An introduction to Tantra

Author: Dr. Dhruba Chakravarti.

Sanatana Dharma has two ancient paths: Vedic and Tantric. The Vedic path is based on Vedas and Upanishads. The Tantric path is based on numerous Tantric texts. The crown of the Vedic path is the Bhagavad Gita, and similarly, the crown of the Tantric path is the Durga Saptashati or ChanDi.

The subject of the Vedas and Vedanta is the unchangeable eternal Supreme Divine. Shri Krishna says in the Gita

वेदैश्च सर्वैरहमेव वेद्यो वेदान्तकृद्वेदविदेव चाहम् || 15.15

In all Vedas I alone am the only knowable, I am the author of Vedanta and the knower of the Vedas.

As you see, that is purely a Vedic conclusion, coming directly from Shri Krishna. In contrast, Tantra primarily focuses on us, what we are, and how we exist in the world. A big part of the ancient sciences of Sanatana Dharma is Tantra.  We have heard that Tantra is the practical part of Hindu dharma. How is that? Tantra is a revolutionary way of thinking,

Tantra has made the ancients realize that all issues can be understood by investigating their smallest details. This is called the analytical method in science. That is, analyze the issue in small parts first, and understand the issue based on those results. Tantra does recognize that knowledge is obtained when all these conclusions actually describe the issue.

Let’s take an example. We ordinary people do not like to be around stool, urine etc., but to a physician those are invaluable. Tantra is the inspiration for Ayurvedic physicians to examine stool and urine and determine diseases.

In this way, a large part of the conclusions made by ancient Indians in geology, botany, zoology, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry is founded on Tantric analytical thought.

We should not think that in Hindu tradition, scientific conclusions are only to be found in Tantra texts. Various Vedic texts also contain science. Samkhya and Vaisheshika darshanas are Vedic texts, and they contain scientific thoughts and conclusions. Vaisheshika darshana contains the idea of the atom. Although a more interesting and extensive description of the atom is found in Shrimad Bhagavatam (3.11), which describes how atoms are used in measuring weights, space, time. Samkhya has the 24 tattvas describing the way of creation.

Tantra does not stop at mundane issues; it also examines the biggest of questions, in the same manner. No issue is untouchable; even the Supreme Divine.

Our mundane experience does not allow us to talk definitively about the Supreme Divine, and the Vedic texts describe the Supreme Divine as Brahma, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Of these, Brahma is completely non-describable, not understandable in any way. Neti, neti. This could have discouraged us from trying to understand the Supreme Divine. It does not, because we have Tantra.

Clearly, to understand the Supreme Divine, we need to find something we can explore that will report about the Supreme Divine. What about examining the creation? Shri Krishna says in the Gita that He transcends the creation. So what can we do? Well, we can readily agree that there is a great power in the creation. In fact, everybody agrees to this; we Sanatana Dharmis, other religionists and scientists, even the rationalists.

Can examining that great power that help in understanding the Supreme Divine? We can, if are able to define that great power.

Modern science tries to understand creation in terms of material nature; it proposes that a primordial energy is transformed into matter and that matter eventually comes together to become the creation. At this time, scientists wish that they can prove that somehow the material creation acquires consciousness to become sentient creation. They are not the first in expecting so, this idea is also part of Charvaka darshana. Einstein deduced the creation formula, E = mc2.

What do the primordial events create? It creates nature, at least the first part of nature which Shri Krishna described in the Gita as the 8-fold apara prakriti (7.4), consisting of 5 material elements (earthy matter, water, fire, air and space) and 3 mental elements (mind, intellect and I-sense).  The making of this apara prakriti is called the sarga creation.

Shri Krishna actually describes sarga events in the Gita

इच्छा द्वेष: सुखं दु:खं सङ्घातश्चेतना धृति: |
एतत्क्षेत्रं समासेन सविकारमुदाहृतम् || 13.7

I am briefly describing (samasena udahritam) how the kshetra (field or creation) is caused by imbalances (vikara). Then He mentions these imbalances in the field: attraction (iccha) and repulsion (dvesha), happiness and sorrow (sukha and dukkha), clash (samghata) and staying together (dhriti) and chetana (consciousness). 

Those we know as human emotions, right? But they cannot be emotions when the creation is about to happen, right? No humans or any other beings were present at that time to feel those emotions, and somehow, contribute to the field imbalances that make the creation. Shri Krishna is not discussing our emotions, He is describing forces here; the powerful forces of attraction and repulsion that bring together and move away atoms and molecules, which create glorious and frightful events that make matter by clashing and keeping particles together. And there is a role of Divine consciousness in it.

In true tantric style, Shri Krishna described how the creation begins by His Divine will. Shri Krishna says in the Gita,

तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रद: पिता || 14.4

I am the father, the giver of the seed (of creation) in the womb of Mahat Brahma (the great Divine Mother Brahma).

This seed is Divine will. And it happens in the womb of Divine Mother. The ChanDi says

या देवी सर्वभुतेषु शक्तिरूपेण संस्थिता 
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥ 5.31

To the Devi (Divine Mother) present in all creation in the form of Shakti (power), namah to Her, namah to Her, namah to Her, again and again.

या देवी सर्वभुतेषु चेतनेत्यभिधीयते 
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥ 5.19

To the Devi present in all creation in the form of consciousness, namah to Her, namah to Her, namah to Her, again and again.

These conclusions make the Shaktivad (power theory) of Tantra. It makes the first reduction, stating consciousness is with the Divine Mother, the para prakriti. The second reduction is in the dissemination of that shakti. In ChanDi, we further learn that Divine Mother is empowering us in many other ways: giving personal powers such as buddhi (intellect), nidra (sleep), kshudha (hunger), trishna (thirst), kshanti (forgiveness), lajja (shyness), shanti (peacefulness), shraddha (respect), daya (benevolence) tushti (contentment), even social powers such as jaati (nationhood), vritti (occupations) and also, what She is to us matri (mother).

The Divine Mother is Chaitanyamayi or source of consciousness and vyaptidevi (all-pervading).  Whether we choose to be worshipful or not, the ChanDi says that we should at least be respectful. That is the message from the story of the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. They learned that Divine Mother is most beautiful, so they wanted to marry Her. They were destroyed. This episode tells us Shakti or great power is always to be respected. 


This article is partly inspired by a book named “ChanDi chinta” by the great Vedic pandita and sadhu Dr. Mahanambrata Brahmachari.

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