The Sanskrit word TANTRA literally means “warp (on a loom)”, or “extension”. It comes from the verbal roots TAN – “to stretch, expound”, and TRA – “to save”, which gives further hints upon the other meanings of the word TANTRA.
This name is applied both for a certain category of texts of Eastern spirituality, and for the doctrine and teachings which they contain. However, the Tantric texts, the TANTRA-s of which there are several hundred: proper TANTRA-s, SHIVA AGAMA -s, VISHNU SAMHITA -s, SHAKTA NIGAMA-s, etc. – are written in a kind of “code language”, so that without an oral explanation from a competent GURU a lot of passages are bound to remain unclear. Furthermore, there are still many un-translated and secret Tantric texts under the dust of forgotten or private libraries. All these, plus the extremely varied and complex nature of Tantra means that it is almost impossible to formulate a single definition. That is why, it is important to sketch some of the main features of the Tantric system in a detailed manner .
CHARACTERISTICS OF TANTRISM
1. TANTRA YOGA offers an alternative and practical individual road to salvation, called a SADHANA, beside the Vedic one which is often deemed to be antiquated. It is important to note that the true Tantric SADHANA is accessible for people of any caste, social status, age, for women as well as men, householders and ascetics.
2. The TANTRA-s are presented as the best form of teaching for people living in KALI YUGA “the dark age”, people of the present day. KALI YUGA is often connected with the “iron age” of the Greek mythology and with the “age of the wolf”, of the Northern Edda, deemed to have exactly the same meaning. Therefore, nowadays, when spirituality is declining and man is desperately trying to reintegrate himself into a spiritual reality, it is stated that TANTRA is the last and best way to reach salvation.
3. TANTRA has a rigorous metaphysical basis, of a very non-dualist nature. However, according to Tantra an intellectual knowledge is not enough, there also exists a need for direct, personal experience, which becomes possible only through the agency of SHAKTI, power and intense energy. The concept of SHAKTI, the feminine energy is the specific shade of the entire Tantric system.
4. TANTRA recognizes, and expounds mundane aims besides spiritual emancipation, as a lawful goal for practitioners. Its aim is to transform the adept into kind of super-man, who not only has liberated himself of the Universe, reaching Enlightment, but also – alike the Supreme Lord Himself – is able to rule over it and control its secret forces. This means that Tantric methods are applicable for various sorts of practical accomplishments, including astrology, medicine, parapsychology, alchemy and magic. A number of written sources are pre-occupied with describing these supernatural abilities (SIDDHI -s), and the ways to attain them. However, there will always remain a connecting thread between magical and spiritual.
5. The eminent place given to energy involves a thorough reevaluation of the body. This is not meant with the sense of object of idolatry, like in the contemporary world, but as necessary instrument, the unavoidable premises of the spiritual realization. This is due to the frequently used analogy between the macro cosmos and the micro cosmos, which is the human body: “What is here is everywhere, what is not here is nowhere”. A consequence of this fact is the appearance of the HATHA YOGA system in Tantric schools; a system which has neither “health” or “well-being” as its goal as is commonly believed.
6. TANTRA teaches the practice of a special variety of YOGA, designed to transform the animal instincts and functions by creating an upward movement in the body, along energy-channels called NADI-s, and through centres of force CHAKRA-s. The process is most commonly expressed as “rising KUNDALINI “. YOGA is the elaboration of a subtle physiology, in which the micro cosmos of the body is homologized with the macro cosmos and the world of The Gods.
7. TANTRA emphasizes the metaphysical and operative importance of the feminine principle. For TANTRIKA-s, the Female Goddess SHAKTI represents universal power, which is the energy of bondage and Liberation, who veils and reveals, blinds and illuminates, the world is her toy, and her mirror. Here we encounter a genuine reevaluation of the woman, thus being the only spiritual path that acknowledges a total equality between the two sexes, at all levels. The importance of female manifestation extends to all levels of experience, from daily life to metaphysics.