If you ask ten different Tantra teachers what Tantra is, you are likely to get ten different answers. The theme is a broad one, and different takes are inevitable. Here’s mine.
Tantra is not something that can be taught, per se. It is not even something which can be practiced. It’s the natural maturation of a ripe fruit. You can plant the seeds, you can water them, you can make sure that the conditions are optimal for the seed to take root, sprout, and bear fruit, but the only part that you can actively do is prepare – the rest occurs, or doesn’t, because of something much larger than your simple effort or will for it to do so.
Many think that Tantra means some kind of doing, either it is the perfected sublimation of the sexual energy, or the perfect adoration, something that we can be shown how to do right. On one side we have team pleasure, which wants more juice in our lives, and on the other team practice, which wants more control.
On top of that we have misrepresented re-interpretations of the masculine and feminine poles which impel us to blindly strive toward yet another unattainable ideal of how it is that we are supposed to be. The story of what we should be is whispered into one ear, and the soft lullaby of “you are already perfect” into the other. We are either given permission to weld on our spiritual mask and shine on like crazy diamonds, or to let go into the complacency of – ‘there’s nowhere to get anyhow’.
All of it seems to be somehow untrue, missing some crucial piece. The truth seems to be some tightrope pulled between these opposing points. It’s true that the only way out is love, AND it’s true that we need to practice to learn how to stop doing all that other shit that isn’t love – and that most of the time that we are swearing up and down that we are moving from love we are moving from need. A need so deeply buried that we no longer even know its name.
It’s true that you are already perfect and that there is no way for you to be more love than you already are. It’s also true that it’s very unlikely that you move through reality in that way. That that is your experience of life. Most of us, if we are honest, experience this incarnation as lightly torturous, spotted with fleeting pleasures, and rare moments of actual swear-to-God wonder and awe.
It’s also true that most human beings live so distantly removed from their own hearts and in such bondage to their own conditioned beliefs that love remains a warped ideal. What we often call love is a misunderstanding. We call love whatever quells the insatiable need within us. We have come to depend on others to give us access to our own hearts, because we have been exiled from them and we don’t know how to get back home. Bridging the gap between what we believe and what actually is, and re-forging the path back to the heart is part of what prepares us for Tantra.
Most of what we call meditation is actually a technique which will lead to meditation. If we do it whole heartedly enough, often enough, we might receive the grace of a meditation. It’s not an active verb, it’s a phenomenon.
Most of what we call Tantra is a similar type of practice. My teacher calls Tantra the path of spontaneity. It is the end of effort. Spontaneity should not be confused with whimsy or impulsiveness. It refers to an unobstructed connection with one’s self. To the capacity to respond to a call that comes from the depth of the being, untouched by the filters of the mind or conditionings imposed by the environment.
To recover spontaneity requires a deep dive into everything that we are not. It requires facing the utterly terrifying prospect that everything we believe ourselves to be; the personality, the belief systems, and the behaviors might be nothing more than an elaborate defense system erected by an illusory self to sustain the mythology of its own existence.
When played right, this game is an invitation to your own annihilation. It is invariably the end of you as you think you are.
Traditional, classical Tantra such as Kashmir Shivaism and Mahayana Tantric Buddhism were a dense, rich set of understanding which gave birth to tools and techniques which were aimed at enlightenment. The techniques were widely and vastly non-sexual but did encompass the sexual practice, as Tantra’s practices are, by definition, inclusive – there are techniques which use almost everything; finding enlightenment looking into an empty pot, maintaining certain visualizations, using mantra, or physical postures etc. Enlightenment – at least in my limited understanding - doesn’t refer to some unphathomable mystical state, but rather to the utter and complete eradication of lies from the mind, the ability to perceive, exist in, and accept reality. No more stories.
In these traditions, Tantra was to be practiced after a vigorous preparation which lasted years. When you entered into the sexual practice you would have already been half a Buddha; in control of your mind, aware and in charge of the subtle energy systems of the being. The mind would have been free of fear and as a consequence, of hatred.
There are schools of Tantra today that don’t talk about enlightenment or spirituality, but rather see Tantra as a way to help the being heal and reach deeper fulfillment in their experience of this life. The focus is on the amplification of pleasure, connection to the body, and sexual freedom. This can be a crucial piece in one's evolution. Freeing oneself from repression and shame and re-connecting to the body, pleasure and sexual power are steps toward wholeness, but they are not yet the full picture.
Tantra is to allow life to live you. To obstruct nothing. To inhale when life inhales. Pleasure is part of it. Sex is part of it. But when we reduce the totality of allowing yourself to merge with what is down to just better orgasms we are missing the mark.
I believe that Tantra is an enlightenment practice; the ultimate goal is for the river to dissolve into the ocean. Yet, I feel that most of us are nowhere near being able to reach union within ourselves, because our conditionings and traumas join forces to create formidable blockages to the ascension of energy. We are no longer in a moment where the bringing together of two bodies is enough to conduct the energy toward the crown and send everyone into irreconcilable bliss.
It’s possible to get very lost in this desperation for ascension. To study and practice and exist in a hypothetical reality in which one forgets their humanness. We forget that we actually have all kinds of kinks and ticks, and that while sex and love connect in the realm of concept, they don’t actually always connect in the realm of OUR sex and OUR love.
It is also possible to get very lost in the desperate clamoring for more pleasure. To relate and to live life in such a way that one thinks that what doesn’t feel good is of no benefit and to be avoided. To amass technique after technique that give bigger better orgasms, stronger erections and more pleasure…but that, in truth, also give us a well-placed hand to be able to manipulate the other.
It is difficult to look at the war that exists between the masculine and feminine. It’s difficult to admit how much mistrust we have of the other sex, how much resentment. It’s easier to pick an abstraction; nature, the goddess, Shiva - or whatever you’d like – and bow in reverence to that, offer it ghee and rice and call it holy, than to put up with your incomprehensible partner for five minutes.
The first step in allowing your own nature to show itself is becoming brutally honest with yourself. Without the ability to admit to all your dark corners you will get lost in a story that you invent about where and who you are, and you will not only halt your ascent (because you cannot start walking from two blocks down the road, you can only start walking from where you are – and if you insist on starting from somewhere you are not, the journey will be an imaginary one) but you will harm yourself and others.
When we start to move toward truly opening ourselves, toward allowing true revelation, we need to be prepared for our defenses to go wild. Moving from fear to love is not one step. It seems that Dante may well have been right, that the gate to Heaven is found right after passing through the deepest circle of Hell.
The question then, invariably comes – so why deal with sexuality at all? If Tantra is from dusk till dawn filled with ways for us to look into empty containers and reach fullness, to imagine pink lightening effortlessly jolting up to the crown of the head, why don’t we just do that instead?
While Freud’s been telling us from the get-go that sex is the impulse behind all our actions, the silent force behind everything from our shoe choices to our professions, and we’ve been hearing that sex sells for as long as we’ve been hearing anything, we still tend to downplay the utter gravity of sex. We do so largely because we would really like to believe that we are better than our pets. We find the idea of being moved purely by sex insulting to our sentiments and intellects. Admitting that sex is the force that impels us feels to most like admitting that we are still half animal.
According to Tantra there is one basic energy that fuels the whole being, and that is sexual energy. When that energy is blocked or impeded not only our sexual expression is affected – our whole life force is diminished and scattered.
The human being is an energy converter. Some of those energies, due to imprints, instead of moving through the system and being converted stay and remain locked at their point of origin. Sexual energy moves to the heart; it moves through the whole system – that’s what it does. When we have unfinished business; resentments, fears and the whole spectrum of kinks that can happen to our cables, our energy will be stuck. We will feel incapable, unmotivated, and often pulled in two opposing directions.
The result is that we are less than we could be. Without the fuel of sexual energy, it’s difficult to show up fully for life, to fulfill our potential. When this energy becomes locked, or when it goes in two different directions, we end up rendering ourselves incapable of what we are completely capable of!
Tantra is much more than just sexual therapy, or techniques which enhance your performance. It is an arduous path, which requires courage and dedication, and whose benefits reach well beyond the sexual sphere.
When the energy moves freely in the being self-sabotage ends. We no longer create failure, undermine ourselves, or ceaselessly repeat negative patterns. We regain our ease and naturalness and are able to really take our place in the world. We stop feeling like beggars who need the love and praise of others to feel worthy. We start to not only know what we have to offer, but to be able to actually offer it.
Tantra is one of many paths that offer us a way to become whole again. To align ourselves entirely, to have our energy and our intention move in one single direction, so that we no longer create obstacles to our own fulfillment, so that we can be the most integral version of ourselves. So that we can be free.