The act of breaking taboos is the definitive feature of left-hand Tantra. While the breaking of sexual taboos is perhaps the most recognized of tantric practices, it is not considered generally beneficial. All tantras state that there are specific levels of preparation required for breaking taboos. Tantras practiced by inadequately prepared individuals are considered harmful rather than beneficial to the practitioner. The normal state of human preparation is referred to as pasu-bhava (animal disposition). A person in the state of pasu-bhava is one who regularly eats meat and indulges in intoxication. They are considered dishonest, promiscuous, greedy and violent. A fundamental requirement of all tantras is the initial transcendence beyond this base state.
Tantras prescribe a strict regimen of penance, meditation, sensory control, cleansing the self of negative thoughts and seeking truth and justice before an individual can hope to transcend from her or his natural state. An individual who successfully practices these tasks may eventually take a vow of viravrata (a hero's vow) to be of vira-bhava (heroic disposition). The demarcation vira is potentially transient as it is considered a state of being free of desires.
In the Kaula and Vamachara schools of tantra the pañca makara (5 M's) ritually/sacramentally broken in order to free the practitioner from binding convention are:
- madya (wine)
- mamsa (meat)
- matsya (fish)
- mudra (parched grain)
- maithuna (sex)
The "sacramental" or ritual breaking was only for the vira practitioner, not the divya or pasu. The pasu would misunderstand and get caught up in the literal act while the divya will have already progressed beyond and not need the literal act to understand the inner meaning.
There also exist tantric schools that substitute innocuous items for the taboo substances and acts, claiming that literal interpretations of the pañca makara miss the inner truth of the rite.