How Tantric Is Tantric Sex?

May 11, 2017 by stas | Filed under Spiritual.

Before you start reading the following article, it’s important for me to say that any teaching system that helps humans to have a better experience in this world, and in this particular context, a better sex, is wonderful in my humble opinion.

What is important for anybody embarking on this path to better self, is to know what’s what, so they can make informed decisions.

What Tantra Is Not

It’s interesting how if you were to decide to improve your sexuality you would very quickly discover the term Tantric Sex. And then you’d find many books and trainings, where supposedly you’d learn how the Tantric masters of lore engaged in sexual activities and how you could use that knowledge to improve your sexuality.

The simple truth is that as of this writing no such instructions were ever found.

Authentic Tantric texts, like Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, teach us meditation techniques, some of which indirectly involve sexual practices. They don’t provide any details whatsoever on the mechanics of it, other than telling us where to focus in our energetic bodies as we engage in the practice.

It’s certain that old time Tantric masters were able to engage in sex as a meditation practice, because the scriptures do mention sexual rituals. Except, alas, so far, nobody found any explicit written instructions as to how they did it *. We know they engaged in maithuna (extramarital sex), which was part of the bigger ritual called Panchamakara, which also included ingesting wine, meat, fish and parched grain. The purpose of that ritual was to challenge practitioners to “walk the talk” of the non-dual teachings. Those five actions were an absolute no-no in their society. And in non-dual teachings everything is divine. In chapter 29 of Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta only mentions maithuna, meat and wine out of the possible five. He discusses the different spiritual states the practitioners are to experience during the ritual, which is done much more as a meditation practice than an intercourse. For more details see John R. Dupuche’s book “Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka“. In Vijnana Bhairava Tantra we also find mentioning of the high states of consciousness one experiences during sex.

footnote *: in 2015 Csaba Kiss published “The Brahmayamala Tantra or Picumata (The Religious Observances and Sexual Ritual of the Tantric Practitioner: Chapter 3, 21 and 45)“, which discusses another type of a Tantric sexual ritual. That tantra so far has been only partially translated. Judit Torzsok’s “Women in Early Shakta Tantras – Duti, Yogini and Sadhaki” and Shaman Hatley’s “The Brahmayamalatantra and Early Saiva Cult of Yoginis” discuss this tantra as well.

Therefore, when you encounter Tantric Sex-teachings in the West, most of the time these are Neo-Tantra teachings, which usually have little to do with the authentic Tantra.

I’d like to share a few quotes from the book “Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition”, by Christopher D. Wallis, which I will present later in this article:

[…]The Kama-sutra is part of a branch of literature called Kama-Shastra, or the science of pleasure. Its overall goal is the maximization of sensual pleasure as a valid end in itself. By definition, it is not Tantrik, because in the Tantra, the goal of pleasure, when present, is always subordinated to the goal of final spiritual liberation, which does not figure into the Kama-sutra.[…]

[…]If we survey the Shaiva Tantrik literature as a whole, we will see that sex per se is virtually absent as a topic. There is one lineage group, however, the Kaula, that teaches sensual practices and has what we might call a “sexualized” view of the world, seeing the whole of reality as the harmonious and joyous pulsating union of various sets of complementary opposites. […]

[…] In the original Tantrik sources, we do find some techniques for working with sexual energy and using it to activate kundalini, but we find absolutely no physical techniques aimed at prolonging orgasm and so on. While there is such a thing as a Tantrik sexual ritual in the Shaiva tradition, […] it was primarily a meditative exercise, not a pleasure-maximizing exercise. […]

So these are just a few quotes from Christopher who has been studying and practicing authentic Tantra for more than a decade.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, let’s not flush the baby with the bath waters. A lot of those Neo-Tantric teachings are wonderful and can definitely help you improve your sexual life. Except most of them are not rooted in the authentic teachings of Tantra.

What Neo-Tantra Is

It’d be impossible to cover all possible variations of Neo-Tantra, since anybody who has the balls to do so these days can create their own Tantra style. However there are common aspects that can be traced in most of the current Neo-Tantra offerings.

Most of the modern Neo-Tantric Sex teachings come from Tao, where the knowledge has been well preserved in writing and also has been actively practiced by the living practitioners of that art. They however choose to include Tantra in their offering either perhaps it’s more appealing (mysterious) to the masses, or perhaps they don’t really have an expertize in the profound teachings of Tao. The misleading part here is that the path of Tao has a very different goal from the path of Tantra. The path of Tao is about having an amazing experience living in this world: great health and longevity, financial abundance, powerful sexuality, etc. The path of Tantra is about finding God in everything, which may or may not incorporate some of the transitory experiences of power. All those things are reachable in Tantra, but are usually warned against by the masters, since special powers (siddhis) tend to lead the practitioner away from the ultimate goal — realizing that all is God. And to stress it again, Taoist sexual practices are very powerful for their practitioners and it’s a great path to be on if you want to have a better sexual life. I will discuss the specifics of Tao vs. Tantric work with energy in many details in other articles. Perhaps one of the striking differences between the two, is that a Tao practitioner runs his subtle energy in a circle, whereas in Tantra the energy of Kundalini connects the coiled in the area of the sacrum Shakti with Shiva residing in the crown and above.

  1. In Tao the energy is moved in a circle from the root chakra to crown chakra and back to root chakra – up and down, up and down. Taoists call it the cosmic orbit.
  2. In Tantra the energy is moved only up from the root chakra to any chakra above it up to crown chakra , up, up – never down.

The two have very different goals and impacts. The Taoist cosmic orbit approach refines the sexual energy in the higher energy centers and then brings that refined energy into the lower chakras, significantly improving the life on Earth for those who practice it.  Tantrics, on the other hand, while enjoying the life in their body, dedicate most of their energy to spiritual growth, which requires accumulating energy in the higher chakras. I will discuss these approaches in more details in other articles.

And now I need to clarify that what I said above is greatly simplified and is not exactly so. Just like there are dozens of denominations in the domain of Christianity, and other mainstream religions, there is a huge range of different variations of mindsets and methods in any widely practiced path like Tao and authentic Tantra. So if you were to look at all the different schools that ever existed on either path (and there are many!) , you are likely to find that there were/are Taoists that don’t do the cosmic orbit and don’t care much about their material world, and Tantrics who, unlike what I said, do run their energy in a circle and use magic to have the best possible material experience. I use this simplification for my own sanity. The important thing is for you to find teachings that you resonate with and follow the instructions of a master of those teachings (if you can find one).

Another common origin of Tantric sexuality teachings is Osho’s teachings, in particular various breathwork practices, which themselves originated in Hatha Yogic’ pranayama, the breath practices that work with life force (prana or qi), and some of the contemporary to his time developments in the Bioenergetic/Body-oriented psychotherapy work. The latter is often attributed to largely unknown, yet very monumental work of Wilhelm Reich, and which was further developed and expanded by his followers. Osho did write a huge 2-volume book, called the Book of the Secrets, providing his own interpretation of Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, except, alas, he interpreted not the original tantra in Sanskrit, but another interpretation written by Zen practitioner Paul Reps, which more often than not had little to do with the original text. Therefore the result is a beautiful writing on human psychology, but half the time it is very distant from the original intention of that tantra.

 (footnote: one of the meaning of the term “Tantra” is “a teaching” or “a text”, and there are specific tantras designated to cover specific aspects of practice. It’s been said that there is a total of 64 tantras.)

Traditional Tantra teaches that we are all Gods, but we forgot that we are (on purpose). And Neo-Tantra often incorporates that idea into the sexual practice – using the concept of transfiguration it transforms the mundane sex into – a God and a Goddess making love to each other. This is fantastic. I was privileged in participating in transfiguration circles with 50 participating couples. The ritual went on for many hours, as we, men, were gifted a few minutes of gazing into the eyes of each goddess, transfiguring her into divine Shakti (the feminine aspect of God). And the goddesses transfigured each men into divine Shiva (the masculine aspect of God). Those were very powerful, unforgettable experiences that really helped to open our hearts and minds.

To become a true master of sexual sciences you have to learn how to control the sexual energy in your body. Therefore another bridge to traditional Tantra comes in the form of mastering the workings of subtle energies in our bodies. I’d call this applied Tantra.  While it’s rare to encounter teachers who who teach the complete system of the many energies (vayus) pervading our body, quite a few teach how to move the sexual energy. It takes a lot of practice to acquire this expertise but it’s accessible to all who want to have it. This science is discussed at in the following article: How To Move Sexual Energy To Prolong Your Love Making.

As it is common in the New Age, some teachers come up with their own ideas, which have no foundation in neither system. A few years ago I run into one new age business-savvy sales-expert, who came up with a story that she was taught a certain sexual practice for women from a Tibetan Tantric monk. I won’t name that teacher, because what she teaches is excellent for very beginners, albeit her system stops very far from women’s amazing sexual potential. Hopefully her followers will discover that there is more to it, after they have mastered that very important introduction level of their sexuality.

Before you start reading on what traditional tantra is, please remember that if you’re interested in improving your sexual life, it doesn’t really matter what name this or that teacher or system uses. What matters is whether you get the results you seek. And most Neo-Tantra teachers deliver good knowledge, that if you were to practice it, you will be empowered. In fact any teaching that were to make you stop and question the way you had sex until now would be a good one to start with.

What Tantra Is

I feel very blessed to have discovered the existence of the authentic Tantra teachings. I feel ecstatic every time I think how blessed was I to have stumbled upon it. No wonder I felt a strong need to write this article in hope that you too will have a similar blessing that will manifest in your unique way. You just can’t imagine how liberating Tantric teachings are, until you start studying this very complicated, and at the same time very simple science.

This is the experience a lot of my fellow students at the Agama Yoga school have gone through. Longing for liberation camouflaged itself as longing for a better sexual life. We came for the sex, we stayed for the love and the spiritual truths that are the foundation of everything, sex included.

Recently I have been listening to probably one of the best books written so far on authentic Tantra and which is accessible to beginners and insightful to experienced practitioners alike. It is “Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition” written by Christopher D. Wallis. It’s not only full of magical insights, it is written by someone who walks the walk. I have never been exposed to Christopher’s writing before embarking on listening to his book, yet I can feel deep love pervading his work and his narration of it. This love reverberates in my body and mind as I receive it through my ears, and opens my heart and elevates my mind.

I don’t think I will be able to express some of the insights into Tantra better than Christopher, therefore here are a few more quotes from his book that may not only help clarify what Tantra is, but hopefully get you inspired to learn more about it.

[…] tantra is a Sanskrit word with various straightforward usages, including “theory,” “doctrine,” or simply “book.” […] it more commonly refers to scriptural texts that are purported to have been divinely revealed by God or the Goddess.

[…]tantra is […] “a system of spiritual practice articulated within a specific sacred text” […]

[…]Tantra is so called because it stretches our awareness and expands our capacity for joy […]

To step into the world of Shaiva Tantra is to enter a world of magic and mystery. Mind-expanding philosophy and arcane rites, pantheons of fierce goddesses embodied in mystic syllables, energy diagrams that map the many dimensions of reality, visualizations of power centers within the body, gestures that express the purest forms of consciousness, nectarean experiences of the sheerest ecstasy, wielders of supernatural power, and concepts that challenge the fundamental norms of ordinary society: these are just some of its features. In short, it is a world that encompasses the entire range of human spiritual and religious activity, from the most elevated and sublime contemplations of our inner nature to the strangest of superstitions.

Here is Christopher’s definition of nondual Shaiva Tantra:

A spiritual movement originating in northern India that reached its peak in the 9th to 12th centuries, primarily characterized by:

1. Emphasis on direct experience of a divine reality that has transcendent and immanent aspects, called Shiva and Shakti respectively, with Shiva primarily understood as the pure consciousness that is ultimate ground of being and Shakti as the flowing energy making up the entire manifest universe.

2. Initiation into a guru-disciple relationship and an egalitarian kula (spiritual community).

3. Spiritual practice in four aspects: contemplation of View teachings, meditative ritual, yogic techniques of the subtle body, and the aesthetic cultivation of the senses, all aimed at accessing and assimilating the divine energy in all things, in order to achieve both worldly success and spiritual liberation.

And here is a true masterpiece of a Tantric wordsmith which attempts to summarize everything you need to know about Tantra:

All that exists, throughout all time and beyond, is one infinite divine Consciousness, free and blissful, which projects within the field of its awareness a vast multiplicity of apparently differentiated subjects and objects: each object an actualization of a timeless potentiality inherent in the Light of Consciousness, and each subject the same plus a contracted locus of self-awareness. This creation, a divine play, is the result of the natural impulse within Consciousness to express the totality of its self-knowledge in action, an impulse arising from love. The unbounded Light of Consciousness contracts into finite embodied loci of awareness out of its own free will. When those finite subjects then identify with the limited and circumscribed cognitions and circumstances that make up this phase of their existence, instead of identifying with the transindividual overarching pulsation of pure Awareness that is their true nature, they experience what they call “suffering.” To rectify this, some feel an inner urge to take up the path of spiritual gnosis and yogic practice, the purpose of which is to undermine their misidentification and directly reveal within the immediacy of awareness the fact that the divine powers of Consciousness, Bliss, Willing, Knowing, and Acting comprise the totality of individual experience as well—thereby triggering a recognition that one’s real identity is that of the highest Divinity, the Whole in every part. This experiential gnosis is repeated and reinforced through various means until it becomes the nonconceptual ground of every moment of experience, and one’s contracted sense of self and separation from the Whole is finally annihilated in the incandescent radiance of the complete expansion into perfect wholeness. Then one’s perception fully encompasses the reality of a universe dancing ecstatically in the animation of its completely perfect divinity.

Do not be alarmed if you didn’t get it – the whole book unpacks this view step by step, so when you finish reading it you will have a better feeling for it. For now take this wonder in as it is – a wonder that we are lucky to have.

If you feel called to welcome authentic Tantra into your life I’d highly recommend “Tantra Illuminated” to you. There are in fact many books on authentic Tantra out there, but most are extremely difficult to read, and you’re very likely to give up after the first few pages of reading – I know I did on numerous occasions. There are some easy reading books as well but usually they only cover the surface and don’t really shine light onto the treasures hidden within. There is a small number of books that are both accessible to a lay reader and are more than just enticing storytelling. But that would be a subject for a different article.

And as you probably realize there is no way I can give any justice to Tantra in the scope of a few thousand words. And even if I could, no amount of words would be able to substitute even the smallest experience of feeling being one with all, being able to relax into in and feel the ecstatic simplicity of it all.

As an engineer I am in awe of the creation. It’s the most complex, functional, aesthetic piece of engineering I have ever encountered. And the mad scientist, which the creator is, doesn’t lack a sense of humor either.

What resonates for me the most is three things in the Tantric thought:

  1. You don’t need to gain anything to feel one with God. You need to only let go of things that veil that access. How liberating. You’re enough whether you do anything or not. What’s not to love.
  2. When a new disciple was first initiated, she was first taught the most advanced teaching, that she is God. Only if the disciple wasn’t ready to realize that, was she taught less advanced teachings. And if those were too advanced, then much more accessible knowledge was presented. How unique. And of course this approach is a result of item #1 above.
  3. Each person or a group of people has their own unique view of the world and that’s all there is to it. As many creatures or groups ever existed, as many unique views were brought into existence. And it’s so by design. Masters of Tantra welcomed students from any religious and non-religious groups.

We will discuss this magical subject matter in other articles on this site.

To conclude, this article’s intention was to inform you on which is which in the confusing world of western Tantra, so that you will know when to stick with a certain Neo-tantric practice and when to take a turn for something much deeper and which will lead much further than better sex, should you be called to open that door.

This was a very difficult article to write, trying to give justice to all good intentions, without undermining those and at the same time to show what hides behind the real Tantra. I’m sure I’ll be coming back to it and improving upon it over time. Please share you own views on this topic and please be gentle, I have been studying this subject for many years now and I still have many things to learn.

note: in several of the quotes from Tantra Illuminated I replaced the Devanagari characters that most readers won’t know how to pronounce with their simplified English transliteration. In the book you will find a complete transliteration table.

If you have enjoyed this article you may want to read more on authentic Tantra:

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6 Responses to “How Tantric Is Tantric Sex?”

  1. Christina says:

    Hey Stas!

    I really enjoyed your article! It was pretty great. And I’ve always felt that Tantra and the awakenings that I’ve had have not been encompassed by Neo-Tantra.

    I wanted to share some research with you, however. In the subtle body map of the Kubjika Tantra, Kundalini sits above the head (this is the sat-cakra narupana from which our modern cakra system is derived and was mistranslated by Arthur Avaalon). Siva’s lingam sits above the head… Not in the genitals. So actually, kundalini circulates in the body. It’s doesn’t just move up. It recoils (depending on the branch of Tantra, it recoils in different spots) and then moves back up. I learned this from the translations of Dr. Christopher Thompkins, who is a Tantrik scholar.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the community and I hope it will lead some people to be curious about spiritual liberation.

  2. Rajiv Goenka says:

    Absolutely awesome article, throws a lot of light to help direct oneself consciously on this vast mysterious, actually confusing and seemingly out of reach, multitudinal path. More sub articles on each broad path, like Tao, Neo Tantra, and authentic Tantra, and links of resources, training avenues, practices, etc will further help the reader to walk on her/his chosen path. Also, I would love to hear your training experiences at Agama Yoga and before that, in details, and what you are pursuing currently as your field of work/learning/engagement.

    Thanks a lot.

  3. N.T. says:

    +++ More properly, “tantra” refers to the duality of weaving, with the taught foundational warp (shiva archetype, presence), and the moving weft (shakti archetype, energy). For more translations see, shiva shakti mandalam —

    +++ One must recognize the fundamental error in eastern philosophy — that feelings are merely thought forms to be “stilled” or repressed. “Yoga is stilling the nature of the mind.” Patanjali, v.2, Yoga Sutras, ~400CE. Functional MRI proves that feelings arise in a completely different part of the brain than intellectual thought. This is where “tantra” and kundalini yoga attempt to reach toward the modern science of psychology (psyche – spirit; ology – branch of learning).

    +++ Having practiced ashtanga & laya yoga, trika (kashmir shaivism) and other aspects of hinduism, since living in a hindu monastery in India from 1975-84 — I subsequently recognized the reality of that conceptual error. And that is actually the goal of Trika — objective awareness of reality, distinguished from the vedanta concept that everything external is unreal, like a dream. Well, experience is real. However, human association between cause and effect is seldom real.

    +++ That is the 3rd chakra, the seat of maya, or false ego association, superstition — belief in false associations of cause and effect. This is what eclipses the light of 4th chakra, from our daily experiences in the world and our relationships (1 & 2). That is why you feel “punched in the gut” when something is stolen from you.

    +++ The 4th chakra is the seat of all feelings. This is represented by each core feeling on a lotus petal, 6×2 & 3×4. The goal is not to suppress feelings: energy/shakti… but to balance the energy among all feelings, so that they can be acted upon by free choice from self will. Visualize a gyroscope. The faster it spins, the more stable it is, and apears to be still — while full of energy. This is consistent with hindu mythology and is most commonly represened by Vishnu holding the Sudarshana Chakra. The wheel of time, where energy is change over time.

    +++ Love arises in the only place you can feel it, your very own heart. It cannot be given or taken in a bargain, but only shared — as a story spreads with its telling. And thus the tantra duality, reflected in the three chakras above and below anahata — shiva: static, AWARENESS, presence (witness consciousness, choice, truth); and shakti: dynamic, ENERGY, time (external reality, relational projection into that reality, ego associative identity).

    +++ The 5th chakra is the seat of truth. Truth or deceipt is expressed through words, originally formed with speaking in human evolution — whether spoken or thought or believed. This is ruled by the archetype of hindu lord Yama. That is why you get all choked up when very sad — when a false association of the ego is broken — and the self deception of attachment/desire/expectation for externally caused “happieness” is revealed. E.g., the fantasy of romance, being “in love” is shattered.

    +++ The 6th chakra, having 2 petals, is the seat of choice. The issue is what part of ourself controls our choice. This is represened by the ida & pingala nadis, and in the caduceus.

    +++ Seated at the 7th chakra is witness consciousness, beyond which there is no further witness. You know it separately exists, because you can perceive what you think and feel and experience. With awareness here, one asserts self will, and thusly TRUE free choice. It is the ultimate doorway to the inner world, reflected in the doorway to the outer world of the 1st chakra. See, Drg Drsya Viveka.

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