What is Tantrism?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Tantrism, also commonly known as Tantra or Tantricism, is a collective term for various esoteric rituals and traditions that are found in a number of eastern religions. Literally translated from Sanskrit as “weave,” Tantra is understood to address the reality of continuity in the universe. Such faiths as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Bonpo all have some strains of Tantrism present among their followers. This means that Tantrism should not be considered a separate faith, but rather a combination of beliefs and practices that are capable of co-existing with the tenets of several major Eastern religions.

A tantric healing meditation may incorporate breathing exercises and personal mantras.
A tantric healing meditation may incorporate breathing exercises and personal mantras.

Strictly speaking, the use of the word “Tantrism” to identify the collective components of these esoteric traditions is an invention of the West. Part of the need for this type of linguistic construct is the difference between the way Western thought and Eastern thought tend to identify and relate to various issues and practices of faith and belief. By attempting to place Tantric practices into an independent category, it is somewhat easier for persons with a Western mindset to grasp the essentials of the varied practices and rituals that are part of the overall Tantric tradition.

Tantrism is an important aspect of Buddhist spiritual practice.
Tantrism is an important aspect of Buddhist spiritual practice.

Essentially, Tantrism may involve just about any ritual, rite, or practice that is said to incorporate four basic characteristics. First, the ritual will be more or less consistent in the use and function. Second, energy work is understood to be taking place. Third, the use of the every day or mundane is used to gain access to the greater realm of reality. Last, any practice included in Tantrism will be used to identify the microcosm that is found within the macrocosm, as it relates to the Ultimate Reality.

While the rituals and practices that can rightly be identified as Tantric in nature vary greatly, they all do seem to share three basic components. The use of a mantra is very common in many Eastern religions, and may be used to invoke specific deities or to connect with the inner self. Along with invoking deities, Tantrism will also focus on identifying with deities. Within this application, the practitioner is understood to seek to become one with the deity, in effect being at one with the essence of the deity invoked. Last, Tantrism will often involve some sort of sacred and secret ritual that will make use of ordinary elements to represent some greater form of universal energy, such as food being used as a symbol for renewal.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@ddljohn - A lot of people are quick to dismiss anything they don't understand, or that conflicts with their own practices, as black magic or otherwise "evil". I would at least like learn about something before I rushed to judgment about it. There's plenty of time to rush to judgment later if you still want to do so.

And I don't see why using tantra to enhance sexuality would be bad. Even people who are strictly religious can have sex with a spouse, right? So why not get closer within the relationship?


The only time you hear of Tantra in mainstream society is in a movie, usually as the punchline of some kind of weird sex joke. I can think of a bunch of movies with some kind of Tantric story like, like Go and American Pie 2, for example. It is usually made out to be a wonderful thing, which makes you wonder why more people don't do it.

I suppose it takes years of practice and discipline before you would get the benefits out of it, which would mean most people with their short attention span would quit before they learned what they needed to know.


I have always heard of Tantrism being associated with either sexuality, or yoga and meditation, and often both of them together. I had no idea it was an entire spiritual discipline.

That would make sense, as there is definitely a spiritual aspect to meditation, and often to yoga too, although it is not mandatory. And being in control of your body and mind, and also very toned and flexible, would naturally lead to a healthy sex life, so I guess it all goes together after all.


Tantrism has to be one of the most misunderstood spiritual traditions ever. Because of a few eccentric practices, people think that tantrism is about black magic or something.

For me, tantrism is about meditation, yoga and devotion that helps bring me closer spiritual liberation. It's also a great way to become more conscious, more aware of the universe and it's unity. I think tantrism is an indispensable part of Buddhism. You can't achieve liberation and peace without practicing tantra.

Even though it is vital, so many religions ignore this practice because there are many rumors about what it really is. I think it's very unfortunate. I really hope that there will be a new movement for tantrism that will educate people about it.


@simran-- I'm not too sure about early Christians and tantrism but I think it's possible because early Christianity was somewhat influenced by the traditions and beliefs in the Orient.

About spirits, voodoo and different sexual practices, I know that there are some cult-like religious groups that practice some of this, but it's in no way a general characteristic of the major religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

For example, I read about the Aghoris once, which is a sect in India. They say to be adherents of tantrism and engage in some really unordinary practices like cannibalism, tantric sex, and drug and alcohol use. But because of these practices, they are shunned by Hindus who also practice tantrism.

So I think that these practices are not really a part of tantrism. They are really uncommon and shunned.


I heard from my friend that some early Christians also practiced tantrism. Is this true? If so, how did tantrism fit into Christianity?

Every religion, including Christianity has certain rituals. So as far as rituals and connecting with the divine goes, I can see how tantrism could be incorporated into various religions. But I thought that tantrism also has to do with spirits, voodoo and even sexuality. So I am really surprised to hear that the early Christians might have practiced tantrism as well.

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