Why I Hate Tantra. ~ Robert Allen

Via on Jul 7, 2010

What begins as the sacred almost always degenerates to self help.

I too dislike it:  there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.  ~ Marianne Moore

The 7th century tantric practitioner in ancient India drawing yantras and intoning mantras to merge with the Divine has now merged with weekend seminars for couples on freedom through sexual expression. One thing always becomes another. And what it becomes usually has a dollar sign attached.

Since when does a spiritual system cost money, and lots of money?

Since the promise of quick sex and a quick fix.

We like quick fixes in America. Rugged individualism and manifest destiny can turn easily to entitlement. We want it, and we want it now. And we don’t want to have to work for it. We’re a Burger King culture (have it your way), and want everything served up on a bun, we want instant gratification. We want instant sex.

That said, I hate tantra. But not for those reasons. They’re just the surface of the theological iceberg.

***

I was a tantra teacher. I loved tantra, the continuum of the web of being. I joyed in it. I talked of nothing else and came to be known as “that tantra guy.” I appreciated the moniker as a fun side of pride, but something was wrong, something was missing. Being that tantra guy wasn’t enough.

Having a “spiritual job” was diluting my personal practice; the work kept me focused on the practices of others and their personal victories of spirit. And as I listened to them, I had stopped listening to myself.

I had forgotten my foundation. It was time to step away from the front of the classroom, and into the back.

Since I stepped away from the front of the class, these are the things that I’ve learned:

Neo-tantra, often referred to as sacred sexuality, is not tantra.

Tantric practice includes rubbing yourself with ashes of cow dung, baptism by ensanguination, and f*cking on dead bodies. That’s tantra. It’s not all about sex. It’s not f*cking everyone you meet.

Tantra is a religion. Tantra uses mantra, magical symbols, energy work and visualization rituals to aid the practitioner in blending with the divine within and without.

Neo-tantra picks and chooses a bit, which is fine, but completes itself in sex, not liberation.

Tantra is liberation theology, a mystic entwining of the poles with the human body. Tantra is the vast embrace of Shakti and Shiva, the work the ritual, the bliss the reward.

Neo-tantra is a natural ideal. The sensual focus on your partner, the slowing of the need for climax, and learning the courses and curves of each other’s bodies is a beautiful experience. This embrace of the sacred teaches us respect and love for our bodies and spirit. But it’s not tantra.

***

Maybe it’s new wine in old bottles, maybe I’m tired and cranky. Maybe I’ve had one too many “tantric hugs,” creepily, with the ahhhhhhhh and ohhhhhh released during the sexualized inapproriate embrace.

Maybe I’m over it, maybe I needed a change, or maybe I shouldn’t teach, but be taught. Maybe I need a guru, the man or woman that represents, in no uncertain terms, God. Is God.

So what to so in a country, a hemisphere, that has no gurus? Make it up. Make it easy. Water it down like strong wine.

I really really hate tantra.

***

As a teacher, I was pleased with my work. As a householder I am pleased with my life, my love, the world.

I’m not saying one can’t exist without the other, I’m not saying those who charge for their wisdom and grace are wrong. I’m saying that I can’t do both.

Grace descends for me now; now I can live in surrender, practice and bliss.

There is a tantric concept known as pratyabhijna, meaning recognition of your own true nature. Perhaps we do, or don’t need a guru or teacher for that. Sometimes, our holiest moment is the easiest, sometimes it comes with hard work. In the end, there is nothing to seek but ourselves.

In the meantime, I hope I know what I am and where I am going. I’m me and I’m with the divine. Which was really always true anyway.

Robert Allen is a writer and teacher in the realm of relationships and the men’s movement. His articles have been distributed widely on the internet. He’s the author of the Integrity Pledge, a five part pledge  for men who love women, and want to love them better.

Robert lives in northern California with his wife, elephant journal columnist Lasara Allen, and two daughters.

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Comments

77 Responses to “Why I Hate Tantra. ~ Robert Allen”

  1. David says:

    What you say you hate certainly sounds like a good thing to reject. It's nothing remotely like any tantra to which I've ever been exposed, which has all been about developing the compassion and wisdom of the buddhas. Any guru I've met doesn't get to ride for free any more than the rest of us, so it seems unreasonable to expect all teachings to be free, but the people I've gained the most from are charging a pathetic fraction of what I pay for professional education in my field. Then if you give them donations they turn around and give them away to others. I guess the lesson is: examine the teacher closely and your own motivations for seeking the teachings.

  2. Ramesh says:

    Hi Robert,

    As a practitioner of Tantra for the past 36 years (I studied in Nepal and India, and I do indeed have a guru, although it is understood in Tantra that the ultimate guru is within), and I agree with your assessment of neo-tantra (aptly named by Georg Feuerstein, by the way). Lama Yeshe explains authentic Tantra nicely in his book–Tantra: The Transmutation of Desire–that Tantra is about inner transformation, the alchemical churning of body-mind energies into the awareness of spiritual bliss and nondual unity. However, if you understand that, which you obviously do, there should be no need to hate neo-tantra, since the Tantric esprit is about transcending likes and dislikes. Even Oprah magazine had an article about Tantra vs. neo-tantra a few years back, and its author dismissed the latter as a sexual diversion, mostly based on the hedonistic Kama Sutras and not on authentic Tantra.
    Do you need a Guru to learn Tantra? You need at least an authentic teacher from a lineage with a Guru at its roots in order to learn the real deal as opposed to some watered down Western version. As I have said in several articles here on EJ, Tantra represents the core teachings of practical Yoga. Yoga is Tantra. Tantra is Yoga. Indeed, Tantra represents the integral core of all Indian wisdom practice. Even if your practice simply is one of the many modern versions of Hatha Yoga, its roots are Tantra, since the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written by Tantric yogis and all authentic Tantric texts are ultimately credited to Shiva (and often his consort Parvati), aptly named the King of Yogis in India, the true father of Tantra.

  3. Yeshe Dorje says:

    "Why I hate…" Sorry, but that stopped me.

    Yes, of course so much of what purports to be "spirituality" is just more selling and buying.

    Our practice (or lack of it) will help (or not) us sort out these apparent contradictions…

  4. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Maybe I'm biased, but as you already know, Mr. Allen, I'm a big fan!

    Great article. Glad to see it out in the world.

    Love.

  5. animus pax says:

    my dear mister allen. thank you for that. loving your hate and all that… 😉

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    Uuugh or is it uhhhhg?

  7. Robyn Lynn says:

    Robert, this is why we are friends. I loved the article–it made me smile, think, laugh, and stand in wonder and awe at your evolution and my separate evolution in parallel. Actually, I think it's sort of cute–all of us Westerners waking up from a sleep to find no teachers, knowing intuitively, deeply that we sorely need teaching but finding … See Moreno gurus, no lineages, no wisdom traditions readily available. So we start to make it up. We look down, find our feet, and make it up through direct experience and revelation. There's grace and beauty in that. There's courage. Like kids on a playground.

    It's ok if we get lost in the early stages—oooh, this is how to delay ejaculation! Ahhh, you too can have better orgasms for just $1995! It's goofy, funny, particularly American, and still, has value. That's all part of how we learn. I am so sick of the words juicy and yummy and still, they creep into my vocabulary with much more regularity than I'd like to admit.

    I want to absolve us from any shame we might have for not being born in a place and time where "the way" was clear delineated. We have such an overload of information available to us, but where are the elders? In this case, we are them. But we're not there yet. We haven't bloomed into elderhood, we're simply on our way. I think American tantra (if that's even the right word) hasn't been fully developed yet. It's a zygote. It's starting to unfold into the awakening understanding of our humble place in the web of life, into the need for community and mutual interdependence, into practices and rituals that support earthly life without the need to transcend it.

    This is my dream that we, the thousands of future elders of the new American spiritual front, cultivate a tantra, a woven tapestry of wisdom that serves us here and now, in this time and in this place. That rather than seeking to dissolve into the absolute, we choose to emerge into gritty, fleshy, messy form of life in a body on this earth and we do it with grace, courage, and tenderness. And maybe as the next generations arise, we'll have developed our own distinctly western, 21st-century essence of spiritual wisdom, strongly linked to the past, keenly-aimed toward the future, grounded in the earth, and crazy fucking eclectically diverse. Now how juicy is that?!

    Namaste Motherfucker. I salute you.

  8. Hi, my good friend Ramesh. (That's what they say in the Senate before they blast each other. They mean it, and so do I!)

    I don't have time right now for another "great debate". And it would probably just be a duplicate of the very thorough discussions we've had on this topic in past blogs. I should probably just pull together all those great discussions we've had into a new blog.

    But I must at least object to your contention that the Yoga is Tantra and Tantra is Yoga. Does that mean that Robert here hates Yoga, too? Whatever the history, today Yoga has many different forms, and many of them have departed considerably from what you're defining as Tantra. Just because something has Tantric roots and influences does not make it all Tantra.

    I'm no historian, but this appears to be true in the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutra as well. They clearly have Tantric influences, but the Yoga they define is certainly not synonymous with Tantra, at least not in the relatively narrow practice-based way both you and Robert are defining it.

    I'm just an avid Yoga reader and modern practitioner, not a scholar, but it seems that you are just pushing your own particular Yoga preference as the only Yoga, and Tantra is just not the only Yoga, unless we all allow you to narrow the word "Yoga" itself to conform to your own notions.

    But to me that's a gross distortion. If you define the word "Yoga" to mean something that can only be learned at the feet of a Tantric Guru in, or from, or at least trained in India (as you and Robert both seem to above) then, so be it. But the rest of us are going to stick with the much more diverse and current definition of "Yoga" that we all feel comfortable with, much of which has little to do with what you define as Tantra.

    Robert, I greatly enjoyed your blog, by the way. Based on what you wrote above, I would think you would object to equating Yoga with Tantra as well. But I won't assume that. I only know you from this blog. Glad to meet you. ( I was the one who posted your blog on Elephant's facebook page this evening, by the way. That's how much I liked your provocative writing.)

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

  9. Hollie says:

    Hi All!
    What an awesome discussion!!!

    Robyn, You crack me up! I love your style!

    However, I gotta caution, there are gurus who are connected to authentic lineages out there… and I think it’s important to find them, or at least read and contemplate their written works. (http://www.amazon.com/Dalai-Lamas-Tantra-Glenn-Mullin/dp/155939269X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278693090&sr=8-1 I haven’t read it yet, but it’s next in line)

    When we engage in powerful practices without the guidance of an authentic teacher, acknowledged by an authentic lineage, it can be dangerous… for example, the people who were killed in the Sweat Lodge. The teacher, who to my understanding was not recognized or authorized to do the ceremony by any First Nation People, ended up killing people because of his misunderstanding of the ritual. (It is my understanding, in traditional cultures, you NEVER sweat for yourself. You sweat for your community.) In the case of tantra: I have heard it said, in Neo-Tantra, that tantra can lead to mental illness. I think this is probably because people practice with absolutely no idea what they are doing, they end up suffering because they have not studied authentic teachings, under an authentic teacher (Dharma Protectors, like Palden Lhamo are there for a reason!).
    (for more see below…)

    Robert,
    Thanks so much for writing this! I’ve been contemplating a similar piece, but hesitated because I have very little experience with Western/ Neo- Tantra. I am always grateful to run into teachers with information that augments mine… I really appreciate your insights!

    However, it is my understanding (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that there is a sexual component to Buddhist & Hindu Tantra, at least that’s what I’ve picked up from my studies.

    The text, ‘Lady of the Lotus Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal’ states,

    “… the Vajrayana is characterized by its direct utilization of emotion, as well as psychophysical energies of the mind and body…. The first of the four initiations empower the disciple to undertake the yogas of the Generation Stage. These aim at the realization of the true nature of all phenomena… The second initiation stage… the Perfection Stage in which the subtle channels, energies and essences of his or her own body are meditated upon and brought under control… The third initiation, which empowers him or her to practice a similar type of yoga but this time taking support of the body of another person, in other words, a consort… The fourth initiation is directly concerned with the introduction to the nature of mind itself.” (XXVV)

    Thus, the third stage might include an intimate practice with a consort.

    That being said, from my observations, those in The States who are attracted to these practices rarely go through the first two stages of initiation. One could postulate that it’s dangerous to practice third stage initiations without going through the first two stages.

    Again, from ‘Lady of the Lotus Born’,

    “The esoteric nature of the tantric teachings is given by Guru Rinpoche to the king… They (the teachings) are likened to the milk of the snow lion, an elixir of such potency that it will sa hatter a vessel of anything of the purest gold.” (XXIV)

  10. naida enriquez says:

    I spent two years at the City of 10,000 Buddha's girls school, "Instilling Virtues," and I am very tired of the liberal left wing interpretation and co-opting of ancient religions of distant regions. It smells of "Orientalism" or some other gross white attempt at stealing everything they can from folks with interesting or different culture or society, and turning the sacred or private into cute t-shirts, candles, and holier than thou bored privileged little cultists….

  11. Annette says:

    Continuing with Hollies thread / comments, I think it's good to note that Indian Tantra and Tibetan Tantra involve specifically different focus and definitions of union with divine – not that one would discount the other, but rather the ways to go about understanding and experiencing unification with the divine have taken different emphasis in these cultures. Indian tantra seems to bring into play quite often the Shiva Shatki unification through the obvious male female human as experimentation.

    For sure Tibetan tantra has sacred esoteric sexual practices, but they haven't been widely taught and available to the public for the very reason of misinterpretation and inability by most to experience the 'voidness' unification without the ego taking over. The tantra notion of the divine in Tibetan Tantra is instead primarily conveyed through (first) emphasizing an understanding of the divine universal energy that we have inside us, and the recognition of all sensory experiences as divine manifestation.

    I feel that Indian tantra bogs down most people, and certainly is a wild fire in the West, as most of us haven't disentangled our society's notions of sexuality / sex for sale / sex as power etc nor have we individually and healthily located ourselves sexually in relation to our spiritual practice (whatever it may be). Taking sexuality then as a spiritual practice is like jumping on a wild mustang to learn how to ride. You'll get an experience of it, but you're not gonna master it!

    And this is what can be a dangerous path on many levels in Indian tantra in the West. Whereas generally accessible Tibetan Buddhist notions of tantra involve every 'thing' in the world, with that being the primary focus, and sexual expression / male-female human union not given more, in fact less emphasis, for a lay person and lesser practitioners.

    Thank you for provoking lively discussion !

  12. Ramesh says:

    Annette, Nice comments! Sexual tantra within the Hindu Tantra tradition–to use that term to simply distinguish it from Buddhist Tantra, while at the same time understanding that in essence they have the same goal: spiritual liberation –is only a small portion of it, maybe 5% at the most. Yoga and Tantra are about transmutation of energy, whether phsyical or sexual or emotional or intellectual or egoic, and that is essentially what yoga is about, as well. As Robert points out above, sexual tantra is a misnomer, a western construct, a bias. In India, the bias is different. In India, tantra is mainly associated with black magic. But that is only practiced by a small subsection of Tantra, within Aghora Tantra, or leftist Tantra, which is also associated with sex, but in essence about controlling the occult, a very dangerous flirt with power and which few fully master. Hence, there are safer and sweeter Tantric avenues to wander…yoga asanas, kirtan, meditation, pranayama, study, LOVE. So, as you correctly point out, sexual Tantra is about mastering sexual energy, not about riding the wild mustang before you are ready.

    I also want to emphasize again, as I have done in my recent Why I Love Tantra article here on EJ, that Tantra, whether it is Buddhist or Hindu, is the practice of seeing everything as sacred, that everything is God, Spirit, Empty, Full, Conscious.
    Embracing all as One. Which is what Yoga is all about, as Tantra and Yoga are One.

  13. Robert Allen says:

    My father last night told me he read my "tantra tantrum" on Elephant. That made it all worth it. I'm glad my dad got it!

  14. Maya says:

    I have a blog that I'd like to share as well….now that we're on the subject matter. I have direct experience with neo-tantra/sexual tantra and the black magic it involves. I also want to put out there -and you will understand this more from the blog- that black magic does not necessarily have to come from a malicious intent. It's reality can be learned the hard way. Two things to look into here to connect the dots: 1) a movie trailer. http://www.sexmagicthemovie.com 2) my blog; http://www.ramamaya.com. The film is about a practitioner who was using sex magic to call me back into his life after I came to my senses to do so. The blog is about the results of sex magic. Enjoy!

  15. Exactly how did you figure all this out about this topic? I enjoyed reading this, I’ll have to visit other pages on your site straight away.

  16. Shaina Gaul says:

    Why does the commodification of tantra result in your hatred for it? Demand does not necessitate perversion, but rather exploitation.

  17. Rinatkaallka says:

    [url =http://2nt.ru/go/odnoklassniki.php]я не возбуждаюсь во время секса [/url] Обсудите, пожалуйста… Я постараюсь относиться ко всем хорошо. Не судить по первому впечатлению, постараюсь взять в толк, отчего человек совершил то или же иное. Как бы встать на его место. Но в голове сами собой возникают мысли – мол, дурно одет или же, грубо говоря, пахнет от человека. Или вот он глупость сказал! Но так как по сути это не моё дело! Каждый человек хорош по-своему. Но я, к примеру, не могу общаться с тем, у кого не помытая голова, к примеру. Неприятно.

    Может, моё старание всё же не обращать на это внимания – результат фильмов о дружбе, любви, коие я посмотрела в детстве? Как-то из детства я вынесла то, что нужно ко всем относиться хорошо. А моё плохое всё время вырывается наружу!!! Может, это как внешность – передаётся по наследству и безрезультатно с этим бороться?

  18. […] *http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/why-i-hate-tantra-robert-allen/ […]

  19. jody says:

    > Sometimes, our holiest moment is the easiest, sometimes it comes with hard work.*

    But it will always be something outside the realm of the expected.

    One thing that often seems missed by many tantric teachers out there is the basic notion of transgression as neurological forge.

  20. Resorna says:

    really like what you wrote . it really isn’t that simple to discover great stuff toactually read (you know really READ and not just going through it like some uniterested and flesh eating zombie before moving on), so cheers mate for really not wasting my time on the god forsaken internet. 😉

  21. […] ever since, I have resonated with this positive emphasis that Tantra has, and finding and transcending wherever we are in whatever we are doing. For me, the more I […]

  22. candicegarrett says:

    excellent read, thanks for sharing

  23. Ex-Yoni-Fluffer says:

    I was first initiated when i was 16, spent most of my life in Buddhism, yoga, etc. and am now 43. I quit all this shit a few years ago after a near death experience and saw things as thet really are. In my life i did and saw it all, the legitemate and the debauched. I personally think I if i could do my life over again I would have nothing to do with this crap. Several of my Gurus abused me. Some were physical assults, beatings. Others were psychological, emotional financial, and verbal abuses. Traditionally, when this shit happens it’s because the Guru is testing your ego and trying to get you transcend in some way. I bought all this bunk back then with wide eyed naivety. In retrospect, it was just abuse from stupid human beings who thought they were god. Fuck you assholes. i feel compassion for people seeking and sifting though all this crap today. Some are genuine seekers that are nothing more than bliss bunnies waiting to be assfucked by demonic shit people waiting to exploit their innocence and open hearts. George Feuerstein says that neo-tantra is a “western invention”. I love how it’s always our fault when things go wrong. We were just folloing the example of the kama sutra. Easterners have their heads stuck in the paradigm of non-duality. And so leave them in a perpetual state of mental confilct due to “double-bind, black and white” type thinking. You see folks, tantra, buddhism and all these eastern approaches, create a conflict in the mind and body that cannot be resolved, intensifies stress and duress and increases that until a breaking/breakdown point ensues, and this is supposed to open a doorway to a “higher or Transcendental” realm. It’s really just brainwashing and thought reform. But i guess, maybey some folks need that to short circuit their brains for one reason or another. Hey, you can use drugs or not masterbate for a few years and get similar strangeties. hehe. but the real point I want to make is that Tantra, Budhism is not really the problem per se. It’s the people who seek this shit out. Why are you doing it. Are you bored? Did your spouse leave you? Where you ignored or beaten as a child? Where you sexually molested as a child? Are you seeking some king of recognition or power or success be becoming a saint or yogi? Do you think you are superior to others because you are a vegetarian? Do you suppress your anger in order to become a bliss bunny? do you look down on people for being “unadvanced”? Are you struggling with your “ego”? Whatever that means. That damn “ego”. Oh yea, i saw it this morning when i wiped my ass. hehehe. Ladies and gentlemen, I guarrantee you that every one of you reading this will get egoless self-realization the moment you die and pass on. It’s a given. At the very least, you will shit your pants. So stop trying to struggle with duality ideas. Most religions are nothing more than a power trip over other people and ourselves because we’re terrified of the one thing we CAN’T CONTROL or TRANSCEND. DEATH. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU>>

  24. Bill Iams says:

    Just because you don’t have someone to guide you inbetween the gray spaces to what you have paid to paid been told to believe in is no reason to unleash your uneducated egocentric premenstrual blibber-blabber.

  25. Eric says:

    Ex-Yoni-Fluffer, you have crossed over given & us the best answer. But there are many answers that follow many compulsions, all leading to the truth & liberation you describe. Thank you!

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