There is a lot of talk about tantra, and even more thought about what it is, how to study it, experience, know it. There are many teachers with pieces of information, depending on their background, experience and wisdom. There are many “tantric teachings” on Koh Phagnan and in Goa as these are where the seekers convene. There is no “official” tantra certification or school. The teachings are coming from lessons passed down orally, so you know how that must be – like playing telephone thousands of years ago.
From oral teachings come obscure and often manipulated messages depending on the teacher’s personal beliefs. If the teacher is the intellectual type, like Christopher Wallis, then the teachings will be based around messages of non-duality and on Siva Tantra. These are spiritual and ritualistic practices that include initiation and purification of the body and mind. Very little is based on sexuality. Tantric texts have existed since the sixth century, before yoga, but many teachings on tantra were apparently being given to worthy students between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. Every text was a complete system of spirituality as one guru only presented their version of tantra, so all tantric sects were entirely different as different as types of yoga.
Experiential Tantra – Neo Tantra
If the teacher is an experimental type of teacher, perhaps having education coming from Osho, massage, a school in America then there are likely exercises that will be given to students in order to better understand how we relate in this world and with members of the opposite sex. Things like how to have better, more conscious sex, how to ask for what you want, how to heal sexual wounds and how to experience more pleasure, such as by learning about real tantric massage. There are many things that come in-between what classical tantra is and what neo tantra is trying to accomplish, but there is no good or bad in either, just information and experience in a topic that we are lucky to have the time to study.
Things like white tantra, black tantra, pink tantra are all inbetween the two topics. The “goal” of tantra, if there is one, is meant to bring an understanding that there is no goal. Usually we seek tantra to move into realms of pleasure, but if we can sublimate this goal into one that seeks liberation through this practice, then perhaps we have gotten somewhere “spiritual” in our quest, which is safe. A lot of tantra is really trying to teach ways to take judgement out of situations, like meditation also teaches. Let’s try to find a middle path in-between tantra simply for the mind and tantra for sex and or enlightenment. Its all a path, up to you how to use it in your life.
In classical tantra, one version of the Kaula or Maituna ritual involved using “five jewels” in ritual and then consuming them: semen, menses, urine, feces, and phlem. Being the most impure substances in Indian culture, consuming these “was considered proof that the practitioner had gone beyond the petty dualistic notion that some things are purer or more divine than others,” according to C. Wallis. In modern day versions of the ritual, we use yogurt, wine, water, dirt, aromatic oil as substitutes to these things which you would offer your partner to place into the ritual. Another version of the ritual uses the “three Ms”: meat (maṃsa), wine (madya), and sexual intercourse (maithuna). As Wallis details, “the real nail in the coffin for those who fantasize about so-called ‘tantric sex’ is this that one’s partner in this ritual must be someone you are not attracted to.
This is not only to depersonalize sex and the risk of attachment, but also so the drive of ordinary sexual desire doesn’t take over your pleasure, which would spoil the liberative purpose. After all, we are meditating to be liberated. To be free from the desire for sex is quite a journey, even for the Buddha. It was the last thing he detached from before being enlightened. Also if the practitioner is high-cast, as referred to class in India, the partner should be low-cast or status so as to challenge him to overcome the cultural construct that differentiates social status. This may explain why many famous tantric, usually male, teachers have intercourse with many women, many unattractive woman also—since the rite requires him to perceive his partner as an incarnation of the Divine (shakti).
This is easier for men and this is likely why there are more male tantra teachers, but what is coming is the need for female teachers to balance the system, and to have the ability to see all men as Shiva, the divine, ultimate man. Hopefully these female teachers will also bring the element of wisdom here, and if the female intuition and body is not a full “yes” then the intercourse doesn’t happen. This is bringing tantra into a modernized, real-life situation of choosing with discernment in each moment.
Visualization Practices Are Extremely Important in Tantra
Traditional Tantra is highly focused on visualization techniques. Practitioners will visualize a deity and try to completely identify with that god or goddess. By proper visualization, the aspirant takes on the qualities of that deity. They are known as the Mahavidyas or great aspects of wisdom. You may know some of them as Kali, the goddess of time, death and the night. The other well-known tantric female deity is Tara, who is the mother, protector, purity, and gives the gift of the sun. The classical tantric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. uses the imagination using all of the senses rather than just sight to imagine various Buddha-figures (higher deities)either visualized in front of the practitioner or more typically, they imagine themselves to be that Buddha-figure to take on these qualities.
There is meditation in neo-tantra, but not really a lot of focus on goddesses and imagining them. It does have a lasting impact, however. Gurus and Initiations Tantric in the classical sense tends to work with gurus and initiations, but where are these people and exactly what is an initiation? Classically, it is said that a guru is necessary for spiritual advancement on the tantric path, but this idea is mostly discounted among Neo-tantric beliefs, which do seem to be more accessible to the modern-day seeker of truth and liberation. Tantric scholar and guru Rāma Kaṇṭha said proper initiation is required for the tantrik path in order to destroy karmic barriers and to bring the goal of liberation within reach. Those without an authentic guru or an uninitiated person will be lost trying to decipher the symbolism of the tantric yantras (picture to meditate on the centre), and may even get further away from the spiritual path by following the wrong teacher or teachings. Sex distorts much of our experiences, especially when it comes in abundance to someone not yet ready for guruship, but likes power.
A true Tantric guru will not charge for his teachings. He or she will do pujas regularly and also yoga to purify and sublimate. Today there are of course a few self-styled gurus, teaching modern sexual tantric techniques in exchange for sex or money. All things are karmic, going around and coming around with time and circumstance.
Tantra is Spiritual Practice
Classical tantra is a divinely revealed body of teachings, explaining what is necessary and what is a hindrance in the practice of the worship of God; and also describes the specialized initiation and purification ceremonies that are the necessary pre-requisites of tantric practice. In tantra, spiritual practices are called sādhanā and are aids to the aspirant in his or her quest for spiritual awakening. Maithuna (“sexual union” in a spiritual context) is only one of many spiritual practices, and as noted its use is highly contested among tantric scholars. Imagine the ritual of sex with a person who has done offerings and yantras in front of you as well as eye gazing, so you are offering love-making to God, or more a group of people doing this together.
It smells of controversy in the name of the divine. More common sādhanā include prayers, hymns of devotion, worshiping deities, reciting mantras, tantric yoga, visualization exercises, making offerings to deities or a guru, and ritualized dance or making music. Neo-tantra and classical tantra are two different ways to experience consciousness around the topic. The important thing here is to recognize that one way is not better than the other. Look at your intentions around wanting to learn tantra. If it is just to have sex or better sex, you have work to do to get in touch with what is behind the subject. Meditation will help come in tune with the love resonance and understanding why we do some of the rituals. Both paths will come to a place of healing eventually, but it will take dedication and time for your karma, patterns and beliefs to be revealed and reworked. The study of tantra will make us more open to possibilities to connect the sex to the spirit. How you get there will vary. It may be slow, boring, exciting, sexual, ritualized, or seeming like nothing is happening on the surface. Bubbling below is the fruit of true pursuit of the truth and a potential answer to the human longing to unify.