Long article: 10 min read.
Spiritual Tantra vs. Sexual (Neo) Tantra
This article has been published to try and help clear up the confusion regarding tantra. The word tantra is currently used in two contexts, but only one is applicable when looking at the roots of tantra in Vedic philosophy and its application to spirituality.
Sexual (Neo) Tantra including Tantric (Erotic) Massage
Sexual (Neo) Tantra was “invented” by Osho and Margot Anand, as well as some other new-age believers. It is a combination of Western psychology and new-age ideas about spirituality and sexuality whilst using Vedic terminology such as tantra, chakra, samadhi etc.
Proponents claim that according to the Vedic and Buddhist scriptures, sexual union with full control, self-managed delay and awareness leads to spiritual realization. None of the Vedic or Buddhist texts say this! Sex-tantrists talk about purifying and balancing the chakras through the practice of sensual or erotic massage, sexual positions, partner-to-partner shared breathwork, eye-gazing, free-form dancing/jumping, touching, hugging and psychological autosuggestion wherein one mentally and emotionally reinforces a universal love for all people, nature and life. Certain rituals (modified from Vedic rituals to suit Western tastes but missing key elements and deeper significance) using idols, candles and so on are used along with elements of practices from other cultures and Shamanic traditions.
The idea of us as individuals is superseded, by the use of Sanskrit terms such as Shaktis for women and Shivas for men. This is something we don’t do in India and for good reason.
Some of the neo-tantric practices can be useful for some people including those in committed relationships by helping them to explore and understand each others needs, the art of sensuality, opening up to vulnerability and so on. However, there is a need for balance. The nature of intimate sharing and the intensity of the “falling in love” process is such that there is a danger of diluting a precious experience by "commoditising" the practice with too many different partners accompanied by a misguided and superficial sense of togetherness, self-sacrifice, commitment and vulnerability.
As a work in progress, the latest iterations of neo-tantra incorporate mindfulness and other meditation techniques. Some neo-tantric teachers talk of opening up and letting go of deeply held traumas, including those that are inter-generational and therefore very deep. However, almost all of these teachers, don’t reference any recognized spiritual texts nor have they practiced proper meditation consistently and under guidance for at least 10 years, nor do they have any relevant clinical qualifications in psychotherapy. At least one well known tantric teacher, is proud to add to her laundry list of credentials the fact that she spent a fantastic and inspirational month at an ashram in India, learning Hatha and Kriya Yoga Meditation. This is hardly a qualification to teach and guide others in spirituality. Instead, it is indicative of a person who does NOT understand spirituality, let alone humility!
In Vedic culture, the closest to neo-tantra are the Kama Sutras (the art of making love), which celebrate love making, sex and bonding with one or a very limited number of persons. The Kama Sutras do not veer off tangent into dancing, shaking, jumping or mental auto-suggestion nor a desire to love beyond one’s object of love. The kama-sutra does not pretend to resolve deep seated underlying traumas, nor to lure participants into meditation with promises of Nirvana/Samadhi. The kama-sutra is unabashedly focused on one thing only – unrestrained pleasure and love; how to give, receive and lose oneself in it and to do so without any feelings of guilt or doubt. It does not misuse spiritual terms or names of Vedic deities.
The true state of samadhi does not depend on sex, sexual orgasm or sharing with one or more people. Unlike an orgasm, samadhi requires all senses to be turned inwards, in fact to be “switched off”. Neo-tantra is more about our insecurities, doubts, fear as well as desire for companionship and eroticism. It is for these reasons Neo Tantra has nothing to do with spirituality.
So, what then is the real meaning of tantra?
The section is a revised edit taken from Kriya Yoga Darshan, 2nd edition, published in 2014 by Swami Shankarananda Giri and me. It is an attempt to explain the spiritual meaning of tantra.
Traditionally tantra (also referred to as kuṇḍalinī-tantra and tantra-kriyā) was primarily understood in a spiritual, non-sexual manner. The two relevant verses in Sanskrit explain the logic as follows:
Mudrā: Practicing Sexual Positions?
ravir-jyoti budha-jyoti chandra-jyoti stata pare
madyama tarjani jyoti guru sauri samapane
This śloka (verse) explains how to practice jyoti-mudrā which is also called yoni-mudrā. Jyoti means light and yoni in common parlance refers to the vagina, however as you will see below, this is the wrong context to apply! Mudrā means position or gesture.
In essence, when in jyoti-mudrā,
- one first blocks or closes the ear canals with the thumbs. This is representative of shutting down the sense of hearing (śabda).
- Next one closes the eyes with the index (tarjani) fingers. This represents shutting down the sense of sight.
- Third the nostrils are closed with the longest fingers, representing the sense of smell being shut down.
- The last two fingers are placed just above the lips and just below and so the senses of touch and taste are shutdown.
There is more to the practice of jyoti-mudrā, but in the short description above, one can see that all the senses are shut down symbolically. Through proper jyoti-mudrā the yogi is left with only pure attention that can no longer be directed outwards. Instead, it is naturally directed inwards, back towards its source, deep within the brain. This point is also called the divine cave or hiraṇyagarbha.
One’s physical existence is born from this inner cave or temple. Your life-force re-entering this cave is called yoni-mudrā. The cave is filled with emptiness leaving only a certain light (awareness, vibration), hence yoni-mudrā is also called jyoti-mudrā (jyoti means light (of wisdom)).
One can see now, that yoni-mudrā does not mean sexual coupling. The true meaning is to practice meditation with jyoti-mudrā as described above. Jyoti-mudrā, internalized and practiced properly, is a part of Kriya Yoga Meditation, as taught by Babaji, Lahiri Baba, Sri Yukteswar and Sri Paramahansa Yogananda.
Maithuna: Enjoying Sexual Union?
parāśakti ātma-mithuna saṃyogānanda īśwara
ya aste mithunan tat paresat strini sevakaha.
Having achieved perfect jyoti-mudrā or yoni-mudrā, the Yogi enters into the state of parāvasthā (para means beyond and vastu is space and time). This is the state of zero. This is also called prāṇa-ātma and means that life force has re-united with the power from zero/infinity or prāṇa-śakti. This union is called maithuna. A Yogi achieves this state in samādhi.
Osho preached that sexual orgasm is the same as samādhi, but the two are completely different. In the context of meditation, the yogi re-unites, however this can only be achieved when all senses are turned inwards (shut down) and when the subtle inner breath ceases to vibrate. In neo-tantra, the activities require the senses to be turned outwards towards sensual feelings and also to be highly energised. If they were turned inwards, then the neo-tantric practitioner would no longer see, feel, smell, taste or hear their partner, which I am pretty sure is impossible in the yab-yum position, when giving and receiving erotic massage or eye-gazing!
The manifestation of the entire universe and all that is within, including humanity, shared and individual experiences (or memories) is the result of shakti (manifested life-force) trapped in material attachment. One cannot say the men are “Shivas”, nor indeed, that the women are “Shaktis”. They are neither. Shiva and Shakti are pure and empirical, whereas the expression of neo-tantra is sourced from ego, fear and desire. Shiva represents the destruction of time itself and all that it holds (past, present and future i.e. memory which is essential for experience). Shiva does not represent the male masculine sexual energy. Shakti represents life force manifested i.e. everything that is created or manifested into duality including man and woman. Shakti does not represent women or feminine sexual energy alone.
Furthermore, one cannot counter argue that Shakti means both, or that Shiva means both, because the neo-tantric definitions are both sub-sets of Shakti defined empirically. Empirical (or pure) values are, by logic, exclusive!
Reflections On Osho And His Teachings
In Osho’s world, “uninhibited sexual freedom (coupling) was a way of unburdening people of shame, guilt, and fear (of sex and nakedness). To an extent this works and for some people, perhaps it is necessary. His approach allowed people to talk about and explore sexuality without fear and this is healthy. However, he positioned sexual orgasm, even if delayed or retained, as the most important, even spiritual, objective.
He misses the point that, when one is emotionally centred, the focus is not on sex. It is on love, intimacy, trust, vulnerability, service and sacrifice. The ultimate expressions of this are children i.e. the uninhibited and full union of male and female, coming together in a very deep and meaningful way.
Osho never understood or accepted this deeper biological and familial relevance, and indeed, in her biography, Margot Anand, admits that Osho gave her no guidance in Neo-Tantra and that she made things up as she went along.
One only has to look at news reports and documentaries to see what he and his followers achieved. It was decidedly criminal, involving attempted murders, city water poisoning etc! In their last days, the leadership were all fugitives running from the FBI and the thousands of unthinking careless, sense obsessed followers, many of them highly educated PhDs, had lost their savings and assets.
It is healthy for all of us to not feel guilty about something which is entirely normal and essential. It is healthy for people to explore and experiment with their beliefs, needs, relationships, sexual leanings etc. within a thoughtful and moderated context. It is correct to speak of sex, sensuality, and orgasm using precisely these terms.
It is not healthy or correct to take a spiritual practice or spiritual terms and spin these into something that is sexual or just for sensual comfort.
It misleads the public and spiritual seekers. For example, using phrases such as “purify the chakras”, “heal the soul” and “achieve spiritual bliss” through neo-tantra is just snake oil. Deep meaningful terms such as Shiva, Shakti etc are mis-appropriated in a way which dis-respects the parent culture, but worse, it corrupts an ancient well of wisdom, not caring that it is there for all humanity and future generations.
Neo-tantra activities and descriptions need to be phrased more accurately in terms of feelings, intimacy and relationship. There is also a danger that neo-tantra veers into areas that are best served by trained psychiatrists and psychotherapists. I am referring to helping participants who have deep seated trauma such as being sexually abused or losing a parent during childhood.
Finally, I wonder if commoditising one’s capacity to love, to flirt, to be sensual, intimate, to give and accept but not commit is a panacea for long-term happiness. Disciplined and self-sacrificing, parent to parent commitment is essential for children and it is also the primary driver of good mental and physical well-being in a couple's old age. Children and young adults, need to know that they are part of a strong family unit. It is the best defence against loneliness, being abused and adopting destructive behaviours such as drug abuse, self-abuse and mental harm such as low self-esteem.
If you are interested in spirituality and the true practice and application of spiritual (non-sexual/non-erotic) tantra, then feel free to reach out to me.