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So Where Did Real Tantra Come From?

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on July 16, 2013 | Comments (3)

As with most ancient traditions, everyone wants to claim that theirs is the oldest and that all other traditions came from them. In the Western Abrahamic religions, both Christianity and Islam arose out of Judaism. Interestingly—some claim due to the monotheistic approaches of these faiths—they all claim that their’s is the real religion and their God is the real God. Well, this is not going to be a discussion of that.

The world’s third largest religion by number of adherents is Hinduism (about 1 billion followers) after Islam (about 1.5 billion) and Christianity (about 2.1 billion). However, I have to question whether it is appropriate to call any of these a single religion. Various Christian sects (the two largest divisions being Roman Catholic and Protestant) have major doctrinal disagreement with some sects derogatorily calling others “cults.” The two major Islamic sects, Sunni and Shia, sometimes have adherents in active, all-out war with each other.

Hinduism is a bit different. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word Hindu first appeared in the 1660s (some other sources date it three centuries or more earlier). It comes from the Persian Hindu (adjective and noun) meanng “Indian,” itself coming from Hind meaning “India.” These words come from the Sanskrit sindhu meaning “river,” specifically the Indus River. Sindhu came to mean the “region of the Indus,” and this gradually extended across northern India. So originally, the term “Hindu” did not refer to the religion, it referred to the area and its inhabitants.

The more accurate name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, meaning “the eternal law,” or the “eternal way.” It more than merely a religion or faith, it is a  way of life—or more accurately, a set of ways. Thousands of years ago, travel and communication throughout India was difficult. As a result, different towns, villages, and cities had different beliefs and traditions. Sometimes, people in different locales would celebrate the same festivals on different days (India had dozens of calendars) and in different ways. They would give the same deity a different name. All of this—the different deities, the different modes of living, the different celebrations, the different forms of worship, the different philosophies—are accepted as part of Sanatana Dharma and are called Hinduism.

But within this massive distribution of various beliefs and practices, one thing does hold primacy: the source of all the beliefs comes from the ancient books collectively known as the Vedas. There are four primary collections of texts that are called the Vedas, and believers hold they are eternal. They’ve always been. This is unique, in that the Abrahamic religions tend to believe that the monotheistic deity is eternal, while in Hinduism the books are eternal. (Well, some of the deities are, too, but that’s another issue.) Buddhism developed much later, due to discontent with the sacrifices, incredibly ornate rituals, and societal control of the Hindu spiritual leaders.

According to “accepted” history, Tantra came later, anywhere from 700-1200 years after Buddhism. Certainly this is when the first specifically Tantric writing appeared, but Tantrics have always claimed that theirs is an oral tradition. It would be expected to not have writings. So when and where did Tantra really begin?

History of India

As I mentioned earlier, most Hindus believe that the Vedas are the source of their religions and practices. However, the major deities found in the Vedas include Agni (God of fire), Indra (God of war, weather, and king of the gods), Varuna (God of sky and rain), and Prajapati (Creator), dieties with few temples in India dedicated to them. They are not an important daily part of modern Hinduism. On the other hand, the traditional Tantric deities, including Ganesh, Hanuman, and especially Shiva and Shakti in her forms of Durga and Kali, are some of the most popular deities in Hinduism today, and India is literally filled with temples dedicated to them. To understand where the traditional Tantric deities come from we have to look at Indian history.

Okay, so here, in a nutshell, is what has been the accepted story of the history of India. There was an indigenous population of uncivilized, dark-skinned people known as the Dravidians. Later, a group of light-skinned people, called Aryans, came from the north, bringing civilization, spirituality, writing, and deities. This idea of the Aryan invasion of India has been popular for well over a century. In fact, one of its popularizers was Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society. And the curious thing is, this theory was invented by one man who was a linguist and not an anthropologist. His name was Max Müller. The only problem with the concept of the Aryan invasion is that there has never been any evidence to support it. There were writings by the indigenous Indians, but none from the supposed invaders who brought writing to India. There has recently been genetic evidence showing no invasion of India in many thousands of years. The idea of this Aryan invasion was popularized for religion, for racism, and for political power. A full explanation of the Aryan Invasion Myth would require a book, even though many people, within and outside of India, still cling to the myth.

So where did the Tantrics come from? As with most early cultures, people  collected around bodies of water. Running through a valley on the west of India was a river known as the Saraswati. This river dried up and the people moved east into the rest of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and China. Some moved west into Europe (they may have been the source of the Druids). During it’s high period, its cities alone had a population rivaling that of all of Egypt. They had writing (the translation of the language is still debatable) and expanded their civilization through trade, primarily over waterways, but also over land. And the images of the deities are those of the Tantric deities. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Tantra, or perhaps more accurately “proto-Tantra” developed in the Indus Valley culture, also known by the name of one of its cities, the Harappan culture.

Support From a Surprising Source

Societies do not follow the laws of thermodynamics. Rather than getting simpler, they become more complex. Added population brings added energy to oppose entropy, so societies become more complex. It would seem, then, that rather than Hinduism (and Buddhism) leading to Tantra (as another rejection of Hindu formalism), the actual derivation is just the opposite. Tantra (or rather, proto-Tantra) came first. Its simplicity evolved into the many Hindu traditions and into Buddhism. That’s why so many Tantric traditions and concepts are part of both of these traditions.

Some of you reading this may be familiar with Raphael Patai, author of the book that is very popular among many Pagans, The Hebrew Goddess. In that book he showed how the ancient Jews worshipped a goddess as well as a god until the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 c.e. In his book, The Jewish Mind, he shares the startling information that the people of early India, who did travel to the Middle East, influenced aspects of the Kabalah! By looking at Kabalistic concepts that are neither Middle-Eastern nor Grecian, we have information on the very mystical nature of the beliefs of people living in India during the times of the Harappan culture, as well as some of their practical philosophy, including the notion of the spirituality of sexuality.

So here is a new model of the source of Tantra. It came from the earliest people of India, and they went on to influence Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Judaism (and therefore Christianity and Islam). They had mystical and occult beliefs that were severed from the tradition as it evolved to form what are now considered the more mainstream beliefs found in Hinduism.

For  more information on Tantra, see my earlier post, A Book That Needs to be Written.

 

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Reader Comments

avatar
#1 
Written By Chirotus
on July 19th, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

“The only problem with the concept of the Aryan invasion is that there has never been any evidence to support it. There were writings by the indigenous Indians, but none from the supposed invaders who brought writing to India.”

I’m astonished that you would make such a grandiose claim without at least sourcing an accepted academic rebuttal of the mountains of evidence that support an Aryan migration. I’m also surprised that you would claim there are no writings from the “supposed invaders” given that the Vedas are written in a language most closely related to early Iranian.

You will need a lot more scholarship to back up your theory that Tantra predated Buddhism, and quite a bit more to suggest that it influenced early Christianity.

avatar
#2 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on July 19th, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

Thanks for your comments, Chirotus. Unfortunately, there are rafts of evidence to support the fact that the so-called Aryan invasion was a myth, and a decreasing number of supporters.

The entire thing was dreamed up by Max Müller, a linguist. The date he gives for this “invasion” was chosen by him because he was a believer in Bishop Ussher’s claim that the world was only about 6,000 years old.

As I wrote, modern genetic research has disproved the Aryan Invasion Myth completely. Here’s a summary of that information:
http://goo.gl/ID7UC , and here’s a nice explanation of the myth by David Frawley: http://goo.gl/JFL4J

As to the dates of the Harappan culture with its proto-Tantric traditions, I’d point you to http://goo.gl/G3rs0 , describing radio-metric dating revealing that the beginnings of the culture there originated as far back as 7,380 b.c.e., making the culture older than that of Egypt or Babylon.

You are correct that the earliest written versions of the Vedas are in a script that is similar to early Iranian/Persian. However that has nothing to do with the supposed Aryans who mythically came from much further north. Also, there is no trace of such writings in the areas they supposedly came from, no archeological evidence of their existence, just nothing. Further, why is there no record anywhere, including in the Vedas, of such an invasion?

avatar
#3 
Written By Luis A. Valadez
on July 19th, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

As usual, great post!

Part of the problem is that when the British went over to India when the latter was a colony, British archaeologists were astonished to find that Harappan culture was far older than the accepted Biblical timeline that was posited in British education. No self-respecting Brit could possibly believe that these “colored people” had a civilization that was far more ancient and advanced than the later ancestors of the British Isles.

Any self-respecting scholar who continues to believe in the Aryan Invasion Theory (which was the inheritance, I believe, of the earlier so-called “Kurgan Theory”) is part of a dying breed. Thankfully we can move forward and begin some serious study on Sanatana Dharma. Such studies may even help us as Western Pagans view our religion in a different light, discovering what we agree upon and making wiggle room for the variety of differences that we hold. We can at last give our spiritual kin the recognition they deserve.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
Rev. Luis A. Valadez
~Oracle~

Source: “The Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India” by G. Feuerstein, S. Kak, and D. Frawley

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