V?m?c?ra (pronounced: v?m?ch?ra) is a Sanskrit term that holds the semantic field of "left-handed attainment" and is synonymous with "Left-Hand Path" or "Left-path (Sanskrit: V?mam?rga). V?m?c?ra 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.
N. N. Bhattacharyya explains the Sanskrit technical term '''' as follows:
"?c?ra. The means of spiritual attainment which varies from person to person according to competence.... ?c?ras are generally of seven kinds -- Veda, Vai??ava, ?aiva, Dak?i?a, V?ma, Siddh??ta, and Kaula, falling into two broad categories -- Dak?i?a and V?ma. Interpretations vary regarding the nature and grouping of the ?c?ras. It is generally held that those who participate in the rituals of Five Ms belong to the category of V?m?c?ra."
' means "left" and ' mans "right". For this reason, the term V?m?c?ra is often translated "Left-hand practice". An alternate etymology is that it is possible that the first word of the expression V?m?c?ra is not v?ma or "left", but v?m? 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 V?m?c?ra the opposing term Dak?i??cara may have been a later development.
An alternate term V?mam?rga ("Left Path") is also used. In this compound the ambiguity between v?ma and v?m? is not present because the final "-a" in V?mam?rga is clearly short.
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.
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).
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."
Practioners of vamachara rituals may make symbolic substitutions for these literal things, which are not permitted in orthodox Hindu practice. The fact that tantric practices can be done without involvement with the literal pancha-makara is emphasized by Swami Madhavananda:
"The T?ntrika 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."
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