No definite date can be assigned to the beginning of tantra. It was not invented or formulated as such. Its nebulous beginnings lie in the mist of prehistory. It did not arise through the inspiration of one person, as did Buddhism, Christianity, etc. It grew slowly throughout the ages. It developed in all parts of the world. It did not follow a fixed pattern of growth, but varied according to local circumstances and the influence of different tantric sages or yogis. Often, the methods in different localities seemed to contradict each other, but this was only on a superficial level they were all a part of tantra. Tantra in India started to be moulded into a semblance of the system as we now know it when man learned the art of writing. Since that time, thousands of tantric texts have been written, many of which often contradict each other over minor points. But this is not surprising, for the attitudes of societies also change; what is suitable for one society is often unsuitable for another. Of course, the essence is the same and they all fit into the system of tantra.
The starting point of tantra is that one should be tolerant of other people’s views, for differences are generally only superficial. Seemingly opposing viewpoints generally point to the same truth. Because of this attitude of tolerance and understanding, tantra slowly encompassed and fused together various beliefs, forms of worship and techniques. The main sects of tantra will be discussed briefly: they are shaktas, shaivites and vaishnavites. They are all part of tantra. Even though they may appear to say and believe in different things, tbey really say and believe in the same thing. This diversity of thought is a noticeable characteristic of tantra. This arose because tantra opened its arms and embraced a wide range of systems, even though they seemed contrary or mutually exclusive. It did not try to eradicate seemingly antagonistic beliefs. This attitude of tolerance can only arise when a system grows naturally in an environment of openness, joy and freedom, devoid of dogma. This can only happen when a system brings the results and experiences that it promises, when it actually produces peace and contentment among its followers, when it actually makes people more aware and understanding. Dogma can only arise when people are unhappy, when they live in low states of awareness, and when through lack of experience they are both unsure of themselves and the doctrine that they follow. Tantra brings bliss and higher consciousness. It brings about that which it talks about, that which it promises. It does not talk about castles in the sky and about things that people cannot actually experience for themselves.
Tantra is a system that grew naturally with man, as he evolved (here we mean evolution in an historical sense). It was not thrust on man. It was a way of life which developed spontaneously as man moved through and lived in the various bygone eras. A system that is imposed on man causes disruption in the same way that the Eskimo mode of life would cause disruption if it was forcibly imposed on the people of India. It does not fit. Tantra, in its multitudinous forms, grew and matured with man as he adapted to new situations and adopted new ways of living. It is for this reason that tantra is both tolerant and practical – it developed naturally in response to man’s needs.