Q: If these manuscripts have been sitting around for centuries, why hasn’t this been done yet?
A: Before they are cataloged, large manuscript collections are useless to scholars. Picture thousands of dusty bundles, unlabeled and crumbling, of widely varying quality and significance—it takes significant government funding and labor to sort through it all so that it can be used. The large collection in Kathmandu, Nepal, was the first to be organized in this way, triggering the first wave of advanced Tantric Studies, which has been ongoing in Europe since about 1985. The huge collection of Sanskrit manuscripts—many of which are Tantric texts—belonging to the ORL library of Shrinagar has only recently been sufficiently organized, cataloged, and made available to the public. As noted above, the ORL recently announced that over 6,000 of its Sanskrit manuscripts have been digitally scanned and can be purchased by visitors in DVD format. This reduces the tremendous amount of labor required to painstakingly photograph one manuscript page at a time, although considerable time will be needed to peruse the scans in person.
Q: Why do we need more manuscripts of texts that are already available?
A: Most of the Tantric texts which comprise the tradition of non-dual Kashmiri Shaivism were composed between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D. But the vast majority of Tantric texts which survive today are many generations removed from the original and contain errors and deviations introduced though centuries of manual copying by scribes. These deviations include the purposeful omission of whole passages, the insertion of passages not original to the source text, the alteration or replacement of original words and phrases, the omission of a line of verse during the laborious task of copying a manuscript, and misspelling of words.
It is nearly impossible to identify scribal errors and deviations present in a single copy of a Sanskrit text without comparing it with others. As a result, translations drawn from a single source tend to be riddled with scribal errors and therefore render teachings out of context, making the translation confusing and difficult to read. Unfortunately, most Tantric texts currently known to us are in the form of a single surviving manuscript copy, or an edition formed from a small number of manuscripts which usually includes just one fully intact (undamaged) copy and only fragments of others.
Thus there is an vital need to attain as many surviving copies of a given text that can be found, so that scholars may compare and contrast them with each other—line for line, word for word—in order to get as close to the original as possible. This process is known asTextual Criticism. With a number of manuscripts representing a single text at his or her disposal, the textual critic is thus able to identify and remove obvious scribal errors and alterations present in the Sanskrit of the surviving versions. The end result is called a ‘Critical Edition,’ a final version of the text edited from all surviving manuscripts which most accurately represents the Sanskrit of the original. A translation rendered from a Critical Edition brings the voice of the author to life far more accurately then one made from a single source that has not been properly edited.
Therefore by helping us to gather as many copies of these treasured works as possible, you are directly contributing to our goal: to provide translations of these spiritual classics that are clear, comprehensible, and immediately powerful in their impact.
Q: How many Tantric texts survive, and how many of these have been provided in translation?
A: For the tradition of Tantric Shaivism, the numbers break down something like this (all are approximate):
- Number of original Tantric texts which survive in manuscript form: 500
- Number of surviving manuscripts versions of these 500 texts: 20,000
- Sanskrit editions of the 500 original Tantric texts published but plagued with errors:
- 120 out of 500
- Sanskrit editions of the 500 original Tantric texts published in reliable editions: 10 out of 500
- Number of original Tantric texts published in English translations: 6 out of 500
- Number of English translations that are both totally accurate and readable: Less than 6
Q. What is truly valuable about the Tantric Tradition?
- Life-Affirming Approach. The non-dual Tantra of Kashmir was the first to present existence in the world as a wholly positive experience, for it viewed the physical universe as a vibrational expression (Shakti) of Divine Consciousness (Shiva).
- The Body as a Divine Vessel. Tantra was thus the first to present the body as a sacred microcosm of the Divine, consisting of a detailed subtle body system of chakras andnadis.
- The Revolutionary Innovation of Tantric Yoga. Tantra re-defined the classical ‘limbs’ of yoga and integrated these into a cohesive, powerful system of subtle body practices, presenting them in a precise, step-by-step sequence (vinyāsa), the regular performance of which was uniquely guaranteed to result in spiritual liberation within one’s current lifetime.
- The Tantric Roots of Modern Yoga. Nearly all of the subtle body material and practices adopted from Sanskrit sources by modern schools of Yoga have been drawn from ‘Hatha Yoga’ manuals — post-Tantric texts that categorically list Tantric Yoga practices, but omit the step-by-step sequences (krama-vinyāsa) presented for them in the original Tantric sources that are critical to the proper performance of this Yoga.
- Inclusion of Women, all classes of society. Tantra was the first tradition which initiated women and all social classes, and was the first to include women gurus.