Tantra is widely said to be based on the Vedas. This is, however, very disputable for there is much evidence to suggest that the root of tantra predates the writing of the Vedas, just as it seems that tantra in other forms existed in Europe long before the writing of the Bible. This is a very nebulous subject, for we must also remember that the vedic system must also have existed long before it was put in written form. It is probably truer to say that the origin of both the vedic and tantric ways of life are lost in the depths of prehistory. It is really impossible to say which arose first.
People tend to use texts as a method of dating the origin of the tantric and vedic systems, and this is not a very realistic indicator. The oldest known tantric texts were written after the Vedas. This is clearly implied by the fact that the Vedas were written in Vedic Sanskrit, whereas the tantric scriptures were written in the later Paniniya Sanskrit of this upanishadic era. Because of this fact, historians have automatically assumed that tantra comes from the Vedas. Nearly all modern books on this subject have made this assumption, but it is not really a logical conclusion for various reasons. Firstly, it is a possibility that the oldest tantric texts have been lost (remember the tantric belief that old texts will become redundant and automatically disappear). Secondly, the date of the oldest tantric scriptures does not necessarily fix the era when tantra started to become a thriving way of life. Tantra must have existed long before it was recorded in written form, it is an evolved system, not a suddenly created system. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how tantra arose directly from the Vedas when the texts are so different.
There are many similarities also, but the differences are more noticeable. The safest thing that can be said is that both systems arose gradually at some indefinite time in the past. It is almost impossible and a little presumptuous to say that one arose from the other. There are so many facts that indicate otherwise. Of course, they influenced each other when they came in contact… sometimes negatively, other times positively.
This subject could be discussed indefinitely, but we will close the issue at this point. The important thing is that both systems have their use; they have both been abused in various ways; both have been misinterpreted and both have accumulated their cobwebs. Both systems utilized in the way that was originally intended can bring harmony in all spheres of life and eventual transcendence.
Tantra arose, not in order to renounce or to escape the world, but in order to experience the things of the world more fully, and at the same time to use the ways of the world to attain higher states of awareness. It is a spiritual system, a psychological system, a psychic system, a science of life – call it what you like. But it is a practical system that produces results and personal experience. It has grown from the experiences and understanding of wise men throughout the ages. Tantra is not a stagnant system; it is a system that adapts itself to the needs of the times. In fact, it is a tantric belief that old texts on tantra will fade away and new ones will always be written to replace them. The essence of the texts will be the same, but the expression and relationship to prevalent social conditions will be different. Tantra has changed and been developed throughout the ages. It has not remained attached to a fixed dogma. It is still growing and adapting itself in the present era and will continue to mould itself to man’s needs in the future.