utmost.5

In India, Tantra claimed to supersede orthodox Vedic teachings for practitioners of a new decadent age. Unsurprisingly, orthodox Hindus tend to think of Vedic and Tantric teachings as complimentary or opposed. But in fact, many of the mainstream practices that people think of as Vedic were originally Tantric.

Within Buddhism, the influence of Tantra is heaviest in Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism.

1. The illustration is a seventeenth-century Nepalese Shri yantra reproduced from the cover of Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein. Unattributed parts of this essay rely heavily on the introduction to the same book. See below for bibliographic information.

2. Osho, The Book of Secrets: The Science of Meditation, page 17. This book is described below.

3. Feuerstein, Georg, "Traditional Tantra and Contemporary Neo-Tantrism." On the website of the Yoga Research and Education Center.

4. Feuerstein, Georg, Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy, page 1. This book is described below.

5. Roche, Lorin, The Radiance Sutras.This book has not yet been published, but parts of it can be read on the author's website.



Is Tantra the Yoga of Sex?
By Shri Acharya Abhidhyanananda Avadhuta
(Rev. Fr. Anatole Ruslanov)

A comparison of "New Age Tantra" and traditional Tantra. Includes a good introduction to the essential features of traditional Tantra.

By Purnananda Swami
This classic work of Tantric Yoga describes the six cakras and explains how Kundalini rises through them to achieve union with Siva. It was written in the sixteenth century by a Bengali yogi.




  Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc.
A non-profit American organization offering training in Tantric Yoga founded in 1991 by Shri Acharya Abhidhyanananda Avadhuta (Rev. Fr. Anatole Ruslanov). The site has some excellent articles including practical advice for beginners. There's a nice how-to article on insight meditation.

Hindu Tantrik Homepage
An excellent, beautiful site by Mike Magee and Jan Bailey with translations, commentaries, summaries, articles, glossary, and bibliography. Scholarly yet devotional and accessible.

Kashmir Shaivism Fellowship
Splendid site dedicated to Kashmir Shaivism as taught by Swami Lakshman Joo. A lot of good information.

International Journal of Tantric Studies

A scholarly journal with a special interest in the Trika schools of Kashmir. You can read abstracts of articles for free.



The Radiance Sutras
By Lorin Roche, Ph.D. (translator)
This may be the best translation for practitioners to date of the Vijnana-Bhairava, the ancient Tantric how-to manual that describes 112 methods of finding enlightenment. It hasn't been published in book form yet, but the translator has put part of it on his website. Don't miss his introduction.

Traditional Tantra and Contemporary Neo-Tantrism
By Georg Feuerstein
A comparison of traditional Tantra with modern Western sexual Tantra.

Tantra Yoga
By Sri Swami Sivananda
Brief article on Tantra by the founder of the Divine Life Society.





Wearing the Body of Visions (Sample Chapter)
by Ngak'chang Rinpoche

Opening sentence:

"To practise Tantra, is to plummet into wisdom-fire and re-emerge wearing the body of visions. Tantra is radically positive insanity; the commitment, based on the experience of emptiness, to disappear without a trace into every moment. Tantra is the hot blood of kindness -- the commitment, based on the fleeting apparitions we name reality, to be totally identified with outrageous expressions of what we essentially are. Tantra conjures with the electricity of being: the shimmering voltage that crackles ecstatically between emptiness and form. Tantra is the alchemy of subtle appearance -- the way of transformation that allows us to re-create ourselves limitlessly according to the kaleidoscopic pattern of moments that comprises our experience of life."



Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy
By Georg Feuerstein

A lucid, well-rounded overview of the Hindu Tantric tradition for general readers by a leading Western yoga scholar.

Buy it from Amazon



Introduction to Tantra:
A Vision of Totality

By Lama Thubten Yeshe

This book gets rave reviews. One college instructor said, "...the best introductory work for undergraduate teaching on Tibetan Buddhist tantra available today... readily accessible to Western students." The author was a well-known lama who founded the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) after escaping from Chinese-occupied Tibet. Some of his other writing is on the web here.

Buy it from Amazon


The Book of Secrets: The Science of Meditation
By Osho

This mammoth 1184-page book is Osho's commentary on the Vijnana-Bhairava, the ancient Tantric how-to manual that describes 112 methods of attaining enlightenment. Osho explains the spirit and meaning of the original in modern idiomatic language based on his own experience.

Buy it from Amazon



The Yoga of Delight, Wonder and Astonishment:
A Translation of the Vijnana-bhairava

By Jaideva Singh (translator)

An erudite, stupendously well-footnoted translation of the great Tantric classic by a leading modern scholar.



This page was published on January 27, 2000 and last revised on May 26, 2000.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.