Ancient texts named “tantras” are dated by scientists to some period around 600 CE which was after such texts as Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata. From all hindu texts the Vedas are most ancient, their composition is dated 1500 BCE i.e. more than 2000 years before composition of tantric texts.
Tradition of Bhairava also existed in the Vedic time. All vedic deities were also tantric deities, manifestations of Bhairava, the God who is our Terrifyingly-Blissful Essence.
If you are interested to learn more about the manifestation of Bhairava in the form of vedic deities, read the section Bhairava and Vedas.
After Vedas ones of the first spiritual texts were Upanishads. Upanishads give priority to the concept of Atman. The word Atman is translated from Sanskrit as “essence of a living being”, including “essence of a man”. One of main ideas of Upanishads was to direct the person’s mind to investigate who is this person and what is the person’s essence. Then Upanishads help to understand that the essence of the living being is Creator, not the creator to whom it appears that he created the world in the past, but the Creator who each moment creates the world from scratch including all his “so called memories”.
In more ancient texts – Puranas and Mahabharata a lot of stories are described from the life of different people and deities. These stories help very much to understand who you are. If you are lazy to read them you can watch Indian series many of which are translated into English such as Mahabharata, God of gods Mahadev (devon ke dev mahadev) – however accept them not as religious instructions but rather as some kind of play of consciousness, as some expression of divine nature. Watch them not by your mind but by your intuition.
Next big and main section is Tantric texts. It is they who describe practices actively leading to the revelation of divine nature.
There are hundreds of texts called tantras. Here only some of them will be mentioned.
Texts of early tantra teach the practitioner how to contact goddesses appearing from the radiance of Bhairava or to contact yoginis, i.e. female magic beings who are manifestations of these goddesses. (See Bhairava and Vedas for archetype of yogini and tantric mothers) During such contact the goddess or the yogini can grant the practitioner some knowledge, abilities, skills or power. Such tantras are e.g. Malinivijaya tantra, Siddhayogeshvarimata and Brahmayamala tantra.
Some tantras are about magic and medical treatment, e.g. Damara Tantra.
Some tantras tell us how the Teacher should properly perform and initiation to create most favorable situation for disciple to grasp the essence, e.g. first parts of Svacchanda Tantra.
Many tantras are about spiritual practice of self-transformation where the success depends not only on the teacher but also on the practitioner. Such tantras are Netra tantra, second part of Svacchanda Tantra about description of human energy body, and most known tantra Vijnanabhairava tantra.
It is not a lot known about gurus of those times and also about authors of tantras, who received a revelation and wrote it down in the form of tantric text. One of such gurus associated with tantric texts is believed to be Durvasa rishi and his ancestors. Rishi is translated from Sanskrit as Sage through whom the divine knowledge is translated.
One of tantric schools was called Trika. It later gave rise to Kashmir Shaivism school which also belongs to the tradition of Bhairava.
Here are main Guru and texts of Kashmir Shaivism:
Vasugupra wrote famous text Shiva-Sutra – about how divine energies manifest themselves in the form of human psyche and life.
Vasugupta or his disciple Bhatta Kallata (or they together) wrote Spanda-Karika where it is described how the base quiver of divine consciousness acts in different levels.
Somananda wrote Shivadrishti, the treatise about how to reveal Shiva-Bhairava in your own consciousness and be not trapped by incomplete knowledge.
Utpaladeva, disciple of Somananda, wrote Ishvara-pratyabhijna, the treatise about recognition of yourself being the God.
Abhinavagupta, disciple of Utpaladeva, wrote many works, biggest of which is Tantraloka, Light of Tantra. This treatise clarifies obscure moments in texts of tantras and giving structural knowledge which helps to understand tantric texts.
Some people learning tantra from Tantraloka make a mistake thinking that Tantraloka is self-sufficient tantric tutorial, because the text is very large. This approach is wrong. Even author himself clearly and unambiguously informed that this work is for filling the gaps which appeared from learning tantras. Tantraloka of Abhinavagupta in no way should substitute the learning of tantras themselves and it is not a self-sufficient tutorial.
Followers of Abhinavagupta wrote a commentary on Tantraloka.
If you want to find out more about the practice in the tradition of Bhairava, read the section Tantric Practice.
If you are interested in learning texts of the Tradition of Bhairava, contact us.