This series of articles on Sacred Tantra has addressed the history, evolution, and philosophy of this spiritual path and included references to the value of practices, especially giving attention to the breath and to meditation. I have spoken about the commonality of Tantra and Buddhism and their shared focus on learning to live in the present and embrace each moment without attachment or aversion to what is present.
Past articles have focused on Tantra's emphasis on learning to quiet the mind, expand the capacity of the heart, cultivate a higher frequency of energy, and develop a sacred attitude and clear intention. In the midst of all this philosophy and spiritual overview you may have found yourself wondering, "I thought Tantra is about sex," and "When is he going to get to the part about Tantric sex?" It would not be surprising if such questions arose since Tantra in the West has been primarily and most frequently represented as Tantric SEX, the path to sexual prowess and the best sex and best orgasms ever, and the set of skills guaranteed to enable you to send your lover into ecstasy every time!
Given that spin, I would not be surprised if some readers have been waiting to get to the "juicy" part. So how do sex and sensuality fit into the path of authentic Sacred Tantra? Perhaps another important and related question might be, which is the major context and which is the sub context, sex or spirituality? In other words, in true Tantra is the sacred, heightened sex the primary goal that will offer secondary spiritual benefits? Or is spiritual transformation the primary focus to which a tantrica is committed?
I believe that the authentic Sacred Tantra approach empowers you to utilize your sexual energy, passion, and sensuality to ecstatically elevate your personal spiritual journey, as well as your shared relationship experiences. Your sexual energy is meant to be in service of your spiritual path, not the other way around. This is consistent with the way that Tantra was originally taught by the masters, and it still works wonders today!
So what do I mean by "in service of"? Quite simply, this infers that the sacred sexual practices of ancient Tantra were among the tools and methods used to support the tantrica's journey of spiritual transformation.
The sexual and sensual practices were not an end unto themselves, and the teachings and teachers cautioned against being seduced by the pleasure and warned of the possibility of getting stuck in the sensuality and sexuality. The teachers guided students of Tantra in how to use the heightened states of sexual pleasure as spiritual fuel to expand beyond the sensual realm into higher consciousness and finer energy for spiritual purposes.
How, then, were the sexual practices taught in the ancient Tantric mystery schools, and how does that differ from the teaching of sexual Tantra today? In the ancient Tantric training there were experienced teachers who were "in the stream" of a living lineage of awakened masters. These masters, and the teachers under them, held a high degree of clarity about the pitfalls along the spiritual path and the necessary steps to take to keep progressing towards liberation from fear-based consciousness.
Generally, especially in the schools of Tantra influenced by Buddhism and Kriya Yoga, students were first taught how to quiet and focus their minds, expand their heart's capacity, raise their vibration to resonate with the masters' wisdom, and hold primarily sacred thoughts before they were given sexual practices and a consort to practice with. This way they could first cultivate and then bring a more pure level of energy and consciousness into the sexual practices, and the resulting intimacy was likely to be sacred, very high, and powerfully transformational. Raising sexual energy and moving it skillfully was one way to enhance the inner alchemy. It also set the tone to act as a dramatic microcosm of how to merge into the Oneness - a way to practice and learn how it feels to merge ecstatically in spiritual orgasm with all of life, the revered state called "Mahamudra." In our modern Western culture, and particularly in America, Tantra has been presented in the reverse order with the primary emphasis being given to the sacred sexual practices, and often little or no mention of the more evolved spiritual transformational aspects. In fact, most people that believe they know what Tantra is only know of the sacred sexuality and sensuality aspects, and aren't at all aware (or often even interested) in the primary spiritual orientation and teachings.
I believe that there are several reasons for this. The main reason, perhaps, is that our American culture is very focused on sex (especially in the media) and yet is very confused and uneasy with sex, and therefore has a compelling need for sexual healing. Because of this focus and this need for healing, the public is very interested in the sexual aspects of Tantra. Therefore, for the teachers of Tantra, "sex sells!" In addition, it is my observation that most American teachers of Tantra have very little training or background in the deeper spiritual themes of authentic Tantra, and, as is so often the case in life, they "don't know what they don't know."
Thus in the teaching of Sacred Sexuality practices people will reach high states of arousal, and for some, their hearts will expand, their minds might temporarily quiet, they will experience high energy, and perhaps, if they are lucky, they might open to a spiritual insight. This can be a very beautiful awakening, and for some, can lead to a fresh and enthusiastic interest in learning more about higher spiritual consciousness. For others it will simply be a great moment to remember, or, at best, an insight to work with for a while in terms of personal or relationship growth and healing.
For many, however, the mind never truly quiets, and though there are high states of arousal and pleasure, there remain subtle ego driven agendas and desires for personal gratification. Without the meditative training and spiritual context, the ego can remain in charge of experiences of "better sex." This I have seen repeatedly, and because it is subtle, from the outside it can still look quite beautiful and loving - even most teachers of Westernized Tantra (and especially sexualized "pop Tantra") cannot tell the difference nor recognize the agendas of the ego, much less know how to assist the students in navigating such inner territory. Much deeper and more profound levels of intimacy can be achieved once one knows how to skillfully track the mind in order to release expectations, agendas, and selfishness so as to shift from "what's in it for me?" to "what am I experiencing and how can I serve?"
Nevertheless (and on the brighter side!) it is, ironically, the very highly visible presence of sexuality in the Westernized Tantra that is attracting many people to Tantra that would otherwise probably never have taken notice of the spiritual traditions. Hopefully, by virtue of their exposure first to the Sacred Sexuality, many of them will eventually find interest in the deeper spiritual orientations of authentic Tantra. With or without the more profound training, Tantra can still help heal the past and free a person from old disappointments, offer tools for connecting deeply with others, inspire one to live each moment in a more conscious optimistic way, and shift vibration to magnetize more love and more miracles!
Whether approaching Tantra from the sexual or the spiritual ends of the spectrum, we can begin to tap into a wealth of information, practices and inspiration to explore, deepen and learn about our natural sexuality and how it integrates with our natural spiritual essence. This integration is the beginning of the inner alchemy that the ancient Tantric masters refer to; it can take your ability to love and be loved to the highest level, thus offering the possibility of experiencing more joy in life and deepening the connection with Source.
If practiced regularly the skills of Sacred Sexuality and the practices of Sacred Tantra will make life richer and enhance the ability to bring one's depth of being to the surface, for more self love and confidence, and for more loving, harmonious relationships. As we all know, most of the pain and suffering in our lives comes from difficulties with relationships and from a lack of love.
How ironic that few of us have had much, if any, intelligent and sensitive training in the most important relationship skills, including communication, healthy boundaries, agreements, harmonizing energies, loving sensuality, sexual practices, staying present and lovingly attentive, and honoring the goodness and spiritual presence in each other. But the good news is that it's not too late! If learned and practiced in a safe, respectful, loving environment the teachings can provide valuable ways to fill this lack and offer a lasting remedy - a huge elevation in one's ability to create and sustain loving relationships!
If you wish to have much more than fleeting pleasure, consider training and practicing a spiritual and sacred approach to Tantra - the rewards of inner peace, joy and fulfillment can be extraordinary. While most other approaches make sexuality and lovemaking the primary focus, Sacred Tantra goes much further in assisting students in creating lasting happiness for themselves and their loved ones. Originally Tantra was a path for becoming a healing presence and a master of relationship - with yourself and with all living things, and all situations. Therefore, skills such as becoming a great lover and being able to create blissful lovemaking experiences were seen as bonus benefits and steps on the way to having a life of abundance of love and personal spiritual liberation. Ultimately, to align with the level at which one consciously experiences the Universe making love, the rapture of the Oneness of Divine Love, is the ecstatic transformation of true Tantra. In doing so, one becomes a cup that consciously overflows in service to a divine plan for evolution and happiness for all.
I end with a quote from the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (translated by Glenn Mullen) "The Bodhisattva is like the mightiest of warriors; but his enemies are not common foes of flesh and bone. His fight is with the inner delusions, the afflictions of self-cherishing and ego grasping. Those most terrible of demons that catch living beings in the snare of confusion and cause them forever to wander in pain, frustration and sorrow. His mission is to harm ignorance and delusion, never living beings. These he looks upon with kindness, patience and empathy. Cherishing them like a mother cherishes her only child, he is the real hero, calmly facing any hardship in order to bring peace, happiness and liberation to the world."
It is my honor to share with you what I have learned and come to deeply believe.