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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75 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.

    • Robert Allen says:

      David

      Thanks for your response. I agree with you fully that tantric practice includes compassion and the wisdom of the buddhas. I was choosing some of the more "intense" practicing of certain forms of tantra to clearly separate it from neo-tantra. I felt the exaggeration (which it is) would better express my point. And yes, we do need to choose teachers with care. Thanks for your comments.

    • Nic says:

      David…thank you. very well said.

  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.

    • shashi joshi says:

      ramesh, great reply, clarifying about tantra. i would like to clarify one thing though.

      why say "hedonistic kAmasUtra (कामसूत्र) "? it does not say pleasure is the only thing to focus, but recognizes the human need for it, and guides the reader to legal/moral fulfillment of it with a total practical perspective. if one even glances at the first chapter, nay the preface, of the original work (even english translation) but one without the glossy photos, one will immediately know that kAmasUtra is far from hedonistic. because it deals with a topic of pleasure, and claims a status of being a 'shAstra (शास्त्र), it has to also talk about physical attributes and techniques.

      but when people only see the glossy picture books, they don't know the reasons for mentioning the techniques and the types of congress! it is penthouse or playboy letters to the editor. it is saving marriages due to sexual dissatisfaction. it is guiding the 99.999% of population that is and will always be working at a physical level, and hence its sexual urges and desires needs to be channeled properly under the guidance of dharma (धर्म)

      equating kAmasUtra with tantra, neo-tantra is wrong and insulting, respectively :) :)

      • Ramesh says:

        Shashi Joshi, the Kama Sutra's focus is indeed mainly pleasure. The name itself, the sanskrit Kama means pleasure and there is no doubt that is the focus of the Kama Sutra, although, as you mention, the book also deals with other issues. To put this in some spiritual and tantric perspective:

        1. Dharma: Virtuous living.
        2. Artha: Material prosperity.
        3. Kama: Aesthetic and erotic pleasure
        4. Moksha: Liberation.

        These are the four vrittis or mental tendencies related to the first chakra, or the muladhara cahkra, in Tantra. In other words, if we follow our kama vritti, we will not gain moksha or liberation. In other words, more frequent orgasms will not lead to enlightenment. It does not mean we suppress pleasure, but to just focus on pleasure, which is what neo-tantrics mainly do, is not to practice tantra, as tantric yoga is about balance and transcendence, using the physical to transcend the physical, then using the mental to transcend the mental and move into the Spirit realm, and those techniques and tantric insights are not found in the Kama Sutras. Thus I stand by my assertion that the Kama Sutra is mainly about pleasure, albeit not solely about physical or sexual or hedonistic pleasure (so thanks for pointing that out Shashi), it is also, as you point out Shashi, about interpersonal conduct, including how the king should relate to his lovers and the relationship between partners, etc.. But is is not about tantric practice….. So what I meant is that the neo-tantrics focus on that part of the kama sutra that is about hedonistic pleasure and call it tantra…and that is like calling BP an environmental restoration company.

        • Robert Allen says:

          Ramesh

          Great response, just great. Your knowledge and detail shows and your last line in perfect. I was trying to be ironic and occasionally funny in the article; but your last line takes the cake.

          You said it so well I have little response but thank you.

          • Ramesh says:

            Robert,
            I loved the title, but when you repeated the "hate" part in the article, I lost the irony, so thanks for setting me straight about the ironic subtext. Some people get to the higher and more integral aspects of yoga through doiing yoga poses in a gym, some people also advance to the more integral aspects of authentic tantra by attending neo-tantric workshops.

          • integralhack says:

            I don't know what it is, but irony never seems to work on EJ. It's not the ironic attempts that are bad necessarily–perhaps it is just the heaviness of such spiritual topics that divert us from the irony. Good post and follow up, Robert and Ramesh!

      • Robert Allen says:

        Shashi

        I love the kama sutra, it is a beautiful text that goes far beyond sexual expression. Limiting it to a picture book on sexual pleasure my be lovely, but as you say the kama sutra expresses more. How would you channel properly in the gujidance of the dharma? It is an interesting point and I'd love to hear more of it. Thanks.

    • Robert Allen says:

      Awesome points. I will certainly check out the book you mentioned. I appreciate your comments about Guru; I do agree–just how to make it happen in the west?

      Thanks for your detailed and very knowledgeable response.

      P.S. I don't hate anything, that was ironic and about my "job" — I love tantra, and neo-tantra– it feeds me and like all love it can get ambivalent!

      • Ramesh says:

        Robert, Yeshe's book is great and its focus on Buddhist Tantra is a wonderful complement to Hindu Tantra as it shows its common roots.

        California tantra, New Age Tantra, or spa-tantra may be better terms, actually. Neo-tantra implies a new and perhaps deeper or better form of Tantra, and that is misleading. Great food is tasty, healthy and fun to eat! And it can be a sacred experience, as well. But if we call the eating of slowly grown, sustainable food "samadhi-food" it becomes a bit misleading. Better to call a spade a spade. That is the main issue I have with neo-tantrics. They often mistake the wonderfully erotic with enlightenment.

  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…

    • Robert Allen says:

      Yeshe–

      I went back and forth on the title, finally deciding on something challenging. I understand why it might stop someone from reading further, but I feel it better expresses my points: That tantra and neo-tantra are different, and that I need more training or a new job! I've no hate for anything except brussel sprouts.
      Thank you for your honest reply.

  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.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Hi Robyn!

      I agree with you about much in this, and also disagree with some.

      First, even our zygotic American spiritual movement already has a history, from Western Ceremonial Magick, to Native American Influences (including even sexual spiritual practices, beliefs and in some tribes – two spirit/gender and sexual fluidity, sexual mysticism, etc), to Theosophy (which some would argue is the same thing as Western Ceremonial Magick), and more.

      And, beyond that, we have living elders, who we do not often choose to look to. From the living Dineh (Navajo) and Hopi elders, to Ram Dass, Andrew Harvey, Anodea Judith, and many lesser known American spiritual "elders" – meaning, they have a generation on you and I.

      I agree whole-heartedly that it is time, in no uncertain terms, to learn to live in our bodies, and with the Earth. Realizing we cannot separate ourselves from the fate of the planet is a requirement for our survival. I believe this is happening, and will happen more with the next generation (the one beyond Y, sometimes referred to as Z, or Generation I (short for internet), because through the globalization of communication, the whole world is becoming "our backyard". And, the result of disengagement with the planet we live on is becoming more and more undeniable.

      At the same time, the future generations will (and do already) have their own ideas of spiritual growth, progress, "tantra" (small t). We have no way of knowing if, why, or how OUR "tantra" will be needed/wanted/recognized/used by future generations.

      As Khalil Gibran said,
      "Your children are not your children.
      They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
      They come through you but not from you,
      And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
      You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
      For they have their own thoughts.
      You may house their bodies but not their souls,
      For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
      You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
      For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."

      The best we can do on that front is raise the children in our lives with as much consciousness as we can access and live in, and release attachment – for the benefit of all beings.

    • Maya says:

      Robyn…beautifully stated.

  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

    • Robert Allen says:

      Bob

      Thanks for your very thoughtful and knowledgeable post.

      I did in fact limit the article to practice — but there is much more to tantra as we know. And tantra is yoga of course, I was simply expressing a bit of ambivalence on my part about tantra yoga.

      Re gurus: I don't always know how I feel. I think perhaps it would be wonderful and terrifying. But I remain carefully afraid of that seeking, but remain open and closed at the same time. I'm a westerner after all…

      Thanks again Bob for your views and comments, and thank you for posting the blog on Facebook.

      Peace

      Robert

    • Ramesh says:

      Dear Bob, There are multiple ways to define Tantra. There are also multiple ways to define Yoga. If you want to learn proper Dharana (concentration) and Pratyahara (withdrawal) practice, it is best to learn that from a competent teacher from a yogic/tantric lineage that goes back to India and Patanjali and Astavakra and Kirshna and Shiva, etc.. If you want to learn Dhyan (meditation), it is best to learn this from a competent teacher from a yogic/tantric lineage, as well. If you want to learn Pranayama with Cosmic ideation and a mantra, you learn that best from someone whose tradition goes back to Yudhisthira, Krishna's disciple, who, according to tantric tradition, popularized that in India thousands of years ago.

      If you want to learn yoga poses, most of which also hails back to Tantra, you can learn that from a teacher at a yoga studio. BUT, if you want to learn how these yoga poses best balance the body and mind for spiritual practice, how they effect the endocrine glands, how certain bhandas effect the kundalini, it is again best to learn that from a competent teacher from a yogic/tantric lineage.

      Just like there are many kinds of cars on the market, there are also many styles of yoga. Yet a car is a car, and yoga is yoga, no matter which style. So, if you, Bob, and all other yogis out there can use yoga in that way, as a label for all kinds of styles, I reserve the right to use Tantra in the same way. Simply BECAUSE, the root of yoga is tantra, and all its variations are also various forms of tantra.

      So, to be clear, Bob, there are certain aspects of Tantra that is best learned from a Guru lineage, but there are many others that you can learn from other teachers here in the US. It all depends. So, it all depends on which aspects of Tantra and Yoga you want to learn.
      What is really ironic is that in the US many people practicing yoga asanas go to the Buddhists to learn meditation; they practice Vipasana, for example. They may know about Yoga and Tantra's eight limbs, of Asthanga Yoga, but they do not know how to practice pranayama or dhyan or dharana according to the proper tantric or yogic methods. That's because there are not enough competent teachers of Asthanga Yoga or Raja Yoga or Tantra known to the greater yoga public.

      I know that they way I present Tantra is not the way most people or scholars do it. But like a few others, (Satyananda Saraswati, Danielou, Anandamurti, and so on) I have made it my mission to restore Tantra's original history and source as the origins of Yoga.
      Tantra is a vast subject and so is the subject of Yoga. Many waves, many styles, but ultimately both come from the same ocean.

      • Ramesh says:

        To simplify what I have written above and in several other articles on Elephant about the history of Yoga, let me add this: It is commonly understood among scholars and spiritual teachers from India, that there are broadly two defining traditions in the ancient history of India, namely the Vedic and the Tantric. In Georg Feuerstein's excellent book Tantra: the Path of Ecstasy, he spells this out clearly, but in none of his many books does he develop this idea further. The reason for this is because Feuerstein does not have a practical background in the tantric tradition as a student or yogi. Thus, he and David Frawley and Deepak Chopra and most other eminent writers on yoga and tantra in the West proclaim that the early roots of Yoga comes from the Vedas. However, according to those of us with a long background in the Tantric tradition, this is not correct. Yoga hails from Tantra. In ancient India, you did not go to a Vedic priest to learn yoga, you went to a Tantric yogi, a Shivaite, a follower of Shiva, the King of Yoga. This is still the case today. So, that is why I maintain that Yoga hails from Tantra, because Tantra, not the Vedas, has supplied all the practical aspects of Yoga. And once again, even hatha yoga, which is the root of today's yoga studio practices, was developed by Tantric yogis…

        • Yoga is a 5000 year old mix and continual remix of several major traditions, only one of which is Tantra. Many scholars feel that the most influential Yoga text of all, the Yoga Sutra, for example, was far more influenced by the rising Buddhism of the day than Tantra.

          Most of the scholars you cite in support of a "Tantra-only" version of Yoga history seem to be already deeply attached to the Tantric movement. I remember in one of our past debates you asked us to throw out the opinions of most well-respected Western historians in favor of your Tantric immersed scholars/experiencers from India.

          I will never be an expert in this, or as well-read as you, but I do trust David Frawley, George Feuerstein, Stephen Cope, Rod Stryker, and the like more than I trust your sources so far. (For a non-scholar, non-expert like myself, it can only be a game of who do you trust.)

          Bob Weisenberg
          YogaDemystified.com

          • Ramesh says:

            Bob, we are back to square one. The sources you trust, Frawley et all, are very biased and I have said enough about this in other discussions and articles here on EJ, but now you are trying to drag me back into this intellectual sparring match again. No way!
            I am looking forward to a nice walk in the woods and then meditation and yoga. Have a great weekend, Bob!

          • I'm with you, Ramesh. Thanks for talking some sense into both of us! We don't need to do that again.

            Enjoy your walk.

            Bob Weisenberg
            YogaDemystified.com

      • Hi, Ramesh. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can't first define Tantra so narrowly that only a tiny percentage of American Yoga practitioners qualify, then, when pressed on this, say, Tantra really means everything else Yoga is as well that most people don't think of as Tantra. Remember, most of your original comment is about informing us all of what is authentic Tantra and what is fake Tantra, and bemoaning the fact that most of what goes on in the West is of the fake variety.

        Definitions aside, the main reason I dislike your philosophy about Yoga and Tantra is that it's elitist, exclusionary and overly deferential to concepts and approaches, like the guru system itself, for example, that many, if not most, serious practitioners of Yoga in the U.S. consider an anachronism at best. We don't mind if you have a guru. but please don't try to tell us that we are "inauthentic" (whatever that means, but probably a dangerously exclusionary concept in itself), if we don't have or want one, as you did in your comment.

        I hope we can get some other readers to chime in here so we can get some other perspectives than yours and mine, which, while still interesting I hope, are pretty well worn by this point.

        Bob Weisenberg
        YogaDemystified.com

        • Ramesh says:

          If you read what I have said with an open mind, you will realize I have not defined Tantra in a narrow way. As Pandit Tigunait of the Himalayan Institute says, tantra is what brings all the aspects of yoga and ayurveda together… it is indeed very broad. But again, we have been there with all this. I do not want to tire the readers with us beating around the tantric bush. Have a wonderful day!
          God bless! Namaste. Namaskar! Om shanti!

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Bob,
      As always, I love reading your input. Thank you for sharing your opinion and clarity.

      • Thanks, Lasara. I greatly enjoy the robust interchange of ideas, even with someone as misguided as my friend Ramesh here. (Just kidding. As Jay Leno would say, "Don't write me letters–it's just a joke"!)

    • Ramesh says:

      Dear Bob, There are multiple ways to define Tantra. There are also multiple ways to define Yoga. If you want to learn proper Dharana (concentration) and Pratyahara (withdrawal) practice, it is best to learn that from a competent teacher from a yogic/tantric lineage that goes back to India and Patanjali and Astavakra and Kirshna and Shiva, etc.. If you want to learn Dhyan (meditation), it is best to learn this from a competent teacher from a yogic/tantric lineage, as well. If you want to learn Pranayama with Cosmic ideation and a mantra, you learn that best from someone whose tradition goes back to Yudhisthira, Krishna's disciple, who, according to tantric tradition, popularized that in India thousands of years ago.

  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)

    • Robert Allen says:

      Hollie

      Thanks for responding.

      Some tantric practices do include the sex act–as with Kashmiri Shaivist and Vajrayana, but only after a great deal of training, gaining of wisdom, and time.

      And such tantras on sex and ritual do not occur in tantra as often as people think. Much of the "twilight language" can be misleading, and often with multiple meaning, sexual or otherwise. And most often, otherwise!

      Somewhere tantra got mixed up with modern sex positive culture and redefined, wrongly in my opinion. "Sacred sexuality" belongs in the sex positive arena, but tantra is a reach. Neo-tantra has suggests too easy a reach to freedom and potential liberation.

      The passages you choose are beautiful, and clearly have sexual and other meanings. I am aware of this, but it takes work that I have not done, nor few I know. Which is a shame.

      Most tantra is about energy and consciousness and their blissful fusion. About deity worship, dissolution, and becoming what we always are, divine.

      Peace and thanks

      Robert

      p.s. I never know how I feel about tantra or kundalini rising or chakra clearing making us potentially crazy if we aren't ready. I think when we are ready, it all comes with ease, without illness or madness.

      • Hollie says:

        Hi Robert,
        Thanks so much for your thoughtful and beautifully worded reply! I couldn’t agree more!

        Your first paragraph really sums up what I was attempting to communicate when I cite the text and discuss this type of practice is a third level practice.

        Personally, I think that the reports of Kundalini causing madness is because people who have not done the preliminary work begin to practice and then suffer delusions of grandeur or get sucked into nihilism. The teachings can be dangerous and lead to these extremes if, as you acknowledge, the introductory practices have not been studied and a relatively high level of understanding achieved. But these are only my puny thoughts!

        Namaste!
        Hollie

    • Padma Kadag says:

      To Clarify.. I would guess your quotes are not from the actual "text" and not a quote of either Yeshe Tsogyal or Guru Rinpoche. I could not find my copy of this but I am sure it is not a "textual" quote…rather a quote from the translator or an invited scholar's commentary.

      • Hollie says:

        Hello, Padma Kadag!
        You are absolutely correct, I am sorry I did not make that more clear!
        The text that I cited comes from the translators introduction.
        However they do cross reference the ‘snow lion’ quote
        & it appears on page 21 of my translation as the Guru singing…

        “Your kingly gifts, though vast, do not suffice
        a reason to reveal the Secret Mantras,
        Teachings that require a perfect vessel.
        For when the precious snow lion’s milk
        Is poured in other than the cup of purest gold,
        The vessel breaks, the milk is lost.

        And so I keep the teachings hidden,
        Sealed within my heart.”

        Oops, I mis-cited! Sorry!!! The first quote begins on page xxv and goes on to the top of xxvi of the translators’ introduction.

        My copy was translated by the Padmakara Translation Group.
        Is that a decent translation?
        Or is there another you would suggest?

        Namaste!
        Hollie

    • Padma Kadag says:

      Hollie…your references to the Dharma Protectors…what is your interpretation of the Dharma Protectors? Your personal thoughts.

      • Hollie says:

        What a wonderful question!
        I'm gonna take a few to contemplate & write on this.
        I'm kind of not good at this blog thing, cuz I like to let my thoughts settle before posting…
        I write, let it sit, come back to it, edit, add, etc, and then post.

        So forgive me if it takes me a few to get back to you!
        But I'm gonna really enjoy thinking about this.

        Right now my thoughts are circling around outer, inner and secret aspects of Dharma Protectors,
        As I understand and have experienced them…

        Thanks for the awesome question!!!
        Namaste,
        Hollie

      • Hollie says:

        Hi again Padma Kadag (do you prefer I use your full name, or just Padma?)…
        I’ve been chewing on your question for hours now, and don’t have a word written (except these, but they don’t really answer your question!).

        I was going to just write a bit on my experiences with and understanding of the different ‘levels’ that I mentioned… outer, inner and secret. But as I began to recall my experiences, I realized that, for me- in my experience- there really isn’t a clear delineation between them… for me to tell you about my experiences with outer teachings, I would have to talk about experiences that are, to me very personal and sacred. They may not necessarily count as ‘secret teachings’ but they are things that I have spoken about to very few people. So I’m sure you understand my discomfort with discussing them here ;)

        Warning: I’m sooooooo not good at pithy! But I’m gonna give it a try….

        I am thinking of ‘Daikini’s Warm Breath’… (Now it’s my turn to not be able to find my copy! And I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it.) The author discusses that daikini can be seen as manifesting on three different levels… on one level, the daikini were local protector spirits, associated generally with a certain physical space that came to see and respect the power of the Dharma, and thus pledged to protect it. On another level the teachings are the daikini, and daikini wisdom can be seen to exist in all of us. On yet another level a daikini could manifest as a real woman.

        So, my understanding is that one could approach a ‘Dharma Protector’ or wrathful manifestation of a Buddha on different levels. For example, one might see Palden Lhamo as a external deity to whom you make offerings, prostrations, and the like.

        One might also use the image of the ‘wrathful deity’ to contemplate one’s own wrathful side. I have heard a lot of new age individuals that encourage people to repress and deny their anger. For example: once when I told a woman something made me angry (while laughing) she admonished me, “No, no, no, anger isn’t good.” She was right, it’s not ‘good’ (just like everything, it lacks inherent existence), but it’s human and can be a powerful tool. For me it’s more important to sit with it, observe it, and use various techniques to transmute it into discernment and wisdom. Plus when I observe anger for long enough, without doing anything with it and with no lust of result, it helps me to understand impermanence, that all things change. It’s especially powerful to observe an emotion such as anger, which for a time can really consume us, subside, wane, and change into something different.

        I think contemplating the image and message of Dharma protectors is especially valuable to teachers (*see below). When we work with others, in whatever capacity, but especially important when we are in ‘helping professions’, we must be able to observe our own minds and judgments (see ‘The Zen of Helping’ and, I’m sure, many other text), confront them, use them to practice compassion, whatever it takes to transmute any afflictions that might arise into wisdom. We can then really be present with the ‘other’ person so we can best serve them and their needs.

        I’ve also read that Dharma Protectors & Daikini could also be real people who manifest and have knowledge of secret teachings (terma, yes?) that were buried long ago to protect them from those who would misuse or misunderstand them.

        And yet it’s all empty of intrinsic existence….

        (A quick aside: I do not think of myself as a ‘spiritual teacher’. I am just a simple yogini who still has much to learn. Plus, I learn so much from the people I work with, it’s hard to say who the student is, and who the teacher is!)

        • Padma Kadag says:

          Hollie thank you for your sincere response. I think right off the bat…if you are given a "protection cord" to wear around your neck by your Lama…what is it protecting? In reading all of the responses back and forth in all of the articles regarding Tantra and Buddhism I am finding intellectuallization of an unintelligent process with no mention of Bodhicitta. The selfless wish for all beings, before oneself, to be completely liberated from samsara.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            Do we understand that there is no enlightenment, no activity of the dakini, no dharma to protect without Bodhicitta? No one left behind? We can talk about tantric comparisons between all of the schools and religions and their origins…but why? Certainly if we have attained the goal there would be no need. If we have not attained the goal and we are discussing then we are not keeping our samaya. If we are only approaching Tantra from reading books then definately we will attain wrong view. There are no external Protectors. Just as there is no external Buddha. The only Protection for Dharma , which is needed, is to give protection to the selfless love in Bodhicitta and all that our Guru has given us already, from the innumerable concepts which are arising in our mind right now. That we do not reify them with solidity so that we forget all of the countless beings who suffer endlessly. After all we, you and I, have created hell. Palden Lhamo is love and selflessness for all beings. She protects us from ourselves, the concepts by the self ,which obstruct enlightenment

          • Hollie says:

            Padma Kadag,
            My pleasure! Thanks for taking the time to read it and to compose a thoughtful reply, I really appreciate your insights and wisdom! And I (think I might… maybe?) understand your frustrations…

            I warned you I am not pithy ;) so it doesn’t surprise me that you sum up in two short sentences (“Palden Lhamo is love and selflessness for all beings. She protects us from ourselves, the concepts by the self ,which obstruct enlightenment.”) what it took me a paragraph to even just allude to!

            The paragraph where I talk about Dharma Protectors and teachers and state:

            “we must be able to observe our own minds and judgments (see ‘The Zen of Helping’ and, I’m sure, many other text), confront them, use them to practice compassion, whatever it takes to transmute any afflictions that might arise into wisdom. We can then really be present with the ‘other’ person so we can best serve them and their needs…”

            was my attempt at capturing the concept that you express so concisely.

            I really appreciate your insights. You are obviously very well studied & well practiced… I would love to hear more about you, your background, who you have studied with, etc.

            Thanks for the thought provoking conversation…

          • Padma Kadag says:

            feel free to email me anytime.
            padmakadag@softcom.net

          • Hollie says:

            Thanks!

  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 !

    • Thanks for this very interesting and informative comment, Annette.

      Bob Weisenberg
      YogaDemystified.com

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Awesome stuff, Annette.

    • Robert Allen says:

      Well said Annette, thanks for sharing in such a clear way.

    • Padma Kadag says:

      Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist Tantra actually, in general, is secretly used by the "Lay practitioner" or householder. Of course these teachings which can come only from an authentic Guru and lineage but most of these Gurus are considered "Lay practitioners". Some may have taken Ngakpa vows (who are also householders with families), etc but the majority of these teachings have a tradition of being taught and practiced by householders not monastics. Jigme Lingpa was householder, Dudjom Lingpa, Dudjom Rinpoche, Chagdud Rinpoche, Chatrul Rinpoche, Chetsun Kushok, Sera Khandro….all of the "heavy weights" were "householders yet great masters. So our idea of Lay person differs. The word "Voidness" implies nothingness and is not accurate.

  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.

    • Annette says:

      Excellent response Ramesh, thank you it's super helpful to me. yes, I completely skipped the transmutation of energy. i just realized in this moment that I rarely think of energy transforming into the divine consciously as a concept. it's like the practice of that skipped me by as a theory, or maybe has become transmuted itself into the action in my heart/mind! :) i contemplate perception a great deal in the Mahamudra tradition and often relate to body/mind in duality / nonduality – thesis/ antithesis way. I do practice yoga but it is a way into meditation, like a prayer or offering, and when i practice, i never think of it as a process of transmutation. i just think of it as a way to slip into the bath of a meditative contemplative state – which is of course getting close to the One in a sacred mind/body space. but so to me is walking in a park and acknowledging other living creatures like birds. but relating to things in this way is relationship and relationship is the coming together of energies. so yes, of course, it is in every action – and this is also the Buddhist notion of tantra – all is divine – all sounds, divine song; all smells, divine aromas; all images divine visions.. Well I was just about to read your article, so will stop and do that. I look forward to it. (An aside, I find pulling on the strings of absolutes & dualities and constructs of our minds dangerous such as the terms 'hate' or 'love' – though love is so grand a concept isn't it? – that it sets readers tumbling into conclusions / stances in agreement or opposition to straight away rather than inviting them open-heartedly into a discussion.) sarva mangalam. Annette

  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!

    • Robert Allen says:

      Maya
      Hey there, thanks for your response. By beautiful happenstance, I read your blog yesterday!

      And I agree magicians not prepared to practice with right attitude, may actually teach destruction.

      Or, alternatively, Odier points out that there is no such thing as sex magic as everything is already in consciousness, so nothing is created or destroyed–so no magic, just intent. Just shared for some variation of ideas.

      Thanks for your post,

      Robert

  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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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. ;)

  • [...] 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 [...]

  • candicegarrett says:

    excellent read, thanks for sharing

  • 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>>

  • 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.

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