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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.

 

 
 
  ARTICLE
 

Is Tantra the Yoga of Sex?

If you want to have great sex, go for it! But don't confuse sex with Tantra.

 

 

By SHRI ACHARYA ABHIDHYANANANDA AVADHUTA

 

The following article is reproduced with permission from the website of Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc.


AS YOU CAN PROBABLY imagine, we receive many inquiries about books, tapes, seminars, etc. on the subject that I sarcastically call 'new age tantra.' Occasionally, I review such materials for the sheer irritation value of it, hoping to find some depth. Rarely do I find anything even to get my feet wet. Rarely do I recommend 'this genre' to anyone interested in a serious study of tantra. Mostly such workshops, books, videos, and tapes misrepresent the authentic tantric tradition, which is well established through several well respected lineages. Such materials are usually very far from genuine tantra in spirit (most importantly), in form, or in content. As a rule, they constitute cleverly disguised digressions on sex and marriage therapy or are musings on the theme of Kama Sutra -- a medieval Indian treatise on human sexuality.

It is unfortunate that tantra has become another casualty of our plastic culture that loves the common denominator, that trivializes everything, and that strives to delude us with grandiose ideas of perpetual youth and pain-free life. Let us not allow ourselves to become sullen, silent, and guilt-ridden perpetrators of triviality. Let us not allow the rich and profound tantric tradition to be watered down and ignored through distortion.

A serious student of tantra should know that the main point of tantra is contained in the very meaning of the term tantra: tan means expansion and tra connotes liberation. Thus, tantra always refers to liberation through expansion -- breaking through personal barriers and courageously going forward toward the Divine Bliss both as an individual and as a society. Ultimately, tantra is the path of the spiritual warrior (shambhala/avadhuta) that encourages us to fight unceasingly against limited or prejudiced thinking, against inner and outer enemies of genuineness, truth and the Divine Plan, against shallowness. In particular, tantra inspires and teaches us to seek Ananda -- the Divine Bliss -- as opposed to being caught in the cage of merely looking for pleasure and avoiding pain.

It is true that tantra encourages savoring life to its fullest, with its pleasure and pain, beauty and ugliness, living and dying. It is true that tantra teaches us how to go beyond, how to reach the union of these opposites and how to transcend them. It is true that many images used in tantric philosophies and practices to represent these opposites appear to be obviously erotic. However, one should not interpret these images out of context, merely based on the first visual impression.

At its very core, tantra is founded on the philosophical notion that one Living Divinity (Brahma) separates Itself into Him (Shiva) and Her (Shakti), into the Creator and the Creatrix, into Cognitive and Operative Principles of the Universe. Everything: God, Truth, Divine Love is viewed as having two aspects: male and female, now and then, here and there, self and other-than-self. The continuous relationship between these opposites generates appearances of energy and matter. Our continuous ego-driven (Shakti-inspired) interference with our life's mission (i.e., the Divine Plan for us) sustains the separation of these opposites. Thus, we are caught in the Play (Lila) of energy and mass by holding onto ever-unresolved, infinitely complicated relationships between the opposites created by the Divine Order Itself for our edification and imprisonment in the world of perceived self and other-than-self.

As a system of practice that aims to resolve and go beyond these opposites, tantra naturally endeavors to address the most obvious example of Shiva and Shakti engaged in eternal play: the attraction and relationship between the sexes. In a heterosexual situation, the man embodies a bit more of Cognitive Principle (Male/Shiva) than a woman, while the woman embodies a bit more of Operative Principle (Female/Shakti) than a man. Tantric techniques help an individual to balance these two principles within and, thus, to reach a state that equally embodies Shiva and Shakti, Male and Female, Anima and Animus.

Generally such evolution, such development, such training is accomplished in several very specific steps. The crude tantric teachings (i.e., tantric dos and don'ts) are used to prepare a person for the more subtle tantric teachings (yoga). Subsequently, the yoga system is engaged to calm the tug-of-war game of opposites, to learn to handle this game well and eventually to go beyond such dualistic mode of being through a form of Abhidhyan (non-dualistic) yoga practice. Typically, a well-balanced tantra yoga training would include developing a solid moral foundation, a daily practice of asanas (yoga postures), mental exercises of concentration and meditation as well as certain advanced rituals of appeasing the deities (puja/japa yoga) and serving your guru/teacher (guru yoga) and his ashram (karma yoga). Since the tantra yoga system of practice is based on the tantra yoga philosophical system, such training would necessarily include learning the theoretical side of tantra from a reputable source.

Regular and sincere efforts at yoga practice ensure that a sadhaka will gradually move away from animality (pashu) and eventually proceed to the stage of skilled warrior (viira). A viira (brave individual) is a person who has gained control over the six enemies and eight fetters. The six enemies are physical longing (ka'ma), anger (krodha), avarice (lobha), vanity (mada), blind fascination (moha), and jealously (ma'tsarya). The eight fetters (bondages) are hatred (ghrn'a), apprehension (shaunka), fear (bhaya), shyness (lajja'), hypocrisy (jugupsa'), pride of ancestry (kula), vanity of culture (shiila), egotism (mana). There is a certain advanced initiation into a tantric (not a yoga) practice (kapalika diiks'a) that dramatically accelerates gaining control over six enemies and eight fetters and reaching the brave stage of spiritual development. Such initiation is available to anyone who has reached a certain degree of expertise in our tantra yoga meditation system.

Sexual rituals constitute a miniscule part of tantra. Such practices are undertaken only if they are absolutely necessary for a disciple's further spiritual development and only after he or she has become an unquestioned expert in laya yoga (yoga of dissolution), i.e., he or she has become a viira (see previous paragraph). To attempt a practice of sexual tantra before the successful completion of proper preparatory training is pretty much like studying higher mathematics without first being trained in arithmetic! The presence of such desire betrays the student's ignorance, impatience, and confusion of pleasure seeking with reaching out to Divine Bliss.

It is not possible for a novice to practice sexual tantra rituals even if he or she tries because the beginner has by definition no experiential foundation on which to base such practice. The beginner can surely go through the motions: like children who imitate 'peculiar' motions they observed in their parents' bedroom. Trust me, though, such 'tantric' union yields no spiritual babies.

At this point let me also warn the reader: if practiced prematurely, sexual rituals can potentially undo years of efforts at yoga practice. Tantric gurus know that a practitioner's mind must be established first in Cosmic Consciousness (viira stage, i.e., control of six enemies and eight fetters), then he or she can experiment with anything. For this reason spiritual masters are known to test their disciples severely before they impart such sexual practices, for both the teacher and the student must be certain that the student is ready for the practices.

Present-day announcements from the proponents of phony 'new age tantra' usually cater to particular groups of people. Who is usually attracted to the so-called 'sexual yoga'? 1) People who need basic sex education, 2) People who desire to go beyond (resolve) their adolescent emotions/notions regarding sex, 3) People who want uninhibited sex packaged as a spiritual practice, 4) People who are ashamed of or are out-of-touch with their sexuality, 5) People who are trying to reconcile their strong and unrestrained sex drive with their spiritual longing. All but the last of these groups are confusing personal fulfillment with spiritual growth. That is why 'sex tantra' seminars are necessarily populated by people who are in need of emotional growth and who confuse psychology which seeks to improve their personality in relation to its functions in the world with spirituality (such as genuine tantra) which seeks to free the eternal human soul (atman) from the bondages of the world. A person would qualify for a genuine tantric initiation (tantrikii diiks'a) only after this confusion has been adequately addressed. This is important because the practice of tantra yoga can commence only after an aspirant has procured a tantric initiation from a qualified teacher.

A rational attitude to inquiry requires that we check the sources and references of any information that is being presented to us—be it a book, a tape, a person. How did the author acquire his or her knowledge? How many years did he or she practice and what are the results of such practice? I have not yet found one book, etc. on 'new age tantra' that references authentic tantric scriptures, teachers and practices. The authors of such books usually have not studied with a genuine tantric master but had a limited course of study with a sex therapist masquerading as a 'sex-tantrik.' (I think I may have invented this term. I love it and demand credit for it!) This state of affairs is unfortunate considering that the genuine information is widely available.

Don't get me wrong. 'New age' tantra may actually be helpful. Such sex and marriage therapy can be really healing. 'Sexual tantra' may free people of inappropriate shame of sex, educate them about sex, enhance their enjoyment of sexual life. If you want to have great sex -- go for it! Have fun, have pleasure! But act responsibly and do not call it tantra -- for the whole point of all tantra training is gaining freedom through attainment of spiritual Divine Bliss (A'nanda) that is beyond physical pleasures and pains of sex. Living in A'nanda is a permanent happy state while an orgasm is an intermittent, temporary pleasure.

As a postscript to this commentary, here is what Georg Feuerstein who is, in my opinion, the foremost yoga scholar living today emailed me a few days ago in answer to my inquiry about the sexual content of tantric scriptures and about his opinion of 'new age tantra': "Here are my thoughts on the subject of sexual Tantra in a nutshell: As far as I can tell, right-hand or conventional (samaya) Tantras generally don't deal with sex. Extant left-hand Tantras apparently are confined to a single text—the Vamakeshvari. The in-between Tantras of the Kaula tradition do mention sexual practices. But nowhere is ananda (bliss) confused with sukha (pleasure), as seems to be the case with what a Gelugpa lama once jokingly called 'California Tantra'. That's the crucial point as far as I am concerned. Even in the left-hand and Kaula texts, sex is simply one of the components, and none of the scriptures equate Tantra with sex. Thank God!"

Georg Feuerstein's book on tantra will be published by Shambhala in April 1998. [It was published; see below. --Ed.] He is hoping that it will provide some sort of corrective to the ridiculous versions of tantra promoted nowadays in the West.


Article, photograph, and trademark copyright 1991-2000 Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.



Shri Acharya Abhidhyanananda Avadhuta (also known as Rev. Fr. Anatole Ruslanov) completed full monastic training in India under the direction of one of the great spiritual masters of this century, Shri Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (Shri Shri Anandamurti), and is a lineage holder of a Tantric Yoga tradition. In 1991 he founded Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc. For a longer biography of him, see this page.



 RELATED READING ON THIS SITE

 


Tantra
Our main reference page on Tantra. Overview, book recommendations, and many links to articles and sites.

 

 RELATED READING ON OTHER SITES 

 

 

  Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc.
A non-profit American organization offering training in Tantric Yoga founded in 1991 by Shri Acharya Abhidhyanananda Avadhuta (Rev. Fr. Anatole Ruslanov). The site has some excellent articles including practical advice for beginners. There's a nice how-to article on insight meditation.

 

 RELATED MAIL LISTS   

 


Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc.

 

 BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE  

 


 

TANTRA: THE PATH OF ECSTASY
By Georg Feuerstein

A lucid, well-rounded overview of the Hindu Tantric tradition for general readers by a leading Western yoga scholar.

Buy it from Amazon

 


This page was published on Realization.org on May 9, 2000.


Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.