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.
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.
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.