The Tantric Path: The Journey Back to Cosmic Roots
February 21, 2019
Mahakala- the Great God of Time
February 21, 2019

Tantra- the alchemy of transformation

—— © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary

Man is a complex being. He is a bridge between the lower and the higher, a passing phase of evolution, a threshold to a higher domain. Being a bridge between the lower and the higher implies that he himself has both the elements of the lower and higher within himself. He aims at the Divine, but is also plagued by animal instincts; he aspires for super consciousness (Samadhi), but at the same time is strongly rooted in sexuality; he has the power of reasoning on one hand but is equally influenced by ritual, territoriality and aggressive behaviors which he shares with the reptile. Man seems to be in short a bundle of complex thoughts and feelings like fear, anxiety, pleasure, pain, joy, love, hunger, moral urges, creativity, discrimination, jealousy, hatred, sensuality, analysis, abstract thinking and myriads of other moods and shades. He has a lot within him which he shares with the reptiles and mammals, but also has a lot more that is uniquely human in nature. Added to this is the fact that no two humans are alike. Millions of people with millions of perspectives. Munde munde matir bhinna. Now could there be a path, a practical one that too, that would take into consideration all these myriad qualities within man’s psyche- ranging from the most grossest like sex to the most subtlest like Super Consciousness- a path that encourages diversity, innovation and individual freedom and help him evolve into the highest that he is capable of, help him to realize and unfold the great potential within him, thereby bringing about his ascent to Supra-human heights? Yes there is. It is the ancient path of Tantra, the much misunderstood, abused and sometimes even prohibited path.

In fact in the most basic sense, “Tantra” means a “book”. Any practical book containing information and techniques on any subject is thus loosely called a tantra. Tantras deal with the whole spectrum of human concerns; Tantras are manuals for the entire community. The tantras are broad texts and not specialized in any direction.

Traditional tantric texts are said to relate to the following topics.

1. Consciousness

2. Creation of the Universe (srshti)

3. Annihilation of the Universe (pralaya)

4. Worship of the Divine in various forms (Devi-puja)

5. Attainment of the goals of life and spiritual powers (siddhis)

6. Spiritual practices (sadhana)

7. Yoga- including pranayama and meditative methods to experience the ultimate truth.

Some other topics that tantric texts may cover are:

1. Ceremonial rites and initiation (Diksha)

2. Medicine, Health and Healing techniques, including Ayurveda. Later healing systems like Reiki etc., in fact originated from Tantra only.

3. Different levels of awareness (lokas)

4. Psychic pathways & centres (nadis & chakras)

5. Laws and duties in Society (dharma)

6. Sacramental rites (samskaras)

7. Consecration of forms of deities (murtis), shrines, houses, wells etc.,

8. Occult practices

9. Science

10. Astrology

The various sects of Tantra popular today are:

Sect Deity

1.Vaishnava Vishnu

2. Shaiva Shiva

3. Shakta Shakti

4. Saura Surya

5. Ganapatya Ganapati

(Some South Indian traditions add another sect to the above list- Kaumara. The deity is Kumara or Karthikeya or Skanda, the other son of Shiva and Parvati)

Each sect differs from the other in that its ultimate Godhead is different. Otherwise they are more or less the same in essence. The common feature is generally that all sects accept and worship Shakti; the Goddess. That is why Tantra is also commonly understood as Goddess worship. Each sect worships its ultimate Godhead in various aspects.

The science of Tantra, embracing the whole spectrum of life, covers the entire range in four great steps (padas): The first known as Jnana or Vidya pada dealing with the philosophical and theoretical frame work; The Yoga pada dealing with divine communion; The Kriya pada dealing with the rituals and lastly the Charya pada dealing with the various observances. Conventionally the Tantric texts are compiled in four books according to the padas.

•  JNANAPADA: Deals with the basic philosophical principles and knowledge concerning the ultimate reality, explaining in great detail the creation of the universe, the different principles (tattvas), the archetypes, the evolution of man etc., stressing on the inherent divinity of man.

•  YOGAPADA: Each soul is potentially divine. To awaken man to his inherent divinity and lead him to realize and participate in the inner harmonies of the mighty powers which govern his life is the main aim of this step. Various spiritual and esoteric practices including the eight limbed yoga which eventually lead to divine communion are covered here.

•  KRIYAPADA: Man does not live all alone. He is apart of the collective and is constantly influenced by the environment. The individual and collective can join in a mutually enriching effort where the aspirant can best grow when buttressed by nourishment from a similar Sangha (company). The collective thought and feeliing have a strong dynamic effect on the individual. Here the net result far exceeds the total the sum of the individual efforts added up, or in other words, is synergistic. In accordance with this great truth temples, community worship, the yagnya, the sacred pilgrimage places (punya kshetra) are all developed in the third step. The actual worship rituals involving mantras, mandalas, mudras etc., the rites of initiation, the role of the Guru and other such details are covered in this pada.

•  CHARYAPADA: As the tantric adage goes, “munde munde matir bhinna” people are of varying temperaments, in various stages of growth and of unequal competence. It is here that tantra is unique, because it accepts all useful practices and insights encouraging diversity, innovation and individual freedom. The observances and rules pertaining to the various classes of people and the stages of life are dealt with in this section.

The tantras group all men and women under three broad categories based on their inherent samskaras as the animal (pasu), the heroic (vira) and the divine man (deva). This distinction, perhaps the only one that tantra makes between man and man, is based on a close study of ones samskaras , inner nature and competence so that each man may take up the path best suited to him and is not decided by birth or status . Classification may also follow the common concept of the dull (tamasik), the dynamic (rajasik) and the wise (sattvik). The three dispositions are arranged in a sequential order. The “animal” disposition is said to be the primary stage and is considered a necessary stage. Everyone however evolved, must start from here. Gradually one becomes “heroic” and eventually “divine”.

Based on the nature of man tantra offers various paths.

1. The right handed path (dakshinachara) emphasizing meditational and spiritual disciplines and higher degree of purity in conduct. The “samaya” lineage meaning “according to the rule” is the path for the devotionally inclined people.

2. The left handed path (vamachara) employs the much talked of “panchamakara”, the five M-s or the forbidden things.

Some texts deal with the concept of “seven – fold conduct (saptachara)”.

1. Vedachara: rituals are based on the vedas.

2. Vaishnavachara: rituals are based on puranic description

3. Dakshinachara: worship of the Goddess employing vedic hymns

4. Vamachara: worship employing the five M-s

5. Saivachara: worship of Shiva using vedic hymns

6. Siddhantachara: rituals are performed in crematoria

7. Kaulachara: secret worship of Kali

Kaulachara: The kaulas are worhippers of Kali. The relation of Akula (Shiva) with Kali/ (Shakti) is Kaula. Kaula marga (path) is that which accepts and leads to the equipollence of Shiva and Shakti, not the static alone or the dynamic alone. There are two traditions based on whether the five M-s are used literally or symbolically. The five M-s are:

1. Maithuna, sexual union

2. Madya, wine (othe intoxicants also)

3. Mamsa, meat

4. Matsya, fish

5. Mudra, parched grains

Literal Tradition : Here the five forbidden are actually used. Various sects like uttara kula, kapalika and digambara follow the literal tradition.

Symbolic Tradition : also called Purva Kaulas they take the five M-s only symbolically.

For instance, Maithuna (intercourse) is the union of Siva and Sakti, the cosmic male and female forces within the psyche. Symbolically, the five M-s are interpreted variously by various gurus (see the table at the end for more).

The literal tradition is for those who seek to do it by degrees. We have to first go through certain things before we can transcend them. The easier way to transcend a desire is by turning it into a sacred action and offering it to God. This path is only for the hero (vira) and not for other types-sometimes attachment to an idea can become a hindrance and in such cases, the Guru enjoins upon the disciple something to break the attachment to the idea. For example, the idea of purity is shattered by encouraging to take of the forbidden things, or even drinking unclean water etc., In the life of Sri Ramakrishna, Bhairava Brahmani, his Tantric Guru, asks him to eat a piece of flesh to shatter his idea of cleanliness and purity. Meditating in a burial ground may constantly remind one of the ever-changing, impermanent, ephemeral nature of life. Moreover, sex impulse being so strong, man can not suppress it or ignore it. It is part and parcel of life. In fact life starts with sex. Unlike other spiritual schools or religions, Tantra is unafraid of acknowledging man’s sexuality. Tantra is not embarrassed of sexuality. Yet Tantra too seeks to transcend sex, but chooses more ingenious ways of doing this. Instead of suppressing our sexuality, an easier way would be to go through it, and then transcend sex.

A true tantric adept is like a clinician or a psychotherapist. Ideally a therapist works with whatever you bring to the clinic- anger, jealousy, grief, addictions, whatever. Tantra starts where you are, but takes you to transcendental heights eventually- from sex to Samadhi, also releasing deep internal energies, in this process. But unfortunately, there has been “a gross lamentable misuse by the ignorant and abuse by the pervert leading to the downfall and degradation” of the adherent (practitioner) and the practice. It is only to harness the energies of sex, anger and other emotions and transform them at a deeper level of mind that these seemingly forbidden practices are included. But it is left for a very few, the heroic (vira) who have complete control over their senses, to tread the dangerous path, while for the majority it is unsuitable, especially under inefficient guidance. Tantra does not necessarily require such practices though they may be occasionally useful for a few. It is only apt that this article ends with the following quote from the Kularnava tantra .

“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 wo become liberated by female companionship.” ( Kularnava Tantra, II, 116-118).






(can be substituted by)

Symbolic meaning

1. Madya

2. Mamsa

3. Matsya

4. Mudra

5. Maithuna




i. Parched cereal

ii. Gesture

Sexual union

Coconut water

Garlic, Ginger,Wheat,

Beans, Seasamum

Red raddish, Brinjal

Rice, paddy,

Certain Gestures which

aid in forming patterns of

Psychic energy

Flowers offered with appropriate gesture of union

Intoxicating spiritual bliss

Consignment of all things to mam , Me

Identification with “oneself”

-sense of mine-ness

mat-sya , as a result of which pleasure

and pain arise

Giving up evil association

Union of Kundalini Shakti with Shiva in crown chakra or Sahasrara