Vamachara

Vamachara

Vāmācāra (pronounced: vāmāchāra) is a Sanskrit term that holds the semantic field of "left-handed attainment" and is synonymous with "Left-Hand Path" or "Left-path (Sanskrit: "Vāmamārga"). Vāmācāra is a technical lexical item used to describe particular tantric practices that are considered heterodox according to usual Hindu social norms. The term Dakshinachara (Right-Hand Path) is used to refer to Tantric sects that do not engage in these heterodox practices.

Nomenclature and etymology

N. N. Bhattacharyya explains the Sanskrit technical term "IAST|ācāra" as follows:

"Ācāra". The means of spiritual attainment which varies from person to person according to competence.... "Ācāras" are generally of seven kinds -- Veda, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Dakṣiṇa, Vāma, Siddhāṇta, and Kaula, falling into two broad categories -- Dakṣiṇa and Vāma. Interpretations vary regarding the nature and grouping of the "ācāras". It is generally held that those who participate in the rituals of Five Ms belong to the category of Vāmācāra." [Bhattacharyya (1999) pp. 368-69.]

"IAST|Vāma" means "left" [Macdonell, A. A. (1996) p. 277.] and "IAST|Dakṣiṇa" mans "right". [Macdonell, A. A. (1996) p. 115.] For this reason, the term Vāmācāra is often translated "Left-hand practice". An alternate etymology is that it is possible that the first word of the expression Vāmācāra is not "vāma" or "left", but "vāmā" or "woman". N. N. Bhattacharyya notes that a main feature of the Tantras is respect for the status of women as a representation of Shakti, and that if this was the original conception underlying Vāmācāra the opposing term Dakṣiṇācara may have been a later development. [Bhattacharyya (1999) p. 113.]

An alternate term "Vāmamārga" ("Left Path") is also used [Bhattacharyya (1999) pp. 81, 447.] . In this compound the ambiguity between "vāma" and "vāmā" is not present because the final "-a" in Vāmamārga is clearly short.

Practices

The "Brahma Yamala", a Tantric text, says there are three currents of tradition (dakshina, vama, and madhyama) characterized respectively by the predominance of each of the three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas). According to this text, dakshina is characterized by sattva, and is pure; vama, characterized by rajas, is mixed; and madhyama, characterized by tamas, is impure. The Tantras of each class follow a particular line of spiritual practices. [Bagchi, P. C. "Evolution of the Tantras" in: Prabhananda (2000) pp. 13-14.]

Vamachara is particularly associated with the "pancha-makara" or the "Five Ms", also known as the "pancha-tattva". In literal terms they are: Madya (wine), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (cereal), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse). [Bhattacharyya (1999) pp. 294, 296-7, 423-25.]

Vamachara traditions place strict ritual limits on the use of these literal forms and warn against nonsanctioned use. Douglas Renfrew Brooks provides this quotation from the tantric scholar Bhaskararaya warning that any nonsanctioned use of intoxicants can result in disaster:

"The form of Brahman is bliss and that is established in the body. The (ritual) substances which manifest that (bliss) are drunk by the Yogis.... However if the substances when not ritually used (and so considered) impure ("apavitram") are drunk then because they actively obstruct the aims of human life, they bind one to sin (and) are not capable of inducing that (blissful) state." [Brooks (1990) p. 113. The quotation from Bhaskararaya is from "Tripurā Upaniṣadbhāsya", v. 15.]

Practioners of vamachara rituals may make symbolic substitutions for these literal things, which are not permitted in orthodox Hindu practice. [Bhattacharyya (1999) pp. 86-7.] [Brooks (1990) p. 113.] The fact that tantric practices can be done without involvement with the literal "pancha-makara" is emphasized by Swami Madhavananda:

"The Tāntrika rites can be practised in the purest form possible, without a touch of wine or sex-indulgence, and this is amply proved by the lives of numerous saints of this school." [Madhavananda, Swami. "The Tāntrika Mode of Worship" in: Prabhananda, Swami (2000), p. 5.]

ee also

*Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path
* Tantra

Notes

References

*Bhattacharya, N. N. "History of the Tantric Religion". Second Revised Edition. Manohar Publications, Delhi, 1999. ISBN 81-7304-025-7
*Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. "The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Shakta Tantrism" University of Chicago Press, 1990. ISBN 0-226-07570-2
*Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. "A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary". Munshiram Monoharlal Publishers. 1996 Edition. ISBN 81-215-0715-4
*Prabhananda, Swami. "Studies on the Tantras". The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. Second Reprint Edition, 2000. ISBN 81-85843-36-8


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