Tantra may well have been a religion, or part of religious systems, in different eras and historical contexts.
In Mahayana Buddhism – that is, the original Indian Buddhism, prior to the migration to East Asia – we distinguish a period called Tantra Yana, or the ‘Wheel of Tantra’, from the VI – VII century. d. C.
We also have archaeological evidence, such as the famous temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, which demonstrate how the Tantric cults were, in medieval India, embraced by entire dynasties.
This, if by religion we mean an institutionalized form of worship, endowed with churches, priests, doctrines, etc.
Another interesting find is the so-called Mohenjo-Dharo seal, dating back over 5500 years ago. It features an emaciated figure with an erect phallus, seated in an advanced yogic contortion now known as Mulabandhasana. The animals that surround the semi-human figure and other traits clearly show its belonging to a shamanic culture, of which Tantra would be a direct emission.
Shamanism is somehow the opposite of a religion, because the middleman between the divine and the human is not a church or a caste, but the very body of the shaman; and knowledge is transmitted only in a direct form.
However, shamanism is often stigmatized as an obsolete healing system, based on suggestions and superstitions. Tantra is certainly much more than this.
When I use the word ‘Tantra’, I refer to something that has no defined historical boundaries: a set of primordial, universal, very simple but very powerful and recurrent intuitions in different cultures.
- The intuition of possessing, as human beings, a potential of knowledge and enjoyment of existence much wider than what is commonly experienced.
- The search for altered states of consciousness to activate this dormant potential.
- The recognition of sexual energy as the root of consciousness.
- The preference for the study and use of the body, the emotions and the irrational rather than reasoning and abstraction.
- Communication on symbolic planes, directed to the unconscious.
- The esoteric or initiatory character.
On closer inspection, there is a well-known religion that meets all these characteristics:
In fact, there are several claims seeing Jesus as a tantric master.
The Nazarene’s biographical curve going from early adolescence to the beginning of his preaching in Palestine is little known.
Some reconstructions want him to have spent a time as Buddhist monk in Tibet, other as a member of a Sadhu sect. One fact is that the very word ‘Nazarene’ is likely to originally refer not to a birthplace, but to having belonged to a well known Jewish sect called Naziroi, often depicted naked and conducting a lifestyle much like the Indian Naga Sadhus.
Another ascertained fact is that the Christian ritual of Holy Mass is the most tantric ritual still available on the mainstream spiritual market. Its culminating moment, the sharing of consecrated host and wine among the devotees, is without doubt the symbolic transposition of the tantric ritual par excellence – the Maithuna – in which semen and menstrual blood are mixed and collectively consumed (there is also another meaning of Maithuna, to be discussed in further articles).
I don’t know what modern priests and pious Christians think of all this today.
In the territory of the spirit, Tantra is to me like the green grass, the wild fruit, the seed of fertility; religion is the plowed and cultivated field.
Life made me an illuminist skeptic, intolerant of dogmas and institutions.
But I know there is a mystical reality, beyond the appearance of things, that is the meaning and the reason for everything and that lives within us all.