Fourteen years back while the author of this present volume had been engaged in studying and discussing works on different systems of Indian philosophy such as Samkhya-Yoga, Vedanta, Bauddha etc., he felt the urge for a systematic presentation of a comprehensive stream of Indian philosophy and culture called Tantras in general. This stream forms a significant part of India's tradition, culture and spiritual practices from time immemorial.
In spite of some commendable spade works on Tantras from historical point of view by Sir John Woodroffe and his foundation of Agama Anusandhana Samiti and its publications, works on Kasmira Saivism by J.C. Chatterjee, K.C. Pandey and other distinguished scholars, some works on Tamil School of Saivism called Saiva Sidihanta and outstanding contributions made by M. M. Pandit Gopinath Kaviraj, Swami Pratyagatmananda Sarasvati, Sri Aurobindo and others on Sakta view of life and spiritual practice (Sadhana), it is still the least understood, and misinterpreted system of Indian culture and thought.
It is true that Tantras are essentially Sadhana Sastras but that does not stand in the way of interpreting its fundamental concepts in a rational way. Every system of Indian philosophy such as, Samkhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisesika, Vedanta and Buddha etc. has got a distinctive spiritual side of its own but each of its speculative part is also very much developed. Hundreds of Commentaries and Critical Notes have been written on each of these schools. Why not then the Fundamental Concepts of Tantras should be made intelligible to the educated public? Philosophy that is relevant to life is always a living analysis of experience, an account of the experiential possession at every step of analysis, as much as at the natural level as at the level of Transcendence, and Tantra is exactly that II a sort of Phenomenology enlivening Reality.
The Author has, therefore, divided the present volume into two parts. Part one consists of four chapter dealing with the basic concepts of the Philosophy of Tantras; Authenticity of Tantras from traditional point of view, Ontology (Theory of Emanation/Manifestation), thread-bare analysis of consciousness from epistemic point of view, and finally Tantras as critique of experience II all these have been thoroughly discussed and compared to in an elaborate way. This part may be called Tantras in Theory.
Part two comprises five chapters each chapter analyses the practical side of the Tantras. This part may be called Tantras in Practice. In spiritual matters, there is an element of mysticism, and hence just after Tantras as Sadhana Sastras and immediately before Tantras as ways of Realization, mysticisms of the Vedas, Upanisads, Yoga, Bauddha etc. Liberation (Moksa and Mukti) is the common objective, after which excepting Carvaka, every system of Indian Philosophical deliberation aspires. Tantras have unique way of deciphering the various facets ascent and descent through vibration of consciousness as power and eventually achieving freedom. It should be noted here that the ideal of Moksa, the Vedanta professes is Kaivalya or isolation i.e. the negative approach, just as in Samkhya-Yoga. The only difference is that in Samkhya-Yoga it is isolated from Prakriti, in the Vedanta it is dissociated from Maya. The ideal of freedom in Saivagama is Sivatva-Yojana or being integrated to Siva.
Vedanta holds that the world is annuled in liberation; on the other hand Saivagama shows that the world appears to be a form of Siva-recognition in Freedom.
Finally, the author is of the opinion that fundamental tenets of Saiva-Sakta Systems are eternal and immutable and ways of practising them have a common base form the point of inner dispositions of individual seekers, Further Tantras take cognizance of the fact that spirit of the age changes because of inexorable law of motion and social dynamics, that is why considering the existing conditions of the present age, something has been hinted at the fourth chapter (Part two) called Tantras: Spirit f the Age.
In Chapter V (Part two), two lengthy dissertations on different phases of Yoga and six Bodily centres (Sat Cakras) and piercing through cakras (Cakra Bheda) have been appended. Readers interested in Yoga, Kundalini Sakti, arousing of Kundalini might draw some ideas and secrets of practising them.
If this Treatise on Tantras measures up to the quest of keen readers of the subject, the author will feel that his humble efforts for the last twelve years have been amply rewarded.
I remember some ten years back I went through some Chapters of the present work and felt overwhelmed. The author's smaller book on Tantra was not then written. I advised him to write the smaller book on Tantra was not then written. I advised him to write the smaller book first and then publish this bigger volume so that readers, having some preliminary ideas of Tantra, might not get lost in the bigger volume.
There is rarely a volume on Tantra with separate long chapters on Tantra ontology, Tantra epistemology, Tantra as Sadhana-Sastra (i.e. Tantra in the context of actual practice) and Tantra as the way of Realization, and rarely a volume with each such chapter dealing with different school of Tantra. Two other long chapters of the volume are historical and pedagogic I mean the first chapter entitled 'Tantras Historical Retrospect' and Chapter IV (Part I) entitled 'Tantras: Spirit of the Age'. Chapter V (Part 2) consists of very interesting and illuminating appendices on various types and aspects of Yoga, like Patanjala Yoga, Kundalini-laya Yoga, some forms of integral yoga and a most difficult and yet interesting form of this last, viz. Akhandamahayoga. There is also a highly interesting and thought-provoking appendix on Satcakras and the piercing of the Cakras as a way Realization. I have never come across such a voluminous, intelligible and illuminating work in English on the various schools of Saiva and Sakta Tantras.
The author is already well known. His smaller book on Tantra and another on Sri Ramakrishna have shown beyond doubt his scholarship in and genuine grasp of not only different Saiva (including Sakta) disciplines (as much including theoretical as practical aspects) but also the six classical Hindu Systems of Philosophy and the broad tendencies of Buddhism>
That our author could, in the present volume, present such a wonderfully comprehensive and comparative study regarding a so little known Hindu Sastra, viz. Tantra, is traceable to another aspect of his life, viz, that he has practised, and has been practising, Tantra for so many years of his life. He is therefore the fittest person to distinguish Tantra proper from spurious forms it usually passes under.
A very interesting feature of the present volume is his account Part one, of almost all the different schools of Tantra I mean, of Saivism and Saktism. The account is as much historical as Philosophical, and necessarily comparative too. Our author's wide scholarship and authentic grasp of Ideas is most evident in this Part of the volume. There is perhaps no other book on Tantra or Saivism where the ontologies of so many different schools and the list, apparently, is exhaustive of Saivism, Saktism have been studied to thoroughly vis-à-vis one another. And he has not missed a single tattva or any important aspect of any of the tattvas.
I remember when I first went through Chapter III (Part one) of this volume, in its two sections, on Tantra epistemology and that was a leas a decade back I took it as gratuitous and a weakness on the part of the author just to be in line with modern authors of philosophical treatises. Epistemology is often a fashionable must for modern authors of philosophical treatises. Certainly, in many cases it is absolutely necessary, but often too it acts no more than as a status symbol, much as it has been the case with the presentation of philosophy, in more modern days, in the language of symbolic logic. But on a second study of this Chapter III certainly recast now in a much healthier form the epistemological topics appear all as organic to the whole Tantra philosophy, not simply because they connect the tattvas with one another, hierarchically or coplanarly, but also and that is a valuable thing in the present days because our author, in course of developing Tantra epistemology, has connected Tantrika speculation with the philosophies of Kant, Sri Aurobindo and K. C. Bhattacharya. He has very correctly traced out the Saiva-Sakta elements in these and other modern-day thinkers. Not that all of them read and were under the conscious influence of Saivism, but, certainly, quite much of their thinking was in the Saiva line, so much so that a study of these modern thinkers is sure to help readers in understanding Saivism and Saktism.
Chapter II (Part two) of the volume is concerned exclusively with the mysticism of Tantra and the mystic ways or steps to, or in, it. Indian mysticism is nothing that is unapproachable by thought and/or worldly experience. It is step by step ascent, i.e. purification of immediate experience, starting with sensuous experience that is immediate and ending with a highest type of spiritual experience which too is equally immediate. Indian Sadhana-Sastra is a thorough account of all the steps, showing how each leads to the next and ultimately to the highest that is absolute. If thought (logic) comes in, it is for intellectual clarification, persuading others and defending ourselves.
Chapter III (Part two) dealing with anavopaya, saktopaya, sambhavopaya and anupaya, classifies spiritual Sadhana itself into four groups in the line of increasing excellence of the means pursued, anava dealing with the grossest rites and rituals, anupaya with immediate, undoubted transcendental reflection and the Intermediate two half transcendental experience aided by thought (logic) and other psychological approaches.
Chapter V (Part two), constituting the appendices, are, as I have already said, highly interesting, throwing light on many confusing notions of Yoga, explaining the different types of Yoga in clear perspectives vis-à-vis one another.
Chapter I (Part one) & IV (Part two) 'Historical Retrospect' and 'Tantras: Spirit of the Age' are, of their very nature and in spite of all arguments and evidences collected, tentative, and remain so perhaps to the end. That is the sad fate of all study that is sheer history. History is a subject from which there is no escape, and, certainly, to a good extent is a rational study. But the room for speculation here is much wider than anywhere else. The speculation here is not certainly wild but, quite certainly too, it is always ahead of factual and rational justification. So I prefer not to say anything on this Chapter except that as evidence our author has often collected startling 'facts'. As for Chapter IV (Part two) it is decidedly a penetrating study of the present age and contains for reaching suggestions worth paying serious attention to.
From the Jacket:
Tantra, perhaps more than any other, is the least understood and often erroneously practiced discipline. Rarely has there been an authentic and comprehensive study of the subject, especially in English. This book is an attempt to fulfil this late professor Kalidas Bhattacharyya says "I have never come across such a voluminous, intelligible and illuminating work in English on the various schools of Saiva and Sakta Tantra."
The volume is divided into two parts. Part one consists of four chapters dealing with the basic concepts of the philosophy of Tantras. Authenticity of Tantras from traditional point of view, ontology (Theory of Emanation/Manifestation), thread-bare analysis of consciousness from epistemic point of view, and finally Tantras as critique of experience - all these have been thoroughly discussed and compared to in an elaborate way. This part may be called Tantras in Theory.
Part two comprises five chapters - each chapter analyses the practical side of the Tantras. This part may be called Tantras in Practice. In spiritual matters, there is an element of mysticisms, and hence just after Tantra as Sadhan Sastras, of Tantras has been discussed together with mysticism of the Veda, Upanisadas, Yoga, Buddha etc. Liberation (Moksa or mukti) is the common objective, after excepting Carvaka, aspires. Tantras have unique way of deciphering the various faces of ascent and descent through vibration of consciousness as power and eventually achieving freedom.
Further, Tantras take cognizance of the fact that spirit of the age change because of inexorable law of motion and social of dynamics, that is why considering the existing conditions of the present age, something has been hinted at the Fourth Chapter (Part two) called Tantras: Spirit of the Age.
In Chapter V (Part two), two lengthy dissertations on different phase of yoga and six bodily centers (Sat Cakras) appended. Readers interested in Yoga, Kundalini Sakti, arousing of Kundalini might draw some ideas and secrets of practicing them.
About The Author:
Sri Manoranjan Basu, the author of this voluminous work, is not only a scholar of great attainments but also a researcher and sadhaka of no mean stature. Soon after completing his academic career he devoted himself to research studies. He was associated first with the post-graduate research department of Government Sanskrit College, Calcutta, and in course of time with different Universities and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla. All through his research work he was in close collaboration with late Professor Kalidas Bhattacharyya, formerly Director, Advanced Centre of Philosophy, and Professor-Emeritus, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan.
The results of his deep, wide and scholarly studies have been published in some very well known treatises. Among them are Gita Vahini; Tantras-A General Study; Ramkrishnas Spiritual practices- A Study; Ramkrishna Sadhan Parikarma (in Bangali) and Paschatya Darsaner Itihas-Kant and Hegel (in Bangali). He has, in addition, contributed to such works of Philosophy as Pracya O Paschatya Darsaner Itihas (History of Philosophy - Eastern-Western, 2 Volumes) and Bharat Kosh (Enclyclospaedia of India, Volumes 3 & 4). His published papers, to mention only a few, are Pratyabhijna and K. C. Bhattracharyya; Spiritual Aspects of the life of Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj, (Published by the Univrsity of Calcutta); Sri Aurobindo - a New Type of thinker; Karl Marx's Vision of an Ideal Society; Tantras in the Social Perspective (Visva-Bharati); Bharatiyata Bodh (Commemoration Volume of Jaya-sree, a Bengali Journal); Indian Spiritualism and National Integration - Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda (presented sophy of Swami Vivekananda (Presented at the All India Seminar held at Visva Bharati, Santinketan); and introduction to Hegelian Philosophy (Hegeliya Darsan by Anil Roy in Bengali, Jayasree Prakashan, Calcutta). Through these publications he has established himself as a great scholar and thinker and a consummate exponent of Indian philosophy.
His smaller book on Tantra, and another on Shri Ramakrishna have shown beyond doubt hs scholarship in and genuine grasp of not only different Saiva (including Sakta) disciplines - in theory as well as in practice - but also the six classical Hindu systems of Philosophy, and the broad tendencies of Buddhism.
To those who know Sri Manoranjan Basu personally, he is undeniably an idealist. An optimist as he is, he does not give up in despair, nor does he allow other to do so. He is outspoken in expressing his sense of disgust and frustration with the current state of this going on throughout the world. But what are happening today, according to his reading, are nothing but steps towards the ushering in of something higher and nobler in the near future.
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