April 10, 2010

Tantra: Sex or Enlightenment?

Is this Tantra?!

What is Tantra all about? Sacred sex, or enlightenment?

After practicing and studying tantra for many years, this is what I have learned: In contrast to the great religions, which often views the body as sinful, tantra embraces the physical body as a divine temple.

The body-centered tantra can not be equated, however, with some of the popular neo-tantric courses in sex-tantra taught at weekend seminars, written about in popular books and graphically taught in DVDs.

The sophisticated wisdom path of tantra is older than both Hinduism and Buddhism and was responsible for much of the development of what we today associate with mantra meditation, the knowledge of chakras and kundalini, as well as the development of hatha yoga. Indeed, as spiritual traditions go, tantra and yoga are synonymous paths. Without tantra there would be no yoga as we now it.

Many people in the West, however, believe tantric practices simply consist of an hedonistic amalgam of massage and sexual positions lifted straight from the pages of the Kama Sutra. Yes, indeed, much of what people think is tantra in the West is coming from this popular book of love, not from the wisdom path of tantra.

But times are changing. Even the millions of readers of O: The Oprah Magazine have learned that Tantra is more than just sex. “Just like religion,” writes Aimee Lee Ball, “it’s been commercialized, and just like ads for toothpaste, it’s been overly sexualized, but there’s a great deal more to it than the physical.”

If at all tantra, these popular sexual paths represents various versions of Maethuna Sadhana, from the so-called Five M practices of tantra that were taught to induce feelings of spirituality while engaging in mundane activities such as eating, drinking and having sex.

In today’s “neo-tantric teachings” tantra has been reduced to a ritualized form of sex in which the practitioners generally confuse tantric bliss with sensual and orgasmic pleasure. Tantra, on the other hand, is about expanding our life’s inner horizon, not about narrowing it down to the level of erotica, not about equating the lust for multiple orgasms with spiritual bliss.

Real tantra is about balance. Hence, tantra, as well as its holistic medical offshoot, Ayurveda, teaches us both about the secrets of celibacy as well as spiritual sex. A celibate yogi leading a disciplined life of meditation, fasting, chanting and selfless service is thus a tantric.

Loving couples embracing sexual union with a life of spiritual practices are also walking the path of tantra. In each case, the measure of one’s awakening lies in the inner experience and outward expression of one’s spirituality.
Tantra is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. In its essence, it is about seeing and realizing the spiritual in everything we do, about becoming spiritually awakened and personally transformed.

Sensory experiences such as eating, playing, writing, and sex are relative expressions of the absolute, of Cosmic Consciousness. Since all of creation and all actions within it are ultimately Cosmic Consciousness or God, the human physical body is considered a divine temple, a place where Spirit resides.

In tantra, the sexual impulse is but one of the many-faceted expressions of kundalini or Shakti through the seven chakras. In the first chakra, bodily functions are expressed; in the second, sexual desire; in the third, the need to dominate; in the fourth, the creative impulse; in the fifth, the desire to communicate; in the sixth, the need for knowledge, and, finally, in the seventh chakra, the desire to transcend all desires.

Hence, sex and all other impulses are part of a hierarchy of needs. Through asana practice, meditation, ecstatic dance and chanting, these impulses—which are an aspect of our inner Shakti force—are directed upward, toward union between Shiva and Shakti in the ecstatic realm of Brahma.

On the physical level, the sexual urge, the libido, gives us energy and vitality. If we engage in too much sexual activity, our libido will be reduced, and we may have other unhealthy physical reactions. Also, the more sexual desires are fulfilled, the more we will want to fulfill new ones. It is a never-ending cycle.

Both on the physical and mental level, all acts also create karma, good or bad. Only by sweetening each act with spiritual ideation can we avoid the laws of physical or mental karma. Only then can we live in the world of form as healthy, free and unattached human beings.

If tantra is about sex at all, it is about embracing the act of pleasure without attachment to sensory experiences. We accomplish that through the practice of Madhuvidya, or honey knowledge. In the Madhuvidya practice, we engage with an awakened heart and offer all our actions to Brahma, to God.

In other words, without suppressing our need for physical attachment, we transform that need toward love and attachment for that which is beyond the physical body. You expand our ego’s need for attachment by opening our fragrant heart of Bhakti.

We channel our desires toward the deep waters of love, and let them merge in the ocean of bliss. Through the alchemy of Bhakti, we turn our ego inward. And we do that by envisioning and ultimately experiencing Cosmic Consciousness within the sensory world.

We do that by transforming physical attachments to spiritual attachments, from a feeling of “I need or I want you” to a feeling of “I am in love with the Divine in you.” That inward process is the alchemy of tantric love.

During sexual intercourse, we awaken in our spiritual heart the feeling that our partner is an expression of Cosmic Consciousness, of God or of Goddess. For the world of form is nothing but the cosmic play of Consciousness.

In other words, tantric sex is to feel or experience your partner and the act itself as a wave of Cosmic Divinity. Beyond technique, it is a state of being, an expression of your spiritual embrace in oneness and love. So, yes, tantra is both about sex and enlightenment. Indeed, tantra is the yoga of everything. Because in tantra, everything is sacred.

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