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Tantra is a religious practice within Buddhism and Hinduism but, as a religious tradition, Tantra is both older and newer than either of them.

Commonly, Tantra is known as a mysterious combination of secret wisdom and exotic sexual practices. It is these things, but it is also more.

The roots of Tantra can be found in the ancient writings of Panini, a Sanskrit grammarian and scholar who lived in the 6th or the 5th century BCE, as well as in the work of Patanjali, a 2nd century scholar whose writings influenced the development of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is older than that, however.

Although it isn't known how old Tantra is, its origins predate any written records. Archaeologists have uncovered 20,000-year-old Tantric cave art in France.

Because Tantra is older than Buddhism, Jainism, and older than any variety of Hinduism, these religions have absorbed elements of the tradition into their own religious streams. In the process, the Tantric practices are transformed, so Tantra, as practiced in Buddhism, is different than in Hinduism, and Jaina Tantra is so different from the other forms that it's hardly recognizable, but it's there.

However far back Tantra might go, the modern Tantra movement began around 800 CE and is found today in Assam, Bengal, Kashmir, and parts of southern India.

Historically, Tantra has been divided into two branches. These are Tantra of the Right Hand (daksinacara) and Tantra of the Left Hand (vamamarga).

Tantra of the Right Hand is mostly symbolic and includes mantras, yantras, and mandalas. In a sense, it is imaginary. Tantra of the Left Hand is for a special few, exploring things that are forbidden by orthodox tradition. For this reason, many Brahmins will accept Tantra of the Right Hand as orthodox, while considering Tantra of the Left Hand as impure and impermissible. On the other hand, some Tantrists of the Left Hand don't consider Right Handed Tantra to be Tantra at all. Although practiced within Buddhism and Hinduism, it is considered to be unorthodox.

In a simple sense, Tantra is a form of yoga, although traditional believers view it with loathing, although it fascinates them. Tantra is not confined to doctrine, embodying that which is dreaded by Hindus and despised by Buddhists.

A significant concept in Tantra is paravritti, which means to turn back around, to turn upside down, or to turn inside out. Tantra celebrates what others fear, and embraces what they hate. Some find it liberating, while others view it as dangerous.

Pure Tantra has also been outside of tradition in India because it has always opened its doors to women and to those of low caste, even welcoming them as gurus.

Tantra celebrates sexuality. A central tenet is bhoga, or pleasure. These facts account for its popularity among many, as well as the opposition that it has received from others. Most religions encourage the suppression of pleasure, while practitioners of Tantra believe that it can be harnessed for higher ends.

Tantra encourages practitioners to use pleasure to attain the highest goal, which is to attain unity with the divine. Hinduism accepts the same premise but uses different methods.

Tantra differs from orthodox Buddhism or Hinduism in other significant ways. As an example, it supports the worship of a deity for selfish ends, such as to attain wealth. It has its own body of scripture, which contradicts some traditional positions.

There are hundreds of schools of Tantra, each using different texts, and some Tantrists dismiss the importance of any scripture at all, arguing that studying under a skillful guru is of more value. In Tantra, action is more important than words.

Tantric scriptures are not far out of line with the Vedic literature, although their emphasis and focus are different, they take a strong stand against the elitism of the Brahmin. The Tantric texts cover a wide variety of topics, mostly focused on spiritual topics, and not of a sexual nature.

In the West, particularly in modern times, Tantrism is better known for esoteric eroticism and ritualized sex in the name of religion. However, while sexuality has always been a part of Tantric practices, extreme forms of sexual ritualism is absent from most Hindu and Buddhist Tantric texts and is entirely absent from Jain Tantric texts.

Although Tantrism is not actually a religion in its own right, it predates the religions that it is a part of, and has its own scripture, practices, and identity. For the purposes of categorization, we will include it here as an Eastern religion.

Topics related to Tantra, whether Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain, as well as Western forms of Tantra, are appropriate for this category. Sites covering other aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism, should be listed in those categories instead.



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