Tantra is really a compendium of many other systems, for it includes and encompasses a wide selection of the different aspects of human life. It is concerned with the realms of the physical, psychic, mental and spiritual. It is concerned with work, play, devotion, thought and so many other parts of human affairs. A tantric text called the Varahi Tantra gives an elaborate description of the main subject of tantra. They are summarized as follows:
2. The creation and destruction of the physical universe (shristi and pralaya)
3. Worship of deities (devi or deva pooja)
4. Classification of beings
5. The heavenly bodies – astronomy and astrology
6. The different levels of awareness (lokas)
7. The psychic pathways and centres in the human framework (nadis and chakras)
8. Laws and duties in society
9. Sacramental rites (samskaras)
10. Consecration of forms of deities (murtis)
11. Incantation (mantras)
12. Magic circles (mandalas and yantras)
13. Symbolic and invocative gestures (mudras)
14. Spiritual practices (sadhana)
15. Worship (pooja) both internal and external
16. Consecration of houses, wells, etc.
17. Description of holy shrines
18. Magic (yogamaya sadhana)
19. Ceremonial rites and initiations (diksha)
20. Yoga – including asanas, pranayama, meditative methods, etc.
21. Medicine of many types, including ayurveda which is a herbal science combined with yogic practices
To this list we would add that tantra also included alchemy, the art of living a fruitful and blissful life, and the use of sexual energy as a means to unfold higher awareness.
Thus it can be seen that tantra includes a wide range of topics. At one time in history, it is said that there were 14,000 tantric texts in existence. Now, only a few texts remain for most of the traditional texts have been lost or destroyed.
It should be remembered that present day Hinduism is almost entirely based on tantra; it is not based completely on the Vedas as so many people think. The principal deities of the Vedas are Prajapati, Agni, Indra, Varuna, etc., and these are not an integral part of modern Hinduism. To the best of our knowledge there are almost no temples erected to these Vedic deities in present day India. Vishnu (the sustainer), Shiva (the auspicious and the dissolver), Saraswati (patron of knowledge and learning), Kali (Shakti), Durga (another aspect of Shakti), etc., are all key deities in Hinduism. Temples by the thousands upon thousands exist throughout India dedicated to these deities. And they all stem directly from tantra. Of course, very few people would accept this, for tantra has fallen into some disrepute through misunderstanding. But as far as we are concerned Hindus are unknowingly closer to tantra than they believe.
The scope of tantra is vast. It is intended to cover every aspect of man’s life from early morning to late at night, from birth till death. It is intended to make life more harmonious and blissful in every action and situation. It is for all types of people, from housewives to monks. It is a system that teaches us how to fully know and use the world we live in, as well as to tune in with higher consciousness.
Practical tantra is often summed up by three main aspects: tantra (here meaning the rules, principles and the system), mantra (the vehicle of consciousness) and mandala or yantra (the form of consciousness). This is a terse definition that probably will not convey much at first reading. But within these three aspects is included everything in the material universe. This of course is taking the fullest possible meaning of the words, but we can say that everything around us is composed of mantra and yantra. This includes each and every human being.