Tantra is a way of life, a spiritual path, but in the West, it is often reduced to a way of sex, and a sexual path. Tantric techniques in the West are sexual techniques. Tantric practice in the West is Tantric sexuality. “Tantra” in the West is usually just Tantric sex. But there is so much more to Tantra!
In summary, the Tantric approach to life considers all aspects of the Universe to be Divine.
This puts Tantra in conflict with many religions, which separate the material world (profane, evil, dirty, and bad) from the spiritual world (pure, elevated, clean, and good). This is known as asceticism or the ascetic approach.
Ascetic traditions insist that people disconnect from the material world, from their bodies, their emotions, and their minds, in order to reach the Divine. Of course, all major religions have had their mystic sects, which disagreed with the ascetic approach. The Kabbalists in Judaism, the Gnostics in Christianity, and the Sufis in Islam have all sought God through embodied practices. These sects were often persecuted by the ascetic authorities.
Tantra belongs to the ancient Indian tradition, based in the Vedas. Tantra says that we are entirely composed of the Divine. Our bodies, emotions, and minds are manifestations of the Divine. We can reach the Divine by going deeply into any aspect of the material world, any sensation, emotion, or thought.
And this is where sex comes into the Tantric picture.
Tantra sounds like a lovely idea. I can be a good, moral person on a spiritual path and still enjoy lots of wild sex? Sign me up!
In practice, Tantra is a challenging path.
On an ascetic path, it is very straightforward – renounce the world, dry up all desires of any kind, and focus only on God. On the Tantric path, we stay engaged with worldly actions, desires, and emotions. It is much more difficult to keep the focus on higher things while still moving through day-to-day life.
Once we start to learn how to practice Tantra in the bedroom to enhance our sex lives, the intense experiences can become so fascinating and enjoyable that we forget there is any purpose to Tantric sexuality other than pleasure. Becoming lost in pleasure and forgetting the higher purpose is a trap, and is sometimes referred to as “Red Tantra”.
We become Tantric when we commit to living the whole of life as a spiritual practice. This is not the same as adopting a religion – there have been mystics who knew how to practice Tantra in every major religion, and there have also been agnostic Tantrikas.
We become Tantric when we decide there is something more to life than simply gratifying our physical, mental and emotional desires. When we start to seriously look beyond the ordinary, and seek the Divine in our everyday experiences.
Tantric sexuality is like Tantric swimming, Tantric taking out the garbage, or Tantric tying our shoelaces. Any aspect of life becomes Tantric when we bring our full attention, our full presence, and we actively look for the Divine in every moment.
There is something special about sex, though. (You might also find this one principle of Tantric sex very uplifting and helpful.)
Sexual union symbolizes the ultimate goal of Tantra – the union of opposites. Within each of us we have opposite poles – yin vs yang, receptive vs emissive, up vs down, yielding vs rigid, active vs passive, and so on. In order to reach higher states of consciousness, we need to transcend these apparent opposites. We need to understand that there is Yin within the Yang, and yang within the yin. We need to merge, or integrate, the apparent opposites, and understand that they are not actually in opposition to one another.
We each have an inner man and an inner woman, and these inner beings represent all these opposing pairs. When our inner man and inner woman merge in an inner sexual union, this represents the merging and integrating of all these opposing pairs.
When we practice Tantric lovemaking with another person, one partner represents the Divine Masculine, and the other represents the Divine Feminine. When we come together in sexual union with another person, we are representing the inner union of our inner man and inner woman. Sexual union with another person represents the inner integration of all the things that appear to be opposed to one another.
For this reason, sexual union (either actual sex or a symbolic representation of sex) has been an important part of Tantric rituals. The shivalingam, still widely worshipped in temples throughout India and South-East Asia is a representation of this Divine sexual union of opposites.
The colonizing Europeans, particularly the British, completely missed the symbolic and spiritual aspects of Tantra, and focused instead on Tantric sexuality and the Tantric rejection of ascetic ideals of “purity”. The British actually saw Tantra as a threat to British rule, because the Tantrikas refused to “follow the rules”.
Translations of Tantric texts into English happened during Victorian times when anything sexual was titillating and shocking. Translators naturally focused on the literal, sexual meaning of the actions described in the texts, and overlooked the spiritual symbolism of the union of opposites.
As a result, the English-speaking public has been fed a hyper-sexual, spiritually impoverished form of Tantra. Only in the last decade have scholars started a widespread effort to go back to the original texts, and to make a more accurate translation. If you Google “what is Tantra?” you will immediately see the problem.
The definition of Tantra at the top of the page says (quite correctly) that Tantra is:
And then you come to the search results:
“We can guess what comes to your mind when we say ‘tantric sex’: Sting. But the truth about tantric sex is a whole lot hotter.”
“Inspired by the sexual success of these ancient love teachings (who wouldn’t be?), Cosmo came up with a list of tantric sex positions to tempt, tease, then thoroughly please”
“Sex Advice: What is tantric sex?”
And so on …
There is one useful link in the first page of results, and this is a good place to start investigating the historical background of Tantra in India. You’ll notice this is a website about spirituality, not about sex and relationships!
Now, we are not saying that you can’t have Tantric sex. Just that sex is not the most important part of learning how to practice Tantra. In fact, there are entire schools of Tantra in which physical sex is not part of the practice. There are known as “right-hand” Tantra. Sexual union is symbolized by the shivalingam, by flowers and fruit, and by visualization in meditation.
However, the most famous form of the traditional Tantric ritual, the maithuna ritual, involves actual sexual union, so let’s take a close look at how to have Tantric sex.
There is no requirement to have a partner in order to learn how to practice Tantra.
We all have an inner man and an inner woman, and we all have sexual energy we can raise, move, and take to our crown chakra.
It can be very useful to know how to practice Tantra alone, even when we have a partner available. For men, it can be easier to learn how to control ejaculation by practicing alone at first. For women, exploring our own bodies and understanding what gives us pleasure is an important part of preparing for practicing Tantra with a partner.
When you practice Tantra alone, put just as much effort into setting the spiritual context as you would when practising with a partner.
For example, you could:
Once you have set the spiritual context, start to touch yourself. Switch your awareness between the hand, touching, and the body, receiving the touch. Notice how it feels to be the active party, and how it feels to be the receiver.
Gently explore your body, without rushing straight to the genitals. Find any spots which are particularly pleasurable. Pay attention to the sensations deep inside your abdomen, as well as sensations on the skin.
As you start to become aroused, you can pleasure yourself in whatever way you choose. If you find yourself getting close to ejaculation, pause for a moment and move all the energy out of your groin and into your heart or head.
As the sexual energy begins to flow, move it upward. Let it fill your whole being. Feel your inner man and inner woman merging together. Notice the energy shooting up your spine in the moments that their union is complete. Direct the energy to your crown chakra, about 20cm above the top of your head.
When you feel you have had enough, allow your body to calm, and sit or lie in meditation. Observe the changes in your body, mind, and emotions as a result of your practice. Offer gratitude to the Divine for this experience.
If you bring a Tantric attitude to sex, but continue to move through the rest of your life in an unintentional, semi-hypnotized state, the benefits of your Tantric sexual practice will be limited. Tantra is a way of life, an attitude, a commitment to being awake and aware in every moment.
You may find it useful to support your Tantric sexuality with the other important aspects of Tantric practice – Tantric hatha yoga, Tantric meditation, and other Tantric techniques such as mantras and yantras.
You can also check one of the most powerful tantric practices explained on Mariah’s podcast episode and dive even more deeply into this:
In fact, it is very difficult for men to master their ejaculation reflex without the support of Tantric hatha yoga, and, in particular, Tantric techniques of sublimation. These include techniques such as uddiyana bandha, nauli kriya, and inverted asanas like the headstand and shoulder stand.
Like anything else, the more you learn how to practice Tantra, the more you will get out of it!