Evolution of Tantra

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Last month, Sri Sri Ravishankar has been reported to have  made statement that Self-Claimed Swami Nityananda, violated the rules of tantra  for misusing it for fulfilling his pleasure. Further he is quoted as saying  “"Only a house holder is entitled to 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 very right when he says that,  Nityananda has violated the use of tantra. Because, the sexual rites are  advised only for Vira (People in whom rajas dominates) and it is completely forbidden  for Pashus, people in whom tamas dominates and 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 spiritual sadhana.

This issue leads us to a more serious question.  Are tantras only about sex? It appears so if  one browses through internet or media writings. Ask a scholar who is well  versed in Tantra and the answer would be a clear No. The tantric system is vast  and complicated. It constitutes various branches, 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. And 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 companionship."

To understand, Tantras clearly, one must also try to  understand, how they evolved.  But, the  evolution of Tantra as a separate branch is a highly complicated subject. Many  of the old works are not available in manuscript form or are lost.

Moreover, the tantrika system is itself highly unorganized  because the tantra's 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 that traces itself  back to Lord Shiva. The tradition believes that Tantras were first communicated  by Lord Shiva, the First Guru. Later were passed on as tradition. On one hand  there is a mention of tantrika sects in Mahabharata and on other even the oldest  manuscripts do not go back more than 1500-2000 years. Most of the manuscripts  or its copies available to us are of recent origin. One of the reasons for this  is the fact that, old tantrika systems were discarded when they no longer served  any purpose and simultaneously new texts/practices/branches got added to the  tantrika system continuously.

In his book Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy Georg  Feuerstein 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 external means.”

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 Vedas. Tantra's 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 speak about. Another old  tantric text Pingalamata 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.