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Tantra Today

Tantra in the West

It should be pointed out that in Tantra the goal is to achieve a nirvana like state of transcendence.  The great tantric scholar Sir John Woodruffe ("Arthur Avalon") mentions somewhere (I don't remember exactly where, maybe in his The Serpent Power) that the body of yogi who raises the kundalini becomes in samadhi cold & corpse like - expect for a bit of warmth at the top of his head.  The idea I think is that consciousness breaks through the opening at the top of the head (the Brahma-randha) & returns to the Godhead. (laya-yoga - yoga of absorption [in the bliss of Godhead])

This austere and world-transcending approach of genuine (traditional) Tantra could not be more removed from the feel-good spice up your love life with a bit of "mysticism" attitude of the contemporary popular New Age -derived lifestyle "tantra"!

Granted there are also tantric schools that seek occult transformation rather than transcendence, but they are little known (and usually denegrated as "left hand path" - a term that is given many misleading meanings, especially in the West).

So-called western tantra stems mainly from individiduals like Rajneesh (Osho) and Muktananda, who were more concerned with presenting a  nice digestable watered down teaching that would (& did!) gain them a  huge following of disillusioned Westerners.  Rajneesh's teaching in particular is a  teaching that appeals to the spiritually lazy.  I am not trying to impunge the honour of these two men, just point out where they stand vis a vis the genuine Indian tradition.  We actually see a similiar phenomenon at the moment, where Kabbalah is being presented in a watered down form to pop stars & movie stars like Madonna. But then perhaps any teaching is better than no teaching.....????

Still, all things evolve to fit their circumstances.  Tantra too, if it is to survive, likewise has to adapt to the new fast fast fast superficial world of the West.

Traditional Tantra in the West

With the exception of Vajrayana, there is very little Traditional Tantra around in the West today.  The austerity and discipline that Traditional Tantra requires make it very difficult, if not impossible, for someone living in the modern present-day world to practice.  The only form of Traditional Tantra that has vitality is Vajrayana, and that is doing very well in the West, due to the great commitment western converts to Buddhism make.

Links - traditional Links

Hermetic/Occult Tantra

In view of the extraordinary parallels between the Western Magickal tradition (contemporary Hermeticism) and Traditional Tantra, it is no surprise that these two great spiritual currents have mingled - more on the Hermetic than the Tantric side.  As far back as the end of the 19th century, German occultists were incorporating traditional Shakta tantra into their systems of magick.  From this fusion came the original OTO.  In England meanwhile Aleister Crowley was experimenting along similiar lines with sex magick.  Early in this century Crowley joined the OTO, and was eventually appointed head.  The result was a split between the original (non-themite) OTO and the Crowleyite OTO.  The latter became the standard OTO, and one of the largest occult/magickal organisations in the world today.  Although Shaktism does not figure as large as Kabbalah in the underpinning of theoretical Hermeticism and OTO csomology, the figure of Kali, the Shakta goddess, remains an important influence.

Thanks to the influence of Crowley and his successors, Heremtic Tantra looks like continuing as a small but viable esoteric current (even if it is not an actual tradition) in the West for a long time to come.

Pop Tantra

What I call "pop tantra" is based laregly on the teachings of Osho Rajneesh, Muktananda (Siddha Yoga), and others who have presented an accessable watered down version of Traditional Tantra  for the superficial and hedonistic Western individual.  Pop Tantra lacks depth and commitment.  It is a hedonistic add-on and form of spiritual masturbation, rather than a yogic path of genuine transformation..  Ultimately, Pop Tantra is the adaptation of the Tantric stream of conscciousness to the West.  Pop Tantra has already had it's day.  It was big in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  It has now been absorbed into Lifestyle and New Age Tantra.

New Age Tantra

New Age Tantra incorporates Tantra along with all the other streams and currents of esotericism, holistic healing, intuitive consciousness, and so on that consititutes the New Age movement.  Tantra, both in it's Traditional (for theoretical understanding) and Pop (for practical application) form is one more element in the extraordinary amalgam that is the New Age.  New Age tantra finds association between the polarity of Shiva and Shakti and other cosmic forces; between the chakras and colours, crystals, musical notes, etc; between Kundalini and earth forces like the Rainbow Serpent of Australian Aboriginal mythology, between prana and mantars and the energy used in healing - Reiki and so on.

Lifestyle Tantra

What I call Lifestyle Tantra is another adaptation of Pop tantra (with elements of New Age and Traditional).  Basically it applies Pop Tantra to issues of loving relationships, which is very big at the moment.  Tantra is used as an aid to enhance sexuality and intimacy between couples.  The attitude taken is generally a very responsible and grounded one.  There is no real emphasis on spirituality or self-transformation.

links Links

Hindu Tantra Today

by anon.

In the West, there has been very little exposure to Hindu Tantra from traditional lineages. While some groups provide good instruction about some tradition within Tantra, sects with unbroken lineages tend to remained unknown outside the Indian subcontinent. Despite this, Hindu Tantra does exist quite plentifully and in many circles has been undergoing a relative revival (though it is also declining in other places). I will try to give an overview of some kinds of Shaiva and Shakta Tantra that exist today.

1) South Indian Sri Vidya A lot of Hindu Tantric practice today is found in South India. While practices related to all ten Mahavidyas are preserved in South India, by far the most strongly maintained tradition is Sri Vidya, which identifies the Supreme Goddess with Tripurasundari. There are several different traditions of worship which have often grown into distinct sects. One distinction that is commonly made is between Kaula and Samaya. Kaula practice is generally characterized by emphasis on worship centres on the body, possibility of using the panchamakara 1, and a strong emphasis on practicing with radically non-dual view. Samaya practioners focus more on internal meditative practices and fire rituals - though non-controversial external rituals are also very widely practiced. According to most historians, the Samaya as a seperate tradition started with Lakshmidhara, who extracted some portions of existing traditions and rejected others. Thus, the Samaya tradition is more widely accepted by orthodox South Indians and there is a very strong tradition of its practice in the Shankaracharya centres in Sringeri and Kanchi. Most practioners in the Sri Vidya tradition (Samaya and Kaula) tend to be married householders, often with a family tradition of practice.

A fairly-well known teacher with a proper lineage is external link Amritananda Natha Saraswati.

A lot of the great authors of Sri Vidya were in the classical Shankara Mutts and these hold an unbroken lineage going back a long time. They tend to believe strongly in caste by birth, though I'm not sure if they have such restrictions on Sri Vidya (it might be just on Vedic/Vedantic practices). Because of such reasons, this tradition has not come out in the west. There are some great discourses by the late Paramacharya of Kanchi on the Saundarya Lahari which show a great knowledge of Tantra (and he obviously does not reveal initiatory secrets).

Link to discourses (these are very good and he also explains the difference between Shaiva/Shakta and Vedanta philosophies, though with a Vedantic bias of course)

2) Kashmiri Shakta/Kaul Tradition. Shakta Tantric lineages are also maintained in Kashmir. These focus primarily on initiations and practices related to forms of Bhagavati. This is another important tradition though it is weakening for a variety of reasons, especially because of the difficult political circumstances faced by the Kashmiri Pandits 2. However, the Kashmiri Pandits (who are the name given to the whole ethnic group as well as to actual Pandits) do have a long tradition of this kind of practice. Of course this has not come out in the west either.

You can check one of the many Kashmiri Pandit websites for what information is available. This is a good article that deals with Tantra in Kashmir, in particular to the Kaul tradition with a lot of references to other traditions (including Trika) external link here .

3) Bengali Shakta Tradition. The Bengali traditions are another important centre of Hindu Tantra, both clasically and today. This tradition is largely preserved by Bengali Pandits (not an ethnic group). A lot of Shakta Tantra in these areas focuses on practices relating to Kali and often includes panchamakara and cremation ground practices as possible tools. I do not know how well the Bengali traditions are doing today, but they are certainly not extinguished. Sir John Woodroofe's books are most strongly influenced and informed by Bengali Tantrics. Gopinath Kaviraj was also part of this tradition though his teachings were more broad.

4) Natha Tantra. Another important traditions is that of the Nathas who trace their lineage to Gorakhnath. There are a very large number of adherents (over 500,000) of this sect, but many of them are not practioners 3. There is no doubt that there are very old Natha lineages today (in many places all the names back to Gorakhnath are recited and there doesn't seem particular reason to doubt authenticity). This tradition is particularly known for their expertise and practice of Kundalini/Hatha Yoga, and there are several groups that practice Natha Hatha Yoga (meaning classical Kundalini Yoga) properly, but in general they are only for Sadhus. They are found in several parts of North India as well as in Nepal.

One of these traditions that I happen to know of is that of Nepali Yogi (now passed away), Yogi Naraharinath. There is external link a picture of him here, but he has been misnamed.

More generally however, the Nathas practice Hatha Yoga which is not an extremely initiatory tradition and there are people teaching Hatha Yoga techniques in detail, one of the biggest and well-known that would qualify as serious would be Satyananda Yoga. There are also other good places and there is actually some scope for practicing along the lines of this tradition in the west.

5) Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Shaivism has been popularized in the West by Muktananda and Siddha Yoga, but there is also a traditional lineage. One of the well-known 20th century sages of this tradition was Swami Lakshmanjoo. The tradition is doing quite well now largely due to the work of the highly respected and regarded Acharya, Rameshwar Jha, one of the most eminent disciples of Lakshmanjoo. Many of his disciples are very knowledgeable and said to be highly realized.

6) Other traditions. It is important to note that while I mentioned several specifically identified traditions there are a lot of streams that exist here or there; this is in fact the way most of Hindu Tantra is available even now. It doesn't mean they are unauthentic or anything but they simply are not well-known outside some circles. Even Nisargadatta Maharaj had a Navnath lineage going back several generations and there are a lot of other lineages like that. One such tradition that I know of with a presence in the internet is an Aghora tradition going back to the 16th century, and which external link has a small presence in the US

Another tradition that goes back several generations is that of Swami Gangadhar Tirth, a shaktipat tradition though not strictly Tantric in philosophy. One of the main disciples of Swami Shivom Tirth resides, a well-known teacher of this tradition lives in New York and this is a very serious tradition too. Another teacher in this tradition, though through Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha (whoose book Yoga Vani, I'm informed, was found very useful by the Swami Muktananda in his practice) is external link Swami Sadashiva Tirth, who is also in New York

Kurt Keutzer has external link a good page on this lineage

Keep in mind that there are surely countless traditions; the above is just a general idea of the landscape.


1 Or "five M's" - madya (liquor), mamsa (meat) and matsya (fish), mudra (parched grain), and maithuna (sexual intercourse); elements traditionally forbidden in Hindu society but incorporated here into yogic practoice; an example of antinomianism. There is also antinomian tendencies in the the Sabbatian and Frankist movements in Judaism, and in other religions as well. - MAK. Until a few generations ago there were some very transgressive manifestations in some parts of South India. Most other Tantra is very tame, which doesn't make it worse of course. back

2 See also Journey to Earth's Dawning, including information on Goddess worship and the Kashmiri adept, Bhagawan Gopinath Ji (written from an esoteric /New Age perspective) - MAK back

3 A lot of them don't really practice yoga but rather are mostly into smoking Marijuana or just going on pilgrimage and so on. This is absolutely not their fault since most of these people becoming Sadhus for purely economical reasons, not a good reason as far as spirituality is concerned but completely understandable otherwise. back

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content by M.Alan Kazlev (Tantra in the West) and Anonymous (Hindu Tantra Today)
page uploaded 25 February 1999, last modified 16 April 2007