When explaining the Tantras, the root tan means to expand. Thus, tantra means to expand the meaning of the Vedic knowledge. The Tantras are the texts studied by those, especially amongst the Shaiva and Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana cults, who worship Shakti, the Goddess personification of the universal feminine energy. These Tantras can be dialogues between the Goddess Durga and Shiva. When the Goddess asks Shiva questions, they are called Agamas, and when Shiva asks the Goddess questions, they are Nigamas. The Agamas contain descriptions of a variety of topics such as deity making, temple and altar construction, etc. They may also elaborate on the five main topics which include the creation, universal annihilation, worship of the gods, the attainment of the six superhuman faculties, and the main methods of meditation that bring union with the Supreme. Certain Tantras also contain magical or mystical formulas that some practitioners use for their own purposes.

       The Tantras generally accept Shakti as the creative force, worshipable as an aspect of the Divine but inseparable from the masculine principle, which is called Brahman by some and Shiva by others. However, the Tantras are often composed of irregular Sanskrit to obscure their secrets in the language. Also, in order to allow only the initiates to understand its meaning, some of them used much erotic symbolism and esoteric terminology. This has led to a misunderstanding of its ideology as well as its practices, especially among westerners who perceive an overabundance of sexual connotation in it, which is not really there.

       It is not easy to date the formation or appearance of the Tantras. It is suggested that they were predominately developed in North India and Assam. Some scholars have not been able to determine whether Tantrism originated in Buddhism or Hinduism, but evidence suggests that Tantrism was first systematized by particular Buddhist schools. This systematization seemed to have resulted in dividing Buddhism into several major and minor groups because of philosophical differences. All such groups assisted in laying the groundwork for various radical ideas, among which was Tantrism. Tantrism greatly influenced the Vajrayana and Mahayana sects. Some scholars date the Buddhist Tantras, like the Hevajra, to sometime earlier than 400-700 AD. Other Tantras include the Nityashoda-shikarnava, Yoginihridaya, Tantraraja, and Kularnava, all dated between 1000-1400 AD., and the later Mahanirvana Tantra. However, those Tantras that are related to the older Vedic texts had to have been of an earlier date. For example, the Narada-Pancharatra is said to have been spoken by Lord Shiva to Narada Muni, and later compiled by Srila Vyasadeva 5,000 years ago.




 There are, however, different Tantras for different people. There are specific Tantras for those who are in the mode of darkness or tamo-guna, others for those in the mode of passion or rajo-guna, and still more for those in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. There are the Shaiva Agamas, the Shakta Agamas, and the later Tibetan Buddhist Agamas, as well as the Linga, Kalika, and Devi Puranas. The Agamas are divided in four parts: metaphysical knowledge, yoga, ritual practices, and conduct. There are 28 Shaiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas, and 108 Pancharatra or Vaishnava Agamas. The Vaishnava Tantras include the Narada-pancharatra, Pancharatra, Vaikhanasa, the Gautamiya Tantra, Brihad-Gautamiya Tantra, and others like the Lakshmi Tantra. These contain rules and regulations for engaging in the process for purifying the mind of the stumbling blocks of material attachments and for fixing the consciousness on the qualities and spiritual pastimes of the Supreme. The Narada-Pancharatra deals with Lord Krishna and some about Radha. Ramanuja wrote his Agama-pramanya to show the Vedic connection of the Vaishnava Pancharatra texts.

       The difference in the Vaishnava Tantras from the Tantras of the Left-hand Shaktas is that they remove the illusion that the physical body is the self, along with the need for performing unorthodox bodily activities for spiritual advancement, while the Left-hand Shaktas are attached to the means of using the body to attain magical powers, rapid illumination, wealth, high position, or quick liberation. To be successful on the Left-hand path is very difficult and the aspirant can rarely persevere to the end. As we can easily see from our partial description of the Tantric Left-hand path, such philosophy and activities are deeply imbedded in the mode of darkness, tamo-guna. This may be the level of experience that some people need in this life, but by tampering with this path, one usually increases his illusion, selfishness, and pride, or it can bring disease, evil-mindedness, even insanity, and sometimes sudden death. This is not surprising since what is associated with the dark modes produces intense, dark, or questionable results.

       The Vaishnava Tantras, on the other hand, are aimed at bringing one to a higher state of consciousness, a loftier awareness of our real identity as spiritual beings and our relationship with God, without the unorthodox activities. It enables one to feel an inner joy and happiness by reawakening one?s awareness of his or her spiritual identity. Soon the obstacles or material attachments and desires that seemed insurmountable have no effect. A serious follower can feel himself progressing very rapidly. As a person attains a higher spiritual taste, he becomes less concerned for bodily attractions and is content in any situation, whether it be in gain or in loss. His unity with God increases and he becomes perfectly satisfied. In this way, he soon leaves material consciousness behind and through his spiritual realizations reaches the perfectional stage of life.



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