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The worship of the goddess Chamunda (as well as Kali or Durga ) and other female ( mother ) deities such as the Matrikas occupies a large space in Tantrism
The erotic sculptures at the temples of Khajuraho , Konarak and others are with Tantrism associated
Uma Maheshwara bronze from Nepal (14th century) influenced by Tantrism
Bhairava bronze from Nepal (14th century) influenced by Tantrism

Tantra ( Sanskrit तन्त्र, neuter, "fabric, continuum, context") or Tantrism describes various currents within Indian philosophy and religion, which first emerged as an esoteric form of Hinduism and later of Buddhism within the northern Mahayana tradition. The origins of Tantra begin in the 2nd century, the teachings are in full expression from the 7th / 8th century at the earliest. Century ago. In Buddhism there is also the term Tantrayana (“vehicle of the Tantra texts”, compare Vajrayana ). In almost all tantric schools and directions, the worship and homage to the female goddess is central; Such veneration already existed in ancient Vedic times (1750–1200 BC). Tantra combines sensuality with spirituality (compare also Neo-Tantra ).

Origins and history

According to Poller (2013), magical notions of the many ethnic groups living on the Indian subcontinent have been incorporated into the tantras . Their methods in India can be traced back to the Vedic period (from around 1500 BC). The main aim of the magical practices was to make life easier, from influencing the weather (weather magic) to helping with childbirth to war and damage magic . Tantras contain invocations to a great number of gods and spirits through mantras , visualizations, special images, objects, the use of colors, scents, music, complicated offerings and the like.

An important categorization or division can be made by distinguishing between Buddhist and Hindu tantras. Both currents appeared almost simultaneously between 500 and 1000 AD and influenced each other at that time: After their increasing consolidation, they continued to develop independently. Tantras were developed and refined between AD 300 and 800, so that some concepts reached their heyday between AD 800 and 1200, after which a slow process of gradual decline followed.

The worship of the female goddess , symbolized as Shakti , is central to many tantric schools.

Yoga and Tantra

Texts of the older Upanishads , approx. 700 BC B.C., describe breathing exercises and the withdrawal of the senses ( Pratyahara ) into the Atman as an aid to meditation ( Dhyana ). The middle Upanishads, dating from around 400 BC. Originated in BC, mention the term yoga several times and also the essential elements of the later yoga system. The yoga was closely connected with the theories as they developed the philosophical system of Samkhya , and formed its practical continuation.

Originally yoga was a purely spiritual path, the main aim of which was the search for enlightenment through meditation. The many asanas only emerged over time. Your primary goal is to strengthen and mobilize the body so that it can sit in the meditation seat for a longer period of time as free of symptoms as possible - e.g. B. Lotus position  - can linger. Tantra as a spiritual path not only shows great similarities with yoga, there are also a number of overlaps, so that one can speak of a "tantric yoga" as a result. The classic Yoga is based on an ascetic ideal, should be dispensed with anything that distracts from the path, such pleasures Bhukti ( Sanskrit : भुक्ति bhukti) and in particular on sexuality.

Tantra uses the essential elements of classical yoga, but in contrast to this uses the passions and sensual needs as an integral part. Individual elements of tantra, as found in classical yoga, are added, such as simple or complex rituals, meditative visualizations, the use of objects with symbolic meaning (pictures, statues) and also erotic rituals ( Mithuna rituals ).

Buddhist tantras

The Buddhist Tantra consolidated in India by Padmasambhava (8th to 9th century AD...) And by various Mahasiddhas and their teachings or interpretations: Later, the idea came to Tibet , where their content into engagement with the Tibetan Buddhism to Part have been greatly changed.

In Buddhist Tantra, extraordinary skill and virtuosity should be acquired through exercises in order to achieve a higher state of consciousness . Ultimately, the goal is to reach a state of consciousness that suffers less and thus also causes less suffering ( dukkha ) than the state before the exercises. Many higher states are described, along with higher powers of consciousness ( Siddhis ) that arise as a result of the practice. The methods used in Buddhist tantra were written down in texts, which often have the designation of tantric deities in their titles . They were all considered emanations of the Buddha . The deities could be male, female, or a couple in union. Important known Buddhist tantras are: Hevajra , Chakrasamvara , Vajrayogini , Yamantaka , Guhyasamaja , Kalachakra , Vajrakila , Guhyagarbha .

Hindu tantras

The term "Hinduism" is a term coined by Europeans, the British colonial officials of the 19th century, for all spiritual systems native to India, with the exception of Christianity and Islam. The term "Hindu" was coined by the ancient Persians to describe the people across from them on the other side of the Indus . Modern Hindus prefer the term "Sanatana Dharma" to describe their religion. "Hinduism" arose from the amalgamation of the polytheistic Vedic-Brahmanic religion of the Aryan ( Indoeurian ) immigrants in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. With the non-Aryan religions of the Indus Valley, the Dravidian South India a. a. The term “Hinduism” unites numerous historical and ideological traditions that were closely related to Vedic culture (early Vedic period 1500–1000 BC) as the successor to the Indus cultures (approx. 3000–1800 BC; Amri , Nal , Quetta , Kulli and the most important, the Harappa culture) appeared and took on their characteristic form at the beginning of 1000 AD.

The origins of Hindu Tantra lie in various influences of the early Middle Ages in India . These are the South Asian demonological tradition, local and folk influences, and the influences of religious sects such as the Pashupatas , who introduced new religious rituals and teachings that were non- Vedic .

Medieval tantra often served to legitimize a king who came from a lower cast or was of foreign origin through rituals that were not accessible to him in the Vedic Orthodox ritual. In this way, practices have flowed into Hindu Tantra which aim at the ritual transformation of the practitioner into a god-king who rules a pantheon of gods and demons and whose palace is located in the center of the mandala . Despite this reference to a ruler, very few tantrics were kings.

In rural areas and in Indonesia , tantrism is very similar to shamanistic religions. The task of tantrics here is to control the hordes of demons that can harm people, the home and agriculture. For this purpose, the tantric "rulers of the spirit" are invoked in a trance of possession , and exorcisms and sorcery are performed. These also take place with the help of incantations and spells. There are also rituals and sacrifices. These forms of tantrism are locally and regionally limited and have hardly any theoretical or doctrinal aspects.

The early tantric literature largely refers to this demonology , and in certain texts, in which one can distinguish different layers, these practices are first attached to metaphysics and practice in relation to spiritual goals.

These metaphysical and spiritual teachings were reserved only for the elite of tantrics among whom they were put into practice. Such elites were e.g. B. Kings, aristocrats and certain brahmin groups. Therefore, the teachings of Tantrism reflect the concerns of such elites, e.g. B. Aspects of power and the acquisition of worldly and spiritual, supernatural power. Tantric teachings refer, for example, to power relations between humans and supernatural beings, but also to soteriological , ontological and metaphysical reflections. From the 8th century AD a tantric canon was created, which - written in Sanskrit - was created and received by these elites. These scriptures all belong to sectarian Hinduism; That is, they can be assigned to Vishnuism , Shaivism or Shaktism , and it is always one of the forms of the main deities, Vishnu , Shiva or Shakti ( Devi ), which is the highest deity of a divine hierarchy.

The main sects of this form of tantrism are:

  1. Schools and sects of Kashmiri Shaivism such as Krama, Trika , Shrividya
  2. Shaiva Siddhanta
  3. the Shakta Kubjika sect
  4. the Vishnuit-Shaktic Sahajiya School and other regional sects
  5. Vishnuitic pancaratras.

The different tantric sects often have common deities, such as B. Kali , Chamunda and Svacchanda Bhairava (a form of Shiva ) in Kashmir , as well as Tripurasundari , who is worshiped in Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Nepal . Tantra mythologies, worlds of gods and metaphysics are abundant throughout Tantrism. Mythology is often depicted in sculptures and paintings depicting deities, supernatural beings, demons, and tantrics. A special feature of this tantric art is that the sexual act is often depicted. Despite the abundance of gods and entities, the tantric teachings do not focus on a polytheistic pantheon, but rather that the individual has a relationship to the one, namely to the supreme deity. This relationship is metaphysically referred to as Bhedabheda (unity in diversity). It is this unity that is supposed to lead to Jivanmukti (liberation). Tantric practices seek both to have power or to be given power over supernatural beings and to recognize that these deities and beings are ultimately one with the transcendent self of the supreme deity, which is also the self of the tantric.

In this sense, tantric metaphysics refers to emanations of the divine. These emanations in most tantric teachings are related to 36 tattvas (categories) that are descended from the 25 tattvas of the Samkhya teachings.

These 36 tattvas refer, for example, to deities, states of consciousness , vibrations of mantras, the yogic energy body and guru lines. These tattvas are seen as a unit, emanating from the transcendent to the everyday world. An internalization of these tattvas then takes place in tantric practice through yoga and meditation , mantras and visualizations . In the history of tantra, it was particularly important for Indian culture that today's yoga (e.g. Hatha yoga and Kundalini yoga ) arose from these tantric practices in the 9th to 12th centuries.

Hindu tantra literature

The term tantra originally referred to a genre of literature, tantras or agamas , which is Post- Vedic .

Hindu tantra literature generally comes in two main forms. Either these are revelation texts by anonymous authors, which often take place in the form of a dialogue between deities such as Shiva and Kali or Vishnu and Lakshmi, or they are texts by individual authors who have written comments, compendia or guides on the revelation writings of tantra literature. These relate to the practices and principles of Tantrism. Most of these texts were written between the 8th and 12th centuries. This literature is called Tantra- Shastra .

While the revelation texts are not too elaborate with regard to Sanskrit, the Tantra Shastras contain particularly high-level texts. The Tantra Shastras deal with an abundance of different subjects. You refer z. B. mantras and stotras , instructions for performing rituals , doctrinal instructions, philosophy, commentaries and hagiographies .

Tantric literature is mostly assigned to either Shaivism , Vishnuism or Kaula (Shaivism- Shaktism ).

Vishnuitic tantras are often also called samhitas , and Shivaitic tantras consist of agamas, tantras and samhitas. In addition to the title 'Tantra', the Shaiva Shakta texts have an abundance of different names, e.g. B. the Tripura Upanishad or Jayadratha Yamala. Kaula-Tantra only those texts are called that are accessible to the initiates.

Texts related to the tantric scriptures, some of which have the same content, are e.g. B. the texts of Hatha Yoga , Indian Alchemy and some Puranas like the Agni Purana and the Kalika Purana.

to teach

Tantrism is a theory of knowledge based on the inseparability of the relative and the absolute. Tantrism emphasizes the identity of the absolute and the phenomenal world. The goal of Tantrism is to become one with the absolute and to recognize the highest reality. Since it is assumed that this reality is of an energetic nature and that microcosm and macrocosm are interwoven, tantrism carries out external actions as a mirror of inner-psychological states. Since mind and matter are not seen as completely separate, Hindu tantrism is this side-affirming and uses psycho-experimental techniques of self-realization and experience of the world and life, the elements of which are to be experienced as positive dimensions in which the absolute is revealed. Tantra is therefore mainly presented as a spiritual and mystical path based on metaphysical assumptions.

Bija mantras that dominate the respective chakra (from above): Om, Om, Ham, Yam, Ram, Vam, Lam

Today's Tantrism dates back to the 17th century and presents itself as a collection of ritual techniques that refer to divine entities, often goddesses , to achieve various powers. The goals of the tantric rites are Bhukti, power over this world, Siddhi , supernatural powers, and Jivanmukti , liberation through deification.

Tantrism is permeated with occult and magical ideas. Ritual and cult are very pronounced , since following esoteric graded paths to knowledge and enlightenment is central to religious practice. The initiation ( diksha , abhisheka) and the submission of the disciple (cela) to a knowledgeable teacher or master ( guru ), who helps him on the spiritual path, is important.

The main elements of tantrism are:

  • The representation and visualization of spiritual principles by means of sexual symbolism, since it is assumed that the polarities active and passive, or female and male, formed the universe through their interaction. Shiva , the male principle, is considered passive and Shakti , the female principle, is considered active.
  • The system of subtle energy centers ( chakras ) and channels ( nadis ) on which the yogic and meditative practices are based, e.g. B. the physical Kundalini - Yoga , the visualization of deities or the sexual union:
  • Working with geometric symbols such as mandala and yantra as an expression of the macro and microcosm
  • Working with mantras and mudras
  • The transformation of the body centers into spiritual places through mantras and symbols
  • The inflow of magical ideas

According to the following subdivision, there are scriptures for each of the four ages that regulate the respective rituals and exercises. The rules of the Shruti, the Vedas, are only valid for the golden age (Sat- Yuga ), the rules of the Agamas (Tantras) only for the present iron age ( Kali-Yuga ).


The Shaktism is closely intertwined with the Indian Tantrism and is adjacent to Shaivism and Vaishnavism one of the three main directions of the Hindu religious systems . From the 10th century AD, Shaktism also became tantric. Practices such as pujas ( Sanskrit , f., पूजा, pūjā, [ puːʤɑː ]), offerings and meditation mixed with the esoteric content of tantrism, especially with tantra yoga . In this physical and mental techniques are used: meditation, japa , mantras and yantras as well as asanas and other physical exercises. The Shakti is seen here as Kundalini and each chakra is equated with a goddess.

Tantrism is often, but not exclusively, connected with Shaktism, the worship of the Divine Mother, Devi or Shakti , which is an expression of the creative power of God, thus creation itself. In contrast to the pure Advaita- Vedanta , which is creation as Illusion - Maya - viewed, the tantric sees this as an expression of the power of God - Shakti, the goddess - and worships it as Mahamaya or Mahadevi . The tantric does not regard the sensory world as negative, but uses it in order to achieve union with the divine. According to these teachings, the divine mother herself is present in the human body as Kundalini energy, which lies curled up at the base of the spine and, when it comes to life, rises in order to open the various chakras (wheels - subtle energy centers) on its way and finally to be united in the highest chakra , the Sahasrara, with Shiva , the male aspect of God, the Noumen. All main gods live in the human body according to the tantra system, mostly in the center of the chakras. Just as Shiva and Shakti are united in the Ardhanarishvara (half man, half woman), the right half of every person is also male and corresponds to Shiva, while the left half corresponds to Shakti.

Since all main gods of Hinduism have a female counterpart, there is also a corresponding tantric direction depending on the sect:

In left-handed tantra, the vamacara, the five Vedic cleansing articles are consciously reversed, in the worship of the five M's, the pañca-makāra:

  • Madya (wine)
  • Maithuna (ritualized sex act)
  • Māmsa (meat)
  • Matsya [or Mīna] (fish)
  • Mudrā (dried grains)

Because of the Maithuna in particular, Tantra has fallen into disrepute and is incorrectly identified almost exclusively with sexual practices in the West. However, these practices are only practiced by certain sects, the Vamacharas, and even there only by a group of people, the Viryas, in a fixed ritual context. Similar actions were and are partly carried out in China in Daoism and occasionally in the tantric form of Tibetan Buddhism ( anuttarayoga tantra ).

So the Dakshinacara followers have replaced the five M's with other substances or only practice them symbolically or not at all. For example, the Samayacara of the Shri Vidya tradition, which has found its way into the conservative Shankaracarya order, especially in southern India, condemns all these practices and does not meditate on chakras below the navel. In Shri Vidya, the Dasa Mahavidyas are mainly worshiped, the ten great goddesses, Kali , Tara , Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta , Dhumavati , Bagalamukhi, Matangi, Kamala. They are all aspects of the one goddess, and the sadhaka (practitioner) gradually approaches wholeness through the worship of these aspects. The goddess Sharada (another name for Sarasvati or Tara), the goddess of wisdom and learning, plays a special role in the Shankara tradition , since for Advaita knowledge, Jnana , is the path to liberation.

Characteristic for almost all tantrics are the meaning of mantras (sacred word sounds), bijas (monosyllabic word sounds), yantras (diagrams), mudras ( yogic positions, gestures), nyasa (energizing different parts of the body), bhutashuddhi (cleansing), Kundalini yoga, Kriya (movement and breathing exercises), Carya (religious and social regulations), Maya yoga ( magic ). Tantra is always practice-oriented, which is why tantric practices have flowed into almost all Hindu directions. All tantric traditions also have in common the commandment to keep the teaching secret and the importance of the guru as a mediator of the tantric teachings. Traditionally, Tantra cannot be learned in a course or through books.

The regions in which tantric cults are still particularly alive include Assam , Bengal , Odisha , Maharashtra , Kashmir , Rajasthan , the northwestern Himalayas and parts of southern India in India.


Tantra is a way of mindfulness . In the Indian tradition, a distinction is made between a tantric path according to its methodology. Which is based solely on meditation, energy work and spiritual worship is known as the right path or right-handed tantra. The path that also includes sensuality, sexuality and passion is called the left path or left-handed tantra.

  • the Dakṣiṇācāra ( Sanskrit : दक्षिणाचार dakṣiṇācāra) or way of the right hand, a direction of Hindu Tantra, with purifying rituals and strict discipline, which demands absolute devotion to the divine mother ( Shakti ) in her manifold forms.
  • the Vāmācāra (Sanskrit: वामाचार vāmācāra) the unrefined, questionable dangerous path of the left hand that integrates sexual practice and passionate action.

Reception in the west

In the western world , tantra has been increasingly received since the beginning of the 20th century, but mainly reduced to sexual aspects that are by no means the focus in classical tantra. The British occultist Aleister Crowley played an important role in this ; although he had no in-depth knowledge of Indian tantrism, he nevertheless identified it with its sex-magic practices. Today tantra is mostly offered in the west as neotantra , in which the Hindu or Buddhist content has taken a back seat in favor of optimizing the ability to orgasm and striving for sexual-spiritual wellness .


  • 1961: Arthur Avalon (aka Sir John Woodroffe ): The Serpent Power. The development of creative powers in people. 3. Edition. Barth, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-502-61044-4 (first published 1961).
  • 1967: Ajit Mookerjee: Tantra art, its philosophy and natural science. Vienna / Munich 1967.
  • 1976: A. Bharati: The Tantra Tradition. Freiburg 1976.
  • 1981: DN Bose, Hiralal Haldar: Tantras: Their Philosophy and Occult Secrets. 3rd, expanded edition. KLM Private, Calcutta 1981.
  • 2008: Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson, Michael York (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Routledge, London 2008.
  • 1998: Georg Feuerstein : The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 (original The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. 1998).
  • 1963: Jan Gonda : The Religions of India; 2. Younger Hinduism. In: Christel Matthias Schröder (ed.): The religions of mankind. Volume 12, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1963.
  • 1995: Herbert V. Guenther : Tantra as a view of life. Econ, Düsseldorf 1995, ISBN 3-612-27983-1 .
  • 1990: David Kinsley: Indian Goddesses. Female deities in Hinduism. Insel, Frankfurt 1990, ISBN 3-458-16118-X .
  • 1990: André Van Lysebeth : Tantra for people of today. Mosaik, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-570-03549-2 .
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  • 2017: Daniel Odier: Tantra Yoga: Vijnana Bhairava Tantra - the path to the highest knowledge. Theseus, Bielefeld 2017, ISBN 978-3-95883-166-7 .
  • 2006: Joachim Reinelt: The great Kundalini book. Kundalini experiences. Aquamarine, Grafing 2006, ISBN 3-89427-315-1 .
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  • 2003: David Gordon White: Kiss of the Yogini: 'Tantric Sex' in its South Asian Contexts. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003, ISBN 978-0-22689-484-3 .

Web links

Commons : Tantra  - collection of images and media files
  • Dagyab Kyabgön Rinpoche: Tantra. In: Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Own website, undated, accessed on December 25, 2018.
  • Undine Weltsch, Jens Grünewald: The Mahanirvana Tantra (bond with great redemption). In: Pushpak - the holy chariot. Own website, undated, accessed on December 25, 2018 (German translation of an Indian Tantra script).

Individual evidence

  1. Personal note: The Sanskrit word "Tantra" has its origins in the field of craftsmanship, more precisely from weaving . When weaving, a distinction is made between warp and weft threads . At the beginning of the weaving work, the warp threads are tightly stretched as longitudinal threads over the loom , while the weft threads are shot in as transverse threads with a shuttle . Both together then result in a firm tissue. The word "Tantra" originally referred to the warp threads; the term was metaphorically adopted as a name for the esoteric teachings.
  2. Georg Feuerstein : The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , p. 532.
  3. Helmut Poller: What is Buddhist Tantra. Mastering text excerpt for the work Buddhist Tantra . Retrieved on October 3, 2018 helmutpoller.eu
  4. Helmut Poller: Tantra, Neo-Tantra and the synthesis on helmutpoller.eu, Vienna 2013, pp. 1–10, accessed on October 3, 2018 helmutpoller.eu
  5. Georg Feuerstein: The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , p. 532.
  6. Helmut Poller: Tantra, Neo-Tantra and the synthesis on: helmutpoller.eu , Vienna 2013, pp. 1–10.
  7. Georg Feuerstein: The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , p. 533.
  8. Helmut Poller: What is Buddhist Tantra? on helmutpoller.eu, Vienna 2013, pp. 1–7, accessed on October 3, 2018 helmutpoller.eu
  9. Helmut Poller: What is Buddhist Tantra? on helmutpoller.eu, Vienna 2013, pp. 1–7, accessed on October 3, 2018 helmutpoller.eu
  10. Silvio Wirth: History. Directions of tantra. www.tantra-tradition.de, accessed on October 4, 2018 [1]
  11. Monika Tworuschka, Udo Tworuschka: The world of religions: history, beliefs, present. Wissenmedia Verlag, Gütersloh / Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-5771-4521-3 , p. 66.
  12. Georg Feuerstein : The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , p. 126.
  13. Full paragraph: Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson, Michael York (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Routledge, London 2008, pp. 854 ff.
  14. Full paragraph: Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson, Michael York (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Routledge, London 2008, pp. 850/851.
  15. Silvio Wirth: Directions of Tantra www.tantra-tradition.de [2]
  16. Hugh Urban: Unleashing the Beast. Aleister Crowley, Tantra, and Sex Magic in Late Victorian England. In: Esoterica. 5, 2003, pp. 150-160, here pp. ???.