Tantra Illuminated - Great Introduction to Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism

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The book 'Tantra Illuminated - The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition by Christopher D Wallis" is by far the best introduction to Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism that I have come across so far, in English.  The title is a bit misleading, because it does not state clearly that the emphasis of the book is on Shaivism rather than Tantra in general.  The book does provide ample generic introduction to Tantra, its history and practices, but the primary focus is on Shaivism and Kashmir Shaivism in particular.


Some of the advantages of the books as I see them are, it communicates using very simple terms, that beginners can pick up without having any prior knowledge or familiarity with the technical terms used in Tantra and Shaivism.  The author is knowledgeable and proficient in communicating even the complex ideas with some really good examples.  Many other celebrated books in Kashmir Shaivism like 'Siva Sutras', 'The Triadic Heart of Siva', The Doctrine of Vibration or 'The Secret Supreme' can be intimidating to a beginner who is unfamiliar with the terms and concepts generally used in Kashmir Shaivism.  Instead of trying to learn, many might give up after reading few chapters painfully in any of the books mentioned above.  Not to discount any one of them, they are all clearly masterful works in explaining the higher concepts and truth of the Kashmir Shaivism philosophy.  But their sophistication and use of higher terminologies right from the start would more than likely drive away the casual reader trying to understand what Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism is all about.


In my opinion, a bridge is needed to cross over to those higher works.  This book acts exactly as that in my opinion.  First a person needs to learn to stay afloat in water, before going on to learn some advanced techniques and participating in competitions.  I  read some critical reviews of Wallis's books by some other experts or author's in Kashmir Shaivism in Amazon.  They go on to point out some of the differences between Wallis's definition and that of others like Swami Lakshmanjoo, with respect to 'awareness/consciousness', etc, in few places.  Even such critics have appreciated the effort by the author to put together the concepts in such simplistic way in this book.  My answer to such criticism is, the author may perhaps be wrong about some of the higher concepts, assuming this is even true, it is fine by me, and this book is still by far the best introduction to Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism in English is my opinion.


In order to learn swimming, one does not need an instructor who is the best, understands the highest concepts or won olympic swimming medals.  Such people who may be the best swimmers may not necessarily be the best teachers or the people best suited to explain the basic concepts.  They may write wonderful books about the higher techniques and nuances of swimming, a beginner who reads these might get overwhelmed and give up on wanting to learn swimming.  I would rather go with a teacher, who uses appropriate techniques and tools and helps the beginners to understand and learn to swim.  This book in my view is doing exactly this, teaching the concepts of Tantra to those that are beginners and not familiar with the topic.  In this way, the claim this book makes in the 'Preface' stating it is an unique undertaking and first of it's kind to explain Tantra to the general audience, has some validity in my opinion (I would qualify that with 'General audience in English').  This also does not mean someone who is familiar with Tantra may not benefit from the book.  The book does cover some complicated aspects of various philosophies such as advaita, monism, paradvaita, etc.



Tantra Illuminated - The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition by Christopher D Wallis


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