Tantra shastra is a secret and most powerful science in the Indian occult tradition. It is a science which Indians have practiced for centuries and still do. Although this science was subject to suppression from time to time due to various misunderstandings and allegations, it still lives due to its original operation and method of discovery of the psychic realms.
Tantra shastra as a whole is the system which deals with the techniques, mediums and applications concerning the individual power and knowledge which is said to be at the depth of human consciousness. Usually it is thought that only a sannyasin, a recluse; a celibate brahmachari can be in possession of psychic powers that an ordinary householder has no access to those powers which belong to the deeper planes of consciousness. However, tantra shastra proclaims boldly that neither food nor character, social nor marital status, stand in the way of developing such super powers.
In tantra shastra one will find every practice integrated and adjusted with the attitude and behavior of the average person who is compelled and advised to follow the natural steps of life. Therefore, wine, meat, marital relations, grain and fish are accepted in the general constitution of the shastra. Much misunderstood, this constitution of tantra shastra clarifies that this does not present any obstacle in the awakening of Shakti, rather it helps.
Worship of shakti
The presiding deity of tantra shastra is Devi, the so-called feminine deity to whom all mantras, mudras and other elements of worship are devotionally dedicated. The act of bathing, dressing, sitting for worship, offering various ingredients, sacrificing animals, cohabiting with husband or wife or companion, accepting the offered foodstuffs and many other acts are performed in the spirit of total dedication and devotion. The sixty-four tantras are thus designated to suit the various temperaments of individuals walking, faltering and advancing on the different levels of human evolution.
The purpose of all tantric systems is one, and that is to evolve and express the mother aspect which is probably the nucleus and centre of total consciousness in living beings, the central sphere of individual awareness which is Shakti or energy. Tantra shastra does not confuse this with the so-called maternal instinct, nor does it develop an emotional mother complex. The term ‘matri’ symbolizes the greatest power in man; it does not symbolize the mother in the ordinary sense.
Where is Shakti? It is in all. It is the left half of Shiva. Shiva is consciousness; Shakti is energy. Shiva is the tongue; Shakti is the power of speech. Shiva and shakti live together, but Shiva cannot materialize and become active without the active co-operation of shakti. Therefore, Shakti is the subject matter of tantra shastra. Although Shakti is depicted by a feminine frame, termed as a goddess, described as a beautiful lady, the tantras unanimously declare that Shakti is the all-pervading and all-embracing existence in a saint and in a sinner, in a man and in a woman, in a believer and in a nonbeliever.
Defining the tantras
The word tantra is a combination of two processes, ‘tanoti’ and ‘trayati’, meaning expansion and liberation. The root ‘tan’ stands for the word tanoti and the root ‘tra’ stands for the word trayati. The word tanoti means to stretch, to extend, to elaborate, to expand. The word trayati means to liberate, to free, and to separate. So it is clear that tantra is a process of expansion and finally absolute freedom in the highest existence.
Many of the tantras are purely vedic in origin. You can conveniently put them into two progressive categories of shruti (revealed scriptures) and smriti (transmitted by memory). Tantras that have their existence in shruti and follow the vedic tradition implicitly are shrauta tantras. Those tantras having all respect for shruti but which adjust with the ever-shifting social concepts are known as smarta tantras.
The shrauta tantras, that is to say the vedic tantras, were replete with an absolute sense of purity and orthodoxy. As a result, there developed a tradition of moral restraints such as ahimsa or non-violence and the like. However, those who were used to performing animal sacrifices and other such older customs did not agree with orthodox purity or ahimsa. Thus the vedic tantras were naturally divided in the course of time into two groups: one followed the path of ahimsa, the other followed the tradition of animal sacrifices, drinking wine and the like. However, in those days they did not use the word tantra; they used the word yajna. Later, these natural divisions of vedic tantra developed into two main orthodox currents, namely shakta tantra, worshipping Shakti, and shaiva tantra, worshipping Shiva.
Elements of tantra
There is a great similarity between tantra shastra and yoga shastra. In both you will find references to asanas, pranayamas, mudras, bandhas, chakras, nadis, dharana, dhyana, kriya yoga, kundalini yoga, hatha yoga, mantra yoga, jnana yoga, etc. The practices of khechari, shambhavi, vajroli, uddiyana and the like are an integral part of tantra shastra. In the sixty-four tantras there are hundreds of such methods meant for highly developed as well as undeveloped individuals. Each tantra can be said to have been created to suit a limited number of temperaments.
There are written tantras as well as unwritten tantras. Written tantras number sixty-four, but unwritten tantras are unnumbered. They are an oral tradition and are only taught to those disciples in whom the guru finds great understanding and a few more simple qualifications. Even today there are such teachers in India who are well versed in this oral system of tantra and who continue to pass on this great knowledge through their disciples. This traditional oral system is more powerful, portable and easily available, but it is not an easy task to discover the teachers of this tantric system.
Sadhana in the burial ground
Sometimes a very ugly picture is painted of a tantric sitting naked in a burial ground with human skulls and drunken women. In fact, tantra is far from this. Witchcraft also should not be mistaken for tantra, although the practitioner of tantra may develop certain powers. Since the cemetery and burial grounds, lonely forests and midnight hours are good for silent and uninterrupted meditation, tantra shastra advises such places. When the mind is given an atmosphere, then the mental tendencies become much quieter.
In deeper states of meditation when the conscious mind loses its grip over the autonomic system, inherent fear springs up and there is an explosion of psychic contents in the form of symbols from the collective unconsciousness. Even as situations in life are able to stimulate the lower psyche in individuals, likewise the solitude, quiet and mysterious atmosphere of the burial ground is able to develop the mystic and occult contents of one’s deeper personality.
There is no better place in the world for meditation than the burial ground, where the mind as a whole develops awareness of fleeting life, meaningless efforts, death and many more valuable realizations.