Question: How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment?

By sutra path, they mean following the Precepts, developing meditative concentration, and studying sutras to develop seeds, or causes, of enlightenment. ... Tantra, on the other hand, is a means to bring this future result into the present moment by realizing oneself as an enlightened being.

What are tantric practices in Buddhism?

The six groups of tantras are: Kriya, or ritual; Upayoga, which involves the convergence of the two truths and meditation on the pentad of buddhas; Yoga, which involves the evocation of the god, the identification of the self with the god, and meditation on the mandala; Mahayoga, which involves meditation on the ...

What is tantra in Tibetan Buddhism?

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is said to be no strict separation between samsara and nirvana, rather they exist in a continuum. Indeed, continuum is the main meaning of the term tantra (Tib. rgyud). It is this continuum that connects samsara and nirvana that forms the theoretical foundation for Vajrayana practice.

Why is tantra important?

In Sanskrit, the word tantra means woven together. People who practice Buddhist and Hindu meditation may also practice tantric sex as a way to “weave” the physical with the spiritual. This practice brings together spirituality and sexuality and emphasizes the importance of intimacy during a sexual experience.

Is Tantric Buddhism a type of Buddhism?

Tantric Buddhism: a further evolution of Mahayana Buddhism An offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, the origins of Tantric Buddhism can be traced to ancient Hindu and Vedic practices as well, including esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual breakthroughs.

What is vajra used for?

The vajra is the weapon of the Indian Vedic rain and thunder-deity Indra, and is used symbolically by the dharma traditions of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, often to represent firmness of spirit and spiritual power.

With the publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud concluded that all our instincts fall into one of two major categories: Eros life instincts, including sexual instincts or Thanatos death instincts. Sex and Death are undoubtedly two potent forces that drive humankind, but what if the power of these energies could be harnessed and used to produce enlightenment? This is one of the central questions, but by no means the only one, explored in Tantra: enlightenment to revolution, a major exhibition of more than 100 objects, curated by Imma Ramos and currently on show at the British Museum.

Folio from the Vajramrita Tantra Nectar of the Thunderbolt Tantrafrom Nepal, 1162. © Cambridge University Library Prior to this, the first exhibition of its kind to be held in the West — named simply Tantra — was curated by Philip Rawson 1924-1995 at the Hayward Gallery in 1971.

How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment?

At the time, Rawson was Keeper of the Oriental Museum then known as the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology at the University of Durham, where there were galleries devoted to both Tantric and Daoist art. He was also a lecturer on the undergraduate Indian Civilisation course and the author of many books on art, including two definitive volumes on Tantra.

What it describes and maps is a world of realities, a world which may only be visited by following the maps. It is there to be found; but someone who has not visited it can have no idea what it is like. For there is no way of examining it from the outside. Sculpture of Raktayamari in union with Vajravetali, Tibet, 16th-17th century. Bronze with turquoise, gold, and pigment. © The Trustees of the British Museum This is not to say that the sexual side of Tantra is underplayed in the new exhibition; on the contrary, the galleries are alive with images of entwined gods and goddesses enjoying ecstatic union.


These lovers are embodiments of the goddess of wisdom prajna and the god of compassion karunawho together can lift the Tantric practitioner, or Tantrika, above the endless cycle of rebirth. Another example of yab-yum can be seen in the 16th- to 17th-century Tibetan gilded bronze sculpture of the meditational deities, Raktayamari and Vajravetali, locked erotically together while trampling on Yama the Hindu god of death and his buffalo vahana vehicle.

These texts, both Buddhist and Hindu, are often composed in the form of conversations between the god and the goddess. While the 14th- to 15th-century Hindu tantra Yoginihridaya Heart of the Yoginiwhich consists of a dialogue between the goddess Tripurasundari and the god Bhairava, gives ritual instructions for divination. Other benefits of Tantric ritual include longevity, prosperity, political gain, defence against malevolent forces, the conquering of obstacles, and even invisibility and the power of flight.

These tantras describe in great detail the procedures which the Tantrika should follow. Mantras, power words in which each syllable embodies the nature of a deity, are chanted while, at the same time, the disciple visualises the essence of each sound. To help in this task, he or she also uses yantras or cosmic diagrams.

By all these means, the disciple hopes to merge with the cosmic form How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? the goddess. Tantras also describe transgressive acts to be performed in rituals involving taboo activities, such as exuberant sexual activity, excessive imbibing of intoxicants, the devouring of meat, and the smearing of the body with cremated human ashes — all of which are undertaken to invoke all-powerful Tantric deities.

Through visualisation, the participants in the rite identify with the god or goddess and are lifted up into a divine state of ecstatic bliss.

Thangka painting of the goddess Naro Dakini a form of VajrayoginiTibet, 18th-19th century. Ink and watercolour on cloth, with silk brocade borders. © The Trustees of the British Museum Although Tantra cuts a swathe across Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, it is not, How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? itself, a religion. It may best be described as a philosophy or even a way of life, a cult of action.

Tantra is essentially rooted in the idea that all material reality is animated by Shakti, unlimited divine feminine power, which can manifest as benign and nurturing, or terrifying and destructive.

This goddess-worship is yet another way in which Tantra challenged the status quo of Indian patriarchal society and religion. Gender is, as it were, turned on its head. As Ramos explains in her book that accompanies the exhibition: Power is central to Tantra — a power described and visualised as feminine, resulting in the centrality of goddesses within the movement and inspiring the dramatic rise of goddess worship Shaktism in medieval India.

The goddesses venerated by Tantrikas directly confronted traditional models of womanhood as passive and docile in their intertwining of violent and erotic power.

According to many Tantric texts, the veneration of goddesses should carry over into the veneration of mortal women as natural embodiments and transmitters of Shakti. This marked a dramatic departure from previous orthodox Hindu and How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? teachings regarding the status of women. In Tantra: enlightenment to revolution, the Great Goddess, who stands at the centre of this teaching, is shown in all her various manifestations illustrating her all-enveloping irresistible power.

According to Ramos, The Tantric worldview sees everything as animated by Shakti — unlimited, divine feminine power. The earliest known text to describe the idea of Shakti is the Devi Mahatnya Glory of the Goddessdated from c. It identifies Shakti with Devi or Durga, the Supreme Goddess, from whom all other goddesses emerge… Durga is a weapon-wielding, lion-riding warrior who must fight a series of demons that threaten the stability of the universe.

Famously she slays the buffalo demon, Mahisha an embodiment of ignorancewhom the gods had been unable to defeat. Sculpted panel, possibly from a lintel above a temple door, showing the Sapta-Matrikas Seven Mothers accompanied by Shiva, from Madya Pradesh, Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty, 10th century.

© The Trustees of the British Museum Durga is often assisted by other wild, bloodthirsty goddesses known collectively as the Matrikas, or the Mothers. The Seven Mothers Sapta-Matrikas are depicted with Shiva on a 10th-century sandstone temple panel also from Madya Pradesh. But among these Matrikas, three of them — Maheshvari, Vaishnavi, and Indrani — had a maternal side and are shown elsewhere holding children on their laps. This contradictory mix of benevolence and violence, beauty and horror is embodied in the Great Goddess and runs right through Tantra.

Figure of the goddess Kali striding over Shiva, probably made in Krishnanagar, Bengal, 1890s. Size: 53 x 29 x 43cm.

How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment?

© The Trustees of the British Museum By the 7th and 8th centuries, How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? Matrikas had evolved into the seductive yet deadly Yoginis, the witch-like goddesses of Tantric Hinduism.

In order to gain their magical powers, Tantrikas appeased them in nocturnal cremation grounds with ritual offerings of blood, alcohol, and sexual fluids. After seven nights, the Yoginis come — highly dangerous, with terrifying forms, impure, angry and lethal. If by mistake a practitioner of weak spirit should tremble, the Yoginis… devour him that very moment.

Later in the exhibition, a gentler side of Tantra is How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? in an 18th-century court painting showing a woman visiting two calm, fully clothed, seated female gurus, or yoginis, of the Tantric Nath order.

The Naths, who developed Tantric methods for raising kundalini female energy using hatha yoga practices, were believed to live for hundreds of years and were regarded as the guardians of esoteric alchemical knowledge.

They became famed for producing elixirs and tablets that would impart immortality, for foretelling future events, and even for transforming base metals into gold, so it is not surprising that they received royal support and patronage. Images of women as gurus and yoginis are often seen in 18th-century court paintings, and in several Tantric texts they are said to be as adept as their male counterparts.

A Mughal-style painting of a woman visiting two Nath yoginis, North India, c. © The Trustees of the British Museum Buddhist Tantrikas named these female practitioners dakinis and they soon assumed an important role in Tantric Buddhism, which flourished in eastern India from the c. Two of the most popular Tantric Buddhist deities How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment?

Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini, who are depicted in a close embrace on an 18th-century Tibetan thangka a painting on cloth. The 12-armed, blue-skinned god Chakrasamvara is locked in coitus with the red-skinned goddess. He is decked out in long chains made of human heads and grinning skulls. Together, the Tantric couple trample on the Hindu deities Bhairava and Chamunda, who are seen as obstacles to enlightenment. Ramos notes: The image is a perfectly composed yet explosive choreography of sexual energy and dynamic ferocity.

They each have a third eye, a reference to their omnipotence over all three worlds: the world of desire, which is our own world; the world of form, with its heavens; and the world of formlessness, with its liberating emptiness… Vajrayogini is an inflamed, blood-red colour, naked save for gold and bone ornaments. In her right hand she holds up a curved knife for hacking away at misplaced pride and the ego. Chakrasamvara holds up an array of symbolic objects, including an axe, trident, and noose, with which he extinguishes attachment, anger, ignorance and worldly desire… Sex and death are inextricably entwined in this danse macabre.

To represent the qualities of wisdom and compassion through images containing symbols of demonic wrath and military conquest not only evokes collapsing polarities but also highlights the belief that only the most ferocious deities can abolish the obstacles to enlightenment.

How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment?

Votive panel depicting Shiva as Maheshvara, a protector deity in Tantric Buddhism, from Dandan Oilik in Khotan, north-west China, 7th-8th century. © The Trustees of the British How is tantra related to the realization of enlightenment? In the last gallery we see more recent depictions of Tantric deities. In 1968, Mick Jagger had been the co-producer of a 40-minute experimental art film entitled Tantra: Indian Rites of Ecstasy.

In the same year, the underground magazine Oz gave away a psychedelic pull-out poster entitled Tantric Lovers — showing a yab-yum couple surrounded by stylised, almost art nouveau swirls.

By this time, Tantra was linked with anti-establishment movements calling for social, sexual, and political liberation, as well as spiritual freedom. And Tantra is still alive and well, being practised today in different parts of India.

As Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, says in his foreword to the book that accompanies the exhibition: Tantra has been the subject of great fascination for centuries. However, it has often been misunderstood, particularly in the West where it is interpreted as a hedonistic guide to sex.

This is exactly what Tantra: enlightenment to revolution sets out to do — and it succeeds.

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