Tantrism

Doctrines Tantrism is found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Although Buddhist and Hindu Tantrism are distinct, they nevertheless share some common features. These include: a search for liberation during the present lifetime; a view that the body is divine and contains the bipolar universe within it; the use of visualisation and yoga, particularly Kundalini yoga in Hindu Tantrism; and a concern with the construction of sacred diagrams (yantra, mandala), ritual gestures (mudra) and the repetition of sound formulas (mantras) in order to gain liberation and achieve magical power (siddhi).
Many of the esoteric Buddhist Tantras are modelled on the Hindu Shaiva Tantras, though Buddhist doctrines are superimposed on the Shaiva material. Some of the early Shaiva Tantras composed within a culture of cremation ground asceticism advocate the worship of ferocious, often female, deities, offering them alcohol, meat and erotic substances. These later become codified into the '5 ms', the ritual substances of wine, meat, fish, parched grain and sexual intercourse (all five begin with the letter 'm' in Sanskrit). What became known as 'left-handed' Tantrism took the use of these ritual ingredients literally, 'right-handed' Tantrism understood them to be symbolic of pure ritual substances. Some Tantric traditions, such as Kashmir Shaivism, are monistic maintaining that the self is identical with the absolute, others, such as the Shaiva Siddhanta are dualistic. Buddhist Tantras speak of the purification of body, speech and mind in order to realise the emptiness of all phenomena.

History The history of Tantric traditions and their interrelationship is complex. Although the roots of Tantrism may be ancient, the texts can only be dated with any degree of certainty to the ninth or tenth centuries CE, though they probably date back to about the seventh. The Tantras are regarded as an independent revelation which superseded the orthodox Hindu revelation of the Veda. Among the earliest are Shaiva Tantras (focused on Shiva), though there are also Vaishnava Tantras (focused on Vishnu) and Shakta Tantras (focused on the Goddess or Shakti). A collection of Saura Tantras (focused on the Sun) is now lost. There are also Jain Tantras which do not contain the practices of the more extreme Shaiva cults. The Buddhist Tantras are early and become incorporated into the complex traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Within Hinduism the Tantric revelation can be divided into the Shaiva Siddhanta which accepts the dualist Tantras as supreme and Shaiva and Shakta Tantras which claim to be monistic. The Shaiva Siddhanta became aligned to high caste orthopraxy, whereas other groups, such as the Kapalikas, remained heterodox. The Shri Vidya is a Tantric tradition containing both left and right handed doctrines which became associated with brahmanical orthodoxy in south India. Kerala has a thriving Tantric tradition and Kerala tantris are respected Brahmans who install images in temples to this day.

Symbols Tantrism is very rich in symbols which are used in meditation and ritual. Indeed, the body itself is a symbol of the cosmos and male and female bodies symbolise Shiva and Shakti for Hindus, or Prajna (Wisdom) and Upaya (Means) for Buddhists. Sexual union therefore becomes a symbol of liberation understood as the union of Shiva and Shakti or of Prajna and Upaya. In Hindu Tantrism Shakti is active female energy and Shiva is passive, male consciousness, whereas in Buddhist Tantrism Prajna is the passive female element and Upaya the active, male element. Other Tantric symbols are sound formulae (mantras); sacred diagrams (yantra, mandala); and ritual hand gestures (mudra). The Tantras also contain a symbolic language which associate the body with the male-female polarity in the cosmos.

Adherents There are no figures. Most Shaivas will be Tantric in some respects. Although quite orthoprax, the Shri Vidya tradition and Pancaratra Vaishnavism are influenced by Tantrism and revere Tantric scriptures. Indeed all Hindus are influenced in some way by Tantrism which has pervaded popular Hinduism since the medieval period. Similarly all of Tibetan Buddhism is pervaded by Tantrism.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Different centres will be important for different traditions. Varanasi is an important Shaiva centre and there are traditionally four Tantric pilgrimage sites (pithas) mentioned in Buddhist and Hindu texts, though of these only Kamarupa in Assam continues to be important.