My Love-affair With Tantra (And It’s not Just About Sex)

Via on Jun 7, 2011


I love Tantra because of its no-BS spirituality.

I love Tantra because it’s about walking your spiritual talk.

I love Tantra because it’s a comprehensive body-mind-spirit tradition that includes the practice of physical yoga exercises, devotional dancing, mantra meditation and chanting, breathing exercises, visualization techniques, sacred cosmology and even alchemy and holistic medicine.

“The techniques of yoga have their source in Tantra and the two cannot be separated, just as consciousness, Shiva, cannot be separated from energy, Shakti.” –Swami Satyananda Saraswati

In other words, when you practice a contemporary yoga studio version of a more ancient version from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or sit in lotus position reciting a mantra flowing like water over your silent tongue, you are a Tantrika.

I love this comprehensive tradition of dual mind-body energies entwined like lovers in a tight embrace, entwined like the ida and pingala nadis of your esoteric spine, entwined like a oneness-flower in each chakra of your sacred body, and which is often referred to as Tantra Yoga.

In this microcosmic architecture of your own body-mind, you also see the architecture of the whole macrocosm. You always see your own dance, whether in the shade or in the light, in the mirror of reality.

Hence it is said in the Vishva-Sara-Tantra: “What is here is elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere.” Hence the alchemists of Europe were also Tantrikas when they said: “As Above, so Below.”

I love Tantra because when you practice your asana in harmony with your breath, you are the whole universe moving in one Tantric flow. So when you meditate knowing that the breath you are breathing is the cosmos breathing through you, then you know you are in the rasa, the cosmic flow.

I love Tantra because it is hardly just about sex. Yet most Western books on this subject inform us that Tantra is simply some form of esoteric sexual practice. Forgetting, though, to mention that most of the writings on sex-tantra have been lifted straight from the pages of the Kama Sutra, a Hindu text on lovemaking, which no doubt has its own sensual beauty to offer, but is essentially neither part of Tantric nor yogic literature.

Since health is not gained by gorging on organic food and true wealth is not found in the desire for more money, Tantra is not the path of indulgence, Tantra is not the path of mere sensual gratification. Hence, on the subject of indulgence in drink and sex as a path to liberation the Kularnava Tantra speaks with a straightforward voice:

“If [you] could attain perfection (siddhi) merely by drinking wine, all the wine-bibbing rouges would attain perfection.

If mere intercourse… would lead to liberation, all creatures of the world would be liberated…”

Not surprisingly, more and more people are searching for a more authentic and holistic experience of Tantra. This search was reflected in the article “Tantric Sex” in O: Oprah Magazine, where its 14 million readers learned that Western Tantra has been “overly sexualized.”

I love Tantra because it is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. In its essence, it is about seeing and realizing that everything we do can become a sacred, spiritual act, including sex.

I love Tantra because Tantra simply means spiritual transformation, the path to inner liberation. Irrespective of religion, the spirit of Tantra is reflected in all genuine spiritual practice. For Tantra is not based on religious faith or belief; it is based on empirical practice.

So, while Tantra signifies the various, ancient yogic practices and their particular history, the path of Tantra—a Sanskrit word that literally means the practice that leads to spiritual liberation—can also be loosely characterized as the universal quest for union with God in all the world’s wisdom traditions.

I love Tantra, because Tantric yogis embrace both unity and duality, both wholeness and opposites. They have realized that these opposites dissolve in Brahma, in Spirit, and that the inner essence of all life and all things is bliss and love.

That is why Tantra is often called the path of ecstasy, or the path of love.

Even neuroscience, through the research of Dr. Candace Perth, has now recognized that we humans are ‘hardwired for bliss.”

I love Tantra because of its notion that everything is Divine. This essential realization—that every form, particle or atom of this universe has an inherent capacity to reveal the Divine.

I love Tantra for boldly claiming that not just everyone, but everything, is at its core, God.

I love Tantra because it understands there is no free spiritual lunch. Engage in a sustained spiritual effort (sadhana) in order to realize this inherent Divinity, because it is highly unlikely that weekend seminar in Hawaii will give you instant enlightenment! (So, please hang in there and go to those weekend yoga seminars, again and again.)

Tantric-no-BS spirituality means that in order to experience sacredness in everyday life, we must practice spirituality—hatha yoga, meditation, prayer, chanting, dancing—diligently and with total abandon. We must walk (or dance) our spiritual talk. It’s that simple.

In other words, daily spiritual practice is essential in achieving results on the path of Tantra. Indeed, all sacred paths worthy of its mala beads would agree.

I love Tantra because it signifies a spirituality that is vigorous and fearless, a spirituality that encourages and enables us to overcome limitations, phobias, worries and egotistical tendencies head-on. Just Do It! (Tantra said that a long time before the Nike advertisement made the slogan popular.)

I love Tantra because of its alchemical use of energy, its ability to transform desire into bliss, and violence into peace.

For the Tantric understands that all dualities, all conflicts and opposites, all forms and energies are different expressions of God that ultimately dissolve in a state of nondual unity and peace. That is, if you compost all your shadow stuff in a Tantric way. That is, if you do as the poet Anatonio Machado did, let the bees in your heart make honey out of all your past mistakes.

I love Tantra because it’s more science than religion, more art than science, more spiritual practice than doctrine.

“ Tantra is 99% practice and 1% theory.” –Shrii Anandamurti

I love Tantra for its adherence to nondualistic dualistic nondualism—the understanding that the One created the many and that we, the many, are all part of the One. This ability to see the oneness of everything is the essence of Tantra.

In India, both Tantrics and Vedantists are nondualists—they both believe in the Oneness of existence—however, when the Vedantists say the world is really an illusion, the Tantrics say the world is really Divine.

It’s perhaps this holistic and practical attitude—that Divinity is everywhere and that sacredness can be realized anywhere—which makes Tantra so appealing to contemporary seekers. At least that is why I really and truly love Tantra.

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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13 Responses to “My Love-affair With Tantra (And It’s not Just About Sex)”

  1. Ramesh says:

    Antoinette Armocida commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "I'm happy to see an article on what tantra isn't exclusively, as well as what it is. Embodied life and all its moments can't just be about sex and shaktipat. Thank you!"

  2. Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Ramesh R says:

    Fixing a lot of typos, sorry about that:
    I like your post. Am wondering if your take on non-duality is accurate. When Shankara talked about non-duality it was clear that he meant that he was pointing to something neither dual nor non-dual. It's just that in language, it is not possible to express that. Non-duality is like an iterative function that swallows itself as a concept to produce another deeper concept that is itself swallowed etc.. etc… The end result is that the mind which is the only window to absolutely anything we know, including what we think is intuitive (gut, astral, cosmological, black matter, whatever fuzzy words we know for something that is unknown or imaginative) is forced to release its grip on assumptions which the ego requires to function. So if I understand correctly, non-dualism is not a path or a set of rules to an end … it IS enlightenment itself. So in an oblique way, I do not see the need to distinguish tantric yoga from any other types of yoga. One of the conclusions I draw is that enlightenment as process (cannot be anything else anyway) cannot be the result of yoga or any other strategy. Probably why I never thought there ever has been an enlightened being, because it makes no sense as enlightenment is a process … so may be the word 'see' which is a verb, could better express the idea. We all have 'Seen' at some point or the other, we can only hope to keep on Seeing … and accept that there will be times when we will not See.

  5. Ramesh says:

    Hi Ramesh R.
    No worries about typos. Your point were clear as a bell. The issue is not that there is a difference between Tantra and Vedanta about nonduality. As you point out, nonduality is a concept beyond all concepts–language cannot express nonduality. But more to the point–there is agreement between Tantra and Vedanta about nonduality. That is not the issue. The issue is about duality, this world. Vedanta emphasized that this world is illusory, nonimportant, whereas Tantra points out that while nonduality is absolute truth this world is not an illusion but relative truth. That distinction I think is important. Philosophy matters because we tend to live by its concepts, as we use them as guides. As such i much prefer a philosophy that suggest this world is real, even divine. Rather than a philosophy saying this world is an illusion, is not real. So while we cannot speak about the experience of enlightenment in any way that approximates the experience of enlightenment, the philosophy, the words we use Tantra as it expresses the totality of the nondual and the dual in a much more holistic and balanced way.

  6. Thank you for this educational piece. I too follow a Tantric path. I like what Antoinette Armocida said, "Embodied Life."

  7. Simply fantastic Ramesh! Your piece is powerful and clear…and a wonderful reminder of why we love Tantra!

  8. [...] My Love-affair With Tantra (And It’s not Just About Sex) [...]

  9. Nick Andrea says:

    Wow! Succinct! To the point! I love it!

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