Ancient Wisdom in a Modern Era
History, Philosophy, Kamasutra
Tandra ~ Osho ~ Tantric sex
Tantra in Buddhism is defined as a scripture taught by the Buddha describing the Vajrayana practices. According to Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master Lama Thubten Yeshe:
...each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.
Tantra Evolution and involution
Linguistically the three words mantram, tantram and yantram are related in the ancient traditions of India, as well as phonologically. Mantram denotes the chant, or "knowledge." Tantram denotes philosophy, or ritual actions. Yantram denotes the means by which a human is expected to lead his life.
According to Tantra, "being-consciousness-bliss" or Satchidananda has the power of both self-evolution and self-involution. Prakriti or
What is Tantra
Tantra (Sanskrit: तन्त्र , Oriya: ତନ୍ତ୍ର"loom, warp"; hence "principle, system, doctrine", from the two root words tanoti "stretch, extend", and trayati "liberation"), anglicised tantricism or tantrism or tantram, refers to esoteric schools of Hinduism and Buddhism and to the scriptures (called "Tantras") commonly identified with the worship of Shakti. Tantra deals primarily with spiritual practices and ritual forms of worship that aim at liberation from ignorance and rebirth, the universe being regarded as the divine play of Shakti and Shiva. In "left-handed" Tantra (Vamachara), ritual sexual intercourse is employed as a way of entering into the underlying processes and structure of the universe.
Tantrism originated in the early centuries CE and developed into a fully articulated tradition by the end of the Gupta period. It has influenced the Hindu, Sikh, Bön, Buddhist, and Jain religious traditions and spread with Buddhism to East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Definition of Tantra
There are a number of different definitions of Tantra, not always mutually consistent. Robert Brown notes that the term tantrism is
Ancient Wisdom in a Modern Era
and consummation. The Tantrika, or tantric practitioner may use visualizations of deities, identifying with the deity so that the aspirant "becomes" the Ishta-deva or meditational deity.
The primary sources of written Hindu Tantric lore are the agama, which generally consist of four parts, delineating metaphysical knowledge (jnana), contemplative procedures (yoga), ritual regulations (kriya), and ethical and religious injunctions (charya). Schools and lineages affiliate themselves with specific agamic traditions. Hindu tantra exists in Shaiva,
Vaisnava, Ganapatya, Saurya and Shakta forms, amongst others, so that individual tantric texts may be classified as Shaiva Āgamas, Vaishnava Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās, and Shakta Tantras, though there is no clear dividing line between these works. The expression Tantra generally includes all such works.
Relation with Vedic tradition
André Padoux notes that in India tantra is marked by a rejection of orthodox Vedic tenets. Moriz
a construction of western scholarship, not a concept that comes from the religious system itself. This makes its independence questionable though it is generally recognized by Tantrics as different from the Vedic tradition. David Gordon White suggests its key principle is that the universe we experience is the concrete manifestation of the divine energy that creates and maintains it: Tantric practice seeks to contact and channel that energy within the human microcosm by means of ritual in order to achieve creativity and freedom.
Rather than a single coherent system, Tantra is an accumulation of practices and ideas, characterized by ritual that seeks to access the supra-mundane through the mundane, identifying the microcosm with the macrocosm. The Tantric practitioner seeks to use prana, an energy that flows through the universe (including one's own body) to attain goals that may be spiritual, material or both. Most practitioners of tantra consider mystical experience imperative. Some versions of Tantra require the guidance of a guru.
Long training is generally required to master Tantric methods, into which pupils are typically initiated by a guru. Yoga, including breathing techniques and postures (asana), is employed to subject the body to the control of the will. Mudras, or gestures, mantras or syllables, words and phrases, mandalas and yantras, symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the universe, are all used as aids for meditation and for the achievement of spiritual and magical power. During meditation the initiate identifies with any of the numerous Hindu gods and goddesses, visualizes them and internalizes them, a process likened to sexual courtship
Winternitz, in his review of the literature of tantra, points out that, while Indian tantric texts are not positively hostile to the Vedas, they may regard the precepts of the Vedas as too difficult for our age, while an easier cult and an easier doctrine have been revealed in them. Many orthodox Brahmans who accept the authority of the Vedas reject the authority of the Tantras. Although later Tantric writers wanted to base their doctrines on the Vedas, the orthodox followers of the Vedic tradition invariably referred to Tantra in a spirit of denunciation, stressing its anti-Vedic character.
Relation to Yoga
Though Tantra and Yoga are in some senses contrary, Tantra being a non-dual philosophy while Yoga is a dualistic philosophy of renunciation) they do have some common philosophies and goals. Osho in his discoursea upon the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, differentiated the two by saying, "Yoga is suppression with awareness; tantra is indulgence with awareness."
Summarizing the three major paths of the Vedic knowledge, Robert Svoboda wrote:
Because every embodied individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the Science of Life organized their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; Yoga, which deals mainly with spirit; and Tantra, which is mainly concerned with the mind. The philosophy of all three is identical; their manifestations differ because of their differing emphases. Ayurveda is most concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony of mind and spirit. Yoga controls body and mind to enable them to harmonize with spirit, and Tantra seeks to use the mind to balance the demands of body and spirit.
"reality" evolves into a multiplicity of creatures and things, yet at the same time always remains pure consciousness, pure being, and pure bliss. In this process of evolution, Maya (illusion) veils Reality and separates it into opposites, such as conscious and unconscious, pleasant and unpleasant, and so forth. If not recognized as illusion, these opposing determining conditions bind, limit and fetter (pashu) the individual (jiva).
Generally speaking, the Hindu god and goddess Shiva and Shakti are perceived as separate and distinct. However, in Tantra, even in the process of evolution, Reality remains pure consciousness, pure being and pure bliss, and Tantra denies neither the act nor the fact of this process. In fact, Tantra affirms that both the world-process itself, and the individual jiva, are themselves Real. In this respect, Tantra distinguishes itself both from pure dualism and from the qualified non-dualism of Vedanta.
Evolution, or the "outgoing current," is only half of the functioning of Maya. Involution, or the "return current," takes the jiva back towards the source, or the root of Reality, revealing the infinite. Tantra is understood to teach the method of changing the "outgoing current" into the "return current," transforming the fetters created by Maya into that which "releases" or "liberates." This view underscores two maxims of Tantra: "One must rise by that by which one falls," and "the very poison that kills becomes the elixir of life when used by the wise."
The Tantric aim is to sublimate rather than to negate relative reality. This process of sublimation consists of three phases: purification, elevation, and the "reaffirmation of identity on the plane of pure consciousness." The methods employed by Dakshinachara (right-hand path) interpretations of Tantra are very different from the methods used in the pursuit of the Vamachara (left-hand path).
Tantric Ritual practices
Because of the wide range of communities covered by the term tantra, it is challenging and problematic to describe tantric practices definitively. Avalon (1918) does provide a useful dichotomy of the "Ordinary Ritual" and the "Secret Ritual".
The ordinary ritual or puja may include any of the following elements:
Mantra and yantra
As in other Hindu and Buddhist yoga traditions, mantra and yantra play an important role in Tantra. The mantra and yantra are instruments to invoke specific Hindu deities such as Shiva, Shakti, or Kali. Similarly, puja may involve focusing on a yantra or mandala associated with a deity.
Identification with deities
Tantra, as a development of early Hindu-Vedic thought, embraced the Hindu gods and goddesses, especially Shiva and Shakti, along with the Advaita philosophy that each represents an aspect of the ultimate Para Shiva, or Brahman. These deities may be worshipped externally with flowers, incense, and other offerings, such as singing and dancing. But, more importantly, these deities are engaged as attributes of Ishta Devata meditations, the practitioners either visualizing themselves as the deity, or
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experiencing the darshan (the vision) of the deity. These Tantric practices form the foundation of the ritual temple dance of the devadasis, and are preserved in the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam by Guru Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer.
Called the Vamamarga, this branch of Tantra departs from the conventional form or mantra and yoga. Secret ritual may include any or all of the elements of ordinary ritual, either directly or substituted, along with other sensate rites and themes such as a feast (representing food, or sustenance), coitus (representing sexuality and procreation), the charnel grounds (representing death and transition) and defecation, urination and vomiting (representing waste, renewal, and fecundity). It is this sensate inclusion that prompted Zimmer's praise of Tantra's world-affirming attitude:
In the Tantra, the manner of approach is not that of Nay but of Yea ... the world attitude is affirmative ... Man must approach through and by means of nature, not by rejection of nature.
In Avalon's Chapter 27: The Pañcatattva (The Secret Ritual) of Sakti and Sakta (1918), he states that the Secret Ritual (which he calls Panchatattva, Chakrapuja and Panchamakara) involves:
Worship with the Pañcatattva generally takes place in a Cakra or circle composed of men and women... sitting in a circle, the Shakti (or female practitioner) being on the Sadhaka's (male practitioner's) left. Hence it is called Cakrapuja. ...There are various kinds of Cakra – productive, it is said, of differing fruits for the participator therein.
Avalon also provides a series of variations and substitutions of the Panchatattva (Panchamakara) "elements" or tattva encoded in the Tantras and various tantric traditions, and affirms that there is a direct correlation to the Tantric Five Nectars and the Mahābhūta.
Tantric Sexual rites
Sexual rites of Vamamarga may have emerged from early Hindu Tantra as a practical means of catalyzing biochemical transformations in the body to facilitate heightened states of awareness. These constitute a vital offering to Tantric deities. Sexual rites may have also evolved from clan initiation ceremonies involving transactions of sexual fluids. Here the male initiate is inseminated or ensanguined with the sexual emissions of the female consort, sometimes admixed with the semen of the guru. The Tantrika is thus transformed into a son of the clan (kulaputra) through the grace of his consort. The clan fluid (kuladravya) or clan nectar (kulamrita) is conceived as flowing naturally from her womb. Later developments in the rite emphasize the primacy of bliss and divine union, which replace the more bodily connotations of earlier forms. Although popularly equated with Tantra in its entirety in the West, such sexual rites were historically practiced by a minority of sects. For many practicing lineages, these maithuna practices progressed into psychological symbolism.
When enacted as enjoined by the Tantras, the ritual culminates in a sublime experience of infinite awareness for both participants. Tantric texts specify that sex has three distinct and separate purposes—procreation, pleasure, and liberation. Those seeking liberation eschew frictional orgasm for a higher form of ecstasy, as the couple participating in the ritual lock in a static embrace. Several sexual rituals are recommended and practiced. These involve elaborate and meticulous preparatory and purificatory rites. The sexual act itself balances energies coursing within the pranic ida and pingala channels in the subtle bodies of both participants. The sushumna nadi is awakened and kundalini rises upwards within it. This eventually culminates in samadhi, wherein the respective individual personalities and identities of each of the participants are completely dissolved in a unity of cosmic consciousness. Tantrics understand these acts on multiple levels. The male and female participants are conjoined physically, and represent Shiva and Shakti, the male and female principles. Beyond the physical, a subtle fusion of Shiva and Shakti energies takes place, resulting in a united energy field. On an individual level, each participant experiences a fusion of one's own Shiva and Shakti energies.
Western views on Tantra
Sir John Woodroffe
The first Western scholar to take the study of Tantra seriously was Sir John Woodroffe (1865–1936), who wrote about Tantra under the pen name Arthur Avalon. He is generally held as the "founding father of Tantric studies." Unlike previous Western scholars, Woodroffe was an ardent advocate for Tantra, defending Tantra against its many critics and presenting Tantra as an ethical philosophical system greatly in accord with the Vedas and Vedanta. Woodroffe himself practised Tantra as he saw and understood it and, while trying to maintain his scholastic objectivity, was considered a student of Hindu Tantra (in particular Shiva-Shakta) tradition.
Further development of Tantra
Following Sir John Woodroffe, a number of scholars began to actively investigate Tantric teachings. These included a number of scholars of comparative religion and Indology, such as: Agehananda Bharati, Mircea Eliade, Julius Evola, Carl Jung, Giuseppe Tucci and Heinrich Zimmer.
According to Hugh Urban, Zimmer, Evola and Eliade viewed Tantra as "the culmination of all Indian thought: the most radical form of spirituality and the archaic heart of aboriginal India", and regarded it as the ideal religion of the modern era. All three saw Tantra as "the most transgressive and violent path to the sacred."
Tantra In the modern world
Following these first presentations of Tantra, other more popular authors such as Joseph Campbell helped to bring Tantra into the imagination of the peoples of the West. Tantra came to be viewed by some as a "cult of ecstasy", combining sexuality and spirituality in such a way as to act as a corrective force to Western repressive attitudes about sex.
As Tantra has become more popular in the West it has undergone a major transformation. For many modern readers, "Tantra" has become a synonym for "spiritual sex" or "sacred sexuality", a belief that sex in itself ought to be recognized as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a more sublime spiritual plane. Though Neotantra may adopt many of the concepts and terminology of Indian Tantra, it often omits one or more of the following: the traditional reliance on guruparampara (the guidance of a guru), extensive meditative practice, and traditional rules of conduct—both moral and ritualistic.
According to one author and critic on religion and politics, Hugh Urban:
Since at least the time of Agehananda Bharati, most Western scholars have been severely critical of these new forms of pop Tantra. This "California Tantra" as Georg Feuerstein calls it, is "based on a profound misunderstanding of the Tantric path. Their main error is to confuse Tantric bliss ... with ordinary orgasmic pleasure.
Urban goes on to say that he himself doesn't consider this "wrong" or "false" but rather "simply a different interpretation for a specific historical situation."
Neotantra is a term used to describe the modern, western use of the word Tantra. The term refers to both the New Age and modern Western interpretations of traditional Indian and Buddhist tantra. Some of its proponents refer to ancient and traditional texts and principles, and many others use tantra as a catch-all phrase for "sacred sexuality", and may incorporate unorthodox practices. In addition, not all of the elements of Indian tantra are used in neotantric practices, in particular the reliance on a guru, guruparampara.
As tantric practice became known in western culture—a development that started at the end of the 18th century, and that has escalated since the 1960s—it has become identified with its sexual methods in the West. Consequently, its essential nature as a spiritual practice is often overlooked. The roles of sexuality in Tantra and in Neotantra, while related, are actually quite different, reflecting substantial differences in their cultural contexts.
In Neotantra the most important features of sexual practice revolve around the experience of subtle energies within our sensual embodiment, and the accessing of these energies both to enhance pleasure and to challenge our egotism into its dissolution. Thus, tantric sex often cultivates ecstatic consciousness as well as increased spiritual awareness of the erotic consciousness that pervades one's human embodiment as well as everything that contextualizes this embodiment.
Tantric sexual methods may be practiced solo, in partnership, or in the sacred rituals of groups. The specifics of these methods are often kept secret, and passed from practitioners to students in an oral tradition. It must be remembered that genuine tantric spiritual practice is merely one aspect of a comprehensive spiritual path of meditation—and that the sexual and erotic aspects of tantra cannot be authentically engaged in without adequate preparation and discipline.
In sum, neotantric sexuality is just one dimension of a spiritual path that is devoted and dedicated to the challenge of becoming aware, in every moment of our embodied lives, of the supreme flow of the sacred lifeforce itself—the Sacred Unity of Love.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, tantric sexual practice (Sanskrit: Maithuna, cf. Tibetan:Yab-Yum) is one aspect of the last stage of the initiate's spiritual path, where s/he, having already realised the voidness of all things, attains enlightenment and perpetual bliss.
Tantric Sex Practitioners
Teachers of this version of tantra frequently have the belief that sex and sexual experiences are a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane. They often talk about raising Kundalini energy, worshiping the divine feminine, activating the chakras, and experiencing full-body orgasms. The word "tantra," in this context, often refers to the set of techniques for cultivating a more fulfilling sexual or love relationship. On the other hand, there are also some truly dedicated scholars and teachers in the field of modern tantra.
Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, used his version of tantra in combination with breathing techniques, bio-energy, yoga and massage in some of the groups at his ashram. He is the author of many books on meditation, taoism, buddhism and mysticism, and at least six on tantra. One of them is Tantra, The Supreme Understanding, in which he unpacks the verses of the Song of Mahamudra, by Tilopa. In addition out of his discourses on the Vigyan Bhiarav (or Vijnaya-bhairava), the 112 practices for enlightenment resulted in the much longer The Book of Secrets.
His students continue to develop his concepts. One of his students is Margot Anand, who founded a school called "Skydancing" tantra. She is the author of dozens of books including the Art of Everyday Ecstasy and the Art of Sexual Magic.
Another modern tantrika is Daniel Odier who believes that Desire can be a valid pathway to transcendence. He has translated and interpreted the yoga spandakarika, and has written books on tantra, buddhism, kashmiri shaivism, and meditation.
Criticisms and misuse of Tantric sex
Georg Feuerstein, a Buddhist who also trained in Hindu Tantra, writes in the epilogue of his book Tantra: Path of Ecstasy:
"Many are attracted to Neo-Tantrism because it promises sexual excitement or fulfillment while clothing purely genital impulses or neurotic emotional needs in an aura of spirituality. If we knew more about the history of Tantra in India, we would no doubt find a comparable situation for every generation." He goes on to say, "Today translations of several major Tantras are readily available in book form... This gives would-be Tantrics the opportunity to concoct their own idiosyncratic ceremonies and philosophies, which they can then promote as Tantra."